Thursday, February 27, 2014

Matter, truth, and C. S. Lewis

We are compelled to admit between the thoughts of a terrestrial astronomer and the behaviour of matter several light-years away that particular relation which we call truth. But this relation has no meaning at all if we try to make it exist between the matter of the star and the astronomer’s brain, considered as a lump of matter. The brain may be in all sorts of relations to the star no doubt: it is in a spatial relation, and a time relation, and a quantitative relation. But to talk of one bit of matter as being true about another bit of matter seems to me to be nonsense.{18}

C. S. Lewis "De Futilitate" 

156 comments:

BeingItself said...

And what follows from this claim?

im-skeptical said...

"But to talk of one bit of matter as being true about another bit of matter seems to me to be nonsense."

Perhaps that's because it is nonsense to say that a bit of matter is true about something. A proposition can be true or false, but a bit of matter is not a proposition. Even if the bit of matter happens to be a part of a brain that is engaging in mental processes (thinking).

Victor Reppert said...

What follows? If materialism is true, there's no such thing as truth, so materialism can't be true.

A proposition exists where, would you say I-S? Do you accept the existence of anything that doesn't have a where or a when?

BeingItself said...

Right now a pattern in my brain represents this true proposition: "C.S. Lewis was a bad philosopher".

im-skeptical said...

"If materialism is true, there's no such thing as truth, so materialism can't be true."

That statement is self contradictory. If materialism is true, then something is true.

But a proposition is a conceptual thing, not an object - as BI points out, a pattern in the brain. Truth is also a conceptual thing that relates to the proposition.

These conceptual things are not simply bits of matter. They are patterns that represent mental tokens (like data bits in a computer), and associations and relationships between those tokens, distributed through the brain. This is how we understand things. You can't point to a piece of brain matter and say "that's a truth" or "that's about a particular object". But still the brain creates an intricate web of relationships between things that form what we call meaning.

Martin said...

BI,

>Right now a pattern in my brain represents this true proposition: "C.S. Lewis was a bad philosopher".

I don't think it's quite that simple.

planks length said...

im-skeptical,

Yes, it is self-contradictory - that's the whole point! Saying "Materialism is true" is like that old game of printing on one side of a card "The statement on the other side of this card is true" and on the other side "The statement on the other side of this card is false", and then pointing to either side (it doesn't matter which one) and asking "Is this statement true or false?"

You see? The answer is nonsensical - just as any answer to the question "Is materialism true?"

BeingItself said...

So what is VR's solution to this alleged problem?

VR and Lewis assert (without argument) that if a thought is material, it cannot be true about something.

What then must be the case about a thought for it to be true about something?

BeingItself said...

Martin, your argument there is feeble. Here's why. There is a casual story between the pattern in his brain and whatever he sees in the telescope. Also, the pattern (or thoughts) occur in a context of other patterns (thoughts, memories) of an astronomer which also have a causal story connected to the real world.

Your pie symbol has no context. Nice try though!

BeingItself said...

If I was to draw a picture of my girlfriend, would that drawing be about my girlfriend? Surely a drawing is material.

What is it about brains such that their patterns cannot be about anything?

Martin said...

BI,

>There is a casual story between the pattern in his brain and whatever he sees in the telescope.

Right, the causal theory of meaning. This has multiple problems. For one thing, your thought can be about something that doesn't even exist. Your thought about Santa Claus is about Santa in virtue of it's...having been caused by Santa? No, that's clearly not right.

Or your thought about bears is a thought about bears in virtue of it's having been caused by...a large tree stump in the dark? Then your thought should be about large tree stumps, not bears.

Or your thought about pink elephants was caused, not by pink elephants, but by magic mushrooms.

Secondly, the whole point of the pie article I linked you to is that yes indeed there needs to be context. The pie symbol by itself has not context; the physical properties by themselves are not enough to fix the meaning of the symbol; you need the physical properties + the intentions of the people who designed the symbol. But unless you want to say that humans were designed, there is a serious problem here if our minds are entirely physical, because then like the symbol they would have no context. They would be just the physical properties.

And finally, Karl Popper points out that the causal series from symbol to the referent begins (if at all) before the symbol and ends (if at all) after the referent, so there are no endpoints (symbol and referent), objectively speaking.

Here is Popper:

It 'begins' (if at all) with a state of the machine prior to the appearance of Mike, a state in which the machine is, as it were, ready to respond to the appearance of Mike. It 'ends' (if at all) not with the enunciation of a word, since there is a state following this. (All this is true of the corresponding human response, if causally considered.) It is our interpretation which makes Mike and 'Mike' the extremes (or terms) of the causal chain, and not the 'objective' physical situation. (Moreover, we might consider the whole process of reaction as name, or only the last letters of 'Mike', say, 'Ike'.) Thus, although those who know or understand the name-relation may choose to interpret a causal chain as a model of it, it is clear that the name-relation is not a causal relation, and cannot be realized by any causal model.

im-skeptical said...

planks,

The contradiction isn't in materialism. It's in those ridiculous responses like the one Victor made. I could make similar contradictory statements about theism. I'm sure you would reject my statements, not theism. Victor's contradiction doesn't prove (or disprove) anything.

Martin said...

BI,

I wrote an entire blog post based on your question about the drawing of your girlfriend.

BeingItself said...

"Your thought about Santa Claus is about Santa in virtue of it's...having been caused by Santa?"

No, the thought is caused by the pictures of Santa, stories about Santa, movies about Santa, people dressed up like Santa.

"Or your thought about bears is a thought about bears in virtue of it's having been caused by...a large tree stump in the dark?"

The thought is caused by an object that looks like a bear in the context of being in a place where bears might be and by my previous experience of bears.

I honestly do not grok the problem here.

And I still don't see how any non-materialist ontology would fare any better even if there was a problem.



im-skeptical said...

Martin,

Your post on aboutness seems to assert that this "aboutness" is something that exists, but only applies to thoughts, not to any kind of information-bearing physical objects. It is the "something else" that you call intention, a presumably immaterial presence of some kind.

Print on a page bears information, but the ink isn't "about" anything. It's our interpretation of the information that connects that information to other conceptual things in our brain. And that's a process of providing context to a piece of information that gives it meaning to us. This mental process is where this so-called aboutness arises. But aboutness isn't real. It's nothing more than associations in our mind, formed by neural connections.

Martin said...

Skeppy,

That's exactly what I just said. In both blog posts I linked to above.

planks length said...

"But aboutness isn't real. It's nothing more than associations in our mind, formed by neural connections."

Hmmm.... You write those words, but I'll bet real money that, in your heart of hearts, you don't really believe that any more than I do, which is not at all.

I stand ready to collect my winnings at your convenience.

im-skeptical said...

planks,

What I believe in my heart of hearts (as difficult as it may be for you to accept) is that the world we inhabit is indeed matter in motion and nothing more. Time to pay up. By the way, what did I win?

planks length said...

Hah - Caught you! If the world is nothing but matter in motion, then you believe NOTHING!!! (Because there's no "you" to believe. But then, we both lose the bet (and everything else, as well.)

im-skeptical said...

planks,

You did catch me. Because I think the sense of self is an illusion in some respect. Just like free will. Nevertheless, there is a pile of matter that is a body that has a unique mind with a sense of self that I call me.

Dan Gillson said...

As David Brightly pointed out on another thread, C.S. Lewis doesn't properly distinguish between the manifest and the scientific images. The absurdity Lewis speaks of is generated by confusing two different logical spaces. For more on this, see Wilfrid Sellars's essay Philosophy and the Scientific Image of Man.

BeingItself said...

I too deny the self if by self we mean something identical to me right now that persists through time.

But there is something near enough similar to me right now that persists through time such that the concept of the self is a useful fiction.

Crude said...

But there is something near enough similar to me right now that persists through time such that the concept of the self is a useful fiction.

Useful to who?

Crude said...

Dan,

As David Brightly pointed out on another thread, C.S. Lewis doesn't properly distinguish between the manifest and the scientific images.

Given the comments so far, I'm not sure it's Lewis who isn't properly distinguishing between the manifest and scientific images.

BeingItself said...

"Useful to who?" [sic]

People.

Crude said...

People.

What are they? More useful fictions?

im-skeptical said...

Sometimes quite useless.

planks length said...

Crude,

You do not understand just how useful Beingitelf's views on his non-personhood are. He writes that he denies the existence of "something identical to me right now that persists through time". Just think about that. You no longer need to feel responsible for whatever it was that someone-or-other going about calling himself "me" did the other day - because you're not him! A very useful fiction, indeed.

Read the section in A Canticle for Leibowitz, where the scholar Thom Taddeo attempts to deny any connection between his generation and all past generations, in order to not feel any responsibility for the common sins of Humanity.

Calling human consciousness and free will illusions works just as well.

Yes, indeed. A most useful fiction.

David Brightly said...

Suppose we had an autonomous van that navigated itself around safely delivering goods by means of GPS positioning and built-in digital roadmaps. Wouldn't we want to say of the electronic or magnetic or whatever states representing the roads that they were true or correct of the actual roads and if they directed the van into the ditch that they were incorrect or false, at least in part?

im-skeptical said...

David,

Information is physical. The autonomous van must interpret the map symbols to determine which direction it should move. That interpretation must be compatible with the interpretation that was used when the map was created. The map is in essence no different from any other means of communication, including spoken words. The map maker is stating that the road is in a certain location, and that statement may be true or not true. The van "hears" the statement of the map maker and acts accordingly. The map itself is nothing more than a physical medium for transmitting information from a speaker to a listener (neither of which have to be human).

David Brightly said...

Hi Im, Yes, and Lewis appears to be saying that talk of truth in this situation is nonsensical.

planks length said...

David,

Both you and im-skeptical seem to be overlooking the fact that there is no such thing as an "autonomous van". The van, the digital databases, and the GPS system are all the product of a mind - namely human. You are committing the same fallacy as that made several months ago in a conversation on this very website about computers and design, in which the fact that the computer being a product of human design was not taken into account.

My point is you haven't gotten away from Lewis's dilemma merely by interposing a few intermediate steps between his astronomer and the distant star. The example you've chosen is muddier than Lewis's, but the issue hasn't changed.

Crude said...

Wouldn't we want to say of the electronic or magnetic or whatever states representing the roads that they were true or correct of the actual roads and if they directed the van into the ditch that they were incorrect or false, at least in part?

In reference to human minds and interpretations, sure.

im-skeptical said...

"the fact that the computer being a product of human design was not taken into account."

The brain is a computer, and being part of the natural world, it was not designed by humans or any intelligence.

David Brightly said...

Planks, Are you baulking at 'autonomous' perhaps? It's just a term of art in robotics for these vehicles. Because one moment you say the van is not a thing, and then you say it's a human product. That's a bit inconsistent. Let me withdraw 'autonomous'. Now, in deciding whether to use the word 'truth' in this context, do we need to take into account the origin of the van? It seems it either trundles around happily or falls in the ditch independently of how it came to be, no?

Crude said...

Now, in deciding whether to use the word 'truth' in this context, do we need to take into account the origin of the van? It seems it either trundles around happily or falls in the ditch independently of how it came to be, no?

If it falls into a ditch, did it 'make a mistake'? You're talking about success or failure here in terms of a standard that gets applied by a mind - presumably the van doesn't care one way or the other.

David Brightly said...

Indeed it doesn't. But the reason it fell in the ditch appears to be that its model of the road wasn't entirely true or faithful to the actual road in the relevant way.

Crude said...

Indeed it doesn't. But the reason it fell in the ditch appears to be that its model of the road wasn't entirely true or faithful to the actual road in the relevant way.

What's the relevant way? And what's the measure for true or faithful? As near as I can tell the only yardstick here is the assignment of such by a mind, which puts us back at square one.

David Brightly said...

Yes, my original question was Would we want to say that 'truth' was an appropriate word to use in this context? Responding to Lewis involves thinking about what we mean by 'truth'.

Crude said...

Yes, my original question was Would we want to say that 'truth' was an appropriate word to use in this context? Responding to Lewis involves thinking about what we mean by 'truth'.

See, I'm parsing that as 'Is it right to even talk about truth if everything is material, meant in the mechanistic sense?' It sounds like you're saying it doesn't. But then, that sounds like what Lewis is saying too.

Martin said...

David,

The problem is that whether the van made a mistake or not is entirely dependent upon the intentions of the designers. Let's say we find an alien computer, and switch it on. It starts sputtering, spews out a few gears, and catches fire. "Oh," we think. "It broke."

However, unbeknownst to us, the machine was designed to simulate a catastrophic event that happened in the alien culture, and sputtering smoke and fire is exactly what it's supposed to do.

This is the essence of the James Ross article on the immaterialist of the intellect: there are any number of mutually exclusive stories you could tell about a physical system performing some function, and none is any more "correct" than any other, except relative to the intentions of the designers.

David Brightly said...

I think Crude introduced the word 'mistake' at 7:27 PM. I'm asking, Does it feel right to say that the van contains a true/correct/faithful or a false/incorrect/unfaithful, etc, map of the terrain?

planks length said...

"one moment you say the van is not a thing"

Huh? Where did I say that? Or even imply such a thing? I said the van was not "autonomous" - and still do.

Martin said...

David,

Again, that all depends on the intentions of the designers. Perhaps the van is a simulation of an accident, created by an insurance company. And if the van hadn't gone off into the ditch, then that would be considered a failure of the program.

im-skeptical said...

Martin,

"that all depends on the intentions of the designers"

That's true, but there is no reason in principle that the designers must be human. There are modern genetic design techniques that can produce superior functional products, unimpeded by the intellectual limitations of a human designer. This must pose a challenge to those who insist that intelligence is something unique to the human mind.

David Brightly said...

Planks, in this context 'autonomous' just means something like 'self-steering'. But to prevent further misconceptions please allow me to withdraw the term from my description of the van as I suggest at 7:09 PM. It adds nothing.

Crude said...

David,

What I'm taking away from what you're saying is along the lines of 'Okay, maybe true and false won't work here. But what about accurate and inaccurate? Instead of truth and falsity, we're talking about maps, which can be more or less accurate.' But the same general sort of problem obtains - who determines what is or isn't being mapped? Who determines what is or isn't success, or for that matter, accuracy? Who or what determines what is or isn't even a map?

planks length said...

in this context 'autonomous' just means something like 'self-steering'

But the van isn't even that. Whatever ability it has to steer was programmed into it by human designers. It can no more steer itself than a rock, without the necessary and prior action of a mind giving it ability to behave as though it can do so. But in the end of ends, it is a conscious, human mind (acting through a complex series of intermediaries) that is steering the van.

David Brightly said...

I agree that it's the designers' intention to ensure that the van stays on the road. To this end they supply the van with information about where the road is, and this information plays a causal role in determining the van's behaviour. The meaning of the information is implicit in how it affects the van's steering. This seems to me to be analogous to the way that part of the meaning of 'There is a bear in the cave' is the unwilled physiological fear it produces. And just as 'There is a bear in the cave' can be false, so that it invokes fear for no 'reason', as it were, so also can the van's roadmap be false, so that it invokes steerings, for no reason.

David Brightly said...

Planks, It's not my conscious mind that steers the van, nor yours. Is it perhaps the conscious mind of Sebastian Thrun, who designed the van, currently in bed asleep in Stanford? What are you saying?

David Brightly said...

Im, I'm stipulating that the designers are human.

David Brightly said...

Martin, No it's not owned by an insurance company. It was bought by a parcel delivery firm from a company set up by some clever chaps at Stanford.

planks length said...

"What are you saying?

Actually, I am saying that it is the conscious minds of human designers (to include Mr. Thrun) and programmers that are steering the van. To be crystal clear - Yes.

Just as it is my conscious mind that causes my fingers to type out these letters (via the intermediaries of nerves, bone, tissue, and various other bodily structures), it is the minds of those who created that so-called "autonomous" van that set it in motion and enabled it to steer (through a somewhat more complex connectivity of intermediaries). But it is no more autonomous in reality than are my fingers.

Such a distinction may have little relevance to the day-to-day operations of the van, but as a philosophical point (especially in the context of this particular discussion), it is vital.

David Brightly said...

Crude@9:34, No, I think it can make sense to talk of truth in a purely material world. Think of the waggle dance of the honey bee.

David Brightly said...

Planks, do you not think that you have taken the concept 'steer', that we all understand from childhood, and have made it deeply mysterious?

planks length said...

David,

Might I suggest you watch the (highly enjoyable and quite worthwhile) movie Around the World Under the Sea (1966)? In it, Dr. Philip Volker (played by David McCallum) is accused of cheating in a chess game by using a computer to help him with his moves. He responds by saying (in words to this effect - it's been a while since I've seen the movie), "I designed that computer, I built it, I programmed it. When it chooses a move, it is my brain that is making that choice. That computer is an extension of my thought." I agree with those sentiments.

David Brightly said...

And now you have repeated the trick with 'think'.

planks length said...

Works both times - the principle is the same!

David Brightly said...

Very Good!!!

David Brightly said...

Which means that I was genuinely amused by your reply. But you have an aweful lot of explaining to do!

William said...

It seems to be that there is a difference between derived (robot) and intrinsic (personal) intentionality. Some like Dennett have claimed that all intentionality is derived, but that always struck me as crazy, like saying that all words are made up of other words.

planks length said...

" all words are made up of other words"

Who says that? Intriguing concept! Would love to hear more about it.

im-skeptical said...

So planks agrees that a machine can think.

planks length said...

"So planks agrees that a machine can think."

No, I do not. The entire point of my comments, which were written with crystal clarity, is that no machine can think. It is the human designer that is doing the thinking. The machine is only acting upon whatever programming, design, construction, whatever (a.k.a., "thought") was done by a human being.

Now yes, a machine can aid us in our thinking, the same way that a shovel can help me with my digging. But it is not the shovel that is doing the digging - it is me, using the shovel. In the same way, a computer (or "autonomous" van, or whatever) is not thinking - a human person is doing that, using the machine as a tool.

David Brightly said...

Lewis's question isn't about thinking. It's about truth. I've offered a couple of examples in which some arrangement of matter can be said to be true of another arrangement of matter. Is Lewis wrong or am I wrong, and if so, why?

im-skeptical said...

"It is the human designer that is doing the thinking"

Once the machine has been programmed, the human sits back while the machine does the thinking and makes the decisions for the human. This is a bit more than aiding him. It's taking over the job for him.

im-skeptical said...

David,

Truth is meaningless unless it is in the context of a proposition. So the machine can follow the map and drive off the road as a result. So far nothing is true or false. If someone says the map is wrong, then that proposition can be said to be true.

William said...

im-skeptical: "So the machine can follow the map and drive off the road as a result. So far nothing is true or false. If someone says the map is wrong, then that proposition can be said to be true."

IMO Skep is right about this, and I can rewrite the Lewis quote this way:

Lewis: "We are compelled to admit between the [propositional] thoughts of a terrestrial astronomer and the behaviour of matter several light-years away that particular relation which we call truth. "

im-skeptical said...

William,

The point is that the map itself doesn't have the property of truth. Someone must interpret the map and then judge whether the map's creator made a correct assertion about the location of the road. The map merely serves as the mechanism of conveyance of the assertion.

Crude said...

David,

Crude@9:34, No, I think it can make sense to talk of truth in a purely material world. Think of the waggle dance of the honey bee.

What dance? What bee?

Now, I have a mind, and I pick out this or that as a bee, and this or that as a dance. Take my mind away - in a purely mechanistic world with no intrinsic meaning or truth or intentionality - and where is it?

Lewis's question isn't about thinking. It's about truth. I've offered a couple of examples in which some arrangement of matter can be said to be true of another arrangement of matter. Is Lewis wrong or am I wrong, and if so, why?

I think you're wrong, conditionally.

Your examples have been maps, representations. If maps and representations have intrinsic meaning - if this set of matter in this arrangement intrinsically means X or Y - then sure, I can see how this or that arrangement of matter can be said to be true of another arrangement of matter. But then, we're not dealing with materialism anymore. We're dealing with something closer to Aristotilean concepts of matter.

If your maps and representations lack this - then it seems like the only thing you can mean is 'A mind looking at material X and material Y would be able to assign meaning to X in relation to Y'. But then what's doing the work is the mind, not X or Y.

David Brightly said...

Im, regarding the connection of truth and propositions (I don't hold with them myself) don't we meaningfully say things like 'this picture is true to life' and 'McSporran is a true Scotsman' and 'snails have a pseudopod---a false foot', and 'some butterflies have false eye spots on their wings'.

Crude,

Take my mind away - in a purely mechanistic world with no intrinsic meaning or truth or intentionality - and where is it?

This assumes that there can be no truth in a mechanistic world, which is the question at issue.

I don't say that maps and representations have a special property of intrinsic meaning. I do say that living things (not rocks!) can use them in navigating the world and when this happens we say that the representation has a meaning for the living thing. The question of truthfulness then arises because to be useful the representation has to be taken as saying something definite about the way the world is---asserting a proposition, if you like---and the world may not be like that. The same can be said in relation to an artefact like the van that has to make its way in the world.

William said...

David, the astronomer can think something true about how one bit of matter relates to another, but without the astronomer thinking part it would not happen that the two bits of matter would have a 'true' arrangement.

Truth in Lewis's sense (empirical truth) requires a particular relation between the subjective and objective(s), not a relation between two of the objective things alone.

im-skeptical said...

David,

"don't we meaningfully say things like 'this picture is true to life'"

I'm not a philosopher, but with regard to the question of 'truth', I take the nominalist stance - truth exists only as a concept in our minds, and always with respect to some proposition. Physical objects (including books and maps) are what they are, and have no intrinsic quality of truth. The mind must first interpret their information (which amounts to making a proposition about the information). Consider a picture. Maybe it's a photograph - a realistic depiction of a person. But what If I (as an animal that only sees a flat image), can't relate that to a real 3-D person? That picture may be meaningless to me. What if the picture is a caricature drawing? Just a few lines on paper. If you look at it literally, it doesn't look at all like a person. But there's something in those lines that captures the quality of the person's facial expression. Is that truth? I say that my interpretation of the picture is where you can rightly discuss whether it resembles reality.

Same goes for "true Scottsman". It means different things to different people.

The pseudopod of a snail is not a foot at all, but someone thought it serves the role of a foot, and named it in accordance with his view of what it is.

And false eye spots - another example of interpretation. The predator sees it, and thinks it's an eye. The predator's interpretation of the image is incorrect, but the spot on the butterfly is just a spot.

William said...

I believe that Kant said that the experience of the objective by the subjective observer was a human precondition for true knowledge.

David Brightly said...

Im, William, I think Lewis is inviting us to agree with him that materialism leads immediately to an absurdity. For given materialism, the astronomer's thought about a distant star must be just matter, or perhaps matter in motion, and if the thought is true then it must be that some matter is true of some other matter. Lewis regards this as patently absurd. I'm suggesting that it may not be absurd. Indeed, it seems to offer a simple explanation for why, when out walking in the woods, the cry goes up 'there is a snake on the path', which is just air in a certain kind of motion, my heart rate goes up. And I give some examples of physical systems which are set up to be guided in their behaviour by other physical systems in ways which allow for a true/false distinction, and which allow for the possibility of deception.

Crude said...

David,

This assumes that there can be no truth in a mechanistic world, which is the question at issue.

I don't think it assumes it. I think it follows from the commitments. But, that's what we're talking about.

I don't say that maps and representations have a special property of intrinsic meaning. I do say that living things (not rocks!) can use them

Great. What separates a living thing from a non-living thing again, mechanistically? And what is it about being living that allows them to 'use' things in any way? What makes a map or a representation a map or a representation? It's not intrinsic, so it's extrinsic - it's assigned that role by a mind.

How are you getting a mind? Remember, there's no intrinsic meaning, so whatever meaning you have is extrinsic - it's applied by a third party.

Crude said...

David,

I'm suggesting that it may not be absurd. Indeed, it seems to offer a simple explanation for why, when out walking in the woods, the cry goes up 'there is a snake on the path', which is just air in a certain kind of motion, my heart rate goes up. And I give some examples of physical systems which are set up to be guided in their behaviour by other physical systems in ways which allow for a true/false distinction, and which allow for the possibility of deception.

The problem is, I don't see your examples of physical systems which do this. I think you give examples where you say this is taking place, but the only way on offer to make sense of them the way you're talking about it is for a mind to assign this or that explanation or cause or meaning to the things, or to take on a conception of matter that is foreign to materialism.

Like you said - there's no intrinsic meaning. That leaves extrinsic meaning - derived meaning - to do the work. And anything doing the deriving has to be derived too.

William said...

David:

Interesting.

Think of a possible world about which no-one has any information, about which absolutely nothing is known or thought to be true. Are there true things in that world? Indeterminate.


Now, I stipulate that world contains (indeed, contained before anyone knew) two things A and B. Is it true that there are at least two things in that world? It seems so. What changed? Ontologically nothing, epistemologically something. And truth is about epistemology not ontology.

planks length said...

This entire conversation is starting to sound like "Does a tree falling in the forest make a sound if there's no one to hear it?"

im-skeptical said...

David,

I agree with Lewis that it is absurd to say that a piece of matter can be "about" another piece of matter, or that a piece of matter can be "true about" another piece of matter. However these absurd notions are not a consequence of materialism. This is what I've been trying to get at. The concept of "aboutness" is the product of a dualistic mind, and it is incoherent. That's what leads to Lewis' absurdities. But a materialist need not be trapped by this. He can deny that there is any such thing as "aboutness".

William said...

im-skeptical: is science about something? It that an "aboutness"?

Martin said...

Skeppy,

So if matter cannot be about anything, and your mind is matter, then you must somehow believe that your beliefs are not about anything. That, for example, you don't have a belief about dualism (that it is false). That you don't have a belief about aboutness (that it is incoherent).

im-skeptical said...

William,

There is equivocal use of the word "about" in this discussion. In normal usage, it means "on the subject of; concerning". When it comes to the topic of this discussion, we are talking about a kind of connection between two things - that one piece of matter can be related to another piece of matter by means of this connection called "aboutness". From my experience, it sees this kind of equivocation is stock-in-trade for dualists who are desperately trying to "prove" that materialism is incoherent.

William said...

im-skeptical:

Yes, I know that you define the mental to be material, and so it makes no sense to you given that mental things are material by definition for anyone to say that anything mental is not material.

im-skeptical said...

"Yes, I know that you define the mental to be material, and so it makes no sense to you given that mental things are material by definition for anyone to say that anything mental is not material."

This is not an issue of whether thought is immaterial. It is the very concept of aboutness that is incoherent. If it is absurd for materialism, it is no less absurd for dualism.

William said...

skep: I think that the definition of 'about' you do accept contains the very same makings of Lewis's problem for the version of materialism he writes against (which is not yours, I know).

im-skeptical said...

"I think that the definition of 'about' you do accept contains the very same makings of Lewis's problem for the version of materialism he writes against"

I don't think so. What happens in the brain when we have a thought about something? First, we have some knowledge or experience of the thing. That affects the connections between neurons, creating associations in the brain. Our concept of that thing comes from these associations. Note that this is entirely contained within the brain. We can conjure thoughts by bringing these associations into our attention. There is nothing in our brain that is "about" some external object in the sense that Lewis suggests. Just connections between neurons.

William said...

skep: everything that you say above is true, yet the connection of subject to object is missing from your description. Please fill that in for me?

im-skeptical said...

"Please fill that in for me?"

Sure. One cluster of neurons is connected to another cluster of neurons. This is all inside your head.

Does that sound flippant? It's not. Recall I said that when you first saw (or learned of, or experienced) the 'object', it made an impression in your brain. That impression is now the object of your thoughts - not the actual thing.

William said...

I asked about subject and object, and you talk clusters of neurons? I think I understand all three somewhat at least, but don't see the connection yet. Please explain how one gets from neuron cluster to subject or object or back to cluster?

David Brightly said...

Crude, What separates a living thing from a non-living thing again, mechanistically? And what is it about being living that allows them to 'use' things in any way? Quick answer: complicated chemistry and negative entropy.

What makes a map or a representation a map or a representation? Quick answer: it contains patterns which may be isomorphic to patterns elsewhere. If they are isomorphic then it's a true map or representation, if not, it's false.

How are you getting a mind?Much too hard. But maybe a basic feature of mindedness is pattern matching.

We can agree that there is no such thing as intrinsic meaning. I am suggesting that the meaning of A for B lies in how A affects B or B uses A. All very inchoate, I know.


Im, I agree with Lewis that it is absurd to say that a piece of matter can be "about" another piece of matter, or that a piece of matter can be "true about" another piece of matter Ok, Im, we'll just have to disagree on this. It's hard to see natural selection at the level physics deals with. You need biology. Same with aboutness.

William said...

It's actually possible, I suppose, that the shore finds meaning in the tide, and would even if there were no minds to see that pathetic fallacy, but what reason, David, would we have to believe such a thing?

At least the pathetic fallacy applied to groups of neurons by im-skeptical has the advantage of the fallacy being applied to a part of a human being.

im-skeptical said...

William,

"I asked about subject and object, and you talk clusters of neurons?"

Yes, clusters of neurons, and their electro-chemical activity are what produce out thoughts. But you want to know how those things translate to your perception of thought - something that isn't well understood by science - yet. Let me ask you this: If you have a soul that is the source of your intellect, precisely how does that translate to your perception of thought?

David,

The point of my discussion is that when you think "about" something, you are only recalling associations that have been previously formed in your brain. There's nothing in your brain that reaches out to, or points to, or is in any way connected to the external object. This is the dualistic concept of "aboutness" that is both imaginary and incoherent.

William said...

im-skeptical: Yes, true, the problem is identical whether there is a soul or not. However, a fully physically restricted language of physicalism remains inadequate for the explanatory task. Thus, your pathetic fallacy.

David Brightly said...

None at all, William. I'm quite certain that the shore finds no meaning at all in the tide, not being the kind of thing, if it is a thing, that can find meaning in anything. I'm not advocating panpsychism.

David Brightly said...

I have very little idea, Im, of what is happening when I think about (no scare quotes) something. I agree entirely that there is nothing in my brain that reaches out or points to something, though I don't have a view on whether this idea is dualistic or otherwise. Nevertheless, when I think about my Tibetan Terrier Tilly, it's her I'm thinking about, not her mother Lola. It's this that needs explaining.

im-skeptical said...

William,

"However, a fully physically restricted language of physicalism remains inadequate for the explanatory task. Thus, your pathetic fallacy. "

I think a physical explanation, no matter how inadequate, is a better explanation than anything that involves imaginary entities.

im-skeptical said...

David,

"when I think about my Tibetan Terrier Tilly, it's her I'm thinking about, not her mother Lola. It's this that needs explaining."

I tried to get across the idea that everything you know and understand about Tilly is impressed in your brain - encoded into patterns and linked to other things you know or understand by associative connections. How were those impressions in the brain formed? You have some kind of physical interactive experience with Tilly. You see her. You feel her coat, etc. Each time this occurs, it makes those patterns in your brain. Now you think about her, and what's happening in your brain is that those brain patterns and associations are being invoked. But that's exactly what it means to think about something.

The dualist notion of aboutness is rather different from that. (And I've had this discussion with some of them before.) They don't consider or understand how the brain actually produces meaning (by associating things together). They insist a piece of matter in your brain must actually "point to" or "be about" the external object in order to have any kind of meaning - and this, they say quite correctly, is ridiculous. But in their own conception of mind, the immaterial mind or soul actually does "point to" or "refer to" the external object. This is "aboutness" in their view. And they fail to see that this concept is every bit as incoherent as their mistaken concept of the physical mind.

David Brightly said...

But don't you see, Im, that we are now back with Lewis's conundrum. For if I think that Tilly's coat is long, which it is, so that I'm thinking a true thought, and if this thought is my material neurons doing something, then it appears that some material stuff is true of, and so presumably about, other material stuff. This is just what Lewis regards as absurd, and you appeared to agree with Lewis at 1:32.

im-skeptical said...

David,

What is true? You see the dog's coat. You say to yourself "the dog's coat is long". How long is it? Three inches? Is that long? Who decides? You do. The truth of your proposition is in your mind, and nowhere else. There is no universal truth. The dog's coat is what it is, regardless of whether you think some proposition about it is true or not.

David Brightly said...

OK, Im, we'll leave it there.

planks length said...

The Wisdom of im-skeptical (all from this very conversation):

"Aboutness isn't real. It's nothing more than associations in our mind, formed by neural connections."

"The sense of self is an illusion ... Just like free will."

"There is no universal truth."

Which is why I ended my discussion with him in the topic two below this one. How can one reason with a person who not only does not believe he is thinking, but believes there is nothing to think about... and who "believes" all this despite having denied all means of believing anything?!?

im-skeptical said...

planks,

I have tried to explain what I'm talking about. Unlike Augustine, I'm willing to engage and try to come to some mutual understanding. I don't believe or expect that you will accept my viewpoint, but I hope that you will at least make an effort to understand what I'm saying. Augustine's policy is "if you don't accept my beliefs, you're stupid and not willing to talk to". So be it.

BenYachov said...

Skepts version of Atheism is tedious not so much because it denies the existence of God but it denies his own existence and the existence of the rest of us too.

planks length said...

"but I hope that you will at least make an effort to understand what I'm saying"

But why? After all, you claim:

1. There is no universal truth, so you have no grounds to dispute what I or anyone else believe - none.

2. None of us can help what we think anyway ("free will is an illusion"), so "making an effort" is futile.

3. We're not even thinking in the first place.

Do you not see the utter bankruptcy and self-contradiction of the atheist, materialist mindset?

planks length said...

And now I am off to a concert - an all-Rachmaninoff program.

im-skeptical said...

Ben,

What I deny is that you have a clue about what I'm saying. Maybe it's my fault for not being a good communicator. But maybe it's just that you have the arrogance of Augustine.

im-skeptical said...

"Do you not see the utter bankruptcy and self-contradiction of the atheist, materialist mindset?"

Actually, that is the bankruptcy of your mindset. None of those things agree with mine.

Papalinton said...

Matter, Truth and CS Lewis?

This is how the Truth of christianity manifests itself in contemporary America.

But on a brighter note for humanity, this substantial and sustained grass-roots trend is deeply encouraging.

im-skeptical said...

Just to clarify a bit, I say there is no universal truth - meaning that truth is not a platonic object that has an independent existence. I do believe that a statement or proposition can be true or false. But for this proposition to exist, there must be a brain/mind that posits the proposition. Truth is a value property of the proposition. If the proposition is a reflection of reality, then you can say that the proposition is true. But in the absence of a mind, there is no proposition, and there is no truth.

planks length said...

"None of those things agree with mine."

Then why did you say them? After all, I'm quoting your own direct words. Do you now deny writing "there is no absolute truth"? Or do you wish to withdraw that statement?

Did you not write "The sense of self is an illusion ... Just like free will"? Or are you now taking those words back?

Are not these your exact words? "Aboutness isn't real. It's nothing more than associations in our mind, formed by neural connections." And if so, how can you possibly now say "None of those things agree with mine"?

Are you disavowing your own statements? (I truly hope so, because then you are indeed on the path to Wisdom.)

Martin said...

Skeppy,

So what you're saying is that in the absence of a mind, it would be true that there is no truth. Oh, and also the following proposition would be true: "There is no proposition, and there is no truth."

In other words, there would be truth and no truth. And there would be at least one proposition and no propositions.

That is contradictory. And irrational to believe.

planks length said...

What im-skeptical is saying (if I understand him correctly) is that if there is no one in the forest to hear it, a falling tree makes no sound.

What is most interesting about this viewpoint, is that it is in total contradiction to im-skeptical's expressed belief that consciousness and thought itself are illusions.

He's trying to have it both ways, but it can't be done.

im-skeptical said...

planks,

Don't twist my words. You said:

"1. There is no universal truth, so you have no grounds to dispute what I or anyone else believe - none."

I addressed this above,

"2. None of us can help what we think anyway ("free will is an illusion"), so "making an effort" is futile."

That is not what I said or what I think.

"3. We're not even thinking in the first place."

I wonder how you get from my attempt to explain how we think to the assertion that we don't think at all. I absolutely deny this.

Then you change the game:

"Do you now deny writing "there is no absolute truth"? Or do you wish to withdraw that statement? "

I deny it. Again, I have explained what I actually did say.

"Did you not write "The sense of self is an illusion ... Just like free will"? Or are you now taking those words back?"

I said that, and I mean it. You did not mention this above, and I did not deny it.

"And if so, how can you possibly now say "None of those things agree with mine"? "

I have addressed what I said and what I deny.

im-skeptical said...

Martin,

"In other words, there would be truth and no truth. And there would be at least one proposition and no propositions. "

The contradiction is yours, not mine. You are the one claiming that a proposition somehow would exist if there was nobody around to proffer it. You're the one who thinks that the value of truth applies when nobody has said anything that could be true.

Martin said...

Skeppy,

I never made any claims, and even if I did, it would be a Tu Quoque fallacy to point it out when I'm offering an objection to your viewpoint.

Again, you believe that it would be TRUE that if there are no minds around, there is no truth. So you believe that it would be A) true that there are B) no truths. Which is logically contradictory. Same goes for propositions. You cannot answer this objection by pointing to what I may or may not be guilty of.

im-skeptical said...

"Again, you believe that it would be TRUE that if there are no minds around, there is no truth."

As long as you exist, you can make a proposition about what WOULD be the case if there were nobody around. And it might be true. But if you never existed and never made that proposition, then the proposition doesn't exist either, and it wouldn't be logically possible to say that the proposition is true. This isn't difficult to understand.

William said...

It's even more extreme than im-skeptical is saying, since we can have logic without words and communicate without words, so it's conceivable that there could be a universe with intelligent people, and some kind of mathematical logic with truth value, but no propositions :)

planks length said...

HERE is one of the best articles I've seen of late, concerning the emptiness, nihilism, incoherence, and utter despair of materialism, taken to its logical conclusions.

David Brightly said...

Herbivorous mammals are often preyed on by carnivores. The carnivores are good sprinters but tire quickly. Herbivores are slower but can run for longer. For the herbivores survival depends on having a good head start. To this end they have good eyesight, hearing, and smell to detect a predator while it is still some distance away. Presumably they have some neural complex that integrates signals from the senses and drives the flight reaction. Activity in this complex means, for the herbivore, Predator too close!; inactivity means Predators, if any, at safe distance. It probably pays for the predator detection system to be a little too sensitive. Better many, but not too many, false alarms rather than one fatal mistake. So misrepresentation is possible. The predator detector can misinform the flight complex. This seems to be to be a tiny example of natural information processing in which it makes sense to talk of truth and falsity. Warning! Speculation ahead! I suggest that all truth and falsity is grounded in such natural information processing, compounded many times over. Example: you show me a shopping bag seemingly full of stuff, tell me it's heavy and ask me to lift it onto the table. I bend over the bag with muscles ready for a good heave. On straightening up I find the bag is as light as a feather. I react in surprise and laugh. The way I account for this is to say that your words, The bag is heavy, are translated into 'neural expectations.' When these are not met in reality the surprise reflex triggers. This is the evidence that you fibbed. Experiments with very young babies show them being surprised when their expectations, say about conservation of objects, are not met. It's in myriad ways like this that we build a bridge between sentences, that can be true or false, and the reality they purport to describe.

Dan Gillson said...

I think that what Skep is trying to say is that truth and falsity are qualities of propositions, not of objects. I also think he's assuming a version of the correspondence theory of truth, wherein if there isn't an agent capable of producing a proposition, e.g., "Snow is white," then there's nothing which the fact that, e.g, snow is white corresponds to. He has a point: one can think there's a hard and fast separation between propositions and the facts they express. I don't, but Skep's position isn't as absurd as everyone is claiming.

planks length said...

"Skep's position isn't as absurd as everyone is claiming."

I had to look up the definition of absurd to make certain, but the word means (among other things) "illogical, or untrue; contrary to all reason or common sense". But his position is not so much illogical as it is a-logical. Like I said previously, it's like the question about whether a tree falling in a forest with no one around makes a sound. There is no answer to the question.

David Brightly said...

Nonsense, Planks. There are two answers, Yes and No. The one you give depends on how you understand 'sound'.

Crude said...

David,

Crude, What separates a living thing from a non-living thing again, mechanistically? And what is it about being living that allows them to 'use' things in any way? Quick answer: complicated chemistry and negative entropy.

I think the problem you're going to have here is determining what is or isn't 'complicated' to begin with. But this actually seems to rely in part on your patterns talk below.

What makes a map or a representation a map or a representation? Quick answer: it contains patterns which may be isomorphic to patterns elsewhere. If they are isomorphic then it's a true map or representation, if not, it's false.

And what makes a pattern? Are there some things in nature that intrinsically constitute a pattern, and/or intrinsically constitute a map?

We can agree that there is no such thing as intrinsic meaning. I am suggesting that the meaning of A for B lies in how A affects B or B uses A. All very inchoate, I know.

Well, no, I wouldn't agree that there is no such thing as intrinsic meaning. In fact it looks like you can't ever get to a mind without such.

im-skeptical said...

planks,

It is interesting that you jump to all these false conclusions about what life is like for an atheist or materialist.

""making an effort" is futile."
- Says the one whose efforts are directed toward an imaginary God.

"we're not thinking in the first place"
"denied all means of believing anything"
- The mindless babble of one who knows only his theistic concept of human nature, and is blind to reality.


And then you bring up this pathetic article that is full of theistic projection:

"What is this despair these characters are describing?"
- I don't despair.

“A true opium for the people is a belief in nothingness after death – the huge solace of thinking that for our betrayals, greed, cowardice, murders we are not going to be judged.”
- Funny that life is described as bleak and despairing in one sentence, and then opium and solace in the next. Which is it?

"resists its longitude up toward beauty and goodness; that conjures all the darkness of existentialism"
- Where do theists get this? Did some atheist tell you them?

"materialism undercuts everything we cherish as human beings"
- Because the theist can't imagine what it would be like to be free of the tyranny of God belief.

"materialism also undercuts our reason"
- If reason is defined as believing in things that don't exist.

David Brightly said...

Hello Crude, and thanks for carrying on with this.

If I try to define 'living thing' I suspect I will be making a rod for my own back. Most of us are pretty good at telling the living from the non-living.

Likewise 'pattern'. My notion of 'pattern' is very close to my notion of 'form' in the Platonic/Aristotelian sense, but I may have the latter wrong. I would not say that things constitute patterns. Rather they manifest or realise patterns. So abstract rather than concrete.

Intrinsic meaning: Oh dear, I had hoped we had found something to agree on! See your final para at 12:32.

David Brightly said...

Planks, Im, Psychologising is like sex. Best done in private.

Crude said...

David,

If I try to define 'living thing' I suspect I will be making a rod for my own back. Most of us are pretty good at telling the living from the non-living.

I'm not sure that's going to suffice for the questions we're asking here, but alright.

Likewise 'pattern'. My notion of 'pattern' is very close to my notion of 'form' in the Platonic/Aristotelian sense, but I may have the latter wrong. I would not say that things constitute patterns. Rather they manifest or realise patterns. So abstract rather than concrete.

Alright - so some things intrinsically manifest or realize patterns, or maps?

Oh dear, I had hoped we had found something to agree on! See your final para at 12:32.

No, I was talking purely in terms of a conception of a mechanistic universe, which I reject.

planks length said...

David, I've been saving this... Cute Dogs!

David Brightly said...

Let me try to say a bit more. I guess I'd want to restrict things further to animals with nervous systems that, unlike plants, have to solve the problem of 'deciding what to do next'. If such decisions are to benefit the creature they must be based on internal states most likely representing aspects of the environment. Hence these states have meaning (for the creature). The resources devoted to representation will always be limited and hence subject to error. This opens the door to truth and falsity. Humans devote huge resources to representation, of course.

I would say that all things, in so far as they are not arranged randomly, manifest patterns. One would be hard-pressed to find patterns in the interiors of stars, or, apart from sound waves, in gases. Maps are parts manifesting patterns isomorphic to spatial patterns in the environment. They guide locomotory decisions.

I say there is no intrinsic meaning in matter since no matter has meaning of itself alone. To have meaning the patterning in the matter has to be used, has to contribute causally to the deciding what to do next. It has to be interpreted in some way. But this can be a mechanistic business.

This is not a well-developed theory! I just find myself pushed in certain directions by the facts. These discussions are very helpful in working things out.

im-skeptical said...

David,

"To have meaning the patterning in the matter has to be used, has to contribute causally to the deciding what to do next."

I think that may have the origin of meaning. But humans find meaning in things that are not related to our immediate decision-making process. We use the same cognitive facilities.

I talked about associations in the brain. That applies when the herbivore sees a potential threat. Cognitive associations can evoke an awareness of predator and danger, or something non-threatening. For humans, we have more associations, and many of them simply relate to things we "know", without inducing any particular action.

Crude said...

David,

I guess I'd want to restrict things further to animals with nervous systems that, unlike plants, have to solve the problem of 'deciding what to do next'.

Well, why does 'decision' have to come into it at all? It seems to me like you're saying that plants, despite being 'alive', have to make decisions at this or that point. But why even go that far? Especially on a mechanistic view, it sure looks as if the animal is just following some blind, decisionless series of events.

If such decisions are to benefit the creature they must be based on internal states most likely representing aspects of the environment. Hence these states have meaning (for the creature). The resources devoted to representation will always be limited and hence subject to error. This opens the door to truth and falsity.

But I don't see where 'decisions' or even 'representations' get off the ground to begin with. Especially when you're dealing with a world where all meaning is derived - and that would include what does and doesn't count as a mind. Now, putting the mechanistic aside for a moment, it seems to me that some experiences aren't subject to error - 'I am experiencing pain.' No error there. 'I am having an experience.' Likewise.

I would say that all things, in so far as they are not arranged randomly, manifest patterns. One would be hard-pressed to find patterns in the interiors of stars, or, apart from sound waves, in gases.

Does that seem right? I think if we're talking about a person finding patterns in the interiors of stars, etc, then it's trivial to do so - but that's a case of a human mind seeking out or even deriving a pattern on their own.

I'm tempted to say that insofar as we think there are patterns, we're really talking about a kind of intrinsic intentionality without realizing it. We're heading in that direction the moment we treat this or that lump of matter as having a beginning and end, etc, as opposed to letting it all be some undifferentiated mass in total.

I say there is no intrinsic meaning in matter since no matter has meaning of itself alone. To have meaning the patterning in the matter has to be used, has to contribute causally to the deciding what to do next. It has to be interpreted in some way. But this can be a mechanistic business.

That doesn't seem to be the case. If the only meaning that exists is derived meaning, then it really seems as if meaning never gets off the ground to begin with - since whatever's doing the deriving is also going to involve meaning, which will itself have to be derived, and so on and so on. It's one thing to say meaning X is derived and interpreted, but once the thing doing the interpreting also has to be derived and interpreted (by something else that has to be derived and interpreted, etc..)

Crude said...

It seems to me like you're saying that plants, despite being 'alive', have to make decisions at this or that point.

Typo. I meant more along the lines that plants don't have to make decisions, despite being 'alive'.

David Brightly said...

But humans find meaning in things that are not related to our immediate decision-making process... and many of them simply relate to things we "know", without inducing any particular action.

Yes, that's true. I have to complicate my initial story a bit. I can say that the patterning is conditionally contributory to decision making, perhaps inhibited from producing causal effects until such time when a decision involving it is required. We know that neural networks contain such inhibitory elements.

William said...

http://web.mit.edu/abyrne/www/intentionality.html

David Brightly said...

The animal is just following a series of events determined by physics and chemistry. But there is a pattern to these events that we recognise and call 'making a decision'. Plants lack the architecture for events of this pattern to occur within them.

I don't buy the intrinsic/derived meaning distinction. On the view I'm groping towards here meaning is neither intrinsic to a lump of matter per se, nor is it imposed by some external mind such as our own or God's, say. Decisions and meanings arise together and are defined in terms of one another: for organisms of a certain structure, the meaning of an internal state arises from its role in the organism's decision making, that is, the causal processes it undergoes that determine its actions. In a slogan: meaning is use.

Regarding error-free meanings, we might say this. States representing the external world have to be transduced via sense organs from information arriving at the organism's surface. This is where mistakes can be made. The sense organs aren't perfect and the incident information may be ambiguous (camouflage), noisy (poor light), or downright deceitful (eyespots). On the other hand, internal states like damage signals need no transducing. They are available to contribute to decision-making directly without the intervention of sense organs. Hence they are (almost) error-free. The neurologist Antonio Damasio has a fascinating story about a patient with trigeminal neuralgia, which causes excruciating pain. It can be fixed with surgery. After the op Damasio asks about the pain. It's still there, he's told, but it no longer hurts (!)

Sure, we can see that a star is spherical and the pressure increases towards the centre. But take a cubic metre of plasma. Is there any pattern to be found here? OK, we can figure out that the particle velocities follow Maxwell's distribution, but can we get a sense organ out of this capable of finding pattern? That would seem to need a Maxwell's demon.

I have to assume the patterning is real. There is more stuff in some places than others, independently of minds.

I think the intrinsic/derived distinction is a big intellectual obstacle in this subject. It's a block on progress. We have to find ways of thinking ouselves around it.

Once again, thanks for forcing me to think!

Crude said...

The animal is just following a series of events determined by physics and chemistry. But there is a pattern to these events that we recognise and call 'making a decision'. Plants lack the architecture for events of this pattern to occur within them.

I know you said you don't find the derived/intrinsic division helpful, but I actually think it's supremely helpful here - look at how much it applies.

What is an animal? Well, it's going to be derived - 'what a mind decides this or that collection of material counts as an animal'. Why do we call it 'making a decision' when we're talking about the thing-we-derive-as-animal but not thing-we-derive-as-plant? More derivations.

Sure, that may sound totally unsatisfactory. I agree, which is why I reject it.

OK, we can figure out that the particle velocities follow Maxwell's distribution, but can we get a sense organ out of this capable of finding pattern?

Apparently, so long as you derive it as doing such, it really is, because meaning and intentionality doesn't get any more real than that. Unless some things just plain MEAN something, objectively, derivations be damned. But then...

Even when you talk about 'a star is spherical', you seem to be forgetting that you're filtering out a whole lot of "stuff" in the universe, near and around the star, that you could include with the 'star' if you wanted to. I have a hand on my keyboard right now. What's my hand? The four fingers and a thumb? The four fingers and a thumb plus the keyboard? Half the keyboard? The bones?

William said...

David: as long as you call pattered behavior "making a decision" I think plants can do that. Look up tropism and taxis.

A flaw in identifying patterns in nature with a kind of primitive intentionality is that inditity that completely fails to account for the subjective aspect that was Brentano's main point about the mental. Brentano might say the patterning and maps were beside the point. Unless you are claiming panpsychism here?

Also, what evidence can you give that animal behavior is determined by physics and chemistry? I think you are assuming determinism here, and even the actual quantum physics denies determinism. Consider the Harvard Law of animal behavior: "under carefully controlled experimental circumstances, an animal will behave as it damned well pleases."

BeingItself said...

"Also, what evidence can you give that animal behavior is determined by physics and chemistry?"

Oh good grief.

Crude said...

William,

I'm not sure how related it is, but I recall that it's an open question whether even chemistry can be reduced to physics.

David Brightly said...

Hi William,

I certainly don't call any old patterned behaviour 'making a decision'. Else I'd have to regard a ripe apple falling from the tree as some sort of decision. I'm saying that meaning and decision appear with representational states and behaviour-affecting processes that are causally dependent on them. I can't find anything like this in the plant world.

Regarding Brentano, I agree. But I'm not addressing Brentano. I have to crawl before I walk. I'm trying to show that it may not be as absurd as Lewis suggests to think that matter could be true of matter. As I said at 9:27 this behoves us to think about what we mean by 'truth'. If Victor posts about Brentano I may comment then. I reject panpsychism at 1:16.

I offer no evidence that animal behaviour is determined by physics and chemistry. This is one of my naturalistic assumptions. But perhaps I should have said explained by. The change doesn't affect the gist of my remark at 5:14 and removes the apparent commitment to determinism. I think the Harvard animal psychologists are humorously lamenting that lab animals have internal state that isn't under experimental control.

David Brightly said...

Hi Crude,

I don't follow you at 1:01 at all. It looks as if you have impaled yourself on both horns of the intrinsic/derived intentionality dilemma. That's why we have to reject it :-)

Crude said...

David,

I don't follow you at 1:01 at all. It looks as if you have impaled yourself on both horns of the intrinsic/derived intentionality dilemma.

Not at all. I think trying to get 'mind' without 'intrinsic intentionality' is a complete non-starter - if intrinsic intentionality is denied, then Lewis is right. None of the parts of the brain are 'about' anything, there's no 'true' or 'false' to speak of, eliminative materialism obtains, which is absurd, etc, etc.

The problem I'm having here is that you seem to regard 'having to accept intrinsic intentionality' as 'being impaled upon a horn', and thus something to be avoided at all costs. I have another perspective: it may well be true.

But if the game is 'Well, let's find a solution to this... ah, but it has to be a naturalistic solution, nothing else will count or be regarded as possible', okay.

I'm saying that meaning and decision appear with representational states and behaviour-affecting processes that are causally dependent on them. I can't find anything like this in the plant world.

Can you find 'representational states' even with non-plants? That's part of the problem you're having to begin with. When does this or that wholly mechanistic process or state 'represent' something? And that's right on back to the intrinsic and derived, which ultimately aren't avoidable questions.

Papalinton said...

C S Lewis: "But to talk of one bit of matter as being true about another bit of matter seems to me to be nonsense.{"

I can understand Lewis expressing this sentiment given the period in history that he lived. The amazing thing is not his incredulity of the relationship between the matter of stars and the brain as a lump of matter but the fact that the matter of stars is indeed the same matter that is found in brains, including electrical impulses, and energy transfer and mass/energy transpositions pretty much as physics describes it. Research into thoughts and how they are generated and promulgated conform to the laws of physics. The idea of a dualistic nature of thoughts seems less and less likely and thoughts are material in nature. A thought is not generated in the first instance in the brain followed by physical electrical impulses, rather, a thought is the firing up of electrical impulses, a physical function. Storage within the brain is also a physical function by which brain matter is permanently altered to accommodate that thought. While still much neuroscience research is needed to fully flesh out the detail, there seems little doubt thoughts are not floating independent pieces of immateriality but are material in both essence and reality.

Ask yourself the question, If you have a thought, don't write it down, and forget about it, is it still a thought?
When one writes a thought down they are representations of what somebody was thinking. Not only what they were thinking, but what they decided to filter out and put on paper.

A useful guide [not mine but I am very partial to it] to remember:

1. The words on the paper are not thoughts. They are words [marks] written on a piece of paper. Nothing more or less, just words on paper.

2. The thought to write it down exists in one's brain and only in one's brain.

3. The paper with words is not a thought, it is a physical representation of a thought. It is paper with marks inscribed on it. All your previous posts do still exist. They are now posts, but they are not your thoughts per se.

4. They are representations of thoughts in your brain. Representation are the words on the paper, not your thoughts. One's thoughts only exist in one's brain.

5. When somebody else reads those representations, they have thoughts about what you might have been thinking. They assume what you were thinking based on what they think those words represent. Hopefully, they and you have both learned the same form of represenation, English. If it was written in French, one would have no clue what to think about your thinking.

6. [I add to this list] If after a period of time you pick up a piece of paper on which you previously wrote down a thought, and for the life of you cannot recall or remember that thought, or the context, even though you are now reading it, is it still a thought or just marks on a piece of paper that you have no memory of?

THIS PAPER among many others is now mapping an insight into the materiality of thoughts and their compliance with physics.

The Cartesian notion of mind/brain dualism seems far less likely today than during C S Lewis's time. 'The mind is what the brain does' now more than ever seems to be a confirming proposition.

David Brightly said...

Fair enough, Crude. I take back my tentative remark about the intentionality dilemma. I did say I couldn't follow you.

You are of course at liberty to accept intrinsic intentionality. I am trying to get by without it. But it's hardly a refutation of my proposal merely to say that it denies intrinsic intentionality; that just restates my position. Nor is a recital of the virtues of alternative theories.

I think I can find representational states in artefacts. That's where I entered the discussion at 2:36. And also in animals. I say a state in an organism is representational of something when it is causally dependent on that something and causally contributory to the organism's behaviour with respect to that something. Example: when an owl swoops on a vole I say there must be neural processes in the owl's brain that derive from the image of the vole on the owl's retinas and contribute to the control of the owl's flight so as to keep the image centred on the foveas and the owl ever closer to snatching the vole. I say these states have intentionality towards the vole.

Now, am I misusing the words 'representational' or 'intentional' in this context? Is it all too woolly to be of any value? Does it miss something out? What are the objections?

Crude said...

David,

It's fine. Really, I think this is a civil conversation, which is a pleasant change of pace.

But it's hardly a refutation of my proposal merely to say that it denies intrinsic intentionality; that just restates my position. Nor is a recital of the virtues of alternative theories.

I didn't say it was. At most I'm pointing out what I think follows when intrinsic intentionality is ruled out and all that's left is derived intentionality. And that's not necessarily some anti-naturalist interpretation either - with Rosenberg, etc, you can see other self-described naturalists who pretty well say 'yes, that's what follows.'

Example: when an owl swoops on a vole I say there must be neural processes in the owl's brain that derive from the image of the vole on the owl's retinas and contribute to the control of the owl's flight so as to keep the image centred on the foveas and the owl ever closer to snatching the vole. I say these states have intentionality towards the vole.

The story you give as quoted is something I could embrace - but then I'm going to say you get right back to a kind of built-in intentionality at the end of the day. So what is there for me to object to? The story as-is is just a description of an animal event, that also comes with a good share of mental assumptions built in. (You have picked out, in advance, that X is an owl and Y is a vole and Z is a brain, these things of formal and material and efficient causality that wouldn't be intrinsically differentiated in a wholly mechanistic universe, with processes A B and C being delineated as clearly the beginning and the end of a particular process, etc.)

I think one thing that's key here is that you say you can find representational states - but from my understanding this comes automatically with the caveat that these are always derived intentionality, and that that is all there is. I can derive a map of Dallas out the arrangement of pencils and pens and paperclips on my desk right now if I choose - deriving's easy. (At least once we assume, explicitly or not, that we've got intrinsic intentionality. Once that's the only thing around, something funny happens.)

David Brightly said...

Ah, your 1:01 comment makes more sense now:

You have picked out, in advance, that X is an owl and Y is a vole and Z is a brain, these things of formal and material and efficient causality that wouldn't be intrinsically differentiated in a wholly mechanistic universe, with processes A B and C being delineated as clearly the beginning and the end of a particular process, etc.

From your point of view I am making a performative inconsistency. We could discuss this---I think I can see ways around the obstacle---but it would take us away from the topic in hand. As we are the only ones left in the conversation, another time perhaps.

This, though may be apropos. You would say, I think, that my little picture of Tilly and Lola has derived intentionality because my intrinsic intentionality allows me to grant it meaning for me. It then acts as a kind of reminder for me of the dogs. You would go on to say, I think, that the processes in the owl's brain do not possess intrinsic intentionality, but only derived intentionality, again granted by me. But I would say that this gets things wrong. The processes in the owl's brain mean next to nothing to me---I'm barely aware that they are going on. For the owl though, they mean everything. They are its life.

Crude said...

David,

You would go on to say, I think, that the processes in the owl's brain do not possess intrinsic intentionality, but only derived intentionality, again granted by me. But I would say that this gets things wrong. The processes in the owl's brain mean next to nothing to me---I'm barely aware that they are going on. For the owl though, they mean everything. They are its life.

Why would you think I believe the owl only has derived intentionality? I hope you're not assuming I think only humans are conscious or have qualia or intentions or that sort of thing.

For that matter - the processes in the owl's brain mean next to nothing to the owl. Do you think the owl is aware it has brain processes?

David Brightly said...

I'd want to make a distinction between the owl possessing intentionality and its internal states possessing intentionality. A thought, something happening in me, seems to be the primary bearer of directedness towards an object. As an entity capable of such states, I possess intentionality in a secondary sense.

I don't know about consciousness or qualia in animals. It's just that it seems to me that there is much going on in the owl that is directed towards the vole. I find it hard to distinguish this kind of directness towards from the kind of directedness towards that occurs in me when I think of the vole. But this may just mean that intentionality is too broad and shallow to be a useful concept.

Is its possessor's awareness of a state a necessary condition of its directedness?

im-skeptical said...

The dualist is in a conundrum here. He believes that awareness is conferred by an immaterial soul, not the brain. But animals (at least those who are not close to human) don't have this soul. So he must deny that a mere owl can have that human-like kind of cognition, but is instead simply a machine. This is contrary to any scientific understanding of cognition, that would allow degrees of cognitive capability, according to the functional capabilities of the brain.

planks length said...

"But animals (at least those who are not close to human) don't have this soul."

Where in the world did you get this idea from? You obviously haven't read your Aquinas (but we all knew that already), or you'd have realized that he speaks of the animal soul, and even of the vegetative soul.

Really, im-skeptical, you need to do your homework before making such pronouncements!

im-skeptical said...

"Really, im-skeptical, you need to do your homework before making such pronouncements!"

I get my information straight from the Summa Theologica: "Wherefore we conclude that as the souls of brute animals have no "per se" operations they are not subsistent. For the operation of anything follows the mode of its being." He is saying that the soul of the animal (or anything else) is merely the essential form of the body, but that the human soul is very different in nature, for it is the seat of intellect - something that animals lack.

planks length said...

im-skeptical,

Your quote is correct, and even your analysis of it is (at a cursory glance) correct. Where you jump off the cliff, however, is where (in your previous comment) you write "[The dualist] must deny that a mere owl can have that human-like kind of cognition, but is instead simply a machine."

Wha-a-a-a-t??? Are you not the very same im-skeptical who has commented at wearisome length to the effect that our consciousness, and indeed our very identity, is mere illusion, and that all of our thoughts are nothing more than chemical reactions within a physical brain (a.k.a., "simply a machine")?

But even with your mangling of Thomism, you miss his main point, which is that the human soul is subsistent (i.e., eternal, surviving the death of the body), whereas the souls of animals and plants are conditional (i.e., they perish along with the physical body). This has absolutely nothing to do with whether an animal can have consciousness, which was the point of your original posting.

And by the way, the quote from Aquinas in your most recent comment directly contradicts your statement that "The dualist is in a conundrum here. He believes that awareness is conferred by an immaterial soul, not the brain. But animals ... don't have this soul." The very quote you gave references the "souls of brute animals". Do you not even read the stuff you are quoting?

im-skeptical said...

planks,

If you don't try to understand what I say, how can you take issue with it? Animals don't have the "subsistent" soul that humans have - the one that is the seat of intellect. That's what I said. You also accuse me of commenting "to the effect that our consciousness, and indeed our very identity, is mere illusion", which is not true at all. You should read more carefully and try to get the meaning of my words, rather than dismissing everything without due consideration. You might find that there's a bit more there to chew on than you have given me credit for.

planks length said...

Are you now denying that you have said time and time and time again that our thoughts are nothing more than physical processes within the brain? Or at the least, you are repudiating your former statements?

If so, then you are making major progress, and I congratulate you!

im-skeptical said...

planks,

I don't deny what I said. But you don't understand what I said. Is thought a physical process of the brain? Yes. Does that imply that we don't think? That's stupid. Does it imply that consciousness is an illusion? Not to me. Consciousness is part of our cognitive function. There is no implication that because if its physical nature, it must not exist. I did say that our concept of "self" is an illusion. That doesn't mean we don't have an identity. But the thing we perceive as 'self' is a construction of the mind - it leads to the idea that our 'self' is an entity in its own right - it leads to the idea of a soul. In reality, this sense 'self' exists when the brain is functioning in a normal waking mode, and is absent at times. It also changes over time, although we are not aware that who we are today may be very different from who we were at some time in the past. Our memories link the 'self' of today to the 'self' of yesterday and provide a sense of continuity.