What Do Philosophical Proofs Prove? — Guest Post by DAV

Note about civility: we are all, or should be, ladies and gentlemen here. Non-gentlemanly comments will henceforth be censored. Arguments, however, are more than welcome. —Briggs


There have been some recent posts which I believe have reached unwarranted conclusions.

First though, space is short here so I must resort to shortcuts. I don’t wish to get into arguments over definitions. It’s the concepts and not the words used to describe them that is important. The following are provided to move the discussion along:

  • Reality: that outside of ourselves. If you are inclined to believe reality is only in your mind then posting arguments here seems to put you in the curious position of convincing yourself to come around to your own point of view. Sounds like a family fight which should remain private. Concepts are real in the sense that they can exist in other minds as well as our own. However, I will limit real to mean outside of our collective minds.
  • Proof: Suffice it that, here, I mainly use the word to mean existing in reality.
  • Validity: proof of reality.

Let’s consider mathematical proofs. Theorems are proved in math through logical deduction. That is, they are shown to be logically true and can be traced back to the starting assumptions (axioms). Mathematical theorems exist only in the framework of mathematics. They can be used as simplifications in other problems by analogy. This doesn’t mean they exist in reality. Confusing these simplifications with reality can lead to problems such as over-confidence.

The scientific method sidesteps the concept of proof in the mathematical sense. This doesn’t mean science doesn’t employ logical deduction. Scientific results are not logical deductions. Science relies on consistency with observations: information that comes to us from outside of ourselves. Observations are generally taken as fact. In science, the only thing that can be proven with certainty is inconsistency with observations. Theories that fail to predict future results are in need of modification and are rejected as is. Science provides ideas which are testable, that is, verifiable against observation. In short, science comes up with ideas that seem to work and, whenever possible, eliminates those that don’t.

But, you might ask, what about theories that can neither be proven nor disproven to exist in reality? There are a number of these — the Theories of Everything, for example. Presumably, their status is temporary and hopefully they can be tested in the future. Until then, their validity remains an open question.

There are those theories that seem to be forever excluded from testing for validity, for example, the existence or non-existence of God. It’s been mentioned that God cannot be sensed. This precludes using any observation to test whether theism should be preferred over atheism.

Lately, we have seen claims that God has been “proven”. Well, in the logical deduction sense, yes indeed.

Logical consistency is expected for otherwise it would constitute disproof. I’m fairly certain atheism is also logically consistent given its assumptions. If not then why hasn’t its disproof been widely circulated?

The deductive proof is insufficient when it comes to the question: is it real? It accomplished nothing beyond non-elimination toward a validity test. In the common person’s mind, “proved the existence of God” means “proved God is real.” In this case, at least, the deductive proof is the analog of p-value. It provides a misleading answer.

Has God been “proven” by logical argument? My take: in the sense of “shown to be real”, not at all — to claim otherwise is unwarranted. At best what can be said is that the concept of God is not illogical. On the other hand, the concept of no God is not illogical either.

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As always, reasonably and well written guest editorials are welcome.

116 Comments

  1. DAV,

    Nearly there, brother. The proofs of God’s existence are ontological, meaning demonstrations of reality, of what is. And if you accept the premises and judge the arguments valid, and if the conclusion necessarily follows, then it is so that proofs of God’s existence are also proofs against atheism.

    And as an aside (not to DAV, but to folks like Ken), it is a philosophical statement to say that when observations match predictions, the theory behind the predictions is likely true. That is, this philosophy cannot be demonstrated empirically.

  2. Whether or not God (or, gods; or, the numinous; etc.) can be sensed, it is clear that it can be experienced. Thousands of years ago (and nowadays as well) people didn’t go around believing in gods on the strength of arguments. This experience precedes the acceptance of any premise in arguments for God. Apart from the acceptance of the premises, the argument itself can’t be used as evidence for the existence of God (or of anything, for that matter).

    The main usefulness of arguments for God is indeed to establish that argumentation cannot disprove God; as DAV said, “that the concept is not illogical”. This is useful as psychological reinforcement for those who experience God but are surrounded by [cultural] dismissals of that notion as backward, obsolete, or even harmful.

  3. A theory must be consistent, because if it predicts the outcome of given observations, it must be possible to test that prediction. If you get two different outcomes, it is not possible to say whether an observation is falsifying a theory or not.

    Think of a weather theory that says that it will tomorrow both rain and not rain. It will always be right (or wrong), and is is useless, as you cannot use it to predict whether it will really rain tomorrow.

  4. What do philosophical proofs prove?

    My answer: not everyone accepts the premises of the cosmological or teleological ontological argument.

  5. @DAV:

    “Mathematical theorems exist only in the framework of mathematics. They can be used as simplifications in other problems by analogy. This doesn’t mean they exist in reality.”

    You yourself have honestly admitted you have no evidence against mathematical realism, so your claim is an unsubstantiated one. For all we know, they may actually exist outside the mind. But let us grant for the sake of argument that mathematical concepts exist solely in the mind. Then how do you explain that what is purely a construct of the mind (just like fiction novels say) is so successful in describing reality? What is this power, by all accounts absolutely magical, that imbues the free creations of the mind to so accurately reflect reality?

    “Has God been “proven” by logical argument? My take: in the sense of “shown to be real”, not at all — to claim otherwise is unwarranted.”

    If this is so, then you can certainly tell us where the arguments goes wrong. Or better not, because instead of trying to understand what they actually do say, you will resort to vague generalities and broad impossibilities like you do here, that can be shown to be ultimately self-refuting. More on this below.

    “The scientific method sidesteps the concept of proof in the mathematical sense. This doesn’t mean science doesn’t employ logical deduction. Scientific results are not logical deductions. Science relies on consistency with observations: information that comes to us from outside of ourselves. Observations are generally taken as fact. In science, the only thing that can be proven with certainty is inconsistency with observations. Theories that fail to predict future results are in need of modification and are rejected as is. Science provides ideas which are testable, that is, verifiable against observation.”

    After Kuhn and Feyerabend, receiving a pedestrian and sophomoric lesson on what science is does not exactly predispose oneself for charity towards our interlocutor.

    Let us take for example Newtonian theory of gravity (this is just an example, you can replace it with any other scientific theory). There are some terms in it like “force”, “mass” and “acceleration”. Are they *objective* features of reality or mere artifacts of the models? And if not why not? And if yes, how do you pretend to prove that they exist, given that as you say, the only thing we can achieve is consistency with observations? It is perfectly possible to eliminate any mention of them in the theory and obtain an equally effective descriptive theory. Now what? Please tell me, under your conception of science, how to answer the question.

    And should we accept as real any and all objects associated to a physical theory? Take the example of QM. To any quantum system, it is associated a complex Hilbert state space. Is it real in your conception of reality? And how can we prove such, since being a mathematical object, its existence is not amenable to empirical observation? And if not, why not? How is it different from any other objects in the ontology of the physical theory, like electrons and photons and space-time? What about Quine-Putnam’s indispensability arguments? Electrons are not directly perceived by the senses, rather we *infer* to their existence from observed effects. Aquinas’ proofs of the existence God are also empirical in this sense; from observed realities we *deduce* the existence of a prime mover, etc. Space-time is an interesting example. Is it real? It has no mass or extension. You cannot go “outside it” to poke it and probe it, so it cannot be sensed in any reasonable sense of the word. So what are we to make of it?

    You have already mentioned mathematicians; they laugh at the scientific method and unfalsifiability criterion. But what is an historian supposed to do with your description of “real science”? He certainly does not “predict the future”, so what he does is not science? Since Evolution theory and Cosmology are in large part historical sciences, what are we to do with them? Declare them invalid?

    “There are those theories that seem to be forever excluded from testing for validity, for example, the existence or non-existence of God. It’s been mentioned that God cannot be sensed. This precludes using any observation to test whether theism should be preferred over atheism.”

    You misunderstand the metaphysical proofs of the existence of God. They are not the same as scientific theorizing, or an hypothesis to explain this or that fact; rather, it is more correct to say that God is the pre-condition for any explanation to be possible in the first place. But never mind, I do not wish to pursue this.

    The scientific method cannot be sensed either. Should we chuck it out to the dustbin of irrelevancy and “non-reality”? If you admit exceptions to your “no unfalsifiable statements” rule — e.g. mathematical statements or the scientific method or any of the many unfalsifiable presuppositions of the empirical sciences — then you must have a *non-question begging* criterion for those that are acceptable and those that are not. So where is the criterion? Warning: this was the project of positivism and it failed with a crash and boom, but maybe you can succeed where otherwise brilliant minds like Ayers and Flew failed.

    “I’m fairly certain atheism is also logically consistent given its assumptions. If not then why hasn’t its disproof been widely circulated?”

    The disproof is not that it is logically inconsistent (although certain forms of naturalism can be shown to be inconsistent), it is in the purported proofs that theism is true and therefore a-theism is false.

    “The deductive proof is insufficient when it comes to the question: is it real? It accomplished nothing beyond non-elimination toward a validity test.”

    There are countless examples of existential deductive proofs. But turning things around, where is your evidence that such possibly exist? Certainly no empirical evidence is forthcoming; so you will have to break your own rules and actually produce an argument. So where is it?

    And this is the ironical lesson from the OP; it is the ones that fill their mouths with “science this” or “science that” that show the most naive and superficial understanding of it.

  6. @G. Rodrigues

    Accelleration in Newtonian Mechanics is measurable as the increase of the speed of a body over time. Speed is measurable as the distance travelled by a body in time. Mass can be measured too, by comparing it with the mass of a different body. Force can be measured as well.

    The human body can be used as the measurement instrument. We can feel accelleration, in cars, planes and amusement parks. Try lifting different objects to get a sense of differences in mass. For force measurements, try dropping stuff from different heights on your foot, or get children and adults to hit you with their fists. Or less painfull, try hitting an object with different sized hammers, and see it either break, bend of stay intact.

    As for the scientific validity of the soft sciences, a historian has to construct a theory that has to be compatible with known human behaviours and motives, and they have to try and find supporting evidence.

    Theories are also about understanding the world, predictability is a bonus. Excellent if you can get it, and very much worth striving for, but no guarantees. Lots of matter in simple configurations can be very predictable, as shown by Classical Mechanics. Tiny amounts of matter is only predictable in the statistical sense, you can predict the result of lots of measurements but not a single one, as shown by Quantum Mechanics.

    But still, it is a lot better at predicting stuff than for instance Spinoza’s God theory, which tells us nothing about the Universe, apart from it existing. But for that we do not need a theory, we see that it exists.

    As for the religious gods instead of the philosofical ones, just look at certain events in recent American history. If those people are now enjoying their promised rewards in their heaven, they did the right thing. And if they are in hell because another religion is right, then they were wrong.

    But there is no amount of ontological whatever that is going to tell you which of the two is true.

  7. I have had zero seconds literally, since our last discussions (and thus I have no problems in declaring “defeat” in these discussions by forfeiting them from time to time), but I have a question to you, mr Rodrigues.

    Is your position to say that God’s existence not only is possible, but that it is inevitable, 100% proven rationally, out of any question whatsoever (ruling out the odd metaphysical mistake that could have deluded everyone and so on)?

  8. Thanks DAV. A very simple and clear explanation of what can and cannot be known using science and observation. As well as the connection of logical and mathematical truth to physical reality.

  9. >>You have already mentioned mathematicians; they laugh at the scientific method and unfalsifiability criterion.

    Evidence, please.

  10. There’s a stronger proof on the lack of “knowability” of the existence of a Superior Being. Basically, suppose that a Superior Being of sufficient superiority exists to provide the traditional omniscience and omnipotence. Now, one of us limited beings tries to experimentally verify the existence of the Superior Being. necessarily, the SB will know of the experiment, due to omniscience, and can determine the outcome of the experiment, due to omnipotence. A positive result would, we suppose, prove the existence of the SB; but a negative result, a “falsification” could be the result of the SB choosing, for whatever knowable or unknowable reason, to not “give the game away.”

    Thus, it follows that no experiment can be constructed that can prove or disprove the SB.

  11. @G. Rodrigues

    Mathmatical theorems are about mathmatics itself and not anything with physical reality, so mathmatical proofs do not relate to anything real. Hard core mathematicians will tell you this themselves.

    That said, mathematics can be used to describe the physical “real” world. However, the description is not the same thing as the reality itself. Thus in answer to your question, force, mass, and acceleration are real physical properties of real objects. That reality is not the same as the mathematics used to describe them.

    The scientific method is just that, a method, a process invented by the human mind and therefore it is not “real” in the sense that Dav is talking about, it is purely a construct of the mind.

    Moving on to the ultimate discussion of the proofs of god or no god. These are logical proofs and like mathematic proofs, logical proofs are dependent on axioms.

    Axioms are things accepted as true but which can not be proven to be true. A neccesary starting point for either mathematical or logical proofs.

    The problems with saying that the logical proofs for the existance of God disprove the proofs that there is no god is that the two sets of proofs start from very different axioms.

    Since both arguments start with different sets of axioms and by deffinition, niether set of axioms can be proven to be true, we are right back at where we started.

    Which side you fall on comes down to which set of axioms you accept. (Note: I belive that there is a God)

    The problem with some but not all atheists is that they decry not just the existance of god but faith itself forgetting that their own proofs rely on axioms that they must accept on faith. In my personal experience most of the militant/evangalistic atheists fall into this category.

    @Dav

    Based on your prior comments on related threads, I would have put you down as an evangalistic atheist but this post would seem to put you into the agnostic category.

  12. @Sander van der Wal:

    Is your post supposed to contain an answer to any of my (rhetorical) questions? Maybe you should read what I wrote again, because it doesn’t.

    @Tom:

    You have already mentioned mathematicians; they laugh at the scientific method and unfalsifiability criterion.

    Evidence, please.”

    I have the habit of every day of the working week check out the listing of new preprints in the arxiv. Today (17-9-2012), the listing contains 101 entries but only one article caught my attention, a paper by Avilés and Koszmider constructing a C(K) Banach space where every injective operator is surjective. Here is a paper containing several true (barring any mistakes in the proofs) unfalsifiable statements, and currently and in the foreseeable future, with absolutely no use to any scientific theory or engineering application. I could multiply the examples ad infinitum, in a sort of extravagant show-off of pedantery — the inevitable outcome of, contrary to other people, actually knowing what I am talking about — but this single one will have to suffice.

    @Luis Dias:

    “Is your position to say that God’s existence not only is possible, but that it is inevitable, 100% proven rationally, out of any question whatsoever (ruling out the odd metaphysical mistake that could have deluded everyone and so on)?”

    I am having some trouble parsing your question. I do not understand what you mean by “inevitable”, even more so because it is set up as an antithesis to “possible” which it clearly is not. And from what I can parse, there is underlying it a misunderstanding of how metaphysics works or what constitutes progress — which is different from what counts as progress in the modern empirical sciences, just as it is different as to what counts as progress in history or literary criticism. Maybe The anti-progressive character of metaphysics, the anti-metaphysical character of scientific progress can help you in clarifying your question. Maybe it will just confuse you more. Shrug shoulders.

    Anyway, taking a guess at what you are asking, let me make an analogy: Euclid’s proof of the infinitude of the set of primes is by now more than 2000 years old. It is a true statement and true with the highest degree of certainty that we as fallible human beings can ever expect to get. Metaphysical proofs share at least this aspect with mathematical ones: they are deductive proofs. There are then three general sources of possible errors: a logical mistake in the argument, an invalid premise or the equivocation of a term. Having examined Aquinas’ arguments and knowing the metaphysical edifice upon which they rest (as far as a rank know-nothing amateur can be said to know anything at all), I accept the argument as valid, with all the caveats that human fallibility and ignorance impose on such judgments and if anyone has a good argument as to their invalidity I am willing to hear it out. You seem to want to extricate some certificate of certitude from this acknowledgement; I myself see no need to do that. The more interesting discussion — as one can glean from J. Chastek’s post linked above — is the dialectical battle of different, even opposing, metaphysical views that always gets us back to the roots, that is, to the foundations of our own metaphysical presuppositions. But to do that, you *must* get into the metaphysical waters and not content yourself with staying in the shore, not wetting your feet and then excuse yourself with what amounts to half-assed lame appeals to ignorance. To put it in other words, I do not so much mind people disagreeing with mine (and Aquinas’) metaphysical views, but disagreeing in utter ignorance and profound misunderstanding of them. In the first case, a discussion, possibly a very profitable and enriching one can be had. In the second? Just the continuous pointing out of the ignorance of my interlocutors, a tiresome and supremely dull task.

    @Matt:

    “Mathmatical theorems are about mathmatics itself and not anything with physical reality, so mathmatical proofs do not relate to anything real. Hard core mathematicians will tell you this themselves.”

    First, you are using sloppy language. Insofar as mathematics is about *something*, that something must exist even if it is only within our minds. It is very bizarre to declare, by fiat nonetheless, that what is in our minds, and thus our concepts, language, etc. is “unreal”, but for the moment I am willing to go along — and the distinction is a useful and very important one anyway. Second, the claim that mathematical objects exist solely in the mind is itself a philosophical position about the nature of mathematics, and thus outside the purview of mathematics qua mathematics. And contrary to what you say, Platonism (and this is just one form of mathematical realism; there are others) is nothing short than endemic among mathematicians. Third, you missed some important steps in the argument. For one, the point is not so much whether mathematical objects are real, extra-mental entities, but the very banal fact that whatever stance you adopt arguments are needed to substantiate it and that the OP is very poor, practically non-existent, on that department. It makes several unsubstantiated claims that themselves presuppose a definite metaphysical view about reality, the nature of human knowledge, the status of universals, etc. DAV in shedding off metaphysics, in supposing himself free of the abomination, is simply being blind to his own unargued, unargued because unconsciously held, metaphysical stance. The beam in the eye and all that.

    As for the rest of your post, I suggest to you the same thing I did to Sander van der Wal.

  13. It is perfectly reasonable to operate under the premise that God, like mathematics, is created, not discovered; and that God, created thought it may be, might be as good and useful to our species as mathematics has been to science.

    Of “the truth”, if such a thing exists, our proofs must remain silent.

  14. @G. Rodrigues

    Your comment that the metaphysical proofs of the existance of God automatically disproves any metaphysical proofs that God does not exist is only valid if you accept the axioms on which the proof of the existance of God is based. Of course the proofs that God does not exist are built on different and incompatible axioms.

    Dav obviously does not accept the axioms on which the proofs of Gods existance is based, prefering the axioms behind the proofs of atheism.

    So ultimately it comes down to an argument over the axioms, which set to use.

  15. @G. Rodrigues (continued)

    Can you prove that your axioms are better than Dav’s?

    The answer is no, because axioms are by deffinition unprovable.

    Therefore we have come full circle. Both sides preaching to the faithfull, convincing no one who wasn’t already on their side.

  16. There are then three general sources of possible errors: a logical mistake in the argument, an invalid premise or the equivocation of a term. Having examined Aquinas’ arguments and knowing the metaphysical edifice upon which they rest (as far as a rank know-nothing amateur can be said to know anything at all), I accept the argument as valid, with all the caveats that human fallibility and ignorance impose on such judgments and if anyone has a good argument as to their invalidity I am willing to hear it out. You seem to want to extricate some certificate of certitude from this acknowledgement; I myself see no need to do that.

    Not at all, I was genuinely asking to know where you stand.

    I like your answer, it is quite in line with my thoughts as well, the difference being in how we trust (or not) the premises or the equivocation of the terms. You seem to believe that anyone who disagrees with you must show how these terms are possibly flawed or how they are equivocating, etc., and I also disagree with that assessment, for me it is those who assert these statements as the truth have the obligation to show how any other possible metaphysical concepts and mechanisms are bound to be false.

    (For instance, for me it would not be enough to show how “actuality” and “potentiality” are consistent within the framework in question, but to show that the world *has* to work in that exact way in all the different eventualities and not in any other way).

  17. G. Rodrigues,

    “Here is a paper containing several true (barring any mistakes in the proofs) unfalsifiable statements, and currently and in the foreseeable future, with absolutely no use to any scientific theory or engineering application…”

    Okay, the statements in the paper are unfalsifiable and may not have any engineering applications, but what does the paper have to do with laughing at the scientific method and unfalsifiability criterion.

  18. One other comment.

    Even science is ultimately dependent on axioms. For example, the so called law of mediocrity (basically the laws of physics are the same everywhere). This is really an axiom as it is assumed true without proof and in truth would be impossible to prove. However, without the law of mediocrity the scientific method would be nearly useless.

  19. @Matt:

    “Dav obviously does not accept the axioms on which the proofs of Gods existance is based, prefering the axioms behind the proofs of atheism.”

    If that were true, it could be the beginning of a profitable discussion; hashing things out as to what metaphysical views are more correct. But it isn’t, because there isn’t a single shred of evidence that DAV has the least tincture of understanding of what the premises are or where the issues really lie (note: no, it has nothing to do with science). And if I am wrong, by all means disabuse me; this is one point where my ego will not crumble upon finding it was wrong all along.

    “The answer is no, because axioms are by deffinition unprovable.”

    First, you should avoid using the word “axiom”, as it has a technical meaning in mathematics (no, it does not mean what you say it does). Second, what you say is in one sense trivially true; I, or anyone else for that matter, cannot offer a compelling, decisive proof of first principles on pain of infinite regress — after all, that is why they are qualified as “first”. But this does not mean that we have to abandon all rational discussion of them, as first principles are still susceptible of dialectical justification. Suppose I were to advance the stock Cartesian scenario that we are all brains in a vat. I will presume that you find this suggestion preposterous. But why? There is something self-evidently false about the scenario, but can this intuition be articulated? Can we offer *reasons* to show the implausibility of this scenario? Of course, we can.

    @Tom:

    “Okay, the statements in the paper are unfalsifiable and may not have any engineering applications, but what does the paper have to do with laughing at the scientific method and unfalsifiability criterion.”

    Surely, you can withstand a bit of rhetorical flourish. I have witnessed mathematicians laughing but it was not at the scientific method. As far as the unfalsibiality criterion, my point, and if I was not clear my apologies, is that it is *completely irrelevant* as mathematics go. It matters not one iota. Mathematical statements are unfalsifiable and they do not stop being true (or false, or even unprovable within some formal system as the case may be), and demonstrably so, because of that. Invoking the criterion as the ultimate criterion to judge the truth of statements is just stupid and ultimately self-refuting.

    @Luis Dias:

    “You seem to believe that anyone who disagrees with you must show how these terms are possibly flawed or how they are equivocating, etc., and I also disagree with that assessment, for me it is those who assert these statements as the truth have the obligation to show how any other possible metaphysical concepts and mechanisms are bound to be false.”

    Surely you jest; why does proving something is true needs proving every other option is false? Proving a statement P is true is equivalent to proving not-P is false (note to constructivists: let us leave *that* discussion for another day). And just in case you are not, then you have not advance one iota and actually have made things worse; for if that is true for me, then it is also true of my opponents and *they* have to show, not only that I am wrong, but every other possible opponent is also wrong. I certainly am more modest and reasonable in my demands than you are.

  20. Briggs,

    Thanks – both for the guest post opportunity and your comment. The question to me is how to give preference to one competing theory over another. Being able to test the theory against reality is one way and the one I’m more inclined toward.

    Mariner,

    The God experience may say more about ourselves than about the existence of God in many ways. One to consider: when did you learn about God? Early childhood from your parents/teachers? How do we separate That Which Is from That Which Was Told?

    JH,

    Yes. It all comes down to starting beliefs.

    Matt,

    Agnostic for sure. I tend to make Doubting Thomas look like a piker.

    All,

    I’m not ignoring the rest. There’s a lot to assimilate first.

  21. SO TRUE: “At best what can be said is that the concept of God is not illogical. On the other hand, the concept of no God is not illogical either.”

    Since such broad & contradictory concepts cannot be proven, or disproven, the next best approach is to evaluate tangible source material. Just how good is the documentary evidence (especially those consisting of the foundation of ancient viewpoints)?

    Turns out there’s quite a bit of such analysis out there–the really good analysis, naturally, hinges on an understanding of the language(s) the source material is written

    Islam, for example, has as a matter of “policy” the standard that if one reads the Koran in a translation, one really isn’t necessarily reading the Koran…or something to that effect.

    Christianity, that religion of peace & brotherhood, hasn’t honed to such a criteria. And, as everybody ought to know, but clearly doesn’t, Christians have slaughtered Christians over matters of theological dispute by the tens of thousands–and have done so with regularity. That’s one oft-not-taught reason why the Pilgrims left for the dangerous & deadly (as it was then recognized–another oft-not-taught fact) New World. It looked better than the alternatives to them.

    THEN…there’s the numerous, thousands, literally, by some counts, of mutually exclusive doctrines held by denominations that think they’ve gotten it right (correct).

    That kind of malleability, both fundamental doctrine & the exercise of the peaceful religion by applying its allowances for slaughter of almost-exactly-like-minded-practitioners, point to possible defects in the source material.

    Not to mention that the entire plot is effectively a wholesale rehashing of preexistent pagan stories, just repackaged under new names & labels….something Justin Martyr addressed in his [1st, I believe] Apology — where he concluded that the demons, knowing of what was to come, concocted in advance similar religions to confuse the future faithful.

    Its either that, or if J. Martyr (around 150 AD) got it wrong (as some uninformed modern apologists assert) we are left to conclude that God (the creator of the infinite, all seen & unseen) simply resorted to copying & repacking a bunch of themes concocted by mere mortals–which doesn’t say much for His “creative” prowess…or maybe just shows even He has limits.

    But then, one would think His Almighty inspiration wouldn’t lead to such a documentary record so accommodative to variety of interpretation, variety of implementation, contradictory values (peace & brotherhood exercised by bloody slaughters), etc. We’d expect more from a legal intern facing their first bar exam.

  22. Because, mr Rodrigues, you haven’t proven the truth of your presumptions, you only showed how you can articulate them in a seemingly cohesive fashion. If I do not recognize the concepts from which you build your foundations as having not only “useful” qualities, but “Actual True” qualities, then I am not obliged to follow your argument to its logical conclusion.

    Of course, that which you can prove Absolutely True for you, you will have done so “for me”. I can be unaware of it as well as you obviously believe, however this possibility does not constitute a shift of the burden of proof.

  23. G. Rodrigues,

    You yourself have honestly admitted you have no evidence against mathematical realism … But let us grant for the sake of argument that mathematical concepts exist solely in the mind. Then how do you explain that what is purely a construct of the mind (just like fiction novels say) is so successful in describing reality?

    I don’t have much in the way of evidence against Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy, either. I only have what you have, logical argument. As evidence for reality goes, it’s the barest minimum.

    As for associating math with reality: people tend to see patterns everywhere. It’s our nature. It’s one way to group a massive amount of information and treat it as a single chunk. That we can do this more or less reliably and consistently doesn’t prove those chunks are anything but imaginary. I’ve yet to come across anyone who has tripped over a perfect Euclidean Triangle. Saying it’s in every “real” triangle is more of our pattern finding propensity than anything else.

    A lot of people see a face in the image of the Moon. Is the face really there?

    Without getting into too much detail, none of force, mass, acceleration, existence of elections and on and on, should be considered proven beyond a doubt. They amount to what may be nothing more than conveniently useful fictions. They should always be open to rejection or modification. Are they “really” there? Who knows? Should it matter at all?

    But what is an historian supposed to do with your description of “real science”? He certainly does not “predict the future, so what he does is not science? Since Evolution theory and Cosmology are in large part historical sciences, what are we to do with them?”

    In general, I don’t consider historians (the kind who wonder things like “What as Hitler thinking?”) to be scientists. Prediction doesn’t necessarily involve predicting the future. It’s more like predicting what we would expect to find. If it’s finding things that have already happened, well, OK.

    The scientific method cannot be sensed either.

    Nope. It can’t. So far though, using it has provided useful answers. The information we get matches what we expect. If you’ve a better way to get useful answers let’s hear it.

    The disproof is not that it is logically inconsistent (although certain forms of naturalism can be shown to be inconsistent), it is in the purported proofs that theism is true and therefore a-theism is false.

    Really? So, if I have the premise that possessing a lot of money entitles me to do whatever I please then my actions are justifiable as they are logically consistent with my starting premise. By your argument wouldn’t this be disproof of the thesis that all men should be treated equitably regardless of wealth?

  24. Mariner,

    The God experience may say more about ourselves than about the existence of God in many ways. One to consider: when did you learn about God? Early childhood from your parents/teachers? How do we separate That Which Is from That Which Was Told?

    Yes and no. People learn about God from cultural sources, but — precisely because god(s) cannot be sensed, at least not in ordinary situations — there must be an underlying common experience if what the parents tell the child is supposed to be meaningful. Unlike chairs and elephants, the parents can’t point at something in order to advance this. The child must have had the experience of God (or, gods, or, the numinous…) before he learns more about that experience.

    Note that what I’m calling “the experience of God” is, and must be, pre-doctrinal. (I hope the allusions to gods and the numinous clarify that). It is basically the sense of wonder that lies at the start of all philosophy, as Aristotle said. This is the basic, subjacent premise which is necessary if “arguments for God” are supposed to work; and “arguments against arguments for God” usually look away from this experience, the whole debate taking place at a doctrinal level which is almost completely detached from the common experiences of both sides.

    For example, arguments against Aquinas’ First Way often focus on the possibility that causation is not universally operative (sophisticated versions even mention QM at this point). This is clearly an attempt to look away from the common experiences of all human beings, which point at causation as being an universal phenomenon.

  25. “Dav obviously does not accept the axioms on which the proofs of Gods existance is based, prefering the axioms behind the proofs of atheism.”

    If that were true, it could be the beginning of a profitable discussion; hashing things out as to what metaphysical views are more correct.

    Actually, I stated before that I wanted to discuss them but, at the time, I either asked too late or no one had any interest. Currently though, the topic is how to separate/endorse things like atheism/theism instead of proving them. So, intriguing as it may be, the discussion of specific premises should be left for the future.

  26. Yes and no. People learn about God from cultural sources, but — precisely because god(s) cannot be sensed, at least not in ordinary situations — there must be an underlying common experience if what the parents tell the child is supposed to be meaningful.

    I’m not sure if you mean there has to be something there for it to stick or there must be something there if it is so common.

    Assuming the first: children don’t have much in the way of preconceptions that we know of. If told something that’s ultimately meaningless yet consistent then there would be no basis to reject it. “Eat your peas! They are good for you!” sticks for life even though they may have seemed yucky (or still do). Rejection of parental decrees usually doesn’t start until the teen years.

  27. “Eat your peas! They are good for you!” sticks for life

    This couldn’t stick for life (or make any sense) if parents could not point at something and say “this is what I mean when I say ‘peas'”.

    When parents teach their kids about God, they point at something which the kids already experienced.

  28. When parents teach their kids about God, they point at something which the kids already experienced.

    I meant the “It’s good for you” part sticks. Can you give an example of something that the kids already experienced about God?

  29. As Prof. Briggs said, you’ve made some mistakes here. You’ve conflated epistemology with ontology. You say that the logical proofs tell us nothing about the “real world”–but this presupposes several key points. First, that logic is epistemological rather than ontological; second, that logic is a human creation that is not true a priori; third, that verificationism is a solvent philosophy; and, fourth, that only empirical testing tells us whether or not something is “real”. For your article to be valid, you’re going to have to defend all four of those assumptions. Otherwise, you’ve built a sand castle.

  30. The concepts I am after are “What do these proofs tell us?” and how to go about selecting one competing idea over another. Use whatever words you wish to describe them.

  31. I think I’ll pass on the whole discussion and take my stand with the Cappadocian Fathers: I believe in God; God does not exist.

  32. Rejection of parental decrees usually doesn’t start until the teen years.

    This quote could only be written by either someone who never parented someone, or someone who forgot. DAV, you have no idea. No. Idea.

  33. First, that logic is epistemological rather than ontological; second, that logic is a human creation that is not true a priori; third, that verificationism is a solvent philosophy; and, fourth, that only empirical testing tells us whether or not something is “real”.

    All very interesting points. Glad you listed them, nice of you. As I can see, you deem logic to be something that is truly absolutely true, something apart from human nature and its own creations. Something that has no “history” of itself, it just “is” and so on. I think DAV is challenging these notions here, with his fictionalism ideas in a non-contradicting way.

    I don’t know where DAV stands on verificationism or falsifiability and so on. Myself personally I am fond of that (in)famous quote by Feyereband when he said that in science “anything goes”. Perhaps the climate science community took that too literally, but the point was that there was no single “silver bullet” that described the scientific method. This was a method that was always evolving (we can already see this with the advent of artificial intelligences and the power of computing which is creating different methodologies), and includes several different “tools” that do not work “absolutely”. Take Ochkam’s razor. It’s not an absolute tool. Use it moderately. Same with falsifiability and verificationism (perhaps not use it at all?). Use perhaps Bayesianism thinking more often.

  34. The concepts (ideas) are obviously real and as physical as say an apple.
    If one admits (and I know nobody who doesn’t admit that) that concepts are generated by our brains, then every concept is just represented by a dynamical state of the brain – this neurone is doing this and this other neurone is doing that.
    As the neurones and their doings are real, can be observed and their activity measured, speaking about concepts is just a synonyme to speaking about brain states.
    It is also manifest that with no brain you are dead and so no brain states and concepts may exist.

    The questions of type “Does the Universe exist if there is no brain to observe it ?” are ill posed and undecidable. Why ? Because if there are no brains then there is nothing that can ask the question. And as for every genuine undecidable question, we (who have a brain)can perfectly live with both a “no” and a “yes” answer.

    This in introduction to propose that the statement :
    “Mathematical theorems exist only in the framework of mathematics. They can be used as simplifications in other problems by analogy. This doesn’t mean they exist in reality.” is false.

    If one considers the foundations of mathematics (Peano) then it appears that it is only necesary to admit one SINGLE fact : “You are able to make a difference between a table with no apple on it and a table with one apple on it”
    This is very simplified and the words (symbols) like “apple”, “table”, “one” are irrelevant. You may replace them by anything and it still works.
    Even more simplified you must admit that you are able to make the difference between existence and non existence.
    Admittedly not a very difficult hypothesis and one where is probably an universal agreement.

    However from there everything follows – your brain which does the distinction of no apple and one apple begins to assume a succession of different dynamical states (it thinks) and produces the WHOLE of mathematics up to the proof of Goedel’s theorems and beyond.
    This process and these states born from interaction of neurones are no less real than the apples and tables which I used in this construction.

    It also explains why mathematics are universal, e.g why all the brains produce the same concepts and results.
    It is obviously because the elementary interactions among neurones (thanks God or evolution) are governed by the same laws of physics in every human brain.

    A word of caution. This of course doesn’t mean that all brains are identical at the structural level. There are more possible connections among neurones than there are atoms in Universe what leaves much space for flexibility and variability.
    BUT the fundamental functional features which allow our survival (sight, hearing, interpretation faculty etc) are identical for all practical purposes.

    What does it say about God? Well at one level he is as real as mathematics because it is a concept supported by a brain which is real.
    However at another level, it is perfectly isomorphe to the ill posed question about brains and Universe – an undecidable question where we can live both with a “yes” or a “no” answer.
    At least sofar – if he decided one day to become accessible to our senses he’d take on a different “apple” kind of reality.
    This is btw something what the mathematics, à priori a “godlike” purely conceptual category do when they appear in the laws of physics.

  35. Luis,

    This quote could only be written by either someone who never parented someone, or someone who forgot

    I believe you a referring to the experimental techniques employed by young scientists to test hypotheses of parental resolve. I had something else in mind.

  36. I have also something else: three independent anedoctal cases in my house who strive for consistently refuting your claims ;).

  37. A friend of mine: “Lettuces are good for you”

    My oldest kid when he was 3: “How do you know that?”

    Me: Proud.

  38. I have three reservations concerning the so called logical proof of the
    existence of God. I will describe one of them here. It is possible and even likely that my objections have been conceived before, without me being aware of that fact. I am not pretending to be original here. What I present here is simply a refection of my own thought process. I would be interested in the refutation.

    The first is that Aquinas, as far as I was able to see, does not follow the argument through all the way to God. (Perhaps he did not find it necessary to do so, for whatever reason).

    Whether it is a hand holding a stick moving a stone, or a finger pulling a
    trigger, or a fire consuming a log, I have not yet seen any logical regress of actualization or causation that *actually* makes it to God. Instead the series is broken of at some arbitrary point and the appeal to a necessary first actualization or first causation is invoked. This is just unsatisfactory. I will try to explain why.

    Suppose A is a sensible object or a sensible act like moving, caused or
    actualized by B whereby B is also a sensible object or act. If this is the
    beginning of a true regress leading to a first mover, B must be closer to
    God than A. If you deny this, it is not really clear why God should not
    move A directly, for then the chain obviously does not go anywhere. If you
    affirm this, you must acknowledge that by each and every step there is an increase in godliness (winds are more divine than waves for example).

    Consider the clarinet player discussed earlier. Let´s suppose the player is recording his concert. We then have a nice chain going from an electrical signal, to a vibrating membrane, to vibrating air, to an instrument in action, to a player playing. At each step the original motion is modified by the medium it passes. The electrical signal is modified by the conductor, the vibration of the membrane by its resonance, the vibrating air by the room acoustics and so on. All modifications are cumulative, so the electrical signal is the furthest away from the vibrations directly at the mouth of the clarinet. Following this chain actually brings us from a more remote effect to the source of the effect. It makes perfect sense to say that with every step in the chain we are getting closer to the musician.
    I therefor do not regard it unfair to hold that in a chain leading
    somewhere, B must be more divine than A.

    From another angle, it is not intelligible to me why B should be closer to
    God than A. A and B are both sensible objects like sticks and stones in
    this example, so the *gap* between these and a first mover or causer,
    remains inexplicable anyway. It seems justifiable to ask: what part of the (sensible) world is God holding onto to cause first motion? What is his primary instrument? It also seems hard to answer.

    The most perplexing to me was that it hardly seems possible to construct a
    meaningful series, a meaningful chain. If you follow modern physics you
    might be tempted to think the music originates with the elementary
    particles and God is using them as his instrument, but I do not see how by
    moving deeper and deeper into matter, we could suddenly end up with the pure form (God)

    In my opinion the whole argument for the existence of God boils down to the intuition that the sensible world ultimately cannot account for itself. Something I would tend to agree with.

  39. @DAV:

    “I don’t have much in the way of evidence against Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy, either. I only have what you have, logical argument. As evidence for reality goes, it’s the barest minimum.”

    There are a couple of things to say about this, but starting with the obvious one, if you have a logical argument, you have not presented it. You made a claim and passed it off as truth without adducing a single shred of evidence. Now, I do not know what you mean by “logical argument”, and given your consistent sloppy use of terminology, I suspect neither do you, but there is plenty of evidence that Santa or the Tooth Fairy do not exist. Following the quoted sentence, you write “I’ve yet to come across anyone who has tripped over a perfect Euclidean Triangle.” Wow, Sherlock, how insightful of you! *Of course* mathematical objects are not concrete, material objects, rather they are abstract. Being abstract, they are causally inert. They have no extension in space or time. They are necessary rather than contingent (note: some philosophers would dispute one or more of these attributes, but we can safely leave that aside). So *if* mathematical objects are real, extra-mental objects, the evidence to marshal for it or against it, is of necessity different in kind than the evidence one marshals for or against the existence of Santa, who even if he has flying reindeers, a whole court of elfs working for him, a spiffy red suit and a fluffy white beard, is still a concrete, material object, localized in space and time, and thus its existence *can* be decided by empirical considerations. I really dislike continuously having to point this out, but this is all so blindingly obvious, that the fact that it all somehow escapes you is a sure sign that you simply do not know what you are talking about.

    And by the way, what exactly do you intend when making such jaw-dropping stupid comparisons with Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy? To me, the only effect it has is to simply not take you seriously. Because no one with the minimum amount of intellectual seriousness can pretend that mathematical realism and the existence of Santa are on the same level.

    “As for associating math with reality: people tend to see patterns everywhere. It’s our nature. It’s one way to group a massive amount of information and treat it as a single chunk. That we can do this more or less reliably and consistently doesn’t prove those chunks are anything but imaginary.”

    First, you severely underestimate the problem. It is not just a matter of human propensities, but the real, demonstrable fact that highly abstract mathematics, developed purely for the sake of solving mathematical problems, have a posteriori found its way in applications to physical theories and engineering problems. Second, what you point out is a psychological fact about human beings. But such a fact, if indeed is a fact, is completely irrelevant to the question I posed and does not move one inch towards explaining the puzzle of why exactly is the extra-mental reality describable, at least in part (and I would add, *only* in part), in mathematical terms if as you contend, mathematics is a pure creation of the mind.

    “Without getting into too much detail, none of force, mass, acceleration, existence of elections and on and on, should be considered proven beyond a doubt. They amount to what may be nothing more than conveniently useful fictions. They should always be open to rejection or modification. Are they “really” there? Who knows? Should it matter at all?”

    This “proven beyond a doubt” is just an evasion and a red herring (puzzle: is nothing proven beyond a doubt? If the statement “nothing is proven beyond a doubt” is not proven beyond a doubt, than can we reasonably doubt whether nothing is proven beyond a doubt?). As Mr. Briggs already mentioned, you keep conflating epistemological and ontological matters. What I asked was whether mass, electrons, photons, etc. are *real*, objective features of reality, independently of what we think. According to you, they are fictions, to be judged solely on a pragmatic basis, on the role they play in effective descriptions of reality. Arguments from you? None. This position has severe problems; here I will content myself with the observation that it makes mince meat of all science and suggest reading the debates surrounding the actual, real existence of electrons. Especially noteworthy are Einstein’s arguments directed against Mach.

    But things are even worse for you. For your suggestion has been all along that in order to decide if something is “real” is that there must be some empirical test against reality. But in the quintessential example of things that are “real”, the objects posited by the physical theories such as mass, force or electrons, now you say that they are “useful fictions”, and thus it follows that neither physical theories nor empirical testing can decide what you said they did. The amount of contradictions you fall in is really astounding.

    “In general, I don’t consider historians (the kind who wonder things like “What as Hitler thinking?”) to be scientists. Prediction doesn’t necessarily involve predicting the future. It’s more like predicting what we would expect to find. If it’s finding things that have already happened, well, OK.”

    How convenient. When something does not fit ones biases, just dismiss it. But construing History as a “prediction” of the past, is just stupid and simply false to the nature of the discipline.

    “Nope. It can’t. So far though, using it has provided useful answers. The information we get matches what we expect. If you’ve a better way to get useful answers let’s hear it.”

    Have you read the questions I posed? You are arguing in circles. But rank sophist already aptly summarized the problems, so no need to go over them again.

    “By your argument wouldn’t this be disproof of the thesis that all men should be treated equitably regardless of wealth?”

    Huh? You are seriously confused. Read again what I wrote: the disproof of atheism *is* the proof of theism, as proving P (theism) true is equivalent to proving not-P (a-theism) false. There is nothing deeper here than an elementary point of logic.

  40. This position has severe problems; here I will content myself with the observation that it makes mince meat of all science and suggest reading the debates surrounding the actual, real existence of electrons.

    Stephen Hawking on the subject matter:

    Any sound scientific theory, whether of time or of any other concept (…) is a mathematical model that describes and codifies the observations we make. A good theory will describe a large range of phenomena on the basis of a few simple postulates and will make definite predictions that can be tested… If one takes the positivist position, as I do, one cannot say what time actually is. All one can do is describe what has been found to be a very good mathematical model for time and say what predictions it makes.

    Go tell Stephen Hawking he “makes mince meat of science”. I’ll gladly bring popcorn.

  41. @Luis Dias:

    “Go tell Stephen Hawking he “makes mince meat of science”.”

    Since there is no argument in the quoted sentence, this is just a fallacious appeal to authority. And what is more ironical, appealing to an authority where there is none, as S. Hawking’s expertise is in physics not in the philosophy of science — unless his by now famous philosophical blunders count as expertise.

  42. There are a couple of things to say about this, but starting with the obvious one, if you have a logical argument, you have not presented it. You made a claim and passed it off as truth without adducing a single shred of evidence. Now, I do not know what you mean by “logical argument”, and given your consistent sloppy use of terminology, I suspect neither do you, but there is plenty of evidence that Santa or the Tooth Fairy do not exist.

    Gosh, G, you dismiss me for not having presented a logical argument then fail to do it yourself. Shame!

    How convenient. When something does not fit ones biases, just dismiss it. But construing History as a “prediction” of the past, is just stupid and simply false to the nature of the discipline.

    Didn’t mean “prediction of the past”. I said “prediction of what will be found”. Future acquisition of information. The information may be already present but yet unseen. See the difference?

    ME: “I’ve yet to come across anyone who has tripped over a perfect Euclidean Triangle.”
    YOU: Wow, Sherlock, how insightful of you! *Of course* mathematical objects are not concrete, material objects, rather they are abstract.

    See here:
    http://cdn.memegenerator.net/instances/400x/26954190.jpg

    For the rest, I don’t see any reason to repeat what I’ve already said. The point is that even basic assumptions are open to question. What we think is real may not be.

    What’s wrong with mince meat, anyway? Some people like it.

    Oh! And, no, a logical argument based on one set of assumptions does not disprove arguments made using a different set of assumptions.

  43. @DAV:

    “Gosh, G, you dismiss me for not having presented a logical argument then fail to do it yourself.”

    So you do not have an argument. Fine. As far as failing to present an argument, I assume you mean an argument for mathematical realism not against the existence of Santa (the latter is a request too ridiculous to honor). Who made the claim, a public claim in a public post, was you, so methinks the burden of proof is on you. While I do indeed believe in (a form of) mathematical realism, I never set out to defend it, neither did I overtly and unabashedly proclaimed my realism, so I do not feel compelled to defend it here.

    note: I actually did present an argument in my first reply to the OP; but it was only an indirect one, and more fleshing out is needed.

    “Didn’t mean “prediction of the past”. I said “prediction of what will be found”. Future acquisition of information. The information may be already present but yet unseen. See the difference?”

    I put prediction between quotes for a reason; you missed that. I still stand by what I said; “prediction of what will be found” is not what historians do, pure and simple. You either do not know what History is, or you do know and are just trying to climb out of the hole you have dug for yourself with your mad empiricist demands that basically outright kill a good chunk of human knowledge — and the rest is just made impossible.

    “For the rest, I don’t see any reason to repeat what I’ve already said. The point is that even basic assumptions are open to question. What we think is real may not be.”

    I explicitly pointed out severe problems and *contradictions* in your position. You somehow must have missed it. Or you simply do not have an answer. Or whatever.

  44. So you do not have an argument.

    Oh, please! Putting aside the difficulty in proving a negative, I might point out that you yourself have made bald statements in the past which you have refused to back so I find your stance here a bit of a pot/kettle thing. For the record, your bald statement and subsequent refusal were also “public claims in a public post”.

    In fact, you seem to be inclined toward scanning words and phraseology for something to pounce upon without showing any effort to move the discussion along. Look at your response to an obviously tongue-in-cheek sentence I used. In fact, the bald statement I mentioned above was: “You are wrong”.

    I gave you an informal reason why one might consider math to be only a concept. Did you offer anything in rebuttal? No. You used to lot of words to say: You Are Wrong. You don’t have anything constructive to say?

    What are your ideas concerning what philosophical proofs tell us and how would you go about choosing one theory over another? Are you up to it?

    Or whatever.

    The answer lies within.

  45. G.Rodriguez

    Of course* mathematical objects are not concrete, material objects, rather they are abstract. Being abstract, they are causally inert. They have no extension in space or time.

    As I have explained in my post above, this assertion is wrong.
    Mathematical objects (or any other “abstract” concepts) are of course causal.
    But they also have extension in time and space.

    This is readily demonstrated when one considers that ANY concept is a result of dynamical brain states.
    These brain states (and the brain itself of course) exist in time and space and not in some abstract etherical world.
    As for causality, the brain does work in a causal way at least at its elementary level.
    The problem at the structural level is not yet solved (and many doubt that it will be solved anytime soon) but it is more likely than not that the transition IN TIME from the dynamical state A (concept A) to the dynamical state B (concept B) is causal too.

    So while our feet can indeed not trip on an Euclidian Triangle, our neurones frequently do 😉

  46. Congratulations, you just reduced mathematics to neurology. If what you say is true our thoughts do not have any authority (of their own) and by consequence neither do the conclusions of neurology. Thoughts relate to one another by their content only, there is nothing behind thought (in terms of causal brain states). How brain states do relate to thought is a very interesting question. You said you never met somebody who does not think that the brain produces thought. Well, I do not think so. Basically my view would be that the brain is a receiver. If you are blind, you are not conscious of color, although it is all around you. If your brain is malfunctioning you can’t think, but that does not mean the thoughts are not objectively received by the brain when functional.

  47. If what you say is true our thoughts do not have any authority (of their own)

    I don’t think that’s necessarily true. What Tom has said (if I understand him properly) is that is how a concept may be encoded within the brain. You could consider this to be an encoded thought. It might even be what we call a thought. Those encoded concepts can be themselves interconnect within the brain to form/encode other concepts (thoughts). There doesn’t seem to be any reason these interconnections might not cause things: actions, for example, or the formation of other interconnections.

    Not saying this has to be. There’s quite a lot we don’t know about ourselves. Much of what we do doesn’t seem to surface into our awareness whatever that is. It’s an intriguing idea.

  48. @dav
    If Tom is saying we have a reflection or reflections of our thought processes in brain patterns, that is alright with me. Caution is advised though, I see the question of free will looming (again).

  49. rembie,

    I see the question of free will looming (again).

    Well, yeah, I guess that would be inevitable. Since we seem unaware of much of what we do, I don’t think we are in a position to assert the reality of free will though. I can see how we might not have it without resorting to predetermination unless everything is predetermined. Another mine field.

  50. Questions of consciousness and free will were indeed left apart.
    It is because for the comment about reality they are not necessary.
    It is enough to agree that brain and brain processes are necessary for thought and for perception.
    This also of course means that brain processes are dynamical causal processes. This is established even if it is not equivalent (yet!) to establishing causality between macro states (aka concepts).

    Btw just for the free will – it is not as big a matter as some would present it.
    Non linear dynamical processes (brain is an example) are often (mostly processes that constitute so called spatio-temporal chaos.
    And a property of spatio-temporal chaos is that it is impossible to predict in a unique future states.
    It has not been yet proven that the brain is spatio temporal chaos even if I strongly believe that it is.
    But if it is, then the “free will” is just a corollary.

    Quantum mechanical processes are another example where the future states are not uniqueley determined and could also be a foundation of “free will”. I believe less in this variant.

  51. A typing problem. It should read :
    And a property of spatio-temporal chaos is that it is impossible to predict in a unique way the future states. The system is causal, deterministic but unpredictable.

  52. Well that’s a start (with regard to free will). But apart from being “unpredictable”, I also value the fact that I am sometimes motivated into action by my own volition instead of moved by causation. You are in danger of blurring the distinction, or perhaps you do not care about it much. I fear my interpretation of reflections of thought processes in brain patterns is not the same as yours for it seems you do not count as real that which brain patterns are a reflection of.

  53. [free will] is not as big a matter as some would present it.

    It’s a big deal to some because it is inextricably tied to the concept of Morality. Without it much, if not all, of the concept of Morality vanishes.

    I fear my interpretation of reflections of thought processes in brain patterns is not the same as yours for it seems you do not count as real that which brain patterns are a reflection of.

    If they are indeed reflections and not the thing itself. Even if the patterns are the thoughts, you would still be You. Small comfort, I suppose.

  54. @DAV:

    “Oh, please!”

    If your answer to my request is, instead of providing an argument and thus confirming my suspicion that you have none, is to say that I do not either, then it still is an objective matter of fact that you have none. Strictly speaking, it is also false as I say in a note in the previous post, but I am fine with you judging I have none. The plain matter of fact is: you made a claim, a claim that was used, directly or indirectly, to substantiate or rebut other claims, but you have provided no evidence for it.

    Now, there are various reasons why I go about things this way, one is explained below, the other is that I will probably, maybe, hopefully, do it in a future guest post.

    “I gave you an informal reason why one might consider math to be only a concept.”

    Ok, then can you please repeat it to me? I went back to do some re-reading and found none, so I must be missing something.

    “What are your ideas concerning what philosophical proofs tell us and how would you go about choosing one theory over another? Are you up to it?”

    Before explaining what my ideas are, I have to clear the ground of misconceptions on foundational questions and first principles. Since these do not admit of a demonstrative proof as there is nothing that is “more self-evident” that we can appeal to in order to justify them, the proof must go via dialectical justification. There are two stages. In the first, one clears the ground and shows that the opposing views must be wrong as they lead to absurdities or right-down contradictions. That is what I have been doing and doing it plentifully and bountifully. You are wrong, demonstrably so, and on many points: I formulated several problems, questions and contradictions with your position, including your naive and superficial view of science. Responses? My arithmetic could be wrong, but the tally is about zero.

    So saying that I make no “effort to move the discussion along” is false and your Dirty-Harry-esque question of “Are you up to it?” rings hollow.

  55. @TomVonk:

    “As I have explained in my post above, this assertion is wrong.”

    You have explained diddly squat. You have reduced the mind to the brain and then identified the content of thoughts with brain states — these are two highly controversial claims. And while I would argue that the first is false, I am also aware that this itself is controversial, so I just note that you have offered no arguments. As for the second claim, it is not just false, it is incoherent. For consider my thought about the number 2. Correlated with the thought there is a certain state of my brain. Now consider your thought about the number 2; correlated with it is a brain state, a state necessarily different from my brain state. So it follows that you and I can be thinking about the same thing, that is, a thought with the same content or referent, the number 2, and yet have completely brain states, so it follows that content of the thought (the number 2) *cannot* be identified with a brain state, whatever we construe the number 2 to be.

    If you want to amend your claim and say something like “brain states supervene on mathematical thoughts” — as you seem to do when you say “This is readily demonstrated when one considers that ANY concept is a *result* of dynamical brain states” emphasis on “result” is mine — that is a *different* claim, and it really falls under your first reductionist claim. But if you want to go this route, then you have already denied yourself, so no need to add anything else.

  56. Rodrigues, your posts are very good, but you could do without all the vitriolic tone that transpires them. It suffices to say that we are all wrong and “here’s why”, that’s enough off-putting for anyone who is interested in the subject matter to ponder about where one might be wrong and so on. There’s no need (and it is indeed contrary to anyone’s interests) to pound on the matter with snark…

    My two cents anyway. Keep it up guys, I really like the back and forth.

  57. G. Rodrigues,

    The basic problem, as I see it, is you don’t seem to recognize that your first principles may not be true. It then only follows that every valid deduction you make is True by definition. Anyone who doesn’t agree with your first principles must therefore be Wrong and you certainly don’t have any qualms in stating so.

    There can be no discussion with for there is nothing to discuss.

  58. @DAV
    I thought it was all about the other man’s first principles.

    as an aside: I do believe that brains can sort of think by themselves, to varying degrees. On top of that brains are susceptible to be programmed by a language. This results in a thinking driven by a grammar rather than true logic (something Nietzsche discusses, among others). Ultimately however, the brain is an instrument.

  59. rembie,

    It is all about first principles but if they are Absolutely True and not open to question then the only remaining topic is their application.

    I don’t think in words. At least I think I don’t — it’s easy to fool oneself. Every concept I hold has an associated visual image. The only time I hear words in my head is when I’m thinking about talking or writing. The one exception is color which I see but don’t retain except as a label. I have trouble translating the mental images into words. I often pick the first word that pops up when I’m writing which leads to problems with people who key off of words.

    As such, being programmed by grammar or word choice seems odd to me.

  60. These discussions are entertaining in a trainwreck motif.

    The “no truth/reality/logic/etc” crowd (DAV, Luis, et al) continue to punch themselves in the face over and over.

    Others (briggs, YOS, most philosophers) attempt to help them.

    The first crowd protests about being attacked, then resume punching themselves. For instance:

    As I can see, you deem logic to be something that is truly absolutely true, something apart from human nature and its own creations. Something that has no “history” of itself, it just “is” and so on. I think DAV is challenging these notions here, with his fictionalism ideas in a non-contradicting way.

    I don’t know where DAV stands on verificationism or falsifiability and so on. Myself personally I am fond of that (in)famous quote by Feyereband when he said that in science “anything goes”.

    That’s rather like listening to someone argue that there’s no such thing as air while everyone points out that the person is speaking.

    In other words, you disprove your point by trying to make it (revealing rank hypocrisy btw). You “preach to the converted” because the very act of preaching eliminates the possibility of conversion period (if the point of view/philosophy/etc was true).

  61. I dunno. There may be Absolute Truth but there doesn’t seem to be a way to know if anyone has it. The safest position is to assume no one does and keep searching. The same goes for reality. What we think is real may not be. Best to keep searching IMO.

    Who has said there is NO truth, reality or logic?

  62. TomVonk, it’s good to hear from you.

    DAV,

    Though I have had no time to read all your comments,(plus, in my case, patronizing comments and blanket statements often trigger ADD symptoms), I think you would enjoy reading the following posts by one of my long-time favorite bloggers.

    http://rationallyspeaking.blogspot.com/2012/08/surprise-naturalistic-metaphysics.html

    To put it very briefly, a realist is someone who thinks that scientific theories aim at describing the world as it is (of course, within the limits of human epistemic access to reality), while an anti-realist is someone who takes scientific theories to aim at empirical adequacy, not truth.

    http://rationallyspeaking.blogspot.com/search?q=ladyman

    http://www.rationallyspeakingpodcast.org/show/rs69-james-ladyman-on-metaphysics.html (A Podcast)

    The conversation covers: what is metaphysics, exactly, and where (in Ladyman’s opinion) has it gone off the rails? Where does traditional science err in its classification of the “building blocks” of physics? What would a new, improved, metaphysics look like — and what implications does that have for age-old questions like “What is causality?” and “Is the world real?”

  63. Nate, that is terrible thinking on your part. Consider that just because I do not share your own philosophy it does not mean one cannot construct another on another basis.

    Taking your analogy, just because someone would be skeptic of the “AIR” element it would not rank such a person to be hypocritically using said “AIR”. Perhaps such a person is more fond of describing the thing that he is breathing as a mix of gases called Oxygen, Nitrogen and so on, yes?

  64. Nate,

    Yes. I think you’ve misread what was intended.

    JH,

    Hope I wasn’t the cause of any ADD symptoms. Thanks for the links. Don’t have time to read them just now but will soon. My guess is that I’m on the anti-realist side of the field if I understand it correctly but I tend to believe both so I’m not sure.

  65. JH,

    Took a quick glance at the first link and my initial reaction was, Eh?

    The book goes on to propose a particular version of a philosophy of science position known as structural realism, according to which scientific theories neither track objective reality in a straightforward sense (the so-called realist position), nor do they simply provide us with theoretical conceptions that “work” but whose closeness to truth cannot be assessed (the so-called anti-realist position). Rather, structural realism posits that when scientists abandon one theory for another one (say, Newtonian mechanics in favor of General Relativity) what is retained in the new theory from the old one is a set of mathematical relationships (describing the underlying “structure” of reality).

    If this is really what Science is doing nowadays I think it has wandered off into areas that are forever doomed to remain conjecture. But then, I haven’t read the whole thing and there’s that podcast, too.

    Things like Causality don’t have to be real but it’s hard to imagine how the world works without it. I wonder what this does to the First Cause folk.

    In any case, IMO, science should strive for the realist position but settle for the anti-realist if that makes any sense.

  66. @Dav

    It might seem odd to you, but consider that we speak in misleading ways, we say I swim, I think etc. But swimming is a particular activity and thinking is a universal activity. In order to address these things you need introspective discipline like Husserl showed in his analysis of the Cartesian cogito. But then, I seem to remember introspection is untrustworthy in your view….

  67. @ G. Rodrigues

    As far as I am concerned, I did answer some of your questions, especially the ones about Newtonian and Quantum Mechanics. Regarding the Hilbert Space being real, let me counter with a question: how real is Aquino’s argument for the existence of God?

    I would say that both the Hilbert Space and the Argument are real. They are not material things, even though they can be represented by material things, like the letters in Aquino’s writings.

    Anyway, for all the questions you pose it is possible to think of at least one theory that answers them. Some are even convincing. But there are quite a lot of them and it is not possible for two different theories on the same subject to be both right.

    So instead of keeping on arguing and generating more and more conflicting theories, some people began to look instead. Experiment. Compare observations with what the theories said, and build new theories that were better at predicting observations. They got plenty of things wrong (like Newton with his theory of light) but there were a number of spectacular successes too (Classical Mechanics, by the same Newton).

    The demand that theories must describe the outcome of observations resulted in better and better theories. General Relativity is a better theory than Newtonian Mechanics as it is more accurate over a very much wider range of speeds and masses, as we have been able to observe now for a 100 years.

    There are quite a lot of things that these scientific theories do not explain. What is time? What is space? We do not know. There is enough of these concepts in the scientific theories to make them work very well indeed, and if people do not like that, well, that is their choice.

    Back to the existence of God. Compare Aquino’s theory of God with Spinoza’s theory of God. They are competing, but neither of them can be rejected as being wrong. Nor can any of the other God theories be rejected as being wrong. But logically, by the very same logic that these theories’ authors use to construct the arguments in their theories they cannot be all correct either. So it follows logically that at most one of them is right.

    So I do not have to prove that one of them is wrong. Either logic works, and then the fact that it is possible to have more than one logically consistent theory shows that being consistent is not enough to be true. Or logic does not work, and having a logically consistent theory means nothing at all.

    The interesting bit is now the exact number of competing theories. The more there are, the smaller the change becomes that you choose the right one. But the number of competing theories about God is infinity. You can add the theories that need two gods, three, four, etc. There is no a priori upper limit to the number of gods needed in a consistent theory. So you must count them all.

    Science does not have this problem. It just does not add gods, or other unobservables-by-definition in their theories. If everything in a theory is observable, then it is falsifiable. This might result in having falsified all theories that have been made up at some point in time, leaving you with no theory.

    Whether that is better than having an infinite number of unprovable theories is also a matter of personal taste. I am in the science camp, on this, though.

  68. Falsifiability is somewhat overrated, be careful with that. It is a very useful tool, just like Ockham’s razor. But it is not the end-be-all of science. Popper got some things about science wrong too.

  69. rembie,

    Yes, introspection is unreliable. We backfill and manufacture memories. We aren’t aware of a huge percentage of our mental processes. I hate to put a number to that but it’s beginning to look closer to 99% than 1%.

    But, yes, people can be swayed but I don’t think it’s the particular words or so much of how they are presented as the string of concepts.

    I really haven’t given this much thought but look at how attempts at PC and feel-good speech have failed over the the past. George Carlin pointed out the progression from cowardice to shell shock to battle fatigue to PTSD. Then there’s: stupid – slow – retarded – learning disability – mentally challenged – ???. People eventually recognize they are all the same concept and a new term gets invented. If there’s any change in attitude, it’s temporary. The fact that they may work at all is a point in favor of verbal programming however temporary it may be.

    Some of my thoughts on introspection come from introspection so don’t give them too much weight.

  70. Rodriguez
    .
    You have explained diddly squat. You have reduced the mind to the brain and then identified the content of thoughts with brain states — these are two highly controversial claims. And while I would argue that the first is false, I am also aware that this itself is controversial, so I just note that you have offered no arguments. As for the second claim, it is not just false, it is incoherent. For consider my thought about the number 2. Correlated with the thought there is a certain state of my brain. Now consider your thought about the number 2; correlated with it is a brain state, a state necessarily different from my brain state. So it follows that you and I can be thinking about the same thing, that is, a thought with the same content or referent, the number 2, and yet have completely brain states, so it follows that content of the thought (the number 2) *cannot* be identified with a brain state, whatever we construe the number 2 to be.
    .
    Even if it is not my habit, you invited me to begin in your style by saying that you understood diddly squat about my post. Surely a problem with your brain.
    You are particularly confused about what the brain states are and probably have not an idea about non linear dynamics and complex systems.
    Commenting on things one ignores should be avoided.
    More in detail.

    – I didn’t “reduce” mind to brain. I know what a brain is and what I said was that it is the brain that does the thinking.
    Actually I have not used the word “mind” once so there was nothing to “reduce” to begin with.
    Care to define “mind” and explain how it is different from brain dynamics?
    The fact that it is the brain which does the thinking is trivial. Did you ever heard of somebody thinking without a brain? Or do you suppose that there is something supernatural in us what everybody has missed sofar?

    – I also didn’t identify the “content” of thoughts with identical brain states for every individual.
    Again be careful with words. What is a “content” of a thought?
    If one agrees that the PROCESS of thinking is just a synonyme to describe the brain dynamics, then the thoughts (whatever their “content” may be) are necessarily a subset of the dynamical states.
    If this was not the case, explain what else is there in the brain which are thoughts and yet which don’t belong to the brain dynamics.
    What you wrote was equivalent to saying “the brain is used for thinking but the thoughts are independent from the brain (states).”. Quite incoherent wouldn’t you say?

    – Your example with the number 2 is a good demonstration that you have a very naive idea about what the brain dynamics are. You think that a brain state is a kind of set where neurones are numbered and one just needs to map every neurone to an on/off set to obtain a state.

    This is trivially stupid and one doesn’t need to go to abstract concepts like 2 to show it.
    When I recognize a red blob it is a result of optical nerves activating a precise region of the brain. When you see the same red blob, your optical nerves activate also a precise region of the brain.
    It works with cats too.
    Now neither your optical nerves nor your vision area is exactly identical to mine. Yet we agree on the red blob.
    This si due to the redundant and cooperative working of the brain.
    My brain may activate also other areas that yours will not and I will perceive more about the red blob than you did. So the fact that we don’t use exactly identical neurones and identical connections doesn’t prevent a red blob recognition.

    The brain has actually evolved to prevent such specialisation and identity.
    People who loose language after a stroke (the neurone area is destroyed) recover slowly and uncompletely the function again because the brain uses its redundancy to reconstruct approximately the lost ability with completely different neurones.

    Follows that your example is just a strawman because nobody pretends that identical neurones and identical brain topology are necessary for identical brain activity.
    What stays is that whether one observes a red blob or one associates to this observation the number “one” because there are not several red blobs, it is a result of brain dynamics and corresponds to brain states which happen both in time and space.
    And of course when you observe 2 blue blobs, the activated brain states will be different from those which are activated for 1 red blob.

    That is what enables to make the difference and as this skill is necesary for survival, it is so important that all brains developped in a very similar way.

  71. @DAV:

    “The basic problem, as I see it, is you don’t seem to recognize that your first principles may not be true.”

    Sigh. Yes, the first principles I hold as true can be wrong. There you go. But “can” is not the same as “is”, so unless you produce an argument, I am in my epistemic rights to continue to believe them true, precisely because I do have arguments to back up my beliefs.

    Seriously, what confession do you pretend to extract from me? And do you put the same question to yourself?

    “Anyone who doesn’t agree with your first principles must therefore be Wrong and you certainly don’t have any qualms in stating so.”

    Like in the first quoted sentence, I may be misreading you, but you are just stating the obvious and something that is true of *everyone* including yourself. If I believe a certain proposition P is true, it entails by logical necessity that not-P is false. So if someone disagrees with some proposition or first principle I believe true, unless he manages to convince me otherwise by arguments (or by force), yes, I am going to say that they are wrong and then, either leave it at that, in which case people are free to dismiss my claims, or if I have the patience, actually argue the case. In my experience, this is true of just about anyone, but maybe I have been hanging out with the wrong crowd and my sample is biased and hardly representative.

    “There can be no discussion with for there is nothing to discuss.”

    The way I am reading this, is that discussion is impossible if one disagrees on the first principles. Am I right? And assuming I am, then why did you bother to make a public post trying to convince others, with whom supposedly discussion is impossible on account of disagreements over fundamental principles?

    As a parting comment, you continue to belabor on a misunderstanding, so I will have to repeat myself. I am not going to ask you to reread my posts in this thread (honestly, I do not bear any ill will towards you), but if you payed attention you must have noticed that I have made few if any positive claims; in fact I have studiously avoided making them, or at least defending them which to me amounts to the same thing, and you even chided me for it. What I have been trying to do is to bring the war into *your* battlefield, play by *your* rules, and show the problems and contradictions in *your* position. You have not offered any rebuttals; in many cases you did not even addressed them. If *your* first principles entails problems, absurdities and contradictions, then yes, I am in my epistemic rights to believe them false.

  72. @Sander van der Wal:

    “As far as I am concerned, I did answer some of your questions, especially the ones about Newtonian and Quantum Mechanics.”

    Maybe you did, although from the rest of your post, I suspect not. All I can remember is that at the time of reading it, no cogent answers were found; I hope you will not fault me for not going back to check it.

    “I would say that both the Hilbert Space and the Argument are real. They are not material things, even though they can be represented by material things, like the letters in Aquino’s writings.”

    I am not sure if you intend this as an argument, but if it is, it is a very bad one. The fact that they can be “represented” by material things (whatever you mean by this exactly) shows nothing. Think of a unicorn. I can think and imagine one too. I can describe it (white horse with a horn on the forehead); I can make a drawing of it. I even saw a couple of movies featuring one. Does it follow that unicorns exist?

    After your lesson on science (I do wonder why people here keep lecturing me on science, especially when it is clear that their understanding of it is shallow and naive) you produce a couple of arguments; or I should say non-arguments, because they are bad. Really bad. So let us go over Sander van der Wal’s Really Really Bad Arguments.

    “So I do not have to prove that one of them is wrong. Either logic works, and then the fact that it is possible to have more than one logically consistent theory shows that being consistent is not enough to be true. Or logic does not work, and having a logically consistent theory means nothing at all.”

    The reasoning here seems to be: logical consistency does not prove a theory true; there are several logically consistent “God theories”, therefore you do not have to prove any one of them wrong, heck, you do not even have to understand what they say. First, no one with even a small amount of functioning gray cells claims that logical consistency is enough to prove the truth of a theory. In fact, it is quite easy to come up with consistent theories that prove false things, and thus, are false. But the really bizarre leap of logic is that from the alleged fact that there are several logically consistent “God theories” you somehow arrive at the conclusion that you do not have to prove any of them wrong. Come again? It can be the case that of the several “God Theories”, some are equiconsistent or not mutually contradictory. But the more important point is that among all the theories there can be a true one; their defenders would of course have to present arguments to that effect, but that is exactly what Christian apologists do. As far as I am concerned, you do not have to prove them all wrong, but you do have to get your hands dirty and show where say, Aquinas’ arguments are wrong. Your arguments to evade this task are not only fallacious, but sound more like the produce of laziness, lame excuses to avoid doing the hard work.

    To see the inanity of your claim, consider a would-be scientific law. To simplify matters, express it in the form of a functional equation y = f(x) with f a real-valued function. We can only make a finite number of measurements — I will even throw you a bone and assume that these are 100% accurate. But through a finite number of points, pass an infinite number of curves, so there are an infinite number of theories (if we assume the curves are continuous, a set with the cardinality of the continuum to be exact) not only all logically consistent but all correctly predicting the obtained measurements. Per your (i)logic, should we declare them all false? Without even understanding them? Truly amazing.

    “The interesting bit is now the exact number of competing theories. The more there are, the smaller the change becomes that you choose the right one. But the number of competing theories about God is infinity.”

    This is going from bad to worse. You seem to think that people choose blindly their religion — one should imagine a sort of table, possibly an infinite one, with all the religions on offer, from which religious folk blindly pick one. *If* that were the case, the distribution would be uniform and you would indeed be correct to say that the chance of picking the right one is smaller as the sample space grows larger. But that is *not* how people pick their religion. Sure, I am the first to admit that there are cultural and social factors at work, but that is also true for atheism or basically any world view. The only thing I need in order to show the inanity of your scenario is to point out that there are *rational* reasons underlying our choices. Suppose you accept as valid, as I do, Aquinas’ First Way. Then it follows, as night follows from day, that basically only the major monotheistic religions are on the table. The process of elimination can continue, although it does get iffier from here on, but this suffices to give the general idea.

    “Science does not have this problem. It just does not add gods, or other unobservables-by-definition in their theories. If everything in a theory is observable, then it is falsifiable.”

    Wrong, I just proved that it has by the known fact that empirical data under-determines scientific theories. And everything is observable in a scientific theory? Really? So I repeat my question from the previous post then: where can I find and observe the complex Hilbert state space of a quantum system?

    While I confess I am not above the petty vainglories of shredding apart the arguments of my opponents, the brute matter of fact is that this is all very sad, and ultimately dull and boring. Sad because it is demonstrative of the appalling philosophical acumen of the science-fetishists, which makes virtually impossible any serious and deep discussion; dull and boring, because I have lost count to the times I have put to rest such bad arguments. It seems, like Sisyphus rolling a stone uphill over and over again, I am condemned to point out the same mistakes over and over again.

  73. @TomVonk:

    “Commenting on things one ignores should be avoided.”

    I could not agree more. Exhibit one: “I didn’t “reduce” mind to brain. I know what a brain is and what I said was that it is the brain that does the thinking.” This is precisely what reductionism is and, in the particular version you formulated it is not so much as false, but incoherent and meaningless. It is *people* that think, not brains, for it makes no sense to ascribe such psychological attributes to anything less than the human being as a whole. The brain is not a logically appropriate subject for psychological predicates such as thinking. Only a human being and what behaves like one can intelligibly be said to think. Exhibit two: “If one agrees that the PROCESS of thinking is just a synonyme to describe the brain dynamics, then the thoughts (whatever their “content” may be) are necessarily a subset of the dynamical states.” Saying that thoughts “are necessarily a subset of the dynamical states” of the brain, is tantamount to identifying them, and thus their content, with brain states. If you had actually understood the argument, you would see that it matters not the precise details of what a brain state is (over which I said not a single word, and yet you managed to mind-read what I meant), all that matters is that thought is identified with certain states and processes, electro-chemical, neuro-physiological, whatever, on the material object known as brain. It is also highly bizarre to charge me with misunderstanding when you do not even know what is meant by the content of a thought. I could continue to pull apart your non-response but quite frankly I am out of patience: diddly squat it was, diddly squat it continues to be.

  74. G. Rodrigues,
    Before explaining what my ideas are, I have to clear the ground of misconceptions on foundational questions and first principles. Since these do not admit of a demonstrative proof as there is nothing that is “more self-evident” that we can appeal to in order to justify them, …

    I took that as an explicit statement your beliefs are not open to question leaving very little room for further discussion.

    I am not trying to prove anything nor am I out to extract some confession from you.

    I am trying to have a conversation. As far as I’ve seen, all of your posts have been in the same “You are wrong” vein without offering any particular reason other than you believe it to be so. You are forcing everyone to guess at your reasoning. That’s not discussion; it’s declaration. It opens the door for you to claim every response is strawman argument.

    You don’t seem to realize how annoying that is.

    This doesn’t have to be a “*war*”.

  75. @DAV:

    “As far as I’ve seen, all of your posts have been in the same “You are wrong” vein without offering any particular reason other than you believe it to be so.”

    Huh? So I have not offered arguments for why certain claims you made are wrong? The only conclusion I can take is that you are right on one point, we have not been having a discussion all along; for how could we, if you cannot recognize an argument?

  76. OK, I volunteer as cannon fodder:
    Aquinas first way is wrong.

    First we consider a series A, B, C where A< B and B<C meaning A is waged by B and so on.
    We consider A to be in actual motion only through B and so on, but not to infinity because then A would not be in actual motion at all. B is of the same sort as A, requiring C to be in actual motion. At some point we will reach Z, whereby Z is the last actual motion dependent on something other than itself, something “else”. Then comes God. But if God can move Z and Z is of the same sort as A, God could move A directly. There is no need for the series to exist at all.

    The whole point of constructing the series is to put God at a safe distance. At some point he should intervene, but this point is deliberate chosen as beyond of any example. It is merely invoked by logic there where an argument appears to start from observation, but is unable to follow through. A shrewd exploitation of a weakness.

    Now suppose you do say that the series A, B, C is not merely to distract you, but is actually meaningful. Then it should become apparent why God is not moving just any object first, but a specific one. As I said before, then B must be (somewhat) closer to God than A and Z would be properly identified as the instrument of God. I will make a suggestion: waves are moved by winds are moved by warmth etc. In this series one might hold that warmth is closer to God than waves as it involves something seemingly less material. Like a clarinet is adapted to the player, Z must be adapted to God. Now the argument seems to work, but it must now be shown that the attributes of B, C up to Z (if possible), change in a manner consistent with “the road to God”.

    Now naturally I am all wrong about this, I must have misconstrued the argument from the beginning, so please correct me.

  77. @DAV
    Concepts should only be defined in terms of thought content, never by the referent. It is entirely up to us to identify a well defined concept with a phenomenon afterwards. Your example is interesting since you name a few terms that could actually have different conceptual meaning, but amount to the same thing because they refer to the same thing. So that tell us a bit about your ideas of meaning. Now I won’t say that we aren’t bothered by unnecessary euphemisms by PC, but this is a more fundamental point. With regard to languages: It is easier for me to think conceptually in German than it is for me to do so in English. In English I am indeed focused on the referent, on something merely intended, pointed at, but not expressed within the language itself. English has the advantage of clarity, yet it is hard, at least for me, to experience the intrinsic relevancy of my own thoughts. Perhaps this is also of influence of a certain relativism and materialism that flourishes in the Anglo-American world. Marx not only took Hegelian-ism upside down, he also introduced a referent absent from the original. Interestingly enough he traveled to London to develop his ideas.

  78. Sander van der Wal said:
    The interesting bit is now the exact number of competing theories. The more there are, the smaller the change becomes that you choose the right one. But the number of competing theories about God is infinity.

    G. Rodrigues replied:
    This is going from bad to worse. You seem to think that people choose blindly their religion — one should imagine a sort of table, possibly an infinite one, with all the religions on offer, from which religious folk blindly pick one…

    G. Rodrigues,

    I don’t think Sander van der Wal’s statement implies that people choose blindly their religion. You’ve conjured up something that he didn’t bring up and proceed to elaborate on it. Which is all fine though is not what he wants to hear, but in the meantime, you have to say insulting things. *Even If* he does imply that people choose blindly their religion, this is just a blanket statement like the one given by you below without any evidence.

    “You have already mentioned mathematicians; they laugh at the scientific method and unfalsifiability criterion.”

    It amazes me how you get upset with your own speculation of what other people say and then bombard people with verbal abuse… yes, verbal abuse, in my opinion.

  79. rembie,

    I’m not sure I followed all of that.

    Concepts should only be defined in terms of thought content, never by the referent.

    What about self-referential concepts? The concept of concept, for example. How would you define that in terms of thought content?

    Every word to me has multiple meanings. Remember that I told you I think in images? When I see a word, a number of images pop up. They are all potential puns. English is full of them. If that’s what you mean, I find impossible to talk about any specific image without using words that could construed as something else.

    I would expect “thought content” to mean the concept itself so saying “Concepts should only be defined in terms of thought content” is like saying “concepts should be defined in terms of itself”. Maybe the “thought content” means something different to you than what it does to me. Could you kindly define it?

  80. JH,

    I think you’re wasting your time with Mr. Negative.

    I haven’t quite finished with the links you provided yesterday (about half way through the podcast but I keep getting interrupted). It’s interesting. Is there anything in particular about it that you wanted to discuss?

  81. @JH:

    “*Even If* he does imply that people choose blindly their religion, this is just a blanket statement like the one given by you below without any evidence.

    You have already mentioned mathematicians; they laugh at the scientific method and unfalsifiability criterion.

    Tell me JH, how do you read the sentence you quoted? What do you think I am saying?
    Tell me JH, what do you think I am telling in the quoted sentence

  82. @Dav

    “Concepts should only be defined in terms of thought content” is like saying “concepts should be defined in terms of itself”. Maybe the “thought content” means something different to you than what it does to me. Could you kindly define it?

    Not just in terms of itself, but in terms of other concepts, like the triangle discussed here. Now think about it how imperfect our concept of say a tree is. What is a tree? Can you express what a tree is? Or would you rather point at one and retort: that is a tree! Many of our so called concepts are just terms that point to something out there and are themselves very shallow with regard to actual thought content. Does this clarify the matter a bit?

  83. To be honest I’d rather be shown a tree than have it described. Descriptions are rarely adequate. Words bring up too many images for me which I have to select based on context. As I said, I think in images. The image of a tree conveys far more information in less time and with less likelihood of transmission error. Imagine if I were to try to get you to see a picture of a tree but gave it to you one pixel at a time, in any order I choose, and the pixels had errors. That’s what words descriptions are like for me.

    There’s the danger I might not generalize enough from an example but I may never get there at all from a verbal description. Maybe that’s why I prefer to talk using examples. I have the opposite problem when writing.

    I sometimes want both. It depends.

  84. Rodriguez
    .
    You remind me of those brainless monkeys typing randomly. It is known that they could produce a Shakespeare sonate given enough time.
    In your case you didn’t manage to produce anything but noise sofar.

    As you were a waste of bandwidth, I will just take one of your absurd statements :

    It is *people* that think, not brains, for it makes no sense to ascribe such psychological attributes to anything less than the human being as a whole. The brain is not a logically appropriate subject for psychological predicates such as thinking.

    This is not even wrong 🙂
    Of course because you think with your feet among others, you are convinced that everybody does.
    Well be very sure that all people (but you) think with their brains and exclusively with their brains.
    Be also very sure that there is incontrovertible evidence that it is so (the domain is called neuro-sciences, bio chemistry and non linear dynamics).
    You are free to ignore science and deny evidence – but don’t expect that any sane person will take this for anything else than a crackpottery.

    But as crackpottery is often entretaining, would you please develop a little?
    For instance can you tell us why we have brains at all?
    And what are they actually supposed to do when they are “logically inappropriate subjects” for thinking?
    While we are at it, what else is logics than a particular mode of the brain dynamics?
    Or is logics independent from the brain too?

    You seem to be extremely slow at learning.
    What is a bit worse is that you avoided all of the concrete and clear questions that I asked to allow you to clarify your thesis.
    Sure, the thoughts/concepts are all and without exception associated to dynamical brain states (not a one to one correspondence) and exclusively to dynamical brain states.
    This is the scientific thesis.

    You take an anti scientific position saying that there is something DIFFERENT from the brain which is (necessary) for thinking. Saying that it is the “people” is just a lazy way to say that you cannot specify and don’t know what you are talking about.
    Can brainless people think? Can peopleless brains think?

    So just tell us what it is this “other” organ or set of organs that are necessary for thinking.Feet? Invisible leprechauns? All of it?
    Alternatively you may admit that you are out of your depth in these issues what is acceptable too.

  85. DAV

    To be honest I’d rather be shown a tree than have it described. Descriptions are rarely adequate. Words bring up too many images for me which I have to select based on context.

    This comment has very deep implications and it is normal that you feel like that.
    I will try to explain why it is so.
    If one takes (just for illustration purposes) the naive idea that the brain states are defined by a binary value of every neurone, then the number of brain states is a binary number with 100 billions of digits.
    This number is infinity for all practical purposes.

    Now take written or spoken language. An average person knows and uses some 3 – 4 000 words in his mother language. People knowing and understanding 10 000 words are extremely exceptional. Beyond is practically useless. I don’t count here words like designations of animal or plant species which are just labels.

    So if one admits the scientific findings that our cognitive activity is realized by the brain activity and translated in self interacting brain states, then it appears obvious how poor and inadequate the language content is compared to the brain ability to produce different states.
    Then it is logical that if you are told a word (tree), the spontaneous self interaction of your brain will realize billions of states and they will be different for every person.
    Your brain will associate the word tree to smells, recollections, sizes and much more.
    If the word is more abstract, the number of associations will be even greater and it may become difficult to communicate about this word with another person so different the associations may be.

    Now if you are shown a tree it is very different. Your brain is constrained by the sensorial inputs and therefore is much less free to establish associations which don’t fit with the input. Your feeling about the word will be then much clearer and sharply defined. You will feel better that you “understand” what a tree is.

  86. @TomVonk:

    “You remind me of those brainless monkeys typing randomly.”

    That may be so, but you have to concede that as far as spelling goes this brainless monkey does not type as randomly as you. I am Portuguese, and my name ends with an “s” not a “z” which is the Spanish spelling form. Also, Shakespeare wrote sonnets, not “sonate(s)”.

  87. All you have done is presenting a surrogate explanation for a process that can be readily assessed by observing one’s own activities in thinking and perceiving. It is doubtlessly true however that neuroscience has presented many remarkable facts about the brain, which are of consequence with regard to our understanding of “cognition”.
    In your view it is trivial that the brain is the source of thought because (a) we obviously cannot think without a brain and (b) there is no other candidate in sight. If you decided in favor of materialism beforehand, this is indeed a logical conclusion. To me however it only proves that the brain is necessary for me to think (it is a necessary condition, not automatically a sufficient condition), and with respect to the other candidate I will take the liberty to defend that I do have a soul, even if you think I do not.

  88. G. Rodrigues,

    “You have already mentioned mathematicians; they laugh at the scientific method and unfalsifiability criterion.”

    Tell me JH, what do you think I am telling in the quoted sentence

    Mathematicians laugh at the scientific method and unfalsifiability criterion. What else is coded in the sentence that I need to decipher?

  89. G. Rodrigues,

    “You have already mentioned mathematicians; they laugh at the scientific method and unfalsifiability criterion.”

    Tell me JH, what do you think I am telling in the quoted sentence

    Mathematicians laugh at the scientific method and unfalsifiability criterion. What else is coded in the sentence that I need to decipher?

  90. @JH:

    “Mathematicians laugh at the scientific method and unfalsifiability criterion. What else is coded in the sentence that I need to decipher?”

    So the way you read my sentence is that I am telling that mathematicians *literally* laugh at the scientific method; maybe in between a seminar on the Riemann hypothesis, in the middle of lunch, they crack some jokes on how stupid the scientific method and the unfalsibiality criterion is. Is that it?

  91. DAV,

    I knew it could be a waste of time. That’s why I only provided one example of his behavior. In fact, it was my daughter who felt that some people are verbally abusive after reading some comments here.

    (This reminds me of one fond memory. My daughter asked why God chose the Earth not the Moon to start life after a series of discussions of Aquinas’s proofs in her religion class at school. According to her thinking back then, God should be able to start a life anywhere he wants, what’s so special about Earth? Is God an Earthling? Of course, Mr. JH and I couldn’t cook up any right answers.)

  92. G. Rodrigues,

    … maybe in between a seminar on the Riemann hypothesis, in the middle of lunch, they crack some jokes on how stupid the scientific method and the unfalsibiality criterion is. Is that it?

    Not what I think at all. However, is the above what you meant to imply? So, what else is coded in the sentence that I need to decipher?

  93. @JH:

    “Not what I think at all. However, is the above what you meant to imply? So, what else is coded in the sentence that I need to decipher?”

    We are talking past each other. I did not asked what you think mathematicians do or think, I asked how you read my sentence. In the last question, you seem to imply that what I said is what you take to be the meaning of my sentence, that is, that mathematicians think that the falsifiability criterion and the scientific method are laughable. Am I correct in that that is your reading?

  94. JH,

    Isn’t it obvious God is saving the Moon for its use as a staging area during the alien invasion? 🙂 If they truly have God on their side, though, we are doomed.

    Mr. Grrr is contributing in the only way he knows. He has no useful information of his own to share. We should be happy though. What’s a picnic without flies and ants? His presence may indicate we are having a picnic.

    TomVonk,

    Yeah. I came at it using information transfer. The words are noisier because they may imply more than intended while the picture is not only cleaner but may contain information the words would likely never convey: shape, color, texture, a sense of size, etc.

    Of course, having a picture mostly only works for physical concepts. But even in areas such as process control, computer programming and electrical engineering it’s possible to illustrate using diagrams.

    rembie,

    Surrogate explanation or alternate? Both yours and Tom’s are potential babble that explain little. I grew interested in brain studies through Cognitive Psychology and Artificial Intelligence. Of primary interest to me are question like: what is thinking?; what are we really doing when making a decision?; what exactly do we mean when we say I?

    The answer of Soul is just giving it a name and says little to nothing about the processes. If anything is a pointer word, “soul” must be one of them.

    Cognitive studies and neurology have made great strides in the last half century. It’s an enormous puzzle; not easily solved.

  95. TomVonk,

    So just tell us what it is this “other” organ or set of organs that are necessary for thinking. Feet?

    That may not be as far-fetched as it sounds. Cognitive functions (thinking) maybe not but motion control algorithmic processing (walking, for instance) may be located closer to limbs with the brain exerting direction instead of micromanagement. Some pattern recognition may also be performed at the sensory sites. Although the tendency is for elimination of specialization in higher order species, I don’t think we can completely exclude it in humans at this time.

  96. @DAV
    I would favor the direct approach which in this case amounts to allowing for an exact variant of introspection that will require practice (like phenomenology). We will always refer to our direct experience in these matters, and we must for the so called explanations are supposedly about these, unless you feel that thinking and perceiving should be treated as external processes only. However thinking and perceiving do not exist as external processes in our own experience, so you need substitutes. In this case things like dynamic brain states.

    We can learn a lot from these investigations, do not get me wrong. I just don’t think we should jump to (philosophical) conclusions. Recently I reread Frege’s “Thought a logical inquiry”, available online. I would recommend it especially.

    Whether soul is a pointer word to you depends on the level of understanding that is associated with it. I understand enough of it (but still very little) not to confuse it with the tooth fairy.

  97. I’m not equating it to the Tooth Fairy. What I’m, saying is that it isn’t a particularly constructive idea. It effectively defines thinking as that activity we do with our heads. In presupposing a supernatural element, you’ve moved the goal posts forever out of reach.

    Let me ask this: suppose I were to build a machine or device that exhibits all of what we call thinking (a la the Turing test), would you say this machine is not thinking?

    If not, What would you call it? What then would be thinking?

    If you would call it thinking, would that mean it has acquired a soul? And since the soul seems to leave when we die, did it acquire a soul?

    If it has a soul, where did it come from?

  98. Sorry that last word should have been life:

    if you would call it thinking, would that mean it has acquired a soul? And since the soul seems to leave when we die, did it acquire a life?

  99. @DAV

    I will just tell you what I think, without much of a defense.

    First things first. I introduced the soul as my adaptation of Rodrigues’ suggestion that it is not the brain , but people who think. The soul I would say is the proper subject of thinking, feeling and willing. It might be unusual to hold such a view nowadays, but this has not always been so. If you look for the soul externally, you can call it supernatural. I would prefer super-sensible though, for reasons you might understand. Since we -are- our souls in a sense, introspection has it’s problems as you noted. In the same way I have a problem seeing my own body properly without the use of a mirror.

    But there is also another thing to consider. Let ‘s assume your spouse enters the room, what is entering the room would you say, her body or her being, that is also her soul. There is an immediate recognition of inner states of being, that convinces you that it is truly your wife and not a bio-robot. I think this to be a fact, but do convince yourself.

    Does this mean we do not feel this way towards machines ever? No, it is interesting to observe how willingly we feel empathy with a robot that moves as if excited, disappointing or fearful. So the so called inner states seem to be communicated by gestures and movements quite efficiently. Yet because we think of what a robot is, we know it is not really excited, disappointed or fearful.

    Now consider something else. When you read a book, do you regard the book to be intelligent? You do not I suppose. You think of it in terms of ink and paper and the intelligent content depends on the author, not the book as such. A Turing machine is just more complicated, because it answers questions. But there is also a similarity. The author expresses his thought content in a particular language and the printer encodes it in ink. With the Turing machine we also have a an implementation of a language encoded in say the binary states of billions of transistors.

    With a machine like this we have more to consider than the author. Computer programming boils down to substituting procedures for thoughts. A calculation for example is something we can externalize in a certain procedure. A machine might offer extended power over human beings in this respect. Working memory is a definite limitation in our thinking as is speed. So with a Turing machine the question is: can the ingenuity of the programmer in compiling the right set of procedures together with the extended power of machines in certain tasks fool us?

    I do not think we can exclude that beforehand. Does this mean the Turing machine can think and perhaps has even acquired a soul? I do not think so. Unless (a) you know nothing of the context in which Turing machines can exist and (b) you hold that the only evidence you have of other people thinking is coherent answers.

  100. A book has information but a book, as far as anyone can tell, doesn’t do anything with the information. To me, knowledge and information are synonymous terms. Intelligence is the ability to process the information available although, colloquially (military speak, for instance), intelligence can mean just the information.

    Does that mean anything that processes information is intelligent? Not necessarily. Many things process information. Hand operated calculators are merely doing what they are told. The calculator isn’t really processing the information — the operator is. I would not consider a calculator intelligent.

    There seems to be more than mere information processing behind the notion of thinking. Decision making and goal achievement come to mind.

    It seems that specific implementations should not be confused with thinking. An electronic computer operates by using electronic logic gates but that’s just how we build them. A logic gate can be built that is purely mechanical, for example.

    It is true that computers such as Turing machines are following instructions but then so are neurons. I do not think of the neurons as doing the thinking though they seem necessary for brains to operate just as electronic gates are necessary for an electronic computer to operate. It seems that the neurons are just the pieces used in the brain just as gates are used in a computer.

    The network that Tom referred to earlier is a pattern of neurons. This pattern may be what we call thought. The pattern isn’t a concept in itself but is more of an analog of a concept. Even more complex patterns can be formed to encompass/encode other concepts.

    Using the computer analogy, the neurons could be a microcode used to construct a higher level computer. These in turn, could form an even higher level computer. I don’t see any reason why these networks couldn’t also cause the formation of other networks or cause or initiate bodily actions since they are connected to the body.

    They could even make decisions. Logic gates and neurons make decisions but their information domain is limited. Other networks could take the output of other networks to reach a decision. We currently don’t know if access to even more information could lead to autonomous operation.

    I see no reason to invoke a supernatural element for thinking to occur.

    The example with the wife illustrates that, when we consider her, we are looking at or taking into account the sum total of everything we see and know about her. But I wouldn’t say we are seeing her soul unless you mean that ‘soul’ is the sum total of information of something being considered. We can distinguish this table from that table. I wouldn’t think this means the table has a soul. If a good enough copy of her were made, what would remain to distinguish the original from the copy?

    Does this mean the Turing machine can think and perhaps has even acquired a soul? I do not think so. Unless (a) you know nothing of the context in which Turing machines can exist and (b) you hold that the only evidence you have of other people thinking is coherent answers.

    Not clear to me why the context has to do with anything.

    For (b), yes, pretty much where we are but thinking must be more than coherent answers. I mentioned decision making and goal satisfaction above. There’s also the ability to learn. Animals seem able to do that, too. Not a complete list but likely the most important items.

  101. @DAV
    I strikes me that you see no need to invoke something supernatural (I object to this term, as I said), yet you can only speculate at how thinking is done by networks based on patterns of neurons. A mere count of the word “could” is telling. I think however that your reservations are justified and good practice, especially if they seem to work both ways.

    “There seems to be more than mere information processing behind the notion of thinking. Decision making and goal achievement come to mind.”

    Yes, but decision making in a computer must be based on some sort of rule and goal achievement is just some sort of feedback mechanism. In fact I think we can project much of what we do (intellectually) in a system that is based on rules, procedures and feedback. In this sense there is intelligence in a computer, but what I object to is the suggestion that we actually work that way ourselves. Computer science is a laborious *translation process* , whereby our intellectual capacities are morphed into machine power.

    You might think it necessary to speculate on all kinds of processes going on below the threshold of our conscious appreciation of thought, but I do not. Perception and thought are the axioms of epistemology and must be accepted * as is * anyway.

    “Not clear to me why the context has to do with anything”

    The context is given by the technology. People oblivious to this context may surely think the machine has a soul. Much in the same way you might hold a magician for a wizard. You might say this *could* hold true for humans as well. Tom for example would certainly think so and invoke Darwinian evolution as the context.

    Your position reminds me of a book I read a long time ago “the mind’s I” by Dennett and Hofstadter. Familiar?

  102. I strikes me that you see no need to invoke something supernatural (I object to this term, as I said)

    My apologies but when you say things like the brain is the receiver of thoughts I wonder where they are coming from. It sounds supernatural to me.

    Yes, but decision making in a computer must be based on some sort of rule and goal achievement is just some sort of feedback mechanism.

    Was that meant to be “goal achievement by a computer”? Goal setting, planning and satisfaction are not feedback mechanisms.

    Yes, it is true, that programming is a rather laborious problem but it’s getting easier. The reason is one no longer has to fully specify what is intended. There are libraries that contains pre-built mechanisms. Many of the programs in use today would have been impossible as little as 20 years ago. You shouldn’t confuse what we do today with what may be possible in the future. Those libraries are consistent with what I’ve been saying about building upon lower levels.

    Consider this: when you implement a program you have converted a general purpose machine into a very specific one. The computer program imposes a pattern. The underlying Turing machine implements the base processes that support but, in themselves, don’t contain the pattern of instructions that is the program.

    Once upon a time and not all that long ago, you could only get just one machine at any given time. The computer you used today to make your post however is an amalgam of many machines — and not all of them are under your control. That they don’t necessarily operate in concert is just the current state of affairs. It’s quite possible, albeit non-trivial, to get all of the programs (machines) to cooperate in a coherent fashion. At some time in the future, the computer will begin making assumption about what you are intending and act upon them. The result will have many of the characteristics attributed to free will.

    A mere count of the word “could” is telling.

    I don’t claim to have Absolute Truth. I am speculating. The speculation is not without foundation and is reasonable (of course 🙂 ) but I certainly recognize I may be wrong and certainly can’t say I know how thinking occurs in humans. I may never know. Science won’t provide the One True Answer. Philosophy doesn’t do such a hot job either.

    reminds me of a book I read a long time ago “the mind’s I” by Dennett and Hofstadter. Familiar?

    Very good book. I remember when I first read it, the idea of varying levels of patterns sounded reasonable but also sounded vague. The idea of patterns of neural networks in the brain though has got me thinking about them again.

    You might think it necessary to speculate on all kinds of processes going on below the threshold of our conscious appreciation of thought, but I do not.

    Well, maybe you should. It’s becoming clear that much of what we do is below that threshold. Some, if not all of it, may account for things like free will and hunches. There is even some evidence that the body reacts to decisions before we are aware of making them.

    The context is given by the technology. People oblivious to this context may surely think the machine has a soul. Much in the same way you might hold a magician for a wizard. You might say this *could* hold true for humans as well.

    That sounds like a Freudian slip. It’s as if whatever you think is happening during thinking can never be something known. If it’s known, it must be excluded from the definition.

    I don’t see any reason to believe that thinking and what we call free will are anything other than natural processes. If they are then it is necessary they have evolved. In fact, looking at the diminishing processing power (intelligence) of species further down the hierarchy suggests that it has evolved.

  103. @DAV
    Just a short answer for now.

    “That sounds like a Freudian slip. It’s as if whatever you think is happening during thinking can never be something known. If it’s known, it must be excluded from the definition”

    No, what I am saying is that everything that is happening in thinking is apparent within thinking, that is: when we think clearly. It is right that there are all kinds of physical processes going on during thinking, but these processes must be of a secondary nature. Knowing these processes will not tell you how thinking works, you already know that, if only implicitly.

    If in the end the concept of a soul could not stand up against a more thorough concept of the human being, we should part with it. However I think it does stand up, for there are demonstrably irreducible properties to our being.

  104. @DAV

    a bit longer..

    “Well, maybe you should. It’s becoming clear that much of what we do is
    below that threshold. Some, if not all of it, may account for things like
    free will and hunches. There is even some evidence that the body reacts to
    decisions before we are aware of making them”

    Yes, interesting and I do buy that. But I could have told you the same
    thing from another angle. How do you start thinking? If you say to
    yourself I am going to think of free will now, you have not yet done so.
    It is only an intention, but one you can predictably follow up on. That
    cannot mean anything else than that in a certain sense you are having the
    concept before thinking it. This is all true. Yet only the thoughts that
    we conceive of clearly, that we accomplish to think through, are of any
    authority. It is from there that we should try to find a way to solve the
    many puzzles the world presents us with.

    It is also sort of miraculous what happens when we read a book. When you
    read a book you might learn something new. To learn something new means
    you become aware of a concept you did not conceive of before. Yet I can
    only bring my own previously acquired understanding to the party. I can
    read what I understand already, but at the same time I may learn something
    new. Now consider thinking to be the way we inform ourselves of the
    relationships of concepts. Concept A and concept B might be known to me
    beforehand, but the author might bring A in relationship to B, which gives
    rise to concept C, that I did not know beforehand. Relationships of
    concepts are themselves concepts. Thinking only deals in concepts. What we
    call knowledge is a specific relationship of concepts, which with regard
    to a set of percepts, produces an intelligible whole. The world of sense
    is disclosed by means of the world of thought.

    Why do you look for an origin for the world of thought in what you call
    natural processes? The very concept of thought you are having is prompting
    you to look for a cause! It might be for instance that you take into
    consideration that thought occurs in people. If it occurs than there must
    be a cause to the occurrence. True. Yet that only touches on the
    psychological side. Yet if you would pay attention you would notice that
    concepts do not occur. Our understanding of concepts occurs, but not the
    concept itself. Understanding is an event in our consciousness, but that
    has absolutely nothing to do with the content of the thought. When you
    understand the Pythagorean theorem, you also immediately understand that
    your understanding is of no consequence to its validity. If you fail to
    clearly see the distinction, I am afraid we will not advance in our
    discussions.

    We really need to clear up the misunderstandings. In your view for instance it sounds supernatural to speak of the brain as the receiver. Yet it is you who is suggesting that the mind is based on patterns that might be implemented in brain stuff or in some other system. You wrote “The computer program imposes a pattern. The underlying Turing machine implements the base processes that support but, in themselves, don’t contain the pattern of instructions that is the program.” Well then, is the machine not the “receiver” in this case? And where is the supernatural element in this case? Is a program supernatural? I am quite at ease with this. But letś make it more universal. The whole human development from the zygote to a grownup is the imposition of a pattern, but from where is this program executed? The program that is associated with the brain is but an instantiation of the program that is associated with the organism as a whole. Do you get what I am getting at?

  105. We really need to clear up the misunderstandings.

    Well, yes the Turing machine receives the program but the final machine is the underlying machine plus the software. I was separating the underlying part from the final construct. My point was to show that the neurons are in many ways the Turing machine part of the brain and the patterns are its software. The brain however is equivalent the final machine, i.e., Turing plus software.

    In the case of the machine plus software, I put the software into it. So the Turing machine receives the software. Where do the patterns of interconnections of neurons within the brain come from? Some of them are formed as the brain develops. Others a formed later. Apparently, by the brain itself. Part of the evidence is in learned skills that become almost subconscious.

    Your earlier statement made it sound as if the thoughts are pulled out of the aether or some other place like they were floating around or being placed into the brain. I suppose its possible but the idea strikes me as mystical.

    The very concept of thought you are having is prompting
    you to look for a cause!

    Not really. You almost touched on it, though. I am interested in what is happening when we think. Just as I might wonder what is going on when we breathe. The brain thinks without a cause. In many ways it’s like a computer that has booted up. It can’t stop running.

    Now, certain thoughts might have a cause but that’s an entirely different subject. I think that’s what you really meant by “How do you start thinking?”

    Answering that would probably depend upon the thought in question. I think it more valuable to ask questions such as: what selects the things we are aware of?

    When people say they are thinking, I believe they are talking about whatever thinking that is in their awareness. Surprisingly, our focus is quite tiny. We are constantly assailed by many things but only are actually aware of a few of them at any given time. Tunnel vision.

    How do we go about selecting things for awareness? What part, if any, does awareness play in control of thought subject? We certainly feel we have control but do we really?

    I have no answers for those. I suspect we are mostly along for the ride and just believe we are directing it.

  106. @DAV
    The perspective on thinking as an inner activity is both necessary and irreducible. At the same time, since the human being is a whole, it also exists on all levels, body and soul,regardless of what you ultimately mean when speaking of the latter. Think about it this way: with every step in the realm of nature the preceding one becomes the instrument of the next. In a human being the animal nature has become instrumental, yet the animal sort of unwillingly surrenders to the higher aims. It mercilessly selects the object of my awareness in many cases. It is the sum total of my dependencies, weaknesses etc. Animals have processing power as you call it, but animals do not think. Thinking inevitably implies self-consciousness.

  107. rembie,

    Not sure I fully agree. As I mentioned, colloquially, “thinking” usually means only those parts in our awareness but I feel there is more to it than that.

    When you first learn to drive, it’s hard. You have to constantly be aware of and monitor your surroundings, pay attention to how hard to push the pedals, pay attention to how much steering to apply, etc. After a while, you don’t have to pay much attention to it. Much of what occupied your awareness when learning now has become subconscious activity. The problem hasn’t changed. The same concerns are still there. We were changed. What used to take “thinking” no longer does. Yet whatever processes that took place while “thinking” about driving, still do. If “thinking” is only that which enters our conscious, what do you call that which has been pushed into the subconscious and why is it now less important?

    Take vision. Computer vision has turned out to be a very hard problem. It was once thought to be a very easy problem. Oddly, recognizing something like a cup requires more than statistical processing of “features”. Cups come in all shapes sizes and orientations yet we effortlessly recognize them. Facial recognition, OTOH, can be done with simple pattern recognition but largely because faces are far more regular than cups.

    Much of what we see requires a deeper understanding of how the parts a particular object interrelate and how it relates to the environment where it is found. Things like: there’s a hole at the top; it’s closed elsewhere. Even recognizing the hole at the top is a hard problem. Yet, we do these things effortlessly and seemingly unconsciously.

    There’s evidence that even when we are unaware of things within our field of view and don’t remember seeing them we still have seen and recognized them. It would seem much of our focus is pushed into our awareness instead of being selected and the pushing is done by lower level processes clamoring for attention.

    Animals have processing power as you call it, but animals do not think. Thinking inevitably implies self-consciousness.

    How do you know animals aren’t self-consciousness? I had a cat who seemed to recognize her reflection. She went bonkers when another cat would appear in a window yet she had no problem with her image in a mirror which takes a certain level of self-awareness and sense of self. Anecdotal, though.

    Isn’t this idea that animals are not self-aware more an outcome of not being able to ask and get a meaningful answer?

    But, yes, self-awareness is a higher function than, say, light recognition. It’s built upon those lower functions. However, I don’t see anything to distinguish it in principle from lower functions. There are really no grounds to place it in a special category. I don’t see any reason that a self-aware machine could not be built.

  108. rembie,

    I’m going to have to cut this short. I’ve a lot to do in the next couple of weeks and not sure if and when I’ll have the time to continue.

    I leave you with a couple of things.

    1) The primary one is that I don’t see a conceptual difference between recognizing a cup and recognizing myself which is self-awareness — except, of course, the difference in the what being recognized. In fact, there doesn’t seem to be a conceptual difference at each level until you reach the neurons but even there, basically only the mechanism changes.

    Thinking and self-awareness may put us apart from the other animals but there is no reason for assuming they are not just yet another implementation of yet another process differing from lower levels only in subject matter. Meaning it could just be a completely natural thing that has evolved.

    One thing is certain, however: nobody knows what self-awareness and thinking are.

    2) Some of the lower level functions seem to require reasoning and this reasoning doesn’t enter into our consciousness. Recognizing a cup, for example. Color balancing: in humans (at least) this is more than a simple subtraction of ambient light color; it appears to be selectively applied. Recognition of shadows projected onto other objects as being distinct from those objects. The list goes on. The implication is we can reason without what you call “thought”.

    3) One interesting lesson, although not the only one, has come out of Artificial Intelligence. When you sit down to tell a really stupid computer how to go about things is when you discover how woefully inadequate and vague many of our definitions are. You might say when implementing some software for example, “The solution needed here is easy — all we need to do is look for a hill,” then suddenly realize you need to now define what a hill is which in turn leads to other vague things in need of definition. What has started out as a simple task has turned into an enormous amount of work.

    All of our knowledge is intertwined and few, if any, of the pieces are “known” by themselves. Worse, some of the things we “know” we can only specify vaguely. Examples: What is “life”? How do we know when something is “alive”? Even the definition of when to pronounce death amounts to “for all practical purposes or might as well be”. What is “love”? What is “thinking”? Why are we so certain rocks can’t think? You might believe you know the answers but try telling them to a computer and you begin to see you really don’t.

    You’ve given me some things to think about. I hope to pick this up again later.

  109. @DAV
    Your examples are very clear and I will gladly give you my take on them, perhaps one by one. I am very busy myself though and will do so in the weekend. Take a look at the start of the next week…till then.

  110. @DAV
    Let’s start with Frege’s basic thoughts on where we are as human beings. First there is the outside world to consider, the world of sense. I see a tree, you see the same tree too. The tree is there for both of us, yet we both have a different image of it due to our position relative to the tree (for instance). The image we have of the tree is what belongs to our consciousness. My image belongs to me and your image belongs to you. You are its bearer. Now suppose I would like to expand my view of the tree. I start walking around it. Now the image the tree presents me with has changed. But wait. How do I know it is still the same tree? My previous view of it has disappeared and a new view of it has taken its place. I do however remember what it was like. Here is where thinking comes in. It is from thinking that I have decided that I am still looking at the same tree. I can relate the actual view I am having of the tree to the idea of my previous view, relative to the motion I executed by walking around it. If it weren’t for thinking I would really be lost and the idea of an outside world would not make any sense.

    So what about thinking? You walk with me and you are, like me, convinced we are looking at the same tree. The images we receive are mine and yours, yet our thought must be one and the same. My thought is “that tree” and you have the same thought. But not just that. I relate my thought “that tree” to your position, so when you speak of “that tree” I understand our thoughts to coincide, both conceptually ( *a* that tree) and with regard to the referent (*that* that tree). “That tree” does not refer to just any tree, it refers to the tree we both are standing in front of.

    Consider what thinking does here: it establishes the existence of an outside world independent of our inner worlds and the ideas therein. These inner worlds each belong to a bearer, me and you, so they are a multitude. If our thinking would strictly belong to our inner world, we would each live in our own worlds oblivious to the world of others. We could imagine them to exist, but our imaginings would not in reality have anything to do with the other. Everybody would have his or her own reality. Through thinking we establish the objective and subjective realms. We understand we are living in a world together, not just each in his own. We reach beyond the subjective and objective from a perspective of a higher unity that thinking offers.

    This is what thinking does, another question would be what it is. If we follow the above idea, I think we have a firm base from which to proceed.

    Let us first see if knowledge can be seen as a representation. We have a world out there and what we do is build a symbolic reconstruction, which constitutes our knowledge of it (You might want to use another wording. What is essential though is that you accept the distinction between subject and object from the start, whereby the knowledge of the object is somehow in the subject)

    Let’s see how this goes. A representation can only make sense if we can separate it from that of which it is supposed to be a representation, namely the real world. But that would mean that I am able to relate to the real world sidestepping the need of a representation. Another form of knowledge must therefore necessarily exist. And indeed, form the example above we can infer that this other form of knowledge depends on thinking.
    The idea of a representation however is not without a grain of truth. When we think we usually do so with regard to something particular within our experience. The concepts we acquire therefore also become representative of our experiences. If I would ask you to think of a car right now, you would picture a car. Probably a different car than I would imagine given such a request. Yet we both think of cars. Your car resembles your experiences and my car mine. We both hold what we imagine to *represent* a car.

    What this means for a model of the brain as the processing unit generating a representation of the outside world I leave for you to decide.

    End of part one. part two to follow soon (on the particulars)

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