Should a materialist be an eliminativist?

In a previous post (which newcomers should read), I went into the problem of subjective awareness (or consciousness).

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Like the great philosopher Thomas Nagel, I considered what a bat subjectively feels when it is sending out ultrasounds.
Try to imagine this for a few minutes.
I suppose that the large majority of my readers will acknowledge the fact they don’t have a clue what it feels like to be a bat in that particular situation.
But why is it the case, if this subjective feeling is nothing more than a complex physical phenomenon?

Nagel’s thought experiment consists in imagining a scientist of the future knowing absolutely all chemical and physical processes taking place in brain of the animal as it is emitting the ultrasound.

Would he know what the creature is experiencing?

Most people think intuitively it is obvious that a knowledge about the movements of the electrons in the brain would NOT bring him a knowledge about the subjective perceptions of the living thing.

But why is it so?

In the post I linked to I explain why this cannot lie in the fact that our brains are too different. To (modestly) quote myself:

“I’ve never understood how one can make sense of that in a materialist framework.
If the subjective experience is as material as the atoms of the chair I’m sitting on and the electrical processes of the computer I’m using, then why would a complete knowledge of physics allows me to know everything about both objects but not about the feelings of the animal?

Let us suppose that species A and species B dispose of brains enabling them to perfectly understand physics and chemistry while being radically different in other respects. It makes only sense to say that species A cannot know what species B feels if these very feelings are something MORE than physics and chemistry, that is if one form of dualism is true.”

Now materialists have answered me that no human scientist knowing everything could figure out what the bat feels because the human brain is not capable of processing such an amount of complex information.
Other materialists were more optimistic but seemed to recognize that there will always be a gap owing to the extreme complexity of the phenomenon and our own mental limitation.

At face value, such a response has a certain degree of plausibility

It is entirely true that the brain of living things are the most complex structure in the whole universe, far more complicated than a cluster of black holes taking over stars could ever be.

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But there is a huge problem here. How on earth can a stupid bat be perfectly aware of its subjective experience, if it is something that our most brilliant scientists cannot (yet?) figure out?

I think that the following argument can be considered,

1) If the subjective experience of a bat is identical to a ensemble of brain processes, it is going to be extremely complex.

2) Our scientists could only be (partially) aware of this very complex processes if they disposed of much more knowledge than they currently do.

3) School children or anyone lacking the education, competence and physical knowledge cannot be aware of the experience.

4) A bat lacks all these attributes.

5) Yet a bat is perfectly aware of what it is feeling as it is sending out the ultrasound.

6) Thus this subjective experience cannot be identical to extremely complex physical processes.

6) logically follows from all the steps.

How can a materialist react to this?

1) and 2) are the excuses they came up with for explaining away our utter lack of knowledge of the bat’s experience as it emits the ultrasound.

3) logically follows from  1) and 2).

4) is obviously true.

Therefore I think it is fair to say that materialists will have to deny 5): the bat is not perfectly aware of its subjective experience.

But given the definition of subjective consciousness, this amounts to asserting that the bat is not perfectly aware of what it is aware of. Therefore this would mean embracing eliminative materialism, which is the belief that there is no such thing as phenomenal consciousness.

There is no such thing as being a bat or a bee. Or, to use the phrase of the great materialist neurophilosopher Thomas Metzinger, we should accept “being nobody”.

(I’ve used “conscious” and “aware” as synonyms in the entire post).

Some people will certainly quibble with my use of the word “perfectly”. I think it is justified in this context, given the nature of our experienced feelings.
If I am in pain, I know perfectly well what I am experiencing, feeling or sensing.
If there are bodily processes I am not aware of, they don’t belong (by their very nature) to my subjective conscious experience.

Nevertheless, I think that if you replaced 5) by “Yet a bat knows much better what it is feeling as it is sending out the ultrasound than what our best current scientists can figure out”,  the argument and its conclusion would remain largely unchanged.

I have used the example of a bat, but any extraterrestrial creature being radically different from us in the some way would do the job too.

I have just realized that my argument could be stronger if one were to consider a self-conscious bat-like creature possessing the intelligence of a seven-years old average human (and presumably living on another planet).

Although it won’t probably convince everyone, I think that what I have outlined here is a decent philosophical argument.

Addition: saying that the conscious experience of the bat is a representation produced by its brain does not seem to solve the problem since a representation itself is an ensemble of extremely complex physical processes (according to materialists).

 

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107 thoughts on “Should a materialist be an eliminativist?

  1. Hmmm… I guess I would say that there is no real line that can be drawn between the experience (qualia) and “knowledge” about the experience (a description of all particles involved). This is another continuum, so there is no point you can draw a line between “material” and “immaterial”.

    By the way- how are you celebrating today, Beethoven’s birthday? I’m listening to some of his late quartets and Symphony no. 6.

    cheers from twilit Vienna, zilch

    • If I understand you correctly, you believe that:

      a) the subjective experience of the bat is identical to an ensemble of extremely complex physical processes.
      b) being dumb, the bat cannot know them.
      c) yet the bat can be perfectly aware of them (or much better aware than our best scientists could ever be during the next centuries)

      This is truly mind boggling to me and I don’t know how to make sense of that.
      What does the word “awareness” mean if it is not a form of knowledge?

      I just hurt my finger. Do I not perfectly know what it feels like?

      It is such kind of considerations which leads many materialists (including apparently Denett and the Churchlands) to deny the existence of a subjective consciousness altogether.

      They recognize it seems impossible to explain what we call subjective consciousness or awareness, so they eliminate it.

      They also acknowledge that there seems to be no natural way to go from an organism or bunch of particles lacking subjective consciousness to one possessing one, unless you redefine subjective consciousness as meaning something very different from what it means.

      No materialist has been able to account for the existence of subjective consciousness without completely redefining it and making the phrase compatible with a lack of knowledge of one’s own experience.

      But I am waiting for your criticism 🙂

      P.S: Wie sieht das Zwielicht in Wien aus?

    • It is rather obvious, I would have thought, that knowledge of an experience is not a collection of particles. Otherwise we’d be able to detect knowledge with a particle collider.

      Happy Birthday LVB! Don’t go for the late quartets but love the 6th symphony. .

    • Thanks for this excellent link, lovely Scott.

      They seem to agree with me that a reduction of subjective feelings is not possible, so that they should rather be eliminated.

      “Consciousness is what makes the mind-body problem really intractable. Perhaps that is why current discussions of the problem give it little attention or get it obviously wrong. The recent wave of reductionist euphoria has produced several analyses of mental phenomena and mental concepts designed to explain the possibility of some variety of materialism, psychophysical identification, or reduction.* But the problems dealt with are those common to this type of reduction and other types, and what makes the mind-body problem unique, and unlike the water-H20 problem or the Turing machine-IBM machine problem or the lightning-electrical discharge problem or the gene-DNA problem or the oak tree-hydrocarbon problem, is ignored.
      Every reductionist has his favorite analogy from modern science. It is most unlikely that any of these unrelated examples of successful reduction will shed light on the relation of mind to brain. But philosophers share the general human weakness for explanations of what is incomprehensible in terms suited for what is familiar and well understood, though entirely different. This has led to the acceptance of implausible accounts of the mental largely because they would permit familiar kinds of reduction. I shall try to explain why the usual examples do not help us to understand the relation between mind and body-why, indeed, we have at present no conception of what an explanation of the physical nature
      ………………………………….
      The most important and characteristic feature of conscious mental phenomena is very poorly understood. Most reductionist, theories do not even try to explain it. And careful examination will show that no currently available concept of reduction is applicable to it. Per. Naps a new theoretical form can be devised for the purpose, but such. solution, if it exists, lies in the distant intellectual future.
      …………………………………………
      But no matter how the form may vary, the fact that an organism has conscious experience at all means, basically, that there is something it is like to be that organism. There may be further implications about the form of the experience; there may even (though I doubt it) be implications about the behavior of the organism. But fundamentally an organism has conscious mental states if and only if there is something that it is like to be that organism-something it is like for the organism.
      We may call this the subjective character of experience. It is not captured by any of the familiar, recently devised reductive analyses of the mental, for all of them are logically compatible with its absence. It is no analyzable in terms of any explanatory system of functional states, or intentional states, since these could be ascribed to robots or automata that behaved like people though they experienced nothing.* It is no analyzable in terms of the causal role of experiences in relation to typical,,’ human behavior-for similar reasons I do not deny that conscious mental states and events cause behavior, nor that they may be given functional characterizations. I deny only that this kind of thing exhausts their analysis. Any reductionist program has to be based on an analysis of what is to be reduced. If the analysis leaves something out, the problem will be falsely posed. It is useless to base the defense of materialism on any analysis of mental phenomena that fails to deal explicitly with their

      *Perhaps there could not actually be such robots. Perhaps anything complex enough to behave like a person would have experiences. But that, if true, is a fact which cannot be discovered merely by analyzing the concept of experience.”

      Even if they are a bit more optimistic than I am, they agree with my overall thesis that a subjective experience cannot be identical with complex physical phenomena.

      Sonst muss ich dir leider sagen, dass ich generell klassische Musik hasse 🙂

  2. I seem to agree with your main point, although the argument seems more complicated than it might be. Certainly this has nothing to do with complexity. The ‘binding problem’ is really the problem of how awareness can be so simple and point-like. This becomes an intractable problem once we have assumed that the contents of consciousness are distributed in the same way as ‘res extensa’.

    We cannot know that a bat, or anything else, is conscious, so to suppose that we might know not only this but also the contents of that other consciousness seems just plain bonkers. I’m not sure anyone supposes this, although human nature being what it is,,,

    Eliminative materialism is an untestable conjecture and not at all scientific, and it fails miserably in metaphysics, but if we do endorse it then yes, it seems to follow that we must eliminate consciousness at some point in our reductive theory of everything. The question is only when.

    • Hmm. I should have said ‘cannot demonstrate’, and not ‘cannot know’ (that a bat is conscious), just to be on the safe side.

  3. [My earlier comment should be deleted. I accidentally hit return far too early]

    One of the major strands of objections to Nagel’s argument (and Frank Jackson’s similar argument] concerns the nature of knowledge. Paul Chuchland and others have pointed out that knowing the neurobiological description of the brain events corresponding with a bat’s conscious experience of sonar is propositional knowledge. But knowing what the conscious experience is like is not propositional knowledge, but something more like know-how.

    So there are at least two kinds of knowledge: propositional knowledge (know-what) and skill-knowledge (know-how). Knowing what goes on in a bat’s brain is propositional knowledge. Knowing what it is like to be a bat is know-how (or something akin to it). So Nagel’s argument comes down to this: knowing the complete neurophysiological description of what is going on in a bat’s brain when it is actively using sonar does not give us the know-how of experiencing what it is like to be a bat using sonar.

    That know-what does not yield know-how is not surprising. If I had a complete physical description of Tiger Wood’s golf swing, I don’t think that this would automatically confer upon me the ability to swing a golf club with the skill of Tiger Woods. This does not imply that a golf swing is non-material. Certainly, possessing a complete physical description of the processes involved in conception, embryological development, and child-birth would not give me the ability to conceive and bear a child. Does that mean that child-bearing is non-physical?

    When I say that I know what it is like to skydive, for example, I am saying that I have the capacity to imagine it. If someone tells me that I don’t know what it is like since I have never done it, he is saying that unless I have experienced it, I don’t have the capacity. No description of the experience does it justice. I suppose that is so in the case of skydiving (it is definitely true for somethings that I have experienced), but this fact does not seem relevant to the metaphysical status of the experience. A blind person cannot know what it is like to see the ocean.That limitation seems irrelevant to the metaphysical status of the experience of seeing the ocean.

    Here is an analogy: A person of low cognitive skill cannot understand Cantor’s diagonal proof, but that limitation is not relevant to the metaphysical status of the mathematical truths represented in Cantor’s proof. Humans are incapable of imagining what it is like to be a bat. Of course we can’t. We should that limitation tell us anything about the metaphysical status of conscious experience?

    • Dear Jason,

      thank you very much for your kind answer!

      I was certainly aware (pun intended 🙂 ) of this kind of responses to Mary gaining knowledge.

      Yet I am not really sure this makes sense in this particular context.

      Such a solution seems to equivocate between “knowing how to do something” and “knowing how something feels”.

      For me, “skill knowledge” means being able to do a certain task or thing, such as swinging a gold club in a way far superior to what the large majority of humans can do.
      Likewise, the propositional knowledge of a cluster of black holes devouring stars and planets (CBH) would mean knowing all relevant complex physical facts underlying this phenomenon.

      But what would be a skill-knowledge of the same CBH?
      Lewis wrote that “the Ability Hypothesis says that knowing what an experience is like just is the possession of these abilities to remember, imagine, and recognize. … It isn’t knowing-that. It’s knowing-how. “
      If a seven-years old average boy has no clue about what a CBH is, what would the ability to “remember, imagine and recognize it” mean (leaving aside the question of its realizability)?

      If this seems to be a meaningless concept, why should it be otherwise when an extremely more complex bunch of physical processes in the brain (a feeling according to materialism) is concerned?
      Given materialism, I am not truly certain that the brain being his own would account for such a difference.

      Or let us consider another example.

      I hurt my finger this morning.
      The pain I am feeling (right now) is an extremely complex physical process I know nothing about since I lack knowledge in neuroscience.
      The fact that I know how to remember, imagine and recognize the pain changes nothing to the fact I don’t know the pain I am feeling.
      An unconscious machine could do exactly the same towards stimuli.

      Therefore it seems to me that a fundamental human intuition, namely that one perfectly knows a feeling one is consciously experiencing (because the unknown aspects would not be a part of the conscious feeling) is wrong.
      This would even show that there is no such thing as a conscious feeling.

      Thus this does not seem to refute the conclusion of this post.
      It is worth noting that Churchland himself is a prominent eliminitavist, so it is a bit strange to quote him for arguing that materialists do not need to be eliminitavists.

      Otherwise do you originally come from Canada?
      Your name sounds quite French even though I know no such person in modern France.

      Anyway I admire the fact that you avoid using rhethoric and stick to rationality while dealing with opponents.

      Cheers.

      • Lotharson,

        The claim is that knowing what a subjective experience is like is equivalent to being able to imagine the experience. It doesn’t seem odd to me to think of this as an ability. A simple example: a blind person does not know what it is like to see a ripe tomato because, since she lacks a functioning visual system, this is an ability that she does not have. So, I don’t share your reservations about thinking of knowing-what-it-is-like as very similar to (even if not quite the same as) know-how.

        However, we should not think of the ability (knowing-what-it-is-like) as identical to the qualitative state itself. That is, knowing what it is like to see a ripe tomato is not the same as the experience of a ripe tomato. Thus, if I know what an experience is like that does not entail that I am currently having the experience.

        I suppose my considered view is that these knowledge arguments aren’t that helpful in our quest to understand the metaphysical status of mental states. What I think is important is that mental states are associated with a special kind of epistemological status that forces us, the bearers of mental states, to think of them as a fundamentally distinct kind of thing from physical phenomena. Mental states are first person, my access to my qualia is direct, unmediated. That is not true of physical objects; I have access to physical objects in a mediated way. Qualia are the means whereby I have access to the world. We might say that non-qualitative (non-mental) reality is third-person. This epistemological status has an important metaphysical consequence: we necessarily conceive of mental states as distinct from the third-person reality. Since our understanding of the “physical” category involves the idea that physical stuff is third-person, it is natural for us to think of qualia as non-physical.

        Thank for the wonderful compliment. I can think of no greater praise that I would rather receive.

        Paul Churchland is an eliminitivist about the propositional attitudes (beliefs, desires, etc.), not about qualia. He is a reductionist about qualia. So he is precisely the kind of person to whom your argument is directed. But, even if he were an eliminitivist about qualia, that would not mean that his objection (and it is not just his) to the knowledge argument is dependent on his eliminitivism.

        As for my name, it is French. While it is uncommon in the US, there is a not insignificant number of Thibodeaus in the southern United States, particularly Louisiana. My family, however, comes from the far north: Maine. My grandmother did some research many years ago and discovered that our ancestors emigrated from France to England in the late eighteenth century. Our particular line came to North America in the mid to late nineteenth century. In any event, my French is very poor, my German, nicht so gut.

        • Thanks Jason for your very interesting answer!

          Before I saw it I sent you a private response, you can of course ignore all the things you have dealt with here.

          I was not aware of Churchland’s reductionism towards qualia.

          While considering the taste of the Ananas I am eating in front of my screen, I have not only the intuition that I have the ability to recognize, remember and imagine what the (conscious) feeling is like but also that I perfectly know what the conscious feeling is, and that this could not be otherwise.
          Maybe you don’t share this second intuition, but it seems to be widespread among the human race.

          The (average) blind person in your example would not only gain the ability to imagine the redness (and other features) of the tomato, but also the intuition that she perfectly knows what she is consciously experiencing as she contemplates the redness, in other words she would know that her experience could not be any different.

          I think that the problem of the access to qualia is closely related to the problem of our intuitive perfect knowledge of the same qualia as we are experiencing them .
          Both might very well turn out to be two sides of the same coin.

          Thank you once again for having engaged in this interesting conversation.

          Friendly greetings from the (partially) sunny Lancashire.

        • One last thing is worth mentioning.

          I lean towards a strong version of emergentism but not towards dualism (as it is traditionally understood, that is as the existence of a soul able to exist independently from the body).

    • Here is an analogy: A person of low cognitive skill cannot understand Cantor’s diagonal proof, but that limitation is not relevant to the metaphysical status of the mathematical truths represented in Cantor’s proof. Humans are incapable of imagining what it is like to be a bat. Of course we can’t. We should that limitation tell us anything about the metaphysical status of conscious experience?

      If someone is maintaining that material data is exhaustive for an individual. But if exhaustive knowledge of material data still leaves something out, then it would seem that materialism is false.

      I don’t think the talk of ‘know-how’ is at all helpful here. There’s no ‘know-how’ involved with ‘being a bat’ – it’s experience, not a recipe. You can add up all the material details about the bat, and at no point do you get subjective experience, or intentionality, or determinate meaning, etc. The Churchlands seems to react to this by supposing that eventually we’re somehow going to fold all first-person talk into exclusively third-person talk – they know not how, but this is what must happen. Because the alternative is that materialism is false, and who can suffer that?

      That know-what does not yield know-how is not surprising. If I had a complete physical description of Tiger Wood’s golf swing, I don’t think that this would automatically confer upon me the ability to swing a golf club with the skill of Tiger Woods. This does not imply that a golf swing is non-material.

      A golf swing is an entirely third person phenomenon. If you had a complete physical description of the swing, you’d have all the knowledge you needed in principle to perform that swing, or at least have a machine (maybe even a Tiger Woods replica) perform that swing. But if there is such a thing as subjective experience – a first person phenomenon – then at what point in adding up all the third-person operations in a mechanistic view do you get to that subjective phenomenon? The answer seems to be ‘never’.

      Now, you could open up the materialist playing field and argue that perhaps there’s something about matter that we’re not currently accounting for, and eventually we’ll discover this. But a reply like that would just pull the rug out from under the materialists anyway – even full blown cartesian dualists could agree with that much, in their own way.

    • Thanks, Jason. I was searching for a way to express my opinion, and your distinction between “know-how” and “know-what” captures it pretty well. The only thing I would add, or perhaps modify, is that I’m not sure there’s a hard and fast distinction between know-how and know-what: they are just points, or rather extremely complex fields, along a continuum, or rather along many continua. There are no lines between “material” and “immaterial” that I can see.

      crude, you say:

      You can add up all the material details about the bat, and at no point do you get subjective experience, or intentionality, or determinate meaning, etc.

      You can add up all the material details about a crystal, and at no point do you get a crystal. Or do you? I don’t see any difference (except in complexity) between “how matter behaves to make a crystal” and “how matter behaves to make subjective experience (etc.)”. The fact that we are not privy to a bat’s experiences is a matter of complexity and access, not some sort of magical line between “material” and “immaterial”. You could also say that even if we understand perfectly how crystals form, that still doesn’t make us crystals. But is that somehow mysterious?

      • In this case, how is it that physics can empirically establish the presence of brains but not minds? if they are the same thing then this failure becomes inexplicable. Why are we even having this discussion?

      • Minds are what brains do. I don’t see the failure here. No, we can’t see thoughts or create feeling machines that we understand through and through- yet. Perhaps we never will be able to. But I don’t see how that makes consciousness anything different than any other research project, albeit one that may well be beyond our grasp.

      • You can add up all the material details about a crystal, and at no point do you get a crystal. Or do you?

        From the perspective of the mechanistic materialist, once you add up all the material details about a crystal, you have nothing left to know about the crystal. What will happen to a crystal under physical condition X? What takes place in physical situation Y?

        If you argue that adding up all the material details about a crystal means you still lack relevant knowledge about the crystal, then it would seem you are simply arguing that materialism is false by yet another route.

        I don’t see any difference (except in complexity) between “how matter behaves to make a crystal” and “how matter behaves to make subjective experience (etc.)”.

        You know, you say that, but it’s hard for me to take this sincerely. ‘How matter behaves to make a crystal’ is, especially when considered by the materialist, a wholly third person phenomenon. “What is it made of?” “What is its structure?” “How do fundamental forces affect it?” “What takes place when it’s in physical situation X?”

        But ‘how matter behaves to make a subjective experience’? First, it’s an open question whether subjective experience really is even ‘made’ by matter. Even with that aside – it’s not as if you understand how to make the tiniest sliver of a subjective experience with matter, but now comes the hard and complicated part of figuring out how to create a more robust and ‘complicated’ experience. Take the most ‘simple’ subjective experience in the world – the bare subjective experience of a single color for a fraction of a second, perhaps. Explain ‘how matter behaves to make a subjective experience’.

        That’s not available. No prospect for making it available is on the horizon. Because this is not a ‘complexity’ issue.

        The fact that we are not privy to a bat’s experiences is a matter of complexity and access, not some sort of magical line between “material” and “immaterial”.

        It helps illustrate a fundamental flaw in the mechanist materialist’s approach. It’s an ‘access’ issue, sure – but that presupposes that there’s something there to access, and what’s more, that it can’t be accessed by exhaustive material knowledge, and material knowledge alone. Complexity? No such thing. No reason to think it is such a thing.

        Perhaps the problem is that our idea of what matter is is lacking. Maybe there’s something more to it (panpsychism). Maybe it’s not what we think it is (neutral monism). Maybe ‘matter’ is a bad idea and little more (idealism). Maybe it’s a fine idea but our reductionism is a mistake (Aristotileanism.) The funny thing is, we’ve had to revamp our understanding of matter and the ‘objective world’ multiple times, in some pretty severe ways. Here we are with a question that suggests we should do so again.

        Let’s entertain the possibility of doing so, eh? Even if that means rejecting materialism.

      • Hey crude! You say:

        From the perspective of the mechanistic materialist, once you add up all the material details about a crystal, you have nothing left to know about the crystal. What will happen to a crystal under physical condition X? What takes place in physical situation Y?

        But knowing this about the crystal does not allow you to bend light as the crystal does. Just so, even if you knew everything there was to know about being a bat (which seems about as feasible to me as building a stainless-steel ladder to the Moon), you would still not be able to fly or think as the bat does. Or rather, really knowing everything about being a bat would have to include really being a bat. Thoughts are something we do, not something that simply exist in some transcendental plane. As far as I can see.

        Take the most ‘simple’ subjective experience in the world – the bare subjective experience of a single color for a fraction of a second, perhaps. Explain ‘how matter behaves to make a subjective experience’.

        That’s not available. No prospect for making it available is on the horizon. Because this is not a ‘complexity’ issue.

        Explain how matter behaves to make a sandstorm in the Sahara tomorrow at 5:30 PM. Don’t leave anything out.

        That’s also not available. Does that mean that that sandstorm is also immaterial?

        Can you demonstrate why not understanding subjective experience is not a complexity issue? As far as I can see, that’s simply an assertion on your part. Of course, so is my contrary viewpoint, but I don’t see any evidence against it, and it’s much (infinitely?) simpler.

        I said:

        The fact that we are not privy to a bat’s experiences is a matter of complexity and access, not some sort of magical line between “material” and “immaterial”.

        You replied:

        It helps illustrate a fundamental flaw in the mechanist materialist’s approach. It’s an ‘access’ issue, sure – but that presupposes that there’s something there to access, and what’s more, that it can’t be accessed by exhaustive material knowledge, and material knowledge alone. Complexity? No such thing. No reason to think it is such a thing.

        I don’t presuppose in this case. I experience thoughts and see the effects of my thoughts and those of others in the world around me, so I know there’s something to access in my brain, and by extension, in the brains of others. Of course I probably will be able access others’ brains only to a very limited extent. As I said, truly exhaustive knowledge, which doesn’t seem very likely obtainable and/or comprehensible, would have to include being the other, in this case the bat.

        You are tacitly assuming there’s a line between “exhaustive knowledge” and “exhaustive experience”. I don’t see any evidence for such a line.

        And there’s no such thing as complexity? A bold stance. So the word is simply meaningless? Do you maintain that, say, the way our genes are expressed is not “complex”? There’s an obvious upper limit to what one human brain can know, but that doesn’t prove that things beyond that limit are somehow in a different plane of existence.

        The funny thing is, we’ve had to revamp our understanding of matter and the ‘objective world’ multiple times, in some pretty severe ways. Here we are with a question that suggests we should do so again.

        Let’s entertain the possibility of doing so, eh? Even if that means rejecting materialism.

        I’m open to rejecting materialism if I find something that explains the world better and fits the evidence. So far, I haven’t found anything, and consciousness/subjective experience is no exception.

        cheers from chilly Vienna, zilch

      • Zilch,

        But knowing this about the crystal does not allow you to bend light as the crystal does. Just so, even if you knew everything there was to know about being a bat (which seems about as feasible to me as building a stainless-steel ladder to the Moon), you would still not be able to fly or think as the bat does.

        Notice the difference here. ‘I don’t gain the ability to do what the crystal does!’ versus ‘I don’t know what it is like to be a bat.’

        We’re not asking for abilities here. We’re asking for knowledge. If I know all the material properties of material piece X, then I’m going to know whether or not it can bend light, etc. What I’m not going to know is what subjective experiences it is having based on those material properties and those alone. Or am I going to know about its intentional properties based on those properties alone.

        I think there’s an attempt here to try and rephrase ‘knowledge of’ as ‘ability to’, and it’s equivocation. If I knew all of the physical facts about X, and X was able to *fly* and I had no idea it could fly based on the physical facts, that would be a pretty straightforward condemnation of materialism, or certainly matter as I conceived it: clearly, something is left out. I think the same holds for the mental.

        Explain how matter behaves to make a sandstorm in the Sahara tomorrow at 5:30 PM. Don’t leave anything out.

        Do you deny that it’s impossible in principle to do this? If so, as I said – you’re just attacking materialism yet again. I think people recognize what’s going on with a thought experiment – it’s not a criticism of practical limitations, but in principal limitations.

        Can you demonstrate why not understanding subjective experience is not a complexity issue? As far as I can see, that’s simply an assertion on your part.

        How about you demonstrate that it IS a complexity issue, because you’re asserting as much?

        Now, I’m asserting it’s not a complexity issue, but the best I can do is give analogies. I think the claim of creating ‘subjectivity’ out of mechanistic matter is akin to trying to make a rainbow colored picture using nothing but solid black cubes, white light, and a person with normal vision. It’s not a matter of complexity and trying to figure out how to arrange solid colors such that they eventually make blue and red and green and, etc. It’s not happening. There are such things as restraints based on materials.

        You can argue that maybe I’m wrong. But I at least have an analogy explaining why I think the way I do. You, meanwhile, make a claim that subjectivity and experience is just a matter of ‘complexity’. Back it up – because the alternative is agnosticism (lacking any arguments for panpsychism, etc), and frankly, I think agnosticism is winning against you.

        I don’t presuppose in this case. I experience thoughts and see the effects of my thoughts and those of others in the world around me, so I know there’s something to access in my brain, and by extension, in the brains of others.

        Yes, you are presupposing this. There you are again: You experience thoughts and… therefore, there’s something in your brain. Okay: you’ll be telling us how your brain makes thoughts then? Heck, you’ll be telling us how to verify, scientifically, the existence of the external world? And how do you ‘see the effects of thoughts in others’ without presupposing they have thoughts to begin with?

        You experience your own thoughts. Everything else you experience, in principle, can just be a zombie – action, no inner life, no subjectivity. Heck, no matter even. So how do you make the jump?

        And there’s no such thing as complexity?

        That’s silly. I was saying that complexity was not the reason here. As I said, you’re insisting ‘complexity’ explains the gulf – then fine. Back this up. Or is complexity just a placeholder for ‘I have no idea what’s going on’?

        I’m open to rejecting materialism if I find something that explains the world better and fits the evidence.

        That seems like a pretty silly standard. Whatever happened to – and this is supposed to be one of the bigger arguments against theism – simply saying ‘I don’t know’? It’s entirely possible to recognize that a current answer is absolutely inadequate, and – even while lacking an alternative – say, okay, then I’m rejecting that and I’ll see what else, if anything, comes in to replace it.

      • Crude, you say:

        Notice the difference here. ‘I don’t gain the ability to do what the crystal does!’ versus ‘I don’t know what it is like to be a bat.’

        We’re not asking for abilities here. We’re asking for knowledge.

        And I’m asking you to show me the line between abilities and knowledge. As I said, you are making tacit assumptions about a dualism I don’t see. Show me how subjective experiences are different from knowledge. Again, it seems to me that thoughts are something we do, not different in principle from bending light or digesting, even though they are far more complex in structure and seem to be mysterious. You have to demonstrate that thoughts are somehow different in order to draw your lines here.

        I said:

        I don’t presuppose in this case. I experience thoughts and see the effects of my thoughts and those of others in the world around me, so I know there’s something to access in my brain, and by extension, in the brains of others.

        You replied:

        Yes, you are presupposing this. There you are again: You experience thoughts and… therefore, there’s something in your brain. Okay: you’ll be telling us how your brain makes thoughts then? Heck, you’ll be telling us how to verify, scientifically, the existence of the external world? And how do you ‘see the effects of thoughts in others’ without presupposing they have thoughts to begin with?

        You experience your own thoughts. Everything else you experience, in principle, can just be a zombie – action, no inner life, no subjectivity. Heck, no matter even. So how do you make the jump?

        I make the jump the same way you and everyone else does: I trust that what I experience has something to do with the way things are. Doesn’t matter if you believe in God, materialism, or brains in vats; somewhere, you simply have to accept that your experiences are valid in some way. That’s why I said “in this case”- I presumed that our acceptance of existence was understood. If you want to debate induction, that’s fine with me, but it’s another topic.

        I said:

        I’m open to rejecting materialism if I find something that explains the world better and fits the evidence.

        You replied:

        That seems like a pretty silly standard. Whatever happened to – and this is supposed to be one of the bigger arguments against theism – simply saying ‘I don’t know’? It’s entirely possible to recognize that a current answer is absolutely inadequate, and – even while lacking an alternative – say, okay, then I’m rejecting that and I’ll see what else, if anything, comes in to replace it.

        Far be it from me to be silly. Okay, I’ll add: I don’t know. But I don’t see how materialism is “absolutely inadequate”- it’s done a lot better than any competition so far. I don’t see any evidence for better explanations, as I said, and materialism is simpler than positing a whole new realm of existence, and/or an infinitely powerful Being. So I’ll go along with Occam for now.

        cheers, and a very merry Winter Begin to you and everyone!

  4. Hi Lotharson, I think my short answer to your title question would be ‘probably’ 🙂

    The philosophical debate over consciousness does rather make my head hurt – a subjective personal experience which you may or may not be able to share! ;). So for those of us who are struggling slightly to keep up, Wikipedia’s entry on Consciousness provides quite a nice starting point: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consciousness

    I think my own position would be that my personal experience of consciousness does tend to lead me towards the idea of some kind of ‘immaterial’ or non-material realm or state. But, though I’m not a materialist, I’m still not entirely convinced that it’s possible to refute materialism based on the ideas of consciousness and mind.

    I’m not sure if this is linked or not, but it reminds me of a debate with an atheist friend over whether all our subjective experiences (particularly emotional and/or spiritual) are merely the products of ‘brain chemistry’. My point was that they may well be, but then the experience of tasting a bacon sandwich is also mediated to us via ‘brain chemistry’ in the same way. In this instance we can be fairly certain that it’s representing something in the ‘real’ world, so why should our ‘spiritual’ experiences necessarily be any less representative of something real, albeit not something we can physically detect?

    But I think I’m straying off topic…

  5. I’ve never understood how one can make sense of that in a materialist framework.

    Well, this is not the first time that something doesn´t make sense to you given a materialist framework. However, you don´t say how those things do make sense in your framework – do you think they do? If so, how exactly?
    We are very far away from a satisfying explanation of consciousness, but I fail to see why pointing that out should constitute a challenge for materialism / naturalism / physicalism. It would certainly be a challenge if a materialist couldn´t explain it while an explanation would be possible with a different framework however.

    1) If the subjective experience of a bat is identical to a ensemble of brain processes, it is going to be extremely complex.

    2) Our scientists could only be (partially) aware of this very complex processes if they disposed of much more knowledge than they currently do.

    3) School children or anyone lacking the education, competence and physical knowledge cannot be aware of the experience.

    4) A bat lacks all these attributes.

    5) Yet a bat is perfectly aware of what it is feeling as it is sending out the ultrasound.

    6) Thus this subjective experience cannot be identical to extremely complex physical processes.

    There is a hidden assumption in this syllogism. You are assuming that a specific conscious experience is identical to the ensemble of processes that are required for this conscious experience to exist. But this is demonstrably not the case. Consider the conscious experience of feeling your digestive tract “doing its job” – your digestive tract is a highly complex object as well (not as complex as your brain of course but still) but the the conscious experience of feeling it doing its job doesn´t involve any awareness whatsoever of any of the countless molecular interactions that are happening in your digestive tract while you experience this. You are also not consciously aware of any of the countless molecular interactions that have to happen during the signalling processes that transmit information from your digestive tract to your brain, and you are also not consciously aware of the neurological processes that happen while this information is processed in your brain. The experience thus *requires* a highly complex arrangement of things to exist and by implication, any putative scientific explanation of how this experience emerges and what it exactly is requires an understanding of this complexity. But the experience only *requires* this complexity, it is not *identical to* this complex ensemble of processes.
    A bat doesn´t understand the molecular basis of echolocation just like you don´t understand the molecular basis of everything that is going on in your digestive tract, an understanding of both however would absolutely be required for a complete scientific explanation of experiencing echolocation or experiencing digestion.
    In summary, I do agree with your conclusion – a subjective experience is indeed not *identical to* the ensembl of physical processes that *are required* for the subjective experience to exist, but I don´t see why that should be a problem for materialism (or phrased differently – why it should be a bigger problem for materialism than for any other framework).

    • Hey Andy, good to hear from you!

      At the moment, I leave aside how my own framework (non-reductive or strong emergentism) can account for the facts related to consciousness.
      For you do not need to have a workable theory in order to show the flaws of other ones.

      If I understand you correctly, you agree with me that the conscious experience of a living thing cannot be identical to extremely physical processes, for otherwise the animal could not know the experience itself, correct?
      So it seems you find that a part of my argument is not flawed, am I right?

      Although it is hotly debated in the literature, it seems to me that if you say that a creature can only know how to remember, imagine or detect a conscious subjective experience it knows almost nothing about , you are denying the existence of such a subjective conscious experience altogether.
      If for example I know almost nothing about the subjective feeling of tasting an Annanas but am just able to imagine it, it seems inevitable I don’t know my conscious experience, thereby disproving its existence.
      Do you agree with this principle?

      If so, what physical thing could be so simple that it can be perfectly known by a four-years boy? Any suggestion?

      It seems very hard to find an answer in a reductive physicalist framework.

      But maybe this can be answered if you allow the existence of strongly emergent physical properties and substances which cannot be reduced to the interaction of the underlying parts.

      So my argument should be understood as one against reductive materialism rather than against materialism in general (which includes eliminativism and emergentism whose truth is not affected by the conclusion).

      Does strong emergence belong to the realm of possible in your own worldview? Or is it too radical for you?

      Cheers.

      • If I understand you correctly, you agree with me that the conscious experience of a living thing cannot be identical to extremely physical processes, for otherwise the animal could not know the experience itself, correct?

        Nope, I see no reason to believe that there is anything non-physical about subjective experiences, but I pointed out that the processes that are *required* for subjective experiences to exist are not identical to the subjective experiences themselves. You need very complex structures for subjective experiences to be possible, but the subjective experiences itself do not involve any awareness or understanding of those structures at all – you need complex structures like a gasttrointestinal tract and a central nervous system to experience hunger, but the experience itself doesn´t involve any awareness of and much less any understanding of this complexity whatsoever.
        What I mean by that is that a subjective experience is demonstrably not identical to the physical processes that are required for the subjective experience to exist (else you couldn´t experience hunger without knowing everything there is to know about your gastrointestinal system and your central nervous system, but you can experience hunger even if you know NOTHING about this) – complexity is required for subjective experiences to exist, but the subjective experiences are not identical to this complexity, only embellished in it.

        Although it is hotly debated in the literature, it seems to me that if you say that a creature can only know how to remember, imagine or detect a conscious subjective experience it knows almost nothing about , you are denying the existence of such a subjective conscious experience altogether.
        If for example I know almost nothing about the subjective feeling of tasting an Annanas but am just able to imagine it, it seems inevitable I don’t know my conscious experience, thereby disproving its existence.
        Do you agree with this principle?

        Well, what do you actually know about the processes that are required for it to be possible to taste something? Do you understand in complete detail the function of taste buds? Do you understand it down to the level of changes in quantum states? Do you have the same understanding of neurosignalling processes? If not, than there is demonstrably much more stuff that you do NOT know about the processes that are required for this experience than stuff you do know. So I would completely agree that we do know almost nothing about the processes that are required for our subjective experiences to be possible, but again, our subjective experiences are not at all identical to these processes, only embelished in them. So I don´t see why that should that mean that your conscious experience doesn´t exist at all.

        If so, what physical thing could be so simple that it can be perfectly known by a four-years boy? Any suggestion?

        I´m not sure that this is a meaningful question. What seems completely obvious to me is that all the complexity that is required for subjective experiences to be possible is not identical to the experience itself (because, again, that would mean that you´d need to be completely consciously aware of all details of your gastrointestinal tract and your central nervous system to feel hunger), but I strongly doubt that you can meaningfully isolate the parts that correspond to any given thought or experience. You might have encountered artificial neural networks in your research, they demonstrate the same phenomenon, it is a holistic system and you cannot meaningfully isolate the parts where a specific classification or decision happened.

        Does strong emergence belong to the realm of possible in your own worldview?

        I don´t know. I have never seen a coherent definition of what strong emergence means and much less an example of it (not even just a thought experiment), so I can´t really answer your question since I don´t sufficiently understand what “strong emergence” is supposed to mean ;-).

    • Andy- I wrote my latest post before reading yours. We seem to be on a very similar wavelength here.

      Grüße aus endlich winterlichem Wien, zilch

    • Are you asking why subjective experience is a problem for materialism? This seems a rather unnecessary question. Matter is a problem for materialism. Everything is a problem. This is metaphysics 101.

      • Are you asking why subjective experience is a problem for materialism?

        Nope. Rather if subjective experiences are supposed to be a bigger problem for materialism than they are for any any other position.
        If you think they are, be precise.

        This seems a rather unnecessary question. Matter is a problem for materialism. Everything is a problem. This is metaphysics 101.

        “Everything” is a problem for materialism? That sounds ridiculously exaggerated, to put it at its mildest.

  6. Subjective experiences are inconsistent with materialism, or at any rate inexplicable within it, so I never really understand why anyone would endorse it.

    Materialism fails in metaphysics. It is self-contradictory. It causes lots of problems and solves none. Most relevant here would the problem of consciousness. This does not actually prove that materialism is false, but it does prove it is useless and has no logical justification. My view would be that we mght as well believe in the tooth fairy.

    You say “, I see no reason to believe that there is anything non-physical about subjective experiences,” Did you really mean to say this? I can make no sense of it. Hell, we haven’t even proved that matter has a material basis as yet.

    • Subjective experiences are inconsistent with materialism, or at any rate inexplicable within it, so I never really understand why anyone would endorse it.

      So what exactly can you explain about subjective experiences that a materialist could not?

      Materialism fails in metaphysics. It is self-contradictory.

      How exactly does materialism contradict itself?

      Most relevant here would the problem of consciousness. This does not actually prove that materialism is false, but it does prove it is useless and has no logical justification.

      This sounds like your position, unlike materialism, can explain consciousness and thus is not “useless”. Is that correct? If so, where has this explanation of how consciousness works been published? And if not, how is your position not exactly as “useless” (according to your own criteria) as materialism is?

      You say “, I see no reason to believe that there is anything non-physical about subjective experiences,” Did you really mean to say this?

      Yup.

      I can make no sense of it. Hell, we haven’t even proved that matter has a material basis as yet.

      I cannot parse this, what does this have to do with the preceding sentence? What exactly do you mean by “material basis”?

      • “So what exactly can you explain about subjective experiences that a materialist could not? ”

        Materalism can not explain our intuition that we perfectly know the subjective experience we are currently having.

        To my mind a materialist can only deny the truth of this intuition: we only know a very small part of the subjective experience we are having.
        And this of course would be denying the existence of our subjective experience altogether.

      • Materalism can not explain our intuition that we perfectly know the subjective experience we are currently having.

        1. My question was “So what exactly can you explain about subjective experiences that a materialist could not? ” – so please do explain something about subjective experiences that I could not explain from a materialist perspective.
        2. You don´t “perfectly know” the subjective experience that you have, for any given subjective experience, there is an entire boatload of factors that demonstrably contribute to the experience but which you know only to a very limited degree or don´t know at all. I already mentioned in an earlier comment the example of the subjective experience of “being hungry” – you cannot have this experience without a functioning gastrointestinal tract and functional central nervous system, unless you perfectly know everything there is to know about your gastrointestinal tract and your central nervous system, you don´t “perfectly know” the subjective experience that you have. Furthermore, you *cannot* perfectly know this, not even in principle, your access to these subjective experiences is an introspection process that is demonstrably fallible.

        To my mind a materialist can only deny the truth of this intuition: we only know a very small part of the subjective experience we are having.

        Of course you only know a very small part of the subjective experience that you have! That is close to being trivial IMO. I don´t think it would be an understatement that you know MUCH less than 0.01% of everything there is to know about any given subjective experiences. Again, to “perfectly know” the subjective experience of being hungry would entail that you know EVERYTHING there is to know about your gastrointestinal tract and central nervous system – EVERY single transition of quantum states for EVERY single particle that is involved in this process. If you do not know all of this, than there is quite a lot (to put it at its mildest) to this experience that you do NOT know.

        And this of course would be denying the existence of our subjective experience altogether.

        I don´t see why. You can experience being hungry without even being AWARE of the fact that there is any such thing as a “gastrointestinal tract” or a “central nervous” system. Both of these things are demonstrably required for the subjective experience “being hungry” but since the experience itself doesn´t involve any awareness of those things, why should your lack of knowledge about them mean that the experience itself does not exist? I don´t even begin to understand how you arrive at that conclusion.

        • Hello Andy, I think we are probably using different definitions, which is not stunning at all since it is extremely hard to speak about things concerning our inner life while using an objective language.

          I did not eat since yesterday and I feel very hungry.

          If I now step aside and focus on what I am feeling, I perfectly know (or know to a considerable extent) my conscious subjective experience of feeling hungry, even if I know much less than 0.0000001 % of the physical processes of my digestion and how it is interpreted by the brain.
          And if there are sensations I am not aware of, these sensations (by my definition) do not belong to my conscious subjective experience.

          This raises two questions: does such a conscious subjective experience exist?
          If so, what is its nature?

      • @ lotharson

        “And this of course would be denying the existence of our subjective experience altogether.”

        if we accept your premise, for the sake of argument, how does this follow?

      • If I now step aside and focus on what I am feeling, I perfectly know (or know to a considerable extent) my conscious subjective experience of feeling hungry, even if I know much less than 0.0000001 % of the physical processes of my digestion and how it is interpreted by the brain.
        And if there are sensations I am not aware of, these sensations (by my definition) do not belong to my conscious subjective experience.

        This raises two questions: does such a conscious subjective experience exist? If so, what is its nature?

        You say that this is problematic for materialism, which implies that they are not problematic, or problematic to a lesser degree, for your position. Please explain how the answers that your position provides for these questions are better than the answer a materialist could come up with.

        • My position is that our Conscious Subjective Experience (CSE) is a strong emergent phenomenon which cannot be reduced to the parts giving rise to it.

          Our CSE is a different entity which is genuinely non-reducible to something else like a charge, mass or time.
          Given that, it makes sense that a 6 years-old child could know her CSE of watching a red strawberry.

      • My position is that our Conscious Subjective Experience (CSE) is a strong emergent phenomenon which cannot be reduced to the parts giving rise to it.

        That´s cool. As I said, I don´t understand what “strong emergence” is supposed to mean. I don´t have any problems with “emergence” per se, I worked with protein interaction network data for a while and I´ve studied examples of properties of networks that are not reducible to individual components but rather emerge as a consequence of the the interactions of parts. “Strong emergence” however seems to be something different, something that is not reducible to the parts, but also not explicable by the interactions of parts with each other. My problem with that is – what the hell does that mean? Is there any example of any property that *demonstrably* arises as a result of “strong emergence”? Is there any coherent framework that explains how “strong emergence” can arise – even if it is just for a made up system that does not necessarily have any analog in physical reality? I have never seen any answers to those questions and before I do, the phrase “strong emergence” has no semantic meaning to me.

        Our CSE is a different entity which is genuinely non-reducible to something else like a charge, mass or time.
        Given that, it makes sense that a 6 years-old child could know her CSE of watching a red strawberry.

        1. Not reducible to parts does not imply “strong emergence” – any emergent property is not reducible to parts.
        2. *Why* do you think that this makes any more sense than a 6 years old child knowing her subjective experience assuming that subjective experiences are NOT due to “strong emergence” (whatever that is supposed to mean)?
        3. Again, what *exactly* do you know about subjective experiences that a materialist would not know? Or what *exactly* are you able to explain about subjective experiences that a materialist could not explain?

  7. I would have thought that by now everybody knows that materialism does not work, even those who nevertheless endorse it. It leads us into ex nihilo creation or an endless pile of turtles. It explains nothing. Even if it is true we could have no way to ever know it is true. It is an act of faith that is unsupported by logic and untestable in the sciences.

    To be honest I see little point in arguing about materialism. None of us here are going to add anything to the work of centuries of dedicated philosophers.

    The alternatives to Materialism are Monotheism, which does not work, Subjective Idealism, which does not work, Dialethism, which does not work, and Nondualism, which does work. Only for the last of these would mind and matter be reduced.

    By ‘does not work’ I mean what Bradley means when he says “Our orthodox theology on the one side, and our common-place materialism on the other side …, vanish like ghosts before the daylight of free sceptical enquiry.” That is to say, they do not survive logical analysis. They contradict reason. This is not a matter of opinion.

    What is a matter of opinion is whether the fact that a theory does not work means that it is false. On this there is much disagreement. But I refuse to endorse a doctrine that contradicts my reason.

    By saying earlier that we have not shown that matter has a material basis, I meant that as yet there is no evidence that matter is substantial, has any substance or ‘essence’ underlying its appearance. Materialists tend to forget this. (I was a materialist for a long time and this never crossed my mind.)

    For a fundamental theory we would have to reduce both mind and matter. The name ‘eliminative materialism’ clearly indicates that it is not a fundamental theory since matter is not reduced. David Chalmers argues for ‘naturalistic dualism’ as a non-reductive framework theory for consciousness precisely because materialism and idealism do not work.

    Is it not actually rather obvious that materialism and monotheism do not solve the problem of consciousness? If they did then the problem would not be a problem.

      • Oh. I thought I answered it. That was my intention.

        My questions were:
        1. “So what exactly can you explain about subjective experiences that a materialist could not?”
        2. “How exactly does materialism contradict itself?”
        3. “This sounds like your position, unlike materialism, can explain consciousness and thus is not “useless”. Is that correct? If so, where has this explanation of how consciousness works been published? And if not, how is your position not exactly as “useless” (according to your own criteria) as materialism is?”
        4. I cannot parse this, what does this have to do with the preceding sentence? What exactly do you mean by “material basis”?

        You answered 4 but I can´t find any answers to 1-3.
        Re your answer to 4, you say:

        By saying earlier that we have not shown that matter has a material basis, I meant that as yet there is no evidence that matter is substantial, has any substance or ‘essence’ underlying its appearance.

        Please define what you understand by the word “essence” and give one specific example of an “essence” in physical reality. Also, how would a scientific demonstration of matter having an “essence” look like in theory?

        Furthermore, you say

        Is it not actually rather obvious that materialism and monotheism do not solve the problem of consciousness?

        I´ve never seen anything even remotely resembling a solution to this problem, unless you have a solution (and again, if you do – where has this solution been published and why have I never heard of it?), why would you hold this against materialism (and monotheism) but not against your own position?

  8. Hey guymax! Happy Holidays!

    You say:

    I would have thought that by now everybody knows that materialism does not work, even those who nevertheless endorse it. It leads us into ex nihilo creation or an endless pile of turtles. It explains nothing. Even if it is true we could have no way to ever know it is true. It is an act of faith that is unsupported by logic and untestable in the sciences.

    As I’ve pointed out before, guymax, every worldview is, in the beginning, an act of faith, unsupported by logic and untestable in the sciences. That’s the human condition: if we want to make any claims at all about the world, we must first assume that we exist. I don’t find that a problem in daily life, to be honest.

    To be honest I see little point in arguing about materialism. None of us here are going to add anything to the work of centuries of dedicated philosophers.

    I beg to disagree. I’m sure I’m not as smart as Aristotle or Kant, but I have an advatage over them you also share: centuries of scientific advance. Philosophy that is not based on science is just words chasing their own tails.

    The alternatives to Materialism are Monotheism, which does not work, Subjective Idealism, which does not work, Dialethism, which does not work, and Nondualism, which does work. Only for the last of these would mind and matter be reduced.

    By ‘does not work’ I mean what Bradley means when he says “Our orthodox theology on the one side, and our common-place materialism on the other side …, vanish like ghosts before the daylight of free sceptical enquiry.” That is to say, they do not survive logical analysis. They contradict reason. This is not a matter of opinion.

    Of course it’s a matter of opinion, and my opinion is otherwise. How does materialism vanish like a ghost before the “daylight” of free skeptical enquiry? How does materialism contradict reason?

    By saying earlier that we have not shown that matter has a material basis, I meant that as yet there is no evidence that matter is substantial, has any substance or ‘essence’ underlying its appearance. Materialists tend to forget this. (I was a materialist for a long time and this never crossed my mind.)

    Define “substantial”. I define it the same way Johnson did in the eighteenth century, as related in Boswell’s Life of Johnson:

    After we came out of the church, we stood talking for some time together of Bishop Berkeley’s ingenious sophistry to prove the nonexistence of matter, and that every thing in the universe is merely ideal. I observed, that though we are satisfied his doctrine is not true, it is impossible to refute it. I never shall forget the alacrity with which Johnson answered, striking his foot with mighty force against a large stone, till he rebounded from it — “I refute it thus.”

    That’s enough for me. If I kick a large stone and my foot rebounds, then the stone and the foot are substantial in every meaningful sense. Any other meaning of “substantial” is just causistry. The rocks and the feet were here before philosophy and have precedence.

    Is it not actually rather obvious that materialism and monotheism do not solve the problem of consciousness? If they did then the problem would not be a problem.

    What exactly would solve the “problem of consciousness” for you? I don’t find it surprising that we can’t explain consciousness- as Andy has pointed out, we can’t even explain digestion completely. It’s only a “problem” if we can’t admit that some things are simply beyond our limited abilities to understand a very complex Universe. That is not a shortcoming of materialism: it’s rather a kind of humility that theology doesn’t have.

    cheers from drizzly Vienna, zilch

    • Any other meaning of “substantial” is just causistry. The rocks and the feet were here before philosophy and have precedence.

      I am so going to steal that line… 😉

    • If you don’t mind, Andy, I’m not going to post loads of definitions and answers. I would be repeating what amounts to common knowledge in philosophy. For instance, the question ‘how does materialism contradict itself’.is not worth dealing with in a comments section. If we cannot work it out for ourselves then nothing I say is going to make it clear, Ditto the question about essence. You cannot demonstrate that matter has any substance, and the most obvious explanation would be that it doesn’t. The ‘problem of attributes’ is well know and doesn’t need me to restate it. In any case, all the answers and explanations are given on my blog.

      Hi Scott – You say “As I’ve pointed out before, guymax, every worldview is, in the beginning, an act of faith, unsupported by logic and untestable in the sciences. That’s the human condition: if we want to make any claims at all about the world, we must first assume that we exist. ”

      It would be a terrible mistake to assume that the world truly exists. All the problems of philosophy arise from our inclination to reify what does not truly exist. It leads us to think that materialism might be true, that consciousness is inexplicable, that philosophy is inconsistent with science, that the world is paradoxical, and a thousand other confusing and false views. .

      Buddhism, Taoism, advaita Vedanta and the various other forms of the perennial philosophy do not make this mistake. As a consequence they do give rise to problems such as consciousness.

      Unfortunately I have no magic formula for briefly explaining this view.

      The idea that centuries of science makes us better philosophers than Aristotle or Kant is self-defeating since it demonstrates that it can have the opposite effect. Another fifty centuries of science will not change one single problem in philosophy. Philosophical problems cannot be solved in the natural sciences, and this becomes more obvious with every passing century. This is why they are called philosophical problems.

      I apologise for being argumentative without fully dealing with the issues. It is simply impossible to deal with some of these things in a few sentences, All I can do is note that materialism, which seems to be the main issue here, is logically indefensible. This is well-known in philosophy and I have nothing new to add to the debate. If materialism were logically defensible we wouldn’t be disagreeing since I would be endorsing it. To solve philosophical problems we would have to explain existence, however, and this is precisely what materialism is incapable of explaining. It is not a scientific theory, it is a metaphysical conjecture. In itself this would not make it false, but there is no scientific evidence or argument for it. .

      • I’m not going to post loads of definitions and answers. I would be repeating what amounts to common knowledge in philosophy. For instance, the question ‘how does materialism contradict itself’.is not worth dealing with in a comments section. If we cannot work it out for ourselves then nothing I say is going to make it clear

        You state this – materialism contradicting itself – as if it is in any way obvious or a consensus position among philosophers. And this is simply nonsense. Your accusations are just that, accusations, without any supportinging argument or citation. According to the largest survey among philosophers that has ever been conducted, positions that are consistent with naturalism / materialism / physicalism (I prefer the latter) are not in any way minority positions, quite the opposite. For the question: “Mind: physicalism or non-physicalism?” for example, the responses had this distribution:
        Accept or lean toward: physicalism 526 / 931 (56.5%)
        Accept or lean toward: non-physicalism 252 / 931 (27.1%)
        Other 153 / 931 (16.4%)
        You are of course entitled to your own opinion, however, it is just that, your personal opinion which does not seem to be warranted given that you offer neither arguments nor citations to support your claims.

        Ditto the question about essence. You cannot demonstrate that matter has any substance, and the most obvious explanation would be that it doesn’t.

        That you, again, are unable or unwilling to answer my questions in this regard – what exactly you understand the word “substance” to mean, what would be a specific example for a “substance” / “essence” in physical reality (can you *demonstrate* that ANYTHING has a “substance” according to how you understand the word? ), and how a scientific demonstration that matter has such a “substance” / “essence” would look like hypothetically – tells me that your accusation is merely hot air.

        All the problems of philosophy arise from our inclination to reify what does not truly exist. It leads us to think that materialism might be true, that consciousness is inexplicable, that philosophy is inconsistent with science, that the world is paradoxical, and a thousand other confusing and false views. .

        Again, if *you* cannot provide an explanation of consciousness, and you seem to be unable to provide such a thing, then you are applying a spectacular double standard – you are accusing other positions for failing to explain something which you cannot explain yourself.

        The idea that centuries of science makes us better philosophers than Aristotle or Kant is self-defeating since it demonstrates that it can have the opposite effect. Another fifty centuries of science will not change one single problem in philosophy. Philosophical problems cannot be solved in the natural sciences, and this becomes more obvious with every passing century.

        I could not disagree more… The problem with scientifically uninformed armchair philosophy is, that you extrapolate your experiences from the everyday world to the nature of reality, but science has demonstrated time and again that your intuitions derived from experiences do not apply under many conditions – your intuititions (and any philosophy derived from it) about things like causality, time and space, to name just a few examples, cannot be extrapolated to every situation that can arise in physical reality. Any philosophical treatment of these issues that presumes that the physics which we are able to sense (characterized by objects that are significantly larger than an electron but significantly smaller than a galaxy and significantly slower moving than the speed of light) are *universal* is doomed to lead to false answers and to create problems where none exist. Questions regarding cosmological origins are a good example, there are many challenging problems in this field, but they are completely different from what philosophers of antiquity assumed they would be.
        This doesn´t mean that we are, if we are scientifically educated, automatically better philosophers than Aristotle (in terms of *skill* in applaying philosophical reasoning), but we are certainly MUCH better equipped to understand which philosophical problems actually do exist and which do not.

        All I can do is note that materialism, which seems to be the main issue here, is logically indefensible. This is well-known in philosophy

        You could rephrase that to “philosophers I agree with say…” – you have no evidence whatsoever that this reflects in any way a consensus position and according to the philpapers survey (which, again, is the biggest survey that has ever been conducted among philosophers), you are simply mistaken in this respect.

      • Guymax- thanks for your consistently civil tone. As I’m sure you’re aware, that’s not something to be taken for granted in internet discussions, especially those about religion and/or philosophy. I must repeat my kudos for lotharson here for somehow inspiring something rare and special.

        That said, I’m afraid we’ll have to agree to disagree. Andy has eloquently answered for my position as well. I’ll just add a few things. You said:

        It would be a terrible mistake to assume that the world truly exists.

        How is this a “terrible mistake”? It might be a mistake: we might really be brains in vats, or the dream of an alien butterfly or God. But I don’t see how that, even if it were true (which doesn’t seem likely): we still have to deal with what the world seems to be as well as we can, do we not?

        All the problems of philosophy arise from our inclination to reify what does not truly exist.

        What is “true existence”? Do you have any evidence that there is any kind of existence truer than, say, Ben Johnson’s foot rebounding from that stone? If not, shouldn’t Occam be our guide here? Why multiply worlds beyond necessity?

        It leads us to think that materialism might be true, that consciousness is inexplicable, that philosophy is inconsistent with science, that the world is paradoxical, and a thousand other confusing and false views.

        Again: where’s your evidence that these thousand other confusing views are false? Can you prove materialism is not true? Where philosophy is in conflict with science, it’s probably wrong: science works, philosophy plays with words. The world is not paradoxical, it simply is. Our interpretations, even within the scientific magisterium, are sometimes paradoxical, but that reflects our imperfect understanding and/or our words and models that draw lines not reflected in the real world. And yes, consciousness is not yet fully explained (by a long shot!) and may never be. We will never be omniscient.

        I apologise for being argumentative without fully dealing with the issues. It is simply impossible to deal with some of these things in a few sentences

        No apologies necessary. I’m pretty argumentative myself, and of course we can’t do justice to these issues in a few sentences. But it’s fun to try.

        cheers and happy holidays from cool Vienna, zilch

  9. Thanks therealzilch. Actually I didn’t feel I’d been civil. I felt that frustration was getting the better of me and that I’d better get out before I lost my equilibrium. But okay, I’ll keep going. I hope Lotharson doesn’t mind.

    I cannot deal properly with these issues here but they’ve been dealt with a thousand times. It’s an odd thing. People who think that philosophy is nonsense because they can’t make sense of it, often complain that philosophy has not moved on for centuries. So they adopt the worldview of Democritus instead, as a piece of pure guesswork, as if this is a solution. In this way they become the cause of the lack of progress that they complain about. It’s all upside down and back to front.

    I was a materialist for years. But I always knew it did not make sense because it’s so obvious. It places us on the horns of a dilemma, which is whether to endorse ex nihilo creation of an endless regression of substances. Would you not agree that this is a choice between two unworkable ideas? If we cannot concede that materialism can never explain matter then we are not doing philosophy but ceasing to think.

    I can see that materialism might seem more appealing than the kind of naïve theism that seems to be dominant in the US under the name of Protestant fundamentalism, which may be even more unintelligible that materialism, but surely we want something more comprehensible and having greater explanatory power than these two discredited doctrines.

    As to your questions…

    Nobody can demonstrate that materialism is true or false. Logic can prove nothing about Reality, as Aristotle long ago noted. But it is quite easy to show that it is logically absurd, and it is not a great leap of faith to assume that what is logically absurd is not true. .

    Brains in vats is not what I was suggesting. Philosophically speaking they would be no different from brains in skulls. I was suggesting a far more radical idea. I was recommending the idea of ‘dependent origination’, for which nothing would really exist. When Nagarjuna, Bradley, Kant and Hegel prove that materialism, as an extreme position opposed to idealism, is incoherent, they do so as part of a general proof for which all such extreme or positive metaphysical positions are defeated, including the idea of objective existence. That is, they get to the bottom of things for a fundamental solution.

    You ask – “where’s your evidence that these thousand other confusing views are false”. I would cite the four philosophers I mention above for a start. Nagarjuna gives a famous formal proof. Kant sums it all up by noting that all selective conclusions about the world as a whole are undecidable’. Nobody has ever shown otherwise, and nobody ever will. He concludes that existence, as it seems to us, must rest on a phenomenon that is ‘not an instance of a category’. To assume otherwise would be to assume that logic and reason must be abandoned for the truth, and thus that philosophy is useless.

    Of course, many philosophers are or have been materialists, albeit that it would be a minority view, but frankly the state of philosophy in academia these days is dire, and we be better off ignoring it. Can the philosophers solve any problems? No. We’re better off doing it for ourselves. As for the state of philosophy in physics, I greatly admire Schrodinger and Paul Davies and few others, but on the whole it is a laughable situation. few physicists seem to have the slightest interest in actually doing any, including some who write books about it. .

    Note to self. Must stop ranting.

    .

  10. I cannot deal properly with these issues here but they’ve been dealt with a thousand times.

    Indeed, many thousand times without a consensus among professional philosophers being in sight. You speak as if you, and the philosophers you happen to agree with, have obviously(!) figured it all out and everyone else is just too stupid to see that. I´m sure that is not your intention but that is how you come across.

    but surely we want something more comprehensible and having greater explanatory power than these two discredited doctrines.

    So you can not only discredit both doctrines but also explain more than they do? Awesome! And I´m sure you will proceed to do just that instead of merely asserting it ad nauseam.

    It’s an odd thing. People who think that philosophy is nonsense because they can’t make sense of it, often complain that philosophy has not moved on for centuries. So they adopt the worldview of Democritus instead, as a piece of pure guesswork

    While we are talking about pure guesswork, you have just guessed two things about me (if you didn´t, then I wonder who you are talking about here if not zilch and me, and what it has to do with the rest of the discussion) that happen to be false.

    It places us on the horns of a dilemma, which is whether to endorse ex nihilo creation of an endless regression of substances. Would you not agree that this is a choice between two unworkable ideas?

    Again with the “substances” nonsense – I have no idea if those ideas are “unworkable” or not since you refuse to define what you are talking about, But I´m positively certain that I do not subscribe to any of those “unworkable ideas” that you suppose I *should* subscribe to.

    Nobody can demonstrate that materialism is true or false.[1] Logic can prove nothing about Reality, as Aristotle long ago noted. But it is quite easy to show that it is logically absurd[2], and it is not a great leap of faith to assume that what is logically absurd is not true. .

    1. Please demonstrate that your position is true or, alternatively, explain how you can accuse materialism for having a lack of verifiability without being a complete hypocrite given that your position is not verifiable either (only spoken about verifiability btw, when it comes to falsifiability, it looks very different – materialism is falsifiable).
    2. Hint: “quite easy to see” is not synonymous to “completely obvious to guymax”

    Kant sums it all up by noting that all selective conclusions about the world as a whole are undecidable’.

    Including this one?

    Nobody has ever shown otherwise, and nobody ever will.

    Spoken with the humility of a true philosopher…

    Of course, many philosophers are or have been materialists, albeit that it would be a minority view, but frankly the state of philosophy in academia these days is dire, and we be better off ignoring it.

    Oy vey… Just a piece of friendly advice, if you say something that boils down to “professional [insert profession here] are idiots, you should listen to me”, you are setting off crank detectors.

    • After reading my response again, it sounds more sarcastic than I intended, sorry for that.

      And one brief addendum re Hegel and Kant, Hegels views are everything but popular not only among contemporary philosophers, but also among earlier generations of philosophers – Schopenhauer´s critique of both Hegel and Kant is quite famous. That is not to say that both of them are wrong, but rather that your stance, which amounts to accusing everyone who doesn´t agree with you of “philosophical naivety”, is not only arrogant but also completely unwarranted. People much better at philosophy than you have been there and disagree with you, you might be right but you are certainly not obviously right.

  11. I’m sorry you react like this Andy. You read my posts as speculation – I write then as factual and therefore as needing not prevarication or proviso. Thus you see arrogance instead of confidence.

    I can’t answer all your objections here, I’ve got presents to wrap. But a few comments.

    Yes, I can solve the problems we are discussing here. I just can’t do it here. I have presented a proof and it is archived on my blog and at philpapers.com, the site run by Chalmers and Bourget. .

    Essentially the situation is simple, as Kant noticed. The simple fact is that all positive or extreme metaphysical positions are logically indefensible. For materialism we have to ignore this fact, and so it is not a difficult doctrine to defeat in logic. In case you get the wrong impression, I’ll mention that for most popular forms theism we also have to ignore it).

    Many people have solved these problems we are discussing. It is just that they have to dispense with materialism to do it.

    You suggest that Kant’s comment about ‘selective conclusions’ have been falsified. Yet it is one of the best known facts in the world and has never been faced with a serious objection. Almost all metaphysicians agree that it is a fact, even the logical positivists. Indeed, it is because it is a fact that logical positivism gained a following in the first place. If we grasp this fact all the issues become a lot more simple.

    The most comprehensive modern discussion of all this that I have come across is ‘God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss’ by David Bentley Hart. I am complete agreement with him. I would recommend his book to anyone of any metaphysical persuasion. It is brilliant, rigorous and honest. On consciousness studies it is wonderful. ‘Untangling the World Knot’ by David Ray Mann would be my back-up recommendation.

    As for the state of professional philosophy, it is in an unspeakable muddle. It is governed by fashion, peer group pressure, the availability of grants and salaries, the need to publish regardless of the worth of the paper, a desire for fame and book royalties. It is moribund and has been for centuries. There are, of course, many exceptions to the rule, if we go looking for them, but it’s hard to think of one in mainstream philosophy of mind.

    I agree that the dismissal of professional expertise is often the sign of an idiot, In the case of philosophy of mind, however,. it is merely the sign of someone who can think straight. In a way this is obvious, given the confusion that reigns.

    Anyway. I have a feeling we’re not going to get anywhere fast with this, and it’s the season of good cheer even, presumably, for materialists, so Merry Christmas to you and over and out until next week. .

    • You just invested the time to write a comment consisting of 477 words – if I sum up all of your comments on this thread, they would easily amount to a short paper (a letter to nature is limited to 2000 words – and many groundbreaking results are published like this… (admittedly with a huge supplementary materials & methods part)).
      You made many claims and backed up none of them, for many of those claims you added something along the line “it is easy to see that…”. So the fact that you are limited to this format is not an excuse, if it would be as straightforward to show that materialism is self-refuting as you claim it is, you could have easily done so, but you didn´t.
      Re consciousness, I don´t know which blog post of yours in particular you are referring to since you provided no link, but I found a link to your blog post and looked at the first post I could find about the topic of consciousness (this one: http://theworldknot.wordpress.com/2013/11/27/towards-a-scientific-consciousness-studies/ ). You take a highly critical (actually rather dismissive instead of critical) view of cognitive science (I´ll refrain from commenting on whether your dismissive attitude is warranted or not) but offer *NOTHING* as an alternative. You again merely assert that you can solve the problem of consciousness but instead of offering any solutions, you offer this:

      The explanation for consciousness given by the Buddha is exceedingly difficult to understand and in the end cannot be properly understood as merely a theory. The in principle solution for the ‘hard’ problem that is implied by this explanation, however, would not be so difficult to understand. It states that psycho-physical phenomena are not truly real but dependently-arisen. This would be an empirical observation and a demonstrable outcome of logical analysis, such that however determined we are to prove it is not the case, whether in logic or experience, we will fail.

      this is a textbook example of handwaving. You claim to have solved an extremely difficult problem (or claim that you understand a solution to an extremely difficult problem provided by “the Buddha”), but instead of demonstrating your solution, or at the very least providing a rough sketch of it, you essentially just say “well it´s veeeery complicated, but the principle is easy to understand yadda yadda psycho-physical, yadda yadda dependently arisen yadda yadda yadda *handwave*”.
      Then I had a look at a different post of yours about atheism, where you actually claim “a simple form atheism actually requires that we ABANDON METAPHYSICS for a commitment to materialism” (my emphasis) – after which I checked my library to make sure that my memory is not fooling me and that I actually do have three books explicitly about metaphysics from a materialist perspective, written by eminent philosophers like Gerhard Vollmer and Mario Bunge…
      I´m sorry to inform you that your confidence is unwarranted. I am certainly not an expert philosopher (far from it, *very* far from it…) but I recognize handwaving when I see it and it doesn´t take an expert to see that your views about materialism are as far detached from what materialist philosophers actually do propose as they could possibly be.
      But anyway, merry Christmas to you as well.

  12. Of course you have books on metaphysics by materialists. There are thousands of them. And in those books they demonstrate that they do not understand metaphysics and, worse, do not take its results seriously. This can be known a priori, from their adoption of a view that fails to take logic into account.

    But that’s fine, you provide a good moment to end the discussion. I’m sorry all my attempts to respond to your questions seemed unsatisfactory. I am unable to understand the reason,.given that the facts are so well known and documented by so many great philosophers.

    You have the honour, at least, of being the first person to object to my writings, either among my referees, editors or other readers. If you find a telling objection please bring it up in my comments section. I think we’ve probably said enough on Lothar’s blog. I have anyway.

    Lothar – sorry for causing trouble.

    . .

    • Of course you have books on metaphysics by materialists. There are thousands of them. And in those books they demonstrate that they do not understand metaphysics and, worse, do not take its results seriously.

      *sigh* Do you honestly not realize that this is a *completely* different statement than claiming that materialists demand that we abandon metaphysics? Now you say that they simply don´t understand it, but that is completely different from abandoning it or demanding that others abandon it. And, setting aside that you right now completely changed your mind without even realizing that you did just that – you still make extreme accusations that are backed up by nothing beyond hot air.

      This can be known a priori, from their adoption of a view that fails to take logic into account.

      Let me try that stunt for a change, You just committed the informal fallacy known as “argument by assertion”. Since your views fail to take logic into account, there is no reason to take what you say seriously.

      I am unable to understand the reason,.given that the facts are so well known and documented by so many great philosophers.

      You seem to have rather idiosyncratic notions of what “fact” and “knowledge” means, particularly within *philosophy*. For an a priori “fact” you would need to have an argument that is *demonstrably* valid AND sound, there are plenty of philosophical arguments that are valid, but soundness is a completely different matter because you need to establish the truth of the premises beyond any reasonable doubt on top of having an argument that is logically valid. And you have provided nothing in this respect, absolutey nothing what-so-ever. Not a syllogism, not a discussion of the logical validity of said syllogism, and not a defense of the premises which establishes their truth beyond any reasonable doubt. But then, and ONLY then, could you talk about “facts”.

      You have the honour, at least, of being the first person to object to my writings, either among my referees, editors…

      So you did get papers accepted in peer-reviewed journals and / or published books that underwent peer review? And you not only did that but furthermore passed review without even the tiniest objections from your referees? Amazing. So where are your peer-reviewed papers and / or books? You mentioned philpapers earlier, which does index many peer-reviewed philosophy journals, but ANYONE can also directly submit manuscripts to philpapers without undergoing peer-review (and these manuscripts do not count as “published” – they are merely accessible via philpapers and such manuscripts are not any more credible a priori than stuff you upload to your private website), so I presume you actually published papers in peer-reviewed philosophy journals that are indexed by philpapers?

      • I was afraid you say that Lotharson. The trouble is that I don’t really want to keep arguing and see little point. I shouldn’t have got involved. But I suppose if you’re okay with it …

        I mentioned that materialism gives rise to contradictions – for instance the dilemma we face when we try to account for the existence of matter if matter is all that there is. It is a non-reductive view, so has to be abandoned for a fundamental theory. It is also scientifically untestable. On what grounds would we endorse an hypothesis that cannot be tested, contradicts logic and does not explain anything?

        To argue against such a view seems useless. Anyone who holds it has already chosen to ignore its failings and so there’s nothing to be gained by pointing them out. If we do not take metaphysics seriously then arguments from logical analysis are futile. This leaves opponents with nothing to say. So I don’t know what to say about it that will move the discussion on.

        Regarding the previous comments – I will reiterate that materialists are forced to abandon metaphysics. They have already concluded that its results are not to be trusted. They might write books about why it is not worth doing, and many do, but they can’t afford to actually do it because it does not endorse materialism.

        As for my credentials, I shouldn’t have brought the issue up. They don’t matter. I’ll just say that I was referring to published articles, not posts on my blog. .

        As for the objection that my view does not take logic into account, this is lazy thinking. It is obviously not the case.

        .
        .

        .
        .

      • Pardon me – accidently pushed the send button before finishing the current post.

        I was going to continue to say – I do not hold any views that fail in metaphysics and spend my time trying to persuade other people that it’s a bad idea to do so.

    • Lie nr.1:

      I will reiterate that materialists are forced to abandon metaphysics. They have already concluded that its results are not to be trusted. They might write books about why it is not worth doing, and many do, but they can’t afford to actually do it because it does not endorse materialism.

      => you have already been made aware of this being factually false – I have already mentioned authors who are both eminent philosophers and wrote books ABOUT metaphysics from a materialist perspective and who never said ANYTHING that even remotely resembles your accusation of ignoring metaphysics or arguing that metaphysics should not be done. So you know better and chose to deliberately repeat a falsehood. Furthermore, I doubt that you actually are aware of ANY materialist philosopher who EVER wrote anything that boils down to “metaphysics cannot be trusted and we should stop thinking about it” – so I´ll call you a liar on that as well until you provide a quote from a materialist philosopher that proves your accusation.

      Lie nr.2:

      As for my credentials, I shouldn’t have brought the issue up. They don’t matter. I’ll just say that I was referring to published articles, not posts on my blog. .

      => This is a lie because you earlier said “You have the honour, at least, of being the first person to object to my writings, either among my REFEREES, EDITORS” (my emphasis). I objected to writings which are related to the current subject (i.e. – they fall into the realm of philosophy), you state, crystal clear, that at least some of your writings had referees and / or editors – which means that you either have peer-reviewed philosophy papers that are relevant to the discussion, or you published at least one philosophy book with an academic publisher, neither of that seems to be the case – so you were lying to give the false impression of being a published philosopher although you only write for your personal blog which is neither reviewed nor edited.

      As for the objection that my view does not take logic into account, this is lazy thinking. It is obviously not the case.

      It obviously is the case.

      • Point 1. I stand by what I said. You offer no evidence to the contrary.

        Point 2. I stand by what I said. I’m not sure why what your objection is. .

        Point 3. Anyone who reads what I write will see that I bang on about the necessity of taking logic into account all the time. .I might slip up sometimes, but it is not for lack of trying.

        I can’t think of one major philosopher who disagrees with me on the failure of materialism in logic. Perhaps you could name one or two. Plenty of people endorse it, but this is not the same as showing that it works.

      • guymax- you say:

        I mentioned that materialism gives rise to contradictions – for instance the dilemma we face when we try to account for the existence of matter if matter is all that there is.

        I wouldn’t call it a dilemma- what are the lemmas? It’s just a lack of knowledge. This is a lack that all metaphysics has: none has any ultimate explanation for why there is something rather than nothing (including any supernatural planes of existence, beings, etc.) Sure, materialism cannot account for the existence of matter. But theism cannot account for the existence of theos, and the same is true of any -ism.

        It is a non-reductive view, so has to be abandoned for a fundamental theory.

        Or an admission of not knowing. A fundamental theory that requires the existence of a whole new plane of being, or a whole new kind of being, while doing no explanatory work, is not a well-formed theory and should be occamed.

        It is also scientifically untestable. On what grounds would we endorse an hypothesis that cannot be tested, contradicts logic and does not explain anything?

        True, materialism is untestable outside of our bounded Universe. But it works pretty well within our Universe: in fact nothing works better. And as I said, theism, or any other metaphysics that goes beyond the material Universe, can also not be tested, so there’s no advantage to appealing to gods/magic/supernatural worlds as far as I can see.

        Materialism explains why feet rebound from stones. Does theism, or denial of materialism, also explain this, without simply borrowing from materialism? How does this contradict logic?

        Sometimes I get the feeling that your entire argument can be boiled down to “materialism cannot explain everything, therefore it is false.” As far as I know, no one claims that materialism can explain everything. But as I said, that’s a strength rather than a weakness. I’d rather simply say “I don’t know” than pass the buck to a God or an “immaterial plane” or whatever, which is presumed to be somehow immune from requiring an explanation itself. As Harry Truman said, the buck stops here.

        cheers and merry holidays from zilch.

      • @ guymax

        “Point 1. I stand by what I said. You offer no evidence to the contrary.”

        not only is this “lazy thinking,” more importantly, it’s dishonest.

        “Point 2. I stand by what I said. I’m not sure why what your objection is.”

        not wanting to speak for Andy, but, the objection is, IMHO: you are lying, prevaricating, and practicing subterfuge.

        “I can’t think of one major philosopher who disagrees with me on the failure of materialism in logic. Perhaps you could name one or two.”

        i think it’s good cricket if you were to address your interlocutor’s request firstly, before asking a similar question. Andy asked you to “provide a quote from a materialist philosopher that proves your accusation.”

        so, what say ye?

  13. I’m worried that this will appear out of order, because there’s no sub-reply button showing, Apologies if so.

    Okay, I’ll try to deal with all these points.

    @ xon-xoff – I simply don’t understand the lying accusation. Lying about what?

    You can take your pick when it comes to philosophers who abandon metaphysics for materialism. Dennett, Dawkins and Stenger would be three obvious recent examples. They write as if the discipline does not exist. But it’s not a great example, since none of them are philosophers in a meaningful sense. Ayn Rand might be better, since it is a common objection that she fails to engage with metaphysics.

    @ zilch – You say “I wouldn’t call it a dilemma- what are the lemmas? It’s just a lack of knowledge. This is a lack that all metaphysics has: none has any ultimate explanation for why there is something rather than nothing (including any supernatural planes of existence, beings, etc.) Sure, materialism cannot account for the existence of matter. But theism cannot account for the existence of theos, and the same is true of any -ism.”

    I can see why you might think this, and why so many people would agree with you, but it is not the case. .

    Materialism forces us to choose between two indefensible views, either ex nihilo creation or an endless regression of substances. It allows of no third option. Both views are absurd in a technical sense. This is not so much a dilemma as an anti-dilemma (not two truths but two falsities) but it comes to the same thing. This objection, on its own, is enough to render materialism logically absurd.

    You have a very low view of metaphysics, which materialists are bound to have. In fact metaphysics can easily explain why there is something rather than nothing. All we have to do is eliminate all the absurd explanations and whatever is left is a reasonable one. I have explained this at length elsewhere. It is not a lack of knowledge, it is a lack of analysis. Your view leaves you having to believe that metaphysics is useless, and this allows you to endorse materialism. So, we agree that materialism makes no sense in logic. The difference between us is that you think the problem is with logic and reason, where I think the problem is with materialism.

    This is what I mean when I say that it is difficult to argue with materialists. If there is no respect for logic then there is no basis for a coherent argument, no way to settle one, and all we can do is shout at each other.

    The simple fact is, however, that logic works perfectly well. It shows, as Kant and Hegel noted, and Russell, Carnap, Chalmers, Bradley, Nagarjuna, and even, by implication, Dawkins, and ten thousand others, that all extreme metaphysical views are logically indefensible. This is so well known that I cannot understand why we have to argue about it.

    There are three responses to this fact. One is to say that metaphysics is nonsense and then ignore it, as we must do for materialism, idealism, evangelical Protestantism, Mysterianism and so forth. The second is to endorse Priest and Routley’s Dialethism or Melhuish’s paradoxical universe. The third is to respect human reason and logic and see metaphysics as a proof of what is true, as do Kant, Hegel, Bradley, Nagarjuna and me. (Note that the entire argument for the first two positions depends on failure of materialism in logic).

    It seems to me that I am arguing for the necessity of logical analysis, while you are arguing that it is useless. . .

    You say ” A fundamental theory that requires the existence of a whole new plane of being, or a whole new kind of being, while doing no explanatory work, is not a well-formed theory and should be occamed.”

    I completely agree. This is my objection to materialism. It implies a transcendental realm but explains nothing. On what grounds do you exempt materialism from the need to do explanatory work?

    You say “True, materialism is untestable outside of our bounded Universe. But it works pretty well within our Universe: in fact nothing works better.”

    It does not work at all. What does it explain? It most certainly does not explain matter. Matter is produced inexplicably, paradoxically, like a rabbit from a hat.

    You say “And as I said, theism, or any other metaphysics that goes beyond the material Universe, can also not be tested, so there’s no advantage to appealing to gods/magic/supernatural worlds as far as I can see.”

    In my view theism can be tested, but no, not by looking through a telescope. Unfortunately most, almost all, forms of theism suffer from the same faults as materialism, We have to explain where things come from, not just state that they exist. I see no difference between believing in materialism and in objective monotheism. Both are nonreductive and explain nothing. But they can at least by tested in logic, and both fail.

    “Materialism explains why feet rebound from stones. Does theism, or denial of materialism, also explain this, without simply borrowing from materialism? How does this contradict logic?”

    Materialism does not explain this, It is a metaphysical hypothesis. It has nothing to say about the behaviour of stones and feet. That’s an issue for physics. Metaphysics has to explain why there are such things as stones and feet in the first place. Nobody is denying that stones rebound from feet. Berkeley’s idealism suffers from precisely the same faults as materialism and objective monotheism, so I reject them all.

    “Sometimes I get the feeling that your entire argument can be boiled down to “materialism cannot explain everything, therefore it is false.”

    No, that is a caricature. The point is that it is not a fundamental theory. Consequently, it has no use in metaphysics or fundamental physics where the whole project is to find such a theory. We can explain nothing completely until we have a fundamental theory. Just look at consciousness studies. This is the mess we get if we endorse materialism, It gives rise immediately to the hard problem and then all progress comes to an end.

    “I’d rather simply say “I don’t know” than pass the buck to a God or an “immaterial plane” or whatever, which is presumed to be somehow immune from requiring an explanation itself. As Harry Truman said, the buck stops here.”

    The buck does not stop with materialism. This is its entire problem. It is why it fails in logic, for a prior phenomenon is clearly implied.

    How would you explain the existence of matter if matter is all that exists? It would be impossible. To say it has always existed would be inconsistent with physics, so we must say it arises from nothing, which is inconsistent with our sanity. Obviously the buck does not stop here. .

    I don’t know if I can keep this up, but I am trying to deal fairly with the issues. I think maybe the problem is that so many people dismiss metaphysics as inconclusive and useless. This is almost a dogma these days. So people feel free to choose any old view, as if all we can do is speculate. This is not at all the view taken in Buddhism, where logic is highly respected and regarded as a proof of what is true and false about the world.

    I hope I’ve not been inflammatory here. I have been earlier on occasionally , which I now regret.

    I’ll come back later to reply to Andy. Then we’ll have to find a way to move forward before my fingers are worn down to the bone.

    • How would you explain the existence of matter if matter is all that exists? It would be impossible. To say it has always existed would be inconsistent with physics, so we must say it arises from nothing, which is inconsistent with our sanity.

      Oy vey – yet another armchair philosopher who learned “physics” from theologians…

      I’ll come back later to reply to Andy.

      You can spare yourself the effort, I am not really interested in continuing this.

    • Thanks for the thoughtful reply, guymax. You put things clearly, which makes it easy for me to see where you’re coming from and why I disagree with you. The only exception is your constant complaint that you don’t understand why we disagree with your “obvious” facts or reasoning. Andy and I don’t do this, and I don’t see how it advances the argument in any way. Please stick to supporting your position with logic and evidence, and leave “what everyone who is anyone knows” out of it- I will do the same.

      That said: I don’t see how you have answered my questions. You claim that materialism does not explain everything. I (and Andy) countered that no one expects it to explain everything. You say that materialism’s failure to explain the origin of matter is a dilemma, but as I said, why is a failure to explain something a “dilemma”? Can you explain digestion with your worldview, as well or better than materialism does? If not, why endorse a theory that has no explanatory power? How does it help us to explain what we see to propose a new realm of existence? Show me some concrete examples.

      To me, any supernatural explanation of the existence of matter is just saying “Goddidit” or “Buddhadidit” or whatever: it’s just words that don’t get us any new or better answers.

      cheers from overcast Vienna, zilch

      • Yes, I see your reasoning, and see that it must be annoying when I say something is ‘obvious’. But if I were to argue against Relativity, or suggest that F does not, after all, equal MA, then no doubt I would get the same sort of response from a scientist. Sitting where I’m sitting it seems that you do not take into account much of what is well known in philosophy.

        Btw I’m not suggesting that materialism does not explain everything, I’m stating point blank that it explains nothing and can never do so.

        Nor did I say that ‘materialism’s failure to explain the origin of matter is a dilemma’. Rather, it is because it gives rise to a logical dilemma, a self-contradiction, that it fails in logic and cannot adequately explain anything. In philosophy we reject ideas that give rise to absurdities, it is the whole method,

        Many scientists express a believe in materialism. What does this help them to explain? Nothing. If they believed in Idealism it would make no difference to anything. These are metaphysical conjectures and they have no place in the sciences. When a scientist says he is a materialist or idealist he is not doing science, he is doing metaphysics. It would make no difference to physics if materialism is true since in general it already proceeds as if it is true. This is a methodological stance and it works very well, as far as it goes. The problems only begin when scientists forget this and start thinking it’s a sensible metaphysical theory.

        If you read a thousand science fiction novels not one of them will give a solution for metaphysical problems. Even a million years into the future it will not be possible to know that materialism is true, and it will explain no more in the future than it does now.

        I cannot keep repeating that materialism it is not an explanation of anything and is self-contradictory. I can only say that I’m not aware of a philosophe who would disagree, even among those who feel they must endorse it. . No honest physicist either. I would recommend physicist Paul Davies’ ‘The Mind of God’ for a long discussion of the ‘Something-Nothing’ problem of origins. It’s very good. He doesn’t spend long on materialism since it is so well know that it makes no sense. Of course, we have every right to endorse it anyway. But we cannot claim it makes sense unless we can prove it. .

        I can understand that a person might endorse materialism on the basis that it makes as much sense as subjective Idealism, which is the equal and opposite conjecture. This may be true. But I cannot understand how anyone could think either of them make sense or explain anything. It’s like asking ones parents why one cannot have another ice-cream and being told ‘because’.

        In any case, I’m sure you can work out that it doesn’t explain anything without any help from me, since you won’t be able to explain anything with the use of it.

        Consider – The reason why Russell, Carnap, etc. dismiss metaphysics as meaningless, useless, intractable, is that Materialism does not make sense. No positive claim about the world as whole makes sense. This is the entire motivation for the rejection of metaphysics by these philosophers. Thus many philosophers go in search of more subtle solutions involving some form of idealism or compatibilism. If materialism made sense then they would leap onto it in a flash. As it is, in Bradley’s words, ‘metaphysics does not produce a positive result’. That is to say, all positive metaphysical positions are logically indefensible.

        This really is well-known, (sorry). I do not waste time giving my opinions. This is quite simply a fact.

        By contrast, Buddhist doctrine, since it is a neutral (not positive) position, explains almost everything and solves all metaphysical problems. It offers a complete solution for metaphysics (as I have shown elsewhere). There would be no need for anything ‘supernatural’. The term would be ‘supramundane’, which has a quite different meaning. No God would be necessary either.

        To be honest, if thinking a bit about the problems to which materialism gives rise, and what it would and would not explain, or reading a few philosophers on the topic, is not enough to convince you that it does not work, then it is very unlikely that anything I say will make any difference. Nothing I’m saying is new or controversial. .

        So all in all I think I should stop defending my view and ask whether you can solve any of the problems associated with materialism, one or two of which I’ve mentioned, or show that it would explain anything (or cite someone who shows it). If not, then maybe we can move on to explore pastures new.

        Too long again. I’ll try to write shorter in future.

      • guymax- you say:

        But if I were to argue against Relativity, or suggest that F does not, after all, equal MA, then no doubt I would get the same sort of response from a scientist. Sitting where I’m sitting it seems that you do not take into account much of what is well known in philosophy.

        There’s a difference here. Relativity, and F=MA, are descriptions of the world that have a great deal of experimental evidence behind them. The conclusions of philosophers about metaphysics, have, to my knowledge, not a smidgeon of experimental evidence for (or against) them. And as Andy has pointed out, there are any number of philosphers who are materialists and would not agree with you. So it doesn’t strengthen your case to continually refer to “what is well known in philosophy”.

        I’m not suggesting that materialism does not explain everything, I’m stating point blank that it explains nothing and can never do so.

        I guess it depends on what you mean by “materialism” and “explains”. For me, materialism simply means that there are no other planes of existence or supernatural beings involved in our Universe. Like atheism, it’s not a positive claim that something exists, but rather a negative claim: that no other existences are necessary to explain the world we see. I guess in that sense materialism could be said to explain nothing, just as atheism explains nothing: they are simply the simplest default positions, just as it’s simpler to suppose that gravity is an all-pervading force of nature, and that it doesn’t work by lots of little invisible gremlins pulling invisible wires.

        As you say and I’ve agreed with, materialism doesn’t explain everything. But as I’ve also said, nor does any other -ism. Idealism, theism, and Buddhism do not have any evidence that can be tested against that of science about origins or anything else. And I’m unaware of any real-world phenomena that can be more accurately predicted using anything outside of normal materialistic science. Thus, as I’ve said, they do no work and thus offer no advantage. I’ve mentioned this before, and you have yet to come up with a concrete example of how something, anything, can be better explained by defenestrating materialism.

        Nor did I say that ‘materialism’s failure to explain the origin of matter is a dilemma’. Rather, it is because it gives rise to a logical dilemma, a self-contradiction, that it fails in logic and cannot adequately explain anything. In philosophy we reject ideas that give rise to absurdities, it is the whole method.

        As I said, materialism does not give rise to a logical dilemma. Merely not being able to explain something is not a “dilemma” or a “self-contradiction”. And rejecting ideas that give rise to absurdities, while a useful tool, can lead to false ideas, because the real world has the last word on what it is, not philosophers. The split beam experiment leads to a logically absurd conclusion: that a particle can be in two places at the same time. But it happens to be true. I’ll take the world’s evidence about its character over the “logical” deductions of philosophers.

        By contrast, Buddhist doctrine, since it is a neutral (not positive) position, explains almost everything and solves all metaphysical problems.

        Give me one example, please, and show how it can be tested.

        To be honest, if thinking a bit about the problems to which materialism gives rise, and what it would and would not explain, or reading a few philosophers on the topic, is not enough to convince you that it does not work, then it is very unlikely that anything I say will make any difference.

        As I’ve said, I don’t see how materialism gives rise to any problems. You’ve mentioned the “hard problem” of consciousness, but as I’ve also said, while it is indeed a hard problem and may never be completely solved, I don’t see how it’s a “problem to which materialism gives rise”: it’s just a horribly complex physical phenomenon. How does any other -ism solve the “hard problem” other than saying “goddidit” or something equally unhelpful? And I’ll confess that I’m not really well read in philosophy. I’ve done the classics- Aristotle and Plato, and I know Kant and Goethe and Hume and Berkeley and Wittgenstein and Russell and Adorno and Nietzche pretty well, among others, along with Daniel Dennett (but he’s a materialist, so I guess he doesn’t count…). But I’m open to changing my mind if I see any good reason to do so.

        Basically, I don’t think philosophers have a great deal to offer about the way things are in the real world, unless what they say is based on the real world, and not just on constructions of words.

        cheers from cool Vienna, zilch

  14. Oh. I thought there was another objection from Andy for me to reply to but it seems not.

    I think an apology is due for the lying accusation, but I can live without it.

    • I should apologize for calling you a liar – although you demonstrably (see my earlier comment) lied at least two times in this thread?

      • Lol. That’s some apology.

        I keep asking you to tell me where (or why) you think I lied but I still don’t know so can’t add any further response. Never mind. It really doesn’t matter. I think you and I would be best leaving it.

  15. Bad timing again.

    Andy – I now see the problem. You think I am an theist. I wonder why. As to physics, I would recommend Ulrich Mohrhoff’s recent book, which gives the interpretation of QM that in implied by my metaphysical view. I would also mention that I completely agree with Erwin Schrodinger on all these matters.

    But feel free to leave it there. In the absence of any agreement as to the value of logic and reason there is no way to make progress. . .

    • I think I should apologize to both of you, Andy and Guymax.

      I want to foster nice and respectful conversations between people with different worldviews on my blog.

      I should have stepped in much earlier in order to avoid the discussion to degenerate in this way.

      Sorry about that.

      • Not at all. It was my fault entirely. I knew exactly what I was getting into, what the reaction would be, and should not have become so impatient. I can’t see what you could have done to help.

        Mind you, I may not accept another invitation to join a discussion with materialists. It is like arguing with Jehovah’s Witnesses. There is no method for settling the debate once logic is ignored.

        I’d be more than happy to leave the discussion whenever I can do so without seeming to roll over. I’m also happy to continue if @zilch wishes to do so. But @Andy and I should not argue any more.

  16. I now see the problem. You think I am an theist.

    No, I don´t. I only made the educated guess that you learned “physics” from theologians because no physicist ever said Bullshit like “To say it has always existed would be inconsistent with physics, so we must say it arises from nothing” – but christian apologists say it all the time. It doesn´t really matter though *why* you are ignorant about physics, your position is based on ignorance in any case.

  17. I thought the ‘Big Bang’ theory was quite orthodox in physics. Perhaps you have an alternative theory. Personally I struggle to see how matter could exist prior to space and time, but I’ll listen to any suggestions.

    • I thought the ‘Big Bang’ theory was quite orthodox in physics.

      It indeed is, and it says nothing whatsoever about anything “coming from nothing” – that is neither explicitly part of the theory (it is actually *explicitly* NOT part of the theory) nor implied by it.
      That´s what I mean by learning “physics” from theologians – I really do wonder where you´ve heard this BS if not from William Lane Craig or other apologists.

      Lol. That’s some apology.

      I keep asking you to tell me where (or why) you think I lied but I still don’t know so can’t add any further response.

      WTF? I documented it in detail in an earlier comment:

      Lie Nr. 1
      “I will reiterate that materialists are forced to abandon metaphysics. They have already concluded that its results are not to be trusted. They might write books about why it is not worth doing, and many do, but they can’t afford to actually do it because it does not endorse materialism.”

      => you have already been made aware of this being factually false – I have already mentioned authors who are both eminent philosophers and wrote books ABOUT metaphysics from a materialist perspective and who never said ANYTHING that even remotely resembles your accusation of ignoring metaphysics or arguing that metaphysics should not be done. So you know better and chose to deliberately repeat a falsehood. Furthermore, I doubt that you actually are aware of ANY materialist philosopher who EVER wrote anything that boils down to “metaphysics cannot be trusted and we should stop thinking about it” – so I´ll call you a liar on that as well until you provide a quote from a materialist philosopher that proves your accusation.

      Lie nr.2:

      “As for my credentials, I shouldn’t have brought the issue up. They don’t matter. I’ll just say that I was referring to published articles, not posts on my blog. .”

      => This is a lie because you earlier said “You have the honour, at least, of being the first person to object to my writings, either among my REFEREES, EDITORS” (my emphasis). I objected to writings which are related to the current subject (i.e. – they fall into the realm of philosophy), you state, crystal clear, that at least some of your writings had referees and / or editors – which means that you either have peer-reviewed philosophy papers that are relevant to the discussion, or you published at least one philosophy book with an academic publisher, neither of that seems to be the case – so you were lying to give the false impression of being a published philosopher although you only write for your personal blog which is neither reviewed nor edited.

      • Sorry, I missed your mention of other philosophers. Can’t find it now either. So I se no reason to change what I said.

        I’m baffled as to why you think I haven’t been published when I clearly stated said that I have, but no matter. We must agree to differ about all this.

        • I’m baffled as to why you think I haven’t been published when I clearly stated said that I have

          Where are those peer-reviewed papers that you have been referring to when you said “You have the honour, at least, of being the first person to object to my writings, either among MY REFEREES, EDITORS [my emphasis] or other readers.” ?
          Show those peer-reviewed papers and I apologize for calling you a liar, if you indeed did lie about this however, and this seems to be the case, then you will obviously be unable to produce those papers because they don´t exist – and I was completely right about calling you a liar.

      • Scott – You write

        “Basically, I don’t think philosophers have a great deal to offer about the way things are in the real world, unless what they say is based on the real world, and not just on constructions of words.”

        Your post is a good demonstration of the way that philosophy must be and always is discarded for materialism. As I have nothing else but logic to use for an argument I can have no reply. We can take philosophy seriously or we can endorse materialism, but we can’t do both.

        So far I have not seen one argument supporting the idea that materialism is either true or has any explanatory power, nor any attempt to defend it on logical grounds. So why, I wonder, if philosophy is useless, would anyone adopt a philosophical view for which there can be no scientific evidence. How would one go about showing it is any better than any other philosophical view if, as you say, this cannot be done in science or philosophy?

        How does one choose between Materialism and Idealism, and on what grounds, when you believe there are no grounds for choosing?

      • I’m hoping this reply will appear in the right place.

        I’m going to call it a day. There is no point in a philosopher arguing with folk who believe that philosophy is useless. There’s no way to make progress if we’re not allowed to use the dialectic as a means of making decisions. .

        Thanks to everyone for the argument. I always learn a lot from disagreements. I’ll reply politely if I’m asked, but I’ll argue no more.

  18. Andy – You have a difficult attitude and I don’t know how to deal with it. At any rate I have no intention of justifying myself by posting spam. If you’re interested you’ll be able to find the evidence. If you can’t , well, I don’t mind if you think I’, a liar, since you already think I’m an idiot. Why don’t we just leave it? .

  19. guymax a few days ago: “You have the honour, at least, of being the first person to object to MY WRITINGS, either among MY REFEREES, EDITORS [my emphasis] or other readers.”
    guymax now after being asked for simple links to his alleged peer-reviewed publications: “You have a difficult attitude and I don’t know how to deal with it. At any rate I have no intention of justifying myself by posting spam.”

    So you call your own peer-reviewed philosophy publications (which according to your own words must be relevant to the discussion here – see the above quote) “spam”? 😀
    Dude, man up – you can´t weasel yourself out of this.

    • Oh hell. On my bog is an essay ‘From Metaphysics to Mysticism’, which was judged rigorous by an academic panel and for which I was awarded a Fellowship of the International Society for Philosophers. This is not nearly as grand as it sounds, and I would rather not have mentioned it, but it’s something. You shouldn’t have trouble finding a couple of published articles linked to this.

      That’s it. I will not reply to you again because it would be pointless. You have nothing to say about the topic, and just attacking me on personal grounds is no substitute for a reasoned argument. .

      • I ruined the blockquote in the last comment, hope that works:

        Oh hell. On my bog is an essay ‘From Metaphysics to Mysticism’, which was judged rigorous by an academic panel and for which I was awarded a Fellowship of the International Society for Philosophers. This is not nearly as grand as it sounds, and I would rather not have mentioned it

        Indeed, if you say something like “You have the honour, at least, of being the first person to object to my writings, either among my referees, editors or other readers.” – you are implying that you have published papers in peer-reviewed journals and / or written academic books, not this:

        Here you will find information about the Associate and Fellowship programs leading to awards from the International Society for Philosophers.
        The Pathways and International Society programs seem in many ways ideally suited to one another, with Pathways offering the option of a structured program in philosophy for those who need it, while the Associate and Fellowship offer the freedom to pursue your philosophical inquiries in whichever direction your interests take you. The result is a philosophy distance learning program of great flexibility, that can be as challenging as you choose to make it.
        The Associate and Fellowship programs present an ideal opportunity for any aspiring philosopher to hone his or her essay and paper writing skills. Each essay you submit receives detailed and constructive feedback which is appreciate of what you have accomplished, but also pulls no punches in explaining where further improvement is needed in order to achieve the standard required.

        You shouldn’t have trouble finding a couple of published articles linked to this.

        Exactly 0 according to scopus or google scholar – I guess by “linked to publushed articles” you mean “somebody mentioned it on his/her blog”.

        You have nothing to say about the topic, and just attacking me on personal grounds is no substitute for a reasoned argument.

        Asking someone to put up or shut up is not a personal attack. Btw, mere assertions are no substitute for a reasoned argument either.

  20. Oh hell. On my bog is an essay ‘From Metaphysics to Mysticism’, which was judged rigorous by an academic panel and for which I was awarded a Fellowship of the International Society for Philosophers. This is not nearly as grand as it sounds, and I would rather not have mentioned it

    Indeed, if you say something like “You have the honour, at least, of being the first person to object to my writings, either among my referees, editors or other readers.” – you are implying that you have published papers in peer-reviewed journals and / or written academic books, not this:

    http://www.philosophypathways.com/programs/soc.html

    You shouldn’t have trouble finding a couple of published articles linked to this.

    Exactly 0 according to scopus or google scholar – I guess by “linked to publushed articles” you mean “somebody mentioned it on his/her blog”.

    You have nothing to say about the topic, and just attacking me on personal grounds is no substitute for a reasoned argument.

    Asking someone to put up or shut up is not a personal attack. Btw, mere assertions are no substitute for a reasoned argument either.

    • Wow, I am way out my depths here. I seem to be talking to crazy people.

      I find the method of discussion here disgusting dishonest and utterly pointless. It confirms my views that ,materialists have no argument to make. I am going far away from away this nonsense. You guys are free to believe what you like about me and materialism.

      In summary, yes, materialism inevitably requires eliminativism. It requires that we eliminate consciousness and along with it all common sense.

      • In summary, yes, materialism inevitably requires eliminativism. It requires that we eliminate consciousness and along with it all common sense.

        If that’s true, I don’t want to be a materialist- I enjoy my consciousness and common sense. Unfortunately, guymax, you’ve given us no reason whatsoever to believe your claim, unless you count asserting repeatedly that its “simply a fact” and moreover one “well known to philosophers”.

        This reminds me- and it is perhaps not unrelated to- the argument I constantly get from Calvinists, namely that if an atheist is intellectually honest then he or she must be a nihilist: nothing can matter if we don’t get eternal life. Since life can have no purpose for us, then we should want to commit suicide, if we don’t borrow from theism. In a similar way, you seem to be arguing that matter doesn’t matter if it’s not based on some unspecified kind of unmatter or ideal. Feet rebounding from rocks are not really real to you.

        But that’s okay. I’ve had fun chatting, regardless of creds or lack of such. Happy New Year from Vienna, zilch

      • @ guymax

        “I find the method of discussion here disgusting dishonest and utterly pointless.”

        i find that your words here tend to dishonour lotharson’s efforts to engage dialogue and discussion of oftentimes dissenting views.

        i’ll admit that your understandings appear to be interesting, and i waited for you to give us some kind of insight into how “Buddhist doctrine, since it is a neutral (not positive) position, explains almost everything and solves all metaphysical problems.”

        you maintain over and over that materialism is invalid, and that this is obvious, and that you have no need to demonstrate this because it is obvious. well, it does not appear obvious to me, and i’d be delighted to be schooled on how it is obvious.

      • Wow, I am way out my depths here. I seem to be talking to crazy people.

        I find the method of discussion here disgusting dishonest and utterly pointless.

        Gotta agree with xon-xoff here. These harsh words are more than uncalled for particularly because you seem to find *my* attitude irritating – this is not my blog however and I speak for no one but myself.
        I have not exactly been very kind to you in my last comments, which was, at least IMO not completely uncalled for given your attitude (and trust me, I find your attitude at least as irritating as you find mine) – but zilch for example has been nothing but respectful in his replies to you.

        It confirms my views that ,materialists have no argument to make.

        In summary, yes, materialism inevitably requires eliminativism. It requires that we eliminate consciousness and along with it all common sense.

        Yet more mere assertions, as if we hadn´t seen enough of those already.
        And we have already seen what to make of your “common sense” – your “common sense” understanding of big bang cosmology boils down to “there was absolutely nothing and this nothing exploded to create everything”, which is about as “accurate” and reflects as much understanding as summarizing general relativity as “everything is like totally relative and stuff”.
        This is the problem with scientifically uninformed armchair philosophy – you start with false premises, thus fail to grasp the *actual* philosophical problems that arise and create pseudo-dilemmas based on your preconceived ideas that have little if anything to do with reality.

  21. Okay. I’ll give it another go. I apologise unreservedly for any trouble I’ve caused and for being unfair in some of my comments. I lost my temper there once or twice, which is ridiculous and childish.

    The thing is, see it from my point of view. I have posted a number of reasonable objections to materialism here, and I spent most of an hour recently writing a post to zilch explaining my pov. It was totally ignored. Not once, in all this discussion, has anyone engaged with these objections. This means that all I can do is keep making them, and this is mightily tedious for all of us.

    I am writing an essay on the issues which I’ll post fairly soon. In the meantime let’s chat. But I am not going to repeat what I’ve said already. I’ll answer questions if they’re going to move things on.

    I find it difficult to talk to you, Andy, because you do not read my posts. This is clear from the way you assume I support ex nihilo creation, when in fact I have said a number of times that it is nonsensical. You assume I know nothing about physics, while I have recommended Paul Davies and Erwin Schrodinger as being excellent on these topics, and while I am a huge fan of Ulrich Mohrhoff’s recent book on QM. (Check his blog for my review of it). I am a very scientifically-minded person, and have a firm belief in the value of the scientific method. The idea that we are discussing science here is, however, a mistake in my opinion. Science has nothing to say about materialism.

    My main problem here is with the rejection of philosophy. Once we reject logic then I can have nothing to say. I might as well go away if we are going to ignore the conclusions of thousands of philosophers by saying they are not ‘scientific’. Of course they aren’t. We cannot test materialism by poking matter with a stick. It is not important that an argument is scientific, even though it is vital that it would not contradict science. .

    The scientific method would usually involve rejecting unsatisfactory theories, and would most definitely not involve making scientifically untestable metaphysical conjectures. Materialism is not a scientific theory, and if we cannot agree on this then there seems to be nowhere to go.

    Most of all the problem for me is that all the effort seems to be going into attacking my view rather than defending materialism. It doesn’t; actually matter what my view is. It makes no difference to whether materialism stands up to analysis.

    Maybe I should lay to rest the idea that I am arguing for theism or against science. In my view, just so you know, all theories that contradict reason should be abandoned. This would include materialism, subjective idealism and objective theism. I would endorse objective idealism, nondualism, theism of the kind endorsed by the Sufis, and the doctrine of dependent origination, for which neither mind nor matter would be fundamental. This view does not give rise to intractable philosophical problems and it is perfectly consistent with physics. Indeed, Mohrhoff shows that it offers us a sensible interpretation of QM, and it would also solve the hard problem of consciousness. Maybe I have more faith in human reason than some.

    As to my unfortunate comment about publications. I have not published much, and only in unknown places, (my article for JCS was turned down for being unclear), but it did involve editors and referees, and none found anything I said unrigorous or obviously incorrect. This is not important. I am not appealing to any authority. I mentioned it in desperation at the way it was being assumed in certain quarters that I must be an idiot with no expertise just banging on about my opinions.

    One more important thing. I have very little respect for academic philosophy at this time. So please don’t see the utter confusion in academia as anything to do with me. I would agree with anyone who believes that this approach to philosophy is useless. But this does not mean that philosophy is useless. .

    Over to you then. I don’t have much idea how to move this on, but I’m up for trying.

    • guymax- you say:

      I have posted a number of reasonable objections to materialism here, and I spent most of an hour recently writing a post to zilch explaining my pov. It was totally ignored. Not once, in all this discussion, has anyone engaged with these objections.

      Totally ignored? With all due respect: are you reading my posts at all? I’ve tried to explain numerous times why I don’t find your objections to materialism to be pertinent, and Andy has done so as well. To repeat (for the nth time): the fact that materialism cannot explain consciousness or the origin of the Universe fully is a lack of knowledge, not a metaphysical quandary. And although I’ve asked several times for an example of how some other -ism can explain either consciousness or origins in such a way that it enables us to predict better than science what we see, you’ve yet to answer.

      My main problem here is with the rejection of philosophy. Once we reject logic then I can have nothing to say. I might as well go away if we are going to ignore the conclusions of thousands of philosophers by saying they are not ‘scientific’. Of course they aren’t.

      If they’re not scientific, then why consider them at all? Or rather, why consider them as anything other than elegant pastimes, like composing music or sonnets? Logic uninformed by the real world will not tell you anything binding on the real world.

      We cannot test materialism by poking matter with a stick. It is not important that an argument is scientific, even though it is vital that it would not contradict science.

      Again- what’s the point of arguing, if the argument is not testable? Materialism doesn’t contradict physics, and it’s simpler than any other -ism, since it must be embodied in any other -ism as a subclass of being. After all, it’s just one realm and just one set of rules- no extraneous planes or beings required. As I said, it’s simply the occamrazored position.

      The scientific method would usually involve rejecting unsatisfactory theories, and would most definitely not involve making scientifically untestable metaphysical conjectures. Materialism is not a scientific theory, and if we cannot agree on this then there seems to be nowhere to go.

      Again- unsatisfactory in what sense? If not explaining consciousness, or, say, how people will vote in the 2024 Presidential election, is “unsatisfactory”, then I daresay Buddhism is also unsatisfactory. Materialism, in the sense of the gnostic claim that it’s proven there is nothing beyond matter and energy, is metaphysical and untestable. But as I’ve said, it’s the simplest default position. Show me what advantage some other -ism has.

      cheers from foggy Vienna, zilch

    • @ guymax

      no worries on the somewhat inflammatory post earlier. as lotharson pointed out in another thread, which may apply here, we sometimes want to be right and the other wrong, rather than, as i believe is better, we try to learn and share.

      very sporting of you to come back to discuss.

      ok, so moving this on then: let me say that when you make sweeping assertions:

      – It was totally ignored.
      – Not once, in all this discussion, has anyone engaged with these objections.
      – and this is mightily tedious for all of us.
      – Science has nothing to say about materialism.
      – Once we reject logic then I can have nothing to say.
      – I would endorse objective idealism, nondualism, theism of the kind endorsed by the Sufis, and the doctrine of dependent origination, for which neither mind nor matter would be fundamental.

      they sort of sound dismissive. and by this i mean that you state them ‘matter-of-factly,’ that we should all accept them as is because you asserted them. perhaps, maybe, some of us may not take these assertions to be as you intend. perhaps we are not as informed as much as you are. i know i’m not.

      zilch did address your objections to materialism, and Andy did ask you to give us some beef to bolster your claims. me, i’m eager to read how Buddhism answers all the metaphysical conundrums.

      cheers

      happy new year!

      • Thanks for the peace-making xon-xoff. Those comments were supposed to be factual, not dismissive.

        I’ll make two points here. Pardon me if I’m teaching my grandmother to suck eggs.

        Metaphysics is a process of abduction, defined by Peirce as inference to the best explanation. It is a process of elimination, where we falsify ideas by showing that they would give rise to contradictions. The process is dialectical, as described by Aristotle. It involves refuting theories. Metaphysics cannot prove what is true about Reality, it can only refute propositions. So, if someone proposes ‘Materialism is true’, the task is to refute it. There is no responsibility to put anything in its place.(although, of course, we would want to do so). That is to say, the plausibility of materialism does not depend on whether we can think of a better idea. The question is only whether it can be refuted.

        You say above – “Materialism, in the sense of the gnostic claim that it’s proven there is nothing beyond matter and energy, is metaphysical and untestable. But as I’ve said, it’s the simplest default position. Show me what advantage some other -ism has.”

        The gnostic claim is most definitely not that there is nothing beyond matter and energy. This is the claim made by materialism and it is vehemently denied by the perennial philosophy. Also, the gnostic claim is not untestable. It is untestable in physics. The gnostic claim is that ALL gnostic claims are testable. Otherwise they would not be gnostic claims. .

        As for the advantages of other ‘isms’, I do not think this is important, since it would have no bearing on the plausibility of materialism. We cannot divert objections to one theory by examining the strengths of a different theory. However, as it happens, I have just been sent a link to an article which may give you a better idea of where I’m coming from. I’m not going to say much more here because I’ve already written my views down at length elsewhere.

        http://www.holosforum.org/v2n2/mcfarlane.html

        It may seem to you that zilch addressed my objections to materialism, but I must have missed it. He dismisses logic as inconclusive and so has no need to address objections from logic. If we say that metaphysics is not to be trusted then no objection from metaphysics is possible. So there’s not much point in me making one.

        Nobody has yet answered the objection that materialism is paradoxical, forcing us to adopt ex nihilo creation or an infinite regression of substances. This is the most common objection since it such an obvious one. The only defence offered so far has been that philosophy can be ignored in such cases. Or, this is the only one I’ve spotted.

        My interest here is in refuting materialism, not in evangelicising for some other view. If you’d prefer to move on to examine the alternatives then so would I, but I would have to refer you to other places since it is a huge topic and cannot be dealt with here, where it would off-topic anyway.

        And a happy new year to you also.

  22. Ah well. Clearly I come from a different planet. Again you say that metaphysics must be ignored, which leaves me no place to go. You do not even concede that materialism cannot explain the origin of matter or consciousness in principle, and call it merely a lack of knowledge. Still, at least we’ve cleared the air a little. .

  23. Xon-xoff – Sorry, I see now that I misread your point about gnostic claims, so my reply to that particular point is irrelevant to anything. Completely my fault.
    .

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