2/22/2008

YOUR HOST: Onward, With A Caveat

Stan, in a prior post, looks at the recursive nature of human thought ('we think about thinking about thinking,' ad infinitum...) as suggestive of the poverty of a strict materialism. Hey, I'll buy that, but I'm not sure it proves what he thinks it proves.

Before I go on, though, I should point out it's been nearly two weeks since this last post and I have to apologize for my silence. In my defense, I preached at my church the previous weekend and had a test in my Wednesday night class this week, so this has been an exceptionally busy last week. Going on....

Anyway, Stan writes:

Since thoughts and speech are predetermined, they are not reflective of any personal volition of the owner. As such, the events have no meaning, either to the owner or the listener, and the results of such thought and speech events should also have no meaning.

I'm just not sure that follows. One could reject a strict materialism (as most philosophers, even atheist ones, do) without necessarily concluding that naturalism was false. Many people recognize that there all sorts of emergent properties which do not lend themselves to a reductive explanation, since knowing what atoms are made of or how they tend to bond does not in itself predict anything about complex phenomena which are produced by an interaction between other complex objects. Living things exhibit apparent design, as in the neural networks that manifest recursive thought, but the engineering metaphor breaks down. A good source to read on this would be John Holland.

Anyway, for the sake of discussion, let's go forward from this point, Stan, as long as you understand that I don't think you've ruled out naturalism with this move.

20 comments:

Anonymous said...

hey scott,
This is Loren from Calladus. you can email me at loren at newcov. I would enjoy meeting sometime.

Yours,
Loren

Stan said...

Scott, this seems like a good time to recalibrate with some definitions, specifically of Materialism and Naturalism. (Capitalized as a recognition of their philosophical qualities). This could take some time, because I have found a great many different takes on what each means.

Since the presence of reductio- type thinking is prevalent in each of these, it seems to me that the terms can easily be considered equivalent, and I have done so in the past.

However, you indicate that there is a difference, including partials or shades of meaning, at least in Naturalism, so we need to clear up with as much precision as possible that of which these shades consists. I will get the definitions of my resources in the next day or so, and maybe we can proceed from there.

A cautionary note, though, there are many published meanings, and once we agree to a certain one, it might be tempting to slide into another meaning to make a point. We will need to keep each other locked on the same meaning here, I think. With that caveat, I am looking forward to this phase of the conversation.

Scott Hatfield . . . . said...

Actually, Stan, I don't feel the need to go into all that. I'm perfectly willing for the sake of discussion for you to continue. I just wanted to make sure you were clear that one could be a naturalist without being a materialist and (of course) that methodological naturalism implies no metaphysical commitments, materialist or otherwise.

Anonymous said...

Scott,
Just popped over from Vox Day's wacky blog. I had expected you to be a fellow atheist. Hmmm, guess I miscalculated. I was quite impressed with you dealings with Larry, and left a rather crude comment. Perhaps you can explain your reasons for not being a materialist or why you're a Christian for that "matter," ahem. Sorry for coming in mid-discussion.

[Beelzebub]

Scott Hatfield . . . . said...

Welcome, Beelzebub!

If you click on the 'Stan-Ding Discussion' tab at the front of my blog, you'll see that Stan and I have been talking for a while. Stan has an agenda, which is to develop a case for his views, which he also expounds on his web site. Stan apparently feels that he has a line of reasoning that, independent of religious experience, led him to reevaluate atheism. I've got no dog in that fight, since in all frankness I'm skeptical that one can reason their way to faith. However, there's no harm in listening to each other, and so we're having this exchange.

As for my views, you can look at the posts labeled 'Behind The Curtain'. In a nutshell, simple materialism seems difficult to justify given that there are emergent phenomena which are real, but which are not predicable from material causes, as in the mental 'flip' experienced when staring at a Necker Cube. Whereas, the broader position that only the natural exists seems more difficult to doubt, as it keeps open the possibility that such phenomena have a natural explanation which does not rely upon material causes.

Stan said...

I was about to leave some definitions and discussions on the meaning and scope of materialism and naturalism, when I came across the last comment by Scott.

I think Scott defines materialism in the conventional manner, wherein if all material is removed from the universe, nothing is left.

And Naturalism as including mental states and other "emergent" but so far unexplained phenomena.

Scott, these are good for me, I can go ahead on this basis.

One slight amendment though. I have not yet reasoned a path into faith. What reasoning produces is a consistent and coherent set of refutations of Atheism, such as the primary condition of Atheism being non-falsifiable, and therefore both non-empirical and metaphysical (if you grant credibility to Popper). The condition is also non-verifiable (can't prove a negative), and is therefore an article of faith.

Moving on, I will give the definitions in the next comment block.

Stan said...

Scott, I have copied (below) several dictionary definitions of both naturalism and materialism, obtained from web searches. I have previously researched and written articles that are available on the atheism-analyzed blog at the following location:

http://atheism-analyzed.blogspot.com/search/label/naturalism

These articles contain more detail obtained from proponents of both of these philosophies, along with some critical analysis.


From The Online Dictionaries:

nat·u·ral·ism n.
3. Philosophy The system of thought holding that all phenomena can be explained in terms of natural causes and laws.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2003. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.




nat·u·ral·ism noun
2: a theory denying that an event or object has a supernatural significance; specifically : the doctrine that scientific laws are adequate to account for all phenomena

Merriam Webster’s Online Dictionary



naturalism
Belief that all objects, events, and and values can be wholly explained in terms of factual and/or causal claims about the world, without reference to supernatural powers or authority.

http://www.philosophypages.com/dy/n.htm




ma·te·ri·al·ism
1 a: a theory that physical matter is the only or fundamental reality and that all being and processes and phenomena can be explained as manifestations or results of matter

Merriam Webster’s Online Dictionary




ma·te·ri·al·ism
Philosophy. The theory that physical matter is the only reality and that everything, including thought, feeling, mind, and will, can be explained in terms of matter and physical phenomena.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2003. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.



ma·te·ri·al·ism
2. theory of physical: the philosophical theory that physical matter is the only reality and that psychological states such as emotions, reason, thought, and desire will eventually be explained as physical functions

http://encarta.msn.com/dictionary_/materialism.html



As you can see, the dictionaries show little to positively distinguish between naturalism and materialism. If you have a specific meaning in mind, let’s discuss how it fits into all this.

Stan

Stan Stephens said...

Scott said,
"Whereas, the broader position that only the natural exists seems more difficult to doubt, as it keeps open the possibility that such phenomena have a natural explanation which does not rely upon material causes."

It seems to me that defining "everything that exists" to be "natural" is creating a tautology, i.e. a definition which cannot be refuted.

Under this definition, God, heaven, angels, Satan etc, if they are assumed to exist, are then "natural" by definition. This does away with the concept of "supernatural", since if something exists, it is defined as natural.

So by using the "everything that exists" position, all discussion ceases under the naturalism heading.

So the discussion is forced back into the more flexible "materialism" realm once again, since God - defined as natural - is not material.

Stan said...

Scott said
"I just wanted to make sure you were clear that one could be a naturalist without being a materialist and (of course) that methodological naturalism implies no metaphysical commitments, materialist or otherwise."

and, refering to deterministic sentences,

"I'm just not sure that follows."

I don't want to proceed from a position of doubt. Skepticism makes a poor foundation for any conclusive thought process, and until it is resolved - if it can be - it will return to cast doubt on future thoughts. And if it can't be resolved, then the thought process halts at this disjuncture.

So, it seems necessary to request the standard evidence for/against the position being presented, specifically a) what evidence would be required to verify the position, and b) what evidence would be required to falsify the position.

In this case, determinism, we are still in the realm of methodological naturalism, so the evidence would most likely start with empirical case evidence. If it progresses from there, then we need to agree on what non-empirical evidence is considered viable.

For example, paleo-biology is a "natural history", endeavor, which includes single pieces of empirical evidence, tied to other pieces with "likelihood" non-empirical speculations.

For now, Scott, what sort of specific evidence is viable to verify or falsify either metaphysical naturalism or determinism?

Scott Hatfield . . . . said...

Wow. You've given me a lot to digest here in the comments. For now, I'll just reply to this:

"..Scott, what sort of specific evidence is viable to verify or falsify either metaphysical naturalism or determinism?

My reflex response is 'none'. That's why neither is a scientific position per se, though I am sure a non-believer would be quick to point out that they tend to dove-tail with science as practiced more than, say, the invocation of miracles.

Anonymous said...

[Beelz said...]
Sorry, for now I'm going to have to be Anon. I've had a hard time getting my Google/Blogger id to work here.

You said:
"In a nutshell, simple materialism seems difficult to justify given that there are emergent phenomena which are real, but which are not predicable from material causes, as in the mental 'flip' experienced when staring at a Necker Cube."

Well, those results are no doubt dependent upon extremely complex processes, but there's no reason to think they're any less material than burned toast.

For example, the Mandelbrot Set is governed by nonlinear and completely unpredictable recursions, but it is ultimately comprehensible. The Necker Cube phenomenon will probably be fully explained in due time as a simple discontinuity of perception. "Emergent" neither means nondeterministic nor non-material. In the material world, they're much like serial access in computer science, as opposed to random access. In other words, you never go directly to a result, the result emerges. OR, in yet other words, "The Journey is the Reward."

In my opinion there are two domains where the supernatural has any chance of being detected: 1. The ultimate nature of consciousness. 2. Quantum mechanics. Both are extremely forbidding topics. Not sure if you’ve read any Roger Penrose “The Emperor’s New Mind,” etc. His idea is that 1 and 2 may be intimately related.

Gota go; be back. Great blog.

[Beelz]

Stan said...

Beelz,
There are several disconnects in your comment.

First, mathematics, such as the Mandelbrot Set, or any mathematical concept, is not material. A plot or graph of a mathematical concept is material; the concept is not. Even basic numbers, such as "two", are not material, they are human constructs. When we see two dogs, what we actually see is an instance of a dog; another instance of a dog. There is no additional material being observed that we call "two" material.

Also, the internal act of perception is not material as implied; while the brain is material, brain states are not. A proposition designating experiential brain states as material is not verifiable, except by the raw faith that it must be so, under the declaration of a worldview. And, what criteria would have to be proved in order to falsify that proposition? If none, then it is mataphysical.

Example: In computing electronics, "state machines" are used to decode binary logic inputs. Embedded in the state machine are logic relationships (equations) used for decoding the inputs and producing an output based on the transitory inputs and the decoding fixed equations (formed into a truth table). The output signal is a transitory state.

When the power is removed from the state machine, the output disappears and cannot be discerned by examining the remaining material objects. The states are not material and leave no material trace behind.

So it is with the brain; when the power is removed from the brain, the states vanish, leaving no material behind that betrays their existence, much less their final states. Brain states are not material, and brain activities are not material. So perception, introspection, creative abstraction, cognition, and consciousness are not material.
This could be falsified by finding "state material" after death. Dennett has even proposed that such material is a new kind, not recognizable to the standard periodic table. This proposition is not falsifiable and is a metaphysical wish, which would support his chosen worldview.

The opposite of serial access is not random access, it is parallel access. Random access memory is a misnomer from early magnetic toroid memory days; the term should be "read/write memory", as it is known to modern designers. As an analog for "emergent", serial data would seem closer, as a coherent figure emerges on the display via serial data and raster characteristics. But even this depends on the prior existence of a data set that is deterministic, not a set that puts itself together in a non-deterministic, evolutionary, semirandom fashion. Basic computer functions, as in all machines, are deterministic on purpose. If software performs emergent solutions, it still must do it on deterministic hardware, with deterministic data sets processed by determinstic applications. It turns out that computers are not good analgs for the human brain/mind.

And, it is debatable whether quantum mechanics is non-deterministic. The incursion of "Bohmian" mechanics has shown empirically that quantum mechanics need not be stochastic and can in fact be deterministic, producing natural laws for particle / waves that are "brute fact". Despite the empirical equivalency, there are some who do not accept Bohm's approach, although to my knowledge it has not been falsified (and it can be). I suspect that quantum mechanics will accept Bohm's model in order to allow the science to finally behave like a science (deterministic).

Anonymous said...

[Beelzebub says:]

Stan,
Thanks for your full frontal assault with 2 armored units.

You're right about my misuse of "material." I'd been obsessing about how one would detect the supernatural and just blew right past the word "materialism" and went on with ontology.

But...

Platonic ideals. Do they have any significance at all? Is there any more meaning in the concept of "circle" then in the concept of unicorn? When you think of "circle" you don't think of the ideal, which would entail the full meaning and profound significance of circle, trigonometry and transcendental functions, etc. Instead you probably (and I would say definitely) picture an instance, you think of a graphic circle, your mind imagines the equation of a circle, etc.
As another example, the Mandelbrot set. Is there, out there somewhere, even immaterially, the ideal of the M. set? I would say no, there is a simple nonlinear equation that generates it, yes, you can see it, and punch in some numbers on your calculator, or compute and show it in 1000x1000 resolution. But there is nothing "out there," even in the conceptual realm, such as the M set, no more than a unicorn. You might object by saying, no, I'm thinking of the M set right now! It's a concept! No, you're not, you're thinking of a name, a label. You haven't got the foggiest idea what the M set is or what it means (neither do I, or anyone else).

I'm not ready to forego the term "random access," which has nothing to do with randomness, of course, save the fact that you can choose randomly which cell to access. RAM is still common parlance, after all.

As a side note on nondeterminism. Sorry, but I have to be a wet rag once again. It's an illusion. Nondeterminism can always be degenerated to determinism. E.g. a nondeterministic finite state automaton NFSA (state machine) can always be converted to a deterministic machine. In fact regular expressions are usually conceived nondeterministically and then converted to deterministic machines.

I'm afraid many things, beyond not being real (which we knew all along), are worse: insignificant.

Til next time!!! Thanks.

Stan said...

Beelz,
I was too terse and rude in yesterday's comments, sorry. I'm feeling better today. I'll shoot for more civility, please accept my apologies.

Stan

Stan said...

Beelz, can you give me an example of a nondeterministic state machine, please? My experience is that state machines, if they are to give reliable, expected outputs, are deterministic. Otherwise they would generate opinions rather than factual reflections of internal decoding.

Perhaps you are considering a random number generator? But those are actually psuedo-random, being mired internally in determinism.

Or possibly you are considering emergent solution machines, which also, internally are deterministic, assuming that they are programmed to be evolutionary, and assuming that they actually exist.

So, kindly help me out here with an example.

Thanks.

Stan said...

Beelz, one more short question:

You said,
"In fact regular expressions are usually conceived nondeterministically and then converted to deterministic machines."

How would regular expressions be determined deterministically?

Conversion to determinism is not a particularly convincing argument. Conversion from determinism to nondeterminism, coupled with empirical verification, repeatability, and falsifiability coupled with emprical non-falsification would be compelling.

Do you have examples of this?

Stan said...

Ok one more:
Random access is not a technique, although it is a capability. If a cpu were to randomly address memory, only chaos would result. I still contend that your comparison is apples and oranges, and is inverted because of that. However, I will abandon picking at this nit at this point. Determinism is far more interesting.

Stan said...

Beelz,
I know, I know, but just one more... I failed to address your comment on Platonic Ideals, circles, unicorns and M-sets.

While I don't fully see the point of that part of your comment, I suspect that we might be saying the same thing: that things exist which we cannot physically address with measuring tools, because their existence is not physical... is this close?

If so, I agree totally, yet the purpose of or "conversation" here includes finding the reasoning that would cinch that belief into a certainty. "Unicorns" seems to falsify that reasoning, unless there is some sort of mechanism to sort the realistic from the unrealistic, a mechanism for discernment, if you will. Any suggestions?

Stan said...

For my complete position on determinism, please see my latest post here:

http://atheism-analyzed.blogspot.com/

Anonymous said...

Stan,
No need to apologize because I never detected any rudeness at all, only forthright statement, which I appreciate.

My point about Platonic Ideals is only that I have great disdain for them. Is there an ideal thing such as "circle" that encompasses the perfect, well…ideal circle? IMO, no, for one thing that would imply an ideal instance, and circles are determined by a single parameter: radius, and that's not including if you want to locate them in a coordinate system: two more parameters, x,y. If you say that the ideal encompasses any parameters then you’re just back to the set of all instances. For example, is there an ideal human body? Here it seems you encounter no more than a judgement call, or maybe an ideal instance that all humans are made from “in likeness”… God? It gets pretty messy from a philosophical standpoint.
Anyway, more than anything, it's just my musings. I’m a little suspicious of "ideals." I’m going to transfer over to your blog now because I see that you honored me with quotation...->

[Beelz]