Gary Drescher – Good and Real (index)

by Luke Muehlhauser on November 25, 2009 in Indexes,Reviews,Science

Best Naturalist Book Ever?

Best Naturalist Book Ever?

Gary Drescher’s Good and Real: Demystifying Paradoxes from Physics to Ethics (2006) is a tour-de-force of metaphysical naturalism. Reading it gave me shivers.

It begins:

Stripped of any intellectual pretension, philosophy just grapples with the ancient, heartfelt questions What the fuck is going on here? and What the fuck am I doing here? – what is the nature of reality, and what is the nature and purpose (if any) of our place in it? We all strive to answer such questions somehow or other. Here goes one more try.1

Drescher notes that the accumulation of empirical data has “pointed increasingly toward a mechanical universe.”2 But if the universe really is a machine, this seems to leave us with several problems concerning the things that matter most to us:

  • The problem of consciousness: How can mechanical parts give rise to awareness and feeling?
  • The problem of ethics: How can a mechanical system that just is give rise to what should be?
  • The problem of choice: If the future is determined, then aren’t all our choices futile?
  • The problem of time: If physics says there is no “flow” of time, why does it feel like it flows?
  • The problematic asymmetry of time: Physical laws are time symmetric, and yet our universe is time asymmetric: we remember the past but not the future, we cause things in the future but not the past, etc.
  • The problem of existence: Why does the universe have the laws it does? Why does anything exist at all?
  • The problem of quantum-mechanical uncertainty: According to physics, an unobserved particle has no definite state, but is in a superposition of many possible states. But when we observe it, the particle always shows a single, definite states, apparently chosen at random from the superposed possibilities. But how can a mechanical particle play hide-and-seek like that?3

Drescher’s plan is to solve all these fundamental problems in a single book. And yet his book does not feel presumptuous – besides, each of these fundamental matters intertwines with the others, so it makes sense to tackle them in one book.

Here is its outline:

  • Chapter 2 explores how inanimate, mechanical matter could be conscious, just by virtue of being organized to perform the right kind of computation.
  • Chapter 3 explains why conscious beings would experience an apparent inexorable forward flow of time, even in a universe who physical principles are time-symmetric and have no such flow, with everything sitting statically in spacetime.
  • Chapter 4, following [Hugh] Everett, looks closely at the paradoxes of quantum mechanics, showing how some theorists came to conclude – mistakenly, I argue – that consciousness is part of the story of quantum phenomena, or vice versa. Chapter 4 also shows how quantum phenomena are consistent with determinism (even though so-called hidden-variable theories of quantum determinism are provably wrong).
  • Chapter 5 examines in detail how it can be that we make genuine choices in in a mechanical, deterministic universe.
  • Chapter 6 analyzes Newcomb’s Problem, a startling paradox that elicits some counterintuitive conclusions about choice and causality.
  • Chapter 7 considers how our choices can have a moral component – that is, how even a mechanical, deterministic universe can provide a basis for distinguishing right from wrong.
  • Chapter 8 wraps up the presentation and touches briefly on some concluding metaphysical questions.4

I will be blogging my way through Drescher’s book, just as I am with Richard Carrier’s Sense and Goodness Without God. Here is an index of the posts in this series on Drescher’s Good and Real so far:

  1. Introduction (this post)
  2. Dust to Lust: How Groups of Atoms Can Think and Feel
  3. The Mental Origins of Purpose and Value
  4. Drescher’s Account of Consciousness
  5. The Frozen Stream of Time

(more to come)

  1. Good and Real, preface. []
  2. Ibid, page 2. []
  3. Paraphrased from ibid, pages 2-3. []
  4. Ibid, page 34. []

Previous post:

Next post:

{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

John D November 25, 2009 at 4:08 pm

Well, I just ordered the thing, so it better be fucking amazing!

Incidentally, I always open my philosophy tutorials with same questions Drescher uses, equally shorn of intellectual pretension.

  (Quote)

John D November 25, 2009 at 4:09 pm

Actually the three questions I pose are:

1. What the fuck is there? (Ontology)
2. What the fuck should I do? (Ethics)
3. And how the fuck do you know? (Epistemology)

  (Quote)

lukeprog November 25, 2009 at 4:13 pm

John D,

What do you mean, your ‘philosophy tutorials.’ Are you an instructor?

  (Quote)

lukeprog November 25, 2009 at 4:14 pm

John,

Also, if you happened to order it through the links on my site, that means I get a few cents from Amazon to help pay for the bandwidth costs, so thanks. :)

  (Quote)

John D November 25, 2009 at 4:33 pm

lukeprog: John D,What do you mean, your ‘philosophy tutorials.’ Are you an instructor?  

I’m a PhD student who does some tutorial teaching. I’m not a lecturer or professor (yet). I’m into moral and legal philosophy mainly, but from a ‘naturalistic perspective’ (we would need to have a long conversation about how I understand and use that term – to be brief: more Quinean naturalism than Richard Carrier-style naturalism).

lukeprog: John D,What do you mean, your ‘philosophy tutorials.’ Are you an instructor?  

  (Quote)

John D November 25, 2009 at 4:33 pm

Didn’t mean to do the double-quotation. Sorry

  (Quote)

Mark November 25, 2009 at 5:08 pm

Here’s my question:

Why the %#$@ should I spend my time and resources searching for meaning in a mechanical world I have already declared has no meaning?

Y’all think the Spiritual journey is a crazy one. How about the path to reason?

  (Quote)

Mark November 25, 2009 at 5:08 pm
lukeprog November 25, 2009 at 5:33 pm

I don’t understand you, Mark…

  (Quote)

Paulo Abelha Ferreira November 25, 2009 at 7:14 pm

Congratulations for this blog!
I have bought two books written by Gary and this is one of them. I am currently reading ‘Made-Up Minds’.
I’ve just read a few pages in same chapters, but I can’t wait for my vacations from university this year to start reading ‘Good and Real’.
This book has a unique approach, and I am very happy to see that more people around the world are reading it too!!
Best regards form Rio de Janeiro, Brazil!

Paulo

  (Quote)

lukeprog November 25, 2009 at 7:38 pm

Good to hear from you Paulo!

  (Quote)

Lee A. P. November 25, 2009 at 9:42 pm

My best friend and I use to say that the question on the meaning of life could be simplified. So we always said that we were reading this high falutin’ type shit in order to answer the question “what the fuck?”, obviously the preeminent question of all times.

Its nice to see an academic use nearly the same language we do.

“The meaning of life” OR the answer to the question “What the fuck”?

  (Quote)

Roman November 25, 2009 at 10:00 pm

That’s an awesome book recommendation, thanks Luke.

  (Quote)

Rhys Wilkins November 26, 2009 at 1:20 am

Sounds fucking epic, I will definitely have to take a look. Currently reading Consciousness Explained by Daniel Dennett which touches on The Problem of Consciousness.

  (Quote)

Edson November 26, 2009 at 2:23 am

How many books will atheists have to read to be certain of their position?

I get the impression that there is an intense battle going on about the consciousness of an atheist mind: he wants to not believe in God but the consciousness is pushing him hard to do the opposite. Just to supress it, as a matter of his own interest, the consciousness of the soul must be fed continuosly with those atheistic foods.

Just read, read and read.

  (Quote)

John D November 26, 2009 at 2:52 am

Edson: How many books will atheists have to read to be certain of their position?

I guess reading more than one book seems bizarre to a Christian.

I would suggest that curiosity is the driving force. I certainly don’t read books just to reinforce my biases. I want to be exposed to new perspectives, new ideas, and new ways of thinking. I was exposed to the religious way of thinking for most of my life. Now I am trying to figure out what the fuck is really going on. (sorry I can’t stop swearing).

  (Quote)

Taranu November 26, 2009 at 4:13 am

Luke, you say you will be blogging your way through Drescher’s book, but you already have some other books you want to blog your way through like The Blackwell, Warranted Christian belief, Why I became an Atheist, Handbook of Christian Apologetics. Not to mention all the other topics to cover from your “Oops, what was I supposed to write about, again?” post and the three debates. Are you sure you are not overburdening yourself? Oh and let’s not forget about the book you are writing.

  (Quote)

Roman November 26, 2009 at 9:26 am

“I guess reading more than one book seems bizarre to a Christian.”

Lol.

  (Quote)

lukeprog November 26, 2009 at 11:25 am

Taranu,

I know! I have so much to write! All that stuff is still on my list.

  (Quote)

Rhys Wilkins November 26, 2009 at 5:31 pm

Hey Luke, just a quick question:

Are you planning on doing an article explaining the problems with using God as an ‘inference to the best explanation’? I remember you recommending the book ‘Theism and Explanation’ by Gregory Dawes, were you thinking on elaborating on this at all?

  (Quote)

lukeprog November 26, 2009 at 8:54 pm

Rhys,

Yes.

  (Quote)

Anthony November 26, 2009 at 10:04 pm

Edson: I get the impression that there is an intense battle going on about the consciousness of an atheist mind: he wants to not believe in God but the consciousness is pushing him hard to do the opposite.

Edson, sorry but your impressions are wrong and are based on theological thinking rather than reality. Since I rejected Christianity my consciousness is clear and has not been pushing me back to any god(s). In fact the more I study the more I am convinced of atheism. It’s funny though because my mother keeps asking me about my beliefs and inviting me to come to church (I guess she hopes that I will come back to faith).

How many books will atheists have to read to be certain of their position?

Silly question. Freethinkers like us love to read and to understand. That’s why people like Luke and myself have no problem reading books defending theism in general and Christianity in particular. We’ve been where you are and no longer believe it.

  (Quote)

Lee A. P. November 27, 2009 at 1:53 am

I get the impression that there is an intense battle going on about the consciousness of a THIEST mind: he WANTS to believe in God but the consciousness is pushing him hard to do the opposite.

Thats why they read so much apologetic, preaching to the choir bullshit.

  (Quote)

Gary November 27, 2009 at 6:24 am

Mark:
Here’s my question: Why the %#$@ should I spend my time and resources searching for meaning in a mechanical world I have already declared has no meaning?

Because there’s a difference between merely declaring something to be true, and ascertaining whether in fact it is true. The latter, unfortunately, does take more time and effort than the former. But it may be worth the trouble, if you think you’re fallible and care if you’re wrong.

  (Quote)

josef johann December 19, 2009 at 4:42 am

Anthony: Edson: I get the impression that there is an intense battle going on about the consciousness of an atheist mind: he wants to not believe in God but the consciousness is pushing him hard to do the opposite.Edson, sorry but your impressions are wrong and are based on theological thinking rather than reality. Since I rejected Christianity my consciousness is clear and has not been pushing me back to any god(s). In fact the more I study the more I am convinced of atheism. It’s funny though because my mother keeps asking me about my beliefs and inviting me to come to church (I guess she hopes that I will come back to faith).How many books will atheists have to read to be certain of their position?Silly question. Freethinkers like us love to read and to understand. That’s why people like Luke and myself have no problem reading books defending theism in general and Christianity in particular. We’ve been where you are and no longer believe it.  

I’m late to this party, but doesn’t it look like consciousness is getting mixed up with conscience?

  (Quote)

Morgan-LynnGriggs Lamberth April 11, 2010 at 2:29 pm

Edson, how could there be God when He cannot exist as analysis illuminates that He has no referent as the Grand Miracle Monger, Grand Designer or Primary Cause and He has incoherent, contradictory attributes as we ignostics note. Carneades, the first ignostic , notes that the Epicureans and the Stoics so define Him that He could be most anyone, and -thus no one.
The atelic or teleonomic argument or argument from intent- argues that as science shows no intent behind natural causes and explanations, teleology – God’s – will – planned outcomes- contradicts natural causes, so He cannot have any intent to design, cause the Cosmos to exist or commit miracles.
Scientists are exploring how people see agency -intent in Nature. They are thus providing evidence why people see the pareidolias of intent and deign when there are teleonomy- no planned outcomes as people see Marian apparitions or Yeshua in a tortilla.
And we have no ethical obligation to worship any being due to our level of consciousness the new argument from autonomy.
Instead of using the arguments from angst, purpose-happiness and whining that you cannot exist without Sky Pappy, the Ground of Being, read ” The Purpose -Driven Life and “The Myth of Self-Esteem.”
” There is so much pointless evil that there can be no just God and -yet so much good that I Love life!” Inquiring Lynn

  (Quote)

Leave a Comment