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How God Can Know and Cause a Universe of Things

Nature of the Problem

God is absolutely simple, meaning that he is not composed of parts, principles, or things. He is a spiritual being, since what is physical is subject to motion and God, as Unmoved First Mover, cannot be subject to motion.

It seems unimaginable that a simple, pure spirit could both know and cause the nearly infinite myriad of things that God has created. Yet, it is demonstrable that he causes each creature and knows each one individually.

That God causes all finite things follows from the proofs for his existence, since the arguments run from finite effects back to the infinite cause, which is God. Since (1) every finite being is actually being created as it is sustained in existence, and since (2) infinite power is needed to create anything, the First Cause must have infinite power. Infinite power resides solely in an Infinite Being. Were there two such beings, one would limit the power of the other. Since only one being has the infinite power needed in order to create things, it follows that all finite things are created by that single Infinite Being.

God, though perfectly simple, somehow creates untold numbers of finite things. Yet, it seems utterly counterintuitive that an absolutely simple First Cause could produce nearly infinite effects either in a single act or in multiple acts that cause the unimaginable multiplicity of creatures.

God’s intellectual nature is manifest from the fact that some creatures have intellectual abilities. Since God cannot cause intellectual perfections that he himself lacks, God must be intellectual. And, if God creates all things, he must know what he creates. Still, if God knew creatures the way we know things, his knowledge would depend on observing them. But, the Uncaused First Cause cannot depend on another for anything. He is his own sufficient reason for existing and acting. Therefore, God cannot know creatures by observing them as we do. Rather, it must be that God knows himself as Creator of all things -- thereby knowing every least detail of everything to which his creative causality extends.

Were God simply another material entity, such omniscience would be impossible. God’s spiritual nature will be seen as the key to how he can cause and know an infinite myriad of things – in a single act of knowledge that is identical to his act of creating.

A Third Way of Existing

There are three ways that things can exist: (1) materially, (2) spiritually, and (3) in an intermediate state between matter and spirit. Following the father of modern Western philosophy, Rene Descartes, most people think in terms of things being either material or spiritual, with no third alternative being possible. By “matter,” is meant that which is extended or locatable in space. This would include physical forces and energy fields. By “spirit,” we understand that which is neither extended nor locatable in space and is utterly independent of matter.

But, what if something that is not extended in space is still dependent on matter for its existence? Such a thing would constitute the third alternative described above: an intermediate state between physical matter and pure spirit.

Examining the sense of sight shows that something belonging to this third category of reality actually exists. When something is seen, it is seen as a whole: top and bottom, left to right. Thus, when I see a tree, I see the whole tree in a single act of sight. If my perception were not so unified, I could never know a whole tree -- only tiny, unconnected, and unintelligible “pieces.” But, the tree itself is extended in space, and is seen by me as so extended. Can a purely physical entity “apprehend” the whole of anything in this unified fashion? No, it cannot.

Consider a TV screen’s image of that tree. Hundreds of thousands of pixels create the image of the tree. Yet, no single pixel contains the whole image. Different pixels illuminate to represent different parts of the whole image. But, the viewer sees the whole image all at once. That is one reason why TV screens don’t see their own images. Yet, a dog, bounding into the room, instantly sees the tree on the screen – as a unified whole. Indeed, it can see many trees at once.

Every physical device “apprehending” an external sense object entails reception and storage of data on a physically extended medium, such as a CD, DVD, monitor screen, tape, chip, microchip, nanochip, or some such entity. In every one of these devices, data is stored or displayed with one part representing one part of the external object, and a distinct part representing another distinct part of the object.

Nothing represents the whole as a whole – for the simple reason that it is physically impossible.

The only way to get the whole image on a TV screen as a whole would be to collapse the vertical and horizontal dimensions to a single “dot” in the center of the screen – such as old picture tube TV’s did when turning them off. Now you have perfect unity – only you have lost your picture, since all the photons are hitting the same spot! Analogously, the same logic applies to every other medium of data reception or storage: reducing the data to perfect unity would entail so overlapping data upon itself as to render it meaningless.

This same analysis applies to all forms of sensory knowledge, whether sight, sound, taste, touch, smell, or any other possible form. Because sensory data, by definition, is extended in space, it is impossible to receive or record physically complex data on a single unitary physical “pixel” (for want of a better term).

Note that, although a material entity cannot know the “whole” of anything, a dog that watches television can see an image of another dog on the screen and bark at it! The reason is simple. While the body of the dog (including its brain) may be physically extended in space, nonetheless, its apprehension of the image on the screen is received as a “whole” solely because the dog has an immaterial soul with immaterial sense faculties, which enable him to see the image as a whole. TV screens and other physical representational devices know nothing at all, since they cannot “take in” the wholeness of sense objects, which alone constitutes real knowledge of things.

What is physically extended in space is inherently multiple, since it has parts outside of parts. This is why a physical entity can never “express” the wholeness of another physical entity in a single “pixel” of its makeup. Rather, part A must represent part A of the object represented, and part B represents part B, and so forth – but no single part represents the whole as such. No single physical part apprehends the whole all at once.

This would work similarly for senses other than sight. Various electronic “sensing” and “recording” devices designed to detect external sense objects of various senses will require diverse technological mechanisms. Still, in each case the discrete physical parts of whatever physical medium data is held on will necessarily face the intrinsic limitation that each physical element can only represent a single bit of information (probably in binary form), while no single bit unifies in a single act of “apprehension” the entire sense object it represents. Even a collectivity of bits explains nothing, since each bit represents only a part of the whole, and nothing represents the whole all at once.

Nor can one evade this logic by avoiding crude images of atomic entities in favor of esoteric notions of physical forces or energy fields -- since the essence of any physical reality entails extension in space, wherein the same problem arises of discrete parts representing discrete parts of the object known, but nothing adequately representing the unified whole.

Metaphysical Materialism is Simply Untrue

Only an immaterial cognitive faculty, that is, one not extended in space, can actually apprehend the wholeness of any sensed object. Moreover, in the same act, the sense faculty can apprehend many individual wholes at once, as in a flock of birds.

How does an immaterial sense faculty unify the object of perception into a meaningful whole? Knowing how an immaterial entity “works” would require knowing how to make one -- something that exceeds human capabilities. Still, I know a sense faculty can do it, because I actually sense meaningful wholes in sensory experience. That is, in a single act, I see a whole moose or experience hearing a complete melody or am aware that I am touching the total surface of a sphere. No purely physical entity can adequately explain this fact.

Sight’s ability to apprehend its object as a whole is sufficient to show that at least one external sense faculty must be immaterial. Because an animal’s sensitive soul is immaterial – that is, because it is not extended in space, even animals can experience the unified wholeness of sense objects – and many such wholes simultaneously.

Purely materialistic metaphysic’s essential problem is that sense cognition’s immaterial nature is what enables the knower to apprehend the physically extended object as a unified whole. In so doing, immaterial cognition achieves something that mere extended matter cannot do, namely, it can unify in a single simple act what in physical reality is extended in space and multiple in parts.

Some materialists admit that certain cognitive acts cannot be expressed in purely material terms. Yet, they insist that these “epiphenomena” somehow “emerge from” purely physical matter. That is, they are simply a product of physical matter in some way. The problem with this explanation is that the more perfect cannot be explained by the less perfect. Or, to put it another way, that which is inherently unable to explain the unity of the whole (discrete physical parts) cannot be a sufficient reason for apprehending the thing sensed as a unified whole.

Moreover, this immaterial principle must explain how unity is achieved from multiple sense data. Since a material entity can never explain the unity of its discrete elements, what unifies must not only be immaterial, but must be something within the sentient organism that unifies its discrete material organs into a functional whole respecting sense perception. Such an immaterial principle would be the form or soul of even the lowest sentient organisms.

This means that a purely materialistic explanation of all reality is simply false.

Since neither individual material parts nor their collectivity can explain the unity of the whole which is sensed, it is clear that material physical components of organisms cannot explain the unity of sensation experienced. This argues to some principle of unity that enables the entire organism to act in a manner which none of its material parts or their collective whole can explain. An immaterial principle of unity is needed, such as the substantial form, which functions as an organizing principle of matter according to Aristotle’s hylemorphic (matter-form) theory.

Now, I am not saying that the immateriality required for sensation is the same as the strict immateriality of a spiritual soul. For sense knowledge remains dependent on matter to a certain extent, as evinced by the fact that all such knowledge, even in the imagination, is received “under the conditions of matter.” That is, we sense a tree as extended in space, having weight, color, shape, and so forth. This indicates that sensory knowledge is still dependent on material organs of a material substance, even though the actual sensing faculty must belong to a soul that is not extended in space.

Yet, it remains true that these sensing powers cannot be explained merely in terms of lower physical units, as shown above. Rather, this is one of those “third alternative” cases of something that exists in an intermediate metaphysical state between physical matter and pure spirit. Most importantly, what is clear is that these immaterial sense powers (1) cannot be explained by metaphysical materialism and (2) possess the immaterial quality of being able to unify in a simple cognitive act that which is extended in space and multiple in parts – and even a multiplicity of wholes simultaneously, as when a dozen eggs are seen at once.

The existence of such “intermediate” forms obviously comports with Aristotelian-Thomistic hylemorphic doctrine, but not with the materialist claims of some form of atomism. The key insight is that an immaterial cognitive power can manifest what pure physicalism cannot explain, namely, conscious apprehension, in a unified act of cognition, of multiple objects perceived as wholes – as when we see a stand of trees.

While an analogous and even more striking case can be made for the spirituality of the human intellectual soul, I have studiously avoided this topic for two reasons: (1) it would entail explanation far exceeding this article’s space limitations, and (2) it can be easily demonstrated that immateriality in sense cognition enables even a dumb bunny to do something that metaphysical materialism can never explain, namely, to know in a single, unified act the whole of a sensed object, such as an entire carrot – or even a bunch of carrots all at once.

Such immateriality is the basis for the ability of a single knower to know multiple objects in a single, simple unified act of knowing.

How Immateriality Enables God to Know Multiple Objects

What has all this to do with God’s ability to know and to cause the near infinite multiplicity of the created world? Simply this. While we do not know exactly how the immateriality of God’s or man’s cognition enables them to know multiple, whole objects, or even how animals do it at their own merely sentient level of cognition, still, the fact remains that immateriality is the key to explaining how cognition can unify the complexity of experience into wholes, which can be experienced in a single, unified act of cognition.

Just as animals and man can do this at our own finite and limited levels, by way of transcendent analogy, the same explanation must be applied to God so as to render intelligible how he can know all things and cause all things, even in their near infinite multiplicity – all the while remaining absolutely simple and undivided in himself. We do not need to know exactly how he does this, any more than we need to know how we do it – in order to know that it is true (1) that it happens and (2) that it can happen solely because of the immateriality of the cognitive powers involved.

The analogy is that just as animals can perceive whole sense objects in a unified way and that man can understand many individual natures in a single concept, so too, God can know all things in a single unified act of understanding which is identical to the divine essence.

And, because of the divine simplicity, since God’s act of knowing things is identical with his act of creating them, he both knows and causes to be the innumerable multiplicity of created things in a single, perfectly unified spiritual act.

Dr. Dennis Bonnette

Written by

Dr. Dennis Bonnette retired as a Full Professor of Philosophy in 2003 from Niagara University in Lewiston, New York. He taught philosophy there for thirty-six years and served as Chairman of the Philosophy Department from 1992 to 2002. He lives in Youngstown, New York, with his wife, Lois. They have seven adult children and twenty-five grandchildren. He received his doctorate in philosophy from the University of Notre Dame in 1970. Dr. Bonnette taught philosophy at the college level for 40 years, and is now teaching free courses at the Aquinas School of Philosophy in Lewiston, New York. He is the author of two books, Aquinas' Proofs for God's Existence (The Hague: Martinus-Nijhoff, 1972) and Origin of the Human Species (Ave Maria, FL: Sapientia Press, third edition, 2014), and many scholarly articles.

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  • Jim (hillclimber)

    Thanks for another interesting post.

    To be honest, the reasoning here is not easy for me to digest. This is where you lose me: "Even a collectivity of bits explains nothing, since each bit represents only a part of the whole, and nothing represents the whole all at once."

    I understand that no single bit represents the whole, but the (configured) collection of bits does represent the whole. In what sense does it not? Moreover, the collection of bits is itself a whole ... since "collection" refers to that which is gathered up into a whole. (That said, you used the word, "collectivity". Is that meant to convey something a bit different than "collection"?)

    On the other hand, if the point is that "wholeness" (or "configuration" or "form" or "pattern") is not a material property, I think I can sign up for that. Is that sort of the point?

    • Dennis Bonnette

      I should have said "no bit," rather than "nothing" represents the whole all at once. That would have been more clear.

      Your conclusion is correct. "Wholeness" is not a material property. That is because nothing apprehends the whole all at once except a living subject that can actually experience sense objects. The term, "represents," is a bit misleading, since clearly a map "represents" a territory or land as a whole. But only a human being (or a dog) can see the map as a whole. I used the term, "represents," because that IS what material maps or screens and so forth actually do: but they do NOT "experience" wholes, since that means apprehending what is extended and multiple in a single, unified act.

      The point here is so obvious and so basic that it gets overlooked by those trying to "map out" how perception takes place in material terms. That is why I say it is a simple point at which materialism simply fails the test. It cannot explain it.

      Now I am sure a bunch of materialists will come out of the woodwork to strongly dispute this point, since we are so used to "explaining" things in material terms. But that is why I mention many forms of material "representations" which occur in or on extended media -- none of which really explain anything -- since only a living, sensing being can see or experience anything as a whole.

      • Jim (hillclimber)

        Thanks. So, "sentient perception of wholes" is the phenomenon that you are focusing on, right?

        I may be missing something, but it seems to me like sentience is the key ingredient there. Pattern recognition software does something that can reasonably be called "recognition of wholes", but machines running such software presumably are not sentient.

        But then, if we are talking about sentience, the "perception / recognition of wholes" thing seems to me to be a bit superfluous to the argument. Insofar as sentience refers to first person experience, any science (e.g. physical science) that prescinds from consideration of first person experience is obviously going to be blind to sentience, whether that is sentient experience of wholes or sentient experience of anything whatsoever. So then, insofar as matter is that which is investigable by physical science, sentient experience is immaterial in virtue of the methodology of physical science.

        But I assume that in this line of thinking I am missing something that is special about the recognition of wholes?

        • Dennis Bonnette

          Just as I expected, this article is being very badly misunderstood because the commenters are trying to convert everything I said into something they can understand in purely material terms.

          My point is exactly to get ourselves out of the molecular content of the objects we are sensing and reflect on the act of sensing itself.

          The article should be read -- if you excuse the pun -- as a "whole."

          I am describing something that is experienced as real, but is not the physical objects we normally think we are experiencing. If you presume the act is physical, you will never understand it and it will never explain its own intrinsic nature.

          Saying something is grasped as a whole is to say that all of its multiple and extended parts are grasped in a single NON-extended and NON-multiple manner.

          That was the point of the examples I gave in the article about physical recording and reading devices. None of them achieve what even a dumb bunny does in looking at a carrot -- since the only way they can do it is by having discrete parts representing (not apprehending) discrete parts of the object observed.

          To understand this article, people will have to start reflecting on their own actual experience of the world around them and stop trying to shove everything into physical, molecular models that must be extended in space -- since those models never can do what is needed to explain the unified nature of sensation.

          The problem is that the commenters at the top are trying to imagine sensation as a purely mechanical-molecular entity,, rather than reflecting on their own real experience of the way our sensing unifies the manifold in a manner that no physical object or set of objects can.

          Presuming a materialist explanation of everything amounts to presuming what one is trying to prove -- and, in this case, it is not paying attention to the actual act of experience which can only be known by self-reflection, not by empirical observation of external objects in their own extended, material conditions of existence.

          The article needs to be read slowly and carefully -- and with no preconceived assumptions that everything must be material in order to exist.

          • >trying to convert everything I said into something they can understand in purely material terms.

            I'd say you are only using terms. You are describing this as by analogy to physically seeing material objects.

            The truth of materialism is drawn out by the fact that you have to describe the immaterial in material terms.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            From where some of us sit, precisely the opposite is true. The falsity (or at least, the incompleteness) of materialism is drawn out by the fact that you can't avoid referring to whole objects in your descriptions of reality, yet you (seem to) insist that whole objects don't really exist. You are forced to say that "whole objects" are just useful fictions. It's hard for some of us to imagine why you would sacrifice common sense on the altar of a restrictive philosophy that we have no good reason to adopt in the first place.

          • What do you mean by "whole"?

            For example, if I refer to the Eiffel Tower, what have I left out?

            What is this non-material aspect of the tower that is not captured by its material?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            For example, if I refer to the Eiffel Tower, what have I left out?

            You haven't left anything out. That is a reference to a whole object.

            What is this non-material aspect of the tower that is not captured by its material?

            Its arrangement. It's configuration. Its form. Its wholeness. Its togetherness. Take your pick.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            If you follow hylemorphism, not every "whole" object is one thing. A living being: plant, animal, man is a substantial whole, having a single act of existence. But the Eiffel Tower is simply a pile of things bolted together -- what we call an accidental unity. We may see it as a single object, but it is not a single being as is a simple plant.

            Still, seeing the Tower is a single, simple immaterial act, whereby we grasp its extended material multiplicity (of parts) in one, unified sense experience of the whole. It is for this reason that we name it the Eiffel Tower. Were we only to see its parts discretely, we would not know it as one object.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            the Eiffel Tower is simply a pile of things bolted together

            Don't tell that to Gustave Eiffel!

            But seriously, it seems to me that between substantial unity and accidental unity there should be some intermediate type ... "artifactual unity" perhaps? I perceive the pile of mulch in my driveway as a kinda-sorta unity, but whatever limited principle of unity it may have, it does not seem to be in the same class as unities created deliberately by artists.

            Got anything for me there?

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Sure. An artifact is precisely what you have in mind. It is given a designed unity by a mind, making it one in its fulfillment of its purpose. Thus the car in your driveway manifests magnificent unity of human purpose. All the parts are subordinated to the purpose given by man. The mulch has a modified unity in that you extracted it from an almost formless pile to get the rough amount you need for your gardening purposes. Even there, you did not have it dumped all over your front lawn, but on your driveway as a clump.

            It is hard to imagine anything with no unity at all, since atomic theory gives a certain structure to how things "clump together" according to the rules of chemistry and physics. You cannot totally avoid the "artifactual unity" imposed by God as designer of the cosmos.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            The distinction between extrinsic and intrinsic finality helps here also. A car or watch is an example of extrinsic finality accounting for the accidental unity of the artifact, since an extrinsic designer is responsible for all the parts acting together for a common purpose.

            But in a living thing, such as a plant or animal, you are dealing with a substantial unity which has its own single act of existence for the whole organism. In this case, the finality is said to be intrinsic, since its unity and purpose for acting come from within the substance itself and not from without.

            Logically, atomists or materialists do not concede that substances above the atomic level (whatever that is) actually exist. For them, all unities above the atomic level are what hylemorphists would term, "accidental." And, since they do not believe in any Designer of Nature, they deny finality, except for where there is clear human purpose in making an artifact.

          • First it's arrangement and configuration are the same thing and second the arrangement is material. Its the position of material objects.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            First it's arrangement and configuration are the same thing

            I agree, I didn't mean to imply otherwise. I just meant you can take your pick based on what resonated with you, even if it was just a matter of connotation. I suspected any of those would move the conversation in the same general direction.

            second the arrangement is material.

            I would propose it is more correct to say that it is an arrangement of material. The matter of a cake consists of the ingredients in the cake. The shape isn't one of those ingredients. The ingredients in the cake conform to a shape.

            Its the position of material objects.

            Sure, though I would emphasize that it is the joint, inter-relational positioning -- the way all of those subsidiary objects relate to each other. (Of course, "position" is inherently a relational concept anyway, so this is just a matter of emphasis.)

            So, no real disagreement here. I'll pick up what I see as a point of disagreement in response to your other recent comment.

  • You have introduced this concept of the "whole" of an object that can oy be taken in by sonething with a soul. But you don't define thus concept. Do you mean an awareness or accounting of every particle's velocity and position? Even this is known to be impossible on materialism .But this is not even approaching what we do when we see something. "Seeing" is your brain creating an image from input. And we know this image is often wrong and never accounts for much of the thing actually observed, i.e. it captures nothing of the interior of the object not to mention the chemical make up of the thing.

    As you've provided no argument of what this concept of a whole ws or what a soul is or why one is needed, the entire first part of your OP is confusing.

    >Only an immaterial cognitive faculty, that is, one not extended in space, can actually apprehend the wholeness of any sensed object.

    What is an "immaterial cognitive faculty" and why should I believe one exists?

    >No purely physical entity can adequately explain this fact.

    Sure it can. Your experience of apprehension is the activity of only your material brain.

    I think I'm going to stop there. You are basically saying that there is this immaterial "whole" that materialism can't account for. That's because it doesn't exist.

    • Jim (hillclimber)

      I think you can think of "wholeness" as a sort of "integrated pattern". E.g. the atoms that comprise your body are considered to be part of the whole "you", because they conform to the integrated pattern that defines "you". I'm guessing you would agree that that integrated pattern exists, and that it is not reducible to any of the individual atoms or particles that compose you (?)

      • No, not really. Not specific to a particular object. There are numerous patterns on the sub-atomic, chemical, and physical levels, but these are general patterns common to all matter. There are issues in the quantum level that are less a pattern than a likelihood, I think. There are patterns on all kinds of taxonomical levels... But none of these are "seen" or apprehended in totality. They are different conceptual levels we impose on our observations to make sense of what we see.

        So no I don't agree there is an integrated pattern that is one object. Any material objects is an assortment of patterns and therebis no clear line fundamentally between the object and the rest of the universe .

        • Jim (hillclimber)

          So are you saying that there is no real "you"? Or are you just saying that the demarcation between what is "you" and what is not "you" is a bit fuzzy?

          • breathing, eating, excreting. constantly exchanging matter with the enviornment. definitely a bit fuzzy.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Yes, absolutely.

            And yet through all that, some discernible pattern persists, which we call the whole person. Does it not?

            Again, If Brian is just saying that what differentiates "me" from "not me" is a bit fuzzy, I can only agree. But if he is saying that there is fundamentally no real "me", then I (or "I") find that absurd.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            You are making a valid point here, but it is simply not the one I intended to make in the article!

            You seem to be arguing for the hylemorphic fact that things exist above the atomic level -- that whole beings exist in a manner not explicable simply in terms of their atomic constituents. That is true -- but it would be the point of a very different OP!

            Nobody seems to be "getting" what I am talking about in the OP!

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I know ... my apologies for venturing away from the point of your OP.

            But I'm afraid you are correct. I don't understand the OP myself, and I don't think this is because I am bringing materialist presuppositions to the table. This is what I was trying to get at above: I do see how the existence of first person sentience is incompatible with materialism, and I do see how the existence of whole objects violates materialism, but I don't see how the recognition of whole objects per se is incompatible with materialism. When pattern recognition software finds a solution and identifies, e.g. an authorized fingerprint pattern on an iPhone, it is the pattern of the whole fingerprint, extended in space, that is detected. That in itself doesn't break materialism in any way that is obvious to me.

            Perhaps if you could say a few words to distinguish the algorithmic process of pattern detection from the phenomenon that you are talking about, that would help.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Your analysis is very clear and I really appreciate that.

            I am fully aware that software can "recognize" whole patterns, such as fingerprints. I attempted to explain this fact in the OP in the following paragraph:

            >"Every physical device “apprehending” an external sense object entails reception and storage of data on a physically extended medium, such as a CD, DVD, monitor screen, tape, chip, microchip, nanochip, or some such entity. In every one of these devices, data is stored or displayed with one part representing one part of the external object, and a distinct part representing another distinct part of the object."

            The problem with calling this "recognition" is that the physical "receptor" is simply responding to a pattern, but it itself neither knows anything nor nor does a single physical part of it grasp the whole "all at once."

            We simply have to pay more attention to the act of sensing itself and stop trying to imagine how a physically extended medium can "represent" the whole -- since it never can represent the whole in a simple, unified manner. It must always represent the whole by a one to one correspondence of bits of data to the discrete parts of the external object.

            No one seems to be noticing the most obvious truth here, namely, that if you reflect on your own act of sensing it is NOT extended in space, since it apprehends the external object as a whole in a single act of sensing, which, by definition, is NOT what physical "receptors" can do.

            This is frankly hard to explain, since we are so physicalist in our thinking that we keep trying to imagine a physical receptor medium in our brain -- which is simply NOT what is able to UNIFY the known object in a single act of perception. One has to reflect on this without any materialistic presuppositions.

            Essentially, the point is that the materialist models simply do not explain what is going on here.

            Edit: I suspect that what is going on here is that people are reading the words of my article, and then are superimposing on them the assumption that I cannot mean what I am saying and that some kind of extended physical model in their brain can actually represent the "whole" of the external object. I have tried painfully to explain in the article how and why that materialist explanation simply does not do the job it is assumed to be doing, since parts outside of parts can never be a single thing having no extended parts.

            The unified experience of the diversity of matter points to a principle of unity within us that is not material.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I think I'm perhaps hung up on the fact that in your OP you are closely linking sentience with unification of sense data. It seems to me that those two things can be disentangled.

            I understand that the storage of data on a physical medium does not involve any act of unification. But, a pattern recognition process is completely different from a storage or recording process. A pattern recognition algorithm takes multiple unintegrated data points (or bits, if you like) and integrates all of that into a decision. A formalism like Y = f(x1, x2, ... xn) makes it clear that the outcome of the decision algorithm f is an integrated response to the individual data x1, ... xn. So there we have integration without sentience. (Unless you conceive of integration as something different?)

            With all that said, I think your argument could perhaps still be made, in a way that is unencumbered by considerations of sentience. The logic of the decision / pattern recognition algorithm is not extended in time or space. The logic obviously is physcically encoded, but the logic itself is not material because it is, well, logic. So perhaps it suffices to say that integrative logic exists, and it is not physical, therefore materialism is false?

          • Dennis Bonnette

            What you say about the logic is again quite correct -- and merely underlines the fact that materialism is an inadequate philosophy.

            Still, unless computers do something I no longer understand (and my job title once was "computer programmer" for Ford Division), any algorithm still requires that the logical functors and variables be encoded on some type of extended material medium in the core and storage, wherein the same problem I outlined would obtain, namely, that discrete bits of matter are needed to represent discrete bits of information.

            The actual act of unification of conceptual data takes place only in an unextended intellect or of sense data in an unextended sense faculty -- both of which are powers of an unextended soul.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Here is another key paragraph in the OP that I think is getting overlooked. It explains precisely what I mean when I say that it is physically impossible for a physically extended object to "represent" or "apprehend" or "depict" a whole as a whole:

            >"Nothing represents the whole as a whole – for the simple reason that it is physically impossible."

            >"The only way to get the whole image on a TV screen as a whole would be to collapse the vertical and horizontal dimensions to a single “dot” in the center of the screen – such as old picture tube TV’s did when turning them off. Now you have perfect unity – only you have lost your picture, since all the photons are hitting the same spot! Analogously, the same logic applies to every other medium of data reception or storage: reducing the data to perfect unity would entail so overlapping data upon itself as to render it meaningless."
            (Italics just added.)

          • >Nothing represents the whole as a whole – for the simple reason that it is physically impossible."

            I disagree. I will represent the whole of the planet Saturn... Wait! I just did.

          • [OP]: Every physical device “apprehending” an external sense object entails reception and storage of data on a physically extended medium, such as a CD, DVD, monitor screen, tape, chip, microchip, nanochip, or some such entity. In every one of these devices, data is stored or displayed with one part representing one part of the external object, and a distinct part representing another distinct part of the object.

            Nothing represents the whole as a whole – for the simple reason that it is physically impossible.

            The only way to get the whole image on a TV screen as a whole would be to collapse the vertical and horizontal dimensions to a single “dot” in the center of the screen – such as old picture tube TV’s did when turning them off. Now you have perfect unity – only you have lost your picture, since all the photons are hitting the same spot! Analogously, the same logic applies to every other medium of data reception or storage: reducing the data to perfect unity would entail so overlapping data upon itself as to render it meaningless.

            BGA: I disagree. I will represent the whole of the planet Saturn... Wait! I just did.

            You responded to just the italicized bit, which I have placed in context. Do you think what you've said is still true, given that context?

          • Yep. The non-italics part is talking about replicating, not representing. But of course neither "whole" or "represent" is defined.

          • As a lawyer, I sure hope you know the difference between representing and signifying. Yeah there's overlap in the terms, but they aren't identical. As far as I can tell, you're doing the lawyerly thing of playing with words—which is good for your clients in an adversarial system of law, but bad for charitable interpretation. Playing your game, I could have simply cited Wiktionary: synecdoche: "A figure of speech that uses the name of a part of something to represent the whole." But I think everyone knows that saying "The Trident emerged and issued an ultimatum" only maps to "Poseidon emerged and issued an ultimatum" if one already has the map in one's head. Your example works only if I've already perceived Saturn and connected that perception with 'Saturn'. This is of course a terrible fit for the OP. And I'd bet you knew that.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            You are right! If we are meaning by "represents" a manner of depicting an image or record of something. That is why the terms "represents" is not a good choice of words, even though we sometimes talk that way when we say that "I have an image in my brain that represents something."

            The more precise term should be "apprehend," which refers directly to the act of perceiving.

            As to why this cannot be done by a physically extended medium, just reread the OP or even the part of it cited in my comment to which you just responded.

            To better grasp the intricacies of this argument, try to find my lengthy exchange with Ryan Beren on that topic further down in this thread.

          • Sure but you weren't talking about apprehending every aspect of an object in all aspects internal and external in most of your discussion you are talking about seeing and representing images.

            What you seem to be now talking about is replicating an object entirely and perfectly. This known to be impossible even on materialism and has nothing to do with this vague concept of spiritual wholeness you advance .

          • Dennis Bonnette

            >"What you seem to be now talking about is replicating an object entirely and perfectly. "

            Wrong on all counts.

            I am not talking about replicating, but the act of perception itself in which any animal becomes subjectively and directly conscious of a sense object or image, as when we see a tree or imagine one.

            I am not talking about knowing the object entirely, but only that we observe it as a whole -- just as when you are looking at the words here on your monitor while simultaneously seeing the whole screen.

            I am not talking about knowing the object perfectly, since the whole is still grasped even if it is blurry -- as long as it is a whole of some sort.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Do you think the following captures the relevant distinction:

            Insofar as my brain manifests a visual field map of some object, I have pictorally sensed the object (more or less in the same way that film senses light), but that alone doesn't account for my perception of relatedness of that which I have sensed. The perception of relatedness (which, I believe, Bernard Lonergan refers to as insight; you could probably tell me if I have that correct?) is neither an exercise in picturing (because pictures are extended in space, but the relatedness of that which is extended in space is not itself extended in space), nor is it a matter of theorizing (because such perception is a matter of direct experience rather than being an exercise in reflecting on experience). The non-pictorial nature of perception of relatedness helps to make sense of the fact that we can perceive a whole even when we have sensed only an incomplete or blurry picture of it.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Frankly, I hesitate to drag Lonergan into this because of his Kantian influence. The danger is that the category of perception of relatedness runs the risk of sounding like one of Kant's a priori forms of all possible cognition, which subjectivises the content of the experience.

            I prefer simply to describe the content of the experience itself as one of perceiving a "whole," since that is exactly what I experience when I look at a tree and see the whole thing all at once, regardless of how good my eyesight is in discerning every detail.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            It wouldn't run that risk for me! But only because my ignorance would protect me from having that thought even occur to me :-) Anyway, OK, fair enough.

          • >I am not talking about knowing the object entirely, but only that we observe it as a whole

            Ok, but you'll agree that then we never apprehend all of any object, right?

            I don't know what you mean at all anymore .

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Of course, we don't apprehend all of any object. God alone does that.

            "Whole" is what you have, as in the example above, when you see the complete screen of your monitor all at once, or, when a wolf sees a "complete" sheep in its sight. This does not mean that the wolf sees the "other side" of the sheep at the same time -- merely, that he sees a complete object all at once on which to act.

            What is immediately evident is that we perceive the whole monitor screen all at once, even though we may be focused on the center of its screen only. The problem for material media is that they can only "represent" other things on a part by part basis, whereas we "apprehend" objects as a whole.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            If you have ever stared at a stereogram for a while and then had that "aha" moment when you perceive the embedded image, you know that:

            1. Between the time when you don't perceive the object and the time that you do, the pixels on the screen have not changed. In other words, the pictorial representation has not changed at all.
            2. Perceiving the object is not a matter of becoming aware of every detail in the image. It is rather a moment when the wholeness of the embedded image is apprehended by you.

          • David Nickol

            This does not seem to be a good example to me. Perception of this image depends on going slightly cross-eyed (or "wide-eyed")—that is, focusing the eyes not on the image itself, but rather on a point either in front of or in back of the image—so that there is a false perception of depth and the hidden image "pops out." It is a kind of stereogram, and if you look at it with one eye closed, there will never be an "aha moment." The very familiar image that morphs between a young lady and an old hag would be better, but I don't think that illustrates your point either, since both images are whole and present at the same time, and it is the brain that causes the viewer to organize the ambiguous image into one form or the other.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I agree with you on the facts but disagree as to whether these are good examples. In spite of, and partly because of, the points you raise, it seems to me that both the stereogram and the young lady / old lady images are good examples to distinguish between mere visual registration of an image on the one hand, and the intellective step in which we, as you say, "organize" (equivalently, we "integrate" it, or "perceive it as a whole") the image into a form.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Just a side observation. You called it an "intellective step."

            No, it is merely a sentient act. That is why I selected it. Even a dumb bunny can do it. It proves nothing about man having a spiritual intellective soul. There are other arguments designed to accomplish that goal.

            I was merely trying to show that, even at the purely animal sentient level, there exists a reality that cannot be explained by reductionism/materialism/atomism.

            It is also a very simple argument, once you grasp that we do perceive wholes in sensation and that materially extended media cannot explain that fact -- as explained in detail in the OP.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I thought you (or someone) might object to calling it an intellective step. I'm open to calling it something else, but it seems to me that, whatever we call it, there is a distinction to be made between sensing per se and appropriating sensation as intelligible. Both are matters of direct experience, but they are not necessarily simultaneous and they are not the same thing. It seems to me that you acknowledge this yourself when you note that the presence of visual field maps in brains does not even begin to explain the perception of those stimuli as intelligible wholes (and yet the presence of the visual field maps surely does reflect sensation per se: whether we are consciously aware of it or not, our bodies have done some sensing at that point).

            I agree that this "rendering sensation intelligible" (or whatever we might call it) is something that even a "dumb bunny" can do, though I think it is misleading to call them "dumb bunnies" for precisely this reason. Whatever bunnies are doing, it involves cognitive processing of breathtaking complexity in order to render the stimuli of binocular vision intelligible.

            My concern here is not to build up to some notion of man having an intellective soul. My concern is simply to understand and elaborate some of the distinctions you have made in this OP. Respectfully, I think your "dot on the TV" passage in the OP is a suggestive analogy, but from my perspective that does not amount to "explain[ing] in detail". That is why I was hoping that the relevant distinctions can be brought out by consideration of what is happening when we have those "aha" moments looking at stereograms.

            EDIT after initial post: "...visual field maps in brains does even begin..." --> "...visual field maps in brains does not even begin ..."

          • Dennis Bonnette

            First, let me say that I do wish that stereogram worked for me, but I got tired of looking at it before it did!

            >"...the presence of the visual field maps surely does reflect sensation per se: whether we are consciously aware of it or not, our bodies have done some sensing at that point)."

            The reason I was concerned about calling anything in seeing a whole an "intellective step" was precisely the same reason I keep noting that even a "dumb bunny" can perceive wholes.

            The whole point (pun again?) I am trying to make is that sensing is NOT an act of the body. Our bodies do NOT do "some sensing" as your comment above says.

            Visual field maps DO NOT reflect sensation per se -- although they are associated with the act of sensing. Anything inside the brain that is extended over the surface of neurons is NOT doing any sensing! The maps may be a sine qua non of sensing, but they are not sensing itself.

            That is precisely why you (and the bunny) need an immaterial sense faculty to unify the experience as a whole.

            It is a whole to the bunny also.

            The only difference is that in us we also have intellectual reflection whereby we form the intellectual judgment that "this is a whole," whereas the bunny merely reacts to it as a whole. But, since what is experienced is experienced as a whole even at the sensory level, the bunny -- lacking intellect -- still experiences it as a sensory whole.

            That is also why the wolf goes after the "whole" sheep, and does not sit there bemused by discrete sensory data having no wholistic meaning.

            Now we do not have the experience of a wolf or a bunny, because we cannot prescind from having an intellectual reflection at the same time. Nonetheless, we CAN distinguish between the sensory experience of seeing a whole and the intellectual act of knowing that we are seeing what we call "wholes." This is the only way that we can argue, by analogy, that subhuman animals see wholes just as do we. But seeing is NOT an intellective act; it is a sensory one.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I'm at least provisionally in agreement with everything you say there, but all of that relies on a particular notion of what "sensing" is. That particular notion is tied to conscious awareness, but that is not the only way that we use the word "sense" as a verb.

            The Apple Dictionary on my laptop includes (among many) this definition of "sense":
            "verb [with object] ... (of a machine or similar device) detect: an optical fiber senses a current flowing in a conductor."

            So I think one has to distinguish between sensation as detection and sensation as a sort of first person experience. As humans, we "sense" in both ... um ... senses of the word. This is the sort of distinction that I was trying to draw out. The latter type of "sensing" involves what you are calling "perceiving the whole". It seems to me that that latter type of sensing involves a perception of relatedness (and by this I don't mean conscious reflection or theorizing about relatedness, something that only humans seem to be able to do; I mean direct perception of relatedness, something that even "dumb bunnies" can do). If that perception of relatedness is not a matter of intellection, we can call it something else, but I think we need some way of distinguishing it from mechanical detection. The word "sense" seems to be too flexible to do that work.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Good job of dissecting the various analogous uses of the term, "sense."

            I should point out, though, that the original meaning of "to sense" (its primary analogate), was taken from the acts of living organisms, namely, animals, in the conscious act of apprehending an object under the conditions of matter (with certain shape, height, weight, color, and so forth).

            The use of "sense" in terms of machines that detect and react to various electronic or physical causes, is a derivative meaning of the word (secondary analogate).

            I am using the word, "sense," in its primary meaning. Obviously, some people have so confused the secondary meaning with the primary meaning that they now actually believe that computers can "see" things, just like an animal can, an can "understand" things, just like a human can!

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            First, let me say that I do wish that stereogram worked for me, but I got tired of looking at it before it did!

            If it's just that particular stereogram that gives you trouble, then it's not worth the effort. But if you have never had a "successful encounter" with a stereogram, I can only say that it will be worth your effort if you ever succeed, and it will teach you something about perception and about the amazing work that the human brain does. There is undoubtedly a lot of guidance out of there on the web on tricks for adjusting your focal point in order to get it to work.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Another possibility is that my vision does not work right!

            I am fully aware of the amazing things our brain does in the sorting and compiling of sensory data. This is why materialists make the mistake of thinking that sensation and intellection are merely brain activities.

            What I am trying to illustrate is precisely how and why, in addition to merely brain activity, a sensing being has activities that cannot be explained by mere materialism. Moreover, over and above those sensory activities, the human intellective soul enables man to do other activities, such as conceptualization, judging, and reasoning, that cannot be reduced to mere sensory powers.

            In a word, there is a hierarchy of being and activity in nature, which corresponds to a hierarchy of ascendingly more perfect substantial forms in matter. This, of course, is an aspect of the hylemorphic doctrine as taught by Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas.

          • OMG

            Would it be fair to call our grasping, containing or possessing of whole images as an intermediate step which occurs just prior to our interpreting, evaluating or judging them?

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Yes, it is from images that the intellect abstracts universal concepts which it then uses to form judgments and do reasoning. The senses are the foundation for the work of the intellect. The intellect no more depends on the senses and does a computer depend for its existence on the data you feed into it. But without data, there is nothing to process.

          • Wow, that was trippy and takes me back. The image came rather gradually to me. Actually, I think historically I've been really bad at seeing the embedded image, but this time it took 10–15s.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I found this one relatively easy too, even though I have at times had difficulty with others.

            I became interested in these when reading Pinker's How the Mind Works, about 10 years ago. I remember generally having a high opinion of his ideas in that book, except the part where he claimed to be on the cusp of a computational / evolutionary biology explanation of sentience, the proof of which the margin was apparently too small to contain :-)

          • Haha, yeah. Pinker derides 'religious faith' on the one hand and trumpets 'reason' on the other; as long as he does this, I doubt he will understand human [individual, …, societal] nature very well. I'll repeat the following from Yuval Levin: "Ignorance brings learning, but knowledge breeds rigidity of mind." (Tyranny of Reason, xviii) Pinker figured out some things and thinks he figured out most of the things. It makes me happy that of all the behaviors the Bible hates, pride and arrogance are near the top. We could define that scientifically as "excessive confidence in extrapolation from the evidence". How often do scientists repent of this? :-|

          • No. What is happening with this like viewing anything is that your neurological system creates an image to make sense of the electrical impulses coming from your eyes. Your brain edits and creates the image you see. What you see is never the "whole" of what is there, even on materialism.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Q. What did the Atomist say when his friend proposed an Aristotelian way of interpreting reality?
            A. "I need that like I need another whole in my head!"

            Harharhar. Thought of that one by my own self. Have a good weekend everyone.

          • >Is this also true of the concept of "matter"

            The concept of matter (or materiel) is a concept that refers to something that really exists.in thus concept "material" refers to the one fundamental substance of which everything consists.

            I'm not sure what you mean by "materiality".

            I don't know what "wholeness" is meant to refer to .but yes many concepts refer to things imagined. For example, ghosts, the colour octarine, the soul .

            >So are you saying that there is no real "you"?

            No there is a real me, the boundaries of me are constantly changing in small ways in time .it is fuzzy in that way .

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Are you proposing that just by definition whatever exists is matter and whatever is matter exists, as if that's a tautology? Or do you have some specific way of defining what matter is, and you have come to the conclusion that everything that exists satisfies those criteria? (If the latter, what is your definition of matter?)

          • >Are you proposing that just by definition whatever exists is matter and whatever is matter exists, as if that's a tautology?

            No, I'm proposing that material is the only fundamental substance. I'm not aware of anything that is not dependent on the existence of material. I can grant calling abstractions as immaterial, but these are derivative of material and really only meaningful in material terms. I wouldn't call abstractions fundamental substances.

            The definition of material is basically energy as defined in fundamental physics.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            The definition of material is basically energy as defined in fundamental physics.

            OK, but if we are just talking about what can be detected and analyzed within the methodology of physics, then there is no "you". Because fundamental physics proceeds along reductionist lines of inquiry, it prescinds from consideration of the form of complex objects (like "you"). That's just the way that methodology works. It is obviously a very fruitful line of inquiry and there is nothing at all wrong with it ... as long as one remembers that it (by design) methodologically occludes certain aspects of reality from view (e.g. the wholeness of objects like, say, "you"). That's why "you" are not in the equations of fundamental physics. As soon as we talk about "you" as a whole person, we are no longer doing fundamental physics.

            So if you are saying that matter is what can be analyzed within the framework of fundamental physics, and then you are also saying that "you" qua whole person, cannot be analyzed within the framework of fundamental physics, and then you are also saying that "you" qua whole person really exist, then it follows that you are saying that something ("you") that is not purely material exists.

          • >if we are just talking about what can be detected and analyzed within the methodology of physics,

            We aren't, we are talking about what exists ontogical metaphysics not epistemology .

            But anyway yes fundamental physics can't find me because I am not fundamental, individual objects are not the pursuit of fundamental physics. I can be identified by other sciences and disciplines, biology, zoology, geography.

            >So if you are saying that matter is what can be analyzed within the framework of fundamental physics

            I'm not .I'm saying material is energy as described by fundamental physics. I am clearly and demonstrably composed of it. My existence can easily be demonstrated by direct repeatable observation

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I can be identified by other sciences and disciplines, biology

            Exactly. That is because a discipline like biology recognizes the existence of whole organisms.

            I am clearly and demonstrably composed of [matter].

            I assumed as much! But you also seem to be fundamentally defined by form. As you and Jimmy S.M. have both pointed out, the matter of your body comes and goes in a wild festival of respiration, ingestion, metabolism, excretion, etc., but what perdures through all that, what makes you you, is the holistic pattern of you.

            My existence can easily be demonstrated by direct repeatable observation

            No doubt, but that is moving the goal posts. If we are leaving the restrictive domain of physics behind and talking generally about the phenomena of perception, then fine, but that surely includes the perception of whole objects, pattern, form, etc. On the other hand, if what makes matter matter is not merely the repeated phenomena of perception, but rather some more narrow definition in terms of fundamental physics, that's fine too, but then since "you" are invisible within that limited scope of inquiry, there is no good reason to think that "you" are merely material.

          • >Exactly. That is because a discipline like biology recognizes the existence of whole organisms.

            No, biology deals with parts and entire organisms, but what has this to do with the metaphysics?

            >But you also seem to be fundamentally defined by form.

            Sure but not composed of form none of my substance is form. Form is a description of me, if even that. Depends what you mean by form .

            >but what perdures through all that, what makes you you, is the holistic pattern of you.

            Nope that is constantly changing too. But I'm guessing as to what you might mean by "holistic pattern". Actually can't say there is any such pattern.

            >but then since "you" are invisible within that limited scope of inquiry, there is no good reason to think that "you" are merely material.

            No, I believe I am comprised of only material and no other fundamental substance. The material that I am is easily detected and demonstrable. Unless you are an idealist, you accept all of this .

            If you have reason to believe there is more than one fundamental substance define it and provide an argument for it .

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Unless you are an idealist, you accept all of this

            As I think you are aware, materialism and idealism are not the only two options. I subscribe to something like hylemorphic dualism, which is neither exclusively materialistic nor exclusively idealistic. (I say "something like", because I am no expert in intellectual history and so don't claim to understand all the subtleties of the way these terms are used ... but I understand it well enough to situate myself approximately in the neighborhood of hylemorphic dualism.)

          • Of course, the only point I'm making there is that unless you are an idealist you material exists.

            You seem to not be a monist but accept that material exists but there is some other existence that is not dependent on material. I would call this a substance dualism.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            biology deals with parts and entire organisms, but what has this to do with the metaphysics?

            What it has to do with metaphysics is this. Organismal biology is predicated on the metaphysical assumption that organisms, i.e. entities that exist as organic wholes, exist. So, insofar as we think that organismal biology has been and continues to be a successful enterprise, that suggests that the metaphysical assumptions upon which it is predicated are correct. In other words, it suggests that organic wholes do in fact exist.

          • Sure, but none of that is inconsistent with these whole organisms being entirely material.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            OK. You could probably even get me to sign up for this "entirely material" framework, depending on what you mean. Rather than exploring all the necessary caveats in an abstract way, let's make it real by focusing on something more concrete and epistemologically oriented:

            Suppose Jane Goodall had decided during her formative years that her quest to understand chimpanzees and their communities would be better served by doing fundamental physics experiments on the atoms composing the cells of chimps, rather than by doing the sort of field work that made her famous. For the sake of argument, let's suppose she would have been an excellent physicist. Would her fundamental physics experiments have amounted to a more in depth exploration of "what chimps really are"? Would that really be a way of getting at the fundamental reality of the object of interest? Or would that methodology in fact occlude the very objects of inquiry whose fundamental nature was of interest?

          • >Would her fundamental physics experiments have amounted to a more in depth exploration of "what chimps really are"?

            No, because "chimps" are not fundamental, material is. If she wants to investigate what chimps are she should study chimps.

            >Would that really be a way of getting at the fundamental reality of the object of interest?

            Yes, because the fundamental reality is probably better investigated on a micro level. By Researching what material is you might learn something fundamental
            which is a different thing than the much higher level aspect of chimp behaviour, say.

            Certainly researching anything fundamental may be illuminating for all other empirical disciplines .

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            No, because "chimps" are not fundamental, material is.

            What basis would you put forward for this claim? Is it the fact that chimps come and go, but matter remains? (I'm not necessarily disagreeing with you, I'm just trying to clarify what makes you characterize something as "fundamental".)

            Yes, because the fundamental reality is probably better investigated on a micro level.

            Is that obviously true? Isn't it possible that the fundamental reality is better investigated by exploring the relatedness of things, and isn't it necessarily impossible to explore the relatedness of things when we analyze things in isolation at the micro level? To me, your statement is analogous to recommending that one should always "zoom all the way in" when taking a photograph. There are certain aspects of reality that you just won't capture if you approach it that way.

            Certainly researching anything [at the micro level] may be illuminating for all other empirical disciplines .

            But the converse is true too. Researching holistic phenomena like chimps leads to insights about own psychology, which leads to insights about the instruments (our brains) that we use to explore physics at the micro level.

          • Because chimps are made up of more fundamental substances, tissue, compounds, etc. What we call "chimpanzee" is an arrangement .

            >Isn't it possible that the fundamental reality is better investigated by exploring the relatedness of things, and isn't it necessarily impossible to explore the relatedness of things when we analyze things in isolation at the micro level?

            Possible? Who knows it's possible idealism is true for all I know. If we are discussing things like chimp or table it would seem obvious that these are composed of more basic materials rather than the other way round. But sure make an argument for why these things like the fluid labels we apply to things are the fundamental essence of reality or whatever.

            >There are certain aspects of reality that you just won't capture if you approach it that way.

            Yes, the non-fundamental composite, emergent aspects.

            >Researching holistic phenomena like chimps leads to insights about own psychology, which leads to insights about the instruments (our brains) that we use to explore physics at the micro level

            Sure but that doesn't make the macro more fundamental. The question is why would you consider the label we apply to a subset of apes to be related to something metaphysically fundamental?

          • Dennis Bonnette

            " What we call "chimpanzee" is an arrangement ."

            If true, then so are we.

          • Yes, and?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            It's not so much that I would propose to explain all of reality in terms of chimps. (I'm not quite that weird.) It's more a matter of what I would ask of any theory that purports to identify what is fundamental in reality. And what I would ask of such a theory is that it account for the totality of my experience of reality (including whole objects, such as chimps). As best I can tell, the basic building blocks of reality as I experience it seem to be things like longing, belonging, alienation, communion, beauty, intelligibility, freedom, etc, and above all, love (agape). I can easily account for matter in terms of love: matter or (matter / energy) is, as best we can tell, completely logically unnecessary and therefore exists gratuitously, which is to say, it arises from love itself. Conversely, the extent to which matter alone can explain love (or even chimps) seems, at best, incomplete.

          • >As best I can tell, the basic building blocks of reality as I experience it seem to be things like longing, belonging, alienation, communion, beauty, intelligibility, freedom, etc, and above all, love (agape)

            That is very curious conclusion since virtually nothing that exists seems to experience any of that. Moreover these seem to me to be the opposite of basic building blocks but emotional and aesthetic experiences that only occur with an extremely complex arrangements of things like neurons.

            >I can easily account for matter in terms of love: matter or (matter / energy) is, as best we can tell, completely logically unnecessary and therefore exists gratuitously, which is to say, it arises from love itself.

            This in no way accounts for material. I see no love absent not just material but extremely complex arrangements of material. Further, there is no evidence of material arising from love, but all evidence of love seems to arise from material.

            I don't think the materialist account of love is lacking at all. It is an emotional, social experience in some conscious beings. Its pretty logical as a result of evolution.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            virtually nothing that exists seems to experience any of that.

            Depends on what you means by experience, and how you view our interconnectedness with the rest of the universe.

            With regard to experience: does a child experience love when he or she unreflectively receives food and shelter from his parents, taking these things for granted? In a similar vein, I would say that everything in the universe, insofar as it has (gratuitous, unnecessary) being, is the recipient of love, whether it is consciously aware of what it has received or not.

            And I would say also that, insofar as the universe has become consciously aware through us (we are part of the universe after all, we don't float above it), the universe participates, or has the ability to participate, in that love. That participation had to exist, it seems to me, in some inchoate antecedent manner, prior to our arrival on the scene, even if we are now at (or near) the apotheosis of that participation. What we feel and do is what the universe feels and does when the right conditions arise. We channel the belonging, and alienation, and communion, and freedom of the universe through us, through the matter of our bodies. We don't create all that. It comes from somewhere. It precedes us. We manifest it, we give it expression, perhaps its highest expression, but we couldn't make those bricks without clay.

          • >Depends on what you means by experience, and how you view our interconnectedness with the rest of the universe.

            Pretty weak, are you suggesting that non living things experience belonging?

            >does a child experience love when he or she unreflectively receives food and shelter from his parents,

            No. They don't even notice it.

            >is the recipient of love

            Is not experiencing love. And how does something being the recipient of something it cannot experience make that thing fundamental .

            >That participation had to exist, it seems to me, in some inchoate antecedent manner, prior to our arrival on the scene, even if we are now at (or near) the apotheosis of that participation.

            Nonsense. Love is an emotional experience of a small number conscious beings. (Love is not even a primary emotion, it is itself an aggregate of emotions and experiences, probably better termed a sentiment, or way of thinking) .

            >What we feel and do is what the universe feels and does when the right conditions arise.

            No it is what the part of the universe that is us feels and does. A teeny tiny part.

            >We channel the belonging, and alienation, and communion, and freedom of the universe through us, through the matter of our bodies.

            But all the evidence suggests the opposite. The matter that is our bodies produces feelings which with reflection and experience we catalogue in these terms .there is no evidence of any if this in the vast majority of what exists. Some people have the faculties to experience these. They are dependent on a well functioning brain. The idea that these experiences somehow exist absent humans is completely unjustified.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Nope. I'm suggesting that conscious experiential participation is the pinnacle of lower orders of participation. I'm saying that everything participates in the dynamic of love, even if not in a conscious and experiential way.

            Love is an emotional experience

            If you want to insist on that very psychologistic definition, then fine, you have thereby defined your way to victory. That's certainly a definition in currency, but it's certainly not what one means when one clarifies (as I did) by putting "agape" in parenthesis. The agape of reality is the gratuitous givingness of reality. We could instead translate it as "charity" if that is less objectionable to you.

            [We are a] teeny tiny part.

            Is the implication that teeny-tinyness implies lack of importance? Does the fact that we are teeny-tiny in the universe imply that we are not ontically significant in the universe? (If so, why?)

            But all the evidence suggests the opposite. The matter that is our bodies produces feelings

            I missed the part where you showed how matter can produce feelings??

            The idea that these experiences somehow exist absent humans is completely unjustified.

            Well then, good thing I never claimed any such thing. You are the one who introduced "experience" into the conversation, which was not my focus at all. I was talking about agape, not experience of emotional states.

          • >I'm suggesting that conscious experiential participation is the pinnacle of lower orders of participation

            No idea what you're talking about.

            >The agape of reality is the gratuitous givingness of reality.

            No reason to think any such thing has ever occurred. Doesn't even seem coherent. Something unreal gave reality to itself for no reason?

            >Is the implication that teeny-tinyness implies lack of importance?

            Just to say the Universe isn't aware of anything,a vanishingly small part of it is aware of a slightly larger part of it .

            >I missed the part where you showed how matter can produce feelings??

            Its called neuropsychology, with many lines of evidence. Try taking nitrous, smoke some pot, and you will see just how clear the connection is. Every time anyone has ever felt an emotion there has been a consistent brain activity. Affecting the brain affects emotions. There has never been evidence of an emotion absent a brain. This is strong evidence of a direct connection. There is no evidence of feelings existing absent a brain in action.

            You don't just get to.make things like agape up and then say they explain everything. You actual have to have evidence. Otherwise I could just say this is all just the matrix.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            [Attempting edits for formatting and spelling. Hopefully spam filter doesn't silence me ... ]

            No reason to think any such thing has ever occurred.

            Sure there is. Things exist, even thought they don't logically need to exist. That's the reason for thinking that gratuitous givingness is operative in every moment. It's tautologically true.

            Something unreal gave reality to itself for no reason?

            Not quite. Something real gave all existing things their existence, for no extrinsic reason, but only because it is in the intrinsic nature of givingness to freely give.

            a vanishingly small part of it is aware of a slightly larger part of it .

            Your optical nerves are a very small part of you, and yet we say that you, as a whole person, see.

            Every time anyone has ever felt an emotion there has been a consistent brain activity.

            I agree with that statement, but that's not a matter that can be adjudicated within the natural sciences, let alone within neuropsychology. All we can say within neuropsychology is that observable behaviors that we associate with the experience of emotion (and we are able to make that association only through reflections on our first person experiences, not through any natural science methodology) are associated brain activity. Neuroscience, and the natural sciences generally, are -- by design --blind to first person experience. That's why there is in principle no way for them ever to explain first person experience. And that's why, insofar as matter is understood only in terms of the natural sciences, matter also cannot in principle explain first person experience

            There has never been evidence of an emotion absent a brain.

            True. Relevance??

            This is strong evidence of a direct connection.

            True. Relevance??

            There is no evidence of feelings existing absent a brain in action.

            True. Relevance??

            You don't just get to.make things like agape up and then say they explain everything. You actual have to have evidence.

            Again, the evidence is that things exist, even though they don't logically need to. That is the nature of a gift. That's why we call the universe, a given. And true gifts come from true givingness.

          • >Things exist, even thought they don't logically need to exist. That's the reason for thinking that gratuitous givingness is operative in every moment. It's tautologically true.

            But to actually believe something exists you need some convincing reason.

            >Something real gave all existing things their existence

            Oh you've changed the gift from reality to existence existence. But this still has coherence problems. This real thing must not have existed since it is not within the set of things that were gifted existence.

            >Your optical nerves are a very small part of you, and yet we say that you, as a whole person, see.

            But they are huge compared to the proportions you're talking about.

            >I agree with that statement, but that's not a matter that can be adjudicated within the natural sciences, let alone within neuropsychology.

            Of course it can and has. There is no reason to exclude this from inductive reasoning. The theory that feelings are generated by brain activity has been verified consistently. A theory that feelings exist in any way independent of brain activity has no support in any way.

            Yes, things exist, but that doesn't mean everything you think of and imagine exists. You have no evidence or justification for believing what you do. L

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            But to actually believe something exists you need some convincing reason.

            The reason, as I wrote, is that things exist but they do not logically need to exist. I am saying that to state that things exist yet do no logically need to exist is tautologically equivalent to saying that existing things arise from givingness. So I am combining something that is self-evidently true with something that is tautologically true. How is that not a convincing reason?

            This real thing must not have existed since it is not within the set of things that were gifted existence.

            That's correct. In order to coherently say (as I think we must indeed say) that things exist but do not logically need to exist, we need to distinguish between what is real and what exists. Reality includes the logical context in which things exist or don't, so reality subsumes existence. God/givingness is real, but does not, strictly speaking, exist.

            With regard to first person experience and neuroscience, I'm sorry but you just aren't showing any evidence of thinking carefully about this, nor that you are carefully reading what I am writing. Of course inductive reasoning is part of natural science, but that doesn't address that fact that natural science is methodologically blind to first person experience. And you keep arguing as if I am putting forward a theory wherein feelings exist independent of brain activity, which is completely orthogonal to the points I am arguing. I don't have the patience to pursue that one any further.

          • >The reason, as I wrote, is that things exist but they do not logically need to exist

            This is not a reason. Like leprechauns and the pantheon of Hinduism? They don't logically need to exist either, so you are saying that's a reason to believe they do?

            >existing things arise from givingness

            No reason to believe that either.

            >something that is self-evidently true

            But it isn't, or I would believe it .

            >natural science is methodologically blind to first person experience

            It isn't .it depends on it.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Like leprechauns and the pantheon of Hinduism?

            No ... things like cats, tables, watermelons, etc. These things exist, but they do not logically need to. That they (and all other existing things) exist, even while none of it logically needs to exist, that is the reason for saying that it all arises from givingness.

          • Yes but we don't believe those things exist because "they do not logically need to" .

            We believe they exist because we observe them.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Yes but we don't believe those things exist because "they do not logically need to" .

            I would hope not! I think it should have been pretty clear that that is not the argument that I was making.

            To re-state:
            The self-evident part of my argument is that some things (like cats and watermelons) exist. The tautological part of my argument is that when a thing exists but is not logically required to exist, that thing exists gratuitously. And to say that everything that exists exists gratuitously is to say that everything that exists arises from some underlying "givingness" of reality.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Natural science depends on first person experience AND it is blind to it, in more or less the same way that one can't look at a telescope while looking through it.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I wouldn't call abstractions fundamental substances.

            I wouldn't either, exactly. But, when we engage in abstraction, what is it exactly that we are abstracting? It seems to me that we are abstracting forms, and it seems that we are abstracting them from reality.

          • Yes abstractions are thoughts about shapes that material can take or ideas about how to think about material things.

            These thoughts exist as does there representation, but both are always material.

            I don't see any reason to consider an abstract thought as having independent fundamental existence.

            A ball is a conceptual category we apply to material to help us think about it and communicate.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            A ball is a conceptual category we apply to material to help us think about it and communicate.

            I'm still trying to understand what the key distinction is between the statement above and the one below.

            Matter is a conceptual category we apply to material to help us think about it and communicate.

          • Matter is a fundamental substance. The concept of a ball is a concept and not a substance at all. Same for the concept of matter.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            But that's just an assertion. On what basis are claiming that matter is a fundamental substance and form is not??

          • Because we observe oy one substance. The more we investigate it we find it is made of similar fundamental stuff. The more we investigate the more we find explanations with material.

            We never observe anything immaterial and the only justification I ever hear for granting the existence of another substance is never that it is observed never that we have any understand of what it is or how it works but just arguments from ignorance.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            OK, you still haven't defined what you mean by substance, so let me try to focus the definition this way. Here is the SEP entry for substance: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/substance/
            I would summarize that by saying that substance is whatever inheres in reality at the deepest level. If you think that is not a satisfactory summary, please offer an alternative.
            Given that understanding, it seems to me that form is substantial in that sense. At every level of analysis no matter how deeply we go, we cannot get away from talking about matter and we cannot get away from talking about form. That says to me that both matter and form are substances (in the philosophical sense).

          • Essentially this is the disagreement between materialists and substance dualism. I would not grant "form" as a substance or a fundamental one.

            In this context "substance" would be that which cannot be reduced. That which all else is composed.

            I would call form to be a characteristic of material. Absent material, form is meaningless. We can conceive of form absent material, but even in so doing we really are thinking of it in material terms.

            It just seems to me that form is a mental way of considering or contemplating material. It descriptive of what is, not something that is in its own right .

            Additionally material exists, cannot be destroyed, only change form. But forms come and go incessantly. No material object ever has form, the form is constantly changing.

            Moreover form lacks anything I would call fundamental. Consider a plum. There is the form of the specific plum, constantly changing. There is the form as a plum, as a fruit, a plant, part of an organism. We can go the other way too. Is plum really the form? Or is the skin, the flesh the pit each it's own real form? Or is it the chemical compounds? The atoms?

            Each of these both counts as a form, but when you mentally change the perspective the relevant form disappears or appears. These "forms", this shows are not the actual thing but labels we apply to the things. The thing is the material itself. The materiel is the object. And when we closer examine it all these forms dissapoear, because they are not fundamental, they are secondary. What is there always no matter the mental context is the fundamental substance. The energy wound up into tiny particles and the fields they create. In this sense the plum the air the table it rests on are all demonstrably the same stuff.

            Whereas the form depends on how you think about it.

            But I don't mean to dismiss substance dualism out if hand what you've said us not unreasonable, I just don't see it that way. And the more we seem to learn about the cosmos, the less it helps make sense of it.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            tiny particles and the fields they create

            I am always very hesitant to question the way that people self-identify, but insofar as you believe in the reality of those fields, I just don't think you are a materialist. Maybe you are in some sense a naturalist, but naturalism is less restrictive than materialism. At least, you are not a materialist in the classical sense described here:

            Friedrich Lange, in his classic 19th century history of materialism, observed that we [now] have “so accustomed ourselves to the abstract notion of forces, or rather to a notion hovering in a mystic obscurity between abstraction and concrete comprehension, that we no longer find any difficulty in making one particle of matter act upon another without immediate contact,…through void space without any material link. From such ideas the great mathematicians and physicists of the seventeenth century were far removed. They were all in so far genuine Materialists in the sense of ancient Materialism that they made immediate contact a condition of influence.”

            I have taken that from this excellent talk, which is very germane to our conversation and worth reading. You could identify the following as the basic thesis statement:

            It is commonly believed that Newton showed that the world is a machine, following mechanical principles, and that we can therefore dismiss “the ghost in the machine,” the mind, with appropriate ridicule. The facts are the opposite: Newton exorcised the machine, leaving the ghost intact.

            EDITED to fix link to Chomsky talk.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Sorry, busted link in the initial version of my prior comment. I fixed it.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I could also focus the discussion by asking this: do you believe that gravity is fundamentally real? I ask because gravity is form. It is the curvature of spacetime. It is not matter. Do you believe that gravity is constituent of reality or do you think it is merely "an abstraction" that we project onto reality in order to help us think and communicate?

          • I don't know what you mean by "fundamentally real"?

            Gravity is real but it is not a fundamental substance, it a result of material.

            Gravity us a force, it causes the curvature of spacetime.

            Gravity is a real material force.

            That doesn't mean that we cannot abstract from it or that there cannot be related abstract concepts, such as a law of gravity or a gravitational constant.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            It is not true that gravity is "a force [that] causes the curvature of spacetime". It is not a force at all. Gravity IS the curvature of spacetime. And while it is true that that curvature is affected by matter, it is not the case that the curvature is composed of matter. So, no, gravity is not a material force, because it is neither material nor is it a force.

            The term "fundamental" in this conversation originated with you. I am using it in a vague way because I'm not sure how to make it precise, and I kinda feel like we both have a general sense of what that word means. I would say that when we use the word "fundamental" we are in some sense invoking the metaphor of depth (like in the French, "au fond"), and I think that often the most we can do in a situation like this is to just understand the root metaphors that we are using. However, if you have a way to make the concept precise and you think that would help the conversation, please do.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            We never observe anything immaterial

            This just isn't true. We observe form and pattern and wholeness all the time. The only justification I hear for supposing that forms etc are not fundamentally real is that they are somehow derivative of, or reducible to, matter. But no one seems to know how that is possible, so it seems to me to be a strange sort of mysticism.

          • >We observe form and pattern and wholeness all the time.

            Got it, but this is the issue. When you observe a plum are you looking at two fundamental substances or one? I'd say the material is the substance the form is not fundamental but the shape of the substance.

            Interestingly, in law there is a distinction between a substance and form. Perhaps this linguistic issue is preventing me from seeing form as a substance.

            I think it makes sense to speak of the form being secondary to material. Form is what material does, we can easily see how when the material changes we say the form is different as a result, but it makes really no sense to think of the form changing the material, on a fundamental level the material doesn't change.

            I can even accept how an idealist might think of the material being a result of the form, but dualism seems to be the worst explanation .

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            To be honest, I would rather ditch the term "substance" in this conversation. I was trying to work with it after you introduced the term, and I think that definition that you proposed is reasonable ('"substance" would be that which cannot be reduced'), but I think we might both be departing from standard philosophical usage in ways that we don't realize.

            In particular, I am not a "substance dualist" in the Cartesian "ghost in the machine" sense. I don't understand form as something added to matter, but rather as something that matter is in. Likewise, I go along with the classical understanding that the "body is in the soul", rather than the Cartesian-ish idea that the "soul is in the body".

            I would rather just say that form and matter are fundamental, and leave it at that. The point that I am trying to make is that form is not reducible to matter. If anything, matter seems to perhaps be reducible to form.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I have been watching you gentlemen discussing this topic for some time now. If you will forgive an amicus curiae intervention on my part, I would just point out that the classical philosophical meaning of a substance is something that exists in itself and through itself. No, this does not mean, as Spinoza infers, that substance is God. It means simply that substance corresponds about as closely in English as to the common sense meaning of "thing."

            The argument over "form" usually centers on the existence of "substantial form," that is, whether a "thing" has a form that makes it to be one thing of a given nature as distinct from anything else.

            Materialists or atomists deny the existence of any "things" above the atomic level (whatever that is defined to be), so that there really are no things at higher levels of being. Logically, this means that cabbages and kings do not really exist -- only the incidental, temporary unity of a formal organization whose reality is no more than that of a transiently "buffered" solution of molecules.

            Classical philosophy argues that there really are substantial unities above the atomic level and that these are the primary realities in the world, with atomic constituents of higher substances possessing only virtual reality while they are part of a living substance. This view, of course, corresponds to Aristotelian hylemorphic doctrine.

            I hope this clarifies some of the issues that you are disputing. Please let me escape to the sidelines again. :)

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I have been supposing that it is not worth arguing about the reality of "substantial forms" if we don't first find agreement regarding the reality of form in general.

            In my understanding, all "substantial forms" are forms, but not all forms are "substantial forms". Things like spacetime curvature and particle fields are (it seems to me) forms, but they are not substantial forms because they are not forms of things.

            If we find agreement that form (such as spacetime curvature) is real, then perhaps we can move on to talking about whether substantial forms (e.g. the substantial form of a plum) are real.

            Does that sound about right?

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Absolutely.

          • Materialists or atomists deny the existence of any "things" above the atomic level (whatever that is defined to be), so that there really are no things at higher levels of being. Logically, this means that cabbages and kings do not really exist

            That is not materialism. That is mereological nihilism.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Notice that I said "materialists or atomists."

            I was presuming that the form of materialism we are dealing with is atomism, for which my statement would be correct if we are talking about larger things really being substances with a single act of existence, not merely a collectivity of substantially independent atoms.

            I can see where someone could be a materialist and simply not address the theory of atomic composition of macroscopic things. But most materialists these days are also atomists in some form or other.

          • But most materialists these days are also atomists in some form or other.

            You'll have to tell me how you define "atomist." Last I heard, there is nobody left alive, regardless of their metaphysical beliefs, who doesn't believe everything is made of atoms.

            I was presuming that the form of materialism we are dealing with is atomism, for which my statement would be correct if we are talking about larger things really being substances with a single act of existence, not merely a collectivity of substantially independent atoms.

            Your statement presupposes that some form of materialism entails mereological nihilism. It does not. Some materialists could be mereological nihilists for all I know, but although I've conversed with, and read many writings by, many materialists, I've never known one to be a mereological nihilist.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            >"Last I heard, there is nobody left alive, regardless of their metaphysical beliefs, who doesn't believe everything is made of atoms."

            If you add together those human beings who believe in God with those who believe in spirits, it would appear that the majority of people believe in things that are not made of atoms.

            As for your materialists who are not mereological nihilists, all I can say is that they then must explain exactly why whole things exist that are not reducible merely to the physical constituents that make them up, be the molecules, atoms, quarks, or whatever.

            If there is some principle of unity beyond those parts, then how do they distinguish their position from from some form of hylemorphism, which says that matter is unified by something other than itself.

            If they merely mean that some physical force or energy field or buffered state of chemical equilibrium produces this temporary "cooperation" of constituent parts, then how does not this "force" proceed from the physical qualities of the constituent parts that make up the whole -- in which case the whole remains but a composition of the parts -- that is, an analogical form of atomism?

          • >"Last I heard, there is nobody left alive, regardless of their metaphysical beliefs, who doesn't believe everything is made of atoms."

            If you add together those human beings who believe in God with those who believe in spirits, it would appear that the majority of people believe in things that are not made of atoms.

            I meant every material thing. What we’re arguing about is the ontological status of any other kind of thing. If I point to a physical object and say, “That thing is made of atoms,” you will agree. As recently as the early 20th century, some people, apparently including some scientists, would have disagreed. Einstein’s explanation of Brownian motion seems to have laid their last objections to rest.

            As for your materialists who are not mereological nihilists, all I can say is that they then must explain exactly why whole things exist that are not reducible merely to the physical constituents that make them up, be the molecules, atoms, quarks, or whatever.

            Why must they? They are not denying reducibility. If they are not nihilists, then they are denying that reducibility implies nonexistence.

            If there is some principle of unity beyond those parts, then how do they distinguish their position from from some form of hylemorphism, which says that matter is unified by something other than itself.

            I have not studied, in any detail, the metaphysical arguments of other materialists. Mine would be that modern science does not, because it does not need to, affirm the existence of any mind-independent principle of unity. Unity is a human concept, something our minds produce in order to make sense of the world as we observe it.

            If they merely mean that some physical force or energy field or buffered state of chemical equilibrium produces this temporary "cooperation" of constituent parts, then how does not this "force" proceed from the physical qualities of the constituent parts that make up the whole -- in which case the whole remains but a composition of the parts -- that is, an analogical form of atomism?

            I agree that the whole remains but a composition of its parts. I do not agree that if this is so, it must follow that the whole does not exist.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I am not at all sure we are arguing about anything here.

            If you say that "the whole remains but a composition of its parts," that is essentially the position classically called a form of atomism in philosophy.

            You still insist that the whole exists. Well, that is where there is dispute -- NOT about whether a whole exists, but about the nature of the whole.

            The whole can either be a single thing, having a single act of being -- or, it can be "but a composition of parts," wherein the composition does not constitute one being, but a bunch of parts "accidentally" united -- NOT having a single act of being.

            Is it really "one thing" or "many things?" Even in common sense terminology, this does not seem too esoteric a question to me. Atomism in all of its forms really reduces to saying the "wholes" are "but a composition of parts," whereas the alternative philosophical position is that there must be something added to the parts to make them, not only function as one thing, but to BE one thing.

            That "something added" need not be independent of matter, like a spiritual form -- but it must not be merely the "atomic" parts that make up the thing either. Otherwise, you have a merely accidental unity.

            I agree that physical things are made of atoms, of course, but that does not answer this classical philosophical question.

          • I am not at all sure we are arguing about anything here.

            You made a comment about something that materialists, according to you, have to believe if they are to be consistent. I am arguing that they don't have to believe it, that most do not believe it, and that there is no inconsistency in their not believing it.

            If you say that "the whole remains but a composition of its parts," that is essentially the position classically called a form of atomism in philosophy.

            If you say so, I'm in no position to dispute it. My formal training in philosophy ended when I got my bachelor’s degree. The only atomism I ever heard about was in the context of a passing reference to Democritus. It was apparent to my understanding that his views were contrary to Aristotle’s, and that Aristotle’s became the consensus view among Western philosophers until sometime during the modern era.

            that is where there is dispute -- NOT about whether a whole exists, but about the nature of the whole.

            OK. I see a collection of atoms arranged in a certain way, having certain properties that can be explained in terms of the properties and arrangements of those atoms. I call that collection of atoms a cabbage, and I disagree with anyone who tries to tell me that the cabbage doesn't really exist. Having done so, why must I say or believe anything further about the nature of cabbages?

            The whole can either be a single thing, having a single act of being -- or, it can be "but a composition of parts," wherein the composition does not constitute one being, but a bunch of parts "accidentally" united -- NOT having a single act of being.

            Talk about “acts of being” made good sense to Aristotle, I suppose. For me, it answers no intelligible questions better than modern science answers them.

            Is it really "one thing" or "many things?”

            Why must we pick only one to be used in every conceivable context? In most contexts where we wish to talk about cabbages, nothing that we know about the constituent particles has any relevance. In other contexts, we have questions that cannot be answered except by studying the atoms. There is nothing to be gained by supposing that what we're talking about in one case is more real than in the other case.

            the alternative philosophical position is that there must be something added to the parts to make them, not only function as one thing, but to BE one thing.

            I get it that that is the alternative position. What I have not gotten yet is that there is a good reason for me to accept that position. Or at any rate, a better reason than “Aristotle said so.”

          • Sample1

            Please tell me you’re thinking of Pringlea antiscorbutica, a particularly beautiful wild cabbage.

            Mike, steps back into the gallery. :-j

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Okay. Now I think we are on the same page.

            I agree also that in practice, when you are talking about one level or the other, the philosophical principle need not be addressed.

            But there are two issues here to consider: (1) what are the implications of taking one view or the other in truth, and (2) how can you tell which is actually correct?

            The video I made entitled: "Atheistic Materialism: Does Richard Dawkins Exist?", explains the difference between the two views. Regardless of how you may think we function the same way either way, the "atomist" view logically implies that the whole does not have its own special existence, but that things are merely "piles of atoms."

            These "piles" may have a certain temporary stability, but I liken them to a buffered solution in chemistry, which isn't really one thing, but exhibits some stability for a while. Do you think of your automobile as a single thing? It is merely a pile of parts, is it not? Putting one name on it does not make it one thing. So, too, in this atomistic view, in reality, do you or I or Richard Dawkins actually exist? Or, are we just a name we place on an temporary functional unity of a trillion atoms, following a pattern of interaction governed by our DNA?

            Whether in practice we function the same way or not, I think you may be able to see the difference in truth between holding that we are truly one thing, one being, one substance, having a single act of existence vs. being a "pile of atoms," no matter what the mathematical/chemical algorithm that describes their function as if one thing. Just like a computer or car or washing machine.

            This is why I maintain, on his own view, Dr. Dawkins does not actually exist. Atomism exists as a philosophy; but, atomists don't.

            Assuming we understand the difference between the theories, how does one prove that substantial unities exist above the atomic level?

            Because both theories claim to explain how things work, it is understandable that people take different positions on this theoretical question.

            One answer would be the point I make in the present OP about why materialism fails to explain how we grasp the "whole" of our experience, when extended material media cannot do so. That indicates there is something in sentient organisms that cannot be explained by the mere parts.

            The standard A-T explanation is that the substantial unity of an organism is proven by the fact of intrinsic finality, that is, all the parts act for the good of the whole. This finality is called "intrinsic," because it is not imposed on the organism from without, as in the case of Paley's watch.

            Generally, Thomists don't get too concerned about proving the substantial unity of plants and animals, since the proofs for the spirituality of the human soul take precedence -- and offer a total worldview in which hylemorphism is the presupposed framework.

            I can understand your skepticism about the unity of things above the atomic level, but still urge you to take seriously what you are saying about your own existence if you take seriously the purely atomistic ontology.

          • Now I think we are on the same page.

            We almost were. Then you concluded your post with: “if you take seriously the purely atomistic ontology.” Having told you what I knew about atomism and why it was all I knew, I figured it was time for me to do some googling. Wikipedia has this to say among other things: “Philosophical atomism is a reductive argument: not only that everything is composed of atoms and void, but that nothing they compose really exists: the only things that really exist are atoms ricocheting off each other mechanistically in an otherwise empty void.” I found a few other websites saying pretty much the same thing, none of which mentioned mereological nihilism let alone explained how the two concepts differed.

            But perhaps there is a clue in Wikipedia’s use of the word “reductive.” I admit to being a reductionist, but I agree with Daniel Dennett’s criticism of a position he calls “greedy reductionism,” which is sort of like mereological nihilism. Again from Wikipedia:

            In his earlier book Consciousness Explained, Dennett argued that, without denying that human consciousness exists, we can understand it as coming about from the coordinated activity of many components in the brain that are themselves unconscious. In response, critics accused him of "explaining away" consciousness because he disputes the existence of certain conceptions of consciousness that he considers overblown and incompatible with what is physically possible. This is perhaps what motivated Dennett to make the greedy/good distinction in his follow-up book [Darwin’s Dangerous Idea], to freely admit that reductionism can go overboard while pointing out that not all reductionism goes this far.

            What you are calling atomism sounds much like a position advocated by, among others, Paul and Patricia Churchland and usually labeled eliminative materialism. Like Dennett, I regard eliminative materialism as an example of greedy reductionism. I agree with much of what the Churchlands have to say in defense of it, but I don’t think it justifies all of the conclusions they reach.

            I agree also that in practice, when you are talking about one level or the other, the philosophical principle need not be addressed.

            But there are two issues here to consider: (1) what are the implications of taking one view or the other in truth, and (2) how can you tell which is actually correct?

            I go with the correspondence theory of truth. Atoms correspond to reality. So does any particular arrangement of atoms that we find it useful to talk about while distinguishing it from all other possible arrangements, such as the arrangement we call a cabbage. Both are actually correct, and neither is more correct than the other. In a given context, one is more useful than the other for our communicative purposes, but that utility has no necessary connection with truth.

            The video I made entitled: "Atheistic Materialism: Does Richard Dawkins Exist?", explains the difference between the two views.

            I watched it a few weeks ago, and I watched it again just now. Your talk lasted about an hour. It would take me many hours to prepare a definitive response, even if I had a transcript to work from. But here is a precis of what I would say. Your argument seems to boil down to the following:

            Aristotelian metaphysics explains Richard Dawkins’s existence, and so if Aristotelian metaphysics is not true, then Richard Dawkins does not exist. Scientific materialism denies Aristotelian metaphysics. Therefore, scientific materialism must deny Richard Dawkins’s existence.

            Is that a fair representation of your position?

            Do you think of your automobile as a single thing?

            Usually.

            It is merely a pile of parts, is it not?

            In many contexts I would reject the qualifier “merely.” For reasons we materialists understand well enough, a whole can have properties that are not merely the aggregate of properties of its constituents. You mentioned sodium chloride in your talk. That would be an excellent example of what I’m talking about.

            Putting one name on it does not make it one thing.

            The language we use to refer to or describe any object changes nothing about the object itself. The material world is unaffected by the way we talk about it.

            Assuming we understand the difference between the theories, how does one prove that substantial unities exist above the atomic level?

            That conversation would have to start with our agreeing on the definitions of key terms such as “substantial” and “unity.” Up to this point, I’ve had to more or less guess at what you mean by them.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I think you represent my position in the video accurately, but the problem is that we seem to have differing notions even of "existence."

            >"In many contexts I would reject the qualifier “merely.” For reasons we materialists understand well enough, a whole can have properties that are not merely the aggregate of properties of its constituents. You mentioned sodium chloride in your talk. That would be an excellent example of what I’m talking about."

            Having a background in chemistry, I understand what you mean about NaCl having properties not found in the isolated ions. But, believe it or not, hylemorphic theory does suggest that a molecule may have a different substantial form than either of it ionic constituents! That cannot be defended until one addresses the unity of organisms, though -- which is where we presently stand.

            As you point out, we don't even agree on the meaning of "substantial unity." Or, perhaps, more accurately, I am not sure you grasp what I mean by the phrase. Simply saying that every part of a substantial whole is what it is in virtue of a substantial form probably means nothing to you.

            It might help if I pointed out that when I was studying both chemistry and philosophy at the same time as an undergraduate student, I had the same difficulty. I knew that Thomism taught that all things, such as cabbages and kings, had a single substantial form that unified the whole thing. But I also could not see how that was needed in light of what I knew of chemistry, which seemed to explain all the properties one could find in living things. The only place I could see need for a clearly higher unifying form was in man, because of the proofs for the spirituality of the soul.

            But at lower levels, I was a functioning positivist qua chemist, and yet knew that Thomism taught a different doctrine for things below the level of man -- that things were supposed to have a unifying form making them a single being.

            The only way to break the Gordian Knot here is to realize that it is not just a matter of noting properties of the whole which are not found in the parts, but which are hypothesized as somehow being explainable in terms of the properties of the parts. Thus one can hypothesize that when the outer orbit of the sodium ion is completed by the extra electron donated by the chlorine ion, properties such as salty taste appear.

            The problem arises for that type of explanation when you find a property of the whole which the parts cannot in principle ever explain. That is precisely why i pointed to the ability of animals to see a "whole" as definitive evidence of the failure of materialism in the OP. For the parts as extended in space simply do not have the capability of somehow grasping the whole all at once. You have to look at the argument in the OP to see what I mean. Just assuming that material things can somehow "do it" when they are conjoined a special way does not suffice to explain the phenomenon in question -- since the extended surfaces of material things are always needed to "represent" on a point by point basis a materially extended image or sense object.

            This ability to see the whole all at once in a single act simply goes beyond the nature of extended matter. This is why this one example reveals the existence of a "non-extended" form that is doing the receiving of the whole image or external object.

            Not only must this principle or form be itself not extended, but it must somehow be the unifying form of the whole thing, since we say, not that my eye sees, but that "I" see. This last point takes more examination, but the first point is to see that mere association of physical parts can never explain the simplicity of perception that I describe in the OP.

            I know that this is somewhat aside from our discussion of substantial unity's meaning, but to say that the thing as a whole exists and has a formal principle unifying it is at least suggested by this curious ability of sensation to do something inherently impossible for merely physically extended parts of a physical organism.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            The definition of material is basically energy as defined in fundamental physics.

            Of course, the goal of fundamental physics is express reality in formal terms. Mathematics is a technical language for describing form.

            You might also keep in mind that at least some physicists lean toward the belief that the laws of physics were in some sense there "before the universe" and are "more fundamental than the universe".

            And what is a physical law, if not a specification of formal relationship. If physical laws are more fundamental than matter, then form is more fundamental than matter. This is perhaps why lies behind quotes like that of Max Planck:

            There is no matter as such! All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force which brings the particles of an atom to vibration and holds this most minute solar system of the atom together. . . . We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent Spirit. This Spirit is the matrix of all matter.

          • Yes there are people who are not materialists.

            None of this is any evidence of a non material fundamental substance.

            If you are suggesting that abstract descriptions or patterns about material, I don't see why you would call these a fundamental substance.

            What is a law of physics other than a description of material? It is clearly these are ideas about material .They are always intrinsically related to material and always represented materially.

            I don't consider that form exists independently of material. A form is a description of something material.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            [Form is] always intrinsically related to material

            Maybe ... I think that's unclear. Mathematical thinking does not need to be tethered to physical application. Though, by some mystery, mathematical ideas that are developed without reference to physical reality often do end up being perfectly applicable to physical reality in unexpected ways. But anyway, I'll stipulate for now that form is always intrinsically related to matter. Even if that is true I see absolutely no reason to think that form is reducible to matter.

            I don't see why you would call [form] a fundamental substance

            Let me ask you this: what, in your mind, qualifies something as a "fundamental substance"?

          • >Though, by some mystery, mathematical ideas that are developed without reference to physical reality often do end up being perfectly applicable to physical reality in unexpected ways.

            Deep topic but I say the axioms from which mathematics are based are derived from intuittions and induction in material reality.

            >Let me ask you this: what, in your mind, qualifies something as a "fundamental substance"?

            Material .

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I can't tell if you are trying to be funny.

            I asked what qualifies as a fundamental substance so that I can understand why you think matter qualifies as a fundamental substance and form does not. And your answer is that a fundamental substance is necessarily material. I mean, that is a nice tidy answer, but you are reducing it to a tautology: "Matter is a fundamental substance because to be a fundamental substance something must be material." Can you elaborate your perspective on that a bit more?

          • OMG

            Thanks for the chuckle from your "FORMal” terms.
            (I can't help but think of you as "Mountain Man." Are you a trekker?)

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            As much as I relish the image of myself as a "mountain man", I'm afraid I don't measure up to that description. I suppose I'm a trekker of sorts, and some of my favorite running and mountain biking trails go up what are, nominally, mountains. But, I'm in Connecticut, so what we call "mountains" are really mostly just hills :-) And I don't have a long beard or wear heavy flannel or anything like that. On my better days, I'm just a pretty average looking guy from the Connecticut suburbs.

        • Jim (hillclimber)

          They are different conceptual levels we impose on our observations to make sense of what we see.

          Is this also true of the concept of "matter"? Is that merely a concept that we impose on our observations, or is that more fundamentally real in some sense?

          I'm trying to understand why you think some concepts (e.g. "materiality") correspond to something fundamentally real, while other concepts (e.g. "wholeness") are just useful fictions.

  • Can we speak about the limits of non-whole perception in terms of AI—like portrayed by Westworld and Humans? Ostensibly, there is some sort of limit as to what AI can do without perception of wholes, right? Can we explore just what that limit might be?

    • As delightful as the shows can be in their better moments, they're still fiction. The most direct way to explore the limits of what AI can do is of course to continue developing AI. But the empirical limits of AI are still of great philosophical value! This is because we can declare in advance what limits our philosophies place on AI, and then compare those to empirical progress.

      Theists are a diverse lot, but suppose one says, "My religion tells me that no AI can ever be truly philosophical. The test for that that makes most sense to me is: No AI can ever discuss philosophy via email with a panel of experts and be judged by the experts as more reasonable than the average YouTube commenter." That's an interesting claim with an intuitive relationship to religious matters, and it is well-defined enough to actually test. Indeed, it's epistemically responsible and praiseworthy, because it opens up that person's religious views to falsifiability.

      For my part, I'm a materialist regarding the mind, so I therefore expect
      that, with computational resources comparable to the human brain, an AI
      can be made and observed to do any cognitive task that a human can be
      observed to do. (I mention observation because some people claim humans
      can do a task, but they choose a "task" so vague or undefined that
      there is no way to confirm that it has been done.) So my philosophy could be easily falsified in a few years when we begin to have
      supercomputers that rival the human brain in computational resources.
      If it turns out that, even with those resources and concomitant progress
      in machine learning algorithms, we identify a specific task that we can
      verify the human does and the machine cannot be made to do, then my
      philosophy is wrong.

      • Dennis Bonnette

        Your philosophy is already wrong, because human beings can apprehend wholes in a single, unified act of perception, which no machine can ever do. Reread the OP.

        And yes, the explanation of what is meant by a whole is given inside the OP.

        • I note that you neglected to do either of the following:

          * reject any aspect of my prediction about AI
          * make any prediction of your own about AI

          Would you care to do either? If not, then can we conclude your philosophy has no empirical relevance to any imaginable future course of AI development?

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I am fully aware that I am ignoring your test for AI.

            My point is that it is totally irrelevant if you can show that a living sentient organism can do something that no physical machine can do. And it can.

            By the way, I have no doubt that a machine can be programmed to outperform a human being in many practical ways. But that in no way settles the question as to whether a human being has qualitatively superior abilities beyond the kind of skills that concern AI. Nor does it settle the ontological question as to whether some things exist that are not extended in space.

          • Is there thinking on what would happen to a human if you were to deprive him/her of the ability to have "a single, unified act of perception", but nothing else?

          • Dennis Bonnette

            The only way you could deprive him of that ability would be if you removed his immaterial soul. This would kill him.

          • Ok. I'm having a rather hard time understanding how this "single, unified act of perception" shows up from the outside—if it even does. Could some of the walking beings I experience in day-to-day life actually be synthetic androids which have never had "a single, unified act of perception"? Or would they somehow necessarily act differently from normal humans, such that it would be obvious to me? (Here, we'll assume I have the kind of 'soul' which allows me to have "a single, unified act of perception".)

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Of course, there is no way on earth that a subjective act of perception can be observed from the outside! Undoubtedly, most if not all such acts of perception would be accompanied by organic changes in the brain which are physically observable. But, that does not make what is observable BE the subjective experience.

            When you see a brightly lit Christmas tree, you do not find a small (or big) replica of one inside the brain. This, of course, does not mean that the subjective experience is NOT dependent upon the organ of the brain for its existence. It just means that it is not itself extended in space like the brain's parts are. That is the point of my argument about seeing the object or image "as a whole."

            As to who really has souls inside them enabling them to actually have subjective experience, that is another story. If we find a factory for androids somewhere, and if they look more real than the sex robots do thus far, then we have a bridge to cross.

          • When you see a brightly lit Christmas tree, you do not find a small (or big) replica of one inside the brain.

            For what it's worth, we do find a small *image* of the tree in the brain.

            1 - "Visual Field Maps in Human Cortex"

            2 - "Mind-Reading
            AI Optimizes Images Reconstructed from Your Brain Waves"

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Actually, I was aware that some sort of analogous representation schema is present in the brain -- although I still maintain that it does not look exactly like the external object.

            I read an article in Psychology Today some decades ago in which they had a rat look at a cross on a screen and -- bottom line -- they found a cross shaped "image" rather large across the rat's brain. Even so, there was geometric distortion.

            I would expect that some such replication does occur inside the brain. The problem is that it has the same problem I describe in the OP concerning the image on a TV screen. In fact, the very extension of the image over a visual field reinforces the argument that this cannot be what is actually experienced, since we always experience the whole object in a single act -- despite the fact that even inside the brain, the object is represented by different extended parts representing different parts of the external object.

            But the subjective experience is of the whole object all at once -- top to bottom, right to left. We call it "subjective" experience, but there is nothing subjective about it except that it is objectively in a knowing subject.

            The "image" in the brain's visual field has the same problem as the TV screen with its multiple pixels somehow representing what is experienced as a unified whole. Moving the representation back to another level, as in the brain, in no way solves the mystery as to how the object is experienced as a single thing all at once.

            All physical objects necessarily entail multiplicity of parts; but sensation has no multiplicity in itself -- only in what is sensed.

          • In fact, the very extension of the image over a visual field reinforces the argument that this cannot be what is actually experienced, since we always experience the whole object in a single act

            I prefer the reversed interpretation: the use throughout the brain of sensoritopic maps undermines the assumption that we always experience whole objects in single acts, and also demonstrates that the assumption is an unnecessary addition with no explanatory power beyond the information already accounted for in the maps.

            One could agree with skeptics about unity of consciousness that there is no such thing; among the best philosophers there is no consensus that it even exists. I do not endorse that. I'd opine that unity of consciousness is coextensive with and identical to the functional unity of the underlying brain processes. That functional unity is the network of neurons with their synaptic links and degrees of potentiation. This account has the virtue of explaining why disorders in specific regions of the brain are accompanied by deficits in unity of consciousness. Non-material accounts (such as yours) cannot explain this.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            The fact that we may not always experience whole objects in single acts would not undermine the reality of the experience in those cases in which we do, which I suggest is the norm. But it is not critical that it is the norm, since if it happened even once, the immaterial nature of it is still evident for reasons I give in the OP.

            It is also not an unnecessary addition because it does not add explanatory power, since it is the central reality of subjective consciousness itself -- the very thing the physically extended maps cannot explain.

            In no way does defects in the consciousness arising from disorders in the brain prove anything, since these are organic powers which are granted from the outset to be dependent on the existence and proper function of material organs.

            What must be attended to is the actual experience of sense objects as a whole, which is known only in a reflex act of consciousness in which we notice the unity of our perception. Working out the complex details of the corresponding material organs is very interesting, and certainly the experience itself cannot occur without such details working perfectly. But that does not account for the unique character of unified subjective experience itself.

            Look again at the paragraphs in the OP explaining why an extended physical medium is inherently incapable of explaining -- not the diverse details of the experience -- but its unity.

            This isn't the entire argument, but I like this paragraph:

            >"The only way to get the whole image on a TV screen as a whole would be to collapse the vertical and horizontal dimensions to a single “dot” in the center of the screen – such as old picture tube TV’s did when turning them off. Now you have perfect unity – only you have lost your picture, since all the photons are hitting the same spot! Analogously, the same logic applies to every other medium of data reception or storage: reducing the data to perfect unity would entail so overlapping data upon itself as to render it meaningless."

          • Hm, I really don't think that the "wholes" you refer to exist.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Stop looking for them as something that you can empirically verify by external observation of the brain.

            If I were arguing from your perspective, I would deny the "wholes" exist as well -- because your argument has "holes" in it if they do exist. ;-)

            Set aside your materialistic presumptions for a moment.

            Pay attention to your own actual experience of what you see in front of you. You are experiencing the "whole" of it at once. That is a fact of your own immediate experience. And the unified nature of your own immediate experience is just as much as a fact as anything you can judge by external observation. You are your own evidence that wholes exist.

            Don't worry about whether that experience is immaterial or material. Once you grant it is real, logic will determine the rest.

            The moment you accept that your experience is a whole, you are granting that it is also unified. And that is the datum that must be rationally explained -- something that extended objects in space cannot do.

          • You are experiencing the "whole" of it at once. That is a fact of your own immediate experience.

            Except it isn't a fact of my experience. From my conversation with Luke:

            "Gaze at the most colorful object in reach, and at the same time pinch your thumb. Try to concentrate on both sensations. Ordinarily, your attention will rapidly switch back and forth between the two sensations. If you continue trying to concentrate on both sensations for a while, however, you may think that you do sense them both at the same time. Practiced meditators in Buddhist traditions say that this thought is false, and that if we practiced strengthening our attention as they did, we would observe it to be false, and would instead observe that our attention flickers in discrete jumps at a maximum of about 40 Hertz. I am not a practiced meditator and cannot confirm their claim. But for what it's worth, it does comport with what I know about the brain's attention processes."

            It also matches my very limited experience of meditation. When I closely and consistently pay attention to a sensation, I do find it to be, not a unity, but discrete "packets" of sensation that only make sense in relation to each other. Like how a old-timey movie screen presents a rapid sequence of images that give the illusion of unified continuity when one doesn't look closely enough, so the meditation experts say is true of all perceptual experience.

            I don't know the meditators' claim to be a fact. I don't know your opposite claim to be a fact. My experience thus far is a middle ground somewhat nearer the meditators' position.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Now you are not talking about your own actual experience, but a theoretical explanation of how that experience might be taking place. That is not empirical.

            You touched on something when you referred to "discrete "packets" of sensation that only make sense in relation to each other."

            Your very act of relating one to another is an experience of unification and wholeness -- otherwise you would not connect the packets at all.

            Experience IS the CONNECTEDNESS of the individual packets (whatever they are), just like the pixels in my TV set example.

            But again, I submit that you are now not paying attention to your own direct experience, say, of the whole monitor before your eyes -- in which you see the whole screen. It does not matter if your brain is feeding you discrete parts of the picture at nanosecond discrete intervals. What matters is that your experience is that of a "whole," and that wholeness must be explained -- NOT on the part of the "incoming" units of data (be they pixels on the monitor or neurons firing in the brain), BUT ON THE PART OF YOU EXPERIENCING IT AS A WHOLE.

            The really existing "wholeness" needs to be explained -- and physically extended mediums just cannot do it.

          • You can't have any justification for trying to tell me what my experience really is, because you have no way of directly experiencing my subjective experiences. To quote you back at yourself: You are not talking about your own actual experience, but a theoretical explanation of how my experience might be taking place. You're free to reinterpret what I say about my experience, of course, but you're simply flat wrong to suggest you know my experience better than I do.

            It does not matter if your brain is feeding you discrete parts of the picture at nanosecond discrete intervals. What matters is that your experience is that of a "whole," and that wholeness must be explained

            I explained it in the manner of the expert meditators: that wherever I take the time to investigate a perception, I find that no "whole" exists at all for me. It seems to be nothing more than an illusion caused by not paying close attention, a sloppy thought like a vague word that captures only general features while leaving out the fine details. I part ways with the meditators in that I can't inductively conclude that the same is true of all perception for all people. But it does seem plausible.

            Your very act of relating one to another is an experience of unification and wholeness

            When I carefully investigate that experience of the relation between 'atoms' of experience, I find that it too dissolves into the same set of 'atoms', plus one 'atom' that feels like it is a filtration process (i.e. probably the attention process) and one that feels like it is a coincidence detector (e.g. where one neurons fires iff two input neurons fire, encoding an AND function, as is common throughout the brain). So it seems to be simply the same illusion again, the same sloppy thought.

            To put it another way, for me the "whole" experience feels straightforwardly constructed as the mere collection of its parts.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            You use the word "thought" here twice. I hope you don't mean it literally, since we are talking about sense perception, such as seeing.

            I suggest you just stare at your monitor for a bit and realize that, no matter how it all comes together, you are seeing it as a whole. I don't care if there is a single focus point and the rest is a bit blurry. It is still one single experience of a physically extended sense object. Do you allege that this whole monitor you experience "feels straightforwardly constructed as the mere collection of its parts?"

            I surely do not experience my monitor that way as it sits in front of me. I don't care about its own physical nature or if my experience is the product of millions of incoming neurons firing in nanosecond discrete units. All that is thought process to me. What my sense experience is, though, is that of a whole. I may focus on the word directly in front of me as I type, but my peripheral vision gives me the whole monitor at once as some kind of whole.

            That needs explaining, unless I deny what I am directly experiencing. No good philosopher denies experience. He may use good reasoning, also. In fact, good philosophers use both well. But no good philosopher denies experience.

          • I suggest you just stare at your monitor for a bit and realize that, no matter how it all comes together, you are seeing it as a whole.

            Do you have any sense of whether what you're saying here connects to the following? Here is Charles Taylor rejecting … 'sense atomism':

                Kant already showed that the atomistic understanding of knowledge that Hume espoused was untenable in the light of these conditions. If our states were to count as experience of an objective reality, they had to be bound together to form a coherent whole, or bound together by rules, as Kant conceived it. However much this formulation may be challenged, the incoherence of the Humean picture, which made the basis of all knowledge the reception of raw, atomic, uninterpreted data, was brilliantly demonstrated. How did Kant show this? He established in fact an argument form that has been used by his successors ever since. It can be seen as a kind of appeal to intuition. In the case of this particular refutation of Hume (which is, I believe, the main theme of the transcendental deduction in the first edition of the Critique of Pure Reason), he makes us aware, first, that we wouldn't have what we recognize as experience at all unless it were construable as of an object (I take this as a kind of proto-thesis of intentionality), and second, that their being of an object entails a certain relatedness among our "representations." Without this, Kant says, "it would be possible for appearances to crowd in upon the soul and yet to be such as would never allow of experience." Our perceptions "would not then belong to any experience, consequently would be without an object, merely a blind play of representations, less even than a dream."[16]
                I think this kind of appeal to intuition is better understood as an appeal to what I want to call our "agent's knowledge." As subjects effectively engaged in the activities of getting to perceive and know the world, we are capable of identifying certain conditions without which our activity would fall apart into incoherence. The philosophical achievement is to define the issues properly. Once this is done, as Kant does so brilliantly in relation to Humean empiricism, we find there is only one rational answer. Plainly we couldn't have experience of the world at all if we had to start with a swirl of uninterpreted data. Indeed, there would be no "data," because even this minimal description depends on our distinguishing what is given by some objective source from what we merely supply ourselves.[17] (Philosophical Arguments, 10–11)

            Here is Taylor and Hubert Dreyfus talking about the same thing in more detail:

            As this came to Kant through Hume, it seemed to be suggesting that the original level of knowledge of reality (whatever that turned out to be) came in particulate bits, individual “impressions.” This level of information could be isolated from a later stage in which these bits were connected together, for example, in beliefs about cause-effect relations. We find ourselves forming such beliefs, but we can by taking a stance of reflexive scrutiny (which we saw above is fundamental to modern epistemology) separate the basic level from these too-hasty conclusions we leap to. This analysis allegedly reveals, for instance, that nothing in the phenomenal field corresponds to the necessary connection we too easily interpolate between “cause” and “effect.”[5]
                Kant undercuts this whole way of thinking by showing that it supposes, for each particulate impression, that it is being taken as a bit of potential information. It purports to be about something. The primitive distinction recognized by empiricists between impressions of sensation and those of reflection amounts to an acknowledgement of this. The buzzing in my head is discriminated from the noise I hear from the neighboring woods, in that the first is a component of how I feel, and the second seems to tell me something about what’s happening out there. So even a particulate “sensation,” really to be sensation (in the empiricist sense, that is, as opposed to reflection), has to have this dimension of “aboutness.” This will later be called “intentionality,” but Kant speaks of the necessary relation to an object of knowledge. “Now we find that our thought of the relation of all knowledge to its object carries with it an element of necessity” (Wir finden aber, dass unser Gedanke von der Beziehung aller Erkenntniss auf ihren Gegenstand etwas von Notwendigkeit bei sich führe).[6]
                With this point secured, Kant argues that this relationship to an object would be impossible if we really were to take the impression as an utterly isolated content, without any link to others. To see it as about something is to place it somewhere, at the minimum out in the world, as against in me, to give it a location in a world which, while it is in many respects indeterminate and unknown for me, cannot be wholly so. The unity of this world is presupposed by anything which could present itself as a particulate bit of information, and so whatever we mean by such a particulate bit, it couldn’t be utterly without relation to all others. The background condition for this favorite supposition of empiricist philosophy, the simple impression, forbids us giving it the radical sense which Hume seemed to propose for it. To attempt to violate this back-ground condition is to fall into incoherence. Really to succeed in breaking all links between individual impressions would be to lose all sense of awareness of anything. “These perceptions would not then belong to any experience, consequently would be without an object, merely a blind play of representations, less even than a dream” (Diese [sc. Wahrnehmungen] würden aber alsdann auch zu keiner Erfahrung gehören, folglich ohne Objekt und nichts als ein blindes Spiel der Vorstellungen, d.i. weniger als ein Traum sein).[7] (Retrieving Realism, 32–33)

            As best I understand, the above presupposes a unity of perception (at least of objects perceived), but adds the unarticulated background—not only do we see whole objects, but we see them in a context. There is foreground and background.

            I'm also reminded of the two bits from Aristotle and Bertrand Russell in de Koninck's The Unity and Diversity of Natural Science, which I excerpted to you. They certainly seem to be starting at wholes and only later breaking down into parts. I'm tempted to say that those who think it goes the other way have absorbed toxic nominalism into their intellectual DNA. More nefariously, someone who wants to construct a different social order might try to create nominalistic, atomistic chaos as the transition state …

          • Dennis Bonnette

            The general drift of this roughly corresponds to what I am saying. The problem with Kant is that he achieved the unity of the manifold by making the noumena into phenomena by means of a priori forms of all possible cognition which permit the formation of synthetic a priori judgments, thus establishing the basis for defending the universal and necessary propositions found in Newtonian physics.

            My difficulty with him is that to achieve this unity of apperception he imposes on the data we experience a priori categories which make it forever impossible to have any intellectual grasp of things in themselves. Thus, he makes room for belief by destroying classical metaphysics.

            One must never forget that Kant was responding to the epistemological subjectivism and atomism of Hume and was amazingly unaware of the writings of classical philosophers of the Medieval Period, such as St. Thomas.

            As a result, he thinks he saves Newtonian physics, but at the price of no longer knowing any intellectual truth about objective reality by pure reason. Thus, the Critique of Pure Reason.

            You will notice in his writings that he says a lot about how the manifold of experience is united and rendered intelligible through the various categories he hypothesizes for apperception and understanding. What he does not do, or does only rarely, is to talk about trees and horses and the sorts of things we know in the real world -- since his epistemology has forever restricted pure reason to the phenomena, that is, things as they appear to us, not as they are in themselves.

            To explain all this more simply, as one of my professors at Notre Dame put it, "The reason that we see trees is, not because we know trees in themselves, but because we are tree seeing beings," according to Kant.

            I have explained the simplicity of sense perception in the OP in terms of epistemological realism. While I concur with Kant in saying that perception entails some method of assuring unity, I depart from him utterly in insisting that what we know is extramental reality given us by the senses -- and that the sense experience is both itself a whole and also entails the content of wholes, such as trees and horses -- something Kant would find impossible.

          • The general drift of this roughly corresponds to what I am saying.

            Excellent; that was what I was going for. I too take exception to Kant's categories and treatment of noumena/​phenomena, but I do think I've just established something slightly less speculative which could help folks here connect to what you're saying. What is a bit odd is that I think Kant's argument might bear on AI as well.

            My difficulty with him is that to achieve this unity of apperception he imposes on the data we experience a priori categories which make it forever impossible to have any intellectual grasp of things in themselves. Thus, he makes room for belief by destroying classical metaphysics.

            I'll take your word on it for the time being. It sounds like in a way, Hume and Kant are two extremes in the philosophy of perception. Situating your understanding of perception between them might be a neat way to explain how A–T metaphysics is superior to two major intellectual ancestors of the [post]modern age. I'm not even sure how many people you encounter in the comments section differ all that much from Kant or Hume. Perhaps some schizophrenically switch between them.

            One must never forget that Kant was responding to the epistemological subjectivism and atomism of Hume and was amazingly unaware of the writings of classical philosophers of the Medieval Period, such as St. Thomas.

            Perhaps one must never forget that, but how much of the intellectual heritage bequeathed to Western Civilization is thusly unaware? I count myself among those unaware, although I've done enough thinking and exploring to find problems in my intellectual heritage.

            As a result, he thinks he saves Newtonian physics, but at the price of no longer knowing any intellectual truth about objective reality by pure reason. Thus, the Critique of Pure Reason.

            One of the themes I've explored is that scientific knowledge is instrumental knowledge and thus we build up knowledge about how to control and dominate, without building up knowledge about how to agape. Very roughly, to agape is to enhance the telos of another being or even an inanimate part of creation. Instrumental knowledge is blind to telē, and thus permits the user to impose his/her telos on reality. I know that Heidegger said some things along this line (e.g. with 'care'), but I have neither read him nor read any sustained treatment of his ideas. Is this subject at all related to what you're talking about, here?

            By the way, if we [post]moderns are stuck in some sort of Kant–Hume oscillation, I could imagine that creating an asymptote for future scientific exploration, an asymptote which functions like Josef Pieper's 'canopy'—invisible to us except via philosophizing. And it has to be philosophizing "for its own sake"—forcing practicality is exactly the problem. After all, that which is 'practical' is predicated upon humankind's current desires. What if God wants us to have fantastically more glorious desires and understand fantastically more about all of reality? What if we've shut ourselves off from that, for various reasons? Figuring that out could easily require a lot of time in the ethereal, speculative, utterly useless plane. But I do think one needs to come back to the real world at some point, with a tether that connects the two.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            My main problem with both Hume and Kant and most all who owe their intellectual heritage to Descartes is that they are mired in various forms of epistemological idealism.

            So, no, the A-T explanation of the simplicity of perception does not fit between Hume and Kant at all. A-T is talking about an act of perception whose primary object is extramental reality -- not mere sense impressions or phenomena that have been conditioned by a priori forms innate to the human mind.

            Frankly, from the perspective of A-T philosophy, the entire philosophical enterprise based on Descartes was so alienated from reality by that French mathematician/philosopher that the entire chain of post-Cartesian thinking is compromised.

            As for God wanting us to find out far deeper truths in philosophy, I hate to say it, but I suspect he is mainly concerned about how many of us go to Heaven.

          • My main problem with both Hume and Kant and most all who owe their intellectual heritage to Descartes is that they are mired in various forms of epistemological idealism.

            Ok sure, but isn't it often the case that when there are two polar opposites, they actually agree on the thing that is creating the problem between them?

            So, no, the A-T explanation of the simplicity of perception does not fit between Hume and Kant at all.

            Are you saying that there's nothing that Hume got better than Kant or nothing that Kant got better than Hume, where A–T can salvage the good things of each and discard the bad things of each? What I'm trying to do here is challenge you to better match the A–T philosophy you believe in to what your hearers are almost certainly mired in.

            A-T is talking about an act of perception whose primary object is extramental reality -- not mere sense impressions or phenomena that have been conditioned by a priori forms innate to the human mind.

            Ok, but maybe it would be helpful to your hearers to take them through this step-by-step? For example, here's David Braine (arguing from A–T) arguing that modern scientific thinking is crypto-Cartesian dualist:

                Destroy the unity of the human being and you destroy the unity of the biography of this human being. Perception is dissolved into, first, a 'perceptual experience' conceived of as something entirely 'inner' to the mind (whether it be a going-on in the brain or a going-on in the soul); second, 'external' goings-on and states of affairs in the sense organs and the physical world; and third, together with these, a causal relation between them. Intentional action is likewise dissolved into an 'inner' act of will and an 'outer' bodily movement, together with a causal relation between them. And so it is with every state or going-on involving consciousness: it is dissolved into an inner part which is an element in the history of the soul or brain and an outer part which is purely physical and an element in the history of the 'outer man' and the rest of the physical world.
                It is no longer the human being as such who enjoys direct perception of the world in a situation of exploratory relation to it and who acts within the world. There are no direct human relations of knowledge or of causal action upon the world. On analysis, it is not that the human being as such is in direct and real relations of these kinds to the world but that states or goings-on in the human soul, mind, or brain are in indirect, mediated, and contingent relation to states and goings on in the world. For the mind to be directed towards an object is, in this analysis, for it to be directed towards an 'intentional' object, for things to be 'as if' they are as they are believed or assumed to be, 'as if' this object were real, without any implication that things are in fact as they are believed or assumed to be or that the object is in fact real.
                In all this the materialist has exactly the same picture as the dualist. (The Human Person: Animal and Spirit, 3)

            What Braine is doing here is identifying a real problem in current scientific thinking, and saying that his way of understanding things doesn't have that problem (and doesn't make some catastrophic trade-off to avoid it). You, on the other hand, often don't make a connection to the other person's way of thinking like this. I'm suggesting that if you did, you'd get a lot fewer people missing the point. But hey, I'm just a random dude on the internet; what do I know?

            Frankly, from the perspective of A-T philosophy, the entire philosophical enterprise based on Descartes was so alienated from reality by that French mathematician/​philosopher that the entire chain of post-Cartesian thinking is compromised.

            Perhaps you could write an equivalent riff on A Canticle for Leibowitz, as Alasdair MacIntyre did in the beginning of After Virtue. But MacIntyre traces how we got from there to here, step-by-step. He builds a bridge. I'm trying to cajole you into doing the same.

            As for God wanting us to find out far deeper truths in philosophy, I hate to say it, but I suspect he is mainly concerned about how many of us go to Heaven.

            Be that as it may, Jesus still said "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly."

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I guess what you are describing simply isn't my thing. Besides, if Braine has already done it, why should I? I am not convinced that my failure to gain assent from some commenters is because of my mode of expression as much as simply that they disagree with the content -- that is, what I am saying.

            Frankly, I have been retired now for fifteen years already and most of what I write here simply flows from my teaching experience and prior writings. If I were to do things much more innovative, it would be like going back to work! Plowing through the technical intricacies of the whole modern history of philosophy is not my idea of retirement! :)

            Besides, I think a lot of good can be done just by attempting to explain in direct terms the content of A-T philosophy -- since a lot of people really are not familiar with it. And, as you see, I do try to make it more clear in the comments.

            I don't think your cajoling will work. ;-)

          • You don't have to be the one who connects A–T to the … folk philosophies which are held by most of SN's readers. Surely there is someone with whom you could work? Without that, I think you're signing up for a lot more of this:

            DB: Nobody seems to be "getting" what I am talking about in the OP!

            However, if you're happy with the status quo—and I must commend you for engaging so much with commenters—then I will stop objecting. I probably won't participate nearly as much, because it costs me a lot to breathe the kind of rarefied air required by your particular style. Maybe others do much better?

             
            P.S. I have no idea if David Braine deals with the unity of perception that is the topic of the OP. I can only read his work a bit at a time before I must come back to earth for air. I do suspect he is a good resource for where you are reluctant to tread; I direct readers to these works of his:

            The Reality of Time and the Existence of God: The Project of Proving God's Existence
            The Human Person: Animal and Spirit
            Language and Human Understanding: The Roots of Creativity in Speech and Thought

            My intuition says that he has markedly superior ways of understanding things which could feed into superior scientific prowess, perhaps after some further years of processing. I'll advertise the first (which is explicitly A–T), as it seems to fit in with some things you've said on this page:

                The role of philosophers has seemed to be that of questioning the apparently obvious. Until modern times the existence of God was not thereby brought more into doubt than the existence of the material world, of causal connection, or moral obligation, or of other things which the philosophers might bring into doubt amongst ‘intellectuals’. For instance, in the Aristotelian conception, the method prescribed for the philosopher was to take the more obvious seeming truths, the more common opinions, and more evident parts of experience, and to reject the things thus apparently given, or to modify them only to the extent required to bring them into coherence with one another.[3] It was not, as since the time of Descartes it has in stages become, a matter of starting from scratch and, for instance, of looking for proof of the very existence of causal connection, querying its nature as well as its existence, and leaving the existence of God as cause the most doubtful rather than among the most evident of propositions. (The Reality of Time and the Existence of God, 4)

          • From my conversation with Luke:

            "Gaze at the most colorful object in reach, and at the same time pinch your thumb. Try to concentrate on both sensations. Ordinarily, your attention will rapidly switch back and forth between the two sensations. If you continue trying to concentrate on both sensations for a while, however, you may think that you do sense them both at the same time. Practiced meditators in Buddhist traditions say that this thought is false, and that if we practiced strengthening our attention as they did, we would observe it to be false, and would instead observe that our attention flickers in discrete jumps at a maximum of about 40 Hertz. I am not a practiced meditator and cannot confirm their claim. But for what it's worth, it does comport with what I know about the brain's attention processes."

            I tried that experiment yesterday and just now, and I didn't sense a switching. (Maybe I suck at it.) I do wonder if eye-tracking would have seen any attempts to divert my gaze from the bright object to my pinched thumb. In my second attempt, started thinking about how the body manages to integrate sensation from multiple senses and fuse that into a single object. A reason that wouldn't happen in your example is that we are certain that the pinching of the thumb doesn't have the same object-cause as the seeing of the bright object. However, I'll bet one could set up a gaze-monitoring experiment with a monkey such that it receives an electrical shock every time it gazes at the brightest object in the room. Might the monkey end up considering the pain and visual sight to be of the same object?

            I'm beginning to wonder whether Dr. Bonnette's article is somehow analogous to the question of whether objects actually exist qua objects. If one were to generalize your own claim to the idea that distinct sensations are always experienced as distinct, that would seem to match something like Hume's bundle theory. In contrast to this, I am much more confident about my understanding of an object if I can interact with it via multiple sensory modalities. Do we have experimental data which shows that when a human is interacting with an object via multiple sensory modalities, that there is a constant switching between them somewhere in the brain?

            It also matches my very limited experience of meditation. When I closely and consistently pay attention to a sensation, I do find it to be, not a unity, but discrete "packets" of sensation that only make sense in relation to each other. Like how a old-timey movie screen presents a rapid sequence of images that give the illusion of unified continuity when one doesn't look closely enough, so the meditation experts say is true of all perceptual experience.

            When I closely and consistently pay attention to a whole, I can often break it into parts as well. But how can I say that it's really made of parts if the first thing I consciously recognized was a whole?! One way to test this is to see if other people identify a different whole with some overlap with the whole you saw, but break their different whole down into the same [overlapping] parts. If they don't, then I think there is reason to suppose that how you pick the whole determines what you think the parts are. But if there is determination of this kind, then it seems we have to give some reality to the whole, such that it is not "just the parts". Or have I made an error?

          • Raymond

            >Pay attention to your own actual experience of what you see in front of you. You are experiencing the "whole" of it at once. That is a fact of your own immediate experience.

            No. You are only experiencing the part of that "whole" that is presented to your senses. You only have a vague supposition of what the whole is like.

            If you look at a forest, you see only the trees and parts of trees that are visible at the time. You have no idea whether there is a cabin or a used car lot or anything beyond your current perceptions.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Whether you correctly experience the sensed object or not is totally irrelevant to the fact that what you experience, you experience as containing "wholes," or even as being a "whole" as a whole. It is not the content of the experience that is at issue, but its perceptual unity.

          • Raymond

            But it is exactly my contention that the content of the experience belies the concept of perceptual unity.

            I am standing on a dirt road in what appears to be an Old West town. I can see the saloon, the general store, the hotel, the jail, etc. But if I walk behind the buildings, I see that only the front of the building and part of the roof actually exist. These are facades on a movie lot.

            I perceived these structures as one thing, but I did not perceive the whole, and my experience changes as a result.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            You are missing the whole point (forgive the pun).

            It does not matter what you are looking at or whether you see the whole of its backside.

            You would not know you were in what looks like "an Old West town," unless you had some experience of it as a whole. In fact, a town is a collection of wholes perceived as wholes.

            Still, none of this matters to my point. Right now you are reading these words on a screen which you see as a whole, even if the periphery is out of focus. You could not even read a single word unless you see the letters all at once and perceive it is one word.

            The problem with the point I am making is that it is so obvious that people overlook it. They "out think" the problem, instead of just noticing that their perception unifies many discrete parts into one experience.

          • Of course, there is no way on earth that a subjective act of perception can be observed from the outside!

            When it comes to "a single, unified act of perception", there's a big difference between

                 (i) seeing all the details of said perception
                (ii) seeing any evidence that said perception happened

            Our discussion here is very similar to the question of whether there could be philosophical zombies, by the way. I'm reminded of Charles Taylor very briefly rejecting Hume's atomistic understanding of perception via appeal to Kant's argument against it; if you were to take this tact, then there would be some fundamental requirement that there be "a single, unified act of perception" instead of a mass of uninterpreted pixels. Then, without such perception, the abilities of a being would be drastically limited. But how would they be limited?

            When you see a brightly lit Christmas tree, you do not find a small (or big) replica of one inside the brain. This, of course, does not mean that the subjective experience is NOT dependent upon the organ of the brain for its existence. It just means that it is not itself extended in space like the brain's parts are. That is the point of my argument about seeing the object or image "as a whole."

            That's fine as far as it goes, but I generally find it hard to understand a thing when there are absolutely zero correlates out in reality—outside my head. Mind you, I'm still a Christian, not an atheist. I am not a physicalist. But I just have a really hard time understanding something if it doesn't somehow show up outside the mind. Maybe this is just my problem.

            As to who really has souls inside them enabling them to actually have subjective experience, that is another story. If we find a factory for androids somewhere, and if they look more real than the sex robots do thus far, then we have a bridge to cross.

            It seems a little unfair for you to wait until after that hypothetical happens to say anything whatsoever. Part of the power of the predict-test loop is that we deprive ourselves of the many ways we have to tell just-so stories—even when we don't mean to. It also makes this conversation less fun. :-/

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Let me take your points in order if I may:

            First, although the subjective act of perception itself cannot be observed, surely there will be corresponding changes in the brain that can be empirically verified. This is so much true that it deceives reductionists into thinking that the subjective experience is nothing but the physical brain changes. The point of my OP is, in part, to demonstrate that this is untrue. The subjective experience of seeing a whole in a unified manner is an act which is “not extended in space.” Recall, that even energy fields are “extended in space” in the sense that we can locate where they are acting and where they are not.

            Second, you ask how a being’s ability would be limited absent the ability to perceive in a single, unified act. Let me explain it from my perspective as a Thomist. First, the ability to perceive is a power of the sensitive soul. It is a proper accident of every animal, since animals (including man) are sentient beings. While one can lose the exercise of such a faculty through organic defect, there is really no way one can lose the power of the soul without having the soul itself go out of existence.

            On the contrary-to-possibility hypothesis that the ability to unify sense perception as a whole somehow ceased to exist, so would perception itself – since it is always experienced as a whole “something,” even if that something were merely a pinpoint (since every physical object has some extension in space). This makes sense to me, at least for the sense of sight. Whether it equally applies to the other senses, I have not thought about.

            Third, as to the problem with the act of perception not being observable “from outside” the brain, I suggest that we are perhaps conditioned to think in physicalist terms, which is unfortunate. The only way you can grasp the force of my argument is to realize that the act of perception can only be known by self-reflection on one’s own act of perceiving. When we sense an object, we immediately know the object itself, and reflexively then realize that we are observing it, and that it is “I” who is doing the observing. The latter two elements of perception can only be known by internal self-reflection. It does not mean they are non-verifiable, but rather that verifiability has a broader meaning that is often understood.

            Finally, as to whether we could tell if androids had souls, that is questionable – since we are well past having a computer pass the Turing test. I would say, though, that the only things that have souls would have to be creatures born of natural generation, since substantial forms belong only to natural substances – not to artificial unities such as androids. So, ask the android for its birth certificate.

          • First, although the subjective act of perception itself cannot be observed, surely there will be corresponding changes in the brain that can be empirically verified. This is so much true that it deceives reductionists into thinking that the subjective experience is nothing but the physical brain changes. The point of my OP is, in part, to demonstrate that this is untrue. The subjective experience of seeing a whole in a unified manner is an act which is “not extended in space.” Recall, that even energy fields are “extended in space” in the sense that we can locate where they are acting and where they are not.

            Oh, I expect two things to happen:

                 (1) people who think they're smart claiming they've explained everything
                 (2) plenty actually remaining unexplained

            This is the pattern of humanity. Yuval Levin says it very nicely: "Ignorance brings learning, but knowledge breeds rigidity of mind." (Tyranny of Reason, xviii) But I also expect an ability to explain empirical examples of how the smart people can't actually account for everything. Now, this can be terribly difficult because for a while, when we're still reaping the fruit of some advance, there is a temptation to think that said advance will explain all of the things. But if God is as awesome as we claim he is, surely he can give us not just ideas that are more correct, but ways to connect those ideas to his awesome creation—a creation which is always more awesome than we say it is. We judge a tree not by its pleasantness to the mind, but by its fruit. The Greeks might downplay the importance of empirical reality and upplay the holiness of their concepts; we who respect YHWH must dissent (A Study of Hebrew Thought).

            On the contrary-to-possibility hypothesis that the ability to unify sense perception as a whole somehow ceased to exist, so would perception itself – since it is always experienced as a whole “something,” even if that something were merely a pinpoint (since every physical object has some extension in space). This makes sense to me, at least for the sense of sight. Whether it equally applies to the other senses, I have not thought about.

            Ostensibly, you think that mere machines (e.g. current machine learning algorithms) don't actually perceive. That's fine, but what is the limit to what such machines can do? One answer is that maybe they'll be doomed to categorize some black faces as "ape", because of the racist nature of the images we feed to the training phase. Maybe we can say that current machines cannot combat racism but rather, all they can do is accentuate it? That would make current machines out to only enhance the power of the dominant social class. I could see that argument going interesting places.

            Third, as to the problem with the act of perception not being observable “from outside” the brain, I suggest that we are perhaps conditioned to think in physicalist terms, which is unfortunate. The only way you can grasp the force of my argument is to realize that the act of perception can only be known by self-reflection on one’s own act of perceiving.

            I want to be as sensitive as I can to this. For example, I think a major weakness of current AI efforts is that of recognizing deception. The Star Trek scriptwriters realized this in how easy it was to deceive two AI characters: Lt Cmdr Data and The Doctor. Deception is one of those weird recursive beasts where I'm trying to think what you're trying to think about what I'm trying to think about you. So I think there's something really profound to self-reflection. But surely a being with true self-reflection should show some empirical differences between a being who doesn't have such self-reflection abilities. That would be a mind-external empirical correlate. That's the thing I don't see you providing.

            To say it a different way, I expect a superior self-understanding to yield a superior ability to act in reality somehow. Maybe that superior ability is manifest in what James calls 'true religion': "to visit orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained from the world". Whatever it is, I don't think it's unreasonable to expect a superiority which can be judged as one judges a tree's fruit. Do you disagree?

            I would say, though, that the only things that have souls would have to be creatures born of natural generation, since substantial forms belong only to natural substances – not to artificial unities such as androids.

            The best scifi accounting of androids has them essentially being the children of humans—not biological, but surely conceptual. (Hrm, I see 'conceptual' as verging on 'gnostic', but I can't think of a better term which teaches the AI a disposition toward reality.) Let's take Elon Musk's worries about AI. I think it's only rational for him to worry about what AI will do if he's worried that humans are terrible to each other and AI will learn how to be terrible to humans, but do it in a way that is superior to how humans do it. Children are like their parents.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I agree with you that there should be some difference between human beings and AI artifacts which is detectable.

            My main concern, though, is to defend the essential superiority of man over AI artifacts which exists, whether it is easily detectable or not.

            You talk about humans having a "superior self-understanding," but what most concerns me to to communicate to others is that AI artifacts have no "self-understanding" at all.

            Many people appear confused by some of the claims that flow from such sci-fi fantasies as Star Trek that make people think transporters can safely disassemble our molecules at one end of the trip and "reassemble" them at the other end -- not realizing that you just cannot do things like that with real human beings.

            The poor soul who enters the transporter at this end dies as his molecules are dissected, while the other end cannot produce a true human being at all -- despite how artfully an organic "match" is created from a perfect reading of the "victim traveler's" atomic state at the entry end.

            And the reason for this inability to synthesize a human being at the terminus ad quem is the same reason that androids cannot understand or sense anything at all.

            That reason is because they lack the human substantial form, the philosophical principle that unifies the living substance, puts it into its proper living species, enables it to sense and think, and gives it actual existence: the living soul -- a spiritual principle that God alone can create.

            This is why I make the lowly point in this OP that materialism/atomism cannot even explain how a dumb bunny can see the carrot before it sight -- because it lacks the unifying existential principle needed -- the immaterial soul with its immaterial sense faculties -- in order to sense anything at all. The little telltale sign that pure matter cannot explain how we unify the content of sensation into wholes is simply the bottom tip of the iceberg.

            The entire panoply of metaphysical distinctions between non-living physical matter and living organisms that can sense and, at a higher level, understand, judge, and reason could be examined as well.

            But, I just wanted to point out in this OP that even the minor act of seeing or perceiving sense objects as a whole opens a new world of metaphysics utterly beyond the grasp of metaphysical materialism.

          • My main concern, though, is to defend the essential superiority of man over AI artifacts which exists, whether it is easily detectable or not.

            Sure, but for some of us, 'essential superiority' is rather meaningless if we don't know how to detect it from the outside. Those of us who have spent a lot of time introspecting know that it is easy to tell ourselves a lot of just-so stories which just aren't true. GK Chesterton rightly pointed out that the lunatic can be exceedingly rational. One way to fight this bad tendency is to have some of the iceberg show up above the water line.

            You talk about humans having a "superior self-understanding," but what most concerns me to to communicate to others is that AI artifacts have no "self-understanding" at all.

            That may be true by some sense of 'self-understanding' which slices nature at her joints, but I can't find those joints. Why can't an AI model itself? And how much can a human lack self-understanding? Aquinas did write on this; see Therese Scarpelli Cory's Aquinas on Human Self-Knowledge. According to Aquinas' separation of mortal and venial sin (per Pieper), mortal sin is internally irreparable in the sense that I have integrated falsehood/​evil into my core judgment faculties, such that only with external help can they be removed. But with enough falsehood/​evil accepted as true/​good, will I actually be rather terrible at self-understanding? You certainly seem to be dealing with issues in this domain:

            DB: Just as I expected, this article is being very badly misunderstood because the commenters are trying to convert everything I said into something they can understand in purely material terms.

            I would like to suggest that belief monism can radically distort one's understanding of self and world; I'm reminded of Isaiah:

            “‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand;
            keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’
            Make the heart of this people dull,
                and their ears heavy,
                and blind their eyes;
            lest they see with their eyes,
                and hear with their ears,
            and understand with their hearts,
                and turn and be healed.”
            (Isaiah 6:9b–10)

            The question I have for you, Dr. Bonnette, is whether there is a way to lead such people back to the truth, but one step at a time, from a position as close to where they self-evaluate as being at, as possible. After all, God is exceedingly willing to work with our brokenness. One possibility I'm playing with is that a belief in monism does not permit one in acknowledging anyone or anything as truly Other. Perhaps there is something similar in dealing with unity/​immateriality of perception? Maybe you could play with whether "everything is matter" ⇒ "everything is extended in space" ⇒ "the statement 'everything is extended in space' must be extended in space" ⇒ «insert logical/​philosophical complaint here».

            That reason is because they lack the human substantial form, the philosophical principle that unifies the living substance, puts it into its proper living species, enables it to sense and think, and gives it actual existence: the living soul -- a spiritual principle that God alone can create.

            What makes it impossible for God to give a soul to an AI?

            By the way, self-understanding requires self-reference which is extremely problematic, as we know from various logic paradoxes, Gödel's incompleteness theorems, and Thomas Breuer's The Impossibility of Accurate State Self-Measurements (pdf). For the self to model itself, the model has to somehow be smaller than the full self in the same way a map is smaller than the territory. But then is crucial detail lost? I can easily see how this process of self-modeling would telescope into something awfully like a single point. I'm reminded of hypothesized state right before the Big Bang, when there was structure but no extent. I'm also reminded of the old idea that consciousness jumps from neuron to neuron. What can certainly be said is that such self-reference/​self-modeling cannot be done digitally. The term 'digitally' refers very strongly to (i) current understandings of computation; (ii) atomism; (iii) classical logic. One could say that while a machine can kinda self-represent, the process is lossy and cannot be taken "to the limit".

            This is why I make the lowly point in this OP that materialism/​atomism cannot even explain how a dumb bunny can see the carrot before it sight -- because it lacks the unifying existential principle needed -- the immaterial soul with its immaterial sense faculties -- in order to sense anything at all.

            I won't speak for others, but from my perspective, all I get from this is that you, using your understanding of reality, can't make sense of something inside your head. It is just meaningless logicking to me. Now, I think it's obvious that I'm stretching hard to try and connect to what you're saying; I might say that while my left hemisphere finds your system of logic to be nothing but symbols, my right hemisphere intuits that something is there. (thanks, Iain McGilchrist)

          • Dennis Bonnette

            > “Those of us who have spent a lot of time introspecting know that it is easy to tell ourselves a lot of just-so stories which just aren't true”

            I am not quite sure what you mean by “introspecting,” but I am referring to an epistemic analysis of the act of perception itself. It entails three elements: (1) the object directly sensed, (2) self-awareness of the act of perception, and (3) self-awareness of the self in the act of perceiving. These are not “just-so stories,” but actual elements of the act of perceiving in man. If your methodic monism forces you to view only the object directly sensed as being “objective,” I do not see how you differentiate yourself from the typical positivist/verificationist – except that you appear to grant certain more intellectual reflections on human existence more slack.

            “You talk about humans having a "superior self-understanding," but what most concerns me to to communicate to others is that AI artifacts have no "self-understanding" at all.” DB

            >That may be true by some sense of 'self-understanding' which slices nature at her joints, but I can't find those joints. Why can't an AI model itself?”

            You then drift into a discussion about St. Thomas and mortal and venial sin. This makes me think that you are thinking of “self-understanding” in terms of some kind of psychological reflective analysis, which is not at all what I am talking about. I am talking about an objective reality entailed in every act of perception and which can be directly observed in the very act of sensing. It is true that human beings, unlike animals, can reflect upon this sensory act because we have intellectual reflection, but all animals – human and brute alike – have the experience of sensing an object as an integral whole, whether it be a wolf seeing a sheep or you looking at the words on your monitor while being aware that they are merely the center of an entire screen which you are seeing all at once.

            My point is that machines, even AI ones, understand nothing, know nothing at all – for the simple reason that they lack the reality of a metaphysical life principle, the soul, which is the seat of the powers of sensation and, in man, the intellect.

            >“Maybe you could play with whether "everything is matter" ⇒ "everything is extended in space" ⇒ "the statement 'everything is extended in space' must be extended in space" ⇒ «insert logical/philosophical complaint here».”

            The problem with this logical schema is that the moment you are critiquing “statements,” you have entered the realm of human intellectual judgments, which is NOT what I am talking about when I speak of the simplicity of sense perception.

            “That reason is because they lack the human substantial form, the philosophical principle that unifies the living substance, puts it into its proper living species, enables it to sense and think, and gives it actual existence: the living soul -- a spiritual principle that God alone can create.” DB

            >“What makes it impossible for God to give a soul to an AI?”

            God created life on earth in the form of living organisms with substantial unity and powers that enable them to sense and, in man’s case, think. AI is simply a pile of parts cleverly assembled by man to emulate the computational skills we have in an amazingly complex manner. These things know nothing and are not alive at all. So, why should God bother doing anything with them? Why not have God give a soul to your Chevy or your refrigerator? Yes, with God all things are possible, but you seem to have a Cartesian conception of soul that would make the soul a ghost in a machine, which is NOT the hylemorphic composition that actually if found in living things.

            >“I won't speak for others, but from my perspective, all I get from this is that you, using your understanding of reality, can't make sense of something inside your head. It is just meaningless logicking to me.”

            I think I have made sufficient explanations in this comment already in order to make clear that there is nothing subjective or personal about my analysis at all. It is an objective analysis of the objectively given content of sense experience as found both in animals and in man (with proper distinctions having to be made concerning human intellectual self-reflective abilities).

            Frankly, what you are saying sounds to me much like the claims of reductionist/materialists except that you also engage in a lot of psychologizing from your own perspective in an effort to sustain our common Christian belief system.

            For all the negative comments one sees on this site about Thomistic philosophy, its salient strength is that it offers a rational explanation and defense of the common sense view of the world, which says that things, such as cabbages and kings, really do exist above the atomic level.

            Moreover, it points out that the proper use of reason is just as much scientific and objective as are the claims of those positivists who reduce all science to the merely empirically verifiable parts of reality, which fail to include all that is objectively real -- as, for example, the simple act of sense perception that I am describing in the OP.

          • Frankly, what you are saying sounds to me much like the claims of reductionist/​materialists except that you also engage in a lot of psychologizing from your own perspective in an effort to sustain our common Christian belief system.

            Given the amount of push-back I get from reductionists and materialists, I would say that your threshold for using those terms is set very oddly and probably unhelpfully. Now, I try to see the world as best I can from the reductionist/​materialist viewpoint—but I have severe problems with it, such as the equating of inside to outside with mechanical procedure and thus generating hilarious paradoxes such as Fitch's paradox of knowability: "All [knowable] truths are already known." (discussion leading to collapse of inside/​outside and unseen/​nonexistent)

            As to 'psychologizing', I don't quite know what you mean by that; are you under the impression that the intellect is any less impacted by sin than any other part of the human being? It is my belief that God works with brokenness to gradually repair it; it is also my believe that many (Christian and non-) think that is a disgusting way for God to operate. He should communicate and insist on perfection in one single step! But if God actually works from brokenness and gradually repairs it, surely he teaches us to do the same? Well, if he does, then the better we understand him, the better we can take people's understandings from where they're at, and bend them toward where our own understanding is at. If this is 'psychologizing', then I shall merely appeal to the fact that we are embodied beings and that the ancient Hebrews did not downplay that fact (I appeal to Claude Tresmontant's A Study of Hebrew Thought, Nihil Obstat & Imprimatur).

            For all the negative comments one sees on this site about Thomistic philosophy, its salient strength is that it offers a rational explanation and defense of the common sense view of the world, which says that things, such as cabbages and kings, really do exist above the atomic level.

            Moreover, it points out that the proper use of reason is just as much scientific and objective as are the claims of those positivists who reduce all science to the merely empirically verifiable parts of reality, which fail to include all that is objectively real -- as, for example, the simple act of sense perception that I am describing in the OP.

            I really just don't know how to understand the superiority you claim exists, if you cannot demonstrate it somehow out in reality. If it doesn't help you do better science, or understand humanity better, or love others better, then exactly what is the kind of superiority we're talking about? I say this while simultaneously believing that I think science is tending toward idolatry in the sense that Owen Barfield describes in Saving the Appearances: A Study in Idolatry. His understanding of 'idolatry' is that of taking current conceptualizations of appearances to be all that exists; Bernard d'Espagnat writes that "concerning particles, there is according to quantum field theory no conceptual separation to be drawn between the two notions of property and existence." (On Physics and Philosophy, 44) I on the other hand am convinced that reality is infinitely complex and stances such as this (or Sean Carroll's Seriously, The Laws Underlying The Physics of Everyday Life Really Are Completely Understood (update with nice visualization)) constitute dogmatic curtailing of our ability to imagine how fantastic reality is and set about exploring it and doing ever more glorious things.

            So, I intuitively sense that there is something important to what you say. But when I try to somehow connect what you say to a superior ability to understand reality or act in it, I get nothing. I am 100% dissatisfied with anything which merely sets my mind at ease; in fact I am 100% suspicious of anything which does only that. It doesn't mean that what you're saying is necessarily a just-so story, but it does mean that I have no way to distinguish what you're saying from a just-so story, except for vague intuition. The fact that I continue to engage you is evidence that I value my intuition. But it is irritating as heck for it to remain so vague.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I gather you are not very impressed with the Aristotelian notion of science, which predated the modern experimental method.

            For Aristotle, science means to know that something is true, to know why it is true, and to know why it cannot be otherwise.

            For him, the scientific syllogism is certain knowledge through causes, wherein the "certain knowledge" is the logically valid conclusion that flows from premises that are themselves known either through self-evidence (as in metaphysical first principles) or immediately-evident because it is given in sense knowledge.

            Based on this understanding, Aristotle built a whole series of scientific disciplines that we think of as philosophy today, e.g., philosophical psychology, metaphysics, cosmology, natural theology, ethics, and politics.

            Perhaps, all these bodies of knowledge leave you somewhat "cold," but I have spent a lifetime studying and teaching them and am perfectly convinced that they are not just so many "just-so stories."

            Reasoning properly applied to sense experience as well as intellectual reflection on that experience is the basis for these forms of science. Clearly, they do not impress those enthralled with the modern experimental sciences.

            That is why I presented in this OP a simple, but definitive example of a philosophical truth that defies empirical verifiability, but that I have defended repeatedly on this thread as showing that mere materialism simply does not adequately explain all of reality. Perhaps this does not peak your interest sufficiently, but there are a lot of "physics materialists" who comment on this site and who might profit from these considerations.

          • I gather you are not very impressed with the Aristotelian notion of science, which predated the modern experimental method.

            I don't know enough of what 'Aristotelian notion of science' really is, to answer that. I do believe that understanding God better is somehow tied to having a superior ability to agape other people. Note that this is rather more specific than the instrumental knowledge yielded by modern science.

            For Aristotle, science means to know that something is true, to know why it is true, and to know why it cannot be otherwise.

            I am used to knowledge yielding something other than / in addition to personal satisfaction. And I deeply intuit that something in A–T metaphysics does this. But other than these thoughts on Fitch's paradox of knowability, I don't know what that is.

            Perhaps, all these bodies of knowledge leave you somewhat "cold," but I have spent a lifetime studying and teaching them and am perfectly convinced that they are not just so many "just-so stories."

            Being a just-so story, and being indistinguishable from a just so story from a certain perspective, are entirely different things. If you don't care about said perspective, then I should stop commenting.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Since I have to give a class very shortly, my reply must be brief.

            >"I really just don't know how to understand the superiority you claim exists, if you cannot demonstrate it somehow out in reality. If it doesn't help you do better science, or understand humanity better, or love others better, then exactly what is the kind of superiority we're talking about?"

            I think you may be confusing practical science and speculative science.

            Other that aesthetics, ethics, and political philosophy, the philosophical sciences are speculative in nature. That means seeking truth for its own sake, not for a practical purpose.

            So, your demand to demonstrate some utility for these sciences is misguided. Speculative sciences are, by definition, "useless."

            Now, you must be thinking that I have revealed the utter intellectual poverty of my entire enterprise! But, as Aristotle and some of the best thinkers of history point out, speculative science is superior precisely because it has such value in itself that it is subordinated to no utilitarian end. It is truth for its own sake.

            Does that mean it is of no purpose beyond itself? Not at all. Since understanding the deepest truths of reality is presupposed to the adequate understanding any of the practical truths in the world. The only way one may think otherwise is by engaging in too superficial an analysis of so-called "practical truths."

            The existence of God is the best example. It is demonstrated by the speculative science of metaphysics as the deepest of truths known to man. Surely your own Christian perspective is permeated with the importance of this most basic truth.

            This returns us the the work of actual demonstration of God's existence. Can metaphysics actually prove its worth by enabling the human mind to know with certitude the existence of God by unaided natural reason? Skeptics argue against this possibility with all their rational skills. But it is the work of the philosopher to provide the evidence and reasoning to accomplish this task.

            Does your doubt about these insights and proofs lead you to think that they are false? If not, then why do they leave you unmoved? You indicate it is because it is not demonstrated that they have practical value.

            I submit that the world is turned upside down one way or the other by the validity or invalidity of this metaphysical claim.

          • Is the dichotomy between the 'practical' and 'speculative' 100% exclusive, or is there a middle? For example, can a scientist pursue some question she finds fascinating—like "How do bacteria defend themselves against viruses?", and end up discovering a mechanism to make insulin in bacteria instead of livestock? What if grappling with how the Trinity can make sense leads to the key insight that 'individual' cannot be defined before 'relationship' and vice versa? (Much thinking takes the individual to be prior—to disastrous consequences in the judgment of many, including yours truly.)

            I'm fully aware that a pure focus on the 'practical' can do; Josef Pieper does a great job of illustrating "life “under the canopy.”" It is very tempting to certain personality types (or people in certain situations) to think that the only relevant reality to explore is the reality which is like the one we think we currently inhabit. We have our current toolbox of mathematical patterns and we insist—maybe just presuppose—that all the rest of [interesting] reality will be made up of approximately those mathematical patterns. Horse-drawn carriages are good enough for everyone. Yuval Levin said it exquisitely: "Ignorance brings learning, but knowledge breeds rigidity of mind." (Tyranny of Reason, xviii)

            I feel called to a sort of mission, to show that rigidity of mind for what it is. A key part is to let each area of human endeavor carve out a portion which operates solely on internally developed guidelines, "for its own sake". Doing this is, as far as I can tell, the best way to prevent humans from thinking that the mathematical patterns they found helpful over there are the only ones which will be needed over here. Not all of reality can be well-understood as colliding billiard balls. Nor can all of reality be well-understood according to local realism. Nor can all of reality be well-understood according to [these patterns humans have discovered so far].

            Let's turn back to A–T metaphysics. I actually have a sneaking suspicion that there might be analogies to be drawn between divine simplicity and Holism and Nonseparability in Physics. Nobel Laureate Ilya Prigogine has done work to show that there is state at the level of the whole which doesn't exist among the parts. (The End of Certainty, 37) Mathematical biologist Robert Rosen rigorously shows how the machine formalism is an exceedingly limited way to describe patterns in reality—he doesn't even think it can differentiate life from non-life! (Life Itself) That connects to your insistence here that AI could not do certain things. (I've been suggesting that AI need not be only machine, although perhaps I ought to have been more explicit.)

            My favorite analogy is to string theory / M-theory, which may well need to churn away for another N years before it produces something properly scientific (sorry, Luboš Motl). In the meantime, many researchers/​mathematicians in that field are merely pursuing it "for its own sake". Supposing that string theory will ultimate be successful, maybe it could only be that with enough people being given enough time and resources to pursue it "for its own sake". I think I've told you before that I view some A–T metaphysics that way.

            Am I making any sense, here?

            Does your doubt about these insights and proofs lead you to think that they are false? If not, then why do they leave you unmoved? You indicate it is because it is not demonstrated that they have practical value.

            I simply don't know what the proofs mean. Suppose I gave you the four standard quantum postulates and some rules of inference—but nothing else. How much could you do with them? I suspect you'd see a bunch of symbols and not know what they're supposed to refer to. That's how I see a lot of A–T metaphysics when I don't have my deeply intuitive hat on. There are exceptions, like what I wrote here and what I wrote above about distinguishing inside/​outside and unseen/​nonexistent. I did buy Edward Feser's Scholastic Metaphysics. But I find it really hard to read very much at a go. It just doesn't connect to reality as I experience it. It's like hieroglyphics a lot of the time. But as I've said, maybe I'm just broken.

            I submit that the world is turned upside down one way or the other by the validity or invalidity of this metaphysical claim.

            That sounds like a good blog post topic—exploring both versions, perhaps with multiple authors doing so (preferably one being atheist).

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I hate to short-circuit your fine analysis, but I did have a graduate course at Notre Dame where we examined in detail precisely that "clear cut" distinction between the practical and speculative philosophical sciences.

            The consensus conclusion was that it is NOT a clear dichotomy. It is a matter of what the primary focus of the science entailed. Thus, metaphysics is considered speculative because its primary interest is to understand being as being as such -- and philosophers have "speculated" about its contents with great delight for centuries! Yet, it is also practical in that the conclusion that God exists is useful in ethics wherein he provides the last end of human nature and all human acts.

            On the other hand, ethics is deemed primarily practical in that it tells us how to live our day to day lives. And yet, one can speculate about its very nature as a science and some problems are to difficult that great intellectual delight can result from finding a coherent solution.

            Clearly, auto mechanics would appear to be a practical discipline. Still, some people take great intellectual satisfaction for understanding how a particular engine might has special capabilities.

            So, no, it is not a clear cut dichotomy. Still, the primary thrust of a science may be fairly clearly in one category or another.

            As to you personal problems with the proofs for God, it is good to recall that Vatican Council I was careful to define exactly how God's existence can be known. Some initially wanted to define that it could be "demonstrated." Yet, the final dogmatic definition says "can be known by the light of unaided natural reason."

            The difference? One means it can be proven to another, whereas the other means simply that someone (not necessarily everyone) can come to this knowledge with certitude for himself.

            Gabriel Marcel has a good explanation as to why a proof, although valid, might not be available for the understanding of another -- even though that other person is acting in good faith. He says it is because, when you try to prove something to another, you are trying to move him around to seeing reality from the exact same perspective as yourself -- which may be impossible through no ones fault.

            For example, imagine trying to explain the working of the New York Stock Exchange trading floor to a back country peasant farmer in Outer Mongolia -- and to do so in a relatively short time. Short of proving an entire education in American economics to the peasant, it would be simply impossible -- and yet, show no bad faith on the part of the peasant. Now would it show that the stock exchange did not function coherently.

            I am convinced of the certainty of the principles, data, reasoning, and conclusions of the proofs for God's existence. In fact, I wrote a book on them back in 1972. But that does not mean that you have to be convinced as well. We are in existentially diverse situations. That may or may not be something that can be remedied. It touches neither your good faith attempts to derive value in the proofs nor does it say anything about the objective validity of the proofs themselves.

          • I'm glad you deeply accept that there is a spectrum of practical … speculative. What you are presenting here seems pretty much at the extreme of 'speculative'. What is next to it on the spectrum? I know very little about the great chain of being, but I do resonate with the following from Louis Dupré:

            A created universe is, by its very nature, imperfect. But it attains its highest perfection possible within its own limits by including an uninterrupted series of beings, from the lowest to the highest degree, without gaps between its various kinds and species. […] Without the principle of fullness strongly reasserted by Neoplatonic theology, alchemy would have lacked the philosophical basis for upholding the uninterrupted contiguity of all elements, which was the very condition for combining them with one another. (Passage to Modernity, 53)

            As to 'evidence of God', where is the place of:

            A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (Jn 13:34–35)

            “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. (Jn 17:20–23)

            ? And what is the limit to which sin can corrupt the intellect?

          • Michael Murray

            There are a lot more complexities involved in the AI issue than just the idea that they are imitation humans who might learn to be bad from existing humans. There are fundamental problems in how we set up rules to make an AI behave in a way that we might want. I think that people who worry about this worry that the drive amongst people working in the AI field to develop an AI exceeds the drive to make sure they are safe before we turn them on. Whether this worries you depends on how hard you think turning an AI off is going to be. It's probably not going to want to be turned off and it's going to get smarter faster and faster. Manipulating a bunch of primates isn't likely to be much of a challenge for it.

            This Sam Harris podcast with Eliezer Yudkowsky is an interesting listen. Or you can chase up Yudkowsky's website via wikipedia

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eliezer_Yudkowsky

          • My brother-in-law considered working at a nonprofit which works on problems such as: "How do we turn off an AI without it knowing that we're doing that and attempting to stop us?" I myself wonder how much space there is between the class of AI for which this is a problem, and the class of rational beings whom deserve to continue to exist if they already exist. Really nefariously, you could envision Facebook learning to simulate the more prolific users (have you seen the TV series Caprica?) and then formulating ways to shut them down (show more of these comments/​posts, fewer of those—keep it below the noise if possible). If history really does turn on instability (e.g. how much would it have taken to thwart Alfred the Great?), maybe there is enough room to do a lot of manipulation in that realm. This goes back to what I said:

            LB: I think it's only rational for him to worry about what AI will do if he's worried that humans are terrible to each other and AI will learn how to be terrible to humans, but do it in a way that is superior to how humans do it. Children are like their parents.

            Does Yudkowsky or any of his buddies admit this? Westworld is driving at this pretty hard; Humans maybe a little less so. I might need to qualify the above: if we treat AI as our slaves (property) to be done with however we please, and they gain the ability to meaningfully fight back, why would it be wrong for them to treat us as we have treated them?

            P.S. It is fun to see the "people are inherently good" or at least "people are inherently neutral" ideology intersect with existential fears. AI is interesting because it challenges us on the domination dimension as well as the emotion dimension (will all AI be psychopathic?). Pretty ideas tend to be chastened when one's existence is threatened.

          • Raymond

            >Ostensibly, you think that mere machines (e.g. current machine learning algorithms) don't actually perceive.

            That depends on what you mean by perceive. If that means receiving sensory input and taking a subsequent action, then motion detectors, sound detectors, and smoke detectors do in fact perceive.

          • Yes, it of course depends on the definition of 'perceive'. But it's not actually a semantic issue, it's a question of whether there's a real joint in nature between two different ways of … ¿being in the world?, one which humans can do and one which computers cannot. (AI might not be entirely composed of computation—that means, the exact limitations of Turing machines if not finite pushdown automata.) So, I was allowing Dr. Bonnette to have 'perceive' mean his thing, but allude to the fact that there are e.g. self-driving cars which sense their environment and act appropriately. (I'm not sure they're worse than humans; they might actually be better.)

          • a living sentient organism can do something that no physical machine can do. And it can.

            Can you give any example whatsoever? Or is this mere hot air?

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Sure. Exactly as explained in detail in the OP, the power of sensation enables animals to perceive things as a whole.

            I deliberately focused on merely this lower power of the soul, since both animals and man can sense -- in order to show that materialism cannot explain certain activities of some living things. I could have dealt with purely spiritual activities of man, such as forming universal concepts, judging, and reasoning. But this matter of sense perception is easier to explain to most people. The problem is that if you think of things in only "extended in space" terms, you are forced to imagine that somehow sensing wholes can be explained in a mechanistic fashion.

            I am sorry to keep referring you back to the OP, but there are a lot of words there designed merely to explain this simple non-material phenomenon. Note especially that paragraph about the problem of achieving unity on a TV screen. It may help to overcome the assumption that physical objects can somehow achieve perceptual unity.

            Please remember that this is not a proof for the spirituality of the human soul, since it applies to "dumb bunnies" as well.

          • the power of sensation enables animals to perceive things as a whole.

            A perfect example of what I mentioned in my first comment in Luke's thread:

            some people claim humans can do a task, but they choose a "task" so vague or undefined that there is no way to confirm that it has been done.

            Is that unobservable example your only example, or do you have an example that can be observed? I'm asking in this thread for a scientific prediction based on your philosophy, not a metaphysical analysis of what you want words to mean.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            The problem with expecting empirical verification for every meaningful statement is that the statement making that expectation is itself not empirically verifiable.

            Not every reality is observable by external physical means. The act of perceiving is clearly a real phenomenon, but looking at the parts of the brain involved in it gives you only an external view of physiology. It does not give you observation of the act itself, which can only be known by experiencing having the act.

            Even many reductionists today admit the existence of qualia that cannot be reduced to external observation. They still hypothesize that they are physical entities, but the qualia as such cannot be externally observed.

            Qualia are defined as individual instances of subjective, conscious experience.

          • So do you agree, then, that your philosophy places no empirical limits whatsoever on what an AI can be observed to do?

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I am not sure I want to give you a blank check on this, but i know the capabilities of human programming to make artifacts that can, in essence, program themselves to further abilities. That is the reason many fear the ultimate dangers associated with AI.

            I know we are well past the point already of computers passing the Turing test.

            None of this, though, affects my philosophical inference that computers do not even know that they are manipulating the data that makes them appear semi-omniscient.

            To me, the creation of AI only bears even greater witness to the amazing nature of human intelligence.

          • None of this, though, affects my philosophical inference that computers do not even know that they are manipulating the data that makes them appear semi-omniscient.

            At present, you are certainly correct. If you would indulge a hypothetical that may never come to pass:

            Suppose an AI were built, modeled closely after a human brain, but with an inbuild limitation that it could not intentionally lie (though it could be wrong). Then suppose that AI were discussing philosophy with you and it reported that it had qualia. Would you be convinced it was mistaken? Would you think it is relevant to take its programming and hardware into account before reaching that conclusion, or can you conclude immediately without that kind of knowledge? How could one go about trying to convince the AI that it was mistaken?

            The hypothetical is intended to illuminate the point where the dispute of this thread seems most acute to me.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            If this AI were truly accurate, its conclusions must reflect the truth of its reality. Now, assuming that it can functionally discuss the definition of subjective experience with accuracy, I would say that it would be forced to admit that, although it can "talk" about such experiences, it has none of them itself.

            Short of finding a way to make the total computer come to life and thus having its own immaterial life and experience principle, there is no way for it to reach a state in which statements about its own subjective experiences can be truthful.

            Thus, if an AI reports that it has subjective experience, I must either conclude that it is mistaken or has somehow become a living, conscious organism -- no longer a mere machine.

          • I appreciate the direct answer and will have to think about it.

        • Raymond

          Human beings cannot apprehend (material?) wholes in a single unified act of perception because these wholes are three-dimensional objects, and you have only a vague sense of what the other side is like.

          My Google fu has failed me, but there is an anecdote about a POTUS who was so literal-minded that when someone asked him "what color is that cow?" he answered "it's brown on this side".

          Human beings cannot apprehend the whole of a material object because at least half of the object is outside the range of the senses.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            You completely misunderstand my meaning of "whole" here.

            If you see just one side of the cow, you still see that side as a whole -- meaning a group of parts apprehended all at once in a single act of perception.

          • Raymond

            Are you using "apprehended" and "perceived" interchangeably? If "apprehended" means having an understanding or recognition of the object that is perceived, then as I said, apprehension is always diluted by the limitations of the senses. I disagree that apprehension of wholeness can be based on perception. It is at best an approximation or assumption.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I find that I am having to give the same types of explanations to too many commenters on this thread. If you look at my responses to some of the others and reread the OP, most of your concerns should be addressed.

            Unfortunately, I have a class to give in ethics today and must keep moving. Sorry.

          • Raymond

            It must be quite the burden to be so misunderstood.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            When something is misunderstood, the loss is on the part of the person who is misunderstanding.

          • fractal

            That quote is from STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND.
            Except it was about a house.
            People who were that "literal" were called "fair witnesses", because they inferred nothing.

          • Raymond

            Thank you. It's been decades since I read Stranger.

            But the point really is the same. You can see and sort of apprehend the parts of an object that are directly present to your senses. But it is an extrapolation of varying degrees of accuracy what the parts that are not present to your senses are like.

      • Fiction is just a way to extrapolate from where we are and test our concepts/​understanding/​imagination. I don't see how you can possibly give AI science/​maths all that much trust these days, given the wild promises made, and subsequently utterly flubbed. Where is the evidence that they have been properly chastened?

        One option is that not all thought is computation, where 'computation' is defined as "what Turing machines do". (Strictly speaking, we should say finite pushdown automata.) Even that is problematic because the real world has to deal with efficiency, whereas a lot of work in the theory of computation merely focuses on complexity class. It's also not clear to me how much benefit to the wet domain has been provided by models from the digital domain. Aren't we supposed to judge models by their empirical fruit?

        Another option is that there are physical happenings in the world which cannot be sufficiently well-represented by computation. Suppose that some thought-processes occur via a resonance pattern whereby a purely analog system self-interacts and settles to some final state which represents a crystallized thought. It is posited that "with enough numerical precision" such a process can be simulated, but simulation is very different from saying "that's exactly what's going on".

        By the way, I have no horse in the race of whether "AI" is possible because I am skeptical that there is "general intelligence". I wouldn't be surprised if more and more powerful ways of thinking were discoverable. And if humans decide not to seek them, perhaps AI could and thereby overtake the humans. I am intrigued by Dr. Bonnette's "human beings can apprehend wholes in a single, unified act of perception, which no machine can ever do", because (i) I have some awareness of how [current] computer vision works; (ii) I am aware that there exists nonlocal/​nonseparable state in physical theory. If 'machine' is defined narrowly enough (that is, restricted to a certain class of mathematical formalisms), why wouldn't it be entirely reasonable that 'machines' cannot do certain things?

        What I don't know is what exactly "a single, unified act of perception" is. I'm reminded of Lt. Commander Data not being able to understand jokes or deception on Star Trek; what I'd like to see is an imagination of what would happen to humans if you revoked their ability to have "a single, unified act of perception". Perhaps there are brain lesion studies which look somewhat like this? I've been reading Iain McGilchrist's The Master and His Emissary but I don't recall any study or result which is quite right for this discussion.

        • I don't see how you can possibly give AI science/​maths all that much trust these days, given the wild promises made, and subsequently utterly flubbed.

          I try not to listen to the hype -- just the achievements, and with caution to extrapolations from well-established work. The achievements are impressive enough, even if they can't match sci-fi.

          One option is that not all thought is computation ... physical happenings in the world which cannot be sufficiently well-represented by computation ... "with enough numerical precision" such a process can be simulated, but simulation is very different from saying "that's exactly what's going on".

          That's definitely an imaginable set of possibilities. I fully grant that not all thought is computational, since the brain is not a computer, and it has all manner of physical effects going on inside. My prediction accounts for such possibilities, fortunately: "... an AI can be made and observed to do any cognitive task that a human can be observed to do". It's defined in terms of observable tasks, not internal mechanisms. (e.g. the philosophy panel task I described) The brain and machine are presumed to achieve the same results in different ways.

          On the other hand, if thought is not merely noncomputational, but also nonphysical, then that ought to falsify my prediction, unless it also turns out that physical computation can do all the same things as nonphysical thoughts.

          I am skeptical that there is "general intelligence".

          Likewise. Though some researchers define general intelligence as an optimization process over input data. Take AIXI as one formalization of what general intelligence could mean. It's uncomputable, though.

          If 'machine' is defined narrowly enough (that is, restricted to a certain class of mathematical formalisms), why wouldn't it be entirely reasonable that 'machines' cannot do certain things?

          Absolutely. I'd count a large artificial neural network running on specialized hardware to be a machine, even if its structure and function closely resembles a brain. But that's just my semantic preference.

          What I don't know is what exactly "a single, unified act of perception" is.

          If you get any inklings, do share. I'll share mine:

          Gaze at the most colorful object in reach, and at the same time pinch your thumb. Try to concentrate on both sensations. Ordinarily, your attention will rapidly switch back and forth between the two sensations. If you continue trying to concentrate on both sensations for a while, however, you may think that you do sense them both at the same time. Practiced meditators in Buddhist traditions say that this thought is false, and that if we practiced strengthening our attention as they did, we would observe it to be false, and would instead observe that our attention flickers in discrete jumps at a maximum of about 40 Hertz. I am not a practiced meditator and cannot confirm their claim. But for what it's worth, it does comport with what I know about the brain's attention processes. Suppose, however, that the meditators are wrong, and that you can focus on both sensations simultaneously. If so, then it's a single act of perception with multiple unified features.

          (To be sure, it seems very clear from neuroscience that some set of your neurons is firing in a way that, relative to the structure of your whole brain, has information content identical to the information content of that quale. But that still leaves notorious problems with our understanding of qualia and no recognized solutions.)

          • The achievements are impressive enough, even if they can't match sci-fi.

            What do you think is most impressive?

            RB: For my part, I'm a materialist regarding the mind, so I therefore expect that, with computational resources comparable to the human brain, an AI can be made and observed to do any cognitive task that a human can be observed to do.

            LB: One option is that not all thought is computation ... physical happenings in the world which cannot be sufficiently well-represented by computation ... "with enough numerical precision" such a process can be simulated, but simulation is very different from saying "that's exactly what's going on".

            RB: That's definitely an imaginable set of possibilities. I fully grant that not all thought is computational, since the brain is not a computer, and it has all manner of physical effects going on inside. My prediction accounts for such possibilities, fortunately: "... an AI can be made and observed to do any cognitive task that a human can be observed to do". It's defined in terms of observable tasks, not internal mechanisms.

            I don't know how to reconcile this with (i) your emphasis on being a materialist—which restricts us to a class of mechanisms; (ii) your focus on "computational resources". I'm not sure that Dr. Bonnette is committed to the claim that humans will never be able to construct something (other than baby humans) which can have "a single, unified act of perception". He does seem committed to the idea that current mathematical formalisms which support (i) and (ii) will never suffice.

            On the other hand, if thought is not merely noncomputational, but also nonphysical, then that ought to falsify my prediction, unless it also turns out that physical computation can do all the same things as nonphysical thoughts.

            I don't know how to define 'nonphysical', except as "described by [mathematical] patterns currently not employed in physical theory". One observation I've made of humans is that once the rules of any system are sufficiently well-specified, humans find a way to game the system. I've never seen an empirical limit to this, which makes me skeptical that there is some limit to the number and complexity of mathematical patterns which can occupy thought.

            Take AIXI as one formalization of what general intelligence could mean. It's uncomputable, though.

            What's the use of using something uncomputable in a domain where you insist on computation?

            Gaze at the most colorful object in reach, and at the same time pinch your thumb. Try to concentrate on both sensations.

            Hmmm, this doesn't match at all what I understand Dr. Bonnette going after. It seems to me that he's somehow assigning a priority of objects over pixels/​bits/​atoms. That is, perceiving has a key top-down element which is explicitly antireductionist. If the whole is more than the mere sum of the parts, then what is the whole? This is why I want some sort of fictional imagining of the difference between a being who sees a whole which is greater than the sum of the parts, and a being who can only sum parts. Or whatever it is that lies on either side of "a single, unified act of perception".

            (To be sure, it seems very clear from neuroscience that some set of your neurons is firing in a way that, relative to the structure of your whole brain, has information content identical to the information content of that quale. But that still leaves notorious problems with our understanding of qualia and no recognized solutions.)

            Why is it only neuron firings which are relevant, vs. more physical state of the brain? There is something very digital in your formulation. Don't get me wrong; I understand the allure of digital thinking. I am atrocious at analog electronics. One of the reasons, I suspect, is that I am told to accept approximations which well-describe the system under ceteris paribus conditions. The thing is, I inevitably take the system outside of ceteris paribus conditions. It's like an engineering form of social awkwardness, where I don't magically do what you're supposed to do and end up in a quandary where people don't even have the words to say what's going wrong.

          • [Several quotes]

            I don't know how to reconcile this with (i) your emphasis on being a materialist—which restricts us to a class of mechanisms; (ii) your focus on "computational resources".

            I presume any plausible AI will be based on computation. The brain will not. The brain's information processing abilities are often calculated and comparable computational resources estimated. E.g.:

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mind_uploading#/media/File:Estimations_of_Human_Brain_Emulation_Required_Performance.svg

            What's the use of using something uncomputable in a domain where you insist on computation?

            It's actually quite common to use well-defined but uncomputable definitions in theoretical computer science. Examples: Busy Beaver, the halting problem, tiling problems, Kolmogorov complexity, Chaitin's omega number. The use varies, but typically involves mathematical proofs about possibility and impossibility or complexity class, or by establishing the limit which computable approximations (e.g. AIXItl and its improvements) can approach.

            It seems to me that he's somehow assigning a priority of objects over pixels/​bits/​atoms. That is, perceiving has a key top-down element which is explicitly antireductionist.

            Possibly like this top-down approach, then?

          • I presume any plausible AI will be based on computation. The brain will not. The brain's information processing abilities are often calculated and comparable computational resources estimated.

            If the brain is not based on computation (that is, the capability of a Turing machine or more strictly, a finite pushdown automaton), that what does it mean to say that it is 'material'? Is the final purpose of the term 'material' is to insist that there is a maximum class of mathematical complexity which can perfectly describe all of reality? If so, such a definition only has meaning if you can in some way sketch that mathematical class. Is the final purpose of the term 'material' to insist on some sort of monism? If so, surely you can offer "nearby" phenomena we will never experience, sort of like how F = GmM/r^2 says we will never observe F = GmM/r^2.01. If you can do neither of these things, then your 'material' would seem to be rather vague—a criticism which you actually seem to have of Dr. Bonnette's position!

            It's actually quite common to use well-defined but uncomputable definitions in theoretical computer science.

            Use them how? The halting problem is a no-go theorem; it does not describe what we think exists. And yet, you want to raise something uncomputable "as one formalization of what general intelligence could mean." I'm getting some pretty strong whiffs of AIXI ∼ God with the notion that we can become more and more like AIXI but never get there. I quote:

            However, AIXI does have limitations. It is restricted to maximizing rewards based on percepts as opposed to external states. It also assumes it interacts with the environment solely through action and percept channels, preventing it from considering the possibility of being damaged or modified. Colloquially, this means that it doesn't consider itself to be contained by the environment it interacts with. It also assumes the environment is computable.[5] Since AIXI is incomputable (see below), it assigns zero probability to its own existence[citation needed]. (WP: AIXI)

            How is that not eye-popping? You know all those claims about various Christian theologies being self-referentially incoherent? Yeah …

            P.S. That comment is now marked as 'awaiting moderation' but I can expand it given that it was responded to; I've emailed @bvogt1:disqus about it and mentioned the general comments-sent-to-spam problem.)

            LB: It seems to me that he's somehow assigning a priority of objects over pixels/​bits/​atoms. That is, perceiving has a key top-down element which is explicitly antireductionist.

            RB: Possibly like this top-down approach, then?

            Maybe; there is the question of whether prediction and measurement are compared in an atomistic, point-by-point manner or in a way that permits wholes to be more than the sum of their parts.

            An overarching concern of mine is that we've essentially decided that wholes are not greater than the sum of their parts, and that we've done so much science predicated upon that [often:] presupposition that we find it really hard to think rigorously in any other way. An exception to this is mathematical biologist Robert Rosen in Life Itself (he claims that the mathematical patterns used to describe machines are in principle inadequate to capture 'life itself' and demonstrates this via careful step-by-step rigorous mathematical reasoning), but as far as I can tell, he has been largely ignored. When one manner of understanding reality has been vastly developed and tweaked so it fits reality as well as we can manage, it will seem superior to a better manner of understanding which is not well-developed. It is easy for us to get "stuck" on the bad model and your article even provides a basis for why: if our observations don't mismatch our predictions too much—especially if one or both is fuzzy enough—we might not even think there's a problem.

  • Mr. Bonnette, given that God is metaphysically simple, how, then, can he be composed of three distinct persons (parts)...who are also God? (I understand this is off topic with the post, so I hope you don't mind obliging me here. )

    • Dennis Bonnette

      To save some time, I suggest you go over to another article I have published on Strange Notions here:

      https://strangenotions.com/god-eternity-free-will-and-the-world/

      Look at the top of the comments thread, particularly at my reply to Stephan Edwards (second comment from the top).

      If you still have questions, just reply to this comment.

    • The answer will be special pleading. The only noncontradictory solution is to declare, for no good reason, that "persons" are neither "parts, principles, or things". But that solution, while noncontradictory, undermines the purpose of the argument that their god is "absolutely simple". Also it leaves them in the unenviable position of claiming that a person is nothing.

  • Dennis Bonnette

    Here is a text from St. Thomas that shows how the powers of the sensitive soul constitute “third alternative” realities (those that are neither pure spirit nor totally material).

    There are other powers whose operations do not transcend the limits of bodies and yet extend to the species of bodies, receiving them without their accompanying matter. This is the case with all the powers of the sensitive soul. For sense is capable of receiving species without matter, as the Philosopher says [De anima, III, 4, 429 b 21]. But such faculties, although they are receptive of the forms of things in a sort of immaterial way, do not receive them without a bodily organ. If procession takes place within these powers of the soul, that which proceeds will not be something corporeal, nor will it be distinct or joined to that faculty whence it proceeds in a corporeal way, but in a certain incorporeal and immaterial fashion, although not entirely without the help of a bodily organ. Thus the representations of things imagined, which exist in the imagination not as a body in a body, but in a certain spiritual way, proceed in animals. This is why imaginary vision is called spiritual by Augustine [De Genesi ad litteram, XII, vii, 16; xxiv, 50].

    St. Thomas Aquinas, Compendium Theologiae, ch. 52:

  • It seems unimaginable that a simple, pure spirit could both know and cause the nearly infinite myriad of things that God has created.

    Yes, it does seem so. But, it is a mistake to assume that if we cannot imagine it, then it cannot be true. Right? Or is the mistake in our supposing that what seems unimaginable must actually be unimaginable?

  • That God causes all finite things follows from the proofs for his existence ...

    ... which are all logically invalid, so what's the point of the rest of this article?

  • every finite being is actually being created as it is sustained in existence

    From my perspective, it seems obvious that the quoted claim was invented
    from whole cloth because, if it's assumed, then it's convenient for
    justifying theism. But there's no reason to assume it. Things which already exist don't seem to require a further explanation to continue existing. And second, there's also no basis on which to limit claim to finite things only instead of all things.

    On the contrary, we should instead adopt the skeptical position: material may or may not require an ongoing process to prevent its spontaneous disappearance, and we should apportion our confidence about which possibility is the case based on the evidence. So far, no such process has ever been observed, despite millions of careful observations in which we would expect to see such a process if it existed. So we may be confident that no such process exists unless it is unobservable; and if it is unobservable, then there cannot be a basis for believing in it even in principle.

  • since infinite power is needed to create anything

    Why would anyone assume that post-Einstein? For an example on the contrary, creating 1 gram of matter in 1 second requires 90 terawatts of power, not infinite power.

    • OMG

      Energy must either come from matter, or matter must derive from energy. Given neither of these, we ourselves can not create one or the other.

  • Infinite power resides solely in an Infinite Being. Were there two such beings, one would limit the power of the other.

    How can you exclude the possibility that they would mutually agree not limit each others' power? Or that always endorse each other's uses of power? Or they voluntarily choose to only use their power in ways that do not interfere with the uses of the other? Or that they exist in different possible worlds, and so cannot interact even in principle? Or that they exist in the same possible worlds but wield different infinite amounts of different modalities of power, such that their uses of power cannot limit each other even in principle even though they supervene on each other? Or any other of the infinitely many possible solutions?

    For that matter, can a single infinite being limits its own uses of power, or is it obligated to use its power to the maximum logically possible extent? If it can limit its own power, then a single "Infinite Being" would be just as incompatible with its own existence as would two. So by following through on your reasoning, there ought to be zero such beings.

    • OMG

      Two beings, each with infinite power, seems not logical. If one of those beings allowed a limitation of power in order to grant that to a second, that one has in fact transformed from a being of potential infinitude to a being of actual finitude. What different worlds could there be that we and the beings of infinite power would not also know about?

      • BCE

        You are right.
        And if Ryan understands set theory then he knows this.
        Assuming Set A is equal to Set B then there is one Set
        And once the supper set defined, sub sets(use of bits) doesn't
        diminish the supper set

  • God’s intellectual nature is manifest from the fact that some creatures have intellectual abilities.

    You know this is not valid reasoning. Let's consider a reductio ad absurdum. Some creatures have internal-organ-expelling abilities. By your reasoning, that implies your god has an internal-organ-expelling nature.

  • he reason is simple. While the body of the dog (including its brain) may
    be physically extended in space, nonetheless, its apprehension of the
    image on the screen is received as a “whole” solely because the dog has
    an immaterial soul with immaterial sense faculties, which enable him to
    see the image as a whole.

    Uh. No. The dog sees the image because it has material eyes and visual cortex. The neurons in the eyes capture the incoming light via the material rhodopsin, a protein that changes shape when struck by photons in a specific frequency range. It's coupled to a receptor that causes a depolarization of the neuron (i.e. the materials sodium and magnesium flowing into and out of channels in the surface membrane of the neuron, like a wave that rushes down the length of the cell). The cells with the rhodopsins are arranged across the interior of the eye so that they act similarly to pixels on the screen. There are several layers of cells leading back to the visual cortex, and at each level there are comparisons done (e.g. one cell in the next level depolarizes only if it receives input from both of two different kinds of input cells). The comparisons are used to cancel out differences in brightness and contrast, to clarify colors, and so on. Then in the visual cortex, there are several sections of neurons that the information reaches in sequence. The first section builds a map of points of color. The next section builds line segments out of the points of color. The next section builds shapes out of the line segments. And so on. After the processing is done, there is a literal 3D chunk of the dog's brain where the activity level of each part of that chunk together represents the 3D information of the full scene the dog sees. That is how the dog sees the image as a whole!

    • (Apologies for the typos. I've noticed that this comment section removes comments as "spam" if I edit the comment to fix typos. So I'll have to leave it as-is.)

    • Is this the state-of-the-art scientific consensus as to how vision works? It seems at variance with Noë and O'Regan 2000 Perception, Attention and the Grand Illusion and Noë 2002 Is the visual world a grand illusion?, both of which I found via Iain McGilchrist's The Master and His Emissary. It's not clear just how much of an accurate map the brain builds and it's not clear how much of what is seen is conformed to preexisting patterns in the brain. There are evolutionary reasons to think that the brain is going to be as lazy (energy-efficient) as it can be to accomplish the goals needed by the organism.

      You may or may not be aware of the many videos now posted whereby a cucumber is secretly placed nearby a cat but outside of its visual range; when it turns and sees the cucumber, it jumps away as if the cucumber were a snake. Suppose that it does have a snake-detecting circuit. Does that mean the cat brain first builds a 3-D representation of the cucumber in its environment, then compares it with a built-in model of a snake, and computes the match probability to be sufficiently high to produce a flee response? It doesn't seem to me that that is the only way of generating a flee response. And yet, you seem to be suggesting with very high confidence that this is what is happening.

       
      P.S. I have corrected plenty of typos and not had the resulting comments be flagged as spam, but that is only noisy information. If you collect a set of URLs to the comments which are flagged, I would be happy to email Brandon Vogt about the matter. I've helped him with some blog commenting issues in the past, so he knows I'm not just some random dude.

      • Is this the state-of=-the-art scientific consensus as to how vision works?

        It's a loose summary of chapters 25-29 in Kandel & Schwartz's "Principles of Neural Science", 2013, which is the one on my shelf I usually turn to. Though their examples are usually cats.

        Regarding the PS -- Thanks for the info & offer. For now I'm just writing in a different application to catch a few more typos before posting, then reposting if they get removed. It might be less work for Brandon this way; but if he objects, I'll do it his preferred way.

        • The last paragraph of the last chapter you mentioned is as follows:

              Because visual information enters the brain through eyes that are constantly moving, the brain requires a mechanism to compensate for eye movements, constructing a stable visual world from successive fixations. Information supplied by the motor system through corollary discharges is used to adjust the receptive fields of visual neurons to compensate for intervening eye movements. The parietal lobe has a number of distinct representations of the visual field, each of which provides information to a specific motor subsystem. (Principles of Neural Science, Fifth Edition , 652)

          This seems like it could easily slot in with Noë and O'Regan's 'grand illusion'. I thought you linked the internet article which contains the following—

          What we see, instead, is a three-dimensional scene, corrected for retinal defects, mended at the blind spot, stabilized for our eye and head movements, and massively reinterpreted based on our previous experience of similar visual scenes.

          —but I can't find it. Anyway, the implication here is that one really does represent the scene in one's mind. But do we know this to be true? An alternative, for example, would be to store only what is important (e.g. to compare against changes, or navigate against in the future) and merely look again if we want to recall for whatever is unimportant. It seems that this would take rather less mental processing and thus be evolutionarily favorable. When we look at change blindness—e.g. when you are shown two pictures in succession with a blank in between and don't see that an engine was removed from the foreground in the 747—the idea that we're making anything like complete 3-D representations seems dubious to me.

          The reason I think this is all relevant in this conversation is that a naive "the brain produces a 3-D representation!" view can rather easily accommodate Hume's atomistic sense perception idea; indeed the latter appears to presuppose the former. And I suspect that Hume's idea of sense perception permeates a lot of thinking. Now, I happen to think it is wrong, including but not limited to Taylor & Dreyfus' reasoning.

          I haven't taken the deep dive into the strictest interpretations of peer-reviewed journal articles on how perception works, but I am aware that it's really easy to fit fragmented research onto a philosophical mold—in fact, we probably have to do that in the early stages. I have taken more of a deep dive with the studies allegedly bearing on free will (e.g. Libet) and the internet discussions almost always go well beyond the science, while pretending to be hewing strictly to the science. And I'm married to a biophysicist/​biochemist who loves to point out 'science dogma'—some of which she's trying to overturn (and finding it extraordinarily difficult to do so—you have to be very sneaky and appear orthodox for a while). So I think I have empirical and rational grounds for skepticism about 'big pictures'.

  • Even a collectivity of bits explains nothing, since each bit represents only a part of the whole, and nothing represents the whole all at once.

    This is trivially false. Consider a collection of two bits. It has four possible values, which represented in binary are 00, 01, 10, 11. I choose the following mapping of values to interpretations:

    00 -> A
    01 -> B
    10 -> C
    11 -> B

    You transmit two bits, but I wasn't paying attention and missed the first bit. But I heard the second bit, and it was a 1. Therefore I know the correct interpretation; that single bit succeeded at representing the whole.

    It's also false in deeper and more practical ways. The most common example is in error correction. For the simplest exmaple, suppose we're using a popular 8-bit code where the first seven bits represent 128 characters and the last bit is a parity bit. The parity bit is 1 iff the number of 1s in the bit collection (including itself!) is even, and it is 0 iff that number is odd. If you consider the matter, what you will find is that it's impossible to know what value the parity bit should take unless you know *all* of the other bits; if you're missing even one of them, you can't determine the parity bit's correct value. That parity bit represents nothing about any other parts of the collection less than the whole. Rather, it necessarily represents the whole. And that's a super-simple case, something that everyone who knows anything about information theory knows.

    • Dennis Bonnette

      Thank you for reminding me of the days of my youth in the early 1960’s, when I earned my living as a computer programmer for Ford Division in Dearborn, Michigan, where the first IBM 705 installation had just taken place. We were programming directly in the really basic machine language using the 8-bit code taken directly from card readers.

      Nonetheless, none of us entertained any fantasies about computers. We knew they did not know they were computers, nor that they existed, nor that they knew or sensed anything at all. “Wholes” or otherwise.

      You might get a better grasp of why I say this if you read my article on recent ape-language studies here:
      http://www.godandscience.org/evolution/ape-language.html I refer specifically to the section on computers about two-thirds down the section entitled “Critiquing the Research Data.”

      Just a couple excerpts to whet your interest:

      “And yet, electronic computers simply manipulate data. They experience neither intellectual nor even sentient knowledge and, in fact, do not even possess that unity of existence which is proper to a single substance. A computer is merely a pile of cleverly constructed electronic parts conjoined to form an accidental, functional unity which serves man’s purpose.”

      “Yet, it would appear to be sheer absurdity to suggest that the elementary components of complicated contemporary computers—whether considered singly or in concert—could conceivably experience anything whatsoever. For no non-living substance—whether it be an atom, a molecule, a rock, or even an electronic chip—is itself capable of sensation or intellection.”

      In a word, computers know nothing at all – much less do they sensitively apprehend “wholes.”

      I do hope you will read carefully that computer section of the article on ape-language studies.

      Since I really cannot take the time to respond to every claim you make in your several other comments below, may I suggest you take a look at some of my other twelve articles on this web site. They are listed here: https://strangenotions.com/author/dr-dennis-bonnette/

      Regarding your comment concerning sense knowledge of wholes and the function of the brain, please just reread the OP more carefully.

      Still, I must admit that I was really amazed to see you insist that if we just had “90 terawatts of power,” we could “create” something out of absolutely nothing. I have not seen anyone else at all on this site make such a claim – be he theist, agnostic, or atheist.

      • > [Several paragraphs about computers not being self-aware]

        That has nothing to do with the claim I was critiquing, nor with the points I made. I question your reading of those two things. (If you're bringing it up as a new or ancillary topic, it's certainly interesting enough on its own.)

        > Since I really cannot take the time to respond to every claim you make in your several other comments below, may I suggest you take a look at some of my other twelve articles on this web site.

        I'll reject this as it's not proper to reward that kind of double-standard. You stated you're not going to take the time to respond to a few hundred words in critiques, but you wish me to read several tens of thousands of words, after I've already read this article here.

        I'm happy to cooperate with any roughly-symmetrical exchange of ideas.

        > you insist that if we just had “90 terawatts of power,” we could “create” something out of absolutely nothing.

        Here again, I must question your reading of this point, as anyone who read what I actually wrote and addressed it as written would reject your characterization of it.

      • My post has been again removed as spam because I corrected a typo. If only we lived in a world where spam was typo-free! :D I'll repost and try to leave the errors be.

        > [Several paragraphs about computers not being self-aware]

        If you're bringing that topic up as a new or ancillary topic, it's certainly interesting enough on its own. But it doesn't have any apparent relevance to the claim I was critiquing, nor with the points I made.

        > you insist that if we just had “90 terawatts of power,” we could “create” something out of absolutely nothing.

        I do not appreciate your mischaracterization. Neither your claim which I was critiquing, nor my comment, made any mention of "absolutely nothing", which as used by apologists is a distinct notion from the ordinary meanings of nothing.

        > Since I really cannot take the time to respond to every claim you make in your several other comments below, may I suggest you take a look at some of my other twelve articles on this web site.

        I'll reject this as it's not proper to reward this type of double-standard. You stated you're not going to take the time to respond to a few hundred words in critiques, but you wish me to engage with several tens of thousands of words.

        I'm happy to cooperate with any roughly-symmetrical exchange of ideas. That's why I began by reading this article and engaging with it.

        • OMG

          How may I measure the size of an idea?

          • Hi OMG - I'm not sure how this relates to the conversation. People talk intuitively of "big ideas" but it's not clear what you meant. Can you expand on your comment a little?

          • OMG

            Hi RB,
            I've had tech problems so could not reply. I'm only for a short time now at a friend's desk.
            My rhetorical question arose from your measuring (or comparing) how much effort/time/thought you'd give to DB's ideas relative to how much he offered you.

          • Oh, got it. Easy peasy. I consider engagement levels to be fair when they're within an order of magnitude.

        • Dennis Bonnette

          I have no intention of opening extended debate over the wide variety of objections you raised in the some seven comments you had already posted without any replies. My article is quite complete and a careful reading of it as well as following the links included should have resolved virtually all the reasonable objections one could raise. That is why I referred you to the twelve other articles of mine on this web site which present the background philosophical foundations for the present OP.

          As to my comments about computers, whether they are self-aware was not my point. In that context, you will see that I was also simultaneously refuting any suggestion that they could "apprehend" any "wholes" in any possible circumstance because of the inherent limitations of a material medium.

          The inability of computers to apprehend the wholes of anything is explained in detail in the OP -- and this same line of reasoning applies fully to the inherent limitations of the function of the brain as you described it.

          Finally, it is not I who mischaracterized your argument, but the reverse. Since it was you who claimed that it did not take infinite power to make a something, it is clear that you were taking your objection from the context of my argument -- in which "nothing" properly means "absolutely nothing." Had you followed the article link to the piece that explained my original meaning, no confusion would have occurred.

          The need for "infinite power" arises solely when one is talking about something arising from "absolutely nothing," as anyone familiar with the argument well knows.

          It is not merely "apologists" who understand "nothing" as really "nothing," since even Stephen Hawking raised the philosophical question as to why there was anything at all.
          The claim that something can be made out of a quantum vacuum with sufficient power is a misleading assumption of the meaning of nothing that flows from philosophical materialism. It is a misdirection that no serious philosophers entertain.

          Since you raise too many issues to be reasonably discussed, I will let you have the last word.

          • I have no intention of opening extended debate

            That's nice. Instead of extended debate, though, how about "roughly-symmetrical exchange", as I requested?

            My article is quite complete and a careful reading of it as well as following the links included should have resolved virtually all the reasonable objections one could raise.

            Then perhaps, in your view, my objections are unreasonable. That often happens in real-world communication because of differing perpectives. But they are still objections that are reasonable to me, because, in my view, your articles' internal contradictions and unwarranted assumptions are insuperable flaws.

            I was also simultaneously refuting any suggestion that they could "apprehend" any "wholes" in any possible circumstance

            The idea which I quoted and specifically objected to was the much more concrete one, "Even a collectivity of bits explains nothing, since each bit represents only a part of the whole, and nothing represents the whole all at once."

            I provided two very brief and clear objections to the ideas in that quote. Both objections are by demonstration: they provide counterexamples to your reasoning, and thus (if they are correct counterexamples) prove your reasoning is bunkum. Your comment widening the scope to your more general reasoning (about "apprehending" "wholes") cannot show whether the objections demonstrated what they appear to. This is basic logic.

            it is clear that you were taking your objection from the context of my argument-- in which "nothing" properly means "absolutely nothing."

            Neither your claim, nor its context, nor my objection to your claim contained the word "nothing" or any reference to the idea.

            Since you raise too many issues to be reasonably discussed

            For reference, that was 6 issues, all of which you raised and I then discussed.

          • Puzzling -- my comment was again removed as spam, but this time it was removed hours after posting. I'll retry.

            My article is quite complete and a careful reading of it as well as following the links included should have resolved virtually all the reasonable objections one could raise.

            Then perhaps, in your view, my objections are unreasonable. That often happens in real-world communication because of differing perpectives. But they are still objections that are reasonable to me, because, in my view, your articles' internal contradictions and unwarranted assumptions are insuperable flaws.

            I was also simultaneously refuting any suggestion that they could "apprehend" any "wholes" in any possible circumstance

            The idea which I quoted and specifically objected to was the much more concrete one, "Even a collectivity of bits explains nothing, since each bit represents only a part of the whole, and nothing represents the whole all at once."

            I provided two very brief and simple objections to the ideas in that quote. Both objections are by demonstration: they provide counterexamples to your reasoning, and thus (if they are correct counterexamples) prove your reasoning is bunkum. Your comment widening the scope to your more general reasoning (about "apprehending" "wholes") cannot show whether the objections demonstrated what they appear to. This is basic logic.

            it is clear that you were taking your objection from the context of my argument-- in which "nothing" properly means "absolutely nothing."

            Neither your claim, nor its context, nor my objection to your claim contained the word "nothing" or any reference to the idea.

            Since you raise too many issues to be reasonably discussed

            For reference, that was 6 issues, all of which you raised and I then discussed.

          • BCE

            Dear Dr B
            I apologize, I'm perhaps far afield. *modified shortened

            I don't mean for this to describe how God thinks, how he thinks, I only pretend to image.
            I am not sure if BGA and Ryan's comments intended to show God is not a unique thinker, in terms of perceiving "wholes"
            with the example of a finger scanner and bit set (binary supper sets).
            But they are sets of other sets

            So when you say God creates "untold number"....
            one finger is obviously not the set of all digits or ridge patterns, and a patterns is a subset of untold number of patterns
            And one "whole" binary code a type of data, a subset of other types of data, data subset of codes...
            and numbers subsets of position, and position a subset of differentials, again
            an "untold number

            The rest of my comment redundant
            and worse, missed the point. It's not knowing (as in pondering) complex
            association, but more like "taking in" the whole

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I am sorry, but I cannot determine exactly what is your point .. . or your question. Can you clarify?

            Maybe it is this. If even a dog can unify the whole of a hundred thousand pixels making up the image of a dog on a TV screen, then that means that non-material souls can unify many objects at the same time.

            So, too, God, as pure spirit, can know and be creating vast numbers of creatures at the same time.

            If this does not help, let me know.

          • BCE

            No question
            It was a comment
            About innumerable multiplicity.
            How within the limits of my human soul I can unite to
            comprehend a whole, like your example of a stand of trees.

            But least someone think my ability, least some machine, can match God
            I was attempting to demonstrate, our idea of "wholeness"
            like that of a dozen eggs, rarely means we see it as (intimately) as God.
            I see "a dozen" white, egg shapes
            But God sees simultaneously everything an egg and 12 are.
            As a shape...among all shapes
            White...among white, and in contrast to everything not white
            life, from genesis
            I unify 12 eggs , but God can unify them to the universe
            simply knowing them

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Yes, we rightly stand in awe at the omnipotence of our Creator.

            And yet, He can and does love each individual single one of us!

    • Therefore I know the correct interpretation; that single bit succeeded at representing the whole.

      In a pixellated representation of a horse, no one pixel represents "that's a horse". However, some computer vision ends up being trained that way, thus being vulnerable to one-pixel attacks[1]. Many humans have the intuition that the way the computer is classifying images is different in kind from current machine learning algorithms do it. In light of this, I'm not sure what your mapping between symbols example was supposed to demonstrate. (FYI, I've programmed for 23 years and that includes discrete logic and FPGA work.)

      That parity bit represents nothing about any other parts of the collection less than the whole.

      The parity bit nevertheless does not represent the whole. Instead, it is a one-bit function of the whole. The only proper digital representation of the whole is a copy or a compressed version + decompression algorithm.

      [1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SA4YEAWVpbk

      • In light of this, I'm not sure what your mapping between symbols example was supposed to demonstrate.

        It demonstrated a case where "that single bit succeeded at representing the whole" to the person who received it. Some of Dennis' comments in this thread suggest he was writing sloppily in the passage I was quoting, and that he intended it not literally but in some unshared intuitive sense that hasn't been analyzed cleanly. So my objection may be off the mark depending on whether and how he can clarify that intuition. I suspect we'll never see any such clarification though.

        The parity bit nevertheless does not represent the whole. Instead, it is a one-bit function of the whole.

        The parity bit by definition represents the parity of the whole. The bit itself is not a function; rather, there is a function from the whole to the bit that determines the bit.

        • It demonstrated a case where "that single bit succeeded at representing the whole" to the person who received it.

          Yes, but it does not appear to generalize. One cannot build maps of reality purely via your one-bit-mapping. Indeed, I doubt that very much of one's map to reality can be built on that basis.

          I suspect we'll never see any such clarification though.

          There's a pretty big impedance mismatch between you and Dr. Bonnette. Might I suggest that the best strategy with him is to pick the one or two points you think are most important to his argument, and ignore all the rest?

          The parity bit by definition represents the parity of the whole. The bit itself is not a function; rather, there is a function from the whole to the bit that determines the bit.

          Fine; it is nevertheless not true that "the parity bit represents the whole". You didn't say that, but without meaning that, what is the point of the example?

          • Yes, but it does not appear to generalize.

            I'm OK with it not generalizing. It's difficult enough keeping focused on one specific claim. Are we agreed then that the specific claim I objected to is false, as shown by the counterexample?

            Might I suggest that the best strategy with him is to pick the one or two points you think are most important to his argument, and ignore all the rest?

            You can. :) Next time I'll limit myself to two, rather than six.

            The parity bit by definition represents the parity of the whole.

            Fine; it is nevertheless not true that "the parity bit represents the whole".

            Granted. It would be wrong to say that the parity represents every feature of the whole. If I may recast my argument to a new form with a slightly different aim:

            Consider, as you wrote, "a function from the whole to the bit", where as I put it, the output of the function is a parity bit that represents a feature of the whole (the parity) and not a feature of any other part less than the whole. So we have a machine implementation of a function that evaluates a whole and not just any part. Does not the machine, then, evaluate a "whole"? It seems to me that it does, so long as we do not concoct semantic distinctions that make no difference. I cannot find any place where Dennis objected to machines operating on "wholes". He always added "perception" or "apprehending" or the like, which are not present in this example except in metaphorical ways or in the way a physicist speaks of an "observer".

          • I'm OK with it not generalizing. It's difficult enough keeping focused on one specific claim. Are we agreed then that the specific claim I objected to is false, as shown by the counterexample?

            No, because the spirit of the claim is that you cannot achieve perceptual competence in reality based only on the form of your toy example, the form required for you to issue your objection. Do I really need to reformulate Dr. Bonnette's claim so that it is 100% immune to your criticism in its formal nature? I can crank my nitpicking skills up to MAX, if you insist on pursuing this line of discussion.

            Consider, as you wrote, "a function from the whole to the bit", where as I put it, the output of the function is a parity bit that represents a feature of the whole (the parity) and not a feature of any other part less than the whole. So we have a machine implementation of a function that evaluates a whole and not just any part. Does not the machine, then, evaluate a "whole"?

            The function operates on the whole in a piecemeal process. So any aspect of the whole which cannot be reduced to "a sum of its parts" will be obliterated by the piecemeal process. Do you believe that the whole is always merely "a sum of its parts"?

          • Are we agreed then that the specific claim I objected to is false, as shown by the counterexample?

            No, because the spirit of the claim

            Ah, a "No" answer tied to a caveat bigger than the moon. So, functionally, a Yes answer regarding the question I actually asked.

            Do I really need to reformulate Dr. Bonnette's claim

            No, there's no value in reformulations until we can reach explicit agreement about the original!

            Do you believe that the whole is always merely "a sum of its parts"?

            No strong opinion. I've read the SEP on mereology a few times and have never come away from it feeling enlightened. To hazard an unconfident answer, I'd say that the terms "part" and "whole" fuzzily cover a variety of phenomena that bear only a family resemblence to each other, such that there is little that can be said about them that is always true.

            Back to the specific example, the function is not the process. The process (a.k.a. algorithm) operates piecemeal; the function operates on wholes. In the same way, the brain and eyes have a piecemeal process in which they operate photon by photon, then neuron by neuron, and this is built up into a whole. Thus we can sidestep the issue of the process on two grounds: it is a distinct concept from the function, and the piecemeal nature of the process applies equally to both machines and brains.

          • [OP]: Even a collectivity of bits explains nothing, since each bit represents only a part of the whole, and nothing represents the whole all at once.

            RB: This is trivially false. Consider a collection of two bits. It has four possible values, which represented in binary are 00, 01, 10, 11. I choose the following mapping of values to interpretations:

            00 -> A
            01 -> B
            10 -> C
            11 -> B

            You transmit two bits, but I wasn't paying attention and missed the first bit. But I heard the second bit, and it was a 1. Therefore I know the correct interpretation; that single bit succeeded at representing the whole.

            LB: In a pixellated representation of a horse, no one pixel represents "that's a horse". However, some computer vision ends up being trained that way, thus being vulnerable to one-pixel attacks[1]. Many humans have the intuition that the way the computer is classifying images is different in kind from current machine learning algorithms do it. In light of this, I'm not sure what your mapping between symbols example was supposed to demonstrate.

            RB: It demonstrated a case where "that single bit succeeded at representing the whole" to the person who received it.

            LB: Yes, but it does not appear to generalize. One cannot build maps of reality purely via your one-bit-mapping. Indeed, I doubt that very much of one's map to reality can be built on that basis.

            RB: I'm OK with it not generalizing. It's difficult enough keeping focused on one specific claim. Are we agreed then that the specific claim I objected to is false, as shown by the counterexample?

            LB: No, because the spirit of the claim is that you cannot achieve perceptual competence in reality based only on the form of your toy example, the form required for you to issue your objection. Do I really need to reformulate Dr. Bonnette's claim so that it is 100% immune to your criticism in its formal nature? I can crank my nitpicking skills up to MAX, if you insist on pursuing this line of discussion.

            RB: Ah, a "No" answer tied to a caveat bigger than the moon. So, functionally, a Yes answer regarding the question I actually asked.

            Having underlined what I think is important, I will let the reader determine this matter. Having words shoved down my throat, I am done making attempts on this particular sub-thread.

            LB: Do you believe that the whole is always merely "a sum of its parts"?

            RB: No strong opinion.

            I do not know how to reconcile the possibility of a "no" answer to my question with the rest of this conversation. You've given no reason for me to think that you know what reality would be like, if there were state of the whole which cannot be obtained by operating piecemeal on the parts and somehow combining the results.

    • OMG

      Here a person assigns 'interpretative values' to the bits. Machines are not inherently able to do that, unless, of course, a higher intelligence enables that.

  • Thank you Dr. Bonnette for pointing out, at the level of sensation, the knower knows the integrity of entities. A dog and its master know one another as integral wholes at the level of sensation. I like the analogical alternative of sensation as an array of pixels. If that was the given, then sense knowledge, even that of a dog, would require the knower to possess Kantian categories at the level of sensation to organize sensed information. That, of course, eliminates the objectivity of knowledge beginning at the level of sensation.

  • OMG

    Dr. B., After your article, I tried to discover other explanations - Gilson's expositing Aquinas was not sufficient. Reading Aristotle directly made matters worse. Augustine's Against the Academicians and especially The Teacher (with appendix 4 On Dialectic) explained what I think perhaps you and Aquinas intend. Now I am not sure that Augustine's understandings equate to Aquinas'? Augustine describes words, sayables, sayings, and the thing itself (res). The thing (extended in space which we use words to signify), when impressed or held in mind is a sayable. Uttering the word is the saying.

    Is the whole image comparable to Augustine's 'sayable'?

    • OMG

      P.S.: Augustine has a very clever answer as to why we ought not call anyone 'teacher'!

      • Dennis Bonnette

        I wish I could be of greater help to you here, but frankly my suspicion is that what you describe in St. Augustine is more like the mental word or concept which is formed by abstraction from the thing. But the theory of abstraction is an Aristotelian doctrine, not shared by St. Augustine. Moreover, the process of abstraction is not what I am talking about in the article, since I am talking about mere sense perception which animals do as well as man. The formation of concepts is a purely intellectual act which can be used to demonstrate the spirituality of the human soul. That might be a topic in another paper, but for now all I am talking about is lowly sense perception.

        • OMG

          Thanks. I "think" I understand, but I suspect I need to read more. I have discovered all types of knots so far. Avicenno, Averroes, Thomas. Now Plato and Augustine. But I'm learning, I think. Or I'm hopelessly confounded.

  • Happy independence day to my fellow Americans. Let's celebrate having a home where we're free to believe as we will, free to reject all the things others believe, free to argue openly, and free from others pinching our public funds for unshared religious purposes.

    • Rob Abney

      free from others pinching our public funds for unshared religious purposes

      Then why are my tax dollars supporting Planned Parenthood?

      • That organization is not religiously affiliated.

        • Dennis Bonnette

          Oh, no? How about the religion of secular humanism? Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood was named Humanist of the Year by the American Humanist Association.

          "Margaret Sanger: American sex educator, nurse, and birth control activist. Sanger coined the term birth control, opened the first birth control clinic in the United States, and established Planned Parenthood. Named Humanist of the Year in 1957 by the American Humanist Association.[16]"

          Look her up here in this list of secular humanists: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_secular_humanists#S

          U.S. courts have ruled that humanism should be treated as "religion" for purposes of the Equal Protection Clause, which prohibits religious discrimination.

          "“The court finds that Secular Humanism is a religion for Establishment Clause purposes,” the decision read. It also ruled that humanism should be treated as “religion” for purposes of the Equal Protection Clause, which prohibits religious discrimination."

          https://thehumanist.com/commentary/humanism-is-a-religion-why-even-anti-religion-humanists-should-celebrate

          It is the religion of atheism, initially created by the founder of positivism, Auguste Comte, as a secular parody of the Catholic Church in its original insane formulation of this founder of "social physics," which later became termed "sociology." Today's humanists play down its founding, but the courts recognize its essentially religious function.

          • Oh good grief. Tell me you're not really this much of a crackpot.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I know. You are going to point out that Margaret Sanger's personal beliefs do not mean that Planned Parenthood is a religion today.

            If you really think that the secular humanistic mentality does not pervade Planned Parenthood's leaders today, then I think you are being rather unrealistic about how philosophies work.

            What I said about Comte is simply philosophical history. His influence in the origin and development of secular humanism is historical fact. The fantasy is to think that humanism does not function as a counter-religion and that it does not influence contemporary secular organizations, such as Planned Parenthood. I am not saying any official spokesman for PP would ever admit that influence, but it is naive to think that influence does not exist in the organization.

            And that is why using American tax dollars to support PP's programs, especially in our public schools, constutes "pinching our public dollars" for an unshared irreligious, that is, anti-religious, purpose.

          • Thank you for walking back from the eyepopping lunacy of that comment.

            Your conclusion is wrong as a matter of law. Legally, the case that Planned Parenthood has no religious affiliation is overwhelming: it is not founded, governed, owned, staffed, or operated in whole or part by any religious organization, whether humanist or otherwise. It has no doctrinal statements, no holy texts, no symbolic rituals, no sacrifices, no initiation, no membership program, no weekly meetings,no official philosophy, and no official positions on anything supernatural or otherworldly. Its employees, volunteers, suppliers, donors, supporters, and the men and women who make use of their services come from all religions without discrimination.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I suppose all that is why there is so much political effort to defund PP's access to taxpayer dollars? Not likely.

            You made the initial demand that we be "free from others pinching our public funds for unshared religious purposes."

            It is clear that many people oppose having public funds used to promote the work of this organization. I don't think that would be the case were it as culturally neutral as you attempt to portray it. Clearly, its involvement in abortion alone offends the consciences of a good portion of the public that does not want its tax dollars involved in any way in abetting or supporting abortion services.

            What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. There are many ways of using tax dollars for "unshared purposes," whether they be viewed as religious or not.

          • > You made the initial demand that we be "free from others pinching our public funds for unshared religious purposes."

            Please read more carefully. I demanded nothing. I praised a principle that is best known for being enshrined in the U.S. Constitution and the 38 state constitutions that go farther than it by explicitly banning distribution of public funds to religious organizations. Tomorrow, I and my fellow Americans have a special day to celebrate the good features of our country, of which separation of religion and government is among the best.

            > were it as culturally neutral as you attempt to portray it

            Please read more carefully. I have not yet commented on its cultural impact in any way, though I will in the last paragraph below.

            > What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

            Indeed. If your political opinion is that PP is nevertheless too religious to be an appropriate recipient of public funds, I'd be happy to accept that sauce and pass it on, stripping all public funds from Catholic hospitals, which are clearly even more religious.

            I know Planned Parenthood is difficult for conservative religious people in the U.S. to rationally evaluate; they've heard it slandered, lied about, and demonized for years within their echo chambers. So when the topic comes up, it's natural for negative emotions to take over and drown out the serene voice of reason or the budding of genuine curiosity. It brings heat and not light. Consequently, I think the best policy is that the topic be welcomed on related posts but not brought up on unrelated posts.

            Happy 4th, in any case.

          • Rob Abney

            If you read back carefully through this short thread and conclude that yours is the serene voice of reason then you must have a different opinion of what reasoning consists of.
            I understand that you want to avoid the topic of abortion but it is not an unrelated topic when the subject is the natural right to life and liberty.

          • > when the subject is the natural right to life and liberty.

            which it wasn't in this thread. Please read more carefully.

          • Rob Abney

            Maybe you don't understand what American Independence day is for, read the Declaration of Independence and then explain to me how this thread is not about the natural right to liberty and life.

          • > explain to me how this thread is not about the natural right to liberty and life.

            The explanation is that I began the thread, and my topic was separation of religion and government.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I know you don't want to connect Planned Parenthood to any "religious" agenda. But its history is not that easily separated from secular humanism. In 1973, Alan Guttmacher, long time president of Planned Parenthood and vice president of the American Eugenics Society, signed the Humanist Manifesto II. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Frank_Guttmacher

            You may not think secular humanism has the characteristics of a religion, but that is because we usually think of religion as something divinely revealed. The reason the courts concluded secular humanism is a religion was precisely because it met the "Establishment Clause" requirements as well as those of the "Equal Protection Clause."

            I know enough myself about the nature of secular humanism to realize that it functions in ways that parallel religion and religious agenda, which is what the Court concluded.

            I understand that secular humanists want nothing to do with religion and that follows because of their strongly anti-religious position. You should read Vincent Miceli's book, The Gods of Atheism, and you might better understand why secular humanism is rooted in a religious sentiment and plays a "replacement role" for religion.

            Given that it is evident that we are poles apart on this issue, I will just wish you a Happy Independence Day as well and let the matter go.

  • michael

    Christians give two conflicting explanations of divine morality: God made X, there God can do whatever he wants to X, IE, God made this child so he has the right to scratch its eyes out or toss into Hell if he wants. This explanation means something is wrong or right BECAUSE God says it is.

    The other is "God is morality" which I've already dismissed elsewhere here on the site.