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Science as Divinity

What bothers me most about modernity is its reliance on science as a metaphysical judicator. The place in western lands once occupied by god has been replaced by metaphysical naturalism and though it ought to seem utterly absurd to the non-believer the naturalistic zealot has no problems holding on to rationally contrarious beliefs because, under naturalism, reason has been placed in the back seat whilst empiricism holds on to the wheel.

Can metaphysical naturalism be rationally defended?

Well, lets see a few objections.

1. Mathematics and the world.

If all that exists are objects within the natural world – then it becomes horribly hard to understand how mathematical objects relate to the world.
It is not possible to say that they are mere figments of our imagination without denying science. But you can’t as well say that they exist in an abstract undefined way, at least not without denying yourself the position of Naturalist.

2. Intentional states and Naturalism

Intentional states are not intentions. Intentional states are the properties of mental states to be about things. I can think about a stone or Dolly Parton. In a vast majority of variants of naturalism my brain is the originator of that aboutness. So how can the brain, about two pounds of a certain physical matter, be about other physical matter, universal concepts, abstract object or philosophical problems? It seems utterly absurd – but the naturalist must hold on to that position. Very few naturalists, apart from Dennett and the Churchlands deny Intentional states. (Well sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t.)

3. The self

As with intentional states the naturalist must hold that two pounds of brain tissue can be the orignator of a sense of self without which we could never make sense of existence. But, of course – most naturalists do doubt the existence of the self – but is that rational? Of course it isn’t because if the self is not real – then what is it that holds beliefs and forms intentions and argues? What would be the difference between the knower and the known?

4. Rationality

If all that exists are atoms and the void – then what reason would we have to put stock in our beliefs about the world – be they about memories, political issues or science? Arguing, as many naturalists do, that introspection and reason is useless – then what tool do they use when judging between contending scientific views? Most would probably say falsifiability, but falsifiability cannot be discerned from your metaphyical beliefs or your scientific background. If you take a certain view on QM than your concept of falisifiability changes as well.

5. Morality.
If something is wrong then we must ask what that “wrongness” could be. If wrongness is a mere subjective state then it seems we can’t possibly ever feel morally superior to a robber. Even if I spent my life helping the poor I would be the moral equivalent of the grave-robbing necrophiliac.

To me this seems not logically absurd, given atoms and the void, it would make sense – but it seems something that would at least lead one to adopt Schopenhauers anti-natalism – the view that existence is such pain that it would be better never to have been born. For who could possibly live a life of moral denial? Only the psychopath! If natuarlism is real then whether or not to commit suicide is the only viable question, as Camus put it – ever so succinctly.

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All of the reasons above should make the seeker for truth accept the absurdity of naturalism but the faith of naturalistic zealots is not diminished one iota.

For example, how is it possible to argue for naturalism if one doesn’t believe our thoughts are about anything? It seems by far more absurd than almost anything we can think up.

So why don’t naturalists realize this? To me it seems obvious – the metaphysical standard has been taken over by science and it has been granted infallibility. No rational reasons can be given against natuarlism because the belief that science disproves reason without disproving itself is obviously false – but metaphysically necessary for those who above all things want to avoid religion.

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What problems does a reductive explanation of the mind have to solve?

I do not at all have the confidence of materialists in allowing for a reductive explanation of consciousness. Indeed, it seems to me the least probable solution to the problem of consciousness.

1. Teleology.

  • The strangeness of the fact that there are few things we know better then our own sense of being the originators of our choices. Now this sense of freedom does not mean that we are necessarily free – but we can’t question the ontology of our sense of freedom. As subjective facts are ontologically real – a reductive move would seem almost like explaining evolution through the composition of atoms. That seems obviously false as a reductive explanation of evolution stands at the level of genes instead of organisms. Those who argue for reductive explanations usually want to stop at some level – but of ourse, that is not reduction.
  • We seem to be aimed towards something. What do I mean by this? Well, first of – teleology, which is so much hated by all true reductionists, is always left in the equation. The darwinian evolutionist have not succeeded in writing it out of the gene-centric view of man. They argue against the organism having telos – but can’t get rid of it at the gene level. Secondly, teleology is something we feel within ourselves and if a strange observer would take the time to view our actions they would not think it possible to explain our movements without understanding our personal prejudices and goals.

2. History and Science

  • Most reductive materialists are also very bad at history and philosophy. It seems almost necessary in order to become a reductionist. Indeed, the very idea of reductionism is an idea that can only take hold in a person who views himself as belonging to a certain group that are “the possessors of truth” rather than advocates of a view of science as a method. The Darwinian answer of today finds itself always lacking or contradicting itself. Take rationality of example – almost all reductionist are also radical empiricists – but these persons do not think that reason is a route to knowledge. Therefor they use reason to argue against reason – and that is a very very strange phenomenon.
  • The history of reductionism and atomism is not a new idea. It certainly was around at the time of Lucretius and Epicurus and maybe before – but the reductionist, seeing as he has no knowledge of philosophy, thinks his stance is a radical step that has never been tried before. And this enables him to pronounce such thing as philosophy is dead, theology is pointless and only empirically verified sentences are meaningful.
  • The anti-metaphysical stance of the reductive materialist is also a step that is quite hard to understand. Often the reductionist seems to be using metaphysical arguments against metaphysics – how does one manage that? It seems logically impossible

3. Consciousness and its attributes.

  • Consciousness seems to be qualitatively different from other things in the world. All things about us which we can have objective knowledge of are different from our own physical body – because this physical body we can know both from without and within. This – together with arguments from Searle, Nagel and others – seems to be saying that it is not improbable that consciousness would arise out of atoms but indeed impossible. It is a different kind of thing.
  • We do not understand the workings of representation. A picture of a dog might as well be a picture of a cat to someone else – without the physics of the picture changing one iota. How is this possible. What IS, ontologically speaking, representation?
  • Consciousness seems to help us prioritizing in a way that is radically different from anything we know. How is it that we learn to prioritize without thinking through long chains of logical arguments?
  • There seems to be two types of thoughts – both descriptive and prescriptive thoughts. One seems to be aimed from the world to us and one seems to be aimed from the world to us. How is that possible? How can make decisions and take actions aimed towards changing our surroundings?
  • There is something that it is “like” to be conscious. This is best described by Nagel and Chalmers – and it seems to me a very powerful argument against reductive materialism.

4. Subjective – Objective distinction

  • For knowledge to work there has to be something that is known and someone that knows. This is also reflected in the subjective/objective distinction and in the fact/value distinction. There seems to be no way to understand these different aspects of reality through something other than our conscioussness of them. We can’t understand these things through objective empirical evaluations. That doesn’t mean we can’t use science to give us objective information about subjective states – but there very understanding of the distinction can’t be understood through science.

This is of course only a brief blogpost about some of the problems that the reductionist must face – but they are more than enough I think.

On the Sadness of Existence

The abruptness and the uncaring cruelty by which our plans, hopes and lives are cut short are two of the few certain facts of life. Our surroundings are completely oblivious to our needs and those who care for us pay the highest price possible for their caring – namely the realisation of Love as an essentially negative emotion. For most humans the realisation of the fact that Love – as a desperate longing to care for, cherish and protect another human being – is one of the true impossibilites of life, usually coincide with the disillusionment of old age. Thus, the positive value most people can bring out of existence is the illusion of youth where Life is eternal, Love is positive and where the Good always triumphs.

It struck me one time as I was lying in bed that on this planet the Good is exactly what is UN-natural – not natural. Indeed, the Good and Just man earns no reward in this life and none in the grave as all things are equal there. Indeed it matters not if we are serial killers or saints – as we are all dust. And in this life – the Good individual is taken for granted and used up like a well in the desert. And the animal kingdom is constituted so that some animals MUST shatter the bones, rend the flesh and eat alive some other animal in order to stay alive. Indeed – I am not saying that animals are evil – but the pain caused during a single day in the animal kingdom is enough to make a hardened individual weep.

This has lead many people, including me, to ponder the alien nature of our human morals. Why is it that man has this deep-seated need for the good when all the rest of existence is cruelly uncaring as to the pain and Sadness of existence?

What a HELLISH place we find ourselves in – where our deepest longings absolutely can’t be fulfilled and where the most likely cause of  death is an aneurysm in the brain suffered whilst taking a dump. Our fleshly husk will be found on the bathroom floor of some toilet – as a final slap in the face for daring to have the depth of emotion and longing for purpose and morality that we are born with.

Telos and Pessimism

What Darwin, Freud and Marx all did was to rewrite the view of history, in Biological, Pshycological and Economical terms – by writing out teleology of the equation and applying constant change and struggle in order to explain the seeming “Directedness” of reality. Hegels dialectic view of history, which was basically teleological, has been the greatest catalyst of the 19th century as many thought it didn’t match the evidence and thus necessitated a change.

Thus Teleology became almost extinct in philosophical circles and it was replaced by the view that the goal of existence was a meaningless question – for what possible goal could a completely physical system be directed towards? Some have said that the laws of thermodynamics are basically teleological in nature and thus explains for our every-day experience of teleology – but that seems to me to be a misunderstanding of what a law of nature is. For two reasons.

i) If a law is written into the fabric of existence like software into a code – then one is indeed correct in suspecting that that code needs a coder. I am quite convinced that this view of a scientific law is wrong – since I think a law is more like the best mathematial estimate of the states of a physical system. They would be or like habits than laws.

ii) If a law is indeed habit-like and not so much a law as a mathematical description of space, time and objects in movement then there is no way the laws of thermodynamics can in any way be teleological as they are merely descriptions – not prescriptive laws.

For many reasons I think that consciousness is impossible to understand without a theory of teleology – there are few things we are more certain of than our own directedness – and thus we once more point out the problem of consciousness in a completely physical system. Consciousness and matter seems to be different in kind and not merely in complexity.

The atheist/theist debates of today seem to me to hinge on this question – but even as I disagree with atheists about the nonsensical nature of the Telos, I also disagree with theists who use the nature of Teleology as a sign of Gods perfect goodness.

Looking around the world I think one must by necessity be a Schopenhaurian pessimist. “If a God has made this world, then I would not like to be the God; it’s misery and distress would break my heart” – Arthur Schopenhauer

The Telos of existence seems to me to be understandable only as the result of a very powerful (but not omnipotent) being acting within already given laws to make the best he can – and if he had true empathy he would have had to anguish for a long time before bringing everything into existence. Otherwise – the pain of the world is unforgivable.

On Eliminative Materialism

If you want to discuss a hypothesis you must be able to define it.  Eliminative Materialism, however,  is as elusive a concept as you will ever come across. The proponents of this view sometimes think specific mental states exist – and sometimes not. It is very difficult to pin down exactly what the Churchlands and Dennett thinks. It’s a real shame that the academic world allow people like these to call themselves philosophers. What’s even worse is that most people don’t understand enough philosophy to see through the charade. Even today I think most people in the academic world accept Eliminative Materialism as an actual contender for the “throne”. More than ever this leaves me with the feeling best articulated by Schopenhauer: -“Sometimes I speak to men and women just as a little girl speaks to her doll”.

The certain flavour of Eliminative Materialism that I’m going to criticise works as follows: It holds that our folkpsychological understanding of consciousness is flawed in the same way that the folkpsychological view of physics (i.e. flat earth theory or geocentrism) is flawed. I will not bother with those that deny pains and visual perception – but instead go for those who deny beliefs, desires and other attitudes that imply intentionality. The first thing that should make us suspicious of this view is that the argument seems not to be an argument as much as a statement. If someone wants to convince me that I am the victim of some sensory illusion than the statement won’t do – there has to be some argument or proof. This is not offered by the Eliminativists.

( Intentionality, as defined by the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, is: the power of minds to be about, to represent, or to stand for, things, properties and states of affairs. The puzzles of intentionality lie at the interface between the philosophy of mind and the philosophy of language. The word itself, which is of medieval Scholastic origin, was rehabilitated by the philosopher Franz Brentano towards the end of the nineteenth century. ‘Intentionality’ is a philosopher’s word. It derives from the Latin word intentio, which in turn derives from the verb intendere, which means being directed towards some goal or thing)

In order to discuss this we must understand that almost all of philosophy fails to see the difference between objective and subjective points of view. Most philosophers and scientists of today think that science can’t tell us something of the subjective side of consciousness – and of course that is completely false. You don’t need to have a science of ontologically objective things, things that are ontologically subjective – i.e. your pain is truly an objectively existing pain albeit subjective in its ontology.

The problem with the view that folk psychology is false is that our “illusion” of an outside world is not an acquired illusion. Disregarding our cultural background, which might influence our choice of the objects of our desires, the feeling of a desire is a biological fact about human existence. There seems to be no “seeing through the illusion” as would other illusion.

The arguments from the Eliminativsts is that science can show us that our visual experience is not what we think it is – but of course – the experience of it is tied to consciousness, which we don’t as yet understand. Even there the difference between ontologically objective and ontologically subjective matters – for our subjective experience can’t, as I see it, be changed by the fact that we realize that the mind puts together a lot of visual perceptions to one visual experience of flawless unity.

There is also a taste of Scientism to the world-view of Dennet and the Churchlands. The metaphysical stories of science has as yet not given us a theory of everything, and some doubt that it will. I myself feel that we are nowhere near explaining consciousness and should be humble before that fact. There is a certain sense in which the language of “absolutes and absolutely-nots” permeates all of scientism today – but there are more than one metaphysical story of relevance out there.

On the scientific world-view of todays pop-skeptics things like meaning, purpose and inner experience are necessarily left out of the equation because they don’t have a language-game to handle it. And man is a story-telling animal in need of meaning and purpose.