Should a materialist be an eliminativist?

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

Bild

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).

 

Do extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence?

Deutsche Version: Erfordern außergewöhnliche Behauptungen außergewöhnliche Beweise?

https://lotharlorraine.files.wordpress.com/2013/09/4e4f9-1797-dog-walking-on-water.jpg

Answering such a question proves much more difficult than many people like to think.

The famous Skeptic of parapsychology Richard Wiseman from Britain was once asked why he rejected Extrasensory Perceptions (ESP) and specifically remote viewing. His answer was very revealing:

“I agree that by the standards of any other area of science that remote viewing is proven, but begs the question: do we need higher standards of evidence when we study the paranormal? I think we do.

“If I said that there is a red car outside my house, you would probably believe me.

“But if I said that a UFO had just landed, you’d probably want a lot more evidence.

“Because remote viewing is such an outlandish claim that will revolutionize the world, we need overwhelming evidence before we draw any conclusions. Right now we don’t have that evidence.”

Such an approach to anomalous phenomena is often backed up by the legendary Bayes’ theorem, according to which one can actualize the likelihood of the truth of a theory by incorporating the information conveyed by new facts.

I’m going to keep a critical examination of the related philosophy Bayesianism to future conversations.

In the second book of the Narnia series “The King Of Narnia“, the famous writer C.S. Lewis completely rejected this method. The young Lucy came into Narnia, a parallel world, after having hidden within a wardrobe. Back in the house, she ran to her siblings who utterly denied the reality of her experience.

Worried that their small sister kept holding fast on the truth of her incredible story, they searched Professor Kirke who rebuked them for not trusting Lucy. After they retorted that her claim was extraordinary, he replied:

“Logic!” said the Professor half to himself. “Why don’t they teach logic at these schools? There are only three possibilities. Either your sister is telling lies, or she is mad, or she is telling the truth. You know she doesn’t tell lies and it is obvious that she is not mad. For the moment then and unless any further evidence turns up, we must assume that she is telling the truth.”

That is to say, for the old wise professor, normal evidence was sufficient for vindicating the wild claim of the little girl.

At this point, I am kind of confused about both principles.

On the one hand, it is clear one should always take our background knowledge into account before evaluating a new hypothesis or theory.

On the other hand, if a set of facts is sufficient to prove an ordinary claim, I don’t see why a similar set of facts should fail to prove an extraordinary conclusion.

Let us now see some concrete examples of well-known phenomena which were rejected in the past due to their alleged extraordinariness. Saying in hindsight they weren’t extraordinary after all would be all too easy for this was the way they were perceived by scientists at that time.

The existence of meteorites was once thought to be an outlandish claim and the normal evidence was explained away in terms of purely terrestrial phenomena or witness hallucinations.

In 1923 the German geologist Alfred Wegener found normal evidence for continental drift, but failing to present a mechanism which worked, his theory was ignored and even ridiculed during decades.

The same thing could be said about ball lightnings which were often dismissed as stemming from illusions or hallucinations experienced by the witnesses.

http://csironewsblog.files.wordpress.com/2012/10/balllightning_joethomissen.jpg

Nowadays a similar phenomenon can be observed for the small proportion of flying objects which are truly unidentified.

If extraordinary claims demands extraordinary evidence, then UFOs (in the present) does not and continental drift, meteorites and ball lightnings did not (in the past) exist.

But if one only seeks for normal evidence, a strong case can be made that some UFOs (according to the original definition as “unidentified”) really exist. I am going to explain this in future posts.

We will also explore together the possibility that there really exists normal evidence for the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

 

 

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On the burden of proof of the atheist

Deutsche Version: von der Beweislast des Atheisten

Beweislast

Paul Copan has written a great article several years ago showing that both theists and atheists have a burden of proof regarding the truth of their claims:

http://enrichmentjournal.ag.org/201303/201303_026_Athiests.cfm

I’ve give additional reasons to think so on my blog under the category “Parsimony”
. https://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/category/parsimony/

If you’re discussing with an atheist friend, don’t forget that aspect.

 

 

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Salvation by love

Deutsche Version.      

       Salvation by love

NDE

The foundation of my theology is that God has to be perfect in order for Him to be God, that He has to be far better than the holiest person on earth.
While looking at all religions, it seems likely to me that God’s revelation to man was the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth who taught us to even love our worst enemies.
Whilst all Christians have always believed that God’s grace is necessary for salvation, Roman Catholics believe that additional good works are necessary, as written in the book of James, whilst Protestants largely ignore the book of James and focus on Paul who allegedly taught one is saved by pure grace.
Among Protestants, Arminians teach that one must make the free choice to accept this grace whereas Calvinist teach that God forces some people to accept His grace whereas the others are still heading to hell.
My own thoughts based on the perfection of God have led me to the following reasoning:

1) God wants every human to enjoy an everlasting relationship with him
2) Humans commit many sins which are hurting God and which He cannot merely forget
3) Thus, God is going to ultimately forgive every sin to everyone for it is Love which defines His being
4) God will propose to everybody to spend eternity with Him

Does that mean that everyone will be in Heaven? Probably not, because at least some humans, like many Pharisees described in the Gospels, are going to reject the God revealed in Jesus of Nazareth.
And God will respect their free will. And if there is absolutely no hope of redemption for them, they will eventually cease to exist.

I personally know that I will be in Heaven because God loves me, I love Him and His love is far greater than all my transgressions. And I have the genuine desire to get closer to this ultimate Love by following Jesus Christ who defeated death and sin at the cross and the empty tomb.

Wüstenland
Wüstenland

 

 

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On the Sinfulness of Homosexuality

Deutsche Version: Von der Sündigkeit der Homosexualität.

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I have a very simple reasoning on that topic.

  1. God did not make man for the law but the law for man
  2. hence there is no arbitrary command
  1. a committed lifelong homosexual relationship is neither harmful for the individual nor for society
  2. homosexuals who have to constantly repress their basic sexual feelings and regard them as sinful are suffering a horrific ordeal
  3. thus, lifelong gay marriage should be recognized by the Church as something not evil but normal


Of course, one of the implication might be to give up Biblical inerrancy.

But if someone disagrees with the conclusion, I’d be happy to know where he or she thinks I’m wrong.

 

 

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The Greatness of the Apostle Paul

Deutsche Version: die Größe des Apostels Paulus.

Medieval picture of the Apostle Paul represented with brown hairs and a beard.
The apostle Paul, preacher of the Good News to the Heathens.

Among people critical of Christianity, the apostle Paul has a pretty bad press. Whilst quite a few of them recognize that Jesus had an exceptionally high ethic (at least for his time), Paul is generally regarded as a villain having sort of corrupted the message of his master. 

While I certainly think that Paul had several culturally conditioned false beliefs (about women and homosexuals for instance), I do believe he was a man full of an incredible love and altruism.

There is no better place than the beginning of Roman 9 to notice that:

 

I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it through the Holy Spirit— I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, the people of Israel. „

 

For the sake of his fellows Jews, Paul was ready to lay down his life not only in this world but also forever. To realize the extent of his altruistic love, just ask yourself what it would feel like for you to give up eternal life for the benefits of other people.

 

But this passage is also very challenging for our understanding of the atonement of Christ. For the sacrifice Paul intended seems much greater than the ordeal Jesus was willing to undergo before being raised from the dead.

 

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Design Detection and Endless Space

Deutsche Version: Designdetektierung und endloser Raum

Design Detection and Endless Space

Intelligent Design is a controversial theory methodology aiming at identifying features of the universe bearing marks of an agency.  According to Bill Dembski and his fellow design theorists, two conditions must be present before detecting design:

a)      Complexity

b)      Specificity

Complexity is never enough for identifying a designed system: a heap of rocks randomly arranged near a mountain can have an extremely complex shape, yet it is a fully natural feature of nature.

ComplexRock

Specificity alone is also not sufficient:  if I randomly select four letters among four hundreds and find the word “h-a-n-d” on my palm, the information is specific, but not complex enough for being the product of design.

But if I choose out forty letters and read “The son of Lothar is of divine origin”, I have good grounds for supposing it is either true, or that someone is playing a trick on me.

For establishing the validity of criterion a),  IDists  try to prove there is no way such a structure could have emerged by chance in our universe.  One obvious problem concerns the well-known ability of natural selection to give birth to extremely complex systems displaying elegant functions.

Here, I shall shove this difficulty aside and take the infinity of the universe into consideration. According to numerous models of the multiverse or the Big Crunch, many cosmologists think there are no boundaries to the space we live in.

And if this is so, each event physically possible is going to happen somewhere due to Chaos Theory and the law of the great numbers.

Frightening examples are the famous Boltzmann’s brains, which are brains which pop into existence without having first evolved.

BoltBraINS

Even if the mechanism of natural selection were very weak, as extreme proponents of Intelligent Design assert, the most complex biological structures they worship would irremediably come into being within an infinite Cosmos, without any help from an intelligent designer.

 

 

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