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Time to Bring Out Old Humpty Again

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It seems that this is the week in which eigenstate has insisted on making himself the poster child for materialist lunacies. OK. We will oblige him and use his latest as the basis for a post on the licit and illicit use of language.

What is our goal when we use language? The answer to that question seems obvious. Unless we are intentionally trying to obscure, prevaricate, or dissemble, our goal is to convey our true meaning to those with whom we are trying to communicate.

How do we convey meaning? To answer that we need to answer a more basic question. What does it mean to mean? I am sure most people will agree with Wittgenstein on this point. In Philosophical Investigations he wrote that the meaning of a word is its use in the language. Think of language as sort of a game that we play. The game has rules and so long as everyone abides by those rules, things go more or less smoothly. One of the rules in the language game is that we will use word X to mean concept Y. This is not to say that a particular word has only one fixed meaning. A word can have any of several different meanings depending on the context in which it is used.

How do we determine the use of a word in the English language? Dictionaries describe for us what English speakers mean when they use a word.

But what if I want to assign an esoteric, non-dictionary meaning to a word? That happens all the time; surely that practice is not illicit. Of course it is not illicit. But if you do that, it should be obvious that the burden is on you, not your audience, to make that clear. If you use a word — any word — you must expect your audience to understand that you are using the common everyday dictionary version of that word unless you tell them otherwise. It is stupid for you to assign an esoteric meaning to a word and then blame your audience for failing to know that. Otherwise, you go down the Humpty Dumpty road:

[Humpty Dumpty says to Alice]: ‘And only one for birthday presents, you know. There’s glory for you!’
‘I don’t know what you mean by “glory”,’ Alice said.
Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. ‘Of course you don’t — till I tell you. I meant “there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!”‘
‘But “glory” doesn’t mean “a nice knock-down argument”,’ Alice objected.
‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’
‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’
‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.’

Through the Looking Glass, by Lewis Carroll

Where does eigenstate come in? In our exchange yesterday I pointed out the self-refuting incoherence of one of the tenants of eigenstate’s eliminative materialism:

Eigenstate believes (and asks us to believe) that beliefs do not exist.

I was referring to one of the key tenants of eliminative materialism – that the perception that each of us has that we can evaluate a claim and choose to accept that claim or put confidence in it (i.e., believe it) is an illusion, mere “folk psychology.”

I was surprised when he came back at me and said, no, “beliefs are real.” Well, this is just confusing, because he also says that beliefs are an illusion. Which is it E old bean, are beliefs real or are they an illusion?

It turns out that the answer to the question for eigenstate was (big surprise here) equivocating on the word “belief.” When he said it was real, he meant that “distributed brain states that realize a proposition or a concept” are real. [Let us set aside that this puerile drivel is all but meaningless; that is another topic] And when he said it was an illusion he meant that our understanding that a belief is something we choose to accept or place our confidence in is an illusion.

Then he proceeded to give me a big dose of the type of scorn Humpty Dumpty poured on poor Alice. He wrote:

The map is not the territory, Barry. Your map is faulty, but the territory is perfectly real. If you insist on using your definitions, you are committing yourself to continued blunders and mistakes.

But it is not “my definition” of belief I insist on. It is not a private word after all. Here is the an exhaustive list of the meanings assigned to the word in the dictionary:

1. something believed; an opinion or conviction

2. confidence in the truth or existence of something not immediatelysusceptible to rigorous proof

3. confidence; faith; trust

4. a religious tenet or tenets; religious creed or faith:

What is common to all of these? The everyday understanding of the word “belief” is infused with “intentionality,” which is a fancy way of saying that “belief” is a mental state that is “about” or “directed at” something. Intentionality is inherently agent-object oriented. Therefore, the common everyday meaning of “belief” ALWAYS describes an agent’s choice to accept something as true or place his confidence in it.

No dictionary anywhere defines belief as “distributed brain states that realize a proposition or a concept.” So it turns out that eigenstate, not I, was using an esoteric meaning of the word. Just as old Humpty was using an esoteric meaning of the word “glory.” I pointed out that I was only asking E to use words in the sense that English speakers use them. For my trouble, I got more scorn:

Barry, you are speaking like a child.

He added:

English speakers use different definitions for the same word all the time, and successfully communicate and understand based on those different definitions as an everyday, ho-hum, matter-of-course feature of discussion.

Certainly, it is true that English speakers use words in a different sense all the time. I have already pointed that out. The issue is whether Humpty can use “there’s glory for you” in the sense of “there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!” and expect Alice to understand it. The answer is yes, he can if he tells her beforehand that he is using an esoteric sense, but no he cannot if he does not.

If eigenstate is going to say “beliefs are real,” he must expect his readers to understand the word “belief” in the context of its everyday dictionary sense. In other words, he must expect them to understand that he is affirming the common everyday meaning of “belief,” which always refers to an agent’s choice to accept something as true or place his confidence in it. If he is going to use an esoteric meaning such as “distributed brain states that realize a proposition or a concept” he must alert them in advance, and it is almost literally insane for him to berate his listeners if they don’t understand him if he fails to do so.

E again:

There is no “received” and singular definition for any word. Dictionaries are descriptive, not prescriptive.

[It is curious that E appears to know some linguistic buzz words; yet he has not the slightest clue what they mean in practice.]

Yes, there is no received and singular definition of a word. Yes, dictionaries are descriptive, not prescriptive. The issue is, of course, what do dictionaries describe? They describe the common everyday use of words as English speakers use them — i.e., how E should understand his readers will receive the word unless he tells them this is a special case. If Humpty had consulted a dictionary he would have learned that English speakers do not use the word “glory” to refer to a “nice knock-down argument.” If E had consulted a dictionary he would have learned that English speakers do not generally use the word “belief” to refer to “distributed brain states that realize a proposition or a concept.”

The issue is simple. Humpty had no right to expect Alice to know his esoteric meaning (which he actually admitted in the story). E has no right to expect his readers to know he is using an esoteric meaning (which he has yet to admit).

As you’ve granted above, no one owns the definition or controls rights to their usage; they mean what we agree they mean.

Yes, we can agree to an esoteric meaning. The point is, E, that we have to agree before you use the word that way. Even more importantly, if you use the word is two different senses in the same discussion you have to tell people what you are doing. You can’t just put the sentence “beliefs are real” out there unless you immediately explain that you don’t mean what most people would understand you to mean. Otherwise you have equivocated, which is fundamentally dishonest.

Mr. Arrington, you have much more patience than I have in dealing with the fables of Darwinists. Thanks for taking the time to unpack eigenstate's waffle/sophistry. When people refuse to deal honestly with empirical evidence, I, usually, have little patience in dealing further with the inherent dishonesty in which they entangled themselves and in which they try to entangle others. I guess I'm of the old school of science where empirical evidence has the final say as to whether something is true or not. Darwinian Atheists seem to have fully abandoned this primary principle of science and have instead adopted a principle of science in which 'rhetoric makes right'. i.e. 'Just so stories' rule. i.e. If they can fool themselves into imagining that something may have happened by materialistic means then that means, for them, it certainly must have happened by materialistic means! Facts to the contrary be damned! Color me VERY unimpressed with their 'science'! The trouble with this whole line of 'living in a fairyland' scientific thinking is, of course, that the repeatable scientific facts about reality do not change just because someone wishes the repeatable facts about reality to be otherwise. And the repeatable facts about reality as revealed by advances in science, (particularly by advances in quantum mechanics), to put it mildly, are not conducive to these materialistic fantasies, as elaborate as these fantasies may be, that deny the reality of mind and free will.
What Does Quantum Physics Have to Do with Free Will? - By Antoine Suarez - July 22, 2013 Excerpt: What is more, recent experiments are bringing to light that the experimenter’s free will and consciousness should be considered axioms (founding principles) of standard quantum physics theory. So for instance, in experiments involving “entanglement” (the phenomenon Einstein called “spooky action at a distance”), to conclude that quantum correlations of two particles are nonlocal (i.e. cannot be explained by signals traveling at velocity less than or equal to the speed of light), it is crucial to assume that the experimenter can make free choices, and is not constrained in what orientation he/she sets the measuring devices. To understand these implications it is crucial to be aware that quantum physics is not only a description of the material and visible world around us, but also speaks about non-material influences coming from outside the space-time.,,, https://www.bigquestionsonline.com/content/what-does-quantum-physics-have-do-free-will Free will and nonlocality at detection: Basic principles of quantum physics - Antoine Suarez – video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dhMrrmlTXl4
Of supplemental note. The 'agent causality' of theists is far more robust in terms of explanatory power than the blind causality of atheists:
A Professor's Journey out of Nihilism: Why I am not an Atheist - University of Wyoming - J. Budziszewski Excerpt page12: "There were two great holes in the argument about the irrelevance of God. The first is that in order to attack free will, I supposed that I understood cause and effect; I supposed causation to be less mysterious than volition. If anything, it is the other way around. I can perceive a logical connection between premises and valid conclusions. I can perceive at least a rational connection between my willing to do something and my doing it. But between the apple and the earth, I can perceive no connection at all. Why does the apple fall? We don't know. "But there is gravity," you say. No, "gravity" is merely the name of the phenomenon, not its explanation. "But there are laws of gravity," you say. No, the "laws" are not its explanation either; they are merely a more precise description of the thing to be explained, which remains as mysterious as before. For just this reason, philosophers of science are shy of the term "laws"; they prefer "lawlike regularities." To call the equations of gravity "laws" and speak of the apple as "obeying" them is to speak as though, like the traffic laws, the "laws" of gravity are addressed to rational agents capable of conforming their wills to the command. This is cheating, because it makes mechanical causality (the more opaque of the two phenomena) seem like volition (the less). In my own way of thinking the cheating was even graver, because I attacked the less opaque in the name of the more. The other hole in my reasoning was cruder. If my imprisonment in a blind causality made my reasoning so unreliable that I couldn't trust my beliefs, then by the same token I shouldn't have trusted my beliefs about imprisonment in a blind causality. But in that case I had no business denying free will in the first place." http://www.undergroundthomist.org/sites/default/files/WhyIAmNotAnAtheist.pdf A Professor's Journey out of Nihilism: Why I am not an Atheist - 2012 talk University of Wyoming J. Budziszewski http://veritas.org/talks/professors-journey-out-nihilism-why-i-am-not-atheist/?view=presenters&speaker_id=2231 BRUCE GORDON: Hawking’s irrational arguments – October 2010 Excerpt: ,,,The physical universe is causally incomplete and therefore neither self-originating nor self-sustaining. The world of space, time, matter and energy is dependent on a reality that transcends space, time, matter and energy. This transcendent reality cannot merely be a Platonic realm of mathematical descriptions, for such things are causally inert abstract entities that do not affect the material world,,, Rather, the transcendent reality on which our universe depends must be something that can exhibit agency – a mind that can choose among the infinite variety of mathematical descriptions and bring into existence a reality that corresponds to a consistent subset of them. This is what “breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe.” Anything else invokes random miracles as an explanatory principle and spells the end of scientific rationality.,,, Universes do not “spontaneously create” on the basis of abstract mathematical descriptions, nor does the fantasy of a limitless multiverse trump the explanatory power of transcendent intelligent design. What Mr. Hawking’s contrary assertions show is that mathematical savants can sometimes be metaphysical simpletons. Caveat emptor. http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2010/oct/1/hawking-irrational-arguments/
Not to mention the inherent hypocrisy in assigning to you some moral failure. As if. Mung
E @ 2. I spent several hours piecing all of your disparate comments together and finally figured out what the hell you were up to. And the answer was "equivocating." Now you come in here and say "the fact that you put in all of the hours of work necessary to catch me equivocating and was able to lay it all out for everyone to see, means I was not equivocating." You really are a piece of work. Barry Arrington
Let's see if we can come away with anything useful or even somewhat enlightening. 1. A person ought not equivocate. eigenstate agrees. 2. A person ought not engage in self-contradiction. eigenstate agrees. But these are beliefs. So just what sort of beliefs are they, and where do they originate? Why should we believe to be true what eigenstate believes? Should people believe things that are not true, and if not, why not? Mung
Eigenstate, if your beliefs are nothing above and beyond patterns of brain activity caused by blind unreasonable particles in motion, why do you expect anyone to take anything you say seriously? You are nothing above and beyond a bag of imbecilic chemicals and you know it—which is a good thing—,but please take a powder. Box
@Barry, Lol. In your more recent thread you just posted, you quoted my explanation of the terms, and senses of the terms I was using in "beliefs are real" (see here):
All of which is to say, Barry, that your “sky-is-falling” dramatics are much too broad in their concerns. The science available is deeply problematic for many of your particular intuitions, but what’s at stake is just a refinement and re-organizing of the models we may use to understand brains and their activities. Beliefs as “disembodied top-down convictions of a ghost-like homunculus” are judged to be misconceptions, or “illusions” for you, if you suppose this is a kind of fundamental perception you have. But beliefs as physical phenomena, discrete characteristics of the brain that map to very complex, but nevertheless concrete states and patterns of brain activity, remain, and not only remain, but are illuminated by the science.
(from this post) This comes right after my claim that "beliefs are real", in the same post. It clearly distinguishes beliefs as understood in a scientific view as I'm using them from the beliefs as tokens in folk psychology. That's precisely how one avoids misunderstanding and maintains univocality in one's usage. . Lastly, you demonstrate that my usage was clear and my distinctions effective right in this post:
It turns out that the answer to the question for eigenstate was (big surprise here) equivocating on the word “belief.” When he said it was real, he meant that “distributed brain states that realize a proposition or a concept” are real. [Let us set aside that this puerile drivel is all but meaningless; that is another topic] And when he said it was an illusion he meant that our understanding that a belief is something we choose to accept or place our confidence in is an illusion.
So you say I equivocated -- mixed disparate senses of term -- then immediate show that I separated the senses: the folk sense is illusory, and the scientific one is not. That's how you avoid equivocation, Barry, and keep usage univocal, and in recapitulating my words, you've proved your own accusation false, all neatly done in just a one small paragraph. Whoops! eigenstate
Beliefs are as real as the distributed brain states which give them reality if you can believe it. And propositions and concepts are just as real as the distributed brain states that realize propositions and concepts, if you can believe that. Eigenstate is a true believer. Mung

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