Sam Harris, Winning

by Luke Muehlhauser on December 1, 2011 in Science

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{ 151 comments… read them below or add one }

Leonhard December 1, 2011 at 5:07 am

Cool, where is this clip from?

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Cristian December 1, 2011 at 5:42 am

Drawing a general conclusion from the little you know about something is called wishful thinking.

We can’t explain consciousness, that’s a fact. So if we can damage the mind by damaging the brain, that doesn’t mean that the only possible explanation is that the brain is the mind. Obviously there is a deep relationship between the two but not necessarily an identity one.

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Leonhard December 1, 2011 at 6:53 am

Drawing a general conclusion from the little you know about something is called wishful thinking.

But in the light of the above, and remember it is just a small quote not a long philosophical argument, does make any kind of dualism look rather shoddy. Also I think you’re making a strawman here, we don’t know ‘a little’ about the brain, it was in the light of a whole body of evidence regarding the effects of brain damage that Harris statement becomes convincing.

Why aren’t dualists the ones engaging in wishful thinking? Beyond some conceptual problems with identity, qualia and free will, there’s nothing else to suggest dualism. There’s no sign of extra substance interacting with the neurons, there’s no locust in the brain that’s the center of decision making which waits for an extra-spatial burst of activity before decisions are made. Its all brain on brain.

We can’t explain consciousness, that’s a fact. So if we can damage the mind by damaging the brain, that doesn’t mean that the only possible explanation is that the brain is the mind. Obviously there is a deep relationship between the two but not necessarily an identity one.

Its not a fact that we can’t explain consciousness, its a fact that we don’t have a working model for consciousness and the philosophy of surrounding it is a controversial. That’s a fact.

And you’re right, the brain being the mind is not only possible explanation of how by damaging the brain you damage the mind. It is just the simplest and most preferable given what we know. Everything else will be a case of introducing nebulous, ephemeral and mystical substances with all the conceptual problems of causality that they introduce. If there is no empirical reasons to establish that such things exists, and its not settled that the conceptual problems of physicalism (or brainialism :P) are insurmountable (or worse than dualism) why should we believe that there’s all that odd extra stuff? It looks like a case of special pleading to me.

And as you said it, the brain damage does indicate a very tight connection. You can’t argue that your mind is really located in your ‘soul’. Your memories are in your brain, the ways in which you distinguish right from left (or even ability to have a notion of either) is in your brain, your preferences are in your brain, all your mental abilities are in your brain, your language recognition is in your brain, your humor and personality is in your brain and all your senses are entirely dependent on the working of your brain. If the brain disappeared, what would be left in the soul? It seems obvious that nothing (or hardly anything) would be left. Brain damaged people aren’t ‘held back’ by their damage. Its not like these people really can remember what happened before the accident, but its just there’s interference blocking their ability to say it through their mouth.

“What we’re being asked to consider is that: You damage one part of the brain, and some part of the mind.. subjectivity.. is lost. You damage another and more is lost. And yet if you damage the whole thing at death, we can rise off the brain with all of our faculties intact, recognizing grandma and speaking english” – Sam Harris

That, in the light of modern brain research, seems enormously far fetched.

Anyone know what discussion this was from, I’d love to see the others try to respond to it.

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Jeffrey Shallit December 1, 2011 at 6:53 am

The evidence is so strong that the mind is just an outcome of physical and chemical processes in the brain, and the evidence against that hypothesis so tenuous, that to deny it seems like wishful thinking to me. Surely it is up to those who deny it to provide some convincing reason, rather than saying things like “We can’t explain consciousness, that’s a fact”.

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PDH December 1, 2011 at 7:20 am

Cristian wrote,

Drawing a general conclusion from the little you know about something is called wishful thinking.

Dualism is a general conclusion drawn from the same limited knowledge. The problem it is that is an inferior explanation on various grounds. That is, what knowledge we do have, supports other conclusions more than it supports dualism.

We are, all of us, always, reasoning under uncertainty. All of our beliefs are based on limited information. That does not mean that all beliefs are equally valid. Some are more plausible than others and it seems to me that dualism is not very plausible at all.

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PDH December 1, 2011 at 7:20 am

Plus, you know, what Leonhard said.

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Jesus' Hairy Nipples December 1, 2011 at 8:01 am

Drawing a general conclusion from the little you know about something is called wishful thinking.

Didn’t you just do the same thing you accused Harris of? Except you are drawing a general conclusion from a little YouTube clip out of context?

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Cristian December 1, 2011 at 8:18 am

Didn’t you just do the same thing you accused Harris of? Except you are drawing a general conclusion from a little YouTube clip out of context?

I’ve seen the whole clip a while ago, as well as many others of Harris’ talks.

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Cristian December 1, 2011 at 8:31 am

Leonhard said,

Everything else will be a case of introducing nebulous, ephemeral and mystical substances with all the conceptual problems of causality that they introduce.

Don’t really know about what causality problems you’re talking of. But here’s my question for you: how can there be a problem about anything, anytime, anywhere if we are not the ones setting the laws in the Universe? Do we know why the space is uniform, why energy is conserving, why anything exists in the first place?

Isn’t it silly for us people to walk around saying what can exists and what can’t happen because of a principle that took us thousands of years to understand?

Isn’t it all mystical and nebulous and ephemeral? There is a big WE DON’T KNOW on the front of everything that exists. Just because we can explain some stuff, doesn’t mean we have any right to say there isn’t much to know or that can safely draw any conclusions we want. If there’s something we don’t know, as far as I can tell, it could be thousands of times more than what we know.

The BS statements like “we know so much”, “the evidence is so strong”, “we now know” etc. are just part of faith program, just evangelism. No better than those going around pointing fingers to who’s going to hell. Sam Harris has a program, and he’s sticking to it. He’s an apostole, not a scientist in the clip above.

Dualism is based on faith, on the other hand. An honest and open faith. We use our intuition based on all evidence there is. Some of us go wrong, cause not all religions out there got it right. But that’s how we operate and we’re fine with it. Because waiting the science to figure it out for us, with 100% certainty, might just be too much. I’m just die tomorrow face the ‘big evidence’ that, indeed, there’s life after death.

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Zeb December 1, 2011 at 8:37 am

Beyond some conceptual problems with identity, qualia and free will, there’s nothing else to suggest dualism.

Oh yeah, beyond those most fundamental aspects of the experience of existence (as well as the ability to apprehend abstracts), physicalism of mind has no problems at all.

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Leonhard December 1, 2011 at 9:17 am

Oh yeah, beyond those most fundamental aspects of the experience of existence (as well as the ability to apprehend abstracts), physicalism of mind has no problems at all.

Yeah I thought about adding something here (but hey it was a comment not an article), I do think they’re just problems with the concepts and words we draw on to describe what we refer to when we say “consciousness”, “qualia” and “identity”. Obviously I think the problems are either already solved (free will), solvable in principle (consciousness) or flawed concepts (qualia) . If not I would consider them genuine difficulties with physicalism. Though it might not be enough for me to abandon physicalism, because I’m not convinced that dualism provides an escape out of these problems. Its not easier for me to see how a soul could have “qualia” or have a persistent “identity” or be “conscious”, if the brain can’t. The most sophisticated arguments for dualism doesn’t even appeal to the soul as an explanation for these.

And it would still be the case that dualism has gotten into hot water in modern neurobiologists. Dualists have retreated to philosophy. There’s basically no such thing as scientific dualism anymore. No proposals for interactions between the soul and the brain, no proposals for what we’d find in brain scans, nothing. Just conceptual analysis and didactic discussion (when its at its best), personal experience and bellyfeel intuition about how the world ought to work (when its at its worst).

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Leonhard December 1, 2011 at 9:19 am

I’ve seen the whole clip a while ago, as well as many others of Harris’ talks.

I’d love to know where its from. :)

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Lucinda December 1, 2011 at 9:47 am

Dualism is based on faith, on the other hand. An honest and open faith.

A quote of the year contender, for sure.

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anon December 1, 2011 at 9:47 am

Lucretius made this argument a long time ago (~50 B.C.). So it’s not that we learned something special from the last 150 years of neurology, as Harris says. Here’s Lucretius’ argument:

Besides we feel that mind to being comes
Along with body, with body grows and ages.
For just as children totter round about
With frames infirm and tender, so there follows
A weakling wisdom in their minds; and then,
Where years have ripened into robust powers,
Counsel is also greater, more increased
The power of mind; thereafter, where already
The body’s shattered by master-powers of eld,
And fallen the frame with its enfeebled powers,
Thought hobbles, tongue wanders, and the mind gives way;
All fails, all’s lacking at the selfsame time.
Therefore it suits that even the soul’s dissolved,
Like smoke, into the lofty winds of air;
Since we behold the same to being come
Along with body and grow, and, as I’ve taught,
Crumble and crack, therewith outworn by eld.

http://classics.mit.edu/Carus/nature_things.3.iii.html

And it’s a bad argument, by the way. Dependence is one thing, identity is another. We’ve known for a long time that the mind depends on the brain. Hit someone on the head, their mind is affected.

But this is a bad, bad inference:
(1) When we impair activity in brain region B, mental activity M is impaired or destroyed.
(2) Therefore, activity in brain region B just is one and the same as mental activity M.

Here’s a counterexample to this general form of reasoning: When we impair activity in a certain brain region, our ability to RUN (or eat, or breathe, or…) is impaired or destroyed. But it hardly follows that RUNNING is just an activity of the brain. Brains, by themselves, don’t run.

Again, dependence is one thing, identity is another. That’s a fallacious inference that Sam Harris is making. So far from winning, I think Sam Harris is losing, hard.

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Zeb December 1, 2011 at 9:58 am

There’s basically no such thing as scientific dualism anymore. No proposals for interactions between the soul and the brain, no proposals for what we’d find in brain scans, nothing.

Science just is a study of the physical. Of course there are no proposals for interactions between the soul and the brain, no proposals for what we’d find in brains scans. Anything we could find in a brain scan would by definition be physical. Anything that interacts physically with the brain would be physical. Anyone who offered what you are asking for would be a physicalist of the soul. And I’ll grant that science has pretty much eliminated the physical soul. The kind of ‘dualism’ that isn’t is a bastardization of Cartesian dualism.

You should check out Ed Feser’s recent set of responses to Alex Rosenberg’s book defending scientism. http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2011/10/reading-rosenberg-part-i.html Feser is a classical dualist (Aristotle via Aquinas rather than Descarte) who I think does a pretty good job of showing the failings of physicalism and highlighting the advantages of a kind of dualism. I’m not convinced either way, but Feser has opened my mind to a way of thinking that I thought was long dead and buried.

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Billy West December 1, 2011 at 10:24 am

I believe you will find the full discussion here: http://www.jewishtvnetwork.com/?bcpid=533363107&bctid=802338105001

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Patrick December 1, 2011 at 10:27 am

Anon, you’re failing pretty hard here.

Its true that there are forms of dualism that manage to engage in enough ad hoc hypothesis customization that they no longer conflict with presently existing observations of neuroscience and psychology.

These forms of dualism do not support an afterlife of the sort that Harris attacks in this clip. If someone asserts that the mind is separate from but dependent upon the brain, then Harris’ attack still works like a charm.

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Lucinda December 1, 2011 at 10:34 am

Anon, you’re failing pretty hard here.

Which is par for course for anon.

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anon December 1, 2011 at 11:23 am

Its true that there are forms of dualism that manage to engage in enough ad hoc hypothesis customization that they no longer conflict with presently existing observations of neuroscience and psychology. These forms of dualism do not support an afterlife of the sort that Harris attacks in this clip.

Really? Why think that? I’m a dualist, and I think full-blown substance dualism is consistent with the findings of neuroscience (and I don’t think there’s anything ad hoc about my dualism). And that kind of dualism “supports an afterlife.” So I can’t see why you think otherwise.

If someone asserts that the mind is separate from but dependent upon the brain, then Harris’ attack still works like a charm.

I think the mind is separate from but dependent on the brain, and I argued in my last comment that Harris’ attack (that is, Lucretius’ attack from 50 B.C.) does NOT work. You didn’t engage with my criticism of Harris, so perhaps you missed the point of my last comment. You seem here to just assert that Harris’ argument works, but you ignore my objection to his argument.

So let’s start from the top. Do you agree that this is Harris’ argument?

(1) When we impair activity in brain region B, mental activity M is impaired or destroyed.
(2) Therefore, activity in brain region B just is one and the same as mental activity M.

If you think that fairly captures Harris’ argument, let’s move to the next step in my objection.

Do you think that inference from (1) to (2) is valid? If not, you agree with me that Harris’ argument fails. If on the other hand you think the inference IS valid, what was wrong with my counterexamples to the inference? I think the premise can be true while the conclusion is false, so the conclusion doesn’t follow from the premise. That is, I grant that the mind depends on the brain, but I deny that this entails that the mind just is the brain. I think they’re separate. I’m a dualist.

So perhaps you could tell me where I’ve gone wrong. Did I mischaracterize Harris’ argument? Or do my counterexamples not work?

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anon December 1, 2011 at 11:25 am

Which is par for course for anon.

You seem to take yourself to be familiar with me, but I can’t see how that’s possible. Perhaps you’re confusing me with another “anon.”

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Patrick December 1, 2011 at 11:58 am

anon-

You summarized Harris’ argument as this:

(1) When we impair activity in brain region B, mental activity M is impaired or destroyed.
(2) Therefore, activity in brain region B just is one and the same as mental activity M.

But in actuality, it should be this

(1) When we impair activity in brain region B, mental activity M is impaired or destroyed.
(2) Therefore, when we impair activities in ALL brain regions (by killing the brain), we should expect massive or total impairment or destruction of mental activity.
(3) Popular beliefs in afterlives don’t include ANY impairment or destruction of brain activity.
(4) Therefore popular beliefs in afterlives are not compatible with what we know about neuroscience.

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Supernova December 1, 2011 at 12:09 pm

I’m so impressed. In response to “brain damage = soul damage”, I’ve heard that the body “is merely in communication with the soul, as though through radio transmission.” Sam Harris attacked that rebuttal before even ending his argument, saying that “ectoplasm” or whatever connection the soul has outside the body should still be traceable and detectable. It’s still within the realm of science to test for a soul, if the results could even make an impact. I just don’t feel that theists would even care if we disproved the soul.

Not that it’s a good reason not to disprove it, anyway :)

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Rorschach December 1, 2011 at 1:14 pm

If the mind is immaterial and SPACELESS, how can it be spatiallly located? It is NOT in my brain? And how can it have a spacially limited causal power on dualism?

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Patrick December 1, 2011 at 2:21 pm

In (3), I screwed up. The second to last word should read “mental.” I think most people will probably figure that out from context, but I’m insecure enough to post a correction.

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Paul December 1, 2011 at 3:20 pm

Patrick’s reformulation of Harris’ argument hits the neuron on the head.

In order to rebut this argument, you’d have to posit – no, make that completely pull out of thin air – a soul that is separate from mental activity (personality, memory, cognition, etc.) that still maintains or contains perfect mental activity even though we can’t examine this soul to check that.

Follow-up: does this soul change over time, especially does it have a “personality” that changes as we gain experiences, or was my soul as a 6-month-old infant exactly the same as my soul today?

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Michael R. December 1, 2011 at 4:14 pm

Patrick for the win!

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anon December 1, 2011 at 7:28 pm

(1) When we impair activity in brain region B, mental activity M is impaired or destroyed.
(2) Therefore, when we impair activities in ALL brain regions (by killing the brain), we should expect massive or total impairment or destruction of mental activity.
(3) Popular beliefs in afterlives don’t include ANY impairment or destruction of brain activity.
(4) Therefore popular beliefs in afterlives are not compatible with what we know about neuroscience.

Well, I think you have a dilemma. There are two readings of “we should expect” in your premise (2). One reading is plausible, but it won’t get you the conclusion you want, namely (4). The other reading will get you the conclusion you want—namely (4)—but it is not plausible.

———————————
Here’s the first reading, and the first horn of the dilemma:

(2*) When we impair activities in all brain regions, IT IS HIGHLY PROBABLE CONDITIONAL ON (1) that there will be massive impairment of mental activity.

That’s one reading of “we should expect,” and I think (2*) is actually true. Premise (1) should lead us to expect that brain destruction will cause mind destruction. That’s highly probable, on that bit of evidence. (But of course that bit of evidence is not ALL our evidence. I think that dualism is more probable than not on ALL our evidence.)

But the important point is that (2*), while plausible, won’t get you to (4). And that’s because (4) claims there is a logical incompatibility between (2*) and (3), which there is NOT. (2*) tells us only that it is LIKELY that brain death=mind death, conditional on (1). But (2*) doesn’t tell us that it’s TRUE that brain death=mind death, let alone that it’s NECESSARILY true. But that’s what you’d need to get a genuine incompatibility between (2*) and (3).

So, on this horn of the dilemma, (2*) is plausible but the main inference of your argument is invalid. That’s bad news for your argument.

———————————
Now consider the second horn of the dilemma, i.e. the alternative reading of “we should expect” in your original premise (2). You might have meant:

(2**) When we impair activities in all brain regions, IT IS (BROADLY) LOGICALLY NECESSARY THAT there will be massive impairment of mental activity.

Now, (2**) when combined with (3) has the benefit of yielding your desired conclusion (4). That’s a virtue of (2**). But it comes at a terrible cost, since (2**) is false, and also it doesn’t follow from (1). Or, at the very least, it is question begging to the extreme to claim that (2**) follows from (1). Let me explain.

What (1) tells us is that, as a matter of fact, there is a law-like connection between the mind and the brain. When the brain goes, the mind goes. (2**) concludes that therefore there is a *broadly logically necessary* connection between the mind and the brain. When the brain goes, the mind MUST go. But that just does not follow from (1).

Here’s a counterexample to help you see why, i.e. a case in which there is a law-like connection between two things and yet no logically necessary connection. Suppose you have object A of 9 grams of mass and another object B of 6 grams that are 50 centimeters meters apart. Given the actual value of the gravitational constant, A and B will attract each other with a force of 1.4407 x 10-9 dynes. There’s a law-like correlation between those parameters.

Yet it is not LOGICALLY NECESSARY that A and B should attract each other with that force. For it is not logically necessary that the gravitational constant should have the value that it in fact does have. There are other possible worlds in which it is slightly weaker or slightly stronger, and so A and B attract each other with a slightly weaker or stronger force. Therefore, we can see that law-like correlation does not entail logically necessary correlation.

And so now we can see that (1) does not entail (2**). For (1) just tells us that, as a matter of fact, when the brain goes the mind goes. It hardly follows that this correlation is *logically necessary*.

But it gets worse for (2**). Not only does it fail to follow from (1), but it is also false. For what could be more obvious than the fact that it is *broadly logically possible* for there to be minds without functioning brains (or vice versa)? Think about reincarnation, life after death, body swapping like in Freaky Friday, disembodiment, philosophical zombies, etc. – are you willing to say that ALL of these scenarios are *broadly logically* impossible? The vast majority of humanity disagrees with you. Most people think at least one of these scenarios is *actual*, let alone merely *possible*. Therefore, (2**) is false.
———————–

That concludes your dilemma. Either you go with (2*) which is plausible but won’t yield (4), or you go with (2**) which will yield (4) but is implausible and doesn’t follow from (1).

Again, Sam Harris loses hard. And now you’ve joined the losing team. ;-)

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Patrick December 1, 2011 at 8:48 pm

Ah, anon. Watch this:

(1) When we impair activity in brain region B, mental activity M is impaired or destroyed.
(2) Death impairs brain activity B.
(3) Popular beliefs in afterlives don’t include ANY impairment or destruction of mental activity.
(4) Therefore popular beliefs in afterlives are not compatible with what we know about neuroscience.

The argument works without (2).

Such a lot of wasted effort on your part.

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Patrick December 1, 2011 at 8:52 pm

Without the ORIGINAL (2). Obviously I put in a new (2) to make the argument more rigorous, even though I think everyone was filling in the new (2) without the need for me to make it explicit. And then I say the argument works without (2) even though it has a (2). Gah. What’s the point of making the numbered portion more rigorous if I immediately screw up the unnumbered portion?

And in any case, my new (2) should more properly read

(2) Death impairs activity in brain region B.

I don’t think anyone really needed this clarification. But it annoys me that I didn’t say it right the first time, so here you go.

(1) When we impair activity in brain region B, mental activity M is impaired or destroyed.
(2) Death impairs activity in brain region B.
(3) Popular beliefs in afterlives don’t include ANY impairment or destruction of mental activity.
(4) Therefore popular beliefs in afterlives are not compatible with what we know about neuroscience.

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Jonathan Livengood December 1, 2011 at 11:57 pm

I’m not sure why Luke, Patrick, and others find Harris’s argument here convincing. Maybe it’s convincing in a broader context that you are all assuming? As it stands, it looks weak to me. (I think there is a strong argument in the neighborhood, but it is not the one that Harris gives.)

Anon’s first criticism of what Harris actually says seems right to me. It does not follow from the fact that Y counterfactually depends on X that X is identical to Y, even in a very weak sense of identity. (As a side note, I hope that Harris is just being sloppy when he says that the mind is the brain, since physicalism does not entail the identity theory of mind.) If it did, then almost every causal relation would be an identity relation. As another counter-example to Harris’s reasoning, consider a simple bicycle: I push the pedals, the pedals turn a chain, and the chain turns the wheel. So here I am pedaling, the wheel turning happily along, and the chain breaks. Soon, the wheel stops turning happily along. At this point, Harris comes along and says, “See, there aren’t any pedals!”

If you are already committed to physicalism, then maybe Harris’s argument works, but if you have a prior commitment to dualism — say because you find the various qualia thought experiments convincing — then the argument is not only unconvincing, it is irrelevant.

More to the point, since the topic seems to have been “the afterlife,” not “dualism,” it should be noted that some Christians endorse physicalism and nonetheless think there is an afterlife. (For an example of the debate in progress, see the last pair of essays in this volume.)

So, help me out here, guys. What am I missing?

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freddy December 2, 2011 at 1:41 am

God is fairly capable. So, re-assembling the body, and perhaps “perfecting” it in the process, would be as easy-breezy as all the rest.

But if I had some partial brain damage – or maybe just ordinary dementia – that effected my subjective nature in this life, which subjective “me” goes on to the afterlife? Is my full “soul” waiting in the wings, waiting to be restored to “perfection” once my brain is dead? Would any other subjective nature other than the one I have when I die still be “me” in the afterlife?

Suppose I developed Parkinson’s or some other degenerative brain disease and lived with it for decades. This experience – although mostly horrible, was fruitful to my subjective nature in ways that would have not occurred had I been spared the disease. Which “me” gets to go on to the afterlife? A perfected “me” absent the effects the disease had on my “mind” (and also the “fruits”), or what?

Or maybe God’s plan is for me to die when my subjective nature is “just right” for how he wants it to be for me in the afterlife. Or maybe God knows which version of my subjective nature (that I’ve had over the course of my life) that I’d like best to have in heaven.

Whether the “mind” has an identity, supervening, or some other sort of relationship to the brain, there is no question that some changes to the brain will change the mind/soul/subjective experience in at least partially unwelcome ways. But however those changes effect me, it is still the only “me” I know. Good thing God has all this power, so I can lose all the “mind warts” and yet still be me in heaven.

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Zeb December 2, 2011 at 6:12 am

Long before I ever encountered evangelical atheists something like Harris’s argument occurred to me, and so I realized I had to modify my understanding of what the soul is, does, or contains. Based on my own independent consideration I came to the conclusion that only consciousness, will, and identity are essential to the soul. All other “mental” functions seem to be pretty obviously brain functions. And so I have believed that only my consciousness, will, and identity persist though my life as by body changes and continue ‘naked’ into any afterlife, at least unless and until there is a bodily resurrection. I find that evangelical atheists are often just good theologians who are arguing for classical theism without realizing it.

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Moose Power December 2, 2011 at 6:13 am

God is fairly capable.

Fairly capable? So, like, he can only do some stuff well? God can jog just fine but he trips up everytime he uses a jump rope? Or maybe he is only ‘fairly capable’ when it comes to romance? Even god gets shut down by some chicks?

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drj December 2, 2011 at 6:53 am

The causal/identity relation point is really irrelevant here.

The take away from Sam’s point is that:

a) Dualism could, in theory, be strongly supported by evidence from scientific fields.
b) Its not – nearly everything we’ve discovered about the brain, is exactly what one would expect if dualism were false.
c) So why the heck does anyone believe in it?

I don’t see how anyone can deny (a). If dualism were true, for example, there might be conscious experiences, which do not correspond with brain activity. The sense that we’ve made choices and decisions could precede brain activity. Otherwise unexplainable out of body experiences might be common. If minds had some causal power of the physical, we might see types of telekinesis. That’s just to name a few possibilities.

Though even if nearly everything empiricism has discovered about the brain is pretty much the opposite of what we would expect on dualism, some might still believe in dualism either as a way to explain other metaphysical beliefs they hold, or because they feel it is a necessary or probable conclusion of them. But generally these metaphysical beliefs, in my experience, are on foundations as questionable as dualism itself. And what’s worse, its just taken for granted that dualism actually coherently explains or supports or follows from those beliefs.

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Ronnie December 2, 2011 at 8:12 am

Jonathan Livengood,
“It does not follow from the fact that Y counterfactually depends on X that X is identical
to Y, even in a very weak sense of identity. If it did, then almost every causal relation would be an identity relation.”
It seems ok to assert that X is identical to Y if all the evidence we have suggests that the distinction between X and Y is unhelpful and artificial, which is true in the case of the brain and the mind.
“As another counter-example to
Harris’s reasoning, consider a simple bicycle: I push the pedals, the pedals turn a chain, and the chain turns the wheel. So here I am pedaling, the wheel
turning happily along, and the chain breaks. Soon, the wheel stops turning happily along. At this point, Harris comes along and says, “See, there aren’t
any pedals!””
The example of a bike does not capture the idea very well. A better example is a car. To illustrate this imagine a human inside a car and some other being who wants to make it impossible for the human to drive it.
If the other being destroys a part of the car on the driver’s side, it will make the human’s task harder. When the steering wheel is destroyed, the human loses the ability to steer. When the break is destroyed, the human’s ability to stop the car is impaired. This is how the brain works. As more and more of the brain is destroyed, the concept of mind has less and less meaning. Likewise, as more and more parts of a car is destroyed, the idea of driving it loses it’s meaning. Destroy a brain completely, and the idea that the poor being who lost its brain hasn’t also lost its mind is inconceivable. Likewise, completely destroy a car, and the idea of driving that car ever again seems beyond crazy.
I submit that being able to steer, break, accelerate, and switch gears is important for driving a car. If a car has none of the parts that allow for such functionality, no human can drive it. Similarly, the ability to remember, see faces, recognize shapes, etc is important to what we call having a “mind”. If a being doesn’t have the parts of the brain that we know allow for those abilities , or the parts are simply not working, then it is impossible for the person to have a “mind” the way we think of it.

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Paul December 2, 2011 at 8:13 am

Here’s a question for the dualists:

What part of the non-material mind, or soul if you prefer that concept, is not affected by physical changes to the brain?

I suspect that nothing can be identified (and would be happy to be proven wrong). It calls into question on what basis a soul is legitimately hypothesized, and certainly calls into question whether there is any actual evidence for it.

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anon December 2, 2011 at 8:33 am

(1) When we impair activity in brain region B, mental activity M is impaired or destroyed.
(2) Death impairs activity in brain region B.
(3) Popular beliefs in afterlives don’t include ANY impairment or destruction of mental activity.
(4) Therefore popular beliefs in afterlives are not compatible with what we know about neuroscience.

Well, fortunately for me, it seems that I didn’t waste any effort, since everything I said about your last argument applies to this revision as well. You’ve made the inference I attacked implicit, but it didn’t go away. The original premise (2) explicitly drew an inference from (1). Now, you leave that implicit. But the dilemma remains:

HORN 1: Premise (1) describes a law-like connection between mind and brain. That’s true. But from this together with (2), no broadly logical incompatibility follows. That is, (4) doesn’t follow from the premises.

HORN 2: Premise (1) describes a broadly logically necessary connection between mind and brain. That’s false, and it doesn’t follow from the scientific data we have, which is merely of a law-like connection between mind and brain.

So, again, you get to pick your poison. You’ve changed the location of the problem in your argument, but you have not eliminated it. That is, you expended effort to salvage your argument but to no effect. Some might consider that “a lot of wasted effort.” ;-)

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anon December 2, 2011 at 8:40 am

The example of a bike does not capture the idea very well. A better example is a car. To illustrate this imagine a human inside a car and some other being who wants to make it impossible for the human to drive it.

If the other being destroys a part of the car on the driver’s side, it will make the human’s task harder. When the steering wheel is destroyed, the human loses the ability to steer. When the break is destroyed, the human’s ability to stop the car is impaired. This is how the brain works. As more and more of the brain is destroyed, the concept of mind has less and less meaning. Likewise, as more and more parts of a car is destroyed, the idea of driving it loses it’s meaning. Destroy a brain completely, and the idea that the poor being who lost its brain hasn’t also lost its mind is inconceivable.

I’m surprised you chose this example, since it is so often employed by dualists. The relationship between the mind and the brain IS like that between a driver and a car. When the brain is impaired, the mind is impaired. Similarly, when the car is damaged, the ability of the driver to move around with the car is impaired.

But, of course, we recognize that the driver is distinct from the car. Similarly, the mind might be distinct from the brain.

And, of course, we think that even if the car were completely damaged beyond repair, the driver might still be able to get out and walk around. Similarly, even if the brain is damaged beyond repair, we might be able to “get out and walk around,” i.e. maintain a disembodied mental life. Perhaps it would be substantially different from the mental life we enjoyed with a brain (just as walking is different from driving), but it would be a mental life nonetheless.

And that’s why Harris’ argument doesn’t work. Sure, brain damage results in mind damage. But it doesn’t follow that total brain damage results in total mind damage. For consider that car damage impairs my ability to move. (Without a ruptured fuel line, I can’t move so well, for example.) But it hardly follows that total car damage results in a total inability to move. For I could just get out of my car.

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Patrick December 2, 2011 at 8:47 am

anon, you don’t even know what you’re writing, do you.

What you’re actually attacking is premise 1 itself. Not an inference from premise 1 to premise 2. Just premise 1.

I considered trying to tease out that issue, but figured that maybe you’d work it out yourself with the revision. Instead you’ve just failed harder.

I mean, seriously, only an idiot would actually attack the inference from premise 1 to premise 2. The connection between them is logically necessary. If A is in set B, and something happens to all elements of set B, then it happens to A. If brain region B is in the brain (duh), and death impairs all brain regions (duh), then it impairs brain region B (duh).

In the meantime, the REAL difference, as I understand it, is probably best summarized above by drj. Harris isn’t attacking the logical compatibility of what we know about neuroscience and a belief in an afterlife. He’s attacking whether believing in an afterlife is rationally justifiable given what we know about neuroscience. There’s a difference. You want to make his argument about logical impossibility because that’s an incredibly high hurdle, and one that theism* can always meet. But meeting that hurdle also doesn’t do much for the theistic project, because something can be logically possible and still be stupid.

*Theism can always meet the hurdle of logical possibility because theism isn’t connected to anything real, so its free to customize its hypotheses to the data no matter where the data leads.

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anon December 2, 2011 at 8:47 am

Here’s a question for the dualists: What part of the non-material mind, or soul if you prefer that concept, is not affected by physical changes to the brain? I suspect that nothing can be identified (and would be happy to be proven wrong).It calls into question on what basis a soul is legitimately hypothesized, and certainly calls into question whether there is any actual evidence for it.

You sound like an old-school verificationist: If we can’t in principle empirically verify dualism, then it’s a vacuous hypothesis, trashy metaphysics, let’s get rid of it, etc.

But of course the same goes for LOTS of things you believe in. You believe that the universe is very old, and you disagree with those who think the universe is very young but created with the appearance of age. Yet there is no empirical observation that would confirm your theory over your rival’s theory. Light from distant stars? Created mid-flight on their hypothesis. So given that these two theories are empirically equivalent, why do you prefer yours to theirs? Surely you have some legitimate reason. But this reason CANNOT be empirical or scientific: all those data are consistent with both hypotheses.

Similarly, even if dualism and materialism are empirically equivalent, it hardly follows that there can’t be any legitimate reason to prefer dualism to materialism. I think there are excellent philosophical arguments for dualism, for example.

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Paul December 2, 2011 at 8:49 am

Good, you just agreed that there’s nothing about the mind that isn’t affected by the brain.

Occam’s razor takes care of the light from stars very easily.

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anon December 2, 2011 at 9:17 am

anon, you don’t even know what you’re writing, do you.

Wow, SOMEbody’s getting huffy! ;-) Maybe take a break for a while?

What you’re actually attacking is premise 1 itself.Not an inference from premise 1 to premise 2.Just premise 1.

In my last comment, I certainly intended to attack premise 1, since you no longer explicitly draw any inference from premise 1. You’ll notice that if you go look at it again.

I mean, seriously, only an idiot would actually attack the inference from premise 1 to premise 2.

There clearly was no inference from 1 to 2 in your revised argument, which is why I didn’t try to attack any such inference. I suppose you’re right that only an idiot would attack an inference that clearly doesn’t exist. But surely that’s because only an idiot would say anything about an inference that doesn’t exist. And yet here YOU are, saying stuff about an inference that doesn’t exist… Hmmm…

The connection between them is logically necessary.If A is in set B, and something happens to all elements of set B, then it happens to A.

You seem to be confusing two inference patterns that even the medievals had sorted out. You’re right that NECESSARILY: if all As are Bs, and all Bs are Cs, then all As are Cs. That *consequence* is necessary; the necessity takes “wide scope.” But you need more than that for your argument. You need that: if all As are Bs, and all Bs are Cs, then NECESSARILY all As are Cs. There, the necessity takes “narrow scope,” applying only to the last bit. But that necessity of the *consequent* hardly follows.

I grant the law-like connection between the mind and the brain. If there’s brain damage, there’s mind damage. And I grant that death involves brain damage. But it hardly follows from this that death MUST involve mind damage. But of course that’s what you and Harris need. All that follows is that death will involve mind damage. BUT possibly it won’t.

Here’s an example. This conditional is true: All humans are under 10 feet tall. Suppose I find out that you’re a human. Well, then it follows that you ARE under 10 feet tall. But this is not a necessary characteristic of you, for technology might intervene, stretch you out, and make you over 10 feet tall. It’s a far out possibility, but it’s possible. Absent that intervention, the conclusion (that you ARE under 10 feet tall) follows. But you NEED NOT be under 10 feet tall, given these premises.

Similarly, brain damage leads to mind damage. If I learn that death involves brain damage, I ought to conclude that it WILL lead to mind damage. But this is not a NECESSARY feature of death, for God might intervene, and sustain our minds in existence. Perhaps it’s a far out possibility (from your perspective), but it’s a possibility nonetheless. But on this possibility, everything we know from science is true and yet so is dualism/afterlife. And so there’s no incompatibility between dualism/afterlife and what we know from science. Q.E.MotherfuckingD. ;-)

Harris isn’t attacking the logical compatibility of what we know about neuroscience and a belief in an afterlife. He’s attacking whether believing in an afterlife is rationally justifiable given what we know about neuroscience.

Maybe that’s right, but that’s not how your argument concluded. Your conclusion was, if you recall:

(4) Therefore popular beliefs in afterlives are not compatible with what we know about neuroscience.

You want to make his argument about logical impossibility because that’s an incredibly high hurdle, and one that theism* can always meet.

Well, from my experience, this is as close as I will ever get to a concession of victory from a debate opponent on the internet. So I’ll thank you for admitting that your original conclusion doesn’t follow from your argument, i.e. that there is no incompatibility between dualism/afterlife and what we know from science.

If you’d like to make ANOTHER argument, one that concludes that dualism/afterlife is *stupid* or perhaps *irrational* given what we know from science, I’d be delighted to read that NEW argument.

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anon December 2, 2011 at 9:23 am

Occam’s razor takes care of the light from stars very easily.

Oh, really? How does that go, exactly? The hypothesis that the universe is very young actually posits FAR fewer entities that your hypothesis that the universe is very old. Think about the billions and billions of years that you’re positing, and all the entities and events that are contained therein.

If either of the two hypotheses is simpler, surely it is the young-universe hypothesis. So no, Occam’s Razor won’t help you here.

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PDH December 2, 2011 at 9:45 am

anon wrote,

Oh, really? How does that go, exactly? The hypothesis that the universe is very young actually posits FAR fewer entities that your hypothesis that the universe is very old. Think about the billions and billions of years that you’re positing, and all the entities and events that are contained therein.

If either of the two hypotheses is simpler, surely it is the young-universe hypothesis. So no, Occam’s Razor won’t help you here.

Sophisticated accounts of parsimony (as opposed to the 14th Century account that you are using) absolutely will help him here.

A world description in which large numbers of stars are logically implied by simple laws is only as complex as the simple laws. You don’t have to specify the exact locations of every individual star in existence! The world description would basically consist of the Standard Model plus gravity (that is including the extra physics required to unify the two).

Meanwhile, a world description that specifies a small universe of a specific size and age in addition to its physical laws would be much more complex.

As for a universe that has all that stuff AND an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving disembodied intelligence AND an afterlife AND non-physical minds (that is minds that cannot be reduced to the physical laws and hence have to be added to the description)…that would be a pretty damn complex hypothesis.

William of Ockham who lived hundreds of years before probability theory, algorithmic probability theory, information theory, computer science, MML and MDL, Solomonoff Induction etc. crudely expressed the principle in terms of counting entities. It was a good try for the time but he lacked the necessary knowledge (which includes all the fields just mentioned and more besides) to give a sophisticated account of the principle.

There is much more to be said of parsimony than Ockham was aware.

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Paul December 2, 2011 at 9:59 am

Also,

1. Occam means to not multiply entities when not necessary. It’s not necessary to posit a new factor, creating starts with light already shining mid-stream, looking exactly like an older universe. Just dealing with light as we already know it leads to fewer posited entities.

It’s not the simpler explanation, it’s the one with fewer new, posited, ad hoc-ish entities.

2. Anything given empirically is not a posited entity, it’s given by empirical observation.

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anon December 2, 2011 at 10:17 am

Sophisticated accounts of parsimony (as opposed to the 14th Century account that you are using) absolutely will help him here.

What do you take “Occam’s Razor” to refer to? I take it to refer to “the 14th century account” of simplicity as a theoretical virtue. And I wasn’t the one using Occam’s Razor, if you recall. It was our friend Paul who trotted this old horse out of the stable.

A world description in which large numbers of stars are logically implied by simple laws is only as complex as the simple laws.

I’m just curious: what do you think makes a law simple?

The world description would basically consist of the Standard Model plus gravity (that is including the extra physics required to unify the two).

Meanwhile, a world description that specifies a small universe of a specific size and age in addition to its physical laws would be much more complex.

Why do you think this is so? Again, just curious. This is a bit of a tangent from the rest of the thread, but I’m interested. Someone believes the universe is 14 billion years old or so. Someone else believes it’s about 10,000 years old. Why does the second guy “specify” a universe of a specific age while the first guy does not?

As for a universe that has all that stuff AND an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving disembodied intelligence AND an afterlife AND non-physical minds (that is minds that cannot be reduced to the physical laws and hence have to be added to the description)…that would be a pretty damn complex hypothesis.

I don’t see why you think this, since I’m still not sure what you take parsimony to be. Maybe you could be more explicit…

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PDH December 2, 2011 at 10:22 am

anon wrote,

Well, from my experience, this is as close as I will ever get to a concession of victory from a debate opponent on the internet. So I’ll thank you for admitting that your original conclusion doesn’t follow from your argument, i.e. that there is no incompatibility between dualism/afterlife and what we know from science.

Ignoring the specifics of the argument, do you honestly believe that showing that the conclusion doesn’t necessarily follow from the argument is a victory of any kind?

If evidence is provided to show that something is deeply implausible, it is not an achievement at all to show that the conclusion doesn’t necessarily follow. It is merely to show that the argument is inductive in nature. But it is not the purpose of an inductive argument to prove its conclusion beyond all possibility of doubt!

Worse, the argument can be rephrased into abductive terms with minimal effort. After all, your conclusion doesn’t follow necessarily from any facts known to me, so weighing one explanation against the other is the appropriate course of action. All else being equal, it seems to me that we are more likely to observe a huge degree of dependence between mind and brain (and I find these terms somewhat question-begging against our position but never mind) on physicalism than on dualism. It may be possible to construe dualism in such a way that it isn’t flatly contradicted but does it really imply the kind of specific testable predictions that physicalism plainly does? And if it does, is the implication as strong in both cases? Is it just as likely that we will observe said dependence on your hypothesis as it is on ours? Are you really suggesting that, a priori, dualism would lead a neurosurgeon to precisely the correct area of the brain upon which to make life-saving and highly specific alterations? What about the existence of souls alone – separate from any neuroscience – implies that damage to the hippo-campus, say, will lead to a live production the movie ‘Memento?’ It is not at all what we would expect. If it is possible that some parts of the mind can exist without the brain, why not others? And why those parts in particular? And why is it that those parts just happen to be the parts that science hasn’t yet fully grasped? And why is it that all of the parts that science has fully grasped – and not any other parts – just happen to be the parts that the brain controls?

To give an example of the predictive vacuousness of dualism, on epiphenomenalism consciousness plays no causal role in the physical world, hence our current debate on consciousness (which takes place in the physical world over physical devices such as computers) is somewhat baffling. What an odd coincidence it is, then, that our physical bodies just happen to be going through the motions of a conversation about consciousness. After all, our consciousness can’t be causing us to have this conversation on that view without thereby playing a causal role.

I realise that that view is not yours, as you advocate substance dualism, but as with all supernaturalism, once you start to present the theory in such a way that it does lead to testable predictions, you then expose it to falsification. The fact that epiphenomenalism even exists in the first place is some small evidence that substance dualism is inadequate. It, like deism, constitutes a retreat into the unfalsifiable, a manoeuvre typically prompted by the fear of falsification. It’s only when something is obviously false that people start to say that it’s ‘beyond science’ and the like.

But I don’t mean, at least in this post, to provide any argument against substance dualism beyond what is implied by the approach, only to question the relevance of logical possibility in this context. It is a long road from ‘possible’ to ‘plausible’ and a still longer road from ‘plausible’ to ‘most plausible.’

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anon December 2, 2011 at 10:24 am

1.Occam means to not multiply entities when not necessary.It’s not necessary to posit a new factor, creating starts with light already shining mid-stream, looking exactly like an older universe.

Not necessary *for what*? To explain the data? Sure, in order to explain the data, it is not necessary to posit a young universe with a God creating appearances of age. Everyone agrees on that! But neither is it necessary to posit an old universe to explain the data. BOTH hypotheses explain the data. So neither one is necessary to explain the data. So I’m not sure what you’re up to here.

It’s not the simpler explanation, it’s the one with fewer new, posited, ad hoc-ish entities.

Hm, now I’m confused. You appealed to Occam’s Razor to help explain why you’ve legitimately inferred that the universe is very old. But now you say your inference has nothing to do with simplicity. So what are you appealing to, exactly?

2.Anything given empirically is not a posited entity, it’s given by empirical observation.

But again, you’re not GIVEN an old universe by empirical observation. All of your empirical observations are consistent with a young universe that appears old. You INFER an old universe by appealing to some theoretical virtues that favor your theory over the weirdo young universe theory. I’m trying to see what those virtues are meant to be. First you cited simplicity, but now you say it’s not simplicity.

Anyway, this is all beside the point. My original point was just that one might favor dualism over materialism even if they are empirically equivalent, i.e. even if the empirical evidence doesn’t favor dualism over materialism. There are legitimate reasons to prefer a theory other than empirical considerations. You agree with me on that, though you’re having a hard time saying just what those legitimate reasons are when it comes to the old vs. young universe problem.

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PDH December 2, 2011 at 10:37 am

anon wrote,

What do you take “Occam’s Razor” to refer to? I take it to refer to “the 14th century account” of simplicity as a theoretical virtue. And I wasn’t the one using Occam’s Razor, if you recall. It was our friend Paul who trotted this old horse out of the stable.

I’m just curious: what do you think makes a law simple?

Why do you think this is so? Again, just curious. This is a bit of a tangent from the rest of the thread, but I’m interested. Someone believes the universe is 14 billion years old or so. Someone else believes it’s about 10,000 years old. Why does the second guy “specify” a universe of a specific age while the first guy does not?

I don’t see why you think this, since I’m still not sure what you take parsimony to be. Maybe you could be more explicit…

Try this paper, here. It’s pretty long but it gives a good account of what I’m talking about, which you can follow without being an expert (I can follow it, for instance!)

http://www.mdpi.com/1099-4300/13/6/1076/

But basically, if you have two numbers, one of which is the number 9 written a thousand times and the other is a sequence of a thousand random numbers, the first is simpler because you can say ‘a thousand nines’ (for example) but there isn’t a simpler way of representing the second number, you just have to write it out. The more specific something is, the more information you will need to represent it.

To use your example about the age of the universe, it is simpler to say, ‘God created the universe’ than ‘God created the universe 6,000 years ago,’ even if the evidence supported each hypothesis equivalently. Likewise, the hypothesis that all of this was created four seconds ago with our memories intact is highly complex relative to the scientific world description which also implies the same observations and hence it is more likely to be true.

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anon December 2, 2011 at 10:39 am

Ignoring the specifics of the argument, do you honestly believe that showing that the conclusion doesn’t necessarily follow from the argument is a victory of any kind?

Well, first, I showed that Patrick’s conclusion doesn’t FOLLOW, period. And yes, that’s a significant achievement. I guess I can’t speak for you, but the rest of us prefer to construct arguments with conclusions that follow from the premises.

Second, even showing that a conclusion doesn’t necessarily follow from the premises is a significant accomplishment, since entailment is a relation that holds necessarily if it holds at all. So if it doesn’t hold necessarily, it doesn’t hold. So if a conclusion doesn’t necessarily follow, it doesn’t follow. So showing that someone’s conclusion doesn’t necessarily follow is just as good as showing that it doesn’t follow.

If evidence is provided to show that something is deeply implausible, it is not an achievement at all to show that the conclusion doesn’t necessarily follow.

If the conclusion of the imagined argument is that X is deeply implausible, then it is actually a great achievement to show that the conclusion doesn’t follow from the premises. For that would be to show that the premises don’t prove that X is deeply implausible.

Suppose someone argued like so:

(1) If PDH believes something, it is plausible.
(2) PDH does NOT believe theism.
(3) Therefore, theism is implausible.

And suppose I replied: Hey dumbass, you just denied the antecedent. The conclusion doesn’t follow from those premises!

Would you really jump in here and say: Psshhh, the conclusion is that theism is implausible. Who cares if it doesn’t follow from the premises?

That would be an awfully weird way to argue. But you seem to be doing just that in your defense of Patrick.

But it is not the purpose of an inductive argument to prove its conclusion beyond all possibility of doubt!

Patrick did not offer an inductive argument. If he’d like to, he’s welcome to it. But that would be a NEW argument, and it would be to concede defeat with his original argument.

Worse, the argument can be rephrased into abductive terms with minimal effort. After all, your conclusion doesn’t follow necessarily from any facts known to me, so weighing one explanation against the other is the appropriate course of action.

I agree. But again, this would be a NEW argument. And you are welcome to make it.

All else being equal, it seems to me that we are more likely to observe a huge degree of dependence between mind and brain (and I find these terms somewhat question-begging against our position but never mind) on physicalism than on dualism.

Sure, I grant that there are pieces of evidence that confirm physicalism over dualism. But of course what we’re interested in is which hypothesis is more likely on ALL our evidence, not merely one piece of evidence.

But I don’t mean, at least in this post, to provide any argument against substance dualism beyond what is implied by the approach, only to question the relevance of logical possibility in this context. It is a long road from ‘possible’ to ‘plausible’ and a still longer road from ‘plausible’ to ‘most plausible.’

OK, but recall that the argument on the table did not conclude that dualism is implausible. It concluded that dualism is INCOMPATIBLE with what we know from science. I’ve shown that to be false. I take it we can agree on that.

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anom December 2, 2011 at 10:40 am

If either of the two hypotheses is simpler, surely it is the young-universe hypothesis.

“Simpler” in this case must be synonymous with “retarded.”

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anon December 2, 2011 at 10:43 am

To use your example about the age of the universe, it is simpler to say, ‘God created the universe’ than ‘God created the universe 6,000 years ago,’ even if the evidence supported each hypothesis equivalently.

OK, but the two hypotheses were:
God created the universe 10K years ago with the appearance of age.
The universe began to exist 15 billion years ago.

I don’t get why you think the first is more complex than the second. They both specify an age of the universe, so that can’t be the difference.

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Jesus Farted December 2, 2011 at 11:18 am

I don’t get why you think the first is more complex than the second.

Invoking God is rarely the simpler option.

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Paul December 2, 2011 at 11:36 am

Invoking God is exactly the “multiplying entities” that Occam warns against.

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Paul December 2, 2011 at 11:37 am

From Wiki:

The words attributed to Occam are “entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity”

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Mark December 2, 2011 at 11:50 am

Anon, you’ve been taught how to write and argue like an analytic philosopher, but you clearly haven’t been taught the equally important skill of how to read charitably. The argument Patrick provided was specified highly informally. His use of the word “compatible” could easily be taken to represent some sort of probabilistic or inductive compatibility, as it often does in ordinary contexts (“Our understanding of biology and physics is incompatible with psychic powers”). You’ve spilled a lot of proverbial ink on disambiguations of Patrick’s argument, but it seems like you’re only interested in disambiguations that allow you to look good/maintain your snotty affect.

Also, your understanding of simplicity qua theoretical virtue is highly rudimentary. See David Lewis’ distinction between quantitative and qualitative parsimony, for instance.

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Jesus Farted December 2, 2011 at 12:07 pm

Anon, you’ve been taught how to write and argue like an analytic philosopher, but you clearly haven’t been taught the equally important skill of how to read charitably.

This

Also, your understanding of simplicity qua theoretical virtue is highly rudimentary. See David Lewis’ distinction between quantitative and qualitative parsimony, for instance.

And this.

To argue effectively is to argue charitably – both in understanding an argument and presenting one.

Anon, get thee back to school!

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PDH December 2, 2011 at 12:13 pm

anon wrote,

OK, but the two hypotheses were:
God created the universe 10K years ago with the appearance of age.
The universe began to exist 15 billion years ago.

I don’t get why you think the first is more complex than the second. They both specify an age of the universe, so that can’t be the difference.

Well, just for starters one of those hypotheses contains an all-powerful disembodied intelligence and the other does not. Never mind all the other highly specific circumstances that have to entail for it to be correct.

Physicalism is the idea that, basically, everything reduces to the laws of physics, and is therefore just as complex as the laws of physics. Our observations are all consistent with physicalism, just as they may be consistent with dualism. But if physicalism is true then it’s very odd that highly specific circumstances such as our existence would occur. Hence, we have to show how these complex circumstances reduce to the laws of physics. This is the purpose of the theory of evolution, for example, which shows how the incredible complexity of life could have arisen in a purely physical universe. However, this requires a very old universe so evidence that implied a universe that wasn’t old enough would be evidence against physicalism. As it happens, however, everything we have discovered is consistent with the universe being 13.7 billion years old.

The underlying laws to which everything reduces are simple and general, they are not complex and specific. They – the laws of physics – don’t specify that the universe will be a particular age but given that we have made certain observations (such as our own existence) that places certain constraints on our physical laws: they must be consistent with these observations (which they are).

OTOH, the explanation that the universe is created with the appearance of age by a particular kind of being is also consistent with these observations but it’s vastly more complex, containing ridiculous quantities of information about the being in question and its trillions of specific actions arranging every individual aspect of the universe into precisely the right configuration, particle by particle.

Physicalism shows how all of these observations can be explained by a set of simple laws, your hypothesis requires showing how a bodiless mind with incredible powers arranged for it all to take place. The laws of physics will do this on their own given enough time.

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anon December 2, 2011 at 12:23 pm

The argument Patrick provided was specified highly informally. His use of the word “compatible” could easily be taken to represent some sort of probabilistic or inductive compatibility

You’ll have to tell me what you mean by that. I understand “p is compatible with q” to mean “possibly, p and q.” Do you have some other reading you’d like to suggest? “p makes q unlikely” is just not what “p is incompatible with q” means.

“Our understanding of biology and physics is incompatible with psychic powers”

Well, I don’t know about you, but I take that to mean “it’s not possible for what we know about biology and physics to be true while it’s also true that there are psychic powers.” And that’s the reading I gave to Patrick’s conclusion. How do you read that?

You’ve spilled a lot of proverbial ink on disambiguations of Patrick’s argument, but it seems like you’re only interested in disambiguations that allow you to look good/maintain your snotty affect.

I’m open to other readings of Patrick’s argument/conclusion. Please suggest one. So far, you’ve vaguely gestured towards one, but you haven’t been very clear as to what you’re suggesting.

Also, your understanding of simplicity qua theoretical virtue is highly rudimentary. See David Lewis’ distinction between quantitative and qualitative parsimony, for instance.

That guy and I were talking about Occam’s razor. Do you think I mischaracterized Occam’s razor? I agree that Occam’s razor is highly rudimentary, which is why I was surprised that guy put it on the table. I haven’t endorsed any principle of simplicity on this page, so you’re not in a position to judge whether my understanding of simplicity as a theoretical virtue.

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Paul December 2, 2011 at 12:35 pm

Occam is not about simplicity, it’s about not multiplying entities unnecessarily. Some aspects of simplicity have nothing to do with multiplying entities.

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anon December 2, 2011 at 12:43 pm

Occam is not about simplicity, it’s about not multiplying entities unnecessarily.Some aspects of simplicity have nothing to do with multiplying entities.

Do SOME “aspects of simplicity” have to do with multiplying entities? Surely yes. But it seems you think the answer is no. That’s implausible.

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Paul December 2, 2011 at 12:45 pm

The only aspect of simplicity that has to do with Occam is that not multiplying entities makes for a simpler theory (no unnecessary entities to clog up one’s thinking).

I don’t see any other connection between simplicity and Occam.

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woodchuck64 December 2, 2011 at 12:53 pm

Zeb,

Based on my own independent consideration I came to the conclusion that only consciousness, will, and identity are essential to the soul.

Based on my experience so far, those concepts — “consciousness”, “will”, “identity”, “intentionality” — are in the top ten of all vague, confused, mysterious, potentially meaningless concepts ever thunk. Isn’t it strange that such seemingly simple, intuitive concepts can be attacked at all, much less attacked with a fair amount of success?

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anon December 2, 2011 at 1:02 pm

Here’s a nice demonstration of incompatibility.

This:

Occam is not about simplicity

is incompatible with this:

The only aspect of simplicity that has to do with Occam is that not multiplying entities makes for a simpler theory… I don’t see any other connection between simplicity and Occam.

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PDH December 2, 2011 at 1:04 pm

anon wrote,

Well, first, I showed that Patrick’s conclusion doesn’t FOLLOW, period. And yes, that’s a significant achievement. I guess I can’t speak for you, but the rest of us prefer to construct arguments with conclusions that follow from the premises.

In the quoted passage to which this was addressed I began by saying that I wanted to ignore the specifics of the argument. What I meant by this was I that I wanted to focus on the issue of whether it’s really necessary for either side to show that it’s logically impossible for them to be wrong in order to make a useful contribution to the debate.

I don’t think it is. I think it would be much more helpful to talk about which explanation was the most plausible, given that it is unlikely that anyone will be able to prove their conclusions beyond even the possibility of doubt.

Your posts had given the impression that you disagreed with this and that was what I was challenging. I indicated clearly that if the argument didn’t succeed in its current form then it was perfectly possible to reformulate it into, for example, an Inference to the Best Explanation argument, which would avoid many of your criticisms.

Second, even showing that a conclusion doesn’t necessarily follow from the premises is a significant accomplishment, since entailment is a relation that holds necessarily if it holds at all. So if it doesn’t hold necessarily, it doesn’t hold. So if a conclusion doesn’t necessarily follow, it doesn’t follow. So showing that someone’s conclusion doesn’t necessarily follow is just as good as showing that it doesn’t follow.

If the conclusion of the imagined argument is that X is deeply implausible, then it is actually a great achievement to show that the conclusion doesn’t follow from the premises. For that would be to show that the premises don’t prove that X is deeply implausible.

Suppose someone argued like so:

(1) If PDH believes something, it is plausible.
(2) PDH does NOT believe theism.
(3) Therefore, theism is implausible.

Interestingly, if I had a good track record on this sort of issue, observing that I think that theism is implausible would provide some small Bayesian evidence that theism is implausible.

Remember, evidence is something that you would expect to find if a hypothesis is true but not if it’s false. Well, if I am a good truth-finder you would expect that me disbelieving something would be highly correlated with it being false! My disbelief doesn’t cause it to be false but it’s the sort of observation you’d expect on the hypothesis that I’m really good at forming accurate beliefs.

Obviously, the real issue is how strong the evidence is, which depends on my track record amongst other things. The evidence will, of course, not be very strong in this case and, as you say, you have to look at all the other relevant information, too, but the point is that just because a conclusion doesn’t necessarily follow from a premise, it doesn’t mean that the premise does not support the conclusion.

If Stephen Hawking tells you one thing about black holes and Kim Kardashian tells you something that contradicts it but you don’t know anything about black holes at all and you have no other information to help you decide then, obviously, you go with Hawking even though it’s an appeal to authority fallacy.

You can add words like ‘implausible’ and ‘probable’ to the wording of your argument or you can just assign probabilities to the premises.

For example,

(1) (Probably) if PDH believes something, it is plausible.
(2) PDH does NOT believe theism.
(3) Therefore, (probably) theism is implausible.

Or…

(1) If PDH believes something, it is plausible. (0.9)
(2) PDH does NOT believe theism. (0.99)
(3) Therefore, theism is implausible. (0.9 * 0.99 = 0.891)

Or better yet you could just reformulate the arguments into Bayesian or IFE arguments or whatever. But you see how these are more or less equivalent and how when most people make what they call a ‘deductive argument’ what they’re really saying is IF this premise is true AND IF this other premise is true THEN the conclusion necessarily follows.

OK, but recall that the argument on the table did not conclude that dualism is implausible. It concluded that dualism is INCOMPATIBLE with what we know from science. I’ve shown that to be false. I take it we can agree on that.

I agree that dualism does not have a probability of 0. Neither does the hypothesis that the universe was created five seconds ago with the appearance of age. That doesn’t make them plausible.

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Jillian December 2, 2011 at 2:10 pm

Or better yet you could just reformulate the arguments into Bayesian or IFE arguments or whatever.

Anon can’t handle Bayes!!! He seems trapped by traditional rationality and conceptual analysis.

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Mike Gantt December 2, 2011 at 2:26 pm

Harris was merely preaching to his choir. “Game, set, match” was just the atheistic equivalent of “Amen.”

Had he been more honest about science he would have admitted that it lacks the ability to study anything in the spiritual dimension. You see, there is science and then there is science-as-religion. Sam is practicing science-as-religion. His followers love it, but there’s nothing persuasive about what he said.

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Mark December 2, 2011 at 2:45 pm

You’ll have to tell me what you mean by that. I understand “p is compatible with q” to mean “possibly, p and q.” Do you have some other reading you’d like to suggest? “p makes q unlikely” is just not what “p is incompatible with q” means.

Yes, that is sometimes what it means in English.

I’m open to other readings of Patrick’s argument/conclusion. Please suggest one. So far, you’ve vaguely gestured towards one, but you haven’t been very clear as to what you’re suggesting.

Change premise 4. to “therefore, what we know about neuroscience provides strong inductive evidence against the existence of an afterlife.”

That guy and I were talking about Occam’s razor. Do you think I mischaracterized Occam’s razor? I agree that Occam’s razor is highly rudimentary, which is why I was surprised that guy put it on the table. I haven’t endorsed any principle of simplicity on this page, so you’re not in a position to judge whether my understanding of simplicity as a theoretical virtue.

Then I think you should read appeals to Occam’s razor here more charitably, as a more general appeal to the general virtue of simplicity as it’s commonly used in internet debates.

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Paul December 2, 2011 at 2:59 pm

Anon, I could explain the apparent contradiction, but it won’t change the ultimate point about Occam.

Occam’s razor is “don’t multiply entities without necessity.”

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The Choir December 2, 2011 at 3:17 pm

Had he been more honest about science he would have admitted that it lacks the ability to study anything in the spiritual dimension.

Yeah…it is kind of hard to study something that doesn’t exist (spiritual dimension).

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Ronnie December 2, 2011 at 3:53 pm

Anon,
“The relationship between the mind and the brain IS like that between a
driver and a car. When the brain is impaired, the mind is impaired. Similarly, when the car is damaged, the ability of the driver to move around with the
car is impaired. But, of course, we recognize that the driver is distinct from the car. Similarly, the mind might be distinct from the brain.”
Not even close.
There is a helpful distinction between a car and its driver. There is no helpful distinction between the “mind” and the brain.
In reality, when the brain is damaged, a bit of the “mind” goes away. When a car is damaged, none of the driver disappears. The only way to make the relationships equal is to assume that every time the car gets damaged, the driver loses a body part. This would impair the driver in the same way as the “mind” is impaired when the brain is damaged.
To drive the point home, (no pun intended), just because a car may not have the functioning parts that allow the driver to regulate the temperature inside the car doesn’t mean that the driver has lost the functioning parts that regulate his or her bodily temperature. By contrast, when a part of the brain that we know has a certain function is destroyed, say, the Amygdala, the “mind” doesn’t retain the function that the brain has lost.
” For consider that car damage impairs my ability to move. (Without a ruptured fuel line, I can’t move so well, for example.) But it hardly
follows that total car damage results in a total inability to move. For I could just get out of my car.”
Car damage does not impair a persons ability to move. It impairs a persons ability to move cars. Similarly, total car destruction results in the complete inability to move cars, not the full disappearance of a person’s own bodily control. When any part of the brain is destroyed, however, there is no evidence that the “mind” retains the function of the lost part of the brain. Therefore, it follows that if the whole brain is destroyed, the “mind” does not retain the function of the entire brain.

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Alex Petrov December 2, 2011 at 4:00 pm

It seems to me that all the arguments that are pro substance dualism break down into an argument that the brain is hardware used by the mind (e.g. the car example, or the anon’s first post). But really, what evidence is there that the mind is not simply software stored and run by the brain?

I mean, if the mind is separate from the brain and simply uses it to control the body (like a person drives a car, or how the brain tells the body to run), is there any evidence of the mind dying without or before damage to the brain or body has occurred (like a driver dying in a car before or without the car crashing or being damaged)? Where is the evidence that the mind is not simply software running on the brain?

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anon December 2, 2011 at 4:23 pm

Mark,

I’m open to other readings of Patrick’s argument/conclusion. Please suggest one. So far, you’ve vaguely gestured towards one, but you haven’t been very clear as to what you’re suggesting.

Change premise 4. to “therefore, what we know about neuroscience provides strong inductive evidence against the existence of an afterlife.”

Now, you accused me of an uncharitable interpretation of Patrick. That means you think there was a natural reading of Patrick’s premise that was more plausible than the reading that I chose. You suggest that the more plausible natural reading of “p is incompatible with q” is “p provides strong inductive evidence against q.”

Do you really believe that’s a natural reading of “p is incompatible with q”? That simply is NOT what “p is incompatible with q” means. Here’s something of an argument for that conclusion:

1. For any p and q, if p is incompatible with q, then not-(possibly, p and q)
2. For any p and q, if p is (merely) strong inductive evidence against q, then possibly, p and q.
3. Therefore, for any p and q, not-(possibly, [p is incompatible with q] and also [p is merely strong inductive evidence against q]). From 1 and 2.
4. For any p and q, if “p” and “q” mean the same thing, then possibly, p and q.
5. Therefore, “p is incompatible with q” does not mean the same as “p is merely strong inductive evidence against q.” from 3 and 4.

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anon December 2, 2011 at 4:28 pm

Anon can’t handle Bayes!!! He seems trapped by traditional rationality and conceptual analysis.

Actually, I’m pretty comfortable with Bayes. If you or PDH would like to formalize Harris’ argument in Bayesian terms, please have at it.

“Traditional rationality and conceptual analysis” are perfectly compatible with Bayesian probability calculus, by the way. In fact, it’s hard to see how we could do probability calculus without either. Bayesian probability calculus is just a (relatively modest) extension of classical logic.

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anon December 2, 2011 at 4:46 pm

PDH,

I wanted to focus on the issue of whether it’s really necessary for either side to show that it’s logically impossible for them to be wrong in order to make a useful contribution to the debate.

First, as I understood him, Patrick was NOT trying to show that dualism is logically impossible. He was merely trying to show that dualism/afterlife is incompatible with what we know from science. That might be true even if dualism is possible. Indeed, even if it is necessary.

Secondly, of course I agree with you that neither party need show that the other party’s position is logically impossible in order to meaningfully advance the debate. So we agree on this point. Nevertheless, Patrick’s argument failed, as I’ve shown.

I indicated clearly that if the argument didn’t succeed in its current form then it was perfectly possible to reformulate it into, for example, an Inference to the Best Explanation argument, which would avoid many of your criticisms.

Insofar as I understand you, I agree, and I indicated as much. Mind-brain correlations are more likely on materialism than on dualism. Granted. That bit of evidence confirms materialism over dualism. But, as I said, we’re interested in which view fits best with ALL the evidence, not just one bit. So while this argument you suggest avoids my objections to Patrick’s argument, this argument you suggest does not disprove dualism. Nor does it even show that dualism is implausible or irrational. So it just doesn’t do much to advance the debate.

But maybe it would be best for you to just lay out the argument you have in mind. Then, I can respond to that real argument instead of the one (or two) that we are imagining.

(1) (Probably) if PDH believes something, it is plausible.
(2) PDH does NOT believe theism.
(3) Therefore, (probably) theism is implausible.

This doesn’t follow, friend. Here’s a counterexample to help you see that:

1a. Probably, if you try to swim across the Pacific unaided, you will die.
2a. PDH will NOT try to swim across the Pacific unaided.
3a. Therefore, probably PDH will not die??

I’m honestly not really sure what you’re up to here, but I think you’re missing the fact that this argument form you’re apparently recommending is totally invalid.

(1) If PDH believes something, it is plausible. (0.9)
(2) PDH does NOT believe theism. (0.99)
(3) Therefore, theism is implausible. (0.9 * 0.99 = 0.891)

Apply these numbers to my above counterexample involving swimming the Pacific. By this reasoning which you have endorsed, you may now conclude that it is 0.891 likely that you will not die. Clearly, something has gone wrong with your reasoning.

Or better yet you could just reformulate the arguments into Bayesian or IFE arguments or whatever.

Please do. I’d love to see what you come up with.

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Luke Muehlhauser December 2, 2011 at 4:47 pm

On Occam, see Solomonoff.

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anon December 2, 2011 at 4:51 pm

what evidence is there that the mind is not simply software stored and run by the brain?

Well, I think that I am a mind. I can give you an argument that I am not software run by my brain. Software is abstract. The same software can be run simultaneously on different hardware. You and I may both be running Chrome right now, for example.

So suppose I am software. And suppose I come to be run on two different brains, A and B. Well then I would be A, and I would be B, even though A is not the same as B. That violates the transitivity of identity, and that’s impossible.

Therefore, the mind is not software run on the brain. At least, if I am a mind.

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PDH December 2, 2011 at 6:12 pm

anon wrote,

This doesn’t follow, friend. Here’s a counterexample to help you see that:

1a. Probably, if you try to swim across the Pacific unaided, you will die.
2a. PDH will NOT try to swim across the Pacific unaided.
3a. Therefore, probably PDH will not die??

Two hypotheses:

H1: PDH is immortal.
H2: PDH is not immortal but won’t die from swimming across the Pacific.

Both of these hypotheses are consistent with me not swimming across the Pacific but one is much more likely. We can use Bayes to see how strongly various hypotheses are supported by some evidence. For example, in this case all our prior information indicates that humans have a finite lifespan and that, even if I don’t drown in the Pacific something else will probably get me. We might say that H2 is strongly supported by the billions of human deaths of which we are aware. Of course, the possibility of, for example, extending the human lifespan during my lifetime shows that we can’t completely rule out H1!

Consider these two arguments:

Argument 1
1. If P then Q
2. P
3. Therefore, Q

Argument 2
1. If P then Q
2. Q
3. Therefore, P

The second argument is usually considered to be a fallacy because P might not be the only cause of Q. You can imagine a number of possible explanations for Q such as P1, P2 and P3. Thus when we observe Q it doesn’t necessarily follow that P1, say, is true.

But wait, nearly all of our reasoning is of this sort! For example, I believe that I’m having a discussion with another human on the internet right now because, amongst other things, I can see his posts on my monitor. However, just because I can see the posts it doesn’t mean that a human is writing them. It could be the Flying Spaghetti Monster just trolling me. Both hypotheses are consistent with the evidence.

And yet plainly when we look at both hypotheses side by side, the hypothesis that I’m talking to a human is much more probable than the hypothesis that I’m talking to the FSM.

We want to look at things like the prior probabilities and the conditional probability and so forth to see which hypothesis is more likely given the available evidence. Because there are always multiple explanations for everything and because we can almost never completely rule them all out, this sort of reasoning is pretty damn important.

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Mark December 2, 2011 at 7:11 pm

Do you really believe that’s a natural reading of “p is incompatible with q”? That simply is NOT what “p is incompatible with q” means. Here’s something of an argument for that conclusion:

I’m not really interested in what you think the word “compatible” means or ought to mean; it is in fact frequently used colloquially to express probabilistic incompatibility between hypotheses (see, e.g., http://www.ukskeptics.com/article.php?dir=articles&article=alternative_medicine.php for an example in the fourth paragraph). Also, the first premise of your argument is obviously question-begging. No one who agrees the word has this colloquial usage would agree that the usage satisfies premise (1).

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anon December 2, 2011 at 8:04 pm

I’m not really interested in what you think the word “compatible” means or ought to mean; it is in fact frequently used colloquially to express probabilistic incompatibility between hypotheses (see, e.g., [LINK] for an example in the fourth paragraph).

So this is the instance of “incompatible” that you directed me to, right?

“They are often traditional, culturally-based treatments and their efficacy is often believed to be due to metaphysical forces, which are incompatible with known science.”

Let p be the proposition that metaphysical forces exist. Let q be the conjunction of all the propositions we know from science. Seems to me that they’re saying it’s not possible for p and q to both be true. And that seems right to me!

Why do you think that what they *really* meant was that science makes metaphysical forces merely improbable? That strikes me as an unnatural reading. Suppose you asked them “Could metaphysical forces exist, given what we know about science?” How do you think they’d respond? Yep, I’m pretty sure they’d say “no.” But if they really meant that science just makes metaphysical forces *improbable*, they should answer “yes.” So you haven’t correctly interpreted them.

Also, the first premise of your argument is obviously question-begging. No one who agrees the word has this colloquial usage would agree that the usage satisfies premise (1).

The first premise was this:

1. For any p and q, if p is incompatible with q, then not-(possibly, p and q)

You deny that. That is, you think it’s possible for p to be incompatible with q, even though it’s possible for p and q to both be true simultaneously.

So here’s your assignment: try to find a sentence that happily fits that schema. That is, try to find a sentence that strikes us as true, and has this form: p is incompatible with q, but of course p and q could both be true simultaneously!

That seems like a pretty clear contradiction to me. Here’s an example, from the above link you provided. Could that page really have been saying this?: Metaphysical forces are incompatible with what we know from science. But of course it’s possible for metaphysical forces to exist, even given what we know from science!

That sounds like a pretty clear contradiction. So I conclude that my premise 1 is true, and that “p is incompatible with q” entails “not-(possibly, p and q).”

And so I conclude that my reading of Patrick was NOT uncharitable, contrary to your accusation.

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Alex Petrov December 2, 2011 at 8:06 pm

Well, I think that I am a mind. I can give you an argument that I am not software run by my brain. Software is abstract. The same software can be run simultaneously on different hardware. You and I may both be running Chrome right now, for example.

So suppose I am software. And suppose I come to be run on two different brains, A and B. Well then I would be A, and I would be B, even though A is not the same as B. That violates the transitivity of identity, and that’s impossible.

Therefore, the mind is not software run on the brain. At least, if I am a mind.

You give an argument by someone who is not particularly knowledgeable about hardware/software. Hardware and software can very much be integrated (meaning they are only compatible with one another). To make that software work on other hardware, you would have to hard-code it (maybe even simulate the hardware it was supposed to run on).

Various software runs on various hardware because they are designed to. Hardware has been generalized, and low-level software is programmed to work with various high-level software and vice versa.

Further, if minds could be downloaded and uploaded to other brains (considering that different brains are compatible with the same software, currently an unknown), your example is inaccurate. Those two bodies would have two instances of the same program, with a divergence of input and various saved data at the point where the program was downloaded. A != B.

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Alex Petrov December 2, 2011 at 8:07 pm

You give an argument like* someone who is not particularly knowledgeable about hardware/software.

I apologize for the typo.

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anon December 2, 2011 at 8:13 pm

Hardware and software can very much be integrated (meaning they are only compatible with one another). To make that software work on other hardware, you would have to hard-code it (maybe even simulate the hardware it was supposed to run on).

Nothing I said is incompatible with this.

Various software runs on various hardware becausethey are designed to. Hardware has been generalized, and low-level software is programmed to work with various high-level software and vice versa.

Nothing I said is incompatible with this.

Further, if minds could be downloaded and uploaded to other brains (considering that different brains are compatible with the same software, currently an unknown), your example is inaccurate. Those two bodies would have two instances of the same program, with a divergence of input and various saved data at the point where the program was downloaded. A != B.

And nothing I said is incompatible with this. In fact, this supports my premise that A would not be identical with B. We’re agreeing here, Alex.

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Bret December 2, 2011 at 8:36 pm

I think PDH is right on in attempting to show how important it is that a proposition be plausible, not just possible. I think it was John Loftus who very rightly said of apologists, “They want you to prove something is impossible before they will even consider it being improbable.” That is exactly why this debate won’t end.

Sure, God could swoop in at our deaths and preserve our souls, which were there all along but for which no empirical evidence existed during our lives. It’s also logically possible that Thor and Odin decided to take the human race for a ride and invented Christianity and cooked up the bible and are watching our lives intently only to greet us at Valhalla with some wine and cheese, smiling, saying, “You’ve been Punked!”

The fact that Dualism could very, very easily, be MORE plausible is the nail in the coffin for those theists who think our eternal experience hinges on whether or not we accept certain propositions. If some of the dualists out there are Christians, I would think the subject of dualism would bother them.

-If God exists, God is a disembodied mind.
1.God *wants* us to know he exists.
2. The neuroscientific evidence that minds can be disembodied could be exponentially stronger, existing with no interference to free will.
3.Therefore, either God does not want us to know he exists, or he isn’t all powerful, or he isn’t a disembodied mind.

Why is God such a shitty communicator?

The fact that God desires our belief or acceptance of certain propositions is a killer, in terms of the bible as well.

- God, if she exists, is a perfect being.

1. If a perfect being wanted to communicate something it would do so perfectly.
2. Certain methods of communication are more effective than others.
3. Ancient parable and miracle claims are not the most effective way to communicate a message.
4. Therefore, source of the bible is not a perfect being.

If dualism were more probable, believing in God could be much easier. Why doesn’t he just make it more probable? Chalmers listed numerous ways it could be. I think Luke had it right years ago when he spoke of the theists and their “Retreat to the Possible”.

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Mark December 2, 2011 at 10:51 pm

“They are often traditional, culturally-based treatments and their efficacy is often believed to be due to metaphysical forces, which are incompatible with known science.”

Why do you think that what they *really* meant was that science makes metaphysical forces merely improbable?

Because the alternative reading – that science and the aforementioned metaphysical forces are logically incompatible – is trivially false. Known science is obviously not logically incompatible with the existence of as-yet unknown forces with magical healing properties. There is nothing you’ll find in a physics textbook that logically precludes, say, the existence of some unknown class of particles that somehow have healing power. Would you like to try showing me a theorem in some deductive system that says otherwise?

Suppose you asked them “Could metaphysical forces exist, given what we know about science?” How do you think they’d respond? Yep, I’m pretty sure they’d say “no.”

Sure, because “could” is another one of those pesky words with multiple usages. Suppose someone says to you, “Bob couldn’t have been in England this morning, because I saw him here [in the U.S.] ten minutes ago!” Would you reproach him because Bob’s being in England this morning is actually logically compatible with his being in the U.S. ten minutes ago?

So here’s your assignment: try to find a sentence that happily fits that schema. That is, try to find a sentence that strikes us as true, and has this form: p is incompatible with q, but of course p and q could both be true simultaneously!

Words are context-sensitive. If “incompatible” is used to mean “probabilistically incompatible” in sentence S, then intuitively any use of the word “could” in S refers to probabilistic compatibility. So obviously any such sentence you produce will “sound wrong” at first blush regardless of whether or not “incompatible” ever means “probabilistically incompatible,” because whenever it does, then “could” will normally refer to something other than logical compatibility. Any instance of the schema “x is a human and x is a dog” comes out “sounding false,” but that doesn’t stop me from truly calling my human friend Bob my dog (using the colloquial sense of “dog” that means “friend”). The point is that when the senses of all the words are made explicit, there are valid substitutions that violate the schema.

I admire the heroic effort you’re expending to deny the existence of a common colloquialism, but maybe you should think about admitting your mistake.

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Mark December 2, 2011 at 10:55 pm

The point is that when the senses of all the words are made explicit, there are valid substitutions that violate the schema.

Err, that should read “satisfy the schema.”

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Alex Petrov December 2, 2011 at 11:03 pm

Then you have not provided any evidence or argument that the mind can not be software run by the brain, anon.

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anon December 3, 2011 at 5:35 am

Mark,

the alternative reading – that science and the aforementioned metaphysical forces are logically incompatible – is trivially false. Known science is obviously not logically incompatible with the existence of as-yet unknown forces with magical healing properties.

Before I argue otherwise, I’d like to ask you this: Why do you think the probabilistic-incompatibility reading comes out true? Why think science shows it is unlikely that there are as-yet unknown forces with magical healing properties? Isn’t science just silent on that question, on your view? But then it seems like your reasoning here will also show that the probabilistic-incompatibility reading is false. But then you’ve lost the asymmetry that led you to favor that reading.

Suppose you asked them “Could metaphysical forces exist, given what we know about science?” How do you think they’d respond? Yep, I’m pretty sure they’d say “no.”

Sure, because “could” is another one of those pesky words with multiple usages.

For the record, I don’t think “could” is ambiguous any more than “incompatible” is ambiguous. But even if it were, I don’t think it displays this kind of shifting in sense. You buy a lottery ticket. I ask if you will win. You say “probably not.” I then ask if you COULD win. Would you really answer ‘no’, since in this context we’re talking about probability? Of course not; you would answer ‘yes’. So then “could” doesn’t shift in the way you suggest. If these people really meant that metaphysical forces are just improbable given science, they should answer ‘yes’ when asked whether the forces COULD exist, for the same reasons that you think you could win the lottery despite its being improbable.

I’m pretty sure that’s a good argument against your view.

Here’s another one. You propose that “incompatible” is ambiguous, having at least two distinct senses. Yet it fails a standard ambiguity test:

Metaphysical forces are incompatible, but they’re not *incompatible*.

That sounds like a contradiction to me. But if there were an ambiguity here, we should get a coherent reading. (Just as we do with “Mary picked John, but she didn’t *pick* John.”)

So there’s another argument against your view.

I admire the heroic effort you’re expending to deny the existence of a common colloquialism, but maybe you should think about admitting your mistake.

Why does everyone think these posts require so much effort on my part? This post took exactly five minutes to write.

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anon December 3, 2011 at 5:42 am

edit:

The ambiguity test should have gone like this:

Metaphysical forces are incompatible WITH SCIENCE, but they’re not *incompatible* WITH SCIENCE.

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anon December 3, 2011 at 7:33 am

Then you have not provided any evidence or argument that the mind can not be software run by the brain, anon.

Maybe not, but you certainly haven’t explained why.

I gave an argument above for the conclusion that the mind is not software run by the brain. Your first response consisted of a series of statements that did not engage the argument, together with a statement that agreed with one premise of the argument. I pointed this out, and now your response is just to insist that the argument fails. Well, *why* does it fail?

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Apostle Paul December 3, 2011 at 7:49 am

But of course it’s possible for metaphysical forces to exist, even given what we know from science!

LOL!!!

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anon December 3, 2011 at 8:09 am

-If God exists, God is a disembodied mind.
1.God *wants* us to know he exists.
2. The neuroscientific evidence that minds can be disembodied could be exponentially stronger, existing with no interference to free will.
3.Therefore, either God does not want us to know he exists, or he isn’t all powerful, or he isn’t a disembodied mind.

Why is God such a shitty communicator?

I don’t know, but why are you such a shitty arguer? ;-)

Do you really think (3) follows from your premises? Suppose I want you to know I exist. And suppose the neuroscientific evidence that I exist could be much stronger than it is (since, as it stands, neuroscience doesn’t say anything at all about my existence). But suppose, instead of relying on neuroscience to show you that I exist, I write you letters, scream in your face, burn down your house, tattoo my name on your chest, etc. Would it really follow that either I don’t exist, I’m not powerful enough to let you know I exist, or I’m not an immaterial mind (!). No, none of those things follows. This shows that even if your premises are true, your conclusion could be false. So your argument is invalid.

Now suppose God really wants you to know he exists (a premise many theists wouldn’t accept, by the way). And suppose his existence is not probable on the evidence of neuroscience. How does it follow that he doesn’t exist, or he’s not all powerful, or he’s not an immaterial mind (seriously, where does this last bit come from?)? He may have found other ways to communicate his existence with you (prophets, churches, Bibles, ‘internal testimony of the Holy Spirit’, etc.), or he may find such ways in the future.

There is simply a yawning chasm between your premises and your conclusion.

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Alex Petrov December 3, 2011 at 12:44 pm

Maybe not, but you certainly haven’t explained why.

I gave an argument above for the conclusion that the mind is not software run by the brain. Your first response consisted of a series of statements that did not engage the argument, together with a statement that agreed with one premise of the argument. I pointed this out, and now your response is just to insist that the argument fails. Well, *why* does it fail?

It fails because it does not state how the mind can not be software run by the brain. You simply made a series of statements and then said the mind is not software. The conclusion does not follow from your statements.

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Mark December 3, 2011 at 12:54 pm

Why do you think the probabilistic-incompatibility reading comes out true? Why think science shows it is unlikely that there are as-yet unknown forces with magical healing properties?

Theoretical parsimony. Biological systems are incredibly complex and fragile, and positing new particles obeying new laws delicate enough to interact strongly with them without totally breaking them would be quite a staggering addition. Maybe this would be less the case if these new particles had been part of biological systems all along, but that discovery would itself be a major revision to our understanding of molecular biology.

Isn’t science just silent on that question, on your view?

Huh? What statement of mine could you possibly have concluded that from?

For the record, I don’t think “could” is ambiguous any more than “incompatible” is ambiguous. But even if it were, I don’t think it displays this kind of shifting in sense. You buy a lottery ticket. I ask if you will win. You say “probably not.” I then ask if you COULD win. Would you really answer ‘no’, since in this context we’re talking about probability? Of course not; you would answer ‘yes’. So then “could” doesn’t shift in the way you suggest. If these people really meant that metaphysical forces are just improbable given science, they should answer ‘yes’ when asked whether the forces COULD exist, for the same reasons that you think you could win the lottery despite its being improbable.

I’m pretty sure that’s a good argument against your view.

That is an extremely bad argument against my view that ignores both the example I gave you of “could” colloquially meaning “not improbably” (the one with Bob being in England) and the paragraph I spent explaining context-sensitivity. You could just as well have argued: I ask you if your friend Bob is a human. You answer “yes.” I then ask you if your friend Bob is a dog. You answer “no.” Therefore, you must be mistaken in instances when you call Bob your dog. Or, alternately, I ask you if Rex (your pet dog) is your dog. You answer affirmatively, and I ask you if Bob (your friend) is your dog. You answer negatively. Therefore, you were wrong to call him your dog!

Briefly, since “could” has multiple common meanings, contrasting “could” against “not improbably” in a sentence will often shift its meaning to something like logical possibility. But in plenty of non-contrastive contexts, it means “not improbably.” Please stop proffering contexts in which word X has meaning Y in order to show that X means Y in all contexts.

Metaphysical forces are incompatible, but they’re not *incompatible*.

That sounds like a contradiction to me.

No kidding. That’s because, absent context clues, words rarely shift meaning within an ordinary sentence. Your test is inadequate because repeating a word in a weightier tone is often not a sufficient context clue. Speak aloud the sentence “Rex is my dog, but he’s not my *dog*” to someone and notice the confused look they get on their faces. Doesn’t imply anything about the word’s meaning(s).

Why does everyone think these posts require so much effort on my part? This post took exactly five minutes to write.

Relative to the amount of words I would otherwise expect an intelligent person to type defending such an obviously false thesis…

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Rorschach December 3, 2011 at 1:22 pm

I grant the law-like connection between the mind and the brain. If there’s brain damage, there’s mind damage. And I grant that death involves brain damage. But it hardly follows from this that death MUST involve mind damage. But of course that’s what you and Harris need. All that follows is that death will involve mind damage. BUT possibly it won’t.

Here’s an example. This conditional is true: All humans are under 10 feet tall. Suppose I find out that you’re a human. Well, then it follows that you ARE under 10 feet tall. But this is not a necessary characteristic of you, for technology might intervene, stretch you out, and make you over 10 feet tall. It’s a far out possibility, but it’s possible. Absent that intervention, the conclusion (that you ARE under 10 feet tall) follows. But you NEED NOT be under 10 feet tall, given these premises.

That is a complete disanalogy. If physicalism about the human minds is true, then it is just as incoherent to pose a unenenbodied mind as it is to propose a unensthomacal digestion, or a non physical photosynthesis. The discussion here is about the nature of minds in general.

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anon December 3, 2011 at 1:42 pm

Theoretical parsimony.

And now we just need the step where you explain how a lack of parsimony entails genuine improbability.

That is an extremely bad argument against my view that ignores both the example I gave you of “could” colloquially meaning “not improbably” (the one with Bob being in England) and the paragraph I spent explaining context-sensitivity.

I don’t think the Bob in England case shows that “could” is ambiguous. The context simply updates the shared assumptions in the domain of discourse. Out of the clear blue sky, you ask if Bob could be in England. We have no shared assumptions to appeal to (other than our shared background knowledge about England, laws of nature, etc.). Lacking those shared assumptions, I correctly answer “yes, he could be.” Then you tell me that he was in the US this morning. Now, using that assumption together with my background knowledge about geography, available forms of travel, laws of nature, etc., I correctly answer that he could not be in England. It’s the same sense of “could” in both cases. Given those assumptions, it is broadly logically impossible for him to be in England. What has changed are the assumptions I’m allowed to appeal to, not the sense of “could.”

Briefly, since “could” has multiple common meanings, contrasting “could” against “not improbably” in a sentence will often shift its meaning to something like logical possibility.

I have no idea why this should be. Why think I’m *contrasting* “could” against “not improbably”? You say you probably won’t win the lottery. Time passes. I ask if you could win the lottery. Why think there’s a *contrast* here? Why, on your view, should we expect “could” to take on the logically possible sense rather than the not improbable sense? What better occasion could there be for it to take on this weird not-improbable sense?

Please stop proffering contexts in which word X has meaning Y in order to show that X means Y in all contexts.

Haha, wow, who’s being uncharitable now? Do you think I just randomly chose some context in which “could” clearly means logically possible in order to show that it always does? Not at all. I chose a context in which improbability was clearly on the table. It should be the BEST context for “could” to take on this mysterious not-improbable sense, on your view. The fact that it clearly doesn’t is bad news for your view. You’re forced to say something really implausible, namely “Well of course in those contexts when we’re talking about probability “could” won’t take on this probability sense!” Why on Earth not? Because there’s a contrast you say, with no explanation or theoretical motivation. That’s a pretty ad hoc maneuver, if I’ve ever seen one.

Your test is inadequate because repeating a word in a weightier tone is often not a sufficient context clue.

It’s a pretty standard ambiguity test. It’s certainly not “mine.” You’re running against some standard linguistics here, not me. I’ve never seen it fail with any other ambiguous word. Have you? Unless you can think of a counterexample, I’m inclined to think this is another ad hoc move: reject the test when it gives the undesired result on your case.

Speak aloud the sentence “Rex is my dog, but he’s not my *dog*” to someone and notice the confused look they get on their faces. Doesn’t imply anything about the word’s meaning(s).

The fact is, I can get a coherent reading of that sentence. And I bet you can too. So it passes the ambiguity test, as we expect that it should. You’re flailing here.

Relative to the amount of words I would otherwise expect an intelligent person to type defending such an obviously false thesis…

I didn’t get this, and it wasn’t just the “amount” versus “number” problem. Was this meant to be a complete sentence?

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anon December 3, 2011 at 5:12 pm

It fails because it does not state how the mind can not be software run by the brain.

Well, the conclusion was that the mind is not software run by the brain. And the premises were my attempt to explain why this is so. You might think the argument fails, but you can’t accuse me of not having an argument.

You simply made a series of statements and then said the mind is not software.

Those statements are what we call “premises.” They were meant to prove that the mind is not software.

The conclusion does not follow from your statements.

It sure would be nice if you would say WHY you think the conclusion doesn’t follow. In general, just *insisting* that an argument is invalid is not a sufficient response to an argument.

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Alex Petrov December 3, 2011 at 6:36 pm

Well, I think that I am a mind. I can give you an argument that I am not software run by my brain. Software is abstract. The same software can be run simultaneously on different hardware. You and I may both be running Chrome right now, for example.

Same software running on different machines. No argument against the mind being software here.

So suppose I am software. And suppose I come to be run on two different brains, A and B. Well then I would be A, and I would be B, even though A is not the same as B. That violates the transitivity of identity, and that’s impossible.

We both agree that copying the same mind on two different brains would not make them the same, period. In this example, “you” would not be both A and B. Further, the wording of this statement is poor. A and B are brains, but the argument is that you are a mind. Let’s say you meant you “lived” in A and B, while A != B. Perfectly possible, there are now two of “you”.

It’s similar to making a copy of an object in programming. They are two instances of the same class, identical to each other (at first, at least), but stored in different addresses.

No argument against the mind being software here.

Therefore, the mind is not software run on the brain. At least, if I am a mind.

As I said, doesn’t follow.

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Mark December 3, 2011 at 6:48 pm

And now we just need the step where you explain how a lack of parsimony entails genuine improbability.

Why are you calling on me to do this, again?

Now, using that assumption together with my background knowledge about geography, available forms of travel, laws of nature, etc., I correctly answer that he could not be in England. It’s the same sense of “could” in both cases.

None of your background assumptions about physics, geography, available forms of travel and the like is logically incompatible with Bob’s crossing the Atlantic quickly. This is in part because none or almost none of your actual background knowledge about those domains is non-probabilistic in character.

[Lottery stuff]

The way you originally described the case made it sound contrastive: Asking first if it’s probable I’d win the lottery, then immediately afterwards asking if I COULD win the lottery. The most natural way to make sense of those two questions in succession – which is to say, the charitable interpretation under which you weren’t bizarrely asking for the same piece of information twice in a row – is to take the second one to mean something different from the first, and to work out its meaning from there. But if you didn’t intend this setup, then sure, I can imagine denying that someone denying that he could win the lottery. Look at this random article on roulette I found: http://www.bankrollmanagement.org/casino/roulette/. After discussing bets and risk at length, the article asserts that a roulette player “can’t beat the house in the long-term.”

You’re running against some standard linguistics here, not me.

Hardly. I don’t deny that passing the test is a sufficient condition for a word’s ambiguity, but I defy you to produce a single linguist who thinks passing it is a necessary one. There are various obstacles to a genuinely ambiguous word sounding “right” when substituted in the schema. For instance, the other usage of the word may not even occur to me. I use “dog” to mean “friend” so rarely that I automatically fail to interpret virtually any instance of “dog” to mean anything other than “canine.” I guess if I try hard enough, I can make the sentence read as correct. But by the same token, I can get “Pigs can’t possibly fly, but it’s POSSIBLE that pigs can fly” to sound true to me.

I didn’t get this, and it wasn’t just the “amount” versus “number” problem. Was this meant to be a complete sentence?

No, just a fragment.

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Mark December 3, 2011 at 6:53 pm

I can imagine denying that someone denying that he could win the lottery.

Should be “I can imagine someone denying that he could win the lottery.”

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Jonathan Livengood December 4, 2011 at 1:42 am

Okay, I’m still not sure why anyone here thinks Harris has given a compelling argument against dualism (let alone against the possibility of an afterlife, which does not actually require dualism). Let me try to say why.

Here is what Harris says, in brief:

We have very good reason to think that consciousness cannot be dissociated from the brain at death because whenever you sustain damage to different areas of your brain, you lose different cognitive faculties — specific abilities, like the ability to recognize faces, the ability to speak grammatically, etc. “It’s not that everyone with brain damage has their soul perfectly intact, they just can’t get the words out.”

Many people in the thread seem to want to argue along these lines:

(1) The phenomena to be explained are displays of cognitive abilities like recognizing faces, speaking language, etc.

(2) Those phenomena are adequately explained by a physicalist theory of mind.

(3) Therefore, dualism is false.

That argument is, I think, fine as far as it goes. You don’t need dualism to explain the cognitive abilities Harris indicates. The problem is that modern dualists do not use dualism to explain any of the phenomena mentioned in (1). Dualists — at least, sophisticated dualists like Chalmers — claim that there are other phenomena that need to be addressed by any theory of the mind. Specifically, these dualists will say that they have first-person experience of phenomenal consciousness AND that phenomenal consciousness cannot be given a functionalist explanation. Dualists of the Chalmers variety appeal to alleged common-sense consensus that phenomenal consciousness exists, and they appeal to knowledge arguments like Mary the color scientist or philosophical zombies.

Think what you want about those arguments or the alleged phenomena that dualists think an adequate theory of mind must explain, the fact is that nothing Harris says in that clip touches those arguments.

Several people in the thread have claimed that the discoveries of neuroscience make dualism improbable. I’m not sure I follow the argument. If it is Bayesian, could someone tell me how he or she is calculating the likelihood of the neuroscientific evidence given the assumption of dualism (and which version of dualism is at stake here)? Because I don’t see any way to do this without just making things up. Similarly for physicalism.

Other people in the thread think that Ockham’s razor kills dualism. Where the phenomena at stake are those in (1), I agree. But surely, restricting attention to the phenomena mentioned in (1) without first undermining the other arguments presented by dualists (and thereby showing that phenomenal consciousness is not itself a phenomenon to be explained) is question-begging. Again, I think those arguments can be undermined and have been undermined in various ways, but not by neuroscience. And anyway, Harris doesn’t present any reason to doubt dualist arguments like the various versions of the knowledge argument. Nor does he give any reason to exclude phenomenal consciousness from the collection of things to be explained by a theory of mind.

So, I don’t think Harris’s argument does much vis-a-vis the debate between dualists and physicalists. Given that his argument doesn’t undermine dualism, it’s hard to see how it undermines the possibility of an afterlife, especially since dualism is not a necessary precondition for the possibility of an afterlife anyway.

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Paul C December 4, 2011 at 1:48 am

Anon, you say:

“I can give you an argument that I am not software run by my brain.”

Premise 1: “Software is abstract.” I assume that you mean “All software is completely abstract”. This premise is not true, since some software (firmware) is explicitly tied to hardware and therefore not completely abstract.

Premise 2: “The same software can be run simultaneously on different hardware.” This premise is not true, again since firmware cannot be run simultaneously on different hardware.

So while you give an argument, neither of these premises is true, and so the argument fails. However, even if we grant your premises (because we make a charitable reading of your premises), you are not in a good position:

Premise 1: “Suppose I am software.”

Premise 2: “And suppose I come to be run on two different brains, A and B.”

Conclusion: “Then I would be A, and I would be B, even though A is not the same as B.”

This is not the case. “I” is simply the reference that an instance of the software uses to refer to itself. I would be A and I* would be B, which does not violate the transitivity of identity. (You don’t say that the version of Chrome on my computer is the version of Chrome on your computer.)

So if you have an argument that you are not software run by your brain, this is not that argument. Note: I don’t believe that the mind is software run by the brain. Also note: I’m not a philosopher, and welcome any correction to my outline above.

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Paul C December 4, 2011 at 1:53 am

“(1) The phenomena to be explained are displays of cognitive abilities like recognizing faces, speaking language, etc.”

They are not limited to displays of cognitive abilities. Damage to the brain can cause somebody to change their personality entirely, including e.g. becoming a paedophile. I think most dualists would argue that the individual personality is a critical (if not the central) element of the “soul” (or whatever you would wish to call it) that would survive death. If the personality is as closely tied to the brain as neuroscience now shows that it is, there seems to be no basis on which to assume that the personality (and therefore the “soul”) will survive brain death.

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Jonathan Livengood December 4, 2011 at 4:50 am

Paul,

Dualists like Chalmers (at least) aren’t going to care about personality any more than they care about the abilities to speak and understand ordinary language. Chalmers is going to say that personality (if it exists) has a functional explanation. It is a cognitive ability (in the relevant sense) with associated behaviors, just like speaking and understanding language. (I’ll happily agree that “ability” is not very apt with respect to personality, but I’m not sure what better term to use.)

Again, the basis — weak as it is — for dualism is going to be alleged first-person experience of phenomenal consciousness, possibly along with some variation on the knowledge argument. If one endorses dualism, then the rest of the picture changes or might change somewhat drastically, depending on what form of dualism one accepts.

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Paul C December 4, 2011 at 5:01 am

I’ll freely agree that duallists like Chalmers may not be bothered by my point, but I’m not raising that point against duallists like Chalmers. I am raising it against the common-or-garden duallist whose belief is based on religious narratives, who form the overwhelming majority of duallists, which is why I said “most duallists”.

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Paul C December 4, 2011 at 5:01 am

p.s. Thanks for the reference, looks interesting.

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Rob December 4, 2011 at 7:49 am

Jonathan Livengood,

His argument is against substance dualism, not property dualism.

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cl December 4, 2011 at 10:15 am

Well there’s so much wrong here I just can’t resist…

The evidence is so strong that the mind is just an outcome of physical and chemical processes in the brain, and the evidence against that hypothesis so tenuous, that to deny it seems like wishful thinking to me. Jeffrey Shallit

It seems to me that either A) you haven’t taken an objective look at all the pertinent evidence; B) aren’t very competent at evaluating evidence in general; or, C) have succumbed to materialist bias.

And it would still be the case that dualism has gotten into hot water in modern neurobiologists. Dualists have retreated to philosophy. There’s basically no such thing as scientific dualism anymore. No proposals for interactions between the soul and the brain, no proposals for what we’d find in brain scans, nothing. Leonhard

Straight-up false. We are in the midst of the most comprehensive scientific study of dualism to ever take place. Sure, they’ve hit some snags what with the high mortality rate and all, but your comment is just silly.

But in actuality, it should be this

(1) When we impair activity in brain region B, mental activity M is impaired or destroyed.
(2) Therefore, when we impair activities in ALL brain regions (by killing the brain), we should expect massive or total impairment or destruction of mental activity.
(3) Popular beliefs in afterlives don’t include ANY impairment or destruction of brain activity.
(4) Therefore popular beliefs in afterlives are not compatible with what we know about neuroscience. Patrick

Correct, Patrick. The Bible does not endorse a resurrection to retardation. Of course, neuroscience has nothing to say about the resurrection the Bible does endorse, which makes your whole little ditty completely irrelevant (at least as far as one of the most popular forms of dualism is concerned).

In (3), I screwed up. The second to last word should read “mental.” I think most people will probably figure that out from context, but I’m insecure enough to post a correction. Patrick

That should be the least of your worries. Cogency should always supercede spelling. anon crushed you.

As for a universe that has all that stuff AND an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving disembodied intelligence AND an afterlife AND non-physical minds (that is minds that cannot be reduced to the physical laws and hence have to be added to the description)…that would be a pretty damn complex hypothesis. PDH

Well sure, if and only if you swallow the silly assumption that all that stuff is produced by the universe and not the other way around. You go wrong the minute you describe God as an entity that requires a transition from potency to act. Under that misguided assumption, yes, the universe you describe would be “more complex.”

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cl December 4, 2011 at 10:19 am

Since Luke apparently doesn’t know what “winning” means, a few high fives for a few of the real winners in this discussion:

I’m not sure why Luke, Patrick, and others find Harris’s argument here convincing. Jonathan Livengood

Because they’re super-duper-rational atheists who think that science is Superman and theism is for the birds! Therefore, Harris’ brand of pseudoscience is music to their ears. It’s also music to mine, because I love watching smart people embarrass themselves without even realizing it, especially when there’s a superiority complex at work. Good stuff!

You see, there is science and then there is science-as-religion. Sam is practicing science-as-religion. His followers love it, but there’s nothing persuasive about what he said. Mike Gantt

Nail. On. The. Head. They love it! See how they swoon over pseudoscience while lambasting theists for that which they espouse! And all under lofty labels of “rational” and “scientific” [BARF]

Dualists — at least, sophisticated dualists like Chalmers — claim that there are other phenomena that need to be addressed by any theory of the mind. Jonathan Livengood

Yeah, but the key word there is “sophisticated.” These are mostly little internet atheist preachers here. Little materialist sycophants who fancy themselves rationally superior to dissenters. I’ve never seen a single post on this blog or any other atheist blog that attempts to confront the “other phenomena” you allude. They usually ignore it entirely, if they’ve even heard of it. I mean, how often do you hear the played-out canard, “There is no evidence for …?”

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Paradox O'Clock December 4, 2011 at 10:30 am

” I mean, how often do you hear the played-out canard, “There is no evidence for …?”

Usually immediately after a post like yours which claims there is ample evidence but fails to provide any.

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cl December 4, 2011 at 10:52 am

Patrick,

Yeah, I figured you wouldn’t even give a worthy response. Oh well. I’m not the one who has to live with your “argument” (or whatever that was).

You think you got something? Let’s get down. If not, keep puffin’ your chest.

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Rorschach December 4, 2011 at 10:52 am

Cl,

Straight-up false. We are in the midst of the most comprehensive scientific study of dualism to ever take place. Sure, they’ve hit some snags what with the high mortality rate and all, but your comment is just silly.

Does anyone know a philosophical position more discredited than dualism? Only ID comes to mind. Why dont you answer this argument for me:

If the mind is immaterial and SPACELESS, how can it be spatiallly located? It is NOT in my brain? And how can it have a spacially limited causal power on dualism?

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Paradox O'Clock December 4, 2011 at 10:58 am

Were you referring to me? I’m not Patrick, and you still haven’t offered any evidence.

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cl December 4, 2011 at 11:04 am

Rorschach,

Does anyone know a philosophical position more discredited than dualism?

What does it mean to say that a philosophical position is “discredited” in the first place? Other people’s opinions are irrelevant here.

Why dont you answer this argument for me:

An argument is a set of propositions followed by a conclusion. You don’t have an argument. At least, if you do, you haven’t presented it in a manner worthy of serious consideration.

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cl December 4, 2011 at 11:11 am

Paradox O’Clock

Were you referring to me?

Yes I was. My mistake.

I’m not Patrick, and you still haven’t offered any evidence.

Evidence for what? I’m not here to defend dualism, even though I happen to think the “balance of pertinent evidence” tends to favor it. I’m here to say that “there’s no evidence for dualism” is false, that Sam Harris’ “argument” is pure chutzpah (as was Patrick’s), and that those persuaded by these arguments are persuaded by pseudoscience.

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Paradox O'Clock December 4, 2011 at 11:31 am

“I’m here to say that “there’s no evidence for dualism” is false”

Then provide evidence for it.

“that Sam Harris’ “argument” is pure chutzpah”

Then make a case for it.

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cl December 4, 2011 at 11:55 am

Paradox O’Clock,

Then provide evidence for it.

Been there, done that. Don’t care to sway you, don’t care if you can’t face reality. If you don’t consider the wide spectrum from Pam Reynolds to native anthropology to psi research as “evidence” that’s fine, but don’t tell me it doesn’t exist.

Then make a case for it.

That’s Harris’ job. Harris retains the burden of proof here buddy, not me. I’m under no rational compulsion to accept Harris’ fallacy of mistaking correlation for causation.

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Paradox O'Clock December 4, 2011 at 12:13 pm

“Been there, done that. Don’t care to sway you, don’t care if you can’t face reality.”

Ah, I see. Because in at least one other forum (possibly online, possibly not, who knows?) you have presented evidence (which you are unwilling to even mention here) to other people (none of whom are likely to be reading this), you refuse to ever present it to anybody else, despite the fact that this comment thread is very clearly one of those more likely to engage with your viewpoint if presented well.

Good thing you weren’t responsible for the campaign to abolish slavery: I picture you standing up in church one day, making your case and then refusing ever again to engage with anybody else. The fact that you can be bothered to repeatedly post on this blog, however, acts as some small evidence that you do care to sway people – if not me, then others reading your sage words.

“If you don’t consider the wide spectrum from Pam Reynolds to native anthropology to psi research as “evidence” that’s fine, but don’t tell me it doesn’t exist.”

I haven’t said anything about what constitutes evidence, I’ve merely pointed out that if you don’t present your evidence and make your own argument, people are unlikely to take you very seriously. I realise that this prospect displeases you but I’m not sure why you think it’s unacceptable, since that’s exactly what you’re accusing “atheists” of.

“Harris retains the burden of proof here buddy, not me.”

Harris points out that damage to the brain is known to damage the mind; that the more research is done, the more attributes of the mind are shown to be affected and altered by damage to the brain; that death constitutes the greatest extent to which the brain can be damaged; and that in light of this expecting the mind to survive intact after such massive brain damage is unreasonable. He’s presented what seems to me to be reasonable evidence; which part of his argument do you not agree with?

It’s also worth taking into account (and this goes for everybody arguing against him) that he very clearly states that “There are very good reasons to believe that [dualism] is not true”; he does not state “dualism is not true” (although he likely believes it). When we prepare elaborate philosophical refutations of his position, it’s also also worth taking into account that he is sitting on a stage, taking part in a panel discussion, and speaking off the cuff.

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cl December 4, 2011 at 12:53 pm

Can anyone point me to Sam Harris’ official word on the various classes of anomalous phenomena? Can anyone point me to Sam Harris’ assessment of the problems with physicalism? Personally, I get excited when I see somebody challenge their own belief system, not simply immerse themselves in that which tends to confirm it.

Paradox O’Clock,

Because in at least one other forum (possibly online, possibly not, who knows?) you have presented evidence (which you are unwilling to even mention here) to other people (none of whom are likely to be reading this), you refuse to ever present it to anybody else, despite the fact that this comment thread is very clearly one of those more likely to engage with your viewpoint if presented well.

I made brief mention here of some evidence here. I’ve been a regular here for years. I know how it typically goes. Granted, there’s been some change in readership since Luke jumped on the Yudkowsky bandwagon, but honestly I’m just not that interested in trying to convince you or anyone else here. It’s that thing about insanity as “doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results.”

I haven’t said anything about what constitutes evidence…

Then why pester me with an hitherto undefined abstraction? If you want to have a discussion stake out some parameters here.

…I’ve merely pointed out that if you don’t present your evidence and make your own argument, people are unlikely to take you very seriously.

I don’t care. I don’t have an argument to make in this thread. With the exception of a few sporadic truths, I’m not taking this thread seriously. It’s a bunch of pseudo-rationalists fanning out on Sam Harris while thinking those “poor irrational believers” are the ones who really accept pseudoscience—and it’s comedy. I take that back, it’s actually sad.

Harris points out that damage to the brain is known to damage the mind; that the more research is done, the more attributes of the mind are shown to be affected and altered by damage to the brain; that death constitutes the greatest extent to which the brain can be damaged; and that in light of this expecting the mind to survive intact after such massive brain damage is unreasonable. He’s presented what seems to me to be reasonable evidence; which part of his argument do you not agree with?

Blah blah blah I already told you in the last sentence of my last comment. I also told Patrick when I responded to his. Just like the proverbial atheists I allude to, you insist on ignoring that which is at hand, preferring instead to nakedly declare that it does not exist. So let me repeat myself: Fallacy of mistaking correlation as causation. Fallacy of assuming a creator God couldn’t recreate. Fallacy of assuming a First Cause needs an explanation. Etc.

It’s also worth taking into account (and this goes for everybody arguing against him) that he very clearly states that “There are very good reasons to believe that [dualism] is not true”; he does not state “dualism is not true” (although he likely believes it). When we prepare elaborate philosophical refutations of his position, it’s also also worth taking into account that he is sitting on a stage, taking part in a panel discussion, and speaking off the cuff.

I agree, and I appreciate the nuance.

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Rorschach December 4, 2011 at 1:02 pm

Rorschach,

What does it mean to say that a philosophical position is “discredited” in the first place? Other people’s opinions are irrelevant here.

An argument is a set of propositions followed by a conclusion. You don’t have an argument. At least, if you do, you haven’t presented it in a manner worthy of serious consideration.

Arguments does not need to be presented in a formal structure. But, appparently as you dont have enought intelligence to grasp it, i have taken the liberty of doing it to you:

P1- Given dualism, the mind is immaterial and spacelless.
P2- Whatever is spaceless and imaterial cannot be spatially localized.
P3-The mind is spatially localized and it have a spatially limited range of action(in interactionism)
C-Therefore, the mind cannot be immaterial.

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Paradox O'Clock December 4, 2011 at 1:11 pm

“Fallacy of mistaking correlation as causation. Fallacy of assuming a creator God couldn’t recreate. Fallacy of assuming a First Cause needs an explanation. Etc. ”

In reverse order: I fail to see how First Cause arguments offer any rebuttal to Harris’ argument. A creator God likewise offers no rebuttal to Harris’ line of thought, and if the mind and the brain are inextricable, cannot offer any solution unless it is the complete recreation of the mind itself, and that then raises the question of which mind is being recreated. And it is clear to me at least that Harris is well aware of the correlation problem, and that this is likely the source of his caution. I’m not entirely sure how exactly you think these fallacies (at least two of which he does not make, as far as I can tell) undermine his argument – I realise that you may feel that you’re wasting your time, but I’d appreciate it if you’d explain further.

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cl December 4, 2011 at 1:23 pm

Rorschach,

Arguments does not need to be presented in a formal structure.

Correct, “arguments” does not need to be presented formally, and I never said or implied they did.

But, appparently as you dont have enought intelligence to grasp it, i have taken the liberty of doing it to you:

I know, right? Like, OMG, I’m so dense that here you are explaining yourself to a total dumbass on the internet! The problem wasn’t my intelligence but your inability to formulate anything specific.

P1- Given dualism, the mind is immaterial and spacelless.
P2- Whatever is spaceless and imaterial cannot be spatially localized.
P3-The mind is spatially localized and it have a spatially limited range of action(in interactionism)
C-Therefore, the mind cannot be immaterial.

Yeah, I dunno how to handle that… How about,

P1: Given dualism, the mind is ghortufoz and ralyoquil

I mean, you might as well use those terms, as I have no idea what “immaterial” and “spaceless” reduce to in your ontology. I’m not trying to be a jerk, it’s just a waste of time unless you’re willing to the heavy lifting of explaining precisely what you mean when using these terms. It would also be nice to explain what your parameters will and will not allow. If you can do that we might get somewhere.

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cl December 4, 2011 at 1:35 pm

Paradox O’Clock,

In reverse order: I fail to see how First Cause arguments offer any rebuttal to Harris’ argument.

That part of that sentence was intended for PDH. To say, “a universe with an all-knowing all-loving God is far more complex therefore far less acceptable per Ockham,” suggests that one is not accurately understanding the hypothesis on offer.

A creator God likewise offers no rebuttal to Harris’ line of thought,

Wrong. Harris implies an argument from incredulity: “If the mind is what the brain does, and the brain dies at death, I don’t see how the traditional afterlife concepts can be true.” The line of reasoning requires the presupposition the brain is sole cause of the mind. The other “fallacy” is in assuming a God capable of creating existence couldn’t recreate any given aspect of it. Good luck with that. If you think I’ve been uncharitable in my paraphrase, then state the wording you’d like to see me address.

And it is clear to me at least that Harris is well aware of the correlation problem, and that this is likely the source of his caution. I’m not entirely sure how exactly you think these fallacies (at least two of which he does not make, as far as I can tell) undermine his argument…

It is not clear to me exactly which “argument” of Harris’ you’re defending. There have been quite a few P’s and C’s tossed out in this thread. If the argument I just paraphrased, well… I just explained. If not, why don’t you articulate Harris’ argument as you perceive it, and while you’re at it, why don’t you tell me what you’ve seen from Harris on the “correlation is not causation” front?

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PDH December 4, 2011 at 1:58 pm

cl wrote,

Well sure, if and only if you swallow the silly assumption that all that stuff is produced by the universe and not the other way around. You go wrong the minute you describe God as an entity that requires a transition from potency to act. Under that misguided assumption, yes, the universe you describe would be “more complex.”

I don’t remember describing God as a being that requires a transition from potency to act, I don’t see how my point depends on it and I don’t see how it would make much difference even if it did, to be honest.

The main issue is whether a description of physics is simpler than a description of a disembodied mind that can’t be reduced to physics. Note that, on physicalism, complex phenomena such as intelligence are supposed to reduce to physics, along with everything else (that’s almost the definition of physicalism). For example, life reduces to biology, which reduces to chemistry, which reduces to physics. Physicalists appeal to things like the theory of evolution to explain how the laws of physics imply these seemingly complex phenomena, despite being extremely simple themselves. For example, people used to believe that an extra, non-physical something (such as elan vital) was needed to explain life but evolution goes some considerable way towards showing how you can have such things as zebras and giraffes in a physical universe without any such something. If broadly successful this would show that intelligence on the physicalists’ view is ultimately not any more complex than physics is, that is, the existence of intelligence is consistent with physics and requires no additional physical laws. What you are proposing is almost the inverse of that. A universe in which physics reduces to intelligence! In short, the explanation is more complex than the thing it was supposed to explain. God could not have evolved, for example, so we can’t show how He is really just an implication of simpler laws.

The most charitable interpretation of your above comment is that dualism, the afterlife and whatnot are implied by theism in the same way that giraffes are implied by physics. Suppose this is true, for a moment. That is, suppose that the beliefs of a theist who holds that there is an afterlife are simpler than those of a theist who holds that there is not. This is conceivable. It might be argued, for example, that it is implicit in the laws that a loving, all-powerful God would make for His creatures a paradise and thus to assert that God would not do this would be to add to the laws. It would be to say that God is ‘sort of Loving’ or ‘Loving in some ways but not in others’ thus adding to the specificity.

However, even if this is the case it doesn’t change the fact that theism is more complex by far than physics is. A term like ‘loving’ would have to be sufficiently well described that we could make such highly specific predictions in the first place, so that’s going to be a pretty damn complex description. What you’re really doing there is appealing to something analogous to human psychology to make predictions whilst explicitly stating that human psychology (one of the most seemingly complex phenomena of which we know) does not reduce to anything simpler. Dualism is the assertion that minds (at least some aspects of them) don’t reduce to physics, hence it necessarily must be more complex than physics. ‘Physics + non-physical minds’ is a conjunction so it’s mathematically impossible for it to be simpler. Theism, meanwhile, is the assertion that all the law-like behaviour we observe is actually directed and sustained by a disembodied mind: that something functionally identical to the standard model and general relativity results from the actions of a divine being. ‘Physics + God’ is a conjunction.

The description will be longer.

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Rorschach December 4, 2011 at 2:03 pm

Cl,

I know, right? Like, OMG, I’m so dense that here you are explaining yourself to a total dumbass on the internet! The problem wasn’t my intelligence but your inability to formulate anything specific.

Dont push it to me your poor interpretation skills. Its alright, we wont make fun of you just because you cannot interpretate things properly.

P1: Given dualism, the mind is ghortufoz and ralyoquil…

I mean, you might as well use those terms, as I have no idea what “immaterial” and “spaceless” reduce to in your ontology. I’m not trying to be a jerk, it’s just a waste of time unless you’re willing to the heavy lifting of explaining precisely what you mean when using these terms. It would also be nice to explain what your parameters will and will not allow. If you can do that we might get somewhere.

Ridiculous. Doesn’t theist’s define god as a immaterial spaceles mind and that we were made in his image ? And That when we die the immaterial spirit goes to a immaterial place(heaven)?
It is a well established implication, or rather, a definition of cartesian dualism(and dualistic theories in general) that the mind is a immaterial substance that it is independent from the material substract. And if it is immaterial, is therefore spaceless. And if it is immaterial and spaceless, it doesnt make sense to say it exists in a spaciatilly localized region, like a particular nervous system. I dont think anyone can make a clearer explanation of this argument.
But i suppose that’s okay too, because dualism wasn’t made to make sense. It was made to guarantee an afterlife for unintelligent and insecure people, right?

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cl December 4, 2011 at 5:04 pm

PDH,

I don’t remember describing God as a being that requires a transition from potency to act, I don’t see how my point depends on it and I don’t see how it would make much difference even if it did, to be honest.

I understand why. You assert that physics producing intelligence is a “simpler” explanation than intelligence producing physics. Well, some people like Dali, so you can probably imagine that I’m not sold.

Here’s the thing. You’re really asserting either 1) that something always existed and that that something preceded the current something; or, 2) that everything came from nothing. 1) is compatible with theism. 2) doesn’t strike me as the type of “simple” hypothesis any champion of Ockham’s would prefer.

Further, by your own explanation, my “hypothesis” is as simple as yours. You’re saying “physics->intelligence” which is a conjunction, and I’m saying “intelligence->physics,” which is also a conjunction.

For these reason, I don’t agree with your opinion that “theism is far more complex” than physics.

Rorschach,

Its alright, we wont make fun of you just because you cannot interpretate things properly.

Interpretate? Like I said, you’re being sloppy. Don’t try to pass the buck.

Doesn’t theist’s define god as a immaterial spaceles mind and that we were made in his image ? And That when we die the immaterial spirit goes to a immaterial place(heaven)?

I believe in a “physical” resurrection. I also believe that a “non-physical” dimension exists and that the “physical” ultimately supervenes on one or more “non-physical” dimensions. I use scare quotes because those words are as good as meaningless at this point. No matter what’s discovered, the materialists herald it as a “material” thing, so… what’s the point eh? Hell, it’s all physical!

So you want to get somewhere? Explain what you mean by “immaterial” or “material” or “spaceless.”

And if it is immaterial and spaceless, it doesnt make sense to say it exists in a spaciatilly localized region, like a particular nervous system. I dont think anyone can make a clearer explanation of this argument.

I wish you could see that it wasn’t an argument. It doesn’t map to anything real. I’ve now asked you twice to define your terms. Either do it, or try rerunning your “argument” without any words like “material” or “immaterial” or “physical” etc. Trust me, that would be more fruitful than the current strategy.

…dualism wasn’t made to make sense. It was made to guarantee an afterlife for unintelligent and insecure people, right?

Now you’re just babbling nonsense. Yeah, people are so insecure and stupid that they invented the concept of hell. I can see it now, a bunch of Neanderthals sitting around scratching their noggins thinking, “How can we get some emotional security guys? I know! We’ll invent the concept of a God that judges our sin and must let us perish if we aren’t willing to repent.”

So comforting.

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PDH December 4, 2011 at 5:35 pm

cl wrote,

I understand why. You assert that physics producing intelligence is a “simpler” explanation than intelligence producing physics. Well, some people like Dali, so you can probably imagine that I’m not sold.

Here’s the thing. You’re really asserting either 1) that something always existed and that that something preceded the current something; or, 2) that everything came from nothing. 1) is compatible with theism. 2) doesn’t strike me as the type of “simple” hypothesis any champion of Ockham’s would prefer.

I’m not asserting that something came from nothing. I’m saying that a description of the universe in terms of physical laws is simpler than a description of the universe in terms of the exact same physical laws with the additional assertion that those laws are created and sustained by an irreducible disembodied mind with awe-inspiring powers.

Further, by your own explanation, my “hypothesis” is as simple as yours. You’re saying “physics->intelligence” which is a conjunction, and I’m saying “intelligence->physics,” which is also a conjunction.

That’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying that this thing that seems really complicated – intelligence – ultimately reduces to the simple laws of physics.

It’s like, say you’ve got two computer programs: one that just prints the number 5 a million times and another that prints a number with a million random digits. The first program would be really simple because you could just basically say ‘nine times a million.’ But there isn’t a simple way of expressing the second program, you’d have to put the whole number in there somewhere.

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cl December 4, 2011 at 6:36 pm

PDH,

Ockham’s simply advises against multiplying entities beyond necessity. The key question is whether physical laws alone are sufficient to account for the sum of all observable phenomena. You apparently think they are. I don’t. We’re at a stalemate.

I’m not asserting that something came from nothing.

Then you’re asserting that something always existed, and that that something preceded the current something. That is compatible with theism, which also typically requires that something always existed.

I’m saying that a description of the universe in terms of physical laws is simpler than a description of the universe in terms of the exact same physical laws with the additional assertion that those laws are created and sustained by an irreducible disembodied mind with awe-inspiring powers.

And I’m saying so what? Again, you think intelligence ultimately supervenes on physics. I think physics ultimately supervenes on intelligence. A universe with only one solar system is “simpler” than a universe with billions, but so far as we know the one with billions is the one we have. Simpler != truer.

So why do you think you have the epistemic highground?

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PDH December 5, 2011 at 6:55 am

cl, a universe with only one solar system is NOT simpler than the one we have. The physics that we have will result in huge numbers of stars unless additional laws are added to the model specifying a certain number and thus increasing the model’s complexity. That’s the whole point. And we do have extremely good reason to think that hypotheses with lower Kolmogorov complexity are more likely to be true. The more specific a hypothesis is the more things have to go exactly right in order for it to be true. If I say ‘there is a man in Germany’ and you say, ‘there is a man in Germany with precisely four billion, three hundred and ninety-seven million, two hundred and thirty-three thousand, six hundred and forty-seven hairs on his head’ it is more likely that my hypothesis will be correct. We might both be right but more things have to go right all together in order for your hypothesis to be correct. If the man has one less hair than you have stipulated that he must have, I will be right and you will not.

You are explicitly stating that intelligence does not reduce to anything simpler. That’s the whole point of dualism. You’ve outright conceded that your hypothesis is more complex.

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cl December 5, 2011 at 7:15 am

PDH,

Let’s try this another way. According to your logic, a lifeless universe is “simpler” than a universe with life because “more things have to go right all together” in order for a universe to have life than not. Right?

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PDH December 5, 2011 at 9:10 am

Not necessarily, no. The universe might be lifeless because it has very many extremely complex laws that result in a very chaotic environment. For example, it might be a universe created by a deist God with no concern at all about creating a universe with life.

To borrow an analogy from Paul Almond, a computer program that output another, specific kind of program – a chess program, say – would be more complex than a computer program that just generated every possible computer program one-by-one. The second program would eventually make the chess program, anyway, and it could be extremely simple.

The program to produce all computer programs is actually very small and simple. Any computer program is a sequence of 0s and 1s, but any sequence of 0s and 1s can also be understood as a binary number, so any computer program corresponds to a number. For example, a very short list of 0s and 1s, such as 01101101, could be understood as the binary equivalent of the decimal number 109: any computer program, viewed as a sequence of 0s and 1s with place dependent weighting given to the bits, would correspond to a number in this way. For a program to output every possible computer program, all it need do is start at 0 and start counting 1,2,3,4,etc. without end, outputting each number in binary. When the program is started, the first number it will output is 0, then 1, then 2 in binary, which is 10, then 3 in binary, which is 11, then 100 for 4, 101 for 5, followed by 110, 111, 1000, 1001, 1010 and so on. Every sequence of binary digits will be produced eventually. Our chess program is one of these sequences, so we must merely wait for it.

-Paul Almond

Likewise with intelligence. Giraffes may seem complex but they are made of the same things as everything else in the universe and are subject to the same laws. It’s just particles and physics. The extremely simple laws of physics will eventually lead to such things as giraffes and intelligences on physicalism.

But you are explicitly asserting that intelligence cannot be reduced. This means that you’re stuck with an irreducible disembodied mind that just happens to behave in the incredibly specific manner it would need to behave in order that these circumstances alone entail. I mean, stars, for example, still behave in the way that the standard model predicts. So you can say that God makes one hydrogen atom fuse with another for every atom of hydrogen in every star in existence or you can find a shorter way to express that behaviour. But that’s exactly what physics is! And once you’ve got that, you don’t need the God, it just adds unnecessary specificity to the model. A description that doesn’t contain this highly specific entity is simpler than one that does.

Furthermore, those laws imply a great many stars, not a single solar system, and they also imply life and intelligence. You would have to add extra laws to that model to stop life arising. This would be the equivalent of telling the computer program to stop before it gets to the chess program: the program would be longer.

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Tarun December 5, 2011 at 12:37 pm

PDH,

Suppose I tell a particle phycisist that I have a theory that is far more likely to be true than the standard model. On my theory all the matter and forces in the universe reduce to two kinds of particles, rather than the 60 kinds postulated by the standard model. The physicist asks me to show her the math on this reduction, and I go “Oh, I haven’t figured that out yet. So far, all I’ve got is that everything reduces to these two particles. Still, my particle dualism is vastly more likely to be true than your particle sixty-ism because it has lower Kolmogorov complexity. I don’t have to independently specify a bunch of particles.” I think she’d be right to respond that I can’t site simplicity as a virtue of my theory until I have actually demonstrated that I can get the same empirical strength with simpler resources.

It seems to me that this is the right sort of response to you as well. You keep citing the greater simplicity of physicalism as an argument against dualism. But it’s not like dualists concede that mental properties actually could be reduced to physical properties but want to postulate a separate mental realm anyway. Dualists deny that such a reduction is available. To use the simplicity of such a reduction, if it existed, as an argument that the reduction exists is surely not right. It’s like me using the simplicity of my two-particle theory, if it existed, as an argument for its existence.

You say to cl, “You are explicitly stating that intelligence does not reduce to anything simpler. That’s the whole point of dualism. You’ve outright conceded that your hypothesis is more complex.” But he has conceded no such thing. He is denying that a reduction is possible. According to him, there is no workable reductive hypothesis (I’m assuming). So how could he have conceded that his hypothesis is “more complex”. More complex than what?

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PDH December 5, 2011 at 1:26 pm

Tarun wrote,

Suppose I tell a particle phycisist that I have a theory that is far more likely to be true than the standard model. On my theory all the matter and forces in the universe reduce to two kinds of particles, rather than the 60 kinds postulated by the standard model. The physicist asks me to show her the math on this reduction, and I go “Oh, I haven’t figured that out yet. So far, all I’ve got is that everything reduces to these two particles. Still, my particle dualism is vastly more likely to be true than your particle sixty-ism because it has lower Kolmogorov complexity. I don’t have to independently specify a bunch of particles.” I think she’d be right to respond that I can’t site simplicity as a virtue of my theory until I have actually demonstrated that I can get the same empirical strength with simpler resources.

It seems to me that this is the right sort of response to you as well. You keep citing the greater simplicity of physicalism as an argument against dualism. But it’s not like dualists concede that mental properties actually could be reduced to physical properties but want to postulate a separate mental realm anyway. Dualists deny that such a reduction is available. To use the simplicity of such a reduction, if it existed, as an argument that the reduction exists is surely not right. It’s like me using the simplicity of my two-particle theory, if it existed, as an argument for its existence.

You say to cl, “You are explicitly stating that intelligence does not reduce to anything simpler. That’s the whole point of dualism. You’ve outright conceded that your hypothesis is more complex.” But he has conceded no such thing. He is denying that a reduction is possible. According to him, there is no workable reductive hypothesis (I’m assuming). So how could he have conceded that his hypothesis is “more complex”. More complex than what?

To say that intelligence does not reduce to simpler laws is literally the same thing as conceding that your hypothesis is more complex. The issue that you are talking about here is fit-to-data.

A two particle theory might not fit the data but it is (probably) simpler.

These are two different issues. At times it seemed to me that cl was denying that the physicalist view was simpler, not just that it didn’t fit the data as well as its competitor. I would respond to that charge differently.

In your analogy, is the two-particle theory consistent with the evidence? Does it make the same predictions as the current model? If they really are otherwise equivalent and one was vastly more complex than the other we would absolutely prefer the simpler one.

When both theories are consistent with the evidence and neither can be disproved there are still a number of options available to us. We can look to see if the evidence favours one over the other, for example, as you say. Another thing that we can do is try to see if one explanation has some virtue like simplicity that the other does not have that might cause us to prefer it. Probability theory allows us to account for these things, sometimes very rigorously.

This is what I was doing. Since neither explanation is perfect – dualism, after all, does not explain any of the things that physicalists are chastised for not explaining – we can look to see which is the more plausible. The complexity of the theory absolutely is relevant here for reasons already discussed.

Furthermore, we were really talking about theism not dualism, though the discussion had implications for that, as well.

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Rorschach December 5, 2011 at 2:09 pm

Cl,

I wish you could see that it wasn’t an argument. It doesn’t map to anything real. I’ve now asked you twice to define your terms. Either do it, or try rerunning your “argument” without any words like “material” or “immaterial” or “physical” etc. Trust me, that would be more fruitful than the current strategy.

The best way to face an argument wich you cant face is to not face it at all, right?
By immaterial, i mean non-physical, whatever doesn’t exists in spacetime,
that wich is not composed of atoms or photons, etc… By spaceless, i mean something that also doesn’t exist in space time. The traditional dualistic definitions meet both of the criterea above. And if that is, by the third time , it doesnt make sense to say it exists localized in spacetime. Now can you tell me what premiss is wrong? Because the logic is valid.

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PDH December 5, 2011 at 3:30 pm

Also, Tarun, I haven’t really presented an argument against dualism in this thread. I’ve said that I think abductive reasoning would be the best way to approach the issue and I’ve tried to clarify several points about simplicity, originally to explain the relevance of another poster’s objection and later because cl challenged some of what I said. And in the course of this I pointed out one problem with epiphenomenalism and extolled the virtues of reductionism.

Other than that, I haven’t really tried to make much of a case against dualism, which is not to say that I don’t think a case can be made.

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Tarun December 5, 2011 at 4:18 pm

PDH,

I know of no dualist who believes that physicalism fits the data. I really doubt cl is such a beast. He explicitly brought up psi phenomena, apparently as an argument against physicalism. If there were a person who said “I think physicalism can account for all mental phenomena, but I’m still a dualist”, your simplicity argument would be a good response. But I’ve never heard of anyone adopting this weird position.

You say that dualism doesn’t explain any of the things physicalists are accused of not explaining. I think you’re thinking of a sort of Cartesian substance dualism here, and I agree that this form of dualism is not explanatorily superior to physicalism. In fact, it is explanatory inferior, and even worse, I think it has basically been falsified. But I lean towards Chalmers-esque property dualism. Property dualists explain the correlation between certain brain states and certain mental phenomena (such as qualia) by postulating psycho-physical laws connecting these two sets of properties. Physicalists have no explanation for how a particular brain state produces, say, the subjective visual sensation of redness. In fact, I’m not even sure how a physicalist would go about constructing such an explanation. Qualia just do not seem susceptible to the sort of functional analysis that is the usual reductionist strategy.

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Tarun December 5, 2011 at 4:22 pm

The first sentence in my last post should have read “I know of no dualist who thinks physicalism successfully accounts for all the relevant data.” Physicalism might trivially fit the data in the sense that it is not obviously incompatible with the data, but this does not mean it successfully accounts for the data. I don’t think physicalism is incompatible with the existence of qualia, but I do think there is no successful physicalist account of qualia, or even a promising program for how such an account might be developed.

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Tarun December 5, 2011 at 4:41 pm

PDH,

Sorry, I misread your post. You were not claiming that cl (or any dualist) thinks physicalism fits the data. You were arguing that the simplicity of a theory can be judged independently of how well it fits the data, and physicalism is simpler than dualism, regardless of which one fits the facts better.

I’m not sure this is true. It’s certainly the case that physics is simpler than physics + psycho-physical laws. But physicalism is not the same as physics. Physicalism is the thesis that all phenomena, including mental phenomena, can be accounted for by physics. Why is this thesis supposed to be simpler than dualism, the thesis that additional laws are required to account for mental phenomena? It is not obvious to me that I could output the thesis of physicalism using a shorter program than the one required to output the thesis of dualism.

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PDH December 5, 2011 at 4:57 pm

I don’t see why we wouldn’t just call physicalism + psycho-physical laws ‘physicalism.’ It wouldn’t be the first time that scientists have discovered new laws and most physicalists are perfectly happy to say that current physics is not complete. That’s why I avoid the term ‘physicalism,’ myself, because I think it’s a bit trivial. I would need to know how psycho-physical laws can be distinguished from just more physical laws.

Obviously, adding more laws (whether we call them ‘physical’ or not) makes it more complex, so the debate would turn on whether the new laws are needed and whether or not they add anything. In support of such things people typically offer various thought experiments that I don’t find very persuasive. Do the psycho-physical laws lend themselves to any testable predictions? How exactly do they explain such things as qualia?

For the record, I think that whilst current physics almost certainly is incomplete I doubt that this particular problem will be resolved by new laws of physics being discovered, psycho-physical or otherwise. So there are grounds for dispute, it’s not just semantics. It is the kind of mystery I would expect to be dissolved rather than solved and I think that that is probably close to what most people who call themselves physicalists (in the context of debates over consciousness) are arguing for.

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cl December 6, 2011 at 2:03 am

Tarun,

Great comments.

The physicist asks me to show her the math on this reduction, and I go “Oh, I haven’t figured that out yet. So far, all I’ve got is that everything reduces to these two particles. Still, my particle dualism is vastly more likely to be true than your particle sixty-ism because it has lower Kolmogorov complexity. I don’t have to independently specify a bunch of particles.”

Were you around for the last post where Luke tried to claim that Solomonov induction favors atheism? I expressed precisely the sentiment you have here. Without the math, this is a bunch armchair theorizing from committed physicalists. I really wish people like Luke and PDH would bring the math. Honestly, I don’t think they can. Else they would.

I think she’d be right to respond that I can’t site simplicity as a virtue of my theory until I have actually demonstrated that I can get the same empirical strength with simpler resources.

Exactly, and that’s why I’m skeptical of PDH’s take. I don’t think you can get the same empirical strength with simpler resources. I think Aristotle laid this to rest long ago.

You say to cl, “You are explicitly stating that intelligence does not reduce to anything simpler. That’s the whole point of dualism. You’ve outright conceded that your hypothesis is more complex.” But he has conceded no such thing.

That’s right. PDH asserts that everything reduces to physics, and that such is simple. Well, I assert that everything reduces to intelligence, and simple. In fact, simpler. Sure, if there’s some cosmic computer program outputting 1′s and 0′s we’d eventually end up with the universe we’re in, but if we’re going to stick to what’s been empirically validated, we have one universe to work with, not all possible universes. From what I’ve learned, Bayes actually disfavors the multiverse. OTOH, intelligence is quite elegant for explaining the state of affairs we observe. After all, the universe does bear the earmarks of design. Dawkins even admitted it.

If there were a person who said “I think physicalism can account for all mental phenomena, but I’m still a dualist”, your simplicity argument would be a good response. But I’ve never heard of anyone adopting this weird position.

Neither have I (and I realize you later realized PDH didn’t think that’s what I thought). It’s as if PDH completely overlooked that point, which I tried to make evident in my original criticism (the “if and only if you swallow the silly assumption that all that stuff is produced by the universe and not the other way around” part).

It is not obvious to me that I could output the thesis of physicalism using a shorter program than the one required to output the thesis of dualism.

It’s not obvious to me, either. That’s why I press these folks for math, but none ever shows up. I guess we’re just supposed to take their word for it?

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cl December 6, 2011 at 2:11 am

Rorshach,

The best way to face an argument wich you cant face is to not face it at all, right?

What argument? You can’t even articulate yourself.

By immaterial, i mean non-physical, whatever doesn’t exists in spacetime, that wich is not composed of atoms or photons, etc…

Oh, cool… like gravity? Gravity doesn’t “exist” in space-time, unless of course you mean that it takes place “in” or “supervenes upon” space-time… but then so does consciousness. So you need to figure out what the hell you’re talking about and explain it with some precision. You’ve got no reason to be coy.

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cl December 6, 2011 at 2:16 am

PDH,

I don’t see why we wouldn’t just call physicalism + psycho-physical laws ‘physicalism.’

You can, and that’s what most “physicalists” do. Whatever physicists discover, it’s physical! Hence physicalism is always true! It’s a tried-and-true technique, rhetorically persuasive to the unlearned perhaps, not so much to anyone who’s paid attention to the general trajectory of physics over the last 100 years or so. You can’t just usurp all that exists and cram it under your own narrowly-defined metaphysical umbrella.

So, I’m still waiting: can you [or Luke or anyone else who touts big words like Solomonoff / Kolomogrov] actually use math to demonstrate how “irreducible intelligence” is “more complex” than “irreducible physics?”

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Paul December 6, 2011 at 6:50 am

cl, would your point about gravity also hold for energy? Would you say that energy exists in space time, or not?

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PDH December 6, 2011 at 7:17 am

PDH,

You can, and that’s what most “physicalists” do. Whatever physicists discover, it’s physical! Hence physicalism is always true! It’s a tried-and-true technique, rhetorically persuasive to the unlearned perhaps, not so much to anyone who’s paid attention to the general trajectory of physics over the last 100 years or so. You can’t just usurp all that exists and cram it under your own narrowly-defined metaphysical umbrella.

So, I’m still waiting: can you [or Luke or anyone else who touts big words like Solomonoff / Kolomogrov] actually use math to demonstrate how “irreducible intelligence” is “more complex” than “irreducible physics?”

cl, I explicitly said that I don’t call myself a physicalist for that reason (amongst other reasons) so your objection is irrelevant. As I pointed out to Tarun, we can still talk meaningfully about the relevant points of dispute regardless of what we call the ontology. For example, he posits additional psycho-physical laws, which seem like a good candidate for a difference of opinion that would be worth discussing.

And I’ve answered your last question multiple times. See the posts that were addressed to you rather than to other posters.

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PDH December 6, 2011 at 10:23 am

cl wrote,

So, I’m still waiting: can you [or Luke or anyone else who touts big words like Solomonoff / Kolomogrov] actually use math to demonstrate how “irreducible intelligence” is “more complex” than “irreducible physics?”

And I replied:

And I’ve answered your last question multiple times. See the posts that were addressed to you rather than to other posters.

Since you’ve displayed such a willingness to deliberately misconstrue my words in the past, I’ve decided to spell this out a bit more.

There are two things that you could mean by ‘actually use math.’ You could mean that you want to see the maths behind Solomonoff Induction. If that is the case, here is a good place to start: http://www.vetta.org/documents/disSol.pdf

The other thing that you could mean is that you want to see how Solomonoff Induction can be applied to specific cases like theism.

As I’ve pointed out many times now, if you take a complicated string of numbers and you find a simpler algorithm, say, that will output that string you don’t need to specify the entire string in the description, you can just use the algorithm. More accurately, we are looking for the simplest expression of the same string. So, “aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa” could be expressed as “a times twenty” which is fewer characters than the string itself.

And this is what scientists try to do, they try to find the simplest expression of nature. So, we need to know how they’re getting on, that is how complex the laws of physics are. To get a sense of this let me quote from a paper I’ve referred to a lot on this site:

To keep the discussion simple, let us pretend that standard model (SM) + gravity (G) and string theory (S) both qualify as ToEs. SM+Gravity is a mixture of a few relatively elegant theories, but contains about 20 parameters that need to be specified. String theory is truly elegant, but ensuring that it reduces to the standard model needs sophisticated extra assumptions (e.g. the right compactification).

SM+G can be written down in one line, plus we have to give 20+ constants, so lets say one page. The meaning (the axioms) of all symbols and operators require another page. Then we need the basics, natural, real, complex numbers, sets (ZFC), etc., which is another page. That makes 3 pages for a complete description in first-order logic. There are a lot of subtleties though: (a) The axioms are likely mathematically inconsistent, (b) it’s not immediately clear how the axioms lead to a program simulating our universe, (c) the theory does not predict the outcome of random events, and (d) some other problems. So to transform the description into a C program simulating our universe, needs a couple of pages more, but I would estimate around 10 pages overall suffices, which is about 20’000 symbols=bytes. Of course this program will be (i) a very inefficient simulation and (ii) a very naive coding of SM+G. I conjecture that the shortest program for SM+G on a universal Turing machine is much shorter, maybe even only one tenth of this. The numbers are only a quick rule-of-thumb guess. If we start from string theory (S), we need about the same length. S is much more elegant, but we need to code the compactification to describe our universe, which effectively amounts to the same. Note that everything else in the world (all other physics, chemistry, etc,) is emergent.

http://arxiv.org/PS_cache/arxiv/pdf/0912/0912.5434v2.pdf

So Hutter suggests that the kind of descriptions physicalists typically argue for (and it doesn’t matter whether we call them ‘physicalists’ or something else because now we have a much more rigorous account of their beliefs than any theist has provided of theirs) it comes to between one and ten pages in C. Let’s go along with this, for the sake of argument.

Note the last line, which I’ve emboldened. This is what I mean when I say that complex phenomena reduce to physics. I mean that instead of using a long, complex string of numbers, we have a simpler description of that same string. We don’t need to add anything to the description to account for it.

But you are saying that this is not enough. That is, you are saying that the shorter description is not a full description. Hence, it follows that what you are proposing is necessarily going to be more complex.

It might be that you’re right when you claim that intelligence can’t be reduced to anything simpler. That was Tarun’s point but it is an entirely different point.

I hope that you can now see why it is simply missing the point to argue that your claim, ‘physics reduces to intelligence’ is equivalent to my claim that ‘intelligence reduces to physics.’ ‘Physics,’ as I used the term, refers to a set of simple laws that ultimately result in complex, specific phenomena like lifeforms and intelligences, in the same way that Glider Guns can develop from the simple rules of Conway’s Game of Life. ‘Intelligence’ refers to one of those complex, specific phenomena that you are saying cannot be made any simpler. Obviously, then, the Kolmogorov complexity of intelligence AS YOU DEFINE IT is larger.

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Rorschach December 6, 2011 at 10:55 am

Cl,

Rorshach,

What argument? You can’t even articulate yourself.

Oh, cool… like gravity? Gravity doesn’t “exist” in space-time, unless of course you mean that it takes place “in” or “supervenes upon” space-time… but then so does consciousness. So you need to figure out what the hell you’re talking about and explain it with some precision. You’ve got no reason to be coy.

You know what i mean. Instead of dealing with the argument, you just keep bumbling stuff about self evident definitions. Gravity, unlike dualistic minds, is not a substance. We are talking about THINGS, SUBSTANCES, not process, or deformations in the space time factory, and You KNOW what do i mean by non physical substance. But as william lane craig apparently never adressed this argument, you dont know how to face it. That’s the theistic process of thinking: Going to reasonable faith. And if you dont find the particular answer, then you attack either the grammar of the opponent or attacks definitions, even if they are very clear. I’m in the process of testing this fluxogram, and you are helping me to confirm it.

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Alex Petrov December 6, 2011 at 4:30 pm

I can’t believe people still argue with cl.

His arguments are based mostly on semantics. Which is why any words you have with him become huge walls of text not worth reading.

The small amount of “evidence” he provides for his beliefs is worthless. His blog listed as considerable evidence some interviews with people who had out-of-body experiences.

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Rorschach December 6, 2011 at 6:34 pm

Alex,
I think you said it all.

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joseph December 6, 2011 at 9:48 pm

Simple queries, from a simple person.

1/ If you define a “mental” event as forever untestable, by today’s physics or any future version of physics how do you go about checking whether, or not, any claims based on this philosophy are true?

2/ If the answer to the above question is “You can’t”, how do you then reject other untestable claims?

3/ Can a dualist define a “mental” or “im-mental” event any more than a materialist/physicalist/naturalist can define “material” or “immaterial”?

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joseph December 6, 2011 at 9:59 pm

Also how does gravity not exist in space-time is it is a warping of space-time? Am I muddling something there?

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mpg December 8, 2011 at 5:27 am

It seems to me that on substance dualism, as is the case with physicalism, there is also an explanatory gap: what is the purpose of the brain? What’s it carrying. Why is there a physical analogue to mental events? It seems utterly puzzling on substance dualism. But on property dualism, it all seems to make much more sense (potentially).

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