Intelligent Design

The Incoherence of Materialism, as Demonstrated by Ayn Rand

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A friend posts this quotation from Ayn Rand:

Racism is the lowest, most crudely primitive form of collectivism. It is the notion of ascribing moral, social or political significance to a man’s genetic lineage—the notion that a man’s intellectual and characterological traits are produced and transmitted by his internal body chemistry.

Rand’s conclusion is correct.  And the reasoning by which she gets to that conclusion is also correct.

So whence the title of this post you might ask.

Good question.  The answer is that given her premises as a reductionist materialist, Rand is not permitted logically to make the argument that she has made, because a reductionist materialism, by definition, insists that “a man’s intellectual and characterological traits are produced and transmitted by his internal body chemistry.”  Indeed, reductionist materialism, again by definition, insists that “internal body chemistry” exhausts the causal possibilities for “intellectual and characterological traits.”

But Barry, doesn’t materialism allow a role for environmental influences in shaping intellectual and characterological traits?  Of course it does.  But what is being shaped?  Not the spirit.  Not the soul.  Not even consciousness (which must be denied as an illusion).  Materialism allows for nothing immaterial.  According to materialism, the environment influences internal body chemistry and nothing else, because there is literally nothing else that can be influenced.

“We are our chemicals and nothing else,” Rand must say if she is to be a logically consistent reductionist materialist.

How then, can she logically reject “the notion of ascribing moral, social or political significance to a man’s genetic lineage—the notion that a man’s intellectual and characterological traits are produced and transmitted by his internal body chemistry”?

How indeed.

 

 

38 Replies to “The Incoherence of Materialism, as Demonstrated by Ayn Rand

  1. 1
    Mung says:

    I have to keep reminding myself that it’s the chemicals talking, not the materialist.

  2. 2
    bornagain77 says:

    Of related note Mr. Arrington, I think this concession by Bob O’H, after him being pressed on his being a ‘neuronal illusion’ within atheistic materialism, deserves it own headline:

    “your argument only makes sense if you believe these views you are ascribing to “atheistic materialism”, which I’m certain you don’t. FWIW, I don’t believe them. (i.e. the premises of atheistic materialism.)”
    – Bob O’H
    http://www.uncommondescent.com.....ent-625773

    Apparently Bob, if he really exist as a person, is unaware that he conceded the entire debate since he kept trying to argue for some other point for Darwinian evolution.

    i.e. His concession is ‘Game, set, match’ for the overall atheistic worldview that he was trying to defend

  3. 3
    Vy says:

    the notion that a man’s intellectual and characterological traits are produced and transmitted by his internal body chemistry.

    A notion that seems to be getting less controversial to defend for some reason, at least in the comment sections of some websites. I guess being constantly called “racists, Nazis, misogynists, homophobes, transphobes, somethingaphobes!!!” can do that to some.

  4. 4
    bornagain77 says:

    OT: Being a Journey fan, I really liked this video and article:

    Rock Star Jonathan Cain’s Journey to Christ
    02-14-2017
    Amber C. Strong
    Excerpt: For close to 40 years, rock star Jonathan Cain has toured the world and entertained millions as a member of the band Journey.
    Yet, with all of that success Cain says something was missing — something he’d lost long ago.
    “My father was a very spiritual man who taught me how to pray at a very young age. So I took Jesus into my heart,” recalled Cain.,,,
    http://www1.cbn.com/cbnnews/en.....-:PF:-IM1-

    Song:

    Journey – Lights
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nb1bb7oM3BI

    Journey – Don’t Stop Believin’
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2NQIPVqLMUg

  5. 5
    kairosfocus says:

    BA,

    In my native land, we speak about how rum can be talking. Also, of how some will use the rum to then say what they wanted to say but were too inhibited to say when sober.

    EVOLUTIONARY MATERIALISM = Rum talk on steroids????

    Let’s do some sober reflections.

    KF

  6. 6
    Fair Witness says:

    KF: If our minds were not at least partly material, how could the rum ever talk?

  7. 7
    kairosfocus says:

    FW, a knock on the head has long been known to have impact on consciousness and cognition, sometimes all the way up to death. So, plainly we have a material component. However, logical inference and the moral government of such towards truth and right cannot be accounted for on mere material signal processing. I have long found Eng Derek Smith’s two-tier controller bio-cybernetic, MIMO loop model an instructive point for opening up serious discussion. KF

  8. 8
    rvb8 says:

    I think she means that our genes produce our race, colour, size, shape, perhaps intellect and sexual preferance, and all our other physical characteristics.

    In the past, (and many people today), look at the physical result of our genetic luck, and assign intent, cleanliness, moral fibre, and character to those physical traits: Asiatic Jews= conniving, untrustworthy; Black African= childish, backward etc. I think this is what she meant.

    Although she was also a strict, ‘objectavist’, pushing a school of Objectavism that would make many of the religious perk up. Her objectavism was of the, ‘we’re all born equal it’s our choices that mould the great, and weed out the chaff’, variety; John Galt as hero as ideal, ugggh!

    Equally nonsensical as religious objectavism, just framed in her sometimes libetarian/pure capatalist speel.

  9. 9
    mike1962 says:

    Her real name was Alisa Rosenbaum.

    Nothing wrong with that.

    At any rate, I bristle a little with posts like this because every chain of reason ultimately ends in incoherence and irrationality. Some philosophies hit it sooner than others.

    Nevertheless.

    Beyond that, humility is required. Or rebellion.

    Take your pick. Choose your side.

  10. 10
    Marfin says:

    rvb8- You do know that when the bible speaks of all men being equal it is of equal value and worth in the eyes of God as we are made in his image.
    As in the parable of the talents all God expects is that you do the best you can in any given situation with the talents you have.The idea that success in matters of money, fame, sports, politics,or Hollywood are important to God is so far down the line in the mind of God its non existent.The whole crux of Christianity is to be the most Christlike you can be , now if you have amazing singing ,sporting , political talent well thats ok as long as these thing dont take precedence or compromise your effort to be Christlike.
    So I will never get to play soccer for my country , never get to cure cancer, or become a business magnate , but non of this matters to me as long as I am trying in my unremarkable life to be as much like Jesus as I can with the faith and talent at my disposal.
    By the away any response as to how RM does what you claim it does.

  11. 11
    kairosfocus says:

    M62, I doubt that all chains of reasoning end in incoherence. KF

  12. 12
    Barry Arrington says:

    For the benefit of our readers who may not understand the debating tactics of our materialist commentators, I will translate rvb8’s comment at 8 into plain English:

    “There is no good materialist response to the OP. Therefore, I will pretend Rand said something she plainly did not say and refute that.”

  13. 13
    vjtorley says:

    Hi Barry Arrington,

    You write of Ayn Rand that “given her premises as a reductionist materialist, Rand is not permitted logically to make the argument that she has made…”

    Rand was not a materialist, and she wasn’t a spiritualist, either. She held Aristotle in high esteem (although she rejected his essentialism), she affirmed the existence of final causes, and she believed in libertarian free will. Despite her references to the soul in her writings, she did not believe that the soul (or for that matter, the mind) could survive the death of the body. She also had a Greek horror of the notion of infinity, and for that reason, rejected the notion of God as fuzzy and under-defined.

    Rand certainly was no reductionist, as can be seen from her remarks on free will, consciousness and the soul-body dichotomy. She wrote:

    “You are an indivisible entity of matter and consciousness. Renounce your consciousness and you become a brute. Renounce your body and you become a fake. Renounce the material world and you surrender it to evil.” (Galt’s Speech, For the New Intellectual, 142.)

    Rand’s position on the mind-body question is thus very difficult to categorize. It’s also quite hard to refute, since it agrees so closely with Aristotle.

    Leonard Peikoff, who is regarded as Rand’s intellectual successor, writes in his work, Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand (Chapter 1, p. 33):

    “We reject every ‘spiritual’ dimension, force, Form, Idea, entity, power, or whatnot alleged to transcend existence. We reject idealism. To put the point positively: we accept reality, and that’s all.

    “This does not mean that Objectivists are materialists.

    “Materialists … champion nature but deny the reality or efficacy of consciousness. Consciousness, in this view, is either a myth or a useless byproduct of brain or other motions. In Objectivist terms, this amounts to the advocacy of existence without consciousness. It is the denial of man’s faculty of cognition and therefore of all knowledge.”

    From what I can gather from her followers, Rand believed in a kind of monism (i.e. non-dualism), which involved free will as a basic feature of Nature, working by some sort of downward causation in the human body, from the level of the macroscopic to that of the microscopic. Consciousness and the mind are non-physical attributes of the body, which perish when the body dies.

  14. 14
    bornagain77 says:

    This following claim does not follow from the premises. And is just a naked assertion

    “Consciousness and the mind are non-physical attributes of the body, which perish when the body dies.”

  15. 15
    mike1962 says:

    kairosfocus @11

    Maybe it’s just me who is incoherent 😉

  16. 16
    bornagain77 says:

    As to physical evidence for the non-material ‘soul’ which is capable of living beyond the death of the material body:

    Talbott asked this simple, yet profound, question:

    The Unbearable Wholeness of Beings – Stephen L. Talbott – 2010
    Excerpt: Virtually the same collection of molecules exists in the canine cells during the moments immediately before and after death. But after the fateful transition no one will any longer think of genes as being regulated, nor will anyone refer to normal or proper chromosome functioning. No molecules will be said to guide other molecules to specific targets, and no molecules will be carrying signals, which is just as well because there will be no structures recognizing signals. Code, information, and communication, in their biological sense, will have disappeared from the scientist’s vocabulary.
    ,,, the question, rather, is why things don’t fall completely apart — as they do, in fact, at the moment of death. What power holds off that moment — precisely for a lifetime, and not a moment longer?
    Despite the countless processes going on in the cell, and despite the fact that each process might be expected to “go its own way” according to the myriad factors impinging on it from all directions, the actual result is quite different. Rather than becoming progressively disordered in their mutual relations (as indeed happens after death, when the whole dissolves into separate fragments), the processes hold together in a larger unity.
    http://www.thenewatlantis.com/.....-of-beings

    The answer to Talbott’s simple, yet profound, question is information. Specifically, non-material quantum information is the power that ‘holds off that moment — precisely for a lifetime, and not a moment longer’.

    Quantum Entanglement and Information
    Quantum entanglement is a physical resource, like energy, associated with the peculiar nonclassical correlations that are possible between separated quantum systems. Entanglement can be measured, transformed, and purified. A pair of quantum systems in an entangled state can be used as a quantum information channel to perform computational and cryptographic tasks that are impossible for classical systems. The general study of the information-processing capabilities of quantum systems is the subject of quantum information theory.
    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/qt-entangle/

    Stuart Hameroff states the situation with quantum information as such:

    “Let’s say the heart stops beating. The blood stops flowing. The microtubules lose their quantum state. But the quantum information, which is in the microtubules, isn’t destroyed. It can’t be destroyed. It just distributes and dissipates to the universe at large. If a patient is resuscitated, revived, this quantum information can go back into the microtubules and the patient says, “I had a near death experience. I saw a white light. I saw a tunnel. I saw my dead relatives.,,” Now if they’re not revived and the patient dies, then it’s possible that this quantum information can exist outside the body. Perhaps indefinitely as a soul.”
    – Stuart Hameroff – Quantum Entangled Consciousness – Life After Death – video (5:00 minute mark)
    https://youtu.be/jjpEc98o_Oo?t=300

    What Hameroff is referring to is the fact that in quantum mechanics it is quantum information that is primarily conserved, and not necessarily energy and matter that are primarily conserved, as energy and matter are primarily conserved in classical mechanics:

    Quantum no-hiding theorem experimentally confirmed for first time – 2011
    Excerpt: In the classical world, information can be copied and deleted at will. In the quantum world, however, the conservation of quantum information means that information cannot be created nor destroyed. This concept stems from two fundamental theorems of quantum mechanics: the no-cloning theorem and the no-deleting theorem. A third and related theorem, called the no-hiding theorem, addresses information loss in the quantum world. According to the no-hiding theorem, if information is missing from one system (which may happen when the system interacts with the environment), then the information is simply residing somewhere else in the Universe; in other words, the missing information cannot be hidden in the correlations between a system and its environment.
    – per physorg

    Quantum no-deleting theorem
    Excerpt: A stronger version of the no-cloning theorem and the no-deleting theorem provide permanence to quantum information. To create a copy one must import the information from some part of the universe and to delete a state one needs to export it to another part of the universe where it will continue to exist.
    – per wikipedia

    Moreover, besides microtubules, quantum entanglement has now been found to be widespread throughout our bodies, in DNA and Protein molecules as well as in other molecules.

    “What happens is this classical information (of DNA) is embedded, sandwiched, into the quantum information (of DNA). And most likely this classical information is never accessed because it is inside all the quantum information. You can only access the quantum information or the electron clouds and the protons. So mathematically you can describe that as a quantum/classical state.”
    Elisabeth Rieper – Classical and Quantum Information in DNA – video (Longitudinal Quantum Information resides along the entire length of DNA discussed at the 19:30 minute mark; at 24:00 minute mark Dr Rieper remarks that practically the whole DNA molecule can be viewed as quantum information with classical information embedded within it)
    https://youtu.be/2nqHOnVTxJE?t=1176

    Physicists Discover Quantum Law of Protein Folding – February 22, 2011
    Quantum mechanics finally explains why protein folding depends on temperature in such a strange way.
    Excerpt: To put this in perspective, a relatively small protein of only 100 amino acids can take some 10^100 different configurations. If it tried these shapes at the rate of 100 billion a second, it would take longer than the age of the universe to find the correct one. Just how these molecules do the job in nanoseconds, nobody knows.,,,
    Today, Luo and Lo say these curves can be easily explained if the process of folding is a quantum affair. By conventional thinking, a chain of amino acids can only change from one shape to another by mechanically passing though various shapes in between.
    But Luo and Lo say that if this process were a quantum one, the shape could change by quantum transition, meaning that the protein could ‘jump’ from one shape to another without necessarily forming the shapes in between.,,,
    Their astonishing result is that this quantum transition model fits the folding curves of 15 different proteins and even explains the difference in folding and unfolding rates of the same proteins.
    That’s a significant breakthrough. Luo and Lo’s equations amount to the first universal laws of protein folding. That’s the equivalent in biology to something like the thermodynamic laws in physics.
    http://www.technologyreview.co.....f-protein/

    Quantum criticality in a wide range of important biomolecules
    Excerpt: “Most of the molecules taking part actively in biochemical processes are tuned exactly to the transition point and are critical conductors,” they say.
    That’s a discovery that is as important as it is unexpected. “These findings suggest an entirely new and universal mechanism of conductance in biology very different from the one used in electrical circuits.”
    The permutations of possible energy levels of biomolecules is huge so the possibility of finding even one that is in the quantum critical state by accident is mind-bogglingly small and, to all intents and purposes, impossible.,, of the order of 10^-50 of possible small biomolecules and even less for proteins,”,,,
    “what exactly is the advantage that criticality confers?”
    https://medium.com/the-physics-arxiv-blog/the-origin-of-life-and-the-hidden-role-of-quantum-criticality-ca4707924552

    The reason why finding quantum entanglement to be widespread throughout the human body provides such strong evidence for a transcendent soul is that quantum entanglement is a ‘non-local’ effect that is not explainable by what is termed ‘hidden variables’. That is to say, in order to explain why quantum entanglement exists in our bodies, (or why it exists anywhere else), it is required for us to appeal to a ‘beyond space and time’ cause:

    Looking beyond space and time to cope with quantum theory – 29 October 2012
    Excerpt: “Our result gives weight to the idea that quantum correlations somehow arise from outside spacetime, in the sense that no story in space and time can describe them,”
    http://www.quantumlah.org/high.....uences.php

    Experimental test of nonlocal causality – August 10, 2016
    DISCUSSION
    Previous work on causal explanations beyond local hidden-variable models focused on testing Leggett’s crypto-nonlocality (7, 42, 43), a class of models with a very specific choice of hidden variable that is unrelated to Bell’s local causality (44). In contrast, we make no assumptions on the form of the hidden variable and test all models ,,,
    Our results demonstrate that a causal influence from one measurement outcome to the other, which may be subluminal, superluminal, or even instantaneous, cannot explain the observed correlations.,,,
    http://advances.sciencemag.org.....00162.full

    Moreover, the greater the number of cohered particles in a quantum hypergraph state, (such as what we have in biology), then the more strongly it violates local realism, with the strength increasing exponentially with the number of particles sharing coherence.

    Physicists find extreme violation of local realism in quantum hypergraph states – Lisa Zyga – March 4, 2016
    Excerpt: Many quantum technologies rely on quantum states that violate local realism, which means that they either violate locality (such as when entangled particles influence each other from far away) or realism (the assumption that quantum states have well-defined properties, independent of measurement), or possibly both. Violation of local realism is one of the many counterintuitive, yet experimentally supported, characteristics of the quantum world.
    Determining whether or not multiparticle quantum states violate local realism can be challenging. Now in a new paper, physicists have shown that a large family of multiparticle quantum states called hypergraph states violates local realism in many ways. The results suggest that these states may serve as useful resources for quantum technologies, such as quantum computers and detecting gravitational waves.,,,
    The physicists also showed that the greater the number of particles in a quantum hypergraph state, the more strongly it violates local realism, with the strength increasing exponentially with the number of particles. In addition, even if a quantum hypergraph state loses one of its particles, it continues to violate local realism. This robustness to particle loss is in stark contrast to other types of quantum states, which no longer violate local realism if they lose a particle. This property is particularly appealing for applications, since it might allow for more noise in experiments.
    – per physorg

    Of important related note: Whereas Naturalists have no empirical evidence whatsoever that the epistemologically self defeating multiverse is real, Theists have very strong evidence for their belief in a higher heavenly dimension and in a hellish dimension. Moreover, this evidence comes from two of our strongest, most verified, theories in science. i.e. From Special and General Relativity respectively:

    Special and General Relativity compared to Heavenly and Hellish Near Death Experiences
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TbKELVHcvSI&list=PLtAP1KN7ahia8hmDlCYEKifQ8n65oNpQ5

    Thus in conclusion, the findings of modern science, (contrary to what Darwinian Atheists or any other flavor of atheist would have preferred beforehand to be true), are very comforting to the Christian Theist’s foundational beliefs in an eternal soul that lives past the death of our material body. As well as comforting to his foundational beliefs in a heavenly dimension and in a hellish dimension

    Verse:

    Mark 8:37
    “Is anything worth more than your soul?”

    Supplemental note:

    Near-Death Experiences: Putting a Darwinist’s Evidentiary Standards to the Test – Dr. Michael Egnor – October 15, 2012
    Excerpt: Indeed, about 20 percent of NDE’s are corroborated, which means that there are independent ways of checking about the veracity of the experience. The patients knew of things that they could not have known except by extraordinary perception — such as describing details of surgery that they watched while their heart was stopped, etc. Additionally, many NDE’s have a vividness and a sense of intense reality that one does not generally encounter in dreams or hallucinations.,,,
    The most “parsimonious” explanation — the simplest scientific explanation — is that the (Near Death) experience was real. Tens of millions of people have had such experiences. That is tens of millions of more times than we have observed the origin of species , (or the origin of life, or the origin of a protein/gene, or of a molecular machine), which is never.,,,
    The materialist reaction, in short, is unscientific and close-minded. NDE’s show fellows like Coyne at their sneering unscientific irrational worst. Somebody finds a crushed fragment of a fossil and it’s earth-shaking evidence. Tens of million of people have life-changing spiritual experiences and it’s all a big yawn.
    Note: Dr. Egnor is professor and vice-chairman of neurosurgery at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.
    per Evolution News and Views

  17. 17
    Origenes says:

    Rand: “You are an indivisible entity of matter and consciousness.”

    Indivisible means cannot be separated. What cannot be seperated is eternal, cannot die.

    VJTorley: From what I can gather from her followers, Rand believed in a kind of monism (i.e. non-dualism), which involved free will as a basic feature of Nature, working by some sort of downward causation in the human body, from the level of the macroscopic to that of the microscopic. Consciousness and the mind are non-physical attributes of the body, which perish when the body dies.

    There are many ‘philosophers’ who are extremely vague and careless wrt metaphysics. Extremely annoying.
    Who, in his right mind, can hold that the body is indivisible, or that the body is an aspect of something that is indivisible? It obviously does not make sense. Rand’s metaphysics is incoherent.

  18. 18
    Barry Arrington says:

    Dear Dr. Torley,

    Thank you for your comment at 13. But it reinforces, rather than undermines, the point of the OP. Rand’s writings are one long exercise in monist “cake and eat it too” incoherence. She was a pretentious charlatan and an intellectual fraud. And boring. Did I mention boring? God help anyone who has to read her books.

    One of your most admirable traits is that you are willing to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. Allow me to suggest that when it comes to Rand, there is no doubt. She was, at best, a second-rate thinker and a horrible philosopher.

    I won’t do a point by point of where we disagree, but for those who are interested, here is a good primer on why Rand is so horrible:

    http://www.washingtontimes.com.....ism-flawe/

    and of course, Chamber’s classic review of Atlas Shrugged: http://www.nationalreview.com/.....r-chambers

  19. 19
    john_a_designer says:

    I am not familiar enough with Rand to know what she believed, so I don’t know what she was implying in the single quote cited in the OP. However, I have observed that many of our regular interlocutors, like rvb8 in this thread, never ever (at least in the comments of his that I have read) provide any common ground to begin a rational discussion or debate; rather he and others always assume a contrarian stance. The problem with that is they never present anything that comes even close to being a logically sound argument. Good arguments begin with fact based or at least plausibly true premises. Ungrounded opinions, just assuming you are right and everyone else is wrong, are not arguments. Does rvb8 know the difference? My suspicion is that he does not.

  20. 20
    AnimatedDust says:

    Barry, you’d have to admit she is pretty phenomenal with a sociological crystal ball. But you would have to have read Atlas to know what I mean.

  21. 21
    kairosfocus says:

    VJT, good to hear from you. On curiosity, are you saying in effect she was some sort of modern neo-Aristotelian skeptic or the like, rather than holding the typical evolutionary materialism of our time? [What sort of atheism did she embrace?] I have to say I tend to agree with Origines that we can be incoherent and fuzzy. KF

    PS, I went looking, found this:

    . . . a summary of a few of her salient ideas. She named her philosophy Objectivism, describing its essence as “the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.” As her philosophy developed, she stated that in terms of metaphysics she embraced atheism and stood opposed to anything she deemed mystical or supernatural, including all forms of religion. In terms of epistemology, she argued that all knowledge is based on sense perception, and reason as the “faculty that identifies and integrates the material provided by man’s senses.” As regards ethics, Rand maintained that rational egoism (rational self-interest) was the guiding moral principle. The individual exists “for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself.” Egoism is the “virtue of selfishness.” Politically, she argued strongly for individual rights and considered laissez-faire capitalism as the only moral social system because it was the only one that guarded property rights. She fiercely opposed all forms of collectivism, including communism, socialism, fascism and any form of the welfare state. Limited government best fit her rigid requirements. Arguably, her greatest written work was a novel entitled Atlas Shrugged (1957). Rand detailed the theme of the novel as “the role of the mind in man’s existence—and, as a corollary, the demonstration of a new moral philosophy: the morality of rational self-interest.” The novel’s plot involves a dystopian United States in which the most creative industrialists, scientists and artists go on strike and retreat to a mountainous hideaway where they build an independent free economy. The novel’s hero is John Galt, who leads the strike and the effort to build a free society. To drive home her vision of the free, self-interested society she hoped to see, she has Galt replace the cross with a dollar sign. For Rand, without the rational and the productive, society would collapse. In other words, for Rand, there is no God, no absolute ethical standard, only rational creative-thinking humans who are self-centered, selfish and thoroughly non-altruistic.

    This, too:

    Ayn Rand’s philosophy, Objectivism, begins by embracing the basic fact that existence exists. Reality is, and in the quest to live we must discover reality’s nature and learn to act successfully in it.

    To exist is to be something, to possess a specific identity. This is the Law of Identity: A is A. Facts are facts, independent of any consciousness. No amount of passionate wishing, desperate longing or hopeful pleading can alter the facts. Nor will ignoring or evading the facts erase them: the facts remain, immutable.

    In Rand’s philosophy, reality is not to be rewritten or escaped, but, solemnly and proudly, faced. One of her favorite sayings is Francis Bacon’s: “Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed.”

    Reality — that which exists — has no alternatives, no competitors, nothing “transcending” it. To embrace existence is to reject all notions of the supernatural and the mystical, including God.

    The highlighted suggests she needed to ground both reason and responsibility on a world-root level is, and needed to distinguish reality and material reality. It seems on the hints I see she would almost have to be some sort of evolutionary materialist- emergentist, which is an exceedingly troubled, incoherent and unsatisfactory view.

    I suggest, a computational substrate can ground neither rationality nor responsibility, for many reasons. Likely, she just took these in some sense as brute givens.

    But in fact, once you are in the evolutionary materialistic box, the inherent incoherence and amorality inviting nihilism are there.

    Which is what BA pointed to.

    Reminds me of the old examiner’s comment: please show more detail on these steps.

    Thoughts?

  22. 22
    Axel says:

    Marfin. I’d go further and say that the Parable of the Talents is not about optimally using our talents, qua special aptitudes, at all, but about charity, love, the Wedding Garment.

    At the carnal level, there’s a colloquial saying : ‘If you don’t use it, you lose it.’ And my impression is that the person who has little love to begin with, loses even some, maybe all, of that, as a direct consequence of his pusillanimity. I can’t help smiling at the thought of the man burying his single coin in the ground.

    I think InAyn was as thick as two short planks. Casting the ‘law of the jungle’ as a philosophy strikes me as a fatuously vapid conceit. In fact, risible. Putting lipstick on a pig just won’t do. Is it taken seriously anywhere in the world, other than in sections of American society ?

  23. 23
    bornagain77 says:

    OT:

    Scientific Authority Becomes Scientific Authoritarianism: See Tom Bethell in Iconoclast Now – video and article
    – February 22, 2017
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....03506.html

  24. 24
    Eric Anderson says:

    Axel @22:

    I’d go further and say that the Parable of the Talents is not about optimally using our talents, qua special aptitudes . . .

    Especially since “talents” in that context refers to money, not “talents” as we use the word today. 🙂

    The parable is really about stewardship and faithfulness. Yes, we can probably shoehorn our physical and intellectual “talents” into that concept and say that we should make good use of our “talents” as part of our stewardship, but that isn’t the primary focus.

  25. 25
    vjtorley says:

    Hi Barry, Origenes and kairosfocus,

    Thanks very much for your responses. I have a soft spot for Ayn Rand, because at a time when the philosophy of collectivism (and in particular, socialism) was intellectually fashionable, she was one of the few writers who stood up to the intellectuals and said that society exists for the sake of the individual, not the other way round.

    Her defense of rational egoism might sound repellent to modern ears, but what not many people know is that she borrowed the idea from a Russian writer named Nikolai Chernyshevsky, author of What Is to Be Done? (1863) – a book which proved to be enormously influential in Russia, despite its dreadful literary style. In his book, Chernyshevsky popularized the idea that the rational pursuit of self-interest should motivate all of our interactions with others, and that once everyone adopts “rational egoism,”, an era of worldwide peace and harmony will ensue. Dostoevsky’s works were largely written as a rebuttal of Chernyshevsky’s proposals. Strangely, his book influenced thinkers as opposed as Lenin and Rand. Associate Professor Adam Weiner explains what Rand borrowed from his book:

    What really took root in the future Rand’s mind were: the image of Rakhmetov [the hero of Chernyshevsky’s book] that we can easily recognize in her own superheroes; the rational egoism that becomes the foundation of objectivism; the strong loathing of charity, which Rand would banish from her utopia, too, in Atlas Shrugged. With this strange “luggage,” the young Rosenbaum fled to the United States in 1926, using the official excuse that she wanted to visit some American relatives.

    Amusingly, Chernyshevsky had discovered that the utopia of rational egoists would be socialism, while Rand, applying the same formula, arrived at capitalism. Such contradictions are in fact the rule within the zone of distortion called rational egoism. Rakhmetov, however, was back and very much unchanged. Rand’s hero in The Fountainhead, Howard Roark, blows up a building with a bomb. The business Titans of Atlas Shrugged, too, are terrorists in Rakhmetov’s image: strong, tall, gaunt and austere to the point of asceticism—and extremists every one. The oil tycoon Ellis Wyatt fires his own oil wells; Francisco d’Anconia, owner of a huge international copper mining business, detonates his copper operations and on the eve of his sabotage deliberately causes a selling panic in his company’s stock.

    I have to confess that I’ve never read Atlas Shrugged. I did read The Fountainhead a couple of years ago, and I enjoyed the book. After reading it, I thought to myself: Rand is a much better novelist than philosopher. I had found her work, For the New Intellectual, rather shrill. From what I gather, it’s much less preachy and more readable than Atlas Shrugged, and superior as a literary work (although most Randians prefer the latter work as an exposition of Rand’s philosophy). As one Rand fan named Spearmint put it:

    Taken purely as works of fiction, i.e. novels, I would say that Fountainhead is many times better than Atlas Shrugged, since it is _actually_ a novel, whereas AS is more of a fiction-nonfiction hybrid. A book which contains dozens of philosophical tracts often longer than a page cannot be classed as ‘fiction’ in the sense that the term is normally used. A book with a 130 page essay embedded within it is not a ‘novel’, by any accepted definition of the word.

    Re Ayn Rand’s rejection of altruism: Rand herself repeatedly tried to assist family members who were impoverished, and she and her husband (who were childless) even adopted a young man for a while, as their son. What Rand objected to, however, was the notion that I exist for the benefit of others. Such a view would make me a being devoid of rights – a mere cog in the wheel of society. In reaction to that view, Rand espoused the thesis that what is good for me is to pursue my own ends. I don’t think Aristotle would have agreed with that, as far as it goes. What he would have added, however, is that as a member of a polis, I am committed to the preservation of the society which I have chosen to live in. Hence, many of my pursuits will be ones which promote the common good. That does not mean that society has any right to sacrifice me for its own good, as if I were mere cannon fodder; but it does mean that it is sometimes rational for me to choose to sacrifice my life for the common good, in the hope that my descendants (and those of my friends) will live to enjoy it.

    Or as a philosopher I once knew pithily put it: “Markets cannot supply what markets presuppose.” The free market is built on the bedrock of a well-governed society, which ensures that individuals keep the promises they make when they enter into contracts. A society whose members are unwilling to defend it is doomed to fall.

    If pressed on this point, I think Rand would probably have acknowledged this much, since she commended laying down one’s life in defense of one’s own country. In 1969, in response to a question about the Vietnam War after a lecture she gave at the Ford Hall Forum, she stated:

    In my view, we should fight fascism and communism when they come to this country. As to fighting abroad, let us send all the military equipment that we can spare (without sacrifice) to any fight for freedom, whether it’s against fascism or communism (which are two variants of statism). But let us never sacrifice American lives for somebody else’s freedom.

    The foregoing quote explains why Rand was implacably opposed to America’s entry into both World War I and World War II. In her view, World War I inadvertently created three dictatorships – Soviet Russia, Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany – while World War II strengthened the Soviet Union, and enslaved one-third of the world’s population.

    I’d now like to turn to the reviews which Barry kindly linked to. Joseph Breslin’s exposition of the flaws of objectivism does land some heavy punches. He makes a strong case (though not, in my opinion, an unanswerable one) that humans cannot possess negative rights alone – e.g. the right not to be killed or tortured. He thinks there would have to be countless negative rights to cover all possible forms of abuse, but it could be argued that they stem from a single fundamental (negative) right: the right to be left free from the initiation of physical force. Additionally, Breslin highlights Rand’s inability to account for children’s rights in her philosophy – a failing she shares with libertarians, although some of her followers have tried (not very convincingly, in my view) to remedy this deficiency.

    In my view, Breslin is at his best when he gets to the heart of his disagreement with Rand – namely, her stunted conception of human nature:

    Rand, reacting against the aggressive collectivism of our day, which treats every individual person as a mere fungus, a mere node of the Great Organism called Society, preached an individualism that is just as anti-personal. The truth about mere man is that he is not mere man. Man is a political animal, in the truly Aristotelian sense of that term. He is made, by his Creator and by nature, to be a person-in-relation… Thus, he invariably finds the highest fulfillment of his personhood in love and friendship, and in the service to and sacrifice for others.

    I read Whittaker Chambers’ review of Atlas Shrugged, and I have to say it struck me as unfair. The reviewer accuses Rand of being a philosophical materialist and of covertly supporting a dictatorship run by a technological elite. Rand despised unlimited mob rule, seeing it as a form of collectivism, but her antidote to this social disease was not dictatorship, but the American political system, which her disciple Leonard Peikoff describes as “a constitutionally limited republic, restricted to the protection of individual rights.”

    As for the charge of materialism: that depends on how you define the term. If you simply mean “someone who denies the existence of disembodied beings,” then I guess Rand qualifies. For my part, I’d prefer to call Rand a monist who happened to believe that the body has both physical and mental properties, existing side by side, with neither being more fundamental than the other. For Rand, libertarian freedom is a built-in capacity of any mature individual possessing a normal human body. One thing is for sure: Rand was certainly no reductionist or determinist (see my post above).

    When Rand declares that each of us is an indivisible unity of matter and consciousness, she is simply rejecting the view that a person is a body plus a soul (dualism). Rand affirmed the reality of the human soul, but held that it is fully integrated with (and inseparable from) the body.

    This might sound odd, but it needs to be remembered that Aristotle himself held to a similar view, at least as far as animal consciousness is concerned. (On the other hand, he seems to have regarded reason as a non-bodily capacity in his De Anima Book III. However, his views on personal immortality are debated.) Rand’s views on reason are pretty close to Aristotle’s: “Reason integrates man’s perceptions by means of forming abstractions or conceptions, thus raising man’s knowledge from the perceptual level, which he shares with animals, to the conceptual level, which he alone can reach.”

    Re Rand’s views on evolution: there’s an interesting article on the subject by Eric Michael Johnson in Scientific American (October 5, 2012). Here are a couple of excerpts:

    While Rand states in Philosophy: Who Needs It? that “I am not a student of the theory of evolution and, therefore, I am neither its supporter nor its opponent,” she immediately goes on to make claims about how evolution functions. “After aeons of physiological development, the evolutionary process altered its course, and the higher stages of development focused primarily on the consciousness of living species, not their bodies” (italics mine). Rand further expands on her (incorrect) views about evolution in her journal.

    It is precisely by observing nature that we discover that a living organism endowed with an attribute higher and more complex than the attributes possessed by the organisms below him in nature’s scale shares many functions with these lower organisms. But these functions are modified by his higher attribute and adapted to its function—not the other way around” (italics mine). – Journals of Ayn Rand, July 30, 1945.

    One would have to go back to the 18th century (and Aristotle before that) to find a similar interpretation of nature. This concept of “the great chain of being,” brilliantly discussed by the historian Arthur Lovejoy, was the belief that a strict hierarchy exists in the natural world and species advance up nature’s scale as they get closer to God. This is an odd philosophy of nature for an avowed atheist, to say the least, and reflects Rand’s profound misunderstanding of the natural world.

    What Johnson derides as Ayn Rand’s “profound misunderstanding of the natural world” was simply pure Aristotelianism: she had the good sense to recognize that not all animals are equal, and that man, by virtue of his capacity to reason, was something special. In this regard, she was on the side of the angels. And although she accepted a form of evolution, she does not envisage the dawn of human consciousness in materialistic terms.

    If there is a criticism that could be made of her monistic view, it is that it sounds somewhat magical. Man mysteriously “just has” the ability to reason, by virtue of his having the kind of body he has; but reason’s reliability is unaccounted for. It is treated as a given. (Mind you, the same criticism could be made of Aristotle.)

    So there is, as kairosfocus suggests, a tension in her thought on the mind’s capacity to arrive at truth. Still, she came much closer to the truth than most modern philosophers of mind have done since her death.

  26. 26
    vjtorley says:

    Hi Barry, Origenes and kairosfocus,

    I’ve just written a lengthy reply, but it appears to be in moderation, so you may have to wait a while to read it. Sorry about that.

  27. 27
    Barry Arrington says:

    Vincent @ 25:

    “A book which contains dozens of philosophical tracts often longer than a page cannot be classed as ‘fiction’ in the sense that the term is normally used.”

    Some people say Moby Dick is the greatest American novel, and by this standard it would not qualify as fiction at all, since large swaths of it are non-fiction apologies for the whaling industry.

    @26. Send you an email before I saw this.

  28. 28
    Barry Arrington says:

    “If there is a criticism that could be made of her monistic view, it is that it sounds somewhat magical.”

    Yes, and that is the point of the OP. It is magical in the same sense as having ones cake and eating it too is magical.

    I have to confess that Rand’s visceral hatred of C.S. Lewis also predisposes me against her.

    I had some harsh words for her above; but that is not to say that I believe she is wrong about everything. Indeed, as you point out, she was right about a great many things in the area of economics.

  29. 29
    kairosfocus says:

    VJT, Thanks. Rand, then is more or less understandable as some sort of street-level neo-Aristotelian, with a lot of the ambiguities and un-answered questions entailed. Is there a hint that consciousness at least as potential is embedded in matter, leading to some sort of incipient panpsychism, another view that tends to be a bit vague and varies from person to person? KF

  30. 30
    kairosfocus says:

    BA, magical sounds a lot like the voila, poof, consciousness problem of materialism. Materialism seems forced into pretzels once fact no 1, that we are conscious, is seriously on the table. KF

  31. 31
    Origenes says:

    Hello VJTorley,

    Thank you for your response.

    Regarding Rand’s claim “you are an indivisible entity of matter and consciousness”. If I take the term ‘indivisible’ as ontologically meaningful, then it doesn’t make any sense (see #17). So what is she saying?

    VJT: When Rand declares that each of us is an indivisible unity of matter and consciousness, she is simply rejecting the view that a person is a body plus a soul (dualism). Rand affirmed the reality of the human soul, but held that it is fully integrated with (and inseparable from) the body.
    This might sound odd, but it needs to be remembered that Aristotle himself held to a similar view, at least as far as animal consciousness is concerned.

    Okay, so she rejects dualism and by saying that man is an indivisible entity of matter and consciousness she is not speaking metaphorically: she makes an ontological claim.
    Here I offer another line of thought that shows that she doesn’t make sense:
    According to evolutionary narratives, consciousness enters the arena of life only in the later stages. Rand states something to that effect:

    “After aeons of physiological development, the evolutionary process altered its course, and the higher stages of development focused primarily on the consciousness of living species, not their bodies.”

    Back to Rand’s view that the soul is inseparable from the body. This view is incompatible with evolutionary theory which starts out with organisms (bodies) without consciousness, say bacteria, and at some later point consciousness is added. If A can be added to B, then A and B cannot be one thing — cannot be inseparable.

  32. 32
    critical rationalist says:

    This view is incompatible with evolutionary theory which starts out with organisms (bodies) without consciousness, say bacteria, and at some later point consciousness is added. If A can be added to B, then A and B cannot be one thing — cannot be inseparable.

    While Rand may have been mistaken about evolution, that doesn’t mean her views are incompatible with it.

    To use a concrete example, Universal Turning Machines (UTCs) are universal computers that can run any program that any other UTC can run, in principle. What does that mean? Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine could have booted iOS 10, which runs on a modern day cell phone, despite the fact that it was implemented using cogs and gears. However, this would be impractical, in practice, because of the vast amount of time and punchcards that would be needed to actually emulate an iPhone 7 memory and storage.

    Why is this relevant? Babbage’s previous computer, the Difference Engine, was not a UTC. We would know the difference between them, even if the Analytical Engine was never actually built, because we know the repertoire of operations one must perform to be a UTC.

    The leap to universality (the difference between the Difference and Analytical engine) was accidental and not “deigned” by Babbage. In fact, importance of what Babbage had done was not fully recognized until Alan Turing came along, which is why UTC are called Universal Turning Machines.

    IOW, Baggage accidentally designed a UTC, without realizing it, by expanding the the repertoire of operations his device could perform. The leap to universality is inseparable from them. Take away one of those operations and the universality is lost.

    This is a concrete example of a leap to universality that does not conflict with materialism. It does not require any sort of supernatural event or intervention.

    A non-material theory conciseness would explain this leap along the same lines. Individual facilities which came before were useful in a narrow application, but a similar leap to universality occurred once the necessary repertoire was expanded. This leap would occur not only in the evolution of the species but the development from a fertilized egg to an adult.

  33. 33
    critical rationalist says:

    To clarify what I mean by “leap to universality”, general purpose computers are not limited to adding numbers or calculating artillery firing tables. They are truly universal in that they can used to solve problems they were not specifically designed to solve. A disproportionate leap was made from a narrow reach to a universal reach by merely increasing the repertoire of operations they can perform

  34. 34
    john_a_designer says:

    This is a concrete example of a leap to universality that does not conflict with materialism. It does not require any sort of supernatural event or intervention.

    But it does conflict with materialism. A Universal Turing Machine– or for that matter, any kind of machine– did not/does not bootstrap itself into existence unguided from raw materials– which is what materialism, or any kind of non-theistic naturalism, requires. It is intelligently designed and requires a previously existing intelligent designer who had a plan and purpose… The big question that naturalists/materialists have to explain is how do we make a computer conscious? (That’s the so-called hard problem.) Is it even possible? Can you answer either of those questions?

  35. 35
    Origenes says:

    Critical rationalist @32 @33,

    I have argued that Rand’s claim “you are an indivisible entity of matter and consciousness” doesn’t make ontological sense and is incompatible with evolutionary theory.
    I am trying to understand your argument. So, here is my question to you: how does the existence of ‘Universal Turning Machines’ support Rand’s claim that matter and consciousness are ontologically one indivisible thing and/or that this claim is compatible with evolution?

    I don’t understand. Do you perhaps hold that designing computers resembles evolution and that computers are conscious?

  36. 36
    critical rationalist says:

    @john_a_designer

    A Universal Turing Machine– or for that matter, any kind of machine– did not/does not bootstrap itself into existence unguided from raw materials– which is what materialism, or any kind of non-theistic naturalism, requires. It is intelligently designed and requires a previously existing intelligent designer who had a plan and purpose…

    Except Babbage did not plan to build a Universal Turing Machine. Nor was that the purpose he intended it to perform. Is was only until over a hundred years latter that Turing discovered the same thing independently that he realized the importance what Babbage had done. So, first, the idea that something must be created by an intelligent designer with a plan for that purpose is demonstrated false.

    Furthermore, according to the argument being presented, nothing In the individual operations should result in the leap of universality that occurs when the specific repertoire of operations are present. Specifically, the sort of reach a UTC has extends to allow the simulation of anything that can be computed. However, on their own, their reach is limited to very specific tasks. This completely flies in the face of the idea that materialism cannot make the kind of disproportional leaps, such as consciousness.

  37. 37
    critical rationalist says:

    @Origenes

    Returning to my analogy, A simple calculator is not a UTC. The repertoire of operations the calculator can perform are not sufficient to cause the leap to universality.

    However, what if the calculator does not remain just a calculator? If it evolves by expanding its repertoire of computational operations, this results in the disproportional leap to universality. The reach of computational tasks it can compute has has grown vastly beyond anything like it’s individual operations. As such, any such universal task being performed by a UTC is inseparable from it’s repertoire of operations and its universality. Nor was the solution to the task it is running already present in either of them, so it wasn’t inherited from them.

    So, am I suggesting that existing UTCs are conscious? No, I’m not. However, I am suggesting that a nonmaterial explanation for consciousness would represent the same kind of disproportional leap to universality. As with a UTC, the reach of consciousness is vastly beyond anything of it’s individual parts, such as a system to control movement of muscles or relay visual or other external information, etc., which represents a very limited reach. And, as with the UTC, none of the individual “operations” were “designed” to result in conciseness. And the resulting universality was an unintended, unplanned and undesigned result.

    Now, to the quotes of Rand.

    Racism is the lowest, most crudely primitive form of collectivism. It is the notion of ascribing moral, social or political significance to a man’s genetic lineage—the notion that a man’s intellectual and characterological traits are produced and transmitted by his internal body chemistry.

    and…

    Rand: “You are an indivisible entity of matter and consciousness.”

    Sure, aspects of the brain are transmitted by neurochemistry. But that’s not the kind of transmission Rand is rejecting here. Rather, she is rejecting the idea that genetic lineage transmits intellectual and character traits, because they were already present in the man’s genes. That would be analogous to the idea that the solution the UTC is running was already present, at the outset, in its operations or universality.

    Yes, this is contrary to the evolutionary idea that instincts are inherited, but with the leap to universality that conciseness brings, the direction of human evolution is no longer the exclusive domain of the knowledge in our genes. Nor is our “intellectual and characterological traits” produced and transmitted by them.

    Take way the repertoire of faculties necessary for that leap to occur, and you (your intellect and character traits) would not be present.

  38. 38
    critical rationalist says:

    Correction:

    However, I am suggesting that a material explanation for consciousness would represent the same kind of disproportional leap to universality.

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