From Being a Realist (even if you believe in God):
theists and untheists can and should meet half way and at least agree on the logical necessity of being a realist.
My mother, who doesn't call herself a theist (I think she's agnostic), doesn't even accept realism. She doesn't even agree with this:
There is something. All that there is, we generally call "reality". Note that by this definition, reality is unique. The corollary is, we all live in the same reality. We do not percieve it in the same way, but our perceptions and reality itself aren't the same thing.
Every description of reality that matches it is true. Every description of reality that doesn't match it is false. In this sense, truth is unique and universal.
(We can nuance the truth/falsehood dichotomy with probability distributions. Some probability distributions are closer to reality than others, and so on.)
That's little more than tautologies here. Yet it elicited an impression of being forced to believe. I know because she told me about the totalitarian dangers from such narrow thinking.
I'm happy to have finally found the root cause of our ongoing disagreement, but now, how can I deal with that? It looks pretty hopeless, but just in case, does someone have a suggestion, or should I just leave it at that? (My ego doesn't like it, but giving up is an option.)
Now I'm relieved to know that in near mode, she's a complete realist. This craziness only shows up in far mode.
I can't accept your philosophical diagnosis without knowing more about how it was obtained. What did you do, email her the three paragraphs and ask what she thought? Your comment history shows there's a long backstory here, that you are an enthusiastic believer in a complex of ideas including Bayesianism, uploading, and immortalism, and there's a persistent clash about this with people who are close to you. You call your mother a philosophical "non-realist", she says you're a control freak who doesn't want to die... Clearly we need a new Balzac (is it Houellebecq?) to write about this 21st-century generation gap, in which the children of post-Christian agnostics grow up to be ideologically aggressive posthuman rationalists. It sounds wonderfully dialectical and ironic: your mother's intellectual permissiveness probably gave you the space in which to develop your rationality, and yet your rationality now turns you against her radical open-mindedness or principle of not believing anything. Extreme agnosticism is not the same as "non-realism", and she probably rejects your "tautologies" because they seem to come packaged with a lot of other stuff that she wants to reject.
"Extreme agnosticism" sounds mostly accurate. She will doubt as a matter of principle, but she won't put a probability on that doubt. As for why I believed what I wrote here…
We talked. A lot. It spanned over multiple conversations, for several months, if not over a year. First, I tried to talk about transhumanist things, like mind uploading. She found it impossible sounding, scary, horrible, and sad. We talked about the potential power of science. She seems to think that science isn't omnipotent (sounds true enough), and some specific things, like the understanding of the human soul, seems definitely out of reach. But I don't recall she ever stuck her neck out and flatly said that there's no way science could ever unravel the mysteries of our minds, even in principle (I personally have some doubt, because of the self-referencing involved. But I don't think these difficulties would prevent us from understanding enough low-level mechanisms to effectively emulate a brain.).
We moved on to more basic things, like reductionism. She often "accuses" me of wanting to control everything with math. So I tried to assert that our world is math all the way down, even if it's... (read more)
One way to test your mother's attitude to science, explanation, and so on, would be to see what she thinks of theories of the mind which sound like nonreductionistic quantum mysticism to you. What would she think of the theory that qualia are in the quantum-gravity transitions of the microtubule, and the soul is a bose-einstein condensate in the brain? I predict that she would find that sort of theory much more agreeable and plausible. I think she's not hostile to reality or to understanding, she's hostile to reductionism that falsifies subjective reality.
People here and elsewhere believe in ordinary reductionist materialism because they think they have to - because they think it is a necessary implication of the scientifically examined world - not because that outlook actually makes sense. For someone who truly believes in an atomistic physical universe, the natural belief is dualism: matter is made of atoms, mind is some other sort of thing. It's only the belief in the causal closure and causal self-sufficiency of atomistic physics that leads people to come up with all the variations of mental materialism: eliminativism, epiphenomenalism, various "identity theories" su... (read more)
I upvoted your comment/house because I think it can be looted for valuables, but not because I think it's sturdy enough to live in.
This is not true. The reductionist claim is that the arrangement of the atoms is entirely sufficient to produce consciousness, and not that there is consciousness and then the atoms. Until you shake this style of thought, you will never be able to see single-level-of-reality reductionism as anything more than a mutated form of dualism, which is not what it is.
No! Of course, if a more accurate map of reality is developed, the reductionists will say that "this is the closest we have to knowing the true base level of realit... (read more)
This sort of protracted disagreement rarely gets resolved. Give up now and work on other stuff.
Are you sure your mother is a physical anti-realist, as opposed to a moral anti-realist?
Ask her what it is that lets her know when she's wrong.
In general, my approach to dealing with such people is to stop talking about what's really true, and instead talk exclusively about what experiences I anticipate if I perform various actions.
We may not be able to agree on whether there's really a hammer in my hand or not, but if we can agree that if I do something I experience as swinging this hammer at someone's skull, the other person will reliably experience having their skull hit by a hammer, then our disagreement doesn't matter much.
Of course, as you say, ego gets tied up in having other people talk about the world in ways that match my preferences.
I try to reject that when I find myself doing it.
I think this is pattern matching more than anything else. People have been ingrained that thinking one has the Truth leads to bad things. It might help to say something like "I'm not asserting that I know the Truth for certain about things, I'm asserting that there is only correct answer even as we are uncertain about what that answer is."
Dobzhansky said "Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution", and I would borrow that expression and say, "Nothing anywhere makes sense except in the light of realism".
An accurate one, except that the forcing is not being done by any agent, human or divine. The world ineluctably is, whether we like it or not: we have no freedom at all to choose what is true, only to choose what to do about it.
Stick to near mode, then. Point out in some concrete instance of what she does in everyday life, that she can choose only actions, not truths.
For what it's worth, I don't think your statements are self-evident. If the mathematical multiverse hypothesis is true, the underlying laws may well talk only about how the structure of a mind determines the probabilities of its sensory inputs, and nothing beyond that about the probability that something "actually exists". In that case different minds (even interacting ones) can perceive different physical worlds. I'd place a pretty high probability that the right answer is at least as strange.
If the mathematical multiverse hypothesis is true, then that is the underlying unique reality. The different physical worlds perceived by different minds are different parts of the mathematical multiverse. Minds perceive the physical world they are embedded in, and there is a fact of the matter as to which physical world a particular mind is embedded in, just as within our own physical world, our minds are embedded in particular locations and we perceive those locations rather than our entire physical world.
I'm more with Orwell, seeing the totalitarian dangers from non-realism.
I don't know if you want to yank your Mom's chain, but I think it would be fun to deal with irrationalists of all stripes by gleefully hitting the gibberish ball back into their court. Contradict yourself, then say that you're "beyond" such limited thinking as logic. Claim "faith" in your nonsense. When she points out your claims are false, decry her totalitarianism.
And above all... (read more)
What do you hope to accomplish in this argument? Unless your mother's far beliefs cause her to take near actions which make local lives unpleasant, I suggest that fixing her stated beliefs about reality is not a high priority. It's especially not a priority for you; your interactions with your mother cannot help but be coloured by prestige.
What seems basic logically is not particularly more likely to be the root cause of peoples' actions, I've found. So it's probably more complicated.
I had the exact same argument with my girlfriend (a bad idea) a while ago and asked for references to point her to on the IRC channel. I was given The Simple Truth and The Relativity of Wrong.
So I was about to write a very supportive response when I saw Mitchell Porter's comment. And this
aptly describes recent interactions I've had with my father¹. The accusation of narrowmindedness was present.
So, recurring conflicts with friends and family bec... (read more)
Most people (sadly, even our parents or other people we respect) are not conditioned to update on a belief merely because it is true. Look at your mother's objections: she compared it to totalitarianism. If we take that objection at face value, then we know that she believes that such "narrow thinking" puts her at risk for totalitarianism, which is a risk she is not willilng to take for what is merely true.
Generally, if you want someone to believe something, you need to either trick them into believing that they already value what you are about t... (read more)
Heh. I decline to have a serious conversation with someone who insists on denying that there is an objective reality. Because 100% of the time (rounded up) they are just trolling you. I just claim I don't see any advantage in talking to someone who doesn't exist. :)
If they maintain that there is still some kind of subjective reality (whatever that could possibly mean in the absence of, like, you know, actually real reality) then my position is: I'm sure their subjective reality is really absorbing for them, but there's a whole universe of fascinating, surp... (read more)
I think you and your mother might be conflating different meanings of 'truth'- i.e. she is thinking of MORAL truths, and you are thinking of SCIENTIFIC truths. The fact that I can test my beliefs against an objective reality tells me very little about how I should interact with my fellow man.
Anyone who reads a statement like yours who is even a little familiar with Ayn Rand would probably recoil, not at the actual words but at what they fear is coming next- 'reality exists therefore INSERT MORAL CODE HERE'. Unfortunately, we don't have your mother's response, but its possible when she was suggesting totalitarian dangers she was thinking along the lines of objectivism and other MORAL codes.
In ordinary usage, 'real' is merely an antonym for 'fake'. It's probably best to collapse most distinctions involving the word 'real'. The real question is, "Can you be wrong about a prediction?", and then you can stipulatively label the thing that generates the experimental predictions "reality" if you'd like. The Simple Truth.
Are you sure her non-realism only shows up in far mode? If you question her more thoroughly, you'll most likely find out that it shows up whenever she feels threatened about the truth of a belief that is held by,
a) Herself, or
b) People that she would be uncomfortable labeling as crazy or deluded.
Her far mode non-realism is probably just a symptom of this.
Ask her, if you hide an object from her, if she thinks she can find it without looking in the place that you know you actually put it.
Ignore it until it goes away.
Descriptions are based on words. Those words have a pretty different quality than a bunch of physical atoms. To quote Alfred Korzybski: "The map is not the territory." The guy wrote a big book titled "Science and Sanity". It's about building knowledge on different fundaments. It has been influential in cybernetics, constructivism and fields like NLP.
Even at my university people who do biological modeling don't try to make models that match reality 100%. Part of what of the skill... (read more)
She sounds like the ordinary compartmentalized nutcase.
What you need to do is ask her why she doesn't act on her non-belief in realism, why she doesn't apply the far thinking to the near thinking.
When I gloss over most of the comments here, they are as hilarious as they are useful and true. Which is to say a lot. I love this community.
My first thought is to point out that we can create theories that make accurate predictions. That certainly implies some sort of logical structure to the universe.
IMO that statement is too strong. I would rather phrase it as, "I appear to have senses that appear to be transmitting information from an external world". That is, you don't know for a fact that there's a reality out there, though most likely there is one.
This is a very useful model, but only a model. If anything, it requires an extra assumption compared to the straightforward instrumentalism, thus violating the spirit of the Occam's razor.
To quote EY, belief feels like truth from the inside. Have you rationally examined your belief in reality?