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Rosenberg responds to his critics

Well, sort of (scroll to the bottom). It seems to me that he mainly just repeats what he already said in his original piece, this time with a little testiness. I certainly don’t think he grapples seriously with the main difficulties facing his position (some of which I outlined in my earlier post).

Eliminative materialists like to complain that they are always being falsely accused of incoherently “believing that there are no beliefs” – “as if I had never heard of the ploy and would be stopped dead in my tracks by it,” says Rosenberg, making this complaint his own. “Actually,” he continues, “you won’t find the locution ‘I believe that….’ any where in my précis… just to avoid such puerile objections.” But does Rosenberg really think we anti-eliminativists have never heard that dodge before? Yes, fine, we realize that advocates of eliminative materialism (EM) studiously avoid the word “belief,” lest they be refuted in ten seconds rather than ten minutes. The trouble is that they inevitably help themselves to some other concept which leads them into exactly the same sort of incoherence, even if in a more subtle way.

In Rosenberg’s case, after reiterating that there is no such thing as “aboutness” or intentionality, he tells us in the same breath that “the brain receives, stores, and conveys information… [and] misinformation.” But “information” and “misinformation” are themselves intentional notions. (For you non-philosophers, “intentional” in this context means “exhibiting intentionality.”) This is obviously true of the ordinary, everyday sense of “information.” But it is also true of the technical, information-theoretic sense that Rosenberg has in mind – or at least, it has to be true of it if the notion of “information” is going to do the work Rosenberg and other naturalists need it to do. In particular, it has to be true if EM is to leave open the possibility of “naturalistically” reconstructing the notion of a “true” “theory” – such as a scientific theory, or a philosophical theory like naturalism or EM itself. And EM must reconstruct it somehow, otherwise the scribbles we make when we type things like “The Disenchanted Naturalist’s Guide to Reality” will no more count as correct guides to reality than do books on astrology, or indeed, than do the scratches my chair is making on the wood floor below me as I type this.

As John Searle has emphasized, the causal chains information theory regards as carriers of information – the processes that lead up to a tree’s having 33 rings, for example – count as “information” only in the sense that an outside observer can infer certain things from them. For example, someone counting the rings in question can, given his knowledge of elementary botany, infer that the tree is 33 years old, in a way he could not infer this from other aspects of the tree. But if we remove the observer and focus only on the objective physical facts, what we are left with is merely a set of causal processes having no more inherent significance than any others have. A year’s worth of growth caused a new ring to appear. It also thereby caused the tree get a little thicker; and the growth was itself caused in part by the presence of water in the soil around the tree’s roots. The collection of such causal chains is what exists objectively. But what makes the ring specifically – as opposed to the thickness or some other effect – significant with respect to the age of the tree specifically – as opposed to the water or some other cause? What makes the one “the” thing about which the other is “the” thing that conveys the “information”? The answer to both questions can only be the presence of an outside observer who takes these two particular points in the overall causal situation to have such significance. Absent the observer, to speak of “information” is just to speak of the enormously intricate network of causes and effects itself, but where no one part of it is more or less “informative” than any other. (This is a point which, as I noted in an earlier post, has been emphasized by Karl Popper and Hilary Putnam.)

More to the present point, the causal chains in Rosenberg’s brain, for example, will in this de-intentionalized sense of “information” no more count as a correct “guide to reality” – or as some “naturalistically respectable” “successor” to the concept of a “correct” “guide” – than the causal chains in his pancreas or his large intestine do, or indeed than the causal chains holding between my chair and the wood floor do. To be sure, an outside observer might be able to infer things from what is going on in the brain that he couldn’t infer from the intestine or the chair. But there is nothing left corresponding to such an inference – and in particular, nothing left that could correspond to a “correct” “guide to reality” (one that might be typed out as an essay and then cut and pasted onto a website, say) or any EM analogue to such a guide – when the observer is removed from the picture. There is just causation qua causation.

So, for the term “information” to do what Rosenberg needs it to do, it has to retain its intentional connotations. But in that case we are back to the problem that EM is incoherent insofar as it has to make use of concepts of the very sort it officially rules out. Yes, this need not be as crude as “believing there are no beliefs,” but as with the white collar criminal who eschews mugging but has no qualms about embezzling, the end result is essentially the same.

One reason Rosenberg fails to see this is that he says that the information the brain stores is not propositional or sentential in form, and he seems to think that this entails that it is not intentional. But whether the information in question is propositional or not is irrelevant to the point at issue, because propositional content is not essential to intentionality. What is essential to intentionality is directedness upon an object, and this “directedness” need not involve the expressing of a proposition about the object. It may be a mere “pointing to” the object without the making of a “statement” about it. Thus, even if the “information” Rosenberg says the brain contains does not amount to complete propositions, if it is to do the work Rosenberg needs it to do it will still have to involve certain brain processes “pointing to” or being “directed at” certain specific things beyond themselves. Otherwise it cannot ground a “naturalistic” “successor” to or reconstruction of the concept of a “correct” “guide to reality.” For example, whatever it is that is going on in neuroscientists’ own brains when they come up with correct neuroscientific theories will have in some way to “point to” brains specifically, rather than (say) to plates of spaghetti, seaweed, or kidney stones.

Anyway, like other EM advocates, Rosenberg never actually tells us what the reconstruction in question will look like – that is, what exactly is going on in the brain that corresponds to “accepting a scientific theory” and “affirming naturalism,” if it isn’t the having of beliefs and other intentional mental states. And like other EM advocates, he assures us that it is in any event to future neuroscience rather than to current naturalistic philosophy that we must look in order to find these things out. Rosenberg dismisses as “puerile” and a “trivial ploy” the claim that EM is self-undermining. “If only philosophy were that easy,” he laments. But it isn’t easy in that way. Instead, it’s easy in this way: Don’t bother me with your objections to EM. The neuroscientists will answer them some day, probably after I’m dead.

But the problem is not merely that this fails to answer the question. The problem is that it begs the question, because whether neuroscience can solve such philosophical problems – indeed, whether it is coherent to suggest that EM or any other claim can be restated, even at some future date, in a way that involves only non-intentional neuroscientific concepts – are precisely what is at issue. Moreover, Rosenberg never answers the question raised in my original post about why exactly we are supposed to accept EM if (a) EM entails that there is no fact of the matter about whether any argument, including any argument Rosenberg has given or could give for EM, is valid, sound, inductively strong, etc., and (b) neuroscience has at this point given us no “successor” concepts to validity, soundness, inductive strength, etc. Rosenberg is implicitly conceding that he has as yet no coherent way either of stating his position or arguing for it. Instead, he is issuing a promissory note that he assures us some future neuroscientists – someday, or some century, or some millennium – will make good on. Nor will they even give us (or our distant descendants) actually “rationally compelling” “arguments” for a “claim,” but rather a something-or-other (we know not what) that is somehow-or-other (we know not how) a “successor” of what we now call a rationally compelling argument for a claim. Why on earth should anyone accept such a bizarre promissory note? (Imagine some avant-garde mathematician told you that 2 + 2 = 23, admitted that he had no way of establishing this claim or even making it intelligible, but insisted that the mathematicians of the future would someday be able to do so. Would you take him seriously? Me neither, but there’s a guy at Duke University who would, and if you have any bridges for sale you might look him up.)

Rosenberg’s only answer is to beg the question some more, and indeed to repeat himself some more, with some hand-waving about what was “ruled out” by 17th century physics or “explained away” by Darwin. I’ve already explained what is wrong with this sort of move in my previous post on Rosenberg, and at great length in The Last Superstition.

So, why do Rosenberg, the Churchlands, and other EM advocates insist repeatedly on dismissing or even ignoring objections that are so obvious, and so obviously fatal, to their position? Part of the answer, as I’ve noted before, has to do with the ideological or even quasi-religious status naturalism has taken on in the thinking of so many contemporary philosophers – a status acknowledged by philosophers like Tyler Burge, William Lycan, Thomas Nagel, and John Searle (all quoted to this effect in The Last Superstition).

But there is likely a more personal component as well. The logical positivists no doubt thought that refuting their verifiability criterion of meaning just couldn’t be as easy as pointing out that it is self-undermining. “I’m A. J. Freaking Ayer! I don’t make obvious mistakes like that!” Actually, Freddie, you do. And here’s the painful truth: So do Paul Freaking Churchland and even Alex Freaking Rosenberg. If you don’t know it now, fellas, you’ll know it by the time you’re ready for your own Library of (Barely) Living Philosophers volumes. But be of good cheer – in contemporary academic philosophy, what is grounds for failing an undergraduate paper can be Festschrift material for a professional.

(cross-posted)

Comments (31)

Ed,

You write, "(Imagine some avant-garde mathematician told you that 2 + 2 = 23, admitted that he had no way of establishing this claim or even making it intelligible, but insisted that the mathematicians of the future would someday be able to do so. Would you take him seriously? Me neither, but there’s a guy at Duke University who would, and if you have any bridges for sale you might look him up.)"

Well, the main difference between Rosenberg and the avant-garde mathematician is that the latter can't point to the historical progress of mathematics as leading to this conclusion, whereas Rosenberg can, at least somewhat.

I think Rosenberg's argument for EM, just like the Churchlands' argument for it, goes like this: natural science has been able to explain an ever-expanding variety of phenomena in purely mechanical terms, including phenomena that people in the past thought was conceptually impossible to explain in purely mechanical terms, i.e., biological organisms. Given that science has been able to explain so much without resort to non-mechanical ideas, i.e., teleology, we can infer that in the future it will be able to explain the last thing we cannot explain, i.e., the mind itself, in non-teleological terms. In fact, science has already made inroads on just this project.

Now, from what I recall, in TLS your response is that science hasn't gotten rid of purposes, it's just moved them under the rug--namely, the mind. To be more accurate, philosophers impressed by science's successes have tried to explain purposes by attributing them all to the mind, which they take to be a purpose-making entity. Thus, rather than anything having a nature that explains why it tends to behave in certain ways, we project such natures and tendencies onto nature-less, tendency-less bosons and fermions.

In other words, if I have you right, we cannot generalize from "science"'s past successes in "explaining away" purposes in nature to the conclusion that science will explain purposes away from the mind. If anything, all we can conclude is that scientistic philosophers, now that they have pushed everything purposive to one place, will hit the wall, because they can't put those purposes anywhere new.

Against this, Rosenberg would argue, if he would deign to respond, which he would not, that no, we've been doing a better and better job of explaining even the mind in mechanistic ways; after all, the mind is the brain, and the brain is just a physical object, and physical objects consist of fermions and bosons, and since physical objects are entirely explicable in terms of the mechanical interactions of fermions and bosons, we can conclude that science will mechanize the mind too.

Assuming I have the dialectic right, I'd like to ask a question and make two observations.

The question is this: where do you, Ed, think the mechanization of the brain will hit the wall? Or is this not a worry for you because you think that not just brains, but also rocks have purposes too, so for all you care, science will come up with a top-to-bottom mechanical explanation of the brain. However, this won't matter, since such a mechanical explanation can't even make sense unless we take account of natures and the tendencies to which such natures give rise.

My observations are these:

(1) I think there is something psychologically wrong with Rosenberg. That is, I don't think he can fully believe what he's saying (take this to be the non-naturalistic analogue of Georges Rey's meta-atheism). If Rosenberg (or Rey, Leiter, Quine, Rorty, the Churchlands, Feyerabend, and other eliminative materialistic nihilists) actually believed what they said, they wouldn't act the way they did. Think, after all, of what their view amounts to: there is no such thing as a rational inference and there are no better and worse ways of living. Now, Rosenberg may admit that there are certain states of affairs that he likes and dislikes, but he has to admit* that his likes and dislikes are utterly groundless, that they just happen to him, and they carry with them no weight; at best, his experiences merely inform him of what mental state he'll get into if he does something again.

*--What does it mean to say that Rosenberg "has" to admit something? I think it means that he is epistemically committed to the claim that all his desires are reasonless. But since Rosenberg doesn't believe in epistemic norms (right?), I don't know that he would admit this.

(2) I find Rosenberg's position utterly terrifying. I find it terrifying, because I think it will catch on, and once it does, there will be no arguing with it. After all, if there's no such thing as reason, how can an argument go forward?
- Now, two things about this second observation:
(a) I think Disenchanted Naturalism will catch on because it resonates to the deepest fibers of a certain kind of intellectual: namely, the kind who thinks he is privy to something that most of his contemporaries can't admit and that most of his ancestors couldn't have dreamed of. This caters to his pride--it confirms that he is both courageous and brilliant. So, it doesn't really need argumentation to catch on--it just needs to present its charms.
(b) But how much does argumentation work anyway? It doesn't work on most of my students; it doesn't seem to work in politics much; it works on me, but I'm exceptional--maybe in a bad way. I mean, take Peter Singer's arguments for poverty relief: I know many philosophers, including myself, who thinks they work, and yet almost all of us do nothing about it. What does that say about people, and what does it say about argument? I think it says that rhetoric is a lot more important than reason, and that to make people change their behavior you don't need so much to give them an argument as to convince them that their interests are involved. And it's hard for me to imagine that the common person would ever buy Rosenberg's nihilistic candy even for a taste. That said, elites surely will, because they have the tongue for it. And the problem is, the elites control our culture. I cannot imagine that our culture could survive the triumph of disenchanted naturalism. As Charles Taylor has noted over and again, how we think of ourselves matters for what we do. And the elites determine, by and large, what the non-elites think. So I'm terrified.

The question is this: where do you, Ed, think the mechanization of the brain will hit the wall? Or is this not a worry for you because you think that not just brains, but also rocks have purposes too, so for all you care, science will come up with a top-to-bottom mechanical explanation of the brain. However, this won't matter, since such a mechanical explanation can't even make sense unless we take account of natures and the tendencies to which such natures give rise.

First, it will never hit the wall because it will never be allowed to hit the wall. Given the conceptual merry-go-round naturalists have gotten themselves onto, anything that cannot be given a mechanistic (i.e. non-teleological, non-intentionalistic) account will simply be re-defined as a mere "projection" or "folk concept." "A mechanistic view of nature must be right because science has made so much progress with it!" But science has made so much "progress" with it only because nothing non-mechanistic is ever allowed to count as "scientific." The whole thing is one gigantic question-begging farce. As I've noted in several other places, earlier generations even of non-religious philsophers -- and even as recently as the early 60s -- could plainly see that there was something fishy about the very idea of an entirely mechanistic view of the world. For some reason many contemporary philosophers refuse to see it. And as you imply, this is a question for psychology more than for philosophy.

Second, yes, everything has "purposes" anyway, though I don't like to use that word without heavy qualification given how badly misunderstood it typically is. (E.g. I do not think rocks have "purposes" in the sense that kidneys or cell phones do.) I'd prefer to put it by saying that wherever there is efficient causality there is at least a rudimentary kind of final causality, teleology, or end-directedness; that living things have a kind of teleology non-living things don't; that rational beings exhibit a kind of teleology other living things don't; and so forth. But yes, I'm a radical anti-reductionist anyway, so I think the "reductionistic successes" are essentially metaphysical sleight-of-hand.

Third, yes, they can take the game as far as they want, but they can never finish it because the very existence of the game presupposes intentionality, purpose, and all the rest. All they can do even in principle is move the bump around under the rug some more. So when I say "it will never hit the wall" I mean that they will never admit it has hit the wall -- hence the pathetic Rosenberg/Churchland dodge of telling us that some neuroscientist in the year 3456 will answer all the difficulties, so be patient. They'll always find some excuse for putting off the inevitable. Logically speaking the project actually hit the wall long ago -- with Democritus, actually.

And yes, "disenchanted naturalism" is dangerous precisely because it is maximal irrationality masquerading as maximal rationality. There is no limit to the evil people in thrall to such an ideology are capable of talking themselves into, since mere "talk" -- chatter, rhetoric, bull-sh*tting, demagoguery, deception and self-deception -- is no worse than argument, given their premises. Naturalism has already led to intellectual and moral results earlier generations of naturalists would have regarded as madness. A trend toward "disenchanted naturalism" -- which is really just consistent naturalism -- will only accelerate this.

But here's the good news, courtesy of the naturalist's favorite saint, Charles of the Galapagos: Such an ideology is so insane, inhuman, and dysfunctional that it cannot fail to be "selected out." In the long run it, and any society too deeply permeated with its ethos, are doomed. The only question is how many good people it will take down with it.

Oh wait, is that what you were terrified about...?

I'd be curious to know what features of contemporary society you think even naturalists of the past would have regarded as madness. I know that's a tall order, but I suspect that a lot of what's current in society that you think nuts I find not-so-bad. I could be wrong about that, though.

As for what I'm terrified of, I should say I'm terrified that disenchanted naturalism (DN) is right, and that all meaning is a sham. What's weird about my fear that DN is right is that I know that it's incoherent (of course, by DN's light, incoherence isn't a big problem). In other words, I see its rhetorical power; it looks like it has science, as well as candor, on its side, even though it couldn't possibly be right. That's weird to me.

Of course, I also don't look forward to a possible world where most of my well-educated colleagues think there is no right and wrong, no free will, no self, no intentionality, etc. That would make hanging out in the halls of academia a much bigger drag than it is right now.

The only thing I find terrifying, is that both sides will likely see that they have a 'right' to completely annihilate the other side. I find it terrifying not so much for its external consequences, but for the souls of those who take things to their logical conclusion. EMs thinking that there is no right and wrong, and the sane people looking at the dangerously insane EMs (or DNs).

Bobcat, if I may venture a book recommendation in a blog thread, I think you would find a lot to appreciate in C.S. Lewis's That Hideous Strength, if you haven't read it already.

Great post, Ed.

Here was an earlier discussion we had of what I call the "optimistic naturalist" argument about the supposed march of science gradually eliminating non-naturalism.

http://www.whatswrongwiththeworld.net/2009/03/naturalism_science_and_inducti.html

What's weird about my fear that DN is right is that I know that it's incoherent (of course, by DN's light, incoherence isn't a big problem). In other words, I see its rhetorical power; it looks like it has science, as well as candor, on its side, even though it couldn't possibly be right.

Well, right. If something is incoherent, it can't be _true_. So you can't be driven by a love of truth to embrace incoherence. And how can something have science "on its side" in the sense of being evidence for its truth if the conclusion is incoherent and hence cannot be true? It's like saying that it seems like science is "on the side of" 1 + 1 = 5.

It's completely false, in any event, to say that science is on the side of natural-ism. There is no sense at all in which the fact that we understand better this, that, and the other--planetary motion, the structure of the atom, and so forth--than we used to is evidence that minds are merely physical entities (for example). The attempt to say that it is is the sheerest smoke and mirrors.

And yes, "disenchanted naturalism" is dangerous precisely because it is maximal irrationality masquerading as maximal rationality.

Lydia, I had been about to mention that this sounds just like "That Hideous Strength", but you beat me to the punch. Yes, and it is doomed to destruction just as the Institute was - the only question being, will it take the rest of society with it?

natural science has been able to explain an ever-expanding variety of phenomena in purely mechanical terms

Bobcat, does this include quantum physics and its progeny? I am not up on the full gamut of physics from the 2nd half of the 20th century, but isn't it true that physicists have kind of hit a brick wall on quarks and superstrings, and in any case isn't the theory that at that super-micro level there is indeed a non-mechanistic aspect to reality? For example, aren't quarks a kind of a problem because on the one hand there are obviously too many kinds of them to simply say each is different because _that's just the kind it is_ (as if there is no accounting to be done), and on the other hand there is difficulty suggesting that they are composed of material parts that make each sort different. Damned either way.

I'm curious—how do Rosenberg et al. deal with the intentionality of sense data? Vision, for example, has clear elements of intentionality in it; not only is it trivially true that we control what we see by choosing where we look, but it can be experimentally demonstrated (I think Triesman is still the standard footnote for this, but there are others more recent) that how people perceive a given scene is intentionally modulated even if they're given the same set of ambient light energy.

But sense data is the raw material of science; on a materialist account, it's the only way we know anything at all about the world. The only way I can see to remove intentionality from perception is to do something similar to what Feser is laying to Rosenberg's account with respect to the construction of arguments; in the perceptual case, denying the intention underlying the human observer's perceptual actions. ("I didn't look there because I meant to; I just looked there." Or something like that.)

Now, I'm not a philosopher, and what I'm pointing to may be implicit in Feser's basic critique without my having figured that out yet. But it does seem to me that a mechanistic account that has to bracket both its inferential process and the very data on which those inferences depend is even more obviously bankrupt than one that has only to bracket the inferential process itself.

Do the materialists you've been citing deal with this issue? If so, I'd be grateful for any pointers as to where.

Peace,
--Peter

Hi Tony,

Quantum physics postulates six kinds of quarks, I believe. Right now, I think it's just a brute fact that there are six, though perhaps string theory explains why there are six rather than five or fifty. (Of course some physicists castigate string theory as "philosophy", on account of the fact that it can't be tested experimentally.) Regardless, if quantum physics counts as mechanism, then mechanism is more expansive than was previously thought, and if it doesn't count as mechanism, then we can already ditch the attempt to explain everything mechanically.

Lydia,

When I said that DN has science on its side, I didn't mean that in a factive sense. Rather, for me anyway, it's hard to avoid seeing it as though it has science on its side--it's like an optical illusion I know to be illusory.

And I have read That Hideous Strength, though I was eighteen when I read it, and I don't think I knew that there were actually eliminative materialists back then.

Heya all,

I'm an utter amateur when it comes to philosophy, so I was wondering if anyone would be able to confirm a few things for me. It's what I've taken away from past and present discussions of EM (including Ed's post), but I want to be as clear about it as I can be. It's pretty amazing to take in.

1) Wouldn't a naturalistic view of the sort Rosenberg is offering here mean that no one ever, say.. accepts EM "because they think it is true", or "because the evidence/arguments for EM are compelling", etc? All that's going on inside of a brain/mind is blind efficient causation - matter acting mechanically on other matter in strict accordance with physical laws that are themselves utterly unconcerned with or undirected towards things like 'truth' and 'rationality' and 'argument', etc.

2) If I have 1 correct, then wouldn't the justifications Rosenberg gives/implies for his position (for example, the claimed success of mechanical explanations) be impossible for him to call on as reasons/evidence for his position? By that I mean, Rosenberg could not himself claim something like "I come to this conclusion because of the successes of science / Darwin / etc", on the grounds that "doing something" for a "reason" is not permissible under his view. Nor could he offer up arguments in the hopes his arguments would convince someone because, again, to believe that happens due to the argument itself rather than some happy accident would contradict his view.

3) If I have 1 and 2 correct... Given that Rosenberg himself does not know exactly what (neuro)scientists will discover about the brain to explain (sans-intentionality) what's "really going on" with people's mind/brains, and given that he rejects beliefs, being convinced by actual reasons or arguments, etc... doesn't this add up to Rosenberg saying that he himself doesn't know why he's saying what he's saying about EM? But whatever he's saying, it certainly can't be "because he thinks it's the truth" or "because he thinks the evidence points that way"?

4) One final question disconnected from the others. Rosenberg of course talks about "information" and "misinformation" being 'in the brain'. And Ed points out that information is information about something - it is an intentional concept, and can't be used to "replace" intentionality. So here's my question: What to think of materialists, even EMs, who talk as if "information" does fit with their worldview? Should the judgment be that they're inconsistent materialists? Or that they aren't materialists at all?

Here's hoping I got some of these ideas right.

"1) Wouldn't a naturalistic view of the sort Rosenberg is offering here mean that no one ever, say.. accepts EM "because they think it is true", or "because the evidence/arguments for EM are compelling", etc? All that's going on inside of a brain/mind is blind efficient causation - matter acting mechanically on other matter in strict accordance with physical laws that are themselves utterly unconcerned with or undirected towards things like 'truth' and 'rationality' and 'argument', etc."

Well, you and I would describe Rosenberg's acceptance of it as his accepting it because he thinks it's true. But an eliminative materialist like Rosenberg wouldn't put it like that, since he doesn't believe in thoughts or beliefs--he thinks that the notion of thoughts and beliefs are "folk psychological"--they're the ways we talk about the brain pre-advanced neuroscience (similarly, people used to say that lightning was caused by the gods, and that the sun rises and sets, but we know now that lightning is really the exchange of positive and negative charge (or something like that, I think) whereas the sun doesn't rise but is stationary relative to us. Talk of thoughts and beliefs will go the same way, according to Rosenberg). Rosenberg will say that all that's going on in the brain is efficient causation, but he may still have a notion for rationality: some brains channel causes to typically produce effects E, and some brains channel causes to typically produce effects ~E. Those brains that typically produce effects E are rational, and those that don't aren't.

I think Lynne Rudder Baker really pushes the "eliminative materialism can't even get off the ground" objection in her 1987 book, Saving Belief.

Oh, I forgot to say that William Hasker devotes the whole first chapter of his The Emergent Self to the self-refutation argument against eliminative materialism.

people used to say that lightning was caused by the gods

Yup, I'm sure that's what the American colonists believed before Benjamin Franklin and his kite. ;-)

whereas the sun doesn't rise but is stationary relative to us.

Actually, Bobcat, the sun moves relative to the earth; and the earth moves relative to the sun. Now (believe it or not) whether the earth moves absolutely or not is still an open question, even though you would get laughed off campus for even suggesting that it might not.

Lydia,

Well, I was just trying to give the eliminativist account of why they think that folk psychology should be seen as having no epistemic weight--i.e., for the same reason any folk scientific theory should be seen as having no weight. One thing I've never understood about that account (which I take from Paul Churchland) is that, while beliefs about the cause of lightning have changed, it's not as though people were wrong about there being lightning. But if the eliminativist is right, it's not just that the folk are wrong about the cause of thoughts, they're actually wrong about what they think they're seeing.

On a slightly different note, I believe Galen Strawson in a lecture at NYU called eliminative materialism "the stupidest idea in the history of the world." I've always brought that up whenever discussing EM with anyone else, so I should probably bring it up now. :)

George R.,

About whether the earth moves "absolutely": given relativity theory, does any physicist think that anything moves "absolutely"?

Heh - I always thought that Galen Strawson was a good guy.

About whether the earth moves "absolutely": given relativity theory, does any physicist think that anything moves "absolutely"?

Good point. The relativists would say that the earth does not move absolutely, but I do not believe they would say that the earth is absolutely motionless, because for them it does move, i.e., relatively.

But somewhat OT, I say that relativity is a philosophical train-wreck; for relative motion depends on absolute motion like relative being depends on substantial being.

Bobcat, does this include quantum physics and its progeny? I am not up on the full gamut of physics from the 2nd half of the 20th century, but isn't it true that physicists have kind of hit a brick wall on quarks and superstrings, and in any case isn't the theory that at that super-micro level there is indeed a non-mechanistic aspect to reality? For example, aren't quarks a kind of a problem because on the one hand there are obviously too many kinds of them to simply say each is different because _that's just the kind it is_ (as if there is no accounting to be done), and on the other hand there is difficulty suggesting that they are composed of material parts that make each sort different. Damned either way.

The superstring theory is not a theory, but a set of theories united by Witten's M-theory. They are fundamental. Different vibrations give rise to the different quarks, much as different harmonic combinations of strings give rise to different timbres. There is no suggestion in physics, at this time, that there need be anything smaller than a quark or superstring.

people used to say that lightning was caused by the gods

Actually, we still don't know what causes lightening. What people actually said was: lightening is caused by something. We, contingently, hold that it is caused by the Gods. The brain is nothing if not a contingency-holding organ. That is why faith is not something inherent in the brain.

The Chicken

That is why faith is not something inherent in the brain.

Please clarify how you reached this conclusion.

Bobcat,

Thanks for the reply. I was (in question 1) taking what you say to be the actual claim of EMs. But it seems to me there are problems that kick in (through 2 and 3) once that's accepted.

Hopefully someone can take pity on this amateur and enlighten me further, because on the face of it EM proponents seem like they'd have to be relying on what would in any other context be called "magic" (in the derogatory sense of the word).

Re: Strawson, I know that his view of EM insofar as qualia goes is damning. I'm not sure I've ever read Strawson's take on intentionality - I assume they're distinct issues most of the time. I half expect that, rather than future science going the EM route, the panpsychist route is chosen (complete with insisting that materialism has always meant panpsychism.)

I meant supernatural faith - Faith, not mere strong belief. Faith has an object not perceptible, therefore not fully intentionalizable, by the brain with out help.

The Chicken

Bobcat,

Well, I was just trying to give the eliminativist account of why they think that folk psychology should be seen as having no epistemic weight--i.e., for the same reason any folk scientific theory should be seen as having no weight.

I was just sort of pointing out something I put in that older post that I linked to: It's really not possible to point to a bunch of beliefs in supernatural things that were held by educated people that have now been non-supernaturally explained. It's very hard to find many examples. _Maybe_ there were educated people who attributed some cases of epilepsy to demon possession, though I'm not even sure of that. But the history of science in this whole "march of science against supernaturalism" tale is very shaky. It's made all the more shaky by the fact that a lot of odd, old ideas held by the educated were _not_ thought of as supernatural. For example, astrology and alchemy.

I'm pretty sure that most educated 18th century Americans and British just admitted that not much was known about the causes of lightning. So it's not like there was some definite, supernatural theory widely held by the educated who wrongly included the supernatural in their toolbox that has now been refuted.

And as I said in the post, if we're going to talk about things that _silly_, _uneducated_ people believe, don't get me started on all of those that are around today. The march of progress hasn't eliminated them.

So when you start thinking about it, there's really no story there at all, no march, no nothing. For the most part, smart people have just gotten some things right and some things wrong, changed their minds about things at different times, and that's about it. Just like today. I mean, it's not as though we really should be thinking that there are no things that are widely promulgated as true now by the chattering classes that will turn out to be false...

(I'm really restraining myself here to avoid mentioning Climategate.)

Lydia,

Re: "Supernatural" explanations that science later explained, I think the problem is complicated by two factors.

First being that the 'silly, uneducated' people tend not to develop very deep 'theories' anyway. For example, to attribute something to demons is not always (I'd say, rarely) to give an explanation. Any more than saying 'the russians did it' or 'the illuminati did it'.

Second, I strongly suspect that not only is there a selective memory of science's past failures, but those failures tend to be regarded as something like 'magic, not science'. Such that scientists believed in germ theory, crazy wackos believed in miasma theory. Astronomers believed in heliocentrism, insane religious people believed in geocentrism. Etc, etc.

To your second, Joseph, right on. In other words, there have been many, many refuted scientific theories. Just as there will be many more.

Lydia,

...if we're going to talk about things that _silly_, _uneducated_ people believe...

Or things that silly, educated people still believe (like Common Descent or that the appendix has no function). Restraint is overrated. ;-)

And who cares about scientific consensus? What does that even mean? Do we really care what physicists and chemists think about biological evolution? Even your non-specialist biologists, what does their opinion matter? The ones in field are the evolutionary biologists. If it comes to the question of whether evolution occurs, it seems that to ask evolutionary biologists is to beg the question. What, does anyone seriously think that they will say, "No"? Are they able to look at the data without seeing it through the lenses of evolutionary theory (like Hanson suggested)?

And who cares about consensus when it comes to science? Is theoretical correctness legislated by vote? Cannot one man overcome consensus with a better theory?

And really we can't talk about "failed theories". Sometimes theories are resurrected, so we can never be sure that they fail in any final sense.

And what does "scientific" mean in any formal sense? Larry Laudan showed that the word "unscientific" has no formal meaning based on historical tests. If this is so, then the words "science" and "scientific" become formally vague. If we want to use the word "science", then we have to define it in our ad hoc context. (May I mention that I expect to have a paper published soon entitled, Some implications of the demise of demarcation, which I hope that some philosophers will read and engage?)

I meant supernatural faith - Faith, not mere strong belief. Faith has an object not perceptible, therefore not fully intentionalizable, by the brain with out help.

Since belief is a synonym for faith, I'm having a hard time deciphering what the difference is supposed to be. It looks as if you are trying to say that having faith in an imperceptible object provides proof of that object's existence.

The superstring theory is not a theory, but a set of theories united by Witten's M-theory. They are fundamental. Different vibrations give rise to the different quarks, much as different harmonic combinations of strings give rise to different timbres.

Bobcat, thanks for the clarification. I suspect that strings don't really help solve the materialist / mechanist problems with quarks, since (so far as I understand them, which is vanishingly slim) using strings as an explanation is only slightly better than saying "magic", since they cannot - so far - be experimentally verified.

Since belief is a synonym for faith, I'm having a hard time deciphering what the difference is supposed to be. It looks as if you are trying to say that having faith in an imperceptible object provides proof of that object's existence.

Bobcat,

Belief may be a synonym for faith, but it is not a synonym for Faith. To have faith in God, one must have faith in something that does exist, but cannot be intentionalized because God is wholly Other. If the brain cannot even intentionalize God (the best we can do is analogy), then Faith (supernatural faith) must not be a part of the brain. Your use of faith includes merely natural faith, which is excluded from what I was talking about and whic h I clarified, above.

Tony,

That was my clarification about String Theory. You are probably correct. One can keep regressing. Why do strings exist? If they are necessary because of the fabric of the universe, then what is the fabric of the universe.

The Chicken

To have faith in God, one must have faith in something that does exist, but cannot be intentionalized because God is wholly Other. If the brain cannot even intentionalize God (the best we can do is analogy), then Faith (supernatural faith) must not be a part of the brain.

This is getting elusive. Is there something about analogy that you believe (or Believe) absolutely excludes intentionality? I also notice that you've moved from 'not fully intentionalizable' to 'cannot even intentionalize God'.

This is getting elusive. Is there something about analogy that you believe (or Believe) absolutely excludes intentionality? I also notice that you've moved from 'not fully intentionalizable' to 'cannot even intentionalize God'.

Not elusive at all. I think we misunderstand each other. Analogy includes intentionality, but God can only be related to in analogical terms, so there is an intentional aspect to speaking about God, but not an intentional aspect about our ability to know God as he is. In other words, when we bring God down to us, we can use intentionality within analogical speech (or directly, when speaking of Christ's humanity, but that's another topic) to talk about God, but when we go up to confront the reality of God in his simplicity, there is no intentionality. As St. Paul said, in another context (not about God, specifically, but related):

1 Cor 2:19
But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.[KJV]

The Chicken

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