The Mental Origins of Purpose and Value

by Luke Muehlhauser on April 10, 2010 in Reviews

drescher good and real smallI’m blogging through Good and Real by Gary Drescher, perhaps the best book on naturalism I’ve read yet. (See the series index.)

First I discussed the purposes of Drescher’s book. Then I explained Drescher’s ‘Cartesian Camcorder‘ theory of consciousness. Next, Drescher explains how his theory can answer the “Problematic Arbitrariness of Representation,” a problem raised by Hilary Putnam in Representation and Reality. But that section of the book is too complicated for a blog post, so I’ll move on to section 2.4: Origins of Purpose and Value.

Many physical sensations are value-laden. The sensation of burning your finger is intrinsically undesirable. The sensation of orgasm is intrinsically desirable. Drescher asks:

But how can that be so, if sensations are just physical, computational, representational phenomena, “designed” by evolution to provide us with useful information? …

And from the standpoint of our evolutionary “design,” why do our sensations not just feel neutral? Why didn’t evolution just let burns and so forth be neutral-feeling informative sensations, but still wire us up with behaviors that carefully avoid circumstances that bring about those sensations? Likewise, why not just wire us to pursue the pleasurable sensations, without necessarily making them feel pleasurable? ((Good and Real, page 61.))

Basically, Drescher argues that our hardwired tendency to pursue pleasant sensations and to avoid unpleasant sensations, combined with our consciousness of those sensations and our consciousness of our tendency to pursue or avoid them, just is our conscious experience of pleasure or displeasure.

First, let us consider some ways evolution could have programmed us to pursue beneficial action (beneficial for passing on one’s genes).

Two Systems for Promoting Beneficial Action

One obvious way to promote beneficial action would be for our brains to be built with “a list of various circumstances (each described in terms of sensory inputs, say), paired with the best action to take in each such circumstance. These pairs constitute so-called situation-action rules… Each such rule designates a (perceptible) situation and an (effectable) action.”1 There could also be rules for prioritizing action choices to handle times when multiple listed circumstances were encountered simultaneously.

But a prediction-value machine can also promote beneficial action. A prediction-value machine uses schemas, each containing a context, an action, and a result. A schema asserts that when its context is applicable, then taking a certain action would (to some degree of probability) lead to the specified result. Also:

To arrive at a choice of action, a prediction-value machine also needs an ascription of utility (i.e., a value) to various possible states… At each moment, the prediction-value machine identifies the likely results (according to the then-applicable schemas) of the actions in its repertoire, and selects the action whose results are the most valued according to the assigned utilities.

These context-action-result schemas can also be chained together, such that the result in one schema may serve as the context in another schema. Below is an example in which feelSated is assumed to have positive utility value:

<context> : <action> -> <result>

seeFoodLowerRight : placeHandAtLowerRight -> touchingFood

seeFoodLowerLeft : placeHandAtLowerLeft -> touchingFood

touchingFood : grasp -> graspingFood

graspingFood : placeHandAtMouth -> foodAtMouth

foodAtMouth : bite -> solidFoodInMouth

solidFoodinMouth : chew -> liquifiedFoodInMouth

liquidfiedFoodInMouth : swallow -> feelSated

Typically, actions are chained and nested a great deal:

To obtain food and shelter, you acquire money. To acquire money, you arrive at your place of work. To get there, you drive your car along an appropriate route. To maintain the appropriate route, you turn right at the next intersection. To turn the car to the right, you rotate the steering wheel clockwise. To rotate the steering wheel, you perform a sequence of grasping and pulling motions with your hands. And so on.2

Moreover, new schemas can be learned by running thought experiments on contexts, imagined actions, and expected results. Thought experiments are less costly than real-life experiments.

For sufficiently simple, unlearned behaviors – exhibited by insects, for instance – the evolution of a precanned repertoire of tripartite schemas – rather than precanned bipartite situation-action rules – would indeed be implausible. But for more intelligent organisms whose behavior is largely learned rather than hardwired, the opposite holds. A prediction-value cognitive system is most beneficial in a given situation. It is easier to learn separately what would happen if a given situation were taken in a given situation – and then to deduce, from preferences among outcomes, what action you should take –  than to somehow try to learn in one step, without that decomposition, what action you should take in a given situation. Situation-action rules suffice to control insects, but more creative organisms need prediction-value machinery, because schemas are more readily learned than are the appropriate situation-action rules.

(Of course, the two are not mutually exclusive; situation-action machinery can coexist usefully with prediction-value machinery. We, for example, still have some simple reflexes, which can be implemented by situation-action rules.)3

Note that the behavior of a situation-action machine converges on its goals because its behavior facilitates these goals, but not because it it entertains any reasons for its behavior. Useful situation-action rules are passed on when they facilitate reproduction, and that is why they facilitate reproduction. In contrast, a prediction-value machine does have reasons for action. It “selects actions in pursuit of valued expected outcomes.”4

All this is discussed in more detail in Drescher’s earlier book Made-Up Minds, which also explores how prediction-action machines can represent novel concepts – another advantage they have over situation-action machines.

Next, we’ll expand on how value is implemented by prediction-action machines like our brains.

  1. Ibid, page 62. Bold is mine. []
  2. Ibid, page 66. []
  3. Ibid, pages 69-70. []
  4. Ibid, page 70. []

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{ 43 comments… read them below or add one }

cl April 10, 2010 at 6:32 am

Many physical sensations are value-laden. The sensation of burning your finger is intrinsically undesirable. The sensation of orgasm is intrinsically desirable.

Interesting. This seems a bit different than what you normally espouse regarding desires. Are you simply presenting Drescher’s ideas for us? Or, do you believe that sensations have intrinsic value?

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Heuristics April 10, 2010 at 8:11 am

“But how can that be so, if sensations are just physical, computational, representational phenomena, “designed” by evolution to provide us with useful information? …”

When dealing with defenses of naturalism I have often found it very useful to keep an eye out for any smuggling in of magical items into the defense that are unsupported by naturalism. When Drescher asks this question he lays out the building blocks he would like to work with:
The physical, the computational, representations and “design”.

Only the first of these four building blocks are part of naturalism if the other three cannot be reduced to the physical, and they cannot, they are magic woowoo tools.

Computation:
A computation is observer relative, not objective. There is no way to measure (critereon of objectivity) a computation in the physical. A computation is a subjective judgement upon a physical collection of atoms in movement. However a computation can be ascribed to any atom-collection, and any atom collection can be interpreted as a computation. Nowhere is there to be found a singular objective atom-collection->specific computation system. This can be seen as well in our mathematical formulation and basis for general computation, the church-turing thesis. The CT thesis can be implemented on any physical atom-collection of sufficient size simply by reorganizing the atoms, and the atoms-groups of sufficient size can implement the CT thesis in an infinite number of different ways. This in effect means that the wall behind my computer implements a generic computer running the notepad application on windows somewhere among all it’s atom movements if I interpret them that way. So, computation is only a subjective projection onto the physical and is not reducible to it, it therefore falls out of naturalism (and does not exist if the subjective does not exist).

Representations:
On naturalism humans are a collection of atoms in motion. A collection of atoms in physics is not about another group of atoms, a representation is about something other then itself. On naturalism therefore a representation is not reducible to naturalism since it cannot be about anything.

“Design”:
To argue that “design” (whatever ” means) is naturalistic, is too argue that intelligent design can be a scientific mode of inquiry about the world. Design also relies on representation, a design represents something and therefore falls out of naturalism.

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Bill Maher April 10, 2010 at 10:21 am

Heuristics,

Evolution and the laws of physics both cause natural “design”. The “” mean that Drescher uses the term in an unorthodox way (without a designer).

you are wrong on the other two also. If justfine or reginald do not explain why like they usually do, I will provide further explanation tomorrow.

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Heuristics April 10, 2010 at 10:31 am

Bill:
What would the difference be between natural and unnatural design? Both natural design and unnatural design is the result of atom-groups in motion on naturalism, how would you go about measuring design and separating it from non-design? What method would you use to come to the objective conclusion that a chair has 0.2 design units (hint: you wont find any such thing in physics)? Either every atom-group is designed or no atom-group is designed on naturalism, no in-between is possible without appeal to magical woowoo.

It does not appear to me that you are actually making an argument, it looks more like an assertion.

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Bill Maher April 10, 2010 at 12:20 pm

Heurustics,

I wouldn’t argue from physics, I would argue from biology… When Drescher uses the word, he is referring to evolution by NATURAL selection.

Physics (in particularly cosmology) attempts to explain the overarching laws that are responsible for the formation of the universe as a whole. That also is a type of “design”, but not what Drescher is referring to here.

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Heuristics April 10, 2010 at 12:28 pm

Bill:
So, argue away (I like arguments better then assertions). What would separate natural selection from unnatural selection and how do you account for that on naturalism?

What makes the formation of the universe a type of “design”? You have just asserted that it is a “design” (whatever ” might mean), not why it would be. Why would it be, and most importantly what would not be design on that view?

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Bill Maher April 10, 2010 at 12:35 pm

Heuristics,
I shouldn’t have to. All of this stuff is basic science stuff.

Natural selection is done by nature and artificial selection is done by breeders and fanciers. I account for it via evolution…

I don’t literally mean design. I mean that the universe has laws that govern it that lead to galactic, solar, planetary formation.

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Heuristics April 10, 2010 at 1:27 pm

Bill,
This is the magic woowoo part:
Nature = Natural
Breeders = Unnatural.
(somewhere between these two you insert some magic woowoo)

Nothing in naturalism predicts this. Naturalism does not predict that breeders are unnatural, they are also according to naturalism only made up of atom-groups in motion, just like everything else in nature. This is most definitely not basic science stuff, reductionistic science does not predict breeders to be unnatural.

>”I don’t literally mean design.”
No, you mean “design”, and you have not argued for how anything at all in the universe would be not-”design”, on your account everything is from “design”. My chair, my computer, the Earth, the sun and the milky way are all according to “design”. This makes it useless as a scientific theory since it cannot separate between “design” and not-”design”and is just the statement ‘everything that exists exists according to “design”‘.

Actually, on reading the Drescher quote again I think I missed two building blocks that are not reducible to naturalism: “useful” and “information”.

Useful:
Usefulness is also observer relative, it requires the interpretation of an atom-group into a process with a goal, anything that helps the process get towards the goal is useful. However atom-group processes do not have goals in physics, they are not formulated in a goal centric way, laws and properties are not switched off or on depending on circumstances. The goal is only in the mind of the observer interpreting the system in a goal centric way (and if naturalism is true, goals do not exist). In physics a ball (round atom-collection) does not have a goal to get to the lowest energy state it can find on a hill. On naturalism it simply follows the laws of physics without caring one bit if that reaches a goal or not.

Information:
Information is also observer relative, there are some interesting things about information such as being able to measure it by for example entropy compression. But all of these measurements are dependent on a mathematical abstract processes to impart a practical application, the process can be implemented on an any physical atom-collection of sufficient size and the actual implementation becomes observer relative and thus falls out of naturalism (similar to why computation is eliminated from naturalism).

On naturalism, we do not get information via a “design” system. This becomes extra clear when one realizes that syntax nor semantics is intrinsic to physics whereby the concept of information is eliminated from naturalism.

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Bill Maher April 10, 2010 at 1:44 pm

You are strawman-ing what I said. I never said breeders were unnatural. I said they use artificial selection. Darwin used the activity of breeders and fanciers as an analogue for evolution.

I use “design” to imply the illusion of design, just like Drescher does. Some things, such as desks and computer are designed intelligently. However, there is no supernatural work in it.

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Heuristics April 10, 2010 at 1:57 pm

Bill:
I asked:
“What would separate natural selection from unnatural selection and how do you account for that on naturalism?”

You answered:
“Natural selection is done by nature and artificial selection is done by breeders and fanciers. I account for it via evolution…”

A synonym of artificial is unnatural. If you did not intend to answer my question (that is fine) I do not understand what point you are making. You still seam stuck in the hole that everything is “designed”, so far no arguments against it, is that in fact what you mean?
But ok, i’ll bite: What makes breeding artificial? And if you do not mean unnatural with the word “artificial” what do you mean?

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Bill Maher April 10, 2010 at 2:12 pm

Like I said a second ago, by “designed”, I mean the illusion of design. I am pretty sure that is what Drescher means as well.

Breeding is artificial (and not unnatural) because it is humans manipulating the principles of evolution for desired aesthetic or practical outcomes. They use natural principles for a desired outcome.

This can result in organisms like the Bulldog, which has to be born of a c-section because of its head size. If there were no humans, they would go extinct.

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Mark April 10, 2010 at 3:38 pm

Many physical sensations are value-laden. The sensation of burning your finger is intrinsically undesirable.

So he’s saying that the “to-be-avoidedness” of pain is inextricable from the qualitative experience of pain? This seems controversial. There are patients with certain medical conditions who have experiences they insist are pains, but which they report not to be bothered by. (See the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on “Pain.”) Plausibly, the “painfulness” of the sensation of breaking your arm just consists in the way your brain is programmed to attend to and get the hell out of that experience ASAP.

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Bill Maher April 10, 2010 at 4:03 pm

Mark, what you are saying has been a question of much talk to the multiple formulations of hedonism and is a classical question of ethics.

A good formulation is “What if you enjoy getting your testicles stomped on?” because it gets the point across.

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Justfinethanks April 10, 2010 at 4:27 pm

When dealing with defenses of naturalism I have often found it very useful to keep an eye out for any smuggling in of magical items into the defense that are unsupported by naturalism.

I think this is more accurately read as “I have often found it is very useful to play semantic games that reveal my basic misunderstandings of naturalism.”

Your basic accusations seem be
1. Subjective statements don’t have meaning (or perhaps are necessarily false) under naturalism.
2. Representations don’t exist under naturalism.
3. Metaphors (i.e. “designed”) don’t have meaning under naturalism

The first one is demonstrably false. Take the statement “On naturalism, I exist.” It is both a subjective statement (it doesn’t get much more subjective than “I”) and there is nothing incohereant about it. So to say that “computation” doesn’t have meaning on naturalism simply because it is subjective is the real unargued assertion.

To be honest, this is the first I have heard the the “argument from computation.” Do you really think the fact that calculators work is proof of dualism?

The second two would be immensely problematic for naturalism if they were true. Because language is itself representational (i.e. the word apple isn’t itself an apple). And it is essnetially impossible to use language without appealing to metaphor. So if this all were so, naturalism would be demonstrated false by the very fact that the word “naturalism” is itself not naturalism.

My, my, it’s astonishing that all of these highly trained, brilliant philosophers missed out on this painfully obvious flaw that you have just now discovered, to the point that metaphysical naturalism is the dominant view in philosophy.

Or, as an alternative to the idea that you have just discovered a simple way to show naturalism as self defeating that has somehow escaped the greatest minds in philosophy, even the ones who attacked naturalism in the Craig and Moreland edited Naturalism: A Critical Analysis, no one who actually knows what they are talking about actually believes the existence of sign relations is incompatible with naturalism. The connection between sign and signifier is indeed subjective, but I just demonstrated, there is nothing incoherent about that on naturalism.

This whole line of argumentation seems to confuse substance dualism with property dualism. By adopting the latter, there is nothing incoherent about the subjective, metaphor, or other sorts of representations on naturalism.

And finally, regarding “design.” Clearly, the common definition of design ( built with intentionality by an intelligence) was not intended. That’s why the author went through the trouble of putting the word is scare quotes. Rather it’s more akin to “building in complexity in response to natural forces,” which besides evolution, as it was meant in this context, could also include things like crystal formation and natural carbonate concretions.

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lukeprog April 10, 2010 at 4:38 pm

That’s my first time encountering ‘natural carbonate concretions.’

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Justfinethanks April 10, 2010 at 4:50 pm

That’s my first time encountering ‘natural carbonate concretions.

I love non-living designoids. Because like life, (to paraphrase ID critic Matthew J. Bauer) people only infer that they are designed when they are ignorant of the natural forces that gave rise to them.

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Joshua Blanchard April 10, 2010 at 5:21 pm

I wonder if it is at all relevant or useful that various forms of mental disorder and brain damage can affect motivation without affecting, say, acknowledgement of damage to one’s body. Such examples of variously damaged individuals show that without the “feelings” or whatever, humans frequently will not act as they should, say for survival.

Maybe this issue is ancillary for Drescher, but it’s also interesting to note that whatever mechanisms develop need not be the most efficient possible.

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Heuristics April 10, 2010 at 11:23 pm

Justfinethanks:

With regards to your three points: you are using a magical woowoo tool, this particular one is called “subjectivity”, or “I”. Subjectivity is not supported by naturalism, you will nowhere in physics, or even in biology find the subjective. It is not reducible to naturalism and it is actually hostile to it since it asserts that some things are not objectively measurable, it asserts that some things exist that science cannot get at with objective measurements. This is why eliminative naturalism eliminates the subjective (as for example: Daniel Dennet and Patricia Churchland). So, on naturalism, it is in fact incoherent, there cannot only be the kind of things science looks at and also the subjective, the kind of thing science cannot look at.

Oh look, you used a logical fallacy, how cute.
>”My, my, it’s astonishing that all of these highly trained, brilliant philosophers missed out on this painfully obvious flaw that you have just now discovered, to the point that metaphysical naturalism is the dominant view in philosophy.”
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argument_from_authority

I mean, it’s not like you could use actual arguments or anything instead is it? :) (if so I would prefer those). Anyways, my point is not hard to understand and can be summarized extremely easily: syntax and semantics are not intrinsic to physics. So, how to account for them on naturalism, (non-fallacious) arguments please?

Notice here that I am not using arguments from dualism, I am not a dualist and my arguments do not come from dualists. In fact they come from atheistic naturalists.

>”Rather it’s more akin to “building in complexity in response to natural forces”
Complexity is another magical woowoo tool unsupportable by naturalism (does not follow from physics). It is not possible to measure complexity without first making an interpretation of a physical system (which runs into the problem of multiple-realizability).

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Bill Maher April 11, 2010 at 5:41 am

Heuristics, you are setting up a false dichotomy and then dismissing the other side using personal incredulity. On top of that, you are borderline trolling.

Many naturalists (Searle, etc.) DO believe in consciousness, I, and all that other stuff. Consciousness is an unresolved problem, but that in no way makes talking about it magical.

Complexity is completely supported by naturalism. Just because a term involves interpretation and is ambiguous doesn’t mean it is unnatural.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/03/100329152516.htm

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Heuristics April 11, 2010 at 5:55 am

Bill:
Dude, the argument from multiple realizability (computation) is an argument used by Searle. Searle however has magic woowoo in making matter have a first-person perspective, something not reducible to physics. It is not an argument from personal incredulity, Searle is correct in that physics literally has no concepts of semantics or syntax in it and syntax and semantics are observer relative and non-objective. The concept of subjective (do I even need to write this?) is non-objective.

Everyone and their grandmother calls themselves a naturalist in philosophy, but try to find someone that actually builds up their philosophy on concepts supported by physics, on concepts supported by experimentation and measurements…

>”Complexity is completely supported by naturalism.”
Again, argument by assertion. It is not impressive. The concept of complexity is a feature of information theory, a branch of mathematics, not physics and as I have argued (but have received no non-fallacious counter argument against) mathematics is multiply realizable in physical systems with no objective way of identifying such a system.

Your link seems at best irrelevant for anything in this thread.

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Bill Maher April 11, 2010 at 6:42 am

I don’t like how you are assuming that if something is not now explainable, it never will be. there is nothing in naturalism that says that it has explained everything. also, you are completely discounting biology, which will be the realm in which consciousness is explained if it is. you could have said the same argument for a thousand things at points in the past. hence your argument from incredulity.

and the idea of complexity has been around longer than information theory….

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Heuristics April 11, 2010 at 7:28 am

Bill:
I gave an argument for why computability, complexity etc does not follow from naturalism (the argument from multiple realizability). I did not just proclaim them to not follow from naturalism. It is not an assumption, it is a valid well respected philosophical argument from the philosophy of mind. You keep proclaiming woowoo stuff to be part of naturalism without arguing for why though, not sure why you keep refusing to answer my questions, I am still puzzled about what definition of artificial you are using.

What does it matter how long something has been around?

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Bill Maher April 11, 2010 at 7:37 am

the way you are using the argument is not in the way that Searle uses it. You are going to have to argue why your interpretation is more valid than his.

because you are arguing that a concept is exclusive to a field when you preceded it.

and i don’t know how you could be puzzled, I explained it very clearly.

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Heuristics April 11, 2010 at 7:45 am

And again with the argument by assertion. If it was not the same way he uses it, why would I be under an obligation to argue that my interpretation is more valid?
Anyways, it just happens to be the same: (part IV is most relevant) http://philosophy.wisc.edu/shapiro/Phil554/PAPERS/Is%20the%20Brain%20a%20Digital%20Computer.htm

I am not. I am arguing that it is part of mathematics and not a part of physics, it might very well also be part of non-mathematics and non-physics but that has no bearing on naturalism.

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Bill Maher April 11, 2010 at 8:05 am

Because Searle is a naturalist……lol. Searle’s concept of mind is a competing concept with Dennett’s and others.

Like I said earlier, it is unresolved. You are assuming because something is unresolved it belongs to the realm of the non or supernatural.

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Heuristics April 11, 2010 at 8:28 am

Bill:
http://rationalwiki.com/wiki/Argument_by_assertion

So lets get this straight. I cannot be using the argument from multiple realizability to show that syntax and semantics is not intrinsic to physics in the same way to Searle because Searle is a naturalist. This even though Searle has written a lengthy document that I gave a link to that argues this exact point. In your world view it is impossible for one naturalist to argue against what other naturalists think is part of naturalism. This is just plain wrong.

To argue that something is an argument from incredulity simply because not everybody agrees on a topic is just.. well. odd. that would make every single active argument in philosophy an argument from incredulity.
I think you are seriously misunderstanding what the argument from incredulity is.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argument_from_ignorance

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justfinethanks April 11, 2010 at 8:31 am

Subjectivity is not supported by naturalism

Another unargued assertion that ignores by “On naturalism, I exist” argument. I fail to see what is incoherent about the statement, and if subjectivity were incompatible with naturalism, it would be.

This is why eliminative naturalism eliminates the subjective (as for example: Daniel Dennet and Patricia Churchland). So, on naturalism, it is in fact incoherent, there cannot only be the kind of things science looks at and also the subjective, the kind of thing science cannot look at.

If all naturalism was eliminative materialism, this would be relevant. Since it’s not, it isn’t.

Naturalism comes in a lot of flavors, and attacking one particular stance in naturalism and treating it as an attack on naturalism is general is pure strawmanning. It would be like saying theism is false because Islam is false.

Oh look, you used a logical fallacy, how cute.

Oh look, you are incapable of recognizing a fairly simple logical fallacy, how cute.

Here is an argument from authority:
1. Most philosophers are naturalists, therefore you are wrong.

Here’s what I said:
2. If naturalism was self refuting in the simplistic manner you describe, it would be shocking that A) None of the greatest philosophers in the world, even the harshest critics of naturalism, would have discovered it and B) Naturalism would become the dominant view in philosophy.

Please, if you would, point out where I argued for the truth of naturalism based upon the opinions of authorities in the second statement.

It seems your ability to accurately identify logical fallacies is about as sharp as you ability to recognize naturalism as most philosophers would recognize it.

Complexity is another magical woowoo tool unsupportable by naturalism

More semantic silliness that ignores a property dualistic approach to account for the subjective and semantics under naturalism.

This is really, really basic stuff, and by ignoring it you are either simply not knowledgeable enough to critique naturalism in any meaningful way or you are just trying to yank our chain with ignorant nonsense and hope we don’t call you out on it.

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Bill Maher April 11, 2010 at 8:43 am

Heuristics, if you are not going to talk seriously, I am not going to respond.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nrI7QUJfkvI

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Heuristics April 11, 2010 at 9:03 am

justfinethanks:
It is not an unargued assertion since I actually argued for it and mentioned an example of a field in philosophy that takes it seriously (eliminative materialism). Now if you want to argue for a naturalism that allows in things that are not measurable, well go right ahead but I will call that magical woowoo, proclaim it no different then theism and argue against it with for example the evolutionary argument against epiphenomenalism (or would you argue that your property dualism enabled semantics has causal powers?).

This is what you wrote:
“My, my, it’s astonishing that all of these highly trained, brilliant philosophers missed out on this painfully obvious flaw that you have just now discovered, to the point that metaphysical naturalism is the dominant view in philosophy.”

I did not however argue that naturalism is self-refuting, that is a consequence you drew from my argument, it might be true, but I have no opinion on it.

It is interesting though that you wrote metaphysical naturalism as the dominant one, metaphysical naturalism definitely does not look kindly on the non-measurable so they could not bring in the magical woowoo of subjectivity.

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Heuristics April 11, 2010 at 9:06 am
Mark April 11, 2010 at 9:42 am

Now if you want to argue for a naturalism that allows in things that are not measurable

What does that mean? And what exactly are you purporting is non-measurable?

well go right ahead but I will call that magical woowoo

Please don’t do that.

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Heuristics April 11, 2010 at 10:09 am

Mark:
The subjective is separate from the objective, the two concepts are in opposition to one and another. In dualism, for example property dualism the subjective can be qualia. This has the problem of.. well, being subjective. If it is subjective it is not objective, meaning it cannot be objectively measured, so the scientific method (methodological naturalism) cannot verify it in any way. For property dualism it typically also has the problem of being epiphenomenal, meaning that it exists but has no causal influence on the world so it cannot be an operator on the fitness landscape in evolution and so evolution cannot select for it.

so… .. … … it is magical woowoo :) (sorry)

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Mark April 11, 2010 at 10:39 am

The subjective is separate from the objective, the two concepts are in opposition to one and another.

I don’t know what “the subjective” and “the objective” are, either. Surely we can’t hope to establish or clarify anything by speaking at this level of generality. Does “the subjective” mean anything that involves talk of experiences? Or anything that involves a first-person point of view? Does it mean irreducible qualia? But then you seem to also include intentionality…

If it is subjective it is not objective, meaning it cannot be objectively measured

Again, what constitutes “measurement” is unclear. Is it being wholly describable in mathematical terms? Or supervening on something which is? If so, then most materialists would say subjective things can be measured.

For property dualism it typically also has the problem of being epiphenomenal, meaning that it exists but has no causal influence on the world so it cannot be an operator on the fitness landscape in evolution and so evolution cannot select for it.

Which is why most epiphenomenalists figure there are psychophysical laws imbuing any sufficiently complex information processing system with phenomenal experience, not just human brains. Hence, selection for intelligence would automatically usher in qualia as well.

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Heuristics April 11, 2010 at 11:10 am

Ah, Mark, I can see you actually know what you are writing about, yay!

It can often be hard to give really precise definitions for things other people claim, but I will try to get it more specific (though, the people that claim that subjectivity exists really should be the ones defining it), the largest problem becomes if I should insert the typical inconsistency in it or not, lets do one with and one without it.

How about:
The subjective is composed of experiences produced by the physical but is more then the physical. The experiences themselves cannot be measured but they can cause changes in the behavior of those that have them.

The conflict here between not being measurable and still being able to cause behavior seams like an unfair inconsistency, but I have found that some actually do have this definition.

Try 2:
The subjective is the (not-reducible to physics) experience that a certain pattern produces in nature when instantiated. The type of “feeling” of the experience would here not have a causal influence on the physical and would then not be measurable (but epiphenomenalism would kick in).

Good enough? The measurability problem comes in since measurements are made by having an event affect a pre-calibrated atom-group, it is possible to see how much the atom-group was shifted and put a number on that shift to get a measurement that can be compared to other measurements. Epiphenomenal qualia could then not cause changes in atoms, though the atom-groups giving rise to qualia could produce changes in them but those changes would not be caused by the qualia so it would not be the qualia that would be measured.
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Yes, the magical woowoo of complexity I argued against it with the multiple realizability argument. But even so, lets say the multiple realizability argument fails. On epiphenomenalism what reason do we have of thinking that complex systems usher in phenomenal experiences? Nothing ever written/argued was caused in any way by qualia on that view and no measurement was ever caused by qualia. If this is let into naturalism then we might as well let God into naturalism, with God at least it is not a-priori impossible that the concept can ever have any causal evidence in it’s favor. So that type of woowoo magic is worse then theism.

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Mark April 11, 2010 at 11:57 am

The subjective is composed of experiences produced by the physical but is more then the physical.

O.K., but then “the subjective” just means “the dualistic.” Most materialists would agree that intentionality, mental representation, the self, experiences et al. are all real enough, but would identify with them with the physical (though it’s an a posteriori identification). I’m not certain, but I’m under the impression that the eliminative materialists (who deny that those things are real) are in the minority in the wider materialist camp.

On epiphenomenalism what reason do we have of thinking that complex systems usher in phenomenal experiences? Nothing ever written/argued was caused in any way by qualia on that view and no measurement was ever caused by qualia.

I doubt I can defend epiphenomenalism very well, but people like Chalmers say: my phenomenal experience more or less just is my belief that I’m having a phenomenal experience. A phenomenal zombie wouldn’t really believe that he’s having an experience of blueness when he looks at the sky, although he’d of course report otherwise. So our reason to believe we have experiences is simply that we have experiences.

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lukeprog April 11, 2010 at 2:37 pm

LOL at the internet troll video!

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Bill Maher April 11, 2010 at 2:52 pm

Luke, I am glad you like it. That show is hilarious.

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Bill Maher April 11, 2010 at 4:05 pm

Mark, don’t worry about it dude. Drescher addresses all of that stuff in length in the book. Luke’s post is a tiny summary of some highlights. Carrier also covers it in Sense & Goodness.

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Heuristics April 11, 2010 at 10:52 pm

Mark:
I think you are right in that materialists claim that intentionality is nothing above a certain atom-group pattern whoever this is exactly the view I have argued against in this thread. The wall behind my computer, on that view, implements the intentionality to buy an icecream, it’s just up to me to identify the pattern of ice-cream buying intentionality with a pattern of atom-groups in the wall to show that. A larger problem though is that this reduces intentionality etc to just that, patterns. A pattern is only an abstraction that can be implemented on any physical configuration, from iron balls to brain cells to atoms in my wall and the problem is that the pattern itself has no causal powers. The act of having an intention is nothing other then the physical laws that just so happen to form a specific (I would argue observer relative) pattern. So, at best it forces in a compatibilist view of free will (although I would say that the view is just woowoo magic). This has the consequence that the concept of value is lost, is eliminated. One atom group is not more valuable then another atom group since on this view one cannot even appeal to subjective experiences of for example pain.

Yes, eliminative materialism is a minority position, but then again, all positions are minority positions in the philosophy of mind, it is pure trench warfare there now. In cognitive science though eliminativistic (computational) materialism is king.

I liked Chalmers book a lot, he had a lot of arguments for the existence of subjective experience. But they are all arguments from intuition, not arguments from measurement (shouldn’t be surprising though since the subjective cannot on that view be measured). He also places subjective experience as an epiphenomenal result of the instantiation of mathematics onto atom-groups. This has the consequence that since they are epiphenomenal, none of the arguments in the book are actually about his experiences since they cannot cause him to write about them.

Interestingly enough it appears to be a worse argument then Plantingas argument from the sensus divinitatis.

1. We can know that experiences exist because we experience them.
2. We can know God exist because we have God-experiences.

For 1. to be a better argument then 2. 1. atleast needs to be non-epiphenomenal so that the experiences actually have a connection with the person giving the argumnent, and then we are in standard dualistic land, do we want that in naturalism, the reintroduction of the ghost in the shell as natural? Then why not have God as natural why we are at it.

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Bill Maher April 12, 2010 at 1:08 pm

Heuristics, that is a false dichotomy. Rather philosophy of mind has a good theory or not, it in no way validates God. He has to stand on his own.

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Mark April 12, 2010 at 4:26 pm

All of your complaints are the subject of numerous responses. Rather than regurgitate them one by one (and I don’t necessarily agree with them anyway), it seems smarter to just point out that they exist, that everything is more complicated that you seem to make it out to be, and that describing everything you dislike with the intensely aggravating phrase “magical woowoo” adds nothing to the discussion.

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Heuristics April 12, 2010 at 10:58 pm

Bill:
I thought you took your ball and went home? I’m no longer in troll status?

I did not set up a dichotomy. I wrote that they both suck.

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Mark:
So one should not make arguments if someone else on the internet claims to have answers to those arguments? We can pretty much close down the internet then (I really really like arguments, please bring them).
The phrase “magical woowoo” refers to things that do not make changes in the position of atom-groups, to things that are unmeasurable. If you like such arguments, then to you it is supposed to be irritating and appears to be fulfilling it’s job quite well. Such descriptions are not unusual on this site though, Luke routinely labels stuff as magical.

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oliver April 14, 2010 at 7:06 am

Ah, Mark, I can see you actually know what you are writing about, yay!

http://meatballwiki.org/wiki/SelectiveFlattery

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