Making Sense of Things

thThere are quite a few things about our real-life experience that materialism cannot explain. In fact, there are many things which people tend to take for granted which flatly contradict materialism.

By drawing out the implications of materialism and theism together, it becomes more clear which makes better sense of the life we actually experience.

And that is how we should choose our position. It makes no sense start from a conclusion, constantly using the terms “illusion” and “brute fact” for what one can’t fit into our theory. Life should be considered the “data” that our position is meant to explain.

This being the case, I thought it might be good to put together a short list:

1. Free Will
Materialism entails determinism, and therefore denies that we act of our own free will.
Issues of free will have been raised under certain types of theism, of course, but most types live quite comfortably with it.

2. Moral Realism
Materialism is incompatible with moral realism. And therefore leads its adherents to claim that moral truth is illusory.
Theism, by contrast, is a good explanation of moral realism.

3. Purpose
Most claim to have a sense that there is a purpose to life. Materialism denies this.
And, of course, theism is an explanation of meaning in life.

4. Thought
Probably the most basic fact that each of us knows is “I have thoughts”. But materialism denies it. Thoughts, since they can’t be reduced to the physical–and certainly haven’t been supported by physical evidence–are seen as illusory.
Theism has no trouble with the idea that we have thoughts, and offers explanations of that fact.

5. Others’ Consciousness
Materialism offers no explanation of or reason to believe that others actually have consciousness (as opposed to simply behaving as if they do).
Under theism, however, consciousness is perfectly explicable.

6. Sensory Experience
Contrary to general impressions, materialism denies any part of sense experience that cannot be reduced to a mathematical model. It, therefore, denies the actual experience itself and believes only in mathematical abstractions.
Though it completely agrees that mathematical models can be very helpful in understanding the physical world, theism has no need to deny the reality of experience itself.

7. The Physical Universe
Again, this seems a thing that materialism would fervently support. But it cannot explain the existence of the physical universe (and simply calls it a brute fact). Nor, incidentally, does it explain why the other things it cannot explain are not equally “brute facts”.
Theism, on the other hand, offers explanation of the physical universe.

This actually seems to be everything. Really, I can’t seem to find anything at all about real-world experience that materialism explains. And certainly nothing that it explains better than theism. If one is of the position that theories should fit the data, then, the latter is clearly the more reasonable view.

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37 responses to “Making Sense of Things

  • myatheistlife

    ==Though it completely agrees that mathematical models can be very helpful in understanding the physical world, theism has no need to deny the reality of experience itself.==

    Can you even begin to explain the reality of experience in light of the context that you used to dismiss non-believers understanding of it?

    • Logan Rees

      I think the theist explanation would be that we have souls, and the soul is the receptor of sensory experience.

      Replace soul with consciousness and you have the epistemological explanation.

      • myatheistlife

        And the holy grail (so to speak) is understanding consciousness. I think all the clues are in front of us. We understand a caste system of consciousness in the animal kingdom, and we are animals. The difference between human brains and other animals is known, at least to some extent. Theists tell us that animals do not have souls. This is technically true. The problem is that we too, are animals. We have more wrinkles in the brain matter and a more flexible body plan. Add that to the ability to adapt to different foods and climate and we are more successful in proliferating. Consciousness is a rather important question to me. Without it there would be no question of gods and not one life on this planet would ever posit that there might be gods. Consciousness, IMO, is the final stages of analyzing sensory data. We can build whole stories and cities out of a single thought. With more brain or compute power we became aware not just of our place in this world, but of others’ place as well and the complex relationships that can develop outside of sexual conduct.

        These small things add up. A dog will stare at the television and we don’t much know what they see or think of it. We humans do billions of analysis while doing nothing more than watching a movie. This is what I think is consciousness.

        When we shut down this final stages of data analysis we are said to be unconscious. Our brains are still working a mile a second but we are unconscious. This shutdown of the conscious mind on a regular basis is not explained by ‘the soul theory’ … where does it go when we sleep? When we are anaesthetized? When we get knocked out? When we black out from drink or drugs?

        Any valid explanation of consciousness must account for these and other things.

        • Logan Rees

          Hate to be a broken record, but I’ve been suckling at David Chalmers’ teat for a while now. He does a great job of explaining which parts of our mind can be explained by materialism, and which parts can’t. What you claim consciousness is, he calls the ‘easy problem of consciousness.’ Meaning that it can be explained by neural processes analyzing external stimuli. The ‘hard problem’ though, has to do with the subjective experience of sense-data and analyzing that data. I see a gun pointed at me, and I give a reaction of fear. This is the scientific explanation of what is happening. However, there is no scientific explanation of my experience of fear. Look into the concept of the ‘philosophical zombie,’ a human being that intakes and analyzes sense-data and gives corresponding responses just like a conscious person, but is without conscious experience. To us, this person would be indiscernible from a normal conscious human being. To understand consciousness is to understand the difference between these ‘zombies’ and ourselves.

        • myatheistlife

          I’m aware of the ‘hard problem’. It asserts an edge case which is more often seen with sociopaths and psychopaths. These individuals do not share a common subjective experience with the rest of us to the stimuli of the world us. They lack empathy or other response. They are in fact discernable.

          The zombies are a thought experiment that posits something we have no evidence for ever existing. To imagine that someone gives identical responses but has no conscious experience is not dissimilar to sleep walkers, people who have blacked out due to drugs/drink etc. When their consciousness returns they have no idea what they were doing. One has to ask where consciousness goes during these times. We can say that they are conscious but are not forming memories, or we can say they are not conscious. In either case they cannot recall the events. The question is best answered that they are conscious, but unaware or not forming memories of the events.

          This leaves consciousness as the process of analyzing data. It also leaves awareness and memory forming as further layers of analysis.

          The simulation running in our heads is made of many layers of analysis. Imagine shutting off one layer that produces memories from the events in the simulation. The events in that simulation feed data back out to other parts of the brain.
          http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/211972.php
          When a gun is pointed at you, the simulation knows how that will play out. Bullets come out of the barrel and damage what they hit… your amydala starts tingling and sends signals back to the simulation that it then translates to the states which you ‘know’ as fear.

          Every emotion that we ‘feel’ is merely an interpretation of the data which did not come from outside our bodies. It is data generated as part of the simulation analysis. We ‘feel’ emotions because they generally are accompanied by specific sets of data or data states. A poor analogy might be that when you have more than 65% of the lights in your house turned on, the house ‘feels bright’. When some level of the signals which you ‘understand’ as fear are lit up, you feel afraid. There is no direct input from outside of the simulation or the brain running it. Emotions are internal to the simulation.

          Subjective experience is based on how your brain/simulation processes the data, the data the simulation analysis creates, the data in all the feedback loops, noise from poorly performing parts of the brain and body and so on. The layers of data involved are uncounted and many. In your head you see the world around you… in reality you’re looking at the matrix.

          When things get a bit messed up in the simulation and analysis, words can taste funny, or numbers can have colors. Synaesthesia is such a case.

          In the end, such zombies would simply not be consciously aware of themselves. They might appear the same but having no subjective experience would mean that several or more layers of analysis have ceased functioning properly. If I’m right, zombies can’t exist as posited. They would be more like folk who are in a blackout. Such people are obviously conscious but not forming memories.

          sorry, that was long.

        • Logan Rees

          Hm, I don’t mean to sound patronizing, but I don’t think you fully understand the concept of the hard problem. It’s not limited to sociopaths and psychopaths, it applies to everyone. The hard problem starts where data analysis ends and subjective experience begins. And the ‘zombie’ is not the same as a person blacked out or sleeping. Those people wouldn’t give responses to stimuli the same way a sober conscious individual would. This is why we say they are ‘un’conscious or in an ‘altered state’ of consciousness. The zombie would appear conscious and sober, but simply not be self-aware or conscious.

          But it seems that what you’re trying to say is that the hard problem, or subjective experience is merely a by-product of the analysis of sense-data, which is a completely valid argument. The problem then is attempting to meld this view with the epistemological assertion that we can’t truly know that anything exists besides our subjective experience. So we must either dismiss our consciousness as a by-product of a materialistic brain that works by the laws of nature, or we must dismiss the external world as an illusion of existence. It seems to me that you’re arguing for both of these to be true, as you refer to the ‘simulation’ or ‘matrix,’ but you also claim consciousness is simply data analysis. Am I understanding you or am I way off base?

        • myatheistlife

          I think therefore I am. I am my thoughts. The world around us exists only in our minds – so to speak. We truly can’t know a thing exists excpet that it is part of shared experience. In my simulation of the world I can imagine what a city is like that I’ve never seen, that no one has ever seen. I can also see the details of a city through someone’s description of it. The city I’m looking at right now is not what I see, but my brain’s interpretation of the sensory data it receives. It’s not the same city that blind people see nor what color blind people see.

          Consciousness is the process of analyzing far more data than we would normally think about. Consider analysis of trillions of bytes per second. This is not done monolithically, rather it is done in chunks, waves, and via summation of metadata analyses. All of this summed up in byte size pieces in a simulation of the world around us. We can close our eyes and switch the contents of the simulation for one of our grandma’s house when we were but children – we can walk around in that simulation of grandma’s house, explore it, repaint it, fill it with balloon animals… all from a thousand miles away.

          The external world is at once both real AND not real/illusion. We experience it through a real time simulation of it. Well, there is some small delay in processing which gives Sam Harris fits.. meh.

          Much of the simulation can run on it’s own. It would be too energy demanding to run all pieces from the overseer program (Id?). The overseer is doing smaller things like weighing decisions where the data is not sharp enough for clear decisions at lower levels of analysis. Choosing to ignore some inputs or favor others. If it is busy doing thinking things – non-survival processing – we may at times shut off processes like forming memories of the world around us for a time. (have you ever driven somewhere and not remember the trip because you were thinking?)

          The overseer program looks at all the metadata, all the representational bits of data, then applies the rules that make the most sense for that simulation model. It seeks to solve causal relationships so that the pattern in the matrix sums up correctly, or close enough for survival needs. You are always aware of what the overseer program is doing in your head because you ARE the overseer. Most of your brain is functioning like an automated machine whose task list is shared from automated tasks and ad-hoc tasks assigned by programs listening to the overseer. You can’t tell your thyroid to produce more T3. You can sometimes get your heart to stop beating so fast. The interconnections are complex. The overseer does not access each muscle directly, but can send commands to them and so forth. It has access only to those streams of incoming data, memories, and outputs to parts of the body… things like speech, eye movement and so on. Things that mostly run under control of lower levels of analysis.

          The overseer is aware of itself, is at the highest level of analysis. Mine is aware that I’m thinking about how it works. A conundrum of recursion it would seem. This does not damage it. It forms memories for storage. It sees all the rules and analysis as if it were Neo looking at the Matrix on screen. It is the part that assigns imagery to the data, the part where the conversion from data to real world objects happens. It controls the simulation in order that it can make decisions about incoming data.

          Consider standing in the yard watching the sunset. Your brain determines someone left the water hose out and that is where it sits till the overseer notices a motion not associated with water hoses – this is when the overseer jumps into the simulation and starts some hyper analysis. Just in time to stop you being bitten by a snake. A million things could have gone wrong in that sequence, but that is how it is supposed to play out. If there is a prime directive for the overseer it might be said that it is to survive. Acquire resources and reduce harm/pain. It is the conscious will that moves us. It is difficult to settle on this idea of what consciousness is because the very thing used to think about it is what consciousness is. It is the process of thinking. The highest layer of data analysis, the controller of the simulation.

          It sees the world as objects, understands the rules of the simulation without having to spell them out each time we add an object from the real world. This makes us unaware of the overseer process, allowing it to think it is more than it is and to call the trillions of cells making up the human body an ‘I’. Yet, even as you read this it is probably adding new rules for the simulation… at least temporarily… while this problem is being presented.

          Then later, on to the next set of data, next problem, next causal relation….

          Both are true… but perhaps understated or stated from the wrong view point by earlier philosophers.

    • Debilis

      Other than echo what Logan has already said, the main difference is that theism does not assert that physical objects, as science understands them, is all that exists.

      As such, there are any number of options open to the theist that are simply not available to the materialist (cartesian dualism and hylomorphism are probably the most popular). But the key point is that materialism denies the reality of anything that could, even in theory, explain these things.

      As such, theism is definitely on better ground here.

      • myatheistlife

        Theists and others presume these non-physical objects to exist and assert them as explanations for what can be explained by physical means yet. We humans like to do that. Mysteries bother us and cause us a kind of pain. The purpose of our brains is to figure things out and this is bourne out in the existence of consciousness. Much of our daily lives is spent preoccupied with solving some problem or other. The existence of religion is testament to this need to solve problems. Our rules in our consciousness seek solutions in order that we have no unexplained things, my mysteries, no broken understanding… a continum of understanding.

        By theorizing magic without any evidence and which can supposedly have no evidence it allows us to eplain some big questions. No matter that it is complete BS, it allows people to rest easy, unperturbed by a mystery or mysteries of such proportion. We don’t have to know how a remote control works, only how to use it. Because religion and theism do nothing to affect the physical world our confirmation bias allows many of us to ‘use’ it without understanding how it works … or in reality that it does not work and is not an explanation. It does however allow people to solve the problem in their mind.

        I’d go so far as to say that people who don’t care about why we are here or objective purpose and meaning are most likely to not care about religion at all.

        It is rather unfortunate that though you think theism is on better ground you do so seemingly based on the belief that there is something other than physical objects and you seem to be asserting that such things are possible without any evidence to support even thinking the hypothesis to be viable. You seem to ignore the fact that when shown evidence that is credible, the critical thinking human will change their position based on the light of new evidence. When I talk about it being untrue it is because there is no credible evidence and/or considerably large amounts of evidence against it. Because a thing without evidence has not been disproven is not good reasoned argument for believing it to exist or possibly exist. In this case it is things that do not explain anything, are not testable, and are witnessed only by folk under duress or who themselves are not in a good mind state.

        When crazy people see flying saucers it is not valid reason to think there are actual flying saucers.

        None of what I’ve said claims there is nothing that has not been explained satisfactorily. Without mystery, it is said, life would be very boring indeed. http://thinkexist.com/quotations/mystery/

        • Logan Rees

          It’s true that most religious people use religion to feel better about the mysteries and scary things of life, but there is a larger aspect of religion that is not born out of fear. As you stated, it is almost a necessity of consciousness. There is a fundamental difference between the material world and our consciousness that has been recognized by thinkers throughout human history. And the ‘magical BS’ is just a way to try to talk about it, since it is, in a sense, beyond the normal way we use language. The stories help us understand it in a way that simply talking about it with strict factual language would never be able to provide. We create a character, whom we call ‘God,’ in order to say things like ‘God created the universe.’ If we were only allowed to speak in words that apply to physical objects, and even as far as abstractions derived from physical objects, we’d have to say something like ‘That which caused the universe to exist caused the universe to exist.’ And then to make any more extrapolations on this concept would be a long complicated puzzle of language that would be exponentially hard to understand.

        • myatheistlife

          Inventing god to talk about the mysteries of the material world unecessarily complicates what would otherwise simply be ‘we don’t know…’

          Inserting a god stiffles inquiry and problematically inserts magical thinking. Theists are not saying ‘oh, we know better now… god is not real’ and this is a problem. Further, the Abrahamic faiths are willing to kill those who do not believe the same magic – if not generally, the fringe elements are.

          There is nothing complicated about ‘I do not know’ … Human language has never really lacked the ability to talk about things. It’s the same language used to make up the story about a god and all the things he supposedly did.

          Because people insist on an answer they make stories up? One of those 10 commandments is all about telling the truth….

        • Logan Rees

          Human language has ALWAYS lacked the ability to talk about things, especially the most important things. Allow me to shamelessly plug my own blog post on the subject: http://duckrabbits.wordpress.com/2013/03/11/the-limits-of-language/

          We didn’t ‘invent’ God to talk about the material world; we needed a word for a concept that we were thinking of, so we called it ‘God’ and just went from there. Throughout the millennia, God was personified and anthropomorphized beyond recognition, but it’s still a necessary part of our language and understanding.

          And I don’t think stopping at ‘we don’t know,’ has ever gotten anyone anywhere. The whole of human history has been a unanimous cry of ‘we must know,’ or at least ‘we must try to understand.’

    • Debilis

      One can’t simply assert that the things explained by theism can be explained physically. One must offer good reason to think this is true. This includes dealing with the arguments showing that this claim is false.

      It is not enough to simply compare theism to magic, and otherwise ignore the reasons to believe it. The oft repeated statement that “there is no evidence” has been shown to be a baseless argument. One can’t simply go on repeating it.

      But I’d agree that people who don’t care about the meaning of life, moral truth, or spiritual reality don’t care about religion, as this is precisely what religion is about.

      Really, this is like dismissing science on the grounds that people who don’t care about the physical universe don’t care about it.

      And the person who doesn’t care about questions on meaning is, it is safe to say, living a very shallow life.

      As for my statements, I’ve given a number of specific reasons to believe that there is more to reality than this physical. Anyone who wishes to argue that I am wrong will have to deal with those reasons, not simply assert materialism.

      And that is why it is key that, for all the disagreeing, there is no engagement at all with my specific statements. No reason has been given why any of them are wrong. Simply claiming that one is okay with not knowing the answer to a question, and otherwise making emotional appeals to mystery, does not show that one’s position is correct.

      To show that, you’d need to actually engage with my statements.

  • keithnoback

    Lovely straw man. You should try to understand an opposing position before arguing against it. I’m no expert, but I’ve read enough to recognize that you are off base. You do not understand physicalist, or, in fact, any monist philosophy (assuming that your statements above are representative). I’d suggest a look at Donaldson, Kim, Mackie, etc. rather than just a perusal of Plantinga’s criticisms before your next exposition.
    I hold Craig responsible for this style of discourse – he has popularized the “debate” approach to philosophical discussion, where the goal is to create a favorable impression of one’s position in a crowd, rather than provoking any thought. You seem like a smart enough guy, else I wouldn’t be saying anything at all.

    • Mark Hamilton

      Do you actually have a list of objections for him, or are you just going to complain? I think his list looks fairly solid. If there is a problem with any of his points, please tell what those problems are. I’d really like to know.

      • keithnoback

        You mean do I have specifc complaints besides the one about style? You are welcome to have a look at the applicable posts on my blog. I am a phiosophical amateur and mediocre writer at best, but you should be able to sort it out despite those disadvantages. I’ve been rude enough over here without lighting up the comments section for real.

        • Mark Hamilton

          I’d very much like to have a look at the applicaple posts on your blog, but I’m finding your blog difficult to navigate. Can you point some out for me?

        • keithnoback

          Categories are at the bottom. The stuff filed under “Philosophy” covers most of it. Nietzsche said, “To organize is to destroy.” I’d like to think he would be proud; sorry, that’s the best I can do.

        • Irenist

          Keith, the posts on your blog tagged “dualism” only seem to address, e.g., Jaegwon Kim’s arguments against substance dualism. Since you seem to like the Courtier’s Reply: Have you read and reflected on hylomorphic dualism as an alternative to monist physicalism? Hylomorphism neatly avoids issues like the interaction problem.

        • keithnoback

          Yes, though I’m not sure I completely understand it. Then again, I’m not sure Aristotle understood it completely; he seemed to have trouble explaining bits of it (or I’d like to think so, given the alternative). Mostly, I’m not clear on how it doesn’t amount to a flavor of property dualism – another slippery thing for me. It looks like a consistent theory from what I do understand, but it requires some teleological commitments which also seem incautious (not necessarily wrong).
          About the Courtier’s Reply thing – not trying to be a jackass, just trying not to grand-stand on somebody else’s page.

        • Irenist

          Fair enough! Thanks for a thoughtful response, and an an admirably evenhanded assessment of hylomorphism.

    • Debilis

      I completely agree that I can and should always read more. But I read atheist philosophers as often as I read from theists.

      So, no. I didn’t get any of these conclusions from Plantinga (for example, my statement about abstractions was inspired by a comment from Bertrand Russell). Nor, incidentally, did I learn to debate from Craig. It strikes me as bizzare to think that Russell, Neitzsche, or Sartre never debated or sought to make thier positions sound good to those present.

      So, if there is some specific misrepresentation you see here, please let me know what it is. Until then, I’m left wondering how you can be certain that I don’t have a good response to Donaldson, Kim, and Makie.

      • keithnoback

        Well, if you really are left wondering, then you have two choices as far as I can tell: you can read about the philosophical viewpoint you’re discussing with the goal of properly understanding it, or you can continue to skim it piecemeal for bits which serve your viewpoint by contrast, proceed to tell people what they ‘really’ think about the subject (ala Craig or Dawkins), and then go on to argue against your revision of their position. If you want a starting point, how about the idea that subjective sensory experience (are you talking about qualia here?) is only considered by physicalist philosophers in terms of its reducibility to mathematical models. This implies an idealism in regards to mathematical concepts which is inconsistent with many physicalist philosophies. Do you think Nietzsche would concur with your statement? Do you think Nietzsche was a physicalist philosopher (or did you wish to bring him into this at all via your comment above)? Your whole body of argumentation appears to be merely polemical.

    • Debilis

      The opening here strikes me as very unhelpful. Of course, I’m reading more. I’ve read on monist philosophies, and have no idea why you have so much confidence that I have not.

      Personally, I know my responses to the arguments of materialists; what I was wondering is how you are so confident about what they are before I’ve given them.

      But, yes, I’m speaking of qualia. And, yes, my issue is that materialists consider mental states only in terms of what is reducible to what can be mathematically modeled.

      But I don’t claim to know what Nietzsche would think. Nor do I see any reason to think this is a point against my argument. This is for at least two reasons:

      First, so far as I’ve read him, Nietzsche didn’t claim anything that brings him clearly down on any well-defined position regarding the qualia problem. Perhaps you could reference that for me? I’ll have a look.

      Second, I don’t accept Nietzsche as an unquestionable authority. In order to refute my argument, he would have to do more than disagree with me; he’d have to give a materialistic account of qualia.

      Nor do I see a mention of the qualia problem as purely polemical. Even monist philosophers take it seriously as an argument. And I don’t think the insinuation that Nietzsche would disagree with me refutes the very good arguments that, say, Nagel and Chalmers have offered.

      Perhaps I missed it, but it seems as if the reference Nietzsche (who, so far as I know, never actually wrote on this subject) is the only response I’ve received.

      So (in summary) I completely agree with you that the brief sketch of an argument doesn’t settle the issue. But neither does claiming that a (randomly selected?) philosopher would disagree. I need to hear your specific objections in order to respond to them.

      • keithnoback

        I’m sorry, I haven’t been clear, and I should clarify your point. You mention Nietzsche along with philosophers who shared with him only an expicit or tacit lack of belief in god. Did you mean to imply that they were all physicalists? If so, do you think that Nietzsche would say that he considered qualia only in terms of their reducibility to mathematical description or that he ascribed qualia any significance at all?
        You go on to mention two pan-psychist philosophers and describe their arguments as “very good”. Do you mean their entire arguments or just the bits about mentality being a thing rather than an event? If you do mean hold up just that bit as a solid argument, then I think you are being disingenouous by way of equivocating your ideas with theirs, because that bit about mentaity relies heavily on the rest of their cases for its basic ideas. Does that make sense?
        Besides, I am a little miffed that you would lump Nagel and Chalmers together – Chalmers is much more interesting, not least because he provides support for my hypothesis that, left to their own devices, Asperger kids will always dress themselves like Rockers.

    • Debilis

      This is much easier to understand, thank you.

      I agree with you that atheism and materialism are not synonymous. So, I don’t insist that Nietzsche is a physicalist, and would agree that different arguments would be needed in addressing his views.

      Regarding Nagel and Chalmers, no, I don’t accept the whole of their positions (obviously). I was referring simply to their arguments against a materialist view of mind.

      I do apologize if I seemed to be implying that my position was the same as theirs. Mine is different. Still, I’m not aware of any vital part of their arguments against a physicalist view of mind that is incompatible with the hylomorphic dualist view I tend to favor.

      Nor did I mean to claim that their views were the same as one another. I meant only to say that they both oppose a physicalist view of mind. I really didn’t mean to discuss them further than to present them as evidence that the a rejection of physicalism in mind cannot be universally accused of ignorance of the subject.

      Essentially, I was beginning to worry that it was assumed that I’d change my view if only I’d learn more, and thought the existence of these men were great counter-examples. I presented them in order to get back to (one of) the point(s) in my post.

      So, to do that, are you aware a reason why the qualia problem is answerable from a physicalist perspective? I’d be very interested in one, myself. But, thus far, I’ve not managed to find a good answer to this problem, and (particularly given the existence of elimanative materialists) suspect that it is a good reductio ad absurdum of materialism.

      • keithnoback

        I thought you were saying that determinism is a reductio for itself? I don’t think Chalmers maintains that qualia are undetermined, things-in-themselves. He is a property dualist after all, and that in regards to mind or consciousness of which subjectivity, and thus the qualitative aspects of perceptions, are a result.
        From my limited understanding, it seems that physicalist philosophers offer two broad sorts of response to the “hard probem”. The first is an error theory, which basically denies that qualia exist. This response can’t be dismissed casually – when asked “show us the qualia”, i.e. demonstrate precisely what the relationship is between the known, mechanistic aspects of our thoughts and sensory experience and the proposed property of qualities, the pan-psychists seem to find the hard problem no easier from their standpoint. So, goes the subsequent argument, maybe the reality of subjective experience is just not properly characterized by the concept of qualia.
        The second broad category of response maintains that there are qualia, but in an epiphenomenal sense. The pertinent question for this camp is something like, “Does it make sense to talk about a ‘universal subjectivity’?” – which may be a fair characterization of what Chalmers and Co. advocate. An epiphenomenal explanation is available if the answer to that question is ‘no’, which would be the physicalist position. Hard problem indeed.
        None of this pertains to your discontents with determinism and its associated isssues (free will, for example). Not surprising, because determinism and indeterminism and their associated issues (free will, for example) are trivial subjects at best. I would refer you to Kim and Berkeley for two vastly different perspectives on why that is the case. Bickering about determinism is a monumental waste of time and a project for the foolish or those with an axe to grind.

    • Debilis

      This was a very good response. Thank you.

      I suppose that was unclear.
      To state that more directly, I do think that determinism constitutes a reductio as it undermines rationality. But, in addition to this, I think that physicalism with regard to mind constitutes a stronger reductio of materialism.

      As to the qualia problem, I’d say that the “show us the qualia” response is not a good one. This is not to say that it should be dismissed out of hand, but that, ultimately, I find it lacking. Mainly, this is because the “hard problem” is not dependent on showing the precise relationship between qualia and any other part of the mind. It only requires that one accept that qualia exist in some sense (whether as entities or events is irrelevant here). Nor am I defending the pan-psychists (as I am not one myself).

      Simply denying qualia will not do, in that they are so basic to experience. Any view which requires the denial of qualia has, as I have argued, presented us with a reductio of its own position.

      The second view, I think, is much more reasonable than the first. Personally, I expect that qualia are more like events than objects. Again, I would not simply dismiss this view (in fact, much less quickly than the previous set of responses). However, I don’t find it sound. As willing as I am to accept the idea that qualia are epiphenomenal, I don’t see how this is possible given matter as science has defined it.

      In a sense, philosophy has (since Descartes) defined matter in terms of what can be mathematically modeled. And, as qualia cannot be so, the are not “material” in this sense. However, this is not to say that it isn’t possible that these things are material given that there is a fuller understanding of matter which we have (for the purposes of science) chosen to set aside.

      So, I don’t object at all to the idea that qualia are events, but only to the idea that they can be accounted for within the narrowly defined terms of modern materialism.

      Nor, incindentally, do I object to the idea of qualia being deterministic, insofar as they are perceptions of the external world. My objection to determinism was meant as an entirely separate issue.

      But, if you are not interested in determinism, I won’t say much on that. I maintain that it is far more significant than you seem to think. (I don’t think compatibilism, for instance, answers the problem.) The key thing here is that the qualia problem is an unrelated argument.

      Okay, I’ll leave it at that.

  • betweenbluerocks

    There’s a terrifying audacity in using the faculties of thought and reason to craft arguments undermining the reality of thought and reason. . . . and an absurdity in asking people to rationally think and accept those arguments; if the arguments are true, then people actually are incapable of rationally accepting them. Appeals to reason only work if rationality is assumed to exist. Even the very idea of “making sense of things” is silly unless you believe that we have the ability to “make sense” (to think).

    All that to say, I believe your points here DO make sense, and I delight to live in a world where sense is to be made, has been made, was woven into the fabric of the universe by the Maker of senses.

    • Debilis

      I definitely think that reaching the conclusion that human reason is unreliable represents a reductio ad absurdum for any premises that lead to it.

      And materialism, in spite of some noble efforts to show otherwise, leads to that conclusion.

    • Logan Rees

      This is the best response. Helpless acceptance of the futility of it all, but a joyful participation in it. Love it!

  • myatheistlife

    Let’s try again then:

    Free will is not denied by materialism. It is denied by determinism. I argue that materialism does not infer determinism. Much of the problem is the definition of free will that one uses. There seem to be many. This definition is fair:
    1. The ability or discretion to choose.
    2. The power of making free choices that are unconstrained by external circumstances or by an agency such as fate or divine will.

    The claim is not that moral truth is illusory but that objective moral truth is illusory. Objective moral truth would require life in any other galaxy to behave as we see morality and I don’t think anyone believes this would be true. Further, the morality of the big three monotheist camps is horrendous.

    Meaning and purpose do not have to be positive. They do not have to exist. Life would carry on without them. Materialism denies only the idea that there is objective meaning or purpose. Theism asserts there is objective meaning and purpose without credible evidence to support it. Those that pick and choose from their holy texts have chosen subjective meaning over objective meaning. If ‘god’ was actually only Satan in disguise, how would you know? Perhaps the real meaning is to test and see which he wants to feed on?

    Cogito ergo sum. More research is revealed every day on this. Thoughts are materialistic and I argue this in my ‘free will’ series on my blog. A new post (part 5) is coming up that you might enjoy.

    Materialism is strongly supported by science. Science tells us that we have all the evidence we need to believe that other humans are exactly as we are. Some philosophers hold that we can know nothing outside of our own mind, at least not for certain, but this is not materialism. Science has recently understood enough about consciousness to declare that higher order animals (not humans) are also conscious.

    This mathematical model thing is bunk. What materialism denies is what there is no evidence to believe. Asserting something exists without evidence is like declaring the Earth is flat or that the Earth is the center of the universe. When science finds the credible evidence new things are accepted. Theism on the other hand simply accepts magic and does not require credible evidence for anything.

    The statement ‘god did it’ is not an explanation of anything. It does not explain why or how, nor give meaning. Theism does not explain the existence of the universe beyond ‘god did it’ and to even do this theism must assert that their god exists without evidence, without meaning, without purpose. Where materialism stops is where the evidence stops. Theists go one step further and claim ‘god did it’ but have no evidence or reason to do so.

    The best explanation of the evidence/facts is a singularity (big bang) which is further supported by theoretical physics, string theory, M theory etc. What exactly caused the singularity is not understood yet. Saying god did it is not an explanation, it’s an excuse for not knowing. There has been no case yet where god did it turned out to be right. Everything shown us by science has crumbled god did it excuses everywhere it researches. Heliocentrism, spherical Earth, imperfect star, modern medicine, and on and on. Not even one time has science found that ‘oh wait, the bible was right on this one’ in all of its endeavors. Theists have been using god of the gaps thinking for hundreds of years… that is to assert ‘god did it’ where science has no explanation yet. Then science gets one and all of a sudden god didn’t do it. Religion does not explain the meaning or purpose of life in an objective way. Even those that come close to a universally accepted meaning or purpose do not give us objectie meaning or purpose.

    Further, I posit this: if one of the many religions were true, then it is not the atheist they have to convince. The much easier target is to convince those that ‘want’ to believe in gods, I’m talking about other religions, so that all can then see the value of their beliefs. With so many little tribes and clans claiming to know the truth it sounds like white noise.

    • Debilis

      Greetings (and otherwise jumping right in)

      1. Determinism
      I agree that determinism is the issue.

      However, determinism is entailed by materialism. This is not to say that all decisions are constrained by external forces, but that all decisions are the result of deterministic processes in the brain.

      And this is the relevant sense of determinism. For, regardless of whether or not one embraces a compatiblist approach, rationality and perception is not trustworthy so long as the mind is the product of deterministic forces.

      2. Objective Morality
      I agree that objective morality is the issue (though subjective morality is also opposed to materialism, more on this below).

      Really, it seems that you agree with me on this–that materialism is incompatible with objective morality. The only response is to assert that it would require very different life to behave as we do. To which I have two responses:

      -That doesn’t follow, objective principles can still take different forms depending on the specific beings and situations to which they are applied (this is true even in the physical world), and
      -There is no reason to believe that this wouldn’t be the case. This is simply an appeal to personal intuition.

      3. Purpose
      This is another point of agreement: materialism is incompatible with objective purpose.

      Of course one can deny those things that are incompatible with materialism, but (given that we’ve yet to produce evidence for materialism) I consider this an unwarranted favoring of materialism.

      One could, just as rationally, reject materialism in favor of purpose.

      4. Mind
      I completely agree with Descartes argument for mind. This is what makes its incompatibility with materialism so devastating for materialism.

      And, yes, I am aware that there are many materialistic theories of mind. We can discuss them, but I think it is safe to say that they each either fail, or are disguised forms of dualism. None of them have, for instance, solved “the qualia problem”.

      This is unsurprising, given that it was materialism which created issues like the qualia problem.

      5. Science
      Science doesn’t support materialism. It doesn’t comment at all on materialism’s claim that the physical is all that exists. Science specifically ignores questions about the non-physical.

      6. Physical Experience
      If “the mathematical modeling thing is bunk”, I’m not sure why someone as intelligent as Bertrand Russel thought it was an important point.

      Materialism accepts only the physical, as represented by science. And science only offers mathematical abstractions. This is so often overlooked that people find it hard to imagine even as it is being pointed out, but this does not make it any less true.

      7. God as Explanation
      The statement “God did it” is a very superficial explanation, agreed.

      However, I don’t have any idea why you seem to think that the theist is obliged to stop there. Thoughtful theists can give much more specific information about the nature of God and the other processes involved.

      Nor does the “lack of evidence” argument work. There are a number of serious problems with it, but that is a different topic.

      Also, it is very important that I was not, in any way whatsoever, proposing theism as an explanation of physical phenomena. I was proposing theism as an explanation of metaphysical truths.

      Simply trying to collapse my position down into “God did it” with regard to science is a clear straw man fallacy.

      8. Other Religions
      The existence of multiple religions is not a point in favor of atheism. As often as I’ve heard this argument, I’ve never seen it hold water for five minutes of conversation.

      There are many views of reality, both theistic and non-theistic. There is no reason to suppose the fact that there are non-theistic views other than materialism is a reason to reject materialism.

      The same would be the case for theism.

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