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Amused Muse

Inspiring dissent and debate and the love of dissonance

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Master's Degree holder, telecommuting from the hot tub, proud Darwinian Dawkobot, and pirate librarian belly-dancer bohemian secret agent scribe on a mission to rescue bloggers from the wholesome clutches of the pious backstabbing girl fridays of the world.



Sunday, April 01, 2007

April Fool, Dr. Egnor!

In honor of the day I was planning to do a post on evolution getting falling down drunk and getting into a fight in an alley, and coming home with a black eye - I swear. But I got too busy, and anyway I was trying to keep up with the real April Fool pranks.

You must read very carefully in order to get it.

At Pharyngula,

at Panda's Thumb,

and, if you're still confused, at Greg Laden's blog and at AtBC.

Still don't get it? The eye patch - notice the eye patch... Hahaha! Shimmies to all for this delicious prank!

(Speaking of delicious - tomorrow's an anniversary...)

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21 Comments:

Blogger Crandaddy said...

This is actually a clever prank. Hats off to those who put it together. I could have done without the cheapshot the "guest contributor" made at a real statement of Egnor's, however. My commentary here.

April 02, 2007 8:00 PM  
Blogger Kristine said...

For there to be a truth, there must be a proposition whose content is true or has the property of being true. Propositions are intentional entities; they have a content which is intrinsically and essentially (non-derivatively) about their object, and it is this content which can have the property of being true. So in order for the materialist to claim that truth exists, she must claim that propositional content which can have the property of being true is material, but how in the world can there be a material state be intrinsically about an object, and how can a material state possibly have the property of being true?

*Mind spins* Gaaa, I'm an old fart. She? Guess you're talking about me? ;-) Well, here goes: I don't represent "materialists;" I only speak for myself. I'm just me. I have my own ideas and I freak out even other atheists all the time, so it's not like we pass around secret memos or anything.

I consider "truth" to be a model of reality that a person constructions with his/her mind, hopefully based upon observation and at least somewhat accurate. "Reality" is the real world "out there" which exists independently of us. (I'm leaving out quantum theories about consciousness at the moment.) Truth is a human concept and a human value. It, like objectivity, is more an ideal than a state. We strive for truth by learning about, modeling, and describing reality.

That's why knowledge and science are cumulative and today's "truths" are always tenative and conditional.

We can state clearly that some things are true and some things are false, but in life there is a vast gray area of uncertainties that people need to deal with. I operate by a series of "if...then" statements rather than absolutes, although there are a few things I will dig my heels in about. Also, we learn by doing, not just by thinking; I have discovered truths in dance, art, or in music that I cannot articulate well in words, because that is translating, when in fact that truth has already been articulated (in dance, art, or in music). But our western culture reduces everything to words, because of the Gospel of John - "In the beginning was the Word" - which assumes both a language and a beginning. I don't believe in reducing everything to words and frankly, I'm no sure that the Big Bang was the beginning of the universe, for example. (Now I've done it.)

I didn't think Egnor's statement was profound. I mean, "if truth does not exist" then materialism is not false, either, then. Right? (I mean, I'm being flip, as I tend to be, but think about it.) Why would matter and energy being all there is make "truth" not true? Whatever exists is true, even if no consciousness perceives it.

April 02, 2007 9:32 PM  
Blogger Crandaddy said...

She? Guess you're talking about me? ;-)

Okay, I'll admit I had you in the back of my mind as I wrote it. :-)

"if truth does not exist" then materialism is not false, either, then. Right? (I mean, I'm being flip, as I tend to be, but think about it.) Why would matter and energy being all there is make "truth" not true? Whatever exists is true, even if no consciousness perceives it.


Only propositions can be true or false, so if materialism is true, and a proposition can't be material, then propositions can't exist and neither can truth or falsity. So you're right.

April 03, 2007 12:21 AM  
Blogger Kristine said...

I think you're overthinking this.

I meant, if there's no truth, then there's no falsification of anything either. As I've said, we understand things in terms of their relationship to each other; they are therefore complements, not opposites. We can surmise that things are true because we know other things are false.

But let me say something about truth, reality, and uncertainty (brining quantum theory in at this point): we construct truths that hopefully fit reality. We can construct multiple truths that fit the same reality.

That's the argument for intelligent design, that it "fits the facts," and having read enough of it now I would agree at this point that it's worthy as a competing philosophy and theodicy. But not a competing theory of science.

Saying that something is not science does not mean that it is in itself wrong, bad, or should be banished from philosophy or metaphysics. But it does not belong in science class because science is a methodology, a process. It's more akin to accounting than debate or philosophy, and you just don't get to have creative accounting. The rules and the naturalistic methods of science are there for the protection of all of us. Really.

I admit to being impressed with how Dembski fit his truth ("Christian Theodicy") with reality and with theology. However, I see it as a retro-fit, something 1)untestable, and 2)something that may work for our knowledge today but could become dated and be discarded tomorrow, as our models of reality change. It is time that people admit that theology changes all the time, and that the driving factor in this change is often scientific discovery. And I want to be with the changers, rather than the changed.

There are multiple quantum theories that fit the quantum facts (at least 4, maybe 8). Which to choose? You can choose any one of them. But does it ultimately matter? It may be that there is a range to truth, that there's an array of truths that are equally valid. This does not mean that everything is true, or that "truth is relative" (which is an absolute statement) or that we can draw no conclusions about anything. It does mean that certain truths can coexist, and are still distinguished from untruths.

Dembski wants one truth, and I understand that. I think maybe you do, and others - but when you get older you see a lot of stuff and you learn to negotiate in a lot of different situations, and it's better to be flexible (but only so far). Because of science I have had to give up some pet ideas of my own. I have friends who oppose vaccination or the genetic modification of food - and they're misinformed. I bought into the "Grassy Knoll" idea of the JFK assasination, and was convinced by the science that debunked a second gunman.

I am willing to sacrifice my small truths to serve a larger truth. I am willing to sacrifice my truths when they no longer describe reality. But I need a naturalistic methodology to do this. That I also have a naturalistic, materialist philosphy obviously horrifies people, but tell me that something cannot be done - like being an atheist and a moral person, or describing a purely naturalistic philosophy - and I'm going to want to do it! That is me, and how I've always been. I identify with the heretics of history, who advanced our knowledge with their "lack of faith." I sat the whole time in church thinking, "I am just not one of these people," and I didn't choose that. Faith is security, certainty; I need adventure. I need uncertainty, and there simply aren't many people like that. There are different kinds of people.

Dembski says that the measure of love is the measure of one's willingness to sacrifice. When are he and his friends, and you, going to see that the naturalistic methodology of science provides scientists with exactly a means of sacrifice that they understand? Is walking into the unknown a form of sacrifice? Can he, and you, and the others at UD look at "Darwinists" that way?

Would he and Behe really be unhappy to see scientists finally describe the evolution of the flagellum or the immune system? Wouldn't this be a gift?

Perhaps I can't answer your questions about truth to anyone's satisfaction. But for me, reality is what happens, and my actions in the world become a part of reality. In response to how we know truth, or how we can be moral people, ultimately all I can offer are my actions in the world, and my thoughts and emotions about acting. That, ultimately, is my materialist philosophy, if I have one: we learn by doing; words are often inadequate; actions cause changes in actual people's lives. Reality is participatory, but that's not what I get from intelligent design. I don't want to sit and talk about how Somebody Else did something, any more than I want to watch other people live on the TV. I want to do something.

April 03, 2007 11:14 AM  
Blogger Kristine said...

Assuming of course, people let me.

April 03, 2007 4:41 PM  
Blogger Crandaddy said...

I just had a lengthy response ready to post and then accidentally erased it. *AARRRRGH!!!*

Let me say this though:

Speaking for myself, I think that the search for naturalistic mechanisms to explain natural phenomena is fully the right of the scientist. If scientists discover how the flagellum or whatever else could have evolved, good for them, but is it possible that there are things in the observable world which naturalism can't explain? The issue is not naturalism vs. "supernaturalism" but whether or not mind explanations are dispensable in full explanatory accounts of natural phenomena.

April 03, 2007 11:26 PM  
Blogger Kristine said...

but is it possible that there are things in the observable world which naturalism can't explain?

How can we know, unless we at least try? And to eliminate naturalism, we must first fully exhaust all naturalistic explanations. To do that we must first look for naturalistic explanations, understanding that just because we don't have one now is no reason to walk away from it.

The issue is not naturalism vs. "supernaturalism" but whether or not mind explanations are dispensable in full explanatory accounts of natural phenomena.

Again, naturalistic methodology is what we have. It is what is under our control. We assume a naturalistic explanation and propose testable hypotheses. I don’t see any other way.

I believe that science must, and that science will, account for consciousness, yes. If it does not, I don’t know what other tools we have. I don’t think that this will reduce the mind, since I don’t think that the “selfish gene” theory leads to biological determinism or machiavellianism. But if an explanation is not a natural, what else is there but extra- or supernaturalism? I guess I don't understand the question.

April 04, 2007 3:22 PM  
Blogger Crandaddy said...

Sorry for the delayed response. School and work keep me very busy…

Naturalism cannot countenance mind which is irreducible to rote nonmental mechanism. Philosophical naturalism cannot allow mind as an ontological simple, and methodological naturalism cannot allow its epistemic irreducibility.

Design is intentional. This is to say that in order for there to be real design, there must be an intentional representation of that which is to be designed. I represent some nonexistent physical state of affairs X as something to be done, and X is instantiated as a result of my intentional representation. When you see the words that I write, for example, you believe (I suppose) that there exist intentional representations in some other mind so that the words you read exhibit meaningful derived intentionality and are not the result of nonmental naturalistic processes.

What is at issue here is the justification of belief that mind has acted. Is it possible that I could be having some sort of seizure at my computer without any mental attitudes invested into what you read? If you see someone have a seizure, how do you distinguish it from genuine intentional behavior? Design inferences enable us to identify instances of derived intentionality in nature by contrasting them with the nonmental activity of chance and necessity, and it is the fundamental incompatibility of mind within a naturalistic theoretical framework which enables this—where mind has caused, naturalistic process could not have caused because the essential first-person ontology of intentional representation cannot be fit into the third-person ontology of natural mechanism.

The level of human affairs is one at which most agree intentional explanations can’t be eliminated, so most naturalistic scientists and philosophers work to try to reconcile mind at the level of humans and perhaps higher animals with naturalism. But if mental explanations are admissible when a sculpture is carved or when a surgical operation is performed or when a person is convicted of murder, then what should preclude their admissibility when a diachronic reduction of the heart which pumps blood throughout the body or the rotary propeller on the back of a bacterium is offered? Certainly the embodiment of the designer or his method isn’t important. Embodiment and method are physical terms, and as we’ve seen, the intentional representation which is a necessary prerequisite of design cannot be found anywhere among the workings of physical processes because of its essential first-person ontology.

So the question of whether or not mind (or intelligent design) is dispensable in a diachronic causal account of biological structures or any other natural phenomena becomes a question of whether or not naturalistic processes offer an adequate explanation. If mind explanations are admissible at all, then they are admissible across the board; embodiment is irrelevant.

April 06, 2007 4:39 PM  
Blogger Kristine said...

*Emerges from the weekend as if reeling from a blow*
Please don’t apologize. Have I even responded to your question yet? You probably think I’m just trying to avoid you. ;-)

Actually, I’m looking up all of your words (which is a little humiliating) and I have finals coming up.

Stand by.

April 09, 2007 12:35 PM  
Blogger Crandaddy said...

Yes, it can be a overwhelming. What I'm presenting isn't trivial. It's stuff I've studied and obsessed over for a long time, and I can understand how someone who isn't familiar with it may be a little intimidated.

At least you have an open mind and seem to be willing to try to understand my point of view. That's a helluva lot more than I can say for others who, rather than engage, attempt to understand, or even acknowledge the points of my argument, see fit to simply write me off as an uneducated hack.

April 09, 2007 7:01 PM  
Blogger Crandaddy said...

A problem of mine is that I'm not very good at conveying information in an easily digestible manner. My style of presentation has led some to think that I try to obfuscate my arguments, but I don't. If you have difficulty understanding something I've written or in one of the links I've provided, ask me and I'll try to clarify it.

April 09, 2007 8:04 PM  
Blogger Kristine said...

At least you have an open mind

Heh heh. I must also be "open-minded" about my gobbledygook taxes, my metadata assignment, and my finals. Yeah, that's good. ;-)

April 10, 2007 1:31 PM  
Blogger Kristine said...

Unfortunately, there is just too much that naturalism cannot explain. For one thing, it cannot explain why anything contingent exists in the first place. I would argue further that it cannot explain what existence is, or truth, or causation.

Well, here goes some “open-mindedness”: why not? I really don’t get it. Does he mean that a circle cannot “explain” roundness? Granted, because a circle explains nothing, but roundness is still an intrinsic attribute of the circle, because the circle has shape – but the circle doesn’t know that it has shape. We are the ones who see what we all have agreed is a circle, named it a circle, and agreed to call its intrinsic property “roundness.” We can do this because we have a cerebral cortex that evolved in response to increasing reliance upon symbolic language (higher animals also use or at least can use some forms of symbolic language). So I’m not understanding something here.

We are the ones who give names to things, therefore not only making these things projections of our minds but giving ourselves an idea of “aboutness.” Aboutness has meaning for us but it doesn’t necessarily exist in some Platonic realm. But I don’t know if that’s what he’s saying.

This stuff does remind me of Artaud, who spent his life describing over and over again that weird realm where body (brain) is mind and mind is body, and at the end of his life he decided that matter was an act of Will, of Mind, and that if we could just think the right thoughts we would spontaneously regenerate ourselves and never die! ;-)

(I’m not saying your maverick philosopher here agrees, I’m just talking about what I know about.) Artaud went insane, and yet he was such a forward thinker about many things, and yet he failed in what he tried to do. His Correspondence avec Jacques Rivière is my favorite of his works.

I know I’m not answering your question. The truth is, I’m not sure what the problem is, if mind, as I said, is an action of the brain. I feel like I’m just repeating myself. Are you asking at what point intentionality arises from physical matter? Or are you asking if matter is, well (I’m not trying to be smart here) material? Because there’s all that quantum theory – we can go there if you want…it’s been a while for me…

April 10, 2007 1:56 PM  
Blogger Kristine said...

I can't for the life of me remember the title or the author of this incredible book that I read several years ago (because I'm getting senile I guess), about how the brain works when thinking and dreaming, about how there are four hemispheres rather than just the left/right brain false dichotomy, and how all of the brain is utilized all of the time – how the cerebral cortex is used even when feeling anger, how the “lower” animal brain (I don’t see animals as “lower”) is used even when the brain is solving a complex mathematical problem, etc. I also suggested this book (if I can ever find it again) to my co-workers because this issue of how the brain learns has come up at work, as well.

I haven't read this, but John read a book by Antonio Damasio called The feeling of what happens : body and emotion in the making of consciousness and that sounds like something you're after.

Your maverick philosopher is beginning to sound like one of these “How is it that existence exists?” people. This is a confusion of two different uses of the verb “to exist.” We use language to describe reality, but reality exists. Our concepts about it existing exist because we do. They don’t exist independently of us. You’re not going to like this answer but I think you need to look at what neurology has to offer you, rather than thinking about thinking.

It’s like the color green in pigment. Green is emergent when you mix yellow and blue. It’s there, but it wasn’t there before. Does that make green “neither matter nor energy”? Of course not. We have a perception of green and a unique human reaction to green that would not exist without us (because our reactions and perceptions are emergent, too), but the specific wavelengths of the visible light spectrum that our eyes interpret as green objectively exist out there. We don’t have to call it “green” – we could call it anything – but the phenomenon exists. So I think your philospher is wrong.

April 10, 2007 4:53 PM  
Blogger Crandaddy said...

Compared to the Maverick Philosopher I really am an uneducated hack, but here goes…

Let naturalism be the thesis that the spacetime system is all that exists so that any entity which is not contained therein is supernatural and therefore doesn’t exist. I believe this is the working definition that Vallicella uses.

On contingency…

Those things which are contingent are not necessary in the tight logical sense. They exist (or they might exist), but they might not. It is not necessary for them to exist, so why do contingent objects exist at all? Everything which occupies space and time is contingent. Now whether or not such objects began to exist is irrelevant. They might always have existed into the infinite past, but why do they exist when they might not ever have come into existence? This is a question that the naturalist seems helpless to answer. A theist, on the other hand, could say that contingent objects exist because God wills them to exist.

On causation…

In our day-to-day lives, we suppose that nature tends to follow a deterministic course. When you see something happen (some observable phenomenon comes into being), you tend to believe that a preexisting state of the natural order was configured in such a way that the observed phenomenon occurs as a result of certain of its properties. Following Aristotle, let’s call these properties the efficient causes of the phenomenon in question. The problem the naturalist faces in accounting for causation is (in my view at least) part and parcel of the problem of contingency: the clockwork determinacy of the natural order is contingent and not necessary. That the state of the natural order A at time T1 always begets state B at time T2 is simply an observed fact. If the space of logical possibilities permits more than one outcome, then one can rightly wonder why the observed outcome is the one which always occurs. The naturalist is thus helpless to offer ultimate explanations to causal determinacy. Furthermore, she can’t appeal to logical necessity in any case since, as I tried to show in our discussion on the previous thread, naturalistic contingency can’t claim the normativity of absolute, immutable, and Platonic logical laws.

On truth…

Propositions are representations the content of which can be true or false, so truth can be viewed as a property of true propositions. As we’ve seen above, naturalism (as we use the term here) is the thesis that the spacetime system is all that exists, so whatever exists, under naturalism, is bound by space and time. Now truth, being the property of the content of a proposition, can’t exist if propositions don’t exist since only propositional content can be true or false. Let’s say that the content of the proposition expressed by the mathematical expression 2+3=5 is true (as I’m sure we both agree). It’s important at this point to distinguish the proposition itself from the natural medium of communication. Thus the digital image you see on your computer screen 2+3=5 is, all by itself, meaningless. There are just senseless, mindless physical particles interacting in space and time to produce a senseless, meaningless display on a screen. In other words, the meaning is not intrinsic to the computer or the screen. The expression only has meaning within a mind. The content of a proposition is essentially mental, so if the naturalist is to say that propositions and their property of truth exist, she must say that they exist somewhere in space and time. The problem here is conceptual. Propositions aren’t the sort of things which can occupy space and move about in it. It’s nonsensical to speak of the propositional content of the expression 2+3=5 as occupying a certain space at one time and then moving somewhere else at another. Hence, the naturalist is helpless to offer a satisfactory account of truth.

As for existence, I won’t go into that one. He’s written an entire book on the nature of existence which I haven’t read. I’m afraid I’d be venturing into waters too deep for me tread.

I’m not sure what you’re getting at with the talk of circles. Could you clarify?

April 12, 2007 2:09 AM  
Blogger Crandaddy said...

I know I’m not answering your question. The truth is, I’m not sure what the problem is, if mind, as I said, is an action of the brain. I feel like I’m just repeating myself. Are you asking at what point intentionality arises from physical matter? Or are you asking if matter is, well (I’m not trying to be smart here) material? Because there’s all that quantum theory – we can go there if you want…it’s been a while for me…

The only question I can see that I asked is this: “[I]s it possible that there are things in the observable world which naturalism can't explain?” I really intended this more as a rhetorical question than a petition for a rigorous, in-depth response. It’s just something to think about, in other words. In this case, by ‘naturalism’ I mean the explanatory enterprise whereby the mental is fully reducible to the nonmental. Where “X exists because God or some other mind wants it to exist” can be adequately reduced to “X exists because recognizably nonmental phenomena A, B, C, etc. are observed to have occurred and/or presently occur, and they are sufficient to provide a complete account of X”. To answer my own question, I’m afraid that I am compelled not only answer it in the affirmative but even to entertain the question of whether there is anything at all that naturalism can explain. The more I think about it, the more naturalism seems to diminish as an adequate explanation for anything.

This is all I can write for now. More to come…

April 12, 2007 2:11 AM  
Blogger Kristine said...

I’m not sure what you’re getting at with the talk of circles. Could you clarify?

The circles are under my eyes. But seriously, what I meant was that Egnor seems to think that a quality (like roundness) that we ascribe to a real thing via language actually exists out there somewhere, and I don’t think it does, although it refers to a shape and a smoothness that the object objectively (appropriate word, that) has.

The only question I can see that I asked is this: “[I]s it possible that there are things in the observable world which naturalism can't explain?”

But how can we begin to answer that until we exhaust all naturalistic possibilities? That’s all science is, really. I mean I cannot firmly answer this question in the negative, but the natural is what he have control over. How many times have people said that there was no natural explanation, only to discover that there was?

It’s nonsensical to speak of the propositional content of the expression 2+3=5 as occupying a certain space at one time and then moving somewhere else at another.

I don’t agree. You have made an appropriate division between the concept and its numeric representation on the screen. There we agree. But you have not made another appropriate division between the concept, which exists in the human brain, and the reality, which does occupy space and time.

For example, 2 + 3 = 5 in the computer. The computer is, at its base, a machine made of switches. Switches have only two states: on and off. (Are “on” and “off” proposals that do not exist in space-time? How about “day” and “night”? No, of course they exist. Do you see what I mean?) Without getting into binary language (because I’m pretty rusty in that area), 2 + 3 = 5 no matter if you calculate using decimal arithmetic, or if you calculate using binary arithmetic, as the computer does. It does not matter what mathematics you use because 2 + 3 = 5 is a property of the physical world. Where? Nowhere, and everywhere. It is simply how nature behaves. It never behaves any other way. 2 + 3 = 5 is a behavior that the universe displays. (Why? I don’t know.)

Likewise, a concept really exists in the brain – it physically resides there. Not in one place – in multiple places in the brain in pieces, and must be reassembled when one thinks (the word remembering is literally re-membering, recreating, reassembling something). Through brain imaging, we can see how the brain behaves and where it displays activity when we have ideas and concepts, as well as feelings and sensations. The brain stores concepts in pieces, and so does the computer (although a computer does this very differently from the human brain).

Did you see the PBS documentary with Alan Alda (I can’t remember the name) in which a sighted person donned a blindfold for a few weeks? Brain imagining showed that the same areas of the brain that sight previously activated were adapting to become touch activated. The very same brain cells were reprogramming themselves. I have experienced this myself, because I have OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder). I will have awful thoughts that frighten me for no reason (this is actually the most common form of OCD). Most, if not all, people have these thoughts; they are random, irrational, and largely unconscious; they don’t mean anything; but some people (like me) are very sensitive to them and take them seriously, dwell on them, seeking to prevent the horrible behavior that we’re afraid we’ll commit (when in fact there’s no chance we’d really do it) and making ourselves suffer. The illness is not the thoughts themselves but our fear of the thoughts. Believe me, it’s horrible – and believe me, I rarely suffer from it anymore. Through a series of behavioralist techniques (and I have always hated behavioralism) I made this mental pain go away almost entirely. My change in behavior helped to “rewire” the brain, because behavior can physically change the brain, and thus changed my thoughts. ("It is the action which shapes the thought" - Antonin Artaud)

Also, there is a lot of evidence that OCD is genetic; that in itself indicates that thoughts reside in the brain and that thought-patterns can be passed down from one generation to the next!

The naturalist is thus helpless to offer ultimate explanations to causal determinacy. But what about quantum mechanics? The supposed determinism that we see is due to the fact that the position and momentum of objects in our particular realm are too large to let us see the quantum uncertainties that exist at the level of the subatomic particles that comprise these objects (I’m not saying that right – rusty here, too).

April 16, 2007 3:35 PM  
Blogger Kristine said...

If I may add a tidbit about OCD and the experience of having frightening thoughts [okay, I realize that this is off-topic but I never know when to introduce this idea of mine and anyway, this is my blog and I’ll get off-topic if I want! ;-) ]: The whole Blasphemy Challenge was silly and childish, but I thought perhaps something else was going on there that could be therapeutic.

It seems to me that a lot of Christians display some OCD behavior regarding the idea of blaspheming the Holy Spirit (“I mustn’t think it. I mustn’t think anything bad about the Holy Spirit. Blah blah *thinks blasphemous thought about Holy Spirit*. OMG, I just thought it! I’m damned! I didn’t mean it. Please don’t let me be damned. Blah blah *thinks blasphemous thought again* Oh no!” etc.) Tammy Faye Baker writes about doing this to herself in her biography and I had sympathy for her, and I bet it goes on all the time.

You’re going to think I’m just saying this because I’m an atheist but one of the behavioral techniques to combat OCD is to go ahead and think the awful thought - over and over and over. Give yourself, say, 10 minutes, and think it, over and over again (which is precisely what you don’t want to do because you’re also afraid that thinking it makes you more likely to commit it, which is also not true). Chances are, after two minutes, your mind will get tired of being shocked at what is just a thought after all, and wander off onto other topics. (I actually discovered this technique on my own.) So you see, not all thoughts start with an intention.

Even if God exists, my advice to believers who suffer from the fear that they’ve damned themselves by a thought is to go ahead and think it – may as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb – and anyway, once you do this, you realize how silly the whole thing is, because a thought doesn’t count unless you mean it. Even an atheist can interpret scripture humanistically and say that the Holy Spirit is the force that sustains the world (i.e., nature), something I could never truly blaspheme. (Some people think that “God is Love” whatever that means, and no, I don’t blaspheme love either, although the statement doesn’t tell me anything.) Once you use this technique you see how silly the fear was – and OCD is all about fear. (You don’t have to videotape yourself doing it, however.)

Well, anyway, end of OCD/Blasphemy Challenge rant. My point is, compulsive thought does not involve an intention. It’s a behavior that is due to a tendency that is largely genetic – because the mind can be explained naturalistically. And that’s good news to me, because it was precisely my conviction that my compulsive thoughts reflected on my morality that made the behavior worse. But condemning myself didn't stop the thoughts - the behavioralist techniques did.

April 16, 2007 4:05 PM  
Blogger Crandaddy said...

The circles are under my eyes.

I can't see 'em.

How many times have people said that there was no natural explanation, only to discover that there was?

There's a difference between explaining what is 'out there'--that which can be understood from a third-person perspective--and first-person experience itself--including the very phenomenon of conceptualization from which arises explanation.

You have made an appropriate division between the concept and its numeric representation on the screen. There we agree. But you have not made another appropriate division between the concept, which exists in the human brain, and the reality, which does occupy space and time.

If two physical items are added to three others, you have a total of five physical items. This seems to be the case whether or not minds exist. What is of interest to philosophers of mind is the conceptual abstraction. A mathematical expression is an abstract concept which can be exemplified by or represented in physical states. We're contemplating the nature of the source--the nature of the concept itself within the mind. And for a concept to be a concept, it must have an essential, intrinsic semantic content. The problem is that matter can't have an essential, intrinsic semantic content. Matter all by itself without any minds doesn't mean anything.

To be sure, neuroscientists are solving the neurophysiological problems of consciousness (i.e. how brain chemistry and structure relates to cognitive processes and experience), but I'm pretty sure they'll never discover the secret of conscious experience itself.

To help you understand the depth of the problem, consider the following scenario: Let's say that one day scientists claim to have discovered a concept in a person's brain. Of couse, for a concept to be a concept, it has to have a content; it has to be a concept of something. So the scientists tell their subject to think of 2+3=5, and they look until they think they've found it in his brain. They then hold a press conference to announce their discovery and are asked by the curious media to describe what they had discovered and maybe show some pictures. How could they possibly describe what they had discovered? If they took a picture, what could it possibly look like? The brain state may be described as having certain electrochemical properties. Neurons may fire in a particular pattern. Atoms and molecules may move and interact with each other in a particular manner, and subatomic particles may do likewise. In any case, the most they could possibly see or describe is stuff, possibly exhibiting shapes and colors, occupying space and possibly moving. What they could not have seen is the semantic content of 2+3=5 because nowhere in the movements and interactions of material stuff is a semantic content of 2+3=5 or anything else to be found.

Did you see the PBS documentary with Alan Alda (I can’t remember the name) in which a sighted person donned a blindfold for a few weeks? Brain imagining showed that the same areas of the brain that sight previously activated were adapting to become touch activated.

I haven't seen it, but it sounds interesting. I guess he could 'see' object forms by feeling them? Did the ability subside when he got his eyes back?

I rarely suffer from [OCD] anymore. Through a series of behavioralist techniques (and I have always hated behavioralism) I made this mental pain go away almost entirely. My change in behavior helped to “rewire” the brain, because behavior can physically change the brain, and thus changed my thoughts. ("It is the action which shapes the thought" - Antonin Artaud)

I'm glad you've managed to get your problem under control by yourself. Some people need medication to help them control their impulses, and some even need surgery. I once heard of a man who, no matter how hard he tried, couldn't stop counting to some particular number (I think 30) over and over and over, so he underwent a brain operation which helped him to stop. It's funny how there are some things we can control (or seem to be able to control) and some things we can't.

But what about quantum mechanics? The supposed determinism that we see is due to the fact that the position and momentum of objects in our particular realm are too large to let us see the quantum uncertainties that exist at the level of the subatomic particles that comprise these objects (I’m not saying that right – rusty here, too).

I don't know a whole lot about QM. One curiosity about it seems to be that there are events at the quantum level which appear to have no cause and are therefore truly random hence what is called 'quantum indeterminacy'. Determinism or not, we're still dealing with contingency. Why did the particle behave in this manner as opposed to that?

April 18, 2007 12:13 AM  
Blogger Crandaddy said...

So you see, not all thoughts start with an intention.

It’s important not to confuse “intention” with “intentionality”. One can entertain an intentional state without intending to act. An intentional state is a mental state which has a content, an aboutness; it is directed toward some object. When you have a thought about something, you entertain an intentional mental state. To intend something is to entertain a particular type of intentional state. It’s to represent some state of affairs as the object of action, whereas intentional states in general are just representations. Yes, I know it’s confusing. I’ve wondered why philosophers call them “intentional states” when intent is only one species thereof.

April 18, 2007 12:23 AM  
Blogger Kristine said...

You’re right, I’m conflating the two concepts because I don’t know what I’m talking about and you’re way more educated than me on this stuff. Because I’m speaking at the limits of my knowledge I actually found a library book last night by a brain scientist that looks like it deals with precisely your question: How Brains Make Up Their Minds by Walter J. Freeman. I saw the word ‘qualia’ defined in it, and ‘intent,’ and ‘intentionality’ both as Aquinas and Piaget defined it. It talks about assimilation, Spinoza, etc. But –

He’s a scientist who thinks he has naturalistically explained the most elusive of concepts – intent and choice, or what is called free will. It sounds like he thinks he can also explain your question about how thoughts have content. I admit that scientists cannot “take a picture” of someone’s thought, or memory. Maybe it can be done, or maybe it can’t. I’ll see what this guy has to say. He gets into chaos theory (oh goodie) too.

There's a difference between explaining what is 'out there'--that which can be understood from a third-person perspective--and first-person experience itself--including the very phenomenon of conceptualization from which arises explanation.

But I think there is a third-person explanation of self .(This makes me think of Artaud again but I won’t get into that.) For example, through communication we try to establish a third-person explanation of what is going on inside another person. But, as I said, I don’t know enough about the subject. That statement about a third-person explanation of a first-person phenomenon really made me think. I don’t have answers yet for you; however, I will say this:

I have never liked naturalistic theories of mind that simply dismissed the reality of free will, and I picked out this book because the author expressly deals with the question of human conscious choice. It drives me nuts when Denyse says that people like me don’t believe in free will. I definitely do and always have, and not because I’m “borrowing from religion” as someone from UD once said. Frankly, I am a very willful person and I know that the will is a reality. I don’t know that we are completely free – I think addiction has a chemical basis that can override even a strong will. People like Jeffrey Dahmer become monsters quite early and I wonder if they were born that way (and why?). I don’t agree that appealing to strength of character is the answer for everything, but I do believe that children should be taught they have a will, because they do. (Come to think of it I used to debate just this question with a friend in college who was a strict behaviorist and believed in strict genetic-environmental determinism.)

So therefore, I’m proposing that naturalism can and should explain will, but that it won’t look like genetic-environmental determinism any more than today’s physics looks like the old particle-field paradigm. I do think that the answers scientists must give have to not discount people’s intuitive and emotional-cognitive experiences as they experience them. I have no desire to reduce these things. But I can go no further toward an answer until I learn how to use your words and definitions as you use them. I’m going to read this book and try to come up with some kind of answer, I promise. I’m not just putting you off.

I see what you’re saying with the answer not necessarily being supernatural. Bill Dembski said something one (if I remember correctly) that he thought, as chaos turns out to have an underlying order, so randomness may have one. I’ve had exactly the same thought! But then he and I go in different directions with it. He believes in the resurrection of Jesus Christ whereas I speculate that “order” and “randomness” are not opposites, but two manifestations of the same phenomenon, just as “organic” and “inorganic” are in my opinion.

I can’t for the life of me understand why other people are comforted by the idea of God whereas I am very troubled by it and always have been. But then, I’ve always had an issue with authority. (Strong will, again?) It doesn’t tell me anything to say that “contingent objects exist because God wills them to exist.” Okay, let’s assume this is true. How does He do it, then? Why can He do it? And if God has always existed rather than being created by or having usurped another God, does He know why He exists? What does He think about Himself? Can He remain sane, being the only person/thing in true existence, and doesn’t everything truly exist in terms of relationships? By whose authority is God God, and how do we know what He says (via whatever scripture) is true is actually true, or right, or good? Just because He allegedly says so? It could just be His fantasy, or He could be lying – where is the origin of lies, if God is truth?. I mean, it does not satisfy me to shuffle questions of truth or existence upon another being or consciousness. If He created me, then He created me this way – and I can’t quiet these questions. But no one in church or Bible study or whatever has even tried to answer them – they just say, “Don’t think of that,” or “If you don’t love God, you’re going to hell.” Well…

Another thing that I think but cannot prove is that consciousness exists on a continuum with the animal world. Here’s a link about that.

Did the ability subside when he got his eyes back?

Yep. The brain cells started reprogramming themselves for sight. That show was really freaky. I wish I could remember the name of it. I wish I could remember the title of that other book I mentioned earlier (so I could show it to people at work, too). Arrg!

Why did the particle behave in this manner as opposed to that?

But when it exhibits evidence of having behaved in both ways? That’s what we’re talking about. (QM gets really weird. I’ll have to do a post on it.)

April 20, 2007 1:24 PM  

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