A New Argument for Theologians to Develop Against Physicalism

by Luke Muehlhauser on July 17, 2011 in Friendly AI,Funny

I thought of a new way to get some potentially useful work out of theologians.

I propose they begin working out a detailed defense of the following argument:

  1. If physicalism is true, a future intelligence explosion is highly likely.
  2. A future intelligence explosion is not highly likely (it is absurd).
  3. Therefore, physicalism is not true.

Get to work, theists! I look forward to your work on premises #1 and #2.

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Colin July 17, 2011 at 1:58 pm

Awesome. Some new original content and a flashy graphic to boot.

However, what makes you think most theologians know any more than the average person about the connection between physical brains and intelligence? It seems that they spend all their time either assuming or attempting to demonstrate the non-natural quality of intelligence, leaving the brain superfluous at best.

I think most theologians would be initially pretty shocked at the recent findings in neuroscience you speak of. That is, even if they were to consider physicalism as hypothetical true, I don’t think they’re especially abreast of its implications for the nature of intelligence. It would probably just mean (to them) that everything they think they know about non-natural intelligence would simply be transferred over to a natural source or repository, as opposed to taking on an entirely different character and one capable of an explosion.

I doubt if you’d get anything useful out of their attempts to formulate this argument, even regarding Premise #1. Unless that was your whole point.

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Jeff M. July 17, 2011 at 2:24 pm

Colin,

You’re overthinking it. Luke made a joke, man.

Best,
Jeff

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Reginald Selkirk July 17, 2011 at 3:20 pm

However, what makes you think most theologians know any more than the average person about the connection between physical brains and intelligence?

Why would that stop them? What makes you think theologians know more than the average person about the nature of God? They are used to writing about great length about topics they cannot possibly know.

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Wes Widner July 17, 2011 at 3:28 pm

Why should we suppose that premise 1 is valid or that theism logically constrains us to the support or denial of it? I fail to see how an intelligence explosion is tied to either physicalism or theism.

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drj July 17, 2011 at 6:18 pm

Wes: The vast majority of theists out there reject physicalism, and believe that minds, at least in part, are immaterial and survive brain death. There are a few oddballs out there who are materialist theists, but its not really that common.

So those people should tend to believe that human attempts to create better than (or equal to) human intelligence are futile. Makes sense to me.

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Garren July 17, 2011 at 7:19 pm

I see what you did there.

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ATB July 17, 2011 at 7:38 pm

I’m genuinely confused. Is this post a joke, as one commenter thinks? What does premise 1 have to do with theism or the denial of physicalism?

drj:
“So those people should tend to believe that human attempts to create better than (or equal to) human intelligence are futile. Makes sense to me.”

I really don’t get it. That doesn’t seem to follow at all from dualism. In fact, I don’t understand why it’s *supposed* to follow. I’m drawing a total blank. Why should the fact that humans are, in part or in whole, non-physical, entail, make probable, or make more probable than it would be otherwise, the view that we will create machines capable of manipulating information in the fashion hypothesized by “intelligence explosion” advocates?

(I’m either being dense regarding humor, or dense regarding philosophy. Please help me understand which of these I am. This will actually bother me until I understand :))

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ATB July 17, 2011 at 7:40 pm

Oops, correction:

Why should the fact that humans are, in part or in whole, non-physical, entail, make probable, or make more probable than it would be otherwise, the view that we will *NOT* create machines capable of manipulating information in the fashion hypothesized by “intelligence explosion” advocates?

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Reidish July 17, 2011 at 8:07 pm

(I’m either being dense regarding humor, or dense regarding philosophy. Please help me understand which of these I am. This will actually bother me until I understand :))

Luke’s a physicalist (I’m assuming), and he thinks an intelligent explosion is likely. He’s baiting theists into helping him prove this (that is, defend premise #1), since presumably we’ll be really excited about the prospect of the conclusion in the “argument” he gave.

What’s the prize, Luke?! I request a signed copy of the complete works of Eliezer2012.

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Luke Muehlhauser July 17, 2011 at 8:19 pm

Reidish,

I’m a physicalist, as long as that includes radical platonism, which I think is plausible.

And actually, arguments developed for either premise #1 or #2 could be useful. I can think of lots of reasons why intelligence explosion is likely (see Chalmers and upcoming work from Nick Bostrom and Carl Shulman), but I suspect there are counter-arguments like the one from Katja Grace).

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Rufus July 18, 2011 at 9:41 am

I would be interesting in hearing how physicalism is compatible with “radical platonism.” It seems one would have to subscribe to some variety of non-reductive physicalism in order to fit these two beliefs together. But the problem is that it is not exactly clear (at least to me) how all phenomena (qualia, consciousness, mathematical and logical laws, etc.) can be explained or accounted for physically–at least with our current understanding of physics.

Here is my problem, in order to prove physicalism false one would have to identify some phenomenon that is not physically explicable even in principle. But this is nearly impossible for us to know, as such knowledge would require an omniscient knowledge of physics–even as it develops into the future. So physicalism seems to be a somewhat vacuous claim that if some x exists, x is physically explicable in principle. For if any phenomenon were discovered which could not be physically explained, the physicalist merely needs to appeal to our ignorance of what constitutes a physical explanation and then assure us that some explanation will be forthcoming once a proper physics is worked out. But then physicalism really is nothing more than the claim that everything is explicable, i.e. to be explicable is to fall within the range of some ideal physics.

I am not a physicalist precisely because I think there are certain aspects of reality that simply defy explanation. The identity and individuation of an intelligent agent happens to be one phenomenon that I think is inexplicable given even an ideal physics. I have yet to encounter a likely explanation for individuation and identity given physicalism, which is not to say that I have not seen attempts to define the problem away by confusing “sameness” with similarity and denying the principle of identity. So, assuming we cannot appeal to our ignorance of a future physical explanation, here is my argument:

1. If a future intelligence explosion is likely, then a unified and individuated intelligent agent is possible.
2. If a unified and individuated intelligent agent is possible, such possibility is physically inexplicable.
3. If there possibly exists some physically inexplicable phenomenon, physicalism is false.
4. A future intelligence explosion is likely.
5. Therefore physicalism is false.

Best,

Rufus

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LD July 22, 2011 at 12:24 am

“The identity and individuation of an intelligent agent happens to be one phenomenon that I think is inexplicable given even an ideal physics.”

When I hear “I experience ineffable qualia”, the proximate cause is sound waves. Looking further back the causal chain, someone said the words. Is it that the universe changed, physically, when and where it was influenced by something non-physical?

If I remove neurons from a person one by one, is there a point at which inexplicability is no longer needed to describe how the matter and energy in them relates to the rest of matter and energy? Is it logically possible to detect such a point? If I then replace the critical neuron, does non-physicalism imply that a perfect mapping of local interactions according to physics would lead to an incorrect model of the person and their physical speech efforts?

“…confusing “sameness” with similarity…”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Identical_particles

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Rufus July 22, 2011 at 2:52 pm

LD,

Thank you for your response. I think you have asked a series of important questions here.

Is it that the universe changed, physically, when and where it was influenced by something non-physical?

Yes, I think it is at least logically possible that non-physical and physical entities can causally interact.

If I remove neurons from a person one by one, is there a point at which inexplicability is no longer needed to describe how the matter and energy in them relates to the rest of matter and energy?

It is not necessary to invoke inexplicability at any point to explain how matter and energy in one area relates to matter and energy elsewhere. I never argued that the relationship between neurons and matter and energy elsewhere is inexplicable. I would argue that the identity and individuation of an intelligent agent is a phenomenon that cannot be explained through such relations.

Is it logically possible to detect such a point?

Given that I deny that inexplicability needs to be invoked to explain the relationship between neurons and matter/energy generally, I don’t think such a point actually exists. So I don’t think it is possible to detect such a point.

If I then replace the critical neuron, does non-physicalism imply that a perfect mapping of local interactions according to physics would lead to an incorrect model of the person and their physical speech efforts?

I am a bit confused by this question. You move quickly from discussing the replacement of a critical neuron to discussing a map of local interactions leading to a model of the person and his or her physical speech efforts. Perhaps you might rephrase this one? Do you mean to ask whether the replacement of a critical neuron in a person’s brain might revive the same individual person? Under non-physicalism, I would say that it is possible, but not necessarily true. Under physicalism, whether or not the revived “person” claimed to be the same, it is a mere vocalization. No person ever really existed. Now, can we develop a correct physical model of a person? I think we can develop a pretty accurate physical map of those physical aspects possessed by persons. Since people make physical speech acts, I suppose it is possible to have an accurate model of how that might occur. Will that physical model capture non-physical phenomena? No. It will not be able to describe the identity or individuation of the person making the speech act.

Thank you for the link on the identity of particles. Indeed, the indistinguishably of fundamental particles only buttresses my conclusion. For if there is no individuation at a fundamental level, physicalism is impotent to provide an explanation of the phenomena of individuality and individuation. The solution is either to outright deny the veracity of our intuitions that there is identity and individuation, or to stipulate “indentity” and “individuation” as useful fictions derived from inaccurate perceptions of similarity and relative continuity on the macro-level of the physical world and which help biological organisms navigate everyday life.

Thanks,

Rufus

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