Saturday, October 21, 2017

Sure, I'm a materialist!: On defining the supernatural

Suppose I said this: 

Sure, I'll accept that the mind is a physical thing. What I find unreasonable is to suppose that laws of physics presently understood account for the activity of reasoning, because the laws of physics make no reference to reasons and logic. The laws of physics as we currently understand them do not include these in the fundamental laws of physics. There must be some laws that physics has not yet discovered which account for the activity of the mind. 

Eventually we may find out the laws of physics that govern the activity of God. We just don't know what those are yet. But it's only supernatural from the point of view of present physics, in much the way that relativity is supernatural from the point of view of Newtonian mechanics. 

I'm not putting an artificial wall up and say what science may or may not someday discover. If you want to say that in order to call something physical it has to be such and such, and what you are describing cannot be physical, then you have defined the supernatural for me.

42 comments:

Hal said...

Victor,

From the OED:
supernatural, a. (n.)
(s(j)uːpəˈnætjʊərəl, -tʃərəl)
[ad. med.L. supernātūrālis (Thomas Aquinas), f. super- super- 4 a + nātūra nature: see -al1. Cf. OF. supernaturel (16th c.; mod.F. surnaturel), It. soprannaturale, Sp., Pg. sobrenatural.]

A.A adj.
1.A.1 That is above nature; belonging to a higher realm or system than that of nature; transcending the powers or the ordinary course of nature.
1526 Pilgr. Perf. (W. de W. 1531) 190 Fayth is a super⁓naturall lyght, & therfore it is indiuysyble, as all graces supernaturall be. 1555 Bradford in Foxe A. & M. (1570) III. 1822/1 If a woman that is natural, can not finally forget the child of her wombe,‥God which is a father super⁓naturall,‥wyll not forget you.

b.A.1.b transf. Relating to, dealing with, or characterized by what is above nature.
1569 Sanford tr. Agrippa's Van. Arts i. 4 b, The Supernaturall Philosophers vse the Coniectures of Naturall Philosophers. 1616 R. C. Times' Whistle etc. (1871) 148 As well in naturall philosophy As supernaturall theologie.



If you are going to attack the metaphysical claims of Naturalism what is wrong with a naturalist characterizing your metaphysical position as Supernaturalism?

Anonymous said...

This is fine -- the current laws of physics clearly cannot explain reasoning in those terms. But you have not shown that the current laws of physics do not imply that you would write those words, just that they don't talk about the meaning.

In fact this probably the way it is, because material and efficient causes do not exclude the existence of formal and final causes, as I have said before on this topic.

Hugo Pelland said...

Hi Victor,

The laws of physics do not describe our reasoning for 2 reasons, at least.

First, we used our reasoning to create them, so they describe what we observe, not the observers (us) themselves.

Second, they are approximations, and we thus don't go to a detailed enough level, right now, to describe the activity of reasoning. But it's possible nonetheless.

That second point is directly related to the comparison you made between Newtonian and Relativistic physics. The latter doesn't look supernatural to the first, it's just more accurate. On short distances, they yield the same models, the same predictions, but Newtonian laws start to miss the mark as we increase the distance, size, and mass of objects involved.

bmiller said...

@entirelyuseless,

In fact this probably the way it is, because material and efficient causes do not exclude the existence of formal and final causes, as I have said before on this topic.

I'm afraid that most people don't know what you're talking about wrt the 4 causes although they unconsciously have to know about them to live and operate rationally in the world.

Victor Reppert said...

What I am doing is demanding an explanation of what you think naturalism entails. Just merely using the word naturalism doesn't necessarily entail that it is a position that I want to criticize, or even that I would want to use the argument from reason against it. It is only what you think nature, and indicate the limits of what kinds of explanations are natural explanations that I may decide that naturalism, as you understand it, is faulty because it excludes the possibility of a reasoning subject.

Here's the way Lewis puts it in Miracles:

To call the act of knowing--the act, not of remembering that something was so in the past, but of 'seeing' that it must be so always and in any possible world--to call this act 'supernatural', is some violence to our ordinary linguistic usage. But of course we do not mean by this that it is spooky, or sensational, or even (in any religious sense) 'spiritual'. We mean only that it 'won't fit in'; that such an act, to be what it claims to be--and if it is not, all our thinking is discredited--cannot be merely the exhibition at a particular place and time of that total, and largely mindless, system of events called 'Nature'. It must break sufficiently free from that universal chain in order to be determined by what it knows.

It is only if you say the supervenience base of "the natural" is a mindless system of events that Lewis points out that reasoning "won't fit in" and is hence in his sense supernatural.

Victor Reppert said...

Hugo: First, we used our reasoning to create them, so they describe what we observe, not the observers (us) themselves.

VR: But that's just it: a comprehensive naturalism is supposed to explain not only the observed but the observers themselves.

Hugo: Second, they are approximations, and we thus don't go to a detailed enough level, right now, to describe the activity of reasoning. But it's possible nonetheless.

VR: But to account for reasoning, it seems to me, you have to include four things: reasoning is purposive, it is intentional (that is, it has about-ness), it is normative (certain conclusions ought to be reached), and it is perspectival (it is the reasoning of a person from that person's point of view). All of these things are things you aren't supposed to bring into physics. Now, grant you, scientific revolutions happen. But so long as you keep those four things out of physics, you won't get an account of reasoning that really is an account of reasoning.

Hal said...

We mean only that it 'won't fit in'; that such an act, to be what it claims to be--and if it is not, all our thinking is discredited--cannot be merely the exhibition at a particular place and time of that total, and largely mindless, system of events called 'Nature'. It must break sufficiently free from that universal chain in order to be determined by what it knows.

Anscombe's observation about Lewis was right: "He obviously had imbibed some sort of universal-law determinism about causes."

One comment on intentionality: It is not how can "one bit of matter " can be about "another bit of matter" that calls out for an explanation. Rather it is how can "one bit of reality" be about "another bit of reality" that calls out for an explanation.
Do you have an explanation for how one bit of reality can be about another bit of reality?

Victor Reppert said...

Anscombe was right, Lewis did have a universal-law determinist notion of causes according to which causes determine their effects, that is, are sufficient in the circumstances for their effects. This notion is why libertarian free will is sometimes called contra-causal freedom. In fact, Lewis thought that quantum-mechanical indeterminism actually compromised the naturalist position since it admitted a causally indeterministic Subnature. However, the significance of this viewpoint for Lewis's main argument, is, pace Anscombe, limited. The reason I say this is that attempts to develop naturalism involve a concept called the causal closure of the physical. Lewis thought that, on pure naturalism, your reason cannot be why you believe anything, since all causes are natural, (that is, non-mental) and those causes determine everything. I would say that if naturalism is true, your reason cannot be why you believe anything because all the physical system is mechanistic (it lacks reasons), and causally closed (nothing else can get in).

Hal said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hal said...

But to account for reasoning, it seems to me, you have to include four things: reasoning is purposive, it is intentional (that is, it has about-ness)...

In the AfR you rightly enquire as to how it is possible for a brain state to have a relation to the world we call intentionality, or about-ness. But the same question applies to states of the mind. Can you answer how a state of the mind can have a relation to the world we call intentionality, or about-ness ?

Hal said...

Victor,
It is only if you say the supervenience base of "the natural" is a mindless system of events that Lewis points out that reasoning "won't fit in" and is hence in his sense supernatural.

Supervenience is a misconceived philosophical position. Properties do not supervene on other properties. Nor are properties the kinds of things that can exist separate from the things they are properties of.
Also, one needs to distinguish properties from predicates. There are no such things as negative properties. For example, if Jane is a non-smoker she does not have the property of being a non-smoker. In the same way she does not have the property of being a non-elephant. It is true that she doesn't smoke and that she is not an elephant.

So it is misleading to say that matter at the base level has the property of being non-mental. Different collections (or forms) of matter have different properties. When new substances come into existence there are new properties. So rocks have different properties than water. And plants have different properties than animals. Rocks and water and plants do not have the property of consciousness that animals have. A substance or thing not having a particular property does not prevent other substances from having that property. Why would one assume that because sub atomic particles do not have mental properties that would entail that a substance such as humans cannot?

Humans are a kind of substance that has mental properties. They have the capacity to reason using the laws of logic. Why the assumption that laws of physics can negate the possible existence of laws of logic?

I agree with you that if one is a reductive materialist and thinks physics can be used to explain everything in the world that they are in error. I do think Lewis' view that the mind is a thing that interacts with the brain by causing physical effects is gravely mistaken. It shares some of the misconceptions that physicalism has when identifying the mind with the brain. It is rather ironic because his questioning of how a brain state can be intentional is also applicable to a mental state. He doesn't resolve the problem of intentionality by substituting a mental state for the brain state..

Stardusty Psyche said...

OP "Eventually we may find out the laws of physics that govern the activity of God. We just don't know what those are yet. But it's only supernatural from the point of view of present physics,"
--Right, which is why the term "supernatural" is a nonsensical term.

If there are "laws" of physics then god is not omnipotent, rather constrained to do only certain things preordained for it. Omnipotence is limited to god only being able to do the things he is able to do and not able to do the things he is not able to do, by which definition I am omnipotent.

Nor, in the case of "law" restricting what god can do is god the creator of everything, since the "laws" that restrict god we not created by god.

This sort of god is just another undiscovered aspect of physics.

VR "What I am doing is demanding an explanation of what you think naturalism entails"
--Fair enough.

Naturalism entails the whole of what is natural, meaning, the whole of what exists.

Stardusty Psyche said...

OP "What I find unreasonable is to suppose that laws of physics presently understood account for the activity of reasoning, because the laws of physics make no reference to reasons and logic. "
--No "laws" of physics make reference to a star. There is no equation
XYZ = Star
Why would there be? The equations of physics describe the incremental interactions of fundamental particles and fields in spacetime. By solving the n body problem through application of those transfer functions or differential relationships the observed macro processes are accounted for.

A star is a large scale system of fundamental particles and fields. A prominence is a dramatic process of such a system that is not observed outside such a system.

The brain is a large scale system of fundamental particles and fields. Reasoning is a dramatic process of such a system that is not observed outside such a system.

Joe Hinman said...

Here is my discussion of the link between mystical experience and God ,why associate the two? Metacrock's blog

Yes is is relevant to the post here, as I have pointed out the original use of the term was brought in to explain mystical experience.

David Brightly said...

Victor, ...because the laws of physics make no reference to reasons and logic. Is this a good reason for thinking that reasoning must be physically unaccountable? Physics makes no reference to genetics and inheritance yet we are happy to think of these as physical. What is it about reasoning that sets it apart? It seems to me that stating this is forever just beyond our grasp---it can't quite be sufficiently pinned down so that an open-minded physicalist would have to admit that Yes, there was a problem, just as a Newtonian can see he has a problem with the speed of light. Absent that, all the arguments, if not question-beggingly circular, seem to be appeals to pre-existing intuitions, yet lack the power to shift opposing intuitions. Your summary and quote from Lewis are cases in point, I think.

The base intuition seems to be that there is a realm of reasons that floats free of the physical. We always seem to cycle back to this. Yet there doesn't seem to be an argument that this realm must be independent of the physical. On the contrary, one might well argue that it must be dependent on the physical. Let's look at your four aspects of reasoning: Reasoning is perspectival because it's done by an embodied mind localised in space and time that's concerned with how to respond to what that body senses. It's normative because there are good conclusions which are truth-preserving and bad conclusions which aren't and which derive from the way language relates to possible worlds. It's intentional because it's done in language and language, once learned, has a physically mediated connection to the world. And it's purposive because it's intimately connected with our bodies and what we do with them. All these aspects are dependent on and emergent over physicality, as far as I can see. Are there good reasons (other than the absence of detailed accounts) for thinking these aspects must be both basic and supplementary to the physical?

Joe Hinman said...

Stardusty Psyche said...
OP "What I find unreasonable is to suppose that laws of physics presently understood account for the activity of reasoning, because the laws of physics make no reference to reasons and logic. "
--No "laws" of physics make reference to a star. There is no equation
XYZ = Star
Why would there be? The equations of physics describe the incremental interactions of fundamental particles and fields in spacetime. By solving the n body problem through application of those transfer functions or differential relationships the observed macro processes are accounted for.

A star is a large scale system of fundamental particles and fields. A prominence is a dramatic process of such a system that is not observed outside such a system.

The brain is a large scale system of fundamental particles and fields. Reasoning is a dramatic process of such a system that is not observed outside such a system.

Dust you are really proving his point.you are reducing to the most surface level components as through there is no level upon which meaning and discourse matter. That is nonsense. You can't ignore meaning. You have to confront discirsive reasoning at some point.

Hugo Pelland said...

"The base intuition seems to be that there is a realm of reasons that floats free of the physical. We always seem to cycle back to this. Yet there doesn't seem to be an argument that this realm must be independent of the physical. On the contrary, one might well argue that it must be dependent on the physical."

Exactly!

SteveK said...

A = A

If formed matter is identical to rationality then formed matter = rationality and all the physical properties that apply to rationality apply to formed matter. But that is not the case.

Victor Reppert said...

David: Making the mental dependent on the physical only makes the physical necessary for the mental, not sufficient. What you need is the claim that the physical provides everything needed for reasoning. But unless the physical is by nature rational, then the physical facts, all told, are compatible with the absence of the mental. Therefore the existence of the mental needs an explanation from somewhere else.

Hal said...

SteveK,
Rationality is a property of that substance we call humans. Humans are capable of behaving in a rational manner or we would never attribute that property to them.
And in my conception of the mind, it is not a thing so it makes no sense to think it can be identified with a thing like the brain.

Hal said...

Victor,
What you need is the claim that the physical provides everything needed for reasoning. But unless the physical is by nature rational, then the physical facts, all told, are compatible with the absence of the mental.


We have well established criteria for establishing when a substance is reasoning. Just as we have well established criterial for establishing when a substance is living.

Not all substances are rational just as not all substances are living.

SteveK said...

Hal: "Rationality is a property of that substance we call human"

"Human" isn't a substance. Matter/energy is the substance of materialism.

Hal said...

SteveK,
A human being is a kind of substance. Just as a tree is another kind of substance.

We conceive of the natural world as populated by relatively persistent material things
standing in spatio-temporal relations to each other. They come into existence, exist for a
time, and then pass away. We locate them relative to landmarks and to other material things
in the landscape which they, and we, inhabit. We characterize them as things of a certain
kind, and identify and re-identify them accordingly. The expressions we typically use to do so
are, in the technical terminology derived from Aristotle, names of substances.


From this Article onSubstances

Victor Reppert said...

If your criteria have mental content in them, then you really have a circular account. The account of life is noncircular, what about the mental?

Hugo Pelland said...

What's the mental if not a representation of the material?

It is a realm of existence only if assumed to be in the first place.

Primacy of...

Hal said...

Victor,
The criteria are behavioral. The motions and expression our bodies and faces make. Our expressions in language of the thoughts we have and the reasons for our actions.

In the same way we can differentiate living things from non-living things by their behavior.

We employ different concepts for explaining the mental than we employ for living things or for the subatomic particles that exist.

I don't see any circularity there. If I were a reductionist and believed that the mental could be eliminated by a purely physical description then I agree that you would have a point. But I am not.

Hal said...

Hugo,
What's the mental if not a representation of the material?

I think it the reverse. We use physical things like words and pictures to represent other physical things and to represent the mental.

A representation requires representational and non-representational properties in order for it to be a representation. A thought has no non-representational properties.

Hugo Pelland said...

That's right, it does goes both ways, but I was asking a more fundamental question regarding the existence of the mental. See David's post above, and the bit I quoted as being spot on imho.

Stardusty Psyche said...

Victor Reppert said.. October 23, 2017 11:34 AM.

" What you need is the claim that the physical provides everything needed for reasoning. "
--OK, done.

"But unless the physical is by nature rational, then the physical facts, all told, are compatible with the absence of the mental."
--In the vast majority of what is physical there is no suggestion of "mental". Ok, again, done.

"Therefore the existence of the mental needs an explanation from somewhere else."
--Hence, the mental does not exist. What is imagined to be the mental is actually a process of the physical.

Stardusty Psyche said...

Blogger Victor Reppert said..
October 23, 2017 12:56 PM.

" If your criteria have mental content in them, then you really have a circular account. The account of life is noncircular, what about the mental?"
--It doesn't exist.

David Brightly said...

Steve, I'm not suggesting such an identity. To my ear it sounds like saying formed matter = walking, which would be a category mistake.

Victor, Therefore the existence of the mental needs an explanation from somewhere else. I'm not sure this follows. Consider this parody:

Making the solid dependent on the physical only makes the physical necessary for the solid, not sufficient [true]. What you need is the claim that the physical provides everything needed for solidity [agreed]. But unless the physical is by nature solid [it's not], then the physical facts, all told, are compatible with the absence of the solid [indeed they are---at very high temperatures, say]. Therefore the existence of the solid needs an explanation from somewhere else [???].

It's not as if we need some added 'glue' from outside the physical to get solidity. It's inherent in (our conception of) the physical itself. Likewise, a physicalist thinks of rationality as an inherent possibility within the physical.

David Brightly said...

Hal,
Thank you for the Hacker link. Very helpful indeed. I especially liked,
In trying to delineate the boundaries of these categorial terms, we are not endeavouring to classify everything there is (as if the philosopher were a ‘meta-physicist’), but rather to differentiate between kinds of concepts or words. (We are trying to attain a synoptic view of our conceptual scheme, of the ways in which we think and speak about objects of our experience and of ourselves as subjects of experience – not to steal a march on natural science. Of course, that does not mean that we are not also trying to attain a synoptic view of the formal features of substances and constitutive stuffs of which the world consists.)

Hal said...

David,
Making the solid dependent on the physical only makes the physical necessary for the solid, not sufficient [true]. What you need is the claim that the physical provides everything needed for solidity [agreed]. But unless the physical is by nature solid [it's not], then the physical facts, all told, are compatible with the absence of the solid [indeed they are---at very high temperatures, say]. Therefore the existence of the solid needs an explanation from somewhere else [???].

Nice example illustrating that there is a flaw in the reasoning here. As you indicated, things start to go wrong in the 3rd sentence: "But unless the physical is by nature solid.."

Joe Hinman said...

Stardusty Psyche said...
Blogger Victor Reppert said..
October 23, 2017 12:56 PM.

" If your criteria have mental content in them, then you really have a circular account. The account of life is noncircular, what about the mental?"
--It doesn't exist.

self evident that it does.

Joe Hinman said...

Hugo Pelland said...
What's the mental if not a representation of the material?

It is a realm of existence only if assumed to be in the first place.

Primacy of...

I don't know what that means but I can thin of thing's that aren't physical,such as math problems,how is that a representation of the physical?

I have a concept of what it means to say "the non physical."

Victor Reppert said...

Stardusty: You are saying that the mental does not exist. This is what is called eliminative materialism. So, science has discovered the evolution is true, that relativity is true, and that belief in God is a delusion. And we did all that without a mind. Wow! This is self-refuting on its face, if it's true, then we cannot so much as say that it is true.

Stardusty Psyche said...

Victor Reppert said.. October 24, 2017 11:49 PM.

" Stardusty: You are saying that the mental does not exist."
--In the sense of an existent object or material, yes. What we perceive as the mental is a process of real existent things in the structure of the brain.

" This is what is called eliminative materialism."
--I subscribe to no specific school of thought and it is thus not my burden to defend aspects of any school of thought.

" So, science has discovered the evolution is true,"
--Evolution is a scientific fact. Science is necessarily provisional, so using the word "scientific" as a qualifier carries the provisionality qualification to the word "fact".

" that relativity is true, and that belief in God is a delusion."
--A deistic god is non-falsifiable. The Christian god is logically incoherent.

" And we did all that without a mind. Wow!"
--Yes, the workings of the brain are mind boggling :-)

" This is self-refuting on its face,"
--"It's obvious" is not a good argument. Go sit on a big rock for a day. It is obvious that the Earth stands still and the sun, moon, and stars arc overhead moving through the sky. Scientists have learned to go beyond what seems apparent on its face.

" if it's true, then we cannot so much as say that it is true."
--Define "truth". Science has no problem with the coherence of the assertion of scientific truth because science is necessarily provisional, which breaks the circularity of attempting to use the human senses to be certain of what we are sensing.

Joe Hinman said...

Stardusty Psyche said...
Victor Reppert said.. October 24, 2017 11:49 PM.

" Stardusty: You are saying that the mental does not exist."
--In the sense of an existent object or material, yes. What we perceive as the mental is a process of real existent things in the structure of the brain.

then how can they conceptualize abstract mathematics it doesn't exist, they don't see it,

" This is what is called eliminative materialism."
--I subscribe to no specific school of thought and it is thus not my burden to defend aspects of any school of thought.

let's see you defend the one's you do accept,

" So, science has discovered the evolution is true,"
--Evolution is a scientific fact. Science is necessarily provisional, so using the word "scientific" as a qualifier carries the provisionality qualification to the word "fact".

Joe Hinman said...

So, science has discovered the evolution is true,"
--Evolution is a scientific fact. Science is necessarily provisional, so using the word "scientific" as a qualifier carries the provisionality qualification to the word "fact".

no, calling it science doesn't make it a fact, fact = that which is, thus anything is a fact if it exists scientific or not,
God is a fact just because you refuse to accept it doesn't change it,

Stardusty Psyche said...

Joe Hinman said..
October 25, 2017 9:21 AM .


" then how can they conceptualize abstract mathematics it doesn't exist, they don't see it,"
--Therefore unicorns really do exist because I have an abstract conceptualization of them.

Joe Hinman said...

" then how can they conceptualize abstract mathematics it doesn't exist, they don't see it,"
--Therefore unicorns really do exist because I have an abstract conceptualization of them.

Your argument is the premise Descartes used for his ontological argument, the assumption that we can't think about thugs we have not observed concretely, that is empirically not the case unless you agree Go must be real.

Joe Hinman said...

God must be real (see previous post)