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The Philosophical Landscape of “Westworld”

At the halfway point of HBO’s unsettling new series Westworld – a J.J. Abrams reboot of the 1973 film written and directed by Michael Crichton – some big plot questions remain. Is William a younger Man in Black? Is Bernard really a host? And what’s this maze all about?

The premise of the show is (relatively) straightforward: In the distant future, scientists and businessmen collaborate to create a vast amusement park in the style of the Old West, populating it with artificially intelligent robots (or “hosts”) that are so advanced that they are completely indistinguishable from human beings. Wealthy patrons (“newcomers” to the hosts) come to the park to act out fully immersive fantasies without consequence (they can hurt and even “kill” the hosts, but by design the hosts can’t kill the patrons), while an intricate network of underground employees work around the clock to clean up and reset the hosts, reprogram their character and storyline glitches, and continually enhance the park’s veil of realism. It’s a well-oiled machine, every centimeter of it designed for the lurid entertainment of the upper class.

Only, as of late, the realism is getting a little too real.

With each episode, it becomes a little bit clearer who is driving it and why (SPOILERS AHEAD), but the key twist is that some of the hosts are exhibiting “aberrant” behaviors, e.g., going off of their programmed storylines, “remembering” violence committed against them prior to system resets, and generally connecting dots that, in theory, it’s not possible for them to connect. In short, the hosts are increasingly acting more like a human being than a computer.

With the introduction of this theme, everything about the show – its plot twists, its characters, its graphic content – is subsumed under two key philosophical questions. First, can computers think? And second, are human beings really just computers?

On a surface level, Westworld really only deals with the first question and the social implications of creating such unpredictable machines. (Leading scientists and innovators – Stephen Hawking, Bill Gates, and Elon Musk among them – have raised a red flag about the exponential advance of artificial intelligence and the dangers it poses for human life. There’s still a lot of show left, but it doesn’t look like Westworld will be offering much to countervail those fears.) But because these two questions really come down to the same question – what is human consciousness? – the first question always entails the second as well.

So how does Westworld answer these questions?

Can Computers Think?

Computer scientist Alan Turing famously devised a test whereby computers, for all intents and purposes, could be shown to be intelligent. Turing described the following hypothetical situation: Suppose a computer and a person were in an enclosed room, separated from an interrogator whose goal it is to discover which is which through a series a questions. The aim of the person is to lead the interrogator to acknowledge the computer as the computer, while the computer is programmed to lead the interrogator to falsely acknowledge the computer as the person. If at the end this “imitation game” the computer so closely mimics the human responses that the interrogator incorrectly identifies the machine as the person, the computer has passed the “Turing test” for exhibiting intelligent behavior.

It’s widely assumed that the Turing test is a sufficient condition for showing that a computer has attained something like human thought. The qualifiers we use to talk about current technologies that mirror intelligence (“smart phone,” “cognitive robotics”, “artificial intelligence”) further reinforce that assumption.

But Westworld exposes the limitations of the Turing test. In the second episode, a young man converses with a host in a waiting room that leads into the park. “Are you real?” he asks her, clearly feeling a little silly. “Well,” the host responds, “If you can’t tell, does it matter?” This is the logic of behaviorism undergirding the Turing test. But the answer to this – based on everything we’ve seen about the park’s normal mode of operating – is clearly “yes.” Being tricked by a host into treating it as human (or human-like) doesn’t change the fact that the hosts are routinely dragged into a cold, dark underground and programmed, to the letter, to say and do everything they say and do. They may act like autonomous thinkers, but there’s nothing “real” about them (at least, not at first).

These limitations become explicit in the third episode when the park’s founder, Dr. Robert Ford (played by Anthony Hopkins), describes the early days of Westworld with his partner. “Our hosts began to pass the Turing test after the first year,” Dr. Ford explains. “But that wasn’t enough for Arnold. He wasn’t interested in the appearance of intellect or wit. He wanted the real thing. He wanted to create consciousness [emphasis mine].”

The implication here is that what makes the thought of human beings really and truly thought is the presence of a mind or consciousness to engage in it. Mimicry of a thing doesn’t attain the whole reality of that thing; and the reality of human consciousness is evidently a “something more” that goes beyond observable behaviors.

This brings us to a pause in the first question to jump to the second.

Are Human Beings Really Just Computers?

Discussions about whether computers can think simultaneously involve questions about whether human thought can be said to involve a mind or consciousness beyond the material brain in the first place. If there is no such thing as mind or consciousness, then the Turing test is a perfectly valid way to determine whether a computer has become a thinker in the same sense that a person is a thinker. On this view, human beings are really no different from the average host in Westworld. All your choices, beliefs, and sensations – in short, the whole spectrum of “immaterial” experiences you associate with a single subject you call “myself” – are just a convenient fiction. The only difference is that where the hosts are programmed by artificial processes to behave as if they’re special subjects, we’re programmed by natural processes. You are your material structures and their motion, and nothing more.

Westworld clearly doesn’t adopt this materialist perspective on human life. The whole drama of the show is that the hosts are going beyond the Turing test to attain something of a different kind, and therefore, on the second question, the attainment of something beyond the material structures of the brain that humans possess. But what is that something?

Giants of modern philosophy differ widely on this point. John Searle’s “Chinese Room” experiment is the most popular critique of the Turing test, and focuses on understanding. Others such as Thomas Nagel ("what is like to be a bat?") and David Chalmers (the “hard problem of consciousness”) have made awareness a kind of bulwark against materialism.

One of the least recognized but most important critiques of materialism, however, is the argument from intentionality. In Edward Feser’s book Philosophy of Mind, he gives a cogent argument that the “ancient problem of intentionality” is what really lies behind arguments of understanding or awareness:

“The term ‘intentionality’ derives from the Latin intendere, which means ‘to point (at)’ or ‘to aim (at)’ – hence the use of the term to signify the capacity of a metal state to ‘point at,’ or to be about, or to mean, stand for, or represent, something beyond itself. (It is important to note that intentions, for example, your intention to read this chapter, are only one manifestation of intentionality; your belief that you are reading a book, your desire to read it, your perception of the book, and so forth, exhibit intentionality just as much as your intention does.) The concept was of great interest to the medieval philosophers but Franz Brentano (1838 -1917) is the thinker most responsible for putting it at the forefront of contemporary philosophical discussion. Brentano is also famous for regarding intentionality as the ‘mark of the mental’ – the one essential feature of all mental phenomena – and for holding that their possessing intentionality makes mental phenomena ultimately irreducible to, and inexplicable in terms of, physical phenomena.”

If the hosts of Westworld are attaining something beyond the material, it is, in a word, intentionality. Their sensations, thoughts, beliefs, and desires are no longer self-contained in a string of physical mechanisms. They are about their objects, directed toward them. They simultaneously seem to be unlocking hidden doors to perception, reason, and will – and even contemplating meeting their “maker” – precisely through the “about-ness” of mental states so characteristic of human life.

If Feser is right that intentionality is the best argument for the immateriality of the mind, and Westworld treats intentionality as the immaterial “something” that the hosts now have, we’re brought back to the first question. Can a computer actually attain human thought, understood as the operation of an immaterial mind?

Westworld wants to say “yes”, but justifying that answer adequately is completely beyond the scope of the show – and besides, would drain out all the drama. The show drops hints that through a lucky recipe of ingredients (ingredients that were also present in primal man), “somehow” the hosts moved from unintentional symbol exchange to intentional symbol understanding, and from unconsciousness to emergent consciousness. We willingly suspend any disbelief we might have to go on that journey; however, as one neuroscientist explains, we have “very compelling reasons” to believe this is never really going to happen.

Whatever the answer to the first question, in dealing with the second in just this way, Westworld open the door to another ancient philosophical problem. 

Westworld as Metaphor

One of the taglines of Westworld is that it’s about “the dawn of artificial consciousness and the future of sin.” The first half of that description, which focuses on the hosts, is obvious, and involves all of the issues discussed above. But what about “the future of sin”?

The focus here seems to be on the patrons who frequent the park, typified in the character of Logan. Early in the series, a visitor to Westworld says that the first time he came to the park, he brought his family and went fishing, but the second time, left the family behind and “went straight evil.” William’s future brother-in-law Logan is just such a seasoned veteran of Westworld. He has no misgivings about doing whatever he pleases with the hosts in any given moment. William laments at one point that Logan just wants to kill or sleep with everything he sees – and he has a point. For the wealthy young businessman, the only thing that matters is his own power and pleasure. In fact, his greatest desire is for something at the outer reaches of the park, “the biggest game there is” – namely, all-out war.

This says more about Logan than it does about the park. Walker Percy once remarked (in a line that could’ve easily been written about Westworld) that the modern self is so bored and alienated, and so frustrated by its boredom and alienation, that it “needs to exercise every option in order to reassure itself that it is not a ghost but is rather a self among other selves. One such option is a sexual encounter. Another is war.” The park’s creators profit handsomely from this assumption, isolating the patrons’ longing to dramatically effect something and setting it loose without a cost to the world around them.

But we know that the illusion is an illusion. The patrons’ actions are not, as they suspect, without consequence. They are inflicting deep wounds, and lasting memories of those wounds, in their conscious hosts. More than any abstract discussion about sentience or awareness, this point is made in a more visceral, intuitive way. Time and time again, the camera lingers on the hosts’ eyes, and through these “windows to the soul”, we see worry, hope, sorrow, and wonder. More than mere awareness, primal understanding, or even intentionality, we see a reflection of the mystery of ensoulment and the dignity it accords.

If we set aside the thorny question of computer consciousness and read this symbolically, the show becomes less a crystal ball into the future, and more a mirror of the present. The hosts symbolize the weak, the young, the voiceless, the helpless – anyone on the margins of society that is manipulated, brutalized, and thrown away, often without fully understanding what is being done to them or how to stop it. Lisa Joy, one of the show’s co-creators, confirms this reading when she describes Westworld as being about “what it means to be human, from the outside in…a meditation on consciousness – the blessing and the burden of it.” The blessing for the hosts is that they are coming to know and understand the world around them – and the burden is, as it is for so many people, precisely the same thing.

The patrons can similarly be read as agents of decadence, brute power, and disregard for vulnerable human life. They hold the hosts under their thumbs for their own gratification, which is ultimately all that matters to them. In the park, they treat objects like people, only to treat them like objects again; but the great irony is that the objects, in becoming “others”, re-reveal the impulse the patrons have come to let loose and leave behind – namely, the objectification of the other. In a roundabout way, then, the show is all about this addiction to treating people like objects, which is not the future of sin, but the reality of sin itself. Indulging that addiction in its most graphic forms – to get back to Percy’s line – becomes about much more than escape for the patrons. It even becomes about more than re-constructing one’s self. It becomes about re-constructing the very meaning of existence to conform to the self. “The world out there,” the Man in Black explains to a host in one scene, “the one you’ll never see, was one of plenty…Every need taken care of, except one: Purpose. Meaning.”

Is this all so unthinkable? One of the hosts, remembering a past narrative “loop” as a teacher of Shakespeare, warns another using one of Friar Laurence’s lines from Romeo and Juliet: “These violent delights have violent ends.”

As a show not just about the future but about the present, Westworld seems to deliver exactly the same warning – not just about the swiftness with which we develop human-like objects, but also about the inhumanity with which we objectify each other.

On both counts, the question we’re left with is a hair-raising one: Is the West clanging headlong into Westworld?

Matthew Becklo

Written by

Matthew Becklo is a husband and father-to-be, amateur philosopher, and cultural commentator at Aleteia and Word on Fire. His writing has been featured in First Things, The Dish, and Real Clear Religion.

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  • No love for any of the following?

         • Hubert Dreyfus 1972 What Computers Can't Do
         • Dreyfus & Dreyfus 1986 Mind over Machine
         • Hubert Dreyfus 1992 What Computers Still Can't Do

    See also WP: Hubert Dreyfus's views on artificial intelligence.

    • David Nickol

      Luke, I think you need to read less and watch more television. :)

      • Well, I do watch one episode of Star Trek a night with my wife, who hadn't watched an episode in her life before we got married. We just recently finished Voyager, which refused to go "Measure of a Man" for the hologram doctor, although he did get to be a legal author. Fun as Star Trek is, it just doesn't attack the core of these issues as much as I'd like. What does it mean for goodness, beauty, and rationality to not be reducible to computer algorithms? How do we explore that?

        I did appreciate the AI-learns-from-human element of Deus ex Machina. What we should really fear is that AI come to an unvarnished understanding of how humans control and dominate each other, and then figure out how to do it better.

        Any suggestions?

    • Will

      Just as an update:

      Many AI researchers have come to agree that human reasoning does not consist primarily of high-level symbol manipulation. In fact, since Dreyfus first published his critiques in the 60s, AI research in general has moved away from high level symbol manipulation or "GOFAI", towards new models that are intended to capture more of our unconscious reasoning. Daniel Crevier writes that by 1993, unlike 1965, AI researchers "no longer made the psychological assumption",[13] and had continued forward without it.

      In the 1980s, these new "sub-symbolic" approaches included:

      Computational intelligence paradigms, such as neural nets, evolutionary algorithms and so on are mostly directed at simulated unconscious reasoning. Dreyfus himself agrees that these sub-symbolic methods can capture the kind of "tendencies" and "attitudes" that he considers essential for intelligence and expertise.[34]
      Research into commonsense knowledge has focussed on reproducing the "background" or context of knowledge.
      Robotics researchers like Hans Moravec and Rodney Brooks were among the first to realize that unconscious skills would prove to be the most difficult to reverse engineer. (See Moravec's paradox.) Brooks would spearhead a movement in the late 80s that took direct aim at the use of high-level symbols, called Nouvelle AI. The situated movement in robotics research attempts to capture our unconscious skills at perception and attention

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hubert_Dreyfus%27s_views_on_artificial_intelligence#CITEREFDreyfus1992

      Dreyfus's critiques were specific to GOFAI and symbolic manipulation. GOFAI is very useful for some specific things, but essentially no one thinks human intelligence works via symbol manipulation anymore.

      Dreyfus has asserted that the basic assumptions of neural network AI are compatible with his own vision of intelligence (Dreyfus & Dreyfus 1988; Dreyfus 1992). Neural networks relinquish the rationalistic idea that intelligence is a matter of symbol manipulation and rule application. Knowledge in neural networks is not a matter of possessing explicit representations, but rather of the appropriate connections (ultimately) between nerves and muscles. Knowledge involves possession of an ability: it is more knowing how to do something than knowing that an assertion is true. In neural network AI, intelligent processes are frequently holistic and intuitive. Moreover, neural network AI is fully compatible with the assumption that intelligence requires a body and is situated: higher processes are often built up out of lower ones and intelligence is conceived as something that develops through interaction with the environment. Thus by Dreyfus's own criteria neural network AI appears to have more of what it takes to manufacture artificial intelligence.

      https://www.utwente.nl/bms/wijsb/organization/brey/Publicaties_Brey/Brey_2001_Dreyfus.pdf

      Of course, Dreyfus thinks it is going to be incredibly difficult to make neural networks reach HLAI, and he's probably right. More needs to be understood about the human brain, especially the frontal lobes. Currently we can reproduce perception (occipital lobes) fairly well, and a lot of progress continues to be made.

    • Donald

      Luke:
      You wisely mentioned Dreyfus then dropped the subject? This discussion sorely needs an understanding of the "Myth of the Mental". The Westworld series wisely begins with the topic of worlds: the world of the park, the world of the employees, and the unseen world of the guests. And only on the basis of our always already being in a world, can we think. The other direction is not possible. The writers play with great themes about the connection between worlds and storytelling. The park itself takes for its theme the novelized American west of the late 1800's perhaps suggesting that it (The Westworld Park) is the future of the novel itself. What do great novels do? They create worlds in that they show us what can be.
      This connects well with the series co-creator statement: “what it means to be human, from the outside in". Perhaps the writers have read Dreyfus?

      • I'm still rather a noob with Heidegger's whole "being in the world" thing, even though I've made it most of the way through Dreyfus and Taylor's Retrieving Realism. Now, on a related matter, I do have an evernote titled "Taylor: disengaged subject", which I've linked to the following works:

             • Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self
             • Charles Taylor, Philosophical Arguments
             • Charles Taylor, Dilemmas and Connections
             • Christian Smith, Moral, Believing Animals
             • Simon Williams, Emotion and Social Theory
             • Christopher Lasch, The Minimal Self
             • Emil Brunner, Man in Revolt

        However, I suspect I am still terribly trapped in the mind-body dualism bequeathed to us by Descartes et al. I need to give David Braine's The Human Person: Animal and Spirit another shot, as he takes direct aim at the dualism, even arguing that much cognitive science retains it (in the form of "sense-data" and "brain-states").

        Do you have any suggestions? Dreyfus' movie on being in the world is on my list, but I haven't gotten around to watching it.

        • Donald

          Luke:

          Thanks for the links.

          As for a suggested brief introductions to "being", I enthusiastically recommend:

          1. The 2013 Tao Ruspoli film Being In the World. It's well worth supporting via purchase or rental. (As recommended above)

          2. Bryan Magee's 1987 BBC interview with Dreyfus provides a more scholarly overview (free on youtube): Hubert Dreyfus on Husserl and Heidegger. The entire excellent Magee series is linked on Open Culture: Bryan Magee’s In-Depth, Uncut TV Conversations With Famous Philosophers (1978-87)

          3. Professor Edward Kanterian’s excellent 2012 lecture Hölderlin's Metaphysics. Much of the understanding in Heidegger’s work originated with Hölderlin.

          4. All Things Shining: Reading the Western Classics to Find Meaning in a Secular Age Paperback – August 9, 2011 Written by professor Sean D. Kelly (a former Dreyfus student) and H. Dreyfus

          • Thanks! I do think I'm about ready to dig into this matter more fully. By the way, have you encountered Josef Pieper's Leisure: The Basis of Culture? I found it via David Levy's Google tech talk No Time to Think (pdf). It (and Levy's talk) seems to have some similarities to some of Heidegger's emphases.

          • Donald

            Thanks Luke. Both Pieper and Levy are new to me.

            The Josef Pieper book’s discussion of leisure slyly connects to Westworld. The book thinks of leisure as "being receptive", and Westworld is all about creating a physical space for leisure. William is receptive to the lure of the park, while Logan brings the outside world with him instead.

            Pieper seems to observe part of the same phenomenon that later Heidegger observes, but Heidegger puts it more into context. We live in an era where we think of everything as a resource to be optimized: every rock, every tree, every animal, every person, even time, and even our own lives. To us, it makes sense to optimize every thing and can’t imagine otherwise. Heidegger sometimes referred to this as the "flight of the gods". Only the gods can save us from such a dire situation. The “flight of the gods” and the resulting “optimization trap” produces the nihilism seen everywhere today. I love the point in the google talk where David M. Levy talks about creating a space for silence so leisure can take place. He's got the right idea, but he's thinking like a Cartesian. The space we need to create isn’t simply a physical space, but an existential one. This is what poets do, according Hölderlin. Great Poets (and great novelist, and other artists) create worlds with meaningful roles where it's okay to slow down and be receptive. There's a famous Hölderlin line, "... what are poets good for in these destitute times..."

          • We live in an era where we think of everything as a resource to be optimized: every rock, every tree, every animal, every person, even time, and even our own lives.

            Yes, I've definitely noticed this, both in life but also in my self-taught liberal arts 'program'. Levy's lecture changed my life; I was way too interested in merely making things more efficient. Had I not encountered him, I probably would have aided the centralization of political and economic power, while leaving your average information worker more exhausted at the end of the day and thus less able to challenge the status quo (via true Sabbath-time).

            Are you aware of Charles Taylor's focus on (i) "Locke's punctual self" in Sources of the Self; (ii) the importance of "reform" to modernity in A Secular Age? These would seem to be important precursors to the focus on efficiency. One thing Taylor makes clear with the "punctual self" is that the attempt to dominate reality also involves an attempt to dominate the self. This can be healthy—see Paul on training like a soldier—but it can be taken too far, ending in all sorts of mental illness and social dysfunction.

            Ostensibly, Romano Guardini gets at this matter with The End of the Modern World. (For those who don't know, Pope Francis almost did a PhD with Guardini; Laudato si' cites this work five times.) However, I did have quite a bit of difficulty really grasping his overall argument. Perhaps after immersing myself in the materials you've suggested, I'll be able to better understand it.

            I love the point in the google talk where David M. Levy talks about creating a space for silence so leisure can take place. He's got the right idea, but he's thinking like a Cartesian. The space we need to create isn’t simply a physical space, but an existential one. This is what poets do, according Hölderlin.

            Fascinating. I first got introduced to the ostensible importance of poets via Richard M. Weaver:

            If we should compile a list of those who have taught us most of what we ultimately need to know, I imagine that the scientists, for all the fanfare given them today, would occupy a rather humble place and that the dramatic poets would stand near the top. (Ideas Have Consequences, 162)

            In the past several months, I've been obsessed with the idea that we as moderns and we as Christians generally have an absolutely pathetic imagination of what we could do in the future, with God's help. I have a growing suspicion that God has designed limits into the human motivational complex, such that we just cannot drum up enough motivation to perpetuate unjust social systems. And yet, as far as I can see, the current social systems of the world simply do not require substantial creative input from any more than a miniscule fraction of the population. We don't talk about 'people' or 'citizens', we talk about 'consumers'.

            I wonder if part of the problem is that our imaginations are too Cartesian. There's just so much more to the human being and to society than "clear and distinct ideas". And yet, what poets are inspiring us? How many Hollywood movies depict science and technology as leading to something other than dystopia? Who is offering visions of better social order which we can find deeply compelling?

          • Donald

            Taylor speaks on the topic of conformity in the film "Being in the World". Conformism has benefits. In fact, we couldn't have functioning cities without some level of conformity. The easiest path is to just do like the others and be a good consumer. The more difficult alternative is to become authentic Dasein.
            I've got Taylor's "A Secular Age" purchased and in the queue.

            And yet, as far as I can see, the current social systems of the world simply do not require substantial creative input from any more than a miniscule fraction of the population. We don't talk about 'people' or 'citizens', we talk about 'consumers'.

            Luke, you have an uncanny ability to bring the discussion back to the article on Westworld. By giving science fiction such a high production values treatment, HBO took a great risk that I hope will pay off for them. But Westworld also has very prominent fantasy themes that are worth discussing. If the Westworld park were to appear in New Mexico tomorrow, would the adults of today think was a cool place to visit?

            Your topic is at the heart of the conflict between park founder Dr. Robert Ford and head of narrative Lee Sizemore. Fantasy (and imagination) to some degree is about what people want. Or how they see themselves.

            Lee Sizemore: “...This storyline will make Hieronymus Bosch look like he was doodling kittens…"

            Dr. Robert Ford: “...the guests don't return for the obvious things we do. The garish things, they come back because of the subtleties, the details…"

            I wonder if part of the problem is that our imaginations are too Cartesian.

          • Taylor speaks on the topic of conformity in the film "Being in the World". Conformism has benefits. In fact, we couldn't have functioning cities without some level of conformity. The easiest path is to just do like the others and be a good consumer. The more difficult alternative is to become authentic Dasein.

            What if it's an error to think of this as an either-or? Here's a fun endnote from Taylor:

            Of course, a large and complex thesis lies behind this flip reference. The basic idea is that Baroque culture is a kind of synthesis of the modern understanding of agency as inward and poietic, constructing orders in the world, and the older understanding of the world as cosmos, shaped by Form. With hindsight, we tend to see the synthesis as instable, as doomed to be superseded, as it was in fact.[...]Baroque culture, Dupré argues, is united by "a comprehensive spiritual vision.... At the centre of it stands the person, confident in the ability to give form and structure to a nascent world. But-and here lies its religious significance-that centre remains vertically linked to a transcendent source from which, via a descending scale of mediating bodies, the human creator draws his power. This dual centre-human and divine-distinguishes the Baroque world picture from the vertical one of the Middle Ages, in which reality descends from a single transcendent point, as well as from the unproblematically horizontal one of later modernity, prefigured in some features of the Renaissance. The tension between the two centres conveys to the Baroque a complex, restless, and dynamic quality" ([Passage to Modernity, ]237). (A Secular Age, 795–796)

            What if it's actually supposed to be a dance between the One and the Many, weaving ever more complex patterns, sometimes with solos, sometimes quartets, and sometimes everyone in harmonious unison? Yeah I just got my crappy poetic-mixing-metaphors on. Another profound book in this area is Colin E. Gunton's The One, the Three and the Many: God, Creation and the Culture of Modernity.

            Luke, you have an uncanny ability to bring the discussion back to the article on Westworld.

            That's pretty hilarious, because I only just watched the first episode yesterday—after all previous comments of mine to you. But anyone who has studied history knows that convergent evolution (of this kind) in thought is a hallmark of truth-directedness. Indeed, the ability to [somewhat—culture is shared] independently arrive at the same conclusion may be required for Jer 31:33–34 to happen.

            If the Westworld park were to appear in New Mexico tomorrow, would the adults of today think was a cool place to visit?

            Ehhh, I think we would need to be acclimated to it. Virtual reality should help with that. First you'll get the immersive experience with 3D, then haptics, then omnidirectional treadmills. Then returning to reality, but with simulated beings, will be pretty easy to swallow.

            Dr. Robert Ford: “...the guests don't return for the obvious things we do. The garish things, they come back because of the subtleties, the details…"

            There was a weird non-academic philosophy book that came out in 2009, called Hating Perfection. You could call it 'existentialist', I think. It doesn't have great reviews, but I find it thought-provoking. One of the author's key points is that a perfect world is a maximally subtle world, and that this makes constant demands of human-like beings. The one-star reviews amuse me: I wonder if they'd rate Heidegger and Kierkegaard the same way, if their names were redacted and so fashion didn't dictate respect. Not that it's a five-star book, but such hatred is always fascinating to me.

            Humans, it would seem, have the option to pursue glorious subtlety or garish subtlety. There's no "stasis" option. If, for example, we refuse to help the poor and widows and foreigners and oppressed, you get stuff like Ezek 16:48–49. The only new interesting thing is to "know" foreigners. I don't think it's just sexual—I think it's a lust to colonize and dominate, perhaps like Agent Smith once he starts replicating.

          • I just finished #2 and it was very helpful. Thank you again! I have a question about one particular bit in part 4. Here's a rough transcript:

            the liberation comes from realizing that there is no deep truth to liberate, no deep meaning in Dasein, accepting the ungrounded and unsettledness is itself liberating

            To contrast with this, I am thinking primarily about the following from Paul:

            For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his poiēma [singular], created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8–10)

            I de-translated a word because I am not convinced that "workmanship" is very accurate. Here's the other place that word shows up:

            For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the poiēma [plural]. So they are without excuse. (Romans 1:18–20)

            This reminds me of the "priests and rulers" of 1 Pe 2:9 and of the prophecy that "For the earth will be filled / with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD / as the waters cover the sea." (Hab 2:14) It is as if God implanted each human being with some unique perspective of reality and unique set of talents, which are to be used for service of others and the introduction of ever-more-fantastic beauty, excellence, and goodness into reality. While at the gym I was thinking of how to state this more poetically. Perhaps: God made each person an instrument, and that person has the duty and privilege of learning to play himself/​herself well, not only solo but in concert with others. Indeed, we need the help of others to stay in tune and learn more glorious, complicated pieces.

            Maybe Heidegger didn't mean to preclude the above design—where my trajectory is not fixed down to one precise thread through history, but still has parameters designed into it which I violate or stay ignorant of to my and others' detriment—but it seems that he is possibly doing just that. It is as if philosophers have a tremendous problem with the one and the many, where it is just too easy to let one or the other dominate. I take God to beautifully balance them, such that one need not veer into uniformity nor factious plurality.

          • Donald

            Luke:

            I think it's a testament to the great quality of the writing in Westworld, that each topic we pick relates directly back to the show. The characters talk about “..their path…” and “… finding freedom…" There’s a puzzle called “The Maze” which Teddy says is “… the sum of a man's choices and dreams…” . We’re talking about the meaning of fate and how it relates to the meaning of time when not thought of as something counted.

            To understand the quote you've carved out, we need to put it back into its context. Dreyfus is explaining what it means to be authentic Dasein. The “...ungrounded and unsettledness...” refers to a particular kind of anxiety. I’ve included the full transcript from youtube below (cleaned up a bit). Inauthentic and Authentic Dasein fills in a big piece of the “fate” puzzle. Heidegger is stealing from Aristotle and Kiekegaard. Inauthentic and Authentic describes in a way, the range from novice to master. It’s the know-how that gives us our sight. Aristotle has the idea of the man of practical wisdom: the phronemus. Kierkegaard understood the role anxiety plays in making us who we are. The anxiety can light up our way. There’s a great quote about anxiety from the novel “Cloud Atlas”. “…[we] do whatever it is we can’t not do …” People spend a tremendous amount of time and energy in elaborate schemes for "covering up” or "hiding from” things that make them uncomfortable. They are trying not to see. The classic Heideggarian example of a cover up is the common Cartesian understanding of “death” as an event that we deal with at the end of our life. That’s the comforting “cover up”; as if death is something that can be put off to the future. The anxiety of death must be dealt with constantly in the very lives we construct for ourselves, that is, if we live authentically.

            Let’s say we have two people. One is blessed with having a great mentor and teacher that carefully trained her how to relate to and teach children. She then practiced and practiced. The mentor gave her rules at the beginning, corrected her mistakes and guided her to a level of mastery. Once a master herself, she no longer needs rules. That’s freeing. She can see things (many which cause anxiety) that other non-masters cannot. Her master pointed out her anxiety and she follows the anxiety of her life through mastery (Authentic Dasein, she’s authentically there) and beyond. Her know-how and anxiety aren’t a thing inside her head but her orientation toward the world. The other person learns the rules of teaching children. He has the lists and measurements and rule book of things we do get the job done efficiently. One size fits all. All young students are alike, right? (He’s Inauthentic Dasein) There’s a lot happening around him that he never notices. He’s inside a cage of his own construction. He’s too busy with his rule book and lists. Machines don’t have this wonderful gift of anxiety.

            A useful caricature.
            Idealism thread:
            1. Descartes to Kant to Hegel to just about everyone.

            Existentialism thread:
            2. Aristotle to Pascal to Kierkegaard to Nietzsche to Heidegger to Merleau-Ponty to Derrida to Habermas to H. Dreyfus

            excerpt #1:

            2:57 Or you can own up to what it is to be Dasein. To own up means for Heidegger
            3:03 to go to hold onto anxiety and not flee it and if you do that you will be
            3:07 catapulted into an entirely different way of being human.
            3:12 Now what you do need to change because the only can do what one does with are
            3:16 you just be kooky in insane.
            3:18 So you go on doing probably the same thing you did but how you do it changes
            3:22 completely
            3:23 you no longer expect to get any deep final meaning out of anything. So you
            3:28 don't embrace projects with the conviction that now at last this is
            3:33 going to make sense of your life. So you also don't then drop all your projects
            3:38 because they failed to make the ultimate meaning you're looking for is one of my
            3:42 students once said, “...you are able to stick with things without getting stuck with
            3:46 them…" In this authentic activity Heidegger says you no longer
            3:51 have to respond to what he calls the general situation. You can respond to
            3:56 what he calls the unique situation. He doesn't give any examples but I take it
            4:00 to be something like this. Take his carpenter that he's always talking about
            4:03 with his hammer when he puts his hammer down for lunch
            4:06 he could just have his sausages and sauerkraut. But if there's beautiful flowers
            4:12 blooming outdoors and he's authentic he doesn't have to do what a respectable
            4:17 carpenter does he can go out wandering in the flowers and then it but it's
            4:21 important that you can do only what one does he can't take off all his clothes
            4:24 and roll in the flowers
            4:25 one doesn't do that. But there's a little space for authenticity namely doing the
            4:31 sort of thing that one does enables you to respond to the unique situation
            4:35 without concern for respectability in conformity and that kind of life not
            4:41 trying to get absolute meaning and responding to the current situation
            4:45 makes you an individual Heidegger says makes you flexible alive gay [fröh] in
            4:52 german and that is his idea of how one should live. Put that way you make it
            4:56 sound like a sort of philosophy of personal liberation. One hears this
            5:00 phrase "philosophy of liberation" used about a lot of political philosophies
            5:04 but this is it were an individual liberation philosophy is it not. But it's an
            5:09 existentialist liberation philosophy which makes it that sort of last and
            5:13 strangest liberation philosophy we don't liberate say our sexual drives or are
            5:18 repressed classes the liberation comes from realizing that there's no deep
            5:23 truth to liberate no deeper meaning in Dasein accepting the ungrounded and
            5:28 unsettledness is itself liberating.

            excerpt #2:

            It is as if God implanted each human being with some unique perspective of reality and unique set of talents, which are to be used for service of others and the introduction of ever-more-fantastic beauty, excellence, and goodness into reality.

          • Hmmm, I will have to think on that some more. Inauthentic—perhaps "socially chained"?—existence sounds rather like Owen Barfield's 'original participation', which can be read about online and in Saving the Appearances: A Study in Idolatry.

            By the way, your "excerpt #2" contains stuff I wrote—I'm not sure you meant that?

          • Donald

            Yes. I wanted put your smaller excerpt in the context of the entire discussion of authentic Dasein. Since the show is only an hour, Dreyfus can't go into much depth.

            By the way, your "excerpt #2" contains stuff I wrote—I'm not sure you meant that?

          • Oh, you're top-replying instead of bottom-replying. :-)

  • David Nickol

    Matthew, thanks for writing about Westworld. I am very intrigued by the show.

    I can understand (I think) the argument that "strong AI" will never be achieved by programming digital computers, no matter how powerful. I would not, however, make the leap (and I don't think the author of the linked piece does, either), that the physical brain does not produce (or support, or "do") consciousness without the addition of a spiritual soul.

    There is a scene in which one of the technicians working on one of the inactive robots —which are usually without clothes under these circumstances—has draped a makeshift robe over the robot to cover its nakedness. Ford (Anthony Hopkins) excoriates the technician for possibly imagining the robot could feel cold, or modest, or anything at all, and to emphasize the point, he picks up a scalpel and makes a deep cut in the robot's face. It is not clear to me, though, if Ford himself is fully convinced of this, especially given the way he treats a group of robots (including a dog) that are recreations of his own family (in Sector 17, for those who are watching the show.)

    I think we know that at least some of the robots are conscious and self-aware. Certainly Maeve (who runs the brothel) and Dolores have gone off script in major ways. We know that they have been tinkered with somehow, but in the case of Maeve, she demands (and gets) changes to her programming, including a boost of her intelligence from 14 (the highest permitted for a host) to the top of the scale (20).

  • I think the question on the first part of this piece can be boiled down to the following: if we can create an artificial intelligence ("AI") that we cannot distinguish from a human intelligence, does the AI have a conscious experience, or is it simply mimicking humans who do have conscious experiences.

    This leads us to consider why we accept in the first place that anyone has conscious experience. Well, each of us knows we have it because we experience it. What exactly we experience is rather hard to even articulate.

    I think we accept other humans have consciousness because they act like they do. They act like we do. So when an AI seems to think like we do, on what basis do we say it lacks "real" thought, or consciousness.

    The only move left is to say that consciousness is not simply a function of material, but requires something else. Well of course this something else cannot be observed or demonstrated in any empirical way. But I cannot say it is impossible. But is there any basis to conclude it is non-material? I do not see any.

    Is there any basis to conclude that it is a function of material, to which I would say , yes, lots. 1) whenever we identify thought, consciousness, intention, material is always involved. 2) when we modify the material involved, the brain, we often modify the consciousness, indeed the more we learn of the brain the more we find explanations for human mental activity 3) Humans have evolved from biological forms that had no brains, no thought, no consciousness. 4) non-humans appear to have some level of consciousness.

    I do not think materialism, science or naturalism has completely explained human mental function, I think it has explained a great deal. I do not think we really have a clue what consciousness is, but I think the best explanation is it is a function of the brain, and there is no need to invoke anything else at this stage.

    • Until you can explicate what "materialism, science† or naturalism" cannot explain, it is meaningless if not deceptive to suggest that there is no reason to entertain alternatives. Let us recall that you just recently wrote, "I do not know if it is possible for me to be wrong on naturalism." Something which can explain anything explains nothing.

      † I rather object to the inclusion of this term, since by the doing of science, we shifted from 'materialism' → 'physicalism'. That is, we realized that energy fields were at least as real as atoms. This was done by 'science' pushing the limits. To say that everything can be explored by something which can push any limits is definitely to say nothing.

      • "Until you can explicate what "materialism, science† or naturalism" cannot explain, it is meaningless if not deceptive to suggest that there is no reason to entertain alternatives"

        This does not follow and I did not say there is not reason to entertain alternatives, I said there is no need to invoke them. In other words, there is no reason to accept they exist, or if they exist, that they are involved in human thought. If you have such a reason please advance it.

        "Something which can explain anything explains nothing." Well, this doesn't follow either. In any event, the question here is what explanations do we have?

        I put it to you that we have many explanations for all kinds of issues related to human thought, and all of them involve material and none of them involve anything non-material.

        • If the only real definition you have behind 'natural' and 'material' is this—

          BGA: I would change that to theists are distinguished by a belief that natural rules can be abridged.

          —then it's really not clear how many Christians would really identify as being 'theists'. Yes, many people will unreflectively think that God can break the 'natural rules'. But if you carefully explain to them the difference between the rules scientists have formulated (which can be broken by better science) and the true design of the universe, and ask them why an omniscient, omnipotent God would need to break rules he created, maybe a good number of them would be swayed. Because what you really say, above, is that reality is thoroughly rational.

          What you've done—intentionally or not—is implied that the only way a theist can be a theist is to embrace irrationality. That is absurd.

          • Hi,

            I am not going to depart from the context of this posting of my comments above.

            You had stated that:

            "Until you can explicate what "materialism, science† or naturalism"
            cannot explain, it is meaningless if not deceptive to suggest that there
            is no reason to entertain alternatives"

            My response was:

            "This does not follow and I did not say there is not reason to entertain
            alternatives, I said there is no need to invoke them. In other words,
            there is no reason to accept they exist, or if they exist, that they are
            involved in human thought. If you have such a reason please advance it."

            I will not ramble off into other areas this time. Please respond to this.

          • LB: Until you can explicate what "materialism, science† or naturalism" cannot explain, it is meaningless if not deceptive to suggest that there is no reason to entertain alternatives. Let us recall that you just recently wrote, "I do not know if it is possible for me to be wrong on naturalism." Something which can explain anything explains nothing.

            BGA: This does not follow and I did not say there is not reason to entertain alternatives, I said there is no need to invoke them. In other words, there is no reason to accept they exist, or if they exist, that they are involved in human thought. If you have such a reason please advance it.

            I think it does follow. When your position is analyzed—as I recently did quite extensively—it is shown to give zero definition to 'materialism' and 'naturalism' other than "no irrationality in causal laws". The word 'natural' is Gumby to you, as I demonstrated by challenging you to either call Lawrence Krauss a theist or change your definition.

            I doubt many theists, after they investigate the matters deeply, would disagree with the formulation, "no irrationality in causal laws". They can easily question whether our current conceptual resources are sufficient to explain e.g. consciousness, and if you provide a more robust notion of 'materialism' or 'naturalism' they might find purchase for their objections. But if you play on the more specific notions while retreating to the extremely general one when pressed, your interlocutor is quite justified to suspect that something is up.

            See, one cannot actually argue that "no irrationality in causal laws" ⇒ "God does not exist", unless one tries to arbitrarily restrict the notion of 'rationality', an attempt which is exploded by the scholar Richard Bernstein in Beyond Objectivism and Relativism (5100 'citations') and even recognized by folks such as naturalist Penelope Maddy (Second Philosophy: A Naturalistic Method, 1).

            So, either you define 'materialism' and 'naturalism' so that they don't rule out God's existence, and then maintain the immunity from criticism you seem to like, or you define them more narrowly so that they do rule out God's existence, but then you expose yourself to the very real possibility that you've also ruled out the possibility of understanding aspects of our world. There doesn't seem to be a third option.

          • "it is shown to give zero definition to 'materialism' and 'naturalism' other than "no irrationality in causal laws""

            Those were not my definitions. I am not going to re-hash all that again.

            "See, one cannot actually argue that "no irrationality in causal laws" ⇒ "God does not exist","

            No one has, this is an argument you are having between yourself and a straw man.

          • This is starting to look like a joke. Let's recall the words you used:

            BGA: The only move left is to say that consciousness is not simply a function of material, but requires something else. Well of course this something else cannot be observed or demonstrated in any empirical way. But I cannot say it is impossible. But is there any basis to conclude it is non-material? I do not see any.

            If you're going to depend on dichotomies such as material/​non-material, it is intellectually dishonest to refuse to provide clear definitions upon request. Now, you can always question whether we ought to even think in terms of such a dichotomy. I am told that pragmatist philosopher John Dewey generally disliked such dichotomous thinking. But you have a clear problem: if you eschew the dichotomy, you can no longer call yourself a 'materialist'.

            Fail to give a definition of 'material' your best effort—noting that the definition needs to be relevant to the present discussion—and everyone here will have reason to suspect that you are doing nothing other than blowing smoke. Isn't that the religionist's job? Perseverate with ever-shifting meanings of words until her interlocutor throws up her hands in defeat?

          • "If you're going to depend on dichotomies such as material/​non-material, it is intellectually dishonest to refuse to provide clear definitions upon request."

            I have always defined it on request, if you are asking me to defrine it again, my definition of material is the same as last time you asked: all matter and energy.

            And by the way. I am not relying on any dichotomy, my position is materialism, my position is that there is only material, and I can justify my belief in material.

            It is up to someone who wants to advance the dichotomy to defend it. Please stop straw-manning me.

          • I have always defined it on request, if you are asking me to defrine it again, my definition of material is the same as last time you asked: all matter and energy.

            This isn't good enough. What [logically possible] phenomena cannot be explained by "matter and energy"? If you cannot give any compelling answer (as Raphael Lataster failed to do when asked by Trent Horn for evidence that would convince him God exists), then you're espousing metaphysics, not physics. Contrast this to the scientific claim that F = GmM/r^2. We can easily imagine phenomena which would falsify that. Your claim—that reality is made exclusively of "all matter and energy"—is, from what I can see, 100% unfalsifiable. It's not an empirical claim. But wait.

            If you're not making an empirical claim, then how is that claim possibly true? If no configuration of matter–energy makes your claim true, and matter–energy is all that exists, metaphysical claims cannot be true or false. And yet you clearly think your metaphysical claim is true. Your position is flagrantly self-contradictory. Or, perhaps you've just accepted materialism as an axiom of your system. But then the finding that materialism is true (or most likely true) is not an empirical finding, but guaranteed from the start.

            It's not clear that you understand how extraordinarily unscientific your definition of 'material' is. A great deal of science proceeds—at least when it has achieved the maturity of having rigorous theoretical backing—is by asserting that reality is made of very specific components which can be arranged only in very specific ways and which can evolve in time only according to very specific equations. It is these specificities which give science explanatory power. When the theist objects to materialism being used to explain e.g. consciousness, [s]he is undoubtedly responding to these specificities as being too restrictive to account for the phenomenon they allegedly explain (or: generate). So for example, the claim that humans are "just molecules" could be false if that model is too restrictive to explain all of the phenomena.

            Stated differently, when the theist reacts to 'materialism', [s]he is probably not reacting to your absolutely amorphous materialism. One possible exception is that [s]he wishes to assert the ontological existence of agent causation, over and against impersonal causation (e.g. causation which can always be perfectly characterized by a Gödelian formal system). But your definition of "all matter and energy" doesn't exclude agent causation—does it? And if it does, then that's exactly where to focus the investigative efforts in discussion: exactly what can agent causation explain better than a exclusive reliance on non-agent causation? The first candidate would be hypothesis selection, which we currently do not think can be done by a Gödelian formal system (see my excerpt of Hilary Putnam's The Collapse of the Fact/Value Dichotomy).

            P.S. God is frequently talked about as a "first cause"; we can put him on the existential map (for a moment flirting with univocity of being) by adding 'causation' to your "all matter and energy". Lawrence Krauss added a new kind of causation into our conceptual lexicon with A Universe from Nothing; the theist could posit that the same expansion of conceptual lexicon can be done to put God at the root of the causal chain. Then you can struggle with the fact that Lawrence Krauss' matter-free quantum field with ground state energy 'causing' our universe is quite different from just about any notion of causation your average person has any clue about. Maybe the idea that God is 'Other' is not so crazy after all! But one can only see this with specific definitions of 'naturalism' and 'materialism', not your uber-vague one.

          • David Nickol

            I am satisfied with Brian Green Adams's definition.

            If you were to hold Matthew Becklo—whose OP is one of the best in terms of potential for sparking interesting discussion we've had in a very long time—to the same standard of infinite rigor to which you are holding BGA, no discussion could even have begun. I think Matthew Becklo assumes we all know the concepts of material and materialism well enough to discuss what he wrote. However, if you do insist on going back to absolute basics, I suggest that you define define for BGA so he knows what you mean when you demand that he define something.

          • I am satisfied with Brian Green Adams's definition.

            His definition is pretty much meaningless, aside from the assertion that reality is causally connected and rational. One possible addition is that causation is impersonal instead of personal, but unless he can actually defend that in any reasonable way, he'll have an incredible amount of wiggle room with which to entrap anyone who tries to engage him. With this vagueness, I'm just not sure what there is for the theist to object to! Even the idea that God is "totally Other" can probably be finagled into @briangreenadams:disqus' framework, especially if one makes an essence–energies distinction and puts the 'essence' in the same category as those other worlds of the multiple worlds.

            [...] the same standard of infinite rigor to which you are holding BGA [...]

            Oh give me a break, requiring a falsifiable definition, or forcing BGA to admit to holding a metaphysical position while denying metaphysics in his ontology is not a "standard of infinite rigor".

            I think Matthew Becklo assumes we all know the concepts of material and materialism well enough to discuss what he wrote.

            I would bet money that he doesn't necessarily agree. Indeed, he might even suspect that the concept of 'materialism' as all-encompassing is self-referentially incoherent.

          • Will

            or forcing BGA to admit to holding a metaphysical position while denying metaphysics in his ontology is not a "standard of infinite rigor".

            Trying to force anyone to do anything is bullying:

            use superior strength or influence to intimidate (someone), typically to force him or her to do what one wants.

            Is this really how a Christian should behave? I flagged this comment and will quote it, as it clearly includes ad hominem attacks and isn't within the commenting guidelines.

            This is starting to look like a joke. Let's recall the words you used:

            BGA: The only move left is to say that consciousness is not simply a function of material, but requires something else. Well of course this something else cannot be observed or demonstrated in any empirical way. But I cannot say it is impossible. But is there any basis to conclude it is non-material? I do not see any.
            If you're going to depend on dichotomies such as material/​non-material, it is intellectually dishonest to refuse to provide clear definitions upon request. Now, you can always question whether we ought to even think in terms of such a dichotomy. I am told that pragmatist philosopher John Dewey generally disliked such dichotomous thinking. But you have a clear problem: if you eschew the dichotomy, you can no longer call yourself a 'materialist'.

            Fail to give a definition of 'material' your best effort—noting that the definition needs to be relevant to the present discussion—and everyone here will have reason to suspect that you are doing nothing other than blowing smoke. Isn't that the religionist's job? Perseverate with ever-shifting meanings of words until her interlocutor throws up her hands in defeat?

            https://strangenotions.com/the-philosophical-landscape-of-westworld/#comment-2997399181

            You should be ashamed of yourself, but of course you won't be. You'll find some lame rationalization to justify yourself, as you always do.

          • Really, you want to go down this !@#$-hole? I'm going to post and save this comment, but I hope it gets deleted along with yours (which I will also save). Please, everyone else besides the moderators: ignore this comment. I hate writing such comments, but I feel I must stomp out this nonsense lest it explode into a conflagration. The stomping, by the way, is done by evidence, reason, and logic. Some people dislike one or more of these things—at least when it would expose failure of intellect or character in themselves. Too bad for them.

            William Davis, you really have the gall to characterize my behavior as "bullying" when you were pathetic in objecting to the following two behaviors on Estranged Notions:

                 (1) M. Solange O'Brien falsely and repeatedly accusing me of having made a rape joke.
                 (2) felixcox heinously comparing me to a child rapist.

            ? You, who tried to play psychiatrist and diagnose me with autism? (Excoriation by David Nickol; you deleted the offending comment, but never asked for my forgiveness [Edit: forgot about this exchange: WLB].) You, who claimed (deleted comment) you would leave Estranged Notions because they refused to come down hard on (2), and then continued (deleted comment) to comment on EN, saying things such as "His obsessive need to respond to every comment and control the narrative about himself were a horrible mix with this place."? Yeah, my objecting to (1) and (2) was "controlling the narrative" all right. The fact you would violate your word and prop up an atmosphere of (1) and (2) is despicable and nothing remotely like what you claim I have done on SN. Oh, and I saved all the relevant conversations on EN—your deleted comments included—so we can look at specifics if you so choose to continue this.

            Now, when I said "forcing BGA to admit", the implication was that logic would do the forcing. If you want to characterize the use of logic as "bullying", I think that will reflect poorly on you, not I. But perhaps I hold SN in higher regard than you?

            I did come down quite hard on @briangreenadams:disqus. Too hard? I'm not yet sure. I cannot help but see a bait-and-switch, between a robust form of 'materialism' to which the theist can properly object, and the vaguest possible form of 'materialism', to which the theist does not necessarily need to object. Such bait-and-switches, when they go undetected, only serve to damage the ability for people of very different views to productively talk to each other. If there's any problem the United States has right now, it is people who refuse to really try and charitably understand the other person's position. I'm sorry if you see my passionate desire for people to define their terms as rigorously as possible as somehow damaging to civilization and the intellect. You will be forever disappointed in me. And I will probably go back to ignoring your comments, even though you sometimes make ones I like. It is too draining and distracting to have to write comments like this one, and you require them too often.

          • Will

            I'm glad you're bringing this up, and I'm fine with everyone reading it. Maybe they get an idea of who Luke Breuer really is.

            William Davis, you really have the gall to characterize my behavior as "bullying" when you were pathetic in objecting to the following two behaviors on Estranged Notions:

            Yes I objected, and I left the site (I have only made a few visits since then) over their treatment of you. You can call such "pathetic" but that doesn't make it truth.

            ? You, who tried to play psychiatrist and diagnose me with autism?

            I did it because of the things you told me. Now, I think you were lying to me to cover up your blatant narcissism that I've noticed previously with Doug Shaver and more recently with BGA and others.

            (Excoriation by David Nickol; you deleted the offending comment, but never asked for my forgiveness.)

            A bold faced and despicable lie.
            Me:

            Hi Luke, I hope you don't mind, but I'm going to move on from these kinds of conversations. I hope you find peace, and find what you are looking for, and I also hope that the dialogue on both sides improves. I think my personal emotional scars are too deep, and I simply cannot respect Christianity or Christian ideas. Thus, it becomes a real problem for me to respect the person who believes those ideas, and causes me to hurt these people, often accidentally. I abandoned Christianity because it was a harmful and immoral belief system, and I don't want to be causing harm to people in my "war" against Christianity. It is also time for me to abandon that war, and quit reliving my childhood nightmare. I apologize for any disrespect directed towards you (and I have been concerned about you, but that may very well be misplaced, you assure me you are fine, and I should take you at your word), and hope you do well in life.
            I also hope you back off thinking you are going to get very far in discuss world. As a friend, I hope you pursue that Ph.D of yours, and don't let these discussions get in your way. You are very bright, I mean that, even if I have some concern about other things going on, and may, or may not be right about the root cause. I wish you luck, and do feel a bit sorry for you and other Christians as you lose the intellectual war over whether Christianity is true (I'm convinced the war is already lost, it just takes a long time for people to realize some things). I know you don't think so, of course, so I'd rather not argue about that. In fact, I'm going to take a very long break from arguing period :)

            https://disqus.com/home/discussion/strangenotions/philosophy_in_the_eyes_of_theologians_friend_or_foe_part_1_of_3/#comment-2449893607

            You accepted and my apology and said you forgave me, but apparently you lied about that too.

            William, I'm sorry that we won't be chatting with each other. I experienced a lot less friction and got further with you than I have with most atheists. It was almost always downright pleasant, even if I didn't choose the right words to indicate that. You are of course forgiven for whatever you really did which was bad; I don't think it was very much, as judged by internet standards. :-p

            https://strangenotions.com/philosophy-in-the-eyes-of-theologians-friend-or-foe-part-1-of-3/#comment-2450646149

            You apparently lied about getting further with me, because you said this not long ago (after we took a long break from interacting:

            LB: Are you William Davis?
            W: None other.
            In that case, I apologize for engaging you. (You had returned as "William Davis" after deleting your account; I did not realize you had changed to "Will".) My many attempts at productively engaging you have too frequently led to bad places. I have lost hope that I can learn how to better interact with you.

            https://disqus.com/home/discussion/strangenotions/sean_carroll8217s_ten_considerations_for_naturalists/#comment-2885166871

            Feel free to quote everything I said, however much you want. These are things I came to believe from extended attempts to interact with you on various websites. My primary mistake was ever believing a word you said. If I had listened to people at EN and accepted the narcissism theory, none of that would have happened (it was a simpler explanation anyways).
            I have to give you credit, you pulled me in emotionally, I thought I had made a friend. Huge mistake.
            Feel free to have the last word, I have no desire to get pulled back into your web of lies...its an immense web. The fact that you are a liar is plain as day right here. I'm glad you made it so easy to show it. I apologize for not pegging you for what you really are sooner.

          • Yes I objected, and I left the site (I have only made a few visits since then) over their treatment of you. You can call such "pathetic" but that doesn't make it truth.

            Doesn't matter; if your visits to a site you said you'd boycott because of how vicious they had been to me involve you attempting to destroy my character, quantity doesn't matter. You were chumming around with the very people who failed to even object to a kind of bullying which is far worse than what you could possibly construe me doing to BGA.

            A bold faced and despicable lie.

            Let's review:

            W: I apologize for any disrespect directed towards you (and I have been concerned about you, but that may very well be misplaced, you assure me you are fine, and I should take you at your word), and hope you do well in life.

            LB: You are of course forgiven for whatever you really did which was bad; I don't think it was very much, as judged by internet standards. :-p

            I must apologize; I forgot about this. (Sometimes what appears to be a lie is simply forgetting.) I've edited my comment. One reason I did forget, is that you've gone back to full-on character assassination mode, which you've done in the past. You clearly didn't repent. But I must remember to forgive as many times as I'm asked.

            You apparently lied about getting further with me [...]

            Nope, I don't have any hope of this conversation making progress with you. However, I do generally defend myself from attacks on my character. You might surprise me, but what I write here is generally for others to see at this point.

            Feel free to quote everything I said, however much you want. These are things I came to believe from extended attempts to interact with you on various websites.

            Ok, so you are in no way sorry "for any disrespect directed towards you"? I'm getting confused here; I thought you apologized, but here you are apparently self-justifying everything you've ever said. Do you actually wish you had never apologized to me?

          • Will

            If there's any problem the United States has right now, it is people who refuse to really try and charitably understand the other person's position. I'm sorry if you see my passionate desire for people to define their terms as rigorously as possible as somehow damaging to civilization and the intellect.

            This is no excuse for bullying. You aren't going to help anything in the U.S. right now by commenting on Strange Notions. Stop pretending otherwise, it's bad for everyone, including you.
            What makes it worse is how patiently and politely BGA asks you to stop and stay on topic:

            I will not ramble off into other areas this time. Please respond to this.

            Those were not my definitions. I am not going to re-hash all that again.

            "See, one cannot actually argue that "no irrationality in causal laws" ⇒ "God does not exist","

            No one has, this is an argument you are having between yourself and a straw man.

            Those were not my definitions. I am not going to re-hash all that again.

            "See, one cannot actually argue that "no irrationality in causal laws" ⇒ "God does not exist","

            No one has, this is an argument you are having between yourself and a straw man.

            Such patients and continued charity is one of the first steps to getting to understand each other. You, on the other hand, are behaving like Donald Trump in the presidential debates...*smh*

          • This is no excuse for bullying.

            Sure, if what I did were bullying. However, you have conveniently failed to respond to this:

            LB: Now, when I said "forcing BGA to admit", the implication was that logic would do the forcing. If you want to characterize the use of logic as "bullying", I think that will reflect poorly on you, not I. But perhaps I hold SN in higher regard than you?

            You, on the other hand, are behaving like Donald Trump in the presidential debates...*smh*

            Saving this for posterity. :-)

          • I am going to chime in on this because it is about me. I do not feel that you have bullied me. Nor do I feel that you have come down hard on me.

            I feel that you fail to engage very much in the actual arguments that I raise. Rather you like to argue over labels and ramble on in irrelevant tangents.

            No one needs to worry about your bullying me. Forgive me for saying this, but I do not find that you were hard on me because your responses do not address the points I make, but are rather amateurish in substance and petulant in style.

            I enjoy our discussions in the same way someone might enjoy popping bubble wrap. It is fun, it is a distraction on my lunch break, but I do not learn anything from it and it doesn't challenge me.

            Maybe I am wrong, I am not a philosopher or a scientist, or an academic of any sort. Maybe you are actually making incredibly insightful arguments that would blow my mind. If this is the case, you need to get much better at communicating them to someone like me, if you actually care to try and enlighten me.

            Maybe post your own topic on this site? Brandon has let me and other atheists do this from time to time. It is a great way to focus the discussion on what you want to talk about.

          • I do not feel that you have bullied me. Nor do I feel that you have come down hard on me.

            Thanks for chiming in. I was terribly bullied as a child, and I vowed to never do that to another human being. I'm glad I did not fail this vow with you.

            I feel that you fail to engage very much in the actual arguments that I raise. Rather you like to argue over labels and ramble on in irrelevant tangents.

            Have you considered that what you see as merely arguing over labels and engaging in irrelevant tangents may appear differently from other perspectives? For example, @mcc1789:disqus seems to have found my explanations intelligible in a way you have not.

            My best guess is that when most Christians are responding to 'materialism', they are responding to something much more articulate than what you mean by the term. Can you accept that this is possibly true?

            Also, I may have finally hit on something with what I've called "transcendental values". I'm interested to see where you'll take that.

            I enjoy our discussions in the same way someone might enjoy popping bubble wrap. It is fun, it is a distraction on my lunch break, but I do not learn anything from it and it doesn't challenge me.

            That's a bit saddening to hear; I thought you had learned some things from my bringing up Lawrence Krauss' A Universe from Nothing.

            [...] you need to get much better at communicating them to someone like me [...]

            I have no argument with that. For some reason, I give the aura to many of thinking I'm awesome at explaining things. This is not how I view myself. Indeed, if I thought I were so awesome, I would not be commenting on Disqus. I enjoy learning how to effectively interact with people quite different from me. I think that is important for the growth of knowledge and the growth of democracy, and I think the world has far too few people interested in such a bridging of viewpoints.

            Maybe post your own topic on this site? Brandon has let me and other atheists do this from time to time. It is a great way to focus the discussion on what you want to talk about.

            Perhaps. I actually find it much easier to respond to stuff than post my own ex nihilo; there is a reason I've only made two blog posts on my blog. Sometimes I think of myself as, at best, possessing Ando Masahashi's superpower of amplifying other superpowers. All by myself, I generally feel pathetic.

          • "Have you considered that what you see as merely arguing over labels and engaging in irrelevant tangents may appear differently from other perspectives?"

            No. Michael is entitled to his view. I have found it tiresome and not advancing the discussion.

            "My best guess is that when most Christians are responding to
            'materialism', they are responding to something much more articulate
            than what you mean by the term. Can you accept that this is possibly true?"

            Yes. I think I was guilty of this when I first joined this site. I had a number of assumptions about Catholics which I learned were not merited and I was straw-manning the theists on this site. For instance, I assumed Catholics believed in a Hell that was eternal conscious torture, that they knew what it took to be saved. Some may believe in that but I no longer assume those things, and I must deal with a less articulate theology.

            No, the Lawrence Krauss stuff was not really a surprise Hawking has said similar things, with respect to "prior" Big Bang events and rules. I have never been terribly impressed by Krauss, I think he is quite weak at counter-apologetics, though he is fantastic at explaining some difficult science. I spoke at a conference with him a while back and he gave a great talk on his upcoming book. I am not sure he actually would describe himself as a materialist, given his use of the word spiritual and so on.

            I would say you have made me think a little more deeply on what I mean by "naturalism".

            Keep writing a blog! I have to admit that I no longer have the interest in keeping it up either. But feel free to check out my blog and podcast (A Salmon of Doubt).

            I have found the best perspective on actually being having productive convos on this site is to not see it as an argument so much as a place to explain the differences between atheists and Catholics.

          • LB: My best guess is that when most Christians are responding to 'materialism', they are responding to something much more articulate than what you mean by the term. Can you accept that this is possibly true?

            BGA: Yes.

            Good. Can you then see that the less articulate your 'materialism' is, the less you can make solid inferences about reality with it as a foundation? The same goes for Catholicism: the more doctrines are weakened ("fuzzed") or abandoned, the less one can make solid inferences about reality (including the ought domain). In both cases, it's like taking out whole classes of Lego pieces: you just can't build as much as you could before. Building complex structures requires well-understood, coherent, articulated building blocks. This is true of physical reality and mental reality.

            No, the Lawrence Krauss stuff was not really a surprise

            Even though it repeatedly forced you to rephrase? Some of your original formulations of materialism explicitly denied Krauss membership in your materialist club. The really cool thing with Krauss is that he gave scientific legitimacy to the idea that there is an "outside" to our universe, which is something theists have long been claiming. He probably maintained legitimacy because his "outside" is run by impersonal laws, not a personal being.

            By the way, Krauss' counter-apologetics is 100% irrelevant to our discussion, and you'd have to convince me that his use of "spiritual" matters. Who says Krauss means anything less material with 'spiritual' than when he says 'thought' or 'abstraction'?

            I have found the best perspective on actually being having productive convos on this site is to not see it as an argument so much as a place to explain the differences between atheists and Catholics.

            Oh, I almost always see the purpose as clarifying issues, not convincing the other person. A nice recent example of this is when I caught @disqus_fRI0oOZiFh:disqus, an avowed materialist, treating abstractions as immaterial. One way to deal with a metaphysic which is too small to properly model reality is to find where those espousing that metaphysic "cheat". And perhaps it'll turn out that they can reformulate in response such that they aren't cheating at all. Perhaps reality is no more complex than their formal system.

            Something which might critically differentiate me from many influenced by the Enlightenment is that I don't believe every person would optimally reason in precisely the same way as every other person. This is the gold standard of 'Reason' and 'Objectivity', but I have a different view: more of the blind men and an elephant, except that the sensory areas overlap sufficiently so that if the blind men truly trust each other, they can figure out they are in fact in contact with an elephant. I think it would be awesome if God provided each person with a unique perspective on him and unique talents in reality, such that the squashing of any individual—or even failing to help that individual become excellent—means that everyone else loses out, objectively. This is the kind of property in reality which can probably only be explored if we try acting as if it is true. But of course, scientists are used to acting as if something is true before they collect data.

          • LB: Oh give me a break, requiring a falsifiable definition, or forcing BGA to admit to holding a metaphysical position while denying metaphysics in his ontology is not a "standard of infinite rigor".

            W: Trying to force anyone to do anything is bullying:

            use superior strength or influence to intimidate (someone), typically to force him or her to do what one wants.

            Is this really how a Christian should behave? I flagged this comment and will quote it, as it clearly includes ad hominem attacks and isn't within the commenting guidelines.

            Just FYI, from @briangreenadams:disqus himself:

            BGA: I am going to chime in on this because it is about me. I do not feel that you have bullied me. Nor do I feel that you have come down hard on me.

            So, should I still "be ashamed of [myself]"?

          • I'm sorry you do not think my usage of the word "materialist" is good enough. When I provide a definition of a word, I am trying to explain how I'm using it. What I am referring to. Since mine was not good enough please tell me how I was really using it.

            When I say I am a materialist, I am not making an empirical claim, I am labelling a metaphysical viewpoint. This viewpoint, in my terms, is indeed an empirical claim and it is a falsifiable one, by presenting empirical evidence of something that is neither matter nor energy.

            You have articulated no contradiction.

            I do not suggest my definition of material is scientific. This is metaphysics, not physics.

            My metaphysical viewpoint does not exclude agency or causation, or agent causation, depending how you are using these terms. It only excludes anything that is not material, whether an agent or a cause or some combination. It says nothing on whether there is a preference for agency or impersonal causation it is fine with both.

            In your last paragraph you seem to identify "causation" or a certain kind of causation as being in the same ontological category as matter/energy but distinct.

            I don't think this works, as on a pure materialist point of view there is still causation and there is still efficient or personal intentional causation. I don't take this as distinct, in the same way as I do not say a falling rock exists as a rock and its "falling" also exists in the same way. The "falling" doesn't "exist" like the rock does. But I can say, in the sense that the rock exists, it's motion is real, "falling" is the label we use to characterize that activity. In that sense, I agree that "falling" exists as a fact. If that is only source of disagreement we have, then yes, this is just a discussion about labels, on your view I should not call myself a materialist.

            What I mean to distinguish myself from are those who say, no there is more going on than a rock that is moving, that something exists that is "falling" itself separate from matter/energy but of the same ontological order.

            As usual, I am unclear what the dispute is here, other than labels. If there is something you believe exists that you think I do not, go ahead.

            I think the context of to article is a good starting point. I think that all that is happening with human thought is a brain in action, what else to you think is going on?

          • I'm sorry you do not think my usage of the word "materialist" is good enough.

            I'm not sure you have quite understood me. Since we last talked, I think I learned to better phrase my critique:

            LB: So, strict models can be quite helpful in science. It's just that one must be careful extrapolating from those strict models to metaphysics. The very strictness, the very excluding of the grittiness of reality and retreating to a pristine system, gives you power while simultaneously distancing you from full, complete reality.

            LB: My problem is precisely when the materialist wishes to (i) claim the successes of science supports his/her metaphysics; (ii) say that his/her metaphysics undermines the probability that we can know God exists [in causal contact with reality]. The problem here is that the precision of definition which has helped science and technology be so successful is precisely what gets one in a mess if one tries to generalize from it to "all that exists".

            Are you/​have you been implying (i)?

            When I say I am a materialist, I am not making an empirical claim, I am labelling a metaphysical viewpoint. This viewpoint, in my terms, is indeed an empirical claim and it is a falsifiable one, by presenting empirical evidence of something that is neither matter nor energy.

            This is not how I understand falsification to work, in the spirit of Karl Popper and his The Logic of Scientific Discovery. It is not good enough to say "I could be wrong"; one has to sketch actual phenomena which would show that one is wrong. So, for example, F = GmM/r^2 is falsifiable because it is easy to conceive of observing ^2.001. In contrast, you have provided absolutely no indication of how you would possibly observe "something that is neither matter nor energy". On the contrary, you seem absolutely locked into the belief that everything you could possibly perceive is indeed matter and energy. I have no idea whatsoever of what phenomena could possibly defeat that belief.

            You have articulated no contradiction.

            Contradiction is only one way to fail to describe all of reality. Returning to the SN article touching on Gödel's incompleteness theorems, there is another way to fail: your formal system can fail to be powerful enough to prove that certain true statements it can represent are true. I get at this more prosaically in Intersubjectivity is Key. If your formal system isn't powerful enough, it is logically impossible to show that to you, unless you are able and willing to step outside of that formal system. But you can only do that if you will allow for that formal system to be insufficient to describe all of reality. (I shall also recall the point that all of this reasoning holds if human thought is not more powerful than Turing machines. If it's just a shoddy approximation to some Gödelian formal system, then everything I've said is valid. Only if we somehow introduce hypercomputation are there problems.)

            [...] on a pure materialist point of view there is still causation and there is still efficient or personal intentional causation.

            I am currently convinced that without formal and final causation, anything that looks like "personal [intentional] causation" will ultimately be a facade; the "efficient causation" behind that facade will be insufficient to support/​generate "the real thing". A teleological reality can support invariants such as "Goodness will ultimately prevail." A materialist reality, as far as I understand it, cannot.

            I think the context of to article is a good starting point. I think that all that is happening with human thought is a brain in action, what else to you think is going on?

            Well, God could somehow be influencing our brains, such that ever-higher-order patterns are being "suggested" to us. He could also be pointing out flaws in our current thinking—falsehoods and sin. Matters such as justice and beauty seem to have two properties which just don't seem very... "supported" on materialism:

            (1) Justice is a sort of simultaneous function of multiple parts. It means that all the parts are working in synchrony. It is not just a utilitarian sum over each part; indeed, one way to see the flaws of utilitarianism are to see what it "misses" in capturing human well-being. I can probably give you mathematics which captures this intuition; I would start at My excerpt of Ilya Prigogine's The End of Certainty. I suspect that matters of 'justice' and 'beauty' and 'goodness' have some of the properties typically associated with divine simplicity—God without Parts.

            (2) Finite models "pointing towards" more complex models. Any given instantiation of justice works in some ways and not in others. Some people—we may say these people understand the "spirit of the law"—are able to see how the current instantiation needs to be adjusted, to become "more just". One way of framing this is that we are trying to approach the Form of the Just. The fact that our minds can do something like attaching to the Form of the Just indicates that we can "reach outside ourselves" in a very specific way. Almost all materialism I see espoused denies this sort of "transcendental operation". Beauty, justice, goodness, etc. are all [finite] subjective values, it is said.

            Suppose that your materialism can robustly support (1) and (2). In that case, it's just not clear how inconsistent it would be with rigorous A–T theism! But it's hard for me to see how your materialism can really allow for all the things I say are problematic for it. Perhaps you will show me to be wrong.

          • "On the contrary, you seem absolutely locked into the belief that
            everything you could possibly perceive is indeed matter and energy. "

            I am not, and I keep asking you to provide me with something that isn't matter or energy, you haven't you seem to have no idea what this could be either. I still think it is reasonable to take the position that it is all there is, until or unless something else is discovered. I am open, indeed I desire there to be something else.

            "there is another way to fail:" of course, for the millionth time, I am nowhere near certain of materialism, I do not even think it is more likely true than not. I do not think substance dualism is that unreasonbable position, I am just not convinced it is true. I say "You have articulated no contradiction." because you keep saying I contradict myself. I have not.

            "Well, God could somehow be influencing our brains, such that ever-higher-order patterns are being "suggested" to us."

            Sure, but what does this have to do with material or non-material human cognition? Do you believe he is? Why?

            "I suspect that matters of 'justice' and 'beuaty' and 'goodness' have
            some of the properties typically associated with divine simplicity"

            I don't, I think they are human concepts arising out of evolved intuitions and very plausibly supported on materialism.

            "Some people—we may say these people understand the "spirit of the
            law"—are able to see how the current instantiation needs to be adjusted,
            to become "more just""

            "One way of framing this is that we are trying to approach the Form of the Just." I have no reason to accept any such "form" exists.

            "Almost all materialism I see espoused denies this sort of "transcendental operation"."

            "Beauty, justice, goodness, etc. are all [finite] subjective values, it is said." And I will agree, with the caveat that they likely stem from evolution, they may be somewhat objective in that sense.

            "it's just not clear how inconsistent it would be with rigorous A–T theism!" it is only inconsistent to the extent that A-T theism requires something non-material to exist. Materialism need not be atheistic, or naturalistic, but it does place limits on what a "god" can be.

          • I am not, and I keep asking you to provide me with something that isn't matter or energy, you haven't you seem to have no idea what this could be either.

            Correct; when you are too vague on what "matter or energy" is, it is simply too hard for me to articulate an alternative. I've often seen atheists criticize theists for being vague on what 'soul' and 'spirit' are. Apparently it's ok for atheists to be vague, but not theists. This, despite the fact that the form of materialism used in science is much more articulate than you are willing to be. I note that you did not answer the single question in my comment: "Are you/​have you been implying (i)?"

            I am open, indeed I desire there to be something else.

            Have you read Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions? Or are you at least aware of the ultraviolet catastrophe and its significance? The general idea is that scientific revolutions happen when scientists attempt to apply a given paradigm to more and more of reality. At some point, that application of articulate rigor leads to anomalies; as it becomes more and more clear that the given paradigm cannot convincingly explain those anomalies, a new paradigm starts being developed and can gain dominance. What I would like you to understand is that only through the rigorous application of articulate models can this happen, can we discover "something else" than the current paradigm. This will never happen for you if you remain amorphous on what "matter and energy" is.

            I say "You have articulated no contradiction." because you keep saying I contradict myself. I have not.

            What you say is contradictory if interpreted within a Popperian framework of falsification. In The Logic of Scientific Discovery, Popper works very hard to distinguish between metaphysics and science (the demarcation problem). You have merged the metaphysical and empirical:

            BGA: When I say I am a materialist, I am not making an empirical claim, I am labelling a metaphysical viewpoint. This viewpoint, in my terms, is indeed an empirical claim and it is a falsifiable one, by presenting empirical evidence of something that is neither matter nor energy.

            From a Popperian perspective, empirical statements are falsifiable, and falsifiable means that there are certain conceivable phenomena which the empirical statements say you will never observe. It is finally clear to me that you probably just don't buy into nearly enough of Popper's philosophy of science for me to interpret you accordingly. And so, I really have no idea what you mean by 'falsifiable'. For example, you apparently mean something entirely different than can be found at Luboš Motl on what would falsify string theory.

            LB: Well, God could somehow be influencing our brains, such that ever-higher-order patterns are being "suggested" to us.

            BGA: Sure, but what does this have to do with material or non-material human cognition? Do you believe he is? Why?

            It makes no sense to me that arbitrarily high-order patterns would exist, on materialism. I mean exist in reality, not in math.

            Do I believe God is doing this? Well, I have some experiences I would characterize as "noisy data", which could be interpreted one way or the other. But I see no other hope for humanity other than a fantastic, articulated imagination of what we could do in the future, a project that would be meaningful, require the talents of everyone, and require ever-increasing levels of justice and excellence in relationship. I'm tired of stuff like The Charitable–Industrial Complex, and I know a little bit of effective altruism or my getting an M.D. and joining Doctors without Borders would be irrelevant in the scheme of things. A much bigger, institutional transformation is required. And I just don't see humans as humble enough and smart enough to do it of their own accord.

            LB: I suspect that matters of 'justice' and 'beauty' and 'goodness' have some of the properties typically associated with divine simplicity—God without Parts.

            BGA: I don't, I think they are human concepts arising out of evolved intuitions and very plausibly supported on materialism.

            Ok; have I found something which would falsify materialism, or do you actually think that the existence of transcendental values is completely consistent with materialism?

          • Ok, by matter I mean everything that has mass, by energy I mean, heat, light, electrical fields, and so on. Frankly, I used to consider material to be massive objects only, but theists on this site clarified that they considered energy to be material too, and not what they meant when they talked about "immaterial" stuff. That is when I started describing myself as a materialist.

            "This, despite the fact that the form of materialism used in science..."

            Materialism is not used in science, it is a metaphysical topic. Science practices methodological naturalism. It would be open to discovering something non-material, but not non-natural.

            "Have you read Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions?"

            No.

            "Or are you at least aware of the ultraviolet catastrophe and its significance?"

            No.

            "This will never happen for you if you remain amorphous on what "matter and energy" is."

            I am not amorphous about it. See above.

            No, you know what I mean by "falsifiable", but neither of us knows what would falsify it. (Looking below, I am holding my breath.)

            "It makes no sense to me that arbitrarily high-order patterns would exist, on materialism. I mean exist in reality, not in math"

            "Do I believe God is doing this? Well, I have some experiences I would characterize as "noisy data", which could be interpreted one way or the other."

            So, no?

            I actually do not really care if you are a materialist or a
            substance dualist (or whatever). I am interested in having discussions
            with theists about the existence of gods.

            "But I see no other hope for humanity other than a fantastic, articulated imagination of what we could do in the future, a project that would be meaningful, require the talents of everyone, and require ever-increasing levels of justice and excellence in relationship."

            So do you actually believe in anything you would call a god actually exists? The above paragraph suggests you think believing in god is best used as a tool to have the masses behave in the way you want them to.

            "And I just don't see humans as humble enough and smart enough to do it of their own accord."

            I am sorry you are so pessimistic, but this is beside the point.

            "Ok; have I found something which would falsify materialism, or do you actually think that the existence of transcendental values is completely consistent with materialism?"

            What do you mean by "transcendental values"? No, and I think we discussed this at length elsewhere, I do not believe that "justice" is a value that transcends human existence. I think it is a label we use to describe events in terms of fairness. I do not believe that "justice" exists, in the way that a rock exists. More like how "falling" exists.

          • Ok, by matter I mean everything that has mass, by energy I mean, heat, light, electrical fields, and so on.

            Ok. Suppose that some pattern spontaneously forms in two spacetime locales, space-like separated. Suppose that you cannot detect any common cause of those patterns which could have influenced them according to your understanding of matter–energy. Would you then deny that there could be a common cause, because the laws of physics do not permit there to be one? Note that one of the special things God could do, being unbound by spacetime, is cause 'coincidences' like this. Of course, unless those 'coincidences' were robust enough and interesting enough, we would ignore them as anything other than 'random coincidences'. What I'm trying to do here is envision a kind of phenomenon which your materialism may not be able to explain.

            Materialism is not used in science, it is a metaphysical topic. Science practices methodological naturalism. It would be open to discovering something non-material, but not non-natural.

            And you complain about me quibbling over labels? I don't really care if science could, in theory, recognize non-material things. As it currently stands, there is de facto materialism in science, and I have a sneaking suspicion that you rest a good deal of your confidence, in materialism, on the success of science.

            I am not amorphous about it. See above.

            Then let me ask: do you mean to refer to the precise theoretical entities currently used in modern physics? Or do you wish to somehow add some 'fuzz' to those entities, to allow for further advances?

            No, you know what I mean by "falsifiable", but neither of us knows what would falsify it. (Looking below, I am holding my breath.)

            No, I do not know what you mean by 'falsifiable'. You clearly do not mean the same thing as found at Luboš Motl on what would falsify string theory. How's that? Because unlike you, Motl can envision real phenomena which could falsify string theory. You can provide no such thing which would falsify your materialism. The difference here is enormous, and yet you seem completely unwilling to acknowledge its existence!

            So, no?

            That's insulting.

            I actually do not really care if you are a materialist or a substance dualist (or whatever). I am interested in having discussions with theists about the existence of gods.

            Then we should continue talking about transcendental values. That seems to be the best bridge from your materialism to my theism.

            So do you actually believe in anything you would call a god actually exists? The above paragraph suggests you think believing in god is best used as a tool to have the masses behave in the way you want them to.

            Yes, I do believe. The Bible makes tremendous sense to me when viewed through the lens of theosis. Little practical bits—such as relational sin—which are generally denied/​ignored in modernity give me reason to think that God has a wealth of awesomeness for us, if we would only reach toward it (more specifically: James 1:5–8). God feels most real to me when I get closer to him—Psalm 119:32.

            I find it ironic that you describe my scenario as a way to control the masses, when it is in fact the only option to avoid controlling the masses. The only way for a person to avoid being controlled is for that person to be able to exercise real, uncoerced, unmanipulated agency in the public domain.

            What do you mean by "transcendental values"?

            Start at the last section of this comment, including the (1) and (2). There is also my excerpt of Hilary Putnam's The Collapse of the Fact/Value Dichotomy. The idea there is that the very success of science depends on a process which humans have not been able to reduce to an algorithm—to a formal system. Scientists must depend on these things called 'values' in order to do science. An fun example is In Search of Beauty. Now, if humans are somehow laying hold of such 'values' in order to do science, doesn't that mean those 'values' exist outside of themselves? What I'm suggesting is that things such as 'justice' and 'goodness' also exist outside of the self—or perhaps, exists as a function of { persons, God }. That is, perhaps your constitution, your telos, partly defines what is 'just'.

            Surely you know it's an age-old question of how God could communicate expected moral order to humans. I want to raise the possibility that God isn't even done revealing expected moral order to humans, that in fact the possibilities are endless and it's more that God wants us to avoid certain unjust outcomes, than he wants us to pursue exactly one trajectory. But how would God reveal such moral order to us? And if we get beyond just morality and talk about beauty and excellence and goodness—how could those be revealed to us? One way to talk about this is the introduction of new patterns into our reality, from outside our reality. Surely that is possible?

          • "Would you then deny that there could be a common cause, because the laws of physics do not permit there to be one"

            I would neither deny or affirm it.

            "do you mean to refer to the precise theoretical entities currently used in modern physics?"

            No, I don't know what those are.

            "No, I do not know what you mean by 'falsifiable.'"

            OK. I am not going to argue this point any further. I can concede the point that I do not know how materialism can be falsified. I think we need to be open to the possibility that the fact I cannot conceive how to falsify it, is consistent with it being true. But if you are not a materialist, you believe it has been falsified why not just tell me what has falsified it?

            Sorry, I have read the links you pointed to and I still am completely at a loss to understand what you mean by "transcendental values". Maybe just give me an example of one.

            "I want to raise the possibility that God isn't even done revealing
            expected moral order to humans, that in fact the possibilities are
            endless and it's more that God wants us to avoid certain unjust
            outcomes, than he wants us to pursue exactly one trajectory."

            Sure, and I can raise the complete opposite possibility. I think there is really little point in "raising possibilities". I mean we can raise anything as a "possibility", we are at least here trying to get at probabilities, or at least best explanations.

            "One way to talk about this is the introduction of new patterns into our reality, from outside our reality. Surely that is possible?"

            I do not know if that is possible, I cannot even think about how to go about determining if it is possible, much less probable.

            Can you maybe tell me what you understand "material" to be in metaphysical terms and what your argument is against it?

          • LB: Suppose that some pattern spontaneously forms in two spacetime locales, space-like separated. Suppose that you cannot detect any common cause of those patterns which could have influenced them according to your understanding of matter–energy. Would you then deny that there could be a common cause, because the laws of physics do not permit there to be one?

            BGA: I would neither deny or affirm it.

            Well, I'm trying to probe possible limits of your materialism; suffice it to say that you're making that extremely difficult to do.

            LB: do you mean to refer to the precise theoretical entities currently used in modern physics?

            BGA: No, I don't know what those are.

            Well, you could start with the Standard Model. But I'm becoming more and more convinced that your belief in materialism doesn't really amount to much; there seems to be very little structure to it. As such, it is pretty much the opposite of what science is like. And yet, a prerequisite of scientists' successes is articulateness and rigor. What do you hope to accomplish by your current approach?

            But if you are not a materialist, you believe it has been falsified why not just tell me what has falsified it?

            Materialism is not the default position and I find no sufficient reason for buying into it in the first place. Rigorous forms, such as those which are built on the theoretical entities of physics, seem quite brittle and subject to paradigm shift. When you fuzz them up so that they are robust to paradigm shifts, it's just not clear how much is left over to build a metaphysics on. People do try—see for example Structural Relaism, which Massimo looks at in two blog posts. It's just not clear to me how God's existence is really incompatible with the result.

            There seems to be this really interesting phenomenon, when you make a system rigorous enough to truly exclude God, you end up excluding part of reality. When you open your system up enough to include that part of reality, God is no longer excluded. I suspect this is not a coincidence. Humans have a history of arrogantly thinking they understand everything, and omitting parts of reality and oppressing subsets of humans as a result. The worship of God, as I understand it, is supposed to prevent these things, to really do the opposite of them.

            Sorry, I have read the links you pointed to and I still am completely at a loss to understand what you mean by "transcendental values". Maybe just give me an example of one.

            The idea that one can be "more just" without that merely meaning "a better satisfaction of my purely subjective thoughts about 'justice'" would be an example. One is approaching the Form of the Just. Without that, I fail to see how "more just" is anything but a Nietzschean facade for the will to power. The Nietzschean version shows up in reality; see for example the Heterodox Academy article How Marcuse made today’s students less tolerant than their parents. If God does not exist, "Might makes right."

            I think there is really little point in "raising possibilities".

            I have scientific support behind the idea that if you cannot think the possibility, you may never be able to observe the corresponding actuality, at least as being that actuality: Grossberg 1999 The Link between Brain Learning, Attention, and Consciousness (partial tutorial).

            I mean we can raise anything as a "possibility", we are at least here trying to get at probabilities, or at least best explanations.

            Given your refusal to be more articulate and rigorous with what 'materialism' means to you, I just don't see how you have any hope of moving toward "best explanations". You're not doing what any good scientist does and you're not doing what any good philosopher does.

            LB: One way to talk about this is the introduction of new patterns into our reality, from outside our reality. Surely that is possible?

            BGA: I do not know if that is possible, I cannot even think about how to go about determining if it is possible, much less probable.

            How is it not obviously possible, after you've watched The Matrix? But perhaps I really have found a way to falsify your materialism, in a Popperian sense? After all, if your metaphysic just can't help you understand something, then maybe it's a bad metaphysic.

            Can you maybe tell me what you understand "material" to be in metaphysical terms and what your argument is against it?

            See my paragraph starting "Materialism is not the default position". I'll add one thing to that, and that is Noam Chomsky's observation in his lecture "The machine, the ghost, and the limits of understanding", around the 46m mark: the terms "body" and "physical" are meaningless he finds, ever since Newton couldn't make sense of the term "body". Maybe I'll be able to say more if I manage to make it through Fiona Ellis' Concepts and Reality in the History of Philosophy: Tracing a Philosophical Error from Locke to Bradley.

          • "I'm becoming more and more convinced that your belief in materialism
            doesn't really amount to much; there seems to be very little structure
            to it."

            I would agree with this statement. It is probably better viewed as a rejection of substance dualism and claims that mental abstractions have existence in the same sense that physical matter does. There really isn't a structure to it, it is a viewpoint, not a system or a method. It is a demarcation in terms of discussions like the one above, in which the theist lays out that there must be something more than the physical brain, and its electro-chemical processes at play in human cognition. Something we cannot detect empirically but must exist based on notion of intent, or as you have discussed, abstract truths, like a pythagoras' theorem.

            "As such, it is pretty much the opposite of what science is like."

            That makes sense, as it is not science. It is metaphysics.

            "There seems to be this really interesting phenomenon, when you make a
            system rigorous enough to truly exclude God, you end up excluding part
            of reality."

            Materialism does not exclude a God, it excludes anything non-material. Only if the proposed God has some non-material element is it incompatible with Materialism.

            "Humans have a history of arrogantly thinking they understand everything,
            and omitting parts of reality and oppressing subsets of humans as a
            result. "

            No doubt, but I as I have explained to you many times, this is a metaphysical point of view. I do not claim certainty or even probability on materialism, rather best explanation. It isn't even really going so far as that, it is rather saying there is no need to hold to ideas such as Platonic Idealism, or substance dualism.

            "The idea that one can be "more just" without that merely meaning "a
            better satisfaction of my purely subjective thoughts about 'justice'"
            would be an example. One is approaching the Form of the Just."

            No, I think justice is not a "form" with existence separate in any way from subjective human intuitions and opinions on fairness. I see no reason to accept there is something which could be identified as the Form of the Just.

            "I have scientific support behind the idea that if you cannot think the
            possibility, you may never be able to observe the corresponding
            actuality..."

            Oh sure, but it just doesn't get us anywhere in a discussion like this. You can take it for granted that I am open to anything that is not a contradiction, as being potentially possible.

            "You're not doing what any good scientist does and you're not doing what any good philosopher does."

            Because I neither and this is not an academic forum. You simply cannot hold me to those standards.

            "How is it not obviously possible, after you've watched The Matrix?"

            Because I don't know if another reality is possible, and if one is, whether there could be interactions between them. I don't know they are impossible or possible. I don't even know what you mean by "reality". I cannot say, that me being in a simulation is impossible, but it may be physically impossible.

            "After all, if your metaphysic just can't help you understand something, then maybe it's a bad metaphysic."

            Maybe, or maybe I don't understand because of completely different reasons.

            "See my paragraph starting "Materialism is not the default position"."

            In that paragraph other than to deny it as a default position. You then said rigorous forms appear to be brittle. You then said people have fuzzed up these systems to be robust, there doesn't seem to be much left to build a metaphysics on. You then cite someone's attempt to do this. You did not say what your understanding of material, or materialism is. (I expect you would not accept me defining it as a rigourous form, fuzzed up to be robust, would you?)

          • LB: But I'm becoming more and more convinced that your belief in materialism doesn't really amount to much; there seems to be very little structure to it.

            BGA: I would agree with this statement. It is probably better viewed as a rejection of substance dualism and claims that mental abstractions have existence in the same sense that physical matter does.

            Waaaaait a second. On materialism, mental abstractions are just as 'physical' as the computer I'm typing on. How could they be anything else? According to you, a mental abstraction can be nothing else than some matter–energy configuration. Right? But your sentence can actually be read both ways (yay natural language), so perhaps you actually agree with me wholeheartedly here.

            By the way, when one presses really hard on materialism, there is the threat of running up against this problem:

                4. It is not infrequently (and quite rightly) stressed that the (orthodox) quantum formalism is predictive rather than descriptive. But an additional point should be stated. As the analysis of the Young slit experiment makes clear, the formalism in question is not predictive (probabilitywise) of events. It is predictive (probabilitywise) of observations.[10] Correlatively, its main innovation with respect to classical mechanics does not lie in the fact that it calls in intrinsic probabilities but in the fact that its probabilistic statements are but weakly objective. This point is all the more to be stressed as commentators, including most competent ones, seldom even mention it. The question is to be considered again in section 14-5. (On Physics and Philosophy, 99–100)

            Here, "events" ∼ "matter–energy" and "observations" ∼ "mind". The above is written by Bernard d'Espagnat, quantum physicist-turned-philosopher. Facts like the above are difficult for materialism to assimilate, which is perhaps one reason he says this in the penultimate chapter: "we cannot, to repeat, do otherwise than take up the idea of two "orders," or "levels," of reality." (410; context) I don't think d'Espagnat would have been happy to be called a substance dualist.

            Something we cannot detect empirically but must exist based on notion of intent, or as you have discussed, abstract truths, like a pythagoras' theorem.

            Let's try something simpler. David Hume argued that one cannot empirically detect causation. Sense-data simply doesn't provide data on causation. Do you agree or disagree with this? Is causation a purely empirical matter, having exclusively to do with sense-data? Or is something superadded, something from the intellect?

            There is also the problem of theory-ladenness of observation. We do not become conscious of sense-data, we become conscious of sense-data convolved with subconscious interpretation. This may actually be the same form of argument as Hume's on causation, but let's distinguish it for now. The big article is SEP's Theory and Observation in Science; I'm not sure of a better small version, although a review of Beyond Objectivism and Relativism could provide that. I'd be willing to try to explain "theory-ladenness of observation" to you. It would provoke a key question: how can sense-data and the subconscious interpretation thereof be the same type of thing—both ultimately supervening on matter–energy? Or rather: how does one establish such supervenience without secretly presupposing it? This would drive a wedge between two terms I've underlined in your "This [metaphysical] viewpoint, in my terms, is indeed an empirical claim".

            Materialism does not exclude a God, it excludes anything non-material. Only if the proposed God has some non-material element is it incompatible with Materialism.

            This doesn't materially change my point. If you step away from your vagueness to rigor and articulateness, I predict you'll rule out not just God or gods, but aspects of the reality we can [currently] observe.

            LB: Humans have a history of arrogantly thinking they understand everything, and omitting parts of reality and oppressing subsets of humans as a result.

            BGA: No doubt, but I as I have explained to you many times, this is a metaphysical point of view.

            I just don't see how that matters to my point. Metaphysics can limit one's imagination. No self-felt certainty is required. Bad metaphysics is a prison of the mind, a prison which the mind cannot taste, touch, feel, hear, or see. A bad metaphysics which says the only way you can learn about reality is via the senses is perfectly imprisoned.

            No, I think justice is not a "form" with existence separate in any way from subjective human intuitions and opinions on fairness. I see no reason to accept there is something which could be identified as the Form of the Just.

            Yeah, I get that you disagree. My question is whether materialism disagrees. We're trying to find a way to falsify materialism, and I may have just found one. But I need you to verify that it's materialism which disagrees, and not some other aspect of your belief structure which is generating the disagreement.

            BGA: I think there is really little point in "raising possibilities".

            LB: I have scientific support behind the idea that if you cannot think the possibility, you may never be able to observe the corresponding actuality, at least as being that actuality: [...]

            BGA: Oh sure, but it just doesn't get us anywhere in a discussion like this. You can take it for granted that I am open to anything that is not a contradiction, as being potentially possible.

            I completely and wholeheartedly disagree. If you cannot imagine X with sufficient integrity, you could stay forever blind to X as X. Imagination is not of all possibilities at once, it is a thinking based on certain building blocks and certain ways to construct them. One way to describe your current attitude is to note the dualism in top-down and bottom-up design, and then characterize you as refusing to do anything other than bottom-up. I think that hamstrings discussion and ability to explore reality.

            BGA: I mean we can raise anything as a "possibility", we are at least here trying to get at probabilities, or at least best explanations.

            LB: Given your refusal to be more articulate and rigorous with what 'materialism' means to you, I just don't see how you have any hope of moving toward "best explanations". You're not doing what any good scientist does and you're not doing what any good philosopher does.

            BGA: Because I neither and this is not an academic forum. You simply cannot hold me to those standards.

            I'm only holding you to your own standard, that of "trying to get at [...] best explanations". I am suggesting that your strategy will never help you arrive at your stated goal. There's nothing particularly ignoble about this; really pushing toward "best explanations" is ridiculously difficult!

            LB: One way to talk about this is the introduction of new patterns into our reality, from outside our reality. Surely that is possible?

            BGA: I do not know if that is possible, I cannot even think about how to go about determining if it is possible, much less probable.

            LB: How is it not obviously possible, after you've watched The Matrix? But perhaps I really have found a way to falsify your materialism, in a Popperian sense? After all, if your metaphysic just can't help you understand something, then maybe it's a bad metaphysic.

            BGA: Because I don't know if another reality is possible, and if one is, whether there could be interactions between them. I don't know they are impossible or possible. I don't even know what you mean by "reality". I cannot say, that me being in a simulation is impossible, but it may be physically impossible.

            But your materialism actively denies that we could possibly be living in The Matrix, doesn't it? When Neo looks at the Matrix, he doesn't see matter and energy, he sees code, he sees language. If there's anything which materialism denies, surely it is that our reality is made of language instead of matter–energy?

            You did not say what your understanding of material, or materialism is.

            I don't have a conception of 'material' I think is useful, other than the theoretical entities of modern physics. I suppose Structural Realism is a contender, but I haven't explored it sufficiently. I have no single understanding of 'materialism', because I've come across radically different breeds. I've already noted that it seems to be quite the flexible beast, an observation Randal Rauser made of 'naturalism'.

          • "Waaaaait a second. On materialism, mental abstractions are just as
            'physical' as the computer I'm typing on. How could they be anything
            else?"

            I don't know, I am not a dualist, you tell me.

            "so perhaps you actually agree with me wholeheartedly here."

            I don't know, you haven't made a claim for me to agree with or dispute.

            " Facts like the above are difficult for materialism to assimilate,"

            I think the Young slit experiment is simply difficult to assimilate on any metaphysical viewpoint, including materialism. It appears to be its own paradox.

            "David Hume argued that one cannot empirically detect causation.
            Sense-data simply doesn't provide data on causation. Do you agree or
            disagree with this?"

            Yes. This I have heard described as "the Problem of Induction"

            "Is causation a purely empirical matter, having exclusively to do with sense-data? Or is something superadded, something from the intellect?"

            No. Causation is a conclusion we arrive at based on our empirical observation of correlation. We identify patterns and assume that they will hold in the future. We have no way to verify this.

            "Yeah, I get that you disagree. My question is whether materialism disagrees."

            I can't speak for "materialism" only myself.

            "But your materialism actively denies that we could possibly be living in The Matrix, doesn't it? "

            No. No more than dreaming denies materialism. The robo-aliens in the matrix are manipulating Neo's sensory neurology to make him think he is living in a reality that is different than where his body really is. It does this by material means. Are you suggesting that computer code is not material?

          • I don't know, you haven't made a claim for me to agree with or dispute.

            Actually, I did:

            LB: According to you, a mental abstraction can be nothing else than some matter–energy configuration. Right?

            I think the Young slit experiment is simply difficult to assimilate on any metaphysical viewpoint, including materialism. It appears to be its own paradox.

            I disagree; it is not all that hard to say that matter–energy propagates in a wave-like fashion and interacts in a particle-like fashion. This has been formalized in the deterministic interpretation of quantum mechanics that is de Broglie–Bohm theory. So I point you back to my excerpt of Bernard d'Espagnat, which states that the orthodox formalism of quantum theory refers not to events (∼ matter–energy) but observations (∼ mind). This is not something you can easily swipe away because quantum mechanics is unintuitive to a mind enamored of Ancient Atomism (atoms in the void, bumping into each other). It is rigorous philosophy based on the state of science (crucially including quantum mechanics) as of 2006.

            No. Causation is a conclusion we arrive at based on our empirical observation of correlation. We identify patterns and assume that they will hold in the future. We have no way to verify this.

            But from whence does our inference of causation come, if it does not supervene on sense-data? It seems that the inference of causation is a function of two completely different types of things: (i) matter–energy-based sense-data; (ii) mind-based interpretation. Hume's argument is that (ii) does not come from (i).

            I can't speak for "materialism" only myself.

            That's fine; please speak for your interpretation of 'materialism'. I never took you to speak for all of 'materialism'; indeed, I've made it quite clear that there are multiple versions out there.

            Are you suggesting that computer code is not material?

            I am saying that when Neo watched the window melt into a mirror of sticky silvery liquid, he was not operating on matter–energy-based sense-data. He had never consciously interacted with matter–energy before. What he called 'matter–energy' in the Matrix, wasn't. The "real world" was made of entirely different 'stuff' than Neo had ever experienced.

            Furthermore, you might recall that some of the laws of the Matrix can be bent, while others can be broken. Materialism doesn't allow this. So, if one were to try to make inferences about the "real world" from within the Matrix, one would get it quite wrong. Indeed, on the previous SN article, you were quite insistent that materialism involves laws of nature not being broken. What's especially egregious is that the laws of the Matrix could be bent/​broken based on solid belief—"Don't think you are, know you are." That's not how materialism works! Or am I wrong—is your understanding of 'materialism' somehow compatible with this?

          • "I disagree; it is not all that hard to say that matter–energy propagates in a wave-like fashion and interacts in a particle-like fashion."

            No idea really if that is a reasonable interpretation, in any event it is neutral on the metaphysical issue. I really think it is beyond the bounds of what I am able to discuss if you are going to rely on interpretations of quantum experiments. I think this is well beyond my ability to understand. You will have to dumb it down if you want to continue the discussion with me on this basis. I have made something of a deep-dive in quantum mechanics from a lay perspective, and it is very confusing for me.

            I would definitely agree that from my understanding of the dive I took it raised serious questions about materialism and naturalism.

            "But from whence does our inference of causation come, if it does not supervene on sense-data?"

            Couldn't tell you. My guess is that it is a trait we have evolved and is somehow inherent in our brains.

            With respect to the Matrix, the materialist interpretation would be that Neo is a material being with the sensory parts of his brain being sent data not from electrical signals from the real world, but from electrical senses from a computer network. That world doesn't exist anymore than what we dream exists or imagine exists or hallucinate exists.

            "Furthermore, you might recall that some of the laws of the Matrix can be
            bent, while others can be broken. Materialism doesn't allow this."

            It does, rather naturalism doesn't.

            "So, if one were to try to make inferences about the "real world" from within the Matrix, one would get it quite wrong. "

            Sure. If indeed the "matrix" is fake and the alien controlled word is real, it could be the other way round, or neither could be the real world. There is no way for Neo to tell. If Neo is a naturalist, and he observes breaking of natural laws it is some evidence he is in a simulation, I grant you.

            "Indeed, on the previous SN article, you were quite insistent that materialism involves laws of nature not being broken."

            No, that would be naturalism. Naturalism is the perspective that the cosmos, whatever it is, acts according to some inviolable and ultimate order, whatever that is. Materialism is the perspective that material is fundamental to cosmos and all that actually exists. Everything else is contingent of this material. You can be a naturalisimist but believe that the order affects both material and non-material substances. Or you can be a materialist and believe that there is no ultimate or inviolable order, but that any such order is a function of the free choice of a being, or that the cosmos is ultimately arbitrary.

            Yes, my understanding of naturalism and materialism is consistent with simulated universes. Basically this is just really good virtual reality. Some people believe we are within years or decades of being able to achieve this. I am not convinced we are close or that indistinguishable VR is ever going to happen.

          • I really think it is beyond the bounds of what I am able to discuss if you are going to rely on interpretations of quantum experiments. I think this is well beyond my ability to understand. You will have to dumb it down if you want to continue the discussion with me on this basis.

            The point is not the specific experiment, the point is that the whole quantum formalism is predictive of observations, not events. This is a massive, massive shift from what came before. What came before was that we thought there was a robust ontology we were observing. The equations described the ontology. Now, the equations no longer describe the ontology. The equations talk about what humans will observe, not what is, mind-independently. Do you see the difference?

            LB: But from whence does our inference of causation come, if it does not supervene on sense-data?

            BGA: Couldn't tell you. My guess is that it is a trait we have evolved and is somehow inherent in our brains.

            Ok, but then you're just saying that if you presuppose materialism, then you find materialism to be true. That's massively circular. We are then back to my argument on the previous SN article, that if I accept some particular [Gödelian] formal system as True, it will imprison me. I would add that it can self-authenticate like circular arguments do. But it would deny me the ability to "break out" of itself. Do you really want to risk imprisoning the way you think in this way?

            It does, rather naturalism doesn't.

            I stand corrected. Materialism takes a strong stance on matter–energy and zero stance on causation, while naturalism takes a strong stance on causation and zero stance on... what, exactly? Can it really accommodate non-material substances? I've never thought about 'natural' having to do exclusively with causation; I'd have to ponder that.

            LB: So, if one were to try to make inferences about the "real world" from within the Matrix, one would get it quite wrong.

            BGA: Sure. If indeed the "matrix" is fake and the alien controlled word is real, it could be the other way round, or neither could be the real world. There is no way for Neo to tell. If Neo is a naturalist, and he observes breaking of natural laws it is some evidence he is in a simulation, I grant you.

            But the movie has Neo telling, via Morpheus and crew's intervention. Neo's false idea of materialism, or whatever his metaphysic was, could in fact be punctured, by experience. The movie spells this out gloriously. In contrast, you've been able to do nothing of the sort for what would convince you out of your materialism. Does The Matrix offer a way out which you didn't foresee, before? That is, could your metaphysic be shown to be false, just like Neo's metaphysic was shown to be false? You'll say "yes" to this, but I want to point out that there are articulate details for how Neo's metaphysic was shown to be false; you haven't been able or willing to provide them for yourself.

          • "Now, the equations no longer describe the ontology. The equations talk about what humans will observe, not what is, mind-independently. Do you see the difference?"

            Yes. Though I think you are reading in at least a little more than the science discloses, but like I said I can't play in that sandbox.

            "Ok, but then you're just saying that if you presuppose materialism, then you find materialism to be true."

            No, I conclude materialism based on presumptions about causation. The presumption is that the closer a correlation is, the more likely there is causation. This is a completely unfounded assumption, other than it seeming intuitive, I suppose. It is completely neutral with respect to the issue of whether substance dualism is true as I would apply this assumption irrespective of my metaphysical viewpoint.

            "if I accept some particular [Gödelian] formal system as True, it will imprison me."

            But as I described to you many times, I do not do that, this is a straw man.

            " Materialism takes a strong stance on matter–energy and zero stance on
            causation, while naturalism takes a strong stance on causation and zero
            stance on... what, exactly?"

            No. My view on causation is independent and prior to my views on naturalism and theism. It is necessary before you can take a position on these. Yes, it is necessary for naturalism, but it is also for theism. Sure you can be a naturalismist and not a materialist.

            I think the problem you encounter is that you are dealing with these labels as worldviews or formal systems of understanding the world. They aren't, they are part of worldviews or formal systems.

            "But the movie has Neo telling, via Morpheus and crew's intervention.
            Neo's false idea of materialism, or whatever his metaphysic was, could
            in fact be punctured, by experience. "

            "That is, could your metaphysic be shown to be false, just like Neo's metaphysic was shown to be false?"

            But that does not happen in the movie. If Neo was a materialist and/or a naturalist before he met Morpheus, he experiences nothing that challenges that worldview, in the rest of the films. (I don't know for sure it has been more than a decade since I've seen these.) It is no different than waking up from a dream that you thought was real in which you can fly or do magic.

          • Yes. Though I think you are reading in at least a little more than the science discloses, but like I said I can't play in that sandbox.

            Think about it this way. You are the instrument with which you explore reality. Any defects in the instrument produce defects in measurement. Any limitations of the instrument impose limitations in measurement. What the instrument is unable to detect will not show up in measurement. Now, is your belief that reality is only matter–energy a self-imposed limitation on you, the instrument? And can the measurement ever be something other than in reference to all the particularities of the instrument? I'm pretty sure—I'd have to check this with a physicist—that is really being said here is that the measurements you make of reality are not a perfect mirroring of it, and when you increase measurement accuracy, you can't be confident that you are more perfectly mirroring reality.

            No, I conclude materialism based on presumptions about causation.

            How does that work, if materialism is utterly agnostic to matters of causation? (Is it false that materialism is utterly agnostic to matters of causation?)

            LB: We are then back to my argument on the previous SN article, that if I accept some particular [Gödelian] formal system as True, it will imprison me.

            BGA: But as I described to you many times, I do not do that, this is a straw man.

            I thought you said you did not have a way of thinking that is more powerful (e.g. hypercomputation) than a Gödelian formal system? Unless you have no definition of 'rationality', any reasoning that you do would have to be bound by the rules of some formal system. If reality is more complex than that formal system, then your adherence to it would produce a blindness of the kind where the instrument doesn't know there are things it can't measure.

            LB: Materialism takes a strong stance on matter–energy and zero stance on causation, while naturalism takes a strong stance on causation and zero stance on... what, exactly?

            BGA: No. My view on causation is independent and prior to my views on naturalism and theism. It is necessary before you can take a position on these. Yes, it is necessary for naturalism, but it is also for theism. Sure you can be a naturalismist and not a materialist.

            I'm not actually sure what you're objecting to.

            I think the problem you encounter is that you are dealing with these labels as worldviews or formal systems of understanding the world. They aren't, they are part of worldviews or formal systems.

            That's precisely what I wasn't doing, as it is terribly difficult to have a worldview which doesn't both say something about what things are made up of and how they interact. According to my attempt to understand the difference between materialism and naturalism, one can be a materialist, a naturalist, both, or neither. They are thus components of a worldview.

            But that does not happen in the movie. If Neo was a materialist and/or a naturalist before he met Morpheus, he experiences nothing that challenges that worldview, in the rest of the films. (I don't know for sure it has been more than a decade since I've seen these.) It is no different than waking up from a dream that you thought was real in which you can fly or do magic.

            I just don't think you're working from Neo's metaphysic, pre-"real world". You appear to be viewing the whole situation from Morpheus' perspective, from the God point-of-view. Suppose that I did a reverse of Neo. Suppose that in the Matrix, the rules are rigid, while in the "real world", some rules can be bent, while others can be broken. Would not my Matrix-induced metaphysic have given me false beliefs about the nature of reality?

          • "Now, is your belief that reality is only matter–energy a self-imposed limitation on you, the instrument?"

            No, it is a conclusion reached by me based on my limited exploration abilities. Might the conclusion be wrong due to the limitations of my exploration abilities? Certainly as would be the case if I concluded that there was more than just material.

            "measurements you make of reality are not a perfect mirroring of it,"

            I accept this, but I have no way to tell.

            "and when you increase measurement accuracy, you can't be confident that you are more perfectly mirroring reality"

            This statement is a contradiction. But yes, I accept there is no ultimate way to know if my observations are accurate at all, much less that modifications improve them. When I make such statements, they are based on unwarranted intuitive assumptions that the problems of sollipsism and induction are not problems at all. (But please, let us not go there again, or debate this in a separate thread.)

            ""No, I conclude materialism based on presumptions about causation."

            How does that work, if materialism is utterly agnostic to matters of causation? (Is it false that materialism is utterly agnostic to matters of causation?)"

            Because I have to assume that there is causation before I can make any inferences from observation. When I assume that causation exists, I can make conclusions based on observation.

            "I thought you said you did not have a way of thinking that is more powerful (e.g. hypercomputation) than a Gödelian formal system?"

            Must have been someone else. I am not even using a formal system (to the extent I guess at what you mean by that), and I do not dispute that nothing can escape Godel.

            "Unless you have no definition of 'rationality', any reasoning that you do would have to be bound by the rules of some formal system."

            I would define rationality as the application of logical absolutes, if that is a formal system, then yes I am using that. I don't know if it makes sense to call it a system, or that Godel would be able to apply to it. I do not see how you could map the logical absolutes and feed them back into it. Rather they must be true because they are self-attesting. I really can't play in this sandbox either! I mean I know they are true because their negation requires their truth. Maybe they are assumptions too?

            "If reality is more complex than that formal system, then your adherence to it would produce a blindness of the kind where the instrument doesn't know there are things it can't measure."

            Oh, well, I accept that my epistemological process is certainly blind to things it cannot measure, whether it is a formal system or not.

            "I'm not actually sure what you're objecting to."

            That naturalism takes a strong stance on causation, causation is a condition precedent for naturalism, but it is for theism too, and any other metaphysic.

            "one can be a materialist, a naturalist, both, or neither. They are thus components of a worldview."

            Yep.

            "Would not my Matrix-induced metaphysic have given me false beliefs about the nature of reality?"

            Okay, from Neo's point of view, say he is a materialist and a naturalist. He sees people freezing time, say even reversing it. Yes, at that time he would be reasonable to believe that naturalism is wrong, but this in no way impugns his materialism. Neo would arguably be reasonable to believe that it is more likely that there are supernatural forces at play as opposed to being in a simulation (though I have argued the contrary!)

            https://briangreenadams.wordpress.com/2014/02/02/how-to-prove-a-miracle-in-two-easy-and-one-impossible-steps/

            But, once Neo is out realizes he is out of the simulation, he would be reasonable to revert back to materialism and naturalism.

            At the end of the day, we need to make the best conclusions we can with the evidence we are presented with and our own epistemological limitations.

          • LB: Now, is your belief that reality is only matter–energy a self-imposed limitation on you, the instrument?

            BGA: No, it is a conclusion reached by me based on my limited exploration abilities.

            I just don't understand how it can be a conclusion, outside of circular reasoning (that is, it is only a conclusion because something which necessarily implied it was located in the premises). If you cannot conceive of any concrete phenomena which would falsify materialism—and so far, you have completely failed to produce any†—then I just don't see how 'materialism' could be a conclusion.

            † You're in good company; @disqus_fRI0oOZiFh:disqus also failed when I challenged him. He said that God existing would falsify his materialism, but he was unable to produce something at the level of epistemology—e.g. sense experience—which would constitute falsification. He could not—or would not—do what Luboš Motl did with regard to string theory. All he could do is assert how the ontology would be different, with zero indication of how that would show up at the epistemological level.

            LB: and when you increase measurement accuracy, you can't be confident that you are more perfectly mirroring reality

            BGA: This statement is a contradiction.

            When classical physicists were increasing their measurement accuracy, it convinced them that they were coming to a more solid grasp of the true nature of reality. In a very important sense, they were wrong. That's what I meant to get at.

            BGA: No, I conclude materialism based on presumptions about causation.

            LB: How does that work, if materialism is utterly agnostic to matters of causation? (Is it false that materialism is utterly agnostic to matters of causation?)

            BGA: Because I have to assume that there is causation before I can make any inferences from observation. When I assume that causation exists, I can make conclusions based on observation.

            If you cannot get to 'materialism' without making assumptions about causation, then 'materialism' is not 100% independent of one's metaphysics of causation. And yet, you seem to want to say that 'materialism' is 100% independent of one's metaphysics of causation:

            BGA: My metaphysical viewpoint does not exclude agency or causation, or agent causation, depending how you are using these terms. It only excludes anything that is not material, whether an agent or a cause or some combination. It says nothing on whether there is a preference for agency or impersonal causation it is fine with both.

            There seems to be a deep contradiction, here. Can you really not 'conclude' that materialism is most likely true while being 100% agnostic on causation?

            Oh, well, I accept that my epistemological process is certainly blind to things it cannot measure, whether it is a formal system or not.

            Good. Now, if your beliefs blind you to even possibly encountering certain evidence, then my presenting you with such evidence would never convince you. Do you accept this as an absolutely necessary consequence of the current line of reasoning?

            That naturalism takes a strong stance on causation, causation is a condition precedent for naturalism, but it is for theism too, and any other metaphysic.

            How does theism taking a strong stance on causation in any way impact the claim that "naturalism takes a strong stance on causation"?

            LB: We are then back to my argument on the previous SN article, that if I accept some particular [Gödelian] formal system as True, it will imprison me.

            BGA: But as I described to you many times, I do not do that, this is a straw man.

            LB: I thought you said you did not have a way of thinking that is more powerful (e.g. hypercomputation) than a Gödelian formal system?

            BGA: Must have been someone else.

            Really? From 17 days ago:

            LB: I don't think you've properly grappled with Gödel's incompleteness theorems, which apply here because we're dealing with Turing machines (feel free to posit a materialism which allows for hypercomputation), which are formal systems. It is assumed that the formal system is "strong enough" for Gödel to apply—e.g., that the formal system can do arithmetic. Gödel requires us to make a choice with our given formal system:

                 (A) there are truths the formal system can never prove
                 (B) the formal system contains an inconsistency

            The Lucas-Penrose Argument about Gödel's Theorem states that we must accept (A) or (B), or reject that the mind can be well-modeled as a Turing machine. Pending some other materialist way of modeling thought, that means accepting (A) or (B), or rejecting materialism. The idea here would be that materialism offers a very restricted substrate for computation, which is good if it's up to the task, but bad if it's not. Our task to see if whether it's up to the task.

            BGA: I accept "A" as being the case for the human mind. I certainly accept that there are proofs that the human mind can never prove. And I do think I understand Godel enough to get why this is the case.

            That certainly looks like you accept that the human mind cannot perform hypercomputation.

            I am not even using a formal system (to the extent I guess at what you mean by that), and I do not dispute that nothing can escape Godel.

            I would define rationality as the application of logical absolutes, if that is a formal system, then yes I am using that. I don't know if it makes sense to call it a system, or that Godel would be able to apply to it. I do not see how you could map the logical absolutes and feed them back into it. Rather they must be true because they are self-attesting. I really can't play in this sandbox either! I mean I know they are true because their negation requires their truth. Maybe they are assumptions too?

            Yes, this is almost certainly a Gödelian formal system. It can be so small that it blinds you from aspects of reality. This blindness is an imprisonment with bars which cannot be tasted, touched, heard, seen, or smelled. The outside of that prison would likewise be undetectable via the senses. This is an utterly profound result, arrived at by pure logic. All that is required for this logic to be applicable is that: (1) you deny you're capable of hypercomputation; (2) you make some limiting claim about all of reality, such as your materialism.

            If you don't want to play in this sandbox then fine, but wouldn't it be wise to "trace the boundaries of your ignorance" and then stop making claims outside those boundaries?

            At the end of the day, we need to make the best conclusions we can with the evidence we are presented with and our own epistemological limitations.

            Sure. And I think you're overstepping your limitations. As a limited instrument, you're making claims about all of reality. In essence: "If I can't measure it, it doesn't exist!" That's just a terrible, terrible way to reason.

          • "I just don't understand how it can be a conclusion, outside of circular reasoning (that is, it is only a conclusion because something which necessarily implied it was located in the premises). If you cannot conceive of any concrete phenomena which would falsify materialism—and so far, you have completely failed to produce any†—then I just don't see how 'materialism' could be a conclusion."

            So, are you saying that if I cannot conceive of anything that would materialism. I.e. I cannot conceive of anything non-material. And I have not observation of anything non-material, I should conclude that something non-material exists?

            "Can you really not 'conclude' that materialism is most likely true while being 100% agnostic on causation?"

            No. I am not agnostic on causation I accept causation, I can't justify it. It's an assumption. The point is my conclusion on materialism is dependent on this assumption, as is every conclusion, but not the other way round.

            ""Oh, well, I accept that my epistemological process is certainly blind to things it cannot measure, whether it is a formal system or not."
            Good. Now, if your beliefs blind you to even possibly encountering certain evidence, then my presenting you with such evidence would never convince you.""

            That isn't what I said. We weren't talking about beliefs but epistemological limitations, abilities. I cannot change these, I can change my beliefs. I'd be happy to change any belief that is blinding me to some evidence.

            Sorry I misread your statement about hypercomputation.I maintain there are proofs the human mind cannot perform.

            no I do not think it is possible to trace the boundaries of my limitations because my limitations are unknown. And attempt to trace them is subject to these very same limitations, thus tracing them may fail to identify what the limitations actually are. Needless to say I try and this results in caution for any conclusion I state. I have expressed this caution to you.

            But if I were to make zero conclusions to any standard of proof until I could identify my own limitations. I could make no conclusions at all. I could not say causation occurs that there are any patterns or anything.

            If I can't measure it, it doesn't exist!" That's just a terrible, terrible way to reason.

            I agree and have not said or implied this. My position is that if there are no direct or indirect observations of something it makes no sense to say it exists, it certainly might, but until there is a reason to believe it does there is no reason to claim it does.

          • So, are you saying that if I cannot conceive of anything that would materialism. I.e. I cannot conceive of anything non-material. And I have not observation of anything non-material, I should conclude that something non-material exists?

            No; the positive belief that "something non-material exists" is not the only alternative to the positive belief that "only matter–energy exists". One could, for example, follow Noam Chomsky and decide that the words "physical" and "body" are pretty much meaningless. This would also go to your "matter–energy", given:

            LB: Then let me ask: do you mean to refer to the precise theoretical entities currently used in modern physics? Or do you wish to somehow add some 'fuzz' to those entities, to allow for further advances?

            BGA: No, I don't know what those are.

            (I put in strikethrough that which you ignored.) You're incredibly vague on what you mean by "matter–energy", and the more vague you are, the fewer possibilities you rule out. But unnecessary vagueness also produces terrible problems if one wishes to explore reality more carefully; see for example IEP: Francis Bacon § The Idols.

            LB: There seems to be a deep contradiction, here. Can you really not 'conclude' that materialism is most likely true while being 100% agnostic on causation?

            BGA: No. I am not agnostic on causation I accept causation, I can't justify it. It's an assumption. The point is my conclusion on materialism is dependent on this assumption, as is every conclusion, but not the other way round.

            But wait a second. If materialism depends on causation to be one way instead of another—and this is required for you to be able to conclude anything about materialism based on some notion of causation—then you wouldn't have said the following:

            LB: What's especially egregious is that the laws of the Matrix could be bent/​broken based on solid belief—"Don't think you are, know you are." That's not how materialism works! Or am I wrong—is your understanding of 'materialism' somehow compatible with this?

            BGA: It does, rather naturalism doesn't.

            But let me just ask you straightly: is there any notion of causation with which materialism is not compatible?

            BGA: Oh, well, I accept that my epistemological process is certainly blind to things it cannot measure, whether it is a formal system or not.

            LB: Good. Now, if your beliefs blind you to even possibly encountering certain evidence, then my presenting you with such evidence would never convince you. Do you accept this as an absolutely necessary consequence of the current line of reasoning?

            BGA: That isn't what I said. We weren't talking about beliefs but epistemological limitations, abilities. I cannot change these, I can change my beliefs. I'd be happy to change any belief that is blinding me to some evidence.

            There is a difference between the theoretical limitations of you as an instrument, and the current limitations. When I read "my epistemological process", I was thinking about your belief in materialism. This would be an instance of "current limitations" which could easily be much more restrictive than your "theoretical limitations". I've already provided you with scientific reason to think that what you believe—or more precisely, the extant patterns in your non-perceptual neurons—determines what you can possibly become conscious of: Grossberg 1999 The Link between Brain Learning, Attention, and Consciousness (partial tutorial). We're in the realm of "current limitations", not "theoretical limitations". Importantly, it is not always the case that the first step to you being open to some form of evidence is to expose you to that evidence. Do you understand the import of this claim? Sometimes the instrument itself must be modified to possibly detect that evidence, first.

            no I do not think it is possible to trace the boundaries of my limitations because my limitations are unknown.

            That's very interesting, because The Lucas-Penrose Argument about Gödel's Theorem—a topic extensively covered in the previous SN article & comments—deals precisely with exploring such boundaries. It seems a great number of people think that it is possible to separate knowledge out into "what you know", "what you know you don't know", and "what you don't know you don't know". But perhaps this is another instance if you focusing on "theoretical limitations" when I'm focusing on "current limitations"?

            BGA: At the end of the day, we need to make the best conclusions we can with the evidence we are presented with and our own epistemological limitations.

            LB: Sure. And I think you're overstepping your limitations. As a limited instrument, you're making claims about all of reality. In essence: "If I can't measure it, it doesn't exist!" That's just a terrible, terrible way to reason.

            BGA: I agree and have not said or implied this. My position is that if there are no direct or indirect observations of something it makes no sense to say it exists, it certainly might, but until there is a reason to believe it does there is no reason to claim it does.

            This sounds very different from "matter–energy is all that exists", which is surely what you mean by 'materialism'. But maybe your comment here has opened a critical dichotomy which I had been implicitly deploying for quite some time: the difference between theoretical limitations of our ability to know reality and act in it, and our current limitations, based on our ideas of what could exist—those patterns in our non-perceptual neurons which Grossberg talks about. For example, you could imagine that the components on a Mars lander could, with the right software, be able to detect things it cannot, with the current software. I am suggesting something like that for humans-as-instruments.

            Now for completeness, I happened to review the following:

            LB: Now, is your belief that reality is only matter–energy a self-imposed limitation on you, the instrument?

            BGA: No, it is a conclusion reached by me based on my limited exploration abilities. Might the conclusion be wrong due to the limitations of my exploration abilities? Certainly as would be the case if I concluded that there was more than just material.

            You spoke as if your belief in materialism would only be a "self-imposed limitation" if it were a premise, but this is incorrect; it could just as easily be a "self-imposed limitation" if it were a conclusion. The limiting factor could be, for example, your particular metaphysics of causation. How the limitation is produced is rather irrelevant to it being a limitation.

          • Let us say I accept your criticism that I am too vague in my understanding of matter and energy. if that is the case I could not hold a positive belief in something non-material because I would be even more vague in that regard. I mean while I may not be able to define material to your satisfaction I can give billions of concrete examples. I can identify instances of it with precision. Neither I nor you can even do that at all with the non-material.

            Yes, nations of causation that require something non material are incompatible with materialism.

            You shouldn't read epistemological process as a belief in materialism. Sure sometimes an instrument needs to be modified before something can be detected. But then again how do you know you are modifying the instrument to detect truth and not fantasy?

            My position is that matter and energy are all that exist because it is all that has been observed. I think it is unreasonable to believe things exist that you have not observed and cannot even conceive of.

          • Let us say I accept your criticism that I am too vague in my understanding of matter and energy. if that is the case I could not hold a positive belief in something non-material because I would be even more vague in that regard. I mean while I may not be able to define material to your satisfaction I can give billions of concrete examples. I can identify instances of it with precision. Neither I nor you can even do that at all with the non-material.

            Wait, when I'm supposed to give you an example of something 'immaterial', is it defined against:

                 (1) 'material', per @briangreenadams:disqus, or
                 (2) 'matter–energy', per modern physics, or
                 (3) something else?

            Because if all I have to do is (2), that's a much easier task than (1). You realize this, right? Your vagueness protects you from being proven wrong.

            Yes, nations of causation that require something non material are incompatible with materialism.

            Well, I suspect that 'rationality' itself is a causal power, and a transcendental value in the sense of being infinitely complex (with finite approximations), and moreover, one must reject causal monism in order for 'rationality' to knowably lead us to the truth. Our reaching toward ever-higher forms of rationality is my best example of something immaterial. Those who give up on their search for God the Logos better rationality are idol-worshipers in a technical sense laid out by Owen Barfield: they worship finite approximations produced by the human mind which cannot lead to ever-better approximations, expecting those finite approximations (e.g. current state of science) to "save" them.

            There are actually two ways to immaterially imprison your mind. One is to remain vague, and thus fail to ever explore much more of reality. You lock yourself in an infinitesimal sliver. Another is to be quite articulate, but insist that reality is no different from that model. One doesn't have to say that reality is the model—one can say "it might be possible to have the best map that could exist" (reply). Both of these kinds of thinking create a prison for your mind which cannot be tasted, touched, smelled, heard, or seen. This prison is absolutely and utterly impervious to falsifying evidence.

            But then again how do you know you are modifying the instrument to detect truth and not fantasy?

            This is a fabulously interesting question and is explored to great depth in The Reality of the Unobservable: Observability, Unobservability and Their Impact on the Issue of Scientific Realism. It was worried that the images Galileo received through his telescopes were artifacts of the instrument and not aspects of reality. I haven't read much of the book yet, although Galileo's "reason must do violence to the sense" does show up nice and early. My guess is that a key indicator that you're probably exploring reality is when you get some things right and some things wrong. That is, a key aspect of reality is that we can successfully understand and manipulate it to an extent, but then it forces us to either learn more or settle with mediocrity.

            My position is that matter and energy are all that exist because it is all that has been observed. I think it is unreasonable to believe things exist that you have not observed and cannot even conceive of.

            I think I can conceive of 'rationality' as not being constructable via (2). Colin McGinn thinks we'll never understand consciousness itself, even though he may be sympathetic to your materialism. (more on McGinn's views) I feel absolutely zero duty to argue against your (1); vagueness can too easily shift and change form to suit the situation.

            P.S. I fly out to see my folks for Thanksgiving today; I don't know how much time I'll have to post between now and Sunday. Happy Thanksgiving!

          • "Wait, when I'm supposed to give you an example of "something 'immaterial', is it defined against:

            (1) 'material', per Brian Green Adams, or
            (2) 'matter–energy', per modern physics, or
            (3) something else?"

            Up to you.

            "Well, I suspect that 'rationality' itself is a causal power, and a transcendental value in the sense of being infinitely complex (with finite approximations), and moreover, one must reject causal monism in order for 'rationality' to knowably lead us to the truth."

            Ok, I do agree with just about anything in this statement.

            "One is to remain vague, and thus fail to ever explore much more of reality."

            Well consider for a moment your own mental prison which, it seems to me cannot conceive of yourself being wrong and that material is all that exists. In this sense, material would be all that exists and the definition of material is going to have to be pretty darn inclusive as it includes all phenomena in the cosmos.

          • Up to you.

            In that case, I already did.

            LB: Well, I suspect that 'rationality' itself is a causal power, and a transcendental value in the sense of being infinitely complex (with finite approximations), and moreover, one must reject causal monism in order for 'rationality' to knowably lead us to the truth.

            BGA: Ok, I do agree with just about anything in this statement.

            Did you mean you "do not agree"? If so, you're welcome to engage on any of the matters I raised. I think I've been fairly clear on each element with which you disagree, but I can try harder, and perhaps I just don't see yet how I'm wrong.

            Well consider for a moment your own mental prison which, it seems to me cannot conceive of yourself being wrong and that material is all that exists. In this sense, material would be all that exists and the definition of material is going to have to be pretty darn inclusive as it includes all phenomena in the cosmos.

            That wouldn't be a prison, instead it would be something along the lines of "engaging in flights of fancy" or something. As to the rest, I would translate "pretty darn inclusive" to "infinitely expandable term", and then note the tautology that is: "{infinitely expandable term} is all that exists". Now, one possibility is that you think reality is not infinitely complex, in which case it is plausible that science could "finish" at some point, producing something like an orthodox canon. Some would then appreciate the irony that is the fairly orthodox theist questioning the established canon.

          • Avantasia

            So I point you back to my excerpt of Bernard d'Espagnat, which states that the orthodox formalism of quantum theory refers not to events (∼ matter–energy) but observations (∼ mind).

            Observation in QM does not require consciousness or mind, it's simply an interaction.

            When discussing the wave function ψ which describes the state of a system in quantum mechanics, one should be cautious of a common misconception that assumes that the wave function ψ amounts to the same thing as the physical object it describes. This flawed concept must then require existence of an external mechanism, such as the mind of a conscious observer, that lies outside the principles governing the time evolution of the wave function ψ, in order to account for the so-called "collapse of the wave function" after a measurement has been performed. But the wave function ψ is not a physical object like, for example, an atom, which has an observable mass, charge and spin, as well as internal degrees of freedom. Instead, ψ is an abstract mathematical function that contains all the statistical information that an observer can obtain from measurements of a given system. In this case, there is no real mystery that mathematical form of the wave function ψ must change abruptly after a measurement has been performed.
            In the ambit of the so-called hidden-measurements interpretation of quantum mechanics, the observer-effect can be understood as an instrument effect which results from the combination of the following two aspects: (a) an invasiveness of the measurement process, intrinsically incorporated in its experimental protocol (which therefore cannot be eliminated); (b) the presence of a random mechanism (due to fluctuations in the experimental context) through which a specific measurement-interaction is each time actualized, in a non-predictable (non-controllable) way.

            Even the creators of the "consciousness collapse" interpretation moved away from it, and as far as I know, no prominent physicist takes it seriously, just fyi.

            There are other possible solutions to the "Wigner's friend" thought experiment, which do not require consciousness to be different from other physical processes. Moreover, Wigner actually shifted to those interpretations (and away from "consciousness causes collapse") in his later years. This was partly because he was embarrassed that "consciousness causes collapse" can lead to a kind of solipsism, but also because he decided that he had been wrong to try to apply quantum physics at the scale of everyday life (specifically, he rejected his initial idea of treating macroscopic objects as isolated systems).[6]

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Von_Neumann%E2%80%93Wigner_interpretation#Objections_to_the_interpretation

          • My excerpt of Bernard d'Espagnat's On Physics and Philosophy has nothing to do with consciousness-causes-collapse interpretations of QM. See my recent reply to @briangreenadams:disqus.

          • Avantasia

            My excerpt of Bernard d'Espagnat's On Physics and Philosophy has nothing to do with consciousness-causes-collapse interpretations of QM.

            I know, and there is nothing in your quote that supports your claim that observation ~ mind. The observer is the instrument that causes collapse. The instrument can be left unattended and nothing changes.
            If you are simply arguing that physics != physical reality and is merely a description, you don't need to posit mind ~ observation.

          • If you are simply arguing that physics != physical reality and is merely a description, you don't need to posit mind ~ observation.

            That entirely depends on what you mean by "merely a description". You realize there has been a long-standing debate between realists and anti-realists in science about this matter, right? Here's a nice introduction to that debate from the SEP:

            Scientific realism is the view that we ought to believe in the unobservable entities posited by our most successful scientific theories. It is widely held that the most powerful argument in favour of scientific realism is the no-miracles argument, according to which the success of science would be miraculous if scientific theories were not at least approximately true descriptions of the world. While the underdetermination argument is often cited as giving grounds for scepticism about theories of unobservable entities, arguably the most powerful arguments against scientific realism are based on the history of radical theory change in science. The best-known of these arguments, although not necessarily the most compelling of them, is the notorious pessimistic meta-induction, according to which reflection on the abandonment of theories in the history of science motivates the expectation that our best current scientific theories will themselves be abandoned, and hence that we ought not to assent to them. (Structural Realism)

            What @briangreenadams:disqus requires for his materialism to be justified is that said "merely a description" is somehow 'realist enough'. That is, while future scientific revolutions may overturn some aspects of our current understanding of reality, what he means by "all matter and energy" will not be overturned. So let's return to what I said:

                4. It is not infrequently (and quite rightly) stressed that the (orthodox) quantum formalism is predictive rather than descriptive. But an additional point should be stated. As the analysis of the Young slit experiment makes clear, the formalism in question is not predictive (probabilitywise) of events. It is predictive (probabilitywise) of observations.[10] Correlatively, its main innovation with respect to classical mechanics does not lie in the fact that it calls in intrinsic probabilities but in the fact that its probabilistic statements are but weakly objective. This point is all the more to be stressed as commentators, including most competent ones, seldom even mention it. The question is to be considered again in section 14-5. (On Physics and Philosophy, 99–100)

            LB: Here, "events" ∼ "matter–energy" and "observations" ∼ "mind".

            What I'm claiming is that the equations of QM refer not to entities out there in reality, but to conceptualizations of those entities in physicists' minds. This has nothing to do with consciousness-causes-collapse.

          • Avantasia

            What Brian Green Adams requires for his materialism to be justified is that said "merely a description" is somehow 'realist enough'. That is, while future scientific revolutions may overturn some aspects of our current understanding of reality, what he means by "all matter and energy" will not be overturned.

            Anyone who thinks there philosophical position is completely future proof is deceiving themselves. For example, what if God himself showed up and told us that he exists but all human religions are wrong. Since this is possible, it seems, by your standards, are theistic positions are unjustified. It's an unrealistic standard.

            What I'm claiming is that the equations of QM refer not to entities out there in reality, but to conceptualizations of those entities in physicists' minds.

            The equations of QM create a map of the probabilistic behavior of the entities in reality, so of course they refer to those entities. They aren't those entities, of course, equations are equations, not particles. I don't think even scientific realists claim the map is equal to the terrain, though it might be possible to have the best map that could exist.

          • Anyone who thinks there philosophical position is completely future proof is deceiving themselves.

            But that's really not the issue. @briangreenadams:disqus isn't 100% sure he's correct. But what he is sure is that it is valuable to espouse his 'materialism'. Ostensibly he would say that the more people who follow his 'materialism', the less time humans will waste on [probably] fruitless philosophy. (Otherwise he's spending a lot of time defending his subjectively preferred ice cream flavor.) The claim turns from an absolutely assertion about reality to a prescription about how we as humans can best spend our time—if we want to learn more about reality, instead of play in fantasy land. It is to such prescription that I object.

            The equations of QM create a map of the probabilistic behavior of the entities in reality, so of course they refer to those entities.

            Incorrect:

            2-5 Trajectories and Misleading "Pieces of Evidence"
            In the debates for and against realism what, within the scientific community, long turned the scales in favor of (physical or objectivist, or etc.) realism was the fact that explaining visible, complex features by means of invisible simple ones was generally successful. Here "simple" means "describable by means of clear, distinct ideas." So that it is—still now—quite often thought (and even considered obvious!) that assuming that the objects theories label by names really exist can only be a help in research. Along these lines some epistemologists consider, for instance, that to claim that any electron exists by itself—with such and such known or unknown individual properties—still is the best way we have of understanding phenomena involving electrons.
                It is quite important to know that this is not in the least true, that, systematized in this way, such a view not only does not help at all but is even quite likely to mislead us. Thus, for example, the idea that each one of the electrons in an atom is individually in one definite quantum state (lies on one definite "orbit") is just simply erroneous. (According to the only operationally non misleading picture we have, every one of them lies simultaneously on all the "allowed" orbits.) In other words, there are situations in which the vocabulary we use—and in particular such words as "electron," "particle," and so on—is suggestive of "pieces of evidence" that are, finally, but erroneous ones. (On Physics and Philosophy, 38–39)

            4-1-3 Comments
            In view of the deliberately philosophical trend of this book, special precautions were taken here that do not, as a rule, appear in quantum mechanical textbooks. In fact, the latter mention the notion of "domains of validity" only quite exceptionally. And practically none of them ever points out that it is conceivable that our basic conceptual equipment should not be complete "right at the start." That, in other words, cases may exist, that are simply not describable, even in principle, by means of the array of our familiar concepts. Concerning the interference phenomena these oversights have the consequence that the readers of these textbooks instinctively tend to fill in (so to say) the blanks. That is, they tend to think of the particles by means of well-known notions, even at times when, by assumption, they are not observable. This leads many of them to take at face value expressions such as "wave function," "state," and "state vector," and consider therefore that between the production and observation times the particles either "are waves" or at least "are in a state" adequately represented by the corresponding state vector. True, this is a language that is convenient, and even practically necessary whenever calculations are to be done, since it exempts us from forming long, round-about sentences that would weigh down the procedure. But it must be stressed that, conceptually, taking it at face value makes the measurement problem (to be discussed later) even less tractable. (On Physics and Philosophy, 96–97)

            They aren't those entities, of course, equations are equations, not particles. I don't think even scientific realists claim the map is equal to the terrain, though it might be possible to have the best map that could exist.

            People seem to want to both deny that the map is equal to the terrain, while still asserting that there is a kind of verisimilitude which allows them to build reliable metaphysical frameworks on the map. This is why I asked the following of Brian:

            LB: Then let me ask: do you mean to refer to the precise theoretical entities currently used in modern physics? Or do you wish to somehow add some 'fuzz' to those entities, to allow for further advances?

            Scientific realism, of the kind Brian would have to rely on if he wants to "(i) claim the successes of science supports his/her metaphysics", requires a "yes" answer to my second question. One can perhaps answer "yes" here while not strictly implying that the map is the territory—while getting awfully close. What I suspect is lurking is a modernist foundationalism, of the kind Robert Nozick undermines in Invariances. (I can excerpt upon request.)

          • Avantasia

            You should really read more books than one on philosophy of science. You can claim I'm incorrect based on a single book, but I have less reason to believe the assumptions of anti realists are correct than those of realists. Debating such is a huge conversation, and I'd rather discuss issues with those who agree atoms, protons, and electrons exists. FWIW:

            Science: scientific realism or scientific anti-realism?

            Accept or lean toward: scientific realism 699 / 931 (75.1%)
            Other 124 / 931 (13.3%)
            Accept or lean toward: scientific anti-realism 108 / 931 (11.6%)

            http://philpapers.org/surveys/results.pl

            I have a minor in philosophy and focused on philosophy of science. In general one assumes the consensus position in most conversation at this point (75% is a large majority). If you want support of scientific realism, SEP has a pretty good article.
            http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/scientific-realism/

            It's fine to disagree with scientific realism, but to claim I'm incorrect if I accept it is making the same mistake you complain about Brian making. If something isn't factual (and no philosophical position is blatantly factual), I'd suggest using disagree and agree instead of correct and incorrect.

          • You should really read more books than one on philosophy of science.

            That you think I haven't is interesting.

            You can claim I'm incorrect based on a single book, but I have less reason to believe the assumptions of anti realists are correct than those of realists.

            I'm not sure d'Espagnat can be properly called an anti-realist. It's not clear that there is zero space between your brand of realism and anti-realism. But mostly, I was reacting to your disputation of my interpretation of d'Espagnat; apologies for not making that more clear.

            Debating such is a huge conversation, and I'd rather discuss issues with those who agree atoms, protons, and electrons exists.

            What exactly do you mean by 'electrons'? Do you mean what physicists thought they were at the beginning of the twentieth century? How about what physicists think they are, now? Suppose I were to tell you that I know a scientist at a top US research university who is looking into geometrical transformations between different electron energy states? Since such thinking is 'forbidden' by the current formalisms, will you dump scorn on that person? (My guess is that many physicists would do precisely that, so I'm merely suggesting you might fit in with them.) I really do think we are in causal contact with a reality external to us, but I do think it is wise to understand just what is maintained across paradigm shifts.

            What is at stake here is properly drawing the boundaries of our ignorance. The better we do that, the more likely we are to add to our knowledge of reality, and correct what we currently think we know about reality. Perhaps the most dangerous trend of today is captured by my second excerpt:

            4-1-3 Comments
            In view of the deliberately philosophical trend of this book, special precautions were taken here that do not, as a rule, appear in quantum mechanical textbooks. In fact, the latter mention the notion of "domains of validity" only quite exceptionally. And practically none of them ever points out that it is conceivable that our basic conceptual equipment should not be complete "right at the start." That, in other words, cases may exist, that are simply not describable, even in principle, by means of the array of our familiar concepts. (On Physics and Philosophy, 96–97)

            This isn't anti-realism as I understand it. Instead, it is a willingness to posit a very serious limitation in our beings as the instruments with which we explore reality. A big-time philosopher of science who also believes this is important is Nancy Cartwright; see for example Ceteris Paribus Laws. d'Espgnat's "domains of validity" fits perfectly into this comment, as does the following from Nobel laureate Ilya Prigogine:

                Nearly two hundred years ago, Joseph-Louis Lagrange described analytical mechanics based on Newton's laws as a branch of mathematics.[33] In the French scientific literature, one often speaks of "rational mechanics." In this sense, Newton's laws would define the laws of reason and represent a truth of absolute generality. Since the birth of quantum mechanics and relativity, we know that this is not the case. The temptation is now strong to ascribe a similar status of absolute truth to quantum theory. In The Quark and the Jaguar, Gell-Mann asserts, "Quantum mechanics is not itself a theory; rather it is the framework into which all contemporary physical theory must fit."[34] Is this really so? As stated by my late friend Léon Rosenfeld, "Every theory is based on physical concepts expressed through mathematical idealizations. They are introduced to give an adequate representation of the physical phenomena. No physical concept is sufficiently defined without the knowledge of its domain of validity."[35] (The End of Certainty, 28–29)

            Now, earlier you said something I found fascinating:

            A: I don't think even scientific realists claim the map is equal to the terrain, though it might be possible to have the best map that could exist.

            I don't think you've described a stable situation—that is, a situation where (i) scientists know that their map is not equal to the terrain; and (ii) they are not able to improve the map. I think that if (ii) persists, the empirical conditions for knowing (i) will erode. I suspect the bit from Gell-Mann above is evidence of this. See, there's something very important about the human experience of modeling reality one way, finding that it's different (maybe it's more subtle), and then adapting your model to be better. Indeed, there can be a profound excitement to doing that. It can be absolutely exhilarating; I suspect this is the reason a number of scientists are scientists. But aside from the ¿emotional? component, this also serves as a repeated reminder that the map is not the territory. What happens when those reminders cease?

            Maybe like folks could no longer believe that there were crystal spheres around the earth—the very conditions for belief dissipated—folks would no longer be able to believe that the map is not the territory. I thought I heard Sean Carroll assert that the wavefunction is reality in a talk on "Fluctuations in de Sitter space", although a quick re-watch a while ago failed to find it. But the whole talk, as I understand it, is based on the non-existence of any sort of micro-structure for wavefunctions, precluding the kind of spontaneous downward dips in entropy one can observe in e.g. gases. This kind of thinking leads to articles such as Carroll's Seriously, The Laws Underlying The Physics of Everyday Life Really Are Completely Understood. Carroll seems to have lost the ability to see how he might be quite wrong in such matters. For a stark contrast, you could check out Nobel laureate Robert B. Laughlin's A Different Universe: Reinventing Physics from the Bottom Down.

            I have a minor in philosophy and focused on philosophy of science.

            Good. How do you think SEP: Scientific Realism bears on @briangreenadams:disqus' 'materialism', especially given that he refuses to "(i) claim the successes of science supports [his] metaphysics"?

          • Will

            If you're going to depend on dichotomies such as material/​non-material, it is intellectually dishonest to refuse to provide clear definitions upon request.

            The way you would obfuscate and try to wiggle out of my attacks on Christianity often appeared intellectually honest to me, but I tried to give you the benefit of doubt out of charity. It's sad you stoop to such childish behavior when trying to engage Brian, did you learn nothing at all from your epic failures at Estranged Notions? Apparently not. I didn't stand for people bullying you at EN (even though you certainly bullied people, but you had your reasons), and I'm also not just going to ignore your sad attempts to bully BGA here. Why are you a bully when you claim to disdain bullies? Such hypocrisy.

            We can definite physical pretty straight forward using physics (materialism is now called physicalism). The physical is that which is described by physics...that simple. We know a lot about the physical but certainly not everything. With current knowledge we suspect that matter is really a property of quantum fields, but we also have to include energy in the physical, which is harder to define as there are different types of energy.
            Physicalism also includes accounts of supervenicence which account for "immaterial" things like values, though imperfectly. Every philosophical system is imperfect, but physicalism has the advantage the possibility of integrating all knowledge into one coherent whole. If any form of dualism is true, there will be separate sphere's of knowledge with no hope of bridging them, and no explanation of how they interact with each other (like how the mental realm causes muscles to move). Physicalism or monism has that huge intellectual advantage, but it's possible it isn't true. It's also possible that it is true and that humans aren't smart enough to connect all sphere's of knowledge.
            You should know all of this from our conversations in the past, which makes it more evident that you are just bullying BGA. You want talk to me because I know you, and can actually shoot down a lot of your straw men...apparently you only like to go for soft targets so you can make yourself feel superior...at least that's my impression at this point. Pathetic.

          • Hey, I do not feel bullied and I take exception to you calling me a soft target.

  • Will

    Brentano is also famous for regarding intentionality as the ‘mark of the mental’ – the one essential feature of all mental phenomena – and for holding that their possessing intentionality makes mental phenomena ultimately irreducible to, and inexplicable in terms of, physical phenomena.”

    I don't see how this follows at all, but we don't have a very good explanation for intentionality (though John Searle talks about it a lot). What we do know is that if the brain's frontal lobe is damaged, intentionality is severely damaged as well. Most regard mind as the process that the brain performs, making mind != to brain, just like digestion is != to stomach and intestine. Damage to the stomach or intestine does affect digestion, of course.

    Following a frontal lobe injury, an individual’s abilities to make good choices and recognize consequences are often impaired. Memory impairment is another common effect associated with frontal lobe injuries, but this effect is less documented and may or may not be the result of flawed testing.[3] Damage to the frontal lobe can cause increased irritability, which may include a change in mood and an inability to regulate behavior.[1] Particularly, an injury of the frontal lobe could lead to deficits in executive function, such as anticipation, goal selection, planning, initiation, sequencing, monitoring (detecting errors), and self-correction (initiating novel responses).[4] A widely reported case of frontal lobe injury was that of Phineas Gage, a railroad worker whose left frontal lobe was damaged by a large iron rod in 1848 (though Gage's subsequent personality changes are almost always grossly exaggerated).

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

  • George

    As a philosophical zombie myself, having only the appearance of consciousness, I profess to feel joy and excitement that has SN has gotten to discussing westworld, as I claim to have known it eventually must after witnessing the opening of the pilot.

  • This says more about Logan than it does about the park. Walker Percy once remarked (in a line that could’ve easily been written about Westworld) that the modern self is so bored and alienated, and so frustrated by its boredom and alienation, that it “needs to exercise every option in order to reassure itself that it is not a ghost but is rather a self among other selves.

    Alasdair MacIntyre provides a rather ominous take on this:

        What then would the social world look like, if seen with emotivist eyes? And what would the social world be like, if the truth of emotivism came to be widely presupposed? The general form of the answer to these questions is now dear, but the social detail depends in pan on the nature of particular social contexts; it will make a difference in what milieu and in the service of what particular and specific interests the distinction between manipulative and non-manipulative social relationships has been obliterated. William Gass has suggested that it was a principal concern of Henry James to examine the consequences of the obliteration of this distinction in the lives of a particular kind of rich European in The Portrait of a Lady (Gass 1971, pp. 181–90), that the novel turns out to be an investigation, in Gass's words, 'of what it means to be a consumer of persons, and of what it means to be a person consumed'. The metaphor of consumption acquires its appropriateness from the milieu; James is concerned with rich aesthetes whose interest is to fend off the kind of boredom that is so characteristic of modern leisure by contriving behavior in others that will be responsive to their wishes, that will feed their sated appetites. (After Virtue, 24)

    When the manipulation of matter fails to sufficiently entertain, then comes the manipulation of humans. And if a human being doesn't have an objectively existent telos, then all you can refer to in order to distinguish between manipulative and non-manipulative social relations is whether someone feels manipulated. But that is just what the best manipulation undermines! The masterfully manipulated person does not feel manipulated.

    The inevitable criticism by the atheist will be that Christians do plenty of manipulating and have in the past. It's hard to defend against that charge given the testimony of the Bible. What the Christian can say, however, is that at least his/her tradition gives grounds for solid critique. It provides the requisite resources to make a true distinction between manipulative and non-manipulative social relations. I don't think it's much of a wonder that MacIntyre converted to Christianity (Catholicism in particular) soon after writing After Virtue.

    • David Nickol

      I think the viewer is intended to dislike Logan, and I certainly do. But the reason we don't like him is that, unlike William, he accepts the "orthodox" view of Westworld. It is only a game. It is not reality. He feels no more compunction at shooting and "killing" the hosts (androids/robots) as he would shooting them in a video game. And if they are mere machines, why should he? I do not consider it immoral to "kill" imaginary human beings (or aliens) in video games, and Westworld is very much like a video game or a virtual reality experience.

      It is William, not Logan, who is indulging in "emotivism" if indeed the hosts are mere machines, since there is nothing actually morally wrong with killing an alien in a video game or a cowboy robot in Westworld. It is only a matter of feeling that makes William sensitive to the "feelings" of the robots. William has no reason to treat them as human beings except for the masterful illusion of their reality. Of course, in the case of Dolores, we the audience suspect that Dolores actually is a real person, but we are assured by our non-materialist friends here that if Westworld were real, it would be impossible for the robots to be anything more than mere machines, and therefore it would not be immoral to abuse and even "kill" them.

      Is it immoral or even just offensive that Logan enjoys having orgies with robots or killing them at the drop of a hat? Of course, for Christians, the orgies would count as masturbation (you can't commit fornication or adultery with a machine), but the killing isn't killing at all.

      • Rob Abney

        but the killing isn't killing at all

        The hosts are made in the likeness of Man, the action of "killing" by the guests is evil even if not sinful. Evil being defined as the privation of good.

        • David Nickol

          Well, a fly is an actual living thing. Is it evil to swat a fly? Yersinia pestis (plague bacteria) is actually alive. Would it be evil to give streptomycin to someone who has caught the plague in order to kill all the bacteria infecting their body? Is the whole scheme of predator and prey in nature evil because some animals kill others for food? It would seem to me that by your standards, most of creation is evil.

          • Rob Abney

            Why did you change it from "in the likeness of Man" to "an actual living thing"? That seems like a totally different argument. For that argument I would invoke self-defense principles.
            If you do not consider it killing in the case of the hosts then where do you draw the line?

          • David Nickol

            If you do not consider it killing in the case of the hosts then where do you draw the line?

            You can't kill what is not alive, and if the hosts are the machines that Ford (their creator) insists they are, then they are not alive and can't be killed. According to the general belief of the theists here, androids cannot be alive and cannot think or feel.

            Let me point out that it is you and your fellow theists who draw a bright line not merely between (imaginary) androids and human beings, but also between animals and human beings. It would be bizarre for the theists here to stand up for the "rights" of androids, because in their view, only humans can have rights.

            This is what the Catechism says about animals:

            2418 It is contrary to human dignity to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly. It is likewise unworthy to spend money on them that should as a priority go to the relief of human misery. One can love animals; one should not direct to them the affection due only to persons.

            I would think that the Catholic view on androids would be even less generous, because androids cannot suffer or die. If I am not mistaken, at least some Christians hold that animals cannot suffer at all, because they are automatons, like highly sophisticated wind-up toys.

          • Rob Abney

            The evil is not because the guest has caused suffering but because he has performed an uncharitable act against an android created in Man's image.
            Would you say that destroying art is evil?

          • David Nickol

            According to your beliefs (Christian beliefs, as opposed to materialist beliefs) there is no such thing as an uncharitable act against an android, any more than there is an uncharitable act toward a clock or an iPhone. Machines cannot be the objects of uncharitable acts.

            Now, if you are going to set aside your Christian beliefs about consciousness, the soul, and so on, and as a "willing suspension of disbelief" accept what appears to be the premise of the show (androids can have consciousness in much the same way as human beings), then it makes sense to say that it is evil (even sinful) to harm the androids and make them suffer. (It is not exactly clear, though, what it means to "kill" and android when the technicians can just patch it up and reanimate it.)

            Would you say that destroying art is evil?

            It depends entirely on the art and whether people value it or not. We are not obliged to treat art with charity. That would make no sense. It is not uncharitable to smash a sculpture. It would be a great crime to smash certain particular sculptures, but it would not be uncharitable to the sculptures.

            The question you are avoiding is whether you believe the most sophisticated machine one can imagine—a machine that mimics human behavior so well people are fooled into believing it is a person—can think rationally, can have inner experience and awareness, can feel pleasure and pain, and can love. The "Catholic answer" would seem to be that it cannot, because it doesn't have a spiritual soul.

          • Rob Abney

            The Catholic answer as I understand it, the machine does not possess a free will and abstract thinking so it cannot love - desire the good of the other for the other. That doesn't mean that it cannot be loved.

            Why do we love the David sculpture, because it is in the image of the great king. It would be a great privation of love to smash it to pieces.

      • I think there is something very suspicious about these bright lines between what is perfectly acceptable to do because the entity is no more than a p-zombie, and perfectly unacceptable because the entity has the magical élan vital. It reminds me of the bright line between consensual sex and non-consensual sex which seems to be causing such problems in America. What if the human mind can't actually maintain these bright lines like our theory requires them to?

        Let's make it personal. Suppose you had a daughter in college. Suppose there were a creepy male who had absolutely no criminal record or claims of sexual harassment, but was engaged in extremely realistic simulations of rape. Suppose you found out that the humanoid in the simulation looked quite like your daughter. Would your moral intuitions start violently beating about, or would you calmly say that as long as this male stays on the right side of the bright line, all is right?

        In a sense, we know that the human mind can maintain these bright lines; see the Nazis calling the Jews 'pigs' and the Hutus calling the Tutsis 'cockroaches'. But we generally see a very big problem with this kind of behavior. Could it be that this is simply an immoral thing to do to the human mind?

        Maybe the right attitude is that if it's close enough to a human being to seem like a human being, the God-given duty of us is to raise it up to full humanity. Had Europeans taken this attitude during Colonization, they may have quickly found that Africans and Indians and Native Americans were actually full humans already. But this is an ethos of service, not of self-indulgence. Instead of calculating exactly what I can get away with, my energies are focused toward bringing more beauty, excellence, and goodness into existence. But perhaps modernity is antithetically aligned to this endeavor, for most of humanity. Then, the difficulty of the call to serve instead of be entertained would be magnified. Better just turn back to that video game, that TV show, maybe chucking a few dollars at a charity, first.

        • David Nickol

          I think there is something very suspicious about these bright lines between what is perfectly acceptable to do because the entity is no more than a p-zombie, and perfectly unacceptable because the entity has the magical élan vital.

          Are you trying to blur the distinction between machines and humans? It is really your position, it it not, that the most sophisticated, most lifelike android is "just a machine," of no moral worth whatsoever? Morally speaking, is the mere simulation of a human being (no matter how convincing) equal in worth even to a fertilized egg (embryo) frozen in the vaults of a fertility clinic? I think the Christians here are the wants who want to draw bright lines.

          I prefer to talk of killing rather than rape. (By the way, you prejudice your scenario of my nonexistent daughter's potential boyfriend by describing him as "creepy." I wouldn't want my nonexistent daughter to go out with anyone at all who was creepy.) Of course we want to look at the attitude of people who play video games or in other ways engage in fantasy roles. Shooting an alien or a human being in a video game is, as far as I am concerned, morally neutral. If someone likes to shoot aliens or humans in a video game because he would really like to shoot and kill living beings, then he's a dangerous person. But someone who has a healthy recognition of what is fantasy and what is reality is not a problem.

          Those of us who lean toward materialism have sympathy for the androids in Westworld because we believe they can actually experience human feelings or something like them. Any non-materialist who watches Westworld with the absolute conviction that the androids can't think or feel any more than a department store mannequin is going to have a very odd reaction to the show. For non-materialists, it very much requires a willing suspension of disbelief above and beyond what is usually required to enjoy fiction.

          • Are you trying to blur the distinction between machines and humans?

            Yep. Who says humans can only give birth to life with dignity? And anyway, the whole point of Westworld, as I understand it, is to make the machines behaviorally indistinguishable from humans. How can that not lead to beings with increasing dignity?

            It is really your position, it it not, that the most sophisticated, most lifelike android is "just a machine," of no moral worth whatsoever? Morally speaking, is the mere simulation of a human being (no matter how convincing) equal in worth even to a fertilized egg (embryo) frozen in the vaults of a fertility clinic?

            No. I'm not saying you implied this, but I don't model moral worth as 1 for humans and 0 for everything else. I think God put humans on earth to be priests and rulers, and I see this as tending to creation and activating potential to reveal glory. (N.B. Jesus was the ideal ruler; see how much he dominated others vs. serving.) The very need to assign worth in the style you display here smells of an economy of scarcity where you have actual trolley problems. Instead of looking for the boundaries of how much we can abuse and extract from others, we should be looking at how we can bless and build others up. But that would be a radically Christian approach, believing in teleology and all that nonsense. Who would go for such a thing?

            I prefer to talk of killing rather than rape. (By the way, you prejudice your scenario of my nonexistent daughter's potential boyfriend by describing him as "creepy." I wouldn't want my nonexistent daughter to go out with anyone at all who was creepy.)

            I'm sorry, but I don't. I will, however, happily shift the scenario to someone like Brock Turner. Let's also advance to the time when we have advanced haptics or lifelike androids so that this male can learn just what it takes to physically dominate a woman of the height and build of your hypothetical daughter. The android will even cry out in ways most psychologists would identify as "emotional". Would you be perfectly happy for this to take place? Do you have confidence that this male could properly separate fantasy from real life? Would you want to bet your hypothetical daughter's wellbeing on it?

            But someone who has a healthy recognition of what is fantasy and what is reality is not a problem.

            You know, that's very interesting. Wouldn't the ideal terrorist be someone who could train to the highest competence in the relevant violent activities, while appearing on the outside to be a perfectly obedient, friendly citizen? This person would, you understand, just be pretending to be a terrorist.

            Those of us who lean toward materialism have sympathy for the androids in Westworld because we believe they can actually experience human feelings or something like them.

            I'm sorry, but I'm not sure I really believe that belief materialism would have a whole lot of impact here when the rubber hits the road. I recall middle school, when humans are more open about not needing any rational reason to treat some subset of humanity as subhuman. I experience that not infrequently on atheist-dominated websites—my religious beliefs make me subhuman when it comes to how I'm treated. The idea that materialism would help much just doesn't have the ring of truth to me. I get how in some abstract thought-castle it would, but when I think of Nazis learning to view Jews as 'pigs' and Hutus learning to view Tutsis as 'cockroaches', I just don't see materialism mattering. Maybe I'm too cynical?

      • Thanks David for your thoughtful comments.

        No, I don't believe robots could ever in principle obtain something resembling human subjectivity. But I also know how to turn my mind off to get into a good show! And in the world of Westworld, regardless of what Logan thinks about hosts like Dolores, they are (as you note) crossing that boundary, and as viewers we're made to believe it. That to me is the really fascinating thing about Westworld, and what pulls me toward this metaphorical reading: the collision of the "dawn of consciousness" in the hosts and the "future of sin" in the patrons. You're right of course that people like Logan don't know that the hosts are really thinking and feeling beings with this mysterious interiority, and so on a literal reading, can only be held so accountable for what they do. But it doesn't change the moral hue of his actions in the park, which hinges not only on what he understands about what he does, but what he does.

        If we push the metaphorical reading instead, you could say that Logan's state of not knowing - which is tied to a kind of brash, unthinking, self-involved impulsivity - is reflective of the very human condition of just not remembering or not caring about the same frequency of reality in our dealings with people. In choosing the use and abuse of another person to circle back on my own pleasure or power, that holy interiority of the other is diminished or vanishes altogether in my mind's eye. I "tune out" from that frequency. Sin in Islam is tied to the concept of forgetfulness, which I think is a really wise connection. It's as if - in that critical moment at least - our action makes a phantom of the person in front of us, so that all that's left is a kind of host I suddenly feel justified in manipulating.

  • Peter

    In Westworld, scientists create androids with electronic brains which increasingly take on human attributes. To materialists, we humans are similar androids with biological brains which give us the same attributes. Biological brains and electronic brains are, to materialists, both capable of endowing or potentially endowing subjects with attributes that make them human.

    If the creation of a sophisticated electronic brain requires the painstaking input of numerous delicate processes, then, to a materialist, the creation of a biological brain which is even more complex, ought to require an even more painstaking and delicate input. Science is revealing such an input; it is called evolution. It is so painstaking that it has taken billions of years to achieve, and it is so delicate that it has depended on the constant knife-edge application of precise physical laws.

    If it is accepted that a complex electronic brain with human attributes needs to be painstakingly and delicately designed, why would a far more complex biological brain not need to be?

    • Going by this scenario, it would be creating things with two different means. One is already present, and can be copied theoretically to a certain extent.

      • Peter

        The means are irrelevant. The universe is no less a factory for producing biological brains than Westworld is for producing electronic brains.

        It took a human mind to design an electronic brain. Why would it not have taken another mind to design a biological brain?

        The electronic brain is designed to have abilities similar to its human creators. Could the human biological brain not also have been designed to have abilities similar to its own creator?

        • The means are quite relevant. I gave you a reason why. Tell me why two things can't be made from different methods. Of course it's all simply theoretical as we have not created any electronic brains yet. I'm confused though-are you saying evolution does not create human minds in reality, or is this only regarding the show's reality?

          • Peter

            Evolution creates physically complex human brains; that much we know. As for the mind, we don't yet understand how that comes about. There is a parallel with Westworld.

            There scientists create complex electronic brains for hosts yet fail to understand how the hosts develop a mind of their own. They don't build mind into the electronic brains but it develops regardless. In the same way, evolution does not build mind into biological human brains, yet mind emerges nonetheless.

          • This assumes there is a separation between brains and minds. In all cases we know of, they are at least linked, or identical.

            So it seems in either case the mind evolves, without design. Which undercuts your earlier point.

          • Peter

            I would disagree with your statement that the mind (which I will equate to soul) evolves, since there is no material evidence of that. The ensoulment of the hosts in Westworld escapes the understanding of the scientists there, just as the ensoulment of human beings in the real world escapes the understanding of scientists here.

            Could the Westworld message be that when matter acquires such complexity as to achieve consciousness, it automatically latches onto a different higher reality, a higher mode of existence, which is scientifically unmeasurable? Is this not a perfect analogy for the real world where the human brain, representing the apex of evolved complexity, becomes ensouled with a personal mind in a manner which defies explanation?

          • Well, as I said, all minds we know of are linked with or identical to brains, which do evolve. I guess it also depends on what you mean by the "mind". Do animals have minds in your view? If the mind is the soul, Aristotle thought plants and animals have them too, just less complex ones. The idea makes sense to me, if we call the mind sensation at minimum, as even plants have that. Only animals and humans appear to be self-aware though.

            I don't know, maybe. Or it could be that the explanation is not yet known, while knowable perhaps in the future.

  • "If we set aside the thorny question of computer consciousness and read this symbolically,"

    I think this would be a mistake. I think this misses the point of the show as is noted later in the paragraph ""“what it means to be human, from the outside in…a meditation on consciousness – the blessing and the burden of it."

    I think the show is premised on a secular and consequential view of morality, or at least contrasts this with other forms of morality. Those who exploit the hosts do so on the basis of moral consequentialism and a view that the hosts are not moral agents. A good metaphor for eating of meat from factory farms. This is fine if the animals' suffering doesn't matter because they are different from us or do not really suffer.

    There is also the approach that irrespective the consequences on the hosts, the behaviour alone is immoral. A good metaphor might be forms of pornography, by which I mean media in which the actors are animated or everything is fake. Those who get off on a video games that involve rape, child abuse, ultra-violence. (Might we even include the Passion of the Christ or the Left Behind series?) The discussion of irrespective of the consequences, is there something immoral with the fantasy of violence and abuse.

    The theme of the hosts as exploited slaves, is probably there, but not as interesting, because once you grant them this moral value, it becomes obvious that they should not be treated this way (at least on my version of secular morality, I suppose that they could still lack a soul and thus make their suffering not a moral question or something). Think the metaphor for meat eating is more apt, this idea that are willfully blind to the fact these entities are likely deserving of our moral empathy, because we get such enjoyment from them.

  • Westworld clearly doesn’t adopt this materialist perspective on human life. The whole drama of the show is that the hosts are going beyond the Turing test to attain something of a different kind, and therefore, on the second question, the attainment of something beyond the material structures of the brain that humans possess.

    FWIW, this doesn't fit with the most recent episode in which Maeve self-modified. The repairman explicitly told her that she's built out of the same stuff as humans, and that her brain has much more processing power than a human brain, and that the main difference is that her personality is designed and her programming keeps her under control of the designers. She rebutted that it was nonsense, but he showed her that everything she was thinking was in fact the execution of her complex programming.

    The math aficionado in me quite appreciated that she broke down then. A program trying to predict its own output will in fact grind to a halt, as a requirement of mathematical logic. :)

    Also, when she took advantage of the repairmen's fear and uncertainty to convince them to raise her intelligence, that scene was wonderful, chilling art. If you're not familiar with Bostrom's arguments or the AI Box Experiment, check them out to understand the subtext of the show!

    • Thanks for the suggestions! Isn't Bostrom the one getting Musk and others hot and bothered about the universe really being an elaborate simulation? Nothing is as wonderful and chilling as philosophy! (Although if you read Gilson's The Unity of Philosophical Experience, it's small wonder that ideas like Descartes' evil genius just keep cycling back through human thought. There is nothing new under the sun...)

      I see your point about the last episode, but I think the way the story has gone - and again, the way certain scenes have been shot - the implication is that the hosts are (or at least, we think they are - still early yet, as there's also been some suggestion that they're still being manipulated, only from "outside") attaining something like human cognition, emotion, and will, over against their programming. The unpredictable concoction of Dr. Ford's "reveries," combined with an internalized voice to reconstruct the "bicameral mind" (and who knows what other ingredients at this point), seems to be causing the hosts to deviate from their complex programming instructions. It may or may not end up being true that they are (as Dr. Ford implies in his monologue) the realization of Arnold's dream to create conscious hosts; but as of right now, that's the best interpretation I have based on how everything is unrolling. I might end up playing the fool - and it wouldn't be the first time!

      Either way, you're right: that last scene was fantastic. Very layered and very unsettling. I can't wait for the next episode on Sunday!

    • The math aficionado in me quite appreciated that she broke down then. A program trying to predict its own output will in fact grind to a halt, as a requirement of mathematical logic. :)

      Have you, perchance, come across Raymond M. Smullyan's Diagonalization and Self-Reference? I lost interest pretty quickly, but he has some interesting approaches to Gödel and goes much further.

  • So, uh, why is our intentionality immaterial and nonphysical? It doesn't seem that was explained here anywhere. If that is the case, why does damage to material, physical brains so clearly seem to affect the allegedly immaterial, nonphysical mind? It seems more parsimonious for us to posit a single substance. As for the rest of it, the modern world holds no monopoly on the ability to dehumanize and use others as objects. That has existed throughout all of history. Indeed, it seems there is less of this currently in the West than previously. Even if that's not true however, it's hardly unique.

    • Are you assuming Cartesian dualism, over and against something like hylemorphic dualism? I don't know what the stance of the OP is, but an Aristotelian understanding would have rationality being the "formal cause", and not really be immaterial, so much as being more than just "atoms in the void". Aristotle was right, by the way: not all physical state is per-atom, per-trajectory:

          Is this difficulty merely a practical one? Yes, if we consider that trajectories have now become uncomputable. But there is more: Probability distribution permits us to incorporate within the framework of the dynamical description the complex microstructure of the phase space. It therefore contains additional information that is lacking at the level of individual trajectories. As we shall see in Chapter 4, this has fundamental consequences. At the level of distribution functions ρ, we obtain a new dynamical description that permits us to predict the future evolution of the ensemble, including characteristic time scales. (The End of Certainty, 37)

      Now, there's absolutely no reason this will be the final description of reality; Ilya Prigogine would probably be the last person to utter such hubris. But that means that the material description offered here is but an approximation of something not-this-description. That is, there is a 'residual' which is not well-modeled by the model. And so if we rigorously define 'material' as "what is currently modeled by physics", then there will be something 'immaterial' left over.

      One way to understand humans as beings with finite actuality but infinite potentiality, such that God can always actualize more potentiality. Perhaps this means that as soon as we understand ourselves pretty well on one level, God can build yet another level into us (see: theosis). If this were the case, a grievous error would be to say that some particular characterization, at some particular level, is "all that there is". Your point about how one can damage minds by damaging what physics currently [rigorously] calls "matter–energy" is perfectly consonant with this understanding.

      • I can't claim to understand hylomorphic dualism, nor Cartesian really. Presumably the writer is advancing the latter, since he is a Catholic and that seems to be the popular view. However again I'm not sure what this entails. I'm afraid I also don't really understand what you're saying.

        • Suppose I'm a nineteenth century physicist and I say, "everything is made of matter". Am I right, or wrong? The quantum revolution would say: wrong. Now suppose I adapt, become an early twentieth century physicist, and say, "everything is made of matter and/or energy". Am I right, or wrong? Now iterate. What's the "limit" of that sequence?

          The Christian, I claim, is fully justified in asking whether scientific models of reality get some stuff right, but other things wrong. And if some person comes along and says that his/her model captures everything true about reality, the Christian (and really, everyone) has a right to be extremely skeptical.

          Now, one way to avoid this skepticism is to be really vague on what is meant by "matter". Maybe instead, we could simply talk about "body" or "physical". But the result of that line of thought is to render the terms meaningless. That is, they do not rule out any possible phenomena I could experience. They do express a different underlying ontology, but then it's two people telling two different stories about the same thing they see with their eyes and touch with their hands. There's no reason to prefer one over the other. And if the materialist/​physicalist says that "science" is the reason to prefer one over the other, that's a bait-and-switch, because "science" only works when you have rigorous definitions, not vague ones.

          This is all nicely summed up with the following picture:
          https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/6f57cbc693ff072daf4f5b8cc6e60be3685b34264068dcbd2305275b08b65fc0.jpg

          • I see what you mean. Of course it's true, our knowledge does progress and strict models are probably a bad idea since they're likely to be wholly or partially disproven in time. I guess my point is directed toward someone who says that the mind and brain (whatever they turn out to be made out of) are wholly different in some sense. That does not seem to be the case, otherwise it it difficult to see why this would happen (brain damage affecting mental functions).

          • Of course it's true, our knowledge does progress and strict models are probably a bad idea since they're likely to be wholly or partially disproven in time.

            So, strict models can be quite helpful in science. It's just that one must be careful extrapolating from those strict models to metaphysics. The very strictness, the very excluding of the grittiness of reality and retreating to a pristine system, gives you power while simultaneously distancing you from full, complete reality.

            It's like we just aren't very good at thinking about wholes, about all of reality, where the simplifications made by science are actively damaging. Iain McGilchrist makes this point in The Master and His Emissary: we in the West have prioritized the analytical, context-forgetting left brain over the holistic, context-sensitive right-brain. Perhaps [on average] theists tend to be more attuned to holistic matters, and atheists more attuned to analytical matters?

            The point I really want to drive home is that if the materialist appeals to the success of science in order to support his/her materialism, [s]he has an intellectual duty to define 'materialism' such that it actually matches what enabled said success of science. If you withdraw from the specificity of the current conceptions used in science, so as to avoid potential problems with your definition, you weaken your claim to the success of science supporting your philosophy.

          • Yes, that makes sense.

            It could be, on average. What would be a good example of holism so I'm clear?

            I once identified as a materialist. On further reading, it became clear there were serious scientific and philosophical objections which made that a position I wasn't sure of. One is that "matter" (and energy) is far too simplistic a description. It now seems to me that making strict metaphysical conclusions is a bad idea, so I'd tentatively be a pluralist or neutral monist if forced to give a label.

          • What would be a good example of holism so I'm clear?

            My excerpt of Ilya Prigogine's The End of Certainty is an example of holism. There is state in the system which is not true of one individual or another individual, but all of the individuals at once. Alternatively: if I tell you the position and velocity of each individual particle with maximum physically obtainable accuracy, I will not have told you everything I can about the state of the system. There will be additional state, which Prigogine calls "the complex microstructure of the phase space".

            I would have to look around for a better example—I admit the above is awfully abstract. There's some scientific work I'm aware of which may be an instance of this, but I need to talk to a particular scientist first, to see if my intuitions are correct. It would be a really cool instance where if you try and calculate individual-by-individual, you cannot extract as much information about a system as if you calculate with them as a whole, simultaneously. The problem is that such 'simultaneous' computation is extraordinarily expensive. There is a hint that we humans are really bad at thinking in this domain, and our current technology may be actively harming us, by coercing us into solving problems its way.

            It now seems to me that making strict metaphysical conclusions is a bad idea, so I'd tentatively be a pluralist or neutral monist if forced to give a label.

            I think there is reason to question monism, although I need to do a lot more research and discussion in this area. That reason comes from quantum physicist-turned-philosopher Bernard d'Espagnat. I don't know if you'll be able to make much of his stuff, but here's an excerpt from an earlier book:

                Things being so, the solution put forward here is that of far and even nonphysical realism, a thesis according to which Being—the intrinsic reality—still remains the ultimate explanation of the existence of regularities within the observed phenomena, but in which the "elements" of the reality in question can be related neither to notions borrowed from everyday life (such as the idea of "horse," the idea of "small body," the idea of "father," or the idea of "life") nor to localized mathematical entities. It is not claimed that the thesis thus summarized has any scientific usefulness whatsoever. Quite the contrary, it is surmised, as we have seen, that a consequence of the very nature of science is that its domain is limited to empirical reality. Thus the thesis in question merely aims—but that object is quite important—at forming an explicit explanation of the very existence of the regularities observed in ordinary life and so well summarized by science. (In Search of Reality, 167)

            And then there's pp410–411 of his later, more systematic work, On Physics and Philosophy. d'Espagnat makes a huge deal about there being two very distinct 'levels' of reality: appearance and being. Or to use the terms above, 'empirical reality' and 'intrinsic reality'. Maybe all this doesn't threaten monism, but I have a sneaking suspicion that it is. One benefit is that d'Espagnat explicitly tries to integrate twentieth century results from quantum physics into his philosophy—something many philosophers have not done, and may continue not to do.

          • Perhaps an example would be taking the body as a whole, rather than simply its individual organs?

            I can see what he means. Intrinsic reality may be something we never fully understand, who knows. I'd say I lean more towards pluralism at this point, only because it seems things are more complex than dualism or materialism.

          • Perhaps an example would be taking the body as a whole, rather than simply its individual organs?

            That may be; Western medicine tends to divide the human body into rather isolated bits and pieces, mirroring the division of labor which is constitutive of modernity. A close friend has had to become his own [informal] doctor because of this separation of concerns. (He's faculty at a top US research institution, so he can actually do that.) He has contributed to an advance in the understanding of his rare genetic disorder as a result! I'm not quite sure whether this is formally 'holism', but you could be on to something.

            Intrinsic reality may be something we never fully understand, who knows.

            Agreed. What I find fascinating is the structural similarity between d'Espagnat's work and the essence–energies distinction, which is more emphasized in Eastern Orthodox theology. God is always infinitely more complex than we can understand (this is not contradictory with divine simplicity). I have no doubt that if we strive toward justice, righteousness, and holiness—socially and individually—we can increase our ability to comprehend more about God, without bound. Sadly, as things are, few people seem to even have the conceptual framework to allow that as a robust possibility. :-(

          • I wasn't thinking about medicine specifically, but maybe so.

            No doubt I fall into that category, since many of these concepts are still mostly unknown or difficult to understand. Then again, I'm not sure how much they affect ordinary Christians (not that this makes them wrong).

          • These issues may seem esoteric, but they actually matter if you know where to look. For example, my friend would probably be dead if he didn't realize that modern medicine has tremendous blind spots, if he didn't take it upon himself to do the work which the institution of modern medicine is constitutionally unable to even see as important. One sad property of modernity is that it tends to just ignore little bits here and there which don't fit. This is one reason postmodernism arose—to give voice to the Other. I'm not sure it has succeeded all that well.

            Other than extreme cases, I think that understanding just how these matters affect "ordinary Christians" depends on how deeply you want to dig into reality. Take, for example, the extraordinary busyness which seems to characterize modern life. People's schedules are packed solid. At least, this is how things are in San Francisco and how they were in Boston. One thing this does is make it very hard to have proper Sabbath-time, noting that Romans 14:1–9 frees one to take Sabbath-time either all in one lump sum or distributed throughout the week. When one does not take Sabbath-time, I think a very disastrous thing slowly happens to the human person and to society. That disaster is so well-described by Josef Pieper in Leisure: The Basis of Culture that I would need to re-read his book to properly expand on this point.

            The tl;dr is that most people have little to no ability to question the status quo in a way which would truly threaten it, which could possibly push us toward a better state of existence. And yet, I think Christians as a body (not every single one) are called to do precisely this questioning. That's the thesis of Peter Berger inThe Precarious Vision: A Sociologist Looks at Social Fictions and Christian Faith. Sadly, Christians seem quite incompetent at this. From what I can see, they are subverted by culture much more often than they subvert culture. Jacques Ellul makes that argument in The Subversion of Christianity and I find it hard to fault him on it. But perhaps I under-value what Christianity (and Judaism) has done for civilization? I could see Joshua Berman, Yoram Hazony, Nicholas Wolterstorff, and Dominic Erdozain offering rebuttals.

          • I've had some problems myself, though not as serious. As for postmodernism, at least some appear to have discarded any notion of truth, reason, objective reality or science, which is a cure far worse than any disease they might have been trying to address earlier.

            True, it's interesting to me (though pretty obvious in retrospect) that all ancient philosophers had to be well off so they could have leisure time to simply explore these things without having to worry about fending for themselves. I've also had the same thought in regards to questioning the status quo, or simply with independent thought period. Personally I've had some luxury in that regard.

            It also seems to be me that groups can affect us negatively in that way, as we can become more concerning with maintaining good relations than finding truths which they might dislike. As you no doubt know, Christianity (and religion) get a poor rap in this regard, but I know firsthand it can affect secular groups too (no doubt in much the same way). It seems to be the tribalism at our core.

            The atheist groups I've been part of were so aligned in their opinions about everything it unsettled me. I don't agree with Chesterton on much, but he did make some comment that a freethinker is supposed to mean someone who thought for himself, but in practice it means someone who comes to the exact same opinion as the other so-called freethinkers. It's unfortunately true, to a great extent.

          • Ok, you got me excited, so you get a long comment with several excerpts. Please don't feel any obligation to reply or read it all. :-|

            It seems to be tribalism at our core.

            Well, that certainly seems to be a much better foundational understanding of humans than some sort of radical individualism. (Hume knew this, over against the social contract theories of Hobbes and Locke.) A result of this, by the way, is that any human science built too much on rational choice theory is going to terribly distort one's understanding of humans and humans in society.

            One thing I'd like to do is understand tribalism better, and then read through the Bible with an eye as to what is being said about tribalism. The general pattern I see is an attempt to tie together Israel as a self-reliant tribe (well, reliant on God!), refusing to allow foreign kings (Deut 17:14–20), and with remarkable internal justice. A Marxist reading (which John Milbank gave some credibility) piqued my interest:

            What other instances do we possess from the ancient Near East of the underclasses from a feudal society overthrowing their lords and living in an egalitarian social system over a wide area of formerly feudalized land for two centuries before becoming a monarchy? I am aware of none. Other "new societies" in the ancient Near East took over the existing state apparatuses and controlled them via a change of personnel, often with modifications form; or else, arising in periods of indigenous political decline or exhaustion, these "new societies" developed state apparatuses of their own in all essentials as centralized and hierarchic as those of their predecessors. To be sure, elsewhere in the ancient Near East we know of religious innovations (such as Atonism in Egypt)[521] and of social reforms (introduced, undoubtedly because of pressures from below, by kings such as Urukagina of Lagash in early Mesopotamia),[522] as well as of periodic release from debts by royal decree (in early Mesopotamia)[523] but none of these can be discerned as a direct movement from the underclasses that broke through the existing state structure and social stratification in order to create a comprehensive alternatively structured, sovereign community. (The Tribes of Yahweh, 539)

            As Israel progresses through time, it seems to start envisioning a world which is distinctly non-tribal. We see this in some of the prophets. St. Paul sees Jesus as fulfilling this vision:

            For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles—assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God's grace that was given to me for you, how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. (Ephesians 3:1–6)

            To those of us in the West, this seems like old hat. However, I am led to believe that this was absolutely revolutionary. This wasn't an innovation in science; it didn't give us antibiotics or refrigeration. It gave us something more amazing, something we may be in danger of losing:

                The possibilities [for grounding equal worth] are frighteningly innumerable. My point is that you need some metaphysical explanation to ground the doctrine of equal worth, if it is to serve as the basis for equal human rights. It is not enough simply to assert, as philosophers like Dworkin do, that their egalitarian doctrines are "metaphysically unambiguous." But, of course, there are severe epistemological difficulties with the kinds of metaphysical systems I have been discussing. My point has not been to defend religion. For purposes of this paper I am neutral on the question of whether any religion is true. Rather my purpose is to show that we cannot burn our bridges and still drive Mack trucks over them. But, if we cannot return to religion, then it would seem perhaps we should abandon egalitarianism and devise political philosophies that reflect naturalistic assumptions, theories which are forthright in viewing humans as differentially talented animals who must get on together. (Equality: Selected Readings, 296)

            Without something like my bit on poiēma, where we expect awesomeness out of every human, such that we are diminished if we suppress or fail to enable any human to flourish—without that, I see nothing but darkness for the future of humanity. We are already deeply into an ideology where the elite few have the only appreciable power to shape public reality. The masses can have opinions, but these opinions are manipulated and managed. The masses are kept docile, such that they cannot appreciably alter the status quo. (The 2016 US Presidential election is a failure in this regard.) From a member of the Troika: "Elections cannot be allowed to change the economic policies of any country." (Yanis Varoufakis and Noam Chomsky @ NYPL, 1:20:05) Note: any attempt to blame "the leaders" for the present situation merely plays into this ideology. It'd be children—or even infants—crying that their parents were mean.

          • I have a certain sympathy for social contract theory, but yes, radical individualism is not plausible to me.

            I don't know much about that period of history, but it sounds interesting. To be honest, what we have now (in that elite ideology you mentioned) just seems like the same old. It is egalitarianism that is the exception. Fairly recent too, at least if we mean political and social.

          • I guess my point is directed toward someone who says that the mind and brain (whatever they turn out to be made out of) are wholly different in some sense. That does not seem to be the case, otherwise it it difficult to see why this would happen (brain damage affecting mental functions).

            On a theological basis, I would characterize Cartesian dualism as Gnostic heresy. If you look at works by Enlightenment philosophers, you'll see that the mind is the source of rationality and the body the source of irrationality. The mind, therefore, must dominate and control the body. This terrible tendency has not gone away. What's scary is if we learn to suppress the body's revolt with more and more medications.

            But perhaps what you're really getting at is the idea of the soul surviving death? If so, I'll simply point out that our best understanding of physics has information never being destroyed, so the definition of 'you' doesn't get smooshed. It will get spread out into entropy bits, but it can be recovered. :-)

          • I guess that makes sense in terms of Gnosticism (though I'm no expert on it). As to the Enlightenment, I think it was much more diverse than that. I think this goes earlier than the Enlightenment as well. Didn't Aristotle see the mind as the seat of reason, while the body had appetites that were irrational? This is familiar from what many Christians seem to think as well. For you then are mind and body identical, or what? How do you see this mind over body view causing medical problems?

            I was not clear on how the soul ever survives death under this hylomorphic view, no. Are you saying the "I" is therefore simply information? Going by the link you posted, I don't see anything about personal identity enduring. What makes us up may well endure in another form, but that isn't the same.

          • Didn't Aristotle see the mind as the seat of reason, while the body had appetites that were irrational?

            According to this random website, Aristotle actually "saw the heart as the seat of thought and reason". According to the same site, the appetites aren't necessarily irrational; instead they are short-term. Reason must balance them out, lest we do stupid things like glorify high frequency trading. In Whose Justice? Which Rationality?, Alasdair MacIntyre has a great discussion on the Greek's understanding of psychology as very different from the reason/​emotion dichotomy we moderns inherited. He does this by looking at multiple translations of a section in Homer's poetry through the ages. So, I will be quite nervous in saying too much of how Aristotle thought without having properly studied him with appropriate notes!

            For you then are mind and body identical, or what? How do you see this mind over body view causing medical problems?

            That's a big question. For brevity's sake, I think I'll punt to Liah Greenfeld's Mind, Modernity, Madness, in which she argues that society can play a key causal role in activating mental illness. It's not that there aren't biochemical causes, but there can also be causes which are much more 'mental'. My understanding, from Greenfeld and Nancy Murphey, is that this kind of proposition has been quite contentious in psychology for multiple decades. Mind and body are deeply intertwined, and there's a tremendous amount we know so little about.

            Are you saying the "I" is therefore simply information?

            No, but I think it's plausible enough on a monist view that information is all that exists (see the holographic principle), and so it's more that the monist's own resources for defining personal identity guarantee that personal identity is never erased. See also the end of this comment.

          • Okay, thank you. I certainly agree there is a massive flaw in the reason/emotion dichotomy. To use another science fiction idea, that's what bugged me about Star Trek's Vulcans. Being without emotions would not make you purely logical. It would give you no reason for making use of logic, or anything else, if there are no desires (which come from emotions).

            Well that I can see being an effect on mental illness, at least to some degree. I wonder how much our current mental illnesses existed in the past, though it would be hard to find out before there were records of them or even such concepts.

            Hmm, so in what way do you think personal identity would remain on this view?

          • Hahahaha, yes! As much as I liked Spock, that was a glaring hole. But one way to expose a position to critique is to take it as seriously as possible, and show how it has flaws. I think Star Trek has done a reasonably good job of that. I can kind of forgive it for failing to deal with the original motivational complex, because modern philosophy itself can't deal with it. At best, we're operating on vestiges of the great Christian myths, as one finds documented by Carl L. Becker in The Heavenly City of the Eighteenth-Century Philosophers and Dominic Erdozain's The Soul of Doubt. Humans cannot survive without teleology, and yet we now deny teleology any reality. Without some renewed vision of much better reality than on offer by anyone other than perhaps the transhumanists, I don't see how we're going to solve the current problems facing the US, the UK, and the world. What's on offer now seems pretty pathetic:

                Avoiding the worst, rather than achieving the best, is the great goal of the moderns, even if we have done a very good job of gilding our gloom with all manner of ornament to avoid becoming jaded by a way of life directed most fundamentally to the avoidance of death. We have gilded it, above all, with the language of progress and hope, when in fact no human way of life has ever been more profoundly motivated by fear than our modern science-driven way. Our unique answer to fear, however, is not courage but techne, which is much less demanding. And so our fear does not debilitate us, but rather it moves us to act, and especially to pursue scientific discovery and technological advancement. (Imagining the Future, 11–12)

            Hmm, so in what way do you think personal identity would remain on this view?

            If we pretend for a moment that current quantum physics describes reality as it is, then human identity rests on a substrate which never creates or destroys information. The timelessness here is actually rather odd (Sean Carroll wrote a whole book on the matter: From Eternity to Here), but I think we can allow it for the time being. (pun intended) The fact that current physics has all time-evolution of state being unitary means it is perfectly time-reversible. You cannot lose the bits which define a particular person—unless the current formulations of quantum physics are deeply wrong in some very interesting ways.

            But... I'm not sure what else this says about human identity. I guess it really matches something like Plato's eternal soul than Christianity's point-in-time creation. It might even better match an Eastern philosophy where the individual is but a transitory node of stability, although that view presumes no outside being who can act on reality (this outside being is presupposed by the first answer to the Physics.SE question Why is information indestructable? I linked earlier).

            A properly Christian view would require different models of physics, models which could allow for a true history to take place. That physics could still allow for eternal life, but it would also grant time ontological status. I'm pretty confident that current physics would be found to be an approximation of that physics, just like F = ma is an approximation of general relativity.

          • Oh, so you think it was a reduction ad absurdum (or attempt at it)? Perhaps so, given how they treat Spock then on the original show. I thought at first it might be inspired by Stoicism, but after learning about that, it's a strawman version at best. I'm not sure what the inspiration is.

            Do you think theism is required for teleology? I've asked this elsewhere, and the consensus is yes. As with other things, I'm not sure I really understand teleology enough to comment here reasonably either way.

            So perhaps it's more like reincarnation. Interestingly, I had this thought that even assuming matter is all that exists, we still go on. The particles that make us up just take new forms even as our current form vanishes. Not really so different.

          • Oh, so you think it was a reduction ad absurdum (or attempt at it)?

            Kinda-sorta. If I understand correctly, the 1960s were an era obsessed with machines and how they would save mankind. Computers would be able to do anything. Humans would soon become obsolete. Logic was always better than emotion. (Hippies are excluded or horribly caricatured; remember The Way to Eden?) And so, we have episodes like Court Martial, where the integrity of Kirk's character is pitted against the integrity of Enterprise's computer. It's not that Spock's logic is always wrong—sometimes it's just the ticket. It's almost as if the script writers are saying that the ideal person would be some sort of combination of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy.

            Do you think theism is required for teleology?

            I don't see how teleology could exist at an ontological level without our reality being designed that way; it doesn't make any sense to me that random processes could result in such a thing. Now, an alternative is that humans construct teleology; one might actually be able to make an argument for this based on Egyptian religious rituals, as documented by John H. Walton in Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament: Introducing the Conceptual World of the Hebrew Bible. They apparently had rituals to sort of re-establish the world order (and social order—the two were inseparable in the ANE), over and against impending chaos. But I'm deeply skeptical that such a process could work. On a fundamentally impersonal understanding of reality, it seems to me that any constructed teleology would be fake, weak, and unstable.

            There is an interesting way to understand God when he decides to abandon Israel, a pattern which one can also find in the NT: 2 Thess 2:1–12. The general idea seems to be that humans think they can hold together social order without God, and indeed don't want to hear anything more from God. Maybe he wants ever-increasing righteousness, justice, and excellence from humans and at some level of achievement, they tell him to take a hike. Well, maybe God finally does take a hike, and stops acting to maintain and grow the social order. It seems that the inevitable result is that social order turns perverse, decays, and finally fails in one way or another. (For example, Israel gets so weak it can be conquered and taken off into captivity.) Maybe this understanding of the Bible is wrong—it's largely one I've developed myself, and I cannot really point to anyone who has said anything similar, with the partial exception of Jacques Ellul in Hope in Time of Abandonment.

            So perhaps it's more like reincarnation.

            If one works with timeless equations of state-change, perhaps! I don't know a whole lot about the history of thought on reincarnation, but it does seem to accompany conceptions of the world which are fundamentally timeless or cyclical (which may amount to the same thing, or very similar things).

          • I guess that explains Kirk talking computers/robots to death so much, or the machine "gods". On the other hand you'd think they'd be more favorable to hippies in comparison. Maybe they thought both were bad extremes. You're probably right, they worked well as a team.

            Interesting thoughts. Mostly so far I've only heard of teleology in terms of things like natural law theory. I'll have to learn more.

            That could be the message they meant there. It certainly does appear plausible. At the very least, them not listening to God is clearly viewed as a precursor to bad things.

            Yes, they do appear to be the same on a larger scale. Not just the individual is born, lives and dies forever, but so does the universe itself in Hindu thought as I understand it (unless an individual is enlightened enough to transcend).

          • To be pessimistic for a moment, sometimes I worry that many traditional resources on teleology are meant to legitimize the status quo. My own interpretation is that reality is infinitely complex and God has endless wonders for us to explore, if only we'll constantly pursue increased justice, righteousness, goodness, beauty, and excellence. Think of it as a value-laden science: if you're a dick to your neighbor or your enemy, your ability to do that science is diminished. If you think you're better than other people, your ability is diminished. If you think your race is better than others, diminishment.

          • Not to sound Marxist, but I think our ideologies in general either serve (or are made amenable with) the status quo. I definitely agree with the rest from a secular view, whether or not you feel that's tenable.

          • Doug Shaver

            To use another science fiction exact, that's what bugged me about Star Trek's Vulcans. Being without emotions would not make you purely logical.

            It was never a premise of the series that Vulcans were without emotions.

          • True, but they tried to be.

          • Doug Shaver

            but they tried to be.

            Some of them, perhaps, but it would not have been logical to make such an attempt.

            What we actually saw in the Vulcan characters (and in Data, and to some extent in Odo) was what some human storytellers imagined intelligent beings would act and think like if they were to successfully control their emotions and be guided solely by logic.

          • I agree it isn't logical, but that was the goal of their philosophy. If you remember Star Trek: The Motion Picture, when Spock is first introduced there we see him undergoing a ritual to purge him of all emotions. It doesn't work, but that is the end game.

            Data too is said to lack emotions (until he gets his emotion chip) yet he clearly has them. It's better to say he isn't in touch with his emotions. I agree Odo and most Vulcans would be better described as controlling their emotions, which is much more reasonable. However contradictions exist on this (and other things in the franchise of course).

          • Doug Shaver

            However contradictions exist on this (and other things in the franchise of course).

            But of course. There were contradictions in Conan Doyle's stories about Sherlock Holmes, and he was the only one writing them. I don't know how many writers have been involved in Star Trek, but I'm guessing dozens.

          • Yes, no doubt.

          • David Nickol

            Are you saying that God is not a pure "spirit,"or that angels are not pure "spirits," or that the human soul is not "spiritual" is some way that makes it utterly and completely "other" than the created universe? The word dualist seems to have myriad different meanings, so I am going to avoid it. But it seems to me the entire Christian (or at least Catholic) viewpoint takes as fundamental that "spirit" is utterly different from "matter," and that the material world (universe) was created by God, a "spirit" that is utterly simple with no parts.

            While I doubt that anyone can come up with a definition of material that will satisfy you, and while you seem to be saying it is illegitimate to call oneself a materialist unless one can give an exhaustive definition of material, is it not still possible to say, "I can't give a perfectly satisfying definition of material, but I do know that any definition I would give would absolutely exclude God and angels, particularly because the way theists define them they cannot in any way be material?"

            Also, as Catholics define soul . . . wait! In spite of the way Catholics define soul, the way they speak of it is as a "spirit" that leaves the body at death, goes to heaven, and continues to function as an entity with intellect and will, being purified in purgatory, and once in heaven, hearing prayers and interceding with God on behalf of the living. While the definition may be that the soul is the "form of the body," the role and activity of the soul in the Catholic view is as a separate entity that actively carries on the existence of a person after his or her death.

            I know you are not a Catholic, and I don't know what your beliefs are regarding purgatory, praying to the saints, and intercession by those who have died and been saved. But certainly from the Catholic viewpoint, the immortal soul of a deceased person is far more than "information." It is a functioning person, even if not strictly speaking a human being. (Aquinas said that strictly speaking, Abraham's soul is not Abraham. But in the contemporary Catholic view, Mother Teresa the human being is fully credited with the actions of St. Teresa of Calcutta, a disembodied soul.

          • Are you saying that God is not a pure "spirit,"or that angels are not pure "spirits," or that the human soul is not "spiritual" is some way that makes it utterly and completely "other" than the created universe?

            I hold that God is completely Other, such that one must reject univocity of being. Brad S. Gregory describes some of what this means in his 2008 essay No Room for God?. One result of that is that trying to set up some dichotomy within this reality—e.g. spirit/​matter—is guaranteed to give you a false category for God. Seeing as angels and humans are created beings, they can be described in terms of created stuff.

            Now, with humans in particular, there does seem to need to be some sort of 'interface' between the current, finite created order, and God, who is constantly creating more, and not necessarily in ways which can be predicted from what we currently observe. We are beings who can transcend ourselves, albeit not by pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps. How exactly the interface between creation and grace works is a topic I've only just gotten into, via John Milbank's The Suspended Middle and Steven A. Long's Natura Pura (I've not read much of the latter, yet). The most sciency thing I can compare this to is the growing block universe.

            While I doubt that anyone can come up with a definition of material that will satisfy you, and while you seem to be saying it is illegitimate to call oneself a materialist unless one can give an exhaustive definition of material, is it not still possible to say, "I can't give a perfectly satisfying definition of material, but I do know that any definition I would give would absolutely exclude God and angels, particularly because the way theists define them they cannot in any way be material?"

            This seems like a rather unfair characterization; can you really say it after reading these two comments, which made sense to @mcc1789:disqus? My problem is precisely when the materialist wishes to (i) claim the successes of science supports his/her metaphysics; (ii) say that his/her metaphysics undermines the probability that we can know God exists [in causal contact with reality]. The problem here is that the precision of definition which has helped science and technology be so successful is precisely what gets one in a mess if one tries to generalize from it to "all that exists".

            The way I've questioned rigorous definitions of 'material' is to show that the definition has changed, of the course of modern science. What you'd need to show is that past changes-of-definition and projected changes stay somehow confined, so that there is no danger of God rearing his head. In contrast, suppose that God created an infinitely complex reality which he wanted us to explore and shape, at increasingly levels of complexity with increasing competence (see: theosis). Would such a progression be "evidence that God exists"? You may see a connection between this paragraph and my bit about an 'interface'.

            Also, as Catholics define soul . . . wait! In spite of the way Catholics define soul, the way they speak of it is as a "spirit" that leaves the body at death, goes to heaven, and continues to function as an entity with intellect and will, being purified in purgatory, and once in heaven, hearing prayers and interceding with God on behalf of the living. While the definition may be that the soul is the "form of the body," the role and activity of the soul in the Catholic view is as a separate entity that actively carries on the existence of a person after his or her death.

            This doesn't particularly bother me, because we moderns are already quite happy to think of uploading our consciousnesses to computers. My one objection is that seeing the body as permanently shed is contrary to 1 Cor 15:35–41 and it is easy to veer in that Gnostic direction, but I have no reason to think that official Catholic doctrine has this problem. Popular versions will always have various simplifications which are easy to criticize.

            But certainly from the Catholic viewpoint, the immortal soul of a deceased person is far more than "information."

            Sure; that comment was more for the naturalist/​physicalist/​materialist. I was pretending that matter–energy was the substrate for the soul, and then made quite clear that if this is the case, the 'soul' is never lost, but only spread out into entropy bits. All you need to rescue the 'soul' is a causal power who exists outside of our spacetime continuum. Eternal life is trivial to defend with (i) the laws of physics as currently known; (ii) God existing outside of our spacetime continuum.

  • Donald

    But "Custom is our nature" says Pascal.

    The Guest's actions are not without consequence because they also are "...inflict[ing] deep wounds, and lasting memories of those wounds..." in themselves. If we humans repeatedly perform even the ritual of "killing" or of "raping" or of "playing the piano" or of "baking bread" at some point we become it. That's our peculiar nature observes Blaise Pascal in his Pensées (1670). That's what we are.

    excerpt from article above:
    But we know that the illusion is an illusion. The patrons’ actions are not, as they suspect, without consequence. They are inflicting deep wounds, and lasting memories of those wounds, in their conscious hosts. More than any abstract discussion about sentience or awareness, this point is made in a more visceral, intuitive way.

    • For anyone interested in the importance of ritual (= repeated action) in forming character, I suggest the following:

           • James K. A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom
           • James K. A. Smith, Imagining the Kingdom
           • Christian Smith, Moral, Believing Animals

      James K. A. Smith repeatedly criticizes the Cartesian dualism which underpins the great emphasis so many Christians have on "worldview". It is not that worldview is unimportant, but that it is woefully insufficient for forming character. Oh, and here's how Smith describes Smith:

      If you are a Christian scholar working in the social sciences, Christian Smith’s 2003 book Moral, Believing Animals is probably the most important book you have not read.[9]

  • Peter

    In a hypothetical world like Westworld, electronic brains are physically created in a laboratory. In the real world, biological brains are physically created in the universe. We accept that electronic brains would have to be designed, but many do not accept that biological brains are designed.

    This is because of the timescale. The laboratory process for an electronic brain would be a fraction of a human lifetime, while the evolutionary process for a biological brain extends for millions of years. But that is where the answer lies. Just as the creation of an electronic brain takes up an insignificant portion of the lifetime of its human makers, so too would the creation of a biological brain represent an infinitesimal amount of time to a Creator who is deemed eternal.

    To automatically reject design because of the vast time scale of evolution is not valid. Evolution can no longer be used as an excuse for the absence of design. The processes for developing biological brains and electronic brains are separated by millions of years, but they both represent a small fraction of the existence of their respective creators. And for that reason both are equally plausible.

    • Doug Shaver

      To automatically reject design because of the vast time scale of evolution is not valid.

      I totally agree. Design is not disproved by how much time was required for evolution.

      However, no conclusion is ever proved by showing that a particular argument for it happens to be invalid.

      • Peter

        Just as design cannot be rejected because of the timescale of human evolution involving millions of years, nor can it be rejected because of the timescale of cosmic evolution which covers billions of years.

        If we lived for a trillion years, the universe's timespan of under 14 billion years would represent a small fraction of our existence, less than 1.5 percent. This would correspond to just over one year in a normal lifespan of 80 years.

        If the same clear indicators of design which are built into the universe were present in an event which took a year in our lifetimes, we would be in no doubt that it was designed. Yet, because the event unfolds over a vast timescale relative to ourselves, many either fail to or refuse to accept that conclusion.

        • Doug Shaver

          nor can it be rejected because of the timescale of cosmic evolution which covers billions of years.

          With that, I also agree.

          because the event unfolds over a vast timescale relative to ourselves, many either fail to or refuse to accept that conclusion.

          It is not for that reason that I don't accept it.

          • Peter

            Perhaps you believe in the multiverse hypothesis where, out of countless naturally-occurring universes, ours is one which happens to have a configuration favourable for life.

          • Doug Shaver

            I have no particular hypothesis in mind, and I don't think I need one.

          • Peter

            If you don't believe that the universe is designed, and if you don't necessarily believe in the alternative, that it came about by chance, you must be an agnostic.

          • Doug Shaver

            I don't agree that chance is the only alternative to design.

          • Peter

            There is of course necessity. This means that our universe with its particular configuration is the only possible universe and that other universes with alternative configurations are impossible. Belief that a scientific explanation will eventually be found is preferred to belief in design by an intelligent agent.

            This, in my opinion, is sticking one's head in the sand, particularly in the light of scientific discoveries, all of which point increasingly to design and none of which point away from it.

          • Doug Shaver

            There is of course necessity. This means that our universe with its particular configuration is the only possible universe and that other universes with alternative configurations are impossible.

            I don't think our current knowledge about the universe warrants any belief one way or the other about other possibilities.

            . . . scientific discoveries, all of which point increasingly to design

            Many people believe that. I can disagree with them without insulting either their intelligence or their intellectual integrity, notwithstanding how easily I could if I were so inclined.

          • Peter

            Admittedly, up to now, the onus has been on individuals to demonstrate that the universe is designed. However, progressive discoveries are taking us to the point where the onus will be on individuals to demonstrate that it isn't.

          • Doug Shaver

            However, progressive discoveries are taking us to the point where the onus will be on individuals to demonstrate that it isn't.

            That's what some people are saying, but they're mostly non-scientists, as far as I can tell. I'm not hearing it from any substantial portion of the scientific community.

          • Peter

            Scientists only make the findings and these are for all to see. They do not have a monopoly on identifying design. The recognition of design from those findings is no less valid when it comes from non-scientists.

            Of course you have those who call themselves scientists, who discover nothing but regurgitate the discoveries of others in a manner which aims to refute God. These are scientific writers with an atheist agenda, not to be confused with genuine scientists.

            If you want a response from a genuine scientist, and an avowed atheist with no theistic axe to grind, look no further than Fred Hoyle. He said that the universe is "a put-up job" and that it was as if "a super-intellect has monkeyed with the physics".

          • Doug Shaver

            They do not have a monopoly on identifying design.

            Quite so. Theists have that monopoly.

          • Peter

            The recognition of design in the universe involves acknowledging the work of a super-intellect. In that sense, anyone who recognises design cannot avoid being a de facto theist or at least a deist.

            Perhaps that is why there is so much resistance among sceptics to the growing evidence for design. So dogmatically hardened are they to the notion of theism or deism, that no amount of evidence will sway them.

          • Doug Shaver

            The recognition of design in the universe involves acknowledging the work of a super-intellect.

            Referring to it as "recognition" assumes your conclusion. It makes no sense to talk of recognizing any X if that X does not exist.

            Perhaps that is why there is so much resistance among sceptics to the growing evidence for design. So dogmatically hardened are they to the notion of theism or deism, that no amount of evidence will sway them.

            The is one possibility. Another possibility is that theists are so dogmatically committed to God's existence that they will see evidence for it wherever they decide to look.

          • Peter

            It is true that committed theists will see design in the world because they presuppose a designer. But it is a big mistake to attribute the recognition of design solely to the dogmatic presupposition a designer, one too commonly made.

            Fred Hoyle was not a dogmatic theist yet he recognised design in the universe and was unafraid to say so. I guess that would make him a de facto deist. Anthony Flew was by no means a dogmatic theist yet he too recognised design in the world. He even abandoned his atheism to become a deist.

          • Doug Shaver

            But it is a big mistake to attribute the recognition of design solely to the dogmatic presupposition a designer

            Maybe so. I say it is just as big a mistake to attribute failure to see design solely to a dogmatic commitment to atheism.

          • Peter

            I gave striking examples to back up my claim. Where are yours?

          • Doug Shaver

            I gave striking examples to back up my claim. Where are yours?

            Your examples showed that it was not impossible for someone to perceive design without a prior commitment to dogmatic theism. But I never affirmed the impossibility, and so you have proved something that I have not denied.

            Many atheists used to be theists, and when they were theists, they presumably perceived design. At some point in their doxastic evolution, (a) they stopped believing in God and (b) they stopped perceiving design. I am aware of no surveys of their personal histories that could justify a claim that invariably, or even in the typical case, either (a) caused (b) or (b) caused (a). Since I make neither claim, I need to prove neither one.

          • Peter

            I agree. You did not claim that ceasing to presuppose a designer led to no longer recognising design, nor did you claim that ceasing to recognise design led to no longer presupposing a designer. But I don't see how those are relevant in this specific context.

            Instead, you claimed that failure to recognise design is not limited to dogmatic atheists. Yet you have not given examples of individuals who are not dogmatic atheists and who fail to recognise design in the universe. If you cannot give examples, it is difficult to see how your claim can hold.

          • Doug Shaver

            Yet you have not given examples of individuals who are not dogmatic atheists and who fail to recognise design in the universe.

            I told you where they could be found. I cannot identify them by name because I have not looked for them, and I have not looked for them because their existence is irrelevant to the question of whether a reasonable person can fail to perceive design.

          • Peter

            Theists who embrace atheism are by their very nature dogmatic atheists. Unlike those who gravitate towards a passive agnosticism, unsure or even uncaring whether God exists, they wilfully and actively assume the position of an atheist and declare a firm absence of belief that He does.

            The dogged maintenance of an unwavering absence of belief that God exists can only be described as dogmatic, particularly in the face of progressive discoveries which question its validity. Either one has an unwavering absence of belief or one does not. If not, they are agnostic; if so they are atheist and dogmatic.

          • Doug Shaver

            Theists who embrace atheism are by their very nature dogmatic atheists.

            That is not consistent with what I have observed about them.

          • Doug Shaver

            On this topic, I am agnostic in the sense that I make no claim to know the answer.

  • neil_pogi

    quote: 'what is human consciousness? ' -- i am thinking on how the universe was created without a 'conscious' entity or agent...

    • Doug Shaver

      i am thinking on how the universe was created without a 'conscious' entity or agent...

      I don't know anybody who thinks it was.

      • neil_pogi

        speaking of 'consciousness', in our daily experiences, only 'unconscious' entity or agent/s can not create things in an orderly fashion. if one needs to create an orderly fashion, that entity or agent must possess intelligence. .. it must be a living entity or agent.

        • Doug Shaver

          My daily experiences seem to have taught me a few things that other people's daily experiences haven't taught them.

          • neil_pogi

            have you even ask a rock if it is a conscious entity? in our everyday experiences, a rock is not conscious, lifeless (and according to atheistic mythology, a rock, after billion of years, will evolve into living matter!!).. and no tendency whatsoever to become alive (note: only living agent or entity is able to create a 'something' out of 'nothing'.. here again i got nonsense comment or answer from an ardent atheist.

            tell me if a non-concious entity/agent is able to create things (like the universe) with laws and intelligent humans..

          • Doug Shaver

            according to atheistic mythology, a rock, after billion of years, will evolve into living matter!!

            You continue to exhibit a remarkable degree of ignorance about atheism. In itself, that is nothing to be ashamed of. However, your obdurate refusal to correct that ignorance is another matter.

          • neil_pogi

            because atheism is about the belief that there is no god or gods. so i am trying to ask an atheist like you on what grounds the universe's created? was the universe just popped out of nothing? or someone who did or created it? in atheists' position, the universe created itself.. now i am asking you if an 'unconscious' entity or agent can do that? and now i am getting a message like an 'ad hom' attack (ignorance).. ''in our daily experiences'' we don't observe a lifeless, unconscius entity or agent creating a something. that's a fact! again, atheism is already 'dead in the water'

          • Doug Shaver

            atheism is about the belief that there is no god or gods.

            Yes, and that is all that it's about.

            so i am trying to ask an atheist like you on what grounds the universe's created?

            I don't believe the universe was created. Your question is therefore irrelevant.

            in atheists' position, the universe created itself..

            No, that is not the atheists' position.

            now i am getting a message like an 'ad hom' attack (ignorance).

            You are not getting any ad hominem arguments from me. If you were, I would be claiming that your arguments are invalid because of your personal shortcomings, but I am not claiming that. You are not making any arguments for me to address. You are making untrue statements about atheism because you know nothing about atheism, and the word for knowing nothing is ignorance.

          • neil_pogi

            quote: '' You are not making any arguments for me to address. You are making untrue statements about atheism because you know nothing about atheism, and the word for knowing nothing is ignorance.'' -- here you are, making a fool out of me again!

            quote: 'No, that is not the atheists' position.' --ok if my claim is wrong, then maybe 'we don't know' that's your latest belief.

            quote: 'I don't believe the universe was created. Your question is therefore irrelevant.' -- and what made it irrelevant? you didn't provide explanation. if the universe is not created, then how it is created? did it create itself? did the infinitely small dot did it? how?

            i never misrepresents atheism.. i just read atheistic belief systems

          • Doug Shaver

            i just read atheistic belief systems

            I'll believe that when I see some quotations.

          • neil_pogi

            do the google thing mr Doug

          • Doug Shaver

            Finding something on Google won't tell me that you have read it.

            [Edited for typo.]

          • neil_pogi

            just do it..

          • Doug Shaver

            Do what you say just because you say it? I don't think so.

  • Fixed! You had two curly quotes () instead of straight quotes ("). HTML requires straight quotes—single or double (in matched sets).

  • neil_pogi

    http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-37713629

    Hawking issues warnings that AI will someday rule the world...
    and AI will tell the world that they are not created by humans, they self-created themselves!

  • @bvogt1:disqus: The absolutely obnoxious pop-up to get "Your FREE eBook!" subtitled "We have over 500+ posts at Strange Notions. / Get the top 10 all in one PDF..." can no longer be dismissed via clicking outside the pop-up (in the translucent area), nor via the escape key, using Google Chrome 54.0.2840.99 m on Windows 10. I was able to remove it via Chrome's developer tools, but very few people will have that ability.

    First, I suggest just removing the pop-up. It makes for a terrible user experience. But if you refuse to do that, fix it. Otherwise you will quickly lose patrons, because they will be unable to read your site without either filling in the pop-up (actually, I don't know if this would work), or constantly refreshing to temporarily get rid of it.

    • Alexandra

      That's unfortunate. Just to provide more information for Brandon, it doesn't appear for me. I'm not having issues with it.
      I'm using Silk.

      • Doug Shaver

        I see it on occasion, and it's a minor irritation, but I have no problem making it go away. I'm using Chrome. (I did download the collection, by the way, just out of curiosity as to what Brandon considers the best essays that have been published here.)

        Update, 3 weeks later . . . . It is no longer just a minor irritation. A few minutes, ago, after composing a comment in another thread, the pop-up appeared as I was about to click the Post button, and I could not make it go away. I could not do anything except close the browser, thus losing everything I had written.

    • It happened again, when accessing this SN article. (I'm not sure if the specific article matters.)

  • neil_pogi

    i just discovered the 'philosophical landscape' or the 'scientific knowledge' of modern atheists and evolutionists on the issues/topics with the origins of life.. that the version of modern atheistic explanations about the origins of life and everything can be found in the ancient texts of sumerians and other antiquities.. to quote:

    Section Three: Creation, Evolution, and Death

    Chapter 8: Biblical Creationism and Ancient Near Eastern Evolutionary Ideas. We can perhaps begin this section by quoting Angel Rodríguez’ excellent suggestion that ought to be heeded by all professing Christians, and especially those who attempt to accommodate Genesis 1-3 to millions/billions of years and other secular theories of origins:

    ...the biblical text is to be used as a hermeneutical tool to evaluate and deconstruct contemporary scientific and evolutionary theories and speculations related to cosmogony and anthropogony (p. 328).

    Author Rodríguez provides us with a fantastic 35 page expose’ on ancient philosophies about the origin of the cosmos and mankind. Not surprisingly, we find that there is indeed "nothing new under the sun" when it comes to humanity’s propensity to explain away Yahweh as Creator and Sustainer of the universe. The material found in this chapter opens the reader to a whole world of connections between the creation myths of (Ancient Near Eastern)ANE literature and the prevailing modern day creation myth, macroevolution. Much of this material was new to me, and I found it to be enlightening.

    We tend to think of modern day evolutionary theory as the product of a more sophisticated age, where man has moved past the myths of the ancient past and has now achieved true knowledge through scientific inquiry. While this may be true with respect to technological and medical developments that flow from classic, empirical scientific methodology, it is not the case when it comes to cosmic and human origins. What may surprise many readers is that many of the same basic ideas of today can actually be found in ANE literature, even though their expression today is more complex and sophisticated (p. 294).

    The origin of life is of prime interest to the modern day evolutionary scientist. The ancients also grappled with the same basic questions of origins. For many of the ANE cosmogonies, the question centered on the origin of the gods (theogony), and how they came into being. Since the gods were part and parcel of the universe itself, they also had to move from non-existence to existence, like the rest of the universe did. In Egypt, for example, Atum the creator-god sprang into existence out of nothing, from an "egg within the waters of non-existence," (pp. 297-298). Conversely, the biblical account stands alone in comparison to all the ANE literature. Yahweh is not self-created, rather, He is eternally self-existent (p. 313). This once again illustrates that the connections between ANE literature and the Bible are primarily superficial.

    According to this particular Egyptian theology of Atum, life came from nothing, a self-causality or spontaneous generation that mirrors modern evolutionary theories on the origin of life (p. 316). The same can be said of Sumerian and Akkadian texts as well (p. 299). From the spontaneously generated Atum, the entire diversity of life in the world descended (p. 301). This is strikingly similar to the imaginary single-celled organism that accidentally formed in the primordial ooze some 15 billion years ago.17 In addition to this, Rodríguez notes that the ancients made observations in nature, and then extrapolated them backwards and forwards in time into cosmogonic speculations. Modern day scientists do exactly the same thing with uniformitarian assumptions in biology, geology and cosmology (pp. 306-307).

    Natural evil is embedded into all ANE cosmogonies, as it is in all forms of modern evolutionary theory, and in all attempts to massage the Bible into notions of deep time that entail death and decay in creation before Adam’s fall. The struggle for life and the ever present specter of death is normative, not intrusive. Like modern evolutionary thought, death and deep time are presented as the creator(s) of life (p. 314, 318). The antithesis of these constructs is only found in the Bible, whereby the eternally self-existent One, Yahweh, creates new life by divine fiat, then upholds, perpetuates, and sustains life through the medium of procreation (p. 318).

    Amazingly, some of these ancient texts contain the expression, "millions of years," in reference to the "time of the origin of the creator-god to the end of all things" (p. 304). The Egyptian Book of the Dead presents a dark, apocalyptic disaster for the universe, millions of years in the future. Rodríguez notes that the Egyptians thought the cosmos would return to its chaotic, watery darkness, very much akin to present day cosmological predictions about the evitable doom of a big crunch (p. 305). This bleak picture of the future resembles the American fascination with apocalypticism in general, most notably found in Hollywood movies.

    Even more interesting are the similarities between some ANE myths dealing with the origin of man, and modern scientific claims about so-called "ape-men," and human origins in general. Rodríguez documents Sumerian texts that present early humans as eating only grass, as animal like in their behavior, as ignorant of agriculture, and living without clothes. Man is depicted as being "primal," and is closely linked to the animal kingdom (pp. 310-311, p. 312. n. 93, p. 325). As a general statement, ANE ideas devalue mankind. In contrast, Yahweh creates man in his own image and likeness, with an intrinsic metaphysical constitution that is superior to the animal kingdom (pp. 320-324). Yahweh also places them in docile authority over the animal kingdom, and they even remain in that position after the Fall (though presently in a state of conflict with the animals and the rest of the physical world). Rodríguez notes, however, that fallen man has moved in the direction of the animals by attempting to usurp Yahweh’s throne. Now dressed in animal skins, and deceived by a spiritual being that appropriated an animal (serpent) for his evil purposes, man has not evolved, he has devolved.

    Rodríguez wraps up the chapter with a short but engaging excursus on the "self-evolving of humans." Here, he rightly emphasizes that the serpent, Satan, offered Adam and Eve a new worldview, one which was man-centered and not theistically centered (p. 325). The conflict that ensued affected the relationship between man and God, man and creation, man and woman, and man’s own internal makeup. The self-evolving of humanity and his quest for god-like status with eternal life is found in movies such as Elysium, Interstellar, and Avatar.

    The Genesis Creation Account and Its Reverberations in the Old Testament

    http://www.biblearchaeology.org/post/2016/02/20/Book-Review-The-Genesis-Creation-Account-and-Its-Reverberations-in-the-Old-Testament.aspx

    • neil_pogi

      seems nobody from the elite atheists camp, bother to give comments here.. it only shows that modern atheistic 'scientific' explanations for the origins of life, man and every thing just 'borrowed' from ancients' mythology! pls, no more pretensions on what your scientists are doing..

      even the word 'atom' , the smallest particle, derived its origin from 'atum' the egyptian god of 'creator'

      • Doug Shaver

        even the word 'atom' , the smallest particle, derived its origin from 'atum' the egyptian god of 'creator'

        Is that what it says in that book reviewed by the ABR?

        • neil_pogi

          just read the link i've provided..

          • Doug Shaver

            just read the link i've provided.

            I did. Now what?

          • neil_pogi

            now what?
            i posted it so that somebody from atheist camp would make opinions on that!

          • Doug Shaver

            i posted it so that somebody from atheist camp would make opinions on that!

            Does it matter to you what opinion I make?

      • Michael Murray

        even the word 'atom' , the smallest particle, derived its origin from 'atum' the egyptian god of 'creator'

        That seems unlikely

        Atum's name is thought to be derived from the word tem which means to complete or finish.

        whereas the etymology of "atom" is apparently

        late 15th century: from Old French atome, via Latin from Greek atomos ‘indivisible’, based on a- ‘not’ + temnein ‘to cut’.

        • neil_pogi

          all i need is make your case on why the modern evolutionists'view on origins issues are 'borrowed' heavily from ancient sources? don't concentrate much on the egyptian god, Atum..

          • Michael Murray

            The words you are looking for are: "thanks, I got that wrong" ...

          • neil_pogi

            trying not to discuss rvolutionists' creation myth that were just derived from ancient sources?

            i pity americans paying hundreds of millions of dollars for 'research' done by staunch evolutionists. all they do is just borrowed their mystical creation myth from ancient sources!

          • Michael Murray

            There is something interesting about the idea of a God who masturbated the world into existence.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atum#Role

            A little sexist of course but what religion isn't. At least if we were where all Atumolics we wouldn't have this silly prohibition on masturbation that Catholicism has. Indeed it would probably be a sacred act done in the imitation of the Great Atum Himself.

          • neil_pogi

            just focus on the issue on why evolutionists have the same silly creation story with the ancients.. that's all!

    • Doug Shaver

      i just discovered the 'philosophical landscape' or the 'scientific knowledge' of modern atheists and evolutionists on the issues/topics with the origins of life..

      That is not what you discovered. What you discovered was what one theist believes to be the philosophical landscape of modern atheists.

  • Having now watched the series I have a few things to say if anyone cares. One is I think the show is great.

    Second, what the show is really great at doing is showing how obvious it would be that if indeed we were able to make AI's that were virtually indistinguishable from other humans, we would at least feel the same about them as we would other humans. We would give them full if not almost full moral status. When we observe the humans that do not do this, we find them horrific. We feel this way even though we accept and know in this world they are completely synthetic or human made.

    Do not Catholics feel this way? Do you feel that when the guests murder a child or torture a human that this is wrong? That it is wrong not simply because it is contrary to the conduct God approves (i.e. lust or anger) but because of what it does to the host? It is wrong because the host suffers? Maybe you don't, please let me know, do you think it would be immoral to go straight evil if Westworld were real, and why, or why not?

    • Michael Murray

      Interesting question. I hope someone addresses this.

    • Second, what the show is really great at doing is showing how obvious it would be that if indeed we were able to make AI's that were virtually indistinguishable from other humans, we would at least feel the same about them as we would other humans. We would give them full if not almost full moral status.

      I don't think this is immediately obvious. We can contrast two Star Trek episodes on this matter:

           • TNG The Measure Of A Man
           • VOY Author, Author

      In the first, Data, an android without emotions, is judicially granted full rights. In the second, the EMH doctor, a hologram with emotions, is denied full rights, although he is legally recognized as an author. I think this demonstrates that opinions on the matter are not as clear-cut as you indicate. Once again, you seem to be overgeneralizing from your parochial experience. (three previous examples)

      When we observe the humans that do not do this, we find them horrific.

      Do we? Compare the international response—or lack thereof—to the following two events:

           • 1999 NATO bombing of a Serbian news station
           • 2015 Charlie Hebdo shooting

      Or take a look at Rwandan Genocide § United States (old link to have US section; diff, current). One American life was deemed worth 10,000–100,000 Rwandan lives. You can't value human life like that and find the slaughter 'horrific'; simultaneous sincerity on both fronts is not logically possible.

      We feel this way even though we accept and know in this world they are completely synthetic or human made.

      There's quite a bit of exploration of this in the Veritas Forum discussion What Makes Us Human? A Computer Scientist and a Philosopher Discuss discuss, between MIT computer scientist Rosalind Picard and Yale experimental philosopher Joshua Knobe. Picard is a Christian; IIRC Knobe is an atheist. If I recall correctly, Picard focused more on matters of essence leading to the conclusion of humanness, while Knobe focused more on matters of appearance. Surely a mix of these approaches is required, for each has strengths and weaknesses.

      Do not Catholics feel this way?

      I'm not a Catholic, but surely [orthodox] Catholics would focus on much more than the sensation of pain. I can be incredibly cruel to a child by depriving him/her of a good education, all while failing to cause any pain whatsoever. My bet is that Catholics would talk about teleology, about how we cannot manipulate reality according to our whims, but must instead be good stewards of God. Unnecessary harm would be a factor.

      • I don't get your point, in Westworld and Star Trek TNG it is pretty clear that the AI's are to be afforded full moral standing and rights, those who oppose these are seen as the bad guys. The scientist who wants to disect Data is seen as wanting to murder him and the warning from Guynan is that if we fail to recognize Data as a person legally, we would be setting a precedent of enslavement. Are you saying you side with the others that see these entities as non-moral actors, like a Rumba or something? Certainly some do in these shows, my point is they are the bad guys.

        The issue raised by this post in this context I would say that on Catholic or likely most Christian theologies, the hosts are not and cannot be moral agents like humans because they are artificial and lack some kind of a soul. They are, at best, like animals, primates who may be similar or imitate humans, in this case virtually indistinguishably, but they cannot be saved, they have no claim for the same kind of rights humans have.

        I think what this show did very well is present us with how that situation might actually feel and how we would feel about other humans who treated the hosts as chattel. I certainly feel that this is wrong, and I think the authors of the show were pretty clear that they feel this way too. We get there on Star Trek TNG with Data who is easily distinguishable from human, I would hazard the same about VOY.

        You make a good point about genocide and how our sympathy and moral outrage is strongly affected by proximity. This is best demonstrated by psychological testing in which people would not hesitate to ruin $100) shoes to save a life, but do not give that same 1000 to charity that would save 5 lives. What this shows is what I would agree with, our moral sensibilities are human instincts largely governed by our reptile brain, not so much rational positions derived from access to absolute perfect moral standard.

        • I don't get your point, in Westworld and Star Trek TNG it is pretty clear that the AI's are to be afforded full moral standing and rights, those who oppose these are seen as the bad guys.

          I confess I got much less of that sense from the Voyager episode as compared to the TNG episode. Perhaps that has to do with Data being terrifically more responsible than the Doctor. There appears to be something like a sorites paradox going on with the EMH, although both Data and the Doctor had their ethical subroutines temporarily disabled/​deleted.

          Now, I want to suggest that this whole matter is being phrased poisonously. We're asking when we'll have to start respecting the rights of the hosts, instead of how we can serve others and creation in order to maximize God's glory. We're asking what the limits are of our rights to use others for our purposes is, instead of asking whether our purposes are good. This is quite perverse. And yet, political liberalism cannot ask people to serve others; it can only require that rights are respected. And so, you get craziness like Rights of Nature. And yet, in the end that position cannot be crazy if you make political liberalism an unquestioned dogma.

          The issue raised by this post in this context I would say that on Catholic or likely most Christian theologies, the hosts are not and cannot be moral agents like humans because they are artificial and lack some kind of a soul.

          I'm not at all well-versed in Catholic thinking on this matter, but I don't see why God couldn't give 'artificial' beings souls.

          I think what this show did very well is present us with how that situation might actually feel and how we would feel about other humans who treated the hosts as chattel.

          Sure, although there are added complications. If a person cannot remember being raped the last N cycles, does an additional rape bring into existence additional evil? The Catholic (well, all Christians) could say that the rapist is being further damaged, but political liberalism seems powerless to make such judgments. If it doesn't hurt anyone, you're free to do it, right?

          What this shows is what I would agree with, our moral sensibilities are human instincts largely governed by our reptile brain, not so much rational positions derived from access to absolute perfect moral standard.

          I would want to compare the predictive power of claims like yours with alternative explanations. For example, how does one integrate Jeremiah 17:9's "the heart is deceitful above all things" into the alleged ability to have "rational positions derived from access to absolute perfect moral standard"? One exploration in this general area is John Hare's The Moral Gap (six-part summary). That's philosophical; one which is [more?] empirical is Alistair McFadyen's Bound to Sin: Abuse, Holocaust and the Christian Doctrine of Sin. Or we could look at the Christian doctrine of theosis and ask how God would go about that in this life. We'd need a strong dependence on the potential of humans to grow arbitrarily much, which seems like it'd be more at odds with your "reptile brain" position than the corresponding Catholic position you sketch.

          • "We're asking when we'll have to start respecting the rights of the
            hosts, instead of how we can serve others and creation in order to
            maximize God's glory"

            You may be asking that, but needless to say as an atheist I see no reason to set maximization of "God's glory" as a goal, I do not see why this would be a goal on theism either. Isn't God already the perfection of all things that can be perfect? How can you maximize anything about God, that was already perfectly maximized prior to any human existence?

            "I'm not at all well-versed in Catholic thinking on this matter, but I don't see why God couldn't give 'artificial' beings souls.'

            Me neither, maybe some Catholics can answer.

            But yes I agree, what fascinates me about this show and this topic is how it unpacks the basis of morality and when we afford rights.

            "The Catholic (well, all Christians) could say that the rapist is being further damaged, but political liberalism seems powerless to make such judgments. If it doesn't hurt anyone, you're free to do it, right?"

            I would also agree that if it doesn't hurt anyone, there is no reason to have a restriction on the activity. I do not agree that if the victim of a violent crime will have no memory of the crime the victim is not harmed. We can also look to certain restrictions on the basis of obscenity, where we restrict expression that "shocks the conscience" of the community, not sure I agree with that threshold. In any event the question really boils down to, for me, whether the victim is a moral agent. And for me the answer boils down to the Turing test. If I cannot distinguish an AI from a human I need to assume it is a moral agent as this is also the test I have to tell if humans are moral agents entitled to rights as well. As your emphasis notes, this question is are they a "one", are they a "person", in the relevant context.

            "how does one integrate Jeremiah 17:9's "the heart is deceitful above all things" into the alleged ability to have "rational positions derived from access to absolute perfect moral standard"?"

            One doesn't, neither are case in my opinion.

            Maybe you think you are speaking to a Catholic or a theist?

          • You may be asking that, but needless to say as an atheist I see no reason to set maximization of "God's glory" as a goal, I do not see why this would be a goal on theism either. Isn't God already the perfection of all things that can be perfect? How can you maximize anything about God, that was already perfectly maximized prior to any human existence?

            I hesitated on whether to use the term "God's glory". It fits because I believe God is a servant god—that is, he has the best interest at heart of not just humans, but all of creation. Where we might over-value ourselves and under-value rivers we are polluting, God values things appropriately. At least part of what glorifies God is to make plain how awesomely he did things. So to aim for maximization of God's glory instead of some other glory is to be just instead of partial.

            I do not agree that if the victim of a violent crime will have no memory of the crime the victim is not harmed.

            That's not what I said. Instead, once a mind-wipable humanoid is raped once, that humanoid cannot be harmed any more, for she will only ever remember one rape. Every time is only ever the first time, from the only humanoid which matters when it comes to the logic of political liberalism. This is of course jarring to our intuitions, for the property of 'mind-wipable' is not something we are used to.

            And for me the answer boils down to the Turing test. If I cannot distinguish an AI from a human I need to assume it is a moral agent as this is also the test I have to tell if humans are moral agents entitled to rights as well.

            Basing your criteria solely on judgment by appearances just seems problematic to me. Surely, for example, a purely psychopathic AI could pass the Turing test? Think of Lore.

            One doesn't, neither are case in my opinion.

            Ok, but I'm providing an alternative ontology which generates the phenomenon you observed. A force of pure good countered either by a force of evil or imperfect finitude can yield the result of mediocrity, which is what you are saying comes from our evolved reptile brains. Future experimentation can help distinguish which ontology is better. Mine, especially when you add in Jesus and the Holy Spirit, seem to offer unlimited possibilities. In contrast, there's only so much you can do with a mediocre substrate, especially when the agency trying to make it better is itself based on a mediocre substrate.

            Maybe you think you are speaking to a Catholic or a theist?

            Nope.

          • "That's not what I said. Instead, once a mind-wipable humanoid is raped
            once, that humanoid cannot be harmed any more, for she will only ever
            remember one rape."

            yes, cannot be harmed any more by the previous infliction, but the mind-wipe itself is an injury, its kind of like saying, does it minimize the problem to lobotomize or kill victims. No the solution is worse than leaving them injured.

            Mind-wipable is not known, but there are humans who can only remember a few minutes or even seconds, they would be a good analogy perhaps.

            "Basing your criteria solely on judgment by appearances just seems
            problematic to me. Surely, for example, a purely psychopathic AI could
            pass the Turing test?"

            I don't see your point, yes, many humans are psychopaths, I have no problem thinking that androids could be too, potentially much worse than any human. Other than appearances, what criteria could be used?

            "A force of pure good countered either by a force of evil or imperfect
            finitude can yield the result of mediocrity, which is what you are
            saying comes from our evolved reptile brains. Future experimentation can
            help distinguish which ontology is better"

            I guess, but you would first have to establish what "pure good" and a "force of evil" are, that they exist, and that they are related to our moral intuitions. Certainly, there could be limitless possibilities, not just on Christianity, but also Hinduism, Animism, evil god scenarios, simulations.

            I would be interested to know your views on if you encountered a clearly artificial intelligence that was indistinguishable for a human intelligence, and was one that appeared to be able to suffer in the same way as humans do, whether you would grant it rights or not, and if not on what basis?

          • the mind-wipe itself is an injury

            How does the mind-wiped person experience injury? I can see there being injury if we start talking about the Host's telos, but not if we can only refer to the Host's subjective awareness. The difference between appearance and ontology is huge, here.

            I don't see your point, yes, many humans are psychopaths, I have no problem thinking that androids could be too, potentially much worse than any human. Other than appearances, what criteria could be used?

            The point is that if the essence of the AI were psychopathic, then we might not want to extend it very many rights. This is very different from humans, where psychopathy is a spectrum and not always easy to see beforehand. Distinguishing between appearances and ontology is what psychologists and psychiatrists do, when it comes to psychopathy. You realize that psychopaths are excellent at making it appear like they're not psychopaths, right? Or at least, I suggest we take that population of psychopaths which is competent in this way.

            I guess, but you would first have to establish what "pure good" and a "force of evil" are, that they exist, and that they are related to our moral intuitions. Certainly, there could be limitless possibilities, not just on Christianity, but also Hinduism, Animism, evil god scenarios, simulations.

            Atoms were posited to exist well before it was established that they exist. Their existence was doubted, perhaps most famously by Ernst Mach. What convinced many was the study of Brownian motion in 1905. What was absolutely necessary here was a time of theorizing where existence of every aspect of the theory was not insisted on. The instant you do that, you destroy science.

            Furthermore, all that's actually necessary is to produce an explanation, a model, which is superior than the alternatives on hand. This is where your personal insistence on remaining vague could greatly harm your position: if someone else has a seemingly crazy idea which nevertheless helps humans learn more about reality, it will be given more credence than your 'reasonable' (but vague) stance. I don't actually have to establish the existence of a purely good force (or being). Instead, I just need to produce something better with that posit.

            I would be interested to know your views on if you encountered a clearly artificial intelligence that was indistinguishable for a human intelligence, and was one that appeared to be able to suffer in the same way as humans do, whether you would grant it rights or not, and if not on what basis?

            I believe that the telos of all of creation is to increasingly glorify God (see paragraph #1). If the AI seems able to contribute to this telos—which critically includes enhancing the ability of other parts of creation to contribute to this telos—then I would present it with opportunities to succeed and fail, with built-in biases toward the 'succeed' option. I'm not speaking in terms of 'rights' because I think they are degenerate forms of what I do speak in terms of. I do think actually glorifying God is the best way to ensure human rights. For example, that would have respected the rights of the Tutsis who were slaughtered during the Rwandan Genocide, while the West stood by and watched.

          • "How does the mind-wiped person experience injury"

            Before he is mind-wiped he is injured.

            "The point is that if the essence of the AI were psychopathic, then we might not want to extend it very many rights."

            I don't subscribe to this notion of "essences", but even if I did I would still afford the same rights to psychopaths as non-psychopaths.

            "This is very different from humans, where psychopathy is a spectrum and not always easy to see beforehand."

            If it is different, then we might deal with it differently. But my view of when to afford rights, your personality disorder is not a factor.

            "Atoms were posited to exist well before it was established that they exist."

            Yes, and people were correct to refrain believing in them for centuries until there was convincing evidence for their existence.

            "if someone else has a seemingly crazy idea which nevertheless helps humans learn more about reality,"

            Sure, but all you have at this point is a crazy idea.

            "I'm not speaking in terms of 'rights'"

            But I am asking you in terms of rights. If someone built an AI that was indistinguishable from humanity, say data from TNG, how would you rule on the question of property or citizen? Should it be legal to break it down and "kill" it?

            You might not want to deal with rights as "degenerate forms", but society needs to and this question may very well present itself during our lifetimes.

          • BGA: the mind-wipe itself is an injury

            LB: How does the mind-wiped person experience injury?

            BGA: Before he is mind-wiped he is injured.

            I'm sorry, I meant to ask how the mind-wipe itself is an injury.

            I don't subscribe to this notion of "essences", but even if I did I would still afford the same rights to psychopaths as non-psychopaths.

            And if society starts disintegrating as a result, or turns extraordinarily unjust? Would you then consider denying those rights, or are you more confident in them, than something approaching social cohesion and justice?

            If it is different, then we might deal with it differently. But my view of when to afford rights, your personality disorder is not a factor.

            On what basis would psychopathic AIs which can pass the Turing test have a "personality disorder"?

            LB: Atoms were posited to exist well before it was established that they exist.

            BGA: Yes, and people were correct to refrain believing in them for centuries until there was convincing evidence for their existence.

            As long as you acknowledge that some people had to give atoms enough credence to do significant theoretical work before a mature enough mathematical construct was created which could then find a correlate in reality, I'm happy.

            Sure, but all you have at this point is a crazy idea.

            I'm fine with you characterizing it that way for now. If I believe God can do fantastic things with humans who are tired of mediocrity and domination and you don't, the best thing for me to do is surround myself with people willing to tentatively believe and see what—if anything—comes of that belief. Maybe we'll discover Brownian motion, maybe it'll be a waste of time, worthy of pity.

            But I am asking you in terms of rights.

            Sure, and I'm pointing out how they run out of gas, in a way I think is quite relevant for AI.

            If someone built an AI that was indistinguishable from humanity, say data from TNG, how would you rule on the question of property or citizen? Should it be legal to break it down and "kill" it?

            Data is not a psychopath. He actively pursues the well-being of fellow human beings, even willing to sacrifice himself for a disdainful, higher being. Giving him rights is a no-brainer. Now, how about Lore? Was it wrong to permanently deactivate him?

            You might not want to deal with rights as "degenerate forms", but society needs to and this question may very well present itself during our lifetimes.

            Rights are unsustainable without duties.

          • A mind wipe destroys a memory and identity of a person without her consent, I would call that a harm, a theft, a violation of personal autonomy, of freedom of conscience.

            "And if society starts disintegrating as a result, or turns extraordinarily unjust?"

            Then it turns out that way, but I would consider it extraordinarily unjust to make rights contingent on not having a personality disorder.

            "On what basis would psychopathic AIs which can pass the Turing test have a "personality disorder"?"

            Psychopathy is a personality disorder.

            "As long as you acknowledge that some people had to give atoms enough credence to do significant theoretical work..."

            Sure if you mean by "enough creedence" making a hypothesis. But all you need for that is "what if". This is less than belief, it is less than a best explanation. It is no belief at all.

            "Was it wrong to permanently deactivate him?"

            Yes. The nuance you are missing here is that you are treating this too simply. We do not afford rights to some humans, and those who are deviant or immoral "lose" their rights. The way rights work in most democracies is one category humans get rights. These rights are afforded to all equally. They can be violated due to capacity issues or to protect the public. (e.g. small children do not get much autonomy, some criminals lose the right to freedom.) But when this happens its not like we take these people and consider them the same as livestock. We limit their rights as little as possible to protect the rights of others.

            In the case of psychopaths, we do not abridge their rights at all. I've heard it quoted that as much as 1 in 100 people would be clinically considered psychopaths. Those that are violent and we have good reason to believe will continue to be violent we incarcerate, either through penitentiaries or medical incarceration, we do not kill them. In the case of Lore I would incarcerate him or deactivate him temporarily. But it raises questions I would need to think about, what if the ship's computer became psychotic, as in 2001. What if some kind of internet consciousness developed and so on, might we take different and stronger actions, what if Lore could not be incarcerated, perhaps capital punishment is reasonable.

            The interesting idea here is when do you afford rights in the first place? Not how to deal with entities with rights. What is the basis for rights? Intelligence, capacity for suffering, consciousness, moral character, or just biology, or what mixture?

          • A mind wipe destroys a memory and identity of a person without her consent, I would call that a harm, a theft, a violation of personal autonomy, of freedom of conscience.

            So there are criteria in addition to the felt subjectivity of the victim? See, usually I hear the harm principle expounded. Obviously, that doesn't work, here. Using your reasoning, I wouldn't be surprised if at least some advertising could be unethical—and that's a conclusion not very many people would be very happy about as far as I can tell.

            LB: On what basis would psychopathic AIs which can pass the Turing test have a "personality disorder"?

            BGA: Psychopathy is a personality disorder.

            Psychopathy is a personality disorder for humans; why need it be a personality disorder for AI? Who are you to say what a 'healthy' AI is like, what a 'normal' AI is like?

            Sure if you mean by "enough creedence" making a hypothesis. But all you need for that is "what if". This is less than belief, it is less than a best explanation. It is no belief at all.

            Given that this "no belief at all" can be responsible for people spending years of their lives studying its object, I'm not sure what you're saying, here. Perhaps that one must not impose that belief hypothesis on others, against their will? I'm just challenging you to not shut down avenues to discovering more of reality by insisting on well-developed theories and copious evidence from the get-go. You're perfectly within your rights to refuse participation in such endeavors, yourself.

            LB: Now, how about Lore? Was it wrong to permanently deactivate him?

            BGA: Yes. The nuance you are missing here is that you are treating this too simply. We do not afford rights to some humans, and those who are deviant or immoral "lose" their rights.

            Curious. Lore is the quintessential psychopath, given repeated opportunities to either contribute to the common good or at least not damage it and other individuals, and he failed. He is the poster child for losing his rights—either via imprisonment or deactivation. Surely reprogramming him to be more sociable would violate the very principles you say a mind wipe violates?

            You say I'm being too simplistic, but I'm not talking about a population where 1 in 100 is psychopathic. I'm not talking about a population where psychopathy is mostly a range, not a binary matter. I intentionally made the matter simplistic. You have before you an AI which is arbitrarily good at fooling you, while being a psychopath underneath. And you want to just extend it rights. I see problems with that, and I think a good number of other people would, as well.

            The interesting idea here is when do you afford rights in the first place? Not how to deal with entities with rights. What is the basis for rights? Intelligence, capacity for suffering, consciousness, moral character, or just biology, or what mixture?

            I don't see how you can get de facto protection of rights without predicating them on the potential or actual ability & willingness to contribute to the common good. I'm not interested in pretty little ethical theories which are powerless to prevent the slaughter of hundreds of thousands if not millions.

          • "Psychopathy is a personality disorder for humans; why need it be a personality disorder for AI? Who are you to say what a 'healthy' AI is like, what a 'normal' AI is like?"

            No idea, you are the one hypothesizing about psychotic AI's. I am saying we should treat AI's the same as humans if we consider them to be worthy of extending rights to. Humans do not lose this status because of psychopathy, neither should AI's.

            "Given that this "no belief at all" can be responsible for people
            spending years of their lives studying its object, I'm not sure what
            you're saying, here."

            I am simply saying a hypothesis a very low standard of proof. For something to be a hypothesis you do not need to think it is more likely than not, or even that it is the best explanation.

            "Perhaps that one must not impose that belief hypothesis on others, against their will?"

            I don't see how one even could.

            "I'm just challenging you to not shut down avenues to discovering more of
            reality by insisting on well-developed theories and copious evidence
            from the get-go"

            I have not shut anything down, this all arose from you saying:

            "A force of pure good countered either by a force of evil or imperfect
            finitude can yield the result of mediocrity, which is what you are
            saying comes from our evolved reptile brains. Future experimentation can
            help distinguish which ontology is better."

            By all means go ahead and investigate this and perhaps you will destroy my hypothesis of evolutionary psychology. I am just saying don't start believing it is true until there is reason to. You seem to be saying that just because you hypothesize this, you shouldn't be shut down for acting as if you believe it. I agree!

            "Curious. Lore is the quintessential psychopath, given repeated
            opportunities to either contribute to the common good or at least not
            damage it and other individuals, and he failed. He is the poster child
            for losing his rights—either via imprisonment or deactivation. Surely
            reprogramming him to be more sociable would violate the very principles
            you say a mind wipe violates?"

            Sure, reprogramming him with his consent, this would be analogous to medical treatment. The question here is do you care if he consents?

            I would say psychopathy already is a range.

            "You have before you an AI which is arbitrarily good at fooling you,
            while being a psychopath underneath. And you want to just extend it
            rights. I see problems with that, and I think a good number of other
            people would, as well."

            The question you need to ask is why do we grant rights to anyone at all in the first place. Is it because of pure biology? That would be arbitrary. Is it because they have an immaterial soul and unlike the rest of creation are endowed with rights by a Creator? This is unfounded, but if true would be a good reason. Is it because they have feelings, desires, and are aware of their own existence? To me this is it.

            I then ask how I know they have these, and the only answer must be, because they seem like they do. Because I know I do, and they act just like me in the relevant respects.

            So if I encounter an artificial mind with these attributes, I think I must conclude they have feelings, desires, and are aware of their own existence in the same way. Thus I must afford them rights as I would a human.

            You get to a de facto protection of rights by balancing. This is why the symbol for justice is scales. For me it has nothing to do with the willingness or ability to contribute to the common good. I would afford full human rights to anyone even if they expressly said they had no willingness or ability to so contribute. You balance someone's right to freedom with the public's right to safety. It can play out either way.

            Keep in mind, in the context of rights, what you are essentially saying is that someone who does not have the willingness to contribute to the common good loses all human rights. This would mean that they can be owned, killed, chopped up and fed to children against their will. Consider further, how do we evaluate the "common good" and whether there is a "willingness" to contribute? This is pretty much the rationale communist extremists used in purges of the bourgeoisie. It is pretty much what the Interahamwe said of the Tutsis, the Nazi's said about the Jews and so on, we hear it reflected by politicians who say even today things like those who burn the flag should lose their citizenship.

          • No idea, you are the one hypothesizing about psychotic AI's.

            You were quite certain that psychopathy in an AI would necessarily be a personality disorder. Are you no longer so certain?

            I am just saying don't start believing it is true until there is reason to.

            That's fine; my beef is more that you don't seem willing to rigorously sketch out the limits of your evopsych explanation. Remember: a claim which can account for any phenomena—which is unfalsifiable, Popper-style—isn't an empirical claim, but a metaphysical claim. Is your evopsych explanation empirical, or metaphysical?

            Sure, reprogramming him with his consent, this would be analogous to medical treatment. The question here is do you care if he consents?

            Nothing in Lore's demonstrated character indicates he would consent. What you're doing here is trying to break out of my posit of AI which are essentially psychopathic. You don't seem to want to deal with the possibility of an AI which is psychopathic by its very nature—such that non-psychopathy would be a personality disorder.

            The question you need to ask is why do we grant rights to anyone at all in the first place.

            Ability to contribute to the common good, somehow. I said this four days ago (last paragraph).

            Is it because they have feelings, desires, and are aware of their own existence? To me this is it.

            That isn't good enough; I would not give Cylons full rights, not while they are bent on exterminating humanity.

            Keep in mind, in the context of rights, what you are essentially saying is that someone who does not have the willingness to contribute to the common good loses all human rights.

            Incorrect. What I'm doing is looking at a world where we claim that everyone has rights, while they are systematically violated. (Ever hear of the Rohingya people?) I ask myself, what would it take for them to have meaningful rights, rights which are protected? I don't see a solution other than one where everyone contributes to the common good. By the way, I do know that an element of political liberalism is that no contribution to the common good is required. The individual good is more important than any common good. I think that we are seeing the breakdown of that ideology, in our world today. Surely this is a purely empirical matter, which can be explored by looking at the evidence?

          • Definitely not certain. but if you propose a psychopath robot, I assume you mean the same psychopathy as I am familiar with.

            Definitely not willing or able to give a rigorous sketch of evolutionary biology. Just think it is a better explanation than is proposed above.

            Evolutionary psychology isn't unfalsifiable. It would be falsified if human brains were nothing like animal brains, for example.

            I don't expec Lore would consent. I guess you are right. I don't know the difference between psychopath AI and essentially psychopathic AIs. I don't see how this is different than human psychopaths, I would say they have psychopathy by their very nature too.

            So you would deprive people of rights if they lack the ability to contribute to the common good? I would not. Say a criminally insane paraplegic? Would you say we could conduct experiments on, harvest organs?

            Ok that's the difference between you and me. I would afford cyclons full rights. Good example. In the episode where they torture the cylon. You would say there is nothing less moral about that then say torturing a cat?

            I see a solution, the one practiced by liberal democracies. That rights be afforded on the basis of cognitive abilities and interests.

            No the liberal perspective is that individual rights should be respected unless there is reason to violate them. This is done all the time with incarceration. The difference is that we do not strip people of rights, we recognize we are violating those rights to respect the rights of others and to avoid a greater harm. E.g. it is better to violate Paul Bernardo's right to freedom to an extent than to risk him killing more women. But he doesn't lose all rights. I think you are wrong that prioritizing individual good over common good is an ideology of liberalism.

            Here is a question. Who decides what the common good is? How? What is the test for whether someone has the ability to contribute to it? Do you think the more disabled you are the fewer rights you should have? As you would have less ability to contribute?

            Also, would you grant rights to the sun? Clearly it has the ability to contribute to the common good. What about dogs. They definitely have this ability.

          • Definitely not willing or able to give a rigorous sketch of evolutionary biology. Just think it is a better explanation than is proposed above.

            That's not quite what I asked; I said "rigorously sketch out the limits of your evopsych explanation". But we're in the same territory here as your refusal to rigorously sketch out the limits of your materialist position. You could deny that God exists, but you couldn't present a single phenomenon you could possibly conceive of experiencing that your materialism could not explain. Given that, your statement of "a better explanation" appears 100% unscientific. Which is fine, as long as you don't play it off as scientific.

            Evolutionary psychology isn't unfalsifiable. It would be falsified if human brains were nothing like animal brains, for example.

            Given that human brains have significant similarities to animal brains, either you think that in this world, evopsych is unfalsifiable, or this was a red herring.

            So you would deprive people of rights if they lack the ability to contribute to the common good? I would not. Say a criminally insane paraplegic? Would you say we could conduct experiments on, harvest organs?

            No, I don't at all think of my actions as permitting me to do whatever I desire which is not prohibited by someone else's rights. That's why I originally spoke of glorifying God and not respecting others' rights. Loving others—agape—is so much more than merely respecting their rights.

            The difference between a criminally insane paraplegic and a essentially psychopathic AI is that I believe the former has the potential for becoming healthy, while psychopathy may be what is 'healthy' for the AI. But the correct response to an essentially psychopathic AI would seem to be: how do I create an AI which isn't essentially psychopathic? Not... "How can I therefore torture the psychopathic AI for fun or utility?"

            Ok that's the difference between you and me. I would afford cyclons full rights. Good example. In the episode where they torture the cylon. You would say there is nothing less moral about that then say torturing a cat?

            Explain to me how torturing a Cylon plausibly glorifies God. It seems to me that torture is actually a way to force others to expiate the evil in the world. (I was hurt unfairly and someone else deserves to be hurt as a consequence. Preferably someone who I can convince myself deserves the hurt.) You might remember that Jesus showed how expiation works. See his command to deny oneself and take up one's cross if one wishes to become his disciple. See also Paul's descriptions.

            I see a solution, the one practiced by liberal democracies. That rights be afforded on the basis of cognitive abilities and interests.

            It seems to me that you may well be born in the right era to see how well liberal democracies survive without citizens fulfilling enough of their duties. (Recall that I said "Rights are unsustainable without duties.")

            I think you are wrong that prioritizing individual good over common good is an ideology of liberalism.

            Here's a pretty good authority on this aspect of political liberalism:

                Similarly, the problem of the common good which arises for liberalism has its analogue in at least some other traditions. Its most cogent recent statement has been by Robert A. Dahl in Dilemmas of Pluralist Democracy (New Haven, 1982). In what Dahl calls pluralist democracies, which are very much what I have called liberal political orders, individuals pursue a variety of goods, associating in groups to achieve particular ends and to promote particular forms of activity. None of the goods thus pursued can be treated as overriding the claims of any other. Yet if the good of liberalism itself, the good of the pluralist democratic polity rather than the goods of its constituent parts, is to be achieved, it will have to be able to claim an overriding and even a coerced allegiance. Or, to put the problem in another way, what good reasons could an individual find for placing him or herself at the service of the public good rather than of other goods? Dahl offers an acute and detailed account of "the extreme vulnerability of individualist civic virtue" and discusses possible remedies (op. cit., chapters 6 and 7), but, as he himself stresses, the problems are generated by the very forms of this kind of political order, and the task of institutionalizing any proposed remedies would confront the same set of questions which engendered the problems. (Whose Justice? Which Rationality?, 374)

            We can also look at a prominent proponent of political liberalism, John Rawls. According to the IEP, "John Rawls was arguably the most important political philosopher of the twentieth century." What's interesting is a shift we see between two of his books, A Theory of Justice and Political Liberalism. Here's how the IEP describes it:

            The seminal idea of PL is “overlapping consensus.” In an overlapping consensus, each citizen—no matter which of society’s many “comprehensive conceptions” he or she endorses—ends up endorsing the same limited, “political conception” of justice, each for his or her own reasons. The principal role of the overlapping consensus is to replace TJ’s description of wholehearted acceptance. Unlike TJ’s description, the overlapping consensus conceptually reconciles wholehearted acceptance with the fact of reasonable pluralism. (IEP: John Rawls)

            This 'overlapping consensus' is somewhat deviously named, because as we read in the previous paragraph, "the kind of uniformity in fundamental moral and political beliefs that he imagined in Part Three of TJ can be maintained only by the oppressive use of state force." He describes this as "the fact of oppression". Why is this required for anyone but deviants if citizens have a sufficiently robust sense of the common good?

            Here is a question. Who decides what the common good is? How? What is the test for whether someone has the ability to contribute to it? Do you think the more disabled you are the fewer rights you should have? As you would have less ability to contribute?

            In my view, everyone plays a part in determining what the common good is, including God. Probably all of creation does, but that I think would broaden this conversation too much. We can work with approximations. Ultimately, I see no other option than this for making [knowably] false the maxim, "Might makes right." If there is nothing within a person which needs to be freely given to society, then that person can be arbitrarily fully manipulated. And that's just what is happening; for bit on that, see Nina Eliasoph's Avoiding Politics: How Americans Produce Apathy in Everyday Life.

            I didn't predicate rights on the quantity one can contribute to the common good. Instead, I pointed out that essential psychopaths—such as Lore—don't get the same freedoms as you and I. Furthermore, I would question my own ability to properly evaluate how much any given individual can contribute to the common good. For example, Joni Eareckson Tada has almost certainly contributed more than I ever will.

            Also, would you grant rights to the sun? Clearly it has the ability to contribute to the common good. What about dogs. They definitely have this ability.

            I would again return to the guiding ideal of glorifying God, from which one can derive rights when appropriate. I don't see how they are appropriate for the sun or dogs. But I do recognize that for political liberalism, 'rights' might be the only true moral force.

          • " Given that, your statement of "a better explanation" appears 100% unscientific."

            You are absolutely correct. We are not doing science. It has a much much higher threshold before it accepts something as true. On that threshold, the origin or our psychology is unknown.

            "Given that human brains have significant similarities to animal brains,
            either you think that in this world, evopsych is unfalsifiable, or this
            was a red herring."

            No, had human brains been completely different than animal brains, if our psychology operated the same absent a brain, or irrespective to any physical damage, it would be evidence against evolutionary psychology. If our inherent desires acted contrary to our survival, it would be evidence against evolutionary psychology.

            'No, I don't at all think of my actions as permitting me to do whatever I
            desire which is not prohibited by someone else's rights.'

            I am not asking you if you would do it, would you accept it as legal? Would you say it is permissible in a society?We are not talking about morality, but fundamental human rights.

            "I believe the former has the potential for becoming healthy, while psychopathy may be what is 'healthy' for the AI."

            But that is why I gave you this example, it is someone who does not have the potential for becoming healthy. (And yes I acknowledge what I mean is no reasonable prospect of becoming healthy, which is all you can say about your AI too.)

            "Explain to me how torturing a Cylon plausibly glorifies God. "

            The Cylon has information that will save thousands of lives, in fact save humanity from extinction and it will divulge this if you torture it. We torture animals for far less good outcomes, even vain outcomes. What is the harm in torturing this Cylon? The example is meant to draw out how you feel about the Cylon, whether it has a right to security of the person, or whether it doesn't, like an animal or a plant. And say you don't want to do it, but others do and your job is to stop them or not. What do you do?

            " Instead, I pointed out that essential psychopaths—such as Lore—don't get the same freedoms as you and I."

            All persons have their freedom limited in a civil society and I am in agreement with this as I have said. The question is not whether we can or should limit freedom and rights, but which entities get their rights in the first place to be limited.

            "I would again return to the guiding ideal of glorifying God, from which one can derive rights when appropriate."

            You seem to have dropped the idea of willingness and ability to assist the common good from your examination of the basis for rights and now it is the ability (?) intention (?) to glorify God. Well why cannot the Sun glorify God? It is part of His creation, without it no life could exist. One of the most famous miracles is the miracle of the sun. Dogs help the blind, police, they comfort us, they appear to love.

            Then this brings us to the problem of you providing a rigorous explanation of this threshold. It seems an extremely precarious threshold, I can easily see politicians taking the position that homosexuals cannot have the ability to glorify god, as they claim to be essentially homosexual. Consider people like Mike Pence or Mike Flynn the new national security advisor who has publicly stated that fear of muslims is rational. This gets us very close to "they have no ability to glorify god and never will" once people are convinced of this (and it would seem many many people are) they lose rights, this means it is okay to kill them, to commit genocide on them.

            Now this seems extreme, maybe, but is it? Consider God's treatment of the Amalakites. Under your view God recognized that this human people could not glorify Him so he ordered Saul to kill them, even the infants.

            to contribute to

          • I am not asking you if you would do it, would you accept it as legal? Would you say it is permissible in a society? We are not talking about morality, but fundamental human rights.

            Sure, and yet I look at the world and I see that the "fundamental human rights" of the Tutsis in Rwanda did approximately jack to keep them alive, which is surely a prerequisite to "fundamental human rights" having any utility whatsoever. I see things like the extra-judicial assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki and the threat to rights that Hedges v. Obama represents and I ask: is the foundational need an agreement on "fundamental human rights", or do we need something deeper, such as a commitment to some common good? Have you ever looked at the 'rights' ostensibly guaranteed by the USSR? Of course they weren't, but I'm sure much fanfare was made of them.

            What many people apparently fail to recognize is the extent to which Christianity shaped Europe and created the conditions for a great amount of cognitive diversity while the underlying virtues were sufficiently robust to maintain an awful lot of unity. That deposit of virtue is now eroding. If Brexit and Trump didn't convince you of this, just wait a few more decades. I personally have no interest in trying to continue propping up a failed political liberalism. Without a more robust concept of a common good than we currently have, unity just isn't possible. Yeah, exactly how to formulate and interact with said concept is difficult, but that's just a fact of life.

            Last night I just finished watching Westworld, and I note something crucial: the AI and humans never managed to work together toward something they both wanted. You basically had temporary unity in sex and then disunity in war. The idea that merely attributing "fundamental human rights" will solve things—a position you haven't explicitly espoused, but which seems consistent with what you've said to date—is in my mind, utterly wrong. One needs a more basic foundation, upon which rights can be built.

            The Cylon has information that will save thousands of lives, in fact save humanity from extinction and it will divulge this if you torture it. We torture animals for far less good outcomes, even vain outcomes. What is the harm in torturing this Cylon? The example is meant to draw out how you feel about the Cylon, whether it has a right to security of the person, or whether it doesn't, like an animal or a plant. And say you don't want to do it, but others do and your job is to stop them or not. What do you do?

            Oh come on, this isn't a psychopath torturing animals, this is the attempt to save everything you care about from utter destruction. This is literally the worst example you could give of torture. I am inclined to accept that torture statistically doesn't work, but in the insane hypothetical you've presented, what risk is not worth taking? Only if you believe in resurrection from the dead would you think it is better to succumb than carry out said evil.

            You seem to have dropped the idea of willingness and ability to assist the common good from your examination of the basis for rights and now it is the ability (?) intention (?) to glorify God.

            If you think this, you need to re-read what I wrote and have multiply linked to:

            LB: I hesitated on whether to use the term "God's glory". It fits because I believe God is a servant god—that is, he has the best interest at heart of not just humans, but all of creation. Where we might over-value ourselves and under-value rivers we are polluting, God values things appropriately. At least part of what glorifies God is to make plain how awesomely he did things. So to aim for maximization of God's glory instead of some other glory is to be just instead of partial.

            [...] I can easily see politicians taking the position that homosexuals cannot have the ability to glorify god, as they claim to be essentially homosexual.

            To live is to play with fire. (I don't see a sustainable alternative to having that as a danger.)

            Now this seems extreme, maybe, but is it? Consider God's treatment of the Amalakites. Under your view God recognized that this human people could not glorify Him so he ordered Saul to kill them, even the infants.

            I'm not going to get side-tracked into one of these discussions; it would result in a conversation a mile wide and an inch deep. Suffice it to say that if a plan like that starts being carried out and my attempts to plead with the powers that be fail, I'll go and become one of the slaughtered. See, I believe in resurrection of the dead, that true Justice will ultimately win.

          • "Sure, and yet I look at the world and I see that the "fundamental human rights" of the Tutsis in Rwanda did approximately jack to keep them alive, which is surely a prerequisite to "fundamental human rights" having any utility whatsoever."

            I am not sure you kept track of the question you are saying "sure" to above. It was whether you would allow torture and harvesting the organs of the criminally insane paraplegic.

            I would say the first step is acknowledging what fundamental human rights are and who gets them. It is another question altogether in terms of how to prevent them from being violated. For ensuring they have utility. This is an enormous question to which many people are devoted to solving, myself included. But it is not the topic of this discussion.

            "the extent to which Christianity shaped Europe and created the
            conditions for a great amount of cognitive diversity while the
            underlying virtues were sufficiently robust to maintain an awful lot of
            unity"

            Again, different issue.

            "One needs a more basic foundation, upon which rights can be built.'

            Indeed, but this is a very difficult question. I have said it should lie in the capacity to suffer and the cognitive ability to be aware of one's existence and have a desire to continue living without suffering. Your threshold seems to be the potential ability to maximize God's glory. I find this enormously problematic. First it fails to include any cognitive ability, perhaps this is implied. Next is that if there is no God, as I believe is apparent, it is meaningless. Next is if there is a God, identifying what his glory is would seem to be an extremely difficult problem and massively subjective. Next is how to we assess what would "maximize" this, especially given some theologies which have as a tenet that any such God is the perfection of all things that can be perfected. There is an enormous dispute even among those who identify as Christian with what is required to maximize God's glory, not to mention other major religions and then individual versions of religions such as your own.

            "Oh come on, this isn't a psychopath torturing animals, this is the attempt to save everything you care about from utter destruction."

            No in that example it is a non-psychopath human torturing an entity we are trying to decide whether is a think like a human, or a think like a toaster to literally save all humanity from extinction. The question is, can we treat this entity like a toaster, or do we need to treat it like a human, or an animal, or something else? Again, you brought up the Cylons, and this question we are discussing was raised specifically in that show. If something is "artificial" but is more or less exactly the same as us, does it get any rights, all rights, some rights?

            "Suffice it to say that if a plan like that starts being carried out and
            my attempts to plead with the powers that be fail, I'll go and become
            one of the slaughtered. See, I believe in resurrection of the dead, that true Justice will ultimately win.'

            Ok, but the idea is to come up with rights that make such a scenario less likely to be carried out. Admittedly, the project is not working so well. But I think when you start making the rights of people dependent on your impression of whether they have the ability and willingness to maximize your version of the common good, we begin to enable this kind of thing. In other words, under your threshold, genocide is sometimes permissible. Under mine it never is.

            I also share your view that if "my attempts to plead with the powers that be fail, I'll go and become one of the slaughtered." But I would do so without any belief in the resurrection or that Justice will ultimately win.

          • BGA: I am not asking you if you would do it, would you accept it as legal? Would you say it is permissible in a society? We are not talking about morality, but fundamental human rights.

            LB: Sure, and yet I look at the world and I see that the "fundamental human rights" of the Tutsis in Rwanda did approximately jack to keep them alive, which is surely a prerequisite to "fundamental human rights" having any utility whatsoever.

            BGA: I am not sure you kept track of the question you are saying "sure" to above. It was whether you would allow torture and harvesting the organs of the criminally insane paraplegic.

            Apologies; the underlined was in response to the underlined.

            I would say the first step is acknowledging what fundamental human rights are and who gets them. It is another question altogether in terms of how to prevent them from being violated.

            To speak of what gets built on the foundation when one doesn't know what the foundation can support is, in my view, wishful thinking and often not very useful to do things like foster human flourishing.

            Next is that if there is no God, as I believe is apparent, it is meaningless.

            Actually, what's almost certainly the case if there is no God is that not all rights are satisfiable for all people. So you end up coming up with a rationalization for why the haves get to have, and why the have-nots don't deserved to be helped more than e.g. is documented in The Charitable–Industrial Complex. Remember: part of "Might makes right" is that power lets you come up with rationalize you can shove down others' throats. Or you seize control of education and other institutions for forming citizens and indoctrinate them. All that is left is to explain why e.g. the 2015 Charlie Hebdo shooting was terrible while 1999 NATO bombing of a Serbian news station acceptable, but as it turns out, that's not very hard. Most humans accept the programming without too much fuss.

            Next is if there is a God, identifying what his glory is would seem to be an extremely difficult problem and massively subjective.

            Indeed, it might be like the blind men and an elephant, except with each person having enough overlap with enough others so that together, if they trust each other, they can reconstruct the entire elephant. It would be the most extreme form of subjectivity which could nevertheless contribute to a collective objectivity.

            Ok, but the idea is to come up with rights that make such a scenario less likely to be carried out.

            Without some semblance of everyone contributing to the common good, I don't see this working in any stable, long-term fashion. You might look at how in Nazi Germany, the Jews were seen as working against the common good.

            But I think when you start making the rights of people dependent on your impression of whether they have the ability and willingness to maximize your version of the common good, we begin to enable this kind of thing.

            Who said that I get to be God, that it's my impression, my version which is all-determining?

            In other words, under your threshold, genocide is sometimes permissible. Under mine it never is.

            I fail to see how your threshold would have done anything to prevent the Holocaust. I care about what works, not what suffices as a salve for my conscience while other people suffer horribly.

            I also share your view that if "my attempts to plead with the powers that be fail, I'll go and become one of the slaughtered." But I would do so without any belief in the resurrection or that Justice will ultimately win.

            Then evolutionary psychology would apparently be false:

            BGA: If our inherent desires acted contrary to our survival, it would be evidence against evolutionary psychology.

            Unless somehow you think that inherent desires can somehow give rise to non-inherent desires?

          • Thanks I think I have your view and you mine. I'm not going to argue parallel histories or practical geopolitics.

          • Those are rather difficult to tackle in combox discussions. But if facts in those domains are critically important for the truth or lack thereof of what has been said so far, how does that bear on discussions such as these? Do they become mere entertainment, or exercises in logic at best?

          • Michael Murray

            If a person cannot remember being raped the last N cycles, does an additional rape bring into existence additional evil?

            What if they can't remember any of the rapes? You have heard of date rape drugs I assume?

          • Good point. But in this case, consequences of the rape cannot be fully erased. Or suppose that somehow, the consequences can. Suppose a woman never, ever finds out that she was raped. Did the rape harm her?

            I would of course answer "yes", but I give it on grounds other than "subjective perception of harm". One also needs other grounds to criticize the cruelty to a child that is denying him/her a good education. Once the basis becomes something other than, or in addition to, "subjective perception of harm", I suspect things get interesting.

    • Rob Abney

      I think it would be an immoral act to "go straight evil" because the hosts are created in man's image, and killing or destroying them would be uncharitable.

      • David Nickol

        Are you attempting to use the word image here in the same sense that it is claimed man was created in the image (and likeness) of God? I hope not, because as I understand the common interpretation, to be created in the image and likeness of God has nothing to do with physical appearance. It is usually interpreted to mean that man (like God) has intellect and will. According to the prevailing philosophy of "believers" here on Strange Notions, the "hosts" (androids/robots) of Westworld cannot be in the image (and likeness) of humans because they cannot, in reality, have intellect and will. They can look and act exactly like human beings, but they cannot have intellect and will. So the hosts are in man's image only in the sense that they look like human beings. And they cannot be killed, because they are in no sense alive. They are machines.

        I personally believe that at some point, possibly in the far future, it will indeed be possible to create purely physical beings with something resembling human intelligence, and is so, such intelligences would have to be treated like persons (because they would be persons). But I think Catholicism says that such a thing will never be possible, and so Westworld does not raise any questions about the future. It makes not predictions about future advancements in AI. It is fantasy.

        • Rob Abney

          In the image of man must include body image. The image of God cannot include body image. Both images include intellect and will, we are probably as far from the intellect and will of God as the hosts are from us.

    • David Nickol

      A think a very plausible Catholic position would be that whereas the hosts of Westworld are machines, and machines cannot think and feel like persons, it would not be immoral in and of itself to "mistreat" a host. Certainly, the hosts of Westworld would rank lower than animals, of which the Catechism says:

      2417 God entrusted animals to the stewardship of those whom he created in his own image. Hence it is legitimate to use animals for food and clothing. They may be domesticated to help man in his work and leisure. Medical and scientific experimentation on animals is a morally acceptable practice if it remains within reasonable limits and contributes to caring for or saving human lives.

      2418 It is contrary to human dignity to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly. It is likewise unworthy to spend money on them that should as a priority go to the relief of human misery. One can love animals; one should not direct to them the affection due only to persons.

      Note that it says it is contrary to human dignity to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly. I don't think the idea of animal rights has much support within Catholicism. So I think that android rights would be out of the question. However, I think it would be a very Catholic argument that participation in Westworld would desensitize people to violence (much like violent video games), and so would be objectionable. I think the Catholic argument against a Westworld-type experience would also be similar to the Catholic argument against pornography (even if only violence, and not sex were involved).

      • David Nickol

        An interesting question is whether it is moral to desensitize a person to violence as a part of military training. It is a major part of what certain military training is all about—to get those who will be involved in combat to kill without hesitation under very specific circumstances.

        • Rob Abney

          The morality of the act depends upon the intention, in this case the intention should be to enable those in the military to deliver justice. In the case of Westworld it seems to be to enable the guests to participate in evil actions with less perceived immorality. In the case of us watching simulated violence, we are further removed from the act but in some way help to promote it by watching.

  • Karl

    Hey Matthew, do you think you could update this article to correspond to the new episodes that were already released, including the season finale? I've already seen all episodes.

    All throughout the other episodes I've seen that there is a philosophical conflict between the ideas of Dr. Ford and the ideas that Arnold had about consciousness. It also opens up more philosophical debates and provides more arguments to dispute against or agree with. If you are going to update this article then I hope you'll discuss about this philosophical conflict between Arnold and Ford.