Pharyngula

All the “New” Atheists cringe at the epithet the popular press has given us. Watch Bertrand Russell and see why.

Comments

  1. #1 PaleGreenPants
    January 18, 2010

    Is that just a general ‘watch Bertrand Russel’, or is there something more specific you want us to do?

  2. #2 JackC
    January 18, 2010

    Marvelous. I was four. I probably didn’t see the original.

    JC

  3. #3 DLC
    January 18, 2010

    Russell knew what he was talking about.
    Good find, PZ.

  4. #4 PaleGreenPants
    January 18, 2010

    Oh, there must be a movie there that my work is blocking.

  5. #5 Kel, OM
    January 18, 2010

    I made the same joke with the same video two weeks ago

  6. #6 Glen Davidson
    January 18, 2010

    That’s why Antony Flew is such a treasure. He might not be failing mentally, no matter how much we might like to believe he is, but he does seem to have abandoned clear thought for wishful thinking as he nears the end of his life. Rare they may be, but Flew is one who seems to have abandoned reason for fantasy–even if it doesn’t obviously entail an afterlife for him (I bet he’s hoping, though).

    Russell really is missing a whole lot of social interaction if he doesn’t see any value in a false belief that happens to promote the goals of some group. Presumably, that’s why we’re prone to believing religious, political, and social lies.

    Some philosophers would question whether or not we know anything that’s “true,” too. It was almost certainly of some value to ascribe unknowns to the actions of spirits in the past, as it at least gave one a vocabulary for considering the “truth” or “falseness” of propositions involving these phenomena.

    That said, clearly much of today’s religion is far too false in context to be considered anything more than delusional.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p

  7. #7 https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawkdk7Db1qx2KhoffR_x7XpUn-vlwKkCnAg
    January 18, 2010

    Very OT, but help. Both the faculty and student fellowships on my campus are sponsoring a series of “seminars” by this YEC, Bruce Malone ofSearch for Truth Ministries. I am a peon staff member and there are actual science faculty behind this.

    I seem to remember takedowns of this . . .person . . .and his writings. Please point me to same if possible, or give me some ideas of how to draw attention to this travesty without being the lone voice that gets throttled.

  8. #8 pixelfish
    January 18, 2010

    I sometimes worry that old age and infirmity will bring on a measure of senility. My grandmother, after a series of strokes, often reverted to childhood habits and called us after friends she thought we looked like. (I was Gladys for a number of years.)

    And because of that, I worry that people will mistake any weird senility issues with reconversion. Hopefully, I’ll have raised my kids so that they know what to discount and won’t let caretakers and other people try to manipulate me.

  9. #9 QuarkyGideon
    January 18, 2010

    Nah PZ New Atheism goes back to 33 ad!

  10. #10 Dave Dell
    January 18, 2010

    Russell was, perhaps, the most intelligent man who has ever lived. Brilliant mathematician, rational thinker, philosopher. His “History of Western Philosophy” is still a must read.

  11. #11 Benny the Icepick
    January 18, 2010

    //Watch Bertrand Russell and see why.//

    OK, I give up… is it because Bertrand Russell was an incredibly OLD atheist in this clip?

  12. #12 Feynmaniac
    January 18, 2010

    Love Russell! Personal hero of mine.

    Trivia: The actor who played Davros, creator of the Daleks, on Doctor Who based performance on Bertrand Russell.

    That distinction easily eclipses Russell’s Order of Merit, his Nobel Prize and his influence in the fields of philosophy, mathematics and logic combined.

  13. #13 Screechy_Monkey
    January 18, 2010

    #1 and #11: It’s because Russell was saying, in 1959, the same things that today get one labelled as a “New” Atheist. (And a militant, fundamentalist, incivil one, at that.)

    But the thing I found really cringeworthy in this video is that interviewer’s mincing, self-abasing tone. “Well, gosh, atheism may be ok for smart people like you, but don’t us little, weak-minded folks need someone to dictate our morality to us?” Today you still hear people making something like this argument, but they’re usually careful to make clear that they consider themselves one of the smart, thoughtful folks and not part of those unwashed masses who “need” their religion.

  14. #14 Rutee, Shrieking Harpy of Dooooom
    January 18, 2010

    …what epithet that the media has given us?

  15. #15 Knockgoats
    January 18, 2010

    Good old Bertie! I think he’s wrong in saying there can’t be a practical reason for believing falsehoods though. I don’t have the reference, but there’s work showing that depressed people are considerably more realistic about their future prospects than non-depressed ones!

  16. #16 KillJoy
    January 18, 2010

    #13

    That’s exactly the same thing I found cringe worthy about the video. I roused some of coworkers(I’m a bad dog, reading pharyngula while I am at work, and watching videos too.Tsk.) with a resounding ‘Bullshit!’ to the line about regular people not being strong enough. They’re used to me frothing about this sort of thing by now though.

  17. #17 RamblinDude
    January 18, 2010

    I like it. A seeker after truth–not a seeker after TRUTH!, which is generally the complete opposite.

  18. #18 Kel, OM
    January 18, 2010

    “Well, gosh, atheism may be ok for smart people like you, but don’t us little, weak-minded folks need someone to dictate our morality to us?” Today you still hear people making something like this argument, but they’re usually careful to make clear that they consider themselves one of the smart, thoughtful folks and not part of those unwashed masses who “need” their religion.

    I’ve heard the argument a few times, it does amaze me when it comes up because I wonder just how someone can go on believing something they admit to being intellectually indefensible. It would be like saying “I know my underwear isn’t really lucky, it’s just another pair of underwear. But I need to wear it in order to meet women.”

  19. #19 th.wright
    January 18, 2010

    After growing up in the Bible Belt and being raised a fundamentalist Christian, I was simultaneously shocked and consoled when I first read “Why I Am Not A Christian.” My first skeptical efforts were comparing calculations of water on the planet to the amount of water needed to flood the planet. Needless to say, many of the reconciliations I tried to make between science and Genesis left me confused and I remember the feeling of betrayal I felt towards my family, church leaders, Christian school teachers. At home, in church, and at school, truthfulness was seen as a virtue, even if it was preached by those who weren’t prepared to discard their cherished beliefs in light of the evidence. With a respect for the truth combined with the lucid essays of Bertrand Russell, so began my slow sail away from Christianity and towards a rational view. Despite my family remaining fundamentalist in the face of my protests, I still feel a deep sense of gratitude for the work of Bertrand Russell.

  20. #20 'Tis Himself, OM
    January 18, 2010

    I particularly liked Russell’s last response:

    …religious people think it’s a virtuous act to tell lies about…atheists and agnostics….

    Liars for Jebus were active over 50 years ago.

  21. #21 llewelly
    January 18, 2010

    Glen Davidson | January 18, 2010 3:38 PM:

    Russell really is missing a whole lot of social interaction if he doesn’t see any value in a false belief that happens to promote the goals of some group. Presumably, that’s why we’re prone to believing religious, political, and social lies.

    In the video I saw Russell explains that believing something that is untrue because it is useful greatly compromises one’s integrity. It is “dishonest”, he says.

  22. #22 R. Schauer
    January 18, 2010

    Very timely, PZ. I’m currently reading Russell’s book, “Religion and Science” which I received as a xmas solstice present from my son.

  23. #23 Eric
    January 18, 2010

    Russell contradicted himself. He said that if you can’t find out whether something is true, you should suspend belief, but then goes on to say categorically that there is no afterlife. Now, while Russell may say there is no evidence for an afterlife, he cannot identify this epistemically with being “able to find out if it’s true or if it isn’t.” Not having evidence is one thing; being able to determine the truth or falsity of something is another thing altogether.

  24. #24 Happy Tentacles
    January 18, 2010

    Clear honest personal integrity . . . And that nicely-spoken lady interviewer in her black frock and pearls almost has a sort of retro charm about her.

  25. #25 Paul
    January 18, 2010

    I don’t have the reference, but there’s work showing that depressed people are considerably more realistic about their future prospects than non-depressed ones!

    Causality fail!

  26. #26 CTC
    January 18, 2010

    @ 20: Or nigh on 2000, depending on if Jebus was a liar for himself.

  27. #27 Elbowman
    January 18, 2010

    “Those laws are generally quite mistaken. A great many of them do more harm than good, and they would probably be able to find a rational morality that they could live by if they dropped this irrational traditional taboo morality that comes down from savage ages.”

    I agree to a large extent with the first few statements that Russell makes in this quote. However, he loses me when he talks about irrational moralities that come down from “savage ages.” I fail to see how our own age is any less savage. As a scientist in training concerned about the applications of my work, it seems to me that a good fraction of that savagery is based on the fruits of scientific labor (witness the injustice perpetrated by the practices of the Monsanto corporation). Even if science and other rational forms of thought do have the potential to do good in the world, and even if they have already done good in the world, I think we must not pat ourselves on the back and think that our work is done. Building a better world through thought means that we must never stop thinking, and that we must always push ourselves to consider the unintended consequences of our actions.

  28. #28 Je craque
    January 18, 2010

    #7, you’re looking for these posts:
    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2007/01/i_seem_to_be_on_the_twin_citie.php
    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2007/02/mike_attended_a_creationist_co.php

    The first hardly mentions Malone by name, but links to a refutation of his Mt. St. Helens nonsense on talkorigins. The second links to a more extensive beatdown on a different blog.

    …but yeah, New Atheists = nails on chalkboard

  29. #29 Jadehawk, OM
    January 18, 2010

    Elbowman, I suspect he meant savage as in “primitive and simple”, not savage solely as in “violent”. It’s how the word used to be used (see also: “noble savage”)

  30. #30 Kel, OM
    January 18, 2010

    I fail to see how our own age is any less savage.

    You do? You honestly can’t see that it’s less?

  31. #31 bart.mitchell
    January 18, 2010

    He’s so shrill and strident. No wonder everyone hated him. He probably died young from a broken heart too.

    /sarcasm off

    Elbowman, there are clear ways to determine the savageness of our age compared to previous times. I think a good measure of is by calculating the percent of people who die from hunger, disease, neglect and violence.

    Even in the poorest countries in the world, those statistics today are above what they were 1000 years ago, and those numbers are better than the previous 1000 years.

    As a modern human, rabbits are more likely to be killed by one of their own species than you are. Despite what the news tells us, our world is a far more peaceful place than it was in the past.

  32. #32 Strangest brew
    January 18, 2010

    #20
    “Liars for Jebus were active over 50 years ago.”

    Been active since the liar in chief conned a few awestruck goat herders with a few letters he concocted many years after they nailed some odd jobbing pompous chippy to a bit of wood.

    That Paul was the real architect of a religion that has conned the world is not surprising, he was the ultimate snake oil salesman looking for a mark, he certainly found that vein of human naivete that every religion goes prospecting for!

  33. #33 RamblinDude
    January 18, 2010

    th.wright,

    It?s hard for people who haven?t grown up in that environment to appreciate just how deep-seated these religious beliefs are, and how strong the fear of not believing is. I was about 10 or 12 when I suspected something was askew with Christian dogma, but even at 16 or so it jolted me to read Bertrand?s title ?Why I am not a Christian.? How could someone come right out and say it publicly?

    It was a slow process for me as I turned first into a lukewarm Christian, and then began studying eastern thought and New Age stuff, before finally becoming disgusted with it all. For a long time I was an atheist because I could see that it was all unreasoning fanaticism and make-believe based on emotionalism. Then I learned more about science, and realized that the real world really is far more interesting than any ?knowledge? I ever learned in church.

    For some of my relatives and friends, it?s shocking to conceive that I really do identify with Bertrand Russell in that I genuinely believe that Christian dogma is simply not true ? it?s as obvious as daylight. I?m sure they would also be shocked to learn just how unappealing I think their world is.

  34. #34 OmiOne
    January 18, 2010

    I “discovered” him 30 years ago since then he have been one of my favorites.

  35. #35 stvs
    January 18, 2010

    More “new” atheists:

    “By what gods will you swear? For, in the first place, gods are not a current coin with us. ? What Jupiter? Do not trifle. There is no Jupiter. ? [responding to the question of who makes the rain fall if not Jupiter] Have you not heard me, that I said that the Clouds, when full of moisture, dash against each other and clap by reason of their density?
    ” ?Socrates, in Aristophanes’s The Clouds” (5th c. BCE) (for which Plato credits the trial and execution of Socrates for atheism)

    “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is God both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?” ?Epicurus (3d c. BCE)

    “The inhabitants of the earth are of two sorts: Those with brains, but no religion, And those with religion, but no brains.” ?Al-Ma’arri (10th c. CE)

    “The Koran! well, come put me to the test?
    Lovely old book in hideous error drest?
    Believe me, I can quote the Koran too,
    The unbeliever knows his Koran best.

    And do you think that unto such as you,
    A maggot-minded, starved, fanatic crew,
    God gave the secret, and denied it me??
    Well, well, what matters it! believe that too.”
    ?Omar Khayyám (11th c.)

    “Don’t you see that the appalling history of sectarianism, persecution, heresy hunting, shows you that this way of thinking about the world is intrinsically unsound?” ?Thomas Hobbes (17th c.)

    “God’s power is infinite, Whatever he wills is executed; But neither man nor any other animal is happy; therefore he does not will their happiness. Epicurus’ old questions are yet unanswered. Is he both able and willing to prevent evil? Then whence cometh evil?” ?David Hume (18th c.)

    “There is no need for that hypothesis.” ?Laplace (18th c.)

    “I have no religion, and at times I wish all religions at the bottom of the sea. He is a weak ruler who needs religion to uphold his government;” ?Atatürk (20th c.)

    “We began to stir against slavery. Hearts grew soft, here, there, and yonder. There was no place in the land where the seeker could not find some small budding sign of pity for the slave. No place in all the land but one?the pulpit. It yielded at last; it always does. It fought a strong and stubborn fight, and then did what it always does, joined the procession?at the tail end. Slavery fell. The slavery text remained; the practice changed, that was all.” ?Mark Twain, Bible Teaching and Religious Practice (20th c.)

    “Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.” ?Steven Weinberg (21st c.)

  36. #36 Mal Adapted
    January 18, 2010

    Russell was, perhaps, the most intelligent man who has ever lived. Brilliant mathematician, rational thinker, philosopher. His “History of Western Philosophy” is still a must read.

    True that, and another thumbs-up for “Why I am not a Christian”. Russell proudly drew on an ancient godless tradition: I can also recommend Doubt: A History, by Jennifer Michael Hecht.

    “New” atheists — what ahistorical nonsense!

  37. #37 nancymcclernan
    January 18, 2010

    Love it! And finding a paperback copy of “Why I Am Not a Christian” was such an exciting event when I was seventeen.

    And yes, I am so sick of the “New” tag.

    Did anybody else see that idiot Douthat’s piece last week?

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/11/opinion/11douthat.html

    Although I actually agree with him – yes, let’s talk about “faith” – bring it on beeatch!

  38. #38 Mal Adapted
    January 18, 2010

    Knock #15,

    You may be thinking of depressive realism. As a life-long depressive, I’m receptive to that theory. However, some people think the causation is reversed, calling it mood-congruent thinking.

    Which is it? You be the judge 8^)!

  39. #39 Eric
    January 18, 2010

    “His “History of Western Philosophy” is still a must read.”

    Actually, while his HoWP is readable and entertaining, it’s considered to be shallow and full of errors by most philosophers (and by this I mean, “by most philosophers I’ve discussed Russell’s HoWP with and/or whom I’ve heard/read discussions of HoWP by” and “the philosophers I’ve discussed it with have said it’s not well regarded by most philosophers”). In fact, the HoWP is rather well known for getting some philosophers, most notably Kant, very wrong. Anthony Kenny has said he sometimes uses the HoWP to get young people interested in philosophy, but then introduces them to a more serious and accurate work (such as Copleston’s history).

  40. #40 OJB
    January 18, 2010

    He was a genius, no doubt. “I was just engaged in the pursuit of knowledge” Aren’t we all? – well some more than others!

  41. #41 Feynmaniac
    January 18, 2010

    Some good Russell quotes:

    “Aristotle maintained that women have fewer teeth than men; although he was twice married, it never occurred to him to verify this statement by examining his wives’ mouths.”

    “The fundamental cause of the trouble is that in the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.”

    The famous teapot:

    “Many orthodox people speak as though it were the business of sceptics to disprove received dogmas rather than of dogmatists to prove them. This is, of course, a mistake. If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes. But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense. If, however, the existence of such a teapot were affirmed in ancient books, taught as the sacred truth every Sunday, and instilled into the minds of children at school, hesitation to believe in its existence would become a mark of eccentricity and entitle the doubter to the attentions of the psychiatrist in an enlightened age or of the Inquisitor in an earlier time. “

  42. #42 Mal Adapted
    January 18, 2010

    WRT my comment #39, this link is more appropriate than the wikipedia one for mood-congruence.

  43. #43 David B
    January 18, 2010

    Eric post 23 claims Russell contradicted himself. Not really – he didn’t claim that people should suspend belief about his teapot.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russell%27s_teapot

    David B

  44. #44 stvs
    January 18, 2010

    And more “new” atheists:

    “Neither antiquity nor any other nation has imagined a more atrocious and blasphemous absurdity than that of eating God. This is how Christians treat the autocrat of the universe.” ?Frederick the Great, to Voltaire (19 March 1776)

    “[Christianity] is assuredly the most ridiculous, the most absurd and the most bloody religion which has ever infected this world. Your Majesty will do the human race an eternal service by extirpating this infamous superstition, I do not say among the rabble, who are not worthy of being enlightened and who are apt for every yoke; I say among honest people, among men who think, among those who wish to think. ? My one regret in dying is that I cannot aid you in this noble enterprise, the finest and most respectable which the human mind can point out.” ?Voltaire, to Frederick the Great, (5 January 1767)

    “The Christians, in the course of their intestine dissensions, have inflicted far greater severities on each other than they had experienced from the zeal of infidels. … The virtue of the primitive Christians, like that of the first Romans, was very frequently guarded by poverty and ignorance.” ?Edward Gibbon (1788)

    “What have we learned from this false thing called “revealed religion”? Absolutely nothing that is useful to man, and everything that is dishonorable to God. What does the Bible teach us??rapine, cruelty, and murder. What does the New Testament teach us??to believe that God had sex with a woman engaged to be married. The belief in this debauchery is what is called faith.” ?Tom Paine, (1794)

    “The most horrible wickedness and cruelties, and the greatest miseries that have troubled the human race began with this thing called revelation, or revealed religion. ? It would be far, far better for us to let a thousand devils roam the world, and publicly preach the doctrine of devils (if there were such a thing, which there isn’t), than to let one impostor and monster such a Moses, Joshua, Samuel or the Bible prophets come speaking the so-called word of God, and causing men to believe it.” ?Tom Paine, (1794)

    “If I owe a person money, and cannot pay him, and he threatens to put me in prison, another person can take the debt upon himself, and pay it for me. But if I have committed a crime, every circumstance of the case is changed. Moral justice cannot take the innocent for the guilty even if the innocent would offer itself. To suppose justice to do this, is to destroy the principle of its existence, which is the thing itself. It is then no longer justice. It is indiscriminate revenge.” ?Tom Paine, (1794)

  45. #45 Paul Murray
    January 18, 2010

    “In the video I saw Russell explains that believing something that is untrue because it is useful greatly compromises one’s integrity. It is “dishonest”, he says.”

    I very much like Wiliam Clifford’s “the ethics of belief”

    http://www.infidels.org/library/historical/w_k_clifford/ethics_of_belief.html

  46. #46 sandlin.john
    January 18, 2010

    Shouldn’t it occur to those asking “From whence morality?” for atheists that it comes from the same place as it does for the religious? From other people, from society, from the laws of the land. Where else would you find morality if not these? Certainly not from the God of the Old Testament! Certainly not from the likes of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell. Certainly not from the Discovery Institute.

  47. #47 Cuculidae
    January 18, 2010

    A most excellent clip!
    Great post, PZ

  48. #48 https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawmi0enWEr3aTvuG9Z9VYXrYemhjnDKbjKo
    January 18, 2010

    Glenn Davidson wrote,

    “Russell really is missing a whole lot of social interaction if he doesn’t see any value in a false belief that happens to promote the goals of some group. Presumably, that’s why we’re prone to believing religious, political, and social lies.”

    So, the end justifies the means?

    I found this statement today by one Rod Dreher, newly installed at the Templeton Foundation:

    “If you believe, if you really believe, that with God’s help you and your loved ones will endure and prevail over this tragedy, or even if you do not, that your suffering has eternal meaning, and will be redeemed, you and your community may find the strength to overcome.”

    In other words, whether a God exists or not is irrelevant, its the “belief” in a Christian god that counts. And one should “believe” in a “God” because no matter what hideous disaster that “God” inflicts on you, you must have earned it – in this case because Haitians ancestors made a “pact with the devil” and its payback time – so belief in that God will give you comfort.

    Later in the comments section, Rod Dreher states, “My point is simply that the tragedies of life — earthquakes, disease, death, catastrophes of all sorts — are too much for most people to bear without faith.”

    Call me offended by such hypocrisy, irrational assertions, and justifications for a “Christian” religion.

  49. #49 SaintStephen
    January 18, 2010

    Ummm… EXCUSE me, Professor Myers, but shouldn’t you be packing for your California tour?

    Bring an umbrella or raincoat, at least for the Northern California venues. It’s raining cats and dogs, and perhaps even cephalopods out here!

  50. #50 Islander
    January 18, 2010

    Eric @23:

    I don’t think he contradicted himself at all. He didn’t really categorically deny the existence of an afterlife, he said he thought it was nonsense. We can’t epistemically say that Jesus wasn’t born of a virgin, but it’s perfectly acceptable for us to say we believe it to be nonsense.

  51. #51 John Marley
    January 18, 2010

    Bertrand Russell rules.

    I keep a conspicuous copy of Why I am not a Christian for my fundie xian relatives to see when they visit. Those visits have been few and far between lately. I wonder why.

  52. #52 Kel, OM
    January 18, 2010

    I don’t think he contradicted himself at all. He didn’t really categorically deny the existence of an afterlife, he said he thought it was nonsense. We can’t epistemically say that Jesus wasn’t born of a virgin, but it’s perfectly acceptable for us to say we believe it to be nonsense.

    That’s a nice way of putting it. It seems to be a problem that many have with the notion of evidence. The false dichotomy often appears that either you need to prove or disprove something, so if you can’t disprove it you must suspend judgement until you can look at it one way or the other. And since you can’t prove a negative (different from a proof of impossibilty) the only options left are either agnosticism or certainty and that it’s an unfounded act of faith to come to the negative.

    Of course one cannot disprove ghosts in the same way either, showing that this line of thinking is useless at best and fallacious at worst. Calling something nonsense is not the same at saying “in absolute certainty there is no possible way such an entity could possibily exist”, it’s merely reflecting the extraordinary nature of the claim that is unmatched by evidence supporting it.

  53. #53 IaMoL
    January 18, 2010

    #49.
    Mr. Dreher is a columnist for the Dallas Morning News as you may already know. Somehow he is considered to be the shining star for A. H. Belo Corp, which owns DMN. I just shudder and shake my head. When the Dallas Morning News goes under, which by many indications will be well within the decade, I will morn the loss of the las major newspaper in Dallas but I will also rejoice because Rod Dreher will have one less forum to spread his personal brand of idiocy ideology.

  54. #54 MadScientist
    January 18, 2010

    I’ve often wondered how Bertrand Russel managed to attract so many wives while women seem to run away from me when I say things like “that’s not true”, “that’s nonsense” and attempt to educate anyone about the woo-woo. Just last weekend someone was saying how they were reading a book and found that she shared many experiences in common with the author. I pointed out that it would in fact be extremely unusual if she and the author had no experiences in common at all, gave a short lecture on probabilities, and explained how the likelihood of shared experiences is exploited by the palm readers, tarot card readers, psychics and other thieving bozos. Apparently she had no inclination to learn but would rather believe in some mystical bond between other humans – so I was left all alone. (Which was OK by me, I hopped on my bike and sped off to see new places.)

  55. #55 Free Lunch
    January 18, 2010

    I do think that social connections are a value in themselves and that churches are one such way to develop them, but the religious rigamarole related to those social connections are hardly worth the bother.

    I know one person who is loudly atheist, but enjoys attending a UU church.

  56. #56 https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawkEbSvbesxh8eM-esOt6ZmF0eoYfvIyIm4
    January 18, 2010

    This goes back much further. Russell’s philosopher antecedent, David Hume, shortly before his death, in 1778, was interviewed by James Boswell:

    “I asked him if it was not possible that there might be a future state. He answered it was possible that a piece of coal put upon the fire would not burn; and he added that it was a most unreasonable fancy that we should exist for ever. That immortality, if it were at all, must be general; that a great proportion of the human race has hardly any intellectual qualities; that a great proportion dies in infancy before being possessed of reason; yet all these must be immortal; that a porter who gets drunk by ten o’clock with gin must be immortal; that the trash of every age must be preserved, and that new universes must be created to contain such infinite numbers. This appeared to me an unphilosophical objection.

    “I asked him if the thought of annihilation never gave him any uneasiness. He said not the least; no more than the thought that he had not been, as Lucretius observes.

    “Hume had once said to me, on a forenoon while the sun was shining bright, that he did not wish to be immortal. This was a most wonderful thought. The reason he gave was that he was very well in this state of being, and that the chances were very much against his being so well in another state; and he would rather not be more than be worse.”

  57. #57 jeff
    January 18, 2010

    I’m just amazed that Sir Bertrand lived another 10 or 11 years after that! I’m also a bit surprised that PZ cares, for once, what a philosopher thinks. Maybe we deserve a little more respect, hmm?

    Thanks for posting this!

  58. #58 deang
    January 18, 2010

    Nowadays the mild-mannered and polite Russell would be decried as strident! and extremist! by Americans, just like the equally well-mannered Richard Dawkins is.

    When I was in grad school in the late 80s, one of my Baptist great aunts came to visit, and soon after, I began receiving calls from a local relative that the aunt had informed her that I needed to “find a church.” I later found out that the great aunt was spurred to try to get me to church because she’d seen a Bertrand Russell book on my shelves.

  59. #59 MarcusA1971
    January 18, 2010

    Wonderful. I loved his contempt for those that believe something purely for it’s benefit, not for it’s validity.

    One of my favourite essays from Christopher Hitchens’ compilation was from Bertrand Russell.

  60. #60 Kel, OM
    January 18, 2010

    I’m also a bit surprised that PZ cares, for once, what a philosopher thinks.

    Sure PZ cares what philosophers think. I remember a post about Alvin Plantinga’s EAAN, he cared enough to write about how vapid an idea it was as opposed to just ignoring it ;)

  61. #61 bethrobson
    January 18, 2010

    Love this video clip! Regarding the epithet, I’m wondering if it has anything to do with this definition when I looked up the word in the dictionary to see what meaning I might be missing about your post…

    an adjective or descriptive phrase expressing a quality characteristic of the person or thing mentioned : old men are often unfairly awarded the epithet ?dirty.?

    Are atheists (and Bertrand himself) considered to be “dirty old men”? :-)

    or rather, Godless dirty old men.

    Ha.

  62. #62 Skeptic Tim
    January 18, 2010

    stvs (#45) you forgot an earlier one: Siddhattha Gautama (soometimes known as the Buddha) circa 563 BCE to 483 BCE

    “First, some say that all human experience is based on destiny; second, some hold that everything is created by God and controlled by His will; third, some say that everything happens by chance without having any cause or condition.
    If all has been decided by destiny, both good deeds and evil deeds are predetermined, happiness and sorrow are predestined; nothing would exist that has not been fore­ordained. Then all human plans and efforts for improvement and progress would be in vain and humanity would be without hope.
    The same is true of the other viewpoints; for, if everything in the last resort is in the hands of an unknowable God, or of blind chance, what hope has humanity except in submission? No wonder people holding these conceptions lose hope and neglect efforts to act wisely and to avoid evil.
    In fact, these three conceptions or viewpoints are all wrong: everything is a succession of appearances whose source is the accumulation of causes and conditions.
    …”

  63. #63 Eric
    January 18, 2010

    Islander: “He [Russell] didn’t really categorically deny the existence of an afterlife, he said he thought it was nonsense.

    At 2:50, Russell is asked, “There is no afterlife?” to which he responds, “None whatever, no.” Since we can at most say there is no evidence of an afterlife, this clearly contradicts the dictum he suggests at 35 seconds into the clip: “Either a thing is true or it isn’t. If it is true, you should believe it, and if it isn’t, you shouldn’t. And if you can’t find out whether it’s true or whether it isn’t, you should suspend judgment.”

  64. #64 Eric
    January 18, 2010

    I should add that #64 assumes (1) we do not in fact *know* whether there’s an afterlife (i.e. whether the proposition, “there is an afterlife” is true or false, though we may of course have good reasons for supporting a particular position on the issue), and (2) Russell himself knows that (1) is true. These strike me as uncontroversial assumptions.

  65. #65 atomjack
    January 18, 2010

    I loved it! I’m sending the url to my two oldest sons (both atheists) for their viewing pleasure.

    NB: Some people depend on their faith in a god to give them some spine. If there is a book that people rely on for consensus reality, there is a strength to be found there. Truth is not an issue, as Russell points out. That’s a cryin’ shame, but still true.

  66. #66 Free Lunch
    January 18, 2010

    Eric-

    Is there really any reason to suspend judgment on whether leprechauns exist?

    The afterlife is just another assertion that cannot be supported by any evidence and has no rational basis for acceptance. Since there is no reason or evidence to support the claim that it exists, we can determine that it does not exist.

  67. #67 Free Lunch
    January 18, 2010

    Eric –

    Concerning your followup. How do you justify defending a claim that is unsupported by any evidence and it contrary to everything we know about life? What makes the claim that there is an afterlife worthy of consideration?

  68. #68 Eric
    January 18, 2010

    Free Lunch, first, the issue is whether Russell contradicted himself in the video, not whether one is in fact justified in concluding that P doesn’t obtain in the absence of evidence for P.

    That said — and this is a different issue — it’s simply not the case that “we can *determine that* [x] does not exist” from the premise “there is no reason or evidence to support the claim that [x] exists.” We may, in some cases, *justifiably conclude that* x doesn’t exist if there is no evidence for x, but we can rarely *determine that* x doesn’t exist from a mere absence of evidence. (I take you to be identifying ‘determining that’ with ‘knowing that'; if you’re not, and merely mean by it ‘justifiably concluding that,’ then disregard what I wrote above.)

  69. #69 Ewan R
    January 18, 2010

    All the way back at #28 Elbowman states:-

    witness the injustice perpetrated by the practices of the Monsanto corporation

    sorry to arrive so late to the game but… what injustice perpetrated by the practices of the Monsanto corporation.

    Are we talking about the vast injustice of increasing farmer incomes in developing nations by 50-150%

    Or perhaps the terrible crime of reducing the environmental impact of herbicide used on crops by upwards of 30%.

    Or would that be the socially calamatous move to reduce insecticide useage (particularly of the most noxious insecticides) such that in China the reported rate of insecticidal poisoning amongst farm workers went into free fall (and the Environmental impact and amount of active ingredient used in the US has plummeted dramatically)

    Or are you just wittering about the enforcement of patents, which is about as injust(unjust?) as prosecuting a common thief.

  70. #70 Miki Z
    January 18, 2010

    I think Russell may have known the difference between ‘prove’ and ‘find out’ and said ‘prove’ if that’s what he meant. Just maybe.

  71. #71 Miki Z
    January 18, 2010

    Ewan,

    If that common thief stole by waiting for your property to migrate into his house and become inextricably entwined with his things and then object when you sued him for his entire house, then you might have a point on that.

  72. #72 Eric
    January 18, 2010

    Miki Z, he said “find out *whether it’s true or [false]*”; this is latter part is key. When you’re talking about finding out whether something is true or false, you’re talking about more than justified belief.

  73. #73 Peter H
    January 18, 2010

    I’m led to speculate how a conversation between Bertrand Russell and Joseph Campbell might have gone.

  74. #74 Miki Z
    January 18, 2010

    Eric,

    I’d suggest that this is not the case when you’re talking to a mathematician. I certainly believe, and have good reason to believe that most mathematicians also believe, that only mathematical statements can be absolutely true or absolutely false. Anything else is conditional, even if the only condition is that one is not hallucinating or part of a plan by a supernatural being attempting to deceive humans.

  75. #75 Eric
    January 18, 2010

    Now, to be clear, may Russell have simply expressed himself poorly, or may he have simplified what he was saying for a popular audience? Sure. But it seems to me that even on a charitable hearing, he contradicted himself. The argument would go something like this:

    If we can find out something is true, we should believe it, and if we can find out something is false, we should not believe it. If we can’t find out whether something is true, we should suspend judgment. Now, Russell claims there’s no afterlife, i.e. he’s claiming the proposition, “there is an afterlife” is false. But it follows that we must then be able to find out whether it’s true that there’s no afterlife. But this is false; so, since we cannot find out whether there’s an afterlife, we should, per Russell’s dictum, suspend judgment with respect to the question. But Russell didn’t suspend judgement — he said that there is no afterlife. So Russell was inconsistent in the application of his dictum. So Russell contradicted himself.

  76. #76 godlesswonder
    January 18, 2010

    Wonderful to see this video! I’m smack in the middle of a graphic novel called LOGICOMIX-An Epic Search for Truth, that is based on the early life of Bertrand Russell. It’s quite well done, if you appreciate such things. Thanks for posting this, PZ! If interested in graphic novel, check the links.

    http://www.logicomix.com/en/index.php?option=com_content&view=frontpage&Itemid=53

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XebglmXrgEc

  77. #77 Miki Z
    January 18, 2010

    I realize #75 may have come off as exceptionalist for mathematics, so let me clarify:

    Mathematical statements may be absolutely true or absolutely false because we define them to be so, or because they follow logically — i.e. in a way that we define to be valid — from other statements that we have defined to be absolutely true or absolutely false. Not all mathematicians would agree with me on that — platonists in particular would argue somewhat differently.

  78. #78 Eric
    January 18, 2010

    Miki Z: “I think Russell may have known the difference between ‘prove’ and ‘find out’ and said ‘prove’ if that’s what he meant. Just maybe.”

    Eric: “Miki Z, he said “find out *whether it’s true or [false]*”; this is latter part is key. When you’re talking about finding out whether something is true or false, you’re talking about more than justified belief.”

    Miki Z: “I’d suggest that this is not the case when you’re talking to a mathematician. I certainly believe, and have good reason to believe that most mathematicians also believe, that only mathematical statements can be absolutely true or absolutely false. Anything else is conditional, even if the only condition is that one is not hallucinating or part of a plan by a supernatural being attempting to deceive humans.”

    Miki Z, epistemologists don’t consider justified beliefs to be true, and for a simple reason: we all hold a host of justified beliefs that are false.

    Re: conditionals, I don’t know what the difference would be (with respect to truth values) between a true conditional and a true mathematical statement. And I don’t know the difference between something that is true, and something that is absolutely true. You seem to be confusing the question of whether something is true with the question of whether we can know that something is true; these are distinct questions.

  79. #79 Kel, OM
    January 18, 2010

    I should add that #64 assumes (1) we do not in fact *know* whether there’s an afterlife (i.e. whether the proposition, “there is an afterlife” is true or false, though we may of course have good reasons for supporting a particular position on the issue), and (2) Russell himself knows that (1) is true. These strike me as uncontroversial assumptions.

    This is the same guy who would call himself an atheist to a popular audience and an agnostic to a philosophical audience because of the different assumptions as to what he means.

  80. #80 Miki Z
    January 18, 2010

    I’m not confusing the two — I’m well aware of the difference. I’m saying that an afterlife is not unknowable, and that Russell had enough information to believe it does not exist. If one cannot find out that there is an afterlife, I would argue that it cannot exist. If it did, one could (indeed, inevitably would) find out.

  81. #81 Eric
    January 18, 2010

    “I’m saying that an afterlife is not unknowable, and that Russell had enough information to believe it does not exist.”

    But he did not merely “believe it did not exist”; he said there is no afterlife whatever. This is a claim to knowledge. Now, I agree that Russell could’ve most likely supported the belief that there’s no afterlife with a number of more or less good reasons (though I doubt they’re any better than the reasons given by those who do believe there’s an afterlife; alas, this is yet another issue), *but again, there’s a difference between claiming to hold a justified belief on the one hand, and claiming to know whether something obtains on the other*. The question he was asked wasn’t about what Russell believed; it was about whether there is an afterlife. And Russell’s answer wasn’t, “I believe such and such,” but that there is no afterlife whatever.

  82. #82 Eric
    January 18, 2010

    “If one cannot find out that there is an afterlife, I would argue that it cannot exist.”

    This simply doesn’t follow. Why should our epistemic limitations determine ontological issues?

  83. #83 Miki Z
    January 18, 2010

    Hmm. It may just come down to a matter of style, then. I’m of the opinion that every statement is a statement of belief (or at least, I believe I am). This belief may slant my reading of what others say in the same direction. It may also be that the complex partial seizures I experience on a regular basis bias me towards a belief in the unknowability of objective truth since I frequently have evidence that I’ve done things I don’t remember doing. :-)

  84. #84 Kel, OM
    January 18, 2010

    “Either a thing is true or it isn’t. If it is true, you should believe it, and if it isn’t, you shouldn’t. And if you can’t find out whether it’s true or whether it isn’t, you should suspend judgment.”

    So what’s the criteria for whether one can find out? Take the Shroud of Turin for example. Now I can’t know that it isn’t the burial shroud of Christ. Yet all evidence points towards it being a 13th century forgery. Should I suspend judgement because I can’t know it ain’t not true?

  85. #85 Miki Z
    January 18, 2010

    About 83,

    If there is an afterlife about which one cannot ever find out, how would that work? If you limit it to “cannot find out before death”, then you’re right.

  86. #86 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    January 18, 2010

    This simply doesn’t follow. Why should our epistemic limitations determine ontological issues?

    Logic, U R doing it wrong. Deities don’t exist. Ergo, afterlife, which is based upon imaginary deities, doesn’t exist. Unless you are a delusional fool and believe in imaginary deities.

  87. #87 Eric
    January 18, 2010

    “Hmm. It may just come down to a matter of style, then. I’m of the opinion that every statement is a statement of belief (or at least, I believe I am).”

    Miki Z, suppose you ask, “Where are my keys?” and Jones answers, “I believe they’re on the table” while Smith says, “They’re on the table.” Now while it certainly may be the case that they’re both saying the same thing differently, it may also be the case that Jones is claiming to believe but not know your keys are on the table, while Smith is claiming to know — and hence necessarily to believe — that they’re on the table. In other words, not every claim to believe X is a claim to know X, while every claim to know X is necessarily a claim to believe X. When Russell was asked, “There’s no afterlife?” and responded, “None whatever, no,” I took him to be making a knowledge claim, and thus a claim about his beliefs, but not merely to be saying what he believed to be the case.

  88. #88 Eric
    January 18, 2010

    “Logic, U R doing it wrong. Deities don’t exist. Ergo, afterlife, which is based upon imaginary deities, doesn’t exist. Unless you are a delusional fool and believe in imaginary deities.”

    Tell that to a Buddhist. Or to Socrates (Plato). Neither believe(d) that an afterlife “is based upon imaginary dieties.” Ergo — well, you work it out.

  89. #89 Miki Z
    January 18, 2010

    Yes, I see what you’re saying. If Russell was stating that he knows, rather than believes, that there is no afterlife, then he was inconsistent in his application of how he suggested we decide on belief. I don’t think it follows that he contradicted himself, but that may again be my personality. I believe that people (including myself) should do a lot of things that I find myself having trouble doing.

  90. #90 Skeptic Tim
    January 18, 2010

    Eric (#89)
    If one follows the earliest Pali texts that describe the teachings of Siddhattha Gautama; when he lay dying of food poisoning he addressed one of his followers with:

    ” Vaccha, suppose a fire burning in front of you were to die out, and some one were to ask, ?In which direction has that fire gone?east, or west, or north, or south?? What would you say, Vaccha?

    The question would not fit the case, Gautama. For when that fuel has all gone and there is no more, the fire which depended on fuel of grass and wood, being without nutriment, is said to be extinguished. To say that the fire has gone east or west would not fit the case. To say that the fire has not gone east or west but gone north or south would not fit the case.

    In exactly the same way, Vaccha, all the modalities by which one could have predicated the existence of a good person who has died, at death all those modalities have been abandoned, uprooted, pulled out of the ground like a palmyra tree, and become non-existent and not liable to spring up again in the future. …”

    This text suggests that Gautama saw life as a chemical reaction analogous to fire which simply ceases at death.

  91. #91 Miki Z
    January 18, 2010

    It’s my understanding, based on the reading of various Buddhist sutras and living in a country in which various stripes of Buddhism are the majority belief of the population, that “afterlife” would be a misnomer for what Buddhists believe. It’s all life, there is no “after” except oblivion. Even Pure Land Buddhism, which believes in a sort of paradise, only gives that as a lifetime of respite and comparative ease in obtaining enlightenment, not as an eternal reward.

  92. #92 Screechy_Monkey
    January 19, 2010

    Eric, you need to keep in mind the context.

    First, Russell was being interviewed, and I assume from the demeanor of the interviewer and her questions that it was for a lay audience, not a group of philosophers. When you want to be understood by normal people, you talk like normal people. And normal people do not respond to every question with “I don’t know” simply because they don’t have absolute metaphysical certainty, nor do they constantly couch every statement in disclaimers like “I don’t know, but my provisional opinion based on the evidence currently available to me,” lest they actually be caught saying something that could conceivably prove false one day.

    If someone asks me, “Who’s going to win this weekend, the Colts or the Jets,” and I say “the Colts,” he may agree with me or disagree, but he’s not going to assume that I am claiming psychic powers or that I am a time traveller from the future who knows the outcome of the game with certainty.

    Second, the interviewer was clearly seeking Russell’s opinion. She was clearly fishing around with Pascal’s Wager type questions about whether Russell started to wonder as he got older and whether he feared death or what might happen afterwards, etc. When she asks “there’s no afterlife?” she’s clearly asking for his opinion, not suggesting that he has somehow obtained evidence that nobody else on the planet has.

  93. #93 Kel, OM
    January 19, 2010

    The other thing to remember, in a TV interview you don’t have to present your working out. Does it really follow that the person who came up with the Celestial Teapot argument would be so easily muddled when it comes to matters such as this?

  94. #94 Miki Z
    January 19, 2010

    Oh, but the argument about an afterlife is Important. The teapot, not so much. That the Importance of The Question underscores exactly the point the teapot argument makes is coincidental, I’m sure.

  95. #95 https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawmi0enWEr3aTvuG9Z9VYXrYemhjnDKbjKo
    January 19, 2010

    And we do not know how much of this interview was edited out.

  96. #96 Kel, OM
    January 19, 2010

    Not having evidence is one thing; being able to determine the truth or falsity of something is another thing altogether.

    Eric, just how far do you go with this? Do you take it to absolute certainty in so far that if it isn’t philosophically impossible that it cannot be commented against? I’m just trying to see the limits of what you’re saying.

    For what it’s worth, I tend to think of it like this: I cannot prove that homoeopathy is nonsense. yet when I look at the claims made, I see them as being inconsistent with what I understand about the world. It’s illogical to begin with, proposes a mechanism that has no biochemical basis, and its effect is empirically indistinguishable from a known valid mechanism in the placebo effect. I can’t say with certainty that homoeopathy is nonsense, but I can say it with as much knowledge as I can have that homoeopathy is nonsense.

    I apply the same reckoning to religious beliefs. Pulling it out of the realm of the testable doesn’t mean its out of the realm of knowledge. We do have knowledge of how ideas such as heaven come to be, they exist in multiple cultures, and even in fiction. People can just make things up, they can follow faulty arguments, have hallucinations, be fed misleading information, etc. To my mind, beliefs don’t exist in isolation so why should they be treated as such? I can’t disprove the existence of a Crocoduck, but I can point to the origin of the concept as well as point to the absurdity of such a creature given my understanding of evolutionary theory.

  97. #97 Mr T
    January 19, 2010

    I think Kel’s analogy to homeopathy in #97 is a fairly good one.

    For me, the concept of an “afterlife” is pure nonsense. We accept the word as being meaningful (even nonbelievers if we aren’t extremely careful) only insofar as we assume on the basis of no evidence what sort of “afterlife” it is we’re talking about. Is it the type of heaven where everyone praises the celestial dictator for eternity, or plays golf forever, or does whatever one wants to do most, or one with beer volcanoes and stripper factories, etc.?

    It can mean virtually anything that is by definition unverifiable (a common tactic for supporting religious beliefs) because it supposedly happens after death.

    There is no mechanism by which this transition from “life” to “afterlife” is supposed to occur. There isn’t even the slightest attempt to do such a thing. The closest anyone has come is presupposing that some psychotic sky daddy has invented us all as his playthings, and in a gesture of good will, forces us to believe in it without evidence in order to do all of the evil things commanded in his preposterous holy book. I’m no longer sure which one is supposed to be heaven and which is hell.

    So what reason is there to suspend judgment on such a meaningless proposition? Just in case the wishful thinking happens to be true, despite the lack of evidence or even a valid argument?

    You know what happens after death? We can be sure of this: the matter that you were composed of continues to exist. Other stuff continues to exist. Maybe billions and billions of years into the future it will be a different story because of the Big Rip — I don’t know, but even if we never know the answer, at least that appears to be a meaningful question.

  98. #98 Kel, OM
    January 19, 2010

    One more comment before I retire for the night.

    Just because it can be theoretically conceived of, it doesn’t mean that it has validity. To point to an example that should get universal agreement: Star Wars.

    Now it might be that a long long time ago in a galaxy far away [putting it beyond knowledge] the people, places and events really did exist. There are something like 200,000,000,000 galaxies in the universe, each containing ~1,000,000,000,000 stars. Our frame of reference is of course one planet orbiting one star in a different galaxy.

    So does this mean that we should treat seriously the existence of Master Yoda? That Luke Skywalker blew up the Death Star after it had been used to destroy Alderon? That the force exists, and there is a light side and dark side to it? And so on…

    Now I hear the objections already, why am I talking such nonsense? It’s fiction, it’s a fictional story made up by George Lucas. But how do they know? Can they say for certain that Obi Wan didn’t guide the writings of the Star Wars episodes – or any other character for that matter. Those who mastered the force were able to communicate with the living long after they died.

    This is the problem of arguing for things based on that they can’t be proved nor disproved. One cannot disprove that the events of Star Wars are actual events of the universe, but if someone claimed to actually believe it as real events surely we’d have grounds for calling it nonsense.

  99. #99 ConcernedJoe
    January 19, 2010

    Listening to you all and to myself — to me the issue is the meaning of “cannot”.

    If one says “We [as of yet] cannot prove X exists or does not exist [because presently we lack sufficient tools and/or knowledge to make competent comprehensive tests]” it would still be reasonable to assume X exists if strong induction makes such a statement operationally valid and especially if using the assumption that X exists helps explain and correctly predict things that can be tested adequately.

    However X “cannot” exist without any material evidence nor any valid induction to such a conclusion. If after many years and many tries by experts there is not at least a properly logical basis [e.g., via strong inductive reasoning] to say X exists, I have every PRACTICAL reason to simply say “X does not exist” and move on to useful stuff.

    But that is me. So to me the afterlife (as implied by the questioner BTW) does NOT exist. Purists can say I am misspeaking – and BTW evidence to the contrary could still change my mind. But for now: “E credo l’uom gioco d’iniqua sorte. Dal genne della culla. Al verme ..”

  100. #100 Stephen Wells
    January 19, 2010

    I think the proposition “when you die, you don’t die” is internally contradictory; the concept of an “afterlife” is meaningless. Expecting the mind to continue when the brain is dead is like expecting the RPM to still be there when the engine is dismantled.

  101. #101 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    January 19, 2010

    Ergo — well, you work it out.

    Yes, religious folks are delusional fools. No deity, no afterlife. Prove otherwise with physical evidence.

  102. #102 Walton
    January 19, 2010

    As I understand it, the notion of an “afterlife” necessarily presupposes some kind of mind-body dualism. It assumes that there is some aspect of an individual’s identity and consciousness which is “non-corporeal” and independent from the physical body, and can survive the death of the physical body. There is, to my knowledge, no particular scientific evidence to support this point of view.

    A lot of non-religious sci-fi seems to presume this too. All the common sci-fi tropes about transferring or preserving a person’s “consciousness”, in some receptacle other than the body, makes the same assumption: that “the consciousness” or “the mind” is some kind of entity separate from the physical brain. The same assumption is also made by those who believe in ghosts and in reincarnation.

    Therefore, although the idea of an afterlife itself is non-testable and non-falsifiable, it is possible to test the basic assumption on which the notion of an afterlife is founded. In order for the concept of “afterlife” to even make sense, it would be necessary to establish that the mind or consciousness is a separate entity from the physical body. I would think that this question, in theory, can be scientifically tested. Obviously, as with deities and ghosts, it’s not possible to absolutely disprove the existence of a “soul”; but the fact that there is absolutely no empirical evidence for its existence should suggest that, until evidence is adduced to the contrary, we can reasonably assume that it doesn’t exist.

  103. #103 csrster
    January 19, 2010

    Bertrand Russell is the reason I’ve never read The God Delusion. I mean, why bother when Russell removed the last vestiges of my religious belief 30 years ago?

  104. #104 https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawkdk7Db1qx2KhoffR_x7XpUn-vlwKkCnAg
    January 19, 2010

    Je craque @#29, thank you for the links.

    I usually post as Faithful Reader (meaning I read Pharyngula faithfully every day) but have not yet defeated the sign in system.

    I’d still appreciate any ideas on how I can bring this travesty of an appearance to the general campus’s attention.

  105. #105 https://me.yahoo.com/hairychris444#96384
    January 19, 2010

    Walton @ 103

    That’s unless the afterlife starts as some sort of mystic memory & processor dump at the moment of death. At that point you don’t need duality per se as long as you capture the exact physical state of the mind assuming that it’s a purely physical entity.

    Admittedly that means that you don’t have a soul (just a current state) until you pop your clogs. And it’ll also be a bit of a nightmare to test!

    ;-D

  106. #106 Je craque
    January 19, 2010

    Faithful Reader @105, I’d consult with another faculty member if possible. In my limited UG experience the systematists are the most receptive to atheism and the most hostile towards YECs. If you’re at a public 4-year college, whoever teaches the Evolutionary Bio course will do nicely, or if there isn’t one offered, I’d go straight to the head of the bio dept and let him/her know who Malone is and what he’ll be discussing in his series of talks. Depending on where your greatest concern lies–that the school is sponsoring this nutjob, that students will enter your classroom convinced of his propaganda, etc.–you may want to take a different set of actions, but I would definitely reach out to a senior faculty member and gauge their reaction to the guy first. Worst-case scenario, if the damage is done and he’s definitely booked, and you can’t get in touch with anyone else on the faculty, check out the titles of the seminars he’ll be giving and do your homework–creationist claims are often recycled and very rarely original, so it shouldn’t be difficult to predict what he’ll say–then show up and give ‘em hell in the Q&A. Chances are you won’t be the only one.

  107. #107 David Marjanovi?
    January 19, 2010

    stvs (#45) you forgot an earlier one: Siddha[r]tha Gautama (soometimes known as the Buddha) circa 563 BCE to 483 BCE

    It goes back even further.

  108. #108 SparrowFalls
    January 19, 2010

    Shouldn’t it occur to those asking “From whence morality?” for atheists that it comes from the same place as it does for the religious?

    Shouldn’t they also wonder why young children, who often ‘believe’ without question, show a poor grasp of morality? This would seem to confirm that morality comes from an understanding of human society, rather than a gift from a god. Of course you could argue that young children have not been ‘educated’ by a priest/vicar/rabbi/imam – but then that still seems like second-hand morality.

  109. #109 tylerdurden1200
    January 19, 2010

    Nerd: Yes, religious folks are delusional fools. No deity, no afterlife. Prove otherwise with physical evidence.

    As opposed to delusional fools like, say, you, who, even after having your mindless mantra “show the physical evidence” satisfied, still insist belief in an afterlife must necessarily stem from belief in a deity, huh.

    Moron.

  110. #110 Kel, OM
    January 19, 2010

    Bertrand Russell is the reason I’ve never read The God Delusion. I mean, why bother when Russell removed the last vestiges of my religious belief 30 years ago?

    I was an atheist when I read The God Delusion, the book isn’t really there as a de-conversion manual but both entertaining and interesting.

  111. #111 Jadehawk, OM
    January 19, 2010

    As opposed to delusional fools like, say, you, who, even after having your mindless mantra “show the physical evidence” satisfied, still insist belief in an afterlife must necessarily stem from belief in a deity, huh.

    what…?! are you claiming that there’s physical evidence for the afterlife, or are you just talking about evidence that there’s people who don’t believe in deities who believe in an afterlife?

  112. #112 tylerdurden1200
    January 19, 2010

    Tyler: As opposed to delusional fools like, say, you, who, even after having your mindless mantra “show the physical evidence” satisfied, still insist belief in an afterlife must necessarily stem from belief in a deity, huh.

    Jadehawk: what…?! are you claiming that there’s physical evidence for the afterlife, or are you just talking about evidence that there’s people who don’t believe in deities who believe in an afterlife?

    I’m curious as to how that post even remotely suggests that I claimed there is physical evidence for “the”(sic) afterlife.

    Or, I’m talking about the latter, obviously.

  113. #113 AJ Milne
    January 19, 2010

    Reading Russell for me was at once reassuring and frustrating. Reassuring because it was so nice to know there were others before me who’d thought this stuff. Frustrating ‘cos someone had also already written the book I’d have been quite happy to have done myself.

    Among the kind things Russell did for me: he was on my bookshelf and plainly visible when my Moslem mother-in-law came to visit, once…

    She’d been occasionally making these veiled attempt-to-convert forays prior to that. She was around once long enough apparently to leaf through Russell a bit… I found it sitting there, after she left.

    She generally seemed to go out of her way to avoid speaking to me about religion after that. I’ve always sorta suspected these things were connected. It was like she saw that thing, and figured she sure as hell didn’t want to go anywhere near there with me.

  114. #114 Jadehawk, OM
    January 19, 2010

    I’m curious as to how that post even remotely suggests that I claimed there is physical evidence for “the”(sic) afterlife.

    Or, I’m talking about the latter, obviously.

    I’m on my first cup of coffee, what do you want from me.

    Anyway, I don’t know why Nerd insist on talking about deities when what he seems to mean is belief in magic.

  115. #115 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    January 19, 2010

    As opposed to delusional fools like, say, you, who, even after having your mindless mantra “show the physical evidence” satisfied, still insist belief in an afterlife must necessarily stem from belief in a deity.

    What physical evidence moron? Cite the peer reviewed scientific literature, not some fiction written by delusional fools, whether or not deities are involved. There is no conclusive evidence for afterlife. That is the parsimonious position. Now, cite your scientfic evidence…

  116. #116 v.rosenzweig
    January 19, 2010

    MadScientist:

    Try lecturing less and listening more. If I’m reading a book, I may just want to read my book, or I may be interested in discussing it with someone. I’m very unlikely to want to listen while a random guy tells me why I’m wrong about it, or why I shouldn’t find it interesting or important.

    Specific to that incident, if someone told me she was reading a book and had a lot in common with the author, I’d ask her what the commonalities were. Maybe it’s pure coincidence, or maybe she’s enjoying this specific memoir because it’s by someone else who survived the same disease, but also wound up divorced afterwards, or went to the same small college at the same time. You’re not going to do well at making friends, much less romantic partners, if your general approach to women is “approach woman. Lecture her about why she is wrong. Get annoyed when she argues with your lecture. Ride away.”

    Even if you’re right about key points–even if you’re trying to talk someone out of believing in astrology–lectures from strangers who are sure of themselves aren’t likely to go over well. Even someone who might be receptive to a lecture on a factual subject they knew they were ignorant about–how to make a risotto, or the mating habits of the albatross–is less likely to be receptive if it’s a matter of opinion (is risotto better than pilaf?), or one where they have no reason to believe you know more than they do. You might have a Nobel Prize, and they might have dropped out of high school, but they don’t know you have that credential.

  117. #117 tylerdurden1200
    January 19, 2010

    Jadehawk: I’m on my first cup of coffee, what do you want from me. Anyway, I don’t know why Nerd insist on talking about deities when what he seems to mean is belief in magic.

    I’m on my second bowl. I don’t want anything from you.

    Anyway, I’m curious as to how substituting ‘magic’ for ‘deities’ would change anything. It’s still a non sequitur; which, hilariously ironic enough, immediately followed the statement, “Logic, U R doing it wrong.”

  118. #118 Jadehawk, OM
    January 19, 2010

    I’m curious as to how substituting ‘magic’ for ‘deities’ would change anything.

    for starters, because it is indeed impossible to believe in an afterlife without believing in magic (i.e. the possibility of doing things that go against the laws of physics), even though mostly people wouldn’t think of themselves as believing in magic. And secondly, because this isn’t the only argument where the Nerd talks about deities but seems to mean supernatural, i.e. magical, stuff in general.

  119. #119 tylerdurden1200
    January 19, 2010

    Nerd: What physical evidence moron?

    The physical evidence for the existence of people who don’t believe in deities yet believe in an afterlife. Ergo, you know, the physical evidence that contradicts your delusional claim, “… [belief in an] afterlife, which is based upon [belief in] imaginary deities…”

    Moron.

    Nerd: There is no conclusive evidence for afterlife.

    I didn’t claim otherwise, moron.

  120. #120 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    January 19, 2010

    I didn’t claim otherwise, moron.

    Tyledurden, then should shouldn’t be any disagreement. My comments which started your tantrum were aimed at Eric the sophist philosopher, who keeps trying to drag his imaginary deity into every possible argument. You missed that MORON.

    *If you don’t like receiving, don’t be giving. Lighten up a little.*

  121. #121 Eric
    January 19, 2010

    “My comments which started your tantrum were aimed at Eric the sophist philosopher, who keeps trying to drag his imaginary deity into every possible argument.”

    And claiming that Russell contradicted himself constitutes an attempt on my part to drag my imaginary deity into this ‘argument’ how?

    And do I really try to drag my imaginary deity into “every possible argument”? Are you even aware of how rarely I comment here on Pharyngula?

    So as usual you’re wrong on all counts, NoR.

    “No deity, no afterlife. Prove otherwise with physical evidence.”

    You really messed this one up, NoR. All I claimed is that belief in god isn’t necessary for belief in an afterlife, and I provided two uncontroversial examples.

    Now, I see you’re making a claim here, viz. “No deity, no afterlife.” Um, do you have any physical evidence that supports this claim? Because, you know, you claim not to believe anything that isn’t supported by physical evidence. So please provide your physical evidence that supports the truth of the claim, “No deity, no afterlife.”

    “Eric, just how far do you go with this?”

    Kel, in post #69 I said that “we may, in some cases, justifiably conclude that x doesn’t exist if there is no evidence for x, but we can rarely determine that x doesn’t exist from a mere absence of evidence.” And I think Russell would agree with this (it’s certainly consistent with his famous teapot).

    The crucial move in my argument concerns whether we are in fact in a position to “find out” whether there’s life after death. I don’t think we are. Most claims about the afterlife are repudiated with references to the absence of conditions necessary for continued existence in this life, but this strikes me as irrelevant, since the very concept of an afterlife presupposes death, i.e. the absence of the conditions necessary for survival in this life. And, most conceptions of an afterlife (at least the ones I’m familiar with) posit a continued existence in some other mode of being; in other words, there is an identity of essence and a change of mode. Now, keep in mind that I’m only explaining how people tend to think of an afterlife, and why, given this conception, the common objections seem to me to miss the mark. I’m not claiming to have evidence or proof or whatever that there is an afterlife, or even to understand in a rigorous way just what is meant by some of the concepts evoked. But it seems to me that this is all I have to do to support my claim, i.e. that neither we nor Russell are in a position to “find out” whether there’s an afterlife, and hence, given what I’ve called Russell’s dictum, that Russell contradicted himself.

  122. #122 Eric
    January 19, 2010

    “I’m not claiming to have evidence or proof or whatever that there is an afterlife, or even to understand in a rigorous way just what is meant by some of the concepts evoked.”

    Sorry, that should be “invoked.” (I don’t know how, or if, we can edit posts here.)

  123. #123 Kel, OM
    January 19, 2010

    The crucial move in my argument concerns whether we are in fact in a position to “find out” whether there’s life after death. I don’t think we are.

    This is where I would disagree, though I’m not sure about Russell. Modern neuroscience (if there was any doubt before then) has pretty well shown that thought is a physical phenomenon. That brain activity is a physical trait that has emerged from a physical process. Meanwhile, the afterlife is consistent and indiscernable from making things up. And if I’m reading you correctly (please correct me if I’m wrong) by the criteria set we can no more dismiss an afterlife than we can that Star Wars is the recreation of a historical series of events.

    Why the afterlife should have special privilege as a concept beyond anything we could consider not impossible is something I am missing.

  124. #124 Knockgoats
    January 19, 2010

    Eric,

    So, if the interviewer had asked:
    “Do you ever wonder whether you might get rich by catching a leprechaun and forcing him to give you his gold?”,
    and Russell had answered:
    “There are no leprechauns”,
    you would claim he had contradicted himself?

  125. #125 Eric
    January 19, 2010

    Knockgoats, no. As I said above, in some cases we are indeed justified in concluding that something doesn’t exist from an absence of evidence alone. (As you can imagine, this is a big and complicated topic, so forgive me for treating it quickly.) For example, let’s say I’m terrified of large dogs. We’re going to visit a friend who lives in a small, one room apartment. I ask you before we enter to check if there are any large dogs in the apartment, and so you go into the apartment, look it over closely, and conclude from the absence of evidence that a large dog is in the apartment that there is no large dog in fact in the apartment. Now an inference of this sort is perfectly justified because of what we would expect to find if a large dog were in fact in the apartment. So when confronted with an argument from a lack of evidence, we must always consider our expectations given the context.

    So, it seems to me that leprechauns and an afterlife are different in this crucial respect. While most of us would probably agree that we cannot categorically rule out the possibility that leprechauns exist, we’d also agree that, if they did exist, we’d have certain expectations concerning their existence, expectations that are simply not met. I don’t think this is at all the case with respect to an afterlife. Given the way an afterlife is generally conceived, it doesn’t seem to me be the case that our expectations are not being met; at most, we can say that we’re not sure what we would expect (I’ll address the most common expectation in my response below to Kel).

    “Modern neuroscience (if there was any doubt before then) has pretty well shown that thought is a physical phenomenon.”

    I disagree. Modern neuroscience has shown that there is a relationship between brain states and thoughts, but it has not shown that “thought is a physical phenomenon.” I’m not even sure what that could possibly mean. But let’s suppose, arguendo, that you’re right. Does it follow that something akin to ‘the soul’ doesn’t exist? Not at all. For example, while it may be fatal to some forms of substance dualism, it’s not at all a worry for hylomorphic dualists. And one need not be a dualist to believe in an afterlife: Peter van Inwagen is famously a materialist about human persons, and believes in an afterlife. (I’m not about to derail this thread with a philo of mind debate, mind you; my only point is that even if your claim about neuroscience is true — I don’t for a moment think it is, but even if it is — the conclusion doesn’t follow.)

  126. #126 John Morales
    January 19, 2010

    Eric:

    Modern neuroscience has shown that there is a relationship between brain states and thoughts, but it has not shown that “thought is a physical phenomenon.” I’m not even sure what that could possibly mean. But let’s suppose, arguendo, that you’re right. Does it follow that something akin to ‘the soul’ doesn’t exist? Not at all.

    Waffle.

    Care to define ‘thoughts’ without recourse to brains?

    Care to define what how a phenomenon (i.e. an observed occurrence) can be other than physical?

    Care to define what you mean by a ‘soul’?

  127. #127 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    January 19, 2010

    Yawn, philosophy without evidence is sophistry. Eric loves sophistry, but not reality. Reality is no afterlife due to no evidence for it. So, philosophical meanderings, which Eric loves, about afterlife, amount to mental masturbation.

    How’s he doing John? Not to good from your remarks.

  128. #128 WowbaggerOM
    January 19, 2010

    Care to define what how a phenomenon (i.e. an observed occurrence) can be other than physical?

    This appears to be heading into the dreaded ‘other ways of knowing’ [jazz hands!] territory – and we all know just how pointless that is.

  129. #129 truth machine, OM
    January 19, 2010

    Modern neuroscience has shown that there is a relationship between brain states and thoughts, but it has not shown that “thought is a physical phenomenon.” I’m not even sure what that could possibly mean.

    It means the same sort of thing that “computer processes are a physical phenomenon” means, and we have the same sorts of reasons for thinking so.

    Does it follow that something akin to ‘the soul’ doesn’t exist?

    Strawman. What follows is that there is no reason to posit a “soul” — all of the explanatory work can be done in terms of good old natural phenomena of an ordinary sort. Bottom line: smart people don’t believe in souls, regardless of whether they could conceivably exist.

  130. #130 Kel, OM
    January 19, 2010

    I think you’re missing an important part of my argument Eric, it’s that while it cannot be ruled out, the reasons for ruling it in just aren’t there. Again I ask, why should the afterlife be considered any more than Star Wars being a recreation of historical events? Would you agree that while not logically impossible that anyone proposing such an idea is talking nonsense?

    The point about neuroscience wasn’t a defeater argument against the afterlife, merely an example of one line of evidence that does heavily indicate that the general notion of mind and the self which is crucial in the understanding of an afterlife that a general audience have. That mental stimulation of particular areas of the brain can manipulate thought processes, that brain injury or brain damage destroys thought patterns. What I meant by physical is that the brain is cellular in structure, that it’s atoms interacting.

    Again, my point is just because we could conceive of it as possibly true even beyond the bounds of human inquiry, it doesn’t make it not nonsense. Until afterlife is suitably defined, the concept is rendered meaningless. Yet if you’re talking afterlife with fluffy white clouds and angels on harps and your dead relatives are waiting for you while talking to their most famous dead heroes (I feel sorry for Shakespeare in this generalised sense of the afterlife), then surely it’s valid to call the concept nonsense. And for a generalised audience, that’s a valid assessment. I don’t think Tipler is winning too many layperson converts ;)

    Otherwise it’s like arguing information with a ID advocate. Just define what you mean and justify it, lest it’s arguing in meaningless terms.

  131. #131 Sven DiMilo
    January 19, 2010

    What is a soul?
    What is “soul”?
    What is “hip”?

    what it is

  132. #132 truth machine, OM
    January 19, 2010

    He said that if you can’t find out whether something is true, you should suspend belief, but then goes on to say categorically that there is no afterlife. Now, while Russell may say there is no evidence for an afterlife, he cannot identify this epistemically with being “able to find out if it’s true or if it isn’t.” Not having evidence is one thing; being able to determine the truth or falsity of something is another thing altogether.

    One can find things out without being 100% certain of them. Russell found out that there’s no afterlife in the same way that he found out that there’s no Asgard. (Actually, I think he found out that there’s no afterlife in the same way he found out that Modus Ponens holds — the notion of an afterlife is incoherent — but the weaker claim will do.)

  133. #133 Kel, OM
    January 19, 2010

    Care to define ‘thoughts’ without recourse to brains?

    I’d be happy with a cogent definition of the afterlife. That’s what is under scrutiny after all. I wrote on my blog on a similar topic. If one wants to make the statement “God exists”, then God needs to be defined into something meaningful. Those who waffle on about the nature of God refusing to attribute anything to the concept, then in what sense are you talking about anything at all? Yet there are those who do try to make the concept of God substancial, and it’s in those attempts the concept can be judged.

    Same goes for the afterlife. One really must first define what is meant by afterlife, lest the concept is meaningless. And like God, there are those who talk about an afterlife in set terms and it is there the substance can be judged. Those who seek to protect the concept by being nebulous just make it useless.

  134. #134 WowbaggerOM
    January 19, 2010

    Really, the discussion of an afterlife as part of any pro-religious argument is just more woo-of-the-gaps. Yes, the afterlife might exist – we can’t say for sure that is doesn’t – but that means absolutely nothing in terms of support for any of the religions.

    We don’t know what happens after we die ≠ the Christian god (or, for that matter, any other specific god) exists.

  135. #135 SC OM
    January 19, 2010

    What is a soul?
    What is “soul”?
    What is “hip”?

    what it is

    Thief! Thief!

  136. #136 WowbaggerOM
    January 19, 2010

    Sven DiMilo wrote:

    what it is

    It’s it – what is it?

  137. #137 Eric
    January 19, 2010

    “Care to define ‘thoughts’ without recourse to brains?”

    Care to show me how brain states can exhibit the property of intentionality? Thoughts undeniably possess this peculiar property of ‘aboutness'; how can brain states be ‘about’ anything?

    “Care to define what how a phenomenon (i.e. an observed occurrence) can be other than physical?”

    Care to define ‘physical’? Aren’t you aware of the host of problems one faces when attempting to define this term?

    “Care to define what you mean by a ‘soul’?”

    A hylomorphic dualist means by the term ‘soul’ the ‘substantial form’ of the human person (note, it’s not a substance itself).

    “It means the same sort of thing that “computer processes are a physical phenomenon” means, and we have the same sorts of reasons for thinking so.”

    I don’t think the two are even remotely analogous (though I’ve of course heard the comparison more times than I can count). Computer processes lack precisely what it is we’re trying to explain here.

    “Strawman.”

    Huh? I generally respect your comments a great deal, TM, but you most definitely need to rethink that one.

    “I think you’re missing an important part of my argument Eric, it’s that while it cannot be ruled out, the reasons for ruling it in just aren’t there.”

    Kel, I get that, but my point is that the reasons for ruling it out are really not much better, *given our expectations*, than any reasons proffered for ruling it in.

    And please, people, remember what started this all off: it’s my claim that we aren’t in a position to know whether there’s an afterlife (which is, as I said, the key premise in my argument that Russell contradicted himself). I granted in my first posts that we may have good reasons for concluding that there isn’t an afterlife, though I’ve also said that they’re not much better than the reasons offered to support the notion that there is one. And please try to keep that distinction between justified belief and knowledge in mind, since it’s key to my claim.

  138. #138 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    January 19, 2010

    And please try to keep that distinction between justified belief and knowledge in mind, since it’s key to my claim.

    What does the evidence say. That’s the key to the claim by the rationalist. And there is no evidence. Belief becomes irrelevant without evidence.

  139. #139 truth machine, OM
    January 19, 2010

    It means the same sort of thing that “computer processes are a physical phenomenon” means, and we have the same sorts of reasons for thinking so.

    To be more explicit: neuroscience has shown that there is a very very tight connection between brain activity and the content of consciousness, which firmly establishes that, like all other observed phenomena, the relationship is causal. To say, in this context, merely that “Modern neuroscience has shown that there is a relationship between brain states and thoughts” is dishonest. Thinking is just as much a manifestation of activity of the brain as running is a manifestation of activity of the legs (and, indirectly, the heart, lungs, etc., as is thinking).

  140. #140 Sven DiMilo
    January 19, 2010

    Thief!

    moi?

    A hylomorphic dualist means by the term ‘soul’ the ‘substantial form’ of the human person (note, it’s not a substance itself).

    Noted.

  141. #141 truth machine, OM
    January 19, 2010

    Care to show me how brain states can exhibit the property of intentionality? Thoughts undeniably possess this peculiar property of ‘aboutness'; how can brain states be ‘about’ anything?

    You are such a dishonest ass. You fail to answer the question and instead ask one that numerous philosophical theses have been written about. The answer to your question is in the literature; see, for instance, http://watarts.uwaterloo.ca/~celiasmi/courses/Phil255/slides/lecture 8.intentionality.cont.pdf

    I don’t think the two are even remotely analogous

    So what? You’re stupid.

  142. #142 Eric
    January 19, 2010

    “To say, in this context, merely that “Modern neuroscience has shown that there is a relationship between brain states and thoughts” is dishonest. Thinking is just as much a manifestation of activity of the brain as running is a manifestation of activity of the legs (and, indirectly, the heart, lungs, etc., as is thinking).”

    TM, take the intentionality exhibited by thoughts (Brentano famously called intentionality “the mark of the mental”): what is the analogous property instantiated by “running” vis-a-vis the activity of the legs, etc.? If you can’t show that an analogous property is instantiated here (and I’m confident you can’t — not because you’re not up to the job or any nonsense like that, but because it cannot be done), then your comparison breaks down at the crucial step.

  143. #143 Mr T
    January 19, 2010

    I’m a Soul Anti-Vaxxer

    Yeah, that’s right; and yes, it’s Soul with a capital S.

    This seems as good a time as any for a little somethin’ from Soul Train.

    . . .

    Hylomorphic dualism? SRSLY?

  144. #144 John Morales
    January 19, 2010

    Nerd,

    How’s he [Eric] doing John? Not to good from your remarks.

    Best as I can tell from his posts here, his arguments are based on radical skepticism, equivocation and reification.

    Eric:

    “Care to define ‘thoughts’ without recourse to brains?”
    Care to show me how brain states can exhibit the property of intentionality? Thoughts undeniably possess this peculiar property of ‘aboutness'; how can brain states be ‘about’ anything?

    By your evasion, I guess the answer is “no”.

    “Care to define what how a phenomenon (i.e. an observed occurrence) can be other than physical?”
    Care to define ‘physical’? Aren’t you aware of the host of problems one faces when attempting to define this term?

    By your evasion, I guess the answer is “no”.

    “Care to define what you mean by a ‘soul’?”
    A hylomorphic dualist means by the term ‘soul’ the ‘substantial form’ of the human person (note, it’s not a substance itself).

    Sigh. So, are you a “hylomorphic dualist”?

    As for that definition, you’ve based it on a purported attribute of a “human person”; since upon death “human persons” cease to be, so then must their attributes, no? ;)

  145. #145 Eric
    January 19, 2010

    “You are such a dishonest ass. You fail to answer the question and instead ask one that numerous philosophical theses have been written about.”

    TM, talk about dishonesty. See, there’s a huge difference between a topic’s being addressed in the literature — something I’ve never disputed, and much of which I’m quite familiar with — and a topic’s being answered satisfactorily. Or are you willing to say that there’s a consensus among philosophers of mind with respect to the problem I’ve referred to?

    “So what? You’re stupid.”

    Um, where precisely did you study philo of mind, TM? You’re an autodidact here, aren’t you? It’s beginning to show: the sure sign of autodidactism is the treating of very live questions as if they’ve been ‘solved.’ It shows that you’re not familiar at all with the basic range of the relevant literature that would be expected of anyone with some serious training in the subject.

  146. #146 truth machine, OM
    January 19, 2010

    And please try to keep that distinction between justified belief and knowledge in mind, since it’s key to my claim

    The standard philosophical definition of knowledge is true justified belief. Since there isn’t any other criterion for whether something is true other than the justifications for believing it, it’s a useless distinction unless we can take a “god’s eye” position, as when creating a thought experiment where something is true ex hypothesi. An epistemology that requires people to know something, rather than justifiably believe it, before making a truth claim — else be held as having committed a contradiction — is a stupid epistemology.

  147. #147 SC OM
    January 19, 2010

    moi?

    Mais, oui:

    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2010/01/ask_me_anything.php#comment-2207214

    ***

    So what? You’re stupid.

    Now that made my day.

  148. #148 'Tis Himself, OM
    January 19, 2010

    Knockgoats, no. As I said above, in some cases we are indeed justified in concluding that something doesn’t exist from an absence of evidence alone.

    Since intelligent people have been trying in myriad ways to find out about the afterlife for millennia without result, why is it necessary to accept that maybe there’s an afterlife? I don’t think Russell contradicted himself. He was asked if there was an afterlife and he said there wasn’t one. It seems reasonable to me that if there isn’t any evidence after centuries of diligent searching for the slightest scrap of evidence then the afterlife doesn’t exist.

    If you say that there might be an afterlife then trot out the evidence to support your supposition.

    Certain people condemn me for not being impressed by philosophy. Eric has given a prime example of philosophical talking out of one’s ass. “Well, there might possibly, perhaps, maybe, if we’re really lucky, feasibly, perchance, if the wind’s blowing in the right direction, peradventure be the glimmering of the conceivable possibility of a hint of an afterlife so Russell was contradicting himself.” Yeah, that’s really convincing, if you’re an idiot or a philosopher.

  149. #149 truth machine, OM
    January 19, 2010

    Or are you willing to say that there’s a consensus among philosophers of mind with respect to the problem I’ve referred to?

    I’m saying that it’s a dishonest strategy to “answer” a question by instead posing a highly complex and debated question, asshole. I think it’s been answered but of course you won’t agree, so we will never make headway on it. Meanwhile, the original question remains dodged — asshole.

  150. #150 a_ray_in_dilbert_space
    January 19, 2010

    Eric, We’ll get right on the intentionality problem as soon as you an provide an unambiguous definition of it.

    Hell, dude, using MRI, they can even pinpoint the portion of the brain that seems to think it is the soul. Guess what: It’s a physical entity.

  151. #151 truth machine, OM
    January 19, 2010

    Or are you willing to say that there’s a consensus among philosophers of mind with respect to the problem I’ve referred to?

    Let me make another point to/about this asshole. He asked a question, and I noted that there is an answer, in the literature, and gave an example. That’s my answer, which is all that is require — I don’t have to provide an answer for which there is “a consensus among philosophers of mind” — there is hardly any such question, because there are a large number of philosophers of mind who share the same feeblemindedness as Eric.

  152. #152 SC OM
    January 19, 2010

    Um, where precisely did you study philo of mind, TM? You’re an autodidact here, aren’t you?…

    Put it back in your pants, casuist. No one here is interested in your, ahem, qualifications. In fact, you give scholars – and I speak as one – a bad name.

  153. #153 llewelly
    January 19, 2010

    Hell, dude, using MRI, they can even pinpoint the portion of the brain that seems to think it is the soul. Guess what: It’s a physical entity.

    You can’t prove it is not an ethereal wombat using psychic powers to manipulate the machine!!

  154. #154 truth machine, OM
    January 19, 2010

    You can’t prove it is not an ethereal wombat using psychic powers to manipulate the machine!!

    Indeed, regardless of how well justified your belief that it’s not an ethereal wombat, it isn’t knowledge … unless it happens to true, but how can that be when there’s no consensus among philosophers of mind?

  155. #155 a_ray_in_dilbert_space
    January 19, 2010

    Eric, Harry Houdini told his wife that if there were an afterlife, he’d find a way to tell her about it. He never showed at any of her seances. Is not this–and the utter absence of any evidence despite strong desire and long search a pretty good indication that our ultimate purpose is to serve a worm chow?

    And now you’ll move the goalposts and say, “Oh, but maybe we can’t communicate with the dead…”

    And maybe the reason we can’t find unicorns is that they are invisible.

    God of the gaps…afterlife of the gaps…same, same.

  156. #156 Eric
    January 19, 2010

    “I’m saying that it’s a dishonest strategy to “answer” a question by instead posing a highly complex and debated question, asshole.”

    *Not* if the question one is answering seemingly presupposes that there are no such highly complex and debated questions!

    “Meanwhile, the original question remains dodged — asshole.”

    No, it is perfectly reasonable to respond to a question with a question if the original question contains presuppositions that have not been granted earlier in the dialogue. There’s a difference between dodging a question with a question and using a question to attempt to dislodge presuppositions that the original question takes for granted.

    “He asked a question, and I noted that there is an answer, in the literature, and gave an example. That’s my answer, which is all that is require”

    Really? First, we’ll see if anyone calls you out on this. I seem to remember doing something similar about an incidental issue on a thread here at Pharyngula, and I was raked over the coals for it. Second, I never suggested nor implied that there are no ‘answers’ to the question I raised out there. The issue is whether they work. And third, you know very well that ‘the literature’ comprises questions, answers, responses, counters to the response, etc. so any ‘answer’ you present, if it’s worthy of attention, has no doubt itself been ‘answered’ (and so on), so it’s decidedly not sufficient merely to refer to one point in this long, complex, variegated and, most importantly, on-going conversation in the literature.

  157. #157 Eric
    January 19, 2010

    By the way, Truth Machine, though I think you’re way off your A-game here, and though you’ve unnecessarily insulted me repeatedly in this thread for calling you out on your BS, I still think that your posts are consistently among the best on this website.

  158. #158 Kel, OM
    January 19, 2010

    In terms of neuroscience experiments, I remember hearing about one where they were able get the patients either angry or funny purely by applying stimuli to certain parts of the brain. The patient would then proceed to think up a reason why they were in that emotional state regardless of the absence of stimuli. Another example would be a man who was caught molesting his daughter in law was found out to have a tumour in his brain. Remove the tumor and the types of sexual thoughts he was exhibiting went away.

    This is more than seeing a relationship, it’s seeing causation between stimuli and subsequent thoughts / actions.

  159. #159 Mr T
    January 19, 2010

    The ethereal wombat with psychic powers reveals itself!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RuNDkcbq8PY

  160. #160 Eric
    January 19, 2010

    “Is not this–and the utter absence of any evidence despite strong desire and long search a pretty good indication that our ultimate purpose is to serve a worm chow?
    And now you’ll move the goalposts and say, “Oh, but maybe we can’t communicate with the dead…””

    If you think that’s what I will say, then you don’t understand what I have said.

    I said early on in this thread that the problem is that our expectations are unclear if there is an afterlife of the sort most people have believed in. In other words, I can’t move goalposts I’ve yet to set. My whole point is that we’re not in a position to “find out” (sticking with Russell’s phrase), and that the absence of evidence in this case is inadequate because (1) the sort usually offered misses the point by focusing on irrelevant physical processes necessary for this life, when no one claims that it is this life that continues, and (2) that it is only when (a) we know what we would expect if something were true, and (b) if this something would be obvious (like the large dog in my example above), that we can legitimately make the move from the absence of evidence to absence, and that (a) and (b) are not satisfied when considering an afterlife.

    So, to be clear, I’m not saying, “Hey, it’s possible, therefore…” or “There are no decent reasons to support any conclusions about the matter” or anything like that at all. I’m only saying that we’re not in a position to “find out” if it’s true or false, and this strikes me as a rather uncontroversial and eminently sensible claim. I’m actually surprised that it’s generated this much heat. We need a newsflash: “Answer to the One of Life’s Fundamental Questions Solved by Pharyngula Regulars: There is No Life After Death — None Whatever, No” (note the quote from Russell from the video there at the end of my headline, so none of you can claim I’m saying something no one is supporting: indeed, it’s this very quote, which I questioned, that is being supported here!)

  161. #161 echidna
    January 19, 2010

    As far as I can see, there is nothing that distinguishes the lack of evidence of leprechauns, the after-life, or Russell’s teapot. There is only a distinction in the level of belief.

    People used to believe in leprechauns and such like (elves, goblins, trolls, ghosts and so forth), but as rational explanations for various phenomena were found, and lack of evidence persisted, belief in these imaginary constructs became synonymous with gullibility. With the exception of the single-sock-stealing sprite, of course.

    No evidence for the afterlife exists, despite exhaustive searches. It’s only a matter of time before belief in the afterlife goes the way of belief in the leprechauns.

    Russell’s teapot is all you need to see that Russell is not contradicting himself when he dismisses the after-life in the same way as he dismisses the teapot, and would dismiss leprechauns. Eric is dancing around Russell’s implicit assumption that there is some justification for belief for something that we don’t know, and in that case we should suspend judgement.

    To assert that Russell is saying that we should suspend judgement on any conceivable (and inconceivable) notion where there is no evidence to support the notion is patent nonsense.

    I think that Eric knows this, and is simply getting a rise out of wasting our time and energy for kicks. In other words, I think that Eric is a pure troll, as per the PZ’s dungeon definition.

  162. #162 John Morales
    January 19, 2010

    Eric, you’re still waffling, and you’ve still avoided answering my questions.

    I’m only saying that we’re not in a position to “find out” if it’s true or false, and this strikes me as a rather uncontroversial and eminently sensible claim.

    Like I said, radical skepticism.

    We need a newsflash: “Answer to the One of Life’s Fundamental Questions Solved by Pharyngula Regulars: There is No Life After Death — None Whatever, No”

    See Stephen Wells’ #101. The very concept is incoherent.

    Evidently, there’s no point asking you for definitions of the terms you use, so I shan’t bother in this instance.

  163. #163 John Morales
    January 19, 2010

    “Why should I be disturbed about death? The pain is in anticipation, for when life is, death is not, and when death is, life is not.” — Epicurus.

  164. #164 SC OM
    January 19, 2010

    I’m only saying that we’re not in a position to “find out” if it’s true or false, and this strikes me as a rather uncontroversial and eminently sensible claim. I’m actually surprised that it’s generated this much heat.

    Bullshit. This is exactly the nonsense you tried to pull on a thread months ago with regard to a deity. If you can’t define a phenomenon, if you can’t specify how it might have come into existence and operate, if you can’t specify empirical operations through which it might be investigated and falsified…that does not place it in some ethereal plane beyond demands for evidence. It puts it in the realm of garbage. I agree that it isn’t like unicorns. It’s just a trash claim, utterly unworthy of consideration by reasonable adults. To state this is merely to point out the obvious.

    If you want it to be taken at all seriously, then you define it, explain why you think it plausible in light of the relevant knowledge we do possess, specify various hypotheses related to its study, etc. In the meantime, stop wasting everyone’s time with your pathetic, incoherent rubbish.

  165. #165 aratina cage of the OM
    January 19, 2010

    If there is an afterlife (which requires a soul), where does the soul go when we enter dreamless sleep, Eric? Why don’t we remember where we were as a soul while our bodies were unconscious?

    So, we know from states of unconsciousness, which we all go through as humans, that even if we had souls, the entity that is the soul is not in any way an active part of our memories—if such a thing exists, it is not who we are and is irrelevant to our lives.

    The plain fact is that the brain doesn’t even have to die for our consciousness to fade out of existence. If we can’t even keep ourselves instantiated while alive, I don’t know you can expect that we are going to keep ourselves instantiated after life.

  166. #166 Mr T
    January 19, 2010

    Eric, here’s a question I posed above that I would like you to answer:

    What reason is there to suspend judgment on such a meaningless proposition?

    The “afterlife” could mean just about anything you or I want it to mean. It’s not as if we’re describing something any of us can perform tests on or experience. Without having some evidence that it’s real, the most we can do is form our own fictional account of what we think it might be in our heads. Regardless of the details of what someone means by “afterlife”, we can be reasonably certain that whatever they’re referring to does not exist.

    That said, please watch the Ramachandran video (about “blind sight”) I posted at #160. There are plenty more where that came from, of course. Brains are simply amazing. Whatever your beliefs about minds or souls, it doesn’t hurt to understand a little better how they actually work.

    In summary: more science please, and less sophistry.

  167. #167 Eric
    January 19, 2010

    “It’s just a trash claim, utterly unworthy of consideration by reasonable adults. To state this is merely to point out the obvious.”

    Sure, which is why most reasonable adults never think about it. And which is why none of us can identify with much of the world’s great literature (which, I think, reflects what’s “obvious” to “reasonable adults” much more accurately than your bare assertions). Heck, whenever I read Hamlet’s famous soliloquy (act three, scene one), I think, “What’s that nonsense about ‘what dreams may come’ in that ‘sleep of death’? Why, it makes no sense: it’s just obvious that the afterlife is utterly unworthy of consideration. I can’t identify with Hamlet here, and neither can other reasonable adults. No wonder this Shakespeare guy isn’t read any more.”

    Now, if a conclusion entails an obviously false proposition, then the conclusion itself is false. But your conclusion, i.e. that talk of the afterlife is nonsense that isn’t worthy of consideration by reasonable adults, entails that the most reasonable adults who read the following cannot identify with Hamlet in any meaningful way; but, since this is arguably one of the best known soliloquies from one of Shakespeare’s best plays, it’s more likely than not false that reasonable adults cannot identify with Hamlet’s concerns here. So much the worse for your conclusion then.

    “To die, to sleep?
    No more ? and by a sleep to say we end
    The heartache and the thousand natural shocks
    That flesh is heir to ? ?tis a consummation
    Devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep?
    To sleep, perchance to dream. Ay, there’s the rub,
    For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,
    When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
    Must give us pause. There’s the respect
    That makes calamity of so long life.
    For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
    Th? oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,
    The pangs of despised love, the law’s delay,
    The insolence of office, and the spurns
    That patient merit of th? unworthy takes,
    When he himself might his quietus make
    With a bare bodkin? Who would fardels bear,
    To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
    But that the dread of something after death,
    The undiscovered country from whose bourn
    No traveler returns, puzzles the will
    And makes us rather bear those ills we have
    Than fly to others that we know not of?
    Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,
    And thus the native hue of resolution
    Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,
    And enterprises of great pitch and moment
    With this regard their currents turn awry,
    And lose the name of action.”

  168. #168 Mr T
    January 19, 2010

    Ah yes, the proverbial argumentum ad populum via Hamlet. I also figuratively sense an appeal to emotion. I should’ve metaphorically expected that.

    “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.”

    Of course, since I’m not in Denmark, I can’t identify with that at all. O, Woe is me.

    Alternatively, perhaps it’s some kind of code: “Something (your arguments of late) is rotten in the state of Denmark (Pharyngula).”

  169. #169 SC OM
    January 19, 2010

    :O!

    That may well be the lamest, most grasping thing I’ve ever read on this blog, and that’s saying something. Wow.

    Sure, which is why most reasonable adults never think about it.

    I haven’t done research on this, but I suspect most do. (Come to think of it, I believe I just mentioned this recently…) Doesn’t make any version of “it” worthy of consideration, much less investigation, by reasonable people.

    Now, if a conclusion entails an obviously false proposition, then the conclusion itself is false. But your conclusion, i.e. that talk of the afterlife is nonsense that isn’t worthy of consideration by reasonable adults,

    No one intelligent need discuss claims of “the afterlife” further, nor can you honestly talk about what we’re in a position to know about “it,” until you describe concretely and in detail what the fuck you mean by this concept (etc., as discussed above). Until then, discussing it outside of the literary/psycho-sociological realms is silly. It’s incoherent rubbish.

    [BTW, I've quoted Lucretius many times on this blog (do a search). Don't make me fucking do it again.]

  170. #170 Eric
    January 19, 2010

    “Ah yes, the proverbial argumentum ad populum via Hamlet. I also figuratively sense an appeal to emotion.”

    Mr T, can you name an undeniably great work of literature in which the main character expresses *fundamental* desires, concerns, etc. that “reasonable adults” think are utterly unworthy of our consideration? Such a work would not be a great work, almost by definition, since it would fail to address seriously the human condition. My Hamlet reference above is a piece of *data* that you should perhaps consider a bit more seriously.

    Oh, and since the issue I was addressing with it was whether it’s in fact true that “reasonable adults” think talk of the afterlife to be utterly unworthy of consideration, it’s decidedly not an instance of the ad populum fallacy to present some evidence concerning what most reasonable adults consider worthy of consideration. (I swear, the ad populum, ad hominem and ad verecundiam fallacies are almost never applied properly on the internet.)

  171. #171 aratina cage of the OM
    January 19, 2010

    I swear, the ad populum, ad hominem and ad verecundiam fallacies are almost never applied properly on the internet.

    Anecdotal.

  172. #172 SC OM
    January 19, 2010

    Mr T, can you name an undeniably great work of literature in which the main character expresses *fundamental* desires, concerns, etc. that “reasonable adults” think are utterly unworthy of our consideration?

    I really want to see a diagram of the twisted thought process that led this argument to be connected to what I said.

    Oh, and since the issue I was addressing with it was whether it’s in fact true that “reasonable adults” think talk of the afterlife to be utterly unworthy of consideration,

    Ah. Which was not the claim I made.

    This is also a total dodge (though I don’t think an intentional one in this case).

    Surely you see how transparent this all is. Sad, really.

  173. #173 Eric
    January 19, 2010

    Eric: “Oh, and since the issue I was addressing with it was whether it’s in fact true that “reasonable adults” think talk of the afterlife to be utterly unworthy of consideration”

    SC: “Ah. Which was not the claim I made.”

    SC(#165): ” It’s just a trash claim, utterly unworthy of consideration by reasonable adults. To state this is merely to point out the obvious.”

  174. #174 Feynmaniac
    January 19, 2010

    Argumentum ad Hamletum?

  175. #175 'Tis Himself, OM
    January 19, 2010

    Sure, which is why most reasonable adults never think about it.

    Bullshit. Millions of people think about the afterlife fairly often. They go to church on Sunday and the preacher preaches about heaven and hell. The afterlife is discussed and lectured about on a regular basis.

    One of Gary Larson’s most famous Far Side cartoons is a split panel, one side showing St. Peter greeting people passing the pearly gates, saying “Welcome to Heaven, here’s your harp.” On the other panel, Satan greets folks at the gates of Hell, saying “Welcome to Hell, here’s your accordion.” No reasonable Western adult has to have that cartoon explained to them. They’re familiar with the concept of the afterlife. So your statement is utter and absolutely FALSE!

    You know, Eric, if you’re an example of modern day philosophy then my prejudice against philosophers is not unwarranted.

  176. #176 Eric
    January 19, 2010

    “Bullshit. Millions of people think about the afterlife fairly often.”

    Right, which is why that was an instance of sarcasm. But then I would’ve thought my “no wonder this Shakespeare guy isn’t read any more” would’ve made that apparent.

    “So your statement is utter and absolutely FALSE!”

    No kidding. It was meant to be — and pretty darn obviously so.

  177. #177 SC OM
    January 19, 2010

    Eric: “Oh, and since the issue I was addressing with it was whether it’s in fact true that “reasonable adults” think talk of the afterlife to be utterly unworthy of consideration”

    SC: “Ah. Which was not the claim I made.”

    SC(#165): ” It’s just a trash claim, utterly unworthy of consideration by reasonable adults. To state this is merely to point out the obvious.”

    You really are very stupid, Eric. I said nothing about any reasonable adults other than myself thinking it unworthy of their/our consideration. I said it is unworthy, and explained why. Address this and the rest of my argument (without quotations, please, if possible).

  178. #178 Mr T
    January 19, 2010

    SC, OM: I quoted Lucretius just recently… Please, allow me.

    Fear holds dominion over mortality
    Only because, seeing in land and sky
    So much the cause whereof no wise they know,
    Men think Divinities are working there.

    -Lucretius, De rerum natura

    Eric:

    Oh, and since the issue I was addressing with it was whether it’s in fact true that “reasonable adults” think talk of the afterlife to be utterly unworthy of consideration, it’s decidedly not an instance of the ad populum fallacy to present some evidence concerning what most reasonable adults consider worthy of consideration.

    Let’s assume most reasonable adults consider Hamlet worthy of consideration. Although I think I’m a reasonable adult and Hamlet is even one of my favorite plays, I’ll just note this claim is still debatable. The problem is that in place of an actual description, belief, or evidence for some kind of “afterlife”; you copied some lines from a play alluding to it. One can’t assume Hamlet’s popularity is due to that soliloquy, or that this in any way corresponds to beliefs in the afterlife. You can also not reasonably assume that because “most reasonable adults” think something is worthy of consideration that it actually is worthy of consideration.

  179. #179 Miki Z
    January 19, 2010

    Hmm. I’m stuck between

    traditional

    it is a tale
    Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
    Signifying nothing.

    modern

    The law of averages,
    if I have got this right means…
    that if six monkeys were thrown
    up in the air long enough…
    they would land on their tails
    about as often as they would
    land on their…
    Heads, getting a bit of
    a bore, isn’t it?

  180. #180 Mr T
    January 19, 2010

    Does this count as “data” that most southerners in the U.S. believe Satan’s musical ability is worthy of consideration?

    It is a classic after all.

  181. #181 SC OM
    January 19, 2010

    Mr T, can you name an undeniably great work of literature in which the main character expresses *fundamental* desires, concerns, etc. that “reasonable adults” think are utterly unworthy of our consideration?

    Oh, and since the issue I was addressing with it was whether it’s in fact true that “reasonable adults” think talk of the afterlife to be utterly unworthy of consideration

    But your conclusion, i.e. that talk of the afterlife is nonsense that isn’t worthy of consideration by reasonable adults,

    entails that the most reasonable adults who read the following cannot identify with Hamlet in any meaningful way

    Ouch. Goodnight for now.

  182. #182 Miki Z
    January 19, 2010

    Anyone who can’t take pleasure in obvious fiction is poorer for their lack. I don’t believe that Richard Parker from Life of Pi acts in a realistic way, but it makes a great read. I’m moderately skeptical about whether or not Victor Frankenstein ever met with success in his lab. I know Shelley claims it’s fictional, but it can’t be proven, so I’m withholding judgment.

  183. #183 truth machine, OM
    January 20, 2010

    *Not* if the question one is answering seemingly presupposes that there are no such highly complex and debated questions!

    It can only seem that way to someone who is grossly intellectually dishonest and/or very dimwitted. The request to define ‘thoughts’ without recourse to brains does not presuppose that there are no highly complex and debated questions in the philosophy of mind, let alone presupposing that the issue of intentionality isn’t highly complex and debated. And the fact that some philosophers of mind are so dimwitted that they can’t find their way to any resolution of the issue of intentionality (instead taking some question-begging woo dualistic dodge) does not have any bearing on the request or the possibility of responding to it. Ironically, the presumptions of the request aren’t materialist/physicalist/monist, they are anti-functionalist — while human thoughts are manifestations of brains, thoughts need not be produced by brains — they can be produced by other sorts of cognitive systems. A thought is a preposition that is the focus of a cognitive system. It is the preposition that is “about” something — the “subject”, in linguistic terms.

    You really are very stupid, Eric.

    I told you so. The guy isn’t even able to identify the subject of a sentence — in this case “claim”, not “reasonable adults”. And then he takes a normative statement as a statement of fact and offers literature as an indication that there are counterexamples, compounding foolishness upon foolishness.

  184. #184 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    January 20, 2010

    Eric still doesn’t understand that philosophy without evidence is sophistry. And he continues to commit bad sophistry, and thinks it is good philosophy. It isn’t. It is like a pile of rotting three day old horse dung. It stinks, and there is no recovery short of burying the dung. His failure to pick up on this shows his lack of intelligence. His chances of convincing us with anything in the future is essentially nil. Based on his past history, he could have predicted tonight’s fiasco, and not even have bothered.

  185. #185 truth machine, OM
    January 20, 2010

    The problem is that in place of an actual description, belief, or evidence for some kind of “afterlife”; you copied some lines from a play alluding to it.

    That’s one problem, but the more basic problem is that SC never made any claim about what “reasonable adults” do or don’t do, only what they ought to do — the assertion that a claim isn’t worthy of consideration is a normative claim in re reasonable adults, not an empirical one. Her factual assertion wasn’t about reasonable adults, it was about the claim that there is an afterlife — SC asserted that it’s a trash claim and explained why. In his typically dishonest way, Eric avoided responding to her points and instead created an absurd diversion about cultural references to the afterlife to show that it’s a topic widely considered — something that SC never denied. (What sort of idiot could imagine she would?)

    Eric contends that we are not in a position to “find out” whether there’s life after death, but he is quite wrong; everything we know about the world and how it works lends support to the inference that there is no afterlife, just as we can “find out” that, when a whirring fan is run over by a steamroller, there is no “afterwhirring” with the “substantial form” of the fan persisting in some fan heaven somewhere — that’s a nonsensical idea, and only someone in the grips of a powerful ideology could be so deluded as to consider it, or to argue that we aren’t in a position to deny it.

  186. #186 truth machine, OM
    January 20, 2010

    Oops:

    A thought is a preoposition that is the focus of a cognitive system. It is the preoposition that is “about” something — the “subject”, in linguistic terms.

  187. #187 truth machine, OM
    January 20, 2010

    But your conclusion, i.e. that talk of the afterlife is nonsense that isn’t worthy of consideration by reasonable adults,
    entails that the most reasonable adults who read the following cannot identify with Hamlet in any meaningful way

    No, moron, it doesn’t, any more than the assertion that it’s nonsense to claim that there’s a powerful ring that corrupts all those who encounter it, and that such a claim is not worthy of consideration by reasonable adults, entails that most reasonable adults cannot identify with Bilbo Baggins or Sméagol. As with Hamlet, we can identify with them without sharing their beliefs or finding those beliefs plausible. Of course we “consider” their beliefs, but not in the relevant sense that SC meant — considering their truth or falsity; your dishonest equivocation is noted.

  188. #188 truth machine, OM
    January 20, 2010

    We need a newsflash: “Answer to the One of Life’s Fundamental Questions Solved by Pharyngula Regulars: There is No Life After Death — None Whatever, No”

    It’s not a “fundamental” question, moron, and it was solved long long ago, with that answer — absence of consensus notwithstanding.

  189. #189 windy
    January 20, 2010

    can you name an undeniably great work of literature in which the main character expresses *fundamental* desires, concerns, etc. that “reasonable adults” think are utterly unworthy of our consideration?

    I’m sure you’ll quibble about ‘fundamental’ but: Don Quijote

  190. #190 truth machine, OM
    January 20, 2010

    I’m sure you’ll quibble about ‘fundamental’

    Well, that question begging is fundamental to Eric’s sophistry: surely *fundamental* concerns are not considered utterly unworthy of consideration by reasonable adults. But this is stupidly and dishonestly removed from SC’s comment by several degrees of separation — she wasn’t talking about “desires, concerns, etc.”, she was talking about considering an empirical question, a question that we have a firm answer to, one available to any “reasonable adult” … when we die, our brain function ceases, and with it a permanent cessation of our mental activities — which are demonstrably strictly caused by physical brain activity. To believe otherwise in the face of the available evidence and logic is grossly irrational, just as irrational as to believe that a fan being run over by a steamroller does not entail a permanent cessation of the fan’s whirring — that there is an “afterwhirr”, that the fan has a “substantial form”
    that whirrs forever even after the physical body of the fan has been destroyed.

  191. #191 truth machine, OM
    January 20, 2010

    As far as I can see, there is nothing that distinguishes the lack of evidence of leprechauns, the after-life, or Russell’s teapot.

    Well, Russell’s teapot is metaphysically and nomologically possible, leprechauns are metphysically possible but not nomologically possible, but an afterlife isn’t even metaphysically possible (processes, such as minds, require a physical substrate to instantiate them).

  192. #192 WowbaggerOM
    January 20, 2010

    Rosencrantz: Do you think Death could possibly be a boat?
    Guildenstern: No, no, no… Death is “not.” Death isn’t. Take my meaning? Death is the ultimate negative. Not-being. You can’t not be on a boat.
    Rosencrantz: I’ve frequently not been on boats.
    Guildenstern: No, no… What you’ve been is not on boats.

  193. #193 Kel, OM
    January 20, 2010

    but an afterlife isn’t even metaphysically possible

    What about versions of the “afterlife” such as Tipler’s?

  194. #194 truth machine, OM
    January 20, 2010

    And third, you know very well that ‘the literature’ comprises questions, answers, responses, counters to the response, etc. so any ‘answer’ you present, if it’s worthy of attention, has no doubt itself been ‘answered’ (and so on), so it’s decidedly not sufficient merely to refer to one point in this long, complex, variegated and, most importantly, on-going conversation in the literature.

    What I know is that you’re full of the sort of shit that makes so many scientists look askance at philosophers. The fact is that many questions in philosophy do get answered and accepted by smart people while stupid people like you persist in “answering” them with bullshit. The fact is that the issue of intentionality poses no problem for physicalism.

  195. #195 truth machine, OM
    January 20, 2010

    What about versions of the “afterlife” such as Tipler’s?

    It’s not the sort of afterlife that Russell (and SC and I) deny — any more than freezing someone just as they “die”, then repairing them and bringing them “back to life” when the technology is available. That’s nomologically possible, as is a computer emulation of all of us, but that’s not the point here.

  196. #196 Walton
    January 20, 2010

    Like I said earlier, I don’t see that the existence of an afterlife per se is scientifically testable or falsifiable; but the basic assumption on which the idea of an afterlife is founded ought, in principle, to be within the realm of scientific knowledge. Simply put, the concept of an “afterlife” presupposes that the mind or consciousness has some sort of identity separate from the physical body. If this isn’t the case – if our thoughts, feelings and personalities are entirely explained by electrochemical activity in our brains – then the concept of an “afterlife” is intrinsically contradictory and makes no sense. If we are simply physical material beings, rather than “a soul living inside a body”, then it’s simply incoherent to talk about “life after death”; and religious concepts of the afterlife, as well as spiritualist beliefs in ghosts, seances and the like, are not only unproven but logically impossible.

    As I understand the current state of knowledge, there’s currently no evidence supporting the notion that we have a “soul” or “consciousness” that is separate from the physical body. I’m aware that it’s a controversial question in some circles; but if there’s no empirical evidence for it, I don’t see any sensible basis for believing it (just as with deities and leprechauns). I imagine that, one day, neurology and psychology will provide a more definite answer to this question. Since I don’t have any background in either of those fields, I welcome corrections if anything in my post is completely wrong (as it may well be).

  197. #197 John Morales
    January 20, 2010

    Walton, there is evidence, but it’s not parsimonious, compelling or even credible.

    Ghost stories and claims of astral travel, for example, are such evidence.

  198. #198 Knockgoats
    January 20, 2010

    TM, take the intentionality exhibited by thoughts (Brentano famously called intentionality “the mark of the mental”): what is the analogous property instantiated by “running” vis-a-vis the activity of the legs, etc.? Eric the pholisopher

    The direction you’re running in, twerp.

    Truth Machine, do be careful – I keep finding bits of minced and mangled Eric all over the thread!

  199. #199 Knockgoats
    January 20, 2010

    You know, Eric, if you’re an example of modern day philosophy then my prejudice against philosophers is not unwarranted. – ‘Tis Himself

    ‘Tis, Eric is to modern philosophy as Ron Paul is to modern economics.

  200. #200 Walton
    January 20, 2010

    Eric the pholisopher

    What’s the difference between a pholisopher and a philosopher? Is it comparable to the difference between an astronomer and an astrologer? :-)

  201. #201 msabominable
    January 20, 2010

    Haha Russell, you sly old coot. I see you taking peeks at that young lady’s cleavage! ;)

  202. #202 Knockgoats
    January 20, 2010

    Walton,

    It’s a pun (try pronouncing “pholi” to yourself), and it’s not mine! I can’t recall the name of the man who first made it, and google didn’t help, but he was a late C19 philosopher who wrote a satirical article interpreting Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark (my favourite poem next to Ozymandias) as a work of Hegelian idealist philosophy (“pholisophy”). I can find the name for you later – Martin Gardner quotes from it in his The Annotated Snark.

    You thought it was a typo, didn’t you?

  203. #203 Knockgoats
    January 20, 2010

    While most of us would probably agree that we cannot categorically rule out the possibility that leprechauns exist, we’d also agree that, if they did exist, we’d have certain expectations concerning their existence, expectations that are simply not met. – Eric the pholisopher

    But Eric, there are numerous reports from past centuries of the existence of leprechauns. It may be (and we have no expectations about this), that just as many magical creatures have problems with cold iron, or crossing water, they also have problems with polyethylene or UHF radio waves, and hence have retreated deep underground, or to Avalon.

  204. #204 Knockgoats
    January 20, 2010

    msabominable,

    He was, too! I just watched with the sound off. Ah well, Russell was famously lecherous – consider his notorious affair with Lady Utterly Immoral!

  205. #205 John Morales
    January 20, 2010

    KG, I too thought it a typo. Now, I like it.

    A quick search reveals this work.

  206. #206 Rorschach
    January 20, 2010

    This skepticism about leprechauns has to end !!

    Leprechaunism !

  207. #207 Knockgoats
    January 20, 2010

    John Morales,
    Great! Thanks very much. I remember from Gardner the “Portrait of its Immanence the Absolute” – the map from The Hunting of the Snark (I quote from memory):

    Other maps are such shapes,
    With their islands and capes,
    But we’ve got our dear Captain to thank,
    That he’s bought us the best,
    (So the crew would protest)
    A perfect and absolute blank!

  208. #208 ConcernedJoe
    January 20, 2010

    You all have been having fun with Eric so I thought I’d say a word:

    The intellectual part of theology (of sci-fi sort or deity sort) is becoming more and more obviously the purview of sophist philosophers like Eric. Nothing more.

    I know it was always vacuous in reality but I am saying that “god is dead” in a way god wasn’t dead even 60 years ago.

    At least before, the sophistry did not have to ignore or lie about so many darn known facts. And even better – some of the hypotheses in the more distant past were as good as any other at the time.

  209. #209 echidna
    January 20, 2010

    Sorry I didn’t make myself clear:

    me:
    As far as I can see, there is nothing that distinguishes the lack of evidence of leprechauns, the after-life, or Russell’s teapot.
    TM:

    Well, Russell’s teapot is metaphysically and nomologically possible, leprechauns are metphysically possible but not nomologically possible, but an afterlife isn’t even metaphysically possible (processes, such as minds, require a physical substrate to instantiate them).

    I was referring to the physical evidence for each (i.e. none). I do/did understand that the cases are different, but I’ll still have to look up the word “nomologically”. :)

    However – Eric thinks that leprechauns are obviously impossible, yet the after-life not so. That is clearly wrong, and what I meant to say, and you have now made clearer. To suggest that Russell himself would not know this, as Eric did, given his famous teapot, was absurd.

  210. #210 Knockgoats
    January 20, 2010

    I know it was always vacuous in reality but I am saying that “god is dead” in a way god wasn’t dead even 60 years ago. – ConcernedJoe

    The way I like to put this is that God is not only dead, he’s beginning to stink.

  211. #211 Eric
    January 20, 2010

    No wonder the comments section of this website has such a piss poor reputation among “reasonable people.”

    Eric: We’re not in a position to find out if there’s life after death.

    Pharyngula regulars: There’s no life after death, moron, and we know it! It’s not even a question a reasonable adult would consider worthy of consideration.

    Keep thinking that, fellas. Enjoy the echo chamber and the vapid discussions it produces. Oh, and TM, try reading some actual works in philo of mind; they’re much better than the large print, fewer-than-six-sentences-per page lecture notes you embarrassingly presented as a source! Might I recommend Chalmers’ “Philosophy of Mind: Classical and Contemporary Readings” as an excellent introduction to a subject you rather obviously haven’t read very broadly in? (Honestly, you sound to someone who has read deeply and broadly in the subject as those who have only read works by ID advocates must sound to those more broadly familiar with biology…as I said, your comments are generally praiseworthy, but here you’ve stepped out of your depth, and the results are simply farcical.)

  212. #212 aratina cage of the OM
    January 20, 2010

    Eric, are you constantly conscious? Have you never been unconscious?

  213. #213 Rorschach
    January 20, 2010

    Eric @ 212,

    Oh, and TM, try reading some actual works in philo of mind

    Priceless.Just priceless.
    Those guys who came up with the Dunning-Kruger effect should get the fucking Nobel.

  214. #214 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    January 20, 2010

    Enjoy the echo chamber and the vapid discussions it produces.

    No, the only echo chamber around here is your empty head, which produces bad, easily refuted sophistry.

    You see Eric, your problem is that you don’t do honest philosophical investigation. You have an agenda, and try to create philosophical room for your imaginary deity and theological idiocy. That causes you to do very bad philosophy. If you were honest, defined your terms honestly, and went where the logic took you, including that there is no legitimate place for your religion and religious thought, then you would be respected. Follow the evidence, not the presuppositions…

  215. #215 negentropyeater
    January 20, 2010

    An Enquiry concerning Eric’s Understanding

    “If we take in our hand any volume; of Eric’s mumblings, for instance; let us ask,

    Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No.

    Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No.

    Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.”

  216. #216 Stephen Wells
    January 20, 2010

    Eric, are you seriously still arguing that the proposition “when you die you do not die” should be taken seriously?

  217. #217 Walton
    January 20, 2010

    Eric, are you seriously still arguing that the proposition “when you die you do not die” should be taken seriously?

    Well, to be fair, this statement isn’t necessarily contradictory from a mind-body dualist point of view. If it were the case that each human being consists of two separate entities – the physical body, and an incorporeal “soul” or “consciousness” – then there would be nothing contradictory in saying that the physical body dies while the soul or consciousness survives. So this idea would be more precisely stated as “when your body dies, your soul/mind/consciousness/personal identity does not die.”

    Don’t get me wrong; I’m not at all advocating this point of view. As far as all the evidence suggests, it’s total and utter nonsense; death is death, and there’s no evidence at all for a soul or an afterlife. But it isn’t logically contradictory; and if someone could produce hard scientific evidence that there is such a thing as an incorporeal “soul” or “consciousness”, then I would gladly revise my position.

  218. #218 Stephen Wells
    January 20, 2010

    Yes, Walton, pardon me for going with the evidence that people die when they die rather than allowing for all logically noncontradictory propositions including “people are actually sock puppets operated by immaterial weasels.”

  219. #219 aratina cage of the OM
    January 20, 2010

    there’s no evidence at all for a soul or an afterlife. But it isn’t logically contradictory; and if someone could produce hard scientific evidence that there is such a thing as an incorporeal “soul” or “consciousness”, then I would gladly revise my position. -Walton

    Even if such a thing as a brain-detached “soul” were shown to exist, the wooists would still have to show evidence that it binds to or captures our memories. If it doesn’t retain our memories, it isn’t us anyway. That is why Eric is totally wrong. We have evidence that no memories are gained during periods of unconsciousness, and we have evidence that destroying parts of the brain permanently destroys memories and thus destroys who a person is.

    To add another layer to wooist problems in establishing an afterlife, there is also the old Star Wars conundrum they would have to answer: what age and which outfit does a Jedi Knight’s Force ghost retain post-mortem?

  220. #220 SC OM
    January 20, 2010

    I totally identified with Karen:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b__blppXx7g

    Hmmm…should I apply for a grant?

    ***

    Posted by: Eric | January 20, 2010 7:59 AM

    So sad.

    Oh, and TM, try reading some actual works in philo of mind…a subject you rather obviously haven’t read very broadly in?

    Bwahahahahahaha!

  221. #221 Walton
    January 20, 2010

    Even if such a thing as a brain-detached “soul” were shown to exist, the wooists would still have to show evidence that it binds to or captures our memories. If it doesn’t retain our memories, it isn’t us anyway.

    Yes, you’re right. I should have said “…if someone could produce hard scientific evidence that there is such a thing as an incorporeal “soul” or “consciousness” that contains, or accounts in some way for, an individual’s character and identity as a human being, then I would gladly revise my position.” Obviously, we’re getting into the realms of total fantasy here, and it’s difficult to imagine how this kind of idea could be tested in practice.

    To be fair, I was only quibbling on a minor, pedantic point. As I said, I completely agree that, with the evidence available to us, there’s no good reason to believe in an afterlife. I was merely pointing out that the idea of an afterlife is not necessarily logically contradictory. This doesn’t affect the fact that it’s very unlikely to be true. The idea that you can find a pot of leprechaun gold at the end of a rainbow is also not logically contradictory, for instance, but that doesn’t stop it being complete bullshit.

  222. #222 Mr T
    January 20, 2010

    The idea that you can find a pot of leprechaun gold at the end of a rainbow is also not logically contradictory, for instance, but that doesn’t stop it being complete bullshit.

    I’m pretty sure “the end of a rainbow” cannot exist… It’s not logically contradictory, but physically impossible. Although I’ve never given it much thought. Perhaps there are some controlled situations involving smoke and mirrors or something that would make it possible.

    Leprechauns and pots of gold are at stake here, people! Let’s get crackin’!

  223. #223 ConcernedJoe
    January 20, 2010

    Pardon a partial re-post of comment #100 by me but Eric – why does my:

    < <..However X "cannot" exist without any material evidence nor any valid induction to such a conclusion. If after many years and many tries by experts there is not at least a properly logical basis [e.g., via strong inductive reasoning] to say X exists, I have every PRACTICAL reason to simply say "X does not exist" and move on to useful stuff.

    But that is me. So to me the afterlife (as implied by the questioner BTW) does NOT exist. Purists can say I am misspeaking - and BTW evidence to the contrary could still change my mind. But for now: "E credo l'uom gioco d'iniqua sorte. Dal genne della culla. Al verme ..">>

    make me a poopy-head? Do you have anything to show me — even some strong non-“internally fallacious” inductive reasoning that supports all your arm waving? I mean show me something those on this site would have to agree is solid at least as a by the rules logical premise.

    Give us some well-formed logical statements to work with. A digest please. I’ll listen (I have listened just nothing strikes me yet as well-formed or supported by evidence or at least induction). Thanks.

  224. #224 ConcernedJoe
    January 20, 2010

    OK LET ME TRY AGAIN — HTML MUCKED UP LAST TRY

    Pardon a partial re-post of comment #100 by me but Eric – why does my:

    ..However X “cannot” exist without any material evidence nor any valid induction to such a conclusion. If after many years and many tries by experts there is not at least a properly logical basis [e.g., via strong inductive reasoning] to say X exists, I have every PRACTICAL reason to simply say “X does not exist” and move on to useful stuff.

    But that is me. So to me the afterlife (as implied by the questioner BTW) does NOT exist. Purists can say I am misspeaking – and BTW evidence to the contrary could still change my mind. But for now: “E credo l’uom gioco d’iniqua sorte. Dal genne della culla. Al verme ..”

    make me a poopy-head? Do you have anything to show me — even some strong non-“internally fallacious” inductive reasoning that supports all your arm waving? I mean show me something those on this site would have to agree is solid at least as a by the rules logical premise.

    Give us some well-formed logical statements to work with. A digest please. I’ll listen (I have listened just nothing strikes me yet as well-formed or supported by evidence or at least induction). Thanks.

  225. #225 David Marjanovi?
    January 20, 2010

    I’m on my first cup of coffee, what do you want from me.

    :-D

    hylomorphic dualists

    Forest-shaped ones???

    Care to show me how brain states can exhibit the property of intentionality? Thoughts undeniably possess this peculiar property of ‘aboutness'; how can brain states be ‘about’ anything?

    Why noun when you can verb?

    A hylomorphic dualist means by the term ‘soul’ the ‘substantial form’ of the human person (note, it’s not a substance itself).

    And what, if anything, does “substantial form” mean?

    I get the impression you’re trying to play games based on the underlying assumptions of the English language ? and you don’t even notice.

    Another example would be a man who was caught molesting his daughter in law was found out to have a tumour in his brain. Remove the tumor and the types of sexual thoughts he was exhibiting went away.

    Now it gets interesting.

    The way I like to put this is that God is not only dead, he’s beginning to stink.

    Riechen wir noch nichts von der göttlichen Verwesung? ? auch Götter verwesen!

    “Don’t we smell anything of the divine decomposition yet? ? gods, too, rot!”

    Might I recommend Chalmers’ “Philosophy of Mind: Classical and Contemporary Readings” as an excellent introduction to a subject you rather obviously haven’t read very broadly in?

    Eric? what SC is trying to say is that, while I haven’t, the people you’re discussing with here seem to have read a lot of the Chalmers’ works and found them all to be nonsense.

    This isn’t the first time we discuss the neurology and the philosophy of mind here.

  226. #226 David Marjanovi?
    January 20, 2010

    Forest-shaped ones???

    Or indeed treefrog-shaped ones.

  227. #227 Sven DiMilo
    January 20, 2010

    Here is a hylomorphic dualist (sensu lato).

  228. #228 Antiochus Epiphanes
    January 20, 2010

    I avow that leprechauns are gnomologically impossible as well.

    Or at least that’s what the gnomes* say.

    *Ironically, gnomes are nomologically impossible.

  229. #229 Antiochus Epiphanes
    January 20, 2010

    Sven: That’s hylopathetic. Let me say it again…

  230. #230 SC OM
    January 20, 2010
    Might I recommend Chalmers’ “Philosophy of Mind: Classical and Contemporary Readings” as an excellent introduction to a subject you rather obviously haven’t read very broadly in?

    Eric? what SC is trying to say is that,

    I should point out that Eric’s comment wasn’t directed at me, but at truth machine, of all people.

    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2009/10/william_wimsattwhy_development.php#comment-2042074

    Even if he were right about tm’s level of knowledge, which of course he isn’t, it would just constitute yet another in a string of pathetically transparent evasions of the substance on Eric’s part. He pulls out the “well-read scholar of philo of mind” ploy the same way heddle resorts to sarcasm, and with the same apparent lack of self-awareness.

  231. #231 a_ray_in_dilbert_space
    January 20, 2010

    Eric, It is very likely that there are regions of space-time that are not in causal contact with our own Universe. In physics, we don’t worry about these. It is pointless to even speculate whether the physics there is similar to or different from our own. We only know they exist because our own little corner of space-time shows evidence of inflation.

    The main difference between pointless speculation about other Universes and speculation about the soul is that we have some reason to think other universes might actually exist. Speculation about a nebulous something with properties we can’t specify, measure or verify is simply pointless. It’s not even mental masturbation–it’s mental dry humping!

    I think that as a minimum standard that in order to state that something exists, we must be able to define its properties. Otherwise, the question of existence or nonexistence is indeterminate even if evidence could be obtained.

  232. #232 Ichthyic
    January 20, 2010

    Oh, and TM, try reading some actual works in philo of mind…a subject you rather obviously haven’t read very broadly in?

    Bwahahahahahaha!

    *doubletake*

    second the incredulous laughter at complete fail.

    Eric is not only thoughtless, but oblivious.

    sorry, Eric, but being this clueless assigns you to the trash can.

    *plonk*

  233. #233 Ichthyic
    January 20, 2010

    Yes, Walton, pardon me for going with the evidence that people die when they die rather than allowing for all logically noncontradictory propositions including “people are actually sock puppets operated by immaterial weasels.”

    Walton=best ignored

    are we learning yet?

  234. #234 Walton
    January 20, 2010

    Ichthyic, I wish I understood why you feel the need to be cruel to me.

    In the time I’ve been here, I’ve made a conscious, concerted, constant effort to learn things from others. I’ve worked really hard to try and earn the respect of people here. And I like to think I’ve occasionally, if perhaps not often, contributed comments that are worthwhile. Yet after two-and-a-half years of me commenting here regularly, you still treat me like a troll, and allege that I have nothing useful to say.

    I don’t know what I would have to do to earn your respect. But your comments about me really hurt.

  235. #235 SC OM
    January 20, 2010

    Ichthyic, I wish I understood why you feel the need to be cruel to me…

    Boo fucking hoo, Walton. You have attacked me, personally, on two occasions in the past week. In both cases you were wrong on the facts (Leigh doesn’t keep and wasn’t keeping her religious views to herself, and I didn’t raise the issue of the involvement of the US military in aid efforts in Haiti – though if I had it would have been perfectly legitimate), and in neither did you retract or apologiz/se. (No, I don’t want to hear it now.) Stop being such a hypocritical douche.

    And I like to think I’ve occasionally, if perhaps not often, contributed comments that are worthwhile. Yet after two-and-a-half years of me commenting here regularly, you still treat me like a troll, and allege that I have nothing useful to say.

    Obviously, he judges your self-assessment to be in error. It happens. See American Idol.

  236. #236 'Tis Himself, OM
    January 20, 2010

    Eric #212

    No wonder the comments section of this website has such a piss poor reputation among “reasonable people.”

    “Reasonable people” in this case consisting of Eric and his pet pirhana.

    Eric: We’re not in a position to find out if there’s life after death.

    Pharyngula regulars: There’s no life after death, moron, and we know it! It’s not even a question a reasonable adult would consider worthy of consideration.

    Parsimony tells us there isn’t an afterlife. If there’s no evidence for an afterlife, even after millennia of looking, then the reasonable person concludes there isn’t an afterlife. Eric’s opinion there might possibly, perhaps, maybe, if we’re really lucky, feasibly, perchance, if the wind’s blowing in the right direction, peradventure be the glimmering of the conceivable possibility of a hint of an afterlife is known in the reality* trade as “wishful thinking.”

    *Reality is a concept anathema to Eric. The same is true about logic.

  237. #237 Ichthyic
    January 20, 2010

    “Reasonable people” in this case consisting of Eric and his pet pirhana.

    does he have a license for it?

    ABC… 123…

    Eric the half a bee…

  238. #238 Walton
    January 20, 2010

    SC,

    Boo fucking hoo, Walton. You have attacked me, personally, on two occasions in the past week.

    Yes, you’re right. And I’m sorry. I’ve acted like an ass recently, not for the first time.

    You said you didn’t want to hear an apology, but I’m offering one anyway. I don’t have any particular excuse for my behaviour, other than my ordinary lack of social skills and emotional self-control, coupled with general stress levels due to a high workload and impending exams.

    For what it’s worth, I do actually have a lot of respect for you. I realise I don’t always show it, but, again, I can only blame my poor social skills.

  239. #239 Ichthyic
    January 20, 2010

    You said you didn’t want to hear an apology, but I’m offering one anyway.

    *geeack!*

    *shudder*

    (that was me coughing up a hairball in response)

  240. #240 Kel, OM
    January 20, 2010

    Might I recommend Chalmers

    lol, seriously?

    No wonder the comments section of this website has such a piss poor reputation among “reasonable people.”

    Who are these
    “reasonable people”?

    Enjoy the echo chamber and the vapid discussions it produces.

    You know, creationists say this a lot. And while I’ve been taken to the sword by regulars here for saying stupid things, I guess they have a point. Maybe we are all just echoing each other, maybe we are all just worshippers of Darwin, materialist ideologues unable to grasp thee death of evolution. etc. you get the idea right?

  241. #242 Ichthyic
    January 20, 2010

    but here you’ve stepped out of your depth

    still blinking at that.

    It’s as if he just accused Dawkins of being unfamiliar with the history of evolutionary biology.

  242. #243 Jadehawk, OM
    January 20, 2010

    You said you didn’t want to hear an apology, but I’m offering one anyway. I don’t have any particular excuse for my behaviour, other than my ordinary lack of social skills and emotional self-control, coupled with general stress levels due to a high workload and impending exams.

    Walton!!!!!

    for the x-th time: don’t apologize if you aren’t actually going to change anything about your behavior/viewpoint. It’s a worthless apology, and actually one of the main reasons certain posters here are sick of listening to you.

  243. #244 SC OM
    January 20, 2010

    Yes, you’re right. And I’m sorry. I’ve acted like an ass recently, not for the first time.

    You said you didn’t want to hear an apology, but I’m offering one anyway….

    Oh, FFS. Apology accepted.

    (Yes, this is a ‘weakness’. No, I’m not going to apologize.)

  244. #245 Kel, OM
    January 20, 2010

    An Enquiry concerning Eric’s Understanding

    lol, that gave me a laugh. But still, if Eric wrote it I’d read.

  245. #246 Paul
    January 20, 2010

    Yes, you’re right. And I’m sorry. I’ve acted like an ass recently, not for the first time.

    You said you didn’t want to hear an apology, but I’m offering one anyway. I don’t have any particular excuse for my behaviour, other than my ordinary lack of social skills and emotional self-control, coupled with general stress levels due to a high workload and impending exams.

    You seriously wonder why some people refuse to play in to your pity party and act like you’ve grown, even after all the time you’ve been here? The quoted post is a good example of why. I’ve only lurked here a year, and I’ve seen you make the same exact damn apology at least a dozen times. You apologise when people call you out on your shit, then you just go back to your old ways. Not everyone is willing to coddle you, and it gets extremely old when you act like it’s because they are unreasonable.

  246. #247 CJO
    January 20, 2010

    Oh, and TM, try reading some actual works in philo of mind; they’re much better than the large print, fewer-than-six-sentences-per page lecture notes you embarrassingly presented as a source! Might I recommend Chalmers’ “Philosophy of Mind: Classical and Contemporary Readings” as an excellent introduction to a subject you rather obviously haven’t read very broadly in? (Honestly, you sound to someone who has read deeply and broadly in the subject as those who have only read works by ID advocates must sound to those more broadly familiar with biology…as I said, your comments are generally praiseworthy, but here you’ve stepped out of your depth, and the results are simply farcical.)

    Not for the first time, I am at a loss to determine whether you are just a worthless troll, out to provoke a flame war where you have nothing of substance to contribute, or whether you actually esteem yourself this highly, with so little justification.

    The bare fact that there are professional philosophers who can be induced to espouse dualism under the rubric of one of the various programs in anti-materialism doesn’t compel one to consider the idea worthwhile enough to go about the pointless exercise of citing and refuting their arguments, and a failure to do so in a short form such as a blog comment is no indication of what one has and has not read. I note that you make not even a nod toward an attempt to engage tm’s argument, but only make a pretense of superiority, as if all anyone needs to know about the subject is that you’re an expert, case closed. Demonstrate exactly where tm stepped out of his depth, and which stance of his re: Philosophy of mind you deem farcical, and why. Or stick to your haughty airs and be judged a pretentious jackass.

  247. #248 John Morales
    January 20, 2010

    Walton:

    As far as all the evidence suggests, it’s total and utter nonsense; death is death, and there’s no evidence at all for a soul or an afterlife. But it isn’t logically contradictory; and if someone could produce hard scientific evidence that there is such a thing as an incorporeal “soul” or “consciousness”, then I would gladly revise my position.

    Yes, it is logically contradictory, you’re just accepting a label for a concept you’ve not analysed: ‘afterlife’.

    What do you think ‘death’ means, other than the cessation of life? An afterlife would be simultaneously a cessation and a non-cessation of life; that is A ∧ ¬A.

    Even under a dualist viewpoint¹ (where one has a body and a soul) and death is redefined as only bodily death, the continuation of the existence (life?) of the soul would not be an afterlife, since the soul has not experienced death. Which leads to the obvious question: can the soul die, and if so, does it have an afterlife? :)

    ¹ Which as you say, is a ridiculous conceit.

  248. #249 semillama
    January 20, 2010

    I like Bertrand Russell, but then, I’m named after him.

  249. #250 Kel, OM
    January 20, 2010

    It’s as if he just accused Dawkins of being unfamiliar with the history of evolutionary biology.

    “But Dawkins cannot account for the origin of life. If all he can do is argue from probability … designer!”

  250. #251 Ichthyic
    January 20, 2010

    “But Dawkins cannot account for the origin of life. If all he can do is argue from probability … designer!”

    not the same thing.

  251. #252 Kel, OM
    January 20, 2010

    not the same thing.

    I realise

  252. #253 Eric
    January 20, 2010

    “Demonstrate exactly where tm stepped out of his depth, and which stance of his re: Philosophy of mind you deem farcical, and why.”

    As I said earlier, he stepped out of his depth and exposed himself as an autodidact when he began treating a very much live and controversial issue as if it had been solved, viz. the problems intentionality raises for physicalist accounts of mind. And this is easily demonstrated:

    (1) The problem of intentionality cannot be separated from what is known as “the hard problem” in philo of mind (see Horgan and Tienson on this identification), and the hard problem has most certainly not been ‘solved’ (or dissolved), as anyone with even a superficial knowledge of the literature will tell you. Yes, many solutions have been and are being proposed, but very, very few philosophers who specialize in philo of mind will tell you, “Oh, the hard problem? That’s yesterday’s news. We’ve solved that one.” Most will tell you that it’s still a huge problem, some will tell you it’s an unsolvable problem, and a very small minority deny it’s a problem at all. Now, one member of this small minority also happens to be the only philosopher of mind most people know of, i.e. Dennett. TM has obviously read a bit of Dennett, but he shows no evidence of having read much else.

    (2) TM referred me to some ‘lecture notes’ (as a source!) on Armstrong’s attempt to explain intentionality, *but Armstrong’s argument only succeeds if the causal theory of the mind (or something very like it) succeeds*. See? TM has offered *one* answer to a particularly difficult question that presupposes a *particular* ‘causal role theory’ (there are others besides Armstrong’s) to understanding the mind that is itself a highly debated topic. So, for TM to support his contention, he’d have to support the position that Armstrong’s version of the causal role theory (or something very like it) is correct (since the answer TM presented presupposes this), and this is *far* from obvious. Do you see what I’m talking about now? For TM’s claim to succeed, a host of other claims must be piled on top of it, and the idea that this large and complex conceptual structure that one needs to support Armstrong’s causal theory — which one needs to support his solution (which TM referred me to) — is itself so obviously correct and unproblematic that we can confidently say that it’s solved such and such a problem is *farcical*.

    Here’s a way to think about it: TM is like the guy who, because he has read a few articles on webmd.com, thinks he now knows enough to pronounce on serious medical issues. He honestly comes across like that.

  253. #254 John Morales
    January 20, 2010

    Eric, evidently you are unfamiliar with truth machine’s posting history here.

    Care to explain what the concept of an afterlife entails, rather than opining on the knowledge-base of a commenter (and that based on a hasty generalisation!)?

  254. #255 Ichthyic
    January 20, 2010

    I realise

    ah

  255. #256 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    January 20, 2010

    I have to admit Eric is a striking figure for the Dunning-Kruger effect, and should become their poster boy. He thinks he is some type of genius, and we are mere peons who should bow to his genius. Nevermind he can’t put forward a cogent and consistent definition that he has been asked repeatedly for, or any philosophy with it being utter sophistry. And even changes definitions in mid argument. Tsk, tsk. Bad, bad form. Dumb, dumb poster. Eric, you aren’t anywhere near as smart as you think you are, and we are much, much smarter than you think we are. That’s the truth. When you realize it, you will quit making an ass of yourself.

  256. #257 Kel, OM
    January 20, 2010

    One thing I’ve learned from evolutionary theory is that it makes little sense to talk in discrete elements. Questions such as “what good is half an eye?” don’t make sense in evolutionary theory, nor does “where are the half-human half-apes?”

    When it comes to biological phenomena, I’ve become suspicious of the hard problem of anything. So when Chalmers came up with the hard problem of consciousness, it does feel odd that he can write off any explanation as explanations of the “soft problem”, and then propose a “hard problem” from which not only is biology inadequate but so is the fundamentals of physics.

    That one can so easily dismiss experience as possibly being a form of function seems a bit premature. Given the success of modern physics, the success of modern biology, and the experimental results coming out of neuroscience, isn’t it a bit premature to talk of the “hard problem”? Being able to conceive philosophical zombies doesn’t feel like a good enough reason.

    ah

    Twas making a different point, though probably not very successfully.

  257. #258 CJO
    January 20, 2010

    Now, one member of this small minority also happens to be the only philosopher of mind most people know of, i.e. Dennett.

    Ah, BS. You’re baiting now. Searle and Chalmers are both at least as well known as Dennett in ordinary (non-philosopher) well-read circles.

    Furthermore, there’s another way to read tm’s take on this, and it isn’t that he’s claiming that the problem is solved to everyone’s satisfaction. He’s claiming that a lot of obfuscatory horseshit has more to do with securing the professional philosopher’s self-esteem as the only person qualified to propound on these topics and very little to do with the kind of conceptual ground clearing that would actually make headway on the Hard Problem rather than sitting around kvetching about how Hard it is.

    As for the claims that need to be defended in order to argue the position tm’s putting forth re: intentionality, when you say it “is *far* from obvious” “that Armstrong’s version of the causal role theory (or something very like it) is correct” you’re again mischaracterizing the materialist argument. It’s not necessary to claim a general background assumption is “obvious” or accepted by everyone to posit it and investigate the consequences, just that it is plausible and not directly contradicted by known facts. You’re not saying that Armstrong’s theory is implausible or contradicted by known facts, you’re just trying to show up tm by pointing out that his paragraph-long blog comment didn’t follow the form of a fucking dissertation on the subject, especially in that it made no effort to curry favor with superannuated dualist obfuscators. Well, no shit, on all levels.

  258. #259 Eric
    January 20, 2010

    “You’re not saying that Armstrong’s theory is implausible or contradicted by known facts, you’re just trying to show up tm by pointing out that his paragraph-long blog comment didn’t follow the form of a fucking dissertation on the subject, especially in that it made no effort to curry favor with superannuated dualist obfuscators.”

    Um, no. The point is that the solution TM proposed *itself* presupposes a host of solutions to various problems that are not themselves obviously solved. For example, TM’s proposed solution can be no more obviously true than the causal theory (or something very like it) it presupposes, and the causal theory is far from obviously true. See, if you were honest, you’d be calling TM out on this sort of patent BS. But I’ve learned not to expect honesty from this echo chamber. In fact, why am I wasting my time here in the first place? There are a few genuinely cool people like Kel, and a few genuinely bright people, but the rest are either rather obvious idiots like NoR or members of the ego-maniacal know-nothing Pharyngula herd. Have a nice life, people. I certainly won’t be wasting any more time here.

  259. #260 John Morales
    January 20, 2010

    Eric:

    I certainly won’t be wasting any more time here.

    We’ll see. Based on experience, I predict you’ll find you miss receiving your dose of contemptuous ridicule and derision from us, and therefore will not be able to resist coming back for more.

  260. #261 Kel, OM
    January 20, 2010

    I have to admit Eric is a striking figure for the Dunning-Kruger effect, and should become their poster boy.

    It could go both ways, and there’s always the possibility that we are the ignorant ones in this respect. Perhaps why I don’t think the Mary thought experiment proposes a problem to physicialism is I don’t grasp the subtlety of it. And I look to physics and mathematics to show why Zeno’s paradox is absurd where I really might be missing something philosophically astute.

    And it could be in this case I’m being conditioned by experiment after experiment talking about the links between brain function and mental cognition so that I can’t appreciate Chalmer’s argument for the Hard Problem. Just as I fail to grasp Plantinga’s evolutionary argument against naturalism as it sounds from data coming out of ecology that there’s no discrete barrier between the way we learn and comprehend compared to other animals.

    It could be that I don’t know what I’m talking about. I’m trying pretty hard to learn philosophy, though I’ve got to say I find a lot of it self-indulgent and not really saying much about anything. Again this could be Dunning Kruger.

    Of course the remedy do Dunning Kruger is to be pointed in the right direction of knowledge. So I welcome any links to resources that would help me understand, though buying books at this stage is probably a waste. Massimo just recommended me one on evolvability so I need to save my pennies for that one.

    There are a few genuinely cool people like Kel, and a few genuinely bright people

    I’m in the “cool people” category but not the “bright people”? What kind of bizarro world have I landed in? ;)

  261. #262 Ichthyic
    January 20, 2010

    Whatever it is, it wouldn’t be worth it.

    i wonder if Walton will get this, even though I myself have said it to him repeatedly?

    *shrug*

  262. #263 Ichthyic
    January 20, 2010

    I predict you’ll find you miss receiving your dose of contemptuous ridicule and derision from us, and therefore will not be able to resist coming back for more.

    perhaps when he does, instead of wasting time putting up a sham of an argument, and then complaining when the responses to aren’t of infinitely higher caliber, he will attempt to start off with a well reasoned argument to begin with?

    at least that would save time.

  263. #264 Kel, OM
    January 20, 2010

    I certainly won’t be wasting any more time here.

    Damn, I was hoping that someone could explain Chalmer’s bizarre notion of dualism to me. The last person who brought it up (Matthew Segall) was just being greedy reductionist “how could matter think?”

    Truth Machine possibly?

  264. #265 Ichthyic
    January 20, 2010

    Because he enjoys it.

    oh, and that would be incorrect.

    one, because that would first off acknowledge that Walton is correct in saying I am “cruel” to him, which is histrionic bullshit at best, and two, i really am rather emotionless about poking at flotsam.

  265. #266 Ichthyic
    January 20, 2010

    shorter eric at 261:

    “Screw you guys, I’m going home.”

    wait! is his last name Cartman?

  266. #267 Ichthyic
    January 20, 2010

    Truth Machine possibly?

    TM is extremely well versed in logistics and philosophy, so you could always ask him.

    I know several here have had running email communications with him that have been productive discussions.

  267. #268 John Morales
    January 20, 2010

    Kel,

    It could be that I don’t know what I’m talking about. I’m trying pretty hard to learn philosophy, though I’ve got to say I find a lot of it self-indulgent and not really saying much about anything. Again this could be Dunning Kruger.

    Well yeah, inasmuch as the nub of the D-K effect is that the competent tend to underestimate their ability, not just that the incompetent overestimate theirs.

    :)

  268. #269 WowbaggerOM
    January 20, 2010

    My problem with eric’s argument is that it’s almost wholly dependent on exploiting the fluidity of definitions – and I find nothing more irritating than someone trying to push woo of the semantic gaps.

  269. #270 Kel, OM
    January 20, 2010

    Well yeah, inasmuch as the nub of the D-K effect is that the competent tend to underestimate their ability, not just that the incompetent overestimate theirs.

    Though I’m not competent in philosophy at all. Remember in the D-K paper, they pointed out that this effect didn’t apply for all areas of knowledge. You’re not going to have people talking as if they know everything on Vietnamese history or advanced calculus. Sometimes you can recognise that you know nothing or next to nothing on a topic.

    Though just to make things even more confusing, because one knows next to nothing on a topic, the effect of not being able to determine legitimate expertise again becomes a problem.

  270. #271 John Morales
    January 20, 2010

    Kel,

    Though I’m not competent in philosophy at all.

    I beg to differ. You may not be formally trained/educated in its formalism, but philosophy is IMO a way of reasoning at which I find you competent. I know I’ve seen you examine and/or justify your beliefs on a number of occasions.

    In fact, you’ve just done it again!

    Though just to make things even more confusing, because one knows next to nothing on a topic, the effect of not being able to determine legitimate expertise again becomes a problem.

    Have you read any works of philosophy, and if so, can you follow the reasoning therein?

    If you haven’t or can’t, then perhaps you have a case. But I suspect otherwise.

  271. #272 Kel, OM
    January 20, 2010

    but philosophy is IMO a way of reasoning at which I find you competent.

    On that I’m not too bad. Being good at mathematics helps on that, doing a Computer Science degree helps with that

    Have you read any works of philosophy, and if so, can you follow the reasoning therein?

    Currently I’m reading Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion and I’m able to follow the logic just fine (at least I think I do), but it’s the philosophical language that’s tripping me up. What the bloody hell is a Stoic, or Pyrrhonism? There’s certain references the character philosophers use time after time like that which I’m sure would be befitting of a philosophical discussion but to me just gets in the way.

    I was able to follow Bertrand Russell’s The Problems Of Philosophy just fine, though I think that was written to be understood by a general audience. I don’t think I would have been able to pick up Bishop Berkeley’s equivocation error that Russell did, my objections to his position were pretty much all scientific in nature.

  272. #273 aratina cage of the OM
    January 20, 2010

    Kel, OM #259:

    One thing I’ve learned from evolutionary theory is that it makes little sense to talk in discrete elements. Questions such as “what good is half an eye?” don’t make sense in evolutionary theory, nor does “where are the half-human half-apes?”

    When it comes to biological phenomena, I’ve become suspicious of the hard problem of anything.

    That deserves a tentacle cluster!

    Dualism does not fit well with evolution or brain development. For instance, where would souls come into play on the Tree of Life? If humans had souls would other animals? And at what point in human growth would the soul take root to allow consciousness? With such complications, it is easy to see the hard problem as the neurological equivalent of Behe’s irreducible complexity argument in biology—let’s throw up our hands in frustration and fuggedaboutit. The insistence that there is something intangible there, that the experience of consciousness can’t be explained, is a way to sneak in a soul without calling it a soul just as irreducible complexity allows theists to sneak in gods by calling them “intelligent designers”.

  273. #274 John Morales
    January 21, 2010

    Anonymous Man, you think you can make a psychopathological diagnosis based on a couple of blog posts?

    Interesting.

  274. #275 Rorschach
    January 21, 2010

    Anonymous Man, you think you can make a psychopathological diagnosis based on a couple of blog posts?

    He obviously does.

  275. #276 WowbaggerOM
    January 21, 2010

    My mistake. Not a sadist, merely a sociopath.

    Perhaps he is someone whose tolerance for Walton’s style has been worn thin by several years of exposure. As someone completely new to this blog you might want to consider that there is information to which you are not privy.

    Or are you a former regular using a slightly altered (one part new with one old) screen name? My troll-sense is tingling just a little…

  276. #277 Rorschach
    January 21, 2010

    Or are you a former regular using a slightly altered (one part new with one old) screen name? My troll-sense is tingling just a little…

    Oh, is that Pilty ? How wicked !

  277. #278 SC OM
    January 21, 2010

    exposed himself as an autodidact

    He was wearing my Harvard tie. Can you believe it? My Harvard tie. Like oh, sure he went to Harvard.

  278. #279 John Morales
    January 21, 2010

    Hm. Plausible.

    If it’s you, Piltdown, I refer you to my #262. :)

  279. #280 Rorschach
    January 21, 2010

    I’ve read a number of Walton’s posts here and on his own blog. He seems intelligent and decent and undeserving of all the rancor

    Walton, or me or anyone else, doesnt get a free pass here for “being intelligent and decent”, if you’re wrong on a subject it will be pointed out to you.
    That’s nor rancor, it’s Pharyngula.

  280. #281 Stephen Wells
    January 21, 2010

    Of course it’s impossible for the mind to _be_ something material. It’s also impossible for velocity or turbulence or revolutions per minute to _be_ something material; you will never find an ounce of velocity or an atom of turbulence. This does not mean that water must be blessed by Turbulon, God of Bubbles, in order to be turbulent; it means that turbulence and velocity describe _properties_ of physical systems.

    “Thinking” is a _behaviour_, a very complex behaviour of a very complex physical system, but not conceptually that different from “running” or “swimming”; it is something that some things can _do_.

  281. #282 'Tis Himself, OM
    January 21, 2010

    Pilty #283

    I’m no masochist.

    The evidence suggests otherwise.

  282. #283 WowbaggerOM
    January 21, 2010

    If our new friend isn’t Piltdown then he’s done a very good job of copying his particularly odious tapdance routine – he’s even got the identical Thomistic woo-of-the-semantic-gaps handwaving patterns down pat.

    Quick – someone act like they’re possessed by a demon! Then we’ll know for sure.

  283. #284 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    January 21, 2010

    Quick – someone act like they’re possessed by a demon!

    That would be Pilty. He has the demon of religion. Poor man.

  284. #285 SC OM
    January 21, 2010

    exposed himself as an autodidact

    I’m sorry. I can’t stop laughing at this. How do you “expose” yourself as an autodidact (*gasp*)? What’s he doing – flashing his public library card at innocent schoolgirls? And what could this possibly have to do with the validity of what he’s saying? It’s just so ridiculous.

    It also makes me think of this, from a blog I found last week via Date Wrecks (which I found a couple of weeks ago via YSaC):

    http://whywomenhatemen.blogspot.com/2008/11/brilliant-idiocy.html

    “What’s the difference between Keynesianism and Friedman’s model of economics? The difference is you’re never getting a blowjob.”

  285. #286 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    January 21, 2010

    He was wearing my Harvard tie. Can you believe it? My Harvard tie. Like oh, sure he went to Harvard.

    nice

  286. #287 ConcernedJoe
    January 21, 2010

    I know I know — a philosopher I ain’t.

    But for the life of me can one of the dualism commenters give me a clear brief statement on why there must be a “soul”?

    One a simple material type guys like me can feel comfortable (accept as valid hypothesis for testing) about. You know a well-formed logical statement that has sound honest rigorous experimental evidence and/or strong honest by the rules induction as support.

    How hard can that be to provide that to me? I mean you philosophers have been at it for 1000s of years.

    And please do not do a Feser on me — because like the vacuousness of his “philosophical musings” suck the intellectual honesty right out of a room.

    Just give me something SIMPLE AND LOGICAL – WITH SOMETHING REAL TO SUPPORT IT.

  287. #288 David Marjanovi?
    January 21, 2010

    It’s not even mental masturbation–it’s mental dry humping!

    :-D :-D :-D

    I intend to steal this and repeat it at every opportunity ad nauseam.

    I can only blame my poor social skills.

    Fuck your poor social skills, Walton! :-) Mine aren’t any better either!

    This here is after all not meatspace. All that counts here is SIWOTI syndrome.

    Maybe you should simply stop apologising completely. I’m serious. Accept it when someone proves you wrong, but don’t apologise. Perhaps write “OIC” and be done with it.

    Walton!!!!!

    KHAAAAAAAAAAN!!!!!

    Have a nice life, people. I certainly won’t be wasting any more time here.

    Please let me invoke Shaker’s Law. Pretty please??

    I’ve read a number of Walton’s posts here and on his own blog. He seems intelligent and decent and undeserving of all the rancor. Is it something to do with Jadehawk’s fascist comment [?Wow. Just? wow.] that a proper apology involves a change of viewpoint?

    He is intelligent and decent. But we aren’t in a place here where people deserve something. This is a place where arguments deserve stuff.

    All the time Walton apologises for having hurt our feelings, and such apologies obviously don’t necessitate a change of viewpoint. But we don’t care about our feelings on this blog (?except on the endless thread, but I digress). We are interested in the viewpoints themselves, not in our feelings about them! That turns all his apologies into tl;dr.

    And no, not all of us are neurotypical. Get over it.

    … the chief proponents of dualism historically have not defended their position as an ?explanatory hypothesis? put forward as the ?best explanation? of the ?empirical data.? That just isn?t what they are up to, any more than geometers or logicians are. They are attempting instead to provide a strict demonstration of the immateriality of the mind, to show that it is metaphysically and conceptually impossible for the mind to be something material. Their attempts may or may not succeed ? again, that is another question. But that is what they are trying to do, and thus it simply misses the point to evaluate their arguments the way one might evaluate an empirical hypothesis. When Andrew Wiles first claimed ? correctly, as it turned out ? to have proven Fermat?s Last Theorem, it would have been ridiculous to evaluate his purported proof by asking whether it best accounts for the empirical evidence, or is the ?best explanation? among all the alternatives, or comports with Ockham?s razor. Anyone who asked such questions would simply be making a category mistake …

    See?

    This is in itself a category mistake.

    You just can’t prove anything outside of mathematics and formal logic. Applying a proof in formal logic to reality and believing one has thereby proven something about reality always amounts to an argument from personal incredulity, an argument from lack of imagination.

    The textbook example for this is the counterintuitive weirdness of relativity and quantum physics. For instance, a particle can be in states A and ¬A at the same time ? silly but true.

    Who solved the paradox of Achilles and the tortoise? Werner Heisenberg. Who disproved Plantinga’s argument against naturalism before it was even made? Konrad Lorenz. And so on.

    Consider the following analogy: A typed, written, or spoken token of the word ?bark,? considered merely as a material object, has all sorts of complex physical properties, and those physical properties are highly relevant to its status as a word, as a bearer of linguistic meaning. Alter the physical properties of the token too radically, and it can no longer convey the meaning it once did. For example, if the ink should smear, the sound be muffled, or the power source to a word processor be cut off, the word will disappear, or might at least become so distorted that it becomes unintelligible. It would be absurd, though, for someone to suggest that these facts lend any support whatsoever to the claim that a word token qua word token is exhausted by its physical properties. It clearly is not. It is, for example, indeterminate from the physical properties alone whether the ?bark? in question is the bark of a dog or the bark of a tree. Indeed, since the fact that the relevant sounds and shapes are associated with a certain meaning is entirely contingent, an accident of the history of the English language, it is indeterminate from the physical properties alone whether the word has any meaning at all. In short, the physical properties are a necessary condition for any particular physical object?s counting as a word token, but they are not a sufficient condition. And piling up bits of physicochemical knowledge about word tokens cannot possibly change this fact in the slightest, for it is a conceptual point about the nature of words, not an empirical point about what the latest research in phonetics (or whatever) has turned up.

    Blah, blah, blah. The term “word” is an abstraction. You may be interested to learn that the linguists have pretty much given up on trying to define “word” ? for the most part, they retreat sarcastically to “thing written with spaces around it” and otherwise talk about overlapping but not congruent categories like “lexical item” and “phonological word” and “morphological word”.

    Is your source seriously trying to argue that the soul/immaterial mind/ghost in the machine is likewise an abstraction???

    In the same way, the dualist claims to be making a conceptual point about the relationship between mind and body, one to which neuroscientific research, important and interesting as it is in itself, is irrelevant.

    Learning about reality is irrelevant to dualist philosophy? What a surprisingly candid admission.

    Let me bend this comment into a circle, or perhaps a Möbius strip:

    It’s not even mental masturbation–it’s mental dry humping!

  288. #289 PZ Myers
    January 21, 2010

    “Anonymous Man” was the pathetic “Piltdown Man”. I find it amazing that some people are so obsessed with this site that they keep coming back after they’ve been shown the door.

  289. #290 aratina cage of the OM
    January 21, 2010

    I find it amazing that some people are so obsessed with this site that they keep coming back after they’ve been shown the door.

    I’m also surprised that they make their return so pathetically obvious.

  290. #291 truth machine, OM
    January 22, 2010

    Oh, and TM, try reading some actual works in philo of mind; they’re much better than the large print, fewer-than-six-sentences-per page lecture notes you embarrassingly presented as a source!

    This has got to be one of the most stupid ad hominem arguments I have ever seen. Eric asked “Care to show me how brain states can exhibit the property of intentionality?” — so I did, with a quick google to some slides which refer to an argument by Armstrong; I did not present it as “a source” — what a stupid lie. I didn’t say that this is a consensus position in philo of mind — there are almost no such positions — but it is an answer to his request, whether he thinks it’s valid or not. Eric idiotically says I stepped out of my depth by presenting “a very much live and controversial issue as if it had been solved” — here Eric shows that he has never reached a depth of thinking, because the fact that issues are “live and controversial” does not mean they haven’t been solved! This isn’t even the case in science, let alone in philosophy where the lack of epistemological standards allows wrongheadedness to persist indefinitely.

    Eric stupidly reaches false conclusions about my level of reading in philo of mind based on … the size of the print in the pdf I cited! What an idiot. Such a level of ad hominem deserves an appropriate response. He recommends that I read Chalmers … well, rather than present a picture of my bookshelf showing I’ve done just that, I’ll provide a picture showing that I’ve partied with Chalmers — that must prove something! See http://consc.net/pics/eoc2004.html , 4th picture from the bottom: I’m the guy in the background who isn’t wearing a towel.

  291. #292 truth machine, OM
    January 22, 2010

    Eric? what SC is trying to say is that, while I haven’t, the people you’re discussing with here seem to have read a lot of the Chalmers’ works and found them all to be nonsense.

    I don’t find Chalmers’ works to be all nonsense — in fact I don’t find any of them to be nonsense, but I do think he is mistaken in his arguments against physicalism, and his notion of “psycho-physical bridging laws” is hopeless and shows a deep misunderstanding of how real science develops.

  292. #293 truth machine, OM
    January 22, 2010

    “Might I recommend Chalmers”
    lol, seriously?

    It’s particularly ironic because Chalmers provides no support for Eric’s brand of woo. In regard to Eric’s “Computer processes lack precisely what it is we’re trying to explain here”, he should read Chalmers on organizational invariance:

    A natural suggestion is that when experience arises from a physical system, it does so in virtue of the system’s functional organization. On this view, the chemical and indeed the quantum substrates of the brain are not directly relevant to the existence of consciousness, although they may be indirectly relevant. What is central is rather the brain’s abstract causal organization, an organization that might be realized in many different physical substrates.
    In this paper I defend this view.

    It seems that Eric needs to broaden his reading in philo of mind to include David Chalmers.

  293. #294 truth machine, OM
    January 22, 2010

    TM referred me to some ‘lecture notes’ (as a source!) on Armstrong’s attempt to explain intentionality, *but Armstrong’s argument only succeeds if the causal theory of the mind (or something very like it) succeeds*. See? TM has offered *one* answer to a particularly difficult question that presupposes a *particular* ‘causal role theory’ (there are others besides Armstrong’s) to understanding the mind that is itself a highly debated topic. So, for TM to support his contention, he’d have to support the position that Armstrong’s version of the causal role theory (or something very like it) is correct (since the answer TM presented presupposes this), and this is *far* from obvious. Do you see what I’m talking about now? For TM’s claim to succeed, a host of other claims must be piled on top of it, and the idea that this large and complex conceptual structure that one needs to support Armstrong’s causal theory — which one needs to support his solution (which TM referred me to) — is itself so obviously correct and unproblematic that we can confidently say that it’s solved such and such a problem is *farcical*.
    Here’s a way to think about it: TM is like the guy who, because he has read a few articles on webmd.com, thinks he now knows enough to pronounce on serious medical issues. He honestly comes across like that.

    It’s hard to overstate just how stupid and intellectually dishonest Eric shows himself to be here. He asked someone (specifically John Morales, but surely anyone who had an answer should be able to provide it) “Care to show me how brain states can exhibit the property of intentionality?” Now, when someone asks such a question, it is not necessary, before providing an answer, to satisfy every possible objection the asker might have to the answer, and to guarantee that the asker and answerer share every underlying assumption. Eric’s complaint is like a Creationist who asks how evolution could have produced creatures with free will, and rejects any answer because free will is a “lively and controversial subject”.

    Suppose that David Armstrong himself were reading this blog and chose to answer the question Eric raised. He would of course offer his own explanation, which “presupposes a *particular* ‘causal role theory'”. All of Eric’s ad hominem characterizations would pertain as well to Armstrong — and be obviously wrong.

    Eric is the sort of intellectually dishonest trash that unfortunately populates many philosophy departments and greatly retards progress in philosophy and gives it a bad name.

  294. #295 truth machine, OM
    January 22, 2010

    Thinking is not like that.

    Yeah, thinking is magical.

    electrochemical reactions of neurons and synapses or whatever. These are equivalent to your water turbulence.

    No, bozo, they aren’t.

  295. #296 Stephen Wells
    January 22, 2010

    Doc Savage, consider this:

    “Running is not like that. If you subject a human muscle to analysis you will detect muscle activity – electrochemical reactions of actin and myosin or whatever. These are equivalent to your water turbulence. But an electrochemical reaction is not a run – it is just an electrochemical reaction. And that would still be so even if scientists could precisely correlate particular muscle activity with particular movements – or even if they could induce certain movements by triggering a particular type of activity in the muscles.”

    Thinking is an activity performed by brains. It’s complicated and wonderful and worth lifetimes of investigation, but it’s not magic.

  296. #297 ConcernedJoe
    January 22, 2010

    TM – so you proved you can party – but do you know anything about philosophy? (that was a joke – I have a right to amuse myself this early in morning here)! Seriously thanks for education.

    SW #297 etc. – I fail to see your point – sorry. Would a thought exist without said physical activity?!?

    TM – I asked above for some statements for philosophy challenged people like me that clearly states the case for dualism in a logical well formed statement (simple not expanded) and has some supporting basis I material guy like me can accept (for sake of further testing say). Can you help the dualists? Just asking if you heard or have one simply said. To me it is all sophistry (but I am not qualified to say that in that I am not schooled in philosophy). Thanks in any case for your contributions.

  297. #298 truth machine, OM
    January 22, 2010

    When it comes to biological phenomena, I’ve become suspicious of the hard problem of anything. So when Chalmers came up with the hard problem of consciousness, it does feel odd that he can write off any explanation as explanations of the “soft problem”, and then propose a “hard problem” from which not only is biology inadequate but so is the fundamentals of physics.

    Chalmers’s “hard problem” is a self-imposed illusion; see http://www.mindhacks.com/blog/2008/07/dennett_on_magic_and.html

    and

    http://www.human-nature.com/articles/dennett.html

    That one can so easily dismiss experience as possibly being a form of function seems a bit premature.

    Especially when some very good analysis has been provided by people like Thomas Metzinger (Eric should broaden his reading in philo of mind to include him).

    Being able to conceive philosophical zombies doesn’t feel like a good enough reason.

    The conceivability of zombies is logically equivalent to the conceivability that physicalism is false — as an argument against physicalism, it’s circular. It rests upon what Dennett calls the “zombic hunch” — the intuition that consciousness is something separable from brain function. It is my position that consciousness is a process of a cognitive system and that extant unembodied processes are semantically incoherent — thus zombies are not properly conceivable (unless, as Dennett suggests, they are conceived in such a way that we are zombies).

  298. #299 truth machine, OM
    January 22, 2010

    You’re saying brain activity can’t be described in those terms?

    No, I’m saying that turbulence is not an analog to electrochemical reactions.

  299. #300 ConcernedJoe
    January 22, 2010

    #298 I see the point that a chem reaction is not muscle movement per se. But I still am missing your point. Sorry.

    Muscles move because of certain things – like chemical reactions. Thoughts occur likewise (because of certain things). We may not know all the things or mechanisms in either case – but it ain’t magic. You agree I believe (it ain’t magic) – so your point? I am not being sarcastic. Thanks.

  300. #301 Stephen Wells
    January 22, 2010

    Also, Doc, TM is making the point that “electrochemical reactions of synapses” would be equivalent to, say, “physical interactions of water molecules”, but _thinking_ is equivalent to _turbulence_; it’s a term we use to describe an emergent property of the system.

  301. #302 ConcernedJoe
    January 22, 2010

    Stephen Wells – I am still asleep – my comments were to DocSavage — WOW – I am in space. SORRY

  302. #303 Stephen Wells
    January 22, 2010

    @Concerned: eric quoted the phrase that “it’s impossible for the mind to be something material” in the course of a dualist argument. I’m just pointing out that this is a really dumb argument.

    If by “something material” they mean a substance, then velocity and turbulence are also not “something material”. If on the other hand our concept of the material includes things like velocity or turbulence- not substances, but properties of physical systems- then it seems perfectly reasonable that “thinking” is another such property, and dualists have to do more than just state their incredulity.

    Happy? :)

  303. #304 truth machine, OM
    January 22, 2010

    TM – so you proved you can party – but do you know anything about philosophy? (that was a joke – I have a right to amuse myself this early in morning here)!

    Hey, it was my joke! Surely if the size of the font of a pdf that I provide says something about how much Chalmers I’ve read, then the fact that I had a beer by his pool says even more!

    I asked above for some statements for philosophy challenged people like me that clearly states the case for dualism in a logical well formed statement (simple not expanded) and has some supporting basis I material guy like me can accept (for sake of further testing say).

    You asked for a clear brief statement on why there must be a “soul”. Aside from religious practitioners who think so because of their dogma, very few dualist philosophers these days contend that there is such a thing — substance dualism is considered dead in analytical philosophy because of the “interaction problem” — there’s no way for a non-material thing to direct the actions of a material thing. Instead there are more sophisticated claims such as property dualism that holds that, rather there being physical and non-physical stuff, some or all physical stuff has both physical and non-physical properties (whatever the heck that means). The reason that philosophers come up with such ideas is because they think that various arguments show that consciousness or experience cannot be captured by physical description. The zombie argument is one such argument; another is the Knowledge Argument. For what it’s worth, the original proponents of both arguments — Robert Kirk and Frank Jackson — are now physicalists, having rejected their previous arguments for various reasons. (Kirk says that his book “Zombies and Consciousness”, which attacks the idea of zombies, was written “as penance”).

  304. #305 ConcernedJoe
    January 22, 2010

    Thanks TM (and for the link) and thanks SW (and again sorry I was confused old man today)

    This site is great education most of the time – thanks to people with knowledge that are willing to share and “debate” points

    Appreciate PZ and many participants … I’ve learned a lot and know I know almost nothing (good thing – I can keep learning!)

    Ciao ciao

  305. #306 truth machine, OM
    January 22, 2010

    Also, Doc, TM is making the point that “electrochemical reactions of synapses” would be equivalent to, say, “physical interactions of water molecules”, but _thinking_ is equivalent to _turbulence_

    Right; thinking, running, and turbulence are all high level interpretations of what certain dynamic systems are doing. It is blatantly obvious that turbulence is not another name for any specific set of reactions — turbulence can happen in all sort of substrates, as can thinking or running.

    it’s a term we use to describe an emergent property of the system

    I don’t like the phrase “emergent property”. Legs can run, but running is not a property of legs. We might say that the capacity to run is a property of legs, and the capacity to think is a property of brains (and potentially some computer systems). But then it would be better to just talk about capacities rather than properties.

    Earlier, Doc Savage said “Velocity or turbulence or revolutions per minute or running or swimming are all properties or behavior or actions that can be directly perceived and subjected to analysis. Thinking is not like that.”

    But he’s wrong, in principle and, these days, in crude practice. Neuroscientists know to a considerable degree what parts of the brain are active during various kinds of thinking and can tell, crudely, what you’re thinking about; this will continue to be refined as science advances.

  306. #307 Stephen Wells
    January 22, 2010

    @TM: incidentally, is it just me, or does the “knowledge argument” not actually say anything about physicalism at all? All it does is establish what is obvious from the start: that actual experience differs from reported experience, or, dropping down a level of physical description, actually seeing red activates processes in the brain which are not activated while thinking about what happens in brains when red is seen :) So what?

  307. #308 truth machine, OM
    January 22, 2010

    @Stephen: I agree. My view is that calling an experience “knowledge” is just the sort of misleading semantic game that too many philosphers are prone to. Knowledge is usually characterized as true justified belief (there are Gettier cases, but they can be dealt with by refining that); thus, knowledge is propositional, but there is no true proposition that Mary is privy to after seeing color that she wasn’t privy to beforehand.

    Decades ago I proposed the analogy of a trace program that can trace any computer program (such programs are standard tools); in particular, it can trace programs that reach a halt state. In effect, this program possesses all relevant information about computer program execution, including halting, despite its having never halted. If the program then halts, this has no metaphysical implications — reaching a new state is not at all the same as obtaining new information.

  308. #309 ConcernedJoe
    January 22, 2010

    Me again

    From what I gather the knowledge argument is as SW suggests a “so what”

    What keeps going through my brain is the question “how do we know what animals see?”. OK we know that certain animals respond to certain colors – we might even know how their nervous system reacts basically speaking to certain colors and see the pattern we would expect upon the “red stimulus” (if red was the color of discussion). However can we really say that the animal perceives red like I do? Or that you perceive red like you do?

    Let us say for sake of argument that we cannot know what the animal perceives unless we are that animal – indeed that very same animal.

    But even accepting that for my discussion – I still feel it is because we just do not know all the physical things about the perception. Too many variables there to know presently. As we get more knowledge of the mechanisms we can correlate physical reactions to perceptions. The problem is imperfect knowledge not anything mysterious (even if we can never hit perfect knowledge it is still just a lack of phyiscal knowledge problem).

    Mary had perfect knowledge – assuming that applied to the vagaries of her particular physical being .. she’d not be surprised at all about what see experienced when see experienced red.

    We might be – but we have imperfect knowledge – so what I say.

    I stand to be corrected if any of you care to play 101 prof. Thanks.

  309. #310 Kel, OM
    January 22, 2010

    It’s particularly ironic because Chalmers provides no support for Eric’s brand of woo.

    Yeah, Chalmers’ papers (at least the few I’ve read) have a weird notion of dualism that I’m quite confused about. It seems like he’s arguing against Materialism by introducing Materialism++. Though that could me by lack of understanding of what he’s trying to say.

  310. #311 truth machine, OM
    January 22, 2010

    Thanks for clarifying TM’s point (or rather thanks for making it for him).

    It was fucking obvious; only an imbecile would think that turbulence in water is analogous to electrical reactions in the brain.

    What these neuroscientists are observing are not thoughts but brain activity that occurs during thinking.

    What makes you think that there are such things as “thoughts”? Why the stupid mystical reification? There is thinking, which is a process, and it can be analyzed and measured.

    Can you prove that assertion? How do you know?

    You sure are dense. It is because no one, from Descartes on (he waved his hands toward the pineal gland) has provided a remotely plausible explanation of how the non-physical can control the physical — it seems flatly incoherent because anything that causally interacts with the physical would be “non-physical” in ad hoc name only — that the notion has been abandoned. If you can provide such an explanation, you could win a Templeton Prize or something.

  311. #312 ConcernedJoe
    January 22, 2010

    Nor can one know that when ConcernedJoe sees “see” he sees “she” – let alone how he perceives red!

  312. #313 truth machine, OM
    January 22, 2010

    However can we really say that the animal perceives red like I do? Or that you perceive red like you do?

    This is like the “zombic hunch” — you might call it the “qualia hunch”. It’s pure woo. It assumes that there are independent things like “redness” floating around in our brains — a “way” that red things are perceived that could be different from person to person. But, rather, there’s a perceptual process and a set of behavioral dispositions to stimuli. You and I have the same emotional reactions to red — it’s somewhat alarming, seems “warm”, etc. — and place it in the same relation to other hues (it’s somewhat like orange or purple, but not blue or green, etc.); these relational aspects of our perception are virtually identical — we know this because of our nearly identical reactions and reports, and our common perceptual apparatus. And that’s all there is — there isn’t some additional thing, “the redness of red” or the red “quale” that might differ between us. See http://www.scribd.com/doc/8788637/Daniel-C-Dennett-Quining-Qualia

    I still feel it is because we just do not know all the physical things about the perception. Too many variables there to know presently. As we get more knowledge of the mechanisms we can correlate physical reactions to perceptions.

    “We” — the whole of human society including neuroscientists who specialize in the visual system — have far more of this knowledge than most of “us” — lay people — are aware of.

  313. #314 truth machine, OM
    January 22, 2010

    But surely it’s a process which has experiential content, intellectual content?

    Word salad.

    Has anyone provided a remotely plausible or at least universally accepted explanation of purely physical causality?

    You’re being the same sort of idiot as Eric with your question-in-response-to-a question. I explained why substance dualism is considered dead in analytical philosophy — it’s a fact that that it is. As for purely physical causality, it’s a priori plausible — “physical” and “causal” are virtual synonyms.

    You assume a priori the truth of what requires proof – that causality must be physical-physical.

    I did no such thing, moron. What I said is that no one can make heads or tails of any alternative — I said it seems flatly incoherent to talk about non-physical causes — in what sense are they “non-physical” if they have physical effects?

  314. #315 Stephen Wells
    January 22, 2010

    The claim that “You can’t observe a thought ‘from the outside'” seems either flatly wrong (we observe our own thoughts and those of others all the time; communication) or trivial (I can’t observe ‘a velocity’ either; I can only observe things in different places at different times; wow).

    @ConcernedJoe: it’s pretty clear that none of us can know that the way we perceive anything is the same as the way anyone else perceives something; and grasping this is a big step to avoiding the reification of “redness”, as TM has just pointed out in 317. Thus your question in 312 has the answer: we know that animals can see; we have no idea what it is like for them to see.

  315. #316 truth machine, OM
    January 22, 2010

    It seems like he’s arguing against Materialism by introducing Materialism++.

    He argues that materialism cannot be the correct view, but then he must seek some alternative, and comes up with his materialism++ — panprotopsychism, psycho-physical bridging laws, etc.

  316. #317 ConcernedJoe
    January 22, 2010

    TM — I agree totally w/ you (just groping in my way to state it)

    yup about the “us” vs. “we” .. I was just saying for discussion sake – “we” cannot – so what – it is JUST because “we” lack knowledge. On the other hand Mary w/ perfect knowledge would not be surprised at all about red when she experienced it.

    You know – DS, Eric, etc. — why the woo? Heck we cannot say for certain how a computer program will run one “supposedly same” computer to another. We get surprised all the time. Are computers inflicted with demons, non-physical forces at work, whatever other woo? No – I think we’d all agree. We just do not have 100% robust programs nor 100% robust computers. Imperfect knowledge type of thing. So what (what is the mystery)! The brain – nothing but a computer (OK I know I’m not being rigorous – but simply said I feel I am right in saying).

    DS – What is the definition of “non-physical” and what is the definition of “physical” .. same question for “intellectual” vs the implied “non-intellectual” .. I think TM is saying to you that your terms are self-contradictory in context as you use them.

    May the force be with you.

  317. #318 truth machine, OM
    January 22, 2010

    I can’t observe ‘a velocity’ either; I can only observe things in different places at different times; wow

    Indeed. People who talk about “direct observation” as something that isn’t satisfied by “the mental” are not thinking clearly or carefully. It’s akin to Creationists blabbering about how none of us was there to see the Big Bang or evolution in action. Well, none of us saw Lincoln get shot by Booth — most of our knowledge is inferential.

    it’s pretty clear that none of us can know that the way we perceive anything is the same as the way anyone else perceives something; and grasping this is a big step to avoiding the reification

    But it seems to me that you just did reify it, as a “way” that could be different between us. Surely we do know that the way we perceive things — the processes that occur in our respective brains — is virtually identical between us because our brains are built the same way.

    we know that animals can see; we have no idea what it is like for them to see

    It’s not at all clear that the question “what is it like for an animal to see” is coherent, because (I think) this “what is it like” is a verbal report that depends on a self-model as a perceiver, and animals lack the symbolic faculties to form such reports or self-models.

  318. #319 ConcernedJoe
    January 22, 2010

    SW thanks for you 319.

    I was postulating “Let us say for sake of argument that we cannot know what the animal perceives unless we are that animal – indeed that very same animal.

    But even accepting that for my discussion – I still feel it is because we just do not know all the physical things about the perception.”

    That if – as you later stated in #319 – we “we know that animals can see; we have no idea what it is like for them to see.” it is just because of imperfect knowledge of all the physical happenings and correlations to results.

    You and I (and of course others here galore) see this point – it seems so evident. Why anyone has to resort to woo seems so – well unexciting and unnecessary and wrong headed to me I am amzed some do.

  319. #320 truth machine, OM
    January 22, 2010

    You deny the existence of abstract thought?

    Abstractions don’t exist, dimwit.

    PS I don’t mean sense perceptions or ‘qualia’ but the human capacity for abstract reasoning.

    Yes, humans have that capacity. That has nothing to do with “processes” having “experiental content”. You string words together in bizarre ways because your conceptual models are a mess.

  320. #321 truth machine, OM
    January 22, 2010

    P.S. by ” humans have that capacity”, I mean the capacity for reasoning about or with abstractions; symbolic reasoning. It’s all a strictly physical process, just as it is in a computer. I don’t have to “prove” it, it’s a Bayesian inference to the best explanation. In the absence of a formal proof you might feel entitled to believe otherwise, but it’s as stupid as believing that horses are really unicorns with non-physical horns on their noses.

  321. #322 truth machine, OM
    January 22, 2010

    it’s as stupid as believing that horses are really unicorns with non-physical horns on their noses

    And I challenge Eric or DS or anyone to prove that horses are not really unicorns with with non-physical horns on their noses. Why should I accept your horsism and reject unicornism? Surely, like Bertrand Russell in re the afterlife, you are contradicting yourself if you claim to know that Gene Autry rode around on horses rather than unicorns.

  322. #323 SC OM
    January 22, 2010

    unicorns with with non-physical horns on their noses

    On their noses? You, sir, claim to be a true unicornist, but you obviously know not the first thing about the philosophy of unicornism, much less the areas of continuing debate among unicorn scholars. Poseurs like you give unicornism a bad name.

  323. #324 ConcernedJoe
    January 22, 2010

    TM re: #328

    [just for sake of argument]

    There is this guy – very well spoken – exudes wisdom, peace, Truth, Knowledge – lives an ascetic life. He can see the horns on the unicorns! Actually been tested with lie detectors (best in world) and yup he sees them (he ain’t lying). Etc.

    [/just for the sake of argument]

    My point is there will always be some that will sincerely truly believe they see the horns and that it is YOUR fault that you do not.

    The proof in their minds is strong because the proof is in their minds! – get my drift ;-). You (me, others here) are to them deficient because we somehow lack the imagination and revelation that they have.

    ALWAYS – some will pray for us – some will insist we miss the subtly of their arguments – some will say we are closed-minded – some will say we are just not experts like they are because we want to remain willfully ignorant.

    We shrug our shoulders and move on to stuff that is of practical use.

    To me Philosophy does a service when it logically lays out thoughts for us. So its saying “we cannot assume we know for certain in presence of imperfect knowledge” (I mean rigorously showing the fallacy of a certainty without cause for certainty) is valuable and helpful. But its saying things like “non-physical” are just outside its bounds – and indeed to me wholly unnecessary for their case for uncertainty in light of imperfect knowledge and/or random occurrences.

    TM etc. you may not make headway with the anointed. But please continue to try because many of us value the education and the thought provocation you bring.

  324. #325 truth machine, OM
    January 22, 2010

    On their noses?

    It seems that I had a rhinoceros on my brain — a non-physical but not quite epiphenomenal one.

  325. #326 truth machine, OM
    January 22, 2010

    There is this guy – very well spoken – exudes wisdom, peace, Truth, Knowledge

    We should bottle that stuff and sell it!

    Actually been tested with lie detectors (best in world) and yup he sees them (he ain’t lying).

    Nifty device … what if he claims that the lie detector is misreading him and the lie detector confirms that he’s telling the truth?

  326. #327 ConcernedJoe
    January 22, 2010

    Re: #330 my “non-physical” was the magical woo type — not that it is wrong to say that my recurring day dream of a young sultry Lena Horne singing just for me is “non-physical” itself (darn it!!)

  327. #328 ConcernedJoe
    January 22, 2010

    TM #332 – wow! – I say lie detector misreads – yet it proves I am truthful. Wow! sad but some would and do!

  328. #329 truth machine, OM
    January 22, 2010

    Keep on blowing that horny Horne horn.

  329. #330 ConcernedJoe
    January 22, 2010

    Yup – you bet!

    Old guy has to jump – ciao ciao — and thanks for some mental stimulation and fun today – the type that even my wonderful wife allows me.

  330. #331 truth machine, OM
    January 22, 2010

    I say lie detector misreads – yet it proves I am truthful.

    If the lie detector is correct, then it is incorrect (because you truthfully said so). But if the lie detector is incorrect, then it is correct (because you falsely said it isn’t.)

    sad but some would and do!

    I hear that the Red Queen owns six of these.

  331. #332 truth machine, OM
    January 22, 2010

    In fact, why am I wasting my time here in the first place? There are a few genuinely cool people like Kel, and a few genuinely bright people, but the rest are either rather obvious idiots like NoR or members of the ego-maniacal know-nothing Pharyngula herd. Have a nice life, people. I certainly won’t be wasting any more time here.

    I love Eric’s GBCW missive. By his previous comments, “I generally respect your comments a great deal, TM” and ” I still think that your posts are consistently among the best on this website”, I might have thought that Eric considers me to be a “genuinely bright” person and a good reason to hang out here — but now I seem to be the cause of his leaving, boo hoo. It seems almost, well, inconsistent — unlike Russell who, contra Eric, had excellent reasons to state categorically that there is no afterlife.

  332. #333 Rorschach
    January 22, 2010

    How do you “expose” yourself as an autodidact (*gasp*)? What’s he doing – flashing his public library card at innocent schoolgirls?

    *clutches pearls*

    Eric the half-a-bee @ 259,

    But I’ve learned not to expect honesty from this echo chamber. In fact, why am I wasting my time here in the first place?

    You tell me.

    Have a nice life, people. I certainly won’t be wasting any more time here.

    Promise ?

  333. #334 David Marjanovi?
    January 22, 2010

    On their noses? You, sir, claim to be a true unicornist, but you obviously know not the first thing about the philosophy of unicornism, much less the areas of continuing debate among unicorn scholars. Poseurs like you give unicornism a bad name.

    Thread won, we can go home start to work at last.

  334. #335 windy
    January 22, 2010

    DM, were you quoting a post that got deleted in #288, or where did those quotes come from? It’s funny, you could use that argument to ‘prove’ that genes can’t be merely physical…

    “Indeed, since the fact that the relevant nucleotides are associated with a certain amino acid sequence is most likely to a large degree contingent, an accident of the history of the genetic code, it is indeterminate from the physical properties alone whether the nucleotide sequence has any meaning at all. In short, the physical properties are a necessary condition for any particular physical object?s counting as a gene, but they are not a sufficient condition. And piling up bits of physicochemical knowledge about nucleotide sequences cannot possibly change this fact in the slightest, for it is a conceptual point about the nature of genes, not an empirical point about what the latest research in genetics (or whatever) has turned up.”

  335. #336 Sven DiMilo
    January 22, 2010

    It’s nice to see photographic evidence that the machine puts his pants on one leg at a time like the rest of us.

    I don’t like the phrase “emergent property”. Legs can run, but running is not a property of legs. We might say that the capacity to run is a property of legs, and the capacity to think is a property of brains (and potentially some computer systems). But then it would be better to just talk about capacities rather than properties.

    I am no philostopher, but in biology capacities have to be back-inferred from observable performance. “Running” is regarded an emergent property of whole animals with legs (not just the legs, which cannot run alone) because we can observe animals with legs running. So the “property” of running and the “property” of having the capacity to run are essentially synonymous.
    Similarly, contraction is an emergent property of muscle cells; extension and flexion are emergent properties of legs, and birth rate is an emergent property of populations. There is nothing abstract about these “capacities,” since we can only infer them by observing the actual performances.

  336. #337 Kel, OM
    January 22, 2010

    He argues that materialism cannot be the correct view, but then he must seek some alternative, and comes up with his materialism++ — panprotopsychism, psycho-physical bridging laws, etc.

    Thanks for clarifying that. Though I’m still not sure as to why he writes off that consciousness cannot be a form of function.

  337. #338 truth machine, OM
    January 22, 2010

    since we can only infer them by observing the actual performances

    This is quite wrong since, for instance, we infer from fossils whether the organism could run.

  338. #339 truth machine, OM
    January 22, 2010

    Though I’m still not sure as to why he writes off that consciousness cannot be a form of function.

    Because he thinks that two logically possible entities executing the same functions can differ in whether they are conscious — that’s the “zombic hunch”. As well as other reasons he has to think “that conscious experience does not supervene logically on the physical, and therefore cannot be reductively explained”. He covers all of this at length in his book “The Conscious Mind”.

  339. #340 Sven DiMilo
    January 22, 2010

    ?
    But only by analogy to to observations of similar extant species.
    Truly novel locomotory systems are likely to be reconstructed upside down!

  340. #341 Kel, OM
    January 22, 2010

    Because he thinks that two logically possible entities executing the same functions can differ in whether they are conscious — that’s the “zombic hunch”.

    I get the logically possible bit, but not that because it’s logically possible that it needs explanation.

    As well as other reasons he has to think “that conscious experience does not supervene logically on the physical, and therefore cannot be reductively explained”.

    Yeah, that’s where I have a brain explosion reading his argument. This is where I happily leave it to people more well versed in philosophy than I to sort it out.

    He covers all of this at length in his book “The Conscious Mind”.

    I’ve only read his paper where he outlined his idea. is it worth reading the book?

  341. #342 SC OM
    January 22, 2010

    Thread won

    No, tm won it with the link to the pic.

    Although…

    Surely if the size of the font of a pdf that I provide says something about how much Chalmers I’ve read, then the fact that I had a beer by his pool says even more!

    That, of course, depends. Your source can’t be denied, as it was Chalmers’ site. But was it domestic beer? Was the pool heated? What time did the event begin? There’s no way we can calculate your philosophical erudition without these crucial data. I can’t believe I even need to point this out on a science blog.

    Anyway,

    It’s nice to see photographic evidence that the machine puts his pants on one leg at a time like the rest of us.

    Well, I had already seen pics of the machine. Some people, on the other hand, evidently aren’t aware that it’s customary to reciprocate when someone sends a photo. Harumph.

  342. #343 Sven DiMilo
    January 22, 2010

    Oh, harumph y’se’f.
    I only have like one digital pic that shows my face and it used to be up over at my “weblog.” Tell you what, I’ll put it back: there, OK? Freakflag not shown.

  343. #344 SC OM
    January 22, 2010

    :D Oh, yeah! I remembered it being like wicked small, though (even if you clicked on it), for some reason. Huh. Thanks!

  344. #345 Jadehawk, OM
    January 22, 2010

    “You can’t observe a thought ‘from the outside'”

    eh? now I’m confused. weren’t there experiments where scientists were able to “read” the “thoughts” of a person and display them, crudely but accurately? Is that not observing a thought from the outside?

  345. #346 David Marjanovi?
    January 22, 2010

    DM, were you quoting a post that got deleted in #288, or where did those quotes come from?

    Yes, see 289.

    It’s funny, you could use that argument to ‘prove’ that genes can’t be merely physical…

    Priceless. You win 1 (one) tube of the Internet.

  346. #347 PZ Myers
    January 22, 2010

    Once again, “Doc Savage” was actually Piltdown Man, long banned, yet bizarrely obsessed with returning under new pseudonyms.

  347. #348 truth machine, OM
    January 22, 2010

    ?
    But only by analogy to to observations of similar extant species.

    Uh, it’s called inference. I gave one of billions of counterexamples to your claim. Another is that we can infer that a rhinoceros that has been tranquilized temporarily lacks the capacity to run, and we can predict when it will regain that capacity. Quite clearly, the capacity to do something is not synonymous with doing it.

  348. #349 truth machine, OM
    January 22, 2010

    P.S. “But only by analogy to to observations of similar extant species.” — this too is simply wrong; we make all sorts of inferences from mechanics.

  349. #350 SC OM
    January 22, 2010

    Once again, “Doc Savage” was actually Piltdown Man, long banned, yet bizarrely obsessed with returning under new pseudonyms.

    I knew it! Didn’t want to seem paranoid, but there is a characteristic feature of his posts (beyond the content). Knew it.

  350. #351 truth machine, OM
    January 22, 2010

    Well, I had already seen pics of the machine.

    And one person here — a, um, major contributor — has actually met me quite recently.

  351. #352 truth machine, OM
    January 22, 2010

    I get the logically possible bit, but not that because it’s logically possible that it needs explanation.

    If it’s logically possible for two entities that perform the same function differ in whether they have consciousness, then function isn’t the full determinant of consciousness — consciousness isn’t entirely a result of function.

    is it worth reading the book?

    It depends on how much you care.

  352. #353 SC OM
    January 22, 2010

    And one person here — a, um, major contributor — has actually met me quite recently.

    A good thing. :)

    ***

    Kel,

    I’ve probably linked to this post by Steve Novella once or twice (just in case you haven’t seen it):

    http://www.theness.com/neurologicablog/?p=309

    Don’t know what tm thinks of it* – I know he doesn’t care for “emergent property” – but it seems like an OK summary to me, with a few links.

    *I know fuck-all about the subject – grab little scraps here and there. (Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Eric.)

  353. #354 SC OM
    January 22, 2010

    BTW,

    we know this because of our nearly identical reactions and reports, and our common perceptual apparatus

    This is the part that gets me the most. I simply don’t understand the other arguments. We’re animals that have evolved with certain kinds of sensory organs, which scientists can study and understand the function of in our species. They can also understand the different perceptual apparatus of different animals. We can see the effects of different pathologies on sensory function, and so on. Why on earth would anyone think perception across individuals of the same species who share the same sensory apparatus would be significantly different? How did this even become an issue? I don’t get it. It’s the same biological structure. Is there something important I’m missing here?

  354. #355 Sven DiMilo
    January 22, 2010

    Quite clearly, the capacity to do something is not synonymous with doing it.

    Never argued otherwise. The context was the question of whether it was correct to use the term “emergent property” for a “capacity.” The [incorrect] example you gave was that an emergent property of “legs” was better phrased as “the capacity for running” than as “running.” I opined that in the context of biology, that isn’t a meaningful difference, because imparting a capacity for some function to some biological structure is only possible if the performance of that function has been observed in that structure [and now I will add for clarification:] or in an analogous structure of a similar organism. (Is that what you meant by “my claim”?)

    So in my view, a tranked rhino is not running, but that in no way contradicts the statement that “running is a property of rhinos,” nor even of that particular rhino. If it makes you feel semantically secure to say more precisely that “the capacity for running is a property of rhinos” then rock on, but do not imagine that you’re saying anything different from a biologist uttering the former version. It’s just not a meaningful distinction, afaict, but then I don’t really care that much about semantic quibbling (current comment notwithstanding).

    About fossil interpretation: although mechanics can certainly offer some insight, inferences about the posture, running speed, or bite-force of T. rex (e.g.) are not calculated from pure mathematical models of force vectors and lever arms; they depend nearly entirely on pre-existing knowledge about how joints articulate and how tendons insert and with what force muscles of a certain size can contract, etc., all of which are necessary first so that the mechanics can be accurately modelled. (And even then it’s a hypothesis. If all we had of goats were fossils, no one could ever guess that they routinely climb trees.)

    My point?
    I forget.

  355. #356 John Morales
    January 22, 2010

    SC,

    Why on earth would anyone think perception across individuals of the same species who share the same sensory apparatus would be significantly different? How did this even become an issue? I don’t get it. It’s the same biological structure. Is there something important I’m missing here?

    If the interpretation of perception is mediated by cognition (‘the mind’), then those percepts (‘qualia’) are in principle idiosyncratic and would be expected to be alike only if experiences, not just the sensory/cognitive apparatus, were alike.

  356. #357 Kel, OM
    January 22, 2010

    If it’s logically possible for two entities that perform the same function differ in whether they have consciousness, then function isn’t the full determinant of consciousness — consciousness isn’t entirely a result of function.

    This is where my problem in understanding lies. That it follows that zombies could exist, it doesn’t mean that our evolutionary path could produce zombies. Where my concern lies is the notion that we know what consciousness is to the point that we can either write it off as an emergent product of the evolutionary process, but again this probably comes down to my personal incredulity. I’m just trying to understand.

    Massimo Pigliucci’s take is probably the closest to where I’m at on the matter.

    It depends on how much you care.

    I’ve got a lot on my reading list at the moment, so maybe down the line once I finish Gödel Escher Bach and Consciousness Explained, as well as becoming a bit more philosophically literate – then I might have the mental faculties to take it on board.

    I’ve probably linked to this post by Steve Novella once or twice

    It’s a post I read many moons ago, will go and revisit it. Thanks.

  357. #358 SC OM
    January 22, 2010

    If the interpretation of perception is mediated by cognition (‘the mind’), then those percepts (‘qualia’) are in principle idiosyncratic and would be expected to be alike only if experiences, not just the sensory/cognitive apparatus, were alike.

    I see variation from several sources, but not “in principle idiosyncratic.” We share the same brain/perceptual structures. How would this affect whether what I see as red is the same as what you see as red? I would think we would expect what we see as red to be extremely similar, given that our eyes are similar. The various connotations we develop from personal experiences within our cultures are a different matter, but that’s an anthro-psych problem and not a philosophical issue. How would we see the same wavelengths as vastly different colors? Why would anyone expect that to be the case? You need to be more specific, perhaps.

  358. #359 truth machine, OM
    January 22, 2010

    Don’t know what tm thinks of it*

    Not all that much — I think his discussion of physics is confused and his analogy between Chalmers and Einstein is wrongheaded. And he quotes Dennett extensively but doesn’t get at why Chalmers doesn’t accept Dennett’s argument.

    I know he doesn’t care for “emergent property”

    Right, but Novella talks about “emergent phenomenon“, which is different. As I said, consciousness is something that certain cognitive systems do, it’s not something they have, and it’s not different in kind from other such phenomena. Consider Blake Stacey’s comment:

    Introducing new equations, based on approximations and empirical findings, to predict the behavior of aggregated entities is nothing special. Indeed, this is the basic thrust of statistical mechanics, wherein the properties of heat flow and such are deduced from the behaviors of individual atoms.

    but it seems like an OK summary to me, with a few links.

    Consider his initial comment about subjectivity:

    Why is it that we have subjective experience, that we feel, and we have the sense that we exist? Why aren?t we, as David Chalmers asks, just ?zombies? ? carrying out all of the processes of life without experiencing it?

    But what does this word “we” refer to? There’s an equivocation here; the “we” that might be zombies are human organisms, but the “we” that has the sense that it exists isn’t just a human organism, because there’s no question that human organisms do exist. And what of the “we” that feels? Human organisms feel; that’s a part of the “processes of life”, so zombies must feel too – they certainly claim to (ex hypothesi, zombies are behaviorally indistinguishable from conscious human beings).

    So there’s already an assumption that there is some “thing” separate from the organism, a “self”, that has subjective experience — that possession is attributed to the “self” rather than the organism as a whole.

    If one resists this assumption and treats this “we” as physical phenomena amenable to physical explanation, then one might ask what sort of phenomenon can occur in an organism that would come up with this sort of self-evaluation — that it is a separable thing that exists above and beyond the processes that produce it and cannot be explained in terms of them … and an answer has been given, in the link I provided above to Thomas Metzinger’s work: http://www.scholarpedia.org/article/Self_models

  359. #360 truth machine, OM
    January 22, 2010

    because imparting a capacity for some function to some biological structure is only possible if the performance of that function has been observed in that structure

    You’re repeating yourself. I think that there is ample evidence that you are completely and utterly wrong, but I won’t belabor it.

  360. #361 SC OM
    January 22, 2010

    Not all that much — I think his discussion of physics is confused and his analogy between Chalmers and Einstein is wrongheaded.

    I pretty much ignored that part, tbh.

    And he quotes Dennett extensively but doesn’t get at why Chalmers doesn’t accept Dennett’s argument.

    Why not? And then what’s wrong with Chalmers’ reply?

    Right, but Novella talks about “emergent phenomenon”, which is different…

    Ah. OK. I see now.

    Consider his initial comment about subjectivity:…

    OK, but I thought the latter parts were pretty much what Kel was looking for – a general summary for laypeople with some links to other general pieces, from which one can go deeper. Oh, well.

  361. #362 truth machine, OM
    January 22, 2010

    Why on earth would anyone think perception across individuals of the same species who share the same sensory apparatus would be significantly different? How did this even become an issue? I don’t get it. It’s the same biological structure. Is there something important I’m missing here?

    Yes. Qualiaphiles consider things like “the quality that is red” to be entities that could differ among individuals with identical apparatus and identical behavior. They imagine that “your red” could be “just like” “my green”. If that were possible How would this affect whether what I see as red is the same as what you see as red? I would think we would expect what we see as red to be extremely similar, given that our eyes are similar.

    Here you seem to be making the same reification error (it is nearly universal, and takes training to overcome). But there is no such thing as “what I see as red”; redness is not actually something in the world, it is our internal label that our minds impose on like phenomena. If there were actual redness, above and beyond mere labeling, how could the nature of our eyes determine what it would be? That would seem to be completely arbitrary, which is the point of the anti-functionalists. But if there is no “redness” to be arbitrary, only the associations and behavioral dispositions that are determined by experience and physiology, then the problem evaporates (it’s “Quined”, in Dennett’s terminology).

    Consider “the odor of ammonia” or “how ammonia smells” — but there isn’t really any such thing, there is only a set of associations and dispositions in response to having certain receptors stimulated — those are the same between individuals, with nothing left over — no mythical “odor” quale that could be individualized.

  362. #363 SC OM
    January 22, 2010

    [I realize it was unfair to solicit your opinion on the post without specifying whether I meant a critical evaluation of the specific arguments made or its value for someone without a great deal of knowledge looking for a general summary. It appears you found in the negative on both counts, but I didn't present the (implied) request clearly enough. Sorry, and thanks for the input.]

  363. #364 SC OM
    January 22, 2010

    Yes. Qualiaphiles consider things like “the quality that is red” to be entities that could differ among individuals with identical apparatus and identical behavior. They imagine that “your red” could be “just like” “my green”. If that were possible

    This is discussed at length in Dennett’s article, “Quining Qualia”, that I cited above.

    I’ve read that (someone linked to it several months ago), but I thought the same thing before I read it. “If that were possible” what? I don’t see how I’m missing anything. I understand what they’re saying. I just think it’s dumb given the evolutionary reality, and I don’t understand how it’s gotten the play it has.

    Here you seem to be making the same reification error (it is nearly universal, and takes training to overcome).

    No, I don’t believe so.

    But there is no such thing as “what I see as red”; redness is not actually something in the world, it is our internal label that our minds impose on like phenomena.

    Yes, and I never said anything different. You’re reading reification into my words, I think – I’m not disagreeing with what you’re saying.

  364. #365 truth machine, OM
    January 22, 2010

    This is where my problem in understanding lies. That it follows that zombies could exist, it doesn’t mean that our evolutionary path could produce zombies.

    Well, you’re not getting it but I don’t know that I can give it to you. Ex hypothesi, zombies occupy a physically identical world with identical laws of physics and identical history; thus our evolutionary path, which is the same as their evolutionary path, did produce zombies in zombie world. If zombies are logically possible — that is, if zombie world is logically possible — then consciousness is not strictly a consequence of function, physical law, etc. Chalmers’ explanation is that, while our world and zombie world have identical physical laws, our world is governed by additional laws, psycho-physical laws, that give rise to consciousness in our world, whereas zombie world, lacking these laws, lacks consciousness.

    Dennett notes that most scientists have trouble grasping what folks like Chalmers are saying because they don’t imagine that these philosophers are making claims as nutty as they actually are.

  365. #367 Kel, OM
    January 22, 2010

    Well, you’re not getting it but I don’t know that I can give it to you.

    Thanks for trying anyway.

    Ex hypothesi, zombies occupy a physically identical world with identical laws of physics and identical history; thus our evolutionary path, which is the same as their evolutionary path, did produce zombies in zombie world. If zombies are logically possible — that is, if zombie world is logically possible — then consciousness is not strictly a consequence of function, physical law, etc.

    Where I feel my understanding breaks down is that I can conceive of say a robot that is able to mimic the external actions without having any internal self-recognition in the way that we would call it conscious. Where I’m making my mental error is that I can conceive of a human that is born without an appendix, but that doesn’t show that the appendix isn’t something other than functional. Just as I could conceive an AI that has the appearance of being humanlike but doesn’t have any self-recognition and that is separate to having a conscious AI. i.e. we can conceive of the evolution of the external and internal as two separate things, that what we give off externally for others doesn’t necessarily follow that that the internal has to match the external.

    Hopefully in that you can at least see where I’m coming from and just what error I’m committing in trying to understand Chalmer’s zombie argument.

    Dennett notes that most scientists have trouble grasping what folks like Chalmers are saying because they don’t imagine that these philosophers are making claims as nutty as they actually are.

    It reminds me of the Mary’s room thought experiment. It just strikes me as nutty, though that again could be my lack of philosophical training.

  366. #368 truth machine, OM
    January 22, 2010

    “If that were possible” what?

    Sorry, a bunch of stuff got lost due to failing to close a tag, but I think I covered it elsewhere.

    I don’t see how I’m missing anything. I understand what they’re saying. I just think it’s dumb given the evolutionary reality, and I don’t understand how it’s gotten the play it has.

    But evolutionary reality isn’t relevant to the argument of anti-functionalists — except that people with a strong scientific background tend not to conceptualize things the way they do. This hearkens back to the exchange between Pilty saying “neuroscientific research, important and interesting as it is in itself, is irrelevant” and DM saying “Learning about reality is irrelevant to dualist philosophy” — these are actually somewhat different. The facts don’t affect the validity of the philosophical argument, but knowing the facts makes one less likely to make the argument, because we’re more likely to generally understand how processes flow from substance.

  367. #369 truth machine, OM
    January 22, 2010

    Hopefully in that you can at least see where I’m coming from and just what error I’m committing in trying to understand Chalmer’s zombie argument.

    Yes. Everyone agrees that things built differently might have different attributes — e.g., robots might behave like us externally while having different internal processes. But dualists think that things built identically might have different attributes — specifically consciousness. Humans and zombies are functionally identical — yet are held to differ as to whether they are conscious. That’s what it means for a zombie to be logically possible — that there could be something that is built exactly like us (your hypothesized robot isn’t) but, unlike us, isn’t conscious. It that is possible, then consciousness isn’t strictly determined by function — because zombies have the identical function, but lack consciousness.

  368. #370 SC OM
    January 22, 2010

    The facts don’t affect the validity of the philosophical argument, but knowing the facts makes one less likely to make the argument, because we’re more likely to generally understand how processes flow from substance.

    *looks left*

    *looks right*

    “looks left again*

    I can well imagine. So there’s a philosophical argument that’s unrelated to empirical reality? I thought they were talking about people.

  369. #371 truth machine, OM
    January 22, 2010

    P.S.

    I can conceive of say a robot that is able to mimic the external actions

    Perhaps some of the confusion is because the the “functional” of functionalism is the mathematical sense of an algorithm, not of behavior. Thus, while the function of the heart is to pump blood, the heart functions to pump blood by [detailed description of valves opening and closing and chambers filling and emptying]. Zombies are functionally equivalent — they think using the same algorithms as we do — it isn’t just that they behave the same way.

    (Although even behavioral zombies are “preposterous” — Dennett’s word — because they claim to have subjective experience, Chalmers zombie writes books and papers arguing that subjective experience can’t be explained by physical law alone, etc., yet all the while they have no subjective experience and no reason to claim they do.)

  370. #372 truth machine, OM
    January 22, 2010

    I thought they were talking about people.

    No, they are talking about “subjective experiencers” that are distinct from people as strictly physical organisms — a fiction.

  371. #373 SC OM
    January 22, 2010

    No, they are talking about “subjective experiencers” that are distinct from people as strictly physical organisms — a fiction.

    And that is very strange to me. As a thinking exercise, sure, but as the basis of any argument about human (animal) consciousness? Strange, strange, strange.

  372. #374 truth machine, OM
    January 22, 2010

    Well, they don’t think it’s a fiction, and they think it is presumptuous of us to assume that experiencers are strictly physical.

  373. #375 Kel, OM
    January 22, 2010

    But dualists think that things built identically might have different attributes — specifically consciousness.

    Oh, okay. I think I get it now. Which brings me back to simply not knowing whether zombies are possible or not.

    Perhaps some of the confusion is because the the “functional” of functionalism is the mathematical sense of an algorithm, not of behavior.

    Yeah, that sounds about right. When he was using the word functional in the article, I took it as biologically functional such as the ability to process sounds in order to discern words.

  374. #376 ConcernedJoe
    January 23, 2010

    Mamma mia! you all have been having fun. Continues to be interesting.

    My postulation: if I have perfect knowledge (pk) of something (including pk of what impacts it and pk of all states and reactions) I [to say in form of example] would know what red would look like to the subject without direct observation or testimony. It is all the laws of nature.

    To be mundane and common (and not 100% rigorous so please bear with me): one does this with computers all the time.

    Computers (like animals) have an architecture, things that follow laws of physics and chemistry, programs, internal and external stimulus. And with computers (like with animals) we just do not have pk so they surprise us and seem to defy the laws we lay down for them.

    We cannot [yet - maybe never] account for every flaw or environment variable or randomness or use, etc. and they act like they have MINDS of their own.

    Still a big “SO WHAT!” – it is nothing magical. Computers (like animals) are not zombies – they act (think, perceive, calculate, respond, etc.) as one would expect if one had pf of all the physical things (I classify a program as a physical thing and to me a meme or the programming of society/family on individual is well programming).

    Yup computers like animals surprise us for the same reasons in HW and SW – bugs and flaws and just stuff we ain’t thought about or accounted for. But we gain knowledge and make things more robust and reliable and predicable – that is what good computer science, or medicine, or botany, or psychology, or husbandry, etc. are all about.

    I see colors to the standard – my childhood friend does not (is colored-blind) – no woo required. Nor would it be even if he was not color-blind but delusional in his playing back perceptions. It is all just atoms so to speak.

    As to guessing goats climb trees from just their fossils. May be a challenge – may not guess it for 100 years – but that is not to say intrinsically it is impossible to infer. The clues (fossil placement, surrounding fossils, clues to nutrition, similar models, etc., etc.) are there (I am saying generally) it is only our less then pk coupled with lack of robust curiosity that prevent that educated guess.

    WOW – hope I wrote coherently – no coffee yet. Wack away – buon divertimento!

  375. #377 SC OM
    January 23, 2010

    Well, they don’t think it’s a fiction, and they think it is presumptuous of us to assume that experiencers are strictly physical.

    I’m not talking about any general philosphical assumptions about experiencers. I’m just saying that if people are trying to understand human perception, they have to begin with the evolution of perception in humans and remain consistent with what is known about its mechanisms. You say “They imagine that ‘your red’ could be ‘just like’ ‘my green’ and that “evolutionary reality isn’t relevant to the argument of anti-functionalists,” so I can’t imagine why scientists or scientifically-oriented people would bother with them. If they want to make speculative arguments about what is possible for various real or imagined experiencers, cool; but if they’re speaking about humans as a specific category, what they imagine should not be wildly inconsistent with what is understood about how human perception (and animal perception in general) has evolved and works. If they were merely saying things that were extremely speculative but consistent with the state of knowledge and claiming that knowledge is woefully incomplete, that would be one thing; but they appear to be saying things that don’t make sense in light of the existing knowledge without bothering to challenge that knowledge.

  376. #378 truth machine, OM
    January 23, 2010

    so I can’t imagine why scientists or scientifically-oriented people would bother with them

    There’s no reason for them to — the dualists are making a metaphysical claim that is completely independent of empirical facts. As Dennett says, scientists tend to misconstrue what the dualists are saying, and mistakenly think it has anything to do with what concerns them. The only connection is that the dualists insist that, whatever the scientists do, they won’t explain consciousness because consciousness isn’t a strictly physical phenomenon. Scientists can safely ignore this ridiculous claim and go about their business; in the long run, the dualists will go the way of the vitalists — scientists will develop robust models of consciousness, and even the philosophers will see dualism to have been the argumentum ad ignorantiam that it is.

  377. #379 Kel, OM
    January 23, 2010

    You say “They imagine that ‘your red’ could be ‘just like’ ‘my green’ and that “evolutionary reality isn’t relevant to the argument of anti-functionalists,” so I can’t imagine why scientists or scientifically-oriented people would bother with them.

    I remember hearing one philosopher saying that all these problems of mind would go away if we just went back to Bishop Berkeley’s idea that it’s all in the mind of God. Then one doesn’t have to worry about explaining how the brain creates red, or that your red and my red are different, because it’s all held in the mind of God.

  378. #380 SC OM
    January 23, 2010

    There’s no reason for them to — the dualists are making a metaphysical claim that is completely independent of empirical facts. As Dennett says, scientists tend to misconstrue what the dualists are saying, and mistakenly think it has anything to do with what concerns them. The only connection is that the dualists insist that, whatever the scientists do, they won’t explain consciousness because consciousness isn’t a strictly physical phenomenon. Scientists can safely ignore this ridiculous claim and go about their business; in the long run, the dualists will go the way of the vitalists — scientists will develop robust models of consciousness, and even the philosophers will see dualism to have been the argumentum ad ignorantiam that it is.

    Ah. Perfect. :)

  379. #381 truth machine, OM
    January 23, 2010

    Which brings me back to simply not knowing whether zombies are possible or not.

    So you don’t know whether it would be possible to have a universe that is physically identical to ours in every detail, with exactly the same physical laws, containing exact duplicates of you, me, Chalmers, everyone, having exactly the same discussion about consciousness, but in that world none of those creatures actually is conscious while in our world they are? Really? Zombies claim to be conscious and theorize about consciousness — why do they do that when there is no consciousness anywhere in their world? Since we are physically identical to our zombie counterparts and the physical laws are identical in our worlds, our behavior has exactly the same causes. But their behavior in re consciousness is not — cannot — be a result of the existence of consciousness in their world, so neither can ours. Which is absurd and clearly false. So by reductio ad absurdum zombies are not possible.

  380. #382 truth machine, OM
    January 23, 2010

    I remember hearing one philosopher saying that all these problems of mind would go away if we just went back to Bishop Berkeley’s idea that it’s all in the mind of God. Then one doesn’t have to worry about explaining how the brain creates red, or that your red and my red are different, because it’s all held in the mind of God.

    This is the same as the claim that God is the most parsimonious explanation. It is, of course, utter bullshit — parsimony of labels is not parsimony of explanation.

  381. #383 Kel, OM
    January 23, 2010

    So you don’t know whether it would be possible to have a universe that is physically identical to ours in every detail, with exactly the same physical laws, containing exact duplicates of you, me, Chalmers, everyone, having exactly the same discussion about consciousness, but in that world none of those creatures actually is conscious while in our world they are? Really? Zombies claim to be conscious and theorize about consciousness — why do they do that when there is no consciousness anywhere in their world?

    I don’t think it would be possible, but I couldn’t say I know in the same way I can say I know that homoeopathy is bogus. Now that I’ve read your reductio ad absurdum I’ve changed my position.

    Since we are physically identical to our zombie counterparts and the physical laws are identical in our worlds, our behavior has exactly the same causes. But their behavior in re consciousness is not — cannot — be a result of the existence of consciousness in their world, so neither can ours. Which is absurd and clearly false. So by reductio ad absurdum zombies are not possible.

    That’s a pretty compelling rebuttal to the concept. What’s Chalmer’s response to such an argument?

  382. #384 Kel, OM
    January 23, 2010

    This is the same as the claim that God is the most parsimonious explanation. It is, of course, utter bullshit — parsimony of labels is not parsimony of explanation.

    Not to mention it doesn’t actually explain why red is red

  383. #385 ConcernedJoe
    January 25, 2010

    Cool stuff guys thanks. Others kudos but TM very very nice – helps the philosophy challenged old farts learn something.

    I’m not anywhere near the level you guys are but I generally recognize silliness (stuff that is overly complex and convoluted and/or apologetic [has the objective of somehow justifying a fixed conclusion - marketing so to speak] or a waste of intellectual time) when I see it.

    Am I just using materialism in dogmatic fashion to dismiss arguments that I just don’t understand. I mean some of the apologetics are elegant – more elegant than my brain can handle maybe?

    To this I check myself .. there are many many arguments I still could not teach (that is to say things I am struggling to understand to the max) yet I do not feel they are silly. For example I continue to struggle to master at an “eighth grade level” things like relativity (details). Some things are like gobbledygook to me – yet I do not feel they are invalid or really silly.

    And it is not because I accede to authority. I do not even always feel I agree or accept the premises or conclusions. It just is that I usually can spot a well formed argument that seems to have some basis in reality (follows the rules) and that is not just a flight of fancy or wishful thinking.

    I am not saying those qualities are sufficient for “truth”. And yes I can be “poe’ed” with a fallacious scientifically well-formed argument. I certainly do not have all the time, energy, resources, etc. to critically and rigorously review things. So I do rely on the community to judge “truth” on these complex things.

    But to my point – I am not a brainiac – yet I can recognize (because of its structure and underlying weak premises) stuff that is silly generally. It is sad to me that people much smarter and schooled than I am waste their intelligence on obvious woo. We can use all the intelligence we have applied to useful stuff. Sad.

  384. #386 ConcernedJoe
    January 25, 2010

    Epilogue: however I do recognize I was making an abstract value judgment – divorced from the elements and mechanics of motivation.

    I still think it is sad and “sinful” – but I do recognize there is some easy gold in dem dar hills of woo for those clever enough to mine it! Capitalism [e.g. Chopra] and power-structure preservation [e.g. established religion and politics] – you gotta love them for their success! Or do we?

  385. #387 JBabs073
    January 25, 2010

    I just felt compelled to say that Bertrand Russell was awesome, and this is just a clip that shows why.

    Absolutely brilliant.

    Thanks for the post, PZ. :)

  386. #388 Louis
    January 27, 2010

    SC #380,

    Tragically the vitalists are still with us in a diluted (joke intended) form. Just look at the “natural” and “homeopathic” lobby. There are more than a few among them who think that natural chemicals are somehow magically different from the identical chemical made in a lab.*

    Woo never goes away completely I’m afraid.

    Other than that of course I completely agree.

    Louis

    *Now the chemistry pedant in me wants to mention isotopic composition but I’m not going to let him…..DAMN!

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