Saturday, August 25, 2007

Misunderstanding the argument from reason

W wrote: In your argument from reason, for example, you demand a step by step, no gaps, defense of reason in a physicalist universe.

VR: No, I don't require such a thing. I maintain that there is a conceptual disparity between the mental and the physical. In fact the physical is typically defined in terms of the absence of the mental. I see attempts to accommodate the mental to the physical that either explain the mental away or "sneak in" the mental to into a presumably physical explanation, and then try to tell me that it's a good physical explanation because it's being attributed to the "brain."

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

'I maintain that there is a conceptual disparity between the mental and the physical.'


How does the mental affect the physical?

Hiero5ant said...

Anon --

"That's not the type of theory ID is."

w said...

If I have misunderstood your argument, I apologize.

In your 1998 presentation of AfR, you wrote, "It follows from [the assumptions atheists/materialists make about human beings] that anyone who hopes to defend atheism, naturalism, or materialism by argument needs to assure us that an atheist, naturalist, or materialist universe can house within itself the necessary conditions of logical inference. If she cannot do this, then we might say that these worldviews refute themselves insofar as they are presented, not merely as bald assertions, but as reasoned conclusions of logical arguments."

Hoes this not amount to a demand for a step-by-step, no gaps defense of reason in a physicalist universe? If not, how does it not?

Does your own explanation of reason in a theistic universe meet equally stringent demands?

You write, "According to theism, the universe is a rational place because it is the creation of a rational being, namely God. Reason is, so to speak, on the very ground floor of reality. Given that God creates creatures, it is a least possible that God might wish to provide those creatures with the some measure of the rationality which God himself possesses. And human beings reflect God's rational character by having the capacity think logically. If we make the further supposition that God has created human beings in such a way that they consist of both a soul and a body, we might be able to say that while the body's activities are determined by the laws of physics, it is possible for human beings, through their souls, to perceive not merely physical activities in the environment, but logical and mathematical truths that apply throughout all that God has created. If someone in a theistic universe who had a spiritual as well as a physical nature were to reason were to reason to a conclusion logically, it might very well be that the person reached the logical conclusion because the conclusion follows logically from the premises, and not because the laws of physics mandated that the physical particles in the brain move to such and such places."

Okay, but cannot I not similarly demand, "Anyone who wishes to suggest God as the cause of rationality must demonstrate that it is possible for a non-physical being to affect the physical. Since dualism is a possible "further supposition" of your explanation, can I demand that you explain how it is possible for non-physical mind-stuff to control the physical body before accepting your "explanation"? [Note, I'm not even demanding how these things actually are done, but just how they are possible.]

What I am trying to say is that there seems to be a disparity between the kinds of answers demanded from the naturalist by the theist and the kinds of answers offered by the theist. The theist posits a being with infinite power and then when anything needs to be "explained," refers to this being.

Well, sure, if a being with infinite wisdom and power exists, then that being can certainly do anything that is logically possible. But should we take as proof of this being's existence the fact that it "explains" so much? And doesn't it leave a lot of holes? How is does this being with no physical attributes do the things with matter that are required in your explanation (e.g. create a physical world, join soul to body, etc.)? Is it okay for you to appeal to mystery while demanding that the naturalist not leave any holes?

This is the problem of "Goddidit" answers. There are problems with God, a spirit being, doing anything with physical stuff to begin with. It seems the whole "answer" is contingent upon this extremely questionable assumption.

Furthermore, it seems that naturalistic answers should at least be given the benefit of the doubt in most cases. If we think back over the history of understanding phenomena, it seems that religious answers have been repeatedly overturned by naturalistic ones. Why did the lightening strike? Zeus threw it down. Why has the drought come? God is withholding rain. How can we make it rain? Pray to God (which seems to be less effective than seeding the clouds).

It seems that religious explanations have been overturned time and again by naturalistic ones. But now, we are to believe that this time is different?

stunney said...

w wrote:

But should we take as proof of this being's existence the fact that it "explains" so much?

No. But why ask for proof?

And doesn't it leave a lot of holes? How is does this being with no physical attributes do the things with matter that are required in your explanation (e.g. create a physical world, join soul to body, etc.)? Is it okay for you to appeal to mystery while demanding that the naturalist not leave any holes?

A while back I read a book entitled The Great Beyond: Higher Dimensions, Parallel Universes, and The Extraordinary Search for a Theory of Everything, by Paul Halpern. On page 282, he quotes leading physicist Gary Gibbons talking about recently developed theories in string physics, known as Randall-Sundrum models of the universe:

"A single brane with an anti-deSitter background has potential difficulties with singularities. Information can come from outside the universe". [emphasis added].

Halpern continues:

"Gibbons is concerned that a Randall-Sundrum universe could subvert the law of cause and effect. Events could occur at any time with origins beyond the space we see. Virtually anything could pop out. A shark could suddenly materialize in one's swimming pool because of some strange interplay between the bulk and the brane. Our sense that we might someday understand the world in its entirety would become increasingly precarious." (Page 283, emphasis added)

Earlier, Halpern had described the R-S proposal as having "rocked the physics community like a new Beatles record. Overnight, scores of theorists began to dance to the new beat".

I had first heard about Randall-Sundrum models of the cosmos a few months prior to reading Halpern's book. But these quotes from the book made me think, this is maybe how God interacts with the universe. Information perhaps enters our universe from another dimension, and can have a physical manifestation, but whose source or orgin we can't detect because it's in a higher dimension to which this universe is stuck on like a membrane.

In these types of models, only closed strings, and in particular gravitons–---the carrier particles for gravitational energy–--can escape into the higher dimension, and their escaping, or 'leaking' out of the universe is hypothesized as the explanation for why gravitational forces are so hugely weaker than the other three forces of nature. We see this when, for instance, a little bit of electrical static on a comb can be used to pick up pieces of paper, thus defeating the entire gravitational pull of the Earth.

Gravitational energy, in short, can come into and out of our observable universe in the R-S models. But since Energy and Mass are equivalent (by E=mc^2), this has remarkable implications for what is physically possible. In particular, something that happens in our universe could have a source outside of our universe. The possibilities are endless.

Though this is not part of standard theism, I'm open to thinking about God as having a body. The only reason we don't see God's body (if there is one) is that it's too big–---—it's an infinite body. An analogy I suggest is with an ultimate energy field of infinite magnitude. We could note the fact that scientifically, a particle of matter can often be usefully thought of as a localized (hence observed) quantum of an energy field. God may analogously be thought of as an infinite, hence non-localized quantum of the ultimate energy field, which is why God can't be observed by us (though God 'observes' God). As the energy of the ultimate 'field' connected to our universe perhaps via a higher-dimensional brane, God's 'physical body' can readily supply information/energy to this universe, driving its stupendous cosmic evolution. (Perhaps the near-death experiencers' reports of a tunnel leading to the Light are accurate descriptions of an actual journey through the brane.) This concept of God corresponds quite well, I think, to Aristotle's concept of energeia and Aquinas's concept of actus purus.

stunney said...

anonymous asked:

How does the mental affect the physical?

First, we have to question how a material thing can cause another material thing to behave in a certain way! Hume thought that was a colossal mystery.

Apparently every particle in the galaxy Andromeda is exercizing gravitational pull on your eyelashes. How do those particles manage to do that? They are two million light-years away. And that's even before we start thinking about Bell + GHZ quantum nonlocality.

In physics we say that electrons repel protons. How does that happen? They exchange messenger particles. How do they do that? And so on. Eventually you come to the following answer:

That's just the way it is.

Why is that answer unavailable for the case of mind-body interaction? After all, the causal relations we are paradigmatically familar with are those obtaining between our own mind and our own body. The ultimate, fundamental particles (whatever they turn out to be) are simple, partless things that interact without any further underlying process needed, and acts of willing are simple, partless things that interact without any further underlying process needed.

Asking for a mechanistic process that ’explains' mental-physical interaction is like asking what are the inner mechanistic workings of a particular fundamental particle. In other words, regardless of whether materialism is true or not, some things must have their nature or essential properties, and must engage in the activity that is specified by that nature or essential properties, NOT in virtue of some underlying parts and processes that 'enable' or ’cause' that nature or activity, but immediately, directly, and hence non-mechanically. Otherwise one must posit an infinite regress of underlying parts, processes, causes, and mechanisms.

Exhaustive investigation of a purely material process will eventually yield partless ultimate parts of the physical world that act not in virtue of some other, underlying mechanism, but rather, immediately, directly, and non-mechanically. Such ultimate partless parts of the physical world just do whatever they do, and there is no sense to the question of how they do it.

If ultimate material realities can act without some further underlying process but directly (and they must, given that they're ultimate), it seems inconsistent to demand that mind must require an underlying material mechanism in order to be causally potent in the physical world, for the ultimate parts of brainmatter itself don't need any such mechanism.

It doesn't matter how often you tell them this. Materialists will always say that anti-materialists cannot explain consciousness either. What they mean, of course, is that anti-materialists cannot explain consciousness in materialist terms, for to take consciousness as ontologically basic, as anti-materialists do, is unthinkable to materialists, and so they think that the concept of explanation is synonymous with 'explanation in terms that are reducible to material reality'. Oddly enough, they see no inconsistency between asserting and implying this, and their own view that material reality is not explainable in non-material terms, that it's material reality which is ontologically basic, and is hence not further explicable.

Now the materialist will say that matter–--however science finally or ideally conceives of it----—will be found to explain a lot. Everything in fact. The materialist thinks mind, consciousness, reason, normativity, moral and aesthetic and emotional value, need to be explained in terms of non-mind, non-reason, non-consciousness, non-normativity, non-value. The theist is saying that doesn't need to be done, nor can it be done; and that it's wrongheaded to think otherwise. The theist holds that it's ultimately mind that explains why matter exists and has the properties it has–---it was intelligently designed. The mind of the creator is THE basic truth about reality, because it is itself the basic reality. All other realities reflect this basic truth by being themselves rationally ordered in their design. And some of these created realities are endowed with reason and value, and with the capacity for moral agency. The explanation for that just is that a transcendent creative mind pre-eminently endowed with reason and value, is the fundamental ontological and explanatory fact about reality.


Mind works this way…..consciousness, reason intention, purpose, knowledge, etc. Matter works this way…occupying space, rest mass, inertial motion, etc, etc. Why hold that mindstuff is more 'mysterious' than matterstuff? It strikes me that our conscious mental lives are the most obvious matter-of-fact taken-for-granted, intuitively indubitably self-evident realities there are, and that it's things like curved spacetime, energy fields, quarks, and suchlike that are the 'mysterious' things.

Just to complicate matters, what might be thought to be an essential property of matter, namely its spatiotemporality, perhaps is not real or at least is not part of a fundamental scientific ontology as I explain here.

Anonymous said...

How does a brain produce concsciousness?

It just does.

A perfect answer to Reppert's argument from reason.

We have no need to ask how. Stunney says such questions are ittelevant.

stunney said...

anonymous said...

How does a brain produce concsciousness?

It just does.

A perfect answer to Reppert's argument from reason.

We have no need to ask how. Stunney says such questions are ittelevant.


Asking 'how' eventually yields 'it just does', regardless of whether materialism is true or not. Which is what I said.

In other words, regardless of whether materialism is true or not, some things must have their nature or essential properties, and must engage in the activity that is specified by that nature or essential properties, NOT in virtue of some underlying parts and processes that 'enable' or ’cause' that nature or activity, but immediately, directly, and hence non-mechanically.

Unfortunately for materialists, however, the question at issue is not 'how' does the brain cause consciousness, but rather how can the brain be consciousness.

IlĂ­on said...

Stunney: "Just to complicate matters, what might be thought to be an essential property of matter, namely its spatiotemporality, perhaps is not real or at least is not part of a fundamental scientific ontology ..."

It may even be that "time" isn't "real" (but is rather "ideal"). See: this post and the news article linked in the post after it.

Sturgeon's Lawyer said...

H'mmm.

Just for the sake of argument, can you define of what this "conceptual disparity between the mental and the physical" consists?

Saying "the physical is typically defined in terms of the absence of the mental" seems to me to beg the question, because you have not yet defined "the mental." What is it, and how -- absent physical evidence -- can you tell whether it is there or not?