Modern-Postmodern

There is an interesting conversation going on over at Eric Reitan’s blog under the post “Mind-Body Issues,” in the comment section. Instead of taking up Eric’s space in the limited comment section, I thought I would address Cheek and Burk in a post here.

Cheek, you wrote:
“My contention with your original invocation of postmodernism was that I could not see how it was on point in unraveling this issue. I recall the discussion of philosophical frameworks that you reference, and I was opposite Burk in that one. I just still don’t see how it directly informs the mind-body question.”

It informs every question. That was my point. As to this conversation, Burk specifically said that the mind-body question was now a “scientific” question and not a “philosophical” one. That is such a blatant biased and presumptive statement. When such statements are allowed to inform and color the entire conversation, we are already off track.

“Here’s what I mean: if Burk is wrong regarding philosophical frameworks, as I believe he is, (though I’ll qualify that by saying that he seems to be arguing that the correct philosophical framework, empiricism, is so obviously the correct one as to brook no argument, sorry if that is a misinterpretation of your position, Burk) then he does rely on a philosophical framework despite any disavowal. In that light, it seems to me, the pertinent question is whether that framework offers the best answer to the mind/body problem.”

That is indeed the question, but we can’t answer it unless we point out exactly what I was trying to point out regarding his statements. If we allow Burk to simply assume such and then argue his points, the conversation can go nowhere because to agree with his premise is to give the game away. So, we both agree he is wrong to frame the question as a “scientific” as opposed to a “philosophic” question and it now becomes a matter of why we should accept his framing of these issues given the postmodern critique of that very framework.

3. “This statement shows you make the same mistake Burk does. The truth is that both the secular fundamentalist and the religious fundamentalist both believe they have the “evidence” and “facts” to prove their positions and your statement that the religious person has no evidence “whatever” should rather be that the religious fundamentalist interprets the evidence differently.” (Darrell from the comments section on Eric’s blog)

“Perhaps my statement was a (very tiny) speck to strong, but it is still clear to me that while the secular fundamentalists are not justified epistemically in granting effective certainty to empiricism as a framework, they do have strong reasons to accept their particular framework. I agree that religious fundamentalists “believe they have the ‘evidence’. . . to prove their position.” However, that belief is interesting epistemically only because it is utterly baffling. There are simply no grounds in experience for accepting the detailed religious content of any one religion.”

Well, to say there are “no grounds” in experience for accepting the content of any religion is pretty bold given the overwhelming majority of people throughout history in all times and cultures who have asserted they do have grounds experientially and otherwise to believe in some sort of transcendence. Plus, since such a statement could itself be called a philosophical position, metaphysical, even religious, it could very well fall under the same critique (which would be the postmodern assertion). In other words, from what philosophical position are you able to assert that there are “no grounds”? Further, what those “grounds” might be would all have to be evaluated and reflected upon, but they do exist. What I am saying is that those “grounds” would all be interpretations of experience and the material world. The point is that the modern fundamentalist, whether secular or religious, all accept the modern understanding of how one is suppose to “ground” (ironically something called foundationalism) truth claims. And yet, they come to diametrically opposite conclusions. How? Because they interpret the same “evidence” and “facts” from different metaphysical presuppositions or “faiths.”

“Given the overwhelming success of the empirical approach, it is easy to understand why someone would overstate its capabilities…”

I’m not sure how this statement even applies. What do you mean “overwhelming” success and how does it exclude theistic approaches? Given the overwhelming number of scientists and theorists going back to Bacon and Newton who were Christians and also did empirical work, do you think that it has only been since the modern philosophical naturalists/empiricists appeared on the scene that science has become “successful”? No one is saying there should not be testing, research, and fundamental scientific “empirical” work in the area of mind-body, but all that work is being conducted from and through a philosophical world-view.

“Again, here I’m just trying to get at the fact that the acceptance of the value of empirical evidence in solving this problem leaves Burk’s claim in bounds. I don’t think it’s likely that existing philosophical frameworks will be sufficient to solving this problem even as we discover more on the empirical side, but I also don’t think it’s inconceivable that some future empirical discoveries in neuroscience will clear up the fundamental questions given only current philosophical understandings. It’s an open question is all I’m saying.”

I’m not saying his view is out of bounds. I’m saying he needs to admit it is a philosophical viewpoint and not simply just a “scientific” view as opposed to a “philosophical” view. You sort of mirror Burk’s presumption when you assert that existing philosophical frameworks might fall short as we discover more on the “empirical” side. You miss the point. There is no “empirical” side that is not always already being interpreted through a philosophical framework. It is not one or the other; it is both all the time.

Burk, you wrote:

“The deep role of philosophy here seems to be to support integrity of thought, which means principally, the ability to uncover and analyze one’s own presuppositions and those of others. This is the essence of the scholastic disputation, the scientific method, and of reasoned discussion in general. This would seem to be the point of parsing, interpretation, hermeneutics, etc- not preserving the presuppositions one has (by faith; as eloquently put by Cheek, an epistemic catastrophe), but plumbing them and evaluating whether they hold up to a definition of truth. A definition of truth which I take to be correspondence with reality, thus the empirical method I prize. If one takes the definition of truth to be the Bible, then one is an inerrantist, and if one takes the definition of truth to be god and revelation as selectively reconciled with reason and non-biblical evidence, then one is somewhere in between (which seems a somewhat unstable position, I’d suggest, though certainly more coherent than the inerrantist position).”

Here is great example of what I was talking about as far as secular fundamentalists and religious fundamentalists taking the same approach in how they try to “ground” truth. Although the writers would not label themselves “fundamentalists,” but rather, “evangelicals,” here is an example, and one here, of people who also argue for a “correspondence” theory of truth who would come down on quite opposite sides as you Burk. I think this demonstrates my point rather well. Further, my point is that to oppose faith to reason is simply a modern fallacy. To say one is an “epistemic” catastrophe is simply to assert such from another faith-based philosophical position (philosophical naturalism), but one that is hidden under the cover of just “objectively” noting the “facts” and “evidence.” That game is over.

Beyond that, the explanation given of the role of “deep” philosophy shows, Burk, that you still do not quite understand the postmodern critique. The very process you describe is always already being undertaken from some philosophical viewpoint. You are trying to get behind the process where we find, incredibly, gee-wiz, the bedrock strata of your own (correspondence) philosophical position! How convenient!

“My immediate question was more concrete, though- whether formal philosophy of today has anything to add to resolving the mind-body problem. Formal philosophy has the same tools it has had from time immemorial, which is to say, introspection and armchair cogitation.”

Here is just another perfect example of my initial critique. It is extremely difficult to have an intelligent conversation with anyone that has such a prejudicial and shallow view, especially when that person is making such statements from a philosophical viewpoint! Wow. Cheek, are you getting this?

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10 Responses to Modern-Postmodern

  1. Burk Braun says:

    Hi, Darrell-

    You seem to be so energetically gesturing towards an argument that the argument itself is getting lost.

    “The point is that the modern fundamentalist, whether secular or religious, all accept the modern understanding of how one is suppose to “ground” (ironically something called foundationalism) truth claims. And yet, they come to diametrically opposite conclusions. How? Because they interpret the same “evidence” and “facts” from different metaphysical presuppositions or “faiths.””

    Just so, but evaluating the quality of those faiths is what it is all about. I am a Hari Krishna, and you are a Mormon, and is that the end of the story, philosophically speaking? Hopefully not. Each of these faiths can be subjected to an analysis of its suppositions, as long as we all agree on a definition of truth when we start out.

    I’m not saying his view is out of bounds. I’m saying he needs to admit it is a philosophical viewpoint and not simply just a “scientific” view as opposed to a “philosophical” view.

    Hopefully I cleared that up in my next post. I was trying to use language as directly as possible, with normal distinctions between professions. Who is going to resolve this issue- philosophers or scientists?

    Although the writers would not label themselves “fundamentalists,” but rather, “evangelicals,” here is an example, and one here, of people who also argue for a “correspondence” theory of truth who would come down on quite opposite sides as you Burk.

    I am always pleased when someone shares the same definition of truth. That is certainly a promising starting point. Now whether they fulfill their criterion is an entirely different issue. What is your criterion?

    Well, to say there are “no grounds” in experience for accepting the content of any religion is pretty bold given the overwhelming majority of people throughout history in all times and cultures who have asserted they do have grounds experientially and otherwise to believe in some sort of transcendence.

    Right- well that is a fascinating question, and I think that William James was most eloquent as well as most disappointed in saying that this does not really amount to much, in terms of demonstrating anything other than that humans are indeed capable of having transcendent, psychedelic, spiritually moving, etc. experiences. Their origin is far more efficiently and logically accounted for internally than externally.

    The very process you describe is always already being undertaken from some philosophical viewpoint. You are trying to get behind the process where we find, incredibly, gee-wiz, the bedrock strata of your own (correspondence) philosophical position! How convenient!

    Well, what I posited was that philosphy (love of truth) has to start with a definition of truth, acceptable to all parties. Do you have a different position? Are we doomed to running in circles?

    Here is just another perfect example of my initial critique. It is extremely difficult to have an intelligent conversation with anyone that has such a prejudicial and shallow view, especially when that person is making such statements from a philosophical viewpoint!

    Care to expand on this critique? At this point, you should take a breath and present the case you would like to present.. that souls are better models of how our minds work, or that no discussion can ever plumb the depths of consciousness because postmodernism has fatally destroyed all narratives … whatever it is, please state it explicitly.

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  2. Darrell says:

    “The point is that the modern fundamentalist, whether secular or religious, all accept the modern understanding of how one is suppose to “ground” (ironically something called foundationalism) truth claims. And yet, they come to diametrically opposite conclusions. How? Because they interpret the same “evidence” and “facts” from different metaphysical presuppositions or “faiths.””

    “Just so…”

    But hold on…then you are admitting my critique is correct, right? You cannot simply posit that the mind-body problem is a “scientific” one as opposed to a “philosophical” one.

    “…but evaluating the quality of those faiths is what it is all about. I am a Hari Krishna, and you are a Mormon, and is that the end of the story, philosophically speaking? Hopefully not. Each of these faiths can be subjected to an analysis of its suppositions, as long as we all agree on a definition of truth when we start out.”

    Well of course, but you jump off track. Two things: First, I’m not starting a brand new line of inquiry here. I am referencing the arguments and statements you were making on Eric’s blog where you were basically arguing that the “scientists” are the ones doing the real work and the “philosophers” are sitting in the arm-chairs mumbling to one another. The Mormon and the Hari Krishna at least admit up-front where they are coming from. You do not. You are trying to say that while you base your views simply on the “evidence” and “facts”—the material world—Eric and others like him still believe in souls, spirits, and other such phenomenon supported only by the mumbo-jumbo of philosophy/theology. What you need to admit is that you are a philosophical naturalist/atheist and that such is a philosophical position not proved in the same way one “proves” (empirically) that water boils at a certain temperature—you are one by faith. Second, you posit that we can evaluate these faith claims if we all agree on a certain definition of truth. And yet, I just gave you examples (and there are many more) of where evangelical scholars hold the same correspondence theory of truth as you and yet come to opposite conclusions.

    “I’m not saying his view is out of bounds. I’m saying he needs to admit it is a philosophical viewpoint and not simply just a “scientific” view as opposed to a “philosophical” view.” (Darrell)

    “Hopefully I cleared that up in my next post. I was trying to use language as directly as possible, with normal distinctions between professions. Who is going to resolve this issue- philosophers or scientists?”

    I’m not sure I saw anything that cleared it up. But again, this misses the greater point. Scientists are philosophers. No scientist is doing their work in a vacuum. Every scientist is coming at what he/she is doing from some philosophical viewpoint, even if they are unconscious of it or could not articulate it. However, most are aware of it and can articulate something. I hope they can anyway. Good grief.

    (Continued)

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  3. Darrell says:

    “Although the writers would not label themselves “fundamentalists,” but rather, “evangelicals,” here is an example, and one here, of people who also argue for a “correspondence” theory of truth who would come down on quite opposite sides as you Burk.” (Darrell)

    “I am always pleased when someone shares the same definition of truth. That is certainly a promising starting point. Now whether they fulfill their criterion is an entirely different issue. What is your criterion?”

    But if they start with the same theory as you, from what “ground” or viewpoint are you able to say whether or not they have “fulfilled” the criteria? They would simply posit that you have failed to “fulfill” the criteria. My criterion is certainly not a “correspondence” theory that has been subverted and shown to be empty by the postmodern critique.

    “Well, to say there are “no grounds” in experience for accepting the content of any religion is pretty bold given the overwhelming majority of people throughout history in all times and cultures who have asserted they do have grounds experientially and otherwise to believe in some sort of transcendence.” (Darrell)

    “Right- well that is a fascinating question, and I think that William James was most eloquent as well as most disappointed in saying that this does not really amount to much, in terms of demonstrating anything other than that humans are indeed capable of having transcendent, psychedelic, spiritually moving, etc. experiences. Their origin is far more efficiently and logically accounted for internally than externally.”

    Well you will forgive me if I don’t think one 19th Century psychologist is the final word in this area against the great majority of people in all times and cultures and the majority of scholars from a wide array of disciplines. Historically, many more scholars and people in general have believed these experiences are better accounted for as an internal reflection upon an external (through the material world and lived experience) encounter with transcendence.

    “The very process you describe is always already being undertaken from some philosophical viewpoint. You are trying to get behind the process where we find, incredibly, gee-wiz, the bedrock strata of your own (correspondence) philosophical position! How convenient!” (Darrell)

    “Well, what I posited was that philosphy (love of truth) has to start with a definition of truth, acceptable to all parties. Do you have a different position? Are we doomed to running in circles?”

    Again, many evangelicals share your definition of truth. How has that helped you? I think what dooms us to running in circles is to have someone positing that they are the objective neutral observer only considering empirical evidence while everyone else is doing “introspection and armchair cogitation.”

    “Here is just another perfect example of my initial critique. It is extremely difficult to have an intelligent conversation with anyone that has such a prejudicial and shallow view, especially when that person is making such statements from a philosophical viewpoint!” (Darrell)

    “Care to expand on this critique? At this point, you should take a breath and present the case you would like to present.. that souls are better models of how our minds work, or that no discussion can ever plumb the depths of consciousness because postmodernism has fatally destroyed all narratives … whatever it is, please state it explicitly.”

    What model would suffice to someone who believes they are basing everything upon a “scientific” view informed only by “facts” and “evidence” while his interlocutors are hopelessly stumbling in the dark because of their blind faith in God, spirit, or transcendence? Beyond that, I am comfortable with the critique already stated in this post and on Eric’s blog. The case I want to make I just did. I would love for someone to take a deep breath and address it.

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  4. Burk Braun says:

    “The Mormon and the Hari Krishna at least admit up-front where they are coming from. You do not. You are trying to say that while you base your views simply on the “evidence” and “facts”—the material world—Eric and others like him still believe in souls, spirits, and other such phenomenon supported only by the mumbo-jumbo of philosophy/theology. What you need to admit is that you are a philosophical naturalist/atheist and that such is a philosophical position not proved in the same way one “proves” (empirically) that water boils at a certain temperature—you are one by faith.”

    This may be hard for you to accept, but my basis is exactly along the line of water boiling at a certain temperature. Chop off someone's head, and they cease thinking. Give them drugs and they go unconscious, or have spiritual experiences, or get happy. These are all empirical, this-world effects that clearly indicate the centrality of the brain for mind. Our self-understanding, as Eric and others put it, is quite variable. Mine is completely materialistic. The understanding of others such as yourself involves souls, etc. These are theories, based often on the most naive data, which is personal experience … exactly the phenomenon we are trying to explain. It is like trying to explain the principle of mirrors while confined to looking at one- without taking one apart or being allowed to look behind it, or knowing what it is made of.

    I am definitely not saying that I have the only valid way to interpret empirical data. As you say, theists take the same data in entirely different ways. But if we all start from the same definition of truth, then we can at least investigate each other's claims.

    “Second, you posit that we can evaluate these faith claims if we all agree on a certain definition of truth. And yet, I just gave you examples (and there are many more) of where evangelical scholars hold the same correspondence theory of truth as you and yet come to opposite conclusions.”

    Right, so the next question is how it is that they connect the tales of the Bible with the correspondence theory of truth. The Bible contradicts itself, so certain amounts of interpretive gymnastics have to be performed just on that front to explain away a pile of discrepancies. Fine. Then another set of imterpretations have to be developed to explain why they observed miracles while we do not. Perhaps there was a rupture in time, or the universe is run by a fickle god who can do anything she wants and happens to be asleep at the wheel right now.. all this is rather hard to credit, but it is a discussion that is worth having and has a place to start.

    To jump in and insinuate through the magic of postmodernism that one or the other group is unconscious of their irrational presuppositions and should, tout court, be excluded from further discussion seems more like a debating ploy than an honest search for knowledge. I beg you to be explicit.

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  5. Darrell says:

    “The Mormon and the Hari Krishna at least admit up-front where they are coming from. You do not. You are trying to say that while you base your views simply on the “evidence” and “facts”—the material world—Eric and others like him still believe in souls, spirits, and other such phenomenon supported only by the mumbo-jumbo of philosophy/theology. What you need to admit is that you are a philosophical naturalist/atheist and that such is a philosophical position not proved in the same way one “proves” (empirically) that water boils at a certain temperature—you are one by faith.”

    This may be hard for you to accept, but my basis is exactly along the line of water boiling at a certain temperature. (Burk)

    Well, this is Exhibit One for the very critique I’ve been making. Case closed. What more need be said? Imagine someone who believes his views are as evident and simple as noting that water boils at a certain temperature, while everyone else would appear to be living in fantasy land. Wow.

    I am definitely not saying that I have the only valid way to interpret empirical data. As you say, theists take the same data in entirely different ways. But if we all start from the same definition of truth, then we can at least investigate each other's claims. (Burk)

    But you do start with the same definition of truth as many evangelical “Bible-believing” scholars and as each of you have investigated the other’s claims you have both found the other (I’m shocked) completely wrong on just about every significant question. Why is that? Hmm, maybe because each is interpreting these obvious “corresponding” truths differently?

    …so the next question is how it is that they connect the tales of the Bible with the correspondence theory of truth. The Bible contradicts itself, so certain amounts of interpretive gymnastics have to be performed just on that front to explain away a pile of discrepancies…(Burk)

    I have no dog in that fight, because, like Eric, I think both you and most American evangelicals have a misguided modern view of the Bible and how it should be interpreted and read, so I will let you work that out with your philosophical (correspondence theory) cousins in the evangelical world.
    (Continued)

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  6. Darrell says:

    To jump in and insinuate through the magic of postmodernism that one or the other group is unconscious of their irrational presuppositions and should, tout court, be excluded from further discussion seems more like a debating ploy than an honest search for knowledge. I beg you to be explicit. (Burk)

    The nature of public blogs is to be able to jump in at any point and make one’s observations, which I will continue to do when interested. I insinuated nothing. I think I was pretty clear. Besides, my suggestion regarding postmodernism was directed to Eric and then Cheek responded and I did my best to respond to his/her questions. Explicitly: Whether unconscious or otherwise, the mind-body issue or any other significant area of life is always being discussed, investigated, reflected upon, and presented from some philosophical viewpoint. Further, I didn’t write that anyone should be “excluded” from further conversation if they were not willing to recognize such. I wrote that it is hard to have an intelligent conversation with such a person.

    Here is the issue I raised: You don’t want anyone to point out the problems with your fundamental presuppositions and philosophy before we even get to an issue like the mind-body issue. I think the reason you don’t want your philosophy questioned (as when I note the modern-postmodern divide), is because it allows you to keep asserting that your views are based upon modern empirical science (just the facts) while others who disagree, such as theists or Christians, are superstitious and the enemies of science (the ridiculous charge you make against Charles Taylor). I can see where one would like to hold on to this prejudicial view. But that’s too bad. On the one hand you say “just so” and admit every view is coming from some philosophical world-view; on the other hand, you say, “but my philosophy is based upon a certain theory, which is the correct one,” even though it is the same theory held by many evangelical “Bible-believing” scholars. How utterly puzzling. That alone should demonstrate my point about the modern/postmodern divide. The correspondence theory of truth is one of the very theories that postmodernism has called into question so you are back to square one. My point was simply that I think it wiser to investigate this area before one even gets to something like the mind-body issue.

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  7. Burk Braun says:

    This may be hard for you to accept, but my basis is exactly along the line of water boiling at a certain temperature. (Burk)

    Well, this is Exhibit One for the very critique I’ve been making. Case closed. What more need be said?

    A corrollary to my position is that I am working from the ground up, not from the sky down, as it were. The naturalist is taking the humble position and making models of reality from the facts at hand, and god is not one of those facts.

    Whether god is needed to explain the universe as a whole is an open question. But nothing else in our experience requires it, so we don't need it. God would be needed if, for instance, she were still talking from burning bushes, or causing earth-wide mountain-topping floods, or raining snakes and frogs, or resurrecting people after death. But no.. this is not happening, and the hypothesis is not necessary. It is entirely your job to show why such an idea is necessary for anything, other than possibly bare deism.

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  8. Darrell says:

    This may be hard for you to accept, but my basis is exactly along the line of water boiling at a certain temperature. (Burk)

    Well, this is Exhibit One for the very critique I’ve been making. Case closed. What more need be said?

    “A corrollary to my position is that I am working from the ground up, not from the sky down, as it were. The naturalist is taking the humble position and making models of reality from the facts at hand, and god is not one of those facts.”

    You are “interpreting” from the ground up. Your position can hardly be called “humble.” Anyone who thinks they are simply noting “facts” while everyone else is stumbling in the dark is not being humble. Further, you have no idea why there are “facts” to explain in the first place.

    “Whether god is needed to explain the universe as a whole is an open question. But nothing else in our experience requires it, so we don't need it.”

    What a presumptive and ridiculous statement. Everything in our experience that matters to people, love, purpose, meaning, values, the true, the good, and the beautiful indeed does require an explanation beyond your view that existence just is and is without any inherent meaning or purpose. There is also that little problem of why there is something rather than nothing, which you have no answer to whatsoever, so you are not starting from the ground up. You are starting with a philosophy (philosophical naturalism) which, by faith, removes God or transcendence a-priori and then proceeds from there.

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  9. Burk Braun says:

    Here is a Taylor link showing what I mean.

    Anyhow, with respect to the mind/body issue specifically, the hypothesis that a supernatural soul exists causing our sensation of consciousness, is the easiest, most convenient hypothesis ever. Has been for millennia. It is the no sweat, no thought hypothesis. But upon mature reflection, considering the great deal we know about biology and more importantly about basic physics, one has to conclude that it happens right here in the brain. And that is where real (natural) philosphers are taking the ball, getting closer by the day, and will get it all worked out in our lifetimes.

    Everything in our experience that matters to people, love, purpose, meaning, values, the true, the good, and the beautiful …

    You might consider for a minute what one of these words means. Take any one you like. They all have meanings that require no deity for their definition or experience. Love is an emotion. We feel it towards the things that we value very highly- which we have personally bonded with, such as mates, children, characters in novels, imaginary gods and sons of gods, etc. Its referent is the self.

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  10. Darrell says:

    There is absolutely nothing, zero, in the link you provide that would lead any reasonable person to believe Charles Taylor is an enemy of science. The fact you think it does reveals much more about you than it does Charles Taylor.

    “…And that is where real (natural) philosphers are taking the ball…” Well, exhibit b. So Eric, Taylor, and the rest of us aren't “real” philosophers. And you make this assertion from a philosophical viewpoint. Wow.

    “You might consider for a minute what one of these words means. Take any one you like. They all have meanings that require no deity for their definition or experience.

    Yes, but any historical, cultural, philosophical, or theological genealogy would reveal that most of these words/terms and what they encompass have direct inferences to God/religion/transcendence, and experience so your statement is easily debatable.

    I can see why you want to go back to the mind-body issue and not address the postmodern critique of your position or address why you come at this from the same theory many evangelicals do, but I think you have said enough to prove my initial point.

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