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Why Humans Are More Than Mere Animals

Ever since the time of Charles Darwin’s thunderous appearance on the human stage, evolutionary materialists have envisioned a world in which man appears without any rational need either for the God of classical theism or for a spiritual and immortal human soul. Human beings are finally to be classed as merely highly-developed subhuman hominins, whose mental abilities do not differ in kind from those of other primates. Human intellectual activity is thought to be merely a highly-evolved form of sentient activity, which, in turn, is ultimately reducible to highly-evolved neural patterns and activity within an advanced primate brain.

Still, a curious hangover from earlier Platonic times has haunted this view of the world, something philosophers have long wrestled with, known as the “problem of universals.”

The Problem of Universals

Today many philosophers debate the exact status of universals. While it is clear that a universal term is one thing predicated of many, this linguistic reality gives rise to important and controversial philosophical questions. Do universals exist only in speech or are they something that exists independently in the real world? If they exist in the mind, what do they ontologically constitute within the human person – merely some biological phenomenon, or a spiritual product evincing human spiritual immortality? Or, do they exist independently of the mind? If so, are they merely something really common found within things? Or, do they actually exist in a world of their own, independent of both men’s minds and natural objects – as Plato claims?

Down through the long history of Western philosophy, major and minor thinkers have sought to give answers to these sorts of questions. Proper evaluation of these many positions would properly require a lengthy professional journal article or even a book – far beyond the scope of this present short piece.

Instead, what I propose to do here is to examine the actual cognitive objects involved in this extensive discussion, not with a view to declaring a winner in the debates between the various positions, but simply to show that the basis for the debates entail two distinct cognitive entities which are clearly incommensurable with each other, namely, the image and the concept.

Image and Concept

One might wonder why I am now talking about the concept (also called an “idea”) rather than the universal. It is because we encounter the universal first in the form of the universal concept, which is the intellectual representation of something that is common to many and can, therefore, be predicated of many individuals. Hence, I will be talking about the concept, or universal concept, as the cognitive object in and through which the universal is understood. Thomistic philosophers maintain that the universal concept is a spiritual in nature. Since the human intellect produces this spiritual concept, they then use this fact to argue for the spirituality and immortality of the human soul.

The image is viewed generally as an internal sense representation, such as one has when he closes his eyes and imagines a “picture of a cow.” More technically, for Thomistic philosophers, an image is any sense impression of one of the internal senses, especially the imagination or sense memory.

For many, the distinction between a concept and an image is not clear, leading to such common depictions as that of forming a picture of a “blindfolded lady holding scales” in one’s “mind,” when having an idea of justice.

The Scottish skeptic, David Hume, who has greatly influenced the thinking of many modern materialists, was guilty of such confusion. Hume distinguishes between “impressions,” which he views as vivid and lively perceptions, and “ideas,” which are products of imagination and memory, making them less vivid and lively. But both “impressions” and “ideas” remain experiences, with ideas being merely weak resemblances of direct experience. One might rightly think that Hume has primarily in mind sense experience, when he speaks of “impressions.” Still, he also includes such things as love, hate, and acts of will.

Indeed, it is quite predictable that modern evolutionary materialists would find themselves unable to think of ideas or concepts as anything other than the same kind of neural activity that they conceive sensation to entail. Suggesting that intellectual knowledge could be radically different in kind from sense knowledge might be the belief of medieval theologians and philosophers, but such byproducts of assumed metaphysical dualism appear to have no place in modern science and its philosophical interpretations, according to these scientific materialists.

The Differences

For evidence of the radical differences between images and concepts (ideas), I shall turn to the work of Fr. Austin M. Woodbury, S.M., who taught philosophy for decades at the Aquinas Academy in Sydney, Australia, which he founded following World War II. Woodbury, who studied under Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, distinguished himself by thoroughly systematizing the work of St. Thomas Aquinas in a manner not found in the writings of Garrigou-Lagrange or other contemporary Thomists.

Woodbury enunciates many clear differences between images and concepts, thereby underlining the radical epistemological and ontological distinction between them. The following seventeen distinctions are based on his work.1

1. An image is solely of how something appears to the senses, as having this color or that shape or sound. But, the concept gives us the very nature of something, for example, a mammal is understood as an animal that gives milk.

2. An image always exhibits singular sensible qualities, for example, a particular color or shape or loudness or smell. But, a concept may have no sensible qualities, for example, justice, truth, or goodness. Even a sensible quality, considered as universal, may have no sensible qualities, for example, color, as such, is colorless and loudness, as such, is silent.

3. An image is always singular, for example, this pig or this car. But, the concept is always universal (unum-versus-alia: one against others), an understanding that applies to many things, for example, triangularity or mankind.

4. An image has no degrees of extension, that is, that is, the number of individual things to which it applies. For example, the image of this horse applies to this horse only. But, a concept has degrees of extension. Horse, as such, applies to all horses; animal applies to all animals. Yet, animal has greater extension than horse, since it applies to all animals, including all horses.

5. An image can be produced extramentally, as say, a statue or painting of a given height, color, and so forth. But the concept cannot be produced extramentally, since there is no single statue or painting that can physically be all horses at once. How does one make a painting or statue of “living?” That is why abstract art looks so bizarre! You can make a statue of Lincoln, but you cannot make a statue of humanity, since you cannot express all mankind at once physically in a single statue.

6. An image makes no distinction within itself. For example, an image of horse does not distinguish its vegetative powers from its sentient powers. But we can abstract its vegetative powers from its sentient powers and consider the conceptual distinction between them.

7. An image is always concrete. It is this triangle on this board at this time, with its exact shape, color, and size. The concept is abstract. It abstracts from all the singularizing aspects of the image. The concept of animal abstracts from the concrete accidental qualities of the zebra image that may be associated with it.

8. Images constitute the fleeting, changing sense content that accompanies conceptual knowledge, which is stable. Writing a paper on animals may evoke many associated images of various individual cows, horses, stables, hunters, and so forth – constituting a disconnected kaleidoscope of sensible images connected only by the underlying conceptual theme.

9. Images follow the laws of association of images, as in sailors and ships, whereas concepts follow the laws of reason, as hammering is understood as a cause with a loud noise being its effect.

10. Images can vary without changing one’s logical train of thought, whereas changing concepts under consideration can destroy the logic of thought. Thus, imagining horses, chickens, or mice does not affect thinking about animals, but shifting from animals to plants would distract from thinking solely about animals.

11. Image clarity does not assure clear thinking, but clear thinking – even with confused images – can still lead to true understanding. Conversely, conceptual confusion will lead to false conclusions no matter how vividly and clearly it is associated with images.

12. Despite variations in images, concepts may remain stable. Thus, whether one imagines squirrels, bats, or mice, the concept of animal is unaffected. Also, verbal images may vary while conceptual content is untouched. For example, homme, Mann, uomo, homo, and hombre all signify “man,” despite the varied verbal image.

13. Images alone do not permit speech to take place. Speech is based on concepts, not images. The same word, animal, may evoke an image of a horse to one person but a mongoose to another person. If the word stood for the image, its content would be equivocal! That is why one does not say, “Did you get my images?,” but rather, “Did you get my meaning, that is, the conceptual content intended?”

14. If we thought only in images, translation from one language to another would be impossible. The image does not convey a single, defined meaning. The image of a man does not reveal whether it stands for an adult, a male, Homo sapiens, intelligence, a criminal, or any of a number of other significations. Words themselves are purely arbitrary, meaning nothing unless you already know their meaning or assign them a new meaning.

15. The judgment establishes a relation of affirmation or negation between a subject and a predicate. Such a relation is not an image.

16. Reasoning entails apprehension of a nexus between premises and a conclusion. This nexus is not an image.

17. While an image represents an individual entity existing in space, the concept represents the nature outside of a given space and time.

Woodbury defines a “common image” as an image of a singular thing according to sensible appearances that happens to be similar to other singular things.2 While useful for the instinctive life of, say, a mouse, enable it to avoid all cats, it is not to be confused with the intellectual understanding of the nature of a cat, which belongs to the radically distinct universal concept.

Implications of This Radical Distinction

While philosophers may still argue about the exact epistemological and ontological status of the universal concept, what should now be clear is that its nature must be radically distinct from that of the image.

Those philosophers and scientists who reduce all human knowledge to sensation have constantly confused the image with the concept – believing that all thought must be understood merely in terms of images and their associations. In turn, images, for materialists, are grounded in neural patterns or activity – so that concepts, ultimately, were presumed to be basically reducible to just forms of neural activity in the brain. And, since images were thought to be common to man and beast alike, no essential differences between humans and other animals could be based on human intellectual abilities.

But, once it is clear that conceptual knowledge is radically distinct from sense images, the possibility, that human intellectual knowledge is essentially distinct from, and superior to, mere animal manipulation of images, again emerges. The old arguments of ancient philosophers for the qualitative differences between human beings and lower animals become more rationally acceptable. Whatever credence may be given to such arguments, the seventeen distinctions between the image and concept listed above make it clear that it is no longer reasonable for naturalists to claim that universal concepts are merely sophisticated or common images somehow constituted of neural activity in the brain.

Conclusion

Because it is grounded in the individuating, quantifying nature of matter, the image always presents itself under the conditions of matter by being imaginable, concrete, sensible, singular, and particular. For this reason, Thomistic philosophers maintain that images manifest dependence on the physical organs of sensation. There is no indication that the sensory powers which we share with the rest of the animal kingdom make us any more than merely material beings.

On the other hand, the universal concept shows none of the characteristics proper to material beings. It is not imaginable, concrete, sensible, singular, or particular. In a word, the concept appears to be not material in nature and, entirely unlike the image, shows no signs of being dependent on matter. Concepts appear to be spiritual in nature. From the fact that human beings – alone in the animal kingdom – have the intellectual ability to form such universal concepts, Thomistic philosophers propose arguments demonstrating the spirituality and immortality of the human soul.3

Perhaps, humans are, after all, God’s special creatures, superior in nature to all lower forms of physical creation, including other animals. Perhaps, men are placed on earth – not as coequal species to other living things – but as stewards responsible for overseeing the welfare of all subhuman creation within their power, including lower animals.

While irrational animals may possess sensitive, but mortal, souls, they do not possess spiritual and immortal souls. Such spiritual souls would have to have been endowed by our Creator solely to genuine human beings, whose essential superiority is marked by our remarkable species’ unique ability to think in terms of universal concepts – an ability totally absent in the rest of this planet’s sentient organisms.4

Notes:

  1. Austin M. Woodbury, Natural Philosophy, Treatise Three, Psychology, Bk. 3, Ch. 40, Art. 7 (Sydney: Aquinas Academy, unpublished manuscript, 1951), pp. 432-65. Woodbury’s “unpublished manuscripts” included thousands of pages of high quality academic volumes divided according to the various philosophical sciences, including natural philosophy, psychology, metaphysics, and epistemology. They were used by many thousands of students at the Aquinas Academy over several decades. While not formally published, their contents were of peer reviewed quality and acknowledged as such by other distinguished scholars. I wish also to acknowledge the contribution of my late friend and long-time colleague at Niagara University, philosopher Raphael T. Waters, D.Ph., who was an associate of Fr. Woodbury at the Aquinas Academy and who promulgated Woodbury’s philosophical achievements to students and other academics in North America. Dr. Waters published extensively on such ethical topics as capital punishment and the principle of double effect.
  2. Woodbury, Natural Philosophy, p. 433.
  3. Benignus Gerrity, Nature, Knowledge, and God (Bruce Publishing Company, 1947), 193-210.
  4. Dennis Bonnette, Origin of the Human Species (Sapientia Press, 2014), 103-110.
Dr. Dennis Bonnette

Written by

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

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  • mastema

    go tell that to mexicans.

  • Chris Morris

    While I'm sure that Hume had some alcoholic content, I think it would be more accurate to describe him as a Scottish sceptic rather than "Scotch".

    Could your jump from universal concepts showing "none of the characteristics proper to material beings" to "Concepts appear to be spiritual in nature" perhaps be premature? Is it possible that concepts such as 'democracy' or 'justice', for example, may be social rather than spiritual?

    • Dennis Bonnette

      Good catch! Actually, it might have been right, since Hume, for all his skepticism, was a bit of a London dandy, who lived the social life!

      The concepts you mention are not suggested to appear spiritual because of what they dealt with, but because of the nature of how we know them, as per, the seventeen differences from an image.

  • Ficino

    Sort of OT: despite some of Aristotle's language about separated universals, it's highly controversial whether the Platonic forms are true universals. A strong case can be made that they are supposed to be exemplars, not "one-over-many predications," because they have causal powers. Lloyd Gerson goes into a lot of detail about this issue, but many others do as well.

    • Dennis Bonnette

      I really was not too concerned about that aspect, since the real point of this piece is to show the unbridgeable gap between images and concepts, which should be taken as a given with which all philosophers must proceed. That is also why I merely pointed out that Thomists use this data in their arguments for the spirituality of the soul. I am not here presenting or even defending those arguments. What I want to draw attention to is merely the undeniable incommensurability of concepts and images.

  • Phil Tanny

    ...with ideas being merely weak resemblances of direct experience.

    There, thank you, you said it. Ideas are weak resemblances of direct experience. To me, the logical next question is....

    Why are we focused on weak resemblances, instead of direct experience?

    I realize there's much more to your article, so I'll keep chewing on it.

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      Why are we focused on weak resemblances, instead of direct experience?

      This morning, I had direct experience of certain local diner. I am not now experiencing it, so if we only focused on direct experiences, we could never think about, let alone discuss, anything not now directly before us. Memory is only one kind of weak resemblance.

  • Phil Tanny

    Are humans somehow "superior" to animals?

    As I see it, religion is one attempt to regain the intimate primal bond with nature/reality/God that animals and primitive humans enjoy. So if we define "superior" as being closer to God, we are inferior.

    Modern humans lost this intimate primal bond as thought became an ever more prominent part of our experience, and our focus shifted steadily away from the real world to the symbolic realm within. Imho, this is what the Book of Genesis is referring to, we ate the apple of knowledge, and lost the garden of eden.

    We're still just as close to God as any other creature, but once lost in the illusion of division which is generated by the way thought operates, we began to feel separate. And then we typically try to think our way out of the box, which just fuels the illusion.

    Rather than agree or disagree with any of this, a wise reader would experiment for themselves. Simple mechanical exercises (and other experiences) can lower the volume of thought, and to the degree that happens the experience of unity begins to emerge.

    And to the degree that one has such experiences of unity, one may care less and less what one is unifying with, just as hungry man stops worrying about food once he is fed.

  • Phil Tanny

    Perhaps, humans are, after all, God’s special creatures,
    superior in nature to all lower forms of physical creation, including other
    animals. Perhaps, men are placed on earth – not as coequal species to other
    living things – but as stewards responsible for overseeing the welfare of all
    subhuman creation within their power, including lower animals.

    Apologies, for I know this is not at all an original contribution, but shouldn't we be rather suspect of any theory which conveniently places us at the center of everything and declares us superior to all other creatures etc? Wouldn't it be reasonable to wonder whether any such theory is really just a self flattering exercise, a product of the human ego? Is it really just a coincidence that such theories position us as being the most important thing on God's agenda?

    If we do accept the theory that we are responsible for overseeing the welfare of all other creatures, we then are required to face the inconvenient reality that it is our thinking which is the primary threat to these creatures. By that I mean, the knowledge explosion is generating greater and greater powers at an ever accelerating rate, and it's only a matter of time until we bring in to the world vast powers which are beyond our ability to control.

    As example, the thousands of hydrogen bombs we've already aimed down our own throats, the ever present self extinction threat we typically find too boring to discuss. Is that situation under our control?

    Honestly guys, before we get all carried away with how sophisticated and intelligent and superior we are etc etc, philosophers might want to ask why we have this loaded gun in our mouth. And we might also want to ask why that loaded gun is rarely mentioned on any philosophy website.

    • Apologies, for I know this is not at all an original contribution, but shouldn't we be rather suspect of any theory which conveniently places us at the center of everything and declares us superior to all other creatures etc? Wouldn't it be reasonable to wonder whether any such theory is really just a self flattering exercise, a product of the human ego? Is it really just a coincidence that such theories position us as being the most important thing on God's agenda?

      You'd be right if Jesus weren't like this:

      But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25–28)

      With that in view, think of what this could possibly mean:

      And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:28)

      Note that at this point, A&E's only experience is the Garden of Eden. So perhaps they are being called to bring that shalom to more of the world, via serving creation. The order of creation we see from God is that the greater serves the lesser. Eve is 'ezer to Adam and God is 'ezer to Israel. According to one ancient telling, Satan objected to this order:

      12.1 Groaning, the Devil said: "O Adam, all my enmity, jealousy, and resentment is towards you, since on account of you I was expelled and alienated from my glory, which I had in heaven in the midst of the angels. On account of you I was cast out upon the earth."
      12.2 Adam answered: "What have I done to you?
      12.3 What fault do I have against you? Since you have not been harmed nor injured by us, why do you persecute us?"
      13.1 The Devil answered: "Adam what are you saying to me? On account of you I was cast out from heaven.
      13.2 When you were formed, I was cast out from the face of God and was sent forth from the company of the angels. When God blew into you the breath of life and your countenance and likeness were made in the image of God, Michael led you and made you worship in the sight of God. The Lord God then said: 'Behold, Adam, I have made you in our image and likeness.'
      14.1 Having gone forth Michael called all the angels saying: 'Worship the image of the Lord God, just as the Lord God has commanded.'
      14.2 Michael himself worshipped first then he called me and said: 'Worship the image of God Jehovah.'
      14.3 I answered: 'I do not have it within me to worship Adam.' When Michael compelled me to worship, I said to him: 'Why do you compel me? I will not worship him who is lower and posterior to me. I am prior to that creature. Before he was made, I had already been made. He ought to worship me.'
      15.1 Hearing this, other angels who were under me were unwilling to worship him.
      15.2 Michael said: 'Worship the image of God. If you do not worship, the Lord God will grow angry with you.'
      (The Life of Adam and Eve)

      You aren't alone in having an upside-down notion of greatness; in addition to the Matthew passage above, there is:

          A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. And he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves.
          “You are those who have stayed with me in my trials, and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (Luke 22:24–30)

      One possibility of the way of Jesus, for example, is that we might be able to teach primates to engage in intellection. What better way to show that we understand it, than to help creatures who just barely cannot do it on their own, do it with help? We might then be more open to God doing this for us in currently-lacking areas of our lives.

  • David Nickol

    Concepts appear to be spiritual in nature.

    It is not clear to me what is meant by spiritual. And is it supposed to be the case that concepts are in some way timeless and independent of human thought? Isn't intoxicant or anticoagulant a concept? If so, how could they precede animal life? Are concepts discovered or invented? Is there some spiritual, eternal repository of concepts that contained automobile prior to the eighteenth century? And does a concept without any corresponding instantiations (if I have used the word correctly!) in reality qualify as a true concept? For example, if there are no extraterrestrials or if there is no such thing as extrasensory perception, are those still concepts?

    • Dennis Bonnette

      I guess I have to keep underlining that the purpose of this article is not to prove the spirituality and immortality of the human soul, despite the title given it. It is primarily aimed at showing the radical distinction between the image and concept.

      Since the concept is neither extended in space and does not even appear under the conditions of matter -- as explained clearly in the article, there is no reason to think that it, like the image, is dependent on the material order of existence. Since to be spiritual means not to be extended in space and not to depend on things extended in space (material conditions), I say that it appears to be spiritual in nature. Further argument might be needed to definitively support that claim.

      Some of the questions you raise belong to the ontological and epistemological properties of universals. The article does not focus on those, but simply the work of establishing that image and concept are radically distinct.

      • David Nickol

        Since to be spiritual means not to be extended in space and not to depend on things extended in space (material conditions), I say that it appears to be spiritual in nature.

        You are asserting a meaning of spiritual, but would you assert that the definition can be flipped around to say that "all things not extended in space . . . etc." are spiritual? That is, all spiritual things may be immaterial, but are all immaterial things spiritual?

        • Dennis Bonnette

          You have to watch the second part of that definition of the spiritual .... "and does not depend on thing extended in space." So, not all immaterial things are also spiritual -- only those also not dependent on anything extended in space.

          This article is not simply another proof for the human spiritual soul. People get too wound up in those arguments because of the implications of the conclusion.

          Rather, I am simply trying to show the radical distinction between the image and the concept, since that is a "given" of the philosophical experience that all of us must deal with.

          Materialists have long been used to simply reducing concepts to images. So it is hugely important to notice that we simply cannot do that. The universal concept is radically different in nature from the image, so that it is not reducible to an image.

          Whether that makes the human soul spiritual is a different question. Do not focus too much on the title of the piece.

          My hope is that even materialists will begin to realize that perhaps it is not so simple to reduce everything to materiality, since the concept just is so very different than merely an image, which one can claim is just neural activity -- which also is not true, since the image is immaterial, but not spiritual.

          • George

            The way you use "concept" just sounds like "model" or perhaps even "map".

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I can grant that the representation of the thing is not the thing itself without simultaneously granting that the concept is of the same nature as the thing. Map and territory are useful concepts (sic!) to explain how our understanding of something (even a neural network) is not the extramental reality itself. But, they do not bridge the gap between the matter dependent nature of the image versus the matter independent nature of the concept. As long as map and territory are both conceived in terms of material conditions, they remain radically distinct from the immaterial nature of the concept.

    • Phil Tanny

      "Spiritual" and "non-spiritual" are patterns of division the inherently divisive nature of thought attempts to impose upon reality. Instead of trying to define "spiritual" we should turn our attention to the process which creates such dualistic concepts.

      As example, consider the Catholic doctrine that God is ever present everywhere in all times and places, which implies for example that God is present in the very tiniest fractions of quantum particles etc. In such a case, wouldn't all of reality therefore be spiritual, thus rendering the word spiritual meaningless as there would be no "non-spiritual" anything to compare it to?

      Yes, I know, Catholics have very sophisticated tap dancing which allows them to continue to conceive of God as something separate. To me, that's just the human mind insisting on imposing fantasy divisions upon a single unified reality.

  • Ficino

    We need a precise definition of "spiritual." And an account of how, or whether, "spiritual" differs from "intelligible."

    • Dennis Bonnette

      "Intelligible" means able to be understood, which is an epistemological category.

      "Spiritual" is an ontological description meaning (1) not extended in space/time and (2) not dependent on anything extended in space/time.

      Universal concepts appear to be spiritual in nature, but their function is to manifest the intelligibility of the natures they express, that is, they are the instrumental cause through which we understand the natures of things, which understanding is based on a common foundation in the things themselves.

      I realize that nominalists deny there is such a common foundation in things. So, I know this may open a discussion that is broader than may be desirable at this time.

      Edit: Before we get sidetracked here into some discussion of the nature of universals, I want to point out that the focus of this OP is strictly on the radical distinction between image and concept.

      This distinction has, in my judgment, not received adequate attention in philosophical discussion. Its importance lies in the fact that, if this radical distinction is real, it is a given that must not be brushed over as philosophers rush to defend ontological and epistemological positions that often fail to recognize that you simply cannot reduce concepts to images in order to stake out a position. They are simply incommensurable.

      Whatever we want to say about human nature, the use of language, forms of logic or predication, we must first recognize that the cognitive objects we immediately know are of radically diverse types. The implications of this diversity ought not be ignored.

      • Ficino

        Thank you for the "precisazioni". Philosophers I read do not as a rule describe universal concepts as "spiritual" - or in fact, use that adjective much at all except with reference to what's loosely called "spirituality."

        • Dennis Bonnette

          Bernard Wuellner's Dictionary of Scholastic Philosophy (Bruce, 1956) defines the spiritual as what is positively immaterial. (p. 118.) It further defines the positively immaterial as being intrinsically independent of matter, for example, the human soul, the intellect, the will, and their acts. Since the universal concept is formed by an act of the intellect, its positively immaterial nature actually evinces the spirituality of the act forming it and the soul that produces such acts.

          In other words, the proof of the spirituality of the human soul proceeds from the positive immateriality of the concepts it forms. Without quibbling over terminology, if the concept was not spiritual, it could not be used as evidence for the spirituality of the human soul by St. Thomas and other scholastics.

          I cite a dictionary only to show my usage is conventional to scholastic thought. One need not use the exact term, "spiritual," but Thomists generally defend the strict immateriality of the soul and its activities, such as forming universal concepts. And what is strictly immaterial is normally called "spiritual" in Thomistic circles.

          • Would it be fair to say that trying to use the material to explain the goings-on here just doesn't add any explanatory power? In a key sense, science can talk of causes of actions, but not reasons for actions. Then you could say that the denial of the immaterial is tantamount to saying that there are no reasons which aren't really just causes. From here, you can say that the laws of nature aren't 'rational'—they're arational. That means material-only thinking would have to be arational. You can't pile up arationality and get rationality. (Likewise, you can't pile up tribalistic morality and get universal morality.)

            Taking things a step further, I cannot but detect a kind of Platonic reasoning in materialist thought, which is well-represented by Daniel Dennett's intentional stance. The idea is that things only behave "as if" there were intention, "as if" there were purpose. But then Dennett is explaining material phenomena in terms of something that only exists in the immaterial world, as something like Platonic Forms.

            I would love to see you take your thinking on these topics and explore whether David Braine's works could help elucidate some matters. For example:

                What we have to escape is the fiction that there is no alternative besides those of a rigidly rule-governed mechanical system and a system not properly rule-governed at all. It is a fiction which would force us to view any understanding, whether by God or other immaterial spirit or by human wings, as proceeding according to mechanical rules, and which would thereby abolish any understanding whatsoever—whereas in fact it is only understanding operating non-mechanically (restricted to accordance with mechanical rule would in any case exclude reflectiveness and self-criticism) which can judge of the virtue of any mechanism. (The Human Person: Animal and Spirit, 8)

            One way to think of this is that the materialist analysis claims that all you have are a sequence of states connected by natural laws which predict what will happen next, plus some noise. Any intentionality or purpose which runs through the system is reduced to "noise"—that is, failure of the mechanical explanation to get everything precisely correct. That's because materiality has no place for intention or purpose.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I quite agree with you that the view of science is the examine sequential relations of phenomena and attempt to form hypotheses that describe future such relationships correctly. This does not get to the actual causes of things, if, for no other reason, than the metaphysical requirement that causes must be simultaneous with their effects. The philosopher seeks to get to the real causes of effects, whereas the scientist seeks only formulae which properly describe predictable relations of phenomena, with the notion of cause being understood really as merely those relations. Indeed, there is a Platonic aspect to trying to mathematize the formal relations between phenomena as some sort of eternal truth expressed in some abstractly expressed physical formula.

            Of course, you are also right that materialism will have nothing to do with intention or purpose, since the final cause has been ruled out of bounds for several centuries now. One way to reestablish finality in creation is to first prove God's existence, and then note that every creature must be made with a given nature that reflects the divine intention or purpose as manifested by the ends or goals that nature tends to attain. But coming in the front door, so the speak, with final causes merely entices endless debate.

            I wish I had more time to pursue some of your suggestions here, but I really don't. All I can do is to note that the philosopher is looking for a different kind of rational explanation than the scientist -- that he is seeking reasons of being operative simultaneous with what is to be explained, and not merely predictable sequences of phenomena. But I fear this is not the project you had hoped for.

          • I've come across the claim that "causes must be simultaneous with their effects" and it seems to make intuitive sense, but I don't know where the mismatch is in science. Is it the case that scientists who take A–T philosophy more seriously do better science? I'm always dubious if some intellectual move only gives me mental satisfaction but doesn't deliver any sort of goods other than that. (This could include a superior capability to love others; it doesn't need to have instrumental utility.)

          • Dennis Bonnette

            We underestimate the force of first principles because the natural scientific mentality always demands empirical verification of some theoretically predicted result. But that is to simply misapply the method of science to a place it does not belong.

            There is no greater certitude than first principles because they are based on the direct knowledge of being as encountered in lived experience. The mind simply "sees" being as its natural object, just as the sight sees its natural object, color. There is no more reason to doubt the reality of being in experience than there is to doubt the reality of color (despite questions as to the origin of the sensory sight experience).

            That is why we have immediate certitude of such things as the principle of non-contradiction and that you cannot get something from absolutely nothing. To ask for a further elucidation of these truths is to fail to grasp their primacy, since all other judgments presuppose their validity.

            So, too, to demand a definition of "being" is to fail to realize its epistemic primacy. When you define something you define it in terms of something else that is better known than what you seek to define. But, since the concept of being is prior to all other concepts, that is a fool's venture. We know directly the meaning of such terms as "being" and "exists," since we are simply naming what we directly and immediately apprehend with objective certitude.

            Thus, the need for immediacy of the cause to the effect is not merely an "intuitive" truth, but a law of being that flows from the fact that an effect would be a being whose sufficient reason is not totally intrinsic, which means that unless the cause, the extrinsic sufficient reason for that which the effect is lacking, is actually present to produce the effect, the effect would both exist (because it does) and yet, not exist (since it would lack a sufficient reason for being), which is impossible. Hence, the need for an immediate cause for every effect is a necessary truth.

            (Immediacy is understood in the concept of simultaneity, since what is past cannot exist to account for what is in the present.)

          • I think I have some sense of what you're saying here, but I'm afraid I generally can't really come to grips with things until I see how they show up pragmatically, somehow. One idea is that Descartes' separation of the mental and the physical sundered that "metaphysical requirement that causes must be simultaneous with their effects". On the other hand, did any sundering like this happen in Romans 7, where Paul recounts first becoming even remotely free from the necessities of the flesh? When you become aware that there are possibilities other than one's current life trajectory which could be better, that realm of choice does seem to be mental and not physical. Anyhow, it's through reasoning about things like this that I grasp metaphysics and philosophy. If that's not your ball of wax, oh well.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Since the metaphysical first principles are the very laws of being itself, there are no exceptions to the need for a cause for anything that does not fully explain itself here and now. No exceptions at all.

            So, whatever Descartes was saying or whatever St. Paul meant, these are not exceptions to the rule. If it looks like it does not apply, it is simply that we very often fail to link the effect to its actual cause.

            If Descartes really did sunder the mental from the physical, then no cause effect relation would exist (on this hypothesis), and hence, no violation of the principle would occur. As for St. Paul, you will have to ask someone better versed in the meaning of Scripture than I.

            My primary ball of wax is the concept of being and its implications. Sorry. I guess I am too narrow. :)

      • George

        Have you ever explored a site of materialist philosophers discussing amongst themselves? Do you know of Less Wrong? I think there, you'd find many who already accept that the map is not the territory.

        • Dennis Bonnette

          I just gave a similar reply to you elsewhere on the thread. No need to repeat myself. This radical distinction between the materially-conditioned image and the matter-independent concept is not the same as the map/territory distinction.

          Part of the problem is that in the map/territory analysis both map (as neural network) and territory (as reality) are understood as material entities, whereas the universal concept has no material properties. So it is not an analogous situation.

  • Phil Tanny

    While irrational animals may possess sensitive, but mortal, souls, they
    do not possess spiritual and immortal souls. Such spiritual souls would
    have to have been endowed by our Creator solely to genuine human beings,
    whose essential superiority is marked by our remarkable species’ unique
    ability to think in terms of universal concepts – an ability totally
    absent in the rest of this planet’s sentient organisms.

    Your article may be putting it's finger on the philosophical source of climate change, the notion that we are somehow above and superior to the rest of nature.

    Irrational animals? Here's one for you.

    Modern civilization has a hair trigger loaded gun in it's mouth that could go off at any moment. And it's very close to impossible to find any discussion of this on any philosophy website, even though philosophers are among the most intelligent, articulate, and highly educated human beings.

    I really don't mean this in a personal way, but I grow increasingly weary of philosophers continually posing themselves, and human beings more generally, as being experts on rationality.

    Seriously, if I showed up for the philosophy club meeting at your house with a loaded gun in my mouth, and declined to discuss the gun as it's just too boring a topic for me, how would you evaluate my rationality?

    I've been doing this for years all over the net and posed this question to philosophers 1,000 times, and have yet to meet the one who is rational enough to address it. No personal offense intended to present company.

    • Phil Tanny

      Seriously, if I showed up for the philosophy club meeting at your house
      with a loaded gun in my mouth, and declined to discuss the gun as it's
      just too boring a topic for me, how would you evaluate my rationality?

      Readers may wish to observe how that, if the above challenge is addressed at all and not totally ignored, it will be responded to with some dismissive eye rolling little quip, so that we may return to the fantasy that we are rational and thus superior creatures by the shortest path possible.

      Somebody prove me totally wrong about this please. Thank you.

      • Jim (hillclimber)

        Phil, let's please take this as an example. Let me try to convey to you why no one has taken up this challenge that you layed out. It's not because it is difficult. Or rather: I don't even know if it is difficult, because it is so poorly articulated.

        Is the philosophy club supposed to represent ... philosophers? If so, then who is the person at risk of suicide supposed to represent? You? Is the metaphor therefore intended to convey that you are faced with important questions that you refuse to deal with because those challenges are too boring to you? I don't think so ... and yet I don't know how else to understand your metaphor.

        All I ask is that, when dialogue is failing between you and another, please consider, at least as a remote possibility, that it is not the fault of the other.

        • Phil Tanny

          Hi Jim, I agree there's always room for improvement in everyone's communications, mine included. I'll try again.

          Forget the philosophy club, unnecessary information, sorry, I shouldn't have included it.

          1) I have a gun in my mouth. Simple enough?

          2) I'm too bored by the gun to bother discussing it. Simple enough?

          3) Am I rational?

          Our entire civilization has a gun in it's mouth. We are too bored by that gun to bother discussing it. Are we rational?

          I have a counter theory to offer. Members don't wish to engage this example because to do so honestly would be to reveal that these discussions are not rational, but only sophisticated.

          I do thank you for sticking with it, asking for clarification, and not doing the "above it all" dodge. That is sincerely appreciated. You're a good guy, and I apologize for those times when I suffer from excessive enthusiasm.

          BTW - my email is down, so I may miss some replies. Not intentional.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            OK, thanks. Look, "no autopsy, no foul", as they say, but please do approach these conversations as if the rest of us are participating in good faith because, well, a lot of us are.

            For the sake of argument, I'll just concede that our civilization does indeed have a gun in its mouth in some sense. Is it irrational to not discuss it? Well, let me first answer according to the notion of rationality that large swaths of "our civilization" seem to accept: "Well yeah, I've got a gun in my mouth but, like, so what, man?". And indeed, there is in fact nothing strictly irrational about putting the gun in our mouths and refusing to discuss it. Because after all, maybe we are titillated by the sensation of danger, and you know, discussing it would be boring. Titillation is subjectively appealing and boredom is not, and isn't it rational to pursue subjective gratification? After all, if we are not going to pursue subjective gratification, what else would we do? Surely we are not going to pursue any objective moral goods, because that is a bit old fashioned. Moreover, according to some, the distinction between good and bad is illusory anyway, nothing more than the product of "conceptual divisions" that we suffer from because of the nefarious effects of "thought" which distract us from the underlying "unity of all reality" :-)

            So, perhaps our very way of thinking about rationality is a bit off? And, if that is the case, where might we turn to better reflect on the nature of rationality? Philosophy and theology are at the back of the class raising their hands. Let's call on them and listen to what they have to say. Otherwise we are going to be like chickens running around with our heads cut off, pretending to do consequential things while generating so much froth.

            Mind you, there is a much simpler answer, one that recognizes the urgency of the situation: "REPENT [i.e. 'go beyond yourself'], THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS AT HAND!" But if we crazy religionists were to just go around screaming that all the time, no one would listen because they wouldn't understand what the hell we were talking about it, and they would get tired of the noise. Would it be rational for us to just keep screaming anyway, or would it make more sense to engage in calm discussions, based on whatever common ground we can find?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Do you have a reason, a ratio for having a gun in your mouth. Notice, I am not asking if your reason is sane.

    • Phil, do you have any sense of the history of Roman Catholicism's objections to modernity? In a sense, they've been warning about what you're worried about for centuries. For example, here's Romano Guardini, mentor of Pope Francis and almost his PhD advisor:

          The modern era was fond of justifying technology and rested its defense upon the argument that technology promoted the well-being of man. In doing so it masked the destructive effects of a ruthless system. I do not believe that the age to come will rest with such an argument. The man engaged today in the labor of "technics" knows full well that technology moves forward in final analysis neither for profit nor for the well-being of the race. He knows in the most radical sense of the term that power is its motive—a lordship of all; that man seizes hold of the naked elements of both nature and human nature. His action bespeaks immense possibilities not only for "creation" but also for destruction, especially for the destruction of humanity itself. Man as a human being is far less rooted and fixed within his own essence than is commonly accepted. And the terrible dangers grow day by day. Once the "autonomous" state has broken all bonds, ti will be able to deliver the last coup de grâce to human nature itself. Man's crisis: man will either succeed in converting his mastery into good then his accomplishment would be immense indeed—man will either do that or man himself will be at an end. (The End of the Modern World, 56)

      That very book was cited in Laudato si' seven times. Two of the citations are found in the following paragraph:

      108. The idea of promoting a different cultural paradigm and employing technology as a mere instrument is nowadays inconceivable. The technological paradigm has become so dominant that it would be difficult to do without its resources and even more difficult to utilize them without being dominated by their internal logic. It has become countercultural to choose a lifestyle whose goals are even partly independent of technology, of its costs and its power to globalize and make us all the same. Technology tends to absorb everything into its ironclad logic, and those who are surrounded with technology “know full well that it moves forward in the final analysis neither for profit nor for the well-being of the human race”, that “in the most radical sense of the term power is its motive – a lordship over all”.[87] As a result, “man seizes hold of the naked elements of both nature and human nature”.[88] Our capacity to make decisions, a more genuine freedom and the space for each one’s alternative creativity are diminished. (Laudato si')

      There is plenty for this Protestant to disagree with in Guardini's book, and as we all know, humans love to accept or reject wholes instead of discerning what is καλός and what is κακός. But the idea that Roman Catholicism isn't paying attention to the "hair trigger loaded gun" you describe is just ludicrous. It would appear that you're just looking in the wrong places.

      • Phil Tanny

        Hi Luke, I keep finding replies from you hidden in the Disqus interface, sorry I haven't found this until now.

        You make some good points in your rebuttal, and I agree Catholicism has consistently expressed concerns with modernity.

        But the idea that Roman Catholicism isn't paying attention to the "hair trigger loaded gun" you describe is just ludicrous.

        Ok, so then show us the articles on this site, or any Catholic theology site, or any academic philosophy site, or any other kind of philosophy site, which specifically address the fact that a single person (currently Donald Trump) can crash modern civilization in just a few minutes without conferring with anybody other than the military officer who follows him around with the nuclear football. Show us the articles.

        Explain to us please why all these kinds of sites, many of which claim to speak authoritatively for Christianity and/or philosophy, should be addressing a million other topics other than the fact that everything built over recent centuries can be destroyed quickly by a single person.

        See? You're trying the usual thing I see over and over and over again where theologians, academics, and other intellectual elites always, always, always insist that they already know all this, and yet there is SO LITTLE evidence that they know it, or care about it at all.

        Here's a specific example. As you know we are currently in another heated Presidential campaign, with thousands of professional journalists all trying to be the one who asks the "big question". And to my knowledge, none of the candidates of any party have been asked this ...

        "If you are elected to the Presidency you may be called upon to incinerate many millions of people based on limited information and almost no warning. Are you prepared to do that?"

        See? This notion that everybody, especially cultural elites, are already aware of the existential threat from nuclear weapons is pure bunk.

        There is simply no logic to talking about a billion other obscure arcane topics while everything we care about can be destroyed without warning at any moment.

        It is upon this basis that we can reasonably reject the proposed authority of intellectual elites, particularly those who claim to be expert in the use of reason. Anyone who can't focus on a loaded gun in their mouth is simply not rational, and no amount of sophisticated tap dancing rationalizations can change that.

        • Phil Tanny

          So, why is this relevant, someone may ask?

          It's relevant because if intellectual elites are not fundamentally rational, then all of their logic calculations on all of their favorite obscure arcane topics (such as are addressed by the article on this page) are reasonably questioned.

          It's the simplest thing. If I walked around all day with a loaded gun in my mouth and refused to discuss the gun because I found it incurably boring, how seriously should you take whatever else it is I wish to make claims about?

          The truth is that 1) posters very reasonably would not take me seriously in that case and 2) posters aren't honest enough to admit that, and so 3) we have to go round and round and round and round wasting time with all kinds of supposedly clever diversions.

        • Hi Luke, I keep finding replies from you hidden in the Disqus interface, sorry I haven't found this until now.

          You can use disqus.com/home/inbox/ to see all replies to you and all @-mentions of you.

          Ok, so then show us the articles on this site, or any Catholic theology site, or any academic philosophy site, or any other kind of philosophy site, which specifically address the fact that a single person (currently Donald Trump) can crash modern civilization in just a few minutes without conferring with anybody other than the military officer who follows him around with the nuclear football. Show us the articles.

          site:blog.rongarret.info nuclear trump

          Explain to us please why all these kinds of sites, many of which claim to speak authoritatively for Christianity and/or philosophy, should be addressing a million other topics other than the fact that everything built over recent centuries can be destroyed quickly by a single person.

          Go perseverate with Ron Garret on one of the multiple blog articles where he worries about this. I don't see what will be gained by doing so; I think it is rather more important to question whether we perhaps need more people of more solid character to be in all sorts of places in civilization. Given how much of character is institutionally reinforced or perverted, this requires a focus on groups of people as well.

          As you know we are currently in another heated Presidential campaign, with thousands of professional journalists all trying to be the one who asks the "big question". And to my knowledge, none of the candidates of any party have been asked this ...

          "If you are elected to the Presidency you may be called upon to incinerate many millions of people based on limited information and almost no warning. Are you prepared to do that?"

          Because nobody will say "yes" to that question. It's a useless question. And you know what? In this climate, someone who said "no" could easily turn around and do it. You know what you need to stop that? Enough people of solid enough enough character, in an environment which promotes solid character.

          Anyone who can't focus on a loaded gun in their mouth is simply not rational, and no amount of sophisticated tap dancing rationalizations can change that.

          So what should I make of all your talk about going out into the desert to experience God?

          • Phil Tanny

            Hi Luke, I've bailed on all Disqus sites. Hope to meet you again elsewhere!

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      Rationality is the faculty of giving reasons for things. It is not an assertion that others must agree with your reasons.

  • Phil Tanny

    Perhaps, humans are, after all, God’s special creatures,
    superior in nature to all lower forms of physical creation, including other
    animals.

    What if humans are "lower forms of physical creation" in comparison to some alien life forms with intellectual abilities far superior to our own?

    Give the size of the universe it seems reasonable to speculate such species may exist somewhere, right? We do see that life appears in some very hostile environments here on Earth, and given enough time some of that life becomes intelligent. Given that some life forms in our own galaxy could be a billion years older than us, vastly superior intelligence seems entirely possible.

    Are we still "God's special creature" if there are 10,000 species in our galaxy alone who are a billion years ahead of us?

    Do you see how easy it is to punch big holes in memorized Catholic dogmas? No, you don't. And do I see how little you care? No, I don't, obviously.

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      What if humans are "lower forms of physical creation" in comparison to
      some alien life forms with intellectual abilities far superior to our
      own?

      Like angels? Augustine said that any being with rational faculties (i.e., intellect and will) would be human. That's metaphysically human, not biologically human, of course.

      You seem to think that if there are 10,000 imagined species that are special creatures, there cannot be one, though I might wish for some empirical evidence for these other species.

  • >But, once it is clear that conceptual knowledge is radically distinct from sense images, the possibility, that human intellectual knowledge is essentially distinct from, and superior to, mere animal manipulation of images, again emerges

    I don't see why. I think there is a radical difference between say a chimp and a trout, but I think dolphins and other primate thinking is nowhere near as vast as to call it essentially different. These animals are able to use language and engage in problem-solving beyond what many humans can achieve. It seems more than fair to accept they have some ability to hold a form of universal concept mentally.

    >it is no longer reasonable for naturalists to claim that universal concepts are merely sophisticated or common images somehow constituted of neural activity in the brain.

    There is a conflation here. You've shown concepts are not images as definition, but not that concepts cannot be constituted of only neural activity. I've seen no argument here to that effect.

    >Concepts appear to be spiritual in nature.

    No they are abstract. You haven't defined spiritual.

    >From the fact that human beings – alone in the animal kingdom – have the intellectual ability to form such universal concepts,

    This is a claim with no support.

    >Perhaps, humans are, after all, God’s special creatures, superior in nature to all lower forms of physical creation, including other animals.

    Or the creation of the architects of the Matrix.

    Who is saying humans are coequal to animals? We are atheists not PETA.

    • Dennis Bonnette

      "These animals are able to use language and engage in problem-solving beyond what many humans can achieve. It seems more than fair to accept they have some ability to hold a form of universal concept mentally."

      In the article, I gave a link to my ape-language study article which refutes your claims here. See this: https://www.godandscience.org/evolution/ape-language.html

      This same article cited also refutes your later claim that I fail to prove that humans alone among animals form universal concepts.

      "There is a conflation here. You've shown concepts are not images as definition, but not that concepts cannot be constituted of only neural activity."

      There IS conflation here, but it is typically on the part of materialists who fail to see the clear difference between the image and concept, reduce the concept to an image and the image to neural activity. I do not do that. I show the concept and image are distinct and that, therefore, no one has any right to do what the materialists do by conflating image and concept.

      I am not sure whether I define spiritual in this article, but I surely do previously and will here. The spiritual is what is not extended in space AND what does not depend on anything extended in space. For reasons evident in the article, the concept meets that definition.

      The real problem with the seventeen proofs that images are incommensurable with concepts is that they show that something is badly wrong with the materialist worldview that wants to reduce everything to physical things, such as neural activity. Since the concept cannot be conflated with the image, this general presumption that all mental activity -- concepts as well as images -- can be reduced to neural patterns and activity -- this materialist presumption -- must be badly flawed.

      • So too, the correct identification of, communication about, and employment of an appropriate tool by a chimpanzee (in order to obtain food) is no assurance of true intellectual understanding. Indeed, a spider which weaves its web to catch insects is repeatedly creating the same type of tool designed exquisitely to catch the same type of victim. Yet, does anyone believe that this instinctive behavior bespeaks true intellectual understanding of the means-end relation on the part of the spider? Hardly! The evident lack of intelligence in the spider is manifest the moment it is asked to perform any feat or task outside its fixed instinctive patterns.

        Whether “programmed” by nature, as in the case of the spider, or by man, as in the case of the chimpanzee, each animal is simply playing out its proper role in accord with preprogrammed habits based upon recognition or association of sensibly similar conditions. Certainly, no ape or any other brute animal understands the means as means, the end as end, and the relation of means to end as such. The sense is ordered to the particular; only intellect understands the universal.

        One may ask, “How do we know that the ape does not understand the intrinsic nature of the objects or ”labels“ he has been trained to manipulate?” The answer is that, just like the spider which cannot perform outside its “programmed” instincts, so too, the ape while appearing to act quite “intelligently” within the ambit of its meticulous training, yet exhibits neither the originality nor creative progress which man manifests when he invents at will his own languages and builds great civilizations and, yes, keeps his own “cages” clean!

        There is a problem with this argument and that is that not all apes use tools. Only some do. This means that specific tools are not a evolved instincts like in spiders but acts that at least some ape invented at some point in the past and other apes learned by imitation. What this means is that there is no way to tell that ape (or corvid, or octopus) tool use is *not* a result of a creative process. (Apes could develop these processes by chance in theory, but it has not been established that this is always what is going on in this article.)

        I don't think that there is a knowledgeable person alive who does understand that apes and humans have different cognitive abilities, but I'm not certain that one can confidently assert that the difference is precisely the difference that this article wants it to be. A good book to look into would _The Secret of our Success_ by Joseph Henrich which argues that it is the ability to propagate culture, not the ability to reason, that differentiates man from the animals. Apes can propagate culture in a limited way through imitation but humans are unique in the ability to relate complex thoughts through language.

        This is probably the real differentiator between apes and men, and a fundamental problem with attempting to ascertain the cognitive abilities of apes by examining their language use. Humans are not only capable of complex thoughts, we are capable of relating those thoughts and we are capable of relating those thoughts, not because of a human invention, but because of a human instinct: language. Human children start to acquire languages long before they start to exhibit a complex understanding of the world. Children start to cry with an accent as soon as they are born[1] but they do not recognize the impermanence of objects until about 8 months[2]. And no, I do not think that it is a given that cognitive reasoning is sufficient to acquire language, as human language is at least partially an automatic process. People instinctually acquire vocabulary and grammar and do so more strongly at certain development cycles which means that that are not simply reasoning about how to speak in the same way that one learns how to drive a car.

        There is a reason Nim Chimpsky was named after Noam Chomsky, and that's because Chomsky posited the existence of a universal grammar which would be an instinctive structure that humans possess that serves as a foundation for their language acquisition. An ape's lack of this universal grammar would be sufficient (but not necessary, just a lack of a basic instinct to acquire language is also sufficient) to differentiate human and ape language abilities.

        This should put to rest the idea that language, civilization, and cleaning are uniquely the result of creative processes. (That last one is especially bad as there are a great many animal species that clean their homes while not all humans are inclined to do so.)

        It's worth pointing out that although most people appear to process most of their thoughts through the use of internal language, this is not universal.[3][4] Some people, especially those with an ASD, process most of their thoughts either visually or spatially and have trouble translating their thoughts into language and translating the language of others into thoughts.

        For it must be remembered that contemporary electronic computers can be programmed to simulate many of these behaviors--and, probably, in principle, all of them. Walker points out some of these capabilities:

        > Already there are computers which can recognise simple spoken instructions, and there are computer programs which can play the part of a psychotherapist in interchanges with real patients (Holden, 1977), so the inability of machines to conduct low-grade conversations is no longer such a strong point.51

        If a computer can hold its own with real patients while feigning the role of a psychotherapist, it should surely be able to perform many of the functions of signing apes. Clearly, given appropriate sensing devices and robotics, even the most impressive, non-cued Savage-Rumbaugh experimental results could easily be simulated by computers--even by pairs of computers exhibiting the co-operative exchange of information and objects as was seen in the activities of the chimpanzees, Sherman and Austin.52 This would include the ability to “label labels,” e.g., to respond to the arbitrary pattern for banana by pressing the key meaning food.53 Such performance may seem remarkable in an ape, but it would be literal child’s play to a properly programmed computer.

        This is an incorrect understanding of what computers are capable of doing. This is in reference to the very famous program, "ELIZA"[5] which absolutely cannot hold its own with a real patient. It works primarily through syntactic manipulations and is devoid of semantic knowledge. It is one of the targets of the famous "Chinese Room" thought experiment. In many ways, ELIZA is the opposite of ape language experiments. Whereas apes associate words and signs with real world objects but don't develop a deep understanding of the structure of language, ELIZA is based entirely on a programmed "understanding" of the structure of language, that is, on syntax, but no real world associations occur there are no semantics. More sophisticated example can be seen in Markov chains which can produce convincing, but not for long, examples of long form text based on a simple statistical analysis of texts. This comparison, then is facile and wrong. Apes are not being programmed in the same way that computers are programmed. Teaching apes to act by imitation and programming a computer are fundamentally different things and are not analogous.

        (It's also worth pointing out that a computer demonstrating an ability does not mean that the ability is not evidence of some sort of cognition. The famous Chinese Room thought experiment is only applicable to AI systems that work solely through principles of symbol manipulation, such as ELIZA, or even more sophisticated expert systems. The ability to use ML techniques to acquire create semantic information, to association 'images' with 'concepts' changes this dynamic quite a bit.)

        But such is clearly not what happens when inanimate parts are artificially joined together into an accidental, functional unity such as an electronic computer. Thus, none of a computer’s individual parts which are inanimate in themselves can exhibit the properties of life, sensation, or intellection. Nor can any combination of such non-living entities--even if formed into a highly complex functional unity--achieve the activities of perception or thought, since these noetic perfections transcend utterly the individual natures, and thus, the natural limitations, of its components.

        If the purpose of this article is to demonstrate the uniqueness of human cognition, then this digression begs the question. There is no reason to believe that cognition is not merely the sum of many lesser abilities if there is no reason to believe that cognition is unique to humans. If cognition is not unique to humans, then it is probably not a property of something unique to them.

        It is to commit the fallacy of composition--to attribute to the whole qualities found in none of its parts.

        This is not what the fallacy of composition is. It's also an absurd thing to assert as a fallacy. This assertion in fact commits the fallacy of division.[6] Emergent properties are super common in nature.[7][8]

        The inherent limitations of any electronic computer were unintentionally underlined by the German mathematician Kurt Godel in 1930 when he proposed his famed incompleteness theorem to the Vienna Academy of Sciences. Expressed in disarmingly simply terms, the theorem states “that even in the elementary parts of arithmetic there are propositions which cannot be proved or disproved in that system.”61 Godel himself initially vastly underestimated the profound implications of his theorem. Among these were (1) that it struck “a fatal blow to Hilbert’s great program to formalize the whole of mathematics...”62 and (2) that it “cuts the ground under the efforts that view machines... as adequate models of the mind.”63

        Godel's theorem only applies to formal systems, not to reasoning, or even mechanical reasoning as whole. Formal systems are useful as reasoning tools, but they are only part of the process. Cognition as we understand is more likely to be a result of a complex adaptive system[9]. Also, there is the concept of the strange loop.[10][11]

        Commenting on his third sign that intellect is lacking in animals, Woodbury observes that brute animals lack a formal knowledge of relations. They fail to understand the means-end relationship in its formal significance. And, while men grasp the formal character of the cause-effect relationship in terms of being itself, animals are limited merely to perceiving and associating a succession of events.76

        This seems untrue. Witness the case of crows spontaneously developing tool use without prompting when confronted with a problem.[12] It seems unlikely that this behavior is merely a case of stimulus-response. It would be more parsimonious to suggest that the crows have an understanding of the spatial relationship between themselves, sticks and their targeted food items. This would explain why they choose different sticks for different food items, why they don't always start with sticks until the problem presents itself, and why they get better at tool use with time and practice. (I would also suggest that the same is true of normal locomotion among more complex animals.)

        > Thus apes, accustomed to perch themselves on a box to reach fruit, if the box be absent, place on the ground beneath the fruit a sheet of paper and perch themselves thereupon.77

        This same example reveals how lower animals “show no knowledge of distinction between causality and succession....”78 Clearly, had they any understanding of causality, the apes would not conceive a “sheet of paper” as causally capable of lifting them significantly toward the fruit.

        It could just as easily be said that they don't have an understanding of width. It's also worth pointing out that humans frequently display very similar behavior,[13] where they will perform a series of actions to achieve an end without understanding the underlying causality. I've personally witnessed cargo-cult behavior more times than I can recount.

        1. https://abcnews.go.com/Health/MindMoodNews/newborns-cry-accent-study-finds/story?id=9006266
        2. https://www.simplypsychology.org/Object-Permanence.html
        3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Visual_thinking#CITEREFDeza2009
        4. http://www.pegy.org.uk/Upside-Down%20Brilliance%20-A4%20pdf.pdf
        5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ELIZA
        6. https://www.logicallyfallacious.com/tools/lp/Bo/LogicalFallacies/89/Fallacy-of-Division
        7. https://sciencing.com/emergent-properties-8232868.html
        8. https://www.researchgate.net/post/What_is_your_definition_of_emergent_properties
        9. http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/complex-adaptive-system-CAS.html
        10. https://www.amazon.com/Am-Strange-Loop-Douglas-Hofstadter/dp/0465030793
        11 .https://www.amazon.com/G%C3%B6del-Escher-Bach-Eternal-Golden/dp/0465026567
        12. https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2016/09/this-crow-nearly-died-out-before-we-knew-it-uses-tools/499724/
        13. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cargo_cult

        • Dennis Bonnette

          This is a truly impressive partial review and critique of an article that I wrote over a quarter century ago and happen to reference in my own comment. But it is far too lengthy a comment for this thread and I would not even attempt a similarly long reply. More importantly, it is not a comment on the article here in Strange Notions presently.

          You make some excellent observations, and, perhaps, this would make a proper review to be published critiquing my ape-language article somewhere else.

          Just a couple general observations: You have to realize that most of my language study article was aimed at showing that ape-language studies did not necessarily show that other primates could do what we humans do in our use of language. You even seem to imply this yourself when you say this above: "Apes can propagate culture in a limited way through imitation but humans are unique in the ability to relate complex thoughts through language."

          Nonetheless, it is insufficient merely to show that a minimalist reading of animal behavior might leave men as qualitatively superior. What is necessary is to show positive proof that humans do things that animals cannot do.

          That is where Woodbury's four necessary formal signs of intellect come into play. You critique one of them in the last several paragraphs of your comment. Even then, your criticism centers on the fact that humans also frequently fail to exhibit knowledge of causal relations. That is doubtless true, but the point is that if some humans exhibit this ability, then it is reasonable to assume the ability belongs to all members of our species.

          But there are three other signs given by Woodbury that still remain, including our knowledge of immaterial objects, as evinced by such things as our unique grasp of science and also the pursuit of religion. I have never seen a group of chimps sitting in a class while a professor chimp gives them a course on the philosophy of chimp nature.

          More germane to the present Strange Notions article is the radical distinction between image and concept. Since man's use of language and actually experienced understanding clearly exhibits grasp of universal concepts, at least some case can be made that animals present no compelling evidence of doing anything more than associate and manipulate images.

          I am not trying to rewrite the older article in terms of the image and concept discussion of the present article, but I suggest that this radical difference between image and concept may well be expected also to be the demarcation line between animal cognition of solely images and human cognition of both.

          Finally, if the Thomists are right and formation of universal concepts are signs of humans having spiritual and immortal souls, should animals be shown to have similar abilities, this would not prove that men are merely animals, but rather that it might be true that all dogs go to heaven!

          • Phil Tanny

            More germane to the present Strange Notions article is the radical distinction between image and concept.

            More germane to the present article is the conclusion you were aiming at from the start, the whole point of the article.

            if the Thomists are right and formation of universal concepts are signs of humans having spiritual and immortal souls

            1) IF this is true, and 2) IF there are millions of species in the universe as intelligent or more intelligent than us, THEN humans would not be God's special project as is assumed by Christian dogmas, but instead one of millions of such projects.

            Perhaps Christian theologians would be perfectly happy with such an outcome, I really don't know. It seems impossible to know when they won't address the possibility.

        • This is an incorrect understanding of what computers are capable of doing. This is in reference to the very famous program, "ELIZA"[5] which absolutely cannot hold its own with a real patient. It works primarily through syntactic manipulations and is devoid of semantic knowledge. It is one of the targets of the famous "Chinese Room" thought experiment. In many ways, ELIZA is the opposite of ape language experiments. Whereas apes associate words and signs with real world objects but don't develop a deep understanding of the structure of language, ELIZA is based entirely on a programmed "understanding" of the structure of language, that is, on syntax, but no real world associations occur there are no semantics.

          I don't see why Bonnette cannot be arguing in this fashion:

               (A) Just like ELIZA could feign semantic understanding via syntactical manipulation,
               (B) apes can feign syntactic understanding via semantic manipulation.

          Your bold "cannot" appears to need empirical qualification:

          ELIZA's creator, Weizenbaum regarded the program as a method to show the superficiality of communication between man and machine, but was surprised by the number of individuals who attributed human-like feelings to the computer program, including Weizenbaum’s secretary.[2] Many academics believed that the program would be able to positively influence the lives of many people, particularly those suffering from psychological issues and that it could aid doctors working on such patients' treatment.[2][6] While ELIZA was capable of engaging in discourse, ELIZA could not converse with true understanding.[7] However, many early users were convinced of ELIZA’s intelligence and understanding, despite Weizenbaum’s insistence to the contrary. (WP: ELIZA)

          All Bonnette requires for his point is the illusory appearance of semantic competence, as judged by those who are not rigorous enough in parsimonious analysis. Where some humans attribute too much semantic competence to ELIZA, Bonnette et al are claiming some scientists attribute too much syntactic competence to non-human primates.

          Primate specialist Michael Tomasello suggests one way to understand why humans might be syntactically competent while no other primate is:

              Theoretically, recent advances in the philosophy of action have provided powerful new ways of thinking about these deeper and more primitive forms of uniquely human social engagement. A small group of philosophers of action (e.g., Bratman, 1992; Searle, 1995; Gilbert, 1989; Tuomela, 2007) have investigated how humans put their heads together with others in acts of so-called shared intentionality, or "we" intentionality. When individuals participate with others in collaborative activities, together they form joint goals and joint attention, which then create individual roles and individual perspectives that must be coordinated within them (Moll and Tomasello, 2007). Moreover, there is a deep continuity between such concrete manifestations of joint action and attention and more abstract cultural practices and products such as cultural institutions which are structured—indeed, created—by agreed-upon social conventions and norms (Tomasello, 2009). In general, humans are able to coordinate with others, in a way that other primates seemingly are not, to form a "we" that acts as a kind of plural agent to create everything form a collaborative hunting party to a cultural institution. (A Natural History of Human Thinking, 3)

          This "shared intentionality" yields uniquely new behaviors:

          Thus, although many animal species can cognitively represent situations and entities at least somewhat abstractly, only humans can conceptualize one and the same situation or entity under differing, even conflicting, social perspectives (leading ultimately to a sense of "objectivity"). Further, although many animals also make simple causal and intentional inferences about external events, only humans make socially recursive and self-reflective inferences about others' or their own intentional states. And, finally, although many animals monitor and evaluate their own actions with respect to instrumental success, only humans self-monitor and evaluate their own thinking with respect to the normative perspectives and standards ("reasons") of others or the group. These fundamentally social differences lead to an identifiably different type of thinking, what we may call, for the sake of brevity, objective-reflective-normative thinking. (A Natural History of Human Thinking, 4)

          And so, this supports Jean Piaget's claim that "Only cooperation constitutes a process than can produce reason." (Sociological Studies, quoted in Natural History, 1)

      • You have defined the distinction between image and concept quote well and I can accept that distinction. What you haven't done is show that universal concepts cannot be formulated if minds are material only.

        Your definition of spiritual is negative, it doesn't define what it is, but what it is not. Further it is not incompatible with being material. Material does not depend on space and time, rather it's the other way round. Time and space are not fundamental.

        Again you have demonstrated that abstract concepts are not images. With this I agree based on your definition. What you haven't shown is that concepts cannot be generated on materialism. This is unsurprising since on no metaphysical framework do we have much of an idea how concepts are formed. We can have some good ideas about it, it would seem they are generated by recursive neural networks. We are seeing this kind of ability in artificial neural networks now. Through machine learning AIs are beginning to apply universals. It is I think unlikely that this is what is going on in brains, but it does suggest that this is not impossible.

        • Dennis Bonnette

          I am glad you see the basic point of the article, namely, that images are radically distinct from concepts.

          This is a starting point for discussion that has largely been missed by those materialists who simply assume that concepts are like images in being material, and that therefore, concepts can be explained in terms of neural networks -- similarly as they think images can.

          I distinguish carefully in the preceding paragraph because images themselves are not material, like neural networks are. This is because the neurons are extended in space, whereas the images are not -- although the images depend on matter.

          Yes, the definition of spiritual is indeed negative, since we have no direct concept of the spiritual, since all our knowledge starts in sensation and sensation of of material entities.

          Rather, spiritual substances are know by what is called a "negative judgment of separation." This means the affirmation that something is real, but it is not material. Thus, our knowledge of spiritual things is in some sense indirect.

          But to your wider point, you then say that somehow concepts are generated by material entities. This is problematic, since concepts have existence, but they do not have the essential properties of material things nor do they exhibit dependence on material things, as do images.

          It is true that time and space "depend" on matter, since they are essential properties of material things. But this does not make matter independent of time and space, since matter cannot exist without its essential properties, namely, time and space.

          Hence, when you find things that are neither in time and space, nor exist under the conditions of time and space (like images do), youo have found something that fulfills the definition of the spiritual.

          Since nothing can give rise to a property it lacks, material reality cannot explain the origin of spiritual things -- that is, beings that really exist, but are absent the essential properties of matter. Such existence is a positive reality, as manifest by the seventeen modes of existence that concepts have, but images lack.

          • Are you saying we indirectly know the spiritual exists by way of affirming it?

            I say that concepts appear to be generated by neural activity. I think this is a fair inductive inference that they are.

            Concepts exist, I'm a way, they do not exist fundamentally. Existence isn't a property something can have or not have. Some things exist. Some concepts we hold are of things that do not exist beyond our imagination. Like say the Shinto library of supernatural entities like Kitsune, Tenuki, Yurie, and other Yokai, there are very developed images of this "universal" concept. The concepts and images exist but no Yokai exists.

            Yes concepts do not have the essential properties of material, which is why it is wrong to say they exist fundamentally. But they are reducible to material things.

            No time and space are not properties of material things either way. They are dimensions that emerge in material reality. But not all materials reality are temporal for example. There is no time for a photon.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            "I say that concepts appear to be generated by neural activity."

            "But [concepts] are reducible to material things."

            The whole point of the article was to show that concepts and images are incommensurable. Once that is granted, we can proceed with reasoning about other aspects.

            You are merely stating the standard reductionism: concepts reduce to images; images reduce to neural activity.

            Your problem, though, is that neural activity cannot exist outside of the conditions of matter, which is extended in and located in space, whereas the concept exhibits no such spatial conditions or limitations. So, how can what lacks dimensionless existence explain it? How can what is limited in space explain what is not limted in space? How can non-being explain being?

            "Some concepts we hold are of things that do not exist beyond our imagination."

            Here it is clear that you are still confusing the image and concept, which is typical of materialist and sensist thinking. If concepts are still within the imagination, they simply are not concepts at all -- since images and concepts are radically distinct.

            You claim that "time and space are not properties of material things," but immediately that time and space "emerge in material reality." Which is it? If time and space "emerge" from matter, that is what it means to be properties.

            "There is no time for a proton."

            That is simply a property of moving at the speed of light in relativity theory. But the proton is still located in space and moving in time relative to other observers. That is why it takes eight minutes for a proton to travel from the sun to the earth. Protons are material entities just like neural systems. Images are immaterial but depend on matter, since they are under the conditions of matter. Concepts exhibit neither spatial properties nor material dependence.

          • Not sure what incommensurable means, but I am not saying they are the same thing. I never said concepts reduce to images. I'm saying they both reduce to neural activity. The neural activity that generates images may have nothing to do with that which generates concepts. Or they may be related. Because every time we have an image and we reflect on that image we then have a concept of that image. Reflections on concepts of images create new aggregates of images, and by such an iterative process we could plausible end up with universal concepts.

            I'm not saying neural activity exists immaterially. Universals are abstractions of what neural activity is doing.

            No time and space are not properties of matter, they conceptual abstractions of what matte is doing.

            I meant photon not proton. And that's right to say a photon is "in time" ii a not a property of the proton it's a description of the context of the photon.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            "Reflections on concepts of images create new aggregates of images, and by such an iterative process we could plausible end up with universal concepts."

            It is clear that you do not grasp the difference between an image and a concept. Both images and neural activity take place under the conditions of matter. Concepts do not, which is why you cannot reduce them to either an image or neural activity.

            "No time and space are not properties of matter, they conceptual abstractions of what matte is doing."

            If time and space are merely conceptual abstractions, then time and space are not extramental realities. Do you really intend to say that? Does that belong to your understanding of physics?

            I mistakenly picked up your spelling error of photon and spoke of protons myself when describing photons. Sounds like one of Casey Stengel's comments about someone misspelling a word so badly that no one else could spell it correctly!

          • Whether concepts do not take place under the conditions of matter is indeed the question in dispute. They do, every concept you and I have ever beheld has been when our material brains have been thinking of them. They never happen when we aren't.

            It is a good way of thinking of time and space as mental realities, they are our minds' way of interpreting facts about reality. What time is, mentally is intuitive, what we are talking about extra mentally is not altogether clear.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            "Whether concepts do not take place under the conditions of matter is indeed the question in dispute. They do, every concept you and I have ever beheld has been when our material brains have been thinking of them. They never happen when we aren't."

            You are ignoring the clear proof in the OP that concepts precisely do not exhibit material properties. They are not experienced as extended in space, concrete, sensible, and so forth. What you are merely claiming is that they are somehow still dependent on matter in spite of exhibiting no material properties.

            Your claim that our we only know them when our "material brains" are "thinking" of them is simply a gratuitous assumption that we "think with our brains," which is precisely what the evidence appears to contradict. The problem for materialism is to explain how a purely material thing like the brain can produce cognitive objects that exhibit no material properties. Just assuming materialism does not explain the data.

            And if time and space are merely the way we think about material realities, then the whole of physics risks being turned into the sort of subjective idealism that Kant seems to have envisioned, where physical realities are conditioned by a priori forms of all possible cognition. He "saved" Newtonian physics by making its laws simply the laws of the mind. Are you sure you want to go there?

          • I'm not saying concepts "exhibit" material properties, they are not material, they are reducible to material. Do you understand the difference between fundamental and secondary?

            Ultimately they are extended in space and occur in time. They are what brains do. They aren't all that brains do, brains behold images, sense emotions, have memories, dream. There are quite a few more cognitive abilities other than abstract thought.

            Yes, you have laid out several differences, but of course you've left out all the similarities. They all happen only in humans, with live brains. When you damage the brain you damage the ability to form concepts. Concepts are always about images. You can't firm concepts if you cannot behold images. Concepts are aggregate abstract categories of images. You haven't touched at all on what happens in the brain when thinking about concepts vs images. Are specific areas of the brain associated with them? Do other animals have them?

            Of course it's not an assumption that we think with our brains. This is a conclusion that is demonstrated by overwhelming evidence. It's also easily falsified by showing thought absent a brain. Can you do it?

            Needless to say no one has a complete theory of how we think. Saying "something"spiritual

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I appreciate that you are about the only commenter here to take on directly the topic of the nature of the image and concept. The main point of my article is to present this distinction as something that simply cannot be overlooked by those claiming that man is a completely material being, but rather must be taken into account and explained -- despite the evident distinctions between these two cognitive objects.

            Unfortunately, merely repeating the assertion that concepts are reducible to brain activity does not quite fit the data. How can something that exhibits none of the properties of matter really be explained by material entities or causality?

            You make the common error of assuming that, because brains are always involved in various cognitive and appetitive functions, the functions are nothing but brain activity or its products. I have already shown earlier that the simplicity of sense perception cannot be explained by an extended material organ.

            "But, sense experience actually does something that no purely material entity can do, namely, the immaterial act of unifying the experience of external physical reality, or the internal image, into a simple whole. Therefore, its immaterial nature – precisely because it is immaterial and unitive -- must be superior to that of any purely material organ or neural activity. Now, an inferior cause cannot produce a superior effect, that is, materiality cannot account for immateriality. Thus, while it cannot exist without brain activity, sense experience must get its immateriality from some other source than material brain activity.
            https://strangenotions.com/materialisms-failures-hylemorphisms-vindication/

            The major point is that not even sense experience is fully explained by a material organ, like the brain. But there is more that is relevant to your present comment:

            "Concepts are always about images. You can't firm concepts if you cannot behold images. Concepts are aggregate abstract categories of images."

            This shows that you still do not grasp the distinction between concepts and images. Granted that images are always associated with concepts. That is how the mind recalls its concepts. But the amazing thing is that the image may have nothing particularly to do with the concept with which it is associated!

            What image do you have for the concept of justice? A blindfolded lady with scales? A court building? How is that representative of the intellectual content of justice? Is it just the spelling: j - u - s - t - i - c - e? That is totally arbitrary, since other languages use other words. What image do you have for the concept of the word "the?" Most languages do not even have article adjectives. And, again, the spelling in English is pure convention.

            It is simplistic to think that, because we picture a horse when we think the concept of horseness, concepts are merely based on related imaginable content. The fact is that most words do not have such simple image associations. What image do you have for "antidisestablishmentarianism" except the arbitrary spelling of the word itself. Yet, it HAS a conceptual meaning. Indeed, what image do you have for the word, "image?"!!

            No one is so foolish as to claim that human or animal cognitive and appetitive operations take place without corresponding brain activities. But also, no one should be so foolish as to simply identify the former with the latter or to think that the latter, as mere matter, can produce the immaterial qualities of the former -- especially in the case of the universal concept, which exhibits properties in no way proper to material things.

    • These animals are able to use language and engage in problem-solving beyond what many humans can achieve.

      For example?

      … I think dolphins and other primate thinking is nowhere near as vast as to call it essentially different.

      See WP: Primate cognition § Asking questions and giving negative answers, where it is noted that scientists have not been able to detect a primate asking a question, nor teach a primate to ask a question. Do you hold that asking questions just isn't that important for thinking?

      • When dolphins are rewarded by giving a fish for bringing trash floating into their pools, they have hoarded garbage to break it up into small pieces to get more fish. Later they use the fish to lure birds close to kill them, break them up and get even more fish.

        Gorillas can hold a vocabulary beyond what a three year old can.

        Many humans cannot use any language or problem solve.

        See https://youtu.be/cbSu2PXOTOc
        For problem-solving crows

        Certainly the ability to ask questions is more advanced. It's something many humans cannot do either.

        • Many humans cannot use any language or problem solve.

          For example? Emphasis on "many".

          Certainly the ability to ask questions is more advanced. It's something many humans cannot do either.

          For example? Emphasis on "many".

          • Many people with ASD cannot speak, but can still problem solve. Some cannot do either. Other developmental disablities (such as intellectual disability) can prevent both speech and problem solving. Presumably they are still people despite their disability. ASD is quite prevalent (https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/data.html). The more severe non-verbal variation is less common but still includes millions of people world wide.

          • Are we talking more or less than 0.1% of humans? More or less than 1%? BTW, I had the privilege of visiting an autism workshop where the guy had autistic kids developing far more than the doctors predicted—including hugging their mothers for the first time. I don't think we don't know how much of their inability is dietary and/or cultural?

          • The very young, humans I'm comas, those with advanced dementia, aphasia.

          • BGA: Many humans cannot use any language or problem solve.

            Certainly the ability to ask questions is more advanced. It's something many humans cannot do either.

            BGA: The very young, humans I'm comas, those with advanced dementia, aphasia.

            And yet … the corresponding animals are how much more capable? I don't see your point.

          • I mean gorrilas and chimps are, dolphins. Crows

          • Yes, they are other animals with cognitive abilities which seem to be very different in scale but of the same essential kind as humans.

          • On what basis do you assert that "seem to be"? It seems rather dubious that just adding some more neurons to non-human primates would result in them all of a sudden starting to ask questions. The difference between asking questions and not asking questions seems to be a difference in kind, not scale or degree.

            Unless you mean that humans have lower-level cognitive abilities shared with non-humans? I don't think anyone here would disagree with that.

          • Just my own flawed inductive reasoning from various things I've read or experienced. I've known two dogs very well, I audited a class on population that had a significant recounting of the social interactions of some primates. These latter showed advanced behaviour including culture, commerce and war. I'm aware of some other behaviour of crows dolphins from media. That kind of thing.

            Sure, I don't know what change would be required for other brains to have the abilities that humans do.

            I mean it depends on what you mean by kind, essential kind.

            I think you are onto something if you think maybe we should be discussing the findings of neurology, psychiatry, animal behaviour rather than philosophers.

          • I've known two dogs very well …

            Did either ever ask you a single question? (Communicating "Want food!" is more parsimonious than "May I have some food?") How about any of the primates?

            [Some primates] showed advanced behaviour including culture, commerce and war.

            The nature of any of these three things is surely fundamentally different depending on whether questions are ever asked in the carrying out of each behavior.

            I think you are onto something if you think maybe we should be discussing the findings of neurology, psychiatry, animal behaviour rather than philosophers.

            I dislike such either/or choices. Philosophers generally train to have greater conceptual clarity than other fields of study—at least in the analytical school. This can be an aid to scientific inquiry, especially when one has passed the stamp-collecting phase.

          • Both dogs asked me questions. They asked to go outside, for food, to come up on the bed.

            But you are correct dogs do not ask the same sort of questions bas humans do.

            No having complex social interactions is good reason to think these animals are not of an essentially different kind.

            So you'd rather determine the relative level of mental ability of humans and animals by ignoring those who actually study them, rather philosophy of religion is where we'd look?

          • LB: See WP: Primate cognition § Asking questions and giving negative answers, where it is noted that scientists have not been able to detect a primate asking a question, nor teach a primate to ask a question. Do you hold that asking questions just isn't that important for thinking?

            LB: Did either ever ask you a single question? (Communicating "Want food!" is more parsimonious than "May I have some food?") How about any of the primates?

            BGA: Both dogs asked me questions. They asked to go outside, for food, to come up on the bed.

            Do you believe that asking for food is more, less, or equally as parsimonious as "Want food!"?

            But you are correct dogs do not ask the same sort of questions bas humans do.

            Indeed, as I indicated by quoting upthread, scientists specializing in primate study don't even think it is correct to use "question" to talk about any behavior in which primates engage.

            BGA: [Some primates] showed advanced behaviour including culture, commerce and war.

            LB: The nature of any of these three things is surely fundamentally different depending on whether questions are ever asked in the carrying out of each behavior.

            BGA: No having complex social interactions is good reason to think these animals are not of an essentially different kind.

            This is why I say philosophers can deliver value in such conversations: I cannot detect any rigorous meaning of "essentially different kind" in your thinking. Perhaps that is my limitation and not yours.

            BGA: I think you are onto something if you think maybe we should be discussing the findings of neurology, psychiatry, animal behaviour rather than philosophers.

            LB: I dislike such either/or choices. Philosophers generally train to have greater conceptual clarity than other fields of study—at least in the analytical school. This can be an aid to scientific inquiry, especially when one has passed the stamp-collecting phase.

            BGA:So you'd rather determine the relative level of mental ability of humans and animals by ignoring those who actually study them, rather philosophy of religion is where we'd look?

            I will repeat myself: I dislike such either/or choices. Early on, @dennisbonnette:disqus directed you to his essay A Philosophical Critical Analysis of Recent Ape-Language Studies, which makes extensive use of actual science. My very first reply to you cited the results of primate specialists—it's what I quote at the beginning of this comment.

          • Want food? Yes just like a human does. What you're getting at is the kinds of discussions like asking Koko how her day was and getting a narrative answer. No animals don't seem to have this capacity. Neither do two year old kids. Do I consider these different, yes. Essentially different kind? No.

            I cannot detect any rigourous definition of "essential kind" in the above article either.

          • LB: Do you believe that asking for food is more, less, or equally as parsimonious as "Want food!"?

            BGA: Want food? Yes just like a human does. →

            What additional cognitive content do you think exists in "May I have some food?" over against "Want food!", and how are you sure that your dogs had that additional cognitive content? I am assuming you respect parsimony—is that true?

            ← What you're getting at is the kinds of discussions like asking Koko how her day was and getting a narrative answer.

            Incorrect.

            I cannot detect any rigourous definition of "essential kind" in the above article either.

            Here's an analogy: We know we can build tall structures with steel-reinforced concrete. So, why not just add more and more, and build higher and higher? Well, it turns out that the laws of physics prevent us from building a space tether in this fashion. The structure would collapse under its own weight long before reaching the appropriate height. To suggest that whatever it is that non-human primates do, piling more and more would ultimately result in human-level intelligence, is dubious in the same way.

            I don't know exactly how to map the above analogy to 'essential kind', as I am not an expert in A–T philosophy. However, I am quite aware of how concepts are sometimes sufficient to produce a given result and sometimes woefully insufficient. @dennisbonnette:disqus, your thoughts?

          • No idea what cognitive content is, or what would be required to draw out the difference between want food and may I have food.

            I don't know what parsimony is.

            I'm not suggesting it's just piling on more and more X would establish the cognitive differences we observe between humans and other primates. I don't know what the neurological differences are between humans and primates and other animals.

            I do not see that it would be an essentially different kind, and the reason is this. The cognitive differences between various animals seem as vast or more vast than those between say chimps and humans, yet these animals developed these abilities naturally. So I don't accept this philosophical claim that the gap is insurmountable.

          • No idea what cognitive content is, or what would be required to draw out the difference between want food and may I have food.

            thefreedictionary.com: cognitive content
            1. the sum or range of what has been perceived, discovered, or learned

            Now, how do you know that your dog asked a question rather than issued a desire? Are you sure you are not anthropomorphizing your dog?

            I don't know what parsimony is.

            Here:

            Occam's razor (also Ockham's razor or Ocham's razor: Latin: novacula Occami; or law of parsimony: Latin: lex parsimoniae) is the problem-solving principle that states "Entities should not be multiplied without necessity."[1][2] The idea is attributed to English Franciscan friar William of Ockham (c. 1287–1347), a scholastic philosopher and theologian. It is sometimes paraphrased by a statement like "The simplest solution is most likely the right one." but is the same as the Razor only if results match. Occam's razor says that when presented with competing hypotheses that make the same predictions, one should select the solution with the fewest assumptions,[3] and it is not meant to be a way of choosing between hypotheses that make different predictions. (WP: Occam's razor)

            I'm not suggesting it's just piling on more and more X would establish the cognitive differences we observe between humans and other primates.

            Then perhaps there is a different in kind and not just degree.

            I do not see that it would be an essentially different kind, and the reason is this. The cognitive differences between various animals seem as vast or more vast than those between say chimps and humans, yet these animals developed these abilities naturally. So I don't accept this philosophical claim that the gap is insurmountable.

            We do not know whether humans developed 'naturally' from their ancestors, where 'naturally' is defined as "via currently known and scientifically characterized processes". If that word 'naturally' is allowed to grow arbitrarily much as time goes forward, then it basically has no definition.

          • I know a dog is asking for food because of its behaviour before and after. I know she is asking because it is directing the request to me.

            Sure. It depends on what is meant by "kind" and "essential". Terms that are undefined here. The purpose of the terms was clear the argument is that our cognitive ability of universals is too different than any of any animals, is not reducible to material and implies something spiritual, which Dr Bonnette clarified to me means not extended in space or time, if I recall.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Please remember that we have those "intermediate" things, like images, which are not extended in space, but do occur under the conditions of matter, since, for example, they are imagined as extended in space, even though they are not themselves so extended. Imagine a foot long hot dog. How long is it? How big are out heads? Most of us have heads less than a foot wide or long (I hope).

            Universals appear as strictly spiritual, since they are not even apprehended as under the conditions of matter. Thus, understand the meaning of "hot dog" which applies to all conceivable hot dogs of every size and past, present, or future.

          • Ficino

            Universals appear as strictly spiritual, since they are not even apprehended as under the conditions of matter.

            Can you explain how the following coheres with yours above?
            In VII Meta l. 10 C1490 the universals like man or horse are universals of composites of form and matter, so C1491 we understand that matter is part of the species, and “Speciem autem hic intelligimus non formam tantum, sed quod quid erat esse. Et patet etiam quod materia est pars eius totius… Compositum autem est tam quam singulare.”

          • Dennis Bonnette

            While the concrete essences of the actually existing composites contain matter, the intellectual understanding of them abstracts from quantified or individuated matter.

            So, basically, we understand a horse as having a certain substantial form which actuates matter, but the matter is considered abstractly, that is, as a principle which would quantify and individuate the form if it were concretely actualized -- but in the intellect we prescind from such concrete actualization.

            Another way to put it might be to say that in the intellect we understand that horseness includes both form and matter, and that matter is a principle of individuation -- but we "ignore" that concrete individualization when considering the concept as universally applicable.

            That is why the universal concept, while applying to every individual thing, prescinds from that which concretely makes one horse different from another horse. Nonetheless, there is a basis for universal predication of the essence because there is a "foundation in the thing" for what is predicated universally. Every horse is truly a horse, but each in its own unique way.

            We also refer to the matter of the actual horse as "designated" matter, since we are not then referring to matter in general, but to this horse with this matter and that horse with that matter.

          • Ficino

            Yes, OK, thanks for clarifying.

            I'd rather see "spiritual" restricted to substances that have intellect rather than also extended to intelligibilia, but that's just me. Same as I'd rather see "species" restricted to things that share a unique substantial form, like elephant, rather than extended over what in A-T is normally considered a genus. But again, that's just me.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Well, given that the intelligibilia exist only in intellects, and not in some Platonic ideal world, the result is pretty much what you prefer, perhaps.

            I admit that it is disconcerting to suggest that an elephant is in the same species with the small rodent it allegedly fears, but that does not prevent the possibility of more narrow definitions of species. It is just I don't think anyone has found a workable one as of yet.

          • Including Hot Dog the Movie?

          • michael

            Can we truly and accurately imagine the 2 million light year space between The Milky way and Andromeda galaxy, then/

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Not to accurate proportions, but we do imagine it as a vast distance between two galaxies. That is an image of something extended in space and concretely so, even though we realize intellectually that the image is not the reality.

          • LB: Now, how do you know that your dog asked a question rather than issued a desire? Are you sure you are not anthropomorphizing your dog?

            BGA: I know a dog is asking for food because of its behaviour before and after. I know she is asking because it is directing the request to me.

            Why doesn't "issued a desire" explain the behavior? Do you believe that we ought generally choose the most parsimonious explanation? (That is, generally follow Ockham's razor.)

            LB: We do not know whether humans developed 'naturally' from their ancestors, where 'naturally' is defined as "via currently known and scientifically characterized processes". If that word 'naturally' is allowed to grow arbitrarily much as time goes forward, then it basically has no definition.

            BGA: Sure. It depends on what is meant by "kind" and "essential". Terms that are undefined here. The purpose of the terms was clear the argument is that our cognitive ability of universals is too different than any of any animals, is not reducible to material and implies something spiritual, which Dr Bonnette clarified to me means not extended in space or time, if I recall.

            What Dr. Bonnette said was this:

            [OP]: 17. While an image represents an individual entity existing in space, the concept represents the nature outside of a given space and time.

            So for example, if you want the term 'natural' to encompass "all that exists", then it has to also exist "outside of a given space and time". The whole point of coming up with a universal concept of 'natural' is to step outside of the contingencies and vicissitudes of time and describe "what really exists". Otherwise, what are you doing with that definition other than sketching out the limits of what you can imagine? If everything is just formlessly changing, if nothing is predictable, then terms simply wouldn't refer.

            Now, nobody's current understanding of 'natural' seems able to crack what consciousness is and especially, what it takes for consciousnesses to ask questions, of the kind that scientists say no non-human primate has ever been observed asking. Maybe that is because their understanding of 'natural' simply isn't up to the task? Or is it "unscientific" to suggest such a thing, like how 'irreducible complexity' is somehow an enemy to science?

          • I'd say issuing a desire as a request to be fulfilled by another is what questions are in substance.

            I don't think consciousness asks questions. We have a conscious experience of asking questions. The asking is more involved. I don't think the conscious experience of asking is the cause of the mental activity of asking, more like the result. But I'd agree, we don't know what it is, or how it works, so we shouldn't speculate either way.

            Sure, on this use "natural" also refers to anything that does exist that is "outside" space and time. A better word would be "reality", but we can use "natural" this way.

            I don't know what you mean by "stepping outside" of space and time by way of the concept. The concept is the idea of literally everything, some of which may or may not exist "outside" space and time or nothing may. This is unknown.

            Irreducible complexity is an idea that has relevance in science and philosophy. In science I'm only familiar with the attempt to show some biological aspects could not have originated by way of chemical processes without the assistance of some kind of general intelligence with the ability to physically manipulate it.

          • You can reduce everything to desires if you want, but science proceeds by making distinctions, not lumping anything and everything into the same category. As far as I can tell, questions which try to understand what is in other's minds are questions that only humans ask. The cognitive content of those questions is profoundly different from "Want food!"

            Your comment about consciousness not raising questions makes me think you might buy into Libet's experiments on free will. Libet's interpretation was rather tendentious; I suggest Alfred Mele's Free: Why Science Hasn't Disproved Free Will if you are predicating your beliefs on his experiments. For making further progress in how questions are asked, perhaps it would be beneficial to permit tools and concepts in addition to those of physics and chemistry. That is, we should be careful just what we are insisting on by requiring methodological naturalism.

            If God exists then apparently God is 'natural'. What exactly is the use of this term 'natural'?

            On naturalism, we as creatures seem 100% bound to space and time. If we are, then how can we make justifiable statements about anything outside of space and time?

            There are two kinds of irreducible complexity, in my experience. One says that only mind-like intentionality could explain what we see. A slightly weaker version says that extant mechanisms and mathematical patterns are insufficient to explain what we see. As studies of primate cognition demonstrate, the difference between these two objections is not always easy to discern.

          • Yes I agree, there are discernable differences in how humans and other animals think, but I don't see it as an "essentially different kind" in the sense that human cognition is reasonably known to be impossible absent a spiritual element absent in other animals.

            There are differences in language abilities and the ability to hold multiple abstract concepts in mind at once. Animals don't generally seem to have these abilities. I expect they are closely related to our language neurology. But how the brain works, I understand is a pretty open book.

            Yes, if you define "natural" as all that exists, and god exists, god is natural. But if you define it more narrowly, and have a distinct category of "Supernatural", as I think is not uncommon, and god is supernatural, then god is not natural. I would usually use the more narrow definition of natural when talking to theists. But we are using a very broad definition, which I'd agree makes the term pretty useless.

            We can talk about certain abstract concepts to which time and space are irrelevant, like numbers, logic. We can speculate about how photons are in a sense timeless, and so on. I don't know if you'd consider these justifiable.

          • After all this back-and-forth, I'm just not seeing much of an argument by you. You've made two key claims:

            BGA: I'm not suggesting it's just piling on more and more X would establish the cognitive differences we observe between humans and other primates. I don't know what the neurological differences are between humans and primates and other animals.

            … The cognitive differences between various animals seem as vast or more vast than those between say chimps and humans, yet these animals developed these abilities naturally. So I don't accept this philosophical claim that the gap is insurmountable.

            You have virtually no idea how† Homo sapiens differ from all other organisms when it comes to cognitive power, and yet you are 100% confident that that Homo sapiens evolved 'naturally'—while having virtually no idea what that term 'naturally' really means. Other than "not what that Roman Catholic thinks".

            In the 19th century, there was plenty that was insurmountable because physics were classical. Much was only possible via introducing GR and QM. But you don't think something analogous is something it is reasonable to think will be required to understand conceptual thought. Or if you do, you don't think the new paradigm could plausibly include 'concept' in anything like the way Dr. Bonnette has defined the term. If I've guessed right in either case: do you have any reasons for believing thusly?

            † Here, 'how' ≡ "the structures and mechanisms and processes which are different". That Homo sapiens differ from all other organisms is something to which you have agreed.

          • No I have some decent idea of how humans differ from other animals. Most other animals have nothing like human cognitive abilities. Some have some that are quite similar. What is distinctive are things like our language and abstraction abilities.

            The term "natural" has several common uses. The one you've advanced here, "everything that exists", I would say is rather uncommon.

            I don't think Dr Bonnette has demonstrated that human linguistic and abstract cognition is of an essentially different kind than other animals or that this difference proves the existence of some unknown non-material spirit that is doing the abstract thinking, as opposed to some unknown material neurology.

          • No I have some decent idea of how humans differ from other animals. Most other animals have nothing like human cognitive abilities. Some have some that are quite similar. What is distinctive are things like our language and abstraction abilities.

            You appear to have ignored my † clarification of 'how'. Nothing you've said here deals on the level of 'matter', and yet you claim that we will be able to understand it all with 'matter'.

            BGA: The cognitive differences between various animals seem as vast or more vast than those between say chimps and humans, yet these animals developed these abilities naturally.

            LB: We do not know whether humans developed 'naturally' from their ancestors, where 'naturally' is defined as "via currently known and scientifically characterized processes". If that word 'naturally' is allowed to grow arbitrarily much as time goes forward, then it basically has no definition.

            BGA: The term "natural" has several common uses. The one you've advanced here, "everything that exists", I would say is rather uncommon.

            Well, how about you define the underlined word, which you used first?

            I don't think Dr Bonnette has demonstrated that human linguistic and abstract cognition is of an essentially different kind than other animals or that this difference proves the existence of some unknown non-material spirit that is doing the abstract thinking, as opposed to some unknown material neurology.

            Erm, all Dr. Bonnette needs is for his argument is the following:

                 (1) matter is extended in space
                 (2) concepts are not extended in space

            Are you suggesting a kind of "unknown material neurology" which is not extended in space? Are you suggesting that everything we do can presently be explained without anything not extended in space?

          • Yes, you're correct I don't know what is responsible for the differing cognitive abilities among some animals. I do know that much of it has to do with brain differences, e.g. the differences between fish brains and mammal brains account for a great deal.

            I have some understanding that there is a neurological architecture related to language. But as to how the difference raised by Dr Bonntte, couldn't say. I don't think anyone has a good model on it, on materialism or Hylomorphism.

            Yes, I was using "natural" in the underlined section as opposed to theistically. These abilities developed without the need for this "spiritual" element referred to by Dr B.

            I disagree that those two sentences support his conclusion. Concepts not being extended in time and space do not entail that an element of human cognition is if an essentially different kind than all others.

            I'm not suggesting any of the things you asked in your last paragraph. My suggestion was the one in the paragraph you quoted just above.

          • Concepts not being extended in time and space do not entail that an element of human cognition is if an essentially different kind than all others.

            Erm, how are neurons going to store or interact with something extended neither in space or in time? Aren't neurons inextricably extended in space and time?

          • They don't store concepts they are part of how brains conceive concepts. Concepts are not fundamental, they are immaterial.

          • Ok, then how on earth do material neurons interact with immaterial concepts? You know Descartes failed to connect the extended-in-space and the not-extended-in-space, and so did every single human after him—right?

          • Ficino

            I never understood why this is a problem. A computer is made of materials that are extended, but we don't say that there is a ghost in the computer that enables it to store the propositional content of the information it stores. A car is made of materials, but its speed is not made of materials. Why can't we just say that the brain is the organ that I think with, as the mouth etc are the organs that I speak with? There are lots of operations performed and ends achieved, and the operations and many of the ends aren't substances.

          • Jim the Scott

            If I might chimb in since you said something very interesting...

            Does a Computer have a subjective conciousness? I say no. Indeed the shelves of a library stacked with books contain information extended in 3d space but is a library conscious? Does it have a subjective experience? I say no. We have a subjective experience and whatever that experience is it is clearly not extended in 3d space. That is self evident. So property dualism if you wish to hold on to some semblance of materialism or a revised Cartusian dualism or substance dualism or better yet Hylomorphism seem to be our only options. Strict reductionist materialism doesn't have any explanitory power here IMHO.

            Cheers

          • Ficino

            I haven't done enough on philosophy of mind to pick among the positions you mention. But not even Daniel Dennett holds that a thought is literally made of matter, or that it has extension, does he?

          • Jim the Scott

            Dennett believes consciousness does not actually exist. It is down hill from there.

            Cheers.

          • Sample1

            When, in the far future, the hundredth AGI says it’s experiencing what we call consciousness, how will we know if it is or isn’t?

            We won’t. We will do what reliably works: place a hard-to-vary theory laden explanation between us and our observations.

            I am unaware of any hint or law of nature that says the brain must understand how it functions at those levels. We mostly agree that there already exist classes of questions that are nonsensical: what’s north of the North Pole or what was reality like if no time existed and what is a house made of jealously and sleep? Just because we can ask a question doesn’t mean it’s a good one. I suspect consciousness could be in that category of dead end efforts too.

            But if AGI does someday claim consciousness, we will at least have further circumstantial evidence worthy of study that physical materialism alone may indeed suffice for the phenomenon which, I suspect, it does.

            Mike

          • Dennis Bonnette

            By the time they learn how to say they have consciousness or are alive, I suspect they will have also learned the utility and technique of lying. :)

            We can already program a computer to say, "Cogito, ergo sum." But that does not mean it knows what it is saying.

            The real problem is the same as it is with materialism itself. Intellectual self-awareness is a form of consciousness, which, entails acts that are immaterial in nature.

            Specifically, to know one is alive and conscious means to understand the concept of "being alive" and of "being conscious." Since such concepts are immaterial in nature, as appears to be the case from the properties of any universal concepts as explained in my OP, any entity really knowing what it is saying when claiming to be alive or conscious, must really be a living thing with an immaterial cognitive function.

            If this is true, then we don't have to ask an AGI if it is conscious or alive, since we will know ahead of time that it cannot be, since it -- on your hypothesis -- is a purely material entity. Thus it cannot truthfully claim to have consciousness of its own cognitive acts or to be alive -- no matter how many times it lies about the matter.

          • Sample1

            1st paragraph, irrelevant noted with smiley punctuation but you still stated it.

            2nd. Of course, but whose saying that?

            3rd. Not sure if your understanding of immaterial is truth.

            4th. Seems to rule out many categories of human states: babies, cognitively impaired, etc.

            5th. I don’t think you understood my point. I said it would provide further circumstantial evidence that could be explored. Science is not dogma, theory is never 100% certain unlike theology (but you are fond of saying you aren’t a theologian).

            5a. You again reference the certainty of lying. Why assume all conscious beings must lie, let alone infer always will lie?

            Mike

          • Dennis Bonnette

            "3rd. Not sure if your understanding of immaterial is truth."

            Do you have a better one?

            "4th. Seems to rule out many categories of human states: babies, cognitively impaired, etc."

            This is the nonsense you get into when you don't have a grasp of how a substance remains the same kind of thing it is even though its various operative potencies go into and out of act. Thus, a sleeping man is still a man, even though he cannot drive a car while sleeping. A man in a coma is still a man, even though he is not waking. Common sense long understood these simple facts, until some skeptical thinkers began to question the substantial continuity of life from conception to natural death for purposes of "sociological innovation."

            "5th. I don’t think you understood my point. I said it would provide further circumstantial evidence that could be explored. "

            I think you misunderstand my point. My point is that sound philosophy would tell us that as long as any AGI is simply the composition of discrete physical parts, even if some of those parts entail such things as organic nano-chips, A-T philosophical principles would tell us that the AGI has no substantial unity, and thus, no substantial form or soul with immaterial cognitive faculties. Therefore, it would be lying if it said it knew it was alive or conscious.

            You may not agree with the philosophical principles to which I refer, but that does not mean they are untrue. As a Thomistic philosopher who knows they are true, I would not be impressed even by a lying AGI whose origin and composition is as I just described in materialistic terms.

            As for the tendency to lie, my smiley face was there because I have no idea whether AI would be prone to dissimulation or not. But even if it were, it would not know it is doing so, since it would actually know nothing at all -- since there is no "it" (substantial unity with cognitive powers) to do the knowing.

          • Ficino

            You may not agree with the philosophical principles to which I refer, but that does not mean they are untrue. As a Thomistic philosopher who knows they are true, I would not be impressed ...

            As has been remarked before, the epistemic confidence expressed in this second sentence isn't consistent with even the later Plato, let alone with Socrates as he depicts him.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I am sorry, but you have really lost me. I thought I was talking about the substantial unity of an artificial general intelligence, which is a materialistic artifact. I was commenting from the perspective of Thomistic philosophy.

            What on earth does that have to do with Plato or Socrates in this context?

          • Dennis Bonnette

            The speed of a car is directly empirically observable and quantitatively measurable. The conscience experience of the image of a particular car or cars speeding is not empirically observable and, although imagined as being of some particular speed or speeds, is not quantitatively measurable. The concept of cars speeding is not even imaginable, since it is neither of particular cars nor is it of particular speeds.

          • Mark

            If a car could conceptualize a race and a relationship with other cars and winning that race you would indeed have a point about speed. Same with a computer: the Chinese room thought experiment. There is an apparent leap of faith regardless of which camp you're in (monism/dualism). For theists that give meaning to the immaterial there isn't a particular problem. It seems an obvious problem when materialists give something immaterial "real" meaning, because if it is immaterial it doesn't exist or isn't knowable.

          • I never understood why this is a problem. A computer is made of materials that are extended, but we don't say that there is a ghost in the computer that enables it to store the propositional content of the information it stores.

            Computers store zero propositional content. To see how this is the case, consider when computers used punch cards: this helps us see how the process is entirely physical and without any meaning stored within the computers. A computer computing is the same as a player piano playing.

            A car is made of materials, but its speed is not made of materials.

            Sure, but speed is an aboutness-claim and physicalism has notorious problems with aboutness/​intentionality. I'm guessing Dr. Bonnette would say that the instant you start talking about 'speed'—and maybe even 'car'—all of a sudden not-extended-in-spacetime concepts are in play.

            Why can't we just say that the brain is the organ that I think with, as the mouth etc are the organs that I speak with?

            For the same reason that you can't say that piling steel-reinforced concrete higher and higher will let you build a space tether. Einstein said to make things as simple as possible, but no simpler. If we have made 'matter' too simple or the patterns which we think make up the 'physical' too simple, then we will run into problems. There is the danger that we'll just continue adding epicycles, instead of realizing that an infinite series of such epicycles turn circles into ellipses. For another example, see Lord Kelvin's confidence in classical physics to solve all problems in his "Two Clouds" speech.

            For yet another example, consider that experimental confirmation of Bell's theorem indicates with nigh-certainty that either reality is fuzzy past a certain level (Heisenberg's unsharpness relation / uncertainty principle), or true ontology is nonlocal. For a long time there was animus toward anything like 'nonlocal state' among physicists. They didn't want to allow that into their ontology. Well, what if that's needed to explain more of what's out there in reality? Dogmatic stances which restrict the available conceptual repertoire can stultify human thinking and progress.

            There are lots of operations performed and ends achieved, and the operations and many of the ends aren't substances.

            If you're trying to point me to something which isn't extended-in-spacetime, then the thing I'm using to "see" what you're pointing at would seem to be of like kind. This shouldn't be shocking: various instruments can detect some things and not others. Plausibly, only consciousnesses or even self-consciousnesses can detect some things. Maybe some of the things/​processes out there in reality are too complex for anything short of a mind to understand them. I don't see why this has to be offensive. I do have some ideas of why people would fallaciously find it offensive/​threatening, but I'll stop there.

          • Ficino

            Computers store zero propositional content. To see how this is the case, consider when computers used punch cards: this helps us see how the process is entirely physical and without any meaning stored within the computers.

            You seem to be using "store information" in a non-standard sense. My engineering friends back in uni decades ago encoded entire semester projects on those punch cards, each unique (I guess, but maybe not), and filed in a fixed order, so that dropping the cardboard box meant upending the project. Why? Because those cards stored information. If they weren't storing information, why were they punched and put into an order? Information is propositional. But no ghost in the cards; the brains of my friends were doing the thinking.

            Maybe some of the things/​processes out there in reality are too complex for anything short of a mind to understand them. I don't see why this has to be offensive.

            Who's offended? I just think with Gilbert Ryle that "mind" is a construct, like "university." But as I said to Jim, I am not deep into philosophy of mind, so I can only go a short distance down this road right now.

          • You seem to be using "store information" in a non-standard sense.

            I am trying to capture the matter from the computer's perspective. That is, I'm trying to obliterate mind and anything dependent on mind, for purposes of dealing with "A computer is made of materials that are extended". In so doing, I claim to deprive you of being able to say that "materials that are extended" do something that they just don't do.

            My engineering friends back in uni decades ago encoded entire semester projects on those punch cards, each unique (I guess, but maybe not), and filed in a fixed order, so that dropping the cardboard box meant upending the project.

            Sure, but would the computer know whether those punch cards are out-of-order? Let's suppose that sequence number isn't included on them. This is probably a really nice test of whether the computer 'understands' what is on the punch cards. What I think you'll find is that to get understanding, you need to have a sort of 'global order' in addition to the discrete bits. But computers as they are now don't do 'global order'. This becomes more clear as one thinks of how humans can state intentions to other humans, but when they state them to computer programmers, the software version of the intention is generally much more restricted and brittle. One can make it less restricted and brittle, but to really get it so that there is zero loss of meaning, I think one needs a change in kind, not merely degree.

            It is here that I find Aristotle's conceptions of formal and final causation to be very interesting. Well, I'm mostly talking about Robert Rosen's adaptation of them in Life Itself. Rosen, a mathematical biologist, was frustrated that the efficient causation of ordinary and partial differential equations could not suffice to help us understand how life differs from non-life. He saw life as involving more kinds of causation, which just can't be captured by ODEs and PDEs. In a key way, formal and final causation in his rendering (which is admittedly not the same as Aristotle—but still maintains key distinctions in causation) are substrate independent, which allow you to mesh two systems which have different substrates. Biology does this all the time! I won't say too much more now, but I'm supposed to develop a presentation on Rosen's work for a philosophy of biology seminar in the next month or so; if I've piqued your interest, I can say more after that.

            As a software engineer and architect, I claim I'm more attuned to the fallacy of saying that if you build steel-reinforced concrete high enough, you can construct a space tether. Unlike that situation where the laws of physics can be proved to preclude such a structure from possibly existing (it would collapse under its own weight far before space tether altitude), I don't have a formal proof that one cannot do the same with present kinds of computation. David Braine might in The Human Person: Animal and Spirit and Language and Human Understanding: The Roots of Creativity in Speech and Thought, but I need more interlocutors to help me get through those books. Critically, we don't yet have a robust way to have high-level descriptions of what computation is doing, which are properly checked against the actual implementation of the computation. This two-level operation is I suspect absolutely critical to consciousness and I have a sneaking suspicion that you need something continuous and holistic on the one side and something discrete and ≈ fully analyzable on the other. That kinda seems like the 'not extended in space' and 'extended in space' dichotomy.

            Who's offended? I just think with Gilbert Ryle that "mind" is a construct, like "university." But as I said to Jim, I am not deep into philosophy of mind, so I can only go a short distance down this road right now.

            Hmmm, that wasn't the Gilbert Ryle I vaguely knew about:

            The Concept of Mind is a 1949 book by philosopher Gilbert Ryle, in which the author argues that "mind" is "a philosophical illusion hailing chiefly from René Descartes and sustained by logical errors and 'category mistakes' which have become habitual."[1] The work has been cited as having "put the final nail in the coffin of Cartesian dualism"[2] and has been seen as a founding document in the philosophy of mind, which received professional recognition as a distinct and important branch of philosophy only after 1950.[3] (WP: The Concept of Mind)

            Reading further, Ryle is criticizing Cartesian dualism, not the fact that mind does something different from—more than—mechanism. David Braine considered Ryle "a wise first mentor in philosophy" (LHU, xiii) and also attacks Cartesian dualism in THP. Braine goes as far to suggest that we are still largely trapped in an inner–outer way of thinking that is just crypto-Cartesian dualism. If that is true, it would explain the extreme difficulty I experience and see, in many people grokking Dr. Bonnette's A–T philosophy.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Forgive the intrusion, but just a FYI article showing some of the problems entailed in a simplistic assumption that computers can do even the things that materialists believe that brains can do:

            https://www.realclearscience.com/articles/2019/10/17/why_a_computer_will_never_be_truly_conscious_111135.html

            And no, I am not assuming that even brains alone can perform all these functions. But this shines some light on the computer = brain type of thinking.

          • The author is fascinating†, but I find his argumentation sloppy. I'm afraid I didn't find much in that article compelling other than:

            (1) Its similarities to Tim Van Gelder 1995 What Might Cognition Be, If Not Computation?, Journal of Philosophy.

            (2) Its link to The Big Problem With “Big Science” Ventures—Like the Human Brain Project, which notes that the EU's billion-euro, 10-year initiative to build a simulator of the human brain failed catastrophically.

            For example, the claim that present-day machine learning would have a hard time identifying the different tables as "tables" needs to be qualified by the fact that most of us, growing up, got to see if not explore sufficiently similar tables. Moreover, we know that flat surfaces like that, around a hand span short of waist-level, tend to be tables. This is because humans operate in a vanishingly small portion of possibility space; we develop an understanding of that possibility space as we go through our lives, navigating the various objects and accomplishing various tasks. Machine learning algorithms do nothing of the kind! They also don't have our genetic endowment, which probably also contributes to the narrowness of that possibility space.

            Now, I am very much inclined to think there is a difference in kind between how we currently know how to do computation (including any "self-organized systems"), and how human cognition works. But I think that difference [at least] depends on two-level systems where we have a purpose that is non-mechanical, and then a mechanical way of accomplishing that purpose. This two-level idea can probably be "telescoped". The closest that computer systems have to this is proofs that an algorithm does what it's supposed to do, but the problem the last time I checked (which is 5–10 years ago) is that the proofs themselves are often about as complicated if not more complicated as the algorithm.

             
            † See Subhash Kak's academic page at Oklahoma State University, Wikipedia page, and the following from an interview with Subhash Kak:

            I am curious to know where you have found an overlap between Science and Vedic Religion/Philosophy.
            The essence of the Vedas is a narrative on who the experiencing self is. Ordinary science informs us of the relationships between objects and also their transformations. But the Vedas say that this ordinary science leaves out the self who observes these objects. The Vedas speak of two kinds of sciences: the lower (rational and linguistic), and higher (transcendental). (The Hindu: The Renaissance man)

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I don't doubt that you are right here. I posted that article primarily because it showed that even the materialist who wrote it could see a real difference between computer and brain activity.

            Of course, for me the essential difference is that the computer really knows nothing at all and has no self-awareness. Neither does the brain, considered in itself. But it is an organ of a living organism. As such is it animated by the same life principle that enables the whole organism to experience sensation and awareness. If it is merely an animal, then the experience stops there. For humans, the intellectual acts are also present.

            That is also why I largely agree with the points made in the name of the Vedas you describe above.

            It always raises the hackles of the materialists whenever I say that computers not only cannot presently experience thought or self-awareness, but also they never will be able to in the future either -- not as long as they are merely incredibly complicated composites of discrete physical or even organic nano-chip parts.

          • How about asking materialists how they can possibly deal with self-reflexivity? It's a very specific instance of intentionality, of "aboutness". How does a system look at itself, like humans do all the time?

            One response you'll get is that Turing machines can "print own description". But does that suffice for self-reflexivity? Here I think we have a problem on which David Braine puts his finger:

                However, what I argued earlier excludes any such ultimately purely physically based explanation of the workings of speech and language. For in our earlier chapters we saw how the informality with which we are able to use words and yet still be reliably understood by our hearers shows the impossibility of simulating our use of language or thought technically in the mathematical sense of the word "mechanical".[2] Rather, the use of understanding is indispensable in the use of language. Physical explanations are inadequate to explain either the linguistic behavior illustrated in chapters I and II or the open-ended variety and number in the methods of establishing truth in mathematics and other fields seen in chapter V.
                This excludes any possibility that the ability reliably (in normal cases) to understand the speech of others operates in a mathematically mechanical way, as it would do if this operation were the mere resultant of the activity of physically interacting material parts. Nor can explanation of a stable relationship between speaker and hearer behavior be achieved by any bringing in of analog features to supplement digital ones, since these can in principle be digitally simulated to any required degree of approximation.[3] (Language and Human Understanding, 296–97)

            [2] This even excludes simulation through the adoption of a Dynamical Systems approach, although, as Timothy van Gelder points out, such approaches can allow the possibility of digital simulation: "Program (that is, physically configure) a computer (a concrete computational system) so that it produces sequences of symbol-configurations which represent points in the state trajectories of the abstract dynamical model under consideration. In such a situation, the computer does not itself constitute a model of the cognitive process, since it does not contain numerically measurable aspects changing over time in the way that aspects of the target system [the real system which it is being attempt to model in terms of dynamical systems theory] are hypothesized to be changing. That is the computer does not realize the abstract dynamical model; rather it simulates it"; Van Gelder, "What Might Cognition Be, If Not Computation?" Journal of Philosophy 92, no. 7 (1995): 369.

            [3] Whatever can be explained in analog terms can, it seems, be in a certain sense “simulated” digitally.

            Simulation is simply not [necessarily] the same as the process being simulated. The Church–Turing–Deutsch principle can simply be wrong. The simulation can actually be very, very wrong ontologically. A nice example of this is John Searle's Chinese room argument.

            Possibly building on Van Gelder, here are some snippets from Ulric Neisser's Foreword to UC Merced Michael J. Spivey's 2007 The Continuity of Mind:

            Spivey’s proposal here—a seriously expanded version of dynamical systems theory with many original twists—is based instead on trajectories through the state space of the human brain. His insistence that those trajectories must be continuous has led him to new insights over a surprisingly broad range of cognitive phenomena.
                But what is a state space? What sorts of things move through state spaces? What does it mean to assert that those movements are continuous? Taking the last question first, “continuity” means that movements away from a given brain state are always to an adjacent state and always take real time, a time during which much can happen. Speech perception provides a convenient example. Although a spoken word is not fully defined until its last syllable ends, the process of understanding it starts much earlier. Candle and candy, for example, both begin with can. Spivey’s ingenious eye movement studies show that a listener presented with one of these words will actively consider both those possibilities at first, making a commitment only later as more information arrives. The moral here is that word representations—indeed, all mental representations—are probabilistic and overlapping rather than sharply bounded. The brain is “hungry” for information, always using whatever it has and looking for more. (The Continuity of Mind, vii–viii)

            Now, I'm not fully endorsing Spivey's work; I haven't even read much of it. But he keys in on the importance of continuity, which is what discrete simulations do not have. Actually, Braine objects to reifying events:

            VI. The Primacy of the Agent over the Event in Causation
            We have seen in earlier chapters how, at the level of description and how we experience things, perception and intentional action are each alike focused upon or have as their hub a subject, the subject of experience, the agent. And we made it clear that this focus, equally for perception and for action, is the human being or animal as such, not a pure mind nor a mere body—the key facts and statements involved being irreducibly psychophysical in character.
                However, the question is: is this agent, this subject of experience, also the focus at the level of explanation and causation, and therefore at the level of reality?[1]
                Here, when we come to examine modern views, we find that the focal role for the agent is repudiated. Instead it is alleged that all agent-causality is to be explained away in terms of event-causality. And this suggestion is the natural effect of a dualistic account of human or animal action. Once the outward act has been separated in conception from the context of the unitary intentional human act, the question arises as to its causes, and these causes are thought of as in the brain or the soul. Dualists and materialists agree in the picture of states and events as causes, inner causing outer in intentional action and outer causing inner in perception, inner and outer logically independent of each other. For the dualist, the inner states and events are states and events in the soul which cause or are caused by states and events in the brain, and for the materialist, the inner states and events are simply states and goings on in the brain, describable in two different ways, psychological and physical.
                In this way, the dualistic ways of thinking of action which we were attacking in Chapter IV dovetail with the modern dogma that it is events, not agents, which are the true causes, and that all so-called agent-causality has to be explained in terms of so-called event-causality. And in this way also the mythology of ‘experiences’ and ‘tryings’ or ‘volitions’ has come to be supported upon a mythology of events and states, each imagined to be a ‘logically distinct existence’, logically independent of all others, these events and states alone being causes in a primary sense. (The Human Person, 201–202)

            [1] I make it clear that the levels of causation and explanation and of experience and description are inseparable and that considerations of causation and explanation place us at the level of reality in Chapter VIII, Section 4 below (cf. pp. 105–120, The Reality of Time and the Existence of God, for a more general treatment of the logic of this connection)—the level of reality when we are dealing with the things of nature is not some underlying unknowable, but something made accessible through the consideration of causes which experience makes possible.

            Perhaps you can see why I want to get you into Braine. :-p

          • Dennis Bonnette

            That gets pretty complicated! I do not spend that much time on self-reflection in my book, Origin of the Human Species, but here is what I put on page 106 of the third edition:

            "The intellect’s ability for proper and complete self-reflection shows the third proof of the human soul’s spirituality. Reflection is proper when a power knows itself and not some other power.6 It is complete when it knows its own nature.7 We know our own thoughts and judgments. When we know that we possess truth about something we are aware of the conformity of our own judgment to reality itself. Our reflection is proper since it knows its own acts. In these same acts, we are aware of the objects and truths understood and of the nature of these acts of understanding and judging. Self-reflection is complete.

            "No material organ has such proper and complete self-reflection. No physical organ, not even the human brain, can return completely upon itself so as to compenetrate its being and physical extension. While one physical part can reflect another physical part, and that part another, and so forth to infinity, no part can apprehend itself, and no collection of parts can grasp their whole as a whole. That is precisely what we do by intellectual self-reflection.

            "Such proper and complete self-reflection must be the truly spiritual act of a truly spiritual soul."

            Frankly, I am more comfortable in the context of the radically spiritual nature of the universal concept, which enables us to know that the intellectual faculty and its soul must be spiritual in nature.

          • Phil Tanny

            What if "spiritual" and "non-spiritual" are just human concepts which attempt to impose a division upon reality which doesn't actually exist?

          • Neat! If you ever want to get more into Aquinas' view on self-knowledge and its problems, I suggest Therese Scarpelli Cory's Aquinas on Human Self-Knowledge. I've yet to read much, but so far I like it and based on the fact that Eric Schwitzgebel was able to publish The Unreliability of Naive Introspection as late as 2008 in Philosophical Review (580 'citations'), I'm guessing that far too many philosophers and perhaps theologians see [untrained] introspection as far more reliable than it in fact is. One of the way to get at the problems of self-knowledge is via the doctrine(s) of sin; I like how Josef Pieper puts it:

                Of course no one can venture to discuss the theme of sin without presuppositions. But what one can do is to declare one's presuppositions as clearly as possible, along with the "pre-suspicions" [Voraus-Vermutungen], the hunches as it were, that lie at the root of one's philosophical presuppositions, and bring them to a formulation-precisely the task that this small book has set for itself.In the following essay, we shall therefore be operating under two assumptions. First, we shall presuppose that there is in general a believed truth beyond the realm of known truth ("known" truth is defined here as truth gained through scientific research and in philosophical reflection), in which a dimension accessible in no other way becomes perceptible and shows itself, a dimension of the one visible reality of world and man [vor Augen liegenden Realität von Welt und Mensch]. This presupposition will naturally include the clear admission that there can be theological information about what ultimately happens when a person fails morally. (The Concept of Sin, 12–13)

            Perhaps particularly interesting is Pieper's distinction between 'reparable' and 'irreparable' sin. We can recover from 'reparable' sin without some sort of super-natural act; but once we absorbs the sin fully and integrates it into our nature, then only something super-natural can remove it. If we work with the idea of 'sin' as "missing the mark" (from hamartia), then we have a situation where the aboutness relation becomes distorted. Our understanding of ourselves becomes perverted. If we decide that in fact we are just fine and will hit that mark, then we become hypocrites who can only be healed by the power of God. I think the following OT passage may be talking about this 'irreparable' situation:

            “You know how we lived in the land of Egypt, and how we came through the midst of the nations through which you passed. And you have seen their detestable things, their idols of wood and stone, of silver and gold, which were among them. Beware lest there be among you a man or woman or clan or tribe whose heart is turning away today from the LORD our God to go and serve the gods of those nations. Beware lest there be among you a root bearing poisonous and bitter fruit, one who, when he hears the words of this sworn covenant, blesses himself in his heart, saying, ‘I shall be safe, though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart.’ This will lead to the sweeping away of moist and dry alike. The LORD will not be willing to forgive him, but rather the anger of the LORD and his jealousy will smoke against that man, and the curses written in this book will settle upon him, and the LORD will blot out his name from under heaven. And the LORD will single him out from all the tribes of Israel for calamity, in accordance with all the curses of the covenant written in this Book of the Law. (Deuteronomy 29:16–21)

            We learn a lot about reality by seeing how it breaks in various ways. I wonder how much that has been done with A–T philosophy?

          • Dennis Bonnette

            That text from Deuteronomy should put the fear of God in anyone who reads it carefully and imbibes its frightening truth. It is the "subbornness in my heart" that should be seen as the symptom of a spiritual illness which knows no self-redemption, but whose cure can only take place through the grace of God. For, left to ourselves, we have then placed ourselves in hell by making God the implicit object of our hatred -- as He who is opposed to what I stubbornly choose to be.

            But all this is really outside my more mundane work as a philosopher. I am happy merely to observe and share with others the fundamental implications of our experience that reveal the basic truths of moderate dualism -- that God does exist and that we are destined for an eternal life whose happiness or sorrow is conditioned on our choices in this mortal life.

            The key to true philosophy as I see it is to be absolutely passionate in the pursuit of truth -- but always humbly aware of our own intellectual frailty in the process. This does not exclude the attainment of objective truth -- but certainly underlines its precious value when attained.

          • I understand your desired focus. I'm just saying I can't do much with it, without some sort of more concrete connection to reality. For example, when someone gets something wrong in your domain, how does that manifest in thinking or action? With mice, if you knockout a gene, you see (or don't see) the impact that has on its development and actions. Well, can we do the same thing to elements of A–T philosophy? Can we damage aspects of it and then see how that would manifest in life? If not, it's just so hard to get a hold of what you're saying. :-/ [Edit: for me, and perhaps others]

          • Phil Tanny

            Luke, what he's saying is that IF the creator of all reality decides that you should suffer eternally for His choice to make you a highly imperfect human being filled with too many flaws to begin to count, THEN that's actually all your fault.

            It's just paranoid guilt worshiping medieval gibberish memorized out of some cleric's power tripping wet dream. It doesn't really merit understanding beyond that, imho.

          • I'm pretty sure he's not saying that, Phil. Think of it this way: to exist eternally, surely you have to live according to the grain of reality?

          • Phil Tanny

            If the "grain of reality" is built upon a God that creates highly imperfect creatures, and then punishes them eternally when they predictably screw up, and then blames that indescribably tragic outcome on the highly imperfect creation, the appropriate response would be a raised middle finger.

            But, luckily, that is not the grain of reality.

            Throw a ball up in to air. It inevitably returns to Earth, every single time. That is the reality. Everything to emerge from God returns to God.

          • If the "grain of reality" is built upon a God that creates highly imperfect creatures, →

            Unless that imperfection is contingent and neither essential, primordial, nor necessary. You've made a pretty big claim, there.

            ← and then punishes them eternally when they predictably screw up, →

            Is that true? Nineveh got warned and repented—even without a repentance clause from Jonah!

            ← and then blames that indescribably tragic outcome on the highly imperfect creation, →

            Huh?

            ← the appropriate response would be a raised middle finger.

            If, if, if, yes. But no, no, no, and therefore no.

            Everything to emerge from God returns to God.

            Owen Barfield said that the East wishes to be unborn, while the West wishes to be reborn. You seem to be leaning toward the former?

          • Phil Tanny

            Well, I lean towards a kinder and gentler view of reality than those segments of Christianity which are hell based. To me, the hell concept is just a scare tactic invented by
            medieval clerics to frighten their peasant congregations in to submission. You know, that concept appears to arise from a time and place when burning people at the stake seemed a reasonable procedure.

            I don't know if this is East or West, but to me the apparent separation between God and nature, between God and "me", etc is an illusion generated by thought, an electro-chemical information medium which operates by a process of division.

            If true, then we have never been separate from God, and thus don't need to earn our way back, and all of that.

            This may sound anti-Christianity to some, but I also feel that the teachings on love are genius, as the experience of love helps lift the illusion of division. And we might note, this is a truly universal teaching as love works whether or not one believes in God, Jesus, hell and so forth.

            I'm receptive to the concept of purgatory as a transition period between life and death seems a reasonable proposal.

          • Phil, do you want to have a relationship with God—whatever you mean by that term—or do you want to merge with God?

          • Phil Tanny

            Your question presumes that "me" and "God" are two different things. To the limited degree it's possible, I'd like to transcend that illusion.

            As example to illustrate, you might have asked whether I want to have a relationship with space, or do I want to merge with space. I can't really do either, given that me and everything else has always been, and always will be, made overwhelmingly of space down to the very smallest of scales.

            Seen this way, your question becomes, does space want to have a relationship with space, or does it want to merge with space.

            The nature of thought, the way it works, imposes an illusory pattern of division upon everything it observes.

          • Your question presumes that "me" and "God" are two different things.

            Yes, it does. You seem to be following the Eastern tradition, which Owen Barfield described as "desiring to be unborn". The West, in contrast, wishes to be reborn. Both are ways to escape from the painful status quo.

            The nature of thought, the way it works, imposes an illusory pattern of division upon everything it observes.

            I happen to think that multiple individuals exist. You, apparently, do not?

          • Phil Tanny

            Apologies, I don't really understand the unborn vs. reborn comparison. Expand on that please if you feel it is important.

            Do multiple individuals exist? Put more basically, do things exist? Do things exist in the real world, or are they a pattern imposed upon reality by our minds?

            Things would seem to depend on boundaries which define "thing" and "not-thing". Are boundaries real, or only conceptual?

            When you drink a glass of water, when does the "water" become "you"? It seems we could reasonably draw that boundary any number of places, which suggests such boundaries are arbitrary inventions.

            We have a word "tree" which like all nouns implies the existence of things and boundaries. Conceptually this is a very simple obvious matter, with a neat and tidy hard boundary line between "tree" and "not tree". The real world of trees is rather more complicated, as the tree is intimately connected to and dependent upon many other things, such as the sun for example.

            Throw a rock in to a pond and observe the ripples which then move across the surface.

            The ripples are obviously observable to all, but they don't actually exist in the sense that ripples have no weight and mass of their own independent of the water.

            Perhaps all things are like this, just patterns created by energy moving through a denser form of energy called matter, with no independent existence of their own.

          • Apologies, I don't really understand the unborn vs. reborn comparison. Expand on that please if you feel it is important.

            Many religions apparently have the idea of us falling out of the deity, painfully [pseudo-]individuating with our only hope to deindividuate and be reabsorbed into the deity. It is like crawling back into the womb. In contrast, being reborn means that you go through the painful process of individuation and then cement it with a second process that is as painful as birth. The pain may well come from repentance—learning to no longer scapegoat others, learning instead to take full responsibility for not just your own choices, but the shape of your agency.

            Do multiple individuals exist? Put more basically, do things exist? Do things exist in the real world, or are they a pattern imposed upon reality by our minds?

            Well is there one mind or are there multiple minds? And yes, I recognize some of the Buddhist overtones of "or are they a pattern imposed upon reality by our minds?".

            Things would seem to depend on boundaries which define "thing" and "not-thing". Are boundaries real, or only conceptual?

            I'm pretty sure cells have walls, and that there is 'inside' and 'outside'. Now if you really want to get into the weeds, you can check out Andrew Abbott's 1995 Things of boundaries.(Defining the Boundaries of Social Inquiry). I can email you a copy if you'd like; see my Disqus profile.

            When you drink a glass of water, when does the "water" become "you"? It seems we could reasonably draw that boundary any number of places, which suggests such boundaries are arbitrary inventions.

            I'm pretty sure A–T philosophy can solve that one readily with its four causes. Note that deep interdependence does not obviate boundaries. Boundaries can also be permeable. But hey, let's take your claim seriously. Does the word 'boundary' have boundaries? Or are you trying to destabilize language and understanding with something too destabilized to do anything other than presuppose your conclusion?

            Throw a rock in to a pond and observe the ripples which then move across the surface.

            The ripples are obviously observable to all, but they don't actually exist in the sense that ripples have no weight and mass of their own independent of the water.

            Photons have no weight/​mass and yet they exist independently of water. What you're saying here might sway someone less well-versed in science and ontological categories and their interrelations. You're going to have to try harder, with me.

            Perhaps all things are like this, just patterns created by energy moving through a denser form of energy called matter, with no independent existence of their own.

            Were this actually true, you would be incorrect to say "all things" instead of just "thing". You would have only one word, which would refer to everything. All would be undifferentiated. And then you couldn't experience anything.

          • Phil Tanny

            Many religions apparently have the idea of us falling out of the deity...

            Yes, agreed, this sense of separation is a key issue driving religion. The question I would bring to this is, are we really separated from God, or do we just FEEL separated? Is the separation real, or an illusion?

            I would answer the sense of separation is an illusion generated by the inherently divisive operations of thought.

            I'm pretty sure cells have walls, and that there is 'inside' and 'outside'.

            Conceptually, yes, agreed.

            But in the real world there is no "outside" as the cell is part of, and entirely dependent upon, the larger system it inhabits. And that larger system extends outward to things like the supernova explosions that created the heavier elements the cell is made of. Just as your body is one big thing, so is all of reality.

            Who said anything about photons? The ripples "exist" whether or not we are there to see them, except that they "don't exist" by our definition of existence, having no weight or mass of their own. Do you see here how the neat and tidy conceptual dividers we create between "exist" and "not-exist" are collapsing? This is extremely relevant to the God debate!

            You would have only one word, which would refer to everything.

            The word you're reaching for here might be God. :-)

            Some illusions are sensible and practical within the tiny context of our day to day human scale lives. For example, the word "sunrise" has persisted for centuries after we learned that the sun doesn't actually rise, but only appears to. The same may be true of things.

          • Phil Tanny

            Many religions apparently have the idea of us falling out of the deity....

            What I sense happened is that as we evolved and thought became an ever more prominent part of the human experience we were increasingly distracted by the symbolic realm from the primal bond that animals and primitive humans have with nature. A sense of loss emerged in place of the once primal bond, and the desire to "get back to God" was born. To me, this is what the Book of Genesis is about.

            If true, this is very good news because if the separation is apparent, if it's just an illusion generated by thought, we can learn to better manage thought, thus easing the illusion, and the pain that flows from it.

            To me, such a way of looking at this is compliant with at least some versions of Christianity, which imagine an all patient ever loving God which never leaves one side.

            We wanted to try the apple of knowledge so God said, "Ok, so go ahead and try it". And then we started running around screaming, "Where is God??? What happened to God???" And now God is patiently waiting for us to put the apple down, at least now and again.

          • The question I would bring to this is, are we really separated from God, or do we just FEEL separated? Is the separation real, or an illusion?

            Hmm, it is interesting considering whether A&E believed to be an illusion what was real. Anyhow, what are the differing predictions of experience between the two options?

            But in the real world there is no "outside" as the cell is part of, and entirely dependent upon, the larger system it inhabits.

            I'm not sure what your point is. That lipid bilayer seems pretty real and non-conceptual to me.

            Who said anything about photons?

            I was picking on your "no weight and mass of their own" to show that it doesn't suffice as an ontological category in the way you were trying to use it.

            Do you see here how the neat and tidy conceptual dividers we create between "exist" and "not-exist" are collapsing?

            No, but you are making me think of Augustine's absence of good / privation theory of evil doctrine. Evil, Augustine claims, is parasitic on good. If you want to distinguish between 'exist' / 'not exist', I would probably associate that with 'good' / 'evil'. Or are you trying to collapse that distinction, as well?

            Some illusions are sensible and practical within the tiny context of our day to day human scale lives. For example, the word "sunrise" has persisted for centuries after we learned that the sun doesn't actually rise, but only appears to. The same may be true of things.

            Any justification for a line of thought which is disintegrated by that line of thought fails to be a justification.

          • Phil Tanny

            May I ask, what browser are you using? In Firefox this comment box is an unbearable burden. It's like trying to write with a pencil held between my teeth. Any suggestions?

            Not to nag, at least not too much, but have you by any chance had the opportunity to discuss forum software with Brandon? If you hear him say no to that, could you perhaps let us know? Mucho thank youse.

          • Phil Tanny

            Trying Chrome, an improvement, copy and paste now works correctly.

          • May I ask, what browser are you using? In Firefox this comment box is an unbearable burden. It's like trying to write with a pencil held between my teeth. Any suggestions?

            I use Chrome, but I draft all my responses in a text editor for ease of inserting markup and because the Disqus combox has a horrid history of losing posts. It also gets worse when there are hundreds of comments, which is probably what you're describing, here.

            Not to nag, at least not too much, but have you by any chance had the opportunity to discuss forum software with Brandon?

            I have not chosen to, because I took issue with your approach to the matter (and said so). For unrelated reasons, I decided to re-register on Something Awful, which is a very standard forum. I was looking through some threads, and got really frustrated that there was no tree view option, so that I could track sub-conversations. This is a distinct asset for Disqus, although dealing with deep nesting is a UI problem which Disqus doesn't solve well. I said more in my reply to your larger comment about forums software, so I'll stop here.

          • Phil Tanny

            Well, ok, thanks for this report. It does seem the group consensus wishes to complain about Disqus, but not do anything about it. And, given that Brandon seems to no longer participate here he's probably on to some other project. The end result of all this inertia is that you're stuck talking with me and a handful of other folks. Oh well, it is what it is. It's surely not the first website to be started with a burst of enthusiasm and then abandoned by the owner. Been there and done that a number of times myself.

          • Phil Tanny

            Some things fixed in Chrome, other things now broken. Can no longer travel from the sidebar to a specific comment. Time to bail again I guess, simply way to much work....

          • Brandon Vogt has a number of children; I have no present complaints with how he spends his time. When I emailed him to un-spamify your comment, not only did he do that but he whitelisted you so you wouldn't run into the problem again. And he did this within an hour of my email.

            As to your desire for something better: you are welcome to brainstorm with me something better. I'm getting closer to wanting to actually make something that would be a sort of cross between forums / wiki / blog. I would include three key features:

                 1. symbolic quoting & linking
                 2. microformats / Semantic Mediawiki functionality
                 3. trust network functionality

            A huge purpose is to enable much more intricate discussions than are generally reasonable with any discussion technology I have encountered. This includes abilities for analysis (breaking apart) and synthesis (combining). I also want to avoid designing it with a "God point of view", as if the concept of "neutral point of view" is coherent.

            I've wanted to do the above for quite some time, but I am a bit tired of pulling off solo projects. I'm also a bit partial to typed languages, especially C# because I am quite familiar with its library and the whole shebang just seems to fit my way of thinking. That's problematic for open sores reasons, although MS has eased that up considerably; I don't know just how much is reasonable to run completely on Linux, at this point.

          • Phil Tanny

            I have no complaint with how Brandon spends his time either. My complaint is with how I'm spending my own time.

            I wish you luck with any project you may undertake, but I've already been there and done that, and am now a tired retired old man who no longer has the needed fire in the belly for the reinvention of wheels.

          • Phil Tanny

            That lipid bilayer seems pretty real and non-conceptual to me.

            An experiment. Drink a glass of water. Now tell us, when does that water become you? Where is the dividing line between "the water" and "Luke"?

            You might say, the cell wall. Ok, fair enough, that seems reasonable. But we could just as reasonably say a dozen other places.

            When does your next breath become Luke? Again, we could reasonably place the dividing line any number of places.

          • An experiment. Drink a glass of water. Now tell us, when does that water become you? Where is the dividing line between "the water" and "Luke"?

            I already answered this:

            PT: When you drink a glass of water, when does the "water" become "you"? It seems we could reasonably draw that boundary any number of places, which suggests such boundaries are arbitrary inventions.

            LB: I'm pretty sure A–T philosophy can solve that one readily with its four causes. Note that deep interdependence does not obviate boundaries. Boundaries can also be permeable. But hey, let's take your claim seriously. Does the word 'boundary' have boundaries? Or are you trying to destabilize language and understanding with something too destabilized to do anything other than presuppose your conclusion?

            You did not opt to take my deep dive in your reply.

          • Phil Tanny

            What is A&E?

            Anyhow, what are the differing predictions of experience between the two options?

            If I understand your question... Well, if separation from God is not real but just an illusion, one need not earn one's way in to heaven, for example. However, in that case, one might wish to understand how the illusion is generated.

          • What is A&E?

            Apologies: Adam & Eve. They went into denial of their agency after eating of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, with Adam blaming that act on God. This would be the opposite problem of what you describe: mistakenly holding to undifferentiated unity when in fact individuality was the case.

            If I understand your question... Well, if separation from God is not real but just an illusion, one need not earn one's way in to heaven, for example.

            Protestant Christianity and pre-penance Christianity had no place for earning one's way into heaven. The Bible is clear: God much prefers grace and mercy, an open system where he gives more than he ever gets. He does want to get recognition for what he gives, so that we understand what he does and what we do. Failure to differentiate here is awfully close to Freud's definition of 'narcissism': "failure to distinguish between self and world".

            However, in that case, one might wish to understand how the illusion is generated.

            You are welcome to present your understanding; I have read some others.

          • Phil Tanny

            The creator of hundreds of billions of galaxies in a reality vast beyond comprehension wants recognition, from humans.

          • Does a parent want recognition from his/her children? Is this somehow selfish of the parent?

          • Phil Tanny

            I'm just suggesting we might be wary of Christianity's inclination to make we little humans the central focus of the story of reality, an inclination which might be filed under the category "everything is all about me".

          • Erm, I suggest checking the record—both old and new:

            And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:28)

            But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25–28)

            Or you could note that the same word to describe Eve as 'helper' is also used of God. We are to be servants, to empower others and creation.

            Do you see a problem with this? I can conceive of you taking issue, given that your emphasis on "experience" seems rather self-focused, rather than other-focused. This is especially so when you speak of "engaging observation for it's own value, not as a means to some other end". However, perhaps you are talking about something like sabbath-time, which I see as [in part] meant to rectify that "The vast majority of our thinking is just a wandering random pointless grinding of the gears" pathology, which you claim comes from thinking while I claim is a contingent problem of our particular society and its attendant psychology.

          • Phil Tanny

            Luke, given your extensive interest in the topics of this site, I might suggest that you shift some focus from analyzing the content of thought towards a deeper inquiry in to the nature of thought.

            In my view, a great deal of religion can be best investigated by better understanding the nature of what both the philosophy and the philosopher are made of, thought.

            Whatever the properties and operations of thought are determined to be, they will have a profound influence upon all of thought's creations.

          • Phil, why don't you tell me about some successes you've had, doing what you think I should do?

            Luke, given your extensive interest in the topics of this site, I might suggest that you shift some focus from analyzing the content of thought towards a deeper inquiry in to the nature of thought.

            I am vaguely aware of Anthroposophy, more via Barfield than Steiner. I've read between 1/4 and 1/3 of Iain McGilchrist's The Master and His Emissary. And there are plenty of other ways I have thought about "the nature of thought"—if we are using those words at all similarly. I think Barfield's Saving the Appearances: A Study in Idolatry is fantastic on the "evolution of consciousness". But I'm not sure I have any idea what you mean.

            In my view, a great deal of religion can be best investigated by better understanding the nature of what both the philosophy and the philosopher are made of, thought.

            That doesn't sound like going out into the desert and having experiences. It sounds instead like purely armchair philosophy, and I have no idea why I should be confident that I can go better places than where humanity's many full-time armchair philosophers have gone.

            Whatever the properties and operations of thought are determined to be, they will have a profound influence upon all of thought's creations.

            Ok? But plenty of these can be explored scientifically and experientially in interactions with other people. I guess you can read books like Mortimer Adler's Ten Philosophical Mistakes—it seems right up the alley of this comment of yours. Antonio Damasio's Descartes' Error also fits this bill. On my list is Gilbert Ryle's The Concept of Mind. And then there are phenomenologists.

          • Phil Tanny

            Well, we have different methodologies as we've discussed. I'm not sure I should comment any further on "what you should be doing" as that's a kind of lame method of inquiry, not to mention my specialty, being rather socially clueless. :-)

            That doesn't sound like going out into the desert and having experiences.

            You're right, it's not, agreed. But experiences which involve a reduction in the volume of thought can be useful as a basis of comparison. That is, we typically don't realize how distracted we are by our noisy minds until the noise is silenced. It's kind of like if you always had the TV and radio going in your house, but then the power goes out, and suddenly you realize, "Aha, so that's what quiet is."

            There's a well known little exercise which can illustrate this noisy mind phenomena. Count your breaths. Just sit quietly, do nothing, no fancy anything, just count each breath as you exhale, nothing more. Most people will have trouble counting ten breaths because some train of thought will interrupt the count.

            The point here is that this is where a great deal of our attention is typically chronically and compulsively aimed, at the symbols going round and round inside our minds. To the degree that's true, we thus have less attention available for observing the real world beyond our minds.

            And so the real world may seem somewhat dull, ordinary and mundane, as we're not really paying full attention to it. The Book Of Genesis refers to this as being ejected from the Garden of Eden.

            One thing I've learned from spending lots of time in the woods is that to the degree we do pay full attention to the real world we can re-enter the garden of eden, so to speak.

            The more closely we observe the real world the more beautiful and fulfilling it can become. Sometimes simply being is fully satisfying, and all the becoming agendas racing around our mind just melt away.

            One of the great ironies of being human is that what we're all looking for is always right there waiting for us, once we stop grabbing for it.

            Perhaps Jesus was referring to this in a way with his "dying to be reborn" idea, that is, it's an act of surrender.

            Well, I judge this to be an inadequate reply to you, but perhaps something in here will be of interest.

          • While I've only read a bit about it, what you say here sounds like Jean Baudrillard's hyperreality. In contrast, there is "Be still, and know that I am God." As to what that means, I love Josef Josef Pieper's Leisure: The Basis of Culture, which I found via UW David Levy's Google Tech Talk "No Time to Think":

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KHGcvj3JiGA

            Here's the abstract and first paragraph of Levy's published paper of the same name:

            Abstract. This paper argues that the accelerating pace of life is reducing the time for thoughtful reflection, and in particular for contemplative scholarship, within the academy. It notes that the loss of time to think is occurring at exactly the moment when scholars, educators, and students have gained access to digital tools of great value to scholarship. It goes on to explore how and why both of these facts might be true, what it says about the nature of scholarship, and what might be done to address this state of affairs.

            Introduction
            In her biography of the Nobel Prize winning geneticist Barbara McClintock, Evelyn Fox Keller asks: “What enabled McClintock to see further and deeper into the mysteries of genetics than her colleagues?” (Keller 1983, p. 197) Keller answers that McClintock was able to take the time to look and to hear what the material had to say to her. The material, in this case, was corn, and McClintock studied each of her corn plants with great concentration, patience, care, and even love; she knew each of them intimately. Her method was to “see one kernel [of corn] that was different, and make that understandable.” After giving a lecture at Harvard, Keller tells us, McClintock “met informally with a group of graduate and post-doctoral students. They were responsive to her exhortation that they ‘take the time and look,’ but they were also troubled. Where does one get the time to look and to think? They argued that the new technology of molecular biology is self-propelling. It doesn’t leave time. There’s always the next experiment, the next sequencing to do. The pace of current research seems to preclude such a contemplative stance” (Keller 1983, p. 206). (No time to think: Reflections on information technology and contemplative scholarship)

            If YHWH meant Sabbath-time to enable what you describe, maybe you could see why YHWH was so irritated when the Israelites refused to engage in Sabbath-time?

          • Phil Tanny

            Be still, and know that I am God.

            Put in the language of the New Testament, die and be reborn.

            Put in the language of Holy Tannyism :-) die to the symbolic and be reborn in to the real.

            Put more precisely and practically, die to the symbolic now again once your bills are paid and you have a full refrigerator. :-)

          • Put in the language of the New Testament, die and be reborn.

            Kinda. There's this thing where we were somehow buried with Jesus and raised with Jesus figurally, instead of literally. There's also this thing where Jesus tasted death of a kind we will never have to.

            Put in the language of Holy Tannyism :-) die to the symbolic and be reborn in to the real.

            When Paul talks about the new body, he talks about the old serving as a seed. This indicates to me that there is a continuity—that what was isn't simply removed from existence. When you say "die to the symbolic and be reborn in to the real", what do you do to the symbolic part?

            By the way, you would almost certainly like Owen Barfield's Saving the Appearances: A Study in Idolatry, given this sentence. I suspect Barfield would equate your 'symbolic' to his 'collective representation', which is a distinctly communal way of engaging reality. Barfield writes, "As to what is meant by ‘collective’—any discrepancy between my representations and those of my fellow men raises a presumption of unreality and calls for explanation." (19)

            Put more precisely and practically, die to the symbolic now again once your bills are paid and you have a full refrigerator. :-)

            How well can one live in community with other humans, if you have no 'symbolic'? Or is that just not a thing you're generally interested in doing? Note that you have to use symbols to talk to me …

          • Phil Tanny

            Levy's paper refers to the scientific process, in which observations are a means to the end of theories and conclusions.

            What I'm discussing is more a matter of engaging observation for it's own value, not as a means to some other end. Well, that's the ideal.

            Realistically, what typically happens is that we pursue the experience of observation for some reason, with some goal in mind. That gets one's foot in the door, but at some point one's reason and goal are seen to be just another obstacle to observation.

          • How much of life do you think can be devoted purely to "engaging observation for it's own value"? And how what % of people can have that nice life?

          • Phil Tanny

            Well, there's no numerical answer here of course, it's up to each individual to chart their own course. Pretty much anybody can explore observation for it's own sake, to whatever degree they find it useful.

            It's not an either/or thing as your question seems to presume, but rather a matter of balance.

            As humans, we're all going to have to focus on the conceptual (ie. think) a fair amount because that's how our species survives. But it doesn't follow from there that we are therefore required to focus on thinking almost every waking moment, which is what most of us do most of the time.

            The vast majority of our thinking is just a wandering random pointless grinding of the gears which accomplishes little beyond wearing out the machinery to no useful effect. It's about as sensible as leaving our car running all day while we're at work. We burn gas, we wear out the engine, we get nothing for it but repair bills.

            A nice life tends to arise when we perform sensible routine maintenance on the mechanical operations of the body. So, some eating is obviously essential, but eating all day long is not healthy. The same might be said for thinking, some is essential, but more does not automatically equal better.

            Just as with eating, each person has to find the balance that works best for them.

          • The vast majority of our thinking is just a wandering random pointless grinding of the gears which accomplishes little beyond wearing out the machinery to no useful effect. It's about as sensible as leaving our car running all day while we're at work. We burn gas, we wear out the engine, we get nothing for it but repair bills.

            This seems like a generalization in need of careful studying. For whom is this less true and for whom is this more true? I would point out that David Levy's "No Time to Think" attempts to address this matter. I would further argue that the Sabbath in the Tanakh was meant to address this matter. But the answer isn't just escapism into the desert/​forest. One can … "refactor" life and society. You also might find this sociological conclusion to be interesting:

                The imperative of triviality is again, I suspect, rooted in some basic facts of the human condition, namely, the facts that man's attention span is limited and that he can only tolerate a limited amount of excitement. Perhaps the physiological foundation of all this is our need to sleep. Social life would be psychologically intolerable if each of its moments required from us full attention, deliberate decision, and high emotional involvement. It is for this reason that I would claim for the following proposition the status of a sociological axiom: Triviality is one of the fundamental requirements of social life. It is sociologically, and probably anthropologically, and perhaps even biologically, necessary that a goodly portion of social life take place in a state of only dim awareness—if you will, in a state of semisleep. It is precisely to permit this to happen that the institutional order imposes "programs" for the individual's activity. (Facing Up to Modernity, xvi)

            I am not sure this is necessarily true about humanity, but I can see it being contingently true about Modernity. The less coherence you allow people to arrive at, the more they might have to sleep or spend their time thinking about more coherent things—like nicely packaged stories of fiction where there are few or no loose ends. The possibility that our contingent configuration of society in the West might be causing a lot of mental anguish is claimed and supported by Liah Greenfeld in her Mind, Modernity, Madness: The Impact of Culture on Human Experience.

            Perhaps there is a better way to do things that isn't just escapism?

          • Phil Tanny

            This seems like a generalization in need of careful studying.

            Or the desire to do so could be just another example of chronic compulsive overthinking.

            If you should choose to observe your own mind instead of reading books about what somebody else says, you would see for yourself that the majority of our thinking is a random wandering stream of consciousness process which goes on almost around the clock typically to no useful effect.

            This process is perhaps the primary vehicle of "escapism". But don't take my word for it, do your own experiment.

            Take a chair and some lunch (no phones or books etc) to some pretty quiet place at dawn, and sit there for the entire day doing nothing but watching the day go by. Just be alive, that's all. Watch how long it takes before you want to escape the simplicity of being.

          • Or the desire to do so could be just another example of chronic compulsive overthinking.

            What makes you so confident about this?

            If you should choose to observe your own mind instead of reading books about what somebody else says, you would see for yourself that the majority of our thinking is a random wandering stream of consciousness process which goes on almost around the clock typically to no useful effect.

            What makes you confident that all minds are like this? I do suspect that some are, possibly continently so.

            This process is perhaps the primary vehicle of "escapism". But don't take my word for it, do your own experiment.

            Take a chair and some lunch (no phones or books etc) to some pretty quiet place at dawn, and sit there for the entire day doing nothing but watching the day go by. Just be alive, that's all. Watch how long it takes before you want to escape the simplicity of being.

            I do suspect that some of the time, it's escapism. But for e.g. those who have to work three jobs and thus cannot spend hours every day in the desert/​forest, I doubt it's actually escapism.

            As to your experiment: I'm not sure the next time I'll do what you describe, but I'm one of those people who's happy to go for a walk without earbuds or reading my phone, and I'm happy to stand in lines without my face glued to a screen.

            It is hard to serve people and empower them when you're out in the desert/​forest. So if your only longing is to go out there (vs. go out there to recharge) …

          • Ficino

            Sure, but would the computer know whether those punch cards are out-of-order?

            I could have explained myself better. I was not arguing that a computer has intellect. I was just trying to draw a distinction between substances that have extension, and operations, which by definition are not substances (leaving God out of the discussion) and are not extended. My original post on this topic was saying that I don't see a problem that requires we posit an immaterial soul, since I didn't think that a thought is extended/made of matter.

            Not being a biologist or software engineer or architect, I can't comment from the perspective of those disciplines. As for Ryle, the example I gave is in his book. If you'd like to read the actual book and talk about it down the road, I'd have to go back and reread the thing myself.

          • F: I never understood why this is a problem. A computer is made of materials that are extended, but we don't say that there is a ghost in the computer that enables it to store the propositional content of the information it stores. A car is made of materials, but its speed is not made of materials. Why can't we just say that the brain is the organ that I think with, as the mouth etc are the organs that I speak with? There are lots of operations performed and ends achieved, and the operations and many of the ends aren't substances.

            F: I was just trying to draw a distinction between substances that have extension, and operations, which by definition are not substances (leaving God out of the discussion) and are not extended.

            First, aren't 'operations' are extended in time?

            Second, what makes something an 'operation' in a computer seems entirely dependent on human minds defining it that way. (Not all electron movement is part of an 'operation'.) If operations are parasitic on human thinking, human thinking cannot be "just an operation". The snake cannot eat its tail.

            My original post on this topic was saying that I don't see a problem that requires we posit an immaterial soul, since I didn't think that a thought is extended/made of matter. I.e. I'm declining to agree with the argument that if a thought is not extended, it must be the object/product of an operation of an agent that is not extended

            I confess that I don't really know what an 'immaterial soul' is—other than via definition which does not [consciously?] connect to any lived experience or thinking. I'm a very concrete, analytical being. I recognize the severe limits of both of these—I like Iain McGilchrist's The Master and His Emissary, although I've only made it through parts—but I have to work from where I'm at.

            Simultaneously, I have only the faintest of ideas to get computers to do anything like thinking, and that is via having two-level computation that is eerily like the immaterial/​material dichotomy. One needs purposes and mechanisms and an interplay between them. As it stands, computers don't do purposes, not in the slightest. I have no idea how purposes can be construed in terms of 'operation', except possibly as an infinite sequence where the limit-value is of fundamentally different kind than the sequence elements.

            Not being a biologist or software engineer or architect, I can't comment from the perspective of those disciplines.

            The important thing to note is that you cannot build higher and higher steel-reinforced concrete structures and eventually get a space tether. I long rejected evolution because it seemed to reason in precisely this way. What I failed to do was allow a void of matter/​mechanism for the time being. And here is where I find Dr. Bonnette's insistences so interesting: we humans just don't seem to start from matter/​mechanism! We seem to start from some sort of … 'global order'. In the beginning of his "The Unity of and Diversity of Natural Science", de Koninck quotes Aristotle:

            [the investigation of nature must] start from the things which are more knowable and certain to us and proceed towards those which are clearer and more certain in themselves; for the same things are not “knowable relatively to us” and “knowable” absolutely. So in the present inquiry we must follow this method and advance from what is more obscure by nature, but more certain to us, towards what is more certain and more knowable by nature.—Now what is to us plain and obvious at first is rather confused wholes, the elements and principles of which become known to us later by analysis. Thus we must advance from [vague] generalities to particulars. For it is a [vague] whole that is more known to sense perception, and a generality is likewise a kind of whole, comprising many things within it, like parts. Much the same happens in relation of the name to the definition. A name, such as “circle,” means vaguely a sort of whole: the definition analyses this whole into its parts [i.e. defining parts]. Similarly a child begins by calling all men “father,” and all women “mother,” but later on distinguishes each of them.’ (Physics, Bk. I, ch. 1, 184a17–184b14)

            My intuition tells me that Dr. Bonnette refuses to snap the tension Aristotle describes—the same tension which de Koninck quotes Bertrand Russell as describing right after—while accusing 'materialists' of downplaying “knowable relatively to us”. In essence, I take Dr. Bonnette to be accusing 'materialists' of doubting their own subjectivity, a subjectivity which if the Enlightenment scientists had doubted similarly, would have sapped them of the confidence to do the foundational science from which we benefit today. This doesn't mean our subjectivity is infallible, but I sense an insistence that it is actually less doubtable than is often claimed, and that if one doubts too much, one undermines oneself in a way which is first inconsistently held—perhaps only in the analytical parts of ourselves—but can spread until there is devastation in ability to think.

            Ok, that's a bit of a digression, but it does explain a bit why I myself find all this stuff intriguing, even though I claim virtually no competence in it.

            for Ryle, the example I gave is in his book. If you'd like to read the actual book and talk about it down the road, I'd have to go back and reread the thing myself.

            I'd be happy to do that starting in a month or two. I've been meaning to attack the Cartesian dualism thing more fully—I worry that far too much of my own thinking is infected by it.

          • Ficino

            First, aren't 'operations' are extended in time?

            I guess operations have duration... but I don't know enough to say whether every operation must take up time. I wouldn't say they are extended in time because many people refer to spatial extension when they talk about something's being "extended." An operation is not a body or collection of bodies was my point.

            Second, what makes something an 'operation' in a computer seems entirely dependent on human minds defining it that way.

            Yes, exactly. I would say the computer is an instrument. But at least in A-T, instrumental causes do real work, even though their causal efficacy depends on causes "higher" in an order of causes. I don't know how to analyze cases where the computer generates answers that I can't come up with myself. But whatever might be "added" by the computer, I don't see any reason to believe some sort of dualism about "mind" unless maybe a property dualism as suggested by Jim the Scott, about which I know nothing but the name.

            I confess that I don't really know what an 'immaterial soul' is

            Well, Dr. Bonnette seems to, unless I misread him, though he prefers the adjective "spiritual." A funny thing in Thomism is the status of disembodied souls after death but before the Resurrection. They are incomplete substances, according to some ... a lot of dispute about them in the literature. I think it's sketchy to try to shoehorn a hylomorphic theory of soul into a system that already had a doctrine that the soul exists apart from the body and goes places and undergoes experiences before being reunited with the (glorified) body. But Thomists try hard to reconcile these conceptions.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Since you mention my name here, I hope you will forgive me for intruding to explain my own position. I use "spiritual" for the human soul, not be mere preference, but because is has operations totally independent of matter, such as forming a universal concept. Since the concept is spiritual in nature, the faculty that forms it must also be, since being spiritual (the concept) is a positive quality that requires a proportionate cause. Non-being cannot beget being. To the extent that the concept has real qualities not reducible to matter, the intellective faculty must itself be equally spiritual to produce them -- as must the soul that has such spiritual faculties.

            The fact that some -- even Aristotle and St. Thomas -- may have had a concept of incomplete substances does not mean that a coherent doctrine of life after death for the human soul cannot be proposed. Borrowing from theology, the dogma of the Immaculate Conception (which St. Thomas failed to expect) teaches that Mary was conceived without original sin. This implies that her full personhood was present at conception, which is consistent with maintaining that the human soul with all its faculties, including intellect and will, are present from conception.

            If this is true, then at death the complete spiritual substance which is the human person survives until the resurrection of its body. It is thus capable of whatever experiences God wills to give it during its separation from a body. This is no problem for hylomorphism, since being the form is the act of the matter during life as fully as any substantial form of lower living things would be. Its only difference is that it maintains its own existence after separation from the matter/body, since it has purely spiritual operations that prove it can so survive independent from the body.

            I see no major problems here, as long as the metaphysics posits that the full human substance, with all its mature spiritual faculties, is present from conception. The fact that other theories are proposed that pose problems merely indicates that those other theories are wrong.

          • Ficino

            I use "spiritual" for the human soul, not be mere preference, but because is has operations totally independent of matter, such as forming a universal concept. Since the concept is spiritual in nature, the faculty that forms it must also be, since being spiritual (the concept) is a positive quality that requires a proportionate cause.

            So the brain is not an organ that we use when we exercise the faculty of reasoning? You are presenting the Aristotelian-Thomistic doctrine that the intellect operates by no bodily organ, just by intellectual soul?

          • Dennis Bonnette

            It is more complicated than that. There is extrinsic dependence of the intellect upon bodily organs, but not intrinsic dependence.

            Specifically, as I suspect you already may know, the agent intellect which is universal in act uses the phantasm from the imagination to form the impressed intelligible species, which, in turn, moves the potential or passive intellect into its own proper act which is to understand the nature of the object contained in the phantasm. Thus, while this may be imprecise, given that this is not a scholarly paper, the intellect is dependent on the phantasm in order to get the species of the concept formed. But it is a spiritual operation on the part of the agent intellect to use the phantasm as the matter for the process of abstraction. Since the potential intellect is activated by a spiritual impressed intelligible species, it can go into its proper act of understanding the nature materially contained in the phantasm.

            Now, how does all this preserve the spirituality of the intellect while still using a material organ? The point is that, absent a phantasm, this whole intellectual process cannot take place. And you get a phantasm solely from the imagination which is not itself a spiritual faculty, but one, though itself not material, still operates under the conditions of matter -- and this because it depends on the function of the brain, which is a physical organ, for its operation.

            Thus, the intellect has extrinsic dependence on physical organs for its operations, just like a computer has independent existence from its data, but it cannot actually process information unless data in input into it. That is the meaning of "extrinsic dependence." Still, since the intellect has within this complex process, its own properly spiritual acts -- using the phantasm as merely an instrumental cause of the formation of the impressed intelligible species -- the spiritual intellect is absolutely NOT dependent on any physical organ of the body for its own existence.

          • Ficino

            Borrowing from theology, the dogma of the Immaculate Conception (which St. Thomas failed to expect) teaches that Mary was conceived without original sin. This implies that her full personhood was present at conception, which is consistent with maintaining that the human soul with all its faculties, including intellect and will, are present from conception.

            If this is true,

            I don't see independent reason to sign on to metaphysical claims that rely on inferences from dogmas as premises.

            If you're claiming that a disembodied rational soul is the complete human being qua substance, then you've made the body only an accident a la Platonism. But if the disembodied soul is not the complete human being, then how is it not an incomplete substance? It hasn't turned into a member of any other species such that it's some different substance now.

            Since at death, the human substance is decomposed into a subsistent spiritual substantial form and decaying organic matter, what is left is neither two distinct substances (since the matter has now lost its unifying form)

            You are not denying that the matter of the dead body is resolved into the matter of other substances? But I agree that until decomposition issues in transformations, it is difficult to specify what new substances have the dead body's matter for their matter.

            These sorts of problems in hylomorphic accounts don't arise for the metaphysical naturalist.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I will center on this as the main point of your reply:

            "If you're claiming that a disembodied rational soul is the complete human being qua substance, then you've made the body only an accident a la Platonism. But if the disembodied soul is not the complete human being, then how is it not an incomplete substance? It hasn't turned into a member of any other species such that it's some different substance now."

            I mentioned the dogma of the Immaculate Conception simply to show that the concepts involved in this problem were actually addressed by later scholastics.

            The answer to your objection is that after death, while there is personal immortality of the human person, there is no longer a "complete human being." A complete human being must include the primary matter, which is lost at death. We have to be careful of what you mean by a "complete substance," since I think you are applying a notion derived from texts in Aristotle and St. Thomas which do not apply here, regardless of the question of their proper application in that other context.

            What is relevant here is that, while the matter is required in order to individuate the human being at conception, it is no longer required in order to individuate him after death. The reason is that once an individual existent has been created, it retains its individual act of existence thereafter, even though it may have needed matter to occasion its individuation before creation. It is now actualized as in individual in virtue of having its own act of existence already individualized. So, no, it does not revert to some kind of Platonic form that cannot be distinguished from all other such forms, which would mean there is only a single such form or species, with no individuals.

            The dead human person is still this person who lived this life with these unique acts he engaged in as a complete human being (however brief that life might have been). So, after death the human person perdures, since he is a supposit of a rational nature, even though that supposit is no longer the form that actualizes an actual human body.

          • Ficino

            The answer to your objection is that after death, while there is personal immortality of the human person, there is no longer a "complete human being." A complete human being must include the primary matter, which is lost at death. We have to be careful of what you mean by a "complete substance," since I think you are applying a notion derived from texts in Aristotle and St. Thomas which do not apply here, regardless of the question of their proper application in that other context.

            Dr. B, I appreciate the care with which you formulated your answer. I'm afraid I find the answer either destructive of A-T, in that it abandons the absolutely crucial concept of substance/substantial being, or else guilty of special pleading in the final sentence above.

            Let's let things sit for a while. I have more research to do on ancient mysteries and their financing than I can handle at the moment!

          • Dennis Bonnette

            We can resume this later, but I must plead "not guilty" on both counts and note my reasons here before I forget the context.

            First, there is nothing wrong as I understand it with saying the separated human soul is a "complete substance." Bernard Wuellner's Dictionary of Scholastic Philosophy (Bruce, 1956) defines "complete substance" as "a whole substance; a natural unit." It defines substance as "a being that has existence in itself and by virtue of itself as an ultimate distinct subject of being,"

            Since the separated human soul is a distinct thing in itself and separate from any other substance, it fulfills this standard definition of a complete substance. I point to this 1950s scholastic dictionary merely to show that my usage is consistent with recent Thomistic philosophy.

            As for what you mean by a "complete substance," I understand this to be correctly based on certain texts in Aristotle and St. Thomas that argue that until the organs develop sufficiently in the embryonic or fetal human organism, it does not have the faculties that need them in order to act -- faculties such as the intellect and will. This would mean that, say, the intellectual ability of the human organism is not present as a spiritual faculty until that time, and hence, the substance would not be "complete" with respect to all its mature essential properties.

            This understanding is also consistent with the ancient doctrine of "successive animation," whereby the human embryo first has a vegetative, then a sentient, and only last, a human soul during its development in the womb.

            The only problem with this is that it would mean that, while human life begins at conception, it would successively go through three distinct natural species during the process of maturation in the womb.

            That is why I mentioned the Catholic doctrine that Mary was conceived without original sin, which presupposes that she was a true human being at conception. I am not dragging in dogma as proof of a philosophical doctrine, but I am pointing to it as evidence that the philosophical notion that the soul is rational from conception is not alien to Thomistic philosophy -- or else, surely, many theologians and philosophers would have so objected to this dogma before it was defined.

            Regardless, nothing says that the faculties in question cannot begin to exist before they are first enabled to function through the proper organs. It is perfectly reasonable to argue that members of a species are essentially the same throughout their entire lives. The standard Thomistic reading of species today presupposes that the essence is complete from beginning to end. That is why even loss of the exercise of the intellect or will does not argue against the rights and dignity of the comatose or dying, since the presumption is that the soul remains fully present even though the faculties cannot work because of organic defects.

            There is absolutely no incoherence whatever in maintaining that the spiritual human soul and its faculties can be present from conception, but that the essential powers are activated only when the physical organs reach a stage of development needed for their exercise.

            Perhaps, one need not accept this understanding, but neither is it contrary to reason. There is no proof that the existence of the properties must await the development of the organs that enable their use.

            As a matter of fact, given that philosophical natural species are enumerated in terms of the presence or absence of essential powers, the view that man is a single rational species from conception to grave has Occam's razor screaming in its favor -- compared to a theory that would require substantial changes from vegetative life to animal life to rational life, all in the same organism!

            That is why it is hardly a case of "special pleading" to insist that the simplest explanation is to say that the substance is "complete" with all its faculties from conception to death -- despite the apparently contrary texts of Aristotle and St. Thomas -- texts probably greatly influenced by the archaic biology of their time.

          • Ficino

            I'm writing the following despite really needing to work on another problem... Above I was talking about the discarnate soul after the human person's death. I haven't done an in-depth study of the problem from the Thomistic POV. What I've read of Ralph McInerney says the discarnate soul is naturally incomplete.

            Someone on the Classical Theism board some time ago said this issue is the question, whether Aquinas was a survivalist or a corruptionist, i.e. does the human subject survive in the separated soul, or does the subject undergo corruption, leaving the separated soul as something less than the subject.

            My notes from Feser's article in the Blackwell Companion to Substance Dualism include this:
            "So when soul is separated from body, the human being continues as “a radically incomplete substance, as the stub of a human being, reduced to the bare minimum consistent with there being a human being at all.” That bare minimum is incorporeal, the intellective and volitional functions, not even with mental representations/phantasms, which require a brain. Death is “a full body amputation” but the immaterial parts of the human persist. soul is the substantial form of the living thing. It’s often said that the human soul is the substantial form of the living human body, and that’s true as far as the body goes but can mislead because the human is a substance that is not entirely corporeal. Aquinas would reject the thesis that soul is only form of body. For him, soul is form of the human, a substance that has corporeal and incorporeal operations. Soul is form of a substance that is corporeal in some respects and incorporeal in others. Human operations include two that are not carried on by organs. Soul survives the body because it is not the form of the body qua body but of the substance that is the man. So Aquinas thinks of the disembodied soul as an “incomplete substance,” not a non-substance.

            Perhaps modern followers of Aquinas reject the above?

          • Dennis Bonnette

            From what I read above, I think I would agree with most all of it. I think the problem is what one means by "incomplete substance." But sometimes the best thing is to spell out the details of what you mean exactly. That is what you have done above, and I have no problem with it as far as I can see initially. Death sucks. We are a very truncated substance after death, but "complete" in the sense that we are still an independent being, separate from other things. Still, the soul IS the form, not only of the body -- which just got amputated, but of the three spiritual faculties (passive and active intellects and will) that remain active -- but mostly dependent on God's direct infusion of knowledge.

            I just do not see why you seem to see a problem with all this -- once the distinctions you yourself report above are made.

            I know you are very busy for now and we can resume this later. I just don't think there is a huge problem here -- except for the fact that you don't seem to think it is all true!

            (Incidentally, I not only knew Ralph McInerny at Notre Dame, but also studied quite a bit under Charles DeKoninck there.)

          • Phil Tanny

            It defines substance as "a being that has existence in itself and by virtue of itself as an ultimate distinct subject of being

            Nothing in all of reality has existence in itself.

            "Things" are an illusion, a pattern of division imposed upon the single unified reality by the inherently divisive functioning of the human mind.

            As example, if I'm wearing tinted sunglasses all of reality will appear tinted no matter where I look. That's because the tint is not a property of what is being observed, but instead a property of the tool being used to make the observation.

            Catholic doctrine speaks to this with it's claim that God is ever present in all times and places, which effectively means there really is only one "thing".

          • I guess operations have duration... but I don't know enough to say whether every operation must take up time. I wouldn't say they are extended in time because many people refer to spatial extension when they talk about something's being "extended." An operation is not a body or collection of bodies was my point.

            But … when can an operation not be construed as "merely" one or more bodies acting on one or more other bodies? In that case, it seems one could be deflationary about the very existence of that 'operation'—other than in Dennett's intentional stance sense. If you deny true purpose/​teleology to the operation, then you [definitely] need no mind behind it. And we generally see no mind between the molecules in a gas bumping into each other in a closed container. But the 'operations' which go on there are exceedingly different from the 'operations' which go on in our minds.

            But at least in A-T, instrumental causes do real work, even though their causal efficacy depends on causes "higher" in an order of causes.

            But aren't instrumental causes (efficient causes?) blind to the formal and/or final causes in which they are … embedded?

            I don't know how to analyze cases where the computer generates answers that I can't come up with myself.

            You'd want to see how widely computers can do this. If it's only in a few very narrow domains—such as finding a full set of cases which would prove the four color theorem—that is very different than computers being able to outcompete humans in all areas if only you give them enough computational cycles and memory and information. My suggestion is that maybe in any way computers outpace humans, it's like building higher with steel-reinforced concrete: "more and more" will eventually fail to build higher, and any attempts to do so will collapse under their own weight.

            But whatever might be "added" by the computer, I don't see any reason to believe some sort of dualism about "mind" unless maybe a property dualism as suggested by Jim the Scott, about which I know nothing but the name.

            One reason to suggest some sort of dualism is if humans can meaningfully choose between alternative courses of action. Nature seems to just go whatever trajectory it will and at "decision points"[1], there is no reason for one path being "chosen" over the other—except probability. This is a place where 'causes' ≠ 'reasons'. To see that distinction explored (as well as the possibility that there is no distinction), I would recommend Martin Hollis' Models of Man: Philosophical Thoughts on Social Action.

            [1] See for example Lagrangian points made use of by the Interplanetary Superhighway—pass through them with the right trajectory and an infinitesimal thrust can send you on radically different trajectories. This is actively used by spacecraft, but the same can happen to inert objects—minus the thrust part.

            A funny thing in Thomism is the status of disembodied souls after death but before the Resurrection.

            I have seen [Protestant theologian] Roger Olson discuss some of his debates over the 'intermediate state'. I don't really know how to enter such discussions if there's no pragmatic way to test them. I will leave you with the first answer to the Physics.SE question Why is information indestructable?. It's a fun way I have of showing that "souls" could easily persist after death.

            I think it's sketchy to try to shoehorn a hylomorphic theory of soul into a system that already had a doctrine that the soul exists apart from the body and goes places and undergoes experiences before being reunited with the (glorified) body.

            The kind of 'soul' which went down to Sheol or which Jesus could possibly have been to the disciples was very shady, unable to do simple things like eat. It seems justifiable to try to add some substance to that 'soul'. :-p

          • I'll dedicate a different reply to this so as to keep the currently-running discussion from getting muddied:

            LB: Maybe some of the things/​processes out there in reality are too complex for anything short of a mind to understand them. I don't see why this has to be offensive.

            F: Who's offended?

            It is my experience that many of the kinds of people who end up being scientists and philosophers and intellectuals involved in the aforementioned tend to want to have a sort of complete grasp of all that reality could possibly be. This grasp can be a singular scientific method: Paul Feyerabend fought against that in Against Method and some claim he was ostracized from philosophers of science because of his heresy. Another form of this grasp can be seen in Sean Carroll's Seriously, The Laws Underlying The Physics of Everyday Life Really Are Completely Understood (update with nice visualization). An interlocutor of mine seems to have just followed in Carroll's footsteps by saying that we have "expanded our knowledge of science and nature from nearly zero to nearly complete" with clarification "Regarding our knowledge of the fundamentals of nature, I speak as a physicist."

            Another way to explore this is via William James' dichotomy:

            The Tender-Minded
            Rationalistic (going by 'principles'), Intellectualistic, Idealistic, Optimistic, Religious, Free-willist, Monistic, Dogmatical.
            The Tough-Minded
            Empiricist (going by 'facts'), Sensationalistic, Materialistic, Pessimistic, Irreligious, Fatalistic, Pluralistic, Sceptical.
            (Pragmatism: A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking)

            Ostensibly, the former are the people I'm talking about. However, it actually seems to me that plenty of empiricists are also monistic and dogmatic about that monism. Very few people seem willing to say that our present resources are probably not up to the task of understanding X, but that maybe improvements will fix things. Even Colin McGinn, in The Mysterious Flame: Conscious Minds in a Material World, wanted to assume he had the basics for understanding everything that could possibly be understood by us: when it came to consciousness—which he thinks is fully material—he thinks we probably don't have what it takes.

            So many of us just don't want to work from finite perspectives, such that when we combine our powers with others working from finite perspectives, we are unlike the blind men and an elephant. So many of us want to be autonomous and fully capable in principle / potentially, rather than a small piece of a very big puzzle where no individual is omnicompetent. Perhaps this has to do with a severe lack of trust: if I really cannot understand your role such that you could choose to take advantage of me and I just wouldn't know, then I will somehow alter things so this is no longer the case. There is a tremendous amount of politicking in academia which can be attributed to this basic problem. So for example, if an academician can force everyone else [who matters] to come to him/her on his/her own terms, that is a way of maintaining control and establishing stability for oneself.

            Thoughts? I could go on, but I think I've said [more than?] enough.

          • Ficino

            I'm sorry, this discussion is getting too complicated for the time I have available, and it's also getting way out of my area!

          • Alas. Well, let me know if you want to get into Gilbert Ryle's Concept of Mind starting one or two months out.

          • Phil Tanny

            Very few people seem willing to say that our present resources are probably not up to the task of understanding X

            And fewer yet seem willing to say that not being capable of understanding X could possibly be a good thing.

            The intellectual "elites" you reference above are clinging blindly to a simplistic "more is better" relationship with knowledge left over from our past. That era ended 75 years ago at Hiroshima, a lifetime ago.

            It is my experience that many of the kinds of people who end up being scientists and philosophers and intellectuals involved in the
            aforementioned tend to want to have a sort of complete grasp of all that
            reality could possibly be.

            Yes, a very human urge which willfully ignores that the overwhelming majority of reality at every scale is what we typically refer to as "nothing". Thus, any mind crammed to overflowing with conceptual "somethings" is already out of touch with the nature of reality.

          • Welcome back, Phil!

            And fewer yet seem willing to say that not being capable of understanding X could possibly be a good thing.

            Well, you can see this answer to the Phil.SE question What did Russell intend to achieve with “The Impact of Science on Society”?. If moral prowess does not keep up with technological ability, that's a bad thing. We don't give sharp knives to two-year-olds.

            The intellectual "elites" you reference above are clinging blindly to a simplistic "more is better" relationship with knowledge left over from our past. That era ended 75 years ago at Hiroshima, a lifetime ago.

            You want to start at Hiroshima instead of WWI? Ok, I guess—the human mind apparently has a nonlinear response to badness such that the more compact in spacetime, the more the signal is likely to rise above the noise … as it were. Anyhow, at this point I say we need to understand how we manage to justify being so screwed up—enough such that we don't deeply and fully repent.

            Yes, a very human urge which willfully ignores that the overwhelming majority of reality at every scale is what we typically refer to as "nothing". Thus, any mind crammed to overflowing with conceptual "somethings" is already out of touch with the nature of reality.

            I wonder if you'd like Owen Barfield's Saving the Appearances: A Study in Idolatry. He contrasts 'original participation', which is an unconscious (or nonreflective) engagement in the world and society, to a kind of distancing by 'collective representations', which possibly match up to 'concepts'. I think he might be ok with how Iain McGilchrist put it:

            Chapter 6: The Triumph of the Left Hemisphere
            Looking back over the evidence I have discussed in the previous chapter from philosophy, neurology and neuropsychology, it would appear that there is a good chance that the right hemisphere may be seeing more of the whole picture. Despite the left hemisphere's conviction of its own self-sufficiency, everything about the relationship of the hemispheres to one another and to reality suggests the primacy of the right hemisphere, both in grounding experience (at the bottom level) and in reconstituting left-hemisphere-processed experience once again as living (at the top level). We have also seen that many important aspects of experience, those that the right hemisphere is particularly well equipped to deal with – our passions, our sense of humour, all metaphoric and symbolic understanding (and with it the metaphoric and symbolic nature of art), all religious sense, all imaginative and intuitive processes – are denatured by becoming the object of focussed attention, which renders them explicit, therefore mechanical, lifeless. The value of the left hemisphere is precisely in making explicit, but this is a staging post, an intermediate level of the ‘processing’ of experience, never the starting point or end point, never the deepest, or the final, level. The relationship between the hemispheres is therefore highly significant for the type of world we find ourselves living in. (The Master and His Emissary, 209)

            —given "Reality furnishes man with a living content. Of this living content he puts to death that part which invades his ordinary consciousness." (The Case for Anthroposophy, 54–55) That seems like it might be up your alley. Then we can possibly connect those 'concepts' with the 'idols' below:

            Their idols are silver and gold,
                the work of human hands.
            They have mouths, but do not speak;
                eyes, but do not see.
            They have ears, but do not hear;
                noses, but do not smell.
            They have hands, but do not feel;
                feet, but do not walk;
                and they do not make a sound in their throat.
            Those who make them become like them;
                so do all who trust in them.
            (Psalm 115:4–8)

          • Phil Tanny

            If moral prowess does not keep up with technological ability, that's a bad thing.

            Yes, that's it. And there is no chance that the glacial pace of moral development will be able to match the accelerating emergence of technological ability, so the gap between the two is ever widening.

            Intellectual elites will claim they understand this, but if they did they wouldn't always be competing with each other to see who can deliver the most new knowledge.

            Most elite commentary is very intelligent, sophisticated and articulate, but if it's not challenging our relationship with knowledge in a fundamental manner it's basically 19th century thinking.

            Our relationship with knowledge is a fascinating topic to me, as it applies equally to both science and religion.

            Anyhow, at this point I say we need to understand how we manage to justify being so screwed up—enough such that we don't deeply and fully repent

            The reason such problems are so intractable is that the "so screwed up" aspects of the human condition are built in to the nature of thought. As evidence, such problems occur in every time and place, and thus can not be the result of this or that philosophy or cultural circumstance etc.

            Once the true source of human problems is seen to be the medium of thought itself, that insight transforms one's relationship with philosophy, because it becomes clear that changing from one philosophy to another will never solve these fundamental problems, which is in fact what the evidence of history clearly shows.

            The right hemisphere vs. left hemisphere topic is very interesting. It is revealing to me personally, because if one has a brain heavily inclined towards the big picture hemisphere, but lives in a society built around specialization, career problems may ensue.

            I heard an hour long interview with Iain McGilchrist on NPR, found it fascinating, and continue to reflect upon it regularly.

          • Most elite commentary is very intelligent, sophisticated and articulate, but if it's not challenging our relationship with knowledge in a fundamental manner it's basically 19th century thinking.

            If you believe that, I suggest checking out Richard Posner's Public Intellectuals: A Study of Decline, in which he discusses how many public intellectuals empirically function as entertainment and nothing else. From there, you could explore Albert Schutz' idea of 'recipe knowledge', whereby what many intellectuals know is a language and how to deploy it—but little more. And then one could explore Chris Hedges' scathing criticisms of so many contemporary elites, from a position of having interacted with a good sampling of them. I myself think we have a trahison des clercs on our hands, which is exceedingly different from your "very intelligent"—unless you and I define 'intelligent' very differently or unless you are being facetious.

            Our relationship with knowledge is a fascinating topic to me, as it applies equally to both science and religion.

            The idea that science is value-neutral needs some serious investigation, which Heather Douglas starts in Science, Policy, and the Value-Free Ideal. One could also consult Hilary Putnam's The Collapse of the Fact/Value Dichotomy. We take far too much for granted, probably because it's good enough in the judgment of many and in the judgment of enough of the others, anything else would destabilize the status quo.

            The reason such problems are so intractable is that the "so screwed up" aspects of the human condition are built in to the nature of thought.

            How do you distinguish this from it being a contingent behavior of humans? The nature/​nurture debate is fantastically complex, as Massimo Pigliucci demonstrates quite nicely. See his blog post The false dichotomy of nature-nurture … or his book Phenotypic Plasticity: Beyond Nature and Nurture (1900 'citations')—which should show up in WP: Phenotypic plasticity and shows up in e.g. Phenotypic plasticity in development and evolution: facts and concepts (270 'citations').

            As evidence, such problems occur in every time and place, and thus can not be the result of this or that philosophy or cultural circumstance etc.

            Perhaps it would behoove you to take the Jewish and Christians scriptures more seriously, perhaps with the help of Owen Barfield's Saving the Appearances: A Study in Idolatry. Unless you've really comprehensively surveyed the empirical evidence, 'some' ⇒ 'all' reasoning is exceedingly dangerous. If you care about what is true and possible.

            Glad you liked McGilchrist. I need to read the rest of his book!

          • Phil Tanny

            Hi again Luke,

            Well, to be fair, it seems that intellectual elites are just mirroring out of date assumptions (such as a "more is better" relationship with knowledge) held by the entire culture, and express those assumptions more articulately than the man in the street.

            To steer back towards the topic of religion, theological elites seem to be doing about the same thing. There's often an assumption that sophisticated logic calculations (ie. more knowledge) are a path to God, whereas I suspect the truth of the matter lies more in the opposite direction.

            Once anyone is getting paid to be an intellectual elite on any of these subjects a very strong bias emerges in favor of making these subjects complex, because without the complexity one can not pose as an expert, and without an expert pose, one can't get paid. And getting paid isn't even necessary, as promoting one's ego is often a sufficient motivation to introduce unnecessary distracting complexity.

            Perhaps it would behoove you to take the Jewish and Christians scriptures more seriously,

            Well, we've discussed this, and perhaps we shouldn't recycle that debate again? Or perhaps we should? I dunno, your call.

            I'm hesitant to proclaim a "one true way" at the moment, but perhaps it behooves all of us to seek sources of insight which are free of human contamination?

            As example, I'm clever with words and like to make all kinds of sweeping proclamations, but most readers will likely perceive that my ego is a significant funder :-) of such operations. That is, like any typist, there is a considerable amount of noise in the signal. If I had seven PhDs and was a world famous author this noise contamination would be unlikely to change much.

            Instead of investing too much time in my posts, a reader might choose to instead read "the book that God wrote", ie. nature. An option to consider at least.

            As just one example, modern observers can see that the overwhelming majority of the "book that God wrote" is what we call "nothing". Given that God seems to be displaying more than considerable interest in this "nothing" business, perhaps we should too?

            We can find discussion of "nothing" in expert books, and my man in the street posts too, but then talk about nothing very quickly becomes something very different than nothing.

            Should it interest you, you can probably find the hour long interview with McGilchrist somewhere on the NPR website. It hit home with me for a variety of reasons. As example, I have a very big picture mind whereas my wife has a very detail oriented mind, so we live out the "right brain vs. left brain" issue in our daily marriage.

          • Well, to be fair, it seems that intellectual elites are just mirroring out of date assumptions (such as a "more is better" relationship with knowledge) held by the entire culture, and express those assumptions more articulately than the man in the street.

            No, I can't accept this. I was raised in a rather anti-intellectual environment and it is very clear to me that the assumptions of my upbringing are exceedingly different from those of e.g. John Rawls. It would be much better to say that the characteristic errors of the one are balanced by the strengths of the other. But this means there is nothing like homogeneity.

            To steer back towards the topic of religion, theological elites seem to be doing about the same thing. There's often an assumption that sophisticated logic calculations (ie. more knowledge) are a path to God, whereas I suspect the truth of the matter lies more in the opposite direction.

            I largely agree with you, and so does Arminian theologian Roger Olson:

            RO: I have to wait until I retire to really say it as forcefully as I think it in the inner recesses of my mind. Once one becomes a true academic, one is subject to forces that promote and reward highly esoteric work. They (we) are often expected to leave it to others to translate our thoughts "down" to the masses. Or...whether the masses ever understand our thoughts is irrelevant. Today's academy (with exceptions, of course) is focused very much on esotericism of thought and language. That is, esoteric to everyone outside the silo of the discipline within the academy. I have been criticized by some scholars (yes, even theologians and church historians) for writing mainly for educated lay people and never publishing a book with a university press. University press books usually don't get read by the people we theologians should be helping--pastors and lay people with inquiring minds. I, for one, have given up attending professional meetings of scholars because the "air" is so rarified. It's a very strange world.

            The incentives in academia are to "make a unique contribution". And it's very much "publish or perish". This is not healthy if the purpose is to empower the little person. It simply isn't.

            Once anyone is getting paid to be an intellectual elite on any of these subjects a very strong bias emerges in favor of making these subjects complex, because without the complexity one can not pose as an expert, and without an expert pose, one can't get paid. And getting paid isn't even necessary, as promoting one's ego is often a sufficient motivation to introduce unnecessary distracting complexity.

            My father raised me to understand what you write here, implicitly. That itself is evidence against your "the true source of human problems is seen to be the medium of thought itself". Most books should be pamphlets, most pamphlets should be blog posts, and most blog posts shouldn't be.

            I'm hesitant to proclaim a "one true way" at the moment, but perhaps it behooves all of us to seek sources of insight which are free of human contamination?

            As you are the instrument with which you explore reality, human contamination exists wherever you go.

            Instead of investing too much time in my posts, a reader might choose to instead read "the book that God wrote", ie. nature. An option to consider at least.

            Do scientists study that "book that God wrote"?

            As example, I have a very big picture mind whereas my wife has a very detail oriented mind, so we live out the "right brain vs. left brain" issue in our daily marriage.

            Does she agree with you about spending as much time as possible in the desert and as little time as possible around "human contamination"?

          • Phil Tanny

            It would be much better to say that the characteristic errors of the one are balanced by the strengths of the other.

            The strength of intellectual elites is that they are articulate, and typically have some platform which allows them to reach an audience. I appreciate the talent involved, as I strive to be articulate myself, but none of this really matters if, as is almost always the case, elites are articulately expressing dangerous out of date ideas, such as the "more is better" relationship with knowledge.

            Today's academy (with exceptions, of course) is focused very much on esotericism of thought and language.

            Yes, and that's because this is how one establishes expert status, which leads to a paycheck. It's smart as a business strategy, but poor philosophy. There's really very little rational point in writing about the human condition in a form which very few humans will be able to access.

            Case in point, the Bible, the best selling book of all time because it addresses insights in to the fundamental human condition in a manner proven to be widely accessible. Thus, the Bible is HIGHLY influential, and academics are largely, and justly, ignored.

            The incentives in academia are to "make a unique contribution"

            Academia is a business enterprise, and like any business the goal is to make money. There are incurable conflicts between philosophy, and the philosophy business. Business isn't evil, it's just not philosophy, that's all.

            As you are the instrument with which you explore reality, human contamination exists wherever you go.

            Yes, excellent point! So follow that trail please. What is the source of that contamination, both within myself and all other writers?

            I propose that source to be the medium that all philosophies and philosophers are made of, thought. This explains why the contamination is universal, and not limited to this or that writer or philosophy.

            It's essential to grasp that thought operates by dividing the single unified reality in to conceptual objects.

            This is obviously a very powerful system, as it allows us to re-arrange the conceptual objects in our mind to create visions of reality which don't yet exist. That is, the divisive nature of thought allows us to be creative.

            The price tag for this vast power is that a distorting illusory pattern of division is imposed upon all our observations. This is a really big deal if one is engaged in religious agendas such as seeking unity.

            To me, this is what the Book Of Genesis is about.

            One partial solution is to prioritize experience over explanations. As example, it's not really my experiences which are contaminated so much as it is my explanations. Once I go in to explanation mode my ego tends to jump in to the driver's seat and all the usual contaminated shenanigans unfold.

            Explanations, all of them, are made of thought and thus all explanations are subject to the profound distorting influence of that medium.

            Experiences need not be made of thought, and the best ones typically aren't.

            Does she agree with you about spending as much time as possible in the desert and as little time as possible around "human contamination"?

            My wife is far too wise to be a philosopher :-) but in her own way she is on this path too. For me, engagement with nature takes place in landscapes, for her it takes place with wild animals. She's an AVID!!! wildlife rehabber and spends almost all her free time tending to the critters currently in her care.

            So, to summarize, while I find the deep woods more interesting and meaningful than most people, she finds flying squirrels more interesting and meaningful than most people.

            I write glorious sermons about "the desert", whereas my wife is far too serious about her form of nature engagement to waste time on silly sermons. :-)

          • The strength of intellectual elites is that they are articulate, →

            Not as judged by a lot of the American population. By some, yes. I currently find the explanation produced at [1] to be a decent hypothesis for the evidence you are ostensibly referencing.

            ← and typically have some platform which allows them to reach an audience.

            Judge Richard Posner estimates that most public intellectuals function more as entertainment than information. See his Public Intellectuals: A Study of Decline. He has a simple reason: public intellectuals, in general, are not punished by the public when they are wrong.

            … dangerous out of date ideas, such as the "more is better" relationship with knowledge.

            The problem is the selectivity: more of some knowledge (and excluding wisdom, and denying a voice to most people).

            Yes, and that's because this is how one establishes expert status, which leads to a paycheck.

            Sure, but how else is one going to fund all those fancy buildings, how is one going to pay for all the infrastructure and administration required to have a university system? I'm currently reading Thorstein Veblen's The Higher Learning in America, where he complains about business taking over higher education. I have yet to see if he makes an argument for an alternative that isn't just "Trust us smart people and give us lots of tax dollars."

            There's really very little rational point in writing about the human condition in a form which very few humans will be able to access.

            This is a major reason why I spend my time arguing with people on blogs, instead of in academia. But you have a problem: many people who argue online do not want their ideas to be threatened. This seems true of most people, actually. This is a conundrum, if you want to challenge them towards better, towards more. There is another problem: just how many people in the country really have the excess time, energy, and resources to do anything other than scrape by?

            Case in point, the Bible, the best selling book of all time because it addresses insights in to the fundamental human condition in a manner proven to be widely accessible. Thus, the Bible is HIGHLY influential, and academics are largely, and justly, ignored.

            I am not sure this is quite true; the Bible is generally used as a legitimation mechanism, whereby parishioners are required to agree with the interpretation of the elite. That is a very different kind of "influential", than something which causes people to question and repent and improve (and help others do the same!).

            It's essential to grasp that thought operates by dividing the single unified reality in to conceptual objects.

            This is obviously a very powerful system, as it allows us to re-arrange the conceptual objects in our mind to create visions of reality which don't yet exist. That is, the divisive nature of thought allows us to be creative.

            The price tag for this vast power is that a distorting illusory pattern of division is imposed upon all our observations. This is a really big deal if one is engaged in religious agendas such as seeking unity.

            Yes, it's easy to lose hold of what is and/or what you believe ought to be. Living that tension is nontrivial. But if reality as it is is truly "subjected to futility", then merely going out into the desert and being shaped by that isn't going to help you fight against that futility.

            One partial solution is to prioritize experience over explanations.

            To the extent that "out there" is less broken than "in here", sure. But is it?

            So, to summarize, while I find the deep woods more interesting and meaningful than most people, she finds flying squirrels more interesting and meaningful than most people.

            Perhaps the limitation on "finding interesting" is in you and not in the people? I remember a story where Richard Feynman and a fellow scientist were at a bar, and the other guy made some derogatory remark about a waitress being all she would ever be. Feynman responded, "I find that I can have an interesting conversation with anyone." I have used this as a model for myself: if I can't find the other person interesting, I work very hard to see if maybe I'm the limiting factor. Dunno what you've chosen to do on this matter.

          • By the way, this comment got caught by the spam filter so I emailed Brandon Vogt and he whitelisted you, so you shouldn't have that problem again on SN.

          • Phil Tanny

            Thanks to you Luke, and Brandon too. I appreciate you attempting to address my concerns.

            But, sorry to say, there are far too many problems with Disqus to be solved by whitelisting. In spite of what I'm sure are the best of intentions, Brandon isn't even in a position to address all the many issues as they are built in to Disqus software and thus beyond his control. The problems appear to be beyond the control of even the Disqus programmers.

            The stated goal of this site is said to be: "StrangeNotions.com is the central place of dialogue between Catholics and atheists."

            This is a GREAT goal, and deserves to be taken more seriously, by using the right tool for the job.

            Forum software is the appropriate tool for in depth conversations. There are a variety of forum software systems available for free, such as SimpleMachines and phpBB, among others.

            My suggestion is that we stop investing time in the incurably broken Disqus, take a quick break from posting our sermons, and instead re-invest that time in helping Brandon make the move to some other system which actually works, which would thus would allow StrangeNotions to become a professional site which can continue to grow.

            Please Note: This is an informed opinion. I've been working online as a tech since 1995, built and sold a tech startup, coded my own blog and forum from scratch, and so on.

            Luke, I've been unable to connect with Brandon by any method so if you read this and would care to pass it along, that would great, thanks!

          • What do you consider to be an example of superior forum software for having discussion like these? One thing I like about Disqus is that I can choose to only get notified if someone responds to my comments, vs. if someone replies to the same thread to which I've subscribed (probably by replying to it). Does your forum software permit this behavior?

            BTW, I've written Thoughts on Forums and Thoughts on Blogging, in case you're interested. I'm profoundly unhappy with anything I've found out there, although the last time I looked was some years at this point.

            As to moving SN to something better, that's going to be a tall order. What's your plan to convince Brandon to switch?

          • Phil Tanny

            Well, for one example, in forum software we could have this discussion in a thread dedicated to this subject instead of being wildly off topic under an article about something else entirely.

            To keep it simple, pretty much any forum software would be superior to what we're doing here, so I wouldn't agonize over the brands too much. That could come later, once it's understood that forum software is the appropriate tool for the mission of this site.

            I have no plan to convince Brandon, as my guess is that's not possible. You know, he's shown no interest in this subject, best I can tell. I'd obviously be happy to be wrong here.

            If there was interest, and if a few of us volunteered, the articles on this site could be installed on a forum rather quickly, as it's just a copy and paste job. The existing comments within Disqus would be lost, (or could be preserved in closed version of this blog) but very few people are likely reading the old comments anyway.

            Basically, the issue is not a technical one, but a question of whether any of us, especially Brandon of course, wish to take the stated goals of this site seriously.

            MISSION STATEMENT: StrangeNotions.com is the central place of dialogue between Catholics and atheists.

            Taking this mission statement seriously requires choosing the right tool for the job. Blogs are for speeches, forums are for in depth dialogue.

          • Sorry, but it's hard to take you seriously when you're ok with just losing all the existing comments. It matches with you caring about experience, but I care intensely about history.

            I agree that there are ways that a forum is better than blog comments, but I've probably spent over twenty thousand hours on forums and they have their problems, too.

            At some point I want to build a substitute for all of the above (because what is a blog post but an OP in a thread, and why can't a blog post be a wiki page?), but I clearly am not working on it yet.

          • Not sure about interact, but it's the same way an orange is related to the concept of spheroid. Spheroid is a concept it's a way of thinking.

          • Not sure about interact, →

            Maybe that's because there is zero way for the extended-in-space to interact with the not-extended-in-space, unless you start granting not-extended-in-space properties to 'matter'.

            ← but it's the same way an orange is related to the concept of spheroid. Spheroid is a concept it's a way of thinking.

            From what I understand, a major anchor of Dr. Bonnette's article is that we [apparently] obviously use not-extended-in-space concepts. Those claiming that the not-extended-in-space can easily be reduced to the extended-in-space should not be believed until they actually show how that would work.

            If you know your history of science, you'll know that various ways of thinking worked really well for periods of time, and then ran out of gas or were relegated to much less than "all of reality". So for example, the kind of abstract mathematics Newton used was supposed to explain everything, but it didn't. Then classical physics was supposed to explain everything, but it didn't. Then quantum physics and general relativity were supposed to explain everything, but they don't. Well, 'matter' is supposed to explain everything, but what if it doesn't? Why is that so offensive? Why do you cling so strongly to 'matter'?

            My guess is that you think that adding to 'matter' is to add complete and utter lawlessness. If we do not cling to our utter predictability, then all is lost! But I don't see this as necessarily true. It's not like Dr. Bonnette's not-extended-in-space concepts are lawless.

          • Yes I agree depending on what you mean by interaction. Concepts don't "interact" with matter because they aren't independent of it, they don't exist fundamentally. They are abstractions about material.

            I would say time and space themselves are secondary to matter as well.

            I take the position that concepts are reducible to material, fundamentally. I can't prove it conclusively, feel free not to accept it.

            But the claim advanced here is that concepts cannot be reduced to material, and I am saying this has not been demonstrated.

            I don't pretend we have a model that explains everything on materialism or any other metaphysical point of view.

            No I don't think adding to matter is lawlessness. I don't think it makes reality arbitrary. I just don't think we are warranted to say anything immaterial is fundamental.

          • Yes I agree depending on what you mean by interaction. Concepts don't "interact" with matter because they aren't independent of it, they don't exist fundamentally. They are abstractions about material.

            I don't see how this matters to the discussion at hand; if I'm thinking about a concept, my neurons are doing something, yes? Well, how is that concept anything other than what some subset of my neurons are doing? If that is all the concept is, then it is 100% extended-in-space[ and time]. And yet, you seem to think we need Dr. Bonnette's concepts—which are not extended in space and time.

            I would say time and space themselves are secondary to matter as well.

            Can you expand on this? I don't know how to compare & contrast 'secondary' vs. 'primary'.

            But the claim advanced here is that concepts cannot be reduced to material, and I am saying this has not been demonstrated.

            I don't think this is quite right, because I don't think you have a rigorous definition of 'material'. Because of your lack of rigor, 'material' can morph and change to explain what our current concepts of 'material' simply cannot explain. If you set no bounds on how 'material' can morph and change, then 'material' could indeed take on properties that are not extended in space or time.

            Dr. Bonnette, on the other hand, seems to be dealing with 'material' which is essentially extended in space and time. So I sense a deep equivocation on the terms 'material', 'matter', and 'nature', between the two of you.

            I just don't think we are warranted to say anything immaterial is fundamental.

            In that case, what exists will always be more true than words about it. But of course that immediately destabilizes your words, here. Unless you think your sentence here is crucially and fundamentally 'material'?

          • Fundamentally, the thinking of the concept is just neurons firing. The concept itself, doesn't really exist. It's imagined. Just like you imagine the Dark side of the force, or justice, you hold a concept of it, but it's imaginary. It's an abstraction based on commonalities of a number of things you associate. Those things and events exist in space or time you thinking about does too, but it doesn't.

            Sure, space and time don't exist on their own and material happens in them. What are the dimensions bid space? They are the distances of material objects at right angles. What is time, what a clock measures, or changes in the spacial dimensions. Space and time are distinct attributes of material. Space and time depend on material.

            I think all ultimate definitions in metaphysics are going to fail in your estimation. Immaterial and spiritual here have even worse definitions. They are defined by excluding themselves from the material, which is not well defined either.

            Yes, I'm a Materialist, I think everything is fundamentally material.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            "The concept itself, doesn't really exist. It's imagined. "

            How can you say this after seeing seventeen clear differences between the image and the concept?

            Is your materialistic worldview based on simply ignoring evidence?

          • There are more than 17 differences between Narnia and Pakistan, doesn't mean Narnia isn't imagined.

            I don't know what you mean by "real knowledge", but I'm not denying we hold concepts intellectually, but rather they aren't things that exist independent of our thoughts.

            Materialism is not a worldview, it is a metaphysical perspective. It is not based on ignoring evidence.

          • Phil Tanny

            Is your materialistic worldview based on simply ignoring evidence?

            Dr. B, you will become more credible if you are able to admit that you aren't really doing reason, but instead ideology. You start with the collection of conclusions you wish to hold, and then present a series of sophisticated arguments to promote and defend those conclusions. That's not reason, that's ideology. It seems philosophy professors at least should be clear about the difference.

            While this pattern is so common as to almost define the human condition, we should be clear that such a procedure is not really an act of reason. Reason is, much like religious faith, better described as an act of surrender. We don't get to row the boat to wherever we want to go, but instead surrender to wherever the process takes us.

            Few of us here, this poster most likely included, really have little interest in surrendering to a process. Instead, each of us has our favorite flag which we enjoy waving. And when we strip away all the pseudo sophistication layered on top, the flag most of us are waving most of the time are our male egos.

          • Fundamentally, the thinking of the concept is just neurons firing.

            But what does this rule out? For example, F = GmM/r^2 rules out F = GmM/r^2.0001. That makes F = GmM/r^2 very "brittle". What you say here seems to be almost the antithesis of "brittle". I'm not sure I can conceive of any remotely "nearby" observable phenomena which would falsify it. I can think of some crazy scenarios, but that's not generally how science works!

            The concept itself, doesn't really exist. It's imagined.

            Neurons can only interact with that which exists.

            Just like you imagine the Dark side of the force, or justice, you hold a concept of it, but it's imaginary. It's an abstraction based on commonalities of a number of things you associate.

            The original Star Trek was very good at showing how computers are bad at doing "justice". That is, whatever "justice" is, it appears not to be something mechanically computable. Apparently you believe the Star Trek script writers were simply wrong, on this?

            Sure, space and time don't exist on their own →

            You realize this is a radical departure from Galileo and Newton, right? I'm curious about why you've made it.

            ← and material happens in them.

            Can you define 'material' with zero reference to space or time? You seem to be giving 'material' ontological priority over them and I wonder if that actually works.

            What are the dimensions bid space? They are the distances of material objects at right angles.

            How does this account for the stretching of space, associated with dark energy?

            I think all ultimate definitions in metaphysics are going to fail in your estimation.

            Well, all mechanical definitions in metaphysics will fail in my estimation, because I think reality is infinitely complex, though arbitrarily comprehensible by humans because we are made imago Dei. You can speak instead in terms of "all that exists", but then your language has to be fuzzy, to allow for any and all error between your approximations and the infinite complexity of reality.

            Immaterial and spiritual here have even worse definitions.

            This is necessarily true, if they are contrasted against Descartes' "clear and distinct ideas". However, Descartes has his own issues, as quantum physicist Bernard d'Espagnat explains:

            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)

            Rigorous analysis once again shows that what we thought was so, ain't.

            Yes, I'm a Materialist, I think everything is fundamentally material.

            Including this claim? If this claim is made purely of 'material', then what makes it correct?

          • It rules out substance dualism, the metaphysical position that these equations or abstractions exist independently and fundamentally as does material.

            I think metaphysics is pretty tough to falsify.

            Again I'm not saying neurons interact with the immaterial. You haven't told me what you mean by "interact" here. The immaterial doesn't exist in that way, it's more of a way of describing the material.

            I'm not suggesting computers are or would be good at doing justice. Neither are humans I might add. But I don't see why it wouldn't be computational, see Star Trek TNG for example, Data was as excellent moral agent. I mean this is all fantasy why would we look to it? Why is this relevant? It has nothing to do with what you quoted.

            I say time and space are not fundamental and secondary to material based on an explanation from a YouTube video from a poster named Knownnomore. It's a shame his videos are down the explanation was well articulated. I can't recall much if it but when you think about it space and time are not things that material happens in. They are descriptions of material reality. Time for example, is literally defined as what a clock measures. Or it is a tracking of the change from a higher to lower entropy state, and could possibly be the reverse. I am sure it would radical to Galileo and Newton but not physicists today.

            Sure I'd define matter as that which exist substantively and fundamentally. That which can be observed and measured.

            The descriptions of dimension do not account for cosmic expansion.

            Yes, I think we should have to expect all language to by fuzzy to some respect. Especially on fundamental metaphysics. Look how fuzzy and vague the definition of immaterial is "that which is not extended in space and time". A definition only in the negative?

            Yes I think this claim is fundamentally material. Emphasis on the fundamental.

          • If { material reality } is more real than { statements about { material reality } }, then

            { material reality } is more real than { statements about { material reality } }

            is thereby undermined. Unless you can tell me precisely which arrangement of matter makes the blockquoted true?

          • Maybe youre thinking of something else, but there is just reality, nothing real can be more or less real. Something can be real or imaginary.

          • That modification doesn't change my underlying point. "All of reality is material" is a description about reality—is that description "real" or "imaginary"?

          • It's real, but not fundamental.

          • If { material reality } is fundamental, then

                 (D) { { material reality } is fundamental }

            is not fundamental. But then maybe (D) is wrong? I mean, could (D) just be an approximation of what is fundamental?

          • The statement "material reality is not fundamental" is not fundamental.

            Maybe it is wrong, I don't think it is, I think Materialism is right.

            Sure, substance dualism or idealism are both coherent. I don't know how you could be certain of any of these.

          • Then whence your confidence in (D)? It self-destabilizes.

          • Because material seems to make up everything. When we talk about the immaterial we use material ideas to make sense of it. The immaterial is actually defined in the negative, as being not material. I just don't see any reason to accept there is this other fundamental substance. A failure of material to explain everything may be because it can't, or we haven't or cannot understand it.

            I'm not terribly confident in it. I'm just less confident in saying this other immaterial stuff actually exists fundamentally. It seems more to me that it's categories and abstractions that material minds create to think about reality.

          • Because material seems to make up everything.

            Erm, { Because material seems to make up everything. } isn't obviously made of material.

            When we talk about the immaterial we use material ideas to make sense of it. The immaterial is actually defined in the negative, as being not material.

            I don't see why anyone should accept this, especially after Descartes. Actually I have a sneaking suspicion that this comes from Locke's now-fully-disproved tabula rasa theory, that everything in our brains comes via sense impressions. That's wildly false. There's also Kieran Egan's 2002 Getting it Wrong from the Beginning: Our Progressivist Inheritance from Herbert Spencer, John Dewey, and Jean Piaget, where he argues (among other things) that children virtually start out with rich imaginations. See also his home page, where you can see what he's getting into re: education.

            I'm not terribly confident in it. I'm just less confident in saying this other immaterial stuff actually exists fundamentally. It seems more to me that it's categories and abstractions that material minds create to think about reality.

            Ok, but you don't seem to be able to explain how these abstractions arise and how they interact with neurons or are stored in neurons. If 'matter' gets a new definition that includes aspects which are not 'extended in space', then your current stance on 'matter' will be flat wrong. So it's not really clear what you're rejecting, if you don't put strict bounds on how much the definition of 'matter' (or 'nature') can change.

          • Because everything seems to be FUNDAMENTALLY made up of material. Come on, we've been through this.

            No, it doesn't come from Locke or Egan.

            You still haven't explained what you mean by "interact", so I cant explain it. How do you think the material and immaterial interact?

            From my perspective they don't interact, because the immaterial doesn't exist in a way that it can interact. A description doesn't "interact" with the think it describes.

            It isn't clear what I'm rejecting, which is consistent with the immaterial not existing fundamentally.

          • Because everything seems to be FUNDAMENTALLY made up of material. Come on, we've been through this.

            But whence the "seems"? After all, I don't see how { Because material seems to make up everything. } "seems to be FUNDAMENTALLY made up of material"? Were I to examine the materials of { Because material seems to make up everything. }, I don't think I'd find the meaning. That's a problem for materialism.

            You still haven't explained what you mean by "interact", so I cant explain it. How do you think the material and immaterial interact?

            dictionary.com: interact's "1 to act one upon another" may suffice for definition; you can also see how IEP: Dualism and Mind uses the term 'interact', especially at 7. Objections to Dualism Motivated by Scientific Considerations § c. Problems of Interaction.

            Descartes had no way for his res cogitans (mind) and res extensa (body) to interact, so he hand-waved at the pineal gland. You have prevented zero means by which mind (abstractions) and body (material) can interact. So you have the same problem as Descartes.

            From my perspective they don't interact, because the immaterial doesn't exist in a way that it can interact. A description doesn't "interact" with the think it describes.

            Then descriptions do not come from things, are not based on things, and thus are … what, exactly?

          • It seems that way in every empirical observation, by the fact that immaterial is defined by being not material.

            I don't know what meaning you'd be looking for, when you observe things you observe material. Meaning doesn't exist fundamentally. You won't find it by examining material you find it by thinking about material. But thinking is something that happens materially too.

            Okay how has material ever been acted upon by something immaterial? Did I say they interact? The immaterial are second to material. It is mental descriptions. It's like you're asking how does the number 2 interact with two marbles. It doesn't because it's just a description of it.

            Descriptions are words and thoughts we use to describe things.

          • BGA: Because everything seems to be FUNDAMENTALLY made up of material. Come on, we've been through this.

            LB: But whence the "seems"? After all, I don't see how { Because material seems to make up everything. } "seems to be FUNDAMENTALLY made up of material"? Were I to examine the materials of { Because material seems to make up everything. }, I don't think I'd find the meaning. That's a problem for materialism.

            BGA: It seems that way in every empirical observation, by the fact that immaterial is defined by being not material.

            (1) Could this possibly be undermined by an etymology of 'material' or 'matter', or are you just going to say that we should do ontological hierarchies via current definitions?

            (2) I gave you an sample empirical observation: what are the materials of { Because material seems to make up everything. }? Here is what you say:

            I don't know what meaning you'd be looking for, when you observe things you observe material. Meaning doesn't exist fundamentally. You won't find it by examining material you find it by thinking about material.

            Then I say that meaning seems at least as fundamental as matter, to me.

            Okay how has material ever been acted upon by something immaterial? Did I say they interact? The immaterial are second to material.

            I am not sure I even understand what this means. What are the differing empirical predictions made for the different priorities (in terms of "fundamental") of whatever it is you mean by 'material', and 'meaning/​thought'?

          • Can't say I know what you are asking in your first question.

            Ok, meaning seems to me not to be fundamental at all. I think meaning is just what humans do. Before there humans there was no meaning. So I don't see how meaning can be fundamental.

            I also do not know what you mean with the last question.

          • BGA: It seems that way in every empirical observation, by the fact that immaterial is defined by being not material.

            LB: (1) Could this possibly be undermined by an etymology of 'material' or 'matter', or are you just going to say that we should do ontological hierarchies via current definitions?

            BGA: Can't say I know what you are asking in your first question.

            You're making an ontological argument based on a definition. Here's some etymology:

            etymology.com: material
            mid-14c., "real, ordinary; earthly, drawn from the material world" (contrasted with spiritual, mental, supernatural), a term in scholastic philosophy and theology, from Old French material, materiel (14c.) and directly from Late Latin materialis (adj.) "of or belonging to matter," from Latin materia "matter, stuff, wood, timber" (see matter (n.)).

            From late 14c. as "made of matter, having material existence; material, physical, substantial." From late 15c. as "important, relevant, necessary, pertaining to the matter or subject;" in the law of evidence, "of legal significance to the cause" (1580s).

            There, we can see the following terms:

                 (1) material
                 (2) spiritual
                 (3) mental
                 (4) supernatural

            But here, we don't have 'immaterial' being the primary term, parasitic on the term 'material'. And yet, your argument that "immaterial is defined by being not material" presupposes this. The Enlightenment was very focused on 'matter', but you shouldn't take that as a universal statement of how humans default to thinking about the world. Indeed, IIRC studies show that children are naturally dualists.

            Ok, meaning seems to me not to be fundamental at all.

            If you cannot give an account for how 'meaning' arises from 'material', then you have virtually no basis to claim that it does. Think of those naturalists who hate how 'God' is mysterious and religious folk can't explain how God works. Well, religious folk can turn that dislike of unexplained gaps right around on them and say that they don't get a pass on their inability to connect 'meaning' to 'material'.

            BGA: Okay how has material ever been acted upon by something immaterial? Did I say they interact? The immaterial are second to material.

            LB: I am not sure I even understand what this means. What are the differing empirical predictions made for the different priorities (in terms of "fundamental") of whatever it is you mean by 'material', and 'meaning/​thought'?

            BGA: I also do not know what you mean with the last question.

            Agree or disagree?: different ways of understanding what is most fundamental will change how you view reality. You prefer one way of understanding. I want to know if this is for empirical reasons, or more like … aesthetic reasons.

          • Yes, words are used differently. Are you unclear on what I mean when I talk about Material?

            I don't agree that there are fundamental substances other than Material. I'm not sure what is meant by spiritual or supernatural. Spiritual here was defined in the negative of space and time. I do think the mental is also not a fundamental substance but is reducible to Material.

            I didn't say I couldn't account for meaning, I said it isn't fundamental. Meaning is a mental and fundamentally Material phenomenon on my metaphysics. Thinks have meaning when minds reflect on them and make emotional or intellectual associations. All of which is brain activity which is Material. While there are gaps in understanding this, unlike appeals to gods, it isn't JUST the gaps imply this. We have observations and reasonable inference that meaning is thinking and thinking only happens with minds and all minds are material.

            I agree that different ways of thinking about what is most fundamental will affect how one views reality. Yes, I prefer Materialism, which is a kind of Monist metaphysics.

            Empiry has a bearing on my metaphysics, for example observations of matter inform my conclusion that material is real. But this is a metaphysical position it's more of a conclusion that seems to be the best model for observation, and the simplest. I.e. it does not see the need for two or more fundamental substances. It's is greatly influenced by the fact than more and more mental phenomenon are being empirically tied to neurology.

          • BGA: It seems that way in every empirical observation, by the fact that immaterial is defined by being not material.

            LB: [evidence and reasoning for the falsity of the above underlined]

            BGA: Are you unclear on what I mean when I talk about Material?

            Not here. I am disputing the underlined.

            I do think the mental is also not a fundamental substance but is reducible to Material.

            That is beside the point, when it comes to the underlined. The mental is not defined as "not the material".

            LB: If you cannot give an account for how 'meaning' arises from 'material', then you have virtually no basis to claim that it does.

            BGA: I didn't say I couldn't account for meaning, I said it isn't fundamental. Meaning is a mental and fundamentally Material phenomenon on my metaphysics. Thinks have meaning when minds reflect on them and make emotional or intellectual associations. All of which is brain activity which is Material. While there are gaps in understanding this, unlike appeals to gods, it isn't JUST the gaps imply this. We have observations and reasonable inference that meaning is thinking and thinking only happens with minds and all minds are material.

            Note that I said "If", and I elsewhere argued that you need to have a better account that Descartes did for his interaction between res cogitans and res extensa. You have not provided any such account—you instead presupposed the existence of "minds" and then magically connected it to "material" with the verbs "reflect on" and "make … associations". This presupposes a unified entity which can reflect on and make associations!

            I agree that different ways of thinking about what is most fundamental will affect how one views reality. Yes, I prefer Materialism, which is a kind of Monist metaphysics.

            How would you compare that way of thinking to the way of thinking whereby the mental and material are equally fundamental?

            I.e. it does not see the need for two or more fundamental substances.

            Curiously enough, waves and particles seem to be two fundamentally different kinds of things.

          • Ok what is the definition of the immaterial then that you are advancing that is not just a negation of the Material?

            Miriam Webster says "not consisting of matter"

            I don't know what Descartes account of this interaction is, or what interaction you are referencing. I think I was pretty clear that the material and immaterial don't interact, because the immaterial as basically aspects of material things. Mental descriptions of patterns.

            I do not presuppose the existence of minds. I didn't mean to imply I did. I am aware of my mind, my reflections about matter and my thoughts. I infer when I observe others that seem to do this, that they are.

            I don't know what you mean by "unified", but I'd say I am such an entity that can reflect and associate and connect thoughts and observations.

            A substance dualist would answer questions about metaphysics differently, they might also be more likely to accept ideas about souls and undying parts as literally true.

            No, I don't think waves and particles are fundamentally different, I think both are Material fundamentally.

          • BGA: It seems that way in every empirical observation, by the fact that immaterial is defined by being not material.

            BGA: Ok what is the definition of the immaterial then that you are advancing that is not just a negation of the Material?

            I'm actually moving to use 'mental' rather than 'immaterial', to avoid your semantics-based criticism.

            I don't know what Descartes account of this interaction is, or what interaction you are referencing.

            See IEP: Dualism and Mind § Problems of Interaction as well as SEP: Descartes and the Pineal Gland. Where he could not [plausibly] explain how res cogitans and res extensa interact, I claim you cannot [plausibly] explain how the material and the mental interact. But of course there is a problem:

            I think I was pretty clear that the material and immaterial don't interact, because the immaterial as basically aspects of material things.

            In this case, I don't see how you have demonstrated that the immaterial, or the mental, are "basically aspects of material things".

            Mental descriptions of patterns.

            This sounds more like mind and body with one ostensibly representing the other to greater or lesser accuracy. But you want to deny this way of talking about the issue. Can you point out any research on how material/​matter can represent itself? If your answer is "no", then I want to know why you are so confident that it can.

            I don't know what you mean by "unified", but I'd say I am such an entity that can reflect and associate and connect thoughts and observations.

            It needs to be the same entity which does "reflect on" and "make … associations". There needs to be continuity of entity with discontinuity of … ¿state?. A–T ostensibly captures this quite easily: a formal cause can having changing effective and material causes. One's 'soul', which we can connect to 'self', corresponds to the formal cause.

            BGA: I agree that different ways of thinking about what is most fundamental will affect how one views reality. Yes, I prefer Materialism, which is a kind of Monist metaphysics.

            LB: How would you compare that way of thinking to the way of thinking whereby the mental and material are equally fundamental?

            BGA: A substance dualist would answer questions about metaphysics differently, they might also be more likely to accept ideas about souls and undying parts as literally true.

            This is not much of an answer; it makes it seem like you just don't like 'souls' and 'undying parts', instead of having deeper reasons. BTW, the first answer of the Physics.SE question Why is information indestructable? shows that the information which defines you is never destroyed.

            BGA: I.e. it does not see the need for two or more fundamental substances.

            LB: Curiously enough, waves and particles seem to be two fundamentally different kinds of things.

            BGA: No, I don't think waves and particles are fundamentally different, I think both are Material fundamentally.

            What makes it proper to call them both 'material'—or the capitalized 'Material'?

          • Ok, what is the definition of mental you are using?

            Again, I am not claiming Material and Mental interact, the latter is made up of the former. Birds don't interact with a flock, they make up the flock.

            I'm not trying to demonstrate Materialism, I'm criticizing an OP that claims Materialism is false. But I think the fact that thoughts are what happens when brains are active is pretty uncontroversial. That there is an additional fundentally distinct metaphysical substance required is what I don't accept.

            Mind and body, mind is made up of body, as is a digestion and body. One is a different and narrow aggregate of body functions.

            I cannot point to any such research. I've already discussed why I am not convinced there is a second fundamental substance required for thinking.ive also noted I have very weak acceptance of this metaphysical position.

            No no, I love the idea of souls and undying parts. I desperately wish I had one. Which is probably why I scrutinize such claims for one. I don't want to accept I have an undying part on a weak foundation, to have that removed would be devastating. I've never had such a belief, one of my earliest memories was being absolutely scared of my own death. I still am, and I have this anxiety every day.

            What do you mean by "information that defines" me? This also implies it is never created. By I have not always existed. In other words, say Hylomorphism is true, that the shape or code, The information that defines me is not dependent on Material actually forming my body. That after my body dies decays and the molecules and atoms dissipate and form soil, dust, other living things, that they can be reconstituted and this would be "me". Needless to say, whatever this information that defines me is, it is not dependent on the specific Material that constituted my physical form at the time of my death, I understand that it's not about the specific atoms, as those present at my conception were far fewer at my 18th year. It's something to do with the structure, the arrangement, the form. And this form commences with my conception.

            The idea being that I can be resurrected. God can reconstitute my form materially, and I will live again.

            But if god can do this, He can make two. So there could be two Me's. There could be millions. Is this millions of my soul? I don't deny this is theoretically possible. I just take the position that these copies would not be Me. There would be no continuity as proven by the fact that I cannot be two people.

            This would seem to be a fatal blow to Hylomorphism. To this idea that I am the information that defines me rather than my body.

            Capitalization was lazy and doesn't represent anything, just what my phone autocompletes.

          • Phil Tanny

            Maybe this helps somehow?

            We're sitting on the beach watching the waves march towards shore, where each wave in turn meets it's death.

            The waves have no weight or mass of their own independent of the water they move through or the energy that propels them. They are perhaps best described as a pattern which is both clearly real, but also non-existent.

            How does something which never actually existed die?

          • Phil Tanny

            Or perhaps this....?

            What do we mean by "me"?

            It's clearly not the body as every part of our body might be replaced by surgeons and we would still experience "me". It seems by "me" we mean the data in our minds, because if this data was transferred to another body by a brain transplant we would still feel like "me". Seen this way, death might be defined as the absence of that data.

            This "me" data blinks briefly in and out of existence as a normal routine part of our day to day lives. A door slams behind you and you turn to look to see what caused that to happen. And in the moment of looking the data we call "me" is gone, thus "me" is dead.

            What makes this temporary death of "me" hard to see is that it happens very quickly, and is so utterly normal that it doesn't stand out as an event.

            The temporary death of "me" is very popular, the world almost turns around it. Consider the most popular hobby of all time, the orgasm. What happens during an orgasm is that the data we call "me" is briefly blasted out of existence, and we couldn't be happier about it.

            Very many popular hobbies operate on this same principle. My favorite example is surfing, where the balance challenge presented by the wave is so immediate and compelling that there is no room in the mind for the "me" data for a time. And even though surfing typically involves getting wet and cold and smashed around in the ocean, it's an extremely popular activity, because of the "me" death that it provides.

            Look at any activity that you find compelling and you will likely discover it involves some measure of "me" death.

            We routinely die all the time as a regular part of our every day lives, in too many moments to begin to count. And we typically enjoy the experience, or find it so acceptable as to not merit notice or mention.

            So, we don't really need to endlessly theorize about death, as each of us already experience it so routinely and so agreeably that we typically don't even notice it.

            "Me" comes with a big price tag. "Me" is made of thought, and so it inevitably involves the process of division. An experience of separation is the result, which generates fear, which in turn is the source of most human problems.

            We ate the apple from the tree of knowledge, and lost the Garden Of Eden as a result. First book in the Bible, most likely for a good reason.

          • Waves do exist until they don't. They are immaterial but waves are not fundamental. The Material that makes up the waves is.

          • Ok, what is the definition of mental you are using?

            You define things you are less clear about in terms of things you are more clear about. But what am I more clear about than thinking? It is absurd to be more clear about material objects than thinking, because to do so you have to use thinking which is not as reliable. So while I can provide this:

            dictionary.com: mental
            1. of or relating to the mind:
                mental powers; mental suffering.
            2. of, relating to, or affected by a disorder of the mind:
                a mental patient; mental illness.
            3. providing care for persons with disordered minds, emotions, etc.:
                a mental hospital.
            4. performed by or existing in the mind:
                mental arithmetic; a mental note.
            5. pertaining to intellectuals or intellectual activity.

            —I am not sure how helpful that will be to you. I don't really understand your position; it is as if you found out that scientists think neurons only work this way, and then you were to stop thinking in any way which is prohibited by neurons only working that way. This would be absurd: whatever our understanding of neurons is, it had better allow the thinking we know is going on. But this makes thinking fundamental and neurons secondary. There is some wiggle room, and that is that we can be wrong about what we think we know. But we can't be too wrong, else the foundation is destroyed and the building collapses.

            Birds don't interact with a flock, they make up the flock.

            In the [deterministic!] de Broglie–Bohm interpretation of QM, the total state of the universe is captured by two things of exceedingly different types: (I'm being approximate because I don't think the fine details matter)

                 (1) N sets of 3-coordinate pairs, one per particle
                 (2) a dimension 3N wavefunction which exists everywhere

            In other words:

                 (1′) particles which are localized in space
                 (2′) a wave thing which is omnipresent

            You would say that the particles don't interact with the wavefunction, they make up the wavefunction. If physicists would call this "wrong", what would you say? What if you actually need something like (1′) and (2′), such that neither can be reduced to the other in all circumstances? I myself see some possible similarities between (2′) and what A–T folks call 'soul' or 'spirit'.

            BGA: I think I was pretty clear that the material and immaterial don't interact, because the immaterial as basically aspects of material things.

            LB: In this case, I don't see how you have demonstrated that the immaterial, or the mental, are "basically aspects of material things".

            BGA: Mind and body, mind is made up of body, as is a digestion and body. One is a different and narrow aggregate of body functions.

            That's not a demonstration, it's an analogy. And as far as I know, there aren't nearly the problems trying to understand consciousness and self-consciousness as there are understanding digestion.

            BGA: Mental descriptions of patterns.

            LB: This sounds more like mind and body with one ostensibly representing the other to greater or lesser accuracy. But you want to deny this way of talking about the issue. Can you point out any research on how material/​matter can represent itself? If your answer is "no", then I want to know why you are so confident that it can.

            BGA: I cannot point to any such research. I've already discussed why I am not convinced there is a second fundamental substance required for thinking.ive also noted I have very weak acceptance of this metaphysical position.

            Does it bother you that you cannot point to any such research? You say that you only hold to your metaphysical position weakly, but the perseverance with which you defend it seems to indicate otherwise. Also, your very simplistic contrast between your position and the alternatives indicates that you don't have the empirical or rational warrant to be so confident in your position that you would explore it and not the others. If your position were held so weakly, I'd think you would be more able to describe others' positions and how their tug at you keeps you from strongly holding your metaphysical position. Something just doesn't make sense to me, here.

            No no, I love the idea of souls and undying parts.

            I stand corrected. Curiously enough, I do not—on either count. I just don't think about this stuff much, except in conversations such as these. A history of self-hatred (perhaps some due to Christianity, but largely due to peers who routinely scapegoated me and perhaps atheists who are certain that the religious are broken and thus open the floodgates of abuse) has, I think, made me rather uninterested in living forever. (N.B. Thankfully, you and some atheists have not done the thing I describe, here.)

            What do you mean by "information that defines" me? This also implies it is never created.

            Did you read the Physics.SE question Why is information indestructable? & the first answer? 'Information' describes your material state. And yes, unitarity in physics means that nothing is created and time is fictional. This leads to a block universe; see @johnnyp76:disqus's blog post Time, Free Will and the Block Universe for a decent description. This is why physicists wonder about "the arrow of time". Lee Smolin thinks that time being unreal in current fundamental physics is a problem and treats the matter in his book Time Reborn; you can also find lectures on YT.

            In other words, say Hylomorphism is true, that the shape or code, The information that defines me is not dependent on Material actually forming my body.

            I would need to see how Hylomorphism deals with the sorites paradox before continuing on this line of thought. That some material is replaceable, especially a small enough chunk at a time, is very different from just obliterating all the material. I've also heard rumors of miraculous recovery from traumatic brain injury, which suggests that possibly part of the brain can store much more of what's in other pats than was previously possible. But then is the stuff stored in any local part of the brain or … somehow spread over it all, like that 3N wavefunction, above? This is a suggestion of nonlocality if not quantum nonlocality, with the latter long being considered unacceptable by [many? most?] physicists. If your idea of 'material' cannot tolerate nonlocality, then your interpretation of the violation of Bell's theorem will be that the universe is ontologically stochastic/​indeterministic. You will be unable to see more order in reality because of your ontological commitments, which are not held in tension with carefully articulated alternatives which you currently believe are less likely.

            But if god can do this, He can make two.

            The Physics.SE answer does not permit two and physics has a no-cloning theorem which you could explore. This applies only to quantum systems, not classical ones. And it is a theorem which is simply held because it's state-of-the-art. But it's enough to show that your claim here is not necessarily true—not if God decides to respect the integrity of creation.

          • As I recall it you criticized me for being Materialist based in part on the fact that the immaterial is defined only in the negative from Material, I think you suggested this wasn't the case. I provided a definition from Webster that was exactly that and you responded by saying you were moving on to the mental. So i asked what you meant by that.

            I agree that mental has to do with thinking which I am only aware as happening in Material brains or machines. In any event I don't deny the mental doesn't exist, just the immaterial, again in part because it is defined in the negative. To me this implies not epistemic warrant for belief in the immaterial as a fundamental substance, just that not everything is fully explained under Materialism, and not at all any reason to think everything cannot be accounted for under Materialism.

            You've lost me in QM it's not something I have anything close to an understanding in order to discuss. I'd have to defer to majority expert views. But I'm not even qualified to know who these would be.

            I agree what consciousness is, and how it works is not understood under any metaphysics. It is unfair to suggest Materialism is wrong when Substance Dualism and monism don't explain it either.

            No it doesn't bother me that I cannot point to any research on how Material can reflect on itself. I haven't looked and don't think that such research would be possible.

            Ok you think I do not hold to Materialism. Maybe I'm not shaken in my position because you haven't provided a convincing critique.

            I haven't really explored any metaphysics outside such discussions as this one. I'm enjoying it, it passes the time on the bus to work quite effectively.

            Metaphysics is pretty diverse. I think I have a pretty good idea of Substance Dualism, idealism, Platonism. Not terribly clear on Hylomorphism.

            No I didn't read the Physics SE question. I have listened to Sean Carroll's Great lectures in Mysteries in Modern Physics:Time. I am familiar with issues of block time. But what is undeniable even on block time is the difference in entropy in spacetime, from low to high. Why this is, is unknown. Wait, why am I in this tangent?

            I am still unclear on why the cloning problem doesn't defeat the Hylomorphic theory of the soul. But if it's quantum, I probably won't get it.

          • BGA: Immaterial and spiritual here have even worse definitions. They are defined by excluding themselves from the material, which is not well defined either.

            LB: This is necessarily true, if they are contrasted against Descartes' "clear and distinct ideas". However, Descartes has his own issues, as quantum physicist Bernard d'Espagnat explains: [excerpt from On Physics and Philosophy] Rigorous analysis once again shows that what we thought was so, ain't.

            BGA: Because everything seems to be FUNDAMENTALLY made up of material. Come on, we've been through this.

            LB: But whence the "seems"? After all, I don't see how { Because material seems to make up everything. } "seems to be FUNDAMENTALLY made up of material"? Were I to examine the materials of { Because material seems to make up everything. }, I don't think I'd find the meaning. That's a problem for materialism.

            BGA: It seems that way in every empirical observation, by the fact that immaterial is defined by being not material.

            BGA: As I recall it you criticized me for being Materialist based in part on the fact that the immaterial is defined only in the negative from Material, I think you suggested this wasn't the case. I provided a definition from Webster that was exactly that and you responded by saying you were moving on to the mental. So i asked what you meant by that.

            You are conflating discussions:

            (1) I actually granted you that 'material' is better-defined according to a metric which actually fails us when one updates one's philosophy to be consistent with quantum physics—which Bernard d'Espagnat does in On Physics and Philosophy, which I excerpted to you. I therefore rejected this metric of "better-defined". You will also find it hard to get "clear and distinct ideas" when it comes to what causation even is.

            (2) You switched to arguing that because 'immaterial' is defined as "not material", we should give say that 'material' is more fundamental than 'immaterial'. You're now arguing purely based on how we have chosen to define terms, and that is exceedingly dubious in general. Who says that our way of defining things is the best say? Indeed, Francis Bacon argued for radical conceptual clean-up with his "idols". To show you that this was a silly argument, I switched from talking about 'immaterial' to 'spiritual' / 'mental' / 'supernatural'. The middle term is almost certainly least controversial. Importantly, it is not defined in terms of 'material'.

            I agree that mental has to do with thinking which I am only aware as happening in Material brains or machines.

            You were certainly aware of thinking before becoming [weakly] confident that it only happens in material brains. (Thinking does not [yet] happen in machines.) Seeing as you are now [weakly] convinced that you're 100% 'material', and you have presented no ideas on how the immaterial might interact with the material, it is almost certain that you will claim that you can only possibly detect 'material'. There is a kind of "closed to falsification" property of this system, where if it isn't critiqued at the right point, it cannot possibly be falsified. It's almost like you'd have to play with the idea that you're not 100% material, to possibly detect anything not 100% material.

            BGA: Again, I am not claiming Material and Mental interact, the latter is made up of the former. Birds don't interact with a flock, they make up the flock.

            LB: ⋮
            In other words:

                 (1′) particles which are localized in space
                 (2′) a wave thing which is omnipresent

            BGA: You've lost me in QM it's not something I have anything close to an understanding in order to discuss. I'd have to defer to majority expert views. But I'm not even qualified to know who these would be.

            I am asking whether you can allow for (1′) and (2′) to be equally fundamental. Your sentence about birds indicates that you think waves are "just" particles. I asked whether you would be open to physicists demonstrating that you are wrong when this thinking is applied to fundamental constituents of reality. Is your answer "no"?

            I agree what consciousness is, and how it works is not understood under any metaphysics. It is unfair to suggest Materialism is wrong when Substance Dualism and monism don't explain it either.

            Actually, it seems to me that everyone thinks they have an explanation until pressed, and then nobody has a very satisfying explanation for anyone not in his/her camp. Perhaps this is because they all have parts of the answer, but haven't yet learned to combine them? Maybe each would do well to better dwell on the weak points of their own system of explanation (and promissory notes).

            No it doesn't bother me that I cannot point to any research on how Material can reflect on itself. I haven't looked and don't think that such research would be possible.

            So you think material can do something which you think might not possibly be researchable? Or do you disagree that "material/​matter can represent itself"? Note that Colin McGinn is confident that everything is material, while dubious about whether humans could ever understand how consciousness works on a material basis: The Mysterious Flame: Conscious Minds in a Material World. It just seems silly to me to cling to an ontology which has obviously failed in an extremely important domain!

            I haven't really explored any metaphysics outside such discussions as this one. I'm enjoying it, it passes the time on the bus to work quite effectively.

            Glad to hear it. :-) You are also helping me clarify some things and appreciate more some of what Dr. Bonnette is trying to do, but mostly on an intuitive level.

            No I didn't read the Physics SE question. … Wait, why am I in this tangent?

            I suggest taking a look. It's neat, and it shows you that our present physics never destroys the information which defines who you are—according to present physics. You are on this tangent because you took some issues with Hylomorphism which I think are defused by some knowledge of present-day physics.

            I am still unclear on why the cloning problem doesn't defeat the Hylomorphic theory of the soul. But if it's quantum, I probably won't get it.

            You can get enough for present purposes:

            In physics, the no-cloning theorem states that it is impossible to create an identical copy of an arbitrary unknown quantum state. This no-go theorem of quantum mechanics was articulated by James Park in proving the impossibility of a simple perfect non-disturbing measurement scheme,[1] in 1970 and rediscovered by Wootters and Zurek[2] and by Dieks[3] in 1982. (WP: No-cloning theorem)

            So, if you are a quantum state instead of a classical state, you can't be cloned according to present-day physics.

          • I didn't switch to arguing that I am a Materialist because of definitions. It is one of the reasons I gave. I accept Material exists. When substance dualists suggest something immaterial exists they define it not by what it is, but by what it is not. This is a problem for the immaterial.

            Yes, my argument uses terms, and I use those terms to refer to concepts. It's important to be clear on what concepts you are referring to with your terms as to not confuse your interlocutor. I don't think there are best definitions. There are more and less common usages.

            Ok you would like to use the term "mental" instead of "immaterial". I do not disagree that the mental exists, but it is fundamentally Material. It is not a fundamentally distinct substance, metaphysically speaking, it is reducible to material.

            I disagree that thinking doesn't happen in non-human machines. Artificial thinking machines do not have general intelligence, nor it would seem a conscious experience.

            I think falsification is a problem in metaphysics not just for Materialism. This is a big reason I have such low confidence in my position. I would agree falsifying Materialism, dualism, or idealism is pretty much impossible.

            Sure, as far as I know there are aspects of the cosmos that are beyond our abilities to investigate. So in that sense there may very we be material things going on we are utterly ignorant of. We know there are big gaps in scientific models.

            This is ontology, but it's metaphysics, not physics. There is a reason metaphysics is not science, and I think you are onto it with noting the problems with falsification and ability to experiment. But I don't think it's exclusive to Materialism!

            I'll look at it. But if we cannot be cloned can we be resurrected?

          • I didn't switch to arguing that I am a Materialist because of definitions. It is one of the reasons I gave.

            I do not recall you basing your materialism on "priority of definition" in the beginning. So from my perspective, it really did seem like a switch. If all along that was one of your decisions then fine, but that wouldn't change the discussion record. I can only respond to what you have written, not what is in your head.

            When substance dualists suggest something immaterial exists they define it not by what it is, but by what it is not.

            I am not convinced this is true. The claim "materialism is true" is not [to me] clearly made of material. You have convinced yourself it is and may have forgotten how you thusly convinced yourself. Here is Paul Bloom:

            For the last few years I have been interested in common sense dualism, which is the notion that people have two ways of looking at the world. We see the world in terms of material bodies, including our own bodies, and in terms of immaterial souls. And we are dualists; we see bodies and souls as distinct.

            Our dualistic conception isn't an airy intellectual thing; it is common sense, and rooted in a phenomenological experience. We do not feel that we are material things, physical bodies. The notion that we are machines made of meat, as Marvin Minsky once put it, is unintuitive and unnatural. Instead, we feel as if we occupy our bodies. We possess them. We own them. Because of this, we talk about my brain, or my body, using the same language of possession that we use when we talk about my car, or my child. These are things that we possess, that we are intimately related to—but not what we are. (Natural-Born Dualists A Talk with Paul Bloom)

            Bloom goes on to argue that far from being nurture, dualism is nature:

            So it is perfectly plausible that children start off innocent of any body-soul separation, and come to be dualists through experience. But I want to defend a very different view. I think children are dualists from the start. Even babies start off with this sort of body-soul split. To put it somewhat differently, they start off with two distinct modes of construal, or systems of core-knowledge, one corresponding to bodies, the other to souls. Because these systems are distinct, common-sense dualism emerges as a natural by-product. (Natural-Born Dualists A Talk with Paul Bloom)

            This doesn't look like "define it not by what it is, but by what it is not". Instead, it looks like two fundamentally different ways of understanding the world. Maybe we need both, and it is erroneous to try to reduce one to the other.

            … It's important to be clear on what concepts you are referring to with your terms as to not confuse your interlocutor. I don't think there are best definitions. …

            I disagree that thinking doesn't happen in non-human machines. Artificial thinking machines do not have general intelligence, nor it would seem a conscious experience.

            What definition are you using for 'thinking'? This is reminiscent of our conversation about whether non-human animals ask questions, and you wanting to claim that your dog does ask you "Can I have some food?", instead of just saying "Want food!" At the same time, you acknowledged that there is a fundamental difference between "Can I have some food?" and the kinds of questions which non-human primates apparently never ask. (WP: Primate cognition § Asking questions and giving negative answers) So it seems like you prefer fundamental differences to be located inside terms instead of between terms? This would suggest that 'material' could itself contain a fundamental difference inside it. However, you seem to think this isn't just a matter of semantics …

            LB: … Maybe each would do well to better dwell on the weak points of their own system of explanation (and promissory notes).

            BGA: I would agree falsifying Materialism, dualism, or idealism is pretty much impossible.

            Falsification is not one's only option for analyzing a system of thinking. I gave you another way:

            BGA: No it doesn't bother me that I cannot point to any research on how Material can reflect on itself. I haven't looked and don't think that such research would be possible.

            LB: So you think material can do something which you think might not possibly be researchable? Or do you disagree that "material/​matter can represent itself"?

            BGA: Sure, as far as I know there are aspects of the cosmos that are beyond our abilities to investigate. So in that sense there may very we be material things going on we are utterly ignorant of. We know there are big gaps in scientific models.

            If your metaphysics cannot understand something essential to human life (self-reflection), do you think that might be a problem for your metaphysics? Note here that other contending philosophies of mind–body have other problems. But I want to know if you take the problems in your own seriously, or instead brush them off.

            I'll look at it. But if we cannot be cloned can we be resurrected?

            Nothing in modern physics precludes the information which defines you, which becomes spread out in the universe, from being re-collected. God could act in concert with the known laws of physics to resurrect—and not clone.

          • Phil Tanny

            Because everything seems to be FUNDAMENTALLY made up of material.

            Would it perhaps be more accurate to state that everything is fundamentally made of space, a phenomena real, but not material?

          • No. Space is also secondary to material. If there were no material, there would be no space.

          • Phil Tanny

            The vast majority of every atom is space. Material is overwhelmingly space.

          • Sample1

            Is the space empty or not?

            Mike

          • Phil Tanny

            That's the kind of simplistic dualistic question which MAY not be appropriate to the nature of reality, and thus the God question.

            All I'm saying is that we shouldn't blindly assume that just because our minds insist on dividing phenomena in to yes/no type categories that this automatically means that is the way nature always works.

            That's what's interesting about space, it 1) doesn't seem to fit neatly in to either the "exists" or "doesn't exist" categories, and 2) to the degree that's true it's a very big deal given that the overwhelming majority of reality is space.

            As discussions of space unfold here and elsewhere watch how dissatisfying the unclassifiable nature of space is to posters. Most will try, often with some annoyance, to shove space in to the either the "exists" or "doesn't exist" category, in spite of the evidence that neither of those categories seem appropriate to the nature of space.

            Why should this matter to Catholics and other God debaters? If the vast majority of reality can not be filed under "exists" or "doesn't exist" that could mean that the "does God exist?" question is fundamentally flawed, and we are perhaps wasting huge amounts of time asking a bad question.

            This too will be a quite unpopular theory, given that most God debaters have staked out some position, attached their ego to that position, and memorized a pile of arguments in support of their position. Many God debaters like the game just as it is, and don't want the predictable patterns they've come to count on to be disturbed.

          • Sample1

            Downvoted.

            Mike

          • David Nickol

            From Sean Carroll's Something Deeply Hidden: Quantum Worlds and the Emergence of Spacetime, p. 34:

            Consider an idea you will often hear: "Atoms are mostly empty space." Utterly wrong, according to the AQM [austere quantum mechanics] way of thinking. It comes from a stubborn insistence on thinking of an electron as a tiny classical dot zipping around inside of the wave function, rather than the electron actually being the wave function. In AQM, there's nothing zipping around; there is only the quantum state. Atoms aren't mostly empty space; they are described by wave functions that stretch throughout the extent of the atom.

            Of course, a lot depends on what Carroll means by AQM, and I have already typed enough!

          • Sample1

            Precisely. So called “empty space” is a classical relic, a notion for specific historical circumstances but not borne out by evidence. Even in philosophyism, what’s being claimed? a region of emptiness in some part of the environment in the environment? That’s bananas.

            The density of the environment changes but because of QM, fields permeate throughout spacetime leaving no empty space. It doesn’t even make sense to say one can demonstrate empty space. What would such a demonstration look like? How does one exactly observe nothing? And if it is observed doesn’t that become something?

            But, well, evidence. Who needs that?

            Mike, excommunicated with malicious aforethought, sometimes called love in theology.

          • Phil Tanny

            Guys, not even the experts can nail these subjects down, at least not yet. If you prefer to re-label "nothing" as "relative nothing" I'm agreeable to that. Please try to resist the temptation to simply say the opposite of whatever the last poster said.

          • Sample1

            This is ridiculous reply.

            Mike

          • It doesn’t even make sense to say one can demonstrate empty space.

            Then what did the 1887 Michaelson–Morely experiment demonstrate? They looked for luminiferous aether and found none. Isaac Newton had no patience for "action at a distance" and general relativity had yet to be discovered.

          • Sample1

            I have no idea why you would think your post is in any way relevant to what I’ve written.

            Mike

          • Michaelson and Morely ostensibly discovered that space is empty. You might not think so, writing from 2019 and with knowledge of the various fields we now believe permeate space. But M&M were working in 1887, before GR and QFT.

          • Sample1

            Again, this is relevant how? Are you sure your input (such as it is) shouldn’t be directed at Phil instead? But to what end, that still escapes me.

            Mike

          • S1: It doesn’t even make sense to say one can demonstrate empty space.

            LB: Michaelson and Morely ostensibly discovered that space is empty.

            S1: Again, this is relevant how?

            If you do not see how the first two quotes I included are connected, I don't know what to say.

          • Sample1

            Fine with me. I know what I’m saying. You fine issue with it. Your problem. Wish I could help more.

            Mike

          • Phil Tanny

            Instead of pretending we are physics experts, likely a fool's errand given that the real experts seem to have not yet nailed down what space is, perhaps we could try this?

            At the least we could say that space can not yet be clearly filed under "exists" or "not-exists" in the neat and tidy, yes/no manner in which we typically refer to existence. That's why we can go round and round and round on the subject, it's up in the air, not yet nailed down.

            Doesn't this uncertain state of affairs potentially have profound implications for the God debate, which is typically built upon a very simplistic dualistic yes/no, black/white, on/off understanding of existence?

            Shouldn't we at least be considering shifting some focus from the competing answers game of the God debate (a highly predictable pattern which never seems to resolve anything) towards the nature of the question being asked?

            We ask, "does God exist?" based on a rarely examined assumption that the only possible answers are yes or no. What if that assumption is wrong?

            Should that be the case, is it possible we have wasted centuries of earnest effort on a poorly constructed question which will never deliver a useful answer?

          • Sample1

            Cut the crap. I asked a question to a claim of yours. Here is what you claimed:

            The vast majority of every atom is space. Material is overwhelmingly space.

            And I asked you if that space was empty.

            Mike

          • Phil Tanny

            If you don't like the answer I provided, don't read it.

          • Sample1

            I don’t understand how you could like it.

            Mike

          • Phil Tanny

            Correct, you don't understand. So be it.

          • Phil Tanny

            For those, like me, not as well read as Luke please see this excellent documentary on the relationship between something and nothing.

            Everything and Nothing: The Amazing Science of Empty Space

            https://www.amazon.com/Everything-Nothing-Amazing-Science-Empty/dp/B01MY6PO1C

            This quite popular film goes in to the subject in an extensive, and yet accessible, manner.

            Yes, it's true, I got my physics PhD from Netflix University. :-)

          • Phil Tanny

            For those, like me, not as well read as Luke please see this excellent documentary on the relationship between something and nothing.

            Everything and Nothing: The Amazing Science of Empty Space

            https://www.amazon.com/Everything-Nothing-Amazing-Science-Empty/dp/B01MY6PO1C

            This quite popular film goes in to the subject in an extensive, and yet accessible, manner.

            Yes, it's true, I got my physics PhD from Netflix University. :-)

          • I agree, I am saying space is actually Material, or derivative of Material. Space is not "nothing it is not immaterial. It is actually space/time, it is warped, it is expanding, etc.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Did either ever ask you a single question?

            This does not mean a human rephrases demands for treats, etc. in question form. The asking of questions that scientists and philosophers mean is along the lines of "What's that, Daddy?" or "What causes rainbows, Mommy?" or "Why is the sky blue?" IOW speculative wisdom.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            But all of these powers involve physical handling of material things in present time. The combination of imagination and memory can perform wonderful things that may seem to be acts of the intellect, but on closer inspection, these tend to evaporate, since they are typically humans reading into animal behavior. Even the very facts sometimes run through our fingers, like Koko's "conversations" or the dolphin craze of the 1960s.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            For St. Thomas or Aristotle, man is defined properly by reason,and reason is most of all verified in speculative wisdom. ... Do we reallyneed to ask whether non-human animals have developed systems of physics, speculative mathematics, and metaphysical wisdom?

            The distinction between reason and imagination, however, rests on a mode of analysis that is not metrical and therefore not open to analysis by the scientific method. It rests on our experience of a universal term which transcends any object given by a sense power. Aristotle will describe the difference as between seeing flesh and seeing what flesh is (this role of the ‘what it is’ dovetails with the idea that reason is most of all speculative).

            -- James Chastek

            See also: https://thomism.wordpress.com/2007/02/16/intellect-imagination-and-s

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          Are there examples of animal problem solving that do not involve the physical manipulations of present-tense material objects? IOW, in what way is problem-solving related to the distinction between perception [images] and conception [concept]?

      • Dennis Bonnette

        Even claims that these animals could answer questions is suspect. Terrace's very detailed discourse analyses showed that many claims by trainers were not supported by the actual behavior of the primate involved. Trainers tended to overinterpret their subjects responses and, when, given a series of "replies," to select the one that would be appropriate -- ignoring all the rest.

  • Dr. Bonnette, do you think Walker Percy's The Fateful Rift gets at the distinction you're talking about? For example, he talks about the moment Helen Keller's realized that all these various sense impressions were all the same—water—and it revolutionized her life. He also has great quips such as:

    To say that mind is a property or function of the organization of the brain is almost the same as saying that Raphael’s Orleans Madonna is a property of paint and color. (3)

    We are still stuck in Cartesian dualism, Percy claims. He's not alone; David Braine argues the same in the beginning of The Human Person: Animal and Spirit. Chomsky, interesting enough, argues the following:

    It is commonly believed that Newton showed that the world is a machine, following mechanical principles, and that we can therefore dismiss “the ghost in the machine,” the mind, with appropriate ridicule. The facts are the opposite: Newton exorcised the machine, leaving the ghost intact. The mind-body problem in its scientific form did indeed vanish as unformulable, because one of its terms, body, does not exist in any intelligible form. Newton knew this very well, and so did his great contemporaries. (Science, Mind, and Limits of Understanding)

    Percy argues that we have simply absorbed the Cartesian dualism into our bones and no longer find it odd. We deny it at the theoretical level and linguistic level—at least the Enlightened "we"—but we march forward with it nonetheless. Percy goes on to say that he thinks Charles Sanders Peirce (1839–1914) developed critical tools for overcoming this dualism, via asserting realism against the nominalists by positing language as the precise place where mind and matter—that "great modern rift"—intersect. (5) I will stop here because I still don't understand what Percy is saying all that well.

    • Dennis Bonnette

      I may come across as sounding biased, but I think that Descartes' radical division of mind and body left modern philosophy, and later science, adrift with a totally unrealistic understanding of reality. Yes, Descartes saves the mind (soul), but by so splitting it from the physical world of the body that no one could figure out how to bridge the gap he created.

      Thus, we see today scientific materialists and naturalists looking at man as merely a highly developed animal -- reducing human mental life, and even language, to mere functions of neural patterns in the brain.

      Yes, Peirce made good effort to reopen some understanding that mechanisms alone cannot explain many human activities. But the fact is that Descartes so derailed the whole discussion that we lost much of the careful insights worked out centuries earlier by classical philosophers.

      For one thing, the very fact that we think in terms of extreme dualism both distorts reality and also makes it less intelligible. The sophistication of hylemorphism is that it can recognize in the image a phenomenon that is both immaterial in that it itself is not extended in space, and yet, still point out that the image is tied to the material world by the sign that it always presents itself under the conditions of matter.

      The sophistication of hylemorphism is that it can conceive of things as being grossly physical (just extended in space), spiritual ( not extended in space and not dependent on anything extended in space), and also, a third intermediate state of things not themselves extended in space, and yet, dependent on things extended in space (for example, the image itself, which is always under the conditions of matter, but yet is not itself extended in space).

      Using the tools of Thomistic thought, my article on ape-language studies deals with many of the same "characters" that Percy describes.
      See: https://www.godandscience.org/evolution/ape-language.html

      There I deal with the themes Percy mentions, but in far greater detail -- not by my own genius, but using distinctions given us by St. Thomas Aquinas long ago -- distinctions that reveal the spiritual nature of the human soul, something that Peirce never quite found.

      Hylemorphism actually permits greater precision than even modern advocates of dualism are able to attain, since the radical split between mind and body of Descartes misses the subtle sophistication of hylemorphism's three layers of reality: (1) matter, (2) spirit, and (3) organic realities that are immaterial in themselves, but yet dependent upon matter (for example, the brain) for their existence and function.

      Before we can begin to realistically understand the real relationship between matter and spirit, we need to grasp the subtle intersections of the two extremes that Aristotle's thought permits us to understand, and which modern extreme dualism simply misses.

      • I'm trying to wrap my mind around this, and in particular what the … sheer plane is, between what primates can do and what humans can do. Walker Percy describes this as the "fateful rift". The sign 'water'—the same pattern traced on Helen Keller's hand for many different kinds of water—seems like it may well be that intermediate thing between res cogitans and res extensa. Is there some way to explore what capabilities are only opened up by having this ability? Your essay, A Philosophical Critical Analysis of Recent Ape-Language Studies, shows that mere associational memory and stimulus–response behavior can explain an awful lot. Trying to say just what the limitations of that seem a bit like asking what the limitations of having only a shovel are—you can build world wonders, but you can't fill the map with modern cities. The boundary is fuzzy, if one only examines phenomena.

        Perhaps a specific example can help:

        On the contrary, the intellect penetrates beyond the sensible appearances of things to their essential nature. Even at the level of its first act (that is, simple apprehension or abstraction), the intellect “reads within” the sensible qualities of an entity—thereby grasping intelligible aspects which it raises to the level of the universal concept. (A Philosophical Critical Analysis of Recent Ape-Language Studies)

        Your first sentence immediately reminded me of the following:

        When [Jesse & family] came, [Samuel] looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the LORD’s anointed is before him.” But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:6–7)

        I grew up being taught that there is a serious difference between:

             (I) judging by appearances
            (II) judging by the heart

        However, the claim here is that it is not natural for humans to judge by the heart. Does this mean it is not natural for humans to "penetrate beyond the sensible appearances of things"? At least, not natural back in King David's time, by which times humans had figured out how to build civilizations. Or are you getting at something other than the (I)/(II) dichotomy?

        • Dennis Bonnette

          I appreciate your taking the time to read my article on ape-language studies. It is the most comprehensive analysis I know of to show the difference between what humans can do and what animals can do. But the key to the article is not merely its ability to explain animal behavior without granting them human intelligence. The real key is Woodbury's four proofs that animals do not possess intellect near the end of the article. That is the element most overlooked by even readers of my article, and it is certainly the element that most animal researchers fail to understand.

          • Phil Tanny

            But the key to the article is not merely its ability to explain animal behavior without granting them human intelligence.

            Human intelligence is the primary barrier to experience of God, as explained in the Book of Genesis.

            We ate the apple of knowledge, and were expelled from the garden of eden. That is, we became so immersed in the symbolic realm that we lost the intimate primal bond with nature (ie. God) that "lower" animals enjoy.

            The story retains it's relevance some 3,000 years after it was written because it speaks to what you and I are doing right now.

          • We ate the apple of knowledge

            Woah, there: we ate the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, which plausibly is the one tree with fruit with no seeds in it. (compare Gen 1:29 and 2:15–17) Fruit without seeds is fruit which does not give life—it's a dead-end. Thinking you can know good & evil just by eating a piece of fruit is ridiculous, but it does serve one desire: to not be dependent on anyone else to tell you anything about what is good and evil. So for example, if someone tells you she doesn't like you when you do X, you can decide that you know better, don't have to listen to her, and then you just go ahead and do X anyways. I'm riffing on Alistair McFadyen, here:

                The doctrine of the fall means that the question of the right practice of relations (ethics) has to be relocated. The ethical question cannot be equated with possession of the knowledge of the difference between good and evil, for that is precisely the form of self-possession which led to the fall. Adam and Eve thought they could dispute what God's Word really meant, get behind it to judge both it and God.[35] The assumption that we have the capacity to know the difference between right and wrong and to act upon it is in itself and on its own already a corruption of the image. It isolates one from God and others because what is right for one and others is assumed to be already known. The assumption that one already knows what is right stops communication because no new information or external agency is necessary. In what follows I will describe the image and its redemption as a relational process of seeking what is right in openness to others and God and thereby to the fact that one's understanding and capacity are fundamentally in question.

            The choice between good and evil implies that people are already in touch with reality and their only task is its administration . . . The choice between good and evil calls elements within our environment into question: the real ethical question calls us into question.[36]

            Consequently the focus on our own possibilities is replaced by an emphasis on our need of, and thereby our relations with, God and others. (The Call to Personhood, 43–44)

          • Phil Tanny

            Apologies, but it has nothing to do with good and evil, sin and judgment and all that stuff.

            Knowledge. Focus on that word. Knowledge is a collection of symbols in our mind. Knowledge is the source of our earthly power, so we love it, but the price tag is that our obsession with the symbolic realm pulls our attention out of the real world, where presumably a real God would reside.

            We can not think our way to God, because God is real, and symbols are not.

          • PT: We ate the apple of knowledge

            LB: Woah, there: we ate the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil …

            PT: Apologies, but it has nothing to do with good and evil, sin and judgment and all that stuff.

            So the Bible I have is wrong and the one you have is right?

            Knowledge. Focus on that word. Knowledge is a collection of symbols in our mind.

            That sounds like you imposing your philosophy on the Bible. Possibly you are living on Modernity's side of what the rift Jacob Klein describes in Greek Mathematical Thought and the Origin of Algebra, and projecting it back on the ANE.

            We can not think our way to God, because God is real, and symbols are not.

            We cannot think our way to God, because God is infinite and we are finite. If he doesn't reach down to us and lift us up, we're stuck.

          • It is the most comprehensive analysis I know of to show the difference between what humans can do and what animals can do.

            In that case, I definitely suggest David Braine's The Human Person: Animal and Spirit and perhaps also his Language and Human Understanding: The Roots of Creativity in Speech and Thought. Note that his third book, The Reality of Time and the Existence of God: The Project of Proving God's Existence, is A–T philosophy. He zeros in on causation, arguing that non-causal arguments about God's existence are of little interest to most people.

            For a purely scientific approach, I suggest Michael Tomasello's work, including A Natural History of Human Thinking and The Cultural Origins of Human Cognition. He's definitely 'deflationary' in terms of what primates are actually doing; he marks the key difference between humans and primates as the ability to pass on culture. This is based on "the ability to “identify” with conspecifics" (10). Here's some more detail:

            This understanding of others as intentional beings like the self is crucial in human cultural learning because cultural artifacts and social practices—exemplified prototypically by the use of tools and linguistic symbols—invariably point beyond themselves to other outside entities: tools point to the problems they are designed to solve and linguistic symbols point to the communicative situations they are designed to represent. Therefore, to socially learn the conventional use of a tool or a symbol, children must come to understand why, toward what outside end, the other person is using the tool or symbol; that is to say, they must come to understand the intentional significance of the tool use or symbolic practice—what it is “for,” what “we,” the users of this tool or symbol, do with it. (The Cultural Origins of Human Cognition, 6)

            Figuring out the intentions of others is arguably where A&E failed with the serpent. The fact that philosophy tends to be pretty bad about the concept of 'intentionality' is probably also relevant here, for a cultural weakness in distinguishing between intentionality and non-intentionality is going to obscure our understanding.

            The real key is Woodbury's four proofs that animals do not possess intellect near the end of the article. That is the element most overlooked by even readers of my article, and it is certainly the element that most animal researchers fail to understand.

            Well, it is a very long article. :-p I'm thinking it might be valuable to tease out just where the boundary is, between e.g. mere stimulus–response and true intellection. I can see some possible problems with sketching that boundary, based on John Searle's Chinese room argument. But there is a ton of material on behaviorism and how it falls short, so I should think some useful things on this could be said (or have been said somewhere). Charles Taylor's repudiation of behaviorism in The Explanation of Behaviour is on my reading list; Braine references it in The Human Person and Language and Human Understanding.

            Another resource is Hubert Dreyfus' What Computers Can't Do and What Computers Still Can't Do. Computers can do stimulus–response and there is tons of work on classification—indeed, that's what machine learning can do the best. Well, what's the difference between classification over images and concepts? Could a computer learn what a "dog" is? Note that cats may have a sense of what a snake is, per their reaction to cucumbers in videos you can easily find on youtube. (National Geographic: People Are Scaring Their Cats with Cucumbers. They Shouldn’t.)

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I did not intend to imply that there is not a lot of excellent material "out there" supporting the differences between human beings and irrational animals. There surely is. But the key is to distill all the arguments in one relatively short article. Woodbury's four points are critical, though, since they specify exactly what it is that man can do that animals cannot do in summary form. I admit it is toward the end of a rather long article.

            Basically, what I did was spend twenty pages analyzing just the scientific critiques of the ape-language studies, and then another twenty pages doing just philosophical analysis of the relevant data.

            I notice comments today recognizing that all the great claims about animal language being made forty years ago are now much more muted or even entail describing these efforts as largely failures. The key is to put one's finger on precisely where animal capabilities leave off and qualitatively superior human ones begin. That is what Woodbury does.

          • I still think there's more that can be done, which would be helpful in communicating this idea to non-A–T philosophers. For example, take the following:

            For, he argues, the necessary effects of intellect are four: speech, progress, knowledge of relations, and knowledge of immaterial objects. Since each of these is a necessary effect, “if it be shown that even one of these signs of intellect is lacking to ‘brutes’, then it is positively proved that ‘brutes’ are devoid of intellect.”[70] In fact, Woodbury argues that brute animals are in default in all four areas. (A Philosophical Critical Analysis of Recent Ape-Language Studies)

            Does the following Exodus account suggest that the Israelites were having problems in this area:

            Say therefore to the people of Israel, ‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. I will give it to you for a possession. I am the LORD.’ ” Moses spoke thus to the people of Israel, but they did not listen to Moses, because of their broken spirit and harsh slavery. (Exodus 6:6–9)

            ? You can see this failure to listen in all the grumbling that follows. Further failure shows up here:

            When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, “Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” (Exodus 32:1)

            This is after God had spoken the Ten Commandments to the Israelites assembled around Mt Sinai, after the commandment to make no carved images or likenesses which are then worshiped. But the Israelites couldn't or wouldn't hold anything in the intellect—at least not for long—and so demanded something sensible.

            And so, I would ask whether intellection is as unproblematic as you plausibly indicate, even for humans. When God speaks of "hardened hearts", where 'heart' is probably something like "seat of the understanding", does that mean/​include a problem in the realm of intellection? I would argue that failure to tend our abilities of intellection leads to at least stunted growth, if not ossification. Mark Noll argued in 1994 that "The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind." (The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, 3) Catholics tend to be better, but I suspect even they have lost tremendous ground in matters of the intellect, leading to the dominance of Zweckrationalität over Wertrationalität. (See my recent reply to @philtanny:disqus, quoting Guardini and Laudato si'.)

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I have to remind you that I am not an expert on Scripture! But I am merely talking about the bare bones fact that the intellect can form universal concepts, a power unique on earth to humans.

            When you speak of further nuances as to how we use the intellect effectively or what factors are impediments to its full employment, that is a horse of another color. Whether our hardened hearts impede understanding the depths of the being of our environment is simply not an issue with which I deal. There are many, including yourself, who are far better equipped to evaluate those dimensions of social interaction.

            I am just happy to point to the simple fact that images and ideas or concepts are incommensurable. This is a given that must henceforth be taken into account in any philosophical explanation of the nature of man and the world. Too long have many just assumed that thinking is mere manipulation of images. Putting that myth to rest is significant.

            That is why I did not try in the article to do things like proving the spirituality of the soul. Rather, I merely pointed out that Thomists use such data in their arguments to such ends. But, before any such arguments can be properly evaluated, it is crucial to examine the given starting points, such as the radical distinction between image and concept.

          • I have to remind you that I am not an expert on Scripture!

            Erm, neither am I. I have no degrees, secular or religious. But surely you have done some thinking of what it takes to believe in the promises of God? Can we say that intellection is important for this? If so, then perhaps we have in Exodus an account of failure of intellection.

            I confess, I find it extraordinarily difficult to work through topics like these without making frequent reference to concrete life. You seem quite happy working in rarefied air; I can only spend a few moments there before rushing back to the concrete and particular.

            Too long have many just assumed that thinking is mere manipulation of images. Putting that myth to rest is significant.

            I am heavily inclined to agree. But I can't figure out such a distinction without real-world examples which trace the distinction. The closer to the boundary of "mere manipulation of images", the better. If you're not the right person to trace such a boundary, too bad for me!

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Even though "certain persons" seem to denigrate the role of intellect and philosophy, I quite agree that God gave us an intellect for a reason. I know all the atheists will attack me for saying so, but I think we have the intellect precisely so that we will use it to see the need for a First Cause. As to why we can trust this instrument so much, it is not because we know how it works or how to make one -- since we do not and we cannot, but simply because the intellect "sees" being and sees the truth of the most basic first principles. The only way to doubt them is to suspend their use and then construct an hypothesis on which the are untrustworthy. But in actual usage, nobody honestly does not assume that they are objectively true.

            Don't ask me how a "mere manipulation of images" could be confused with actual understanding and reasoning, since I reject that we think in terms of images. Rather, we have images that accompany our reasoning. Somehow, people notice all the images we have when we think and confuse the images with thought itself. Real world example? A bomb goes off and a building collapses. We associate the two images and assign one as the cause of the other. In truth, though, the building falls, not because of the bomb, but because of gravity pulling it down after the bomb removed its support columns. The images are great, but true understanding of being is needed to see what actually happens. Even the assumption that one thing happens first, and thus causes the second is misleading, since the cause must be simultaneous with the effect -- and the building falls after the bomb goes off. The images are fascinating, but what actually does what requires intellectual understanding.

          • Phil Tanny

            "Certain persons" are asking you to actually do philosophy, by examining and testing the un-examined assumption all such conversations are built upon, the notion that something as small as human reason is capable of generating meaningful statements on the very largest of questions.

            You're a philosophy professor, so it's natural and understandable that you would want philosophy to be a qualified methodology for such infinite scale questions. That may be true, or it may not be true, but we're not likely to ever find out if we just assume it to be true as a matter of blind faith, a lazy methodology which has little to do with reason.

            BTW, I make this very same challenge to atheists all the time, including on this site, and they don't like it any more than you do. So by presenting this challenge my intent is not to attack you personally, or Catholicism either. My intent is to use reason to explore the limits of it's usefulness, and I present the challenge in an even handed manner to all parties to the God debate.

            The problem such a challenge faces is that most participants in such conversations across the net aren't actually interested in the God topic so much as they are committed to the methodology of logic calculations. This is a form of bias which serious people should be inspecting.

            A personal obstacle that you may face is that you've accumulated a great deal of authority, become attached to that position, and are thus reluctant to be seen learning anything in public.

            If that is true, your age may be a great asset that you can deploy. You're 80, your long career is over, there is no longer a need to impress anyone to climb the ivory tower totem pole etc. You are free again to explore, make mistakes and learn. You are in effect, young again, should you wish to be.

            I have a name. It's not "certain persons".

          • I see a lot of accusation here, and elsewhere I see you calling people to go out in the desert to experience God. You also want people to face the dangers of e.g. climate change; I replied to that comment with Catholic sources. So where are you doing a better job than Dr. Bonnette and yours truly, such that you can be emulated?

          • Phil Tanny

            Apologies if I missed your reply. Not only is this software totally incompetent, but my email is currently down, complicating the situation further. I'm not ignoring anyone, it's just that finding the replies is almost impossible unless I get here very soon after they are posted (and thus they still appear in the sidebar).

            The answer to your question is very simple. Don't emulate me. Don't accept me as an authority. Don't memorize my posts and then start chanting them instead of Christian doctrines. I don't matter and I'll be dead soon anyway.

            If you'd like to see an article which addresses our relationship with knowledge, the source of climate change and nuclear weapons etc, let me know. Or, write your own article, that would be good too.

          • PT: Jesus went in to the desert. Not to a library. Read your Bible please.

            LB: Jesus read from the scrolls of the Tanakh.

            PT: Lots of people did back then, and they are now largely all forgotten. So reading from the scrolls would appear to access only very limited power. We see this right here today. The discussions on this site, sophisticated as they often are, will go on and on and one for years, and nothing tangible will ever come from it. It's not the people or this or that idea which is the problem, but the medium in which it all takes place.

            Jesus could only read from the Tanakh because so many other people had, such that the scrolls were maintained and he had discussion partners. If we don't remember them, Jesus surely does. There's a terrific amount we don't know that was actually important to us being where we are, now.

            How do you know that "nothing tangible will ever come from it"? I have learned a tremendous amount from conversations on SN that I have used elsewhere online and IRL. Recent conversations have reminded me that A–T philosophy may be able to shed a lot of light on the Zweckrationalität / Wertrationalität dichotomy.

            LB: He served people, healing them

            PT: Yes, and there is almost no real discussion of this on any Catholic website, because posters are incurably distracted by doctrines.

            How many Catholics working at Catholic hospitals do you think are vigorously posting on forums or blogs? You say that the problem is the medium, and yet here you are!

            LB: He also went into the desert. Why your focus only on the last item?

            PT: Because that is where the power comes from, real contact with the real God in the real world.

            "For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them."

            If Jesus knocked on your door would you let him and talk to him? Or would you choose to read a book about Jesus instead? Would you choose the real Jesus, or a pile of symbols attempting to point to Jesus?

            Of course I would spend time with Jesus; that's a silly question. Now tell me, why did Jesus ascend rather than stick around? And why are you playing with piles of symbols rather than going out into the desert?

          • Phil Tanny

            How do you know that "nothing tangible will ever come from it?

            500 years ago some people believed, some didn't, and others weren't sure. Same situation as today. There is no reason to believe that another 500 years of God debate will change anything.

            You say that the problem is the medium, and yet here you are!

            Yes, here I am. After spending 4 hours this morning in the woods, as I do almost every day. Soon it will be 10 hours a day. I'm here today because it's going to be almost 95 degrees shortly, and I am only so holy. :-)

            Yes, you would spend time with Jesus. And yes, it's a silly question, which hopefully reveals that it's silly to look for Jesus in a book, that is, unless you believe that Jesus is just an idea, and then the book makes sense.

            So Luke, here's what you have to do. You gotta get yourself out there in the desert, find a talking snake, slap him around a bit, and then tell him that you demand to be let back in to the Garden Of Eden, and you mean RIGHT NOW!!! :-)

          • 500 years ago some people believed, some didn't, and others weren't sure. Same situation as today. There is no reason to believe that another 500 years of God debate will change anything.

            Pretty sure the ratios today are drastically different from what they were 500 years ago.

            After spending 4 hours this morning in the woods, as I do almost every day. Soon it will be 10 hours a day.

            Hrm, 'woods' ≠ 'desert'. And it sounds like you're quite blessed to be able to spend so much time in the woods. So, you seem to allow for some time to be spent with symbols after all! Today I actually spent about 6 hours in the woods scouting for a church hike in the woods, but usually I stay in the city. Not sure I had any of those special experiences you say one is supposed to have. Perhaps I'm just broken and you should try convincing someone else.

            Yes, you would spend time with Jesus. And yes, it's a silly question, which hopefully reveals that it's silly to look for Jesus in a book, that is, unless you believe that Jesus is just an idea, and then the book makes sense.

            The book records Jesus' interactions with humans other than yours truly. I'll note that you seem to focus a lot on the individual–God relationship, as if the body of Christ weren't all Christians throughout spacetime …

            So Luke, here's what you have to do. You gotta get yourself out there in the desert, find a talking snake, slap him around a bit, and then tell him that you demand to be let back in to the Garden Of Eden, and you mean RIGHT NOW!!! :-)

            Better Nate than lever?

          • Phil Tanny


            Perhaps I'm just broken and you should try convincing someone else.

            Okeedookee, sounds like a plan.

          • Hmmm, I wonder if the intellect wasn't always nearly as strong as it got in the Middle Ages, and whether it could disintegrate—perhaps to almost nothing. I won't object [too strongly] if you just don't want to deal with such phases of human existence, but I do maintain that we often learn more about a thing when it is broken, than when it is functioning properly.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I am most concerned with whether the thing exists at all, since if intellect does exist and if it can be shown to be strictly immaterial in nature because it forms strictly immaterial concepts, this can be used as a rational argument for the human soul, of which the intellect is a faculty, being itself strictly immaterial.

            I know this sounds like dull, abstract thought to some folks, but if you want a rational proof for the soul's spiritual nature, this is the sort of stuff you have to do.

            No one complains that explaining special relativity and its implications for time turns out to be dull and abstract, since theoretical physics seems to get a free pass on this issue. But if the science of metaphysics or philosophical psychology gets equally abstract and difficult, some folks use that as an excuse to ignore its arguments and findings.

            So, even if we discover that a bird has a broken wing and cannot fly, it is still in the nature of a bird to fly -- even if some incidental factor makes it impossible for this bird at this time to do so. So, too, if the intellect gets fogged up by nutritional, educational, sociological, and cultural factors to the extent that most people are too dumb to think clearly, this does not undo the fact that their intellects exist and render them as having spiritual souls.

            Sometimes people say, "I am not an intellectual." I always reply, "oh, yes, you are -- since you are a human being with an intellect." Even the dumbest human who ever lived -- if he ever understood even the least bit of reality (like his diaper was wet) -- stands qualitatively superior by nature to the smartest chimp who ever lived.

            Remember that Washoe, the smartest of the language-trained chimps, had a miscommunication with famed psychologist Karl Pribram, in which Washoe wound up somehow biting off Dr. Primram's finger. Ask Dr. Pribram about the intelligence of the chimp whose owner he is suing.

          • Phil Tanny

            I am most concerned with whether the thing exists at all...

            Things don't exist in the real world, they exist in the human imagination. They are a product of a pattern of division which our minds attempt to impose upon the single unified reality.

            To be real, a "thing" would require a boundary between the "thing" and the surrounding "non-thing". The closer we look at reality, either through science or meditation, the more the boundaries melt away. Here's an experiment to illustrate.

            Drink a glass of water. When does the "water" become "you"? The boundary between water and you can be reasonably drawn any number of places, which demonstrates the boundaries are conceptual inventions of the human mind.

            Catholic doctrine suggests as much in it's own way, by claiming that God is ever present everywhere in all times and places. Please focus on the word "everywhere". When seen clearly this means that everything is God, a single unified reality.

            The word "God" is just another noun which attempts to create a division where none actually exists (except conceptually).

          • Phil Tanny

            But surely you have done some thinking of what it takes to believe in the promises of God?

            If you were a hungry person who had no food you'd need to believe that food would eventually be available. Once you're fed, you no longer need to believe.

            Belief is a book about food, you can't eat a book, it contains no nutrition. Experience is the actual food, and if we eat enough of it, we'll stop worrying about belief.

            Jesus went in to the desert. Not to a library. Read your Bible please.

          • If you were a hungry person who had no food you'd need to believe that food would eventually be available. Once you're fed, you no longer need to believe.

            This does not seem to well-model the Israelites who got manna from heaven.

            Belief is a book about food, you can't eat a book, it contains no nutrition. Experience is the actual food, and if we eat enough of it, we'll stop worrying about belief.

            The Israelites got lots of manna, and then got tired of it. It's almost as if we are designed for infinitely varied experience, and that requires an intellectual component, not merely the accumulation of experience.

            Jesus went in to the desert. Not to a library. Read your Bible please.

            Jesus read from the scrolls of the Tanakh. He served people, healing them and speaking life to them. He also went into the desert. Why your focus only on the last item?

          • Phil Tanny

            Jesus read from the scrolls of the Tanakh.

            Lots of people did back then, and they are now largely all forgotten. So reading from the scrolls would appear to access only very limited power. We see this right here today. The discussions on this site, sophisticated as they often are, will go on and on and one for years, and nothing tangible will ever come from it. It's not the people or this or that idea which is the problem, but the medium in which it all takes place.

            He served people, healing them

            Yes, and there is almost no real discussion of this on any Catholic website, because posters are incurably distracted by doctrines.

            He also went into the desert. Why your focus only on the last item?

            Because that is where the power comes from, real contact with the real God in the real world.

            If Jesus knocked on your door would you let him and talk to him? Or would you choose to read a book about Jesus instead? Would you choose the real Jesus, or a pile of symbols attempting to point to Jesus?

            See? It's just common sense.

          • Phil Tanny

            It's almost as if we are designed for infinitely varied experience, and
            that requires an intellectual component, not merely the accumulation of
            experience.

            Ok, let's run with that.

            Most of us spend all day long everyday focused on symbols, you know "lost in thought" in layman's terms. Thus, experience outside of the "intellectual component" would typically be variety for most people.

            A variety agenda would be well served if we discovered that just as there is a great deal to be explored within thought, there is also a great deal to be explored outside of thought.

            And that outside of thought is real, and not just a symbol which points to the real, which may make it more interesting for some.

            Consider this perhaps.

            If you wanted to learn about the history of Western thought you would read one of Dr. B's books instead of mine, because he is expert in such things and I am not. Right?

            By the same reasoning if we wish to learn about God we might choose to "read" that which God created instead of books written by human beings.

            What gives the real world authority is that it is uncontaminated by the weaknesses inherent in the human condition.

            If I write a book it's going to be polluted with all my various ego agendas, many of which I'm probably not even aware of.

            But when God created say, the Sun, that is untouched by human hands and minds, and is thus arguably a purer expression of God.

            To take this a bit further if we do look at reality itself, that beyond human invention, we can see that the overwhelming majority of it is space, that which we refer to as "nothing". Apparently God is quite interested in this apparent "nothing" which nonetheless infuses everything at every scale.

            Thus, a study of nothing may prove more relevant and interesting than a study of "somethings".

      • Phil Tanny

        Before we can begin to realistically understand the real relationship between matter and spirit,

        They are one and the same, and it is the inherently divisive nature of thought which conceives of them as being two. The dividing line between matter and spirit is an illusion generated by the way thought works.

        You've put your finger on that here, when you said..

        For one thing, the very fact that we think in terms of extreme dualism both distorts reality and also makes it less intelligible.

        Thought works by breaking the single unified reality in to conceptual parts. Thus, we get dualism in all it's forms.

        1) This process of conceptual division allows us to be creative, as we can re-arrange the parts in our minds to form new visions of how the world could be.

        2) This process of conceptual division also makes us insane, as it creates an experience of reality as being divided between "me" and "everything else", with "me" perceived to be very very small. This perception generates fear, the source of most human problems.

        It is this perception of division which gives rise to religion, as we attempt by various methods to "get back to God", that is, overcome the illusion of separation.

        The source of that illusion is thought itself.

    • Jim (hillclimber)

      We are still stuck in Cartesian dualism, Percy claims.

      I know you have read a lot of Charles Taylor, so let tell me you one the the "take-aways" that I had from A Secular Age, and you tell me whether you think this is a fair summary. At the risk of great simplification:
      Somewhere in the transition from "Late Antiquity" to "The High Middle Ages", we started to see popular movements of (little "r") "reform" (precursors to the big "R" Reformation), movements based on a sense that the Church, or perhaps Christian practice at large, wasn't Christian enough. These movements were various, but many of them were characterized by an emphasis on the absolute sovereignty of God. (Seemingly a valid emphasis, since the founding event of Christianity is understood as God's ultimate victory.) This emphasis played out in "desacralizing" ways, both good and bad. For example, if God is absolutely sovereign in this world, then there is no longer anything to fear from woodland fairies or from your neighbor who put a curse on you, which we can all agree is a good development. Also, if God is absolutely sovereign in this world, then the Eucharist per se has no power, so you can't use it as a good luck charm to seduce a lover (as some medievals were known to do). So far so good, but take that logic a few steps further, and you end up with a world where *nothing* in the world has its own inherent power, i.e. there really is no secondary causality at all. All that is left in the world is dumb matter. Except, hmm, we still have our own mental reality, which doesn't seem to fit into that scheme, so let's make an exception for that, res cogitans.

      Obviously, that is a gross oversimplification of 1000 years of intellectual history. But, do you think there is something to it? Do you think it is plausible that this overemphasis on God's sovereignty (or alternatively: this misunderstanding of the way that God is sovereign) was a major factor that eventually led to materialism and Cartesian dualism?

      • It sounds plausible, but I'd want to do a lot more research on it or better yet, find someone who has already. Have you come across Louis Dupré's Passage to Modernity: An Essay in the Hermeneutics of Nature and Culture? He raises several issues which are relevant to this discussion:

             (1) fracturing the ontotheological synthesis which equated 'is' and 'ought'
             (2) cementing human individuality via taking the Incarnation seriously
             (3) the awakening of human creativity around the time of Petrarch
             (4) removal of God from creation by nominalism

        I had forgotten about the last until I reviewed the excerpts I had copied from the book, including: "At the end of the Middle Ages, however, nominalist theology effectively removed God from creation." (3) To the extent that we are imago Dei, did this also mean we removed ourself from creation—that is, from res extensa?

        I'm tempted to view the 'reform' you describe (from Taylor) as analogous to Francis Bacon's four idols. Bacon saw a bunch of bad thinking of several sorts getting in the way of scientific inquiry. What if 'reform' was an attack on several sorts of thinking/​living that got in the way of realizing the kingdom of God? But we screwed up majorly, as is becoming more and more obvious every day. We were at the point where we could conceive of ourselves really doing Genesis 1:28, and then we decided we had a better way of going about things than God—via domination. God's way is that systems of domination end up creating their own downfall and I think we're getting close to seeing ours. But we could repent …

        What you said suggests so much! I would say that we removed any sense of teleology or intentionality from secondary causation, leaving only mechanism. And now we don't know how to … project intentionality or teleology through mechanism. This leads to a world dominated by what Jacques Ellul calls 'technique', which is roughly equatable to 'instrumental rationality'. I've been listening to a bunch of Rick Roderick's lectures while doing dishes and preparing dinner lately and he talks of the "self under siege". I wonder what he would have made of George Herbert's A Dialogue–Anthem:

                                      Christian, Death

        Chr.   ALAS, poor Death ! where is thy glory ?          Where is thy famous force, thy ancient sting ?Dea.   Alas, poor mortal, void of story !          Go spell and read how I have killed thy King.Chr.   Poor Death ! and who was hurt thereby ?          Thy curse being laid on Him makes thee accurst.Dea.   Let losers talk, yet thou shalt die ;          These arms shall crush thee.Chr.                                           Spare not, do thy worst.

                  I shall be one day better than before ;          Thou so much worse, that thou shalt be no more.

  • I agree that the existence of universals is a devastating problem for materialism. I read an amusing article recently which showed how a simple triangle could disprove materialism. Is it necessarily true that animals cannot perceive them, though? For example, an animal can recognise members of its own species, as distinct from others. Could that indicate it has at least some rudimentary immaterial power of the mind?

    • Phil Tanny

      The essence of his argument seems to be that quality of our intelligence places us above animals, perhaps to the degree of being God's central project and so on. Thus it seems reasonable to question how intelligent we really are. Here's a test case to consider.

      God is typically defined as some form of hyper-intelligence. Our concept of intelligence arises from an incredibly small sample of reality, a single species on one little planet in one of billions of galaxies. We have taken this extremely small phenomena, and projected it on to a creator of all reality. Intelligent?

      What we call intelligence may not even be relevant to alien species a billion years more advanced than us, let alone to the most fundamental nature of all reality, ie. a God.

      Are we intelligent? Yes. We are more intelligent then donkeys. We are highly intelligent, in our self flattering imaginations. We are very intelligent in developing systems which can kill us all very efficiently and quickly.

      Uh oh!! Off topic, off topic, off topic!!!! :-)

    • Dennis Bonnette

      Here is the paragraph in the article that answers your question:

      "Woodbury defines a “common image” as an image of a singular thing according to sensible appearances that happens to be similar to other singular things.2 While useful for the instinctive life of, say, a mouse, enable it to avoid all cats, it is not to be confused with the intellectual understanding of the nature of a cat, which belongs to the radically distinct universal concept."

      This apprehension of the "common image" remains entirely at the level of sense knowledge. Like every other image, it is immaterial in that it is not itself extended in space, but like every other image, it is had under the conditions of matter, which means it is dependent on matter to some extent for its existence. That dependence is in the form of depending on a material organ -- the brain.

      It is important to realize that the central point of this article is to show that there is a radical difference between the image and concept. While some may wish to draw attention elsewhere, we should not be misled. That radical distinction between image and concept is a body blow to materialist philosophies that try to claim that all thinking and other mental processes in the human mind are of the same type, that they are all material in nature, and that they all reduce to brain activity.

      Since the concept clearly cannot be reduced to being merely some kind of image, the entire materialist schema falls apart in one of its central claims. All too often, classical theism and belief in spiritual realities are the subject of criticism by materialistic skeptics, who make it sound as if believers in non-material reality were utterly out of touch with modern science.

      This article proves that there is something basically wrong with the materialist claims. It is not surprising that materialists will attack parts of it and try to draw readers' attention elsewhere.

      Their entire worldview is exposed as having a basic flaw here, since it really does not appear able to explain all human mental experience merely in terms of materialistic animal images and brain activity.

      • Phil Tanny

        Their entire worldview is exposed as having a basic flaw here

        It is presumably exposed to you, and perhaps also to the .00001% of the population who will have any interest in such a topic.

        Then what?

        • What % of the population was Galileo, when he performed his impetus experiments and overturned a major plank of Aristotelian philosophy? (N.B. Galileo wasn't the only one working on impetus, so we can add a few others.)

          • Phil Tanny

            You're arguing with your own holy book. The Bible is the best selling, and arguably most influential, book of all time (at least in the West) because it spoke to the man in the street in language he could understand.

            And please note that Jesus the carpenter launched a major world religion in just three years, without a PhD.

            Modern civilization is teetering on the edge of chaos, with the lives of billions hanging in the balance, and you guys want to talk about major planks of Aristotelian philosophy and the defeat of materialism and so forth.

            C'mon, give us a break.

          • You're arguing with your own holy book.

            So? Jacob wrestled with God.

            Modern civilization is teetering on the edge of chaos, with the lives of billions hanging in the balance, and you guys want to talk about major planks of Aristotelian philosophy and the defeat of materialism and so forth.

            Do you think excellence at Zweckrationalität and incompetence at Wertrationalität has nothing to do with said teetering? How about a science which promotes the former while claiming the latter is some combination of unreal, fake, fictional, and 100% subjective? The Enlightenment essentially destroyed our ability to rationally talk about what we want to do with our ever-growing powers, and then put that talk into action. We devolved into influencing-via-abuse:

            When someone disagrees with us about the moral value of a certain action or type of action, we do admittedly resort to argument in order to win him over to our way of thinking. … And as the people with whom we argue have generally received the same moral education as ourselves, and live in the same social order, our expectation [of convincing via argument] is usually justified. But if our opponent happens to have undergone a different process of moral ‘conditioning’ from ourselves, so that, even when he acknowledges all the facts, he still disagrees with us about the moral value of the actions under discussion, then we abandon the attempt to convince him by argument. We say that it is impossible to argue with him because he has a distorted or undeveloped moral sense; which signifies merely that he employs a different set of values from our own. We feel that our own system of values is superior, and therefore speak in such derogatory terms of his. But we cannot bring forward any arguments to show that our system is superior. For our judgement that it is so is itself a judgement of value, and accordingly outside the scope of argument. It is because argument fails us when we come to deal with pure questions of value, as distinct from questions of fact, that we finally resort to mere abuse. (Language, Truth, and Logic, 70)

            Might it be worth understanding this inculcated inability? One of the things A–T philosophy does is track how intentionality flows through thinking and the world. I'm thinking that maybe we need to explore just that thing, in order to get out of the quagmire we're in. Do you have a better suggestion? I know you've been big on going out into the desert and collecting experience, but I don't see how that alone will cut the mustard.

          • Phil Tanny

            The Enlightenment essentially destroyed our ability to rationally talk about what we want to do with our ever-growing powers, and then put that talk into action.

            Ok, how so? I don't understand. Not arguing, just not understanding.

            One of the things A–T philosophy does is track how intentionality flows through thinking and the world.

            What is A-T philosophy? Sorry, they don't teach us that out in the desert. :-)

            I'm thinking that maybe we need to explore just that thing, in order to get out of the quagmire we're in.

            Ok, please proceed, I'll try to keep up.

            I know you've been big on going out into the desert and collecting experience, but I don't see how that alone will cut the mustard.

            Would it help for us to better define what mustard we are trying to cut? What are we trying to accomplish?

    • Phil Tanny

      If it's helpful, birds and squirrels can distinguish one human from another. My wife is an avid wildlife rehabber, so I live in a wildlife hospital. At least a thousand critters have passed through here over the last decade. Not sure if this helps advance the topic.

      I will say I think some members have it backwards when it comes to animals. Does a reader think that God is part of the real world, or only a theory in some people's minds? If the former, then I can assure you, animals are much more in touch with the real world than we are. Their lives depend on paying attention, for one thing. We have the ability, but are typically totally distracted by the symbolic realm between our ears.

      If God is real, the real world is the place to look for him.

      If God is just an idea, philosophy is the place to look.

      Which we choose to attend to demonstrates what we actually believe about God. Ideological Christians determined to build an ever higher tower of complex doctrines are actually denying the very God they claim to believe is real. A sincere misunderstanding, but a misunderstanding nonetheless.

    • Mark

      Chiliagon and neurobabble ... Good stuff.

    • Ficino

      The issue of distinguishing between abstracta and the brain, or between an idea and chemicals or neurons, is different from the question, whether some form of idealism or some form of materialism is correct.

      As to the latter: the non-platonist view on mathematical objects is that we do not need to posit that they are extra-mental entities.

      "Plato suggests that we have ideas of certain mathematical entities--a perfectly straight line, a perfect circle, exact equality, and so on--which could not have been derived from sensory perception, since no lines perceived by sense are perfectly straight, etc., and must therefore be derived from the mind's direct non-sensory acquaintance with the corresponding ideal entities or 'Forms' ... The objection to this is that we can easily acquire, through sense perception, the idea of a line's being curved or bent, and of sharper or flatter bends or curves. Hence we can think of one line's being less bent or less curved than another, and so we can form some notion of the limiting case of a line in which all bends and curves have been reduced to a point where there is no room for further reduction. Or, given that we can understand simple negation, we can construct the negative description of a line which is not bent and not curved at all anywhere. To understand such descriptions is to have a negative or limiting notion of a perfectly straight line... the idea of a perfectly straight line can be explained, with respect to its content, wholly in terms of materials drawn from sensory perception, along with the grasp of negation. There is no need to postulate, as Plato does, a direct acquaintance with the Forms to explain either this or any of the other ideas of mathematical perfections." ~ J.L. Mackie, The Miracle of Theism 39.

  • Phil Tanny

    Such spiritual souls would have to have been endowed by our Creator solely to genuine human beings, whose essential superiority is marked by our remarkable species’ unique ability to think in terms of universal concepts – an ability totally absent in the rest of this planet’s sentient organisms

    This proposed endowment of spiritual souls seems based upon a comparison with animals, with humans being declared intellectually superior, thus special and worthy of immortal souls.

    What happens if we change the point of reference from this planet, to all planets?

    Our galaxy alone is some billions of years old. There has been enough time for life to emerge on a vast number of planets and then evolve a billion years beyond where we humans are.

    On this one little planet we are top dog, but what if in the galaxy as a whole (not to mention the billions of other galaxies) we are so primitive compared to many other species that we barely rate mention?

    Are we still God's precious little high priority project then too? By the logic of this article isn't it more likely that God is investing his focus elsewhere?

    • Phil Tanny

      From this site:

      https://www.nbcnews.com/mach/science/milky-way-galaxy-may-be-much-bigger-we-thought-ncna876966

      The research, described May 7 in the journal "Astronomy & Astrophysics," indicates that our spiral galaxy's vast rotating disk of stars spans at least 170,000 light-years, and possibly up to 200,000 light-years.

      It's hard to fathom just how far that is. If you could ride a light beam from one side of the disk to the other, it would take 200,000 years to span the distance. If you could drive across and averaged 60 miles an hour, it would take more than 2 trillion years.

    • Phil Tanny

      There's a larger point here perhaps. It seems that one of the problems with the God debate is that all sides tend to want to project human scale phenomena on to the very largest of scales.

      As example, atheists will typically assume without questioning that because reason is clearly useful in our day to day lives at human scale, it is therefore automatically useful when considering issues of ANY scale. Start with a known fact, and then a wild speculative leap built on top of that.

      Dr B may be doing more or less the same in his article. He starts with the known fact that we are intellectually superior to other creatures on Earth, ignores any other creatures who may exist elsewhere, and then presumes because we are special on one little planet we are therefore special in the eyes of God, ie. the very largest of scales.

      Ok, which of you is going to help Dr. B out of this mess?

    • Phil Tanny

      On this one little planet we are top dog, but what if in the galaxy as a whole (not to mention the billions of other galaxies) we are so
      primitive compared to many other species that we barely rate mention? Are we still God's precious little high priority project then too? By the
      logic of this article isn't it more likely that God is investing his
      focus elsewhere?

      So friends, is this an effective rebuttal to Dr. B's post?

      Is it a partial rebuttal of the Christian notion that God's main project is we humans?

      If either of the above are true to some degree is anybody here, particularly you Catholics, gonna man up and admit it?

      Or maybe I'm wrong? Ok, I know that's possible because that happened once before. :-)

      What I'm looking for is either an effective rebuttal to my rebuttal, or we agree my rebuttal has some merit and we reason on together from there.

      Or, I can heap scorn upon all the little scaredy cats hiding in the "above it all" defense. Don't tempt me, cause I'll stick Jim the Scott on you, and then you'll be sorry! Arf, Arf, Arf!!! Sick'em Jim!!

      • Jim (hillclimber)

        It's not an effective rebuttal because it doesn't even touch on the main thesis of the article, namely that there is a difference between images and concepts. His musing about the potentially special place of humans in God's plan is a peripheral epilogue, not a central element in his argument or in his conclusions.

        • Phil Tanny

          Jim, please note the title of the article.

          Why Humans Are More Than Mere Animals

          Ok, I hear you on the images vs. concepts issue, that's technically correct. But Dr. B is addressing images vs. concepts to make the larger point which I have spoken to.

          More importantly, the notion that human beings are God's special project seems a central tenant of Christianity, not a "peripheral epilogue", and by Dr. B's own reasoning that assumption seems undermined. What is your reaction to this claim?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I agree that the article makes a strong claim that humans are different from other animals, but that is still quite different from claiming that we have some pride of place in God's plan. Given that, I still think your question about whether we have a special place in God's plan is somewhat off-topic with respect to the article. Nonetheless, it's a reasonable question, so I'll hazard an answer. The idea that we are God's "high priority plan" still seems plausible to me, for several reasons.

            1. The only animals we know of so far live on earth, and among those we seem to be the only ones capable of conceptual thought. Conjecturing about the possibility of other life forms on other planets is fine, but hypothetical conjectures don't rate higher than available evidence.

            2. In the Biblical account, or at least in the Christian account, our capacity for intellection makes us special precisely because it enables us to do what we shouldn't do (i.e. "sin"), or equivalently: it creates the possibility of freely doing what we should do. Therefore, it would be irrelevant if other creatures have powers that are in some sense are more sophisticated than our own, unless those powers enabled them to sin.

            "For creation awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God;
            for creation was made subject to futility, not of its own accord but because of the one who subjected it, in hope
            that creation itself would be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God."

          • Phil Tanny

            Given that, I still think your question about whether we have a special
            place in God's plan is somewhat off-topic with respect to the article.

            It's the whole point of the article Jim, everything else is aimed at making that point. Please see the conclusion section of the article, where Dr. B clearly states where he is trying to go.

            I of course agree that life on other planets is speculative at this point, but it's very reasonable speculation given the ENORMOUS scale of the reality which God is supposed to have created. It's not very plausible to assume that billions of galaxies are devoid of intelligent life other than us.

            The problem I'm aiming at is that Christian scholars and their followers wish to claim the authority of reason, but at the very point when the trail of reason becomes inconvenient, they typically abandon the trail. If we are only willing to reason our way to a pre-set destination, we aren't doing reason, we're doing ideology.

            In fairness, the many atheist sites I've visited do exactly the same thing, they start with a conclusion, and then everything is built to serve that end. And then they call this reason, which it simply isn't.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            It's the whole point of the article Jim, everything else is aimed at making that point. Please see the conclusion section of the article, where Dr. B clearly states where he is trying to go.

            No it isn't, and no he doesn't. Even in scientific journal articles (and much moreso in informal writing), not every proposition in a "Conclusions" section is a conclusion. You will often find statements structured along the lines of: "Now that we have convincingly shown X in this article, it opens up the possibility that Y is also true. Demonstrating Y is a direction for future research." That Dr. Bonnette intended to do similarly was perfectly clear when he began the third paragraph of this conclusion with "Perhaps".

            Note also that, just prior to his Conclusion he stated:

            The old arguments of ancient philosophers for the qualitative differences between human beings and lower animals become more rationally acceptable. Whatever credence may be given to such arguments, the seventeen distinctions between the image and concept listed above make it clear that it is no longer reasonable for naturalists to claim that universal concepts are merely sophisticated or common images somehow constituted of neural activity in the brain.

            (bold emaphasis mine). I don't see how one could be more clear. If I say, "Now that I have shown X, Y becomes more rationally acceptable", that does not amount to claiming that, "I have shown Y". Also, if I say, "Whatever you may think about arguments for Y, you can at least see that X is true.", that obviously means that the point that I'm trying to argue for is X, not Y.

            I really hate to engage in these meta-conversations, but I am doing it here because I hope you will see why it is reasonable for others to conclude that you aren't putting in the sort of focused, thoughtful effort that would merit spending time responding to you. I do want to engage on some of the points you are asking about, but I put a lot of effort into my responses, so I save them for people who seem to be making a commensurate effort. I'm asking you to please up your game: read more carefully, think more carefully, write more carefully.

            [I will answer your other challenge about extraterrestrials in another message.]

          • Phil Tanny

            I'm asking you to please up your game: read more carefully, think more carefully, write more carefully.

            Please stop lecturing Father Jim. Again, this is standard issue Catholic avoidance technique, changing the subject from the post to the poster, implying some kind of moral failure etc. Apologies, but I left the Church over 50 years ago and am immune to such guilt tactics.

            More to the point, I HAVE been thinking about this my entire life, maybe longer than you've been alive, and what you see in many of my posts are insights in to the human condition which you good fellows seem to have absolutely no clue about. That's why it reads like confusing gibberish to you, it's just outside of your experience.

            Put simply, the most effective inquiry shifts the focus from the content of thought to the nature of thought.

            As example, the apparent division we experience between "me" and "God" arises directly from the way thought works by a process of conceptual division.

            This can't be solved with a new and better philosophy, because all philosophies are made of thought, the very source of the illusion of division. Once one gets this, one's relationship with philosophy is transformed.

            Anyway, I find myself guilty of being too ambitious. I do that. I bite off impossible challenges and then wonder why I've failed. The human condition is nothing if not hilarious. :-)

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            You keep asserting things like this:

            As example, the apparent division we experience between "me" and "God" arises directly from the way thought works by a process of conceptual division.

            But you don't provide any reasons for the rest of to believe that that is the case. And indeed, how could you provide reasons without engaging in "thought" and "philosophy"?

          • Phil Tanny

            I have touched on this in a variety of ways in a variety of posts, but admittedly not gone in to great detail, and that's because readers have shown no interest in learning more. That's ok, there is no obligation to be interested.

            What's been happening is that I've been attempting to add value to the site by addressing topics that are related to those discussed here, but not already being covered by other posters. You know, the point of writing should be to at least try to add something that doesn't already exist in the conversation.

            I see now that my excessive enthusiasm has caused me to take on too ambitious of a project. There's just too big of a gap between what interests me and interests other members, and I failed to take that in to account in a clear minded manner.

            I think the most constructive thing I can do from here is admit I bit off more than I can chew, roll my eyes at my own folly, smile and be happy, and move on to more constructive projects.

          • Mark

            You might recommend a book that can parse out the ideas you're putting forth. It may be a combox cannot do it justice.

          • Phil Tanny
          • Mark

            I don't see anyone with a shotgun shoved in their mouth there.

          • Phil Tanny

            Facebook. Try it. You might like it.

          • Michael Murray

            I just can't see the wood for the trees.

          • Phil Tanny

            Mark, you asked for a book. I gave you what I consider the best book, but that may not be the most suitable book for this circumstance. Here's a book book.

            The Power Of Now by Eckhardt Tolle

            I haven't read the book in some years but I remember to be a clear, straightforward, well written exploration of some of these topics.

            Please be aware though, a new age guru worship circus has arisen around this author, which I have no interest in and don't endorse. But all that can be easily be ignored and the book should still be useful for some readers. Whether you would be one of them I have no way of knowing.

          • Phil Tanny

            And indeed, how you provide reasons without engaging in "thought" and "philosophy"?

            Ok, this is just more folly, but here's a reply, so as not to ignore.

            There is a difference between using thought to build yet another philosophy, and using thought to show the limits of all philosophy.

            As example, both Catholic and atheist ideologists are trying to build an ever higher pile of assertions, which must then be promoted and defended, leading to a never ending cycle of conflict etc.

            Each side thinks the conflict can be resolved by a victory for their team, because they think the conflict arises from the content of thought, from this or that idea. This is a fundamental misunderstanding of where the conflict is arising from.

            The history of Catholicism demonstrates this very well. Catholicism dominated the Western world to a degree unimaginable today for 1,000 years. Total victory, over a very long period. And, Catholicism was launched with the best of intentions as a vehicle for bringing people together in peace. And what happened? Catholicism subdivided in to many different competing factions that are still at war with each other to this day.

            It's important to realize that this isn't just Catholicism, but that every ideology ever invented goes through this same process of internal subdivision and conflict. What that should tell us is that the source of the conflict is that which all ideologies have in common, the nature of thought itself.

            I've typed words to this effect on the site at least a dozen times. Readers scroll right on by, ignoring it all again and again, as is their right. So it doesn't really make sense for me to keep on typing it.

            If a reader should be interested in such things, there is nothing stopping them from conducting their own investigation, doing their own homework. If I was wise, I would wait until I see that happening before I jump in. But as you can see, I'm not wise, so here we are in folly land. :-)

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            There is a difference between using thought to build yet another philosophy, and using thought to show the limits of all philosophy.

            If you use thought to show the limits of philosophy, then you are doing philosophy. Not only that, but you are treading a very well worn path in philosophy. For example, are you familiar with Kant's Critique of Pure Reason? Maybe we could use some of the distinctions that he made to better understand your position? It's been 30 years since I read it as a somewhat disengaged undergraduate, but I'll read it again if you want to do it together.

            As example, both Catholic and atheist ideologists

            I won't attempt to speak for atheism, but Catholicism is not an ideology. Catholicism didn't begin as a set of ideas, and although various attempts have been made to systematize Catholic thought, those systems are not the essence of Catholicism. Catholicism began as a communal reaction to a historical event (or, to be less controversial, a putative historical event) and that's what it continues to be to this day. As Pope Benedict XVI put it: "Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction."

            Somewhat similarly, most philosophical systems are not intended to be totalizing ideologies, as you seem to imply. As Pope JP II put it: "In effect, every philosophical system, while it should always be respected in its wholeness, without any instrumentalization, must still recognize the primacy of philosophical enquiry, from which it stems and which it ought loyally to serve."
            (emphasis mine).

            In other words, neither Catholicism nor any reasonable school of philosophy pretends to offer and all-encompassing theory of everything. They propose instead a set of principles (in the case of philosophy) and memories of the past (in the case of Catholicism) that allow us to navigate a seemingly infinite as-yet-unexplored terrain.

            In summary, your critiques of Catholicism, and of philosophy, invoke conceptions of "Catholicism" and "philosophy" that are quite different from what I mean by those words. (And I don't think I am alone in that regard.)

          • Phil Tanny

            If you use thought to show the limits of philosophy, then you are doing philosophy.

            Indeed, never claimed otherwise, you aren't teaching me anything I don't already know, etc. I'm doing philosophy to explore the limits of philosophy because that is the only option available to us in this medium.

            Not only that, but you are treading a very well worn path in philosophy.

            So what, so what, so what? Never claimed otherwise.

            For example, are you familiar with Kant's Critique of Pure Reason?

            I know the name of the author and book, that's it.

            Again, as I've tried and failed to explain repeatedly, I reference a different authority.

            If you would like to read the book and share your thoughts on it, that sounds good, I would welcome your review of the book.

            I won't attempt to speak for atheism, but Catholicism is not an ideology.

            I agree, but probably not in the manner readers would like me to. The genius at the heart of Catholicism is the experience of love, and all the other stuff piled on top is ideology.

            Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.

            Like I said, or rather as the Apostle John said, God is love. Jesus=God, God=love.

            In effect, every philosophical system, while it should always be respected in its wholeness, without any instrumentalization, must still recognize the primacy of philosophical enquiry, from which it stems and which it ought loyally to serve.

            The experience of love is not a philosophical enquiry, but an act of surrender. The act is what matters, not our explanations of it. As example, if we want nutrition for our bodies we have to eat actual food, reading a book about food will not sustain our bodies.

            In summary, your critiques of Catholicism, and of philosophy, invoke conceptions of "Catholicism" and "philosophy" that are quite different from what I mean by those words.

            Everyone is entitled to their own interpretation of such things, no problem.

          • Phil Tanny

            Jim, I like you and would love to continue together, but I can no longer do so here. It's just too unprofessional of a site technically, and I've had it with having hours of my work dumped in the trash. I'd be happy to continue with you almost anywhere else, and will be finding a new home I'd be happy to tell you about. Or, I do understand that this is where you wish to be, and I respect that.

            Have no idea at all whether you will get this.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            OK Phil, best of luck in your new endeavors in dialogue. I'm probably not interested in branching out to additional forums, but who knows. Sure, go and check back after a while and let us know what you find out there. Godspeed!

          • Mark

            I don't believe Jim is Catholic. "The very source of the illusion of division" you cite is in your own mind. I don't know how you justify obtuse responses to someone who is graciously engaging in your incoherent ideas?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I don't believe Jim is Catholic.

            That depends on who you ask :-) I self-identify as Catholic, but various Catholics out there would not consider me Catholic. I usually don't consider it to be worth arguing about. I'm a person who strives to put Jesus at the center of my life, and who strives to relate to Jesus through the teachings and the sacramental life of the Catholic Church. But I don't understand "The Catholic Church" to be closed system with clear and non-permeable boundaries, and consequently I have never attempted to swallow the whole thing as one giant bolus. However you want to label that, that's what I am.

          • Phil Tanny

            I self-identify as Catholic, but various Catholics out there would not consider me Catholic.

            And there are other Catholics out there that would happily burn you at the stake at the drop of a dime, as I was reminded of in my recent visit to such a forum. Wow, exciting! :-)

          • Phil Tanny

            The very source of the illusion of division you cite is in your own mind.

            Yup, that's exactly what I've been trying to tell you. :-)

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            It's not very plausible to assume that billions of galaxies are devoid of intelligent life other than us.

            Actually, no, it is still very much a live option to suppose that there is no life anywhere else. If you flip a coin 1000 times and you have no idea what the probability of heads is on any given flip, then you have no idea whether you can reasonably expect at least one head in your 1000 flips (e.g. the probability of heads could be 10^(-100000000)). The "Drake equation" doesn't yet carry any weight, because we have ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA what the probability of biogenesis is.

            AND IN ANY CASE, I have already stated why the existence of extraterrestrial life, even very advanced extraterrestrial life, wouldn't necessarily pose a problem for the doctrines of the Incarnation and the Resurrection. Is there are reason why you are ignoring that part of my response? Are you "running away" from it? I don't think you are. I think you simply find that part of my response to be uninteresting, which is totally fine. But I point this out as evidence that non-response (even your non-response) very often signals lack of interest, rather than fear of following the logic where it may lead. If you are claiming that I am failing to follow logic where it leads, please provide text evidence to support this claim.

          • Phil Tanny

            You make a fair point. I was indeed not interested in that part of your argument, as I perceived it to be a tortured attempt to hang on to Catholic dogma at all costs. I'm already arguing with you on many fronts, so I decided to just hear you on that one, and not open another battle field. I am however willing should you still wish to explore it further.

            Honestly, a key objection for me is just that I hate this software. I spent 25 years working in web development and related arenas and my brain is incurably trained to seek and destroy the kind of bugs we see here.

            The good news is that I've decided that with the time I'm investing in hating Disqus I could set up a forum, so that's probably the next step for me. I assume no one here is likely to be interested, and that's ok, but personally if I'm going to type all day it's just got to be somewhere else.

            Anyway, on with the show...

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Jim, just for the record, the title of my article as I submitted it was "Image And Concept: The Unbridgeable Chasm." I can understand why this was changed since it more fits the opening paragraph and might have wider interest. Nonetheless, it is not the title of the article as it sits in my file.

            Edit: And you are right about my conclusion. That is why I repeatedly say, "Thomists argue....", rather than giving the argument myself. The comments about what kinds of souls men have versus animals is, of course, based on the assumption that the Thomistic arguments are correct.

            If I wished to make such claims myself in my own name, I would never just put them "out there," like that, since they would need all the reasoning leading up to them -- as any decent philosopher knows. We often sketch out the general claims of a position -- just so the reader or hearer can see where it would go. No one is stupid enough to think that just stating conclusions amounts to giving a philosophical argument. And to say this is merely reinforcing ones religious beliefs is to insult the intelligence of any decent philosopher. That is why there are some people I simply do not desire to dialogue with.

          • Phil Tanny

            You're not engaging with "certain persons" because you know you can't meet some of their challenges, and you'd rather not have that displayed in public.

            This is not a weakness exclusive to you personally, but a predictable characteristic of almost all academics and other intellectual elites. They simply can't afford to be seen effectively challenged by members of the unwashed masses.

            Authority and status comes at a price, the fear that someone will take it away. There is an inherent conflict between philosophy, and the philosophy business. Philosophy demands we follow the trail where ever it leads, and the philosophy business requires one to color pretty carefully between the lines, lest one be lynched upon the ruthless academic career ladder totem pole.

            What's annoying about me is that I'm smart enough to get all this, and stupid enough to think typing it will make the slightest bit of difference. Seriously, not being sarcastic. The joke is on me as much as it is upon you.

          • Phil Tanny

            It's simply not credible that the purpose of this article was not to do what you do in every article, serve as a Catholic apologist. I'm not complaining about that, as we all have our perspectives and themes, and you express yours better than most. So far, so good.

            The problem is that you wish to bask in the authority of reason, without actually doing reason. That is, as soon as something you say is effectively challenged, you begin jumping from foot to foot, dodging and weaving, ignoring, spinning a tale of rationalizations, claiming that you didn't mean what we all know you were selling and so on.

            This is all acceptable too, if you will simply declare yourself an ideologist. A person of faith need not comply with the processes of reason if they declare themselves a person of faith and don't get that all confused with being a person of reason.

        • Phil Tanny

          It's not an effective rebuttal because it doesn't even touch on the main
          thesis of the article, namely that there is a difference between images
          and concepts.

          Just to give it a name, this is the "off topic" defense, another standard issue method of trying to dispense with inconvenient challenges.

          Other common tactics on Catholic sites are the "above it all" defense, and the "your moral failings" dodge, a variant of the change the subject from the post to the poster method.

          The defense technique I respect the most on Catholic sites is when they simply ban the inconvenient challenger. They have every right to, and this seems an honest manner of avoiding inconvenient challenges.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Just to give it a name, this is the "off topic" defense, another standard issue method of trying to dispense with inconvenient challenges.

            It seems to me that I am explaining to you why you are off-topic AND I am responding to your challenges. So, I don't think your theory holds up, at least in this case.

      • Michael Murray

        How can it be a rebuttal as it is hypothetical? We don't know if there is any other intelligent life in the universe, let alone some that is vastly more intelligent than us. You could equally well argue "what about when we make AI which is vastly more intelligent than us will it have a soul" ? But until we do it doesn't rebut anything.

        • Phil Tanny

          Everything Dr. B wrote about images and concepts, and humans being superior and God's special project etc is all nothing more than interesting speculation which can not be proven or disproven by any method.

          My rebuttal, which is indeed speculative, is less speculative than the claims I am replying to. Dr. B is making speculative claims about the nature of the relationship between humans and God (without admitting he is making such claims) and I'm just making speculative claims about the current state of science, a far smaller business.

          It's just not that plausible that in an area as ENORMOUSLY LARGE as the universe that there is no other intelligent life, given how determined life is to exist in even the harshest environments here on Earth.

          Our solar system is about 4 billion years old. The rest of the universe is about 9 billion years older than that. This means that in much of the universe there has been time for billions of years of evolution beyond what has occurred here. Thus, if there is intelligent life beyond Earth, at least some of it is probably going to substantially exceed our ability.

          This doesn't prove my claim, it just makes it more plausible than the claims I am replying to.

          The solution here is to simply to admit advanced intelligent life probably does exist, and that by Dr. B's own reasoning it therefore will have souls, and thus we are not God's only project.

          Such a theory is fully compatible with most theories of God which typically propose a form of hyper-intelligence clearly capable of doing more than one thing at a time.

          • Michael Murray

            It's just not that plausible that in an area as ENORMOUSLY LARGE as the universe that there is no other intelligent life, given how determined life is to exist in even the harshest environments here on Earth.

            How well determined life is to survive though is a question of how well it continues once it has started. Getting started might be very difficult. Maybe there is a Great Filter in the past somewhere.

            None of these "gee it's really big" and "gee it's really old" arguments work in my book unless you know something about the probabilities of life starting and the probabilities of that life going on to become intelligent. We don't.

            If you look at the evidence we have for life in the universe there is us and a resounding silence. The Fermi Paradox. There is also an interesting calculation that if you built self-replicating space probes that could fly at 0.1 times the speed of light and when they get to another solar system mine material and make copies of themselves and repeat then it takers about half a million years to get a probe to every star in the galaxy. It's exponential growth. That's a technology that isn't very far beyond what we can do know. Something we might imagine doing in another 1000 years. Unlikely that it seems that we will last that long. So where are the alien probes ?

          • Phil Tanny

            Yes, I'm sure a great many planets, likely most, are not at all suitable for life. The sheer number of planets, a number almost beyond human calculation, makes that largely irrelevant. And, the skies are actually filled with unknown flying objects which some claim to be alien probes. I'm persuaded that the flying objects are real, but the alien part seems entirely speculative.

          • Michael Murray

            The enormity of the number of planets doesn't help here. If the number of planets is N and the probability of a planet having life on it is p the expected number of planets with life is N p (= N x p) . No matter how large N is you can find a p that N p is whatever you want. If you want Np to be k then take p = k / N. We can make all kinds of estimates for N now we have started spotting extra-solar planets. But we have no idea of how big p is. So arguments that go "gee N is so enormous N x p must be big" without knowing what p are don't work. There is no reason I've ever seen that rule out p being of the order of 1/N so that N x p = 1 which fits nicely the current data.

            Trust me I'm a mathematician.

  • Pandurang Shastri

    This material world is a composition of three qualities—sattva, rajas and tamas (goodness, passion and ignorance)—which are working everywhere. These three qualities are present in various proportions in all species of life. For example, some trees produce nice fruit, while others are simply meant for fuel. This is due to the association of particular qualities of nature. Among animals also, these three qualities are present. The cow is in the quality of goodness, the lion in passion, and the monkey in ignorance. According to Darwin, Darwin's father is a monkey. [ Laughter.] He has theorized foolishly. @Thornne:disqus

    • Phil Tanny

      Ha! The monkey in ignorance. I told you guys!

      • Pandurang Shastri

        The scientists must admit that they still do not know the origin of life. Their claim that they will soon prove a chemical origin of life is something like paying someone with a postdated check. Suppose I give you a postdated check for ten thousand dollars but I actually have no money. What is the value of that check? Scientists are claiming that their science is wonderful, but when a practical example is wanted, they say they will provide it in the future. Suppose I say that I possess millions of dollars, and when you ask me for some money I say, "Yes, I will now give you a big postdated check. Is that all right?" If you are intelligent, you will reply, "At present give me at least five dollars in cash so I can see something tangible." Similarly, the scientists cannot produce even a single blade of grass in their laboratories, yet they are claiming that life is produced from chemicals. What is this nonsense? Is no one questioning this?

  • Phil Tanny

    From the fact that human beings – alone in the animal kingdom – have the
    intellectual ability to form such universal concepts, Thomistic
    philosophers propose arguments demonstrating the spirituality and
    immortality of the human soul.

    Is Dr. B proposing that the intellectual ability to form universal concepts is the determining factor in whether a creature has an immortal soul? If yes, could he please explain why God would select this criteria for immortal soul creation?

    Is Dr. B claiming that this standard is applied universally to all creatures on all planets in all galaxies? This seems a relevant question given that God is typically defined as the creator of everything everywhere, and not just an Earth bound phenomena. Or is Dr. B claiming only that this criteria is how God sorts things out on just our own planet?

    • If yes, could he please explain why God would select this criteria for immortal soul creation?

      His argument would probably be something to the effect that a soul is metaphysically necessary for forming universal concepts. It's a standard Scholastic idea that reason is a non-physical process and thus requires a spiritual component. Dr B is a modern adherent to Scholasticism, near as I can tell. It's worth pointing out that Scholastics would argue that this is a restriction that God cannot circumvent.

      • Phil Tanny

        His argument would probably be something to the effect that a soul is metaphysically necessary for forming universal concepts.

        Yes, thank you, that seems a good summary of his position, best I can tell.

        Can we take it a step farther now? If his claim is true, isn't it somewhere between reasonable and likely that some huge number of species in the universe would have souls?

        I'm trying to examine the Christian assumption that God is all about we humans, which strikes me as the kind of self absorbed "everything is all about me" mindset that we humans are so easily trapped in.

        Isn't that Dr. B's bottom line point here, that we are unique and special and thus the center of God's focus?

  • Phil Tanny

    Sorry, there is no appropriate section where questions such as this can be asked.

    Does anyone know why comments mysteriously vanish from threads?

    Sometimes a comment is clearly marked as having been deleted, and sometimes a comment is clearly marked as having been labeled spam. Ok, good.

    But quite often comments just magically vanish with no explanation. I'm trying to determine if this is due to Disqus being junk software, or whether there is somebody doing the usual Catholic thing of removing all comments which they find too challenging. Sorry, not trying to be offensive, but I've been doing this for years and such things are entirely normal.

    I'm making no claims here, I really don't know.

    • I think that this is mostly down to Disqus being broken for this kind of long form discussion.

      • Phil Tanny

        Thank you Andrew, yes, that's my leading theory too. Just trying to confirm it really.

        By the way, just encountered one of your posts for the first time. Wow, impressive! Hope you're planning on sticking around, or coming back, or whatever the situation is.

        This is a potentially very good site, and I've been arguing that potential might be reached by moving these conversations to a forum. But it seems I'm the only one here who respects the site enough to be interested in such things. Hoping someone will prove me wrong about that though.

        • Yeah, it's fun to argue some of these points.

          I don't know about a forum though, I think people are attached to blog format and some might be concerned about losing older conversations if Disqus is left behind.

          • Phil Tanny

            Yes, agreed, people are attached to the blog format. That's because they are ignorant, at least in the case where extensive conversations are part of the game plan for a site.

            Blogs are great for giving speeches, and are suitable for a modest number of people applauding the article. I don't hate blogs, and wrote my own blog software from scratch. They're just the wrong tool for this particular job, as proven by the fact that comments routinely vanish etc.

            On this site, Disqus is the limiting factor which will be a key obstacle to the growth of participation. Few folks will whine as I'm doing, they'll just quietly vanish.

  • Phil Tanny

    Public Notice: I now have email again, but Disqus is not delivering notifications of most replies to me. I'm trying to find your replies in the sidebar, but if I get here too late that won't work. If I don't reply to something, this is most likely why. We now return to our regularly scheduled program.

  • Phil Tanny

    Ok Jim, you asked for thoughtful. There it is.

  • Phil Tanny

    It's happened YET AGAIN. A post I spent over an hour on is marked as spam and deleted. This is the most unprofessional site I can remember ever being on, honestly.

  • God Hates Faith

    Allow me to summarize:

    A distinction can be made between ideas, therefore my superstition is supported...

    • Mark

      Allow me to summarize your summary:
      I have an immaterial concept how ideas materially exists, therefore my materialist superstition is supported.

      • God Hates Faith

        Interesting how your summary of my comment is longer than my comment.

        Also interesting is that I never claimed materialism.

        • Jim the Scott

          >Interesting how your summary of my comment is longer than my comment.

          So Mark writes a reply that is one or two words longers than yours and thus his response is invalid? Son, I keep telling ya don't do drugs.

          >Also interesting is that I never claimed materialism.

          Yet you attack the idea that thought is immaterial? So you believe Thought is something other than material or immaterial? Like I said son. Don't do drugs.

        • Also interesting is that I never claimed materialism.

          @EamusCatuli0771108:disqus made an informed guess and it appears he was correct:

          M: materialist superstition

          GHF: Yeah, we should totally go back to when humans used to explain stuff they couldn't understand with immaterial superstitions, like the cause of disease or famines or ocean tides...

          Moreover, your stance on materialism seems very relevant to your conversation here, although you completely shielded that stance in your "summary":

          GHF: A distinction can be made between ideas, therefore my superstition is supported...

          You utterly failed to support the claim that the distinction is between two material things, something you apparently believe is the case. You therefore left open the possibility that you're willing to allow for immateriality, but not willing to let that mean that God exists. I would say your summary was almost deceptive. Fortunately, Mark quickly made an informed guess and got it right. But instead of admitting this, you dropped into pedantry.

          • God Hates Faith

            Care to address any of my actual arguments?

            The burden of proof is not on me to support non-supernaturalism. The burden is always on the supernaturalist.

          • Define 'natural', please. And please make a guess as to whether that definition changed, when we went from classical physics to QFT + GR. Let's see whether you are justified in saying that all of reality is 'natural'.

          • God Hates Faith

            How we perceive what is natural can change. That does not mean that what is natural changed ontologically.

            Natural is everything that isn't make-believe, like souls, or gods, or invisible leprechauns ghosts.

          • How we perceive what is natural can change. That does not mean that what is natural changed ontologically.

            We can't know that what exists "ontologically" doesn't change. Now perhaps you need that as a sort of cognitive anchor, but then you'd have to demonstrate that your cognitive anchor is better than mine. I trust that God intends reality to be arbitrarily intelligible, at least when (i) we don't lie to ourselves about ourselves; (ii) we don't harden our categories of understanding. But arbitrarily deep intelligibility does not require reality to be unchanging, ontologically.

            Natural is everything that isn't make-believe, like souls, or gods, or invisible leprechauns ghosts.

            That's an atrocious definition. Here's a better one:

            physical entity: an entity which is either (1) the kind of entity studied by physicists or chemists today; or (2) the kind of entity studied by physicists or chemists in the future, which has some sort of nomological or historical connection to the kinds of entities studied by physicists or chemists today. (The Nature of Naturalism)

            By this definition, 'consciousness' is not guaranteed to be 'natural'. Nor are differential equations. Now, perhaps expansions in what is considered 'natural' will be bounded in a way that the classical → QFT + GR expansion was not. If we can have further paradigm shifts like that one, then the above definition is also atrocious.

            I see no in principle reason for why Dr. Bonnette's immaterial / not-extended-in-space ideas could not be studied scientifically. I remember talking to a scientist who almost got his PhD in cosmology, about whether the singularity / quantum fluctuation which nucleated the big bang had any structure to it, before any spacetime was created. Initially he didn't even pay attention to this question in the conversation, but a faculty member intervened and he said, "Of course." Well, if things don't need to be extended in space to have structure and be scientifically useful …

          • God Hates Faith

            We can't know that what exists "ontologically" doesn't change.

            I never claimed it does or doesn't change. But your example of a change was a change in epistemology not ontology. Its easy to make ontological claims. Its much harder to support ontological claims with a reliable epistemology (easier now with the scientific revolution).

            By this definition, 'consciousness' is not guaranteed to be 'natural'.

            Have you heard of neuroscience? If you simply mean that it isn't "guaranteed" because if we study X with physicists or chemists and X could also be studied using theology, astrology or some other superstitious process, then by that standard, nothing is "guaranteed" to be 'natural'.

            Nor are differential equations.

            Math is a way to describe reality. That is why it is not considered "natural". Math is simply a tool, like language.

            "I see no in principle reason for why Dr. Bonnette's immaterial / not-extended-in-space ideas could not be studied scientifically."

            To be scientific, the theory must be falsifiable and provide some explanatory value. How would his theory be falsified?

          • I will note that you have yet to define 'natural'. Were you implicitly accepting the definition of 'physical entity' I provided?

            But your example of a change was a change in epistemology not ontology.

            What's the difference, from our finite perspective? My point is that God acting in reality need not be more unintelligible to us than paradigm shifts. Stated differently, paradigm shifts could be as 'supernatural' as God acting. This all gets muddied when the definition of 'natural' is not fixed. If it can change arbitrarily much, then there is no stable definition of super-natural.

            LB: By this definition, 'consciousness' is not guaranteed to be 'natural'. →

            GHF: Have you heard of neuroscience? If you simply mean that it isn't "guaranteed" because if we study X with physicists or chemists and X could also be studied using theology, astrology or some other superstitious process, then by that standard, nothing is "guaranteed" to be 'natural'.

            Yes, I have heard of neuroscience. There are many claims about being near to explaining consciousness, but they seem to be about as believable as all the claims in the '60s and '70s that strong AI was right around the corner. The problem is that consciousness seems so exceedingly unlike what physicists and chemists study. Indeed, the optimal performance of [physics and chemistry] scientific inquiry can ideally be done by someone without any consciousness. But if so, that would indicate that neither physics nor chemistry would be up to the task to providing us a complete system for understanding what consciousness is. The addition of neuroscience isn't clearly a big boost.

            LB: ← Nor are differential equations.

            GHF: Math is a way to describe reality. That is why it is not considered "natural". Math is simply a tool, like language.

            So? Math appears to be not-natural: what is the difference between 'not-natural' and 'super-natural'?

            LB: I see no in principle reason for why Dr. Bonnette's immaterial / not-extended-in-space ideas could not be studied scientifically.

            GHF: To be scientific, the theory must be falsifiable and provide some explanatory value. How would his theory be falsified?

            I don't know; I have asked Dr. Bonnette the same sort of question. I'm willing to give him much room to maneuver though, on the basis that we understand so terribly little about consciousness, self-consciousness, and cognition. There is also stuff like this:

            BGA: I just don't think we are warranted to say anything immaterial is fundamental.

            LB: In that case, what exists will always be more true than words about it. But of course that immediately destabilizes your words, here. Unless you think your sentence here is crucially and fundamentally 'material'?

            That's a very simple paradox: by asserting that reality is more real than statements about reality, you doubly undermine { statements about { statements about { reality } } }. This pushes me to be a bit more sympathetic to his claim that he is talking about what must be true for us to even do science in the first place. I see plenty of room for working on such foundations, but also much danger because of the towers of abstractions.

            The way you would scientifically explore various attempts to provide an a priori basis for doing science may not be the same as the folks at the LHC testing for the Higgs boson. Furthermore, until there are serious contenders to Dr. Bonnette's A–T philosophy so that one can get some idea of how the predict differently, it's going to be hard to do much of any scientific inquiry—at least past collecting lots of samples and building taxonomies. Taxonomies, you might note, are not falsifiable. Hypotheses are. Instruments with which you explore reality aren't falsifiable in the same way as hypotheses, but their properties and capabilities can be explored. We are the instruments with which we explore reality. How scientists decide to carve up reality not infrequently pulls on prior philosophical reasoning and conceptualization.

          • God Hates Faith

            I will note that you have yet to define 'natural'.

            I did define it. Right after you asked. But I am fine using yours as a working definition.

            What's the difference, from our finite perspective?

            There is a HUGE difference between ontology and epistemology.
            https://study.com/academy/lesson/ontology-vs-epistemology-differences-examples.html

            "If it can change arbitrarily much, then there is no stable definition of super-natural."

            I agree. The problem is with the definition of "super-natural" not "natural". Humans are constantly finding better/different ways to understand or perceive reality. That is not an ontological change in reality. That is an epistemological change.

            "But if so, that would indicate that neither physics nor chemistry would be up to the task to providing us a complete system for understanding what consciousness is."

            It seems you are shifting in how you define "natural". The earlly definition you provided does not require a "complete system for understanding" anything. Science is simply one way to investigate and describe something. If I want to learn about love, I can learn the chemical aspects, but that does not offer a complete understanding either. But it also does not support the argument love has a supernatural component.

            "So? Math appears to be not-natural: what is the difference between 'not-natural' and 'super-natural'?"

            It may not be "natural" based on your definition. I think ideas are completely natural. We can use chemistry and neuroscience to look at how the brain creates ideas. Ideas (like language and math) may represent something abstract, but that does not mean that ideas have a non-natural component. The ideas would not exist without a natural brain to think them.

            "I don't know; I have asked Dr. Bonnette the same sort of question."

            You are free to give him a pass. But fallibility is an important criteria in deciding what is "science". Karl Popper is a good reference for this.

            In that case, what exists will always be more true than words about it. But of course that immediately destabilizes your words, here. Unless you think your sentence here is crucially and fundamentally 'material'?

            Of course how we describe something does not perfectly with what is ontologically there! That doesn't mean words are meaningless. It just means that words are an imperfect tool to explain and describe ideas and/or reality.

            The fundamental error here is looking at ontology in absolute terms. Even if we assume ontologically that X exists. Our understanding and description of X, will simply be our limited perceptions of X, further limited by our methods of communicating about X. It is epistemologically futile to assume we can have absolutely certainty about X. We can only have a degrees of confidence. That is why I continue to say that ontologically we can assert X, but epistemically supporting X is where the problem lies, since no epistemology is perfect and evolution has programmed humans for survival, not ontological truth detectors.

            "Taxonomies, you might note, are not falsifiable. "

            Taxonomies do not need to be falsifiable since they are simply a way to categorize. Word (and their definitions) are not "science". Words are simply used to describe ideas. The word "flower" doesn't need to be falsifiable to be useful as a definition.

            "How scientists decide to carve up reality not infrequently pulls on prior philosophical reasoning and conceptualization."

            No disagreement. I have read a lot about the philosophy of science. "Science" is not fixed.

          • Thank you for this conversation! It is helping me see why Dr. Bonnette is so insistent that you have to be absolutely certain somewhere. Because wherever you are most certain, you will never have something more certain which causes you to doubt it. And so there seems to be zero pragmatic difference between 'most certain' and 'absolutely certain'. Or am I missing something?

            GHF: Natural is everything that isn't make-believe, like souls, or gods, or invisible leprechauns ghosts.

            LB: That's an atrocious definition. Here's a better one: ['physical entity' from The Nature of Naturalism]

            LB: I will note that you have yet to define 'natural'.

            GHF: I did define it. Right after you asked.

            I stand corrected; I meant to include [non-atrocious] and failed to do so. You attempted to define the more-real ('nature') in terms of the less-real ('super-natural'); surely you can see what a terrible idea that is?

            GHF: But your example of a change was a change in epistemology not ontology.

            LB: What's the difference, from our finite perspective? My point is that God acting in reality need not be more unintelligible to us than paradigm shifts.

            GHF: There is a HUGE difference between ontology and epistemology.

            Yes. But epistemologically, if we can't tell the difference between a change in one and a change in the other, we should remain agnostic as to which changed. And so my point in strikethrough—which you have ignored—stands.

            It seems you are shifting in how you define "natural". The earlly definition you provided does not require a "complete system for understanding" anything.

            I didn't provide a definition of 'natural', I provided a definition of 'physical entity'. I was drawing on the blog post The Nature of Naturalism, which also defines 'natural entity'. If you're really serious about this conversation, I think you need a really serious definition of 'natural'.

            Science is simply one way to investigate and describe something.

            Is there ever a superior method to study what is 'natural', other than science? If so, what are some motivating examples? If not, then what is the point of your point, here?

            If I want to learn about love, I can learn the chemical aspects, but that does not offer a complete understanding either. But it also does not support the argument love has a supernatural component.

            Either love is 100% reducible to 'physical entities', or it is not. Do you think it is 100% reducible?

            The ideas would not exist without a natural brain to think them.

            Is this a falsifiable claim? Is it a necessary logical truth? If the former, what would falsify it? If the latter, where is the rigorous argument?

            Of course how we describe something does not perfectly with what is ontologically there! That doesn't mean words are meaningless. It just means that words are an imperfect tool to explain and describe ideas and/or reality.

            I made no assertions about "meaningless". Instead, imperfection in 'nature' referring means that what is 'super-natural', or at least 'non-natural', is not immediately "make-believe". To the extent that there is imperfection in words, you have to be brutally rigorous about everything built upon words. "Everything is X" become untrustworthy because how do you know that applies to everything?

            The fundamental error here is looking at ontology in absolute terms. Even if we assume ontologically that X exists. Our understanding and description of X, will simply be our limited perceptions of X, further limited by our methods of communicating about X.

            Yes, theology is fully aware of this: apophatic theology. It is standard fare to say that one can assert true things of God at least analogically, but one cannot get one's descriptions perfectly correct. Saying "God is love" is as stable as our understanding of 'love', which Christianity teaches probably has some severe defects and is in need of much further growth and articulation.

            It is epistemically futile to assume we can have absolute certainty about X.

            Is it epistemically futile to doubt that statement? Or is that statement an X about which you are certain?

            We can only have a degrees of confidence in X. The bottom line is that certainty about ontological X is nonsense, because no epistemology can lead to certainty about something external to ourselves.

            To say you're more certain about epistemology than ontology is to define the objective in terms of the subjective. Isn't that bass-ackwards?

          • God Hates Faith

            Or am I missing something?

            Having a degree on certainty, based on the weight of the evidence, is completely different from being "most certain" or "absolutely certain". The former allows for new evidence to change their conclusion. The latter is axiomatic, unfalsifiable, or tautological. You don't have to be "certain" for something external to yourself.

            surely you can see what a terrible idea that is?

            Surely you can see how ridiculous supernatural claims are, since they are based soley on a (perceived) gap of knowledge. "Supernatural" is poorly defined, which is why any definition of "natural" (that absence of the poorly defined "supernatural") is also poorly define. Please define "supernatural" so I can better define "natural".

            if we can't tell the difference between a change in one and a change in the other, we should remain agnostic as to which changed.

            We can easily tell when our epistemology changes. If we do X to gain knowledge, then we start doing Z (or X + 1, etc.), its obvious our method changed.

            And so my point in strikethrough—which you have ignored—stands.

            Your "point" is irrelevant, unless you want to change the topic. Anything that "acts in reality", whether it be gods, or invisible pixies, or Bigfoot, it meaningless if we are simply using confirmation bias to confirm it (and it can't be falsified).

            I didn't provide a definition of 'natural'

            Review the conversation. You asked for a definition of natural. I provided a definition of natural. You said copied my definition of natural and replied, "That's an atrocious definition. Here's a better one:"

            Is there ever a superior method to study what is 'natural', other than science?

            The scientific method is not static. It changes. The scientific method, and the philosophy of science, has changed drastically over the last few hundred years.

            Either love is 100% reducible to 'physical entities', or it is not. Do you think it is 100% reducible?

            That depends on what you mean by "reducible". Describing a sunset by its physical properties, is different than describing it in terms of our feelings about the aesthetics of a sunset. Both descriptions are "100% reducible" by their own terms. Neither fully captures the description of the other method.

            Is this a falsifiable claim?

            Sure it is. All you need is evidence of an idea without a brain thinking it.

            I made no assertions about "meaningless".

            It was strongly implied when you said, "you doubly undermine { statements about { statements about { reality } } }"

            "Instead, imperfection in 'nature' referring means that what is 'super-natural', or at least 'non-natural', is not immediately "make-believe""

            I have no idea what you said there. Could you rephrase?

            "To the extent that there is imperfection in words, you have to be brutally rigorous about everything built upon words."

            Agreed. As I already said, even if we assume arguendo that X ontologically exists, our epistemology of learning about X is limited. Describing our understanding using an imperfect tool such as language, gets us further from ontological X. That is why intellectual humility, not certainty should be used when claiming X exists (doubly important for supernatural claims).

            Is it epistemically futile to doubt that statement?

            That's a falsifiable axiom. Definitely willing to amend that axiom if evidence can be shown that contradicts it.

            To say you're more certain about epistemology than ontology is to define the objective in terms of the subjective. Isn't that bass-ackwards?

            Not backwards. That is how deductive epistemologies work. You start with evidence and works towards a conclusion. The bass-ackwards epistemology is starting with your conclusion (the soul is real, astrology works, the Loch Ness Monster exists), and then look for evidence to support that claim.

          • Having a degree on certainty, based on the weight of the evidence, is completely different from being "most certain" or "absolutely certain". The former allows for new evidence to change their conclusion. The latter is axiomatic, unfalsifiable, or tautological. You don't have to be "certain" for something external to yourself.

            Sounds like you're buying into Descartes' "Cogito, ergo sum.", which contains at least two errors:

                 (1) all that proves is "thoughts exist"
                 (2) thinking is actually thinking of one or more objects

            The modern history of skepticism is arguably based on a failure to include the object(s). Certainty is then founded on the thinking–object relation, not just the thinking or just the object. Certainty comes from success in enforcing one's will on external reality. False certainty comes from thinking that if what I did last time worked, it'll necessarily work next time just as well and so forth.

            The intense focus on the subject you expose is deeply problematic for another reason: you run into the problem that if all you have is a hammer (= your subjectivity), everything (= reality) looks like a nail. But this is exactly antithetical to the idea that we let empirical evidence form our beliefs! It is obviously problematic if I can recognize different kinds of nails but nothing else. And yet, changes to subjectivity are not always responses to the empirical evidence.

            Surely you can see how ridiculous supernatural claims are, since they are based soley on a (perceived) gap of knowledge.

            Christians have criticized god-of-the-gaps for quite some time. It seems you are responding to pop theology, which is about as reliable as pop science. If that isn't what you are doing, then I am going to suggest that your subjectivity/​agency has zero place for subjectivity/​agency, and thus is inherently self-refuting. After all, trying to see how and why and where God acts is a much larger and more complex version of seeing how and why and where humans act. If in fact it is always wrong to say God acts, then it is always wrong to say humans act. Scientists get around this by redefining "act" so that it means something utterly different in kind than what people meant before the Enlightenment. The difference is precisely as large as the difference between freedom and slavery.

            "Supernatural" is poorly defined, which is why any definition of "natural" (that absence of the poorly defined "supernatural") is also poorly define. Please define "supernatural" so I can better define "natural".

            Why are you trying to define what you think is more real, by what you think is less real?

            GHF: But your example of a change was a change in epistemology not ontology.

            LB: What's the difference, from our finite perspective? My point is that God acting in reality need not be more unintelligible to us than paradigm shifts.

            GHF: There is a HUGE difference between ontology and epistemology.

            LB: Yes. But epistemologically, if we can't tell the difference between a change in one and a change in the other, we should remain agnostic as to which changed. And so my point in strikethrough—which you have ignored—stands.

            GHF: Your "point" is irrelevant, unless you want to change the topic.

            Given that you have [plausibly] just criticized any assignment of divine action as god-of-the-gaps, my point was wonderfully prescient.

            Review the conversation. You asked for a definition of natural. I provided a definition of natural. You said copied my definition of natural and replied, "That's an atrocious definition. Here's a better one:"

            I stand corrected: I should have said "Here's a step toward a better one:". But surely you could have seen that the actual term I provided a definition for was 'physical entity', not 'natural'?

            The scientific method is not static. It changes. The scientific method, and the philosophy of science, has changed drastically over the last few hundred years.

            Does this explain why you want to define 'natural' in terms of 'super-natural'? Instead of saying what you think exists, you say what you think most definitely does not exist. I admit, that's an interesting strategy. But I don't see why it is legitimate in any way. At most, you're saying that what your present subjectivity cannot comprehend, could not possibly exist. But this seems very problematic!

            LB: Either love is 100% reducible to 'physical entities', or it is not. Do you think it is 100% reducible?

            GHF: That depends on what you mean by "reducible".

            I suggest you read the whole blog post, but here are two definitions:

            causally reducible: X is causally reducible to Y just in case X’s causal powers are entirely explainable in terms of the causal powers of Y.

            ontologically reducible: X is ontologically reducible to Y just in case X is nothing but a collection of Ys organized in a certain way.
            (The Nature of Naturalism)

            Does that suffice? I was thinking both kinds of reducibility, but if you think just one applies, or none, or a different reducibility, please do indicate that. I'm trying to see whether you'll say anything you could conceive of being wrong—that is, anything scientific.

            All you need is evidence of an idea without a brain thinking it.

            And how would we detect that without our brains? If all you have is a mere claim of falsification with no known plausible experimental way to detect it, I think you should admit that.

            It was strongly implied when you said, "you doubly undermine { statements about { statements about { reality } } }"

            This is logically fallacious: "destabilizes""meaningless".

            LB: I made no assertions about "meaningless". Instead, imperfection in 'nature' referring means that what is 'super-natural', or at least 'non-natural', is not immediately "make-believe". To the extent that there is imperfection in words, you have to be brutally rigorous about everything built upon words. "Everything is X" become untrustworthy because how do you know that applies to everything?

            GHF: I have no idea what you said there. Could you rephrase?

            To the extent that our understanding of what 'nature' means changes over time—as you suggested with "The scientific method is not static. It changes."—we don't actually know how much that that term will change again. But then how can we say that it most definitely won't change to include certain things, such as 'ghosts'? Perhaps 99% of alleged ghost-detection is nonsense but 1% is legit. (I've never seen anything I would describe as legit, but I'm advancing this for the sake of argument.) What we can say is that we presently don't have a sufficiently robust way to talk about or detect 'ghosts', and therefore cannot scientifically access them. When Laplace [allegedly] said to Napoleon, "I had no need of that hypothesis.", that did not imply that God does not exist.

            That is why intellectual humility, not certainty should be used when claiming X exists (doubly important for supernatural claims).

            Are you certain about this? (I'm trying to show you that there is something or some set of things you are most certain about and it/they can never be uprooted and so you are in fact absolutely certain about it/them.)

            GHF: It is epistemically futile to assume we can have absolute certainty about X.

            LB: Is it epistemically futile to doubt that statement?

            GHF: That's a falsifiable axiom. Definitely willing to amend that axiom if evidence can be shown that contradicts it.

            Then can this be falsified? Because if you are willing to amend anything, that includes { willing to amend anything }.

            LB: To say you're more certain about epistemology than ontology is to define the objective in terms of the subjective. Isn't that bass-ackwards?

            GHF: Not backwards. That is how deductive epistemologies work. You start with evidence and works towards a conclusion.

            You're not starting with evidence (ontology), you're starting with subjectivity (epistemology).

            The bass-ackwards epistemology is starting with your conclusion (the soul is real, astrology works, the Loch Ness Monster exists), and then look for evidence to support that claim.

            Was Descartes engaging in such fallacious behavior when he said "Cogito, ergo sum."? I'm having a bit of a hard time coming up with an absolutely rigorous definition of 'conclusion'. One only has 'evidence' once one has both an instrument with which to explore reality, and a theoretical grid for interpreting the measurements. But it seems to me that one could pack quite a lot of 'conclusion'-forming power in the instrument and/or the theoretical grid!

          • God Hates Faith

            Sounds like you're buying into Descartes' "Cogito, ergo sum."

            Except I never argued that. Let's avoid changing the subject when we already have so much we are discussing.

            "you run into the problem that if all you have is a hammer (= your subjectivity), everything (= reality) looks like a nail."

            As I have said several times already--our ability to perceive reality is limited. Are you arguing otherwise?

            " It seems you are responding to pop theology"

            I am responding to every claim of something supernatural, including in this post. There is no reliable for the supernatural, any more than there is reliable evidence for alien abductions.

            " After all, trying to see how and why and where God acts..."

            It seems you keep trying to smuggle in discussion about "God" when I am discussing the supernatural. I am not sure if you are trying to avoid my arguments, or just dont' understand that the supernatural is not one and the same with God(s). Let's try to stay on topic since we already have so much we are discussing.

            But surely you could have seen that the actual term I provided a definition for was 'physical entity', not 'natural'?

            Since you indicated it was the definition of "natural", it seems like you were conflating the two definitions. Thanks for the clarification.

            "Instead of saying what you think exists, you say what you think most definitely does not exist."

            I think this aids the conversation. How helpful would it be if I defined "natural" as everything that is real or exists, and the supernatural as stuff that isn't real or doesn't exist. Those definitions would simply be question begging.

            Still waiting for your definition of supernatural, which you continue to dodge.

            I was thinking both kinds of reducibility

            If that is the case then I would say "casual reducibility" suffers from the idea that anything can be "entirely explainable" in only one way, when in fact we can describe almost most things in more than one way.

            "And how would we detect that without our brains?"

            With our souls ; ) But seriously, all we would need to do is use our brain, to find an idea that is does not come from something physical (like a brain or computer).

            "This is logically fallacious: "destabilizes" ⇏ "meaningless"."

            That is why I said "implies". If you destabilize a word, it could lose its meaning.

            Gotta go. I will address the rest later.

          • GHF: Having a degree on certainty, based on the weight of the evidence, is completely different from being "most certain" or "absolutely certain". The former allows for new evidence to change their conclusion. The latter is axiomatic, unfalsifiable, or tautological. You don't have to be "certain" for something external to yourself.

            LB: Sounds like you're buying into Descartes' "Cogito, ergo sum.", which contains at least two errors:

            GHF: Except I never argued that. Let's avoid changing the subject when we already have so much we are discussing.

            I apparently guessed wrongly when it came to the justification for the underlined. Descartes, you see, was big on certainty about what was inside. But apparently you believe you are not drawing on Descartes, or at least not on his Cogito. So, why did you say the underlined? Why did you particularly select the 'external'? It seems to me that there could be plenty of error on the 'internal'.

            LB: The intense focus on the subject you expose is deeply problematic for another reason: you run into the problem that if all you have is a hammer (= your subjectivity), everything (= reality) looks like a nail.

            GHF: As I have said several times already--our ability to perceive reality is limited. Are you arguing otherwise?

            I'm talking about ways to detect its limits and expand them. And as I indicated above, I'm talking about detecting errors inside of us instead of just outside of us. I don't see introspection as infallible. Surely you can see how internal errors could be limiting? (They are not the only kind of limiting.)

            I am responding to every claim of something supernatural, including in this post. There is no reliable for the supernatural, any more than there is reliable evidence for alien abductions.

            Do you think human agency is possibly 'natural', by any not-infinitely-expandable definition of 'natural'? I was just listening to "Noam Chomsky Interview on Limits of Language & Mind"[1] and I encountered him saying the following:

            I think that's a pretty good indicator that what we currently see as the target of scientific inquiry is a distinct subset of reality. If 'natural' is what science studies, then there is plenty of 'super-natural', and perhaps the prime example is human agency. The more science depends on the full complexities of human agency for its domain of study, the worse it tends to be.

            It seems you keep trying to smuggle in discussion about "God" when I am discussing the supernatural. I am not sure if you are trying to avoid my arguments, or just dont' understand that the supernatural is not one and the same with God(s). Let's try to stay on topic since we already have so much we are discussing.

            My guess is that the majority of commenters on Strange Notions would have been somewhat surprised at your saying that God(s) is not sufficiently close to 'the supernatural' so as to have warranted what I wrote. So I don't think I'm inclined to apologize this time, and I think your "stay on topic" comment was uncalled for. Instead, how about you tell me what you think the relevant difference is, such that bringing up the God of classical theism is, according to you, not [sufficiently? at all?] "on topic"?

            Since you indicated it was the definition of "natural", it seems like you were conflating the two definitions.

            Why don't you point out when you think there is an error like this? I am not a perfect human being, but often when I err, it is actually by a tiny bit, not a huge amount.

            GHF: The scientific method is not static. It changes. The scientific method, and the philosophy of science, has changed drastically over the last few hundred years.

            LB: Does this explain why you want to define 'natural' in terms of 'super-natural'? Instead of saying what you think exists, you say what you think most definitely does not exist.

            GHF: I think this aids the conversation. How helpful would it be if I defined "natural" as everything that is real or exists, and the supernatural as stuff that isn't real or doesn't exist. Those definitions would simply be question begging.

            Then find a better definition.

            You attempted to define the more-real ('nature') in terms of the less-real ('super-natural'); surely you can see what a terrible idea that is?

            GHF: Natural is everything that isn't make-believe, like souls, or gods, or invisible leprechauns ghosts.

            LB: That's an atrocious definition. Here's a better one: ['physical entity' from The Nature of Naturalism]

            LB: You attempted to define the more-real ('nature') in terms of the less-real ('super-natural'); surely you can see what a terrible idea that is?

            GHF: Still waiting for your definition of supernatural, which you continue to dodge.

            I thought it would have been obvious given what I wrote: in arguing with you, I will define 'super-natural' as "that which is not natural"—unless you have a better definition. Some might wish to define the 'super-natural' as "only that part which is not natural"; we can work through these subtleties if necessary.

            If that is the case then I would say "casual reducibility" suffers from the idea that anything can be "entirely explainable" in only one way, when in fact we can describe almost most things in more than one way.

            It suffers from no such idea. Alternative possible explanations has nothing to do with whether something is 'causally reducible'. If there is redundancy in explanation, then there is redundancy.

            GHF: All you need is evidence of an idea without a brain thinking it.

            LB: And how would we detect that without our brains?

            GHF: With our souls ; ) But seriously, all we would need to do is use our brain, to find an idea that is does not come from something physical (like a brain or computer).

            And how would you know? Can you describe an experiment where if the meter reads this value or the microscope shows that structure, then the best explanation is "an idea without a brain thinking it"? You might be able to construe the final episode of Stargate Universe as showing something like this—essentially, the equivalent of the universe containing stars spelling "God loves you", perhaps with the deus ex machina knowledge that no aliens within the universe arranged them with ultra-advanced technology. Putting aside that highly extreme example, I just don't know how one could possibly get actual evidence of what you describe.

            That is why I said "implies". If you destabilize a word, it could lose its meaning.

            "could" ⇏ "does"

            The rest, which you say you'll address later, deals precisely with this problem whereby language which undermines itself is deeply problematic. In I think all the cases so far, if you just weaken the claim a bit, all of a sudden it doesn't undermine. However, that weakening also creates problems for the various exclusive claims you're making.

          • God Hates Faith

            It seems like almost all of your arguments are based on semantics. I have already agreed that language is limiting.
            Still waiting for your definition of supernatural.

            It seems to me that there could be plenty of error on the 'internal'.

            Of course.

            "If 'natural' is what science studies, then there is plenty of 'super-natural', and perhaps the prime example is human agency. The more science depends on the full complexities of human agency for its domain of study, the worse it tends to be."

            There are a ton of studies on decision making theory and whether free will exists. If you would like links to research, please let me know.

            "And how would you know?"

            Good question. Not sure, since we have never seen an example of anything supernatural.

          • It seems like almost all of your arguments are based on semantics.

            Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote that "The corruption of man is followed by the corruption of language." (Nature, ch IV) I believe that. This means I cannot help but investigate the meaning of certain terms, to see if they actually do what they need to do, in order to build the ideas on top of them. If you find this unacceptable, then I'll say that I'm stuck with a similar problem to the one Francis Bacon faced when he wrote about The Idols.

            Still waiting for your definition of supernatural.

            That which is not 'natural'—noting that the term 'natural' can be rather unstable. (See for example the definition of 'physical entity' at The Nature of Naturalism, especially noting part (2).)

            There are a ton of studies on decision making theory and whether free will exists. If you would like links to research, please let me know.

            More narrowly, I want to see something like a rebuttal to what Noam Chomsky writes:

            Specifically, Descartes speculated that the workings of res cogitans—second substance—may be beyond human understanding. So he thought, quoting him again, "We may not have intelligence enough to understanding the workings of mind." In particular, the normal use of language, one of his main concepts. He recognized that the normal use of language has what has come to be called a creative aspect; every human being but no beast or machine has this capacity to use language in ways that are appropriate to situations but not caused by them—this is a crucial difference. And to formulate and express thoughts that may be entirely new and do so without bound, may be incited or inclined to speak in certain ways by internal and external circumstances, but not compelled to do so. That's the way his followers put the matter—which was a mystery to Descartes and remains a mystery to us. That quite clearly is a fact. (Noam Chomsky - "The machine, the ghost, and the limits of understanding", 9:58)

            For decision theory in general, I would be interested in your thoughts on Press & Dyson 2012 Iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma contains strategies that dominate any evolutionary opponent; for an intro see the MIT Tech Review article The Emerging Revolution in Game Theory and the Scientific American article Game Theory Calls Cooperation into Question.

            As to free will, note that I see it rather similarly to the Interplanetary Superhighway, which works on the basis of navigating Lagrangian points in the solar system such that in theory, an infinitesimal thrust can radically change one's trajectory. The key is that you first have to be in the proper class of orbits, you have to understand the gravitational layout of the solar system, you have to be able to plot a course, you have to fire your [in theory: infinitesimal] thruster at the right times, and you have to be patient in the mean time. If you can see flaws in this analogy to free will, I would be interested to hear them.

            Not sure, since we have never seen an example of anything supernatural.

            How do you know this? There is plenty that happens that may not be explicable in terms of today's best physics, such as self-consciousness and self-reflection. Well, if the definition of 'nature' is tied to today's best physics (and perhaps best chemistry), then self-consciousness and self-reflection may be super-'natural'.

          • God Hates Faith

            This means I cannot help but investigate the meaning of certain terms...

            Except you are not investigating, you are declaring.

            That which is not 'natural'—noting that the term 'natural' can be rather unstable.

            Question begging. I can't investigate this idea if that is the best explanation you can provide.

            More narrowly, I want to see something like a rebuttal to what Noam Chomsky writes:

            I never said I disagreed with this, so feel free to look for a counter-argument to satisfy your curiosity.

            For decision theory in general, I would be interested in your thoughts on

            I don't feel like writing a book for you on my thoughts. Feel free to ask specific questions, based on specific claims or arguments.

            "If you can see flaws in this analogy to free will, I would be interested to hear them."

            Define what you mean by "free will".

            How do you know this? There is plenty that happens that may not be explicable in terms of today's best physics, such as self-consciousness and self-reflection.

            Supernatural of the gaps fallacy. You are again trying to define the supernatural as something that could exist where we have gaps in knowledge. The same type of thinking lead ancient humans to believe disease, ocean tides, and famines were caused by something supernatural.

            How do I know I have not seen an example of anything supernatural? For the same reason I haven't seen any credible evidence of alien abductions or Zeus.

          • GHF: It seems like almost all of your arguments are based on semantics.

            LB: … This means I cannot help but investigate the meaning of certain terms …

            GHF: Except you are not investigating, you are declaring.

            Then let's slow things down and have you define a term with my doing no declaring. How about you define 'natural' in a way that is useful to this conversation? I suggest @jlowder:disqus's The Nature of Naturalism as a place to start, especially the following:

            physical entity: an entity which is either (1) the kind of entity studied by physicists or chemists today; or (2) the kind of entity studied by physicists or chemists in the future, which has some sort of nomological or historical connection to the kinds of entities studied by physicists or chemists today. (The Nature of Naturalism)

            However, you are 100% welcome to utterly disregard that suggestion, and go with some other definition. What I insist on is that it is a solid, articulate enough definition to do heavy lifting. Vagueness allows much to be hidden—will you agree to that much?

          • God Hates Faith

            Or how about you define "supernatural". There are many things that are not "physical entities" that are not supernatural.

            Or, we could have a working definition of "supernatural", and amend as necessary.

          • GHF: It seems like almost all of your arguments are based on semantics.

            LB: … This means I cannot help but investigate the meaning of certain terms …

            GHF: Except you are not investigating, you are declaring.

            LB: Then let's slow things down and have you define a term with my doing no declaring. How about you define 'natural' in a way that is useful to this conversation?

            GHF: Or how about you define "supernatural".

            Sorry, but the underlined is a very serious accusation and I wish to make it false, or have you retract it. Were I to fulfill your requirement that I first define 'supernatural'†, it would only reinforce that accusation.

            You certainly see the term 'natural' as more real/​fundamental than the term 'supernatural'. And yet, you don't want to let me build a definition on that which you believe is more real/​fundamental. I think I shall label this "the ontological fallacy". One ought always define the less real/​fundamental by the more real/​fundamental—right?

             
            † Noting that you rejected the definition I provided, below:

            GHF: Still waiting for your definition of supernatural.

            LB: That which is not 'natural'—noting that the term 'natural' can be rather unstable. (See for example the definition of 'physical entity' at The Nature of Naturalism, especially noting part (2).)

            GHF: Question begging. I can't investigate this idea if that is the best explanation you can provide.

          • God Hates Faith

            Were I to fulfill your requirement that I first define 'supernatural'†, it would only reinforce that accusation.

            If I am asking you to define a term, the obviously I am okay with you declaring what you mean by that term. However, if you were to ask me to go on an exploratory journey to help come to an agreement on the definition, then we could do that as well. But me putting forth a definition, and you simply rejecting it (and providing one that isn't any better) is not exploring for mutual benefit. It seems more like a game of semantics.

            † Noting that you rejected the definition I provided, below:

            Yes. You provided an incomplete definition. And were guilty of the same thing you accused me (defining a term by its opposite).

            Again, if you want to go on a journey to see if we can find a working definition of "supernatural", that is acceptable. To me, it seems you are burden shifting, rather than being genuine. I gave examples of things that were not natural. We could start there.

          • Language, by its very essence, excludes. In saying that "only the natural exists", you are excluding something. But what are you excluding? One option is that you are excluding 'lawlessness' or 'chaos' or 'irrationality'. But these are all expressly exclusive terms! To say that "everything is lawful" is to say nothing, unless you have a conception of what 'lawfulness' is. And yet you almost certainly see the problem: our current conception of 'lawfulness' may well be very small and incomplete, unable to grasp the full complexity of reality.

            At this point, it is worth mentioning that our best available understanding of 'YHWH' is probably "I am that I was, am, and will be"—an ultimate point of stability, of identity. God does not change and is thus trustworthy. Now add on classical theism and you have the idea that God is 100% rational, even if that rationality is infinitely complex†. Theology has long taught that our present understanding of God is incomplete; you can see that in its extreme of apophatic/​negative theology. And yet, this leads to the idea that God is quite 'Other' to us—dissimilar to us. But here there is an apparent aporia: we have a kind of break in lawfulness which is anti-'natural' and anti-YHWH.

            The solution, I claim, is to acknowledge that we are finite beings with finite viewpoints and that our view of the total/​infinite will necessarily be incomplete and error-prone. From here, we can ask whether there is a way forward toward more (and deeper) comprehension and less error, which is nevertheless a … rational progression‡. That is, one can see from the later viewpoint how the earlier viewpoint was a good start, but in need of correction. This can be contrasted to a 'radical break', whereby one just discards the old and starts anew. This is what Descartes thought he did, although philosophers these days generally deny that he actually did it. But there is nevertheless a worry, that one will "lose oneself" in the process of moving through the next … 'paradigm shift'. This is a rational worry, which I can try to explain more if you'd like.

            Does the above set us on a better discussion trajectory? In case you didn't see it, I'm actually willing for there to be no truly 'supernatural', but only finite approximations of the infinite—approximations which can and ought to grow better. For more in this vein of thought, you could check out the blog posts Leibniz's theistic case against Humean miracles and Christian Naturalism.

             
            † N.B. Divine 'simplicity' means that you cannot construe God as the sum of independent parts; it does not rule out other forms of 'complexity'. If you want some mathematics which might capture this, I can introduce you to some from Robert Rosen's Life Itself. Rosen argues that the 'independent parts' approach doesn't work for distinguishing life from non-life, and so presents a rigorous alternative which he claims is superior—and I agree.

            ‡ I am building on Alasdair MacIntyre's 1977 paper Epistemological Crises, Dramatic Narrative and the Philosophy of Science.

          • God Hates Faith

            Language, by its very essence, excludes.

            Of course it does. So, you don't want to explore the definitions of "natural" or "supernatural"? Again, I am fine going with the dictionary definitions as working definitions. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/supernatural
            https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/natural

            "At this point, it is worth mentioning that our best available understanding of 'YHWH'..."

            As I have said before, bringing deities into the discussion is not necessary at this point. Plus it adds a ton of other debatable issues. There are many things that could be labeled supernatural which are not deities. I would rather start small then we can work towards deities.

            The solution, I claim, is to acknowledge that we are finite beings with finite viewpoints and that our view of the total/​infinite will necessarily be incomplete and error-prone.

            Agreed.

            "From here, we can ask whether there is a way forward toward more (and deeper) comprehension and less error, which is nevertheless a … rational progression‡"

            Sounds good. I love discussing epistemology and asking whether we should be "certain" or 100% confident in any belief.

            "I'm actually willing for there to be no truly 'supernatural', but only finite approximations of the infinite—approximations which can and ought to grow better"

            Great! I completely agree! By that standard, rather than asserting something supernatural exists (including consciousness), or defining something into existence (such as a deity) using "logic", wouldn't it make more sense to say "I don't know"?

          • There is a crucial question of whether we can understand e.g. 'consciousness' only via starting from the entities studied by physics and chemistry (and perhaps neuroscience), or whether one must engage in both top-down and bottom-up thinking. To put this on solid ground: can the patterns at some level ever become so independent of the micro-structure of the substrate that reductionism simply fails? Massimo Pigliucci provides motivation for the answer of "yes" in his blog post Essays on emergence, part I.

            However, the naturalist has grounds to object to the above, for there is a break in lawfulness between the 'top' and the 'bottom'. Anyone humble and honest and knowledgeable will say that we have no idea how to connect 'top' and 'bottom'. Those who are not committed to dualism surely hope we can connect them. But hopes do not reality create or represent!

            There is yet another problem: if 'top' and 'bottom' are connected lawfully and deterministically (or deterministically + agent-free randomness), then you effectively get superdeterminism, which arguably eviscerates the epistemological justification for the very possibility of scientific inquiry. You can see how few physicists want to acknowledge the possibility of superdeterminism, by how many insist that the experimental violation of Bell's theorem rules out the possibility of local hidden variables. And so, I argue that there is a fundamental incoherence, here: on the one hand people want to believe that 'top' and 'bottom' (that is, consciousness and e.g. Schrödinger's equation) are related in a 100% lawful fashion, and on the other hand they don't want to accept all the logical consequences of that belief.

            Behind all this is the question of whether there is precisely one kind of [global] causation in reality—e.g. the only causes are the laws of nature acting on particles and fields—or whether there could be multiple true causal nexuses. The latter option might be reminiscent of polytheism, where you have multiple [somewhat irrational] gods warring with each other and causing all sorts of mayhem. But this is a contingent result, not a necessary result. It also obscures the possibility that there is an agent behind everything, ensuring that a kind of … minimal rationality holds. This would be important if, for example, one of the goals is ensuring that sentient, sapient creatures have the possibility of learning and progressing. Evolution, on the other hand, doesn't give a whit about such possibility.

            BTW, the above paragraph need not be religious in nature; the terms 'causal monism' and 'causal pluralism' are being used in philosophy, right now. If you want to "start small then we can work towards deities", we could investigate that literature.

          • God Hates Faith

            "can the patterns at some level ever become so independent of the micro-structure of the substrate that reductionism simply fails?"

            So, consciousness is beyond our complete understanding at this time. Great. I have no problem saying "I don't fully know X", or "we can't fully explain X". Still no supernatural (or dualism) element waiting in the gaps...

            However, the naturalist has grounds to object to the above, for there is a break in lawfulness between the 'top' and the 'bottom'.

            I don't object to saying "we can't fully explain X (especially given the limitations of language and how X can have shifting definitions)".

            if 'top' and 'bottom' are connected lawfully and deterministically (or deterministically + agent-free randomness)

            I am not sure I follow...

            And so, I argue that there is a fundamental incoherence...

            Why can't X be not fully understood, and still not be considered dualistic?

            "Behind all this is the question of whether there is precisely one kind of [global] causation in reality..."

            I have no problem with the concept that everything could be "matter/energy in motion" but also that matter/energy eventually evolved into conscious creatures. I don't see how those are mutually exclusive.

          • You seem to have lost track of my argument. I'm arguing that right now, there is identifiable and characterizable structure at two very different levels:

                 (A) consciousness, psychology and social action
                 (B) particles and fields

            I'm not saying 'consciousness' is "100% mysterious" or "supernatural". What I am saying is that we haven't a clue as to how to connect (A) and (B). And yet, the ideal of naturalism (maybe just physicalism?), as I understand it, is that there should be perfect lawfulness which connects (A) and (B). There should be no explanatory gap in the final analysis. Furthermore, the structure at the top should be understood purely as an outworking of the structure at the bottom. This is how you guarantee that there's no supernatural mind which could communicate with our consciousnesses: that would be to say that there is structure at the top which cannot be accounted for by structure at the bottom. And yes, a key aspect of naturalism and physicalism, it seems to me, is to obtain a metaphysical guarantee that God (an agent outside of our spacetime) could not possibly exist in causal interaction with us. God is ruled out at a metaphysical level.

            Nowhere have I argued for 'god of the gaps'. But I have a mirror criticism of your position: it doesn't seem to allow for God to possibly point out our gaps! Neither naturalism nor physicalism seem to have any metaphysical possibility for God to e.g. point out how we are being collectively hypocritical or collectively self-righteous. But the lack of any metaphysical possibility for God to speak in this way seems to be pure prejudice. If we are in fact incoherent (e.g. via hypocrisy), but we assume we are 100% coherent (via self-righteousness), then we will perceive God pointing out our hypocrisy as if God were irrational. A microscope with distortions in its optics can easily see a uniformly lit, uniform field, as having anisotropies. Is it a speck in my brother's eye or a log in my own? How do I figure out which is which?

            The answer of the NT is that Perfection walked among us but we, being imperfect but self-righteous, saw all sorts of flaws in Perfection. When Perfection failed to solve our problems our way (via violence), we decided to use extreme violence against Perfection. This was permitted, in order that some would later understand that they were not perfect and while Perfection was. Jesus absorbed our irrationality and immorality and plain old evil, letting us carve our sins into his flesh. Through vulnerability to our nonsense he showed our hubris to be what it was, which is the only way to demonstrate rightness I know of, which does not end up presupposing or affirming "Might makes right."

            The irrationality and lawlessness was always in us, not God. The Bible is an invitation to relationship with infinite goodness, truth, rationality, and beauty—if only we will face ourselves. But instead of truly accepting our finiteness in epistemic and moral (and aesthetic) senses, we think we're hot stuff, able to understand anything that can be understood, without significant correction or growth of ourselves. We thereby construct systems of understanding which are based on us being essentially perfect (at least in concept), which function as glass ceilings on our ability to understand ourselves and the glorious reality that waits for us to do more than scratch the surface. We have the gaps, not God.

          • God Hates Faith

            What I am saying is that we haven't a clue as to how to connect (A) and (B)

            I disagree that we don't have a clue. We just don't fully understand the connection. Arguably we don't fully understand how our empirical senses work. We have some idea that when if something touches our bodies, our nerves send a response to the brain, which processes this sensation, and its a chemical process. But we may not FULLY understand it.

            And I am fine with saying "I don't know". I am not fine when someone takes that gaps, and then says "I don't know, therefore I know (its metaphysical)".

            If we were to engage in a thought experiment where we lived 3000 years ago, we may not understand how (A) and (B) connect for ocean tides or plagues. Because of this lack of knowledge, many people assumed there must be some metaphysical or supernatural element. Humans should have learned that the metaphysical is not a placeholder for things we don't understand. Over time the metaphysical continues to retreat as a explanation the more we learn about how things work.

            And yes, a key aspect of naturalism and physicalism, it seems to me, is to obtain a metaphysical guarantee that God (an agent outside of our spacetime) could not possibly exist in causal interaction with us.

            I see no need of such a guarantee. I simply see no need to believe in the metaphysical or supernatural, when there is no evidence for it, any more than there is evidence for fairies existing outside our spacetime causing flowers to grow.

            But I have a mirror criticism of your position: it doesn't seem to allow for God to possibly point out our gaps!

            I am open to Zeus or Vishnu or Yahweh, or invisible fairies, or anything metaphysical to fill in those gaps. I just see no evidence for them, or reason why any of them provide any explanatory value. Why do invisible fairies make flowers grow? Because that is their nature...

            But instead of truly accepting our finiteness in epistemic and moral (and aesthetic) senses, we think we're hot stuff

            In my opinion if we were truly intellectually humble, we would be skeptical of holy books allegedly inspired by someone's invisible friend, holding the keys to the universe.

          • I disagree that we don't have a clue. We just don't fully understand the connection.

            We are so far from "fully understand[ing] the connection" that "haven't a clue" is a pretty good approximation.

            And I am fine with saying "I don't know". I am not fine when someone takes that gaps, and then says "I don't know, therefore I know (its metaphysical)".

            You appear to be arguing against a position I have not presented. One thing I'm saying is that there is considerable structure to explore at the level of consciousness, which we do not know how to connect to the level of particles and fields. Therefore, to say that particles and fields are "more real" or "more fundamental" is an exceedingly dubious claim. There are other reasons to be dubious of such claims, and that is that they are self-undermining: to the extent that what goes on in consciousness is an approximation, any claim which comes out of the consciousness is an approximation—including claims about fundamental reality.

            Because of this lack of knowledge, many people assumed there must be some metaphysical or supernatural element.

            Plenty of physicalists and naturalists are making the mirror error: by assuming that all of reality is like how present physicists and scientists construe it, they assume there are no significant gaps and no significant scientific revolutions ahead. Are you as severe against that kind of false extrapolation, as against positing—well, whatever you think some people are positing? (I challenge you to find precisely what I've said, which only plausibly leads to something as terrible as what you are suggesting.)

            Humans should have learned that the metaphysical is not a placeholder for things we don't understand.

            I don't really know what this means. All the way back when William James wrote The Will to Believe, we have known that sometimes we have to take stances and act before all the facts are in. Well, how do you do that—how do you manage the gaps? Perhaps there are more and less intelligent ways to do so. Merely throwing up your hands and saying "I don't know!" is not always an option—not at least, if you are in a leadership or management position.

            LB: But I have a mirror criticism of your position: it doesn't seem to allow for God to possibly point out our gaps!

            GHF: I am open to Zeus or Vishnu or Yahweh, or invisible fairies, or anything metaphysical to fill in those gaps. I just see no evidence for them, or reason why any of them provide any explanatory value. Why do invisible fairies make flowers grow? Because that is their nature...

            Do you see how this isn't even a response to what I said? I talked of God pointing out our gaps; you talked of God filling those gaps. It is as if you are so single-mindedly focusing on arguing with an interlocutor that I am not, that you cannot see how I am different.

            In my opinion if we were truly intellectually humble, we would be skeptical of holy books allegedly inspired by someone's invisible friend, holding the keys to the universe.

            I don't know what you mean by "keys to the universe". I would make rather more mundane claims, such as the Bible taking self-righteousness and hypocrisy much more seriously than any modern science I know of.

          • God Hates Faith

            We are so far from "fully understand[ing] the connection" that "haven't a clue" is a pretty good approximation.

            I could provide research into this area of study, but first I would like to know what "having a clue" would look like to you? For example, do you think we "have a clue" how taste works? Do you think we have a clue for how animals "think"?

            "Therefore, to say that particles and fields are "more real" or "more fundamental" is an exceedingly dubious claim."

            You are arguing against a claim I am not making. I am arguing that we should say "I don't know". But the default assumption SHOULD be "not metaphysical" since that has never been reliably demonstrated (see examples of ocean tides).

            "There are other reasons to be dubious of such claims, and that is that they are self-undermining:"

            I think we shouldn't be 100% confident in any claim. I think its more reasonable to proportion one's confidence to the weight of the evidence. Given that humans did not evolve to be truth detectors, one should not be 100% certain in even the claim that invisible fairies don't make flowers grow. But that doesn't mean we can't be 99% certain. We can also be fairly certain of how the brain works with more research.

            "Are you as severe against that kind of false extrapolation, as against positing—well, whatever you think some people are positing?"

            I am against any closed minded epistemology. Or ones that are not self-correcting. However, supernaturalism/metaphysicalism is a bigger problem currently IMHO.

            "I don't really know what this means."

            It means that if we don't fully understand the connection of (A) and (B) for ocean tides or the origin of the universe, we should not assume that something metaphysical like Poseidon or God is causing it.

            "Merely throwing up your hands and saying "I don't know!" is not always an option—not at least, if you are in a leadership or management position."

            I can act on incomplete information, without pretending to know something I don't. There is no evidence that ocean tides or consciousness has a metaphysical element. That does not prevent us from acting.

            Do you see how this isn't even a response to what I said?

            Rather than accuse me of being single minded, perhaps you could give me the benefit of the doubt and ask whether I understood what you meant. Again, it seems like you are trying to win points rather than have a discussion.

            My response can easily be edited to apply to what you said--I am open to Zeus or Vishnu or Yahweh, or invisible fairies, or anything metaphysical, to POINT OUT those gaps. Making a claim that Allah is pointing out a gap is far different from supporting that claims with a reliable epistemology (not faith).

            I don't know what you mean by "keys to the universe"

            You indicated your god can "point out gaps" in knowledge. (see, I did directly respond). Most theists believe their deity created the universe.

            the Bible taking self-righteousness and hypocrisy much more seriously than any modern science I know of.

            If I want to learn about science, I don't go to the Bible. If I want to learn about psychology or sociology (self-righteousness and hypocrisy), I don't go to a physics text book.

          • I waffled on writing a non-fisking reply, but instead I'll write a preface to one more round. I think we're making some progress, particularly by separating the discussion into:

                 (I) god-of-the-gaps
                (II) God pointing out our gaps

            A key question I have is how to even understand what the term 'reliable epistemology' even means, if in fact we have very large gaps in our understanding of all aspects of reality. Some would deny my use of "all", e.g. Sean Carroll with his Seriously, The Laws Underlying The Physics of Everyday Life Really Are Completely Understood (update with nice visualization). You don't seem to want to go that direction, which is encouraging to me. This leaves the question of how we can be open to radical newness and differentness and correction to what we think is the case.

            My underlying contention will be that the Tanakh and NT are actually aimed at getting us to believe things with proper confidence and be constantly open to being in error, whether moral, factual, or otherwise. But this can't be done magically; one cannot just declare oneself open to correction and thereby be open to correction. I say the Bible offers profound insights into sociological and psychological dangers to … something rather more grand than Deutsch's The Beginning of Infinity. See, it is very easy for society to get "stuck", just as it is easy for individuals to get "stuck". Our seats of the understanding—see Jewish Encyclopedia: heart—can easily ossify and become hardened, so that we are not open to anything different.

            But like any tool which helps pierce façades of hypocrisy and self-righteousness can also be used to build better façades, any tool which helps foster unending growth can be used to thwart such growth. At least, for a time.

            LB: You seem to have lost track of my argument. I'm arguing that right now, there is identifiable and characterizable structure at two very different levels:

                 (A) consciousness, psychology and social action
                 (B) particles and fields

            I'm not saying 'consciousness' is "100% mysterious" or "supernatural". What I am saying is that we haven't a clue as to how to connect (A) and (B). And yet, the ideal of naturalism (maybe just physicalism?), as I understand it, is that there should be perfect lawfulness which connects (A) and (B).

            GHF: I could provide research into this area of study, but first I would like to know what "having a clue" would look like to you? For example, do you think we "have a clue" how taste works? Do you think we have a clue for how animals "think"?

            A nice example is how little we understand how the various pharmaceuticals we are giving the mentally ill do what they do. Yes, we know that SSRIs selectively inhibit the re-uptake of serotonin, but we are quite terrible at understanding how this has the total impact it does on the brain. Things are so bad that plenty of mental illness drugs can actually increase the chance of suicide! "Here, take this: hopefully it'll make you better, but it might end up killing you." The state of the art is so bad that while genetic testing can help guide psychiatrists to choosing medication more likely to work, [apparently] few use it. In acute cases, this can mean the difference between life and death.

            Another example is the epic failure of original aims of the €1,000,000,000 Human Brain project, described at The Big Problem With “Big Science” Ventures—Like the Human Brain Project. They thought they could do even less than connect (A) and (B) and they failed, catastrophically. There is simply so much we don't yet know.

            LB: One thing I'm saying is that there is considerable structure to explore at the level of consciousness, which we do not know how to connect to the level of particles and fields. Therefore, to say that particles and fields are "more real" or "more fundamental" is an exceedingly dubious claim.

            GHF: You are arguing against a claim I am not making. I am arguing that we should say "I don't know".

            In prioritizing an "I don't know" answer instead of being happy to explore plenty of structure at (A) without having a way to connect it to (B) in a way that would satisfy [my model of] a proper naturalist, I think you are presupposing that "particles and fields are "more real" or "more fundamental"". One way to understand those who argue for the existence of 'the spiritual realm' or 'souls' is that they think it should be legitimate to study psychological and social phenomena without (i) knowing how they connect to particles-and-fields; (ii) using only methods that have been proven to work well when studying particles-and-fields.

            I think we shouldn't be 100% confident in any claim.

            And yet that claim is self-undermining. I think what's going on is that humans are learning to ever-more-carefully hide that which they will not permit to be questioned. It is a way of … encrypting the soul, to prevent others from being able to manipulate us. Unfortunately, the result will actually be the disintegration of the self, The Self Under Siege to steal a phrase from Rick Roderick.

            I think its more reasonable to proportion one's confidence to the weight of the evidence.

            What is the evidence to which this statement is proportioned?

            We can also be fairly certain of how the brain works with more research.

            I don't think you've fully played out the social, political, and economic consequences of getting better and better models to current, contingent conditions. You could start at Press & Dyson 2012 Iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma contains strategies that dominate any evolutionary opponent—which is all about having a theory of mind for your opponent when [s]he cannot reciprocate.

            I am against any closed minded epistemology. Or ones that are not self-correcting. However, supernaturalism/​metaphysicalism is a bigger problem currently IMHO.

            Why do you think that is a proper proportioning of belief to the evidence? Chemistry Nobel laureate Ilya Prigogine recounts in The End of Certainty: Time, Chaos, and the New Laws of Nature that he was severely counseled against exploring out-of-thermodynamic-equilibrium systems. The greatest expert in the field of thermodynamics, claims Prigogine, said this to Prigogine: "I am astonished that this young man is so interested in nonequilibrium physics. Irreversible processes are transient. Why not wait and study equilibrium as everyone else does?" (62) Can you properly estimate how much damage / lack of goodness was done to humanity by opposing the study of far out of equilibrium systems for so long?

            It means that if we don't fully understand the connection of (A) and (B) for ocean tides or the origin of the universe, we should not assume that something metaphysical like Poseidon or God is causing it.

            Where have I said or in any way suggested we should assume any such thing? If you're still arguing against a position I haven't advanced then that's fine, but I want to know if you think I've in any way advanced it.

            LB: But I have a mirror criticism of your position: it doesn't seem to allow for God to possibly point out our gaps!

            GHF: I am open to Zeus or Vishnu or Yahweh, or invisible fairies, or anything metaphysical to fill in those gaps. I just see no evidence for them, or reason why any of them provide any explanatory value. Why do invisible fairies make flowers grow? Because that is their nature...

            LB: Do you see how this isn't even a response to what I said? I talked of God pointing out our gaps; you talked of God filling those gaps. It is as if you are so single-mindedly focusing on arguing with an interlocutor that I am not, that you cannot see how I am different.

            GHF: Rather than accuse me of being single minded, perhaps you could give me the benefit of the doubt and ask whether I understood what you meant.

            Given that you continue to speak as if I am plausibly defending god-of-the-gaps—e.g. "… we should not assume that something metaphysical like Poseidon or God is causing it"—I think the accusation of "single-mindedly focusing" constitutes a belief proportioned to the evidence. Once you clarify what you think I myself am and am not arguing wrt god-of-the-gaps, we can resolve this.

            Again, it seems like you are trying to win points rather than have a discussion.

            This is disheartening; you cannot see any other plausible explanation for my behavior? For example, not being wanted to be characterized as making argument I do not at all intend to make?

            My response can easily be edited to apply to what you said--I am open to Zeus or Vishnu or Yahweh, or invisible fairies, or anything metaphysical, to POINT OUT those gaps. Making a claim that Allah is pointing out a gap is far different from supporting that claims with a reliable epistemology (not faith).

            How does a reliable epistemology reliably deal with gaps? How does a reliable epistemology deal with its unreliable aspects? By the way, I may actually agree that "God hates faith"—but that of course depends on how you define at least two of those terms! In the Tanakh, YHWH very much wanted to rationally argue with people, as long as they were willing to face themselves rather than tell fiction after fiction and believe in delusion after delusion.

            You indicated your god can "point out gaps" in knowledge. (see, I did directly respond). Most theists believe their deity created the universe.

            I am glad you are now directly responding. As to the claim that God created the universe—how does that pragmatically differ from e.g. there being a Big Bang which is just a random fluctuation in some metaverse/​multiverse? Well, one way it differs is that agency predicts structure which … 'mechanistic randomness' does not. One would expect to find … 'mind-dependent properties' of reality, things that are just too unlikely on a purely probabilistic beginning. Gregory W. Dawes (an atheist) formalizes the two very different kinds of explanation at play here, in Theism and Explanation. We could dig into that, if you'd like.

            LB: the Bible taking self-righteousness and hypocrisy much more seriously than any modern science I know of.

            GHF: If I want to learn about science, I don't go to the Bible. If I want to learn about psychology or sociology (self-righteousness and hypocrisy), I don't go to a physics text book.

            I said "any modern science I know of", not "a physics text book".

          • God Hates Faith

            "A key question I have is how to even understand what the term 'reliable epistemology' even means, if in fact we have very large gaps in our understanding of all aspects of reality."

            Agreed. I think we could agree that talking to a rock, asking for answers to questions, is not as reliable as the scientific method. We know that prior to the scientific method, we gained limited knowledge about reality (or how we perceive it). We relied on divine or authoritative guidance, rather than being skeptical. At this time human life was nasty, brutish, and short.

            "My underlying contention will be that the Tanakh and NT are actually aimed..."

            When I was Mormon, I used to say the same about the Book of Mormon. Muslims could say the same about the Quran. There are numerous "holy" books that offer similar "profound insights". But if one looks critically at any of those books, one can also see the terrible advice in those books. We see what we want to see (i.e. confirmation bias).

            "A nice example is how little we understand how the various pharmaceuticals..."

            You can continue to point the areas we are still learning. But you are simply confirming your bias that we don't have a clue. Instead you should challenge your belief, and look for all the information we DO KNOW about the brain. Again, if you would like links and research, please let me know. But that would require you to challenge yourself and be open to being wrong.

            "In prioritizing an "I don't know" answer instead of being happy to explore..."

            Why do you assume those are mutually exclusive? Rather than telling me what I am doing, you could ask.

            "And yet that claim is self-undermining."

            No, because that isn't a claim. Its an axiom or approach. But even axioms should be revisited and revised (or abandoned). I am happy to do so, if you can provide a more reliable approach.

            You seem to have 100% confidence in a Bible. But the Bible is riddled with obvious errors.

            "What is the evidence to which this statement is proportioned?"

            That statement does not require evidence. Again that is an axiom or approach to knowledge.

            If you want to know why I choose that axiom, it is because when you believe something with 100% confidence, you are not open to revising your beliefs (which you also stated was wise).

            "I don't think you've fully played out the social, political, and economic consequences of getting better and better models to current, contingent conditions"

            Irrelevant to my point. Unless you can show otherwise.

            "Why do you think that is a proper proportioning of belief to the evidence?"

            That is a great philosophical question I am happy to discuss. But it seems we agree we shouldn't have 100% confidence. Yet it seems you do have that level of confidence in your god, and the Bible.

            "Where have I said or in any way suggested we should assume any such thing?"

            You suggest that consciousness might have some metaphysical property or dualistic property. If that is not what you meant, or don't believe in the metaphysical, then I agree this doesn't apply. (Also, your references to the Bible indicate that you believe in the metaphysical).

            "Once you clarify what you think I myself am and am not arguing wrt god-of-the-gaps, we can resolve this."

            See above regarding consciousness.

            "For example, not being wanted to be characterized as making argument I do not at all intend to make?"

            If that was you aim, your tone and word choice could be softer. And rather than being accusatory, you could say something like "perhaps you misunderstand, what I mean is X".

            "How does a reliable epistemology reliably deal with gaps? How does a reliable epistemology deal with its unreliable aspects?"

            Great questions!
            (1) If there is a gap in knowledge, a reliable epistemology would probably start with the evidence (rather than a conclusion), have a theory that provides explanatory value, be falsifiable, be self-correcting, and compensate for humans natural cognitive biases such as confirmation bias.
            (2) Be self-correcting

            Question for you...How do gods point out gaps? I have read many "holy" books. Most give generic advice, based on the morality at the time. Which is often re-interpreted through a modern lense.

            "Well, one way it differs is that agency predicts structure which … 'mechanistic randomness' does not."

            Agency does not necessarily predict structure. I am an agent. I make many things without intentional structure.
            How do you know that a natural process cannot create structure? Is each snowflake created by an intentional agent?

            "things that are just too unlikely on a purely probabilistic beginning"

            How does one determine probability based on a sample size of one? To use a concept by Douglas Adams, we are a puddle in the ground that assumes the hole we fit in, was made just for us.

            "I said "any modern science I know of", not "a physics text book"."

            Then perhaps you should read more books on psychology and sociology. Rather than relying on a single (collection of) book(s).

            Questions you didn't answer:
            ...first I would like to know what "having a clue" would look like to you? For example, do you think we "have a clue" how taste works? Do you think we have a clue for how animals "think"?

            It seems you prefer to ask questions, rather than answer mine.

          • GHF: It seems like almost all of your arguments are based on semantics.

            LB: … This means I cannot help but investigate the meaning of certain terms …

            GHF: Except you are not investigating, you are declaring.

            LB: Then let's slow things down and have you define a term with my doing no declaring. How about you define 'natural' in a way that is useful to this conversation?

            GHF: Or how about you define "supernatural".

            LB: Sorry, but the underlined is a very serious accusation and I wish to make it false, or have you retract it. Were I to fulfill your requirement that I first define 'supernatural'†, it would only reinforce that accusation.

            GHF: It seems you prefer to ask questions, rather than answer mine.

            (1) I'm not sure the evidence supports your observation; is it worth carefully checking?

            (2) I have to be careful to not engage in "declaring". I'm not sure you realize how much accusation is in your comments, not to mention mischaracterization (probably based on understandable stereotyping—we reason from what we have experienced in the past). I'm not saying mine is free either, although I do try to apologize when I am convinced I have mischaracterized. The less accusation and mischaracterization you include in your comments, the less I will slow things down, dig into semantics, and ask you questions before answering yours.

            The above being said, I will answer at least some of your questions in this comment, before posting my overall reply as a separate comment.

            LB: As to the claim that God created the universe—how does that pragmatically differ from e.g. there being a Big Bang which is just a random fluctuation in some metaverse/​multiverse? Well, one way it differs is that agency predicts structure which … 'mechanistic randomness' does not. One would expect to find … 'mind-dependent properties' of reality, things that are just too unlikely on a purely probabilistic beginning. Gregory W. Dawes (an atheist) formalizes the two very different kinds of explanation at play here, in Theism and Explanation. We could dig into that, if you'd like.

            GHF: How does one determine probability based on a sample size of one? To use a concept by Douglas Adams, we are a puddle in the ground that assumes the hole we fit in, was made just for us.

            Interesting question; I'm unaware of good philosophy on this. I am aware of plenty of science which explores alternative possibilities; the many-worlds interpretation of QM looks at this, as well as the multiverse. The anthropic principle also takes place in this domain. My very primitive sense of this issue is that we humans have this possibly-unique ability to consider alternative futures, presents, and pasts. But it seems that this ability is not one we're born with, at least we're not born with it being developed in any significant way. And there are many ineffective ways to imagine up alternative possibilities, ways which do not allow one to deviate toward more desirable futures, away from the currently-most-probable one.

            I think I would be more interested in a back-and-forth on this topic than saying too much more, myself. One blog post / essay I can offer up for consideration is The Simple Theory of Counterfactuals.

            Finally, remember that I come from a tradition which says that the world was not supposed to be this way (filled with violence and sickness and deprivation and suffering), and that there is a way out—the Way of Jesus. I therefore believe that with constant discipline and testing, we can sufficiently reliably imagine the most probable future and then plot a clinamen, analogous to how a spacecraft on the Interplanetary Superhighway can plot radically different trajectories and then exert, in theory, an infinitesimal thrust to choose the desired trajectory. (I know one of the inventors of this orbital mechanics technique.) We know that an increasing number of humans on Earth want clinamens to be possible; I suspect that we'll need more than an increase in instrumental technology (technology which merely increases our ability to do whatever we happen to want to do) to do so.

            LB: You seem to have lost track of my argument. I'm arguing that right now, there is identifiable and characterizable structure at two very different levels:

                 (A) consciousness, psychology and social action
                 (B) particles and fields

            I'm not saying 'consciousness' is "100% mysterious" or "supernatural". What I am saying is that we haven't a clue as to how to connect (A) and (B).

            GHF: I could provide research into this area of study, but first I would like to know what "having a clue" would look like to you? →

            LB: A nice example is how little we understand how the various pharmaceuticals we are giving the mentally ill do what they do. …

            Another example is the epic failure of original aims of the €1,000,000,000 Human Brain project

            GHF: Questions you didn't answer:
            ...first I would like to know what "having a clue" would look like to you? →

            I believe I gave the beginning of an answer to that first question. Furthermore, you may have forgotten that I'm explicitly talking about connecting (A) and (B). I think we can understand plenty of things without such a connection. More on this with my (I)–(IV), below.

            GHF: ← For example, do you think we "have a clue" how taste works? Do you think we have a clue for how animals "think"?

            I didn't answer these questions, because I was working to answer the previous question directly. I know we understand quite a bit about how taste works, although I have no idea whether it is of the kind that rigorously connects (A) and (B). I'll bet our understanding of taste doesn't invoke the Schrödinger equation directly, but I could be wrong. As to how animals "think", I suspect we understand rather little about that. My biggest reason is that asking questions is a major part of "thinking" and we don't have a single verified case of a non-human animal asking a question: WP: Primate cognition § Asking questions and giving negative answers.

            Instead you should challenge your belief, and look for all the information we DO KNOW about the brain.

            Pray tell me, just how much information is this—how many human-hours would it take me to do what you suggest?

            Again, if you would like links and research, please let me know.

            Yes, please. One of my favorites is on the older side: Grossberg 1999 The Link between Brain Learning, Attention, and Consciousness. That doesn't really connect (A) and (B), but hey, I think we're very far from that.

            LB: One thing I'm saying is that there is considerable structure to explore at the level of consciousness, which we do not know how to connect to the level of particles and fields. Therefore, to say that particles and fields are "more real" or "more fundamental" is an exceedingly dubious claim.

            GHF: You are arguing against a claim I am not making. I am arguing that we should say "I don't know". But the default assumption SHOULD be "not metaphysical" since that has never been reliably demonstrated (see examples of ocean tides).

            LB: In prioritizing an "I don't know" answer instead of being happy to explore plenty of structure at (A) without having a way to connect it to (B) in a way that would satisfy [my model of] a proper naturalist, I think you are presupposing that "particles and fields are "more real" or "more fundamental"".

            GHF: Why do you assume those are mutually exclusive? Rather than telling me what I am doing, you could ask.

            I did try asking, when I asked for your definition of 'natural'. You refused. So I had to guess. Continuing the guessing, I see five general options:

            (I) Claim that everything can be reduced to [something sufficiently close to our current understanding of] particles and fields, and find ways to rationalize this in any given field of study, issuing as many promissory notes as necessary.

            (II) Accept that areas of study can be done 'autonomously' [for quite some time]—with no reference to particles and fields. Allow the possibility that the only way to later connect these to particles and fields is to change our mathematics of particles and fields.

            (III) Claim that everything can be reduced to particles and fields, and say "I don't know" if in an given field of study, there is no known, acceptable way to connect its domain to particles and fields.

            (IV) Insist that what cannot currently be explained by particles and fields can only be explained in terms of something like 'metaphysics' or 'God', which will never be connectible to particles and fields.

            (V) Insist that while particles and fields might explain more and more, there are some things they will never explain.

            I see you as open to (I) and (III), closed to (IV) and (V), and possibly closed to (II). The reason I included "[… our current understanding of]" is that the more you let that change and morph, the more the whole substrate for our conversation becomes vague. So, I would ask you to correct anything in the above which you believe I got wrong, including adding items to the list and correcting what you are open/​closed/​other to.

            Question for you...How do gods point out gaps? I have read many "holy" books. Most give generic advice, based on the morality at the time. Which is often re-interpreted through a modern lense.

            I'll give you an example. Humans have a tendency to think of themselves as wiser and more knowledgeable than in fact they are. The Bible explores this phenomenon in individuals, groups, and across generations, showing the dynamics in many different ways. Someone who thinks [s]he is more wise and/or knowledgeable than [s]he in fact is, has gaps which [s]he has covered over. A good example is King David, who committed adultery and then after failing to cover it up, committed murder. According to mores at the time, kings just got to do this. But the prophet Nathan told him a parable to reveal his guilt/​hypocrisy and what is amazing is that David actually repented! Compared to most politicians of our time, this is quite the outlier. Well, what created the conditions whereby the leader would repent, even though he could easily get away without repenting? Wouldn't it be nice if more of that were to happen in the 21st century West?

            More generally, the Tanakh is explicit about this metaphor of 'gap':

            The people of the land have practiced extortion and committed robbery. They have oppressed the poor and needy, and have extorted from the sojourner without justice. And I sought for a man among them who should build up the wall and stand in the breach before me for the land, that I should not destroy it, but I found none. Therefore I have poured out my indignation upon them. I have consumed them with the fire of my wrath. I have returned their way upon their heads, declares the Lord GOD.” (Ezekiel 22:29–31)

            Here, the prophet is speaking about a gap between law to which the Israelites have assented, and practice of that law. Jesus pointed out such mismatch in Mt 23:1–4. What I don't think we understand is that YHWH's audience thinks they're righteous! They think they're obeying the law! So there's hypocrisy intertwined with self-righteousness going on, which can be exceedingly hard to demonstrate to those being hypocritical and self-righteous. I find that both Left and Right in the US match this to a T, these days. Only a slight modification is required: each will admit that they don't live perfectly up to their ideals, but if only more would listen to them and align with them, then they'd get arbitrarily close to those ideals.

            I'm happy to say more in answer to your question, especially with you providing clarifying questions or some sort of redirection to another kind of answer.

            If that was you aim, your tone and word choice could be softer.

            Do you believe that your tone could in any way be describable as "soft"? This is at least the second time which you have asserted personal superiority over me (that is, whatever the bad thing is that I am doing, you are doing less of it and can therefore instruct me). It would be dangerous of me to take your instruction at face value, if in fact you are not superior at the thing than I am.

          • God Hates Faith

            (2) I have to be careful to not engage in "declaring"

            Honest investigating can include asking question and answering questions. Honest investigating is not trying to constantly shift the burden of proof, and avoiding answer questions. The question you need to ask yourself is simple...am I on a mutual journey for better understanding, or simply trying to prove the other person is wrong?

            "I think I would be more interested in a back-and-forth on this topic than saying too much more, myself. "

            I would be happy to discuss this in more depth. Since the jury is still out on the answer, my default approach would be to look at the evidence and then come up with a theory that best fits the evidence (and see if another theory is a better fit). Declaring the gods or universe creating pixies made the universe, does not offer much explanatory value, IMHO.

            "Finally, remember that I come from a tradition which says that the world was not supposed to be this way... "

            I cannot remember that, because I do no recall you ever declaring that belief. You have indicated some level of belief in the Bible, but have said little about what you believe. If you want to discuss Jesus, I would be happy to discuss whether there is reliable evidence for those metaphysical claims about him.

            "I believe I gave the beginning of an answer to that first question."

            You responded with examples of what we don't know; not what we do know (what "having a clue" would look like to you).

            "My biggest reason is that asking questions is a major part of "thinking" and we don't have a single verified case of a non-human animal asking a question: "

            That is a narrow criteria. There are probably a hundred criteria we could use to determine what is "thinking". One of those hundred could be an animals ability for self-awareness. Focusing on only one seems to be an easy way to confirm your belief, not challenge it. Also, it appears at least one animal has asked a question... https://www.thevintagenews.com/2016/11/27/alex-the-parrot-is-the-only-non-human-to-ask-the-existential-question-what-color-am-i-2/

            "Pray tell me, just how much information is this—how many human-hours would it take me to do what you suggest?"

            That depends on in-depth you want to go. You could read small articles or scientific papers. There are whole fields of study on this topic. Since there is so much information, that you haven't looked at, I am puzzled how you concluded we "don't have a clue".

            "Yes, please"

            Here are couple introductory ones.

            https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/why-we-need-to-study-consciousness/

            https://courses.lumenlearning.com/boundless-psychology/chapter/introduction-to-consciousness/

            "I see you as open to (I) and (III), closed to (IV) and (V), and possibly closed to (II)."

            I am opposed to insisting. That would be assuming our conclusion. We have no tools to reliably test the metaphysical or supernatural. We only have tools to reliably test the non-metaphysical (scientific method).

            Again, I am fine with saying "I don't know" and "I would like to know more". We can describe things like "love" in a physical way or an "emotional" way. I don't there is one "right" way to describe it. But we do know a lot more about love since the scientific method.

            " A good example is King David, who committed adultery and then after failing to cover it up, committed murder..."

            I fail to see how that is a god pointing out a gap. That is simply pointing to a separate moral paradigm than the zeitgeist at the time. (Although adultery and murder were considered wrong by many at the time, who didn't believe in Yahweh, so no special knowledge there). By that standard anytime anyone said X is wrong, even thought X currently acceptable, is "pointing out a gap". In fact, that seems to be a different moral framework. I think its a gap in Catholic theology that they discourage contraception, which leads to unnecessary suffering. Does that mean (1) I pointed out a gap in knowledge; (2) that gap was filled by my god (not me)?

            Was Yahweh pointing out a gap when he said the punishment for being gay was death by stoning

            "Do you believe that your tone could in any way be describable as "soft"?"

            So, two wrongs make a right? I never claimed superiority.

          • Honest investigating is not trying to constantly shift the burden of proof, and avoiding answer questions.

            So when you 3x ignored the following line of critique:

            LB: You attempted to define the more-real ('nature') in terms of the less-real ('super-natural'); surely you can see what a terrible idea that is?

            LB: Why are you trying to define what you think is more real, by what you think is less real?

            LB: You attempted to define the more-real ('nature') in terms of the less-real ('super-natural'); surely you can see what a terrible idea that is?

            —would that qualify as "avoiding answer questions"? Or do you always reserve the right to engage in such avoidance, as long as you can construe what I am doing as "shift the burden of proof"? I am trying to derive your rules via interpreting your words via your behavior—and I am confused.

            The question you need to ask yourself is simple...am I on a mutual journey for better understanding, or simply trying to prove the other person is wrong?

            The fact that you think I "need" to answer this question indicates that you think you know what the answer is and that the answer is "the latter". (Correct me if I'm wrong.) But you're also telling me something about yourself: you have either found no other, better plausible explanations for my behavior, or you have rejected all of them for an unstated reason. Care to help me out, here?

            Since the jury is still out on the answer, my default approach would be to look at the evidence and then come up with a theory that best fits the evidence (and see if another theory is a better fit).

            In that case, your epistemology may well rule out the existence of any infinitely complex being. I explain in my answer to the Phil.SE question Could there ever be evidence for an infinite being?. If your epistemology does work this way, I think it is suspicious on precisely that ground—and apparently, so should you:

            GHF: I am against any closed minded epistemology. Or ones that are not self-correcting. However, supernaturalism/​metaphysicalism is a bigger problem currently IMHO.

            From our discussion to-date, you seem close-minded to the possibility that an intelligent being created our universe. Others are not nearly so close-minded, such as Nick Bostrom with his Simulation Argument, or the scriptwriters of Stargate Universe, who left the show on the cliffhanger of a structure in the universe which seemed to have come from without. It would appear that your epistemology, like steel-reinforced concrete, cannot reach geosynchronous orbit without collapsing in on itself. But perhaps I have misunderstood your epistemology?

            Declaring the gods or universe creating pixies made the universe, does not offer much explanatory value, IMHO.

            Do you believe I have done this, anywhere? If so, I'd like either a precise quote & link, or something where it won't take me forever to find it in the full HTML of this discussion.

            LB: Finally, remember that I come from a tradition which says that the world was not supposed to be this way …

            GHF: I cannot remember that, because I do no recall you ever declaring that belief. You have indicated some level of belief in the Bible, but have said little about what you believe. If you want to discuss Jesus, I would be happy to discuss whether there is reliable evidence for those metaphysical claims about him.

            Interesting; you seem to have made other fairly structured guesses about what you think I believe. Before I continue, why don't you say all that you think you can justifiably say about what I believe, so I can have a sort of clean slate to work from? I'd like to get rid of all the stereotypes you may be applying, drawn from your interactions with other Christians, reading about them, etc.

            LB: You seem to have lost track of my argument. I'm arguing that right now, there is identifiable and characterizable structure at two very different levels:

                 (A) consciousness, psychology and social action
                 (B) particles and fields

            I'm not saying 'consciousness' is "100% mysterious" or "supernatural". What I am saying is that we haven't a clue as to how to connect (A) and (B).

            GHF: You responded with examples of what we don't know; not what we do know (what "having a clue" would look like to you).

            Erm, an example of having "a clue as to how to connect (A) and (B)" would be a successful Human Brain Project according to the original goal of a "bottom up" simulation of the brain. Note that I'm not denying "there is identifiable and characterizable structure at" (A).

            That is a narrow criteria. There are probably a hundred criteria we could use to determine what is "thinking". …

            I'm inclined to discontinue this tangent so that we don't get spread too thinly, but you're welcome to object. If so, then I require you provide a definition of "think" in order for my further participation on the tangent.

            That depends on how in-depth you want to go. You could read small articles or scientific papers. There are whole fields of study on this topic. Since there is so much information, that you haven't looked at, I am puzzled how you concluded we "don't have a clue".

            You seem to be reading what I wrote as "we haven't a clue as to how to connect (A) and (B)" while ignoring "there is identifiable and characterizable structure at two very different levels: [(A) and (B)]". Would you please indicate that you understand the difference between these?

            GHF: Again, if you would like links and research, please let me know.

            LB: Yes, please.

            GHF: Here are couple introductory ones.

            [Scientific American 2019-09-12 Why We Need to Study Consciousness: Science has made outstandingly accurate descriptions of the world but has told us little about our subjective experience of it]

            [lumen Introduction to Consciousness]

            The lede to your first article reinforces "we haven't a clue as to how to connect (A) and (B)"—especially when you note I was slightly exaggerating. Does the second do much "connect (A) and (B)"?

            We have no tools to reliably test the metaphysical or supernatural.

            The metaphysical is what we used to investigate ourselves: "We are the instruments with which we explore reality." The metaphysical includes, but is not limited to, mathematics. Since 'supernatural' does not yet have a good definition in this discussion, I'm not going to talk about it.

            We only have tools to reliably test the non-metaphysical (scientific method).

            That would indicate that we do not have tools to reliably test the tools we used to measure reality. That would be disastrous, for we would be assuming, on "blind faith", that the tools with which we use to measure reality are reliable.

            Again, I am fine with saying "I don't know" and "I would like to know more".

            As am I. I'm just not willing to assume my own self-righteousness or self-correctness or self-reliability unless I absolutely have to (that is, on pain of disintegrating into nothing or making more dangerous assumptions).

            I fail to see how that is a god pointing out a gap. That is simply pointing to a separate moral paradigm than the zeitgeist at the time. (Although adultery and murder were considered wrong by many at the time, who didn't believe in Yahweh, so no special knowledge there).

            From what I've read, kings were considered exempt from such norms.[1] Torah was exceptional in this regard (Deut 17:14–20). But a gap opened up: King David violated Torah. The question was whether Torah would be reinterpreted so as to close that gap, or whether King David would repent and re-align himself with the older interpretation of Torah. The former would induce instability in King David's being, while the latter would restore it. Reliable measurement of reality requires [sufficient] stability in the instrument used to measure it.

            By that standard anytime anyone said X is wrong, even thought X currently acceptable, is "pointing out a gap".

            The gap is between a prior commitment to follow some norm (moral or otherwise) and action which has deviated from that norm. It is the detachment of word from being. That is one kind of gap. Another kind of gap is pretending that present resources can get you where you are trying to go—like pretending that more steel-reinforced concrete is all we need to build a space tether. I suspect epistemologies can fail this way—although there is a question of how someone within such an epistemology could possibly see the failure. Such epistemologies could instead operate as prisons with bars that cannot be tasted, touch, seen, heard, or smelled.

            Was Yahweh pointing out a gap when he said the punishment for being gay was death by stoning

            No.

            GHF: If that was you aim, your tone and word choice could be softer.

            LB: Do you believe that your tone could in any way be describable as "soft"? This is at least the second time which you have asserted personal superiority over me (that is, whatever the bad thing is that I am doing, you are doing less of it and can therefore instruct me).

            GHF: So, two wrongs make a right? I never claimed superiority.

            I was assuming you knew what you were talking about when you said "softer". I was also assuming that you were not calling me to act better than you have managed, yourself. Was I wrong on one or both of these assumptions?

          • God Hates Faith

            I will no longer respond to your comments regarding the definition of "natural" , or our past arguments about such matter, as I have already provided a dictionary definition, and consider the issue moot.

            "In that case, your epistemology may well rule out the existence of any infinitely complex being.I explain in my answer to the Phil.SE question Could there ever be evidence for an infinite being?."

            My epistemology does no such thing. I disagree with your conclusion that an all-knowing and all-powerful being couldn't provide us with unambiguous evidence. One could have strong epistemological confidence that X exists, even if X is not 100% confident that X is an omni-being. Alternatively that omni-being could have given us a "sensus divinitus" which could be its own source of unambiguous evidence. I also note that you provide no alternative epistemology for concluding an omni-being exists.

            From our discussion to-date, you seem close-minded to the possibility that an intelligent being created our universe.

            My epistemology does not preclude that idea. I am happy to entertain the idea. Just like I am happy to entertain the idea that the universe was created by universe creating pirates. I just so no reason to believe in those conclusions when there is no reliable evidence for them.

            "Do you believe I have done this, anywhere?"

            So, you don't believe a deity created the universe? If you don't believe a deity created the universe, feel free to explain your beliefs on the matter.

            "Before I continue, why don't you say all that you think you can justifiably say about what I believe, so I can have a sort of clean slate to work from?"

            I think it would be more productive if you stated your own beliefs.

            "Erm, an example of having "a clue as to how to connect (A) and (B)" would be a successful Human Brain Project"

            So, that is the only criteria? To honestly answer the question, it would be easier to explain where there is a link, than an area where you think there isn't. Feel free to take another shot at answering my question.

            If so, then I require you provide a definition of "think" in order for my further participation on the tangent.

            Unnecessary. You said we don't have a clue. I am asking what having a clue would look like to you. You can explain yourself, or provide examples for something else, like taste or how snowflakes are formed, or anything you want.

            Would you please indicate that you understand the difference between these?

            Rather than me providing more detail on what you mean, how about you provide that detail.

            The lede to your first article reinforces "we haven't a clue as to how to connect (A) and (B)"—especially when you note I was slightly exaggerating.

            Thank you for explaining you were exaggerating. Both articles do show many things about consciousness we have a clue about. Do you agree?

            The metaphysical is what we used to investigate ourselves: "We are the instruments with which we explore reality." The metaphysical includes, but is not limited to, mathematics.

            Interesting!

            (1) Do you believe metaphysics is the only way we can investigate ourselves? (i.e. can the brain do it?)
            (2) What does it mean to "investigate ourselves"?
            (3) What makes metaphysics not susceptible to the same errors of the brain that make humans predictably irrational, such as confirmation bias?
            (4) How is the abstract concept of mathematics, which is simply symbols used to represent something, "what we use to investigate ourselves?"

            That would indicate that we do not have tools to reliably test the tools we used to measure reality. That would be disastrous, for we would be assuming, on "blind faith", that the tools with which we use to measure reality are reliable

            Our subjective experience can be tested against the experience of others. For example, if I drink a tonic and it makes me feel better, but it doesn't work for anyone else, its possible I may have been influenced by the placebo effect (or maybe not, but it would require more research). If there is no perfect tool to test our experience against, then we must be okay with imperfection. This would lead to not having perfect confidence our our beliefs. I am okay with that.

            I'm just not willing to assume my own self-righteousness or self-correctness or self-reliability

            Agreed. That is why our perception of reality must often be checked against the perceived reality of others.

            "The gap is between a prior commitment to follow some norm (moral or otherwise) and action which has deviated from that norm."

            I don't think you fully addressed my counter-example.
            Even if we take you definition of "gap", why do I need a deity to point this out? Fellow humans are perfectly capable of saying "you agreed to X, and you didn't do X". Contract law is built around this. No gods required.

            "Was I wrong on one or both of these assumptions?"

            So, you won't commit to being more civil unless I do? Fine. Agreed.

          • epistemology, instruments, and gap-detection

            LB: In that case, your epistemology may well rule out the existence of any infinitely complex being. I explain in my answer to the Phil.SE question Could there ever be evidence for an infinite being?.

            GHF: My epistemology does no such thing. I disagree with your conclusion that an all-knowing and all-powerful being couldn't provide us with unambiguous evidence.

            Sorry, where did I conclude that? I compared & contrasted two goals:

                 A. What best explains a given sequence of observations?
                 B. Where does a given sequence of observations most likely point?

            My argument was that if you only care to answer A., then a finite explanation will always be the best explanation. If however you wish to answer B., then you will have to engage in extrapolation-work, which could well point the way toward infinite complexity.

            One could have strong epistemological confidence that X exists, even if X is not 100% confident that X is an omni-being.

            I don't know how that would work, especially in the light of the Goa'uld and Ori in Stargate: SG1, Ardra in Star Trek TNG Devil's Due, V (2009 TV series), and "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." (WP: Clarke's three laws)

            Alternatively that omni-being could have given us a "sensus divinitus" which could be its own source of unambiguous evidence. I also note that you provide no alternative epistemology for concluding an omni-being exists.

            If you want to say I need more than the following to constitute an "alternative epistemology"—

            If I am allowed to tweak your question from A → B, then we can talk about two different options for B:

                 I. The next observation will be like previous, and require no increase in Kolmogorov complexity.
                II. The next observation will be different, and require an increase in Kolmogorov complexity.

            If we run into enough II-type observations, I claim we are justified in inferring that our universe is infinite in description, via induction, despite the problem of induction. Furthermore, via Fitch's Paradox, the potential for infinite knowledge requires an extant omniscient being. So either everything that is knowable is already known, which would lock us into an epistemically finite universe, or there is an extant omniscient being, which means that being is infinite. (my Phil.SE answer)

            —then ok, I need to do more. I am but one human being and as far as I know, few are trying to move from A → B. The alternative epistemology would be one of hope, strictly defined as trying to discern better in domains of rationality, value, aesthetics, morality, ethics, etc. Instead of assuming that things will always be the same, one would be on the lookout for how one could move from where we are—respecting the empirical evidence completely—to somewhere better. An example of this would be WP: Quantum non-equilibrium, which holds out the hope for better measurements which tell us more detail about reality.

            By the way, your question of "How does one determine probability based on a sample size of one?" is rather prescient, given that the conversation went where it has. I was bummed that you did not respond to that part of my response.

            LB: From our discussion to-date, you seem close-minded to the possibility that an intelligent being created our universe.

            GHF: My epistemology does not preclude that idea. I am happy to entertain the idea. Just like I am happy to entertain the idea that the universe was created by "universe creating pirates". I just so no reason to believe in those conclusions when there is no reliable evidence for them.

            Analogous to how the laws of physics preclude building a steel-reinforced structure which can reach space tether altitude, I don't see how your epistemology could possibly yield "the universe was created by an intelligence" as the most parsimonious explanation of the extant evidence. That is, I don't see a mechanism in your epistemology which would yield that. But maybe my sight is occluded, like it was when I drove in heavy fog this morning.

            So, you don't believe a deity created the universe?

            I'm not sure how my belief or lack thereof has yet been relevant to the discussion. Remember, I'm doing my best to reason from where you are. You've said enough negative things about where you [seem to] think I am, that starting there seems to promise disaster.

            I think it would be more productive if you stated your own beliefs.

            I do, when they seem relevant. Note that the less I perceive you being on the offensive, [seemingly!] trying to show how I am irrational and/or immoral, the less guarded I will be. This is because cleaning up after misinterpretations can be onerous and I have learned to protect myself from letting too big of a mess being made.

            LB: You seem to be reading what I wrote as "we haven't a clue as to how to connect (A) and (B)" while ignoring "there is identifiable and characterizable structure at two very different levels: [(A) and (B)]". Would you please indicate that you understand the difference between these?

            GHF: Rather than me providing more detail on what you mean, how about you provide that detail.

            In the very next block, you say the following:

            Both articles do show many things about consciousness we have a clue about. Do you agree?

            Can you understand how this is a good example of "there is identifiable and characterizable structure at two very different levels: [(A) and (B)]", and not a good example of "a clue as to how to connect (A) and (B)"? That is, we can understand a lot about consciousness without having any idea of how it connects to particles and fields. This means, for example, that knowledge of the Schrödinger equation isn't [presently] particularly useful in understanding consciousness. I have posited that 'naturalism' is unhappy with this state of affairs, this lack of detailed connection between (A) and (B).

            (1) Do you believe metaphysics is the only way we can investigate ourselves? (i.e. can the brain do it?)
            (2) What does it mean to "investigate ourselves"?
            (3) What makes metaphysics not susceptible to the same errors of the brain that make humans predictably irrational, such as confirmation bias? (i.e. is metaphysical investigation flawed or perfect?)
            (4) How is the abstract concept of mathematics, which is simply symbols used to represent something, "what we use to investigate ourselves?"

            (1) No. (yes if you set 'mind' ≡ 'brain')

            (2) I mean something analogous to determining what a standard scientific instrument can and cannot detect, what distortions it has and the artifacts those will likely induce, how well it can be calibrated, what the tendencies are to drift from that calibration, what its sensitivities are, how it interfaces with other instruments, software that's being used, etc. More inspiration can be found in Eric Schwitzgebel's 2008 paper The Unreliability of Naive Introspection and 2011 book Perplexities of Consciousness (NDPR review). In general though, I think we're pretty bad at investigating ourselves. One of the reasons I hold the Bible in such high esteem is that it calls us to face ourselves (more).

            (3) Nothing. There is no infallibility, anywhere. Some would claim that the Law of Non-Contradiction is an exception (see for example the SN article The Principle of Non-Contradiction’s Incredible Implications), but then the problem becomes how to apply it, e.g. when physicists ran into wave appearing particle-like and wave-like. I might be convinced that they resolved that by respecting the PNC. Beyond the PNC and maybe a few others, I wonder whether there are simply totally other ways to provide the same guarantees as they do—another possible substrate, as it were.

            (4) Mathematics haven't always been just symbols; in fact, what you're calling "abstract concept of mathematics" may have been invented during the Enlightenment. This is the argument Jacob Klein puts forth in Greek Mathematical Thought and the Origin of Algebra, but I've yet to really grok it. Putting that aside, mathematics is most basically the study of patterns, including that which is self-contradictory and that which appears self-contradictory. Distinguishing between those two is very important!

            Our subjective experience can be tested against the experience of others.

            Sure, but we could have systematic errors, so that only helps so much. Furthermore, this is a kind of "lowest common denominator" which may well blind us to aspects of reality that some are better at seeing than others. Let us suppose that string theory / M-theory ends up being empirically testable and helps advance the state of the art in another 10 years, with hundreds of millions of additional funding. Well, what if we're in an era where that needs to be done in other areas as well? We seem to be on track to just declaring that too expensive (and we aren't interested in the hard work it would take to make it less expensive), and thus closing off many possible courses of research which various scientists are suggesting we should do.

            If there is no perfect tool to test our experience against, then we must be okay with imperfection. This would lead to not having perfect confidence our our beliefs. I am okay with that.

            Nothing in what I've said has required perfection, so while I don't disagree with this, I don't see it as pushing back against anything I've said. (Please correct me if you disagree.)

            LB: I'm just not willing to assume my own self-righteousness or self-correctness or self-reliability unless I absolutely have to (that is, on pain of disintegrating into nothing or making more dangerous assumptions).

            GHF: Agreed. That is why our perception of reality must often be checked against the perceived reality of others.

            Then again, sometimes the individual is right even though everyone else disagrees. :-) In my experience and from what I've heard, though, such individuals tend to get an incredible amount grief thrown at them. If we could somehow lessen that …

            LB: The gap is between a prior commitment to follow some norm (moral or otherwise) and action which has deviated from that norm. It is the detachment of word from being.

            GHF: I don't think you fully addressed my counter-example.
            Even if we take your definition of "gap", why do I need a deity to point this out? Fellow humans are perfectly capable of saying "you agreed to X, and you didn't do X". Contract law is built around this. No gods required.

            God is required if all of humans develop a systematic error. God could be a great aid to the individuals I described in the previous block. (If you still think I haven't, please re-raise it. Our conversations are getting complicated enough that without a specific search term, finding the thing can be difficult!)

            So, you won't commit to being more civil unless I do? Fine. Agreed.

            Nope; if you're asking me to do a better job than you are, I need to work much harder: I have to infer what "better" would be and then I have to work hard to no longer do the default of mirroring your behavior back to you. (with all the attendant errors of making mistakes in that mirroring) Too much anxiety about "coming across the right way" saps energy for critical analysis and I try to use my energy wisely.

          • God Hates Faith

            Sorry, where did I conclude that?

            In bold: "That is to say, there seems to be an ineradicable ambiguity in any manifestation of an infinite being's power, precisely for the reason that the very same action could have been performed by a being that was not infinite."

            " If however you wish to answer B., then you will have to engage in extrapolation-work, which could well point the way toward infinite complexity."

            Engaging in B is why humans have invented thousands of gods to explain natural events, like ocean tides, thunder and plagues. Humans are rationalizing animals. Its easy to rationalize towards any unfalsifiable claim. (A) Thunder can be explained by natural process X; (B) But what is the purpose of the thunder and what intentional agent created it>>>Zeus!

            "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

            You are missing my point. Allow me to clarify. Let's say we witness X, which seems like magic or a miracle or advanced technology. We are not sure. Since X could be explained by something other than an all-powerful Hamster, X is not evidence of this all-powerful Hamster. (Whether X was caused by an all-powerful Hamster or a finite sentient being, is a separate question.)

            The alternative epistemology would be one of hope, strictly defined as trying to discern better in domains of rationality, value, aesthetics, morality, ethics, etc.

            Hope is not an epistemology. Hope is a goal for the outcome of the epistemology.

            I was bummed that you did not respond to that part of my response.

            Remind me about that conversation/response.

            I don't see how your epistemology could possibly yield "the universe was created by an intelligence" as the most parsimonious explanation of the extant evidence.

            First, if the data couldn't conclude this, then why would it make any sense to assume that conclusion? We might as well assume that universe creating pirates made the universe, and they live in my garage, but they are immaterial, which is why I can't detect them, etc.

            Second, intelligence could be inferred as a theory, if that explanation best fits the data (presently, alternative theories better fit the data; or fit the data equally well). Again, my epistemology doesn't look for absolute certainty (confidence).

            That is, we can understand a lot about consciousness without having any idea of how it connects to particles and fields.

            Again, this seems like a moving target or an impossible target. For example, lets say we learn more and more about consciousness. It will be easy to continue claiming that A and B haven't been met based on shifting, or narrow criteria.

            This is why I asked you what it would mean to you, to "have a clue". So, let's take something non-controversial like disease (or take your pick of another example). At what point did we "have a clue" how A and B connected for disease?

            (2) "I mean something analogous to determining what a standard scientific instrument can and cannot detect..."

            In theory, the scientific process (but not every instrument) is self-correcting. So, we should continually challenge and what we think we know, and how we got there.

            All of your examples seems like a task the brain does. So, I am not sure why you add the term "metaphysical" to it.

            There is no infallibility, anywhere.

            Then how does metaphysical investigation answer my previous question about what is a reliable process?

            Putting that aside, mathematics is most basically the study of patterns, including that which is self-contradictory and that which appears self-contradictory.

            As is (modal) logic. These are human made tools. Not sure why the term "metaphysical" needs to be added to them.

            Sure, but we could have systematic errors, so that only helps so much.

            Of course. But I don't claim its a perfect process. Only a reliable one. Since our aim isn't 100% confidence, this is not a problem.

            " (Please correct me if you disagree.)"

            My understanding of this conversation is that we are discussing what a reliable epistemology would look like. You presented metaphysical investigation as the only alternative so far (that I can see).

            God is required if all of humans develop a systematic error.

            First, do gods speak for themselves or through humans?

            Second, why not develop an AI to do the same? (Of course this runs into the problem of why we trust the AI, but I have the same problems with trusting someone's invisible friend telling me what I ought to do).

            Third, you need to demonstrate that a gap exists, if all humans think it is not a gap.

          • In bold: "That is to say, there seems to be an ineradicable ambiguity in any manifestation of an infinite being's power, precisely for the reason that the very same action could have been performed by a being that was not infinite."

            Whoops, I'm not the author of the Phil.SE question Could there ever be evidence for an infinite being?; I am merely the author of my answer.

            What if we wish, instead, to predict the next observation? This is a subtle shift, from:

                 A. What best explains a given sequence of observations?
                 ↓
                 B. Where does a given sequence of observations most likely point?
            (Luke Breuer's Phil.SE answer)

            LB: My argument was that if you only care to answer A., then a finite explanation will always be the best explanation. If however you wish to answer B., then you will have to engage in extrapolation-work, which could well point the way toward infinite complexity.

            GHF: Engaging in B is why humans have invented thousands of gods to explain natural events, like ocean tides, thunder and plagues. Humans are rationalizing animals. Its easy to rationalize towards any unfalsifiable claim. (A) Thunder can be explained by natural process X; (B) But what is the purpose of the thunder and what intentional agent created it>>>Zeus!

            Erm, are you saying anything other than "There are hazards to B.-type extrapolation!"? John Calvin knew this back in 1536 and expressed it in talking about "seed of religion". Surely you aren't saying that instead of becoming more disciplined, we should just not engage in B.-type extrapolation? By the way, any time we derive ought from something other than/in addition to is, we are engaged in B.-type extrapolation. My "A new approach to 'supernatural'?" gets at this very directly, by contrasting 'natural' and 'moral'. There, 'super-natural' would be "better than natural", which is just "better than is".

            Let's say we witness X, which seems like magic or a miracle or advanced technology. We are not sure. Since X could be explained by something other than an all-powerful Hamster, X is not evidence of this all-powerful Hamster. (Whether X was caused by an all-powerful Hamster or a finite sentient being, is a separate question.)

            Do you recognize this as considering whether or not there exists an "impenetrable barrier"? If you don't I would like to try to explain, because I want to advance the argument that impenetrable barriers are, in general, nefarious devices used to control and dominate. Having established that, I would then advance the argument that the Bible is particularly well-suited to helping one identify and destroy impenetrable barriers.

            My other response is the following: if God is perfectly rational, could God possibly "show up" to us, or would it just look like us probing the laws of nature? A dual question arises: if we become perfectly rational, do we cease to have any [detectable] agency whatsoever? I question anyone who makes personhood or agency dependent on irrationality or even arationality.

            LB: The alternative epistemology would be one of hope, strictly defined as trying to discern better in domains of rationality, value, aesthetics, morality, ethics, etc.

            GHF: Hope is not an epistemology. Hope is a goal for the outcome of the epistemology.

            I'm not convinced this is anything but semantic quibbling. Your own tying of knowledge to 'reliability' can easily be seen as goal-driven, even goal-defined / goal-predicated. After all, 'reliability' only makes sense in reference to some will.

            Remind me about that conversation/response.

            Second block, starting "Interesting question; I'm unaware of good philosophy on this."

            LB: From our discussion to-date, you seem close-minded to the possibility that an intelligent being created our universe.

            GHF: My epistemology does not preclude that idea. I am happy to entertain the idea. Just like I am happy to entertain the idea that the universe was created by "universe creating pirates". I just so no reason to believe in those conclusions when there is no reliable evidence for them.

            LB: Analogous to how the laws of physics preclude building a steel-reinforced structure which can reach space tether altitude, I don't see how your epistemology could possibly yield "the universe was created by an intelligence" as the most parsimonious explanation of the extant evidence.

            GHF: First, if the data couldn't conclude this, then why would it make any sense to assume that conclusion? …

            Second, intelligence could be inferred as a theory, if that explanation best fits the data (presently, alternative theories better fit the data; or fit the data equally well).

            I'm not talking about any given set of data not justifying you concluding this. I'm talking about any possible set of data not justifying you concluding this. Like geosynchronous altitude is not reachable via steel-reinforced concrete, I suspect that "an intelligent being created our universe" is not reachable by your epistemology—in principle.

            You claim that "an intelligent being created our universe" could [possibly] be inferred as the best [available] explanation, but I see no demonstration of this claim. I claim it is a[n unwitting] bluff and am calling that bluff.

            LB: That is, we can understand a lot about consciousness without having any idea of how it connects to particles and fields.

            GHF: Again, this seems like a moving target or an impossible target. For example, lets say we learn more and more about consciousness. It will be easy to continue claiming that A and B haven't been met based on shifting, or narrow criteria.

            This is why I asked you what it would mean to you, to "have a clue". So, let's take something non-controversial like disease (or take your pick of another example). At what point did we "have a clue" how A and B connected for disease?

            When it comes to the germ theory of disease, we discovered that one can model water as 'contaminated' and if one does so, that helps one figure out how people got the disease and how to prevent further infection. There are some famous studies of this around cholera epidemics. I'm not sure if this is the kind of thing you're going after. Another example would be the development of statistical mechanics after thermodynamics was failure mature: a 'superstrate' was found to relate to a substrate. The general idea here is one of emergence, where we find that a new kind of behavior can take place on top of some lower-level substrate, and we can be rather precise about the relationship between the behavior and the substrate. A wonderful example of this would be the von Klitzing effect, now called the [integer] quantum Hall effect. That discovery had momentous impact on Physics Nobel laureate Robert Laughlin, which you can read about in his A Different Universe: Reinventing Physics from the Bottom Down.

            Perhaps you can now understand the failure to connect (A) & (B) with the Human Brain project:

            The HBP’s main approach to brain simulation was “bottom up,” meaning researchers would start with as much detailed data as possible, plug it all into a computer, and then observe what emerges out of the simulation. The idea was that scientists from all over the world would book time on the simulated brain to run virtual experiments. HBP co-director Henry Markram made sweeping claims, saying that scientists would be able to run “computer-based drug trials” to shed light on possible treatments for psychiatric and neurological disease. (The Big Problem With “Big Science” Ventures—Like the Human Brain Project)

            This represents a way of thinking whereby "all the real action" occurs "at the most fundamental level", which definitely means "the foundational level". Not only is it almost certainly computationally intractable (fun tangent article), but it is metaphysically dubious: reality is not guaranteed to work like that! More insidiously, to locate the most certainty/​confidence at a level other than consciousness is fundamentally self-refuting. If I use confidence in my sense-perceptions to come up with a theory which says my sense-perceptions are untrustworthy, then the theory has to be wrong on pain of … genealogical self-contradiction. (It could never get off the ground if it were correct.)

            In theory, the scientific process (but not every instrument) is self-correcting.

            In theory, theory works in practice. In practice, theory does not always work. Also, "the scientific process" is woefully under-defined. For example, I had an extended discussion about how much we should focus on hypothesis-justification vs. hypothesis-generation at this blog post. My interlocutors thought that hypothesis-generation will tend to itself; I disagree in the strongest possible terms. We could become the equivalent of McEars with respect to the kinds of hypotheses we generate. That would definitely benefit the powers that be, as true innovation tends to threaten power structures.

            GHF: We have no tools to reliably test the metaphysical or supernatural. We only have tools to reliably test the non-metaphysical (scientific method).

            LB: The metaphysical is what we used to investigate ourselves: "We are the instruments with which we explore reality." The metaphysical includes, but is not limited to, mathematics.

            GHF: (3) What makes metaphysics not susceptible to the same errors of the brain that make humans predictably irrational, such as confirmation bias? (i.e. is metaphysical investigation flawed or perfect?)

            LB: (3) Nothing. There is no infallibility, anywhere. Some would claim that the Law of Non-Contradiction is an exception

            GHF: Then how does metaphysical investigation answer my previous question about what is a reliable process?

            You keep saying that reliability does not require infallibility; has that changed or does it not apply, here?

            These are human made tools. Not sure why the term "metaphysical" needs to be added to them.

            In matters of justification, the metaphysical comes before empirical evidence: meta-physical. "Meta (from the Greek meta- μετά- meaning "after" or "beyond") is a prefix used in English to indicate a concept that is an abstraction behind another concept, used to complete or add to the latter." (WP: Meta) When it comes to historical investigation, the metaphysical comes after some exploration. You use the instrument first a bit, before reflecting on what it can do.

            GHF: Our subjective experience can be tested against the experience of others.

            LB: Sure, but we could have systematic errors, so that only helps so much.

            GHF: Of course. But I don't claim its a perfect process. Only a reliable one.

            The process of reasoning leading up to World War I was not, I would argue, 'reliable' in all respects. Indeed, it was blind to the plausibility of a giant catastrophe—aside from one or two people who were largely ignored. We're facing the same prospect with regard to [catastrophic?] global climate change. The possibility of systemic error which cannot be recovered from without help from outside is real. The question [in my mind] is: can we get outside of our groupthink?

            My understanding of this conversation is that we are discussing what a reliable epistemology would look like.

            I asked in particular how a 'reliable epistemology' would be able to detect where it is not-so-reliable. Presupposing one's own reliability would seem to be pretty bad if one wants to see where one's reliability tapers off …

            First, do gods speak for themselves or through humans?

            Second, why not develop an AI to do the same? …

            Third, you need to demonstrate that a gap exists, if all humans think it is not a gap.

            (1) Ostensibly: yes.

            (2) Because AI will almost certainly be like us. This I believe is the intuition behind those who are very afraid of strong AI. Humans, by and large, seek to dominate each other. Well, if the AI learn from this …

            (3) I am currently testing to see if you could possibly assent to a gap existing. So far, it is not promising.

          • God Hates Faith

            Whoops, I'm not the author of the Phil.SE question Could there ever be evidence for an infinite being?; I am merely the author of my answer.

            Helps to be specific ; )

            Erm, are you saying anything other than "There are hazards to B.-type extrapolation!"?

            I think any time you are connecting (A) and (B) and ask "why" rather than "how", it is a hazard. So, it really depends on your approach.

            By the way, any time we derive ought from something other than/in addition to is, we are engaged in B.-type extrapolation.

            I am not sure I agree. To understand moral (ought) feelings, and how we have them, connecting them to (B) is helpful. But as I already indicated, I am not sure that same epistemology is helpful in deciding the "ought".

            Do you recognize this as considering whether or not there exists an "impenetrable barrier"?

            As I stated elsewhere, I see that as a moot issue when trying to connect (A) and (B).

            I would then advance the argument that the Bible is particularly well-suited to helping one identify and destroy impenetrable barriers.

            Feel free to do so. Also, do you consider other "holy books" similarly? Or do you hold a special place for The Bible?

            if God is perfectly rational, could God possibly "show up" to us, or would it just look like us probing the laws of nature?

            As an intellectual exercise, I think its POSSIBLE. But that doesn't mean its likely. I think that Zeus (or any other deity) appearing as the laws of nature, is indistinguishable from Zeus not existing.

            OOPS! Hit enter too early. I will respond to the rest in a separate reply.

          • LB: I'm arguing that right now, there is identifiable and characterizable structure at two very different levels:

                 (A) consciousness, psychology and social action
                 (B) particles and fields

            I'm not saying 'consciousness' is "100% mysterious" or "supernatural". What I am saying is that we haven't a clue as to how to connect (A) and (B).

            What if we wish, instead, to predict the next observation? This is a subtle shift, from:

                 A. What best explains a given sequence of observations?
                 ↓
                 B. Where does a given sequence of observations most likely point?
            (Luke Breuer's Phil.SE answer)

            GHF: Engaging in B is why humans have invented thousands of gods to explain natural events, like ocean tides, thunder and plagues. Humans are rationalizing animals. Its easy to rationalize towards any unfalsifiable claim. (A) Thunder can be explained by natural process X; (B) But what is the purpose of the thunder and what intentional agent created it>>>Zeus!

            LB: Erm, are you saying anything other than "There are hazards to B.-type extrapolation!"?

            GHF: I think any time you are connecting (A) and (B) and ask "why" rather than "how", it is a hazard. So, it really depends on your approach.

            Have you skipped over A. → B. in favor of discussing (A) ↔ (B)? I know it's a bit obnoxious that both use uppercase letters. I do think A. → B. moves can aid in connecting (A) and (B); I'm not sure you do, given your "Engaging in B …" paragraph.

            One way to construct a 'why' that isn't just a 'how' is to consider iterated A. → B., whereby the Kolmogorov complexity of the growing sequence of observations keeps increasing. The 'why' would be a path through various different 'hows'. There are multiple different ways to think through this; if one chooses a heuristic other than minimizing Kolmogorov complexity, one might somehow get it right from the beginning. But let's try not to talk about all possibilities simultaneously; that can easily be a tar pit.

            GHF: Let's say we witness X, which seems like magic or a miracle or advanced technology. We are not sure. Since X could be explained by something other than an all-powerful Hamster, X is not evidence of this all-powerful Hamster. (Whether X was caused by an all-powerful Hamster or a finite sentient being, is a separate question.)

            LB: Do you recognize this as considering whether or not there exists an "impenetrable barrier"? →

            GHF: As I stated elsewhere, I see that as a moot issue when trying to connect (A) and (B).

            Are you referring to this comment? If not, I don't know how to easily find this "stated elsewhere". I see this as very much considering how to safely extrapolate A. → B. I'm a little less certain about dealing with (A) ↔ (B) — that seems like it's rather more difficult than extrapolating A. → B.

            LB: ← If you don't I would like to try to explain, because I want to advance the argument that impenetrable barriers are, in general, nefarious devices used to control and dominate. Having established that, I would then advance the argument that the Bible is particularly well-suited to helping one identify and destroy impenetrable barriers.

            GHF: Feel free to do so. Also, do you consider other "holy books" similarly? Or do you hold a special place for The Bible?

            Sorry, but your "I see that as a moot issue" has me confused and that is a prerequisite for the underlined, which is what you quoted. I have not considered all human writing similarly (there is too much), nor all "holy books" similarly (there is still too much). But I invite other people from other traditions of thought (religious or not) to compare & contrast both theory and empirical results.

            LB: My other response is the following: if God is perfectly rational, could God possibly "show up" to us, or would it just look like us probing the laws of nature?

            GHF: As an intellectual exercise, I think its POSSIBLE.

            Would you indicate how you think it might be possible? Remember the discussion above, containing "Let's say we witness X". I myself have no idea how your epistemology could ever consider "God" as the most probable explanation of any X or sequence of Xs.

          • God Hates Faith

            Have you skipped over A. → B. in favor of discussing (A) ↔ (B)?

            I think I mixed up (A) and (B) from your original statement. Then I went back to your original example. Sorry for the confusion. So, my example of A → B is: "(A) Thunder can be explained by natural process X; (B) But what is the purpose of the thunder and what intentional agent created it>>>Zeus!"

            In that context, (B) should be "how", not "why".

            The 'why' would be a path through various different 'hows'. There are multiple different ways to think through this

            Could you explain this more?

            Are you referring to this comment?

            Yes.

            I see this as very much considering how to safely extrapolate A. → B

            If there is a barrier, then wouldn't there be a barrier between understanding A → B?

            I have not considered all human writing similarly (there is too much), nor all "holy books" similarly (there is still too much).

            Why not? It seems you read a lot. Have you not tested other texts to see if they can achieve "similar results"? Also, how do you protect yourself against confirmation bias, concerning the special status you seem to place on the Bible?

            Would you indicate how you think it might be possible?

            I am not sure how one would conclude that. It seems that would have to assume that as an axiom/presupposition.

            Also, I would also appreciate if you expressed your thoughts about the example which shows how a good epistemology should also avoid false positives.

            GHF: "I think that Zeus (or any other deity) appearing as the laws of nature, is indistinguishable from Zeus not existing."

          • So, my example of A → B is: "(A) Thunder can be explained by natural process X; (B) But what is the purpose of the thunder and what intentional agent created it>>>Zeus!"

            You seem to have introduced 'purpose' rather suddenly into the conversation; have you yourself seen it as very present with (A) ↔ (B) and/or A. → B.? Or perhaps you associate the term 'supernatural' itself with 'purpose'?

            LB: The 'why' would be a path through various different 'hows'. There are multiple different ways to think through this …

            GHF: Could you explain this more?

            Suppose you have a sequence of observations and after each observation, you look for the minimum Kolmogorov complexity model. Suppose that every so often, the minimum jumps, so that you're regularly pushed to a more complex model. Is it possible to look at the sequence of deltas, from one model to the next, and characterize that delta-sequence in any interesting way? This can happen at higher meta-levels as well. I wonder if via thinking this way, one could arise at something like 'purpose' which provides explanatory power for what's going on. To say too much more, I'd probably have to re-read Gregory W. Dawes' Theism and Explanation, in which he compares & contrasts explanations which refer to lawfulness and explanations which refer to optimal pursuit of purpose. My intuition tells me there is possibly a connection to be made here, but it is still very intuitive.

            GHF: Let's say we witness X, which seems like magic or a miracle or advanced technology. We are not sure. Since X could be explained by something other than an all-powerful Hamster, X is not evidence of this all-powerful Hamster. (Whether X was caused by an all-powerful Hamster or a finite sentient being, is a separate question.)

            I'm going to represent this according to my impenetrable barrier schema despite your objections, because it matches:

                all-powerful Hamster
                ---------------------   ← impenetrable barrier
                finite sentient being

            What you said previously was to simply behead the schema:

            GHF: I am not sure it is useful to assume whether this barrier exists or not. If we assume the barrier exists, then we don't have to worry about learning too much about nature, because it can only go so far. If we assume the barrier doesn't exist, then we don't have to worry about learning too much about nature.

            What you've missed is that perhaps we have the following problem:

                  true description of X
                -------------------------   ← impenetrable barrier
                insufficient epistemology

            Such an epistemology is not 'reliable' when it comes to X. But that doesn't mean that we should think of X according to "absurd examples". Maybe our epistemology has F = GmM/r² and we need the Einstein field equations. On the other hand, you yourself just linked the LiveScience article Why Can't Science Explain Consciousness?, in which it was suggested that consciousness is a fundamental aspect of reality, and thus is not a product of sophisticated matter–energy interactions. As you may know, panpsychism is seen by plenty of scientists as absurd—as absurd as you think the 'supernatural' is, which is what started this whole discussion!

            If there is a barrier, then wouldn't there be a barrier between understanding A → B?

            There are many kinds of barriers. Some of them are only impenetrable when our epistemology is sufficiently screwed up. Others are impenetrable because of how the thing on top is conceptualized. (While I don't see how YHWH or Jesus are incoherent or otherwise epistemologically inaccessible, I could probably imagine gods which are.) Every time I include an impenetrable barrier, I mean for people to try to break that claim, e.g. by:

                 () questioning the thing on top
                 (-) questioning whether the barrier is impenetrable
                 () questioning the thing on bottom

            To address whether there is an impenetrable barrier when it comes to A. minimizing Kolmogorov complexity → B. predicting a new observation which will increase the minimal Kolmogorov complexity (reference), I don't think it needs to be impenetrable. In a key sense, this A. → B. is the same kind of thinking you have to engage in if you want isought. Peeling away from reality means peeling away from the most likely future trajectory. That is highly nontrivial. Recall my excerpt containing "revolt is conditioned by the presence or absence of the possibility of moral choice". Perhaps a refusal to change oneself would present an impenetrable barrier to successful revolt.

            LB: I have not considered all human writing similarly (there is too much), nor all "holy books" similarly (there is still too much). But I invite other people from other traditions of thought (religious or not) to compare & contrast both theory and empirical results.

            GHF: Why not? It seems you read a lot. Have you not tested other texts to see if they can achieve "similar results"? Also, how do you protect yourself against confirmation bias, concerning the special status you seem to place on the Bible?

            For the same reason that although there are many scientific paradigms for psychology (see the the table of contents of Luciano L'Abate's 2011 Paradigms in Theory Construction), if you don't choose one or maybe two, you probably won't be able to really put it through its paces and see its capabilities and deficits. What's wrong with different people specializing and then comparing & contrasting theory and empirical results? Isn't that how science works?

            To the extent that any human can truly protect himself/​herself from confirmation bias, I expose my ideas and analyses of empirical evidence to others for extensive critique. I let others grind my face against reality. I think I'm better for it. Many people hang out in places where most are like them and won't challenge them overmuch. I do the opposite, partly because I know about groupthink.

            LB: My other response is the following: if God is perfectly rational, could God possibly "show up" to us, or would it just look like us probing the laws of nature?

            GHF: As an intellectual exercise, I think its POSSIBLE.

            LB: Would you indicate how you think it might be possible?

            GHF: I am not sure how one would conclude that. It seems that would have to assume that as an axiom/​presupposition.

            You might be right on the axiom/​presupposition; I've thought about this matter for quite some time and there are some attractions to that. However, that's a bit too close to presuppositional apologetics and I have some issues with them. In a key way, presuppositional apologetics is the quintessential impenetrable barrier. The only way I see to fixing that problem is to consider scientific innovations like the Schrödinger equation, which apparently kinda-sorta popped into Schrödinger's head. (If we don't like that example, we can talk about discovering the structure of benzene.) This would result in a sort of dance between the a priori and a posteriori, which I find much more acceptable.

            On the other hand, I don't see why you would need axioms or presuppositions to know when your epistemology cannot account for some phenomenon which confronts you. For example, when others say incredibly insightful things, I can generally judge how likely I would have been to say such a thing. It ranges from "almost certainly" to "absolutely not". Well, when it's the latter, I know I am definitely not in a solipsist dream. Can I distinguish between whether the Other is YHWH or Loki? I think the answer is "yes", and that Deut 12:32–13:5 + The Oven of Akhnai provide hints.

            Also, I would also appreciate if you expressed your thoughts about the example which shows how a good epistemology should also avoid false positives.

            GHF: I think that Zeus (or any other deity) appearing as the laws of nature, is indistinguishable from Zeus not existing.

            I don't understand how that is a helpful way to think of false positives. If someone simply sets 'Zeus' ≡ "the laws of nature", then that's just a semantic choice. I myself think it is better to talk about e.g. whether and which aliens in V (2009 TV series) should be trusted by the various human groups. Or we could talk about Ardra in the Star Trek TNG episode Devil's Due. "Is this obviously more powerful being trustworthy?" That seems to be the question—unless you disagree?

            LB: I myself have no idea how your epistemology could ever consider "God" as the most probable explanation of any X or sequence of Xs.

            GHF: That depends on how you define this "god" or Zeus. If this god/Zeus does not interact with our perception of reality or one that does so in a way that we can't detect, then it would be extremely difficult. It would likely have to be the most probable explanation of the evidence.

            But when would god/Zeus "be the most probable explanation of the evidence"? I myself cannot imagine any scenario where that is the case. Indeed, such denial seems to come directly from what you said earlier:

            GHF: Let's say we witness X, which seems like magic or a miracle or advanced technology. We are not sure. Since X could be explained by something other than an all-powerful Hamster, X is not evidence of this all-powerful Hamster. (Whether X was caused by an all-powerful Hamster or a finite sentient being, is a separate question.)

            You basically said that "all-powerful Hamster" would never "be the most probable explanation of the evidence". But that would seem to translate to god/Zeus.

          • God Hates Faith

            You seem to have introduced 'purpose' rather suddenly into the conversation

            Did you not suggest as much, with your theory of an "impenetrable barrier"? If we want to get from (A) plagues exists, to (B) how do plagues work, that is fine. But it seems asserting a barrier to B, or purpose behind B, is a god-of-the-gaps type explanation.

            My intuition tells me there is possibly a connection to be made here, but it is still very intuitive.

            It seems like a puddle trying to rationalize why the hole in the ground was made just for it. I think its good to try to falsify this intuition. Humans like to assume agency for stuff it doesn't understand. When there is a rustling of leaves, it was safer for our ancestors to assume it was an intentional agent like a predator, rather than something natural.

            all-powerful Hamster
            --------------------- ← impenetrable barrier
            finite sentient being

            If we assume this Hamster exists, it does not necessarily follow that this Hamster created an impenetrable barrier (since this omnipotent Hamster obviously would have the power to let us understand it).

            What you've missed is that perhaps we have the following problem:

            true description of X
            ------------------------- ← impenetrable barrier
            insufficient epistemology

            I fully understand the problem you present. There are ontological and epistemological issues. I see additional problems you don't seem to acknowledge. Such as (1) is there such as thing as "true description of X"; (2) do some epistemologies provide a more useful description of X; (3) are some claims of X unfalsifiable; (4) should we assume X exists?

            If X is a "snowflake" or "love" then a "true description" depends on one's perspective, not some ontological objectivity.

            If X is the all-powerful Hamster, then it doesn't matter how we think about an impenetrable barrier, since we haven't even established that this Hamster exists.

            I mean for people to try to break that claim, e.g. by:

            (↑) questioning the thing on top
            (-) questioning whether the barrier is impenetrable
            (↓) questioning the thing on bottom

            Excellent. I did just that (above).

            Perhaps a refusal to change oneself would present an impenetrable barrier to successful revolt.

            It seems you are defining this barrier in terms of the subjective, not as an objective thing. If so, then I could think of a better term that gets across the same point.

            What's wrong with different people specializing and then comparing & contrasting theory and empirical results? Isn't that how science works?

            Some people choose to spend their lives studying astrology, or whether Elvis is still alive, or crystal healing, or Bigfoot. To each their own. I don't think a scientist who specializes in biology doesn't also understand literature, or politics, or has other hobbies and interests. I don't think studying comparative religion is mutually exclusive with studying a particular religion.

            On the other hand, I don't see why you would need axioms or presuppositions to know when your epistemology cannot account for some phenomenon which confronts you.

            An all-powerful Zeus would certainly be able to make us understand him to leave no doubt, if he chose to.

            Again, there is no discernible difference between a Zeus which does not exist, and Zeus which appears as nature.

            Can I distinguish between whether the Other is YHWH or Loki? I think the answer is "yes", and that Deut 12:32–13:5

            Lots of problems with those verses. (1) Coercive; and (2) problems of unfalsifiabilty.

            I don't understand how that is a helpful way to think of false positives.

            The Zeus example was not given in the context of a false positive. It was in response to your comment...

            LB: if God is perfectly rational, could God possibly "show up" to us, or would it just look like us probing the laws of nature?

            Or we could talk about Ardra in the Star Trek TNG episode Devil's Due. "Is this obviously more powerful being trustworthy?

            I love TNG!!! I am always happy to discuss TNG regardless of its relevance ; )

            You basically said that "all-powerful Hamster" would never "be the most probable explanation of the evidence". But that would seem to translate to god/Zeus.

            Again, the would be no direct evidence of this Hamster/god/Zeus. It would be indirect evidence as the best (most probable) explanation. But that really depends on how we define this deity. (Plus I am not aware of any examples where this conclusion follows, I am only arguing it is possible in theory).

          • impenetrable barriers and distinguishing beings

            GHF: Let's say we witness X, which seems like magic or a miracle or advanced technology. We are not sure. Since X could be explained by something other than an all-powerful Hamster, X is not evidence of this all-powerful Hamster. (Whether X was caused by an all-powerful Hamster or a finite sentient being, is a separate question.)

            LB: I'm going to represent this according to my impenetrable barrier schema despite your objections, because it matches:

                all-powerful Hamster
                ---------------------   ← impenetrable barrier
                finite sentient being

            GHF: If we assume this Hamster exists, it does not necessarily follow that this Hamster created an impenetrable barrier (since this omnipotent Hamster obviously would have the power to let us understand it).

            The underlined is what creates the impenetrable barrier. Contrast that to the ability to discern between:

                 (1) Luke-style thinking
                 (2) GHF-style thinking

            Neither Luke nor GHF is 'supernatural', but they are nevertheless different beings who operate according to different rules, for lack of a better term. My personal belief is that cross-pollination of thinking is far superior than either of us forcing ourselves on the other, and superior to us simply going our own ways. I'll add another:

                 (3) science-style thinking

            This is a very special kind of thinking which is 100% third-perspective and probably has only primary qualities (primary/​secondary quality distinction). Colin McGinn presents a systematic study of this kind of thinking in The Subjective View: Secondary Qualities and Indexical Thoughts. When engaged in this thinking, there is no "I"—something Goff acknowledges in his LiveScience article Why Can't Science Explain Consciousness?. (Good find!) There is no self, no agency, no personhood. And the world is in a key sense timeless: the [ultimate] equations are presupposed to be fixed and eternal. (Lee Smolin would disagree—Time Reborn.) But I say there is yet another kind of thinking:

                 (4) YHWH-style thinking

            The key here is not omnipotence; that is actually a huge distraction. Instead, the key is personhood which is nevertheless not capricious. You and I are engaged in a discussion of whether YHWH is 'unchanging' (as well as the more abstract 'God' is 'unchanging'); I think that's a fascinating conversation and I hope it continues. The key question is whether a person can be 100% trustworthy, forever. If you look at pretty much any human, the answer is "no", and so we turn to (3) and the kind of trustworthiness which can be obtained there. But I think this is problematic, especially if there is "always another substructure", as e.g. Laughlin suggests in A Different Universe.

            The dominant move I see in the kind of thinking that dominates discussions like the one we're having, from the atheistic perspective, is the attempt to say that everything is really just (3). In a key way, persons are quasi-stable vortices and not really "real". You seem somewhat exceptional to this, insisting on a stronger (2) and just perhaps, a stronger (1). I believe that the straightening out, the stabilizing of me, requires a more stable being which is personal, not impersonal/​scientific. Without (4), there is no standard of stability other than either other people, or (3). As best I can see, this is basic logic. Can you detect an error?

            LB: What you've missed is that perhaps we have the following problem:

                  true description of X
                -------------------------   ← impenetrable barrier
                insufficient epistemology

            GHF: I fully understand the problem you present. There are ontological and epistemological issues. I see additional problems you don't seem to acknowledge. Such as (1) is there such as thing as "true description of X"; (2) do some epistemologies provide a more useful description of X; (3) are some claims of X unfalsifiable; (4) should we assume X exists?

            If X is a "snowflake" or "love" then a "true description" depends on one's perspective, not some ontological objectivity.

            If X is the all-powerful Hamster, then it doesn't matter how we think about an impenetrable barrier, since we haven't even established that this Hamster exists.

            (1) How is your perspective not 'ontological'—you being 100% material? If you're talking about aspects of your perspective where you have yet to each other humans to see things in the same way, then ok, but we should really replace 'objectivity' with 'intersubjectivity', to be minimally misleading. Now, if you are setting X = the underlined in "What is key here is that entities not directly observable are nevertheless theorized to have an impact on reality, or at least be helpful for understanding reality. Your examples lack this kind of connection.", I'm going to have a problem. Any X which is defined by existing on top of an utterly impenetrable barrier is something I've been critiquing!

            (2) Your question here doesn't deal with my "insufficient epistemology". It skates past it. Elsewhere, I have criticized you for essentially using magic—that is, thoroughly unarticulated reasoning—to overcome insufficient/​unreliable epistemology. (Remember that I see all [well-defined] epistemology as having "domains of validity".) A key question is whether, if you have an "insufficient epistemology", whether you can possibly detect that X in such a way that you can learn to pierce the heretofore impenetrable barrier. Another option is that the X actually has to come down to you—that the piercing has to happen in the other direction. This is what Jews hold that YHWH did and Christians hold that Jesus did. The technical term is accommodation.

            (3) Let's carefully distinguish between the unfalsifiable (that should be falsifiable), and axioms (which are not falsifiable and they couldn't be otherwise). When you're using an instrument to investigate reality, you presuppose its integrity. When you calibrate that instrument, you presuppose the integrity of the calibration equipment. There is always something supposedly constant, in the background, which is [currently] above criticism. Let's be very careful of having a shadowy "I" which is pulling strings but not acknowledged as playing the causal role it is in fact playing.

            (4) I have before cited Grossberg 1999 The Link between Brain Learning, Attention, and Consciousness (partial tutorial): if there are patterns on our perceptual neurons which do not sufficiently well-match patterns on our non-perceptual neurons, we may never become aware of those patterns. Do we accept this? If so, what do we do about it?

          • God Hates Faith

            GHF: Let's say we witness X, which seems like magic or a miracle or advanced technology. We are not sure. Since X could be explained by something other than an all-powerful Hamster, X is not evidence of this all-powerful Hamster. (Whether X was caused by an all-powerful Hamster or a finite sentient being, is a separate question.)

            LB: The underlined is what creates the impenetrable barrier.

            How is the underlined an impenetrable barrier? That (1) is unfalsifiable; (2) assumes your conclusion; and (3) ignores the fact that an all-powerful Hamsters has the power to make itself known as all-powerful.

            You and I are engaged in a discussion of whether YHWH is 'unchanging' (as well as the more abstract 'God' is 'unchanging')

            I thought we agreed to only talk about an abstract deity, not Yahweh.

            In a key way, persons are quasi-stable vortices and not really "real".

            I am not sure how you get from (a) a person can be 100% trustworthy, forever; to (b) your conclusion above. Please explain.

            I believe that the straightening out, the stabilizing of me, requires a more stable being which is personal, not impersonal/​scientific. Without (4), there is no standard of stability other than either other people, or (3). As best I can see, this is basic logic. Can you detect an error?

            I partially agree. In my opinion it ultimate depends on whether we are trying to find "stability" in something "objective", "subjective" or "intersubjective". [Also, I am not sure we are both thinking of the same idea(s) when we each think of (3)]. I think (3) includes "oughts" and "inter-subjective reality" (such as measurements, or concepts like "justice").

            For example I don't think we need to appeal to a (4) to "straighten out" whether we should use the intersubjective measurement of metric vs. standard, in determining whether something is "tall". My goal is not to "straighten out" to ensure my understanding of "tall" is ontologically true. Especially if I see "tall" as a matter of perspective not objective reality or ontological truth.

            I don't think we need to appeal to a (4) to "straigthen out" whether the earth is flat (objective). (3) is best for this. I further don't think we need to appeal to a (4) to "straighten out" whether we should love our neighbor (combination of subjective and intersubjective).

            (1) How is your perspective not 'ontological'—you being 100% material?

            I don't understand you question in this context. Ontology is the philosophical study of being (aka what IS).

            (Remember that I see all [well-defined] epistemology as having "domains of validity".)

            I agree (although I would probably substitute "validity" with "reliability").

            I have no idea what you are saying in the rest of that paragraph, and how it relates to the portion you quoted. Feel free to explain.

            Let's be very careful of having a shadowy "I" which is pulling strings but not acknowledged as playing the causal role it is in fact playing.

            I agree. Even if we change our glasses, it doesn't help us see what our eyes can't easily detect, like something microscopic.

            we may never become aware of those patterns. Do we accept this? If so, what do we do about it?

            Even if we accept this, I think a key question is how do those unobserved patterns affect us?

          • GHF: Let's say we witness X, which seems like magic or a miracle or advanced technology. We are not sure. Since X could be explained by something other than an all-powerful Hamster, X is not evidence of this all-powerful Hamster. (Whether X was caused by an all-powerful Hamster or a finite sentient being, is a separate question.)

            LB: I'm going to represent this according to my impenetrable barrier schema despite your objections, because it matches:

                all-powerful Hamster
                ---------------------   ← impenetrable barrier
                finite sentient being

            What you said previously was to simply behead the schema:

            GHF: I am not sure it is useful to assume whether this barrier exists or not. If we assume the barrier exists, then we don't have to worry about learning too much about nature, because it can only go so far. If we assume the barrier doesn't exist, then we don't have to worry about learning too much about nature.

            What you've missed is that perhaps we have the following problem:

                  true description of X
                -------------------------   ← impenetrable barrier
                insufficient epistemology

            LB: The underlined is what creates the impenetrable barrier.

            GHF: How is the underlined an impenetrable barrier? That (1) is unfalsifiable; (2) assumes your conclusion; and (3) ignores the fact that an all-powerful Hamsters has the power to make itself known as all-powerful.

            (1) Since you provided no means for there to be evidence which is best explained by an all-powerful Hamster instead of some finite sentient being, you have decided that nothing can exist on the other side of that impenetrable barrier. This is what I meant by "What you said previously was to simply behead the schema". Diagrammatically:

                all-powerful Hamster
                ---------------------   ← impenetrable barrier
                finite sentient being

            Do agree, or disagree, that this is the epistemological stance you have taken? What you call 'unfalsifiable', I call 'epistemically unreachable'. What is problematic about this is if our epistemology blinds us to things that it cannot well-explain. To the extent that an epistemology doesn't explain anything, from its perspective there is an impenetrable barrier! And so we cannot just behead any and all impenetrable barriers. Now let's add the fact that when you alter an epistemology, there is a shadowy 'I' doing the alteration. Does that mean the shadowy 'I' is also the entity that was able to penetrate the barrier?

            (2) I don't see what conclusion I have assumed. Surely you realize that I see every impenetrable barrier as a challenge, right? What I said earlier applies:

            LB: A key question is whether, if you have an "insufficient epistemology", whether you can possibly detect that X in such a way that you can learn to pierce the heretofore impenetrable barrier. Another option is that the X actually has to come down to you—that the piercing has to happen in the other direction. This is what Jews hold that YHWH did and Christians hold that Jesus did. The technical term is accommodation.

            You might notice that parents kinda-sorta have to show up to their children in impenetrable barrier-fashion, but a healthy maturation process involves dealing with that in a very careful way. There are many opportunities for manipulation if one doesn't have some sort of plan, with the person on the other side of the barrier, to reduce it to zero. We could also talk about the elites who are to the masses like parents are to children, in their vastly superior knowledge. Maybe I'm just fooling myself, but I think this schema has great potential for analysis of all sorts of phenomena and relationships. I can think of some people who would prefer it not be understood, though … (not you)

            (3) The only way I can see to do this is via creating and maintaining an impenetrable barrier. In other words, the Hamster would have to regularly do miraculous things that we humans can never duplicate. Then, we would be convinced that he/she/it is vastly more powerful than us, and that is indistinguishable from us thinking he/she/it is omnipotent, for all [pragmatic] intents and purposes. You see this show up in the TV series Stargate SG-1, where an advanced alien species keeps all its enslaved civilizations below a certain technological level in order to keep an impenetrable barrier in place.

            LB: The dominant move I see in the kind of thinking that dominates discussions like the one we're having, from the atheistic perspective, is the attempt to say that everything is really just [(3) science-style thinking]. In a key way, persons are quasi-stable vortices and not really "real". You seem somewhat exceptional to this …

            GHF: I am not sure how you get from (a) a person can be 100% trustworthy, forever; to (b) your conclusion above. Please explain.

            Erm, with (3) science-style thinking, you don't have any person who is "100% trustworthy, forever".

            LB: I believe that the straightening out, the stabilizing of me, requires a more stable being which is personal, not impersonal/​scientific. Without (4), there is no standard of stability other than either other people, or (3). As best I can see, this is basic logic. Can you detect an error?

            GHF: I partially agree. In my opinion it ultimate depends on whether we are trying to find "stability" in something "objective", "subjective" or "intersubjective".

            If that which is 'objective' is foundationally impersonal, then "persons are quasi-stable vortices and not really "real"."

            [Also, I am not sure we are both thinking of the same idea(s) when we each think of (3)]. I think (3) includes "oughts" and "inter-subjective reality" (such as measurements, or concepts like "justice").

            We would have to get into examples and you would have to show me the careful operationalization of terms and testing of theory against reality, published in peer-reviewed locations with citation follow-up. But let's only do that when the need arises?

            For example I don't think we need to appeal to a (4) to "straighten out" whether we should use the intersubjective measurement of metric vs. standard, in determining whether something is "tall". My goal is not to "straighten out" to ensure my understanding of "tall" is ontologically true. Especially if I see "tall" as a matter of perspective not objective reality or ontological truth.

            I don't think we need to appeal to a (4) to "straighten out" whether the earth is flat (objective). (3) is the best was to "straighten this out". I further don't think we need to appeal to a (4) to "straighten out" whether we should love our neighbor (combination of subjective and intersubjective).

            I agree with you, but I think there are matters rather unlike this, such as how we get principal investigators in science who don't throw grad students under the bus, or how we get better coordination across disciplines so that interdisciplinary works much better than it does now. There, we see all sorts of instances where people know what the principle tells them to do, but then bend it left and right. Such bending introduces noise if not outright falsehood into our understanding of what goes on. The Bible has a lot to say about letting word diverge from reality. Indeed, that is a major form of 'gap'. And yet, I don't think machines can detect such divergence; I think you need people who are stable enough measurement instruments. :-)

            LB: (1) How is your perspective not 'ontological'—you being 100% material?

            GHF: I don't understand your question in this context. Ontology is the philosophical study of being (aka what IS).

            I find calling someone's perspective 'subjective' to be a bit weird if [s]he is a 100% material being. Compare this to 'subjectivity' being a way to sort of rise above yourself and describe yourself—or something else. There is an 'aboutness' to this which doesn't necessarily show up if we are 100% material.

            I agree (although I would probably substitute "validity" with "reliability").

            Yes I'm not sure I see a relevant difference at this time. I'm not even sure whether the term 'validity' meant anything other than 'reliability', if you examined practice instead of philosophical claims.

            I have no idea what you are saying in the rest of that paragraph, and how it relates to the portion you quoted. Feel free to explain.

            Since I brought it in above ("A key question is whether"), let's see if you can do anything more, there.

            LB: Let's be very careful of having a shadowy "I" which is pulling strings but not acknowledged as playing the causal role it is in fact playing.

            GHF: I agree. Even if we change our glasses, it doesn't help us see what our eyes can't easily detect, like something microscopic.

            I don't see a [relevant] big difference between glasses and a microscope. Do you?

            LB: (4) I have before cited Grossberg 1999 The Link between Brain Learning, Attention, and Consciousness (partial tutorial): if there are patterns on our perceptual neurons which do not sufficiently well-match patterns on our non-perceptual neurons, we may never become aware of those patterns. Do we accept this? If so, what do we do about it?

            GHF: Even if we accept this, I think a key question is how do those unobserved patterns affect us?

            Well if you trust God, then you can be ok with the possible existence of all that much stuff, and simply assume that moving forward with other people will result in progress without catastrophe. It's not that you stay ignorant of such unobserved patterns; you just don't need to be anxious as you learn more and more and expand your epistemology.

            If you don't trust God, then you'll have to find some way to feel more secure. One way to do that is like Sean Carroll does, with his Seriously, The Laws Underlying The Physics of Everyday Life Really Are Completely Understood (update with nice visualization).

            And of course, there's the belief in God which requires no increases of understanding or wisdom by you, which seems to characterize a lot of religious adherents. I believe Mt 7:24–27 may have been directed to such people. Letting God permanently fill gaps is, well, not something I think God approves of!

          • God Hates Faith

            Do agree, or disagree, that this is the epistemological stance you have taken?

            I disagree. As I already stated, the weight of the evidence could (in theory) lead to the belief that Z is not possible without an X causing it.

            true description of X
            ------------------------- ← impenetrable barrier
            insufficient epistemology

            What you call 'unfalsifiable', I call 'epistemically unreachable'.

            Let's imagine a perfect epistemology (PE). Even with a perfect epistemology (PE), I could define X as being excluded from PE's domain. Then I could claim that the problem is the perfect epistemology. By illustration:

            true description of X
            ------------------------- ← defining X as exclusive of PE
            perfect epistemology (PE)

            This begs the question of why falsifiability is an essential component in science. If X is "invisible fairies that make flowers grow", but I claim the evidence looks exactly like nature, then I have made those fairies epistemically unreachable BY DEFINITION. That is not an epistemic problem. That is a problem with the claim being unfalsifiable.

            However, if I said X fairies can be detected by PE, here is how you do it, then we would have something to work with. As of now, all we have are claims of X invisible fairies being undetectable by all epistemologies.

            (2) I don't see what conclusion I have assumed

            That X exists (and has a true description), and that there is an impenetrable barrier.

            You might notice that parents kinda-sorta have to show up to their children in impenetrable barrier-

            I try to teach my kids how to think, not what to think.

            The only way I can see to do this is via creating and maintaining an impenetrable barrier.

            I am not sure the method, but by definition, and all-powerful being would have the power to make itself known to be all-powerful, with or without out a barrier. To argue that this Hamster would NEED a barrier, limits the Hamster's power.

            Erm, with (3) science-style thinking, you don't have any person who is "100% trustworthy, forever".

            I am fine with that premise, but I am still struggling to understand the connection with your conclusion--"persons are quasi-stable vortices and not really "real"."

            If that which is 'objective' is foundationally impersonal, then "persons are quasi-stable vortices and not really "real"."

            So, you would say that you or I don't "objectively" exist? Also, I am still struggling with what you mean by "not really 'real'".

            There, we see all sorts of instances where people know what the principle tells them to do, but then bend it left and right.

            I am confused how your examples (grad students, inter-discipline) fit that description. Could your provide another example, or explain your examples again?

            The Bible has a lot to say about letting word diverge from reality.

            So do lots of other books.

            I find calling someone's perspective 'subjective' to be a bit weird if [s]he is a 100% material being. Compare this to 'subjectivity' being a way to sort of rise above yourself and describe yourself—or something else. There is an 'aboutness' to this which doesn't necessarily show up if we are 100% material.

            I don't see that as incompatible in the least. I can listen to someone else perspective, and still have subjectivity. I cannot actually "rise above myself". The way we describe ourselves is not objective. It is simply another subjective perspective.

            GHF: I agree. Even if we change our glasses, it doesn't help us see what our eyes can't easily detect, like something microscopic.

            LB: I don't see a [relevant] big difference between glasses and a microscope. Do you?

            I agreed with you, but describing it in a different way. In my example, the individual still has limitations regardless of the glasses we wear.

            GHF: Even if we accept this, I think a key question is how do those unobserved patterns affect us?

            LB: If you don't trust God, then you'll have to find some way to feel more secure.

            I don't need security if there is no reason to belief that these unobserved patterns affect us. Sometimes I am asked if I worry about going to Hell for not believing in Jesus. I respond that I am no more worried in Hell, than they are worried in Hades.

          • Did you not suggest as much, with your theory of an "impenetrable barrier"? If we want to get from (A) plagues exists, to (B) how do plagues work, that is fine. But it seems asserting a barrier to B, or purpose behind B, is a god-of-the-gaps type explanation.

            I allowed 'purpose' to exist both in "divine, heavenly reason" as well as "earthly, human reason". Do you think it should not exist in the latter? When it comes to asking "Why?" about plagues, I think that's rather like asking Galileo to predict the weather reliably out to ten days. One step at a time.

            It seems like a puddle trying to rationalize why the hole in the ground was made just for it. I think its good to try to falsify this intuition. Humans like to assume agency for stuff it doesn't understand. When there is a rustling of leaves, it was safer for our ancestors to assume it was an intentional agent like a predator, rather than something natural.

            I am not aware of any attempts to rigorously falsify the HADD; are you? I am rather more inclined to believe that the standard human practice of denying agency results in agency-like patterns out there in reality, which then get accounted for by spirits and gods and such. Some puddles were intended by agents who then go on to deny ever making them. Others just happened. Carefully discerning which is which seems to be something we're still rather bad at. See, for example, Racism without Racists: Color-Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in America.

            LB: In a key sense, this A. → B. is the same kind of thinking you have to engage in if you want isought. Peeling away from reality means peeling away from the most likely future trajectory. That is highly nontrivial. Recall my excerpt containing "revolt is conditioned by the presence or absence of the possibility of moral choice". Perhaps a refusal to change oneself would present an impenetrable barrier to successful revolt.

            GHF: It seems you are defining this barrier in terms of the subjective, not as an objective thing. If so, then I could think of a better term that gets across the same point.

            Your ontology is not a subjective affair. If you decide that reality is to be understood according to a very specific ontology—such as the mechanical philosophy—it will have objective results. Your unwillingness to consider ontologies which allow one to move from A. → B. would also keep you from developing the possibility of "moral choice". Choice is predicated upon the present ontology having multiple possible future trajectories, which are meaningfully different, where you have the capability of choosing between them.

            GHF: Why not? It seems you read a lot. Have you not tested other texts to see if they can achieve "similar results"? Also, how do you protect yourself against confirmation bias, concerning the special status you seem to place on the Bible?

            LB: What's wrong with different people specializing and then comparing & contrasting theory and empirical results? Isn't that how science works?

            GHF: I don't think studying comparative religion is mutually exclusive with studying a particular religion.

            You have changed the goalposts, from "if you don't study comparative religion you'll probably fail" to "you aren't prevented from studying comparative religion". I agree with your later goalpost and disagree with your former. Division of labor is legitimate, as is division of school of thought. Compare & contrast is possible.

            An all-powerful Zeus would certainly be able to make us understand him to leave no doubt, if he chose to.

            How do you know this to be true? From what I can tell, humans have learned to doubt everything. What I haven't yet learned how to doubt is how God could create a free creature who is nevertheless compelled to believe in God. That just seems like a pure logical contradiction. I do suspect Satan would want people to be compelled to believe in him, rather than coming to belief and trust due to good reasons.

            LB: Can I distinguish between whether the Other is YHWH or Loki? I think the answer is "yes", and that Deut 12:32–13:5 + The Oven of Akhnai provide hints.

            GHF: Lots of problems with those verses. (1) Coercive; and (2) problems of unfalsifiabilty.

            (1) Can we obtain zero coerciveness? [If so, how?] (2) Can we obtain falsifiability of everything? [Including ourselves?]

            I love TNG!!! I am always happy to discuss TNG regardless of its relevance ; )

            Then perhaps we can talk about whether the right question is about trustworthiness. Ardra in Devil's Due was not trustworthy. In fact, she seems like the way a lot of people portray YHWH, as ruling via fear and evil contract. The message is "Trust yourselves!", and yet when I look at the world today, I see a lot of people doing that and I see reality about to smack them upside the head. It's almost as if fearing YHWH was supposed to be fearing the naturalistic consequences of one's actions …

          • God Hates Faith

            LB: You seem to have introduced 'purpose' rather suddenly into the conversation.

            GHF: Did you not suggest as much, with your theory of an "impenetrable barrier"?

            LB: I allowed 'purpose' to exist both in "divine, heavenly reason" as well as "earthly, human reason".

            So, you now agree that I didn't introduce purpose rather suddenly in the conversation?

            I allowed 'purpose' to exist both in "divine, heavenly reason" as well as "earthly, human reason". Do you think it should not exist in the latter? When it comes to asking "Why?"

            I think it is unfruitful to assume it exists in the former, since in human history every single time we have asserted that something divine is responsible for plagues, or ocean tides, etc. we have been wrong.

            Carefully discerning which is which seems to be something we're still rather bad at.

            I agree. Humans are predictably irrational. We see agency and patterns when none are there. And we don't see agency or patterns, sometimes when it exists. That is why knowledge about objective reality is most reliable when done collectively rather than individually.

            If you decide that reality is to be understood according to a very specific ontology—such as the mechanical philosophy—it will have objective results. Your unwillingness to consider ontologies which allow one to move from A. → B...

            You are confusing ontology with epistemology. Ontology is "what is". Epistemology is "how we now what is."

            I am happy to consider different epistemologies which try to get us from A to B. Or from IS to OUGHT. I am more skeptical of epistemologies which carry lots of presuppositions, like assuming that there is an imaginary barrier between A and B, or that B includes an intentional agent. Those are usually bad assumptions, unless the evidence can show otherwise.

            You have changed the goalposts, from "if you don't study comparative religion you'll probably fail"

            I said no such thing. If you don't challenge your beliefs, you won't know if you are wrong. If you don't "test" other religious text (using the same criteria as you use for the Bible), you won't know if they are true.

            How do you know this to be true?

            Its not a matter of knowledge. It is tautologically (by definition) correct. If Zeus is all-powerful, Zeus has the power to make anyone know that he is all-powerful. To suggest that Zeus does not have this power, is to make Zeus not all-powerful.

            I do suspect Satan would want people to be compelled to believe in him, rather than coming to belief and trust due to good reasons.

            Ugh. Let's not talk about an imaginary enemy.

            (1) Can we obtain zero coerciveness? [If so, how?]

            So, you agree this is coercive, but you are okay with it? That seems like a weak deity (or someone's claim of a deity), who must resort to coercion to get someone to act.

            Can we obtain falsifiability of everything? [Including ourselves?]

            So, you are agree this is unfalsifiable, but you think that is okay in this circumstance?

            The message is "Trust yourselves!", and yet when I look at the world today, I see a lot of people doing that and I see reality about to smack them upside the head. It's almost as if fearing YHWH was supposed to be fearing the naturalistic consequences of one's actions …

            I trust myself to eat shellfish, wear clothes of mixed fabric, work on the sabbath, and not follow a made-up tribal deity with iron age morality.

          • LB: You seem to have introduced 'purpose' rather suddenly into the conversation

            GHF: Did you not suggest as much, with your theory of an "impenetrable barrier"? If we want to get from (A) plagues exists, to (B) how do plagues work, that is fine. But it seems asserting a barrier to B, or purpose behind B, is a god-of-the-gaps type explanation.

            LB: I allowed 'purpose' to exist both in "divine, heavenly reason" as well as "earthly, human reason". Do you think it should not exist in the latter? When it comes to asking "Why?" about plagues, I think that's rather like asking Galileo to predict the weather reliably out to ten days. One step at a time.

            GHF: So, you now agree that I didn't introduce purpose rather suddenly in the conversation?

            No, I don't agree. Your introduction of 'purpose' appears to have worked this way:

                divine, heavenly revelation  (purposeful)
                ------------------------------------------   ← impenetrable barrier
                   earthly, human reason     (purposeless)

            I wasn't thinking along these lines. I was allowing that we humans have our purposes and the divine has his/​her/​its/​their purposes. This means that my initial use of this schema did not "suggest as much". What you seemed to be imagining was something different:

                teleology  (purposeful)
                ------------------------   ← impenetrable barrier
                mechanism  (purposeless)

            Here, "(A) plagues exists, to (B) how do plagues work" is mechanism, while "purpose behind B" is teleological. I do object to those who assert that all of reality is just mechanism and that purpose is just an epiphenomenon. There does seem to be an impenetrable barrier between mechanism and purpose, at this point in time. I have some ideas on how to pierce it, but they are young.

            I think it is unfruitful to assume [purpose] exists in [divine, heavenly revelation], since in human history every single time we have asserted that something divine is responsible for plagues, or ocean tides, etc. we have been wrong.

            Do you realize that the examples you chose are very different than the spread of examples we see in the Bible? I did some inferring of purpose in this comment, which is not at all along the lines of "plagues, or ocean tides, etc." It's much more along the lines of humans not wanting to face themselves, and God pushing the issue regardless. You can't know if you're an unstable being unless a more stable being comes along and helps you see it. Well, you can find mechanistic instabilities by comparing to stabler mechanistic systems. We are back to my question of whether "persons are quasi-stable vortices and not really "real"". If our only sources of superior stability are mechanisms …

            Humans are predictably irrational. We see agency and patterns when none are there. And we don't see agency or patterns, sometimes when it exists. That is why knowledge about objective reality is most reliable when done collectively rather than individually.

            I don't think the reason is that humans are necessarily irrational, although contingently a lot of them seem to be. I am wary of defining science as the sort of lowest common denominator of all people, as getting at the things all of them can agree exists. Sometimes we do need to sand off each other's perspective, but sometimes one person sees things differently and we have to be careful not to squish that one person. The need for collectivity can be motivated on entirely different grounds than predictable irrationality: maybe everyone has a unique talents and a unique perspective on reality (if not God), and we need them to teach us and the more we teach them our own talents and perspectives, the more they can enhance theirs. No need for irrationality, but much need for collectivity!

            LB: If you decide that reality is to be understood according to a very specific ontology—such as the mechanical philosophy—it will have objective results. Your unwillingness to consider ontologies which allow one to move from A. → B.

            GHF: You are confusing ontology with epistemology. Ontology is "what is". Epistemology is "how we now what is."

            I am happy to consider different epistemologies which try to get us from A to B. Or from IS to OUGHT. I am more skeptical of epistemologies which carry lots of presuppositions, like assuming that there is an imaginary barrier between A and B, or that B includes an intentional agent. Those are usually bad assumptions, unless the evidence can show otherwise.

            I don't think I'm conflating the two; they are in fact very related and A. → B. can work with both. QM & GR requires a different ontology than classical mechanics. String theory has a different ontology than QM & GR. One way to consider how things might be different is to consider a different ontology; Robert Laughlin does precisely this in A Different Universe: Reinventing Physics from the Bottom Down. Sean Carroll refuses to do it in Seriously, The Laws Underlying The Physics of Everyday Life Really Are Completely Understood.

            If you think my impenetrable barrier is the same as your "imaginary barrier", I think we might have a lot of correcting to do. As to intentional agents—do you think you are an intentional agent? Are you sure it wouldn't be more parsimonious to not include the intentionality in the model of yourself? There are scientists and philosophers who are suggesting this.

            GHF: Feel free to do so. Also, do you consider other "holy books" similarly? Or do you hold a special place for The Bible?

            LB: I have not considered all human writing similarly (there is too much), nor all "holy books" similarly (there is still too much). But I invite other people from other traditions of thought (religious or not) to compare & contrast both theory and empirical results.

            GHF: Why not? It seems you read a lot. Have you not tested other texts to see if they can achieve "similar results"? Also, how do you protect yourself against confirmation bias, concerning the special status you seem to place on the Bible?

            LB: You have changed the goalposts, from "if you don't study comparative religion you'll probably fail" to "you aren't prevented from studying comparative religion".

            GHF: I said no such thing. If you don't challenge your beliefs, you won't know if you are wrong. If you don't "test" other religious text (using the same criteria as you use for the Bible), you won't know if they are true.

            The preceding conversation (which I've included) certainly does seem to establish this approximate equality:

            "if you don't study comparative religion you'll probably fail""If you don't challenge your beliefs, you won't know if you are wrong."

            I don't understand the appreciable difference between them. I think you're making unreasonable demands of me, demands I doubt you yourself have fulfilled when it comes to e.g. "Through choices of not following our primary instinct." And I mean comparing & contrasting nearby hypotheses, like F = GmM/r^2 vs. F = GmM/r^2.0001. Not "the scientific method" vs. "astrology".

            GHF: An all-powerful Zeus would certainly be able to make us understand him to leave no doubt, if he chose to.

            LB: How do you know this to be true? From what I can tell, humans have learned to doubt everything. What I haven't yet learned how to doubt is how God could create a free creature who is nevertheless compelled to believe in God. That just seems like a pure logical contradiction.

            GHF: Its not a matter of knowledge. It is tautologically (by definition) correct. If Zeus is all-powerful, Zeus has the power to make anyone know that he is all-powerful. To suggest that Zeus does not have this power, is to make Zeus not all-powerful.

            Sorry, but I don't understand omnipotence to involve the ability to create square circles—"a free creature who is nevertheless compelled to believe in God".

            So, you agree this is coercive, but you are okay with it? That seems like a weak deity (or someone's claim of a deity), who must resort to coercion to get someone to act.

            I am not convinced you can start from nothing, get a child, then an adolescent, then an adult, with zero coercion anywhere. If you know of an exception to this, please let me know! Now in a sense, YHWH does no coercion all the way through Noah's warnings that a Flood was coming. So there is an inkling of an idea of how to possibly do it. But I have no idea how to turn that into a child-raising program. So I work from where I am, instead of from fantasy-land ideas that seem utterly disconnected from any reality I know.

            So, you are agree this is unfalsifiable, but you think that is okay in this circumstance?

            In the sense that Adam & Eve denied that they chose to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, I think they had become false selves. They had somehow become internally, consciously, detached from their full history. So I can see some room for falsification of the self, there. But that's seems like a bit of a weird edge-case?

            I trust myself to eat shellfish, wear clothes of mixed fabric, work on the sabbath, and not follow a made-up tribal deity with iron age morality.

            Then: As you were! Let reality show you whether your strategy is 'reliable' or not, and whether it produces something 'reliable' arbitrarily many generations into the future. Empirical evidence for the win, right?

            But one niggling thing. You selected a very specific set of things from the Bible, in your list here. Do you like it when others use the same kind of selection heuristic when choosing from your observed actions and stated thoughts?

          • God Hates Faith

            I wasn't thinking along these lines. I was allowing that we humans have our purposes and the divine has his/​her/​its/​their purposes. This means that my initial use of this schema did not "suggest as much".

            Got it. Thanks for clarifying your position.

            I do object to those who assert that all of reality is just mechanism and that purpose is just an epiphenomenon.

            I don't think everything is just mechanism. Conscious creatures are able to assign purpose.

            GHF: I think it is unfruitful to assume [purpose] exists in [divine, heavenly revelation], since in human history every single time we have asserted that something divine is responsible for plagues, or ocean tides, etc. we have been wrong.

            LB: Do you realize that the examples you chose are very different than the spread of examples we see in the Bible?

            There are several examples in the Bible where a specific event is claimed to have divine causality. The Exodus story is just one example.

            It's much more along the lines of humans not wanting to face themselves, and God pushing the issue regardless.

            Lots of things can be a "reality check" that are not divine. Again, I don't see how it is fruitful to assume a reality check needs to come from a deity. Additionally, there are many examples of individuals thinking a deity is pushing a certain course of action, thinking they are measuring themselves against this stable mechanism, and then they fail (or do something horrible like start an Inquisition, or fly a plane into a building).

            I am wary of defining science as the sort of lowest common denominator of all people, as getting at the things all of them can agree exists.

            To clarify, I did not mean to imply science is the lowest common denominator of all people. Most people believe in the germ theory of disease, even though most people rely on experts for that belief.

            GHF: That is why knowledge about objective reality is most reliable when done collectively rather than individually.

            LB: The need for collectivity can be motivated on entirely different grounds than predictable irrationality

            I agree there are many ways to form tribes or collectives. My point was not that since humans are irrational, it is motivation to form a collective. My point is that because humans individually are (predictably) irrational, a collective can mitigate some of our individual biases. (Of course there can be collective biases as well, and those also need to be protected against; for example in America a democratic republic collective could trample all over the minority groups, but the Constitution protects minority rights).

            One way to consider how things might be different is to consider a different ontology

            I am happy to consider different ontological claims as an intellectual exercise. For example, claiming invisible fairies make planes fly. But to me the ontological claim is less interesting than how we arrive there (i.e. which epistemology we use).

            As to intentional agents—do you think you are an intentional agent? Are you sure it wouldn't be more parsimonious to not include the intentionality in the model of yourself?

            (1) In my example of "intentional agent" I was referring to a deity. But to answer your question, I do consider most humans, myself included, an intentional agent.
            (2) Are you implying determinism? I don't think determinism is mutually exclusive with intentional agency. I still think I qualify as an intentional agent since I can assign subjective value to a thing.

            GHF: If you don't challenge your beliefs, you won't know if you are wrong. If you don't "test" other religious text (using the same criteria as you use for the Bible), you won't know if they are true.

            LB: I don't understand the appreciable difference between them.

            First, I am making no demands. Just suggestions.

            Second, the difference between the two is significant. Knowing if something is wrong, is a belief you currently hold. Knowing if something else is right, is about a belief you currently don't hold.

            For example, if I was convinced the my kids little league
            sports team was the best team in the universe, but never compared them to any other team, and never looked at how the team isn't great, I would be holding my belief only because of my intentional ignorance.

            If I was convinced that digging a hole with a shovel is best, and haven't studied digging techniques by other cultures who use a backhoe or a drill, I would never know there is a better way to dig a hole.

            "GHF: If Zeus is all-powerful, Zeus has the power to make anyone know that he is all-powerful."

            LB: Sorry, but I don't understand omnipotence to involve the ability to create square circles—"a free creature who is nevertheless compelled to believe in God".

            No square circles involved. (Although I could easily argue that omnipotence is logically inconsistent the same way a square circle is logically inconsistent, but I digress).

            First, we have not yet introduced the premise of a free creature. But even if we do so, this does not limit Zeus' power.

            Second, "belief" is not required. Belief is a psychological state. The criteria is whether Zeus can make himself known to us, not whether he has the power to change our psychological "free will".

            Third, an omnipotent Zeus would have the power to imprint this psychological belief into us. If Zeus can create free will, he can certain take it away. That may violate some other rule, but that rule is a separate issue.

            I am not convinced you can start from nothing, get a child, then an adolescent, then an adult, with zero coercion anywhere.

            First, that assumes human adults are like children and must be coerced.

            Second, you are conflating light coercion of child, with the coercion of putting someone TO DEATH for following a different religion. That kind of coercion is beyond the pale IMHO.

            Third, why would an all-powerful deity create us so that we need to be coerced?

            Fourth, this type of coercion isn't even required! I can get my kids, or friends, or family, or strangers, to act without coercion of any kind, let alone death threats!

            So I can see some room for falsification of the self, there. But that's seems like a bit of a weird edge-case?

            I am not sure how your example of Adam and Eve is applicable to the other story (Deuteronomy 12:32-13:5). If I argued that following Zeus is evidence of Zeus, and not following Zeus is also evidence of Zeus (because you will be put to death), where does that leave someone? Obviously, to challenge the false dichotomy (unfalsifiable premises).

            Let reality show you whether your strategy is 'reliable' or not, and whether it produces something 'reliable' arbitrarily many generations into the future. Empirical evidence for the win, right?

            Agreed! So far, all the empirical evidence indicates that wearing clothes of mixed fabric is perfectly fine. Moreover it likely allows more clothes to be made, so clothes are cheaper and more available to the poor! Yeah for ignoring the Bible!

            Do you like it when others use the same kind of selection heuristic when choosing from your observed actions and stated thoughts?

            I don't claim all my actions and thoughts are inspired from an all-knowing deity.

          • I don't think everything is just mechanism. Conscious creatures are able to assign purpose.

            Do you know how to connect mechanism to purpose in a detailed fashion which obeys the sense of lawful connectivity I have associated with 'naturalism'? If you don't, then you would have an impenetrable barrier to contend with. There is a choice here, of whether to identify more strongly with the top or the bottom: (I've seen few who are equal)

                teleology  (purposeful)
                ------------------------   ← impenetrable barrier
                mechanism  (purposeless)

            Science mostly deals with the bottom; indeed some people would like to remove any and all 'purpose' from 'science'. And yet we humans have been acquainted with purpose if not teleology for much longer than humans were doing science. Do we let the successes of science in some domains cause us to switch our confidence from top to bottom? My guess is your epistemology does better with the bottom than the top, although I hear you might have multiple epistemologies … (If so, are they consistent with each other?)

            There are several examples in the Bible where a specific event is claimed to have divine causality. The Exodus story is just one example.

            One of the things humans can do when faced with actions they knows weren't from themselves, is figure out whether they are well-explained by one or multiple purposes. This is a way of explaining phenomena which reduces the logical possibility space in a very different way from mechanistic explanations. I can go into more detail on this if you'd like; I'd be drawing on Gregory W. Dawes' Theism and Explanation. Now, if you pick a set of events where no purpose can reasonably be inferred, you'll occlude the possibility I've described in this paragraph. Do you acknowledge this? That is: absurd examples can occlude realistic possibilities.

            Lots of things can be a "reality check" that are not divine. Again, I don't see how it is fruitful to assume a reality check needs to come from a deity.

            Sure; I have not stated differently, except in the case where humans share a uniform bias. If there are ultraviolet catastrophes for them they may learn, or they may continue chugging in the direction that builds a bigger and bigger impenetrable barrier—with plenty beheading the top part.

            Additionally, there are many examples of individuals thinking a deity is pushing a certain course of action, thinking they are measuring themselves against this stable mechanism, and then they fail (or do something horrible like start an Inquisition, or fly a plane into a building).

            Please explain how either of the items in the parenthetical is consistent with Mt 20:20–28 and Lk 22:24–34. I acknowledge that I'm playing with fire.

            LB: I am wary of defining science as the sort of lowest common denominator of all people, as getting at the things all of them can agree exists.

            GHF: To clarify, I did not mean to imply science is the lowest common denominator of all people. Most people believe in the germ theory of disease, even though most people rely on experts for that belief.

            You do not seem to be heeding the underlined. If "all" is too strong, you are welcome to advance a weaker quantifier. I'm curious if "only one" would work, or if it needs to be more than that—perhaps a lot more than that.

            My point is that because humans individually are (predictably) irrational, a collective can mitigate some of our individual biases.

            My point was that I see no necessity behind "predictably irrational". See, collectivity can also be used to squash challenges to the status quo, including scientific challenges. An example of that would be Scott Aaronson's I was wrong about Joy Christian, in which he threatened to withdraw from FQXi if it did not de-fund scientist Joy Christian. Standing against the status quo, especially if significant work has to first be done in theory-land (like is happening with string theory), can be made very difficult if too much trust is placed in the collective.

            I am happy to consider different ontological claims as an intellectual exercise. For example, claiming invisible fairies make planes fly. But to me the ontological claim is less interesting than how we arrive there (i.e. which epistemology we use).

            There you are, with the absurd examples again. Much of what you write is well-modeled by the assumption that any time someone deviates from present scientific orthodoxy, there is severe danger of going completely off the rails. Could you explain to me how positing quantum non-equilibrium could do such a thing? That would be a nice example of my A. → B. extrapolation. It is an ontological change, but if we can figure out how to actually make reality like that, we could obtain epistemological changes like accuracy better than Heisenberg's uncertainty principle / unsharpness relation permits. Right now, that fuzz is very limiting to us. Perhaps it is due to a bad ontology, and not a bad epistemology. And yet if you focus too much on epistemology …

            LB: If you decide that reality is to be understood according to a very specific ontology—such as the mechanical philosophy—it will have objective results. Your unwillingness to consider ontologies which allow one to move from A. → B.

            GHF: I am happy to consider different epistemologies which try to get us from A to B. Or from IS to OUGHT. I am more skeptical of epistemologies which carry lots of presuppositions, like assuming that there is an imaginary barrier between A and B, or that B includes an intentional agent. Those are usually bad assumptions, unless the evidence can show otherwise.

            LB: As to intentional agents—do you think you are an intentional agent? Are you sure it wouldn't be more parsimonious to not include the intentionality in the model of yourself? There are scientists and philosophers who are suggesting this.

            GHF: (1) In my example of "intentional agent" I was referring to a deity. But to answer your question, I do consider most humans, myself included, an intentional agent.
            (2) Are you implying determinism? I don't think determinism is mutually exclusive with intentional agency. I still think I qualify as an intentional agent since I can assign subjective value to a thing.

            (1) What advantage do you obtain by modeling yourself as an intentional agent vs. someone/​something non-intentional? If you actually do gain advantage there, might there be some to gain for doing so with one or more deities?
            (2) I don't know if determinism need enter explicitly at this point.

            LB: The preceding conversation (which I've included) certainly does seem to establish this approximate equality:

            "if you don't study comparative religion you'll probably fail""If you don't challenge your beliefs, you won't know if you are wrong."

            I don't understand the appreciable difference between them.

            GHF: First, I am making no demands. Just suggestions.

            The phrases "you'll probably fail" and "you won't know that you are wrong" indicate something rather stronger than "Just suggestions."

            If I was convinced that digging a hole with a shovel is best, and haven't studied digging techniques by other cultures who use a backhoe or a drill, I would never know there is a better way to dig a hole.

            I aticulate my digging techniques and let others make suggestions, offer critiques, and demonstrate alternatives. So I don't see how "I would never know …" applies in my case. Humans are limtited creatures. You for example, have almost certainly only surveyed a tiny sliver of Christianity. (I doubt I have explored much more than a tiny sliver!)

            Second, "belief" is not required. Belief is a psychological state. The criteria is whether Zeus can make himself known to us, not whether he has the power to change our psychological "free will".

            What is accomplished by θεός manifesting existence to ἄνθρωπος? The Exodus account has YHWH manifesting existence to the Israelites, to little avail as we see in the case of the Golden Calf. Do you think that is simply a bad model of human/​social nature?

            Third, an omnipotent Zeus would have the power to imprint this psychological belief into us. If Zeus can create free will, he can certain take it away.

            And if one thinks that free will is exceedingly important, what then?

            LB: I am not convinced you can start from nothing, get a child, then an adolescent, then an adult, with zero coercion anywhere.

            GHF: First, that assumes human adults are like children and must be coerced.

            Second, you are conflating light coercion of child, with the coercion of putting someone TO DEATH for following a different religion. That kind of coercion is beyond the pale IMHO.

            Third, why would an all-powerful deity create us so that we need to be coerced?

            Fourth, this type of coercion isn't even required! I can get my kids, or friends, or family, or strangers, to act without coercion of any kind, let alone death threats!

            (1) Unless being an adult means you understand predictable consequences and can act accordingly.

            (2) The subject of Deut 12:32–13:5 is a bona fide miracle-worker who tries to use power to convince others to follow his/her religion. Such a person would undoubtedly be well-informed by the religious beliefs of his/her audience. And thus, the threat of death for such proselytizing would preclude the proselytizing in the first place. Might does not make right!!

            (3) I don't know; you're asking me to think so far away from the life I've experienced and observed that I don't really trust my imagination very much there.

            (4) Disanalogous.

            GHF: (2) problems of unfalsifiabilty

            LB: (2) Can we obtain falsifiability of everything? [Including ourselves?]

            GHF: So, you are agree this is unfalsifiable, but you think that is okay in this circumstance?

            LB: In the sense that Adam & Eve denied that they chose to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, I think they had become false selves. They had somehow become internally, consciously, detached from their full history. So I can see some room for falsification of the self, there. But that's seems like a bit of a weird edge-case?

            GHF: I am not sure how your example of Adam and Eve is applicable to the other story (Deuteronomy 12:32-13:5).

            First, you must understand that 'religion', 'culture', and 'psychology' were not very distinguishable terms in the Ancient Near East. So, this miracle worker in Deut 12:32–13:5 is attempting to fundamentally change the population, to alter their identity. That miracle worker is attempting to do so via power, not reasoning off of the identity of the population. The miracle worker is attempting to switch the population's allegiance and in effect, rewrite their source code. This would make them false to their previous selves, like A&E were false to their previous selves. (They denied their agency in Gen 3:11–13, creating a discontinuity in being.)

            Second, note that an unstable being (shifting identity) makes for a bad instrument with which to measure reality. The [early?] construction of the instrument will in some sense be "unfalsifiable". I don't see how to avoid this—do you?

            If I argued that following Zeus is evidence of Zeus, and not following Zeus is also evidence of Zeus (because you will be put to death), where does that leave someone? Obviously, to challenge the false dichotomy (unfalsifiable premises).

            Who said [anything like] either of these:

                 (A) "following Zeus is evidence of Zeus"
                 (B) "not following Zeus is also evidence of Zeus"?

            ? (Besides you.)

            GHF: I trust myself to eat shellfish, wear clothes of mixed fabric, work on the sabbath, and not follow a made-up tribal deity with iron age morality.

            LB: But one niggling thing. You selected a very specific set of things from the Bible, in your list here. Do you like it when others use the same kind of selection heuristic when choosing from your observed actions and stated thoughts?

            GHF: I don't claim all my actions and thoughts are inspired from an all-knowing deity.

            You did not [directly] answer the question. I suspect you know that this is because it's an atrocious way to treat another being. To your indirect response: who has "claim[ed] all [his/her] actions and thoughts are inspired from an all-knowing deity"?

          • God Hates Faith

            Do you know how to connect mechanism to purpose in a detailed fashion which obeys the sense of lawful connectivity I have associated with 'naturalism'? If you don't, then you would have an impenetrable barrier to contend with.

            If I understand question... the way to connect something (X) without a purpose, to X with a purpose (telos), is by a conscious creature thinking that X has purpose. That does not create an ontology change in X. That only creates a the idea in the mind of the conscious creature, that X has a purpose.

            GHF: I think it is unfruitful to assume [purpose] exists in [divine, heavenly revelation], since in human history every single time we have asserted that something divine is responsible for plagues, or ocean tides, etc. we have been wrong.

            GHF: There are several examples in the Bible where a specific event is claimed to have divine causality. The Exodus story is just one example.

            LB: One of the things humans can do when faced with actions they knows weren't from themselves, is figure out whether they are well-explained by one or multiple purposes.

            Okay... so when is it fruitful to assume divine purpose/causality?

            Sure; I have not stated differently, except in the case where humans share a uniform bias

            Claiming there is a collective bias, is different from showing there is a collective bias. Just like claiming there is a deity doesn't like it when we use toilet paper (or wear clothes of mixed fabric) is different from showing a deity doesn't like it when we use toilet paper. Again, I don't see how it is fruitful to assume a reality check needs to come from a deity (since it requires us to (1) assume we need a reality check; (2) assume this deity provided such check. I think it is better to start with (1), rather than jump to (2). If the only argument you have for asserting (1) is (2) then that is a BIG problem.

            GHF: Additionally, there are many examples of individuals thinking a deity is pushing a certain course of action, thinking they are measuring themselves against this stable mechanism, and then they fail (or do something horrible like start an Inquisition, or fly a plane into a building).

            LB: Please explain how either of the items in the parenthetical is consistent with Mt 20:20–28 and Lk 22:24–34.

            Your verses simply provide your perspective, to be a stable mechanism, it must provide the same perspective to everyone. Its easy to cherry pick verses to suit one's conclusions. The Bible can be used to justify the Inquisition or oppose it. The Bible is subjectively interpreted, which changes over time. A subjective mechanism is not stable. A mechanism that relies on personal revelation or faith is not stable.

            GHF: Humans are predictably irrational. We see agency and patterns when none are there. And we don't see agency or patterns, sometimes when it exists. That is why knowledge about objective reality is most reliable when done collectively rather than individually.

            LB: I am wary of defining science as the sort of lowest common denominator of all people, as getting at the things all of them can agree exists.

            GHF: To clarify, I did not mean to imply science is the lowest common denominator of all people. Most people believe in the germ theory of disease, even though most people rely on experts for that belief.

            LB: I'm curious if "only one" would work, or if it needs to be more than that—perhaps a lot more than that.

            If we define scientific knowledge as a collective knowledge, then it seems your question is what do we mean by "collective". IMHO I don't think that requires 100% agreement. However, it is probably more than 50%. Most people believe in the germ theory of disease, but not all. That seems sufficient to be categorized as (collective) knowledge.

            My point was that I see no necessity behind "predictably irrational".

            What do you mean that you "see no necessity"? Are you saying that you disagree that individually we are predictably irrational?

            See, collectivity can also be used to squash challenges to the status quo, including scientific challenges.

            Agreed! There are group biases as well. No way to prevent all biases. But a good process can mitigate individual biases, and collective biases. But the final word on what is knowledge is one what works (usefulness).

            Perhaps it is due to a bad ontology, and not a bad epistemology. And yet if you focus too much on epistemology …

            If we agree on the epistemology then we can discuss the ontology. But asserting ontological claims without knowing whether we share the same epistemology is not useful.

            (1) What advantage do you obtain by modeling yourself as an intentional agent vs. someone/​something non-intentional? If you actually do gain advantage there, might there be some to gain for doing so with one or more deities?

            To start, one advantage is that it would offer an explanation why it seems I exist (see Descartes), and why it seems I can make decisions.

            We can presuppose that deities are intentional agents. But assuming that they exist, or what their intentions are, are still a huge problem.

            I aticulate my digging techniques and let others make suggestions, offer critiques, and demonstrate alternatives. So I don't see how "I would never know …" applies in my case.

            I suggest you read different manuals on digging techniques and you balked (indicated your ability to only read on digging manual). Its one thing to tell you that your digger is bad, its another to accept that criticism. Its yet another thing to read the manuals and compare the digging techniques for yourself, rather than just the opinions of others.

            What is accomplished by θεός manifesting existence to ἄνθρωπος?

            Goalpost shifting. Whether he CAN and whether he SHOULD are different questions.

            The Exodus account has YHWH manifesting existence to the Israelites, to little avail as we see in the case of the Golden Calf

            What interesting is that there are MANY claims of YHWH intervening in the Bible which did convince people. Yet you argue that YHWH should not make himself known. By that logic, YHWH should not have inspired the writing of the Bible. But again, whether he SHOULD is different from whether an all-powerful being COULD make itself known. If evidence is to no avail, then there is no point in showing evidence to Doubting Thomas.

            And if one thinks that free will is exceedingly important, what then?

            First, that is a separate criteria. So, it is a separate question.

            Second, I have lots of unconscious instincts, that I have no free will over. But I still have free will.

            Third, as a side note, why would an all-powerful deity care whether I believe in him or not? Why would a thought in my head matter to such a being? I can be a good person without that thought.

            (1) Unless being an adult means you understand predictable consequences and can act accordingly.
            (2) The subject of Deut 12:32–13:5 is a bona fide miracle-worker who tries to use power to convince others to follow his/her religion. Such a person would undoubtedly be well-informed by the religious beliefs of his/her audience. And thus, the threat of death for such proselytizing would preclude the proselytizing in the first place. Might does not make right!!
            (3) I don't know; you're asking me to think so far away from the life I've experienced and observed that I don't really trust my imagination very much there.
            (4) Disanalogous

            (1) It does. Which means most adults don't need to be coerced (especially coerced to not follow a different religion, which is explicitly forbidden in the US Constitution)
            (2) I am pretty sure he could be prohibited from proselytizing without a threat of DEATH. What if someone was a traveler and didn't realize this law existed and started sharing his religion with folks he met? Death is morally justified?
            (3) It shouldn't be hard to imagine. You do lots of things without being coerced.
            (4) How is it dis-analogous? Those verse say put to death anyone who is trying to convert them to another religion. I said that is coercive. You said that coercion is okay. This point highlights that coercion itself is not even necessary in the first place! Only a tribal deity (or more correctly, an ecclesiastical representative of that deity) would create such an immoral coercive law in order to hold onto power.

            That miracle worker is attempting to do so via power, not reasoning off of the identity of the population.

            Yet, YHWH used power to convince the Isrealites to follow him...and is using the power of the state to prevent them from leaving his power...

            The miracle worker is attempting to switch the population's allegiance and in effect, rewrite their source code. This would make them false to their previous selves, like A&E were false to their previous selves.

            Lots of cultures and individuals at that time were polytheistic. Believing in more than one deity did not necessarily affect their allegiance to the State or their identity. Even in monotheism was "essential" for their identity, it was enforced via immoral means.

            Second, note that an unstable being (shifting identity) makes for a bad instrument with which to measure reality.

            The conception of this deity changed with each prophet.

            You still haven't explained how the Adam and Eve story relates to this story (or falsifiability).

            You did not [directly] answer the question.

            I responded that you are comparing apples and oranges.

            To your indirect response: who has "claim[ed] all [his/her] actions and thoughts are inspired from an all-knowing deity"?

            So, the Bible is not a stable instrument/mechanism with which to measure reality, inspired from an all-knowing deity?

          • God