The Varieties of Religious Language

Kantian Naturalist and I have been hopscotching from thread to thread, discussing the nature of religious language. The main point of contention is the assertoric/disclosive distinction:  When is religious language assertoric — that is, when does it make claims about reality — and when is it merely disclosive, revealing attitude and affect without making actual claims?

I’ve created this thread as a permanent home for this otherwise nomadic discussion.

It may also be a good place for an ongoing discussion of another form of religious language — scripture.  For believers who take scripture to be divinely inspired, the question is when it should be taken literally, when it should be taken figuratively or metaphorically, and whether there are consistent and justifiable criteria for drawing that distinction.

2,384 thoughts on “The Varieties of Religious Language

  1. walto: But who gets whacked by KN? Moi.

    Perhaps a bit unfair.

    KN reacted to your comment about the ability to write a coherent sentence. He wasn’t reacting to your comments about content (or lack thereof).

    However, I’ll grant that it is hard to criticize the content of someone who rarely posts anything other than insults.

  2. walto: … When they indicate they can comport themselves with some degree of courtesy here, I’ll consider being more “sensitive” to their poor hurt little feelings. And if you don’t like the idea of scolding them because you think they’re too out of their element to show a minimum of respect to those they disagree with, you’re simply patronising them (which is itself a form of condescension).

    God, yes!

    Yeah, yeah, Gandhi, yeah, yeah, set the example you wish to see in others, yeah, yeah, Golden Rule.

    But my Golden Rule says don’t patronize me; don’t imply I can’t keep up with the discussion because I can’t learn the vocabulary (maybe I choose not to, but it’s not “can’t”); don’t tell others to treat me more nicely because I have some handicap; don’t tell them not to comment on my language because being reminded of inferior skills might hurt someone’s widdle fee-fees.

    So, by my version of the Golden Rule, same goes for Gregory. When he can’t type a comprehensible comment because he’s too busy making spit fly, then he should be called on it, and no one has to protect him from that.

    Note to KN: I’m really not criticizing your whatever-it-is with Erik. It’s incomprehensible to me — but clearly you get a lot out of it. Maybe you’ll be the one to break him with kindness in the end. In the meantime, will you please bear in mind that us “insulting” Gregory for his incoherent rants does not do splash damage to Erik, and Erik won’t be a better person for you nannying him.

  3. walto,

    The question here is, “why do I insist on being respectful towards people who are openly disrespectful of me?” I think it is because that is the only way I know to do philosophy: in a spirit of open inquiry at which all views are (provisionally) welcome.

    As for my chastising of your rudeness to Gregory, I consider myself duly chastised in turn.

    I do not mind admitting that my dialogues with Erik and with Gregory have been somewhat frustrating, because we have not yet reached mutual accord on where our differences lie at the most fundamental level of explication.

    As I see it, the confrontation with Gregory has been stymied because he does not seem to see that our disagreement lies precisely on the status of Nietzsche’s challenge to Western philosophy. Gregory thinks that nihilism and disenchantment begin with the rejection of vertical transcendence, whereas I think (with Nietzsche) that it is in fact vertical transcendence itself that is the original act of nihilism and disenchantment. (A thesis nicely developed by Gauchet in The Disenchantment of the World.) Thus I happily locate all meaning, purpose, value, and transcendence within the immanence of “life, history, and becoming”. But I fear that Gregory’s very personal antipathy towards me prevents us from being able to conduct a philosophical dialogue at this level.

    With Erik, the situation is somewhat different because he is more clear about the true nature of our disagreement: Erik is, as he admits, a pre-Enlightenment thinker, whereas I am a post-Enlightenment thinker.

    That is, for me the truly interesting and important questions of contemporary philosophy begin with Spinoza’s critique of organized religion, its danger to political stability, and the necessity of secular democracy and with Kant’s critique of both rationalism and empiricism. But I then follow the pragmatist’s move towards naturalizing, historicizing and de-transcendentaling Kant (in a process begun by Hegel, but marred by Hegel’s own desperate need to re-inscribe the contingency of history within the necessity of Spirit).

    Thus I accept the Deweyan idea that we must both Darwinize Hegel and Hegelize Darwin, the (late) Wittgensteinian idea that there is an essential difference between formal languages (logics and mathematics) and natural languages, the Merleau-Pontyian idea that discursive practices and other cultural accomplishments rest on a pre-thematized ground of embodied being-in-the-world, and the Sellarsian idea that there is no cognitively or semantically privileged position within the game of giving and asking for reasons that could serve as any sort of “foundation” for our cognitive and semantic activity.

    By contrast, Erik is a Neoplatonist, structuralist, and rationalist who thinks that the intellect is the power to transcend our embodied & encultured being-the-world and secure a cognitive grasp of the essential structure of reality itself. I think that Erik is quite clear on how different his fundamental orientation is from mine, and also quite clear on expressing his conviction that my orientation is far shallower.

  4. hotshoe_: See, this is another one of those things that y’all need to hammer out between your good christian selves. Get back to us with the answer once you’ve straightened out your mutual confusion. Gwan, you’ve got studying to do with your fellow faithful.

    Your bark is worse than your bite. But you’re barking up the wrong tree anyways, so who cares.

    TRY THIS

  5. Erik: Scientists say all these things you mention. Additionally they talk about ice age and textual universals, but these do not seem to be a part of your account.

    Erik, I am convinced the skeptics here don’t think that ice is water.

    When you say “ice age” they think you’re claiming “the ice melted and made all that water and it happened just a few thousand years ago.”

  6. Erik: Deliberate misreading. I will not deal with this post any further.

    Don’t be so harsh on Allan. He could just be ignorant.

  7. Mung: When you say “ice age” they think you’re claiming “the ice melted and made all that water and it happened just a few thousand years ago.”

    You should explain what you think the relevance of “ice age” is to Noah’s flood tale.

  8. hotshoe_: You should explain what you think the relevance of “ice age” is to Noah’s flood tale.

    When you say I should do that do you mean I ought to do that, that I have some moral obligation on your say so? Because if that is what you are suggesting, I am not convinced.

    But the relevance is obvious, as Erik has made that very connection numerous times in this thread.

  9. Alan Fox,

    Erik has mentioned English is not even his second language but seems to have mastered the art of the subtle insult better than many native speakers.

    Please. Erik is as subtle as I am.

  10. Mung: But the relevance is obvious, as Erik has made that very connection numerous times in this thread.

    Hmm, you may think Erik has “made that connection” but what, exactly he thinks the connection is — and what, exactly, you agree with about his incoherent and contradictory flood explanations is nothing like clear.

    What is the relevance of “ice age” to Noah’s ark tale of Genesis?

    Ice ages themselves are not floods. Ice is a form of water but humans don’t (generally) mistake having their homes encased in ice for having them washed away by a deluge. And the presence of an ice sheet doesn’t support a tale of building an ark to float above the danger.

    So it’s not the ice itself which is relevant. Then what is?

    Having your tribe’s ancestral valley hunting grounds flooded by the breaking of an ice dam might be traumatic enough to explain the beginning of a flood myth which lasted generations. Some people argue it could be remembered for thousands of years. But that’s irrelevant, because the ice-dam floods were scattered and regional, not global, nor anywhere near where the proto-Jewish tribes originated their tales.

    There were five million human beings alive, scattered all around the world, as the most recent ice age melted back. Sea level rise no doubt covered some favorite coastal grounds, but it wasn’t a catastrophe; it was slow (meter per century) and easily adapted to – tribes just picked up their spears and their tent skins and walked elsewhere. One or two (or maybe none) of the unlucky ones got caught in an ice-dam breakage, all the rest survived. Noah’s tale has got it exactly backwards: humanity was never only 8 survivors and all the rest dead.

    So it’s not the melting ice / breaking ice which is relevant to the Noah’s ark tale of Genesis. What do you think is left to claim relevance?

  11. Kantian Naturalist:
    In science we aim at a third-person or objective standpoint on contingent reality, which is often at odds with what is manifestly the case when we’re doing phenomenology, or explicating the subjective standpoint.

    The issue here is “aim”. Sure, writing in third person leaves the impression of objectivity and scientific-ness (if this is a word; well, it is now), but this is just how it seems, right? Are we actually justified in speaking about our impressions in third person? Are we justified to do it even when we label it “scientific realism”?

    Kantian Naturalist:
    I would say that perception and action are different poles of a unified system, which can be interrupted by higher-level cognitive functions. To observe without responding is a very difficult practice to master.

    Even you, a committed horizontalist, slip at times and speak of “higher-level cognitive functions”. Perhaps this is because it’s the only way that these things actually make sense?

    In the light of this, the rest of what you say is self-contradictory. When you first mention “higher-level cognitive functions” and you acknowledge that they are very difficult to master, and then next you try to tone them down as if they didn’t matter at all, I can only see this as a self-contradiction.

    Kantian Naturalist:
    I disagree with this analysis quite strongly, in part because I don’t believe in “sensations” as little “atoms” of awareness that get organized into larger wholes by some other cognitive faculty.I regard that as a 17th-century conception of the mind that is not supported by either careful phenomenological description or empirical cognitive science.

    I’m sincerely interested what in particular does “empirical cognitive science” disagree with in my analysis? With the fact that hearing is one thing and seeing is another?

    Kantian Naturalist:
    Phenomenologically, my awareness of the barking dog as a barking dog consists of a perceptual figure that stands out against a perceptual background, and where it is the perceptual figure itself — the barking dog — that is the unifying ground of the different sensory aspects attributed to the dog. The sound it is making, and its shape, color and size, are the interaction between my embodied sensory abilities and the animal over there in space (and time).

    Great, except that you are completely skipping the step where sense-data enters through their respective channels. Yes, I noticed you said you didn’t believe in sense-data, but since you at the same time recognized “higher-level cognitive functions” that organize sense-data, your denial of sense-data didn’t make sense to me.

    Kantian Naturalist:
    I can, should I choose, isolate the sensory qualities and attend to them as such — disengage from the perceptual encounter. I can, in other words, attend to the sensations per se. But as a matter of how experience unfolds, it is not the case that we are first given sensations that the intellect then works upon; rather, the perceptual experience is an unfolding in time of a complex interaction between myself and the animal whose barking has attracted my attention, or is distracting or annoying me, etc.

    This is all quite true again in acknowledging that one can have some disengagement, but untrue in denial of the possibility of total disengagement. If we can get a grasp and control over some sensations, isn’t there a chance that we can disengage ourselves completely from all sensations? Moreover, I maintain that we can get a grasp and control even over the background of perceptual experience that has built an enormous unfolding momentum since the beginning of life. It takes an effort, but it can be done. Just like it’s possible to pole vault over six meters, but it takes lots of training and very few can do it, and even they can do it only sometimes. It doesn’t mean it cannot be done.

    And are you really saying that when we have this little strength for disengagement that we have, that the faculty which gives us this strength and the faculty which exercises this strength over sensations, that these are not distinct faculties? Or that they are distinct, but they are not higher-level faculties? That they control sensations, but only somewhat? That our picture of human psychology is best kept horizontal, not multidimensional?

    Kantian Naturalist:
    I would say that I regard reason as our ability to inquire into whether a conceptual framework is adequate, good enough, explanatory, helpful, conducive to inquiry, etc. — and revise it accordingly — whereas you seem to regard reason as an ability to intuit facts about reality that are quite distinct from our perceptual encounters with objects.

    Yes, because I maintain that reason as you describe it, inquiring into whether a conceptual framework is adequate, explanatory etc. leads to actual definitive results. It in fact figures out explanatory conceptual frameworks and distinguishes them from unexplanatory ones. It’s not eternally provisional. There’s actual approach to truth going on. Not in everybody’s case of course. The key is to keep to the correct method of inquiry. When the method of inquiry is right, the results are also right. And there’s a good chance of finding the right method, because reason is our ability to inquire into whether a conceptual framework is adequate, explanatory, etc.

  12. Erik:

    I’m sincerely interested what in particular does “empirical cognitive science” disagree with in my analysis? With the fact that hearing is one thing and seeing is another?

    Perhaps the McGurk effect is the sort of thing you were asking for?

    The McGurk effect is a perceptual phenomenon that demonstrates an interaction between hearing and vision in speech perception. The illusion occurs when the auditory component of one sound is paired with the visual component of another sound, leading to the perception of a third sound.[1] The visual information a person gets from seeing a person speak changes the way they hear the sound.

    Synesthesia is another example of cross-talk at the subpersonal level affecting whole-person experience, although in this case it is between processing of perceptual inputs and existing abstract concepts.

  13. Alan Fox: as Gregory ever suggested English is not his first language? I have watched a video that leads me to think he is completely at ease in English.

    Gregory’s blog says he is Canadian. If so, that would make questions like this idle.

  14. hotshoe_:

    Note to KN: I’m really not criticizing your whatever-it-is with Erik.It’s incomprehensible to me — but clearly you get a lot out of it. Maybe you’ll be the one to break him with kindness in the end.

    Too optimistic, I suspect. The most I hope for is a philosophically productive and interesting exchange.

    That’s not to say I don’t find a lot of Erik’s comments hard to understand. I think that’s partly because he is commenting from a structuralist and scholastic standpoint and I know little about either. I also read some of his posts as intellectually coy, although I suspect others will label it differently.

    For example, I still have no idea why he is relating the scientific finding of ice ages with the scriptural story of the flood.

  15. Erik,

    Allan, interrupted: The event killed all of humanity, except for some Hebrews…

    Erik: Deliberate misreading. I will not deal with this post any further.

    How can you say that it was either

    a) a misreading
    b) a deliberate act

    ?

    Here is the full text of what I said.

    “The event killed all of humanity, except for some Hebrews, if we are to take the Biblical account as the master version. I am sure they were all pretty concerned, but the whole of humanity was reduced to 8, wherever they lived.”

    My sincere reading of the Biblical account is that all of humanity but 8 were destroyed. The matter does not turn on whether they were Hebrews or not, but I thought the early biblical events were supposed to document the doings of that tribe. If the Noahs were not Hebrews, I humbly retract. If the Biblical account allows wiggle room for more than 8 human survivors, I’d retract that too, though I don’t see how that reading works. It’s just how I read it. Honestly!

  16. Mung,

    Don’t be so harsh on Allan. He could just be ignorant.

    I realise unsupported one-liners are your stock-in-trade, but would you care to explain how I misread (either Erik’s post or the Biblical account – not clear which)? How many survivors of the Genesis Flood (15 cubits over the highest mountain tops, which renders ice dams a bit of an unlikely (and non-Biblical) source)*** are expected by non-ignorant people?

    *** Sorry for the nesting, me no write so good.

  17. Mung,

    Erik, I am convinced the skeptics here don’t think that ice is water.

    It’s not us you need to poke fun at; it’s the writer(s) of the Genesis account. A boat, indeed. Just in case.

  18. The narrator of Noah knows the mind of God. One would e left accuracy in details.

    Bonus: a long lost chapter of Gilgamesh has turned up. Perhaps it will shed some light. I don’t think Gilgamesh is told from God’s point of view.

  19. Allan Miller: If the Noahs were not Hebrews, I humbly retract.

    Good. It makes some difference, you see. If you take Genesis as your master version, then Genesis says that Hebrews are descendants of Abraham. It’s not stated who Abraham himself was. And Abraham was long after Noah.

  20. Erik: The issue here is “aim”. Sure, writing in third person leaves the impression of objectivity and scientific-ness (if this is a word; well, it is now), but this is just how it seems, right? Are we actually justified in speaking about our impressions in third person? Are we justified to do it even when we label it “scientific realism”?

    The objectivity or third-personal stance of science does not consist in the grammatical voice in which scientific papers are written, but in the structure of the practice of scientific inquiry. But objectivity-for-us is the only kind of objectivity that makes any sense — any sense to us. And who else is philosophizing here besides us human beings?

    Even you, a committed horizontalist, slip at times and speak of “higher-level cognitive functions”. Perhaps this is because it’s the only way that these things actually make sense?

    No — because it’s a time-honored metaphor, hence the scare-quotes. A more precise form of expression would be to say that supposed “higher-level” cognitive functions are really just cognitive functions carried out in areas of neocortex further removed from primary sensory association cortex. We can replace the picture of hierarchy with a picture of spatial distribution within the brain.

    In the light of this, the rest of what you say is self-contradictory. When you first mention “higher-level cognitive functions” and you acknowledge that they are very difficult to master, and then next you try to tone them down as if they didn’t matter at all, I can only see this as a self-contradiction.

    What I think is difficult to master is the ability to override sensory, motor, and affective activity in order for the discursive-conceptual activity to dominate consciousness — and that ability involves the long process of growing the right kinds of synaptic connections within the prefrontal cortex and between prefrontal cortex and other parts of the brain.

    I’m sincerely interested what in particular does “empirical cognitive science” disagree with in my analysis? With the fact that hearing is one thing and seeing is another?

    A modulation in the firing of the optic nerve is not a modulation in the firing of the auditory nerve, but by the time the signals have propagated to visual cortex and auditory cortex, there’s already been a lot of subcortical processing that feeds into cortical areas and propagation from secondary areas back to the primary sensory association areas. So the time information reaches the neocortex there’s already been some blending of information coming in through different sensory modalities. Or such is my understanding, at any rate.

    Great, except that you are completely skipping the step where sense-data enters through their respective channels. Yes, I noticed you said you didn’t believe in sense-data, but since you at the same time recognized “higher-level cognitive functions” that organize sense-data, your denial of sense-data didn’t make sense to me.

    The problem with this picture is that by the time we get to any kind of consciousness of perceptual objects, there’s already been a huge amount of subcortical and cortical information-processing. So are we going to identify “sense-data” with the triggering of modality-specific nerves in the retina, cochlea, and other specialized sensory organs? Or with the propagation of signals in the primary sensory association areas?

    This is all quite true again in acknowledging that one can have some disengagement, but untrue in denial of the possibility of total disengagement. If we can get a grasp and control over some sensations, isn’t there a chance that we can disengage ourselves completely from all sensations?

    As I see it, complete disengagement would require that we sever the synaptic connections between prefrontal cortex and the rest of the brain.

    Moreover, I maintain that we can get a grasp and control even over the background of perceptual experience that has built an enormous unfolding momentum since the beginning of life. It takes an effort, but it can be done. Just like it’s possible to pole vault over six meters, but it takes lots of training and very few can do it, and even they can do it only sometimes. It doesn’t mean it cannot be done.

    It’s true that the ascetic or adept can successfully push everything bodily into the deep background of his or her consciousness and generate new kinds of consciousness in deep meditation or prayer.

    But I think it’s a mistake to take that extraordinary achievement as indicating of the true nature of our basic epistemic condition. And that is precisely that mistake made when we use ascetic practices as a basis for describing our basic epistemic condition as a “cooperation” between intellect and senses.

    Ascetic practices do not reveal that distinction; ascetic practices produce that distinction, and the distinction appears to be revealed rather than produced only when we are reading descriptions of the subjective consciousness produced by those techniques.

    Yes, because I maintain that reason as you describe it, inquiring into whether a conceptual framework is adequate, explanatory etc. leads to actual definitive results. It in fact figures out explanatory conceptual frameworks and distinguishes them from unexplanatory ones. It’s not eternally provisional. There’s actual approach to truth going on. Not in everybody’s case of course. The key is to keep to the correct method of inquiry. When the method of inquiry is right, the results are also right. And there’s a good chance of finding the right method, because reason is our ability to inquire into whether a conceptual framework is adequate, explanatory, etc.

    That’s a really interesting response, actually — and quite elegant. For the time being, let’s treat it as an open question whether intelligent inquiry reveals that reason can immediately intuit the structure of reality or if it is something more prosaic.

  21. newton: But so are non Hebrews if the event is historically correct

    That presents some problems if the accounts describe a few thousand years of history. I didn’t make the “Hebrew” comment and don’t defend it. “People” or “humans” would be better.

    But it is interesting that the descendants of eight people, having only one Y chromosome among them, managed somehow to come up with thousands of diverse and divergent theologies in only a few centuries.

  22. Kantian Naturalist:
    A more precise form of expression would be to say that supposed “higher-level” cognitive functions are really just cognitive functions carried out in areas of neocortex further removed from primary sensory association cortex. We can replace the picture of hierarchy with a picture of spatial distribution within the brain.

    If we look at causal paths for vision, at least, there is a hierarchy but with significant feedback from upper levels to lower. The label “upper” is justified by the the fact the upper level neurons have access to a wider input area which has been processed in a larger variety of ways than do the lower level neurons.

    I am not sure exactly what you mean by “cognitive functions”, however. Perhaps you mean to restrict consideration solely to the whole-person level, in which case I would agree that a better description is horizontal networking (peer-to-peer for computer geeks).

    A modulation in the firing of the optic nerve is not a modulation in the firing of the auditory nerve, but by the time the signals have propagated to visual cortex and auditory cortex, there’s already been a lot of subcortical processing that feeds into cortical areas and propagation from secondary areas back to the primary sensory association areas.So the time information reaches the neocortex there’s already been some blending of information coming in through different sensory modalities. Or such is my understanding, at any rate.

    Multisensory illusions provides examples of what you are thinking of, I believe.

    It is interesting to try to unpack the word “illusion”. Perhaps it means the experience differs from that where the inputs to the two senses are presented separately and independently.

  23. BruceS,

    I was trying to say that, at the personal level, our phenomenological descriptions of subjective experience reveals a whole complex of world-self-others, including as part of that complex, our awareness of unified perceptible objects.

    At the subpersonal level, the causal correlate of that awareness involves massive multimodal information integration across primary sensory areas, prefrontal cortical areas, and subcortical processes.

    Thus we do not need to posit either the empiricist’s “sense-data” or the rationalist’s “intellect” in telling either the phenomenological/descriptive story or the causal/explanatory story.

  24. Erik,

    Good. It makes some difference, you see. If you take Genesis as your master version, then Genesis says that Hebrews are descendants of Abraham. It’s not stated who Abraham himself was. And Abraham was long after Noah.

    It makes no difference to the fundamental point: 8 surviving people. Yes or no?

  25. Allan Miller:

    Good. It makes some difference, you see. If you take Genesis as your master version, then Genesis says that Hebrews are descendants of Abraham. It’s not stated who Abraham himself was. And Abraham was long after Noah.

    It makes no difference to the fundamental point: 8 surviving people. Yes or no?

    Good call. That was one of the most pointless evasions Erik has ever used – which is saying a lot, considering.

    I guess he’ll do anything to avoid thinking about the incoherence and immorality of a fairytale which claims we’re all descended from Noah’s three son’s wives.

    And why three? Where are Noah’s other children? Where are his daughters (and their own husbands)? He was one of the centuries-old patriarchs, according to the tale. D’ya mean to tell me a man like that has sex three times, gets three sons, then quits having sex for the rest of his life? And where are the children in those three son’s families? How were the wives forced to abandon the children they had already born?

    I don’t care whether those people were Hebrews, or the ancestors of the Hebrews, or even the ancestors of everyone of us alive today. I care why the asshole christians tell me they worship a god who chose to destroy every person except Noah, three of his favored progeny, and enough wombs to re-populate the planet afterward. And worship it without thinking, just believing. Because thinking about it reveals how immeasurably horrible the whole thing was.

    To act as if the most important point to quibble with is “were they Hebrews” is either a massive failure to get the real point, or a spectacular act of trolling. Only Erik knows which.

  26. Neil Rickert: I’m inclined to agree that there is no such thing as “the scientific method”.

    However, we can still recognize science and distinguish it from other human activities, even if we cannot point to a distinctive method.

    By just guessing it and calling it science, and by calling all dissent pseudoscience? Interesting opinion.

  27. Kantian Naturalist:
    The objectivity or third-personal stance of science does not consist in the grammatical voice in which scientific papers are written, but in the structure of the practice of scientific inquiry. But objectivity-for-us is the only kind of objectivity that makes any sense — any sense to us. And who else is philosophizing here besides us human beings?

    Can you be specific about “the structure of the practice of scientific inquiry”? You mean that scientists study another, not oneself, and that’s what makes the study scientific? E.g. psychologists are not permitted to treat their personal introspective material as scientific data?

    Anyway, by emphasizing to us, you clearly emphasize the irrelevance of the study of another. If in your opinion only study of another can be termed scientific, then such alleged science is completely irrelevant to the topic at hand.

    Remember that this point began with your attempt to make a distinction between “experience” and “objective science”. Now it has come down to distinction between “experience” and “objectivity-to-us”. Where’s the distinction? What is there in “objectivity-to-us” that is not there in “experience”?

    Kantian Naturalist:
    No — because it’s a time-honored metaphor, hence the scare-quotes. A more precise form of expression would be to say that supposed “higher-level” cognitive functions are really just cognitive functions carried out in areas of neocortex further removed from primary sensory association cortex. We can replace the picture of hierarchy with a picture of spatial distribution within the brain.

    I smell mind-brain identity theory.

    Kantian Naturalist:
    What I think is difficult to master is the ability to override sensory, motor, and affective activity in order for the discursive-conceptual activity to dominate consciousness — and that ability involves the long process of growing the right kinds of synaptic connections within the prefrontal cortex and between prefrontal cortex and other parts of the brain.

    So, for every mental faculty there must be a cortex, as in mind-brain identity theory?

    Kantian Naturalist:
    A modulation in the firing of the optic nerve is not a modulation in the firing of the auditory nerve, but by the time the signals have propagated to visual cortex and auditory cortex, there’s already been a lot of subcortical processing that feeds into cortical areas and propagation from secondary areas back to the primary sensory association areas.So the time information reaches the neocortex there’s already been some blending of information coming in through different sensory modalities. Or such is my understanding, at any rate.

    And because there’s such mess in the head, one cannot analyze in oneself what’s going on and disentangle oneself from it? Or one needs to grow yet another cortex or subcortex for it, because you hold to the mind-brain identity theory?

    Kantian Naturalist:
    The problem with this picture is that by the time we get to any kind of consciousness of perceptual objects, there’s already been a huge amount of subcortical and cortical information-processing. So are we going to identify “sense-data” with the triggering of modality-specific nerves in the retina, cochlea, and other specialized sensory organs? Or with the propagation of signals in the primary sensory association areas?

    So, there’s all this information-processing going on, but somehow you cannot pinpoint the information that is being processed? If so, then how is it justified to speak about information-processing? Isn’t it self-evident that the information you refer to is the sense-data that I refer to?

    Kantian Naturalist:
    As I see it, complete disengagement would require that we sever the synaptic connections between prefrontal cortex and the rest of the brain.

    “Sever” in what sense? Isn’t lapse of attention a common everyday experience? Does lapse of attention sever synaptic connections? And when you become attentive again, are the severed connections being restored every time?

    Something’s fundamentally wrong in your picture. I’d say it’s the mind-brain identity theory that’s wrong.

    Kantian Naturalist:
    It’s true that the ascetic or adept can successfully push everything bodily into the deep background of his or her consciousness and generate new kinds of consciousness in deep meditation or prayer.

    But I think it’s a mistake to take that extraordinary achievement as indicating of the true nature of our basic epistemic condition. And that is precisely that mistake made when we use ascetic practices as a basis for describing our basic epistemic condition as a “cooperation” between intellect and senses.

    Precisely on the same grounds I could argue that we should not attribute any importance to “objective science” over “experience”, because it’s the “experience” which is “the true nature of our basic epistemic condition”, isn’t it?

    But I don’t argue this. I want to know what our basic epistemic condition is, and that’s why one must examine the entire range of states of consciousness, identify and select the healthy kinds and reject the pathological kinds of states.

    Can mind-brain identity theory take the brain and the nervous system (which are equated with the mind as it is) and tell what should be done to improve it? I.e. take it as it is and suggest how it should be, if it is to be better? If this can be done, then on what grounds is the other state better? Isn’t the original state “the true nature of our basic epistemic condition”? How do you tell what is “the true nature of our basic epistemic condition” and on what basis do you say it’s the state where we should be? On what basis are ascetic superconscious states of mind unhealthy?

    Kantian Naturalist:
    Ascetic practices do not reveal that distinction; ascetic practices produce that distinction, and the distinction appears to be revealed rather than produced only when we are reading descriptions of the subjective consciousness produced by those techniques.

    In the mental world, “reveal” and “produce” (in this particular sense) are the same thing. For example, a child learns to read. On your mind-brain identity theory, it’s not merely that literacy is revealed to the child, it’s that the child grows new synapses and cortexes that contain the wisdom of literacy.

    On my account, when literacy is revealed, it becomes a reality in the mental world, an undeniable ontic fact – not (necessarily) physical, but ontic.

    Kantian Naturalist:
    For the time being, let’s treat it as an open question whether intelligent inquiry reveals that reason can immediately intuit the structure of reality or if it is something more prosaic.

    Until one has a revelation of sorts, one can treat it as an open question. But if one has already had a revelation of sorts, it’s intellectual dishonesty to deny the reality of it. If you during all your time spent on school and academic career never had any eureka experience, you can treat this as an open question.

  28. hotshoe_: I care why the asshole christians tell me they worship a god who chose to destroy every person except Noah, three of his favored progeny, and enough wombs to re-populate the planet afterward.

    The story is written in Genesis, the scripture of the Jews. So you are being somewhat anti-Semite here, not just anti-Christian.

    When you grow up, I will answer. (I know it’s a safe promise because you will never grow up.)

  29. Erik,

    The story is written in Genesis, the scripture of the Jews. So you are being somewhat anti-Semite here, not just anti-Christian.

    Gasp! Would this ‘anti-semitism’ have been assuaged by a more inclusive reference extended to ‘asshole Jews?’ as well? 🙂 You’ve just outdone yourself, diversion-wise.

    There is an interesting point arising. The Scripture is written in Hebrew. Much agonising among scholars is based upon the Hebrew meaning of words like ‘day’, ‘earth’ ‘all’. Obviously, people could have spoken ‘Hebrew’ before there were technical ‘Hebrews’ in existence. But it is equally possible that Noah’s family spoke a different language. After all, if they are the ancestors of all races, it seems uncertain that they definitively spoke the lingo passed through Shem then Eber and on to the ‘Hebrews’ via Abraham rather than one of the others or something else again. The eyewitness account, if such there were, would not be in Hebrew, but would be translated as such by some later son of Abraham, leading to some potential losses of accuracy.

  30. “one must examine the entire range of states of consciousness, identify and select the healthy kinds and reject the pathological kinds of states.”

    Yes. If KN did this, he might conclude that holding the combined ideologies of naturalism, empiricism, evolutionism, socialism, LGBTism, anti-foundationalism, environmentalism, compatibilism, emergentism, reductionism and scientism (Sell-ars-out style), while personally practising philosophistry in public suggests a “pathological kind of state”. There are healthier combinations of ideologies to choose, but such pathology is at the core of the ‘skeptic’ mind/brainset. To become more fully human coinciding with vertical transcendence; philosophists don’t seem to want that due to some unreasonable pathological fear.

  31. I think Gregory is on to something here. From Wiki:

    Theophobia is a fear of religion or gods which may incite revulsion against[1] them. Theophobes may avoid religious texts, houses of worship, and people who believe in deities. Theophobia may be expressed as fear, anger or other negative emotion toward religious practitioners. Theophobic representation may categorize the deity as being an arbitrary totalitarian dictator or contrariwise, as being not worthy of worship.[2]

    That’s pretty spot-on with a lot of commenters here.

  32. It can’t be that you are wrong, can it wjm? It has to be that the other person who disagrees is mentally ill.

    And this is what is so frightening about you people.

  33. out of interest, what mental health classification do you give to people that believe in alien abductions, spoon bending, mind reading and so on?

  34. Allan Miller:
    There is an interesting point arising. The Scripture is written in Hebrew. Much agonising among scholars is based upon the Hebrew meaning of words like ‘day’, ‘earth’ ‘all’. Obviously, people could have spoken ‘Hebrew’ before there were technical ‘Hebrews’ in existence. But it is equally possible that Noah’s family spoke a different language. After all, if they are the ancestors of all races, it seems uncertain that they definitively spoke the lingo passed through Shem then Eber and on to the ‘Hebrews’ via Abraham rather than one of the others or something else again. The eyewitness account, if such there were, would not be in Hebrew, but would be translated as such by some later son of Abraham, leading to some potential losses of accuracy.

    Yes, these are the uncertainties concerning the language. They are quite considerable. In Genesis, the tower of Babel story follows the flood story, and there’s no certainty if there was any continuity of language beyond the tower of Babel event.

    Concerning your last point, “potential losses of accuracy in translation” is a rather tricky thing. The relationship of the text to a particular meaning is arbitrary anyway (this is a given in structuralist analysis). Arbitrary doesn’t mean quite the same as random, but it means that the text is meaningless without further context, and in wrong context you are bound to read the wrong meaning into it. Even though potential losses of accuracy may arise due to (mis)translation, misapplying the context is a more serious cause of error, whereas understanding the context rightly will help to identify the intentions behind the text and thus it will help us to interpret how accurate the text was meant to be in the first place, i.e. what was the authors’ idea of accuracy.

    The interpretation of the meaning of the text is crucially linked to our attribution of genre to the text. If we read it as a history book, the meaning will be one, if we read it as folklore, the meaning will be another, and so on. I maintain that the genre in this case is definitely closer to folklore than to (modern understanding of) history. If you take me for a regular hyperevangelical literalist fundie, we are not having a dialogue.

    Every instance of interpretation is like every instance of translation. “Interpretation” and “translation” are synonyms in most contexts. Our own interpretation of the text is like an instance of translation with the potential of loss or distortion of meaning.

    Even literal interpretation is not without its problems. Literal interpretation can mean two very different things. First, it can mean corresponding to external reality. Second, it can mean close reading letter-by-letter. If we want to ensure correct interpretation, i.e. as per the intention of the authors, we have to read closely rather than expecting unproblematic correspondence to externalities. The externalities, if any, must be deduced from the text, not expected to be as we see externalities today. Instead of imposing the kind of genre to the text where one-to-one correspondence to externalities is a given, it’s more appropriate to deduce the genre by close reading, to let the text reveal its genre.

    Now, in support of the Genesis flood story, I have mentioned other flood stories of the world. The other stories, such as Gilgamesh, Matsya Purana, and Popol Vuh, don’t completely overlap with the Genesis story. So, when I cite these stories as supporting each other, then I should not attribute priority to any version without due consideration. The differences between the versions (differences of names, time periods, and of other details) have an importance when the versions are to be taken impartially side by side, and this goes under literal interpretation in the sense of close reading letter-by-letter.

    There’s a discussion going on between me and KN about human internal/mental faculties. The point of this discussion is to identify the organ/faculty with which we interpret texts. By all signs, we disagree what the organ is and how it works. Accordingly, we are not agreeing on the manner of attributing meanings, we are not agreeing on what manner is correct, and we are also not agreeing on what it is we are attributing when we attribute meaning. There is a way the original authors of the flood story meant it when they composed the story and, in my opinion, the correct manner of interpretation aims at the way they meant it, with as little impositions on our side as possible. This is achieved by paying due attention to how our minds attribute genre and meaning and by identifying and eliminating our own impositions in the process.

    Anyway, all this said, for folklore it has become standard to assume a synthesis of events rather than a single historical event for any event described in the narrative. And for mythology it’s standard to assume personification of internal faculties and natural powers as a complete self-contained layer of interpretation in its own right, such as is evident in Greek mythology for example. Hopefully this clarifies my position 🙂

  35. petrushka: That presents some problems if the accounts describe a few thousand years of history. I didn’t make the “Hebrew” comment and don’t defend it. “People” or “humans” would be better.

    But it is interesting that the descendants of eight people, having only one Y chromosome among them, managed somehow to come up with thousands of diverse and divergent theologies in only a few centuries.

    When you live to be 800 you have a lot more time for hobbies.

  36. Erik: By just guessing it and calling it science, and by calling all dissent pseudoscience? Interesting opinion.

    Not all dissent

  37. I don’t accept the mind-brain identity theory. I think the truth of the relationship between what we are persons and what we are as organisms is too complicated doesn’t fit neatly onto the staked-out positions in philosophy of mind. Put quite roughly, I think philosophy of mind needs a reciprocal equilibrium or mutual co-adjustment of existential phenomenology and embodied-embedded cognitive science.

    I’ll need to think a bit about how this picture of mindedness relates to my picture of interpretation and translation. Good problem to chew on!

  38. Erik: There is a way the original authors of the flood story meant it when they composed the story and, in my opinion, the correct manner of interpretation aims at the way they meant it, with as little impositions on our side as possible. This is achieved by paying due attention to how our minds attribute genre and meaning and by identifying and eliminating our own impositions in the process

    If one assumes divine input into the original authors meaning shouldn’t we have to account for how He meant it, how does one go about that?

  39. Kantian Naturalist,

    It’s really nice of you to send links to Wikipedia, KN, on topics that you have neither demonstrated competence nor clarity. 😉 Do you send your students to Wikipedia too?

    “what we are [as] persons and what we are as organisms” – KN

    Of course, some people add inspiring language, including Native Americans, that we are spirits too. Your disenchanted flat scientistic reductionism is noted, KN.

    Secular Jewish philosophists may not agree, but then aren’t there more ‘spiritual’ Native Americans than Jews (either secular or religious) in USA today?

  40. Gregory: There are healthier combinations of ideologies to choose, but such pathology is at the core of the ‘skeptic’ mind/brainset. To become more fully human coinciding with vertical transcendence; philosophists don’t seem to want that due to some unreasonable pathological fear.

    Physician heal thyself

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