Friday Roundup

  • This guy gets it…

“Other scientists with equally impressive credentials are not so sure and are increasingly willing to consider a very different analogy – that the relationship of consciousness to the brain may be less like the relationship of the generator to the electricity it produces and more like that of the TV signal to the TV set. In that case, when the TV set is destroyed – dead – the signal still continues.  Nothing in the present state of knowledge of neuroscience rules this possibility out.”

  • This guy too…

“Given his ultimate dismissal of all that makes life worth living would such contrary evidence (or any other contrary evidence) shake Humphrey’s beliefs? I doubt it—because once one takes the reduction of first person experience to reproductive fitness to be axiomatic one can always construct a post hoc story to explain contrary evidence away. But the effect of this is to weaken the theory. As Popper noted, a theory that can be stretched to explain everything, explains nothing, for the simple reason that it excludes nothing, making it unfalsifiable and no longer science. Although Humphrey does not consider non-reductive alternatives, the alternative to a reductionist science of consciousness is not nonsense or even non-science, but simply a non-reductionist science of consciousness. Given the many problems I have mentioned above, I think that only those of a similar reductionist faith will find the arguments in Soul Dust in any way persuasive. But his book is aptly named. Humphrey takes the wonders of consciousness, the enchantment of the world, the meaning of life, and the mysteries of the soul, and turns them into dust.”

  • More from the “scientifically un-inclined”…
  • Here’s another scientifically un-inclined physicist…

“One alternative that is gaining increasing attention is the view that the capacity for experience is not itself a product of the brain. This is not to say that the brain is not responsible for what we experience — there is ample evidence for a strong correlation between what goes on in the brain and what goes on in the mind — only that the brain is not responsible for experience itself. Instead, the capacity for consciousness is an inherent quality of life itself.”
  • Yikes, here’s another one.  This guy is the “emeritus professor of geriatric medicine at the University of Manchester, United Kingdom” but what does he know…

“Anyone who still imagines that there is life to the theory that the mind can be understood in purely physical terms will be cured of this delusion by reading the philosophical literature. While there are some who stick stubbornly to the assumption that consciousness is identical with neural events in certain parts of the brain, their views do not withstand close examination by even the most open-minded philosophers, like Australian professor David Chalmers.”

  • Still more…of course, what does a physicist from the University of Delaware know…
  • A voice of reason…
  • The “Origins of Species” was a moral (philosophical) document first, a scientific one secondly…
  • Both and”…not, “either or”…


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354 Responses to Friday Roundup

  1. Darrell says:

    Bernard,

    “So, for example, you speak of using your intuitions, or referencing literature, as potential ways to get the reasoning ball rolling. Fine. But what makes us think they either your instincts or literature will provide a true starting point?”

    Well, what makes you think any of these resources, the same we all have, or your intuitions, leads you to a true starting point? And, again, how is this not a philosophical disagreement rather than a clash with science?

    “The brain has indeed evolved very many capacities, but these, for obvious reasons,have tended to be grounded in pragmatism, and various other talents have spun off that in turn can be pragmatically tested against our experience of reality (as per modeling of the physical world, for example).”

    Let’s put aside that the above is simply a defense of empiricism. Again, this assertion regarding pragmatic knowledge has been answered by the Stanford site: “Those capacities evolved in response to selection pressures in ancestral hunter-gatherer environments, and we have simply learned how to develop, train and exercise them in cultural contexts to discover truths that go far beyond any that were relevant to the evolution of those underlying capacities.” We have developed the capacity to recognized abstract non-pragmatic truths. Some of these can be tested empirically because they are questions surrounding the way the physical world operates. Some, like philosophical truths, cannot be tested that way. So what? Unless one makes a prior commitment to materialism, this shouldn't be problematic. But this goes directly to your belief that even if there were objective moral truths, we could not recognize them. If that were true, philosophy as a discipline, an area of knowledge, and literature, stories, poetry, drama, every area of non-pragmatic endeavor or knowledge would not exist to begin with. This is just clearly false. Regardless of whether you think objective morality exists, if we can recognize a philosophical truth (The “Good”, as a category, per McGinn), then we could recognize an objective morality.

    “Thus, if we take evolution seriously, we must conclude that the human mind does not reliably track moral truths. I am prepared to accept, for sake of argument, that your sources believe otherwise.”

    I think it is just amazing that you think these neutral, peer reviewed, academic sources, written by people and reviewed by people who know more about evolution than you probably ever will, do not take evolution seriously. That tells us so much right there. Here you have set yourself up on a high chair defending, supposedly, the view of “science” or “evolution” and the consensus in those areas don’t even agree with you. I was the only one here able to use these sources—what does that tell us?

    Again, I hope you will forgive me if I side with Stanford and these other sources over you. Clearly you still think my views clash with science and you are welcome to your personal opinion. However, your personal opinion here is not shared by the neutral academic literature or consensus of the scientific and philosophical community.

    I think we are done now. Thanks for taking the time.

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  2. Hi Darrell

    You write:

    “We have developed the capacity to recognize abstract non-pragmatic truths. Some of these can be tested empirically because they are questions surrounding the way the physical world operates. Some, like philosophical truths, cannot be tested that way.”

    I understand you believe we have developed this capacity. I am arguing we have no reason whatsoever to believe this is true. What method do you believe we use to recognise these non-pragmatic truths? You are unclear on this. At times you suggest we use reason, but when it is pointed out that reason requires pre-existing knowledge of moral truth, you change topic.

    Let's take a very simple example. By what method, do you think, has the human mind come to the conclusion that it is wrong to torture children for fun? Can you propose a method that is not, in itself, reliant upon our instincts?

    I claim that instinct is going to come into the equation at some point, and that evolutionary theory suggest that such instincts are grounded in pragmatic concerns (originally biological, and in time with cultural influence, to answer your time gap question).

    I understand you are proposing there is some other method by which our moral instincts could be honed, but if you are unable to articulate this method (beyond repeating the same quote, which itself outlines not method, but rather gestures towards reason) then I am forced to conclude you have no method in mind. It would be tremendously easy for you to prove me wrong on this. How do we, without relying upon our gut instincts at some point, form a moral opinion?

    Historically, moral theorists believed our gut instincts came to us from above, thus grounding our moral deliberations. Evolution has replaced the explanation of how these base instincts are formed, leaving objectivists with a hole to fill. With what do you fill it, has been my question all along.

    Bernard

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  3. Darrell says:

    Asked and answered Bernard. I stand by my last response.

    You disagree with the Stanford people. I stand by the Stanford people over you. The entire Stanford entry/essay disagrees with the substance of your argument and most certainly your conclusion.

    To move on, you would at least have to agree it's a philosophical disagreement and not one over science or evolution, but you seem incapable of even doing that. Thus, my last response stands.

    You are welcome to your opinion. It doesn't bother me that an empiricist thinks my views clash with science. The day however that the scientific and philosophical community says they do, you let me know.

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  4. Hi Darrell

    The trouble with your approach is, it doesn't explain how the moral instincts upon which it is founded (and a process of reason, which you are defending, will need some kind of moral instinct to kick it off) should come to be a reliable guide of any objective truth.

    Evolutionary theory tells us how the brain comes to have its design quirks, by way of selection, and on top of this, we have a capacity to transmit thoughts and narratives over time (cultural evolution). There is no reason whatsoever to believe that either of these capacities should track moral truth.

    You offer no reason, nor do you even explain the process of moral reasoning you defend. You simply believe, in the face of that which science tells us we should expect (a morality based upon pragmatism, both from the perspective of an individual, and in time, a society). And in this way, your views clash with science, just as surely as those of the fundamentalist do.

    I don't think that's a problem. Why not choose a personal narrative over science? Each to their own. there is however, something fundamentally dishonest about the claim that the liberal Christian accepts the science. On a number of fronts, objective morality being one, life after death another, you simply don't. I'm not sure where the urge to deny this stems from, but it's plainly there.

    Bernard

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