Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Materialism and its logical conclusions

Someone wrote: Victor wants "mind" to be supernatural, because if it turns out that minds are just extremely complex physical interactions within a living brain, it wipes out a large swath of his religion's basis for belief.

VR: And lots of other stuff besides. If the mind is just a complex interaction of the brain, then I could only be the same person I was when I was in the fourth grade if the physical content of my brain was the same as the physical content of my fourth-grade brain. But I would be surprised to learn if there was a single molecule in my brain today that was in my brain when I was in the fourth grade. So I am, from the standpoint of physics (the true standpoint according to physicalism) a different person from the person who heard in the lunch line the Kennedy had been assassinated, or even who received a Ph.D in 1989, or the one who got married in 1991, or whose shower was interrupted one Tuesday in 2001 to be told the that the World Trade Center buildings had been knocked down by airplanes. 

On the assumption of materialism, the evidence I have for believing anything  has nothing, ever, to do with my actually believing it. If materialism were to just endanger religious beliefs, that would be one thing. But it does a lot more than that, I am afraid. 

Jerry Fodor once wrote: 


"if it isn't literally true that my wanting is causally responsible for my reaching, and my itching is causally responsible for my scratching, and my believing is causally responsible for my saying. ..if none of that is literally true, then practically everything I believe about anything is false and it's the end of the world." ( Fodor, A Theory of Content and Other Essays, Cambridge, Mass, Bradford Book/MIT Press, 1990, p. 156; quoted in Stich, Deconstructing the Mind, New York, 1996, OUP, p. 169)

But that is just what materialism, taken to its logical conclusions, maintains. 

36 comments:

John Moore said...

I still don't understand - doesn't materialism say our beliefs and desires are just cause and effect? The evidence for something physically causes you to believe it. But now you're saying the opposite, that materialism implies that evidence has nothing to do with beliefs.

You've probably explained this a thousand times, but it still sounds so counter-intuitive. You're claiming materialism is the exact opposite of what materialists say. Please give me a refresher.

Victor Reppert said...

Reasons do not enter into physical causation. For it to be physical, it has to be nonmental at the most basic level of analysis.

Now let us consider the universe from the point of view of mechanistic materialism. The universe may have begun with a Big Bang, but what results from that Big Bang are material substances of various kinds. And material substances go where they go, not because it would be a good idea to go there, but because such motion is mandated by the laws of physics. If rocks fall down a mountain due to an avalanche, they will not stop because they don't want to hit and kill any people. On the mechanistic view of the world, material particles can, through evolution, organize themselves into complicated systems that work together to further the survival of the organism and the species. So, for example, your eye might be said to have the "purpose" of allowing you to see. That is, your eye might be structured, as a result of centuries of evolution, in such a way that it serves the purpose of your seeing. But the particles that make up your eye are just as mechanistically determined as the particles of a rock falling down a mountain. What we call "drawing a rational inference" must be accounted for in the same way. Perhaps our brains are structured in such a way that the activity we call rational inference will be performed, and that this capacity contributes to our survival individually and collectively. But the description of this activity as rational inference is not the description of this activity on the most basic level of analysis. The most basic level of analysis is that of physics, which makes no reference to purposes or logic whatsoever.

http://infidels.org/library/modern/victor_reppert/reason.html

John Moore said...

I see. When you claim that materialism can't account for evidence causing beliefs, you're summarizing a whole array of arguments. That's why it sounds so counter-intuitive.

a) You write that mechanism is non-purposive. Materialists say all our purposes are the same sort of thing as rocks rolling down mountains - just more complicated.

b) You think math and logic are non-physical things, but materialists think those are just our human summaries of naturalistic mechanism.

c) You think reason requires free will, but materialists just don't.

You write: "According to materialism, the universe begins with no mental states and somehow evolves them into existence through the shuffling and reshuffling of material particles."

I think this is more or less true, except we actually know how mental states arise, so it's not just "somehow." The "shuffling and reshuffling" are not random, but they are caused and shaped by the laws of physics and evolution.

Hugo Pelland said...

Victor,
Isn't this yet again the issue of the primacy of consciousness? You say 'if we start with materialism...' but that's not what the Materialist does; materialism is a conclusion. What we can do is start with a definition of objective existence based on the world we observe, instead of defining existence based on our thinking alone.

Joe Hinman said...

see both my essays


Mind not reducible to brain
This essay shows why the evidence most often site4d by reductionists/materialists does mot prove mind id reducible to brain.


part 2

this one offers positive evidence from neuroscience as to why the thesis is true, not reducible.

Joe Hinman said...

--Someone wrote: Victor wants "mind" to be supernatural, because if it turns out that minds are just extremely complex physical interactions within a living brain, it wipes out a large swath of his religion's basis for belief.

Not necessarily, just one construal. there is no way for you to prove thesis because the reductionist are just doing a bait and switch You speak of Mind but you are really talking about brain function which is not mind.Until you answer Chalmer's hard problem you are say9mg anything.


VR: And lots of other stuff besides. If the mind is just a complex interaction of the brain, then I could only be the same person I was when I was in the fourth grade if the physical content of my brain was the same as the physical content of my fourth-grade brain. But I would be surprised to learn if there was a single molecule in my brain today that was in my brain when I was in the fourth grade. So I am, from the standpoint of physics (the true standpoint according to physicalism) a different person from the person who heard in the lunch line the Kennedy had been assassinated, or even who received a Ph.D in 1989, or the one who got married in 1991, or whose shower was interrupted one Tuesday in 2001 to be told the that the World Trade Center buildings had been knocked down by airplanes.

Darn Good Argument

"a different person from the person who heard in the lunch line the Kennedy had been assassinated"

for me just got our for recess. I lived in Dallas my Dad was two blocks away and had just waved at the car when it happened.

Ilíon said...

VR:"On the assumption of materialism, the evidence I have for believing anything has nothing, ever, to do with my actually believing it. If materialism were to just endanger religious beliefs, that would be one thing. But it does a lot more than that, I am afraid.
...
But that is just what materialism, taken to its logical conclusions, maintains.
"

Exactly. And this is why the "weak" version of the AfR which you argue is ... incomplete. Properly, the AfR shows us that there is a God -- who is a 'who' rather than a 'what' -- and that we *all* know this; and that those who deny the reality or personhood of God are not merely mistaken, but are actively engaging in intellectual hypocrisy.

Jim S. said...

if it turns out that minds are just extremely complex physical interactions within a living brain, it wipes out a large swath of his religion's basis for belief.

Christianity is based on the ideas that God exists, was incarnated in Jesus of Nazareth, and atoned for our sins. I don't see why the mind's alleged reducibility to its physical substrate would challenge these points. Perhaps it would take away one particular argument or one group of arguments, but a) there are numerous other groups of arguments that would remain unaffected, and b) refuting an argument doesn't show the argument's conclusion is false, just that the argument fails to demonstrate it. Perhaps God created the human mind through the natural processes he set up in order to function in accordance with the natural processes he set up in such a way that these minds would be reliable.

planks length said...

if it turns out that minds are just extremely complex physical interactions within a living brain, it wipes out a large swath of his religion's basis for belief

I wonder who the "someone" was that said this, because it shows how astonishingly shallow the thinking of most atheists is. Christianity is no more "based" on how the brain works than it is on liver functions. Christianity is based on the Resurrection of Christ. As St. Paul wrote, "Jesus the Christ - risen from the dead, a descendant of David. There is my gospel." (my emphasis)

jdhuey said...

In mathematics there is a concept call the dual. For a number of mathematical statements there exists another completely different formulation that is mathematically identical to the first formulation. Solving one version is exactly the same as solving the other, even though they look very different and will use different methods. For example, multiplying two numbers together is equivalent to adding together the logarithm of those numbers.

It is often the case that a difficult or intractable problem in one formulation is relatively easy to solve in the dual. I think of mental processes are analogis to the dual: at the strictly material level the brain processes are (nearly?) impossible to figure out but transform to problem to a conceptual level and progress can be made. But is isn't that one is false and the other true, it is that they are equivalent ways to view the same process.

Sadly, the term Dualism has already been taken to label a very different conception of mentality.

Ilíon said...

^ That would be the "Sweeping the Rug Under the Rug" fallacy

John Mitchell said...

Is not Eliminative Materialism a philosopher's dream come true ?

If you embrace EM and anybody makes an argument against your position you can look at every premise, no matter how self-evident it is, and coherently maintain:
"I don't believe this is true"

Gyan said...

Jim S,
If we are just complicated machines, then there is no free will and thus no sin and
thus no need for any atonement. Thus, the point made
"if it turns out that minds are just extremely complex physical interactions within a living brain, it wipes out a large swath of his religion's basis for belief."
is absolutely correct.

Hugo Pelland said...

No freewill means no sin and no atonement in the religious sense, but it doesn't remove choices, responsibilities and the fact that actions have consequences.

What it also means though, "if it turns out that minds are just extremely complex physical interactions within a living brain", is that gods, or God, ot whatever placeholder theists choose, are much less likely to exist, as they become a superfluous addition to an otherwise well explained universe.

That's why immaterialists have to assume they exist as immaterial minds that, somehow, control a material body. Just don't ask why or how...

Joe Hinman said...

"That's why immaterialists have to assume they exist as immaterial minds that, somehow, control a material body. Just don't ask why or how..."

either that or because I know my ill is free. But then again I'm compelled to thin that way.
does it make sense to you to actually think about things if you have no freedom of choice in what y0uconclude?

Ilíon said...

Hugo Pelland: "[The non-existence of] freewill ... doesn't remove choices, responsibilities and the fact that actions have consequences."

What the intellectually dishonest Mr Pelland is asserting is that whether:
1) a random gust of wind carries you off the observation deck of the Empire State building;
2) he pushes you off the observation deck of the Empire State building;
3) you jump off the observation deck of the Empire State building;
it's all the same. I mean, that's what he's asserting on top of the blatantly absurd assertion that "[The non-existence of] freewill ... doesn't remove [which is to say, entail the non-existence of] choices, responsibilities ..."

1) If a random gust of wind carries you off the observation deck of the Empire State building, there is certainly a certain well-understood consequence in store for you, but you did not chose it and you are not responsible for it.

2) If Hugo Pelland pushes you off the observation deck of the Empire State building, there is certainly a certain well-understood consequence in store for you, but you did not chose it and you are not responsible for it.

3) If you jump off the observation deck of the Empire State building, there is certainly a certain well-understood consequence in store for you, and you did chose it and you are responsible for it.

But, if human beings are not a free moral agents -- if you do not "have free will" as people inaccurately phrase it -- then in scenario 3), you no more chose to jump, nor are responsible for the consequence, than you are in scenarios 1) and 2). Likewise, if human beings are not a free moral agents, then in scenario 2), Hugo Pelland no more chose to push, nor is any more responsible for the consequence, than you are in scenarios 1) and 2).

But this is absurd: it's bullshit! and we all know it is absurd bullshit.

========
Remember, boys and girls: 'atheists' are liars; in anti-virtue of their God-denial, *all* 'atheists' are liars -- and worse than mere liars, actually, for they are intellectually dishonest. A mere liar is lying episodically, he is lying about some fact or other; but an intellectually dishonest person is lying systemically, he is lying about the very nature of truth and of reasoning.

Joe Hinman said...

Being against free will makes him wrong I don't think it makes him dishonest.

Hugo Pelland said...

Joe, simply put, my opinion is that we make choices based on what we think, but we are not literally free to choose what to think; it's a complex balance. And yes, it's just a disagreement, not lies... but Ilíon has no other argument, ever.

planks length said...

Well, saying "No freewill ... doesn't remove choices" makes him, at the very least, incoherent.

And I'm admittedly no mind reader, but I'd nevertheless wager Yankee dollars that Hugo, in his heart of hearts, actually does believe in Free Will (as do we all), but won't admit it even to himself. That makes him dishonest.

jdhuey said...

"What we like to think of as making a free choice may actually be what it feels like when a deterministic brain works towards the only decision that it can actually reach. Free will may be the 'quale' of decision-making - the vivid feeling we get , like the vivid sense of colour we get when we look at a red flower."

from Darwin's Watch: The Science of Discworld III by Pratchett, Stewart and Cohen

Hugo Pelland said...

PL, no, not the same thing, and no, not lying nor trying to hide some inner feelings...

Let me ask you this, what colors are present on the US flag?

And at the very moment when you finished reading the question above, could you have possibility chosen not to think of the flag of the USA? Or could you have decided to suddenly not understand English, and choose not to understand the question? Or could you choose to not know what the flag looks like?

It seems to me that you are forced to concede at least that part of my position: 'we don't always decide what to think about'. The complicated road to 'we actually never choose what we think about, only how we act on those thoughts' starts from there.

Complicated topic, but based on very simple basic facts.

planks length said...

Sorry, but red flowers really are red.

Ilíon said...

PL: "And I'm admittedly no mind reader, but I'd nevertheless wager Yankee dollars that Hugo, in his heart of hearts, actually does believe in Free Will (as do we all), but won't admit it even to himself. That makes him dishonest."

Of course he really does believe in free will -- and of course he really is (intellectually) dishonest.

Just look at the ending of the very post in which he incoherently asserts that the non-existence of free will doesn't entail the non-existence of choice or of responsibility -- "That's why immaterialists have to assume they exist as immaterial minds that, somehow, control a material body" -- he is:
1) *accusing* us of intellectual dishonesty (even as he whines when I *demonstrate* his);
2) *morally judging* us for FREELY choosing to assert what he we know to be false because we don't like the truth of the matter.

He doesn't believe his own denial of free will to be the truth of the matter. AND, other than a few insane persons, no one who denies the freedom of the will really does believe what he asserts.

Ilíon said...

Joe Hinman: "Being against free will makes him wrong I don't think it makes him dishonest."

I've explained -- time and again, including already in this very thread previous to Hinman's whine -- why intellectual dishonesty is the *only* rational judgment one can make of a non-insane person (*) who denies free will. And I'm certainly not going to go over it again with someone like Hinman.


(*) the insane deniers of free will tend to deny only their own freedom, not everyone else's

planks length said...

I do agree that denying one's own free will is the very definition of insanity.

Hugo Pelland said...

Here's what's happening:
- No acknowledgement of my point above, which does not deny free will but does prove that you don't 'ALWAYS' choose what you think about.
- No acknowledgement that anyone who argues that free will does not exist is referring to a very specific definition of free will, not the ability to choose.
- Insults, charge of insanity, charge of dishonesty, because... well, there is nothing else to say really, so let's throw emotional responses! Good job Ilíon and PL!

Also, regarding this:
"Sorry, but red flowers really are red."
This is not as simple as you would like it to be. Red flowers really are red because they are reflecting light within a certain wavelength band that we, as English speakers, agree as being within the definition of 'red'. The material world is what makes you see this red and it's only because you can see that red that you can know what it feels like to experience seeing 'red'. You could not possibly understand what it means, what it feels like, to see 'red' even if you understood what the definition of 'red' is.

And why did I specify 'English' speaker? Because our perception of reality is influenced in great part by other factors such as language. Color is a great example; there were some interesting tests done. Take 2 groups of children, one speaking English where the colors yellow, orange, and red exist, and another group of non-English speaker who use a language with only yellow and red; the orange things being labelled as 'yellow' from our perspective. What we find is that children who speak English are faster at sorting red-orange-yellow objects in 3 groups, but slower when asked to sort in 2 groups, being confused as to where the orange things should go. The non-English speakers do the opposite; sorting in 2 groups is easier for them, but 3 was more difficult as they couldn't identify what we consider 'orange' as easily.

The point? Brain cognition has shown us that reality is a lot more complicated than 'duhhhh of course I have free will, you are just insane to say otherwise' whether you like it or not. So either you get off your high horse and try to explain why you think your views are actually correct, or you agree to disagree politely, like decent human beings, which I assume you are outside the anonymity that the interwebs provide you with.

planks length said...

anyone who argues that free will does not exist is referring to a very specific definition of free will

And what definition is that?

And, yes. Red flowers are truly red, regardless of what we call them or how we perceive them. They are still red, even if no one ever sees them.

Hugo Pelland said...

And what definition is that?
Simply put, libertarian free will. If I had to point to 1 thing that convinced me that this kind of free will does not exist, it would be a talk by Sam Harris: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pCofmZlC72g

And, yes. Red flowers are truly red, regardless of what we call them or how we perceive them. They are still red, even if no one ever sees them.
They are what they are, regardless of how we perceive them, yes. But the label 'red' is just that, a label, a human-defined label. It's an over-simplification to state that things really are red... Just like you are over-simplifying the debate on free will, as if there were no debate to have.

Jim S. said...

Blogger Gyan said...
Jim S,
If we are just complicated machines, then there is no free will and thus no sin and
thus no need for any atonement.


Theistic determinism is a common position, although I'm pretty sure it's a minority view within Christianity. I don't accept it. But you've excluded from the sphere of Christianity a large swath of Christians, and you've done it with a knee-jerk reaction of the connection between free will and sin.

Thus, the point made
"if it turns out that minds are just extremely complex physical interactions within a living brain, it wipes out a large swath of his religion's basis for belief."
is absolutely correct.


It's demonstrably incorrect. Christianity doesn't base itself on what you claim it does and it never has. You may think it should, but that's not the same thing.

A further point: the claim was "if it turns out that minds are just extremely complex physical interactions..." But of course science could never show such a thing. The question isn't whether the mind has an extensive connection to the brain (something very few people have ever denied) but whether the mind just is the brain. That's a philosophical question, not a scientific one. Besides, what if we believe that minds are "just" extremely complex physical interactions that God created in order to reliably produce true beliefs? Then it wouldn't have the consequences you seem to think it does. You could object that if minds are created by God then they wouldn't be "just" extremely complex physical interactions, but that's pretty much the point: all the scientific evidence cannot even address the question of whether God created the physical brains to function the way they do, and so cannot justify our saying that minds are "just" complex physical interactions.

planks length said...

Simply put, libertarian free will.

Thanks for the clarification. I'll return the favor by making myself more explicit. Anyone who says he disbelieves in libertarian free will is knowingly lying to himself.

And your example of my being unable to not think about the flag is in no way contradictory with the concept. It is no different than my not being able to not feel pain if you strike me. How is that inability a violation of free will?

Gyan said...

Jim S,
The notion of "minds forming true beliefs" implies immateriality of mind. See Argument from Reason.
Modern philosophers have excessively confused the simple idea of "free will". That we are free to do things or refrain from doing them is more certain that that God exists or Jesus died for our sins. As it has been shown repeatedly it is incoherent to deny free will.
If some Christians have been confused, it does not mean that they are not Christians but only that their ideas are confused.

Hugo Pelland said...

planks length, 2 wrong statements, in such a short comment. But they can both be explained by the fact that the debate between determinism, freewill, compatibilism or whatever label people want to use to describe their position, has been going on for centuries and will most likely not be resolved anytime soon. People disagree over these notions and it's thus completely counter-productive to say they are lying. So that was the first point.

The second is more subtle, but still relate to the fact that debates are going on: obviously, no, I don't think that 1 example of you thinking about the flag of the USA is disproving the notion of free will. Seriously, how could this be possible? It's only a statement to support a position. A position is formed out of so many different statements like this one. I explicitly said that it was not simple.

So, do you get what was the point of mentioning the flag?

It leads to the realization that we are not the author of our thoughts. We are conscious of them. We act upon them. That's the only real way that we actually make choices. Now, I think that this is not libertarian free will, but others disagree, and ideas get exchanged around that.

For those who actually care about the discussion.

Jim S. said...

Gyan: I agree with you and Victor that "The notion of 'minds forming true beliefs' implies immateriality of mind". My point is just that Christianity is not based on the mind-body problem. Even if we argued that there is only particular resolution to it that is compatible with Christianity, it would still not be the case that Christianity derives its doctrines from that particular resolution. At any rate, while I agree with you, I'm also less confident about it, in light of the fact that numerous people throughout intellectual history who were much smarter than me disagreed.

Edward T. Babinski said...

Vic, Yes, your brain is composed of different atoms, but that's because the neurons in your brain exchange and expel atoms and molecules but remain intact (along with memories being maintained) by virtue of dynamic molecular and electro-chemical forces at play, and a cell wall holding the neuron together while the DNA and enzymes keep things moving along. Some neurons die, while new stem cells do form in the brain but replacement of neurons is less robust than replacement of cells in other parts of your body.

As for organisms as a whole having wants, needs and desires, no naturalist doubts that it is the organism as a whole that displays such behaviors, such drives. But that is the organism as a whole with its brain, sensory organs, taking in data and interacting with nature and others of its kind via feedback loops of external and internal mental interactions, constantly adjusting perceptions, gaining information and interacting with it, testing it, from the time of its birth till the time of its death, during which time it experiences and learns much.

So again, YOU HAVE MADE NO ARGUMENT AT ALL. And your constant harping on the fact that mere atoms react differently with each other than humans as a whole react with each other, is no problem at all for naturalism. In fact molecules interact with each other differently than individual atoms react with one another, and molecules drag those individual atoms around the cell via higher order molecular dynamics. When you finally realize that the human brain itself features electro-chemical dynamics added to the mix, along with sensory data and constant feedback loops and embodied intelligence, and wholistic desires, wants, needs and drives, call me.

Isn't it amazing enough to consider how single cells can detect and pursue prey, without brains or complex sensory organs or long lives of learning? But the human brain has a couple hundred billion neurons with a trillion electrochemical connections. Makes sense it can detect and pursue much more than any mere single cell can.

Anyone who wants to know more about what I am talking about should
Google
prior prejudices and the argument from reason

Edward T. Babinski said...

Vic, You say reasons don't enter into physical causation, they are mental.
But reasoning is a process, an activity based on sensations, feedback loops, sensory organs, memory, loads of things a physical organism's brain must be equipped with. On the other hand, being able to detect sameness and differences in things and react to them differently is something even single celled organism's are able to accomplish, so one can see some form of pre reasoning at work even on that level.

As for what thoughts are, they don't appear to be platonic absolutes.

Again, I went over all this in my article on

Prior prejudices and the argument from reason.

Hugo Pelland said...

""The notion of 'minds forming true beliefs' implies immateriality of mind". My point is just that Christianity is not based on the mind-body problem."

It does make sense that Christianity would survive the mind-body problem, should we ever find a definite answer. Isn't this more reason for Christians to realize the failure of the argument in favor of the immateriality of the mind?

For instance, the notion presented here is circular reasoning. Why would the mind forming true beliefs imply immateriality of mind, if not because the mind is already assumed to be immaterial? That's really the only reason that is ever given. Beliefs are immaterial because they are the products of immaterial minds; and minds are immaterial for many reasons such as... they have true immaterial beliefs.

It's consistent with the assumption, but it is an assumption to start with, when discussing existence.