Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Rage of Unbelief

This is in response to Alex Rosenberg's debate with William Lane Craig. Not mentioning any names, but this does seem to be a real problem with "movement atheism." If this movement becomes more predominant, we may find ourselves in a society deeply bifurcated on religious grounds--a kind of intellectual apartheid, where we are no longer able to talk to one another. The societal damage this would do would be incalculable.

HT: Bob Prokop


240 comments:

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William said...

im-skeptical:

Is information material?

I know that a book is a material object. I refer to the meaning of the text. Is that material?

Materialists say yes, others say no. Note that we are not arguing about whether something exists, but what it is.

Anonymous said...

Meaning is embedded in those models and associations that we have encoded in our brains. Without the model, there is no meaning. If you see something that is entirely new to you, your brain doesn't know how to make sense of it until it forms some neural connections. You look at how big it is, its shape, its color, what it does, and the neural connections begin to form a model. Now when you see it, it has some kind of meaning, precisely because you have that model in your brain, which is purely physical.

"Is some force shooting out of your head and touching the thing you are thinking about?" Hardly. I think it's more the other way. We perceive something through our senses, and that causes physical activity in the brain that goes to the piece of the brain where our model is stored.

Martin said...

>Meaning is embedded in those models

That presupposes the thing you are trying to explain physically. A model is "about" its subject or referent, so you can't explain aboutness by referring to models. Just like I showed you was Richard Carrier's mistake.

Anonymous said...

Martin,

I was talking about the physical aspect of 'aboutness' and you are talking about the philosophical. I wouldn't say they are the same thing. I thought you asked me to explain the physical aspect. That's what I attempted to do.

Martin said...

I don't know what you mean by "philosophical" aspect.

I'm asking you a very simple question: what is the physical description of something being about something else?

You used models, information, etc, but these all presuppose aboutness. A model is about its subject. Information is about its referent. So using them just presupposes aboutness and never actually explains it.

I can describe flight in physical terms: the electrons in the wing are negatively charged, and the electrons in the air are negatively charged, and this provides resistance because two negatively charged items repel each other. So the wing pushes against the air molecules, and push the bird or plane away from the ground.

Now describe "aboutness" using physical language just like I did with flight, but without using terms like "models", or "information", or "associations", or "encoding", or "meaning", all of which presuppose aboutness and none of which are concepts from physical science.

Anonymous said...

Martin,

To the best of my ability, I gave you a physical description of something being about something else. Now you are not satisfied, because you want me to explain something else. OK then, give me the precise definition of "physical aboutness".

Martin said...

You didn't give me anything, because you used concepts such as "models" and "associations", which presuppose aboutness.

I'm still waiting to hear a physical description of aboutness just like I did with flight (and could do for most other phenomena we experience).

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I was afraid of that. 'Aboutness' is a philosophical concept (look it up). I described physically how part of the brain can be about something else, but you want be to give you a physical description of a philosophical concept.

Why don't we move on to the next question.

Martin said...

> I described physically how part of the brain can be about something else, but you want be to give you a physical description of a philosophical concept.

You did not give me any description at all, because you used terms that presuppose aboutness, such as "models" and "association".

Again, I'm asking for a physical description of how a chunk of matter can be about another chunk of matter.

Anonymous said...

Grodrigues,
“I said more than what you quote.”

And it has no relevance to my comment, hence why it wasn’t quoted. You’re insistence that it was relevant further shows that you didn’t and still don’t understand what im-skeptical was saying.

Im-skeptical,

I initially agreed with what you said, but I think you have gone down the wrong path. As the argument was originally explained, it focused on assigned meaning, however, the term meaning was later used in examples that would make me object to its use in the first premise. I don't think the way they are using the term fits in with the idea of the mind assigning its own meaning.

Anonymous said...

Martin,

OK I failed that one. Let's move on.

Anonymous said...

CC,

I'm sorry, there's been so much discussion, I've lost track. Could you restate what it is that you object to?

Martin said...

im-skeptical,

See, I want to illustrate one argument for dualism (it only took 300 posts).

Matter has no aboutness (unless someone assigns aboutness to it, as we do when we say that the squiggles "dog" is about canines).

Thoughts have aboutness (because otherwise they just wouldn't be thoughts about anything).

Therefore, thoughts are not matter.

Do you see now?

Anonymous said...

Martin,

I will concede that matter has no philosophical 'aboutness'. I will not concede that one chunk of matter can't be 'about' another chunk of matter in a physical sense, because it can.

Martin said...

So then you can describe, or at least sketch, how a chunk of matter can be about another chunk of matter, in physical terms.

Anonymous said...

Martin,

I did. Let's move on.

Martin said...

All you gave were "models" and "associations", which presuppose aboutness and so is not the physical description of aboutness that I am requesting.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I know. I failed to answer the question to your satisfaction. Let's move on to the next question.

Martin said...

It wasn't "to my satisfaction". You failed to answer it at all

A model is "a representation, generally in miniature, to show the construction or appearance of something."

So I asked you to describe aboutness in physical terms, and you answered: "Meaning is embedded in those [representation, generally in miniature, to show the construction or appearance of something] and associations that we have encoded in our brains."

It has nothing to do with my satisfaction. You failed to answer the question at all. You just said essentially that aboutness works by having aboutness in your mind.

It's the same thing Carrier did earlier.


Anonymous said...

Martin,

You're asking a philosophical question that I'm not qualified to answer. If you want a philosophical discussion, here's a discussion of one theory:

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/mind-identity/

If that doesn't satisfy you, perhaps there are others that will. Honestly, I don't know what else to say about it.

Martin said...

That's a general materialist theory of mind, not a theory of aboutness.

The problems you are having explaining aboutness in physical terms is what I'm trying to illustrate. William Lycan, a materialist philosopher, says:

For the record, I think [aboutness] is a much greater obstacle to materialism than is anything to do with consciousness, qualia, phenomenal character, subjectivity, etc. If [aboutness] itself is naturalized, those other things are pretty easily explicated in terms of it (Consciousness and Experience, op. cit.). But in my view, current psychosemantics is feeble: it treats only of concepts tied closely to the thinker’s physical environment; it addresses only thoughts and beliefs, and not more exotic propositional attitudes whose functions are not to be correct representations; and it does not apply to any thought that is even partly metaphorical.

William said...

There's a nice lecture on some of the issues from a materialist perspective on Youtube.
I think im-skeptical should learn from the best here.



Note that Dennett actually avoids confronting the question of what the experience of the afterimage is. He suggests that it is caused by a match or mismatch with Bayesian expectations, but never actually addresses the experience directly.



I think that that is where causal theories of intentionality tend to fail: they address the function of the felt experience but not the quality of feeling itself-- they usually avoid addressing that issue at the last moment, as Dennett does at 1:02::00 on the video, where he jumps from addressing the felt phenomenon itself to explaining a partial cause of a particular phenomenon's occurence.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, William. I'll take a look.

Martin, a tough philosophical issue, I'll grant you. I never said I had all the answers. I'm here to learn what I can, but I doubt I'll ever become fully educated in philosophy.

Martin said...

im-skeptical,

Here is a Powerpoint I created on this problem.

grodrigues said...

@cautiouslycurious:

"And it has no relevance to my comment, hence why it wasn’t quoted. You’re insistence that it was relevant further shows that you didn’t and still don’t understand what im-skeptical was saying."

Your insistence in failing to see the relevance of my point shows that you cannot read or understand what I am saying. Really, if you have nothing of relevance to contribute besides barking at me, why not shush up? Just a suggestion.

@im-skeptical:

"Martin, a tough philosophical issue, I'll grant you. I never said I had all the answers. I'm here to learn what I can, but I doubt I'll ever become fully educated in philosophy."

From February 17, 2013 7:23 PM:

You solve the problem by assuming the existence of an immaterial mind that doesn't have to think about its own thoughts in a regress - it just understands things. I solve the problem by recognizing the reality that my material mind operates in much the same way that you think your immaterial mind operates, but without the need for this separate entity.

It's really not so hard to see, if you are willing to try. Sorry to disappoint you, no homunculus, no soul, no regress. Just a natural physical organ performing its function.


I sincerely and with no trace of irony encourage and applaud your efforts to learn, but after 200 posts of ignorance and misunderstanding, both of basic arguments and of what your interlocutors hold, to dress the Humility Cloak and say that you do not have "all the answers" and are "here to learn what you can"? What was the expression you used? "Takes brass".

Pax vobiscum.

Anonymous said...

Martin,

I would like to comment on your latest Powerpoint presentation, because it is at the heart of our understanding of this issue but I still don't agree with its conclusion. I need some time. I'll have more to say later today.

grod,

Thank you for your efforts to help make this discussion more meaningful.

Anonymous said...

Martin,

Here's my non-philosophical concept of all this:

1. Information is physical.
2. Information can be physically represented and transmitted in a variety of ways.
- magnetic domains on a disk
- patterns of light
- lines on paper
- neural connections
3. Transmitted information can be represented in alternative forms.
4. Consciousness is a physical manifestation of information in the brain, represented as some configuration of neural connections.

Scenario:
Author is a man who is thinking of nothing in particular. He sees a dog. Light from the dog enters his eyes. The light has a particular pattern that is encoded into signals, which are transmitted to the brain, where they leave an impression that consists of physical changes in the brain. The light, the signals, and the impression in the brain all contain information. That information is a physical representation of a particular dog. In that sense, the information is about the dog. This manifests itself in Author's brain as a conscious image of "dog", and the impression remains, so it can be recalled later.

Author writes a description of the dog on a piece of paper. Then he dies. The information in his brain is destroyed. The information on the paper remains intact. Even though this paper has never been seen by any living being, it contains information about a dog.

Later, I read the paper. Light from the paper enters mys eyes. The light has a particular pattern that is encoded into signals, which are transmitted to the brain, where they leave an impression that consists of physical changes in the brain. The light, the signals, and the impression in the brain all contain information. That information is a physical representation of a particular dog. In that sense, the information is about the dog. This manifests itself in my brain as a conscious image of "dog", and the impression remains, so it can be recalled later.

A significant thing to not is that one point, the paper contained meaningful information about a dog, even though no mind was looking at it or assigning meaning to it. The information was passed (copied in different physical forms) from the dog to Author, to the paper, to me.

I have avoided using the word "aboutness" because I think it confuses the issue. The fact is, information is about something, whether it's in someone's brain or not. Information written on paper is NOT just meaningless scribbles. It is a real physical representation of something, and it is in fact about that thing.

Thoughts are physical - no question about it.

Martin said...

Yes, the causal theory of aboutness.

See here.


ingx24 said...

I think another important point to make about the causal theory of intentionality (aboutness) is that being in a causal relationship with something is not the same, conceptually, as being "about" something. The causal theory of intentionality almost seems to change the subject; it "explains" intentionality by subtlely redefining it in more vague terms:

1. Intentionality means having something to do with an object.
2. If a brain state is caused by an object, it has something to do with that object.
3. Therefore, causal relations are a form of intentionality.

The reason this argument doesn't work is because it misdefines intentionality; it reduces intentionality down to being nothing more than a relation between two objects in order to say that intentionality could be a causal relation. Now, I don't know if this is actually why materialists think a causal theory of intentionality is plausible - I don't want to accidentally straw man anyone here - but hopefully what I've said has highlighted why causal relations are not sufficient to produce intentionality - it's just a different type of relationship.

Martin said...

Im-skeptical, in light of these objections, this is why Lycan (a materialist philospher) says:

...[the causal theory of aboutness] treats only of concepts tied closely to the thinker’s physical environment; it addresses only thoughts and beliefs, and not more exotic propositional attitudes whose functions are not to be correct representations; and it does not apply to any thought that is even partly metaphorical.

Which is why he goes on to say:

I now believe that there is a more powerful argument for dualism based on intentionality itself: from the dismal failure of all materialist [theories of aboutness]...

Anonymous said...

ingx24 and Matrin,

I appreciate the comments. I did say that this view is non-philosophical, and it might be incorrect in some aspect. But when viewed strictly from a physical perspective, I don't see anything implausible or contradictory about it.

Also, I keep hearing stories about these supposedly materialist people who have concluded that some aspect of mind is immaterial. Wouldn't it be fair to say that by definition, those people are not materialists?

Martin said...

I brought up two major objections, and you did not address them.

Why is Lycan not a dualist? Because he only says that he thinks there is a potentially good argument for dualism, but I suppose that he thinks the evidence for materialism outweighs it. Note that in that article he is "holding his own feet to the fire" and admitting to himself that he does not proportion his believe to the evidence. That is, he thinks the evidence for materialism fails just as hard as the evidence for dualism.

ingx24 said...

im-skeptical,

The view that you espouse is actually one that I held for a while, and I do not actually consider it materialist. This may sound strange, but if you are using concepts like "information" literally, you are not a materialist in my view. Basically, back when I thought that "information" was being used in a literal sense in computing, I thought that information processing was what created minds, and didn't really have an opinion either way on whether or not minds could survive physical death. The view you espouse seems to be my former view but with the stipulation that minds require a continuing physical substrate to exist.

Anonymous said...

Martin,

I'm not trying to argue against Lycan or anyone else. There are still things about our conscious experience that are not fully understood by anybody - materialist, theist, or whatever. So We're not ready to close the book on it. But I do believe that eventually we will have a firmly established scientific theory of mind, and the matter will be put to rest. (Sorry Victor, it's not a promissory note, just a good bet.)

ingx24,

The first thing I said is "Information is physical." That's not just my opinion. It is a fact. Perhaps you confuse information with meaning, which I admit, is more nebulous.

"minds require a continuing physical substrate to exist."

I don't understand what that means.

Martin said...

Note that the arguments here, if successful, are not gaps in scientific understanding but are in principle objections. Like saying that the prime minister cannot be a prime number. No future science will ever be able to show that the prime minister could be a prime number. Such a notion is logically absurd.

Ilíon said...

What a couple of comedians -- OK, what I really mean is "what a couple of passive-aggressice (i.e. sissyish) hypocrites" --

im-whinning: "Ok, I'm getting a little swamped. What should I address first? I'll see what I can do to answer, one issue at a time. I would prefer to keep personal attacks out of the discussion. Go ahead and challenge what I say, but if you would like to hear my view, please keep it civil."

son_of_Confusion: "My "attacks" aren't "personal".

They are reasonable criticisms of both your knowledge and skills.

Even if grodrigues is put off by you(I would say he has a just case in that regard) I have to date said you seem like a nice enough fellow and mean well.

But your proformance thus far has been lacking IMHO.

Now answer Martin first & ignore me like I ignore Paps and Ilion.
"

'im-skeptical' is all about the ad hominem, so *even if* he were being "attacked" in this thread, so what? Is he claiming to be a sissy who can't take what he dishes out?

Meanwhile, 'benYachov' whines, like a sissy, about being "attacked" whenever someone makes "reasonable criticisms of [*his*] knowledge and skills" ... especially when that someone is me.

Ilíon said...

Martin: "Note that the arguments here, if successful, are not gaps in scientific understanding but are in principle objections. Like saying that the prime minister cannot be a prime number. No future science will ever be able to show that the prime minister could be a prime number. Such a notion is logically absurd."

Indeed ... and the "if successful" is unnecessary modesty.

Just don't expect 'im-skeptical' or any of his ilk to ever admit the materialism/physicalism/naturalism has been shown to be false and that it is, in fact, self-refuting. Don't expect 'im-skeptical' or any of his ilk to ever admit that information is not physical.

===
I intend to write another post on my blog about this (ahem) argument between Martin and 'im-a-meat-robot', using arithmetic as a specific example of a something that disproves the materialistic 'meat robot' assertion, and thus disproves materialism.

And, of course, once I write it, I'll post a link here.

BenYachov said...

Ilion,

We all know your weird creepy gay rants against me stem from the fact that a) I'm a fan of Feser & you hate Feser for not endorcing ID and b) You hated BDK & I like him.

It's pretty childish. You need to move on.

Ilíon said...

^^
What a liar. Also, seeing that he so frequently brings up that particualr topic out of nowhere, Son_of_Confusion is clearly "gay".

BenYachov said...

@Ilion,

So that is the basis of your obsession with me?

I am flattered but dude I don't think this blog is a good place for crusing if that is what you are into(not that I would know actually being married to a woman, unlike some of us).

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