Friday, April 02, 2010

Could I have been Obama? An argument against materialism

1. If everything is material, then all true statements about reality should follow necessarily from the set of true statements describing the physical world.


2. However, there are some statements about the world, such as “I am Dr. Reppert,” which do not follow necessarily from the set of physical world. There is a world physically identical to this one in which I am Barack Obama, not Dr. Reppert.

Therefore, not everything is material.

27 comments:

Gordon Knight said...

Great argument! I think Nagel toys with this idea in _The View From Nowhere"



I person could be physically identical to me, could even be psychologically identical to me. And yet, not be me!

Mind blowing, but true

Steven said...

I don't know, it seems to me like this is question-begging against some materialist views of a person. What they would say is, well, it turns out that if you are a material object, then the set of all the the physical facts would entail a true statement about who you are, if our materialism is correct.

Your argument would work fine to show a consequence of immaterialism about persons, but not to prove it.

Victor Reppert said...

But how would you get "I am Victor Reppert" from the set of physical facts? Especially since it's only true when I utter it, and not when you utter it.

Steven said...

"I am Victor Reppert" is equivalent with "The thing that uttered that sentence is identical with Victor Reppert" which would follow from a complete list of physical facts about the world, if materialism about human persons is right.

Mark said...

I don't know. This seems like it's trading on a confusion regarding a posteriori necessities. Specifically, take the a posteriori necessity that Hesperus is Phosphorus. Then one can ask two different questions:

1. What explains the fact that Hesperus is Phosphorus?
2. What explains the fact that the sentence "Hesperus is Phosphorus," uttered by 20th-century English speakers, is true?

Presumably, there can be no answer to the first question, on materialism or otherwise, since necessarily Hesperus is Phosphorus and there's nothing else entailing this. And while the second question does have an answer, materialism easily accommodates it: a materialistic story involving the original reference-fixing description that gave rise to the names "Hesperus" and "Phosphorus," together with the inexplicable but material fact that Hesperus is Phosphorus.

Mark said...

I should add: we can break down your question into the two different questions,

1. What explains the fact that I am Mark?
2. What explains the fact that the sentence "I am Mark," uttered by me, is true?

The first question has no answer. That I am Mark is an a posteriori necessity. Nor would bringing in immaterial souls or the like clearly wouldn't help, since I could ask what explains the fact that I am Mark's soul rather than Obama's. Meanwhile, the second question can be answered by the fact that a person's utterance of the word "I" refers to that person; and since I am Mark, my utterance of "I" refers to Mark; and so my utterance of "I am Mark" is true. Surely nothing threatening to materialism here.

Victor Reppert said...

Steven: The thing that uttered that sentence is identical with Victor Reppert" which would follow from a complete list of physical facts about the world, if materialism about human persons is right.

VR; That sentence? There's another indexical. We can trade indexicals all day and not solve the problem.

Victor Reppert said...

The initial reference-fixing description is an intentional state, which would have to be given a materialistically acceptable account.

Victor Reppert said...

Are you saying that the sentence "I am Mark" isn't explained by anything in the physical world?

Physicalism implies a complete describability from a third-person perspective. There should be no irreducibly first-person facts if materialism is true. But there are.

Gordon Knight said...

"I am typing this" is not the same as (insert physical/AND psychological characteristics) is typing this for the same reason as

"Now it is nightme" does not express the same proposition as
"3:04 AM in Iowa is nighttime"

Its the indexical "I" ..and the point is much greater than a mere refutation of materialism since the "further fact" remains even when you include non-reduced psychological characteristics.

Edward T. Babinski said...

Vic,

How about identical twins? They are different people but share many qualities and traits in common, even when separated at birth and raised by different parents. Does materialism have a problem with that?

What about split-brain patients? They are mostly in synchronization but sometimes they differ, one hand yanking up pants, the other pulling them down, one hand opening the door, the other shutting it. Sometimes a split-brain person will get up from a chair and the speaking half of the brain doesn't know why, but it has been shown the speaking half of the brain is good at inventing excuses for things that the non-speaking half of the brain does.

Edward T. Babinski said...

Vic,

You are presuming your conclusion.

You are suggesting that two materially identical brains can exist with completely different personalities, so you are assuming that there are no material differences in brains with different memories, but MATERIALISTS WOULD NOT ACCEPT THAT ASSUMPTION. They believe that memories are stored in the brain, i.e., the sum total of all the life experiences that go into making up a personality are stored in the brain. And there is already some evidence for the material side to memories. SO IF TWO BRAINS WERE EXACTLY ALIKE, SO WOULD BE THE PERSON OWNING THEM.

Another way of saying it is that if two people had identical genetics, identical material bodies and brains to start with, and also shared the same exact experiences of the same exact intensity and type, they would indeed turn out identical in personality.

Edward T. Babinski said...

Vic and Gordon,

Have either of you studied the evolution of consciousness in animals from amoeba to humans? How do amoeba make decisions? How do they find prey and corner it, and some species pick up tiny calcium slivers and form them in rows to make a shell around themselves. How do they "know" to do all that? Amoeba are single-celled creatures. No brains. Now put together 100 billion cells and trillions of connections between them together with advanced sensory apparatus and huge memory storage, and feedback loops, and you have something way beyond amoeba, such as the large brain/minds of cetacea, elephants, great apes and humans.

Unfortunately, you continue to try and invent arguments out of thin air that prove absolutely nothing.

Yes, consciousness is puzzling, the greatest puzzle science presently knows, aside from black holes--another highly puzzling object in the cosmos. But tell me all about your consciousiness while you're sleeping. Or just explain what the "immaterial" part of consciousness is doing while the body-brain sleep. Why should the "immaterial" part of consciousness blink off each night while the material body and brain are asleep? If the "immaterial" part is where the memory is stored, then when we wake up why don't we "recall" what our "immaterial" consciousness was doing while we slept?

SEE ALSO

C. S. Lewis and the Cardinal Difficulty of Naturalism
Nov 1, 2005 ... Philosophical arguments made by CS Lewis against naturalism, proposing supernaturalism as the source of man's power of reason.
www.edwardtbabinski.us/creationism/lewis_naturalism.html

Edward T. Babinski said...

PHILOSOPHER ROBERT LANE: "Why I Was Never a Zygote"
in the Southern Journal of Philosophy, Vol. XLI, no. 1
"At the time of the destruction of an early-term PBH (pre-birth human), the human being that the PBH would eventually become does not yet exist -- no more than it exists before conception. Destroying that fetus is therefore morally permissible -- just as permissible as it would have been
to destroy the relevant sperm and ovum before they merged...The creation of a zygote is not the same thing as the creation of a person or human being. A zygote, if allowed to develop and implant normally, will indeed become a human being one day; but the human being that a PBH would become does not exist at the time the PBH is a zygote...My position is consistent
with allowing abotion to remain legal at least through the beginning of the third trimester, if not longer."

Mark said...

The initial reference-fixing description is an intentional state, which would have to be given a materialistically acceptable account.

Yes, materialists have to give a satisfying account of intentionality.

Are you saying that the sentence "I am Mark" isn't explained by anything in the physical world?

I'm saying we have to distinguish between the fact that I am Mark, and the truth of my utterance "I am Mark." That I am Mark is an inexplicable but physical fact about the universe identifying two physical things (Mark and a particular cognizer), akin to Hesperus being Phosphorus. That my utterance is true, however, is physically explicable.

Physicalism implies a complete describability from a third-person perspective. There should be no irreducibly first-person facts if materialism is true. But there are.

I'm not sure why physicalism has to imply this. It's not like the a posteriori necessity of my being Mark entails that I'm not a material thing or anything.

Dustin said...

Edward, you're misunderstanding the relevant arguments.

Steven Carr said...

'There is a world physically identical to this one in which I am Barack Obama, not Dr. Reppert.'

I think we should look at your birth certificate in that world, and see what is physically written there.

Or your chequebook....

J said...

well, the physicalist could turn it around (ie, the argument's trick--typical of most metaphysical jokes--shifts the burden from the metaphysician to the naturalist) and put the burden on the metaphysical dualist and say, prove that first person utterances necessarily imply dualism or an immaterial soul--uniqueness or consciousness perhaps, but not cartesian ghosts.

That one assumes physicalism of some sort to hold doesn't mean that science has been perfected (as even Laplace realized two+ centuries ago), or in philosophaster-speak, that a complete set of physical facts, including "intentional states" yet exists, or ever will.

Victor Reppert said...

The supervenience principle says there is no difference between possible worlds without a physical difference. But it seems to me that the world could be physically identical to this one, but the person in it who is the psychological center of it, the "me", as it were, could be living in the White House instead of in Glendale, Arizona. Or indeed, I could have lived 1000 years ago and be dead by now. There is a contingent truth that I am Victor Reppert and not some other person. For every person there seems to be a contingent fact that they happen to be in that inner world and not some other inner world. And if that is the case, then it looks to be as if there are truths about the world that are not explained by the set of physical truths.

This does seem explicable if what is at the base of reality is more like a mind than anything else. But if what is at the base of reality is more like a rock than anything else, how do these contingent facts emerge? It looks logically impossible to me.

Mark said...

The supervenience principle says there is no difference between possible worlds without a physical difference. But it seems to me that the world could be physically identical to this one, but the person in it who is the psychological center of it, the "me", as it were, could be living in the White House instead of in Glendale, Arizona. Or indeed, I could have lived 1000 years ago and be dead by now. There is a contingent truth that I am Victor Reppert and not some other person. For every person there seems to be a contingent fact that they happen to be in that inner world and not some other inner world. And if that is the case, then it looks to be as if there are truths about the world that are not explained by the set of physical truths.

That I am Mark is not a contingent truth. There is no possible world in which I am someone else, if indeed I'm actually Mark. You should think of "I" as a demonstrative: this cognizer is Mark. It's been convincingly argued by philosophers of language that demonstratives rigidly designate their referents. Hence, since "Mark" rigidly designates, "I am Mark" is either necessary or impossible.

Granted, it's epistemically possible that I should have turned out not to be Mark. That's what the whole centered worlds thing is about. Or in the language of Chalmers' two-dimensional semantics, it's counteractually possible (rather than counterfactually possible) that I should have been Mark. But the same could be said of Hesperus not being Phosphorus or water not being H2O.

Victor Reppert said...

Maybe, but I don't see how you go from there to the idea that there is no fact that needs explanation.

Victor Reppert said...

I mean, what about the fact that there are first-person perspectives? It looks as if there could have been a world with no first-person perspectives whatsoever. You would have the matter behaving in just the same way, but no genuinely "inner" states.

Mark said...

Well, it's a necessary truth. It's not clear that necessary truths really have explanations. What explains the fact that water is H2O? It's not that we use "water" or "H2O" to mean certain things, since water would be H2O even if our language was different. Nothing explains why water is H2O; but if water is necessarily H2O, this is not so surprising.

Victor Reppert said...

Does the truth "Water is H20 entail that water exists? It seems contingent that water exists.

Similarly, "I am Victor Reppert" is surely only true in worlds in which I exist. But surely I am not a necessary being. So how can that be necessarily true?

Mark said...

Strictly speaking, the a posteriori necessary truth is that if Mark exists, then I exist and am Mark. This, together with the easily explained fact that Mark exists, entails that I am Mark.

Victor Reppert said...

The existence of first-person perspectives at all seems to be a deep metaphysical truth which needs explaining. It looks as if there could have been worlds in which no one and nothing has a first-person perspective. In fact, the motion of every molecule in the universe can be explained without appealing to any first-person perspectives, if physicalism is true. So, why do these funny things exist?

J said...

Hence, since "Mark" rigidly designates, "I am Mark" is either necessary or impossible.


That is, assuming Kripke's take contra-descriptions is correct, which many question. Really, naming does not seem necessary--people change their name for an obvious instance, or perhaps in some Orwellian situation, someone changes your name for you (or even alters history, etc)--it's just a variable, really. You were in Vietnam, had some traumatic experience, and ...your ID was changed. or wiped out. You might still exist, with a different name. It's not necessary.

And really, that one utters a first person pronouncement doesn't seem to prove much. What if you're around strangers, and lying?? The argument basically says, subjective experiences do NOT appear to be duplicate-able, and that's it (but what if....brain science advanced to where we could download experiences?? is that prima facie impossible? no). Moving from "subjective experience can not be duplicated," to "I therefore have an immaterial soul" is as faulty as Descartes' chestnuts....really, you can't even posit an "I" (is it the same each time it mutters "I exist'?), but something like a report--"there are experiences" (those are called protocol statements I believe )--- though an old school behaviorist might doubt it.....