Friday Roundup

Facts don’t change minds: narratives do, of which facts are only one part.

Must behavior come before the electrodes are attached?

Should we keep material money even if only for reasons of privacy?

Is atheism possibly aiding Trumpism?

“The narrative of secularism must be rescued from those who would allow it to serve as a tool of fascism.”

Perhaps we should look beyond whether someone believes God exists or not, ask other questions, and look at behavior.

What do we mean when we say the “natural” world and why do we mean such-an-such by it and not something else?

Maintaining a thesis at all costs

Crazy but probably true?




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9 Responses to Friday Roundup

  1. Burk says:

    Hi, Darrell-

    Thanks for some interesting links. I will of course take issue with some of them.

    “In fact, the only thing we know about the intrinsic nature of matter is that some of it – the stuff in brains – involves experience. We now face a theoretical choice. We either suppose that the intrinsic nature of fundamental particles involves experience or we suppose that they have some entirely unknown intrinsic nature.”

    I think crazy is the right diagnosis here. This is woeful as an argument to throw over the mechanisms that clearly are underpinning experience. We know that brains provide experience, and they are delicate mechanisms that can be easily destroyed, manipulated, deranged, etc. To infer from this anything about the intrinsic nature of matter is going down the Deepak Chopra road.

    “One of them is: Dennett denies the full reality of the “world according to us.” That does seem implied by his manically consistent materialism.”

    I think this and the whole article seriously misrepresents the thesis and the whole field. Dennett is saying no more than Freud said before, and countless other artists and thinkers… that we are not the masters of our own house. Consciousness is a portrayal of reality, and certainly dear to us, but it is far from identical to external reality, and for internal reality is a very partial and biased presentation of that as well. There is so much going on below the surface, out of view.

    I have to say that I have never gotten much from Nagel nor respect his thinking. Here, he is willfully misreading in quite obvious ways.

    ““Dennett asks us to turn our backs on what is glaringly obvious—that in consciousness we are immediately aware of real subjective experiences of color, flavor, sound, touch, etc. that cannot be fully described in neural terms even though they have a neural cause (or perhaps have neural as well as experiential aspects). And he asks us to do this because the reality of such phenomena is incompatible with the scientific materialism that in his view sets the outer bounds of reality. He is, in Aristotle’s words, ‘maintaining a thesis at all costs.’””

    Obviously Dennett would never say to turn our backs on the immediate experience. Just to take it with a grain of salt for analytical purposes, particularly as ragards the value of introspection for figuring out, among other things, how our brains work, or where our motivations come from. All these things should be quite obvious. Also, experiential aspects are neural aspects. There is no having the former without the latter, though the reverse is not at all true. How they relate is not understood, stipulated, but that the former is entirely founded on the latter is glaringly obvious.

    This whole project of trying to make room for some kind of separateness of experience from materialism and our neural substrate is a sad and doomed affair. You should read up on the field a bit- you will find that Deepak and his ilk are not respected cognitive scientists! The project is working with no analytical evidence, solely the datum of subjective experience, which is precisely that thing whose nature is in dispute.


    Thanks for the Atlantic link on behavior vs neuro studies. They are not wrong, but it should be obvious that neuroscience is in a very productive epoch. While it is extremely difficult to link the mechanism with the output, that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try, and use a variety of levels of study to get there. Who knew that doing X-ray studies of curious nuclear molecules would solve the riddle of inheritance at a stroke? More critically, I would add that the point of neuroscience is more broad than just deciphering behavior. As your other links attest, a great deal goes on in our -minds- that do not express in behavior, some of which is conscious, much of which is not, going on at all sorts of levels. To think that the -mind- is some unitary thing that we know all about by introspection is just not realistic.


    • Burk,

      Thanks for the comments. In general, I disagree (shocker) with most of your observations. I think Dennett is asserting far more than Freud and most artists and thinkers. He is not simply telling us to take our experience with a grain of salt, but that it is illusory.

      But these are exactly the types of silliness materialism logically leads us to. It isn’t as if materialism is being misunderstood by Dennett—he gets it completely. Dennett is simply willing to follow the premises to their logical conclusions, no matter how silly or completely contrary to our (not our five senses) very lived experience.

      And as to Chopra, you brought him up—I didn’t and I don’t think (?) any of the links did either. The simple fact, as both the essay on pansychism and the Atlantic piece demonstrate, is that philosophical naturalism/materialism is slowing losing its grip on the conversation. Such, in my view, is a good thing.


      • Burk says:

        Hi, Darrell-
        I suspect you and Nagel are getting a little worked up over the word “illusion”. I think it is being used like one might say of vision as well. What we see is an illusion, in general, since it is a -portrayal- of the world, but not the world itself. Colors are imposed by our visual system, etc.. Consciousness is clearly a more far-reaching illusion of that kind. Not that it does not portray true things, but that is only a partial and colored version of whatever is going on within and without. This might be a better link..


      • RonH says:

        (I can’t see a “Reply” button under your comment of 10:52, but this is in response to that one.)
        I don’t understand how “illusion” is being used here. An “illusion” is something that isn’t real, but appears real. But to make that distinction we have to have access to both the “real” *and* the “illusion”. This is precisely what we don’t have with consciousness. There is no “the world” out there that we can contrast with our “portrayal of ‘the world'”, since our portrayal is all we ever have access to. How can you say that consciousness is only a “partial” version of “whatever is going on without”, when your consciousness is all the access you have to “whatever is going on without” in the first place?

        If all that exists are finite minds, then “objectivity” is the illusion. Consciousness is the only real thing we have.


      • RonH says:


        That article by Nagel is still waving Dawkins’ and Dennett’s “meme” nonsense around. The whole notion of “memes” and “memetics” is so much pseudoscientific claptrap. There was a “Journal of Memetics” that ran for eight years but shut down in 2005 because, in the words of its publisher, “the closer work has been to the core of memetics, the less successful it has been. The central core, the meme-gene analogy, has not been a wellspring of models and studies which have provided “explanatory leverage” upon observed phenomena. Rather, it has been a short-lived fad whose effect has been to obscure more than it has been to enlighten.” ( Note that Dawkins, Dennett, and Blackmore were all on the Advisory Board. I have a hard time taking any academic seriously who continues to try to wave “memes” around as some sort of useful concept. It was Dawkins’ attempt to parlay his biological knowledge beyond his sphere of expertise, and it’s bankrupt. People really just need to stop talking about them like they’re a thing.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Hello Darrell

    I enjoyed much that the linked writer had to say on the relative unimportance of the belief in God question. I agree that this question very often distracts us from the far more pressing matters, those of how to live well, how to make the very most of our time here, and how to live in peace with those around us. Within this context, disagreements on the existence of God that are at best semantic, and at worst bloody minded, are surely trivial. Thanks for sharing.

    Go well.



  3. Bernard,

    You are welcome. Yes, I think rather than focusing upon what we claim we believe or don’t believe, the end results, we would do better to ask what we mean when we say we believe or don’t believe something–and–to then see what we “do” about that.


  4. Burk says:

    Hi, Ron-

    That issue of what underlies our perceived reality, and whether one can call that perception an illusion, a trick, or reality itself, is what the linked talk by Dennett is about. I take your point about illusion being defined as unreal or false, but Dennett is clearly using it in a kinder way, as a manufactured representation of reality.

    “There is no “the world” out there that we can contrast with our “portrayal of ‘the world’”, since our portrayal is all we ever have access to.”

    Yes, absolutely. But we can infer things about that “world” by careful analysis, and thus appreciate what this portrayal system is doing, both positive and negative. Now we can also go beyond introspection and look at what it is doing using a scientific, third person perspective, though that is very much in its infancy.

    But I would disagree that all that exists are finite minds. There is evidently a world out there out of which they are birthed, and which they struggle to understand, as truthfully as possible.


  5. Ron,

    Sorry–I’m not sure why there isn’t an individual “reply” under every comment. I’m new to WordPress and still trying to figure some things out. But yes, as to the “meme” idea–it is nonsense–I completely agree.


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