Remainders

Ilion, a regular poster at Uncommon Descent, linked to an argument for God that he makes on his blog, here. I found it interesting because it was exactly the argument (though more succinctly expressed, I think) that kept me a theist for most of my life):

The reality of minds in a material world (thus, every human being who has ever existed) is proof that atheism is false. If atheism were indeed the truth about the nature of reality, then we would not — because we could not — exist. But we do exist. Therefore, atheism is not the truth about the nature of reality.

 

My position was that as every one of us (I assume) has the experience I have of being aware – being a mind – and thereby of being a unique self – there must be something unique to me, that inhabits me, that is not simply a material body, which, I assumed, could carry on perfectly well, zombie-fashion, were that essential self to go on vacation for a bit. Which made an after-life perfectly reasonable: (I knew my body would cease to function, but as my self seemed to be unarguably independent of the body it inhabited, there seemed no reason to assume that it would not continue to exist independently once that body ceased to function).In other words, the conceivability of Philosophical Zombies seemed to me to be a powerful argument: if a body can exist without a mind, then minds and bodies are somewhat independent, in which case it’s reasonable to postulate that a mind can exist without bodies. I wasn’t sure how much they could actually do of course, because it seemed that bodies have important information-gathering, decision-making, and executive functions, but I figured that the entity morally responsible for those the body’s actions (which would otherwise be merely mechanical outputs from a morally neutral, if complex, machine) must be this self thing, and must have some sort of control – at least emergency control – of the levers. And, if morally answerable beyond the grave, answerable to some comparable megaself thing, the self of the entire universe, perhaps, the self whose body was the entire universe but whose mind pre-existed it (if you can use the suffix “pre-” in the absence of time), even transcended it, but kept it in being and was responsible, ultimately, for its actions, in an analogous fashion to me and my body. So there was my starter-pack God, which seemed to work pretty well in most theologies.

As I say, Ilion puts it more starkly, but in so doing so, I think, he exposes the flaw more clearly than I did to myself.

He goes on to say:

GIVEN the reality of the natural/physical/material world, IF atheism were indeed the truth about the nature of reality, THEN everything which exists and/or transpires must be wholely reducible, without remainder, to purely physical/material states and causes.

and adds, in an edit:

But, since there exist entities and events in the world which are not wholly reducible, without remainder, to purely physical/material states and causes, then it is seen that the denial that ‘God is’ is a false proposition.

So the proof that “God exists” depends on the existence of “entities and events in the world that are not wholly reducible, without remainder etc”.

And his paradigm case of such an entity is: “our minds and all the functions and capabilities of our minds — including reason”.

Ilion’s argument takes the form of a reductio ad absurdum:

Now, specifically with respect to reasoning, what inescapably follows from atheism is that it is impossible for anything existing in reality (that included us) to reason.

When an entity reasons, it chooses to move from one thought or concept to another based on (its understanding of) the content of the concepts and of the logical relationship between them.

But, IF atheism were indeed the truth about the nature of reality, THEN this movement from (what we call) thought to though (which activity or change-of-mental-state we call ‘reasoning’) *has* to be caused by, and must be wholely explicable in terms of, state-changes of matter. That is, it is not the content of, and logical relationship between, two thoughts which prompts a reasoning entity to move from the one thought to the other, but rather it is some change-of-state of some matter which determines that an entity “thinks” any particular “thought” when it does.

Now, I’m no philosopher, as will be obvious, so let me try to parse this in a way that makes it clearer, at least to me:

  • Reasoning involves mental state-to-mental state transitions.
  • Under atheism (or the position that everything is “wholely reducible, without remainder, to purely physical/material states and causes”), these mental state-to-mental state transitions must be triggered by the “change-of-state of some matter”, not the content of the thought itself.
  • This is absurd because we would then have to say that reasoning has nothing to do with the content of the reasoning.
  • Therefore atheism (or the position that everything is “wholely reducible, without remainder, to purely physical/material states and causes”) is false

Let’s stipulate that by “reducible to” we mean the postulation that if we start with a brain in physical State A, in which it is about to present itself with a problem, it will get to State B, in which it has just completed solving the problem, we can (assuming a deterministic universe, for ease of imagining, and no external inputs between State A and State B) reproduce that process simply by starting again with a brain in State A .  In other words, we can “reduce” the reasoning process to a reproducible cascade of brain states in which each state automatically follows the previous one, until the final state (“State B”) spits out the answer.

So in what sense would “content” be missing from such a process?  Let’s say we made a robot that could do this, in just the way we propose that brains do it – we set the starting state of the robotic brain in such a manner that it is just about to formulate our problem, and switch it on, so that after a few milliseconds it reaches State A, and outputs the words: “hmm, if I had five apples and I gave away 2 what would happen?” and then we wait until that state cascades through another series of states until the  robot reaches State B and outputs the words: “I’d have three left”.

Now, clearly, State A and State B have <i>content</i> in a straightforward sense – we set the robot so that it will articulate a problem “with content” for us and we will later receive answers “with content”.  So I have to assume that Ilion means that the cascade of states that the brain in question (whether robotic, or the brain as conceived by an “atheist”) undergoes cannot have “content” from the point of view of the entity-with-the-brain.  If so,  Ilion has, in effect, reposed the zombie argument as:

  • If we subtract from a person all the things that a zombie/robot could do (e.g. a reasoning task), we are still left with something for which the results of reasoning have content i.e. a remainder. Therefore atheism (or at least reductionism) is false.

And presumable that remainder is the thing I call “I” or “me”.  But is it really a remainder?  To assume that, is to assume that the mechanics that enable an entity-with-a-brain to spit out the answer to a reasoning problem are inadequate to account for any experience a thing-with-the-brain has of posing the problem to itself and figuring out the solution, and we know that people, namely things-with-brains, to have this experience. In other words, it is to assume that those mechanics cannot  explain why there is an “I” who can appreciate the content of a person’s reasoning, even when nobody else is there.  To assume, in fact, that producing a self-conscious robot is impossible.

Which seems to me to be assuming the consequent, and is thus fallacious.

This is always a problem with reductio ad absurdum arguments, of course, which are, essentially, arguments from incredulity.  It’s easy to miss a bit, and think you’ve exposed an absurdity, when all you’ve exposed is your own unchallenged premise, and rendered your syllogism circular.

But is Ilion’s conclusion nonetheless correct?   Is there a “remainder” when you subtract from a person all the mechanics that result in the cascade of mental states that follow the presentation of a reasoning problem to the states in which she spits out the answer (at least to anyone who cares to listen)? Or can we postulate a cascade of physical states in which a thing-with-a-brain can pose a question to itself, work through a reasoning process and appreciate the answer?

Well, yes, I think we can. But maybe we can figure that out, below 🙂

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137 thoughts on “Remainders

  1. Nonetheless, it can be done to a certain extent and the techniques will no doubt improve. The fact that these states exist and can be measured is not “gobbledygook”.

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  2. Thinking does not seem to be a purely internal brain activity.

    What evidence is there that anything other than brain activity is required for thinking to take place?

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  3. Neil: When people are thinking, they tense muscles, they move limbs. Thinking does not seem to be a purely internal brain activity.

    But the signal to tense a muscle or move a limb comes from the brain. In the case of a parapelegic, the signal cannot come from the brain and the limbs and all muscles in them don’t move when the person thinks.

    We can see on an MRI., that certain areas of the brain light up depending on what the subject is thinking of. These areas appear to be common for the same type of mental activity across test subjects.

    When there is brain damage to some of these mapped areas, different areas of the brain appear to take over the mental activity that was previously performed by areas that were damaged. In all cases, this activity is highlighted in the brain itself.

    Please give me some sort of idea of what you believe the brain lacks, that somehow needs to be provided by something else, in order for humans to perform the mental processes they do.

    Please give me your view of what actually goes on.

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  4. Toronto: Please give me some sort of idea of what you believe the brain lacks, that somehow needs to be provided by something else, in order for humans to perform the mental processes they do.

    I think I have already responded to that. It lacks a body and it lacks a world.

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  5. Patrick: What evidence is there that anything other than brain activity is required for thinking to take place?

    That we think about motions (motor activity) and about a world suggests that a body and a world are required.

    Learning is part of what we do when thinking. We cannot learn about things in the world if there is only a brain but no world and no body.

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  6. Ah, I think I agree. Thanks for clarifying.

    My personal musings are that any AI we create is likely to be qualitatively different from human intelligence unless we encode the equivalent of glands as well as sensors and manipulators that can interact with the external world. We may be a rational animal, but the animal part is important.

    Tangentially, I think your position eliminates the concept of the Christian god. If it was all that existed, it couldn’t think enough to create the universe.

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  7. Neil: “I think I have already responded to that. It lacks a body and it lacks a world.”

    Stephen Hawking thinks, and while his body exists and is there, it might as well not exist at all, and yet it seems that he thinks quite well.

    Your reference to the world I believe, means input, in the sense I see you using it.

    In that case, a computer able to access satellite images, would be better at this process we call thinking, than we humans are.

    It would have a better sense of the entire world at any given time than we have.

    You have stopped short of saying why it is, that a body or an external world are required to think.

    I think when I dream, but there is no input from the external world when I do this, only an active brain.

    If a world or a body was necessary, Stephen Hawking’s would not think very well if at all.

    We have evidence however, that he thinks very well.

    Please answer this Neil, what stops a brain from thinking, if there is no body?

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  8. To me, that hard question is still who or what is doing the watching and is aware of themselves doing the watching as well as being aware of what is being watched. It’s not that I don’t think it can’t be explained by the incredibly delicate and complex cascades of electro-chemical impulses flickering around the web of neurons in the brain. It’s just that it’s a hard question.

    I start from the view that we are all living in our own virtual reality. What we see, hear, touch, taste and smell is a model crated inside the brain on the basis of input from our sensors. Those sensors don’t have an unlimited range. Our eyes, for example, don’t see infrared or ultraviolet. They only pick up a relatively narrow band of wavelengths from the entire electromagnetic spectrum. What they do pick up is converted into signals which are passed along the optic nerve into the brain where they are used somehow to create the visual image we see every day. That image is a model or representation. A car in the parking-lot outside must be reflecting sunlight with a wavelength of around 620 nanometers. I see it as red. But that color is in my model not on the car itself.

    Whatever we use to make the model of the outside world presumably can also be used to model the physical us in that world, if for no other reason than it would be useful for us navigating around that world.

    What would also be useful would be some sort of sub-routine (Trekkies are very fond of sub-routines) which can monitor the behavior of the model of reality and construct models of the regularities and patterns and laws which seem to govern the behavior of that model. Observing that a predator is likely to be hiding by a waterhole in a certain place at a certain time of day, for example, is a good way to avoid getting eaten by it. Of course, observing is not enough. To be an advantage it helps if the observer routine has the authority to warn us to stay away from that spot at that time.

    So far, so good but is there an advantage to having an observer routine of the observer routine? Or do you have two observer routines observing each other as well as the model of reality as a sort of cross-check on each other. Could self-awareness arise from something like this?

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  9. Toronto: Stephen Hawking thinks, and while his body exists and is there, it might as well not exist at all, and yet it seems that he thinks quite well.

    He thinks very well about mathematics and physics. But how is his ability to think about playing soccer?

    Your reference to the world I believe, means input, in the sense I see you using it.

    We deal with meaningful input. A computer deals with meaningless symbols. Could input be meaningful to us without a body and a world?

    Please answer this Neil, what stops a brain from thinking, if there is no body?

    We probably disagree on what thinking amounts to. Einstein used a thought experiment about an elevator cage accelerating in space, or being in free fall in space. Could Einstein’s brain have had those thoughts if it had never been connected to a body?

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  10. Neil:”Could Einstein’s brain have had those thoughts if it had never been connected to a body?”

    What thoughts Einstein had, if dependent on his inputs, would have been different with different inputs, but that doesn’t change the fact that he thought at all.

    So I agree that the “direction” our thoughts take may be determined by our environment, but that we engage in the process of thinking at all, is independent of anything outside of us.

    While Stephen Hawking’s ability to sense and relate to the physical world around him was in decline, his “ability” to think was not affected.

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  11. Seversky,

    I think along the same lines. I believe what we think as “self “may well be “selves”.

    That’s probably what a sense of confusion is, where one of our “selves” want to do one thing, and another wants to do something else.

    Just like the multiple processors in a system may vote on a final output, we may well do the same.

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  12. Seversky:
    To me, that hard question is still who or what is doing the watching and is aware of themselves doing the watching as well as being aware of what is being watched.

    So far, so good but is there an advantage to having an observer routine of the observer routine? Or do you have two observer routines observing each other as well as the model of reality as a sort of cross-check on each other. Could self-awareness arise from something like this?

    If we include ourselves in the model, doesn’t it eliminate the need of the observer of the observer? And consequently the whole infinite recursion of self-referencing observers? In a single model the only outside observer, ” I “, can take any viewpoint to the model and occasionally see “him/herself” there.

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  13. I just note a couple of problems:

    One is that I think it is reasonable to talk about “brain states” as an approximation, even though they probably don’t fall into nice discrete “frames”; rather the brain is constantly changing state, in that neurons are constantly changing from polarised to depolarised states, and ionic currents are constantly flowing. But that’s OK, we can talk about rates of change, or, better still, brain processes. .

    However, when it comes to mental states, I think we may be looking at something that really is discrete, or, at any rate, something that is integrated over quite long time windows during which a substantial amount of brain state-changing has occurred.

    We know this from ERP experiments – we know that it takes substantial fractions of a second for the brain to respond to an image of an object, for example, and that recognition can fail if the process is disrupted in some way.

    So to say there is a one-to-one correspondence between brain states and mental states would be wrong, I think. It seems to me that where we have to start is thinking of mental states as being much slower-changing things than brain states, and involving integration over time – which gives us a sense of continuity of experience that is somewhat misleading when it comes to mapping it on to brain processes.

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  14. Ilion’s argument seems to me to boil down to this:

    Our minds, which clearly produce immaterial concepts (thoughts, emotions, dreams, etc.) cannot possibly be connected to any physical process in our brain, because if it were physical, our thoughts could not flow because he says, the “logical relationship between, two thoughts … prompts a reasoning entity to move from the one thought to the other”.

    Now, I don’t know how one thought leads to the other, but I can say, without any doubt, that he is wrong. A mind are clearly a product of a physical brain and of the hundred billion neurons that are firing with in it. And we know this is true because when a person’s brain get altered by things like a stroke, or psychoactive drugs, or an electrical current, or a hammer to the head, then the mind is also altered, possibly permanently altered.

    The argument fails there for me. It also, like all the logical arguements I’ve seen for the existence of God, assumes that there must be some supernatural agent that is constantly keeping our minds going.

    I know some religious people have to deny the tons of evidence for evolution, but why ignore all the evidence that our mind is a product of a physical brain?

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  15. “But is Ilion’s conclusion nonetheless correct? Is there a “remainder” when you subtract from a person all the mechanics that result in the cascade of mental states that follow the presentation of a reasoning problem to the states in which she spits out the answer (at least to anyone who cares to listen)? Or can we postulate a cascade of physical states in which a thing-with-a-brain can pose a question to itself, work through a reasoning process and appreciate the answer?”

    Is there material when you subtract future and past from our mental model?

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  16. Atheism is the lack of belief in gods, not the lack of belief in souls or even the supernatural. The argument is flawed in its claimed target.

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  17. Jet Black:
    Atheism is the lack of belief in gods, not the lack of belief in souls or even the supernatural. The argument is flawed in its claimed target.

    I’m not sure I buy that entirely. Maybe not the lack of belief in souls but I think the lack of belief in the supernatural goes hand in hand with atheism because the reason for lack of belief in gods is the recognition, whether implicit or explicit, that the entire paradigm, worldview, model, construct or whatever you want to call it which includes the concept of supernatural has no utility in the modern worldview.

    Now, there are forces, all measurable and modelable. There is nothing else. We cannot define a deity any more. If something can affect our physical universe, then it can be measured. If it can’t, then we no longer have a vocabulary to discuss it at all.

    That is what both of the threads I started here are about. 🙂 I don’t think it makes any sense to talk about gods at all unless we can define them in a way that doesn’t reduce to nothing. Until a remainder can be found, in the physical world, anything left over in the mental world is entirely stuck within an individual. So, yes, I think atheism rejects the supernatural at least implicitly.

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  18. There have been a number of irrelevant arguments put forward above concerning the immateriality and immortality of the human soul. There is only one matter at stake here. Can human beings abstract an immaterial concept from a sense perception or not? If there is an immaterial function that a bodily organ cannot even in principle perform, then an immaterial entity is logically necessary to explain that function.

    Injuries to the brain, the capabilities of animals, and the basic truth that natural evolutionary processes can change living things over time tell us nothing about the existence or nonexistence of an immaterial soul.

    So exactly what is it that is supposed to happen when a person abstracts an immaterial concept from a sense perception? First, a sense perception is material. It involves the firing of neurons in the brain of an animal which can stimulate a response as determined by those aspects of the brain that are hardwired (instincts) and learned behaviors that are acquired from past experiences. This is the basis of animal consciousness.

    In human beings there is also something called understanding. Understanding is based on the conscious awareness of the formal aspects of a particular experience. Understanding is what enables human beings to explain why something happened. In order to do that you have to be able to ‘see’ beyond what is actually given in the sense perception. This intellectual vision occurs when one forms concepts of each of the significant aspects of the perception and then joins them in a rational manner to produce an explanation. If you can do that, then you understand the experience. It should also be noted that your understanding could be mistaken if the concepts formed were inaccurate or the reasoning used to connect them was not logical.

    So how do you produce concepts that reflect the formal aspects of an experience? You have to pull them out of the perception by ignoring the sensible aspects of the experience. When you are only thinking about the formal and immaterial aspects of an experience your thought is abstract. If you are able to clarify your thought such that you can use the thought logically then you have formed a concept.

    Some examples of abstract ideas are the concepts of “cause”, “effect”, “time”, “space”, “beauty”, “truth”, “justice”, and “goodness” to name a few.

    It is precisely because these concepts are immaterial and not immediately given in sense perception, that they are controversial to the point that some may deny them or try to reduce them to something physical.

    My response is that the very process of abstraction by which these concepts are produced in the first place is sufficient to show that they are both real and immaterial. As such they can be used in a logical argument to demonstrate the existence of an immortal soul.

    The Immateriality of the Soul

    1. As a thing acts, so it is.
    2. The soul/mind acts to form abstract immaterial concepts.

    Therefore, the soul is immaterial.

    The Immortality of the Soul

    1. Only what is composed of material parts can break down and cease to exist.
    2. The soul is immaterial or spiritual and not composed of material parts.

    Therefore, the soul cannot breakdown and cease to exist.

    I believe that the premises are true and the logic is valid. If so, the argument is sound and calls for a rational response.

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  19. Exactly when does the alleged soul ‘begin’ to exist? When the sperm or egg is produced? At the moment a sperm penetrates an egg? At some point during the development of the fetus? At birth? Sometime during childhood? Later?

    Do identical twins have identical souls? Do conjoined twins have two souls or just one? Do people with two heads have two souls or just one? Do only humans have souls?

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  20. Lamont:
    If there is an immaterial function that a bodily organ cannot even in principle perform, then an immaterial entity is logically necessary to explain that function
    I think that is the unanswered question.
    1 As a thing acts, so it is.
    2. The soul/mind acts to form abstract immaterial concepts.

    Therefore, the soul is immaterial.
    1. Can an immaterial thing act? This seems to need proof
    2. The mind certainly seems capable of concrete material concepts and actions so by “1” the mind is a material thing. It also seems capable of abstract concepts, but if they are linked to brain patterns are they are immaterial?

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  21. Premise #1 of the first argument is nonsensical, or at best too vague.

    And I don’t buy premise #1 of the second argument.

    If we take abstractions to be immaterial (which seems to be part of the point of your preamble), then (for example) the functioning of my car is immaterial. This immaterial phenomenon ceases when my car breaks down.

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  22. BWE: I’m not sure I buy that entirely. Maybe not the lack of belief in souls but I think the lack of belief in the supernatural goes hand in hand with atheism because the reason for lack of belief in gods is the recognition, whether implicit or explicit, that the entire paradigm, worldview, model, construct or whatever you want to call it which includes the concept of supernatural has no utility in the modern worldview.

    Now, there are forces, all measurable and modelable. There is nothing else. We cannot define a deity any more. If something can affect our physical universe, then it can be measured. If it can’t, then we no longer have a vocabulary to discuss it at all.

    That is what both of the threads I started here are about. I don’t think it makes any sense to talk about gods at all unless we can define them in a way that doesn’t reduce to nothing. Until a remainder can be found, in the physical world, anything left over in the mental world is entirely stuck within an individual. So, yes, I think atheism rejects the supernatural at least implicitly.

    We already have a word for exactly what you’re describing; Naturalism. Atheism is a statement about gods, not a statement about nature. You just seem to be making them synonyms. This is precisely the same trick that creationists and religious people often try to play; implicitly claim that a bunch of things are synonymous, reject one, and then by induction, you reject them all.

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  23. Lamont,

    I have to say that this is some of the worst logic that I have ever seen. I hope you’re not a professional.

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  24. Jet Black: We already have a word for exactly what you’re describing; Naturalism. Atheism is a statement about gods, not a statement about nature. You just seem to be making them synonyms. This is precisely the same trick that creationists and religious people often try to play; implicitly claim that a bunch of things are synonymous, reject one, and then by induction, you reject them all.

    Well, I understand that and perhaps I am guilty as charged. But it seems to me that to adopt a label one ought to have a reason. To adopt the label of ‘black’, skin tone has a major part to play in the label. To adopt the label ‘xian’ or ‘muslim’ or whatever brand of theism one is taught, means that one accepts the word of the person who told them about that particular deity. To adopt the label ‘atheist’ means that one does not accept the word of people who teach them about their favorite deities. They reject the concept for some reason.

    That reason, if a person is really an atheist, also means he doesn’t believe in any kind of god, even very small gods. At some point, it boils down to the problem that anything we used to call supernatural is simply incommensurable in the modern paradigm. Every single bit of it has been entirely subsumed into different conceptual categories and it no longer translates at all. An atheist rejects belief in gods. But that is largely a naming convention. If you reject a tree nymph or a small god whose personality gives a particular place like a stream or mountain its character, it seems worth asking why? Why reject such a useful idea? Especially when we have nothing which formally replaces the idea.

    Is the answer related to the idea that there is no way to measure the supernatural and that if we ever become aware of anything then, by definition, not by adopting the title ‘naturalism’ but by the simple fact that anything that can be measured can be modeled, it cannot be supernatural?

    I am not an atheist as you probably know, but the conventions of language make theism an untenable position. Atheism is at least consistent with a convention which requires that all experiences can be named. That convention seems to me to also carry with it the idea that all measurements can be modeled which simply erases the coherency of the word supernatural.

    I do not think that that idea necessarily requires any synonyms. It seems to me that there is no claim of reality involved or even truth value necessarily. It simply points out that the term ‘God’ fails to mean anything anymore. The whole judgement bit fell apart with the rest of the model which failed when tested. There is simply nothing left of the old model based on God and creation. We replaced it with a model that is less wrong. It is incommensurable.

    So I think to adopt the word atheism without also acknowledging that that label involves the rejection of an entire paradigm of naming and understanding, an entire meaning generation function used by others, is a sort of a cop out.

    If you are going to reject an entire paradigm, then you are just playing coy not to acknowledge adoption of a different paradigm. F=ma.

    just sayin.

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  25. Brother Daniel,

    Daniel,
    All science depends on things acting in accord with their being . If you know of an exception, please share it with us.

    Science also tells us that energy cannot be created or destroyed because it is simple – not composed of parts. Material things can be broken down into simpler parts, so they can cease to exist. Do you know of any other way something can cease to exist?

    The functioning of your car involves matter in motion. It is a material function.

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  26. Velikovskys,
    A brain is material and everything the brain does is material. We can observe our own minds abstracting immaterial concepts. That immaterial act (abstraction) is one of the primary acts of the mind. So yes, immaterial entities can act.

    There is no such thing as a “concrete material concept” . Objects, sense perceptions, emotions, and feelings are all concrete and particular. All concepts are abstract and immaterial. You must be thinking of something else and confusing it with a concept.

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  27. Professor Weirdo,

    There are two basic positions on the origination of the human soul. One view is that the soul is eternal and just gets reincarnated over and over again until it reaches its final resting place.

    The monotheistic religions generally hold that God creates each individual soul. The exact moment that the soul is joined to the body is not known. If the theistic view is correct, then I am sure God can deal with the other situations you mention.

    Animals have an emergent sentient soul that is dependent on the body for its existence. This is what many atheists also believe is true for the human mind/soul if they acknowledge that there is such a thing.

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  28. Jet Black,

    Yes I am a professional and the logic of the two arguments is valid. If you disagree, then be specific. As it stands, your comment is equivalent to saying: “I do not like this argument, therefore I refuse to believe it.”

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  29. All science depends on things acting in accord with their being. If you know of an exception, please share it with us.

    Again, your claim is simply too vague to be of any use. It’s not at all clear to me what you mean by it, so there’s no point in my trying to identify an exception.

    Science also tells us that energy cannot be created or destroyed because it is simple – not composed of parts. Material things can be broken down into simpler parts, so they can cease to exist. Do you know of any other way something can cease to exist?

    Perhaps you could indicate what this line of thought has to do with your earlier arguments.

    The functioning of your car involves matter in motion. It is a material function.

    “Functioning” is abstract, hence immaterial, according to the preamble to your previous argument. I don’t think you’re being consistent.

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  30. science says no such thing about energy. It does not say that energy is “simple” at all”. Energy does not exist in a real sense – it is not a description of any sort of mechanism or something concrete, it is a mathematical convenience; a mathematically conserved quantity in interactions.

    Lamont:
    Brother Daniel,

    Daniel,
    All science depends on things acting in accord with their being . If you know of an exception, please share it with us.

    Science also tells us that energy cannot be created or destroyed because it is simple – not composed of parts. Material things can be broken down into simpler parts, so they can cease to exist. Do you know of any other way something can cease to exist?

    The functioning of your car involves matter in motion. It is a material function.

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  31. Jet Black,

    You have been reading some strange anti-realist speculation about energy. I think light is real and it is a form of energy. What is that stuff coming from the sun anyway? And how does it warm the earth and cause plants to grow if it is not real?

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  32. Lamont:
    Jet Black,

    You have been reading some strange anti-realist speculation about energy. I think light is real and it is a form of energy. Whatis that stuff coming from the sun anyway? And how does it warm the earth and cause plants to grow if it is not real?

    Gonna have to go with Jet Black here. I hope he will post a nice explanation, but if he doesn’t do it in the next day or so, I’ll give it a go.

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  33. Lamont:
    A brain is material and everything the brain does is material.

    You don’t see the problem with that statement? You are assuming at the start the there is soul/ brain which has not been proved.

    We can observe our own minds abstracting immaterial concepts. That immaterial act (abstraction) is one of the primary acts of the mind. So yes, immaterial entities can act

    This seems circular, it assumes ” 1 ” is correct, which is the question.

    There is no such thing as a “concrete material concept” . Objects, sense perceptions, emotions, and feelings are all concrete and particular. All concepts are abstract and immaterial

    Ok, just to be clear, if I think about my truck is this an abstract immaterial concept? If not what would it be?

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  34. In the same loose (and potentially misleading) sense in which we might say that light “is” a form of energy, we could equally well say that BWE’s mom “is” a form of energy. Pointing to the example of E-M radiation from the sun doesn’t do anything to counter Jet Black’s statements about energy, because it’s not literally true that light “is” a form of energy.

    Moreover, this digression about the properties of energy doesn’t have any clear connection to your argument about the soul.

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  35. Lamont,

    Strange anti-realist speculation about energy? Personally I am just sticking with the other people like myself who actually work with and determine concepts like energy. I call us physicists. Feynmann is a pretty good one, and what I am saying is in agreement with him. Loudon, Dirac and Einstein are others. Anyway, light, in the form of photons. is a quantum excitation of the electromagnetic field, just like an electron raised above its ground state is an excitation of an electron in the electrical field of an atom. Each of these can be regarded as having an energy. For the case of light, it is simpler – E=hf, where h is plancks constant and f is the frequency. This doesn’t make a photon “energy” in the way you describe, it means that we can determine a quantity called energy, by knowing other properties of the photon. Similarly for mass, where E^2 = p^2c^2 + m^2c^4.

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  36. Lamont :

    All science depends on things acting in accord with their being . If you know of an exception, please share it with us.

    Science deals with the physical world, it says nor can it about whether the immaterial world,if it exists, obeys the cause and effect of the physical world. Now if you propose that the immaterial can interact with the material world ,go for it.

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  37. Jet Black,

    The equations you cite all treat energy as something real. So why did you say that energy is not real? My understanding of energy is that it is something that actually exists and is convertible with matter as Einstein said. Also, in your view of energy, can it be created or destroyed?

    Anyway as Daniel said this has nothing to do with the soul.

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  38. gravatar test

    Lamont:
    Science also tells us that energy cannot be created or destroyed because it is simple – not composed of parts. Material things can be broken down into simpler parts, so they can cease to exist. Do you know of any other way something can cease to exist?

    .

    Conservation of energy is really conservation of mass-energy. Energy can certainly be converted to mass and vice-versa, and it can be converted to various types: electromagnetic to potential to kinetic etc. Electromagnetic energy can be “broken down” to that which is contained in the electric field and that in the magnetic field and in an EM wave the two fields are continuously feeding off each other as described by Maxwell’s equations. Is an EM wave a material object?
    I guess I fail to see any utility in the distinction you are trying to make in the quoted statement .

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  39. Lamont,

    I believe that the premises are true and the logic is valid. If so, the argument is sound and calls for a rational response.

    An argument may be valid, in that it follows the correct logical form, yet still be unsound. What counts as much is the soundness of the premises. As we know, the world of computer science coined the acronym GIGO – garbage in/garbage out – to encapsulate the same idea.

    We can illustrate the idea with a simple argument, courtesy of Lewis Carroll:

    1. All toves are borogoves
    2. All borogoves are slithy
    3 Therefore, all toves are slithy

    A perfectly logical argument but complete nonsense.

    The Immateriality of the Soul

    1. As a thing acts, so it is.
    2. The soul/mind acts to form abstract immaterial concepts.

    Therefore, the soul is immaterial.

    There are several problems with this argument

    The first is what is meant by ‘soul’. A glance at the Wikipedia entry will give a taste of how views differ. You may have your own version but there are others out there whose proponents think theirs is just as good as yours. Personally, I have not heard the soul defined before as that which forms “abstract immaterial concepts”.

    Next, the first premise asserts “As a thing acts, so it is” which I interpret as meaning a thing is defined by its function. A car, for example, could be a self-propelled machine which transports people along the ground. Of course, it raises the question of what things, like rocks, that don’t actually do anything are. The second premise is really just a specific example of the first premise, defining a soul as something which “acts to form abstract immaterial concepts”. That’s what a soul is supposed to do.

    The problem is that your conclusion infers a property – that of being immaterial – from the function of forming abstract, material concepts. Now, that may be true but it is not entailed by the premises. There is nothing there which precludes the possibility of the soul being a material thing which forms abstract material concepts.

    The Immortality of the Soul

    1. Only what is composed of material parts can break down and cease to exist.
    2. The soul is immaterial or spiritual and not composed of material parts.

    Therefore, the soul cannot breakdown and cease to exist

    This has a better logical form but the second premise is easily attacked on the grounds that we have no reason to suppose the existence of the soul let alone its nature. Even if the soul is immaterial, assuming that such a thing is possible, it still does not entail immortality. For all we know, immaterial things could simply disperse or fade away over time.

    Essentially, there is nothing here which is a challenge to materialism since you have not given us any compelling reason to think we might have need of such a hypothesis as an immaterial soul.

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  40. Anyway as Daniel said this has nothing to do with the soul.

    Which raises the question of why you brought it up in the first place.

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  41. Lamont :

    Agere sequitur esse.

    First you have to make the hylemorphic dualistic argument for this to be persuasive, and maybe stick to the classic version”

    1 the soul engages in immaterial actions
    2 actions follow form
    3 the soul is immaterial

    I love syllogisms in the mornings

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  42. However, as far as I know, auto-focussing is far simpler – it simply attempts to maximize the contrast of the image with no AI abilities at all.

    Then you would be wrong. Even the low end cameras now have face recognition software. The actual focusing will be done by maximizing contrast, but AI is increasingly used to choose what element to maximize.

    Coming up will be cameras that leave focusing to the viewing and printing stage. There are already prototypes.

    As far as I know, there are no AI concepts that include the layering of brain function, as in emulating the brain stem and cortex. I don’t believe AI will approach artificial consciousness until it can evolve brains, starting with reflexes and working outward.

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  43. Sledgehammer,

    If an EM wave can be separated into parts in reality and not just in theory, then the question is what is the smallest and simplest thing that actually exists in our universe?

    The reason why this I raised this issue is because the soul is typically thought of as something simple and not composed of parts. From Plato we get the idea that the soul is a pure form and not composed of form and matter as all material things are. If there is something else that is not composed of form and matter, it could not breakdown and would never cease to exist. An EM wave appears to be a pure form. So it could be helpful to talk about it in this context, but maybe not.

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  44. Lamont,

    “Energy” doesn’t exist in the same way as “weight” doesn’t exist. We can talk of something “weighing” 10 lbs., but it is really a description of the effect one mass, say a concrete block, has on another mass, the Earth.

    In the same way, “energy” is a description of the effect a “mass in motion” has on another mass.

    Neither of these terms are names for something that exists.

    If all mass, (or things that exist), broke down and disappeared, there would be no mass left for the terms, “energy” and “weight” to descibe.

    In the same way, the term “EM wave”, is pointless without particles it could describe.

    I think the “soul” is also a term used in the description of a human being. Without human beings to describe, the term “soul”, would also be pointless.

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  45. Seversky,

    Aristotle was the first to consider how the soul abstracts a concept from sense perception – (De Anima) So this view of the soul has been around for quite a while. If you do not like ‘soul’, use mind instead

    Rocks act like rocks, they have all sorts of physical and chemical properties. Rocks act the way the do because of what they are. This is also true of the mind/soul.

    There is no such thing as an “abstract material concept”. A concept is a form that has been separated from its matter. Abstraction is the process of of separating a formal structure from the matter which is part of both things and sense perceptions. Hence concepts or ideas are by their very nature immaterial.

    Material things cannot act in an immaterial way. To think that they could would be like believing in magic.

    So the mind which acts to produce abstract ideas, must be immaterial. The rest the argument follows

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  46. Lamont:

    If an EM wave can be separated into parts in reality and not just in theory, then the question is what is the smallest and simplest thing that actually exists in our universe?

    Small things are rarely simple and simple things are rarely small. Which question are you asking? You never answered my question, is a wave a material object. Is it a “thing”? I’m asking because I have very little training in philosophy (a single undergrad course). I’m a physicist by training and vocation, and in physics we generally have very precise meanings for our metrics. I have no idea how to measure a “psychon” (specific mental intention), or what is meant by ” All that a mental intention needs to do is provide a harmonic focus, which would concentrate energy that is already present” (your words, from your blog discussing Eccles).

    In physics, waves are not typically described as “pure” and are rarely simple. The simplest form of a wave is arguably a plane wave, which is an abstract concept which can only be approximated in reality. Waves are configurations of fields, matter and sometimes probability.
    In physics, deep down, everything is a wave of some sort. Particles are a useful abstraction of what is really a wave packet. Energy levels are standing waves. Quantum states are best described by a Schrodinger wave, a kind of complex probability field. Waves occupy a continuum of forms and compositions, and configurations. Are fields (electric, magnetic, gravitational, etc.) material things? We can measure them quite precisely, but does that make them material objects? These are philosophical issues, because physics could care less how they are categorized. Unlike psychons, we can model, measure, and reproduce field and waves very precisely, and that’s what is really important in physics.

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  47. Sledgehammer,

    Are fields (electric, magnetic, gravitational, etc.) material things? We can measure them quite precisely, but does that make them material objects?

    Having viewed and sometimes participated in word games over materialism/dualism, natural/supernatural etc., I have suggested “real” and “imaginary” as less ambiguous terms. You can imagine anything you like but until you can detect something, however indirectly, you cannot claim it is real. Human imagination is a powerful thing!

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  48. Sledgehammer,

    Your question as to whether waves and fields are material objects or things has two possible answers. One is that waves and fields are forms (structures) that only exist in some type of substrate (matter). Hence the popularity in the 19th. century of the ether theory of light waves. This idea does not have to die with the ether however. Space-time can be conceived of as the prime matter that is necessary to support the existence of all EM waves and fields. In this view, waves and fields are composed of matter and form. Hence they are material things. They differ from material objects in that they do not take up or fill space in the way that material objects do. Nor do they possess gravitational mass. This view follows from Aristotelian metaphysics.

    The other possibility is that waves and fields can exist as pure forms, i.e. not composed of matter and form. Space-time is mathematical construction not a substrate necessary for the existence of waves and fields. This view can be described as neo-platonic.

    Myself, I prefer the Aristotelian approach but science and empiricism cannot prove that Plato or the Idealists are wrong. It just places Platonism and idealism outside the realm of science.

    When it comes to the mind, I have been defending the Augustinian / Thomistic view that ideas or concepts exist only in the mind. The skeptics here will say; “what is a mind if it is not the product of the brain?” My response is that we know what a mind is in the same way that we know what anything else is. By what it does.

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  49. Space-time is mathematical construction not a substrate necessary for the existence of waves and fields.

    Would it not be more correct to say that the mathematics of space-time is a good predictive model for aspects of the universe. Minkowski space with the concept of the past and future light cone dovetails with there being a limit to knowable reality and whatever may/might lie outside those limits we can only imagine.

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  50. I see Ilion has followed your link. (Though not read your OP)

    Ilion
    said…
    I haven’t read your post yet … for some reason, I decided to first skim through the comments it has garnered. Oh, my! Those poor, unreasoning souls! … how embarrassing it must be to be unable to follow a simple argument. Why, one of your commentators has even asserted that I didn’t even offer an argument, but that I made only an assertion.

    ==
    Regardless (of some) of your commentators’ odd views, the argument is indeed a reductio ad absurdum, and specifically, it is a reductio ad impossibile, also called a “proof by contradiction” and “proof by denial”.

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