Friday, January 04, 2013

Ross's Immaterial Aspects of Thought

A redated post.

See also this by Russell Howell on why we wouldn't be mathematicians in a naturalistic universe.

27 comments:

normajean said...

Sorry this is unrelated here. I couldn't find your personal email.

Victor, you’ve once stated the following:

“a naturalistic view of the universe, according to which there is nothing in existence that is not in a particular time and a particular place, is hard-pressed to reconcile their theory of the world with the idea that we as humans can access not only what is, but also what must be.”

Can you unpack this thought further?

Edward T. Babinski said...

A world of thought and a world of numbers within that world of thought need not be supernaturalistic, just a unique part of nature as a whole.

There's a whole spectrum of species with brains and probably varying levels of memory, consciousness, increasingly more astute classification distinctions and further distinctions.

How Mathematics Happened: The First 50,000 Years
by Peter Strom Rudman

Mathematics: From the Birth of Numbers by Jan Gullberg and Peter Hilton

Also...

The PHILOSOPHY OF MATHEMATICS is not on a single track toward "supernaturalism" any more than other philosophical pursuits including the philosophy of consciousness. So go read up on the variety of views within THE PHILOSOPHY OF MATHEMATICS. There's lots of book with that title. Eventually you wind up reading something about how Godel's incompleteness theorm broke down Russell's Principia in logic and math and how questions multiplied in a maddening fashion.

The Number Sense: How the Mind Creates Mathematics
by Stanislas Dehaene

How the Brain Learns Mathematics
by David A. Sousa

The Math Instinct: Why You're a Mathematical Genius (Along with Lobsters, Birds, Cats, and Dogs)
by Keith Devlin

The Language of Mathematics: Making the Invisible Visible
by Keith Devlin

The Math Gene: How Mathematical Thinking Evolved And Why Numbers Are Like Gossip by Keith Devlin

What Is Mathematics, Really?
by Reuben Hersh

What Is Mathematics? An Elementary Approach to Ideas and Methods
by the late Richard Courant

Where Mathematics Comes From: How the Embodied Mind Brings Mathematics into Being by George Lakoff and Rafael Nuñez

Is God a Mathematician?
by Mario Livio [Livio is concerned with the contentious question: is mathematics a human invention? Or is it the intricate design of the universe that we are slowly discovering? Scientists in past centuries have argued for the latter, Platonist position. In the last 50 years, however, many scientists, maintain that we have invented mathematics. Livio hedges his bets, unsatisfyingly arguing that mathematics is partly discovered and partly invented. But Livio is a smooth writer. His fans will enjoy this book, and new ones may discover him.]

Irreligion: A Mathematician Explains Why the Arguments for God Just Don't Add Up by John Allen Paulos

Gregory said...

I hadn't read that journal article before. Thanks for the great reference.

Here's how I would distill some of his argument:

Physical objects have a contingency, such that, it's possible that they be different than they are....or to not exist at all. For instance, I can imagine my hand having four fingers and no thumb. Or no fingers at all. In other words, there's no "necessity" in the physical makeup of my hand. In fact, I could lose my hand, altogether, and still be me.

This is not true of formal logic or mathematics. Their "forms" carry a "necessity", such that, there cannot be a counterfactual instance of, say, "A=A" or "Either A or non-A" or "If A=B and B=C, then A=C".

And the reason "why" is because it's impossible to think any other way. So, if there really were counterfactuals of logic, then we could never apprehend or comprehend what they were, because we can only think within the bounds of those "forms of thought", by which, we are inescapably disposed to think.

In fact, our entire system of language and ability to communicate is founded upon these necessary logical starting points. Hence, we could not even begin to express what such "counterfactuals of logic" were.

Since material objects carry no such necessity, then it appears that "mind", governed by those necessary principles of thought, is not identical to "matter". For, while I can conceive of my hand being different than it is, I cannot conceive of my "conceptual abilities" being different than what they are.

Since material objects are categorized as "contingent", and the principles of reason are regarded as "necessary", the "mind" and "physical objects" are not identical.

That's what I took away from the Journal article.

Ilíon said...

So, VR, why are you so shy about seeing and/or stating that the AfR is an absolute logical defeater for atheism?

Rob G said...

Interesting piece here by Ed Feser on this subject...might be worth a post of its own, Victor.

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2009/04/give-me-that-old-time-atheism.html

David B. Ellis said...

I really tire of seeing the word "naturalism" used as if it meant the same thing as materialism.

philip m said...

David,

The problem is, the way a word is usually used can't be the wrong way to use it. A lot of naturalists who are materialists use the words interchangeably.

And who cares how words are used? Our views stay the same regardless of what words describe them.

Clayton said...

"The conclusion is that no physical process or sequence of processes
or function among physical processes can be adding, squaring,
asserting, or any other thinking at all"

That's Ross' conclusion. I wonder whether anyone thinks that this is true of only physical processes or only of processes that can be characterized in non-intentional terms. It seems like causal pathways in an immaterial substance would have the same content fixation problems as causal pathways in a physical substance.

David B. Ellis said...


And who cares how words are used? Our views stay the same regardless of what words describe them.


At the expense of clear communication. Not to mention that it's an excuse to dismiss a much broader conception by attacking a narrower one.

If one has an effective argument against materialism one does not necessarily have an effective argument against naturalism (a naturalism who is a neutral monist, for example, can shrug ans say "so what" to an argument that only addresses materialist versions of naturalism).

Gordon Knight said...

Clayton,

So what is demonstrated is that intentionailty cannot be naturalized

There is intentionality

Therefore, materialism is false

Thinking of the mind as a thing analogous to material objects is a phenomenological mistake. If there is an ego, its not a container that houses 'thougths" But even if there is no ego, there is still consciousness which is intentional and perhaps just a sui generis (baring some future plausible reduction)

Anonymous said...

David B. Ellis,

One thing I'm curious of. Do you see the materialist naturalists making the clarification you're speaking? My experience is that they also tend to act as if "naturalism = materialism". That's just one problem though, but still, I think the problem is deeper and probably not as clear cut.

Clayton said...

"Thinking of the mind as a thing analogous to material objects is a phenomenological mistake."

Yes, I agree but that's because thinking of the mind as an object/substance is a mistake. The dualist can say that we have no conception as to how material events characterized in non-intentional terms could be mental events, but that's because we have no idea as to how events characterized in non-intentional terms could be mental events. It doesn't matter whether these are events that happen to a material substance or an immaterial one. That's why there's nothing here that can be to the advantage of the immaterialist.

Here's an argument for you anti-materialists.
(1) You don't know that it's false that for every description of a mental event there's a description physical event with the same causes and effects.
(2) If event description D1 picks out an event that has all and only the same causes and effects as the event picked out by event description D2, these descriptions pick out the same event (under different descriptions).
(C) You don't know that it's false that every mental event is, inter alia, a complicated physical event.
(3) You know that if every mental event is a physical event, materialism is true.
(C2) You don't know materialism about the mental ins't true.

Have at it.

Anonymous said...

I rather think that mental events not being able to be characterized in non-intentional terms is a point many "immaterialists" are trying to make, not a deficiency. Are you really suggesting that the "immaterialist" strategy across the board is to explain mental events in terms of non-intentional 'stuff' - but that this 'stuff' is simply something different than 'the material'? If so, I'd like to know who's making that argument.

Not to mention, just what definition of physical/material are you using? Last I checked, even among materialists/physicalists that very question was a big debate - with the only thing generally agreed upon being that the physical/material is non-"mental".

Victor Reppert said...

David: I have analyzed the terms naturalism and physicalism, and maintain that although they aren't precisely interchangeable, materialism suffers in dealing with, say, the phenomenon of reason, the other suffers as well.

Gordon Knight said...

Clayton:

Is # 2 supposed to be necessarily true? or just some probability claim.

Its true I suppose that I don't know that the causal premise is false. But there are not that many things I know

I don't know that there is not a LP in my IPOD that has the same causal relations that the mp3 machinery has.

What does it mean to say "under different descriptions" Don't different descriptions pick out different properties?

Clayton said...

"Is # 2 supposed to be necessarily true? or just some probability claim."

I'd say necessity, it's an account of event identity and individuation.

"What does it mean to say "under different descriptions" Don't different descriptions pick out different properties?"

Not obviolsyl always. The property of being a trilateral and the propert of being a triangle might be the same property. At any rate, I don't think that matters because events probably have to be multi-propertied things if there could be informative identity statements concerning events & different descriptions typically pick out different descriptions.

"Not to mention, just what definition of physical/material are you using? Last I checked, even among materialists/physicalists that very question was a big debate - with the only thing generally agreed upon being that the physical/material is non-"mental"."


Double edged sword.

"mental events not being able to be characterized in non-intentional terms is a point many "immaterialists" are trying to make"

Fine, but I think that that's a liability. Someone like Descartes thought we had no access to mental substance apart from access to its modes and attributes via introspection. Plausibly, mental substances would have more to them than some bundle of the modes and attributes we could known about via introspection. So, plausibly there would be things true of mental substances that described what was happening with the mental substance that did not employ intentional descriptions and so the question arises as to whether it's a big deal for the substance dualist that we cannot derive descriptions of the intentional from descriptions of the mental substance that don't make reference to its intentional features (e.g., those aspects of mental substance that are causally relevant to the production of and sustaining of mental processes). Myself, I'd say that it's not such a big deal but that's why I think it's a cheap objection to the materialist.

Gordon Knight said...

"The property of being a trilateral and the propert of being a triangle might be the same property."

That is an extremely interesting claim that I would say is false. But my reason is not one you would accept I think.

Even Berkeley agrees that you can attend to different properties of a thing when they are necessarily connected. I think he even gives the triangle example. Of course wants to avoid "abstract ideas" but he needs a way to account for mathematical/geometricsal reasoning, which requires that we attend to, even if we cannot seperate, distinct properties that are necessarily connected.

Anyway, its hard to see how one makes sense of the informative character of the necessity claim Re: equiangular and equilaterial.
if you do not recognize their distinctness. otherwize it would just be A=A

I said I don't think you would agree with this reasoning because I assume as a materialist you are not doing first person phenomenology and discount the results of such introspection.
("materialists" like Galen Strawson are different, but the variety of materialism GS proposes is an odd and much more plausible version) Same goes for the early identity theory proposed by Feigl

Just a Rant: if we would only go back and read Husserl, Russell, Moore, H H Price, Sartre, etc.

Hell, even A J Ayer

Very different philosophers, but all in agreement that we have to start where we are, first person experience.

Clayton said...

"Of course wants to avoid "abstract ideas" but he needs a way to account for mathematical/geometricsal reasoning, which requires that we attend to, even if we cannot seperate, distinct properties that are necessarily connected.

Anyway, its hard to see how one makes sense of the informative character of the necessity claim Re: equiangular and equilaterial.
if you do not recognize their distinctness. otherwize it would just be A=A"

I don't have a view on whether triangularity = trilaterality, but I think that I have a view about the informativity of identity. In general, if you buy Frege's arguments, the relationship between the sense of a term and the referent of a term is many-one and so you wouldn't reason from the fact that A=A to the conclusion that any statement that is true because A=A would be uninformative. I don't think that this has anything to do with my commitment to materialism, naturalism, etc...

William said...

Can a consistent naturalist also be a Platonist?

Dan Gillson said...

That depends, William: do you think one can be a naturalist and a Platonist regarding mathematics?

William said...

A fully consistent materialist naturalist should deny that abstract objects exist. They would say that mathematics is merely a part of our internal representation of the world.

That is something that the argument from reason challenges, since the internal representation has to have a connection to the world that makes it valid, and that connection cannot be purely material for fear of regress.

ingx24 said...

Of course, a consistent materialist can't even allow for such things as "internal representations", since they can't allow for anything existing other than blind, mindless particles bouncing off each other by the laws of physics.

Dan Gillson said...

i. Now we've ventured off the path to discuss whether an eliminativist can be a realist about science and/or mathematics. (I'm taking eliminativism and materialism to be rough equivalents.) That's an entirely different topic from whether or not a naturalist can be a Platonist about mathematics. Naturalism isn't necessarily the same as eliminativism, though there are variants of naturalism that are eliminativist. For more on this, cf. John McDowell's "Two Sorts of Naturalism".

ii. Full consistency between naturalism and Platonism can be achieved easily with a less constrictive notion of existence. Such a line of argumentation was directly pursued by Hilary Putnam in Ethics without Ontology, but mathematical and ethical realism are generally features of naïve realism.

Dan Gillson said...

Addendum: 'Naïve realism' being, more or less, a naturalistic position.

ingx24 said...

Hm, is there a link to this "Two Sorts of Naturalism" paper? I can't seem to find it on Google. Is it even online at all?

Dan Gillson said...

The rights to the article are probably still held by the journal in which it was first published. I have it in a collection of essays called Mind, Value, and Reality.

Dan Gillson said...

Correction: "Two Sorts of Naturalism" was never published in a journal. It's first appearance was in a collection of essays honoring the late Phillipa Foot called "Virtues and Reasons."