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Darwinists Check Their Logic at the Door

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In my last post I commented on Nobel Prize winning physicist Eugene Wigner’s article “The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences,” in which Wigner describes as “miraculous” (1) that “laws” of nature exist; and (2) that we should be able to discover those laws.

 In this post I will use an exchange in the comment section of that post between ID proponent “StephenB” and Darwinist “Delurker” to illustrate the utter vacuity of Darwinist argumentation, or at least the vacuity of the arguments of this particular Darwinist.  It is not my purpose to pick on Delurker per se.  I am using his arguments, because they are quite representative of the type of arguments Darwinists make on this site. 

 Exchange 1: 

 StephenB:  “You seem to be taking an awful lot for granted.  How did nature become comprehensible?”

 Delurker:  “That is not a question that is addressed by modern evolutionary theory.  To the extent that nature is comprehensible, modern evolutionary theory predicts that alignment with reality will be selected for.”

 Comment

 Delurker’s response starts with a factual misrepresentation and ends with an argument that is at the same time both self-contradictory and circular. 

 First the factual misrepresentation.  The existence of human cognitive ability (i.e., the ability to comprehend nature) is obvious.  Darwinism purports to be a comprehensive explanation of the development of all characters of all organisms.  In other words, according to the theory, if an organism has a particular character, whether the character is an eye, a fin or the ability to think, that character must have developed through Darwinian processes.  Delurker’s assertion that Darwinism does not attempt to address the question of how human’s cognitive abilities developed is spectacularly false.  It is like saying rocket scientists do not study propellant.  Indeed, there is an entire sub-field of Darwinian endeavor devoted to the study of cognition and how it might of developed, and fame, fortune and a Noble Prize awaits the first researcher who develops a half-way plausible theory. 

 Now to the argument, such as it is.  The argument is self-contradictory, because after denying that Darwinism addresses the origin of cognitive ability, Delurker then asserts that cognitive ability developed through natural selection.

 The argument is circular as well:  StephenB asks “How did the character “cognitive ability” develop in humans?  Delurker responds:  “It was selected for by natural selection.”  Delurker means that the character exists because organisms that had the character were “more fit” than those that did not.  How do we know the organisms with the character were more fit?  Because the character in question exists in them.  Which, of course, brings back to the starting place.

 Exchange 2:

 StephenB:  “How did the mind develop the capacity to comprehend it [i.e., reality]?”

 Delurker:  “That’s an interesting question.  Biologists investigating the evolution of the human brain are attempting to answer it.  Thus far the answer appears to be “incrementally.”

 Comment

 Delurker has now completely abandoned his first outlandish assertion that biologists do not attempt to account for the development of human cognitive ability.  I suppose he hoped no one would notice.  Now he responds to a serious question with a dismissive triviality. 

Does Delurker truly expect anyone to be convinced by a one-word explanation of perhaps the most important question in all of science?  Give me a break.

 Exchange 3:

 StephenB:  “How and why did the two realms get coordinated such that each makes sense with the other?”

 Delurker:  “No need to coordinate.  Reality exists.  Organisms who don’t deal with reality die (eventually).”

 Comment

 Here Delurker resorts to the old debating technique of “equivocation,” or, more commonly, “the old switch-a-roo.” 

 Keep your eye on the ball.  The ball is:  “the development of human cognitive ability” which has led to the development of mathematical theories with an amazing correspondence to physical reality.

StephenB asks how Darwinism could possibly account for that character.  Delurker says “organisms that don’t deal with reality die off.”  Again, give me a break.  Of the countless millions of species that have existed, only one has developed the character in question.  Delurker is as much as saying, “any organism that does not develop the ability to do higher math will become extinct.”  His answer would be humorous if it were not so pathetic.

 Exchange 4:

 StephenB:  “How did two realms arise in the first place?”

 Delurker:  “The nature of reality is not addressed by modern evolutionary theory.  The fitness of organisms to that reality is.”

 Comment

 Again, Delurker tells a blatant falsehood.  Every Darwinist will tell you that materialism is assumed in his research, either flatly or methodologically.  Delurker is either staggeringly ignorant of this fact or simply fabricating facts to suit his argument.

 Exchange 5:

 StephenB:  “Why should there even be two realms?”

 Delurker:  “You’re letting your terminology run away with you.  There is physical reality and there are mechanisms that allow populations of organisms to become more fit with respect to that physical reality.”

 Comment

 StephenB asks a profound question.  Given materialist premises, how can a Darwinist say there is a realm of mind that apprehends material reality that is separate from the material reality being apprehended?

 Delurker does not even attempt to answer this question.  Instead, he accuses StephenB of being confused.

 Exchange 6:

 StephenB:  “Indeed, which Darwinist even accepts the existence of two realms, one of which constitutes the immaterial mind of the investigator?”

 Delurker:  “What evidence do you have that mind is immaterial?”

 Comment

 Again, faced with a question he cannot begin to answer, Delurker changes the subject.  There is a substantial body of research supporting the existence of the immaterial mind.  Much of that research is summarized in O’Leary and Beauregard’s “The Spiritual Brain.”  But notice that the evidence for the material mind is not the issue that StephenB raises.  StephenB raises the question of how a Darwinist can ever accept the existence of a mind.  Delurker’s response to that question is conspicuous in its absence. 

 Conclusion

 Some of the greatest arguments against Darwinism are the vacuous arguments its supporters make for it.

Comments
StephenB @ 123:
Feel free to take your own advice and I will follow your example.
As there is nothing new in your reply, that's the plan.Diffaxial
September 14, 2009
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----Diffaxial: “Biological and cultural evolution resulted and continues to result in correspondence between our representations of nature and nature itself. It is we who were adjusted by selection, and by methods we ourselves have devised, such that correspondence is present (to whatever extent it is present).” You are contradicting yourself rather blatantly. On the one hand, you deny the correspondence between the mind and its object by insisting that the universe has no rationality. On the other hand, you suggest that we have “devised” a correspondence as if nature had something for the mind to correspond to. ----“That doesn’t render the correspondence entirely subjective, although we must sometimes strive to stand apart from that human evolutionary and cultural history, and see ourselves has having emerged from that history, in order to approach objectivity.” If, as you are unsuccessfully trying to argue, all parts of the correspondence can be explained by the by the evolving rationality of the subject and no parts of the correspondence can be explained by the properties of the object of investigation, then obviously the correspondence is entirely subjective. More to the point, unless the object of the investigation is comprehensible [rational], then there is no correspondence in any case. Correspondence requires a rational universe and a rational mind to comprehend it. That is what correspondence means. You are trying to deny correspondence and have it at the same time. To be consistent, you must deny correspondence altogether. Darwinism and correspondence are incompatible because correspondence requires at least two realms [moderate dualism], otherwise there are no two realms to correspond. You cannot have it both ways. -----“Indeed, given that we have a good idea of the processes and history that resulted in our conceptual tools and the representations of nature they generate, and the biases such a history may introduce (such as the misapplication of theory of mind, resulting in the overattribution of agency to nature), we may subtract those biases to attain an understanding that better approximates an objective account. That cannot be done from a stance of denial of that history.’” You seem to be confusing the philosophical meaning of objective with the psychological definition. We are discussion the objective nature of a rational universe apart from the subjective perspective of the investigator. We are not talking about an “objective” investigation in terms of the absence of bias and prejudice. ----“You are inordinately fond of tautological declarations, as it is only tautologically true that “one cannot comprehend the incomprehensible.” What does NOT follow is that nature absent authorship is necessarily incomprehensible.” Remarkably, you deny even that which you declare to be “tautologically true." Also, I have already explained that those are two separate but related arguments, and you reject not just the latter argument for the former argument as well. So, that last protest is meaningless. --- “The appropriate question that is not tautological is, “you need to explain how the -investigator can use human science to quantify and comprehend that which was not authored.” The answer is as above.” The appropriate question will be the one that prompts an explicit and straightforward answer, for which I am willing to try any for which I am willing to try formulation, tautological included. You have in no way explained how the investigator can use human science to comprehend and quantify a comprehensible and quantifiable universe, because you deny the fact that the universe is comprehensible and quantifiable. You have only stated that evolution produces the individual’s capacity to comprehend, even though you also say that there is nothing rational in the universe to comprehend. . ----“Indeed, it seems clear to me that StephenB makes the argument that he does because he wants the fact that nature is often comprehensible in the sense that we all agree upon to compel the conclusion that must be a “sender” or “author” of phenomena in nature in the same sense that there must be a “sender” or “author” of a paragraph.” No, I make the argument for the simple reason which you have not yet grasped. The rational mind cannot comprehend a rational universe unless the universe is rational. That is an epistemological issue. On the other hand, once one understands that regularity, rationality, order, and comprehensibility all serve purpose, then one can infer the author as a second order proposition. That is a metaphysical issue. The arguments are separate but related—as I have stated, and as you have ignored. You reject both the epistemological argument and the metaphysical argument even as you conflate them. ----Diffaxial: “I think we’ve done a good job setting out opposing positions on this particular issue. Rather than continuing to state and restate these positions beyond the point at which the discussion has become completely dysfunctional, and unless you have something new to say on the topic, I suggest we putthis issue in the mail.” Feel free to take your own advice and I will follow your example.StephenB
September 13, 2009
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StephenB @ 121:
The issue is this: Does nature behave with a logic that corresponds to the logic of our minds.
Biological and cultural evolution resulted and continues to result in correspondence between our representations of nature and nature itself. It is we who were adjusted by selection, and by methods we ourselves have devised, such that correspondence is present (to whatever extent it is present). That doesn't render the correspondence entirely subjective, although we must sometimes strive to stand apart from that human evolutionary and cultural history, and see ourselves has having emerged from that history, in order to approach objectivity. Indeed, given that we have a good idea of the processes and history that resulted in our conceptual tools and the representations of nature they generate, and the biases such a history may introduce (such as the misapplication of theory of mind, resulting in the over-attribution of agency to nature), we may subtract those biases to attain an understanding that better approximates an objective account. That cannot be done from a stance of denial of that history.
If it doesn’t, then you need to explain how the investigator can use human science to quantify and comprehend that which is not quantifiable and not comprehensible.
You are inordinately fond of tautological declarations, as it is only tautologically true that "one cannot comprehend the incomprehensible." What does NOT follow is that nature absent authorship is necessarily incomprehensible. The appropriate question that is not tautological is, "you need to explain how the investigator can use human science to quantify and comprehend that which was not authored." The answer is as above.
The analogy of the paragraph is apt.
I disagree. There are many reasons to believe it inapt (e.g. it commits a category error.)
The fact is that something must be comprehensible in order to be comprehended.
The flip side of the above tautology, as "BY DEFINITION" implicitly calls from the mountaintops and whispers from the trees. Tautologies aside, authorship does not necessarily follow from comprehensibility.
If the investigator trusts his internal mental processes which tell him that IF it rains THEN the streets will get wet, that is only because the same logic is true in the real world– IF it rains THEN the streets really will get wet.
As above, selection ensured that our cognitive and cultural resources reflect such a correspondence. No mystery there.
Instinctively, the subjectivist understands that a rational universe implies a creator and that the comprehensibility of nature requires an author. So, he denies nature’s rationality in order to avoid nature’s author.
Really just the flip side of:
Indeed, it seems clear to me that StephenB makes the argument that he does because he wants the fact that nature is often comprehensible in the sense that we all agree upon to compel the conclusion that must be a “sender” or “author” of phenomena in nature in the same sense that there must be a “sender” or “author” of a paragraph. Otherwise, StephenB asserts, we would not fine nature intelligible at all. It is his goal to adduce success in the natural sciences as evidence for that authorship, because, he asserts, nature would not be intelligible absent that authorship.
All that said, One of my favorite journals, Behavioral and Brain Sciences, uses a format that I find very effective. In that journal a target article presents an lengthy argument for a particular thesis. Much of what follows in a given issue are briefer (but substantial) invited responses from numerous researchers and theoreticians in the field, many of whom vigorously dispute the target thesis. The reader is therefore provided a very comprehensive contemporary view of the issue. I think we've done a good job setting out opposing positions on this particular issue. Rather than continuing to state and restate these positions beyond the point at which the discussion has become completely dysfunctional, and unless you have something new to say on the topic, I suggest we put this issue in the mail. (I will add that no one, not even Barry, has denied that he completely misstated DeLurker's position in the OP.)Diffaxial
September 13, 2009
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-----Diffaxial: “I am arguing that nature is neither rational nor not-rational, as the ascription of either commits a category error. This has nothing to do with subjectivity. Indeed, it removes a subjective element, as we often disagree for subjective reasons over what may be described as “rational” in that domain in which those terms are applicable, namely the domain of human actions.” You have yet to explain how the investigator apprehends regularity, order, and rationality if regularity, order, and rationality are not there. ---“I further argued that your conclusion that, in light of our comprehension, nature necessarily bears intentional content (i.e., that it may be likened to a paragraph bearing an encoded message), and otherwise would be unintelligible, doesn’t follow from that fact. We are capable of understanding both columns of text and geological columns, the former comprehension entailing the decoding of encoded message content and the associated communicative intent (as in Grice/Searle above), the latter comprehension entailing a grasp natural events that convey no such content or intent. The former characterizes human communication; the latter human scientific investigation of the natural world.” The issue is this: Does nature behave with a logic that corresponds to the logic of our minds. If it doesn’t, then you need to explain how the investigator can use human science to quantify and comprehend that which is not quantifiable and not comprehensible. [A Darwinist scenario of the history of human comprehension does not address that topic because it says nothing about the object of the investigation]. The analogy of the paragraph is apt. Just as the logic of the written paragraph exhibits a logic that corresponds to the logic of our mind, the universe also exhibits a logic that corresponds to the human mind. Just as the interpreter reads the paragraph, the scientist reads nature. I am not committing a “category error” or “reifying,” or “personalizing” or “projecting” or imposing human characteristics onto nature. None of those formulations are arguments, they are simpy misplaced accusations that do not address the topic. The fact is that something must be comprehensible in order to be comprehended. The observer cannot take away from nature that which nature does not have. Again, this should be obvious and ought not need any defense. It is your position of an incomprehensible universe that requires a rational defense, and, so far, you have provided not even a hint of one. --“Again, this has nothing to do with subjectivity, and indeed removes another subjective element, as we often disagree for subjective reasons over what messages are intended by events that do fall in a domain that can be rightly said to often include intentional content and “encoding-decoding,” namely human actions and utterances.” The subjectivity consists in holding that the investigator can comprehend nature even if nature’s behavior is incomprehensible, which is tantomount to saying that the subject [investigator] can apply human logic to understand an object [investigation] that does not behave logically. That makes no sense. If the investigator trusts his internal mental processes which tell him that IF it rains THEN the streets will get wet, that is only because the same logic is true in the real world-- IF it rains THEN the streets really will get wet. We can reasonably predict events in the real world only because the real world itself is reasonable. Narcissistic subjectivism intrudes into the investigation and makes it all about the investigator. Subjectivism does not read comprehensibilty “out of nature,” as the scientist is obliged to do but rather reads incomprehensibiltiy “into nature.” Instinctively, the subjectivist understands that a rational universe implies a creator and that the comprehensibility of nature requires an author. So, he denies nature’s rationality in order to avoid nature’s author.StephenB
September 12, 2009
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StephenB @ 119:
To suggest that nature is rational is to point out that it has rational properties that can be understood by rational minds. For you nature is not rational, which means that rational minds could not comprehend it since there would be nothing there comprend.
I am arguing that nature is neither rational nor not-rational, as the ascription of either commits a category error. This has nothing to do with subjectivity. Indeed, it removes a subjective element, as we often disagree for subjective reasons over what may be described as "rational" in that domain in which those terms are applicable, namely the domain of human actions.
The essence of your error lies in the words, “in the sense that we all agree upon”…… It is not our “agreement” that makes nature comprehensible; it is nature’s properties.” Once again, you have tried to subjectivize an objective reality.
This misconstrues my statement. I did not state that our attainment of comprehension of nature occurs because of agreement or consensus. I stated that we (you, me, VJ) agree that human investigation and reason (e.g. science) sometimes result in the comprehension of nature. I further argued that your conclusion that, in light of our comprehension, nature necessarily bears intentional content (i.e., that it may be likened to a paragraph bearing an encoded message), and otherwise would be unintelligible, doesn't follow from that fact. We are capable of understanding both columns of text and geological columns, the former comprehension entailing the decoding of encoded message content and the associated communicative intent (as in Grice/Searle above), the latter comprehension entailing a grasp natural events that convey no such content or intent. The former characterizes human communication; the latter human scientific investigation of the natural world. Again, this has nothing to do with subjectivity, and indeed removes another subjective element, as we often disagree for subjective reasons over what messages are intended by events that do fall in a domain that can be rightly said to often include intentional content and "encoding-decoding," namely human actions and utterances.Diffaxial
September 12, 2009
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----Diffaxial: "Indeed, it seems clear to me that StephenB makes the argument that he does because he wants the fact that nature is often comprehensible in the sense that we all agree upon to compel the conclusion that must be a “sender” or “author” of phenomena in nature in the same sense that there must be a “sender” or “author” of a paragraph." The essence of your error lies in the words, "in the sense that we all agree upon"...... It is not our "agreement" that makes nature comprehensible; it is nature's properties." Once again, you have tried to subjectivize an objective reality. Indeed, you are making the opposite or the reverse of a categorical error. You are ascribing to the subject [the human capacity to comprehend] that which should be ascribed to nature [comprehensibility]. Subjectivists cannot come to terms with the ontological reality of the investigator and the ontological reality of the object of the investigation so they oversimplify by trying to explain everything in terms of the investigator alone. That will not do. [This, by the way, is not reminiscent of "Cartesian dualism," the error that prompted Ryle's notion of "categorical error." Skeptics are always busy trying to slay the radical Cartesian dualistic strawman while ignoring the logical and sensible Aristotelian/Thomistic dualism.]StephenB
September 12, 2009
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---Diffaxial; "Which tells me that you don’t know what a category error, or category mistake, is. I well know that meaning of the term, its origin, and the subjectivist motivation that prompts it. The word you need to focus on is "distraction," which constitutes your damage control strategy. To suggest that nature is rational is to point out that it has rational properties that can be understood by rational minds. For you nature is not rational, which means that rational minds could not comprehend it since there would be nothing there comprend. Thus, you ignore the correspondence between natures comprehensibility and man's capacity to comprehend it, providing the simplistic and subjectivist answer that human history explains all. That argument makes no sense since it ignores the object of the investigation, leaving the investigator to investigate himself. +StephenB
September 12, 2009
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VJtorey @ 116: Your definition of category mistake is exactly right. What you are incompletely characterizing, however, is StephenB's argument. StephenB's argument turns on an ambiguity or equivocation (I don't think intentional) that is apparent in his use of words such as "rational" and/or "comprehensible," and does so in a way that does result in a category error. Stephen's main assertion lies downstream from that error. We all agree that it is perfectly intelligible to ask whether entities within the universe, or even the universe itself, are such that we may be capable of understanding them. We agree that it makes sense to to ask about any entity, "can that entity be understood by human investigation and reasoning?" Scientific success indicates that many phenomena can be understood and that perhaps the universe as whole may someday be understood as well, particularly when you define human reason and the scientific enterprise as I have above (the product of a network of distributed cognition over historical time scales). As you say, "All entities, it seems, can be sorted into two baskets: amenable to human reason, or not." There is no category error there. But Stephen is asserting more than that, and it is this additional assertion that commits a category error. Stephen's assertion is that nature is "intelligible" and "comprehensible" in the way that a paragraph is intelligible, and further insists that if it were not intelligible in this way, it would not be intelligible at all. Paragraphs are intelligible or comprehensible in the sense that they have been "made comprehensible" by an author, in the sense that an intelligible message has been encoded into it. The reader, upon comprehending the paragraph, decodes that encoded message and retrieves its meaning. When meaning is successfully conveyed in this way it is right to say that there is intentional activity on both ends - a sender and a receiver. And, it is no coincidence that the word "meaning" can refer both to message content and to "intentions" (as in, "I didn't mean to do that"), as the recovery of the meaning of a message occurs when I understand what the sender intends that I understand. Here I think of Searle's pithy take on Grice:
Grice saw correctly that when we communicate to people, we succeed in producing understanding in them by getting them to recognize our intention to produce that understanding. Communication is peculiar among human actions in that we succeed in producing an intended effect on the hearer by getting the hearer to recognize the intention to produce that very effect….I can, for example, tell them that it is raining just by getting them to recognize my intention to tell them that it is raining. (from Searle, J. R. (1998). Mind, language, and society: Philosophy in the real world. New York: Basic Books, pages 144-145.)
That Stephen intends "comprehensible" in this sense of "encoding-decoding," and a sense that includes intentional meaning, is completely clear from his above statements:
Just as a written paragraph must be made comprehensible before a reader can comprehend it, a universe must be made comprehensible before a scientist can study it.
And, particularly:
if there was no coded message in nature, then the message could not be decoded…That is exactly what a scientist does, he decodes, unscrambles, and reverse engineers the messages found in nature.
It is my claim that Stephen's additional assertion, in the context of the contemporary scientific world picture, commits a category error. Just as hurricanes destroy homes neither accidentally nor intentionally (because hurricanes are not agents, and the dimension "intentional - accidental" can only be said to apply to actions initiated by agents), neither are galaxies and thunderstorms either "rational" or "irrational," because only agents capable of reasoning (or faulty reasoning) are capable of rationality or irrationality in that sense. Similarly, to construe the causal facts behind a lightning strike or supernova as reflecting rational authorship and a message ("what was intended by THAT??") is indeed similar to remarking on the color of a number or the oafishness of a hurricane. Of course, at another remove, that is the debate at hand, in that the contemporary scientific world picture also asserts that the advent and history of living organisms (including ourselves) does not reflect "authorship," a world picture many people find impossible to accept. Indeed, it seems clear to me that StephenB makes the argument that he does because he wants the fact that nature is often comprehensible in the sense that we all agree upon to compel the conclusion that must be a "sender" or "author" of phenomena in nature in the same sense that there must be a "sender" or "author" of a paragraph. Otherwise, StephenB asserts, we would not fine nature intelligible at all. It is his goal to adduce success in the natural sciences as evidence for that authorship, because, he asserts, nature would not be intelligible absent that authorship. But here is where the (I think unintentional) equivocation occurs, as Stephen ascribes to nature "comprehensibility" in the sense of "comprehensible like an encoded paragraph" (and "rationality" in the sense of "the actions of a rational agent"), but claims in support of that assertion "comprehensibility" in the sense we all agree is appropriate, that is, "amenable to understanding by means of human investigation and reason," a relationship to human comprehension that may be shared by authored and non-authored phenomena alike. But "comprehensible" in the first sense does not follow from the fact of comprehensibility in the second sense. Nor is the conclusion that nature is "comprehensible" in the first sense (the intelligible encoding/decoding of messages) compelled by success in attaining scientific understanding in the second.Diffaxial
September 12, 2009
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Diffaxial Is the number 2 green or not green? Merely asking the question betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of what a number is. To ask whether an abstract methematical entity can be colored is indeed tantamount to a category mistake. But I cannot think of any kind of entity, abstract or otherwise, for which the question, "Can that entity (and all its properties) be understood by human reason?" is an illegitimate question - i.e. one that doesn't even make sense. It seems to be a question that we can meaningfully ask about any object, or collection of objects - even the whole cosmos. If the question didn't make sense, then we wouldn't have a science called cosmology, would we? Thus, to maintain that the question, "Is the cosmos rational?" is a category mistake, you have to argue that there is something wrong-headed about the scientific quest. For it really is that bold - a quest for unbounded knowledge. So far, human beings have had a pretty good track record in unravelling the secrets of the cosmos - even if their investigations often give rise to new questions. There seems to be nothing out there, which we can observe, which remains impervious to scientists' best attempts to understand it. Even black holes can be modeled. There are, however, some entities which cannot be understood by human reason. (1) Once we have identified the fundamental laws of science, we shall have to take them as a "given" - although even here, we can still investigate the question of why the universe has these laws and not some other ones. For instance, if (as physicist Garrett Lisi proposes in his Exceptionally Simple Theory of Everything) it turned out that the universe instantiates the geometrical structure E8, which many mathematicians consider to be the most beautiful mathematical object, that would be a very surprising fact, which we might reasonably explain by the hypothesis that the universe was designed by an intelligent Being who wanted to make the universe in the most elegant possible manner. (2) We don't seem to be very good at understanding ourselves. Although we can model any aspect of our behavior, we cannot construct a complete model of human nature, the way we can for the nature of gold, say. Nothing surprising here - it's just a consequence of our capacity for recursion, coupled with the fact that we can't step outside our own skins. (3) If higher intelligences (i.e. aliens or angels) exist within the cosmos, or if the cosmos itself is the creation of a Supreme Intelligence, as theists believe, then of course, we can hardly hope to understand the workings of these minds. So in these cases, the answer to our question, "Can this entity be understood by human reason?" is: No. But I defy you to name a single entity for which the question isn't even legitimate. All entities, it seems, can be sorted into two baskets: amenable to human reason, or not.vjtorley
September 11, 2009
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StephenB @ 114:
—-Diffaxial; “[C] To state either that nature is rational or that nature is irrational is to commit a category error." No, actually that is incorrect. If the universe was not rational and, if under those conditions, someone falsely attributed rationality to it, that would be a category error.
Which tells me that you don't know what a category error, or category mistake, is. Get busy.
Do you see the word “irrational” in that paragraph. No, someone quietly slipped it in and hoped no one would notice. [Who on earth could that have been?]
That would be StephenB in 105:
By your account, the scientist does none of those things, rather he is simply reflecting on...an irrational nature which cannot really be comprehended at all.
Diffaxial
September 11, 2009
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----Diffaxial; "[C] To state either that nature is rational or that nature is irrational is to commit a category error. I choose [C].' No, actually that is incorrect. If the universe was not rational and, if under those conditions, someone falsely attributed rationality to it, that would be a category error. On the other hand, to say that the universe is either rational or not rational is to simply state an either or proposition. Your mistake is in substituting the word "irrational," which connotes the failure to use reason, with the word "non-rational," which,in the context used, means not according to reason. To call nature "irrational" would indeed be a category error, since that word implies that nature has refused to use its capacity for reason, even though only humans have that faculty. Notice the way I formulated the problem: "I hasten to remind you that we can begin with only one of two assumptions: [A] Nature is comprehensible, orderly, and investigatable. That is the rational assumption [B] Nature is not rational, which means that it is not investigatable." Do you see the word "irrational" in that paragraph. No, someone quietly slipped it in and hoped no one would notice. [Who on earth could that have been?]StephenB
September 11, 2009
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Diffaxial,
Haste makes waste. [C] To state either that nature is rational or that nature is irrational is to commit a category error. I choose [C].
You must have written that in haste.Clive Hayden
September 11, 2009
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StephenB @ 111:
I hasten to remind you that we can begin with only one of two assumptions: [A] Nature is comprehensible, orderly, and investigatable. That is the rational assumption [B] Nature is not rational, which means that it is not investigatable.
Haste makes waste. [C] To state either that nature is rational or that nature is irrational is to commit a category error. I choose [C].Diffaxial
September 11, 2009
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On the contrary, if there was no coded message in nature, then the message could not be decoded; if there was no picture in nature to be unscrambled, it could not be unscrambled; if there was no engineering, it could not be reverse engineered. ----Diffaxial: “This only works if you assume from the outset that what scientists are doing can be construed as decoding encoded messages, reverse engineering engineered artifacts, and so on. Of course, that is the assertion we are challenging. Because it only works only if (I blush to repeat it) you assume your conclusions, this remains an assertion, only, unsupported by particular scientific successes absent that assumption.” I hasten to remind you that we can begin with only one of two assumptions: [A] Nature is comprehensible, orderly, and investigatable. That is the rational assumption [B] Nature is not rational, which means that it is not investigatable. That is the irrational position.. Hint: all worthwhile intellectual pursuits begin with an assumption. Thus, one can CHOOSE he rational assumption or choose the irrational assumption. ----Rinse and repeat. That’s my line. Get your own. ----“It certainly follows that, if events in nature are not encoded messages, we cannot decode messages contained therein.” Right you are. ----“What does not follow is that, having construed natural events as bereft of message content, we cannot understand the causal histories and lawful regularities that result in those events. We can.” One cannot understand lawful regularities without also knowing what they indicate. There is no such thing as regularity without order, and there is no such thing as order without purpose, function, or message. Regularity serves order, and order serves purpose. Sorry, but that is the way things work. ----“And that is what scientists are overwhelmingly about, with considerable success. That success unequivocally demonstrates that huge tracts of the natural world can be understood absent the assumption that nature is comprehensible in the way that, and for the reasons that, a paragraph is comprehensible (e.g., agentic authorship).” Atheist scientists unwittingly assume the comprehensibility of the universe even as they are publically denying it. That is all part of their irrationality. In any case, is that the great meaning that you extract from the universe, ---that we all have causal histories? ---- “An irrational nature” repeats the above noted category error (in slightly different form). Nature is neither rational nor irrational, as the contemporary consensus (of long standing) is that natural events (thunderstorms, galaxies, quarks) neither result from reasoning nor can reflect faulty reasoning.” If nature wasn’t rational, rationality could not grasp it. That should be obvious. -----“Stephen, from this day forward you shall be known as “Mr. T.” As Mr. T might put it, “Pity the poor fool who denies truth in the name of truth.” “StephenB
September 11, 2009
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Diffaxial (#100) I only have time for a brief response here, as I'm busy at the moment, but you might like to check out this article by Professor James Ross, in response to your computer example (Ross addresses computers in his footnotes): http://www.nd.edu/~afreddos/courses/43151/ross-immateriality.pdfvjtorley
September 10, 2009
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BTW, really curious to know what survival advantage contemplating existence holds for Humanity. "Dem belly full, but we hungry!" A hungry mouth is a hungry mouth!"Oramus
September 10, 2009
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Oramus @ 107:
Diffaxial, from this day forward you shall be known as “Mr. Loopy”.
Cool. As for the rest, I guess those would be paragraphs into which no intelligible message has been encoded.Diffaxial
September 10, 2009
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Diffaxial, Why do you insist on playing the childish "Catch me, if you can!" game. StephenB has thoroughly trashed your "loop'd'loop" rhetoric. Diffaxial, from this day forward you shall be known as "Mr. Loopy".Oramus
September 10, 2009
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StephenB @ 105:
On the contrary, if there was no coded message in nature, then the message could not be decoded; if there was no picture in nature to be unscrambled, it could not be unscrambled; if there was no engineering, it could not be reverse engineered.
This only works if you assume from the outset that what scientists are doing can be construed as decoding encoded messages, reverse engineering engineered artifacts, and so on. Of course, that is the assertion we are challenging. Because it only works only if (I blush to repeat it) you assume your conclusions, this remains an assertion, only, unsupported by particular scientific successes absent that assumption.
On the contrary, if there was no coded message in nature, then the message could not be decoded; if there was no picture in nature to be unscrambled, it could not be unscrambled; if there was no engineering, it could not be reverse engineered.
Rinse and repeat. It certainly follows that, if events in nature are not encoded messages, we cannot decode messages contained therein. What does not follow is that, having construed natural events as bereft of message content, we cannot understand the causal histories and lawful regularities that result in those events. We can. And that is what scientists are overwhelmingly about, with considerable success. That success unequivocally demonstrates that huge tracts of the natural world can be understood absent the assumption that nature is comprehensible in the way that, and for the reasons that, a paragraph is comprehensible (e.g., agentic authorship).
By your account, the scientist does none of those things, rather he is simply reflecting on...an irrational nature which cannot really be comprehended at all.
"An irrational nature" repeats the above noted category error (in slightly different form). Nature is neither rational nor irrational, as the contemporary consensus (of long standing) is that natural events (thunderstorms, galaxies, quarks) neither result from reasoning nor can reflect faulty reasoning.
It is not posible to comprehend the incomprehensible.
Stephen, from this day forward you shall be known as "Mr. T."Diffaxial
September 10, 2009
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---Diffaxial; "It doesn’t, and it didn’t. Our history (evolutionary and cultural) inscribed into us the ability to comprehend, and the cultural means to build distributed and networks of historically cumulative cognition and comprehension. That is all that is required." That tells me nothing about the standard that is being comprehended, which was, after all, the point of the question. Your questionable account refers only to the capacity of the investigator and says nothing about the object of the investigation. ---"Phenomena in nature such as thunderstorms, quarks and galaxies cannot be said to be either comprehensible or incomprehensible in that sense at all, because no message is encoded in those events, either intelligibly or unintelligibly." On the contrary, if there was no coded message in nature, then the message could not be decoded; if there was no picture in nature to be unscrambled, it could not be unscrambled; if there was no engineering, it could not be reverse engineered. That is exactly what a scientist does, he decodes, unscrambles, and reverse engineers the messages found in nature. By your account, the scientist does none of those things, rather he is simply reflecting on his own brain state, his own history, and on an irrational nature which cannot really be comprehended at all. It is not posible to comprehend the incomprehensible.StephenB
September 10, 2009
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---GIMI: "Please explain to me the Wave–particle duality shown in the double-slit experiment and other oddities of quantum mechanics." ----"Our mental models may fit well with the universe at the scale we interact with it daily, but the realm of the very large and very small may contradict our understanding of how reality operates." The universe must be remarkably comprehensible if you can make distinctions like that. More to the point, if nature was not comprehensible, we could not progress in our ability to comprehend it, as you have suggested that we can. One can move closer and closer only to something that is real, namely comprehensibility. If comprehensibility was not real, we could not fine tune our understanding of it since there would be no basis for the fine tuning. It is impossible to measure one's progress toward a standard that doesn't exist.StephenB
September 10, 2009
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----"StephenB, if I understand you correctly, you are using the terms ‘comprehensibility’ and ‘order’ or ‘precision’ as more or less synonymous for this discussion. I struggle with that, because as I noted I don’t believe that comprehensibility is a property of an object, whereas I can see much more readily how ‘order’ can be so (not quite sure about ‘precision’ though)." Order and precicion are comprehensible because they have comprehensibility, that is, there is something about them that the one comprehending them recognizes as being outside of himself and compatible with his mental framework. The human intellect is the internal comprehending faculty that apprehends the external comprehensibility. If that was not that case, the investigator would simply be investigating himself and his own capacity to comprehend [psychology], rather than nature, which is comprehensible [science]. If the comprehensibility is not there, nothing would be comprehended. Hence, alan's quote with reference to Einstein and his remark about the miracle of nature's comprehensibility. Einstein understood the difference between epistemology and metaphysics. The two are connected, but they are not the same thing.StephenB
September 10, 2009
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#65 Seversky
As for beliefs, if they do indeed correspond to patterns of electrical activity in the brain then it is arguable that they do indeed have a physical dimension comprising extension in both space and time.
Unfortunately for the Strict Physicalist, establishing correlations does nothing to prove that beliefs and brain states are the same thing. It could quickly be stated as follows: (1) The law of identity: if x is identical to y, then whatever is true of x is true of y and vice versa. (2) I can hold certain beliefs without thinking about them, such as facts about each widget in my inventory, or information about each animal in zoology, or facts about mathematical probability, history and so on. (3) Beliefs have a certain aboutness about them, that is they are about something, whereas my physical brain states are not about anything. (4) Beliefs (x) can be true or false. (5) Physical brain states (y) can be positively or negatively charged but it does not make sense to say that they are true or false or about things. (6) If my belief about the history of mathematics is not positively or negatively charged, then what is true of physical brain states (y) is not true of beliefs (x) and vice versa. (7) Therefore, I have reasonable justification for believing that beliefs (x), or for that matter myself who hold those beliefs, are not the same type of thing as a physical compound or the brain. This type of argument could be developed similarly for desires, sensations, thoughts and volition. Neuroscientists will continue to establish more and more precise correlations but saying it is a "fact" that a belief or an act of will is the same as a brain state is not the common sense view and certainly the burden of proof is on the physicalist to show that they are identical. To this day, the "evidence" I've read has not been convincing. I am surprised by the support shown for strict physicalism with the lack of evidence to support it. It is as if these people are feverish from a fear of a cosmic authority.absolutist
September 10, 2009
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fg 99 You have proven the puzzle to be comprehensible. Give an unsolvable (incomprehensible) puzzle to same 100 test subjects and see what happens.suckerspawn
September 10, 2009
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VJ @ 86: Just time for a sketch:
I would contend that an evolutionary account of human cognition is an oxymoron. The reason is that human cognition presupposes a capacity to form abstract concepts, and I would maintain that that’s not a capacity that can meaningfully be said to belong to a physical system.
I wonder if you are not conflating the level of description required to completely describe and understand what a physical system engaged in an abstract activity (including abstracting!) is doing with the ontological and causal facts about that system. What comes immediately to mind is the concept of "multiple realizability." Multiple realizability may be illustrated by the relationship between an algorithm, say for performing long division, and the physical systems in which that algorithm may be instantiated. The algorithm for long division may be instantiated, or realized, in any number of media: within a Babbage-like physical mechanism, using paper and pencil, as a computer executing a program, within brain tissue and the working memory of an individual person, and so on. In short, the algorithm may be multiply realized, is itself something other than any given realization, and is therefore something abstract. Nevertheless, it does not follow that the algorithm can be executed apart from all such physical instantiations. On the contrary, every instance of the calculation of an quotient by means of this algorithm entails the use of some computational and ultimately physical embodiment of the algorithm. When a computational system does becomes the vehicle for that algorithm, it becomes something both physical and something abstract - the computational and ultimately physical embodiment of an abstraction. So, now imagine that we encounter a computer, engaged in an activity. Assume that we have a complete and exhaustive description of the physical states of the computer, but don't know what it is doing. After some observation we realize, "it is doing long division!" We have now attained a description and explanation of the activities of the computer at an appropriate and necessary level of abstraction (a description of the algorithm for long division) that is itself not reducible to a description of the physical states of the computer - we had that, but still didn't know what it was doing. Nevertheless, it does not follow that the algorithm for long division is pushing electrons through AND gates, changing voltages within physical registers of the microprocessor, and so on. We know that at the causal level the computer remains relentlessly physically determined by the physics and electronics of the various components. There is no "immaterial algorithm" causally propelling the events within the computer as it occurs. The computer is wholly physical. Therefore, ontologically the computer remains a wholly physical device. In short, we have a physical system for which an abstract, rather a physical or causal, level of description is absolutely required before we can understand what it is doing and embodying, yet the object itself is nevertheless ontologically, wholly physical at the causal level, accomplishing what it accomplishes by means of nothing other than those physical facts. Someone is now going to pipe in and say, "yes, but the computer only embodies those abstractions because an intelligence designed it to do so." But this would be off point. Your claim was not that "a physical system is capable of abstraction only if an intelligence designs it to be so." Your claim was that "physical systems are incapable of the formation of abstract concepts." The above, while not illustrating the "formation of abstract concepts," does go a long way to establishing that abstraction and physical embodiment are not mutually exclusive.Diffaxial
September 10, 2009
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StephenB, if I understand you correctly, you are using the terms 'comprehensibility' and 'order' or 'precision' as more or less synonymous for this discussion. I struggle with that, because as I noted I don't believe that comprehensibility is a property of an object, whereas I can see much more readily how 'order' can be so (not quite sure about 'precision' though). Just consider how one could go about measuring 'comprehensibility'. Say, we have a puzzle and want to measure its comprehensibility. We could give the puzzle to 100 test subjects and measure how long it takes each person to solve it. We would get a qantitative result, some kind of distribution that we could precisely describe in terms of its mean, standard deviation etc. But have we now measured the comprehensibilty of the puzzle? Surely not, rather what we have done is measure the comprehension of the test subjects in relation to this particular puzzle. The puzzle simply exists, with whatever physical properties it has. 'Comprehensibility' projects the cognitive functions of the subjects onto the object, and as such conflates the observer with the observed. Now, when it comes to 'order' I am more in agreement with you. We can quantify the order of an object in some way, say via the concepts of thermodynamics. This order exists independently of the observers. So now the question really is 'how did the universe become ordered to the extent it is'. I suspect that this question can be partly resolved by physics (for instance, how did stars form out of primordial clouds etc.), but that there also metaphysical aspects to this that can not be readily addressed by science, and as such are well outside the purview of biological theories such as (neo-)Darwinism. fGfaded_Glory
September 10, 2009
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Hi Mark, you said: "Re #6. I am a materialist and I am quite happy to argue about how or why nature is comprehensible. I imagine this would follow the well-worn lines of discussing the argument from reason. But it is nothing to do with the theory of evolution." So let's do it. What is a materialist, anyway? :-) We need to get our terms agreed upon first thing.tgpeeler
September 9, 2009
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Gaz,
Yours is the LEAST reasonable because it hasn’t been properly reasoned – as most of your views aren’t. Diffaxial and others have given you the most reasonable position, which is that the universe is comprehensible by us because we have evolved to comprehened it – creatures which DON’T properly comprehend it don’t survive. A creature that perceives a predator as being a mile away when it is only a yard away will soon be eliminated from the gene pool.
There is no reason that "survivability" leads to truth, for all sorts of phobias and neurosis just as well lead to survivability. But there is an even more fundamental difficulty to hinging everything ever known on "survivability". It is this: knowledge is not transient, it is not passed on from parent to child biologically. Morality is innate, but knowing how to start a fire isn't. Our ability to comprehend the outside world is not an evolved trait because it is not a physical trait. I know that darwinists love to talk about metaphysical evolution, but it cannot be tested physically, so it cannot be tested at all by any material study. Neuroscience can only study neurons, to get an interpretation of the neurons, you need to ask the mind before you can know what the movement in the neurons means. If the neurons really accounted for the mind, you should be able to determine thoughts by strictly studying the movements themselves, such as speed, direction, and so on. But you can't. And using the non sequitur "emerging quality" of the mind from matter is not helpful. StephenB's is the MOST reasonable, for it doesn't become self-referentially incoherent like believing that whatever is thought evolved, for you could never know otherwise if that were true.Clive Hayden
September 9, 2009
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----faded glory: “So what about my point that comprehensibility is not a property of an observed entity (the object), but rather a function of the cognitive capabilities of the observer (the subject)? I think it is rather obvious that the comprehensibility of an object depends entirely on who is observing it.” While your point is well expressed, and refreshingly concise, it fails the test of reason. Subjectivism always does. If there is nothing there to comprehend, it will not be comprehended. As stated in the “”Anthropic principle,” for example, the rationality of the universe is manifested in the stability of structures essential for life, all of which depend on the delicate balances between differerent fundamantal forces. Clearly, the universe’s orderliness and precision is not a “function of, or does not depend on, the cognitive capabilities of the observer.” If everyone became a subjectivist overnight, the universe would continue to be rational and would not collapse, meaning of course, that neither its orderliness nor its finely tuned constants depend on the mental capacity of its observers. Rather than deny the rationality of the universe, you would be better served to explain, or at least speculate about, how it might have happened.StephenB
September 9, 2009
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StephenB you said, "It makes no sense to characterize the obvious as an “unsupported assertion.” Please explain to me the Wave–particle duality shown in the double-slit experiment and other oddities of quantum mechanics. Our mental models may fit well with the universe at the scale we interact with it daily, but the realm of the very large and very small may contradict our understanding of how reality operates. GIMIGIMI
September 9, 2009
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