News Bits

by Luke Muehlhauser on February 26, 2011 in News

Relevant to the Kalam Cosmological Argument: Unchanging Time and Infinite Past.

I added 6 more debates to the Debates Page.

You can download the first 5 pages of my in-progress book Ethics and Superintelligence here.

Morality in the Real World will be on hiatus for a couple weeks again. Gotta do more research!

From Twitter:

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{ 58 comments… read them below or add one }

Kevin February 26, 2011 at 4:28 am

““It’ll never work!” A collection of quotes from experts who were wrong.”

Link doesn’t work.

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Luke Muehlhauser February 26, 2011 at 7:13 am

Fixed, thanks.

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josef johann February 26, 2011 at 7:45 am

What do you think of Hubert Dreyfuss’ book What Computers Can’t Do?

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Reginald Selkirk February 26, 2011 at 7:56 am

Hot chick hides camera on her ass, films everyone staring at her amazing ass.

Not really. Mostly I saw puzzled looks as people wondered, “is that a camera embedded in her ass?”

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Lorkas February 26, 2011 at 8:02 am

@Reginald

I thought the same. A few people you could tell looked at her ass before they could have known there was a camera there, but people like the woman stuck behind her on the escalator seemed to just wonder what the hell she was doing with a camera there.

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Alexander Kruel February 26, 2011 at 8:06 am

The Onion story isn’t even too exaggerated if you are a true believer: Jacob Wrestles God

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Reginald Selkirk February 26, 2011 at 8:19 am
RA February 26, 2011 at 8:26 am

I wanted to check out the girls rear to see if it was all that great because it looked a little flat. We should have gotten a close up. I think everybody was looking at the camera and wondering why she had a camera on her butt.

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Keith J. February 26, 2011 at 8:54 am

I also agree with the assessment of others who said that people were looking at the camera and not necessarily the ass. That was a really good quality camera they used and the montage with music was pretty cool.

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Silas February 26, 2011 at 9:30 am

Meh, that ass wasn’t even great.

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Richard February 26, 2011 at 11:11 am

If thought and emotion occur in supernatural minds, why can we read them directly from brain scans?

Because the mind arises from the brain, of course :-)

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Luke Muehlhauser February 26, 2011 at 12:38 pm

Richard,

Evidence?

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Scott February 26, 2011 at 12:50 pm

Charges have been filed against the Pope in the ICC – I wonder of anything will happen?

http://news.gather.com/viewArticle.action?articleId=281474979099468

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cl February 26, 2011 at 1:23 pm

Luke,

As far as the debates page, I suggest having a prominent link to it, accessible from the CSA homepage. I’m willing to bet that many people don’t know such a page exists. I think it’s an awesome feature. As such, it deserves prominence.

Morality in the Real World will be on hiatus for a couple weeks again. Gotta do more research!

If only that were you approach to free will and dualism!

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Thomas February 26, 2011 at 2:09 pm

cl:

If only that were you approach to free will and dualism!

I have to agree with that!

On the other hand, why bother researching “settled questions”? :)

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Richard Chappell February 26, 2011 at 2:43 pm

Luke — Just pointing out that, contrary to what’s implied in your post, such brain scans aren’t evidence for physicalism. You’d expect all the same data from epiphenomenalist property dualism (indeed they’re empirically indistinguishable theses). The “evidence” favouring one view over the other is essentially philosophical, not empirical.

(I’d add: such a serious misunderstanding of dualism casts doubt on your epistemic basis for thinking the debate ‘settled’!)

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Thomas February 26, 2011 at 3:30 pm

Richard Chappell,

indeed, we´d expect all the same data from (non-Cartesian) substance dualism as well!

But alas, dare I say, ‘dogmatic materialists’ like Luke tend to think that “neuroscience” falsifies any other theory of consciousness than their own. Excatly how this is done without some very controversial philosophical assumptions is left unexplained. This attitude becomes almost ironic when coming from someone like Luke, who is an eliminative materialist – a position that even most materialists themselves regard as a bit crazy.

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Garren February 26, 2011 at 4:00 pm

I’m also leaning toward “epiphenomenalist property dualism” these days, but I’m not certain my incredulity that materialism can explain conscious experience is more justified than the incredulity a person might have had in the past that materialism can explain living creatures.

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Richard February 26, 2011 at 4:21 pm

Garren — I’d agree that a fair amount of doubt is probably warranted regardless, but there are some very significant disanalogies to bear in mind in this case.

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Luke Muehlhauser February 26, 2011 at 4:45 pm

Richard,

You do know Twitter has a 140 character limit, right? :)

Even still, my tweet did not misunderstand a very popular form of substance dualism – one popular in religious circles, anyway.

I know very well there are other types of substance dualism that are compatible with contemporary neuroscience. Indeed, the theory that consciousness is a result of telepathic communication among gazillions of undetectably small gremlins is compatible with contemporary neuroscience. The problem with both substance dualism and the gremlin theory of consciousness is that neither of them have any evidence in their favor, except perhaps for some people’s intuitions. And trusting that kind of intuition, well… it’s logically “compatible” with contemporary experimental psychology, but the fit isn’t snug, to say the least. (Per the norm, I deny premise 2 of your zombie argument.)

To paraphrase Tim Minchin, “Every mystery ever solved has turned out to be not dualistic.” Just as with disease, life, and a million other things, I’m gonna bet on “physicalism” when it comes to consciousness.

But, well, you’ve heard this all before…

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mopey February 26, 2011 at 6:07 pm

I’ve never understood why theism needs any sort of dualism. If one of the major brands of monotheism is true, then the full power of miracles and the “something-out-of-nothing” sort is available for transition to heavenly wonderfulness/twin earth/harp playing, ect.

Surely a god who is able to bring about something out of nothing, is also able to bring about that same something into some other form/realm. Even if that something has an identity relationship with the physical, not mere dependence or supervenience. Some varities of montheism call for resurrection of the flesh at the end times, so why does this sort of god need souls in order to get the chosen off to bliss?

I realize that none of this provides any support for physicalism, or for or against any other sort of “ism” (mono/dual/tri…).

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Garren February 26, 2011 at 7:34 pm

@mopey
“I’ve never understood why theism needs any sort of dualism. If one of the major brands of monotheism is true, then the full power of miracles and the “something-out-of-nothing” sort is available for transition to heavenly wonderfulness/twin earth/harp playing, ect.”

Some Christians would agree (beretta-online.com) with you, and chalk up the traditional assumptions to Greek influence.

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cl February 27, 2011 at 1:45 am

It’s good to see that others are challenging Luke’s claims regarding “settled issues.” Personally, I suggest that you start mocking and ridiculing him, since that is what got him to change his mind about “settled issues” before. Oh, wait: did I say change his mind? Scratch that. If what he tells us is true, he couldn’t have chosen any different anyways.

Luke,

Preach on, brother Luke… preach on! I’m wearing my Scarlet A bracelet, along with my “What Would Dawkins Do” T-shirt, just so you know.

The problem with both substance dualism and the gremlin theory of consciousness is that neither of them have any evidence in their favor, except perhaps for some people’s intuitions.

[...sigh...]

Seriously though, when are you going to stop preaching materialist dogma and start telling people the truth? What you mean to say is that the evidence presented doesn’t persuade you. Big difference. Stop preaching!

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Muto February 27, 2011 at 5:25 am

Seriously though, when are you going to stop preaching materialist dogma and start telling people the truth? What you mean to say is that the evidence presented doesn’t persuade you. Big difference. Stop preaching!  

… would you be so kind and present this evidence?

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Rob February 27, 2011 at 7:03 am

cl,

I am breaking my vow to ignore you.

Look at Luke’s gremlin theory. It is compatible with all findings of neuroscience, and also unfalsifiable. Do you believe the theory is correct? If not, why not?

Luke is not preaching. You, on the other hand, continue to play the game of being a dipshit and failing to engage honestly.

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PDH February 27, 2011 at 7:37 am

Mopey wrote,

I’ve never understood why theism needs any sort of dualism. If one of the major brands of monotheism is true, then the full power of miracles andthe “something-out-of-nothing” sort is available for transition to heavenly wonderfulness/twin earth/harp playing, ect.Surely a god who is able to bring about something out of nothing, is also able to bring about that same something into some other form/realm. Even if that something has an identity relationship with the physical, not mere dependence or supervenience. Some varities of montheism call for resurrection of the flesh at the end times, so why does this sort of god need souls in order to get the chosen off to bliss?I realize that none of this provides any support for physicalism, or for or against any other sort of “ism” (mono/dual/tri…).

I do wish religious people would explore ideas like pantheism more. That, IMO, is a much better way to reconcile one’s faith with science than, say, deism is. It also solves some of the moral problems I have with supernaturalists in general. Pantheists direct their reverence and awe at the real world where it belongs.

Theism otherwise appears to commit believers to belief in at least one non-physical mind.

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Luke Muehlhauser February 27, 2011 at 9:30 am

The central dilemma of theism: If believers frame theism such that it predicts anything at all, then it is immediately falsified by a world that is not anything like what an omnipotent, all-good being would create. But if believers frame theism such that it makes no predictions, then I have as much reason to take it seriously as the gremlin theory of consciousness.

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Thomas February 27, 2011 at 10:10 am

Luke,

what!? “… it is immediately falsified by a world that is not anything like what an omnipotent, all-good being would create.” How so? That there exists a contingent cosmos in the first place gives good evidence for theism. But, like usually, you just assert unjustified claims without any decent argument.

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Silas February 27, 2011 at 11:31 am

That there exists a contingent cosmos in the first place gives good evidence for theism.

Where is your argument for that?

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PDH February 27, 2011 at 11:39 am

Thomas wrote,

Luke,what!? “… it is immediately falsified by a world that is not anything like what an omnipotent, all-good being would create.” How so? That there exists a contingent cosmos in the first place gives good evidence for theism. But, like usually, you just assert unjustified claims without any decent argument.  

I don’t want to kick off a heated debate here but to me when you say, ‘That there exists a contingent cosmos in the first place gives good evidence for theism,’ that is a good example of an unjustified claim. Theists really do need to learn this. If we atheists were willing to concede that God was a necessary being then we would be theists. Why on earth you’d think we’d be willing to accept that premise is beyond me but nearly every theist I’ve ever argued with has always blundered straight into the conversation with the completely unwarranted assumption that any one other than theists thinks that God is a necessary being.

You have to argue for this. And if anyone was actually able to make this sound remotely plausible there wouldn’t be anything to debate in the first place.

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mopey February 27, 2011 at 1:49 pm

Sam Harris talked about the ‘soul vs resurrected body’ distinction in the panel from last week, video here. Pretty much same ole same ole, but some new points made. Sam seems to be a big fan of spirit stuff and the prospects of instantiating continuousness (outside the brain).

PDH wrote:
Theism otherwise appears to commit believers to belief in at least one non-physical mind.

I guess you could say that. I’m just not sure it is necessary for a broad theism without making at least some assumptions about its nature.

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Thomas February 27, 2011 at 2:02 pm

PDH,

“If we atheists were willing to concede that God was a necessary being then we would be theists … Why on earth you’d think we’d be willing to accept that premise is beyond me …”

The contingency argument does not start from a necessary being, but from the existence of contingent beings, and argues that there needs to exist a necessary being in order that we can explain contingency. Necessary being is a conclusion, not a premise.

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PDH February 27, 2011 at 2:29 pm

PDH,“If we atheists were willing to concede that God was a necessary being then we would be theists … Why on earth you’d think we’d be willing to accept that premise is beyond me …”The contingency argument does not start from a necessary being, but from the existence of contingent beings, and argues that there needs to exist a necessary being in order that we can explain contingency. Necessary being is a conclusion, not a premise.  

The assumption that it makes is that God is a necessary being. This is asserted without argument but it’s very unlikely that atheists will accept that assumption.

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Thomas February 27, 2011 at 3:49 pm

PDH,

what “assumption” “without argumentation”? Like I said, a necessary being is the conclusion of the argument, not some unjustified “assumption”. Maybe some kind of cosmological arguments which start treating theism as an explanatory hypothesis make this “assumption”. But I´m talking about arguments from contingency like Rob Koons´s ‘A New Look At the Cosmological Argument’ (http://www.leaderu.com/orgs/arn/koons/cosmo.pdf) or some more traditional ones like Aquinas´s first Three Ways. Here the necessary being is clearly a conclusion of the argument. So if you want to avoid the conclusion, you need to tell where the argument goes wrong.

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Richard February 27, 2011 at 3:58 pm

Thomas – there’s a pretty big gap between “necessary being” and “theistic god”. The former could be, e.g., (as Quentin Smith points out) a mere timeless point, not necessarily any kind of intentional agent at all.

And I take it Luke was earlier hinting at the problem of evil.

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Luke Muehlhauser February 27, 2011 at 4:31 pm

Indeed I was.

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Jarrett Cooper February 27, 2011 at 6:44 pm

@ Richard,

Alexander Pruss in his Leibnizian Cosmological Arguments mentions some ways one could close the “Gap Problem.” He doesn’t go in exhaustive detail (as he notes space does not permit), but simply brings up a few ways to help close the gap.

http://bearspace.baylor.edu/Alexander_Pruss/www/papers/LCA.html- Towards the very bottom titled “5. The Gap Problem.”

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Patrick February 27, 2011 at 6:55 pm

I’m pretty sure that the very concept of a “necessary being” is stupid. Like, really, really, REALLY stupid. Mind boggling stupid. The idea of a “necessary being” is more stupid than the popular Christian vision of God.

Its a hijacking, molestation, and mutilation of a perfectly good mathematical concept that has been surgically grafted to a bunch of unnecessary baggage, creating a hideous mutant of a concept that longs for its own death.

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Thomas February 28, 2011 at 2:42 am

Richard: “there’s a pretty big gap between “necessary being” and “theistic god”.”

Yes, but there are various ways to bridge “the Gap Problem” (like Jarrett said). Classical writers like Aquinas and Clarke actually spend hundreds of pages deducing divine attributes from the being who is the conclusion of the cosmological argument. So I don´t think this is a major problem.

“And I take it Luke was earlier hinting at the problem of evil.”

Yes indeed, but you can´t say that the world is “not anything like” God would create and then consider only the problem of evil. That theism is unlikely relative to evil only is a trivial truth. But once you consider all the other relevant evidence (like the cosmological argument), the probability of theism increases. So my point was that you can´t say that theism is “immediately falsified” by evil without even considering other relevant evidence. As a fan of Bayes Luke should know this.

Patrick: Most cosmological arguments do not require a strictly logically necessary being. And btw, calling a conclusion of an argument “really, really, REALLY stupid” is quite a weak response, to put it mildly.

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Steven R. February 28, 2011 at 10:58 am

In essence, Dualism seems to be

Luke,what!? “… it is immediately falsified by a world that is not anything like what an omnipotent, all-good being would create.” How so? That there exists a contingent cosmos in the first place gives good evidence for theism. But, like usually, you just assert unjustified claims without any decent argument.  (Quote)

Not at all. The claim is benevolent (Luke said all-good but I prefer benevolent), remember? What sort of benevolent being creates a world with worms perfectly adapted at eating an animal fromt he inside? What sort of benevolent being makes people lose control over their bowels when they age? Assuming the conclusion of the cosmological argument is sound (one hell of an assumption…), it’d be much, much easier to argue for a malevolent God with a twisted sense of humor–that is, after all, where the evidence seems to point.

Now, you may provide reasons for why Pain Y is compatible with your conception of a Benevolent God but this just means that you’re tailoring events to fit your assumption of what God’s personality is like. In doing this, you are stripping away any predictive power of a benevolent god because, if it perfectly explains a world without any harmful objects just as well as a world where magma, asteroids, earthquakes, tsunamis and hurricanes threaten the existence of living beings, or a world where only one earthquake hurts one person, then the benevolent God hypothesis has little to no predictive power.

@ Thomas

>hundreds of pages
>deducing

Hey, I’m sure if anyone spent hundred of pages deducing just about anything, we could also find out a lot about the Unicorn from Dimension X, another contender other than God that we can derive from the Cosmological Argument.

——-
As a general comment:
It always amuses me how people never seem to realize that reductio ad absurdum arguments are very valid. Although those previously advocating dualism as being “fully compatible” with modern science ignord Luke’s points about the telepathic gnomes, the objection is sound.

Something being compatible with modern science=/=something worthy of being taken into consideration, even if philosophically plausible.

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Steven R. February 28, 2011 at 11:06 am

I have no idea how the first part of my comment got cut off, but:

“In essence, Dualism seems to be no different than any dubious hypothesis just tacked on to yet unexplained things and passed off as a legitimate explanation”

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cl February 28, 2011 at 11:13 am

Muto,

…would you be so kind and present this evidence?

Been there, done that, always willing to do more. If you really want to talk, stop by my blog. The days where I try to persuade atheists in gangs are over. For something that will suffice here, take the growing body of both experimental and anecdotal NDE evidence. Neither of these reduce to intuition. Luke’s claim is blatantly false.

Rob,

I am breaking my vow to ignore you.

Big surprise.

Look at Luke’s gremlin theory. It is compatible with all findings of neuroscience, and also unfalsifiable. Do you believe the theory is correct? If not, why not?

At least three reasons: 1) I do not believe it to be the most parsimonious explanation; 2) I do not believe the evidence supports it; 3) It does not seem to cohere with the universality of human experience regarding consciousness.

Luke is not preaching.

Sure he is. From Merriam-Webster:

Intransitive verb–1: to deliver a sermon; 2: to urge acceptance or abandonment of an idea or course of action; specifically : to exhort in an officious or tiresome manner

Transitive verb–1: to set forth in a sermon , 2: to advocate earnestly , 3: to deliver (as a sermon) publicly, 4: to bring, put, or affect by preaching

Luke is delivering a materialist sermon to urge acceptance of atheism and abandonment of theism. He delivers what he advocates in a public forum, and he apparently expects to put his views into effect–not by sticking to the evidence–but by preaching. It’s okay though: I already know that you’re right and I’m wrong.

You, on the other hand, continue to play the game of being a dipshit and failing to engage honestly.

I see you take cues from Dawkins and Loftus. Very intelligent, Rob. I bow in utter worship of your intellectual prowess!

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Richard February 28, 2011 at 12:08 pm

Although those previously advocating dualism as being “fully compatible” with modern science ignord Luke’s points about the telepathic gnomes, the objection is sound. Something being compatible with modern science =/= something worthy of being taken into consideration, even if philosophically plausible.

Of course, nobody (I’m aware of) is arguing that you should take a view seriously just because it’s compatible with the empirical data. The dialectic was instead that I was responding to an incorrect claim that dualism is refuted by the data. (Luke since clarified that he wasn’t talking about the sort of dualism philosophers debate, but some more stupid pop-version of the view. I have no interest in the latter.)

Now, how is the silly ‘telepathic gnomes’ theory meant to constitute a reductio of dualism? It’s not an argument, it’s just a way of saying “I think your view is silly, just like this other silly view.” No argument has been given that the two views actually *are* relevantly alike.

Let’s consider the case more closely. There are two possible versions of a gnome theory of consciousness:

(1) Gnome-Consciousness reductionism: consciousness just is the pattern of invisible gnome information transfer in the brain. This is refuted by the same conceivability arguments that refute physical reductionism.

(2) Gnome-Consciousness dualism: invisible gnome information transfer gives rise to consciousness, much as philosophical dualists think that neuronal information transfer gives rise to consciousness. Here the issue is that there’s no reason to posit invisible gnomes as an additional non-mental component of reality: we already have neurons to provide the non-mental basis for mentality, after all.

(Of course, if there were to exist such gnomes, then it’s plausible that information transfer between them would give rise to consciousness just as info transfer between neurons does. Functionalist dualism is a perfectly respectable philosophical view.)

So what the “reductio” comes down to is the claim that we have no reason to posit phenomenal qualia as something distinct from physical/functional properties. But of course we have such reasons, viz. that our concept of phenomenal consciousness is not a physical/functional concept! Of course, it remains open to you to be an error theorist about the concept: maybe there just is nothing real that corresponds to our concept of consciousness. But I, for one, am more sure that I am conscious than I am of the premises of any argument you might try to offer to the contrary.

Which is all just to say: there’s no philosophically interesting analogy to be made between dualism and gnome theory — as (per above) can be seen on a moment’s reflection. Talk of the latter is just a way of signalling that you’re not interested in thinking seriously about the issue.

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cl February 28, 2011 at 1:10 pm

Another thing, Rob:

You, on the other hand, continue to play the game of being a dipshit and failing to engage honestly.

Unless you have some evidence for this claim, I think you ought to stop slandering another human being all for the sake of your sacred party lines. I am not dishonest in my arguments. If anything, say my claim is stupid, much like I reacted to your trope that “neuroscience has falsified Christianity.” Don’t gossip and spread slander. If I were “failing to engage honestly,” I wouldn’t give Luke credit where I felt it due, and I would never admit I was wrong. In my experience, those are telltale signs of bias, and come to think of it, I don’t recall you ever once giving me any credit where it was due, or admitting you were wrong. Think about it.

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Thomas February 28, 2011 at 1:12 pm

Richard,

great comment.

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Patrick February 28, 2011 at 1:35 pm

Stupid is stupid. It doesn’t take too much more than that to point it out.

Logical necessity is the idea that something is true in every possible universe because its axiomatically so. That is, IF you define things in such a such way, THEN certain statements are true. For example, IF you define 1, 2, plus, and equals in a particular way, THEN 1 + 1 = 2 in every possible universe.

The idea of a necessary being is supposed to operate similarly.

But it doesn’t. At all. Instead you just get the dishonest theological shuffle, where words mean one thing in one context and another in a different context because none of it is real and none of it matters anyway. So theologians will defend a cosmological argument and call its conclusion a necessary being, and then defend an ontological argument and do the same, and never even notice or admit to noticing that they’re making up the meaning of words as they go.

Its as stupid as the incredibly stupid, stupid, STUPID belief that something like “justice” can be “infinite.” What would that possibly even mean? Infinite means that you can map the whole onto any subset. Can you map the whole of God’s justice onto any subset of his justice? What does that statement even mean? Its nonsense. Justice isn’t a numerical concept. The same with “a being so great that no greater being can be imagined.” It’s just dumb. If you can imagine that, you can imagine a being who’s exactly as great except he can beat the first being up, and you can continue it forever. The best you can do is imagine the IDEA of a being so great that no greater being can be imagined.

These things are all just pieties. Pious statements that involve throwing a lot of “pro” words at the “God” concept because that’s the religious game. None of them make a lick of sense, and they borrow crudely from real mathematical and philosophical concepts that are completely inapplicable, but which looked nice at the time. Its no more mature than a kid with a toy space ship who thinks its awesome until his friend gets a toy unicorn, so he gets his own unicorn and glues it to the spaceship so that his uni-spaceship-corn toy will be the most awesome of all.

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Lee A.P. February 28, 2011 at 4:49 pm

Mopey wrote,
I do wish religious people would explore ideas like pantheism more. That, IMO, is a much better way to reconcile one’s faith with science than, say, deism is. It also solves some of the moral problems I have with supernaturalists in general. Pantheists direct their reverence and awe at the real world where it belongs.Theism otherwise appears to commit believers tobelief in at least one non-physical mind.  

AGREED! And/or monism.

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piero February 28, 2011 at 4:52 pm

“Hot chick hides camera on her ass, films everyone staring at her amazing ass.”

Or, in politically correct (albeit less flattering) terms:

“Woman who would describe herself as callipygian hides camera as well as she can (which cannot be very well, given current technology) near her buttocks and registers surprised looks from passers-by, pretending that they are actually admiring her buttocks and not wondering why she has a camera in place of a coccyx (or an anus), so that she can feel good about her shape and disparage others in the process. Isn’t that what life is all about?”

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Luke Muehlhauser February 28, 2011 at 7:40 pm

Richard,

The Gnome Theory of Consciousness wasn’t a reductio of dualism, nor an analogy for it. It was merely an illustration of the point that consistency with the scientific data alone does not impress, a simple point with which you seem to agree.

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Richard February 28, 2011 at 7:43 pm

I was responding to that commenter I quoted, who suggested (in the preceding sentence) that it was a reductio.

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Luke Muehlhauser February 28, 2011 at 8:53 pm

Richard,

Ah! Gotcha. :)

I hope you know that however harsh I might be in my treatment of your positions, I have great respect for your learning and your research. I doubt that comes across through the text very well, but perhaps one day I’ll have a chance to catch a beer with you, in which case the respect I have for you will come through, I think.

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Reginald Selkirk March 1, 2011 at 5:17 pm
Reginald Selkirk March 1, 2011 at 5:19 pm
Steven R. March 2, 2011 at 3:50 pm

Richard:

First, forgive the late response, I lost track of this post. But just as well since, when I came back to it this morning, I really couldn’t remember whether or not I was thinking that gnome consciousness was a reductio ad absurdum of dualism itself.

So, given all the confusion (even in reading my comment I can’t tell whether or not I was saying “Gnome Theory” was the same as dualism) I shall just reword my post to say: it is a valid reductio ad absurdum of some arguments given to justify dualism. That, I think, is a much fairer, much more clearer objection and one that doesn’t imply that Gnome Theory is a reductio ad absurdum of dualism, which it clearly isn’t.

Okay, so with that out of the way, to address two points I found interesting in your post (and, as a warning, I have just begun to read about this kind of stuff so forgive anything I say which seems extremely ignorant, I’m still absolutely new to this)

:(1) Gnome-Consciousness reductionism: consciousness just is the pattern of invisible gnome information transfer in the brain.This is refuted by the same conceivability arguments that refute physical reductionism.

Doesn’t this apply to any sort of claim we can possibly make about consciousness? “I can conceive a universe where all consciousness is soundly explained by its physical components” and thus “refute” any other sort of explanation for consciousness presented? If so, I fail to see much importance to such objections. Sure, you may be capable of conceiving how theory x is wrong, but isn’t it so much better to provide good reason why we should think theory x is right or wrong?

(2) Gnome-Consciousness dualism: invisible gnome information transfer gives rise to consciousness, much as philosophical dualists think that neuronal information transfer gives rise to consciousness.Here the issue is that there’s no reason to posit invisible gnomes as an additional non-mental component of reality: we already have neurons to provide the non-mental basis for mentality, after all.

Eh, couldn’t we just fill the immaterial component of the mind with Gnome communications? Instead of “the mind the immaterial result” or emergent component or what have you of the neurons, the mind is the ultimate result of the gnome communications? Both seem to be as viable (though obviously dissimilar).

As for getting any error theory from me…haha, no not at all. I’m not familiar enough to pick that position and I find it odd to say consciousness doesn’t exist. I have the feeling I’d probably lean towards what Dennett has said about qualia, but this is, after all, why I have picked experimental psychology as my college major. Want to study all this. So far, I don’t really have much of a position except “materialism”, naturalism, or whatever until I see compelling reason for dualism or functionalism, as you stated, which seems to be a modern incarnation or successor to the idea (actually, got any studies or theories about functionalism to recommend? I’d appreciate it).

Anyway, sorry for the misunderstanding >_>

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Richard March 2, 2011 at 4:55 pm

Hi Steven,

Doesn’t this apply to any sort of claim we can possibly make about consciousness? “I can conceive a universe where all consciousness is soundly explained by its physical components” and thus “refute” any other sort of explanation for consciousness presented?

Well, it depends on what you mean by ‘soundly explained’. I think that this is a universe where consciousness is explained by brain activity, against the background of the psycho-physical bridging laws. But the brain activity alone is not a complete explanation, since it seems you could (if missing the bridging laws) have the same brain activity without consciousness.

Now, can you really conceive of a universe where such brain activity is a complete explanation of consciousness? I don’t think so. You might claim to conceive of such a thing, but I doubt it’s coherent; it’s like claiming to conceive of a world where 2′s being a prime number is explained by a pineapple. You can string those words together in a sentence, but there’s no possible world that would actually “verify” or support such a claim. (Aside: that linked post explains why it’s similarly a mistake for theists to claim that a necessary being is conceivable.)

As for the relevance of conceivability: Some special exceptions aside, conceivability entails (metaphysical) possibility. So if it’s conceivable to have physical stuff without mental stuff, then it’s possible to have physical stuff without mental stuff. But if that’s possible, then the physical stuff doesn’t strictly suffice to explain the mental stuff — the mental must be something over and above the physical, if you merely can have the latter without the former.

Eh, couldn’t we just fill the immaterial component of the mind with Gnome communications? Instead of “the mind the immaterial result” or emergent component or what have you of the neurons, the mind is the ultimate result of the gnome communications?

These seem to be different questions. In particular, the latter sounds precisely like the Gnome-Mind dualism I described, where mentality arises from gnome communications. There gnomes play the role that neurons actually play. But your first sentence suggests that gnomes might play the role of being the “immaterial component of the mind”. That sounds more like the Gnome-Mind Reductionism I discussed first. But dualists (of my stripe, at least) aren’t particularly interested in showing that the mind is ‘immaterial’ per se. It’s not like any old immaterial stuff suffices for mentality. All the arguments are meant to show that mentality is ontologically primitive, i.e. not reducible to anything non-mental, even non-mental immaterial stuff like magic gnomes.

For readings suggestions: you can browse Chalmers’ papers at consc.net

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Steven R. March 2, 2011 at 8:43 pm

Hi Steven,
Well, it depends on what you mean by ‘soundly explained’.I think that this is a universe where consciousness is explained by brain activity, against the background of the psycho-physical bridging laws.But the brain activity alone is not a complete explanation, since it seems you could (if missing the bridging laws) have the same brain activity without consciousness.Now, can you really conceive of a universe where such brain activity is a complete explanation of consciousness?I don’t think so.You might claim to conceive of such a thing, but I doubt it’s coherent; it’s like claiming to conceive of a world where 2′s being a prime number is explained by a pineapple.You can string those words together in a sentence, but there’s no possible world that would actually “verify” or support such a claim. (Aside: that linked post explains why it’s similarly a mistake for theists to claim that a necessary being is conceivable.)As for the relevance of conceivability: Some special exceptions aside, conceivability entails (metaphysical) possibility. So if it’s conceivable to have physical stuff without mental stuff, then it’s possible to have physical stuff without mental stuff.But if that’s possible, then the physical stuff doesn’t strictly suffice to explain the mental stuff — the mental must be something over and above the physical, if you merely can have the latter without the former.
These seem to be different questions.In particular, the latter sounds precisely like the Gnome-Mind dualism I described, where mentality arises from gnome communications. There gnomes play the role that neurons actually play.But your first sentence suggests that gnomes might play the role of being the “immaterial component of the mind”.That sounds more like the Gnome-Mind Reductionism I discussed first.But dualists (of my stripe, at least) aren’t particularly interested in showing that the mind is ‘immaterial’ per se. It’s not like any old immaterial stuff suffices for mentality.All the arguments are meant to show that mentality is ontologically primitive, i.e. not reducible to anything non-mental, even non-mental immaterial stuff like magic gnomes.For readings suggestions: you can browse Chalmers’ papers at consc.net  

..grumbles. It’s best if I go read up on what reductionism is then because I was surprised when you said that the gnomes being the “immaterial component” of the mind was much like…dualism or something. Well, I’m not familiar with these terms or how many of these arguments or positions even work so…best to just read comments and publications on this. Thanks for your time though.

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Steven R. March 2, 2011 at 8:51 pm

>_> and I confused what I meant to say once again:

..grumbles. It’s best if I go read up on what reductionism is then because I was surprised when you said that the gnomes being the “immaterial component” of the mind was much like…dualism or something. Well, I’m not familiar with these terms or how many of these arguments or positions even work so…best to just read comments and publications on this. Thanks for your time though.  

*and I was surprised to find out that the gnomes acting like the non-physical aspects of the brain wasn’t much like dualism but instead more like reductionism.

Honestly, I don’t even think I understand the terms myself. What do we mean by “non-physical”? The thoughts we have themselves? And is physicalism saying they are simply neural connections or a specific electric pulse? And dualists claim they are simply immaterial and part of another realm? Tsk…I really need to get acquainted with what exactly the argument is here then. I thought I knew it too.

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Reginald Selkirk March 3, 2011 at 11:15 am

Announcing the publication of: Nonsense of a High Order: The Confused and Illusory World of the Atheist (Tradition and Reason Press, Inc.) by Moshe Averick

Copies for review available upon request.

Have at it. It’s got a section on “Euthyphro: A Philosophical Dinosaur.”

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