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Posted: 21 June 2011 06:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 46 ]
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inthegobi - 21 June 2011 05:27 AM

[Is there] some miraculous difference between human neurons and those of c. elegans that makes this sort of research fundamentally useless? You really ought to get to informing those scientists that they’re wasting their time.

That would be awful. If I said it.
I’ve repeatedly said that scientific research is good, and let there be more. But AFAIK this has little to do with human beings *qua* human.

Well, the problem here is that you say something by implication and then deny the implication. It follows from your theory (insofar as I can discern it) that this sort of research is fundamentally worthless, insofar as it illuminates the basis of the human brain and the roots of human behavior. “Scientific research is good” is weaselly. You’re making substantial, empirical claims about the value of certain kinds of scientific research, including even the possibility of such fields as biochemistry, if biology and chemistry are forever to be separate disciplines. Follow your theory where it’s taking you.

inthegobi - 21 June 2011 05:27 AM

Philosophy and even theology don’ need expensive equipment, and that’s reason enough not to give them the piles of cash needed for biological or physical research. It has nothing to do with their lack of worth.

I never implied that philosophy was worthless. Theology is another matter, though I surmise that I’m more amenable to it than most naturalists. But it must always be a sub-branch of philosophy. God doesn’t come first. His existence must be established.

(I should perhaps say here that I’m a naturalist who accepts the existence of some objects that many naturalists don’t, such as abstracta like numbers, and I’m quite willing to entertain the possibility that there are real moral truths).

inthegobi - 21 June 2011 05:27 AM

If chemistry is irreducible to physics, that’s not a miracle; ...

Chemistry’s (purported) irreducibility to physics would not establish anything whatever about the existence or plausibility of libertarian free will, either. Yet you use it as such. It’s in the latter move that the miracles occur: in the gaps between human knowledge, of which the gap between chemistry and physics is one.

I should probably repeat here that this ‘irreducibility’ claim remains entirely fringe within the sciences. Most physicists and chemists I’ve read and heard believe that reducibility is basically established and complete, or that the two subjects are really only one, which amounts to the same thing.

inthegobi - 21 June 2011 05:27 AM

Are you saying that non-naturalism, or even non-reductivism, of any sort, *entails* theism of some sort?

I’m saying that given the results from science non-reductivism is prima facie implausible. The responsible non-reductivists I’m aware of are typically adopters of some form of supervenience. The alternative seems to me typically the land of people who defend one version or another of theism (and its corollaries such as the immortality of the soul and libertarian free will, both of which are of central theological import to many if not all theists), because the alternative is otherwise obscure and unreasonable.

Since that is in fact the way you’re using non-naturalism and non-reductivism in the present discussion, I don’t see why you’d object.

inthegobi - 21 June 2011 05:27 AM

Here’s one objection to ‘the will is ‘free’ because you’re doing what you want’ theory: there’s no way, using only this theory, for a court to decide between a sane but incorrigibly wicked man and an insane man. Both are doing what they want - both of their wills are in the free-fall of carrying out what they want - but only one is responsible. a libertarian definition easily explains it: the first man can decide otherwise, but just refuses to; the other man cannot change his mind.

Well, false on both counts. A sophisticated picture of free will can have it that for an act to be free it must be willed by a properly functioning brain. It’s for that reason that we say someone who does something under the effects of alcohol or drugs, or someone who is insane, is not acting freely. Their brain is not processing information in a way that makes their acts appropriately reasoned.

As to the libertarian claim: the purported ‘explanation’ is no explanation at all. It’s just hand-waving. Of course, we know how this goes from here. You’ll repeat there are explanations that aren’t causal explanations, and I’ll repeat that in this context that’s obscurantism masquerading as insight.

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Posted: 23 June 2011 11:30 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 47 ]
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dougsmith - 21 June 2011 06:44 AM
inthegobi - 21 June 2011 05:27 AM

[Is there] some miraculous difference between human neurons and those of c. elegans that makes this sort of research fundamentally useless? You really ought to get to informing those scientists that they’re wasting their time.

That would be awful. If I said it.
I’ve repeatedly said that scientific research is good, and let there be more. But AFAIK this has little to do with human beings *qua* human.

Well, the problem here is that you say something by implication and then deny the implication. It follows from your theory (insofar as I can discern it) that this sort of research is fundamentally worthless, insofar as it illuminates the basis of the human brain and the roots of human behavior.

You discern incorrectly. And note your terms: ‘illuminate’; ‘roots’; even ‘comes from’. By all means, seek light on the human brain, and roots of behavior, and where things come from. Just note:  come from is *importantly* ambiguous: cars ‘come from’ (1a) iron, silica, petroleum etc., (1b) carbureturs and struts etc.; (2) from the engine going round and the axle turning so etc.; (3) from Herr Daimler, Mr Ford, Mr Olds, teams of engineers etc.; (4) from a desire for cheap, personal transportation that doesn’t require me to do the work. Scientific research does very well with (1) and (2) types of issues, and I want to know about them too. They just aren’t the *only* questions to ask about people, and they aren’t often the most interesting ones.

I’ll back off a little: human beings are both animal and personal. the ‘personal’ part makes use of the animal part, and that’s why research on the animal part - the brain, the emotions, etc. - is important. but that’s not the whole story, and we’ve known that for centuries, and arguments against materialism or naturalism have *never* rested on the primitiveness of our knowledge of the natural world. that’s just a modern fantasy about pre-modern philosophy. For example, nothing about Aristotle’s dismissal of Democritus stands on the mere fact that ancient atomism was *primitive*, and he doesn’t mention its primitiveness: in fact he praises Democritus as a sober man among drunks.

Biochemistry is interesting not because it proves we’re just bags of chemicals - that’s weaselly (since you’re *so* kind to use the term first); that assumes something that is to be proven. Biochemistry is interesting because living things *use* chemicals. Chemicals and their interactions are the materials for living - it is a different thing to call that living *itself*. You ambiguate what ‘roots’ mean. Ditto with flapdoodle about birds having ‘aesthetics’, apes having ‘self-consciousness’ and the rest. By all means, study apes and bower-birds; but to add ‘and this is evidence against non-naturalism’ or ‘and this *is* essentially beauty etc.’ is just not sober.

I should probably repeat here that this ‘irreducibility’ claim remains entirely fringe within the sciences. Most physicists and chemists I’ve read and heard believe that reducibility is basically established and complete, or that the two subjects are really only one, which amounts to the same thing.

And what paper proves this? but maybe it’s *so* obvious we’ll never need to prove it? Then the proof should be *easy*. So do it. Prove i’m not just fringe - i don’t care a fig about that - but that I’m *wrong*. find that paper. Otherwise you’re just appealing to the Zeitgeist - a kind of ghost, in fact.

I’m not sure our present wrangle is directly relevant to the thread. I’ve added something in the most active free will thread. With respect, let’s concentrate on what the articles I pointed out there say, and attempt to understand *them*.

I’m - to be frank - not particularly interested in *your* thought, and you’re sure not interested in *mine*. In fact i find your thought rather like looking for reds under the beds in the fifties - you’re just *on* about finding me anti-scientific, or ‘slurring’ or ‘obscurantist’. How wonderful of you; how generous; how nice! How Humean in its interest in personal status, position, and popularity! How Dawkins; how Dennett; how PZ Meyers! I prefer Gould, Ruse, Coyne; for theist scientists, try Jastrow’s classic *God and the Astronomers*.

Let’s do a distancing move and argue over what someone else has written. Let’s concentrate on arguments, instead of arguers. IMO the best way to do that is to concentrate on written articles by recognized philosophers, or at least the SEP articles I cited.

BTW: a surprising number of naturalists are mathematical realists. I find that as baffling as you do libertarian free will. Would you allow that the former position is at least as strange to many of us (and many naturalist philosophers, like Lakoff) as the latter is to you?

chris kirk

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Posted: 23 June 2011 01:19 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 48 ]
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Hmmm ... lots of huff and puff there, Chris. It’s not surprising that you find your position to be inaccurately described as obscurantist. The best way around that is to show how lucid it is.

inthegobi - 23 June 2011 11:30 AM

You discern incorrectly. And note your terms: ‘illuminate’; ‘roots’; even ‘comes from’. By all means, seek light on the human brain, and roots of behavior, and where things come from. Just note:  come from is *importantly* ambiguous: cars ‘come from’ (1a) iron, silica, petroleum etc., (1b) carbureturs and struts etc.; (2) from the engine going round and the axle turning so etc.; (3) from Herr Daimler, Mr Ford, Mr Olds, teams of engineers etc.; (4) from a desire for cheap, personal transportation that doesn’t require me to do the work. Scientific research does very well with (1) and (2) types of issues, and I want to know about them too. They just aren’t the *only* questions to ask about people, and they aren’t often the most interesting ones.

I’ll back off a little: human beings are both animal and personal. the ‘personal’ part makes use of the animal part, and that’s why research on the animal part - the brain, the emotions, etc. - is important. but that’s not the whole story, and we’ve known that for centuries, and arguments against materialism or naturalism have *never* rested on the primitiveness of our knowledge of the natural world. that’s just a modern fantasy about pre-modern philosophy. For example, nothing about Aristotle’s dismissal of Democritus stands on the mere fact that ancient atomism was *primitive*, and he doesn’t mention its primitiveness: in fact he praises Democritus as a sober man among drunks.

Biochemistry is interesting not because it proves we’re just bags of chemicals - that’s weaselly (since you’re *so* kind to use the term first); that assumes something that is to be proven. Biochemistry is interesting because living things *use* chemicals. Chemicals and their interactions are the materials for living - it is a different thing to call that living *itself*. You ambiguate what ‘roots’ mean. Ditto with flapdoodle about birds having ‘aesthetics’, apes having ‘self-consciousness’ and the rest. By all means, study apes and bower-birds; but to add ‘and this is evidence against non-naturalism’ or ‘and this *is* essentially beauty etc.’ is just not sober.

OK, then I suppose I’m a drunk. wink (Though I can’t honestly recall ever having made many of the claims you’re attaching to me. In particular I have no idea what beauty is, ‘essentially’).

As for the weaseling: I see you’ve stuck on the term without really discharging it. Your theory does, as you show, commit you to asserting that much of what goes on in the sciences is “flapdoodle”. “Living things *use* chemicals”, as though vitalism hadn’t been overturned a century ago. Where is this non-chemical-stuff that goes about using chemicals? Where is this “personal” part of humans that “makes use of the animal part”? Does it have any effect on the brain, for example? Can it re-direct human synaptic firings in a way that animal synaptic firings are not so re-directed?

Because if it can then that effect will be measurable. So like it or not you’re making substantial empirical claims here. To say otherwise simply isn’t being forthright about the implications of your own theory.

If this “personal” part has no effect on synaptic firings in the brain, then it cannot effect human behavior, which itself is directly mediated by such firings. No talk about different manners of explanation or diversions into what Aristotle said about Democritus makes a difference here. They only serve to obscure the main point, which is that whatever the human mind is, it’s what’s directly responsible for human behavior. (And by “responsible” I mean “causally responsible”).

inthegobi - 23 June 2011 11:30 AM

I should probably repeat here that this ‘irreducibility’ claim remains entirely fringe within the sciences. Most physicists and chemists I’ve read and heard believe that reducibility is basically established and complete, or that the two subjects are really only one, which amounts to the same thing.

And what paper proves this? but maybe it’s *so* obvious we’ll never need to prove it? Then the proof should be *easy*. So do it. Prove i’m not just fringe - i don’t care a fig about that - but that I’m *wrong*. find that paper. Otherwise you’re just appealing to the Zeitgeist - a kind of ghost, in fact.

Actually, I’m doing what any scientific skeptic should do, which is to follow scientific consensus insofar as I can discern it. If you don’t think this is consensus, you’ll have to do more than produce a single ex-scientist/philosopher who disagrees with it.

“Proof” here isn’t on. I’m not trying to win a court case with this argument, much less am I trying to demonstrate a mathematical theorem. And if I were, a single paper would be unlikely to convince. I can find a book, such as EO Wilson’s Consilience, which I think argues the general point, but that becomes an argument about what Wilson believes rather than what the consensus is. Let me simply say that I think it’s clear to both of us that the philosopher you cited in this regard was saying something controversial, in not following the general “zeitgeist” in the sciences. (Where “zeitgeist” isn’t understood as a literal ghost, but rather as a manner-of-speaking ghost, made up of the opinions of the experts). If you grant me that, you’ve granted me the point.

inthegobi - 23 June 2011 11:30 AM

I’m - to be frank - not particularly interested in *your* thought, and you’re sure not interested in *mine*. In fact i find your thought rather like looking for reds under the beds in the fifties - you’re just *on* about finding me anti-scientific, or ‘slurring’ or ‘obscurantist’. How wonderful of you; how generous; how nice! How Humean in its interest in personal status, position, and popularity! How Dawkins; how Dennett; how PZ Meyers! I prefer Gould, Ruse, Coyne; for theist scientists, try Jastrow’s classic *God and the Astronomers*.

I’m aware that there are theist scientists. I have no great problem with a deistic sort of theism which allows science to do what it will. (Though depending on the deism I may have philosophical issues with it). The problem comes when theists stretch to make substantial empirical claims about the way the world must be, based on supposed ‘revelations’ and the like. FWIW I don’t think you’ve really done that here, although it’s clear you’re trying to massage the sciences to fit with a substantial theory which you’re striving to keep in the background most of the time, one that appears to be a substantive form of theism. And sometimes I wonder if that isn’t what we should be discussing here rather than its corollaries like libertarian free will.

Re. my terminology, by all means bridle at it, although it isn’t intended to be directed at your person, rather at your arguments. I am actually interested in what you think, otherwise I wouldn’t be—so to say—wasting my time conversing with you when I could well be doing a dozen other things. As for the claims of ‘anti-science’ and ‘obscurantism’ (‘slurring’ I don’t recall; wasn’t it you who implied that of me? wink ), I say these things because they fall out of the theory with which I am being presented. I’ve tried to show how.

inthegobi - 23 June 2011 11:30 AM

Let’s do a distancing move and argue over what someone else has written. Let’s concentrate on arguments, instead of arguers. IMO the best way to do that is to concentrate on written articles by recognized philosophers, or at least the SEP articles I cited.

Bring up whatever arguments you want. But if you begin by looking for “recognized philosophers” you are ipso facto concentrating on arguers rather than arguments.

inthegobi - 23 June 2011 11:30 AM

BTW: a surprising number of naturalists are mathematical realists. I find that as baffling as you do libertarian free will. Would you allow that the former position is at least as strange to many of us (and many naturalist philosophers, like Lakoff) as the latter is to you?

My concern with libertarian free will is twofold: first, that it makes substantial, empirical claims about the way human brains work: viz., that they can’t be the chemical machines that everything else around us seems to be. And second, that it is at its heart incoherent, in looking for uncaused causes to direct action.

Perhaps someone can make the same argument that mathematical realism necessitates making apparently false empirical claims and incoherence. But that would be an argument for a separate thread.

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