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.

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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.

A lot of these so-called materialisms are actually dualisms, but they are property dualism rather than substance dualism: the mind is the brain, but it has properties like "being in a certain state of consciousness", which are distinct from, yet somehow correlated with, properties like "being made of atoms arranged in a certain way".

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.

But abstracted causal models are the whole of natural-scientific ontology at the present time, and materialists try to believe that that is the fundamental nature of reality,

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)

There were and are materialisms which explicitly talk about multiple levels of reality. Someone who believes that the brain is made of atoms but that consciousness is "strongly emergent" is still a materialist - at least compared to someone else who believes in a separate soul-substance. But yes, mostly I am saying that a lot of materialism involves stealth dualism - the materialists are property dualists and don't realize it. One place you can see this, is when people talk about consciousness as "how it feels to be an X", where X is something material (or computational). For example, X may be a certain arrangement of atoms in space. And how it feels to be X is... some detailed specific conjunction of sensations, thoughts, intentions, and so on, that adds up to a single complex experience. Obviously we could make a 3D plot of where all those atoms are, and zoom around it and into it, view it from different angles, and we'll still see nothing but a constellation of atoms in space. You won't "see the experience from the inside" no matter how many such views you try. "Single level of reality" implies that there is nothing more to those atoms than what can be seen in such a view. Yet the experience is supposed to be there, somewhere. I conclude that a conventional materialist theory of consciousness involves positing that the brain has properties (the "feels" or "qualia" that make up a conscious experience) in addition to the properties already stipulated by physics. You've missed my real point. Yes, a materialist is happy to say that their currently favored model is probably not the whole story. I'm saying that all the available models will suffer from the same deficit. Consider the argument I just gave, about how the "feels" are nowhere to be seen in the atom plot, yet they are supposed to exist, yet only atoms are supposed to exist. This is a contradiction that will not be affected by adding new atoms or rearranging the old ones. All models of the world as atom
Okay, I understand your position much better. Here's why it is wrong: Your argument about arranging atoms to make consciousness also applies to arranging atoms to make apples. You can look at this arrangement of atoms all you want, but you still won't "see" the appleness unless you're some sort of lifeform that has mechanisms that recognize apples easily, like humans. Presumably consciousness is a lot more complicated than apples, and worse yet is how it isn't a relatively durable object that humans can experience with all of their senses (indeed, none of the classical ones). So it intuitively feels like it's different, but that doesn't make it so.
I will see some aspects of the apple but not others. I will see its shape, because you can make shapes by arranging atoms in space, but I won't see its color. Then there are attributes like the fact that it grew on a tree, which I will be able to "see" if the atom-plot extends that far in space and time. Before we go any further, I would like to know if this "counterargument by apple" is something you thought up by yourself, or if you got it from somewhere. I have an interest in knowing how these defensive memes spread. ETA: I will try to write a little more in the way of rebuttal. But first, I will allow myself one complaint, that I have made before: arguments like this should not even be necessary. It should be obvious that, e.g., if you had a universe consisting of an arrangement of particles in space whose only properties are their relative positions, that nothing in that universe has a color. The property of being colored just does not exist there. And so, if you want to maintain that conscious mental states exist in such a universe, and that they include the experience of color, you are going to have to introduce color as an additional property somehow - a property that exists somewhere inside the assemblages of particles that are supposed to be the experiences. So what of the attempt to rebut this with "appleness", as a reductio ad absurdum? Well, we can start by distinguishing between the apple that exists in the external world, the experience of the apple, and the concept of an apple. Before atomism, before neuroscience, human beings are supposedly naive realists who think that what they experience is the thing itself - though if they are grown up just a little, they will already be positing that reality is a little different to their experience, just by supposing that entities continue to exist even when they are out of sight. But let's suppose that we have come to believe that the world of experience is somehow just "in our minds" or "in our brains",
I assume that by "color", you mean the subjective experience of colour, not the fact that an object reflects or emits certain kinds of light. Because "reflecting and emitting certain kinds of light" can be explain in terms of "arrangement of particles", in our universe. I bet you don't actually think like that. If it is obvious to you that an "arrangement of particles" universe cannot have subjective experience of colour in it, that's because in the first place, it is obvious to you that it can't have subjective experience period.
I do not have the energy to properly respond to your comment. It is simply too long. Instead, at least for now, I will just respond to this: I came up with it myself. It's a good question, because that is not true of most of the arguments I wield.
Probably someone saw your comment/house analogy and found it very clever and upvoted before reading on.
All cleverness credit goes to steven0461.
I like quantum mind, but despite the unity of superpositions matching the apparent unity of subjective experience, does it really give us much? I think the answer is no, at least until we have a better understanding of the physics of (quantum) computation, a better theory of computation in light of that, and a highly advanced computationalism/monadology in light of that. And even then Leibniz' solution to the mind-body problem was literally Goddidit. (Which is an intriguing and coherent theory that explains all the evidence, but you'd think there'd be something better. Also Leibniz' God causally influences monads, which aren't supposed to be influence-able, so his metaphysic seems sort of broken, even if you can fix that bug with a neat trick or two maybe.) Quantum mind might help us do uploads, but it still wouldn't have the answer to the mind-body problems, we still wouldn't know if the uploads were conscious. Or is apparently matching a phenomenological property with a physical property (unity of experience/superposition) somehow a big philosophical step in the right direction?
You know, I do have this nagging doubt: why am I me, and not someone else? I do see a problem with subjective experience. On the one hand, it doesn't make intuitive sense in a universe that runs on math, but on the other, what could there be beyond the causal stuff? I sense something fishy. I too view reductionistic materialism as mainly an empirical claim. What I do view as necessary is the mere existence of something. I think, therefore "something" is. Maybe that "something" is limited to my personal experience, but whatever it is, it works somehow, and what I think won't change it (unless magical thinking works, but then that is how the world runs). I am not confident mind uploading should work. But I have empirical reasons to believe it may. First, we have cut&paste transportation. I'm confident it works because current physics says so. The universe doesn't care whether I landed in vulcan by shuttle or by energy beam, it's the same configuration. Current laws of physics could be mistaken (they're not even complete, so they are mistaken somewhere), but this "no identity" stuff looks like something that won't go away. Second, I imagined this thought experiment: suspend you, restart you in a green room, suspend you again, then restart you in the laboratory. Result: you have the memory of having been in a green room. The other possibility is, suspend you, scan your brain, run the emulation in a simulated green room identical to the real one, pause the em, rewire your brain to match the em end state, restart you in the laboratory. Result: you have the memory of having been in a green room. It's the same configuration in both case, so no memory is less real than the other. Conclusion: you have been in a green room. It doesn't matter if it was physically or in uploaded form. Note that I become much less confident when I think about leaving up my physical brain (edit: I mean, my original protoplasm wetware) for good. If uploading doesn't work, it still can be valua
Maybe my basic point is that there is more to the "stuff" than just "being causal". This is why I talk about abstracted causal models as ontologically deficient. Describing yourself or the world as a state machine just says that reality is a merry-go-round of "states" which follow each other according to a certain pattern. It says nothing about the nature of those states, except that they follow the pattern. This is why functionalist theories of mind lead to patternist theories of identity. But it's clear that what we can see of reality is made of more than just causality. Causal relations are very important constitutive relations, but then we can ask about the relata themselves, the things connected by causality, and we can also look for connecting relations that aren't causal relations. Being shaped like a square isn't a causal relation. It's a fact that can play a causal role, but it is not itself made of causality. These are ontological questions, and the fact that we can ask them and even come up with the tentative ontologies that we do, itself must have ontological implications, and then you can attempt an ontological analysis of these implication relations... If you could go down that path, using beyond-Einsteinian intellectual superpowers, you should figure out the true ontology, or as much of it as is accessible to our sort of minds. I consider Husserl to be the person who got the furthest here. One then wants to correlate this ontology derived from a phenomenological-epistemological circle of reflection, with the world-models produced in physics and biology, but since the latter models just reduce to state-machine models, they cannot in themselves move you beyond ontological hollowness. Eventually you must use an ontology derived from the analysis of conscious experience itself, to interpret the formal ontology employed by natural science. This doesn't have to imply panpsychism; you may be able to say that some objects really are "things without an insi
Not to me. For instance, while conciousness is still mysterious to me, it sure has causal power, if only the power to make me think of it —and the causal power to make Chalmers write papers about it. I think I mean something stronger than that. You may want to re-read the part of the Quantum Physics sequence. The universe actually doesn't even encode the notion of different particles, so that talking about putting this carbon atom there and that carbon atom here doesn't even makes sense. When you swap 2 atoms, you're back to square one in a stronger sense than when you swap 2 numbered (but otherwise indistinguishable) billiard balls. Configuration space is folded on itself, so it really is the same configuration, not a different one that happens to be indistinguishable from the inside. Err… Let my brain be replaced by a silicon chip. Let's leave aside the question of personal identity. Is that thing concious ? It will behave the same as me, and write about conciousness the same I do. If you believe that, and believe it still isn't concious, I guess you believe in PZombies. I don't. Maybe changing my substrate would kill me, but I strongly believe the result is still concious, and human in the dimensions I care about.
I agree that consciousness has causal power. I'm saying consciousness is not just causal power. It's "something" that has causal power. The ontological deficiencies of materialist and computational theories of consciousness all lie in what they say about the nature of this "something". They say it's a collection of atoms and/or a computational state machine. The "collection of atoms" theory explains neither the brute features of consciousness like color, nor the subtle features like its "unity". The state machine theory has the same problems and also requires that you reify a particular abstracted description of the physical reality. In both cases, if one were to insist that that really is the ontological basis of everything, property dualism would be necessary, just to accommodate phenomenological (experiential) reality. But since we now have a physics based on Hilbert spaces and exotic algebras, rather than on particles arranged in space, I would hope to find a physical ontology that can explain consciousness without property dualism, and in which the physical description of the brain contained "entities" which really could be identified with the "entities" constituting conscious experience, and not just correlated with them. The basis for that statement is that when you calculate the transition probability from "particle at x0, particle at y0" to "particle at x1, particle at y1", you sum over histories where x0 goes to x1 and y0 goes to y1, as well as over histories where x0 goes to y1 and y0 goes to x1. But note that in any individual history, there is persistence of identity. I suppose the real logic here is something like "I am a particular configuration, and contributions to my amplitude came from histories in which my constituent particles had different origins." So you ground your identity in the present moment, and deny that you even had a unique previous state. Pardon me for being skeptical about that claim - that my present moment is either to be rega
Your writing is difficult to read for me. I'm tired right now, so I plan to answer properly later, in a few days. Hopefully my brain will do better processing.
I assume by "physical brain" here you mean one made of protoplasm. What does contemplating the possibility that you aren't running on such a brain now do to your confidence?
Yes, I meant protoplasm. If I knew that I am currently running on a silicon chip (Gunm-style), then I would be highly confident that replacing that chip by another, identical one, preserves my identity, because it's the same configuration. Moreover, replacing my old chip by a newer one, before the physical deterioration significantly affects the actual software processing, probably would work as well. But if we're talking about running my software on a different chip through, say, a virtual machine that emulate my original chip, then I would be less confident that it would still be me. As confident as I am that, an EM of my current wetware would still be me. Which is, currently, not confident enough to make the leap. Ah, and if I do learn that I run on a chip, I won't turn crazy. I may be worried if I knew my wetware self were still running around, and I may not tell my mother, but besides that I don't really care. If I knew that my wetware self was "dead", then I would wonder if I should feel sorry for him, or if I'm actually him. Because I value my life, I know that my wetware self did too. But I'd probably get over it with the knowledge that the rest of the world (including my family) didn't lose anything, (or at least they wouldn't suspect a thing). I'm confident an EM would not be a PZombie.
(nods) Makes sense. Presumably the reason you have such confidence about the interchangeability of identical chips is because your experience encompasses lots of examples of such chips behaving interchangeably to support a given application. More generally, you've learned the lesson through experience that while two instances of the same product coming off similar assembly lines may not be 100% identical, they are reliably close enough along the dimensions we care about to be interchangeable. And, lacking such experience about hardware/wetware interchangeability, you are properly less certain about the corresponding conclusion. Presumably, if that sort of experience became commonplace, your confidence would increase.
As I often say; you are not your meat. You are the unique pattern of information-flow that occurs within your meat. The meat is not necessary to the information, but the information does require a substrate.
Consider the following set of statements: 1) "I am my meat." 2) "I am the unique pattern of information-flow that occurs within my meat." 3) "I am the class of patterns of information-flow that can occur within meat, of which this unique pattern is one example." 4) "I am the class of patterns of information-flow that can occur within any substrate, of which this unique pattern is one example." 5) "I am all the matter and energy in the universe." What sorts of experiences would constitute evidence for one of them over the others?
1 v 2 -- is your "meat" persistent over time? (It is not). 2 v 3 are non differentiable -- 2 is 3. 4 is implied by 2/3. It is affirmed by physics simulations that have atomic-level precision, and by research like the Blue Brain project. 5 is excluded by the absence of non-local phenomena ('psychic powers').
I agree that my meat does not persist over time. The class of patterns of information-flow that can occur within meat includes the pattern of information-flow that occurs within your meat. 3 therefore asserts that I am you, in addition to being me. 2 does not assert this. They seem like different claims to me, insofar as any of these claims are different from the others. I'm not really sure what non-local phenomena are, or what they have to do with psychic powers, or what they have to do with the proper referent for "I".
Missed that about the class. Makes a difference, definitely. Two options: trust the assertions of those who are sure, or learn of them for yourself. :)
Good point. This is precisely the source of my doubt, and the reason why I'm not sure that changing substrate preserves identity. The thing is, quantum mechanics makes me confident that if I go from configuration X to configuration Y, through a path that preserves identity, then any path from X to Y preserves my identity. But I am less confident about intermediate states (like the temporary emulation in the simulated green room).
Given your understanding of quantum mechanics, is your identity in this sense preserved from year to year today? If it weren't, would you care?
I'm not sure that's a meaningful question. I undoubtedly change from year to year, so… But there is some kind of continuity, which I'm afraid could be broken by a change of substrate. (But then again, we could change my substrate bit by bit… If it weren't, I would not care, because it wouldn't break anything I value. If preservation of identity doesn't even happen currently in our mundane world, I would be stupid to value it. And I'll happily upload, then (modulo the mundane risk of being badly emulated of course). But first, I must be convinced that either identity wasn't preserved in the first place, or that uploading preserves identity, or that I was just confused because the world actually works like… who knows.
A change of substrate occurs daily for you. It's just of a similar class. What beyond simple "yuck factor" gives you cause to believe that a transition from cells to silicon would impact your identity? That it would look different?
No, it doesn't. You could argue that there's a renewal of atoms (most notably water), but swapping water atoms doesn't have physical meaning, so… No. Heck, even cut&paste transportation doesn't change substrate. The "yuck factor" I feel cause me to doubt this: If an EM of me would be created during my sleep, what probability would I assign to wake up as silicon, or as wetware? I'm totally not sure I can say 1/2.
Actually it's more complicated than that. Not just water atoms; over time your genetic pattern changes -- the composition of cancerous to non-cancerous cells; the composition of senescent to non-senescent cells; the physical structures of the brain itself change. Neurogenesis does occur in adults -- so not even on a cellular level is your brain the same today as it was yesterday. Furthermore -- what makes you confident you are not already in a Matrix? I have no such belief, myself. Too implausible to believe we are in the parent of all universes given physics simulations work.
Note that neither of these developments are generally considered good.
Indeed. But they do demonstrate the principle in question.
The principal you're trying to demonstrate is that one shouldn't fear changing one's substrate since it's already happening. So, no they don't.
Yes, they do. And that's the end of this dialogue. (EDIT: By end of this dialogue I meant that he and I were at an impasse and unable to adjust our underlying assumptions to a coherent agreement in this discussion. They are too fundamentally divergent for "Aumanning.")
It would just be an argument over the definition of "I". Here, tabooing "I" is probably a useful exercise.
OK... what would you replace "I" with, then?
That's the kind of worldview that got shown invalid in the last century in all sorts of areas. On the quantum level dualism is dead. A electron doesn't have to be either in place A or in place B. Modern models of the humans brains also describe system properties that are non-dualistic in nature. Dualism is no good paradigm for modelling complex systems. Just because an atom is usually either in place A or in place B doesn't mean that the same dualism is true or useful for modelling other parts of our world. There's nothing inherently truth seeking in using atomistic physics as the central reference.
We are talking about mind-matter dualism: substance dualism, where matter is one type of thing and mind is another type of thing, and also property dualism, where everything is made of matter, but mental states involve material objects with extra properties outside of those usually discussed in physics. You appear to be talking about some other kind of "dualism".
I think extra properties outside of physics conveys a stronger notion than what this view actually tries to explain. Property dualism, such as emergent materialism or epiphenomenalism, doesn't really think there are any extra properties other than the standard physical ones, it is just that when those physical properties are arranged and interact in a certain way they manifest what we experience as subjective experience and qualia and those phenomena aren't further reducible in an explanatory sense, even though they are reducible in the standard sense of being arrangements of atoms. So, why is that therefore an incomplete understanding? I always thought of qualia as included within the same class of questions as, and let me quote Parfit here, "Why anything, why this?" We may never know why there is something rather than nothing in the deep sense, not just in the sense of Larry Krausse saying 'because of the relativistic quantum field', but in 'why the field in the first place', even if it is the only logical way for a universe to exist given a final TOE, but that does not hinder our ability to figure out how the universe works from a scientific perspective. I feel it is the same when discussing subjective experience and qualia. The universe is here, it evolves, matter interacts and phenomena emerge, and when that process ends up at neural systems, those systems (maybe just a certain subset of them) experience what we call subjectivity. From this subjective vantage point, we can use science to look back at that evolved process and see how the physical material is architected and understand its dynamics and create similar systems , but there may not be a deeper answer to why or what qualia is other than its correlated emergence from the physical instantiations and interactions. That is not anti-reductionist, and it is not anywhere near the same class of thought as substance dualism.
Robert Hanson wrote recently: The basic argument structure is that public education either exists for 'creating patriotic citizens for war' or it exist for 'noble purposes'. That's dualism. People who believe in strong reductionism tend to make arguments that are structured that way. What do I mean by strong reductionism? Weak reductionism is the the belief that a world is determined by the way it works on the lowest level. Strong reductionism is the belief that you can basically ignore the halting problem and understand how a system works by understanding how it works on the lowest level. loup-vaillant wants to use dualistic thinking for the way the full human brain works. I sat in a lecture in the Free University of Berlin about how the human brain works the professor told me: "You can't understand how the human brain works if all you are doing is studying neurons, you actually need to study the full system in action." Even when the system might be determined by it's the way neurons work you can't understand it on that level. The stuff that you can then say about the human brain doesn't tend to be either true or false but useful or not useful given a specific purpose. loup-vaillant however wants to convince his mother that it makes dualism works on that level. That it makes sense to distinguish between true and false statements.
Reading your article, I see a possible problem: There is something like "Agree Denotationally But Object Connotationally" here. Sometimes it is better to be wrong than to be right in a wrong context. Imagine that a powerful majority of a people share the same opinion. What kind of society would you prefer? One where it is considered OK to believe differently, because personal thoughts are exceptions from public rules? Or one, where the opinion of the majority is considered so important that it is considered OK to attack people who disagree, and there is no good excuse for disagreement? I have simply replaced "truth" with "opinion of a powerful majority". Why is this legitimate? Simply, because if someone has an opinion, they consider it truth. And if the agree with each other, the more sure they are. And if they are powerful enough, who dares to openly disagree? Especially if there is a rule that it is OK to attack people do disagree. Therefore we have a rule that it is OK to have your own opinions about private matters. We have often seen that people who try to break this rule, do it to increase their power, even if their professed goals are noble. But this situations is different, because unlike those people, you are actually right. Therefore those social rules obviously don't apply to you. Is there a good reason to follow those rules anyway?
Maybe I didn't convey the meaning I wanted to. The reason I wrote this article was because I was called intolerant for merely pointing out that, given that I strongly believe X, I also strongly believe those who believe non-X to be mistaken. Merely noticing the link is enough to be called intolerant. This is nuts. Human, I know, but nuts nevertheless. Consistency is not intolerance. I perfectly understand that I can be mistaken about X (infinite certainty, biases, and all that). I just can't stand when people disagree and see no problem whatsoever. Then when I point out that there is a problem, I am called intolerant. I suppose people believe I want to force them to my side. Factual opinions are not utility functions, but people keep forgetting that. As if changing your mind meant you lost. Actually, you usually win when you do that. I do understand that we, as imperfect humans, can agree to disagree. But not on principle. I'm okay with admitting that at present, trying to resolve the disagreement doesn't seem worth the trouble, but we should at least reckon there is a problem. The bottom line is, when there is disagreement, and one cares about truth, then there is a problem. This problem may, or may not, be worth solving, but pretending everyone can have contradictory opinions that should never be attacked is just weak. Of course, we should never attack people.
If she's arguing from a position of separate magisteria which have to be reasoned about differently, I would probably try this tactic. Point out that we do not automatically gravitate to reasoning correctly about mundane things; you can use examples from Greek philosophers and alchemists and so on. Correct processes of mundane reasoning are something we've had to develop over time by refining our methods in situations where would could tell if our conclusions were wrong. That being the case, how does she know that her different procedure for reasoning about non-mundane things is one that works? If it were simply wrong, how would she be able to tell? If her procedure for reasoning about non-mundane things can be used to draw contradictory conclusions (it almost certainly can,) point out that you have on the one hand a set of confusing apparent contradictions that must somehow all be true, and on the other hand the possibility that the reasoning procedure simply doesn't work.
From what I read, the procedure for reasoning about non-mundane things is used to avoid drawing any conclusions whatsoever, much less contradictory ones. It's intellectual cowardice masquerading as deep wisdom. (Sorry for dissing your mom, loup-vaillant.)
I largely agree with Cyan, but with a little more empathy for your mom's viewpoint. For example, you write: So you throw out a description and a quantifier, and slap a label on the result. Doesn't that sound a little similar to naive set theory? Maybe it's not as straightforward as it looks. I'm not actually resistant to defining "reality" your way; I think it's not actually a step toward sets that don't contain themselves. But it takes some sophistication to see that, and your mom might lack the formal skills to discriminate innocent-looking "logic" that leads to paradox from innocent-looking logic that doesn't. Note that she needn't have studied set theory to have run into similar exercises in labeling and deductive argument that subtly lead to insane results.
If that's the case, she should see a god which really does hate homosexuality, eating pork, and considers working on the sabbath worthy of death, or wants the whole world to live under Sharia law, as equiprobable with one that loves everyone. She most likely behaves as if she had some means of discriminating between supernatural hypotheses even if she disavows being able to.
Have you read What the Tortoise Said to Achilles? It's reprinted in Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid.
I'm not sure. Naively I would expect most children of post-Christian agnostics to grow up to have some kind of mystical New Age beliefs.
Because they've been given space to develop a spiritual worldview and no particular reason not to, but not a framework for it, so they end up adopting a semi-random gaggle of relatively nonthreatening and nontotalizing supernaturalist beliefs? That's plausible, but it won't give you anything self-consistent. Maybe aggressive posthuman rationalism is what you get when you try to culture New Age beliefs in someone sensitive to ideological contradictions.
I think you would be just as likely to find them turning to some "strong" religion or even mainstream skepticism (of the kind that treats cryonics and the singularity as supernatural claims).
Yeah, that happens -- a fair number of the born-again narratives I've come across read like that. But the reason I was thinking of this group in particular is that, for a lot of people on the post-Christian agnostic spectrum, organized religions really are the bad guys: nondenominational Christianity is usually given a pass, but actual churches get blamed for all sorts of stuff. That's a nontrivial obstacle for someone raised in that milieu. Dharmic religions don't seem to count as "organized" in this context, for reasons which are kind of opaque to me but probably have to do with exoticism. So I expect a lot of Western Buddhists and Hindus come out of this sort of space too -- n=1, but that's more or less how my college roommate found Hinduism.
Unfortunately, radical Islam also frequently gets a similar pass on grounds of exoticism, not to mention being a "victim of the crusades and the war on terror".

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?

What's the difference?
Physical anti-realism is skepticism that our senses are true. In short, absolute denial that prediction or understanding of the physical world is possible. Moral anti-realism denies that there is a universal value system for humans. It's related to, but possibly not identical to moral relativism. ---------------------------------------- Edit: As discussed below, my definition of Physical anti-realism is substantially misleading, even as a pithy summary.
Yikes. "X" anti-realism is the position that there are no objective (mind-independent) facts about X. So moral anti-realism, for instance, does not deny that there are universally shared values in humans, it simply denies that those values are anything more then attitudes. When an anti-realist hears "murder is wrong" she either thinks "That's not a proposition and therefore, neither true nor false." (non-cognitivism), "That's true because we both hold a very low opinion of murder" (subjectivism) or "That's false because it implies the existence of objective moral laws which don't exist" (error theory). "Physical" anti-realism isn't really a term but presumably you mean metaphysical anti-realism or scientific anti-realism. Scientific anti-realism denies the mind-independent existence of scientific theories. For instance an anti-realist might claim that scientific facts are determined by the prevailing Kuhnian paradigm or are socially constructed and therefore, in some way contingent on the minds of the scientists who created them. Metaphysical anti-realism denies that objects and properties in the world exist independently of our conception of them. Thus, realism is consistent with both skepticism and belief in our senses. Realism is a position regarding the question "what exists?" not "what can we know?". Plenty of anti-realists believe that the physical world can be predicted and that scientific explanations "work". What they would doubt is whether they correspond exactly to anything external to our minds.
You are right that my pithy summary was misleading. This may be a terminological point, but I am confused about how a hard-core scientific anti-realist can believe in predictions. At the very least, someone who thinks there is no objective physical reality has a hard time explaining why science seems like a one-way ratchet, with predictions always getting better and never getting worse. I agree that science, like all facts, are socially-mediated. I think the case for incommensurability between certain scientific theories is overwhelming. But it seems like there must be some regularity external to human minds for scientific predictions to work the way we've observed them to work. (I vaguely recall my Philosophy of Science professor saying something like "Preserve the phenomena") In short, the problem of Induction says that we can't prove the sun will rise tomorrow in the sense that we can prove that 3 + 5 = 8. But hardcore scientific anti-realism proponents seem like they should be surprised when the sun rises tomorrow (more precisely, when they experience what appears to be the sun rising tomorrow) because they literally believe that there is no mechanism that suggests it will happen. (Or am I just setting up a strawman?)
I like your explanation of the distinction between (metaphysical) skepticism and anti-realism. Another way of putting it would be that the for the skeptic, the standard to evaluate beliefs/theories is correspondence with objective reality, but they also believe that there is no reliable way to compare map and territory and therefore all our beliefs are unreliable. The anti-realist denies objective reality is a meaningful concept, judges beliefs by some other standard like consistency or pragmatic usefulness, and if happy to endorse them if they satisfy it. Or as Thomas Nagel memorably put it in this passage from The View From Nowhere, epistemological theories can be classified as skeptic, reductive (meaning not "reductionist" but "anti-realist"), or heroic:
That's a good way to put it. And Nagel's footnote is hilarious and on target. Also: I just want to point out to people in this thread how not bad philosophically sophisticated metaphysical anti-realism is. The right set of epistemic principles is isomorphic to "correspondence with reality". What matters is which beliefs we endorse not what we mean by "belief". Similarly, a deflated concept of "reality" takes you to more or less the same place as the anti-realists. The problem is the anti-realists who endorse poor strategies of belief formation.

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.

Agreed - I've found that most people do have fairly solid anticipations, even when they refuse to accept a realist philosophy. Failing that, it's their fault for perceiving that hammer in the first place, am I right? ;)
Clearly, since we create our own realities, we are responsible for all the hammers that smash into our skulls. More seriously: well, I don't know about most people... but yeah, close enough. I have found that people whose anticipations are substantially different from mine on simple quotidian experiences either tend to encapsulate those special anticipated experiences in hypothetical conditionals that are never actually actualized (e.g., "Well, I don't know that I'll get the number three if I count the coins in that cup, maybe you're a stage magician or God removed them or I'll make a mistake in counting or whatever") or tend to genuinely have expectations that make me cringe (e.g., they really do take seriously the possibility of underpants gnomes). The latter group are usually receiving psychiatric care of some kind or another.
Talking about your anticipated experiences rather than the Truth is what many people mean by anti-realism.
Sure, I can see that. Using the language with people that concentrates both of our attention on our actual goals is an example of what I mean by pragmatism. I mean, if someone wants to discuss ontology and epistemology, that's cool, I'll do that too. But I'm fairly confident that's usually not what's going 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 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".

Yet it elicited an impression of being forced to believe.

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.

Now I'm relieved to know that in near mode, she's a complete realist. This craziness only shows up in far mode.

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.

You know, I found that quite nice. Then I had a laugh at my expense yet again for mistakenly projecting my outlook on others - most people find a lot of sense in unreal nonsense. And I just did for a bit too. The universe scores another hit on my vanity of sanity.
Yes, what a fool Leibniz must have been for thinking Newtonianism, arguably the most successful scientific theory in history, merely a good tool for predicting the motion of bodies, rather than being The Truth of Reality. Oh wait... Actually, Putnam's "no miracles" argument (scientific realism "is the only philosophy that doesn't make the success of science a miracle") commits the base rate fallacy and ignores another (IMO, very plausible) explanation (namely, the "natural" selection of scientific theories).
Metaphysical realism != realism about particular theories BTW: do you know of any good sources arguing in favour of the Darwinian explanation of the success of science (other than van Fraassen)?
Of course not, but the primary motivation for anti-realism seems to be the ability to sort reasonable aims from unreasonable ones. If even our very best theories don't warrant us calling them True, then what does? The Darwinian explanation for the success of scientific theories is not unique to van Fraassen. I believe it was Thomas Kuhn who originally popularized it among philosophers of science (specifically, the punctuated equilibrium variety).
Book recommendation. Borrowed it from the SingInst library. Haven't finished it yet, but what I've read is really good, and since you like Kuehnelt-Leddihn-style history of ideas and coherentistic epistemology you'll almost certainly dig it. Also relevant to FAI: we're trying to pull a similar thing. Inventing Justification or summat.
Good god man, you are dangling smack in front of a junkie...They even have it on NOOK Books for $16.49! Based on the reviews, it sounds similar to Leviathan and the Air-Pump by Steven Shapin (but perhaps only superficially so). Another book in the same spirit, that has been on my to-read list for a few years, is Constructing Quarks: A Sociological History of Particle Physics by Andrew Pickering.
On another note I've started blogging here, in order to practice my writing and lay down my thoughts in semi-coherent form 'cuz I'm trying to write a treatise on God and other such things. Five to fifteen or so LessWrong folk have messaged me asking for more info about my thoughts on theism, religion, &c., and I suspect more than that are quietly interested, so the readership might not be tiny once I publicize the blog. And I suspect the readership will be pretty elite. I've also invited various cool people to write guest posts. If you want to write guest posts that are more or less on the theme then let me know. Especially, I have a huge gap in my knowledge of the history of computation during roughly the Islamic Golden Age period, and I'd appreciate a post roughly on that subject. ("Computation" is pretty loose here: it's more like theory of processes in general. And I'm also interested in the history of computers. Basically, anything in the historical run-up to Leibniz' calculator and proto-algorithmic-information-theory.) (The history of computation is especially relevant to "computational theology", but in the past I mostly studied it because computation is a similar concept to justification, and I wanted to get an estimate of how close we are to formalizing justification. My intuition is that we're either right before or right at the Leibniz stage, with the modern decision theorists adding up to about half a Leibniz all told. Hopefully with modern technologies like the internet it won't be a long time 'til we reach the Turing stage.)
Yes, I would like to write such a post, but I'm not so sure I want to like to write such a post. I'm this close to going on a Less Wrong-fast due to it being a source of akrasia with respect to my higher-order, more time-sensitive goals. I'm working full-time, launching a start-up with my wife, and training to be a sysadmin in my off-time. Anyway, I'll have to think about it. On the other hand, I am one of those that has "gone insane" (supposedly) from x-rationality. For instance, I currently maintain a Weltanschauung I refer to as simulation-theism. This pretty much excludes me from easily identifying with the more traditional camps of atheism, theism, agnosticism, etc... I don't fit in with the atheists because well...I believe in God (the software engineer or engineers of our simulation). I don't really fit in with theists because I'm a non-realist with respect to actual infinites (which seems to rule out the possibility, even in principle, of omnipotence, omniscience, etc...), but not necessarily potential infinites (to borrow from Aristotle). I'm not an agnostic either, since I think there is a decent amount of rational evidence pushing one way rather than the other (although my subjective probability has swung back-and-forth a few times in the last couple years) and I'm not really sure what range of epistemic probabilities are supposed to constitute "not knowing" rather than just having a given degree of belief. So, I think I am particularly well suited to be part of your readership, at the very least. I'm far from being an expert on science during the Islamic Golden Age (I can't even read Arabic!), but your suspicions that the computationalist view didn't spring fully formed from the brow of Leibniz is definitely on the right track. While I may be able to talk a little bit about the alchemists' view of natural processes, I'm not really all that sure how much of that work survived in the Western tradition in a form that Leibniz would have assimilated into hi
Is this a proper descendent of Computational Axiology, or more of a sibling?
I despise computational axiology and the past self who tried to talk about it. I can't even bring myself to look at that blog. So as far as I'm concerned it doesn't exist and this new blog is completely unrelated. Hopefully a year from now I won't get slightly nauseous whenever I think about this new blog, which is my reaction to the old one.

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 know because she told me about the totalitarian dangers from such narrow thinking.

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)

Can you point to any historical examples of totalitarian regimes that adhered to an official ideology that contained non-realism (anti-realism, etc...) as a doctrine?
The Catholic Church? All this nasty material stuff isn't the real you, there's a magical kingdom "beyond" all this where you could live forever in your sparkly immaterial form, Satan has dominion over this world, always seeking ways to deceive you. It's all a big mystery you can't understand. Don't believe your mind, don't believe your senses, just believe and obey us cough cough, I mean God. For secular antirealism, I recall Hitchens relating that the reaction to Orwell behind the Iron Curtain with respect to DoubleThink was "how does he know?" I don't believe that the communists had an official antirealist stance, however. They were supposed to be scientific socialists. But when it becomes illegal and dangerous to disagree, people are forced into making statements contradicting their own minds, which is antirealism in practice if not in "official ideology". And of course, saying "I am antirealist" is not the kind of direct factual statement one should expect out of an antirealist. I'd expect mysterion or collectivist piffle.
Okay, it has become clear to me that you, the OP, and I are all have different definitions of "realism" in mind. Furthermore, this threads is full of confusions and people talking past each other. I lay the majority of the blame on the OP for using the term in a way completely alien to mainstream philosophy, but I messed up myself by only half-reading it and assuming he was discussing the philosophical position of realism (as it is used, say, in ethics or philosophy of science) rather than a mix of mystical thinking, circular reasoning, appeals to emotion, and selective scepticism.
Mostly agree, except I don't understand why you think the OP's use of "realism" is nonstandard.
I think his "something exists" is pretty standard philosophical realism as well. Wikipedia:
Seems to me like the totalitarian regimes see themselves as realist. They just refuse to update when their "reality" does not match the territory. Killing the people who point out the difference is easier. Sometimes they change opinions, but then the new opinion becomes the "reality". So I would say that totalitarian regimes profess realism. They just refuse the idea of updating, because they believe their map already matches the territory perfectly. And they also refuse the outside view, because they believe to be incomparable to others. EDIT: Seems like I was probably wrong. I am not sure.
I'm not aware of any tyranny that failed to assert a moral realist position. The relationship between their philosophies and physical reality was tenuous, but they didn't act like they were uncertain.
The Soviet Union. Communist doctrine was that morality is not objective but determined by economic relations; therefore, communists were free to operate under whatever morality was most convenient. Need to eliminate descendents, no reason to let those archaic moral principals against mass killing stand in your way.
I believe you're correct as a matter of old school Communist ideology. Class struggle is an amoral battle between classes asserting their interests. Old style socialists and communists seem very different to me than their modern day US counterparts, who more explicitly justify their arguments on moral grounds. I'd argue, however, that Marx and Marxism are shot through with moralisms, starting with the Labor Theory of Value, Surplus Value, etc. Any theory of Objective value is implicitly a morality.
Marxian value theory is not normative axiology; it's a positive but partial theory of price formation and certain macroeconomic variables which is true in some worlds but not others. (This is not to deny that people who try to change the world but deny being moralists are confused on that point or using language differently.)
Then they should have called it a labor theory of price, not a labor theory of value. Marx was the worst kind of moralist and idealist - one that confuses his ideas for reality, and thinks he is objective and scientific.
No, because "value" had a pre-existing non-normative meaning in classical economics distinct from price. (Since this use of the word was already linked to value from the first, the phrase "labor theory of value" is redundant and as far as I know did not appear until marginalism dispensed with value.) A decent overview of the intellectual history if you are hopelessly nerdy enough to care is Ajit Sinha's Theories of Value from Adam Smith to Piero Sraffa. It is of course reasonable to argue that the categories of classical economics were fundamentally confused and inferior to those of marginalism (or for that matter some other system,) but to do so on the basis that "value" referred to something normative is to be fundamentally confused yourself about what classical economists were saying, like assuming that a "final cause" for Aristotle must be the most recent cause to act on something.
Agreed. They were reflectively inconsistent in much the same way the OP's mother is inconsistent with respect to her (physical) non-realism.
Or they thought they were doing what was best to achieve a better society in the future. Everyone is the hero of their own story.
I fail to see how this is supposed to contradict what I said.
The Soviet Union believed it was implementing a morality based on scientifically objective economic facts. That's moral realism, not anti-realism. That the USSR was a tyranny and did terrible things isn't inconsistent with their belief that they were doing what was objectively right.
Specifically, they believed that the objective fact was that morality was not objective but something bourgeois used to oppress the proletariat.
Sure, they believed that the bourgeois value system functioned to maintain the bourgeois status quo (isn't that true?). But you seem to be saying that disagreeing with the bourgeois value system is a moral anti-realist position. There's nothing in the definition of moral realism that says particular moral realists must agree about what is right. Suppose someone said Islam isn't a religion because Muslims say Christianity is a false religion. That's a misleading usage of the word "religion." It's just a clearer usage of "religion" to say that Islam and Christianity are religions with conflicting tenets. Likewise, bourgeois ideology and communist ideology are both value systems that assert they are reflections of the correct moral facts, and they clearly disagree on the content of moral facts.
They believed that the concept of morality itself was merely a tool of oppressors, or at best merely a tool that they might as well turn against the bourgeois.
Inside view vs. outside view.
Wait, which of us do you think is describing which view? I think I'm describing inside view and you're describing some kind of partial outside view.
Yes, you are proffering the inside view, and I am proffering the outside view. Let x = the circumstance one finds oneself in, and let y = the choice one makes. Define f() as the function that converts x into y. By definition y = f(x). I think that "morality" is just the label we apply to a particular person or group's f(). It is clearly true the BOURGEOIS(x) != COMMUNIST(x). But your position seems to be that COMMUNIST() cannot be labeled the "Communist morality" because they used the word "morality" exclusively to refer to BOURGEOIS() or FEUDALISM() (or whatever). I'm not primarily interested in that assertion - instead, I'm asserting that Communists believed the function COMMUNIST() was validated by objective facts, external to any particular human mind. Likewise, I might assert that the Pope thinks CATHOLIC() is validated by objective facts, external to any particular human mind.
Isn't there only one status quo, and don't all mainstream value systems function to maintain it? For better or worse.
It is true that there is (at most) one status quo at a time. Further, I would expect the dominant morality of a particular moment to support the status quo, but that doesn't imply that only one moral system is believed at any particular time. I don't know what you mean by asserting that there is only one status quo - it seems false. The status quo in France in 1788 wasn't the same as the status quo in France in 1791. Further, there's nothing inherent in the concept of a morality that requires it agree that the current state of affairs is best. Mencius Moldbug has a morality, and he thinks the way western nations run their affairs is filled with nonsense.
Sure, one status quo at a time. But you didn't label you didn't label "status quo" with a time period, you labeled it with "bourgeois."
I think Mussolini counts. I don't have the original reference, but Mussolini argued that ethical relativism licensed Italians to champion and impose their values upon whomever they felt it appropriate to. Given the premises, Mussolini's conclusion seems inevitable. Edit: found it
Thanks. It's very interesting that Mussolini labelled himself a moral relativist. But I'm not sure he was using the label consistent with how moral philosophers use the label. Consider the inference he draws from the falseness of all ideologies: (A) is a straightforward conclusion from anti-realism - although I'm not sure every moral anti-realist endorses it. (B) comes out of left field - there is no reason to think it follows from the premise that morality is not objective. If morality is not objective, then what justifies imposing the morality one created on others? Superior force predicts who will succeed in imposing their views. But from the outside view, there is no reason to think that actually winning is identical to deserving to win. Contrast with physical realism, which has an outside view justification for deciding which theory is better: the theory with more accurate predictions should win. To get that kind of certainty in morality, one must adopt some inside view. And justifying which particular inside view to adopt by relying on the view adopted is just circular reasoning.
(B) follows from (A), at least if we take (B) as elliptical for (B') to attempt to enforce it, if the ideology indicates that this is valuable, with all the energy of which he is capable. And Mussolini's ideology presumably did indicate that enforcement of Italian values is valuable.
In the case of Mussolini, it turns out that the value system he adopted "valued" being imposed on others. But the quote you found suggests that he might have known this in advance - before he knew anything concrete about the value system he would adopt. That's not something that moral anti-realism says you can know in advance. More realistically, it's likely that Mussolini choose his value system with knowledge of the contents, and specifically picked one that called for it to be imposed on others. But using this quality of the moral system as a litmus test for whether to pick it is not justified by moral anti-realism. Mussolini asserts the contrary, which is why I question whether he is using the label "moral relativist" appropriately.
I don't quite think he asserts that. He merely claims that fascism is at least equal to anything else in measure of consistency with relativism. But I'm not too interested in the finer points of Mussolini interpretation. I'm mainly putting him forth in answer to your interest in non-moral-realist tyrants.
Fair enough, but whether Mussolini is accurate to label himself a moral relativist is fairly central to whether he disproves my "tyranny = moral realism" assertion.
Even if he did make the mistake of thinking relativism implies imposition, that need not invalidate his claim to be a moral relativist. Relativism remains consistent with imposition. And his comment that "all ideologies are mere fictions" certainly seems to point him in a broadly anti-realist direction.
Well put. Hmm . . . must think more about what's wrong with my previous thesis.
Aren't you confusing moral realism with moral certainty? Being uncertain about the truth-value a moral proposition is quite compatible with moral realism.
And only compatible with non-relativistic moral cognitivism. If moral propositions can't be false, there's nothing to be uncertain about. If a moral truth just amounts to my belief or my society's belief, and I know what that belief is (which I do), then again uncertainty is out of place.
I may be misunderstanding you, but it seems I have the same objection to this assertion that I raised here. That is, I don't necessarily know my own moral beliefs, let alone my society's. (Of course, that's not to say that you don't; if all you meant by "which I do" was a claim about torekp's knowledge, I withdraw my objection.)
If one has moral certainty and a moral anti-realist position, one is deeply confused. As far as I see, moral certainty requires a commitment to moral realism. More generally, the parent to my comment asserted moral anti-realism was an intellectual precursor to totalitarianism. Because I'm not aware of any totalitarian regime that wasn't a moral certainty regime (and therefore a moral realist regime), I am confused how a contrary philosophical position can be seen as a ideological precursor to totalitarianism.
It only seems that way to you because you've retained enough meta-moral realism to believe that there's something wrong with having an inconsistent about your position on morality.
The ability to recognize logical consistency is from moral realist thought?
The ability to recognize logical inconsistency about morality is from meta-moral realist thought.
I think that if one has moral uncertainty and a moral anti-realist position, one is also deeply confused. Both certainty and uncertainty imply that there's something real to be certain or uncertain about.
Er? I can believe that there's no intersubjective or objective fact of the matter as to whether an act is right or wrong, merely an algorithm in my mind that makes moral judgments, and also not know whether I think rescuing kittens from a flood is right or wrong. I suppose I'm confused in that case about kitten-rescuing, but I'm not sure that counts as "deeply confused."
If morality is just whatever is returned by the algorithm in your mind that makes moral judgments, then when that algorithm returns a result "no result" that is itself a result -- what is there you do not know about the subject? This can be contrasted to an algorithm in your mind designed to calculate objectively real things like prime numbers -- in that case you can still express uncertainty about whether 5915587279 is a prime number, because primes are a real thing with an objective definition and not just "whatever my mind considers to be prime".
If the algorithm in my mind returns "gee, I'm not sure... there are wrong things about X, and there are right things about X, and mostly it seems like I have to think about it more in order to be sure," one possible interpretation of that result (and, in fact, the one I'm likely to provisionally adopt, as in my experience it often turns out to be true) is that if I think about it more, and more carefully, I will know more about my moral judgments about X than I do at that moment. Sure, it's possible that this is confabulation, and that what I experience as "not knowing what my judgment is" is really "not having yet made a judgment". I'm not sure that distinction actually matters, though. Note, also, that there is a difference between what I said (that morality is "an algorithm in my mind") and what you said (morality is "whatever is returned by the algorithm in your mind"). I don't know if that distinction matters, either, but it seems related... you are focused on an answer to a specific question in isolation, I am focused on the process that generates answers to a class of questions, often over time.
Why? There isn't anything incoherent about assigning a non-zero or non-one probability to a proposition F that states that a sentence G is or is not propositional.
I suppose we should divide moral uncertainty into two categories: a) Non-certainty about whether there's some (positive, negative or zero) "real moral value" attached to a given action X. b) Given that such a value exists, non-certainty about its value. So far I considered moral uncertainty to just mean (b), but it can ofcourse mean (a) as well, you're correct about that.
I can't think of one either, but: It's dangerous to deny there is any basis for determining whether something is absurd.
Quotes are written like this: > This is a quote. Click on the "show help" button at the lower right corner of the edit window. (Edit: This feels a bit blunt. That wasn't intended, sorry.)
That's… tempting. She will yell at me for sure, though. Plus, if I say she does the same thing, she will say it's not the same (she told me it's not the same, so I know she's aware of her double standard).
Is it tempting because it'd be amusing, or because it's likely to change her mind? You know her better than me, but in my experience antagonizing people rarely works. I don't know what would, unfortunately.
Because it might change her mind. But the odds are not good. It would also not be amusing at all. I think I won't attempt it.

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.

People like arguing?
Yep. But also because disagreement is an itch I have the urge to scratch. I don't like contradiction, because it means someone is wrong, and that's bad. Or at least that's how I tend to feel.

I'm happy to have finally found the root cause of our ongoing disagreement

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

(...) the children of post-Christian agnostics grow up to be ideologically aggressive posthuman rationalists.

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)

I agree that generally raising someone's sanity waterline and getting them to think more rationally in everyday situations is a better approach to bringing them around to the naturalistic point of view than trying to force it on them.
Note that in everyday situations (often involving social interaction), she beats me, and her advice in that domain is often significant bayesian evidence to me. Closing the gap is harder, because she explicitly says that "logical" reasoning does not apply to everything. (I'd agree that we can't apply it to everything, but in principle, if we had the computing power, we could.)
It might be worth talking with her about how she thinks about the things she's good at.

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 don't think so. I think that more likely rounds down to zero. Few are consciously using it as a tactic - though perhaps I'm just a dullard and all this gibberish is a conscious ploy. I doubt it, because I don't see the general level of philosophical sophistication to believe that is likely. Maybe the world is full of people pretending to be conceptually addled buffoons for some nefarious purpose I can't grasp, but I doubt it. No, like faith, unrealism is just a philosophical immunizing strategy that they have gotten away with in some circumstance, so they use it again, like a monkey pulling a lever for a grape. If you can get away with punting out of any intellectual difficulty with , "I just believe", "that's just logic", "it's all relative", "that's not my reality", etc., you will. As long as the get out of jail free card works, you'll keep using it. Well, maybe not you, but a lot of people will and do. I don't think they're consciously trolling.

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.

Moral truths which ignore scientific truths are invalid.
True, but scientific truths that imply moral truths are very, very thin on the ground. (I personally doubt there are any scientific truths dispositive of most actually contested moral issues).
Scientific truths include the measurement of net harm to society for any given action -- which then impact utilitarian consequentialistic morals. ("It's unjust to execute anyone. Ever.") Scientific truths include observations as to what occurs "in nature" which then informs naturalistic morals ("It's not natural to be gay/left-handed/brilliant" ) Scientific truths include observations about the role morality plays in those species we can observe to possess it, thereby informing us practically about what actions or inactions or rules would best optimize that function. (Observing apes and other primates or pack animals to derive a functional analysis of how morality impacts our social coherence and so on.) I have long argued that morality needn't be absolute in order to be objective. Moral relativism and moral objectivism may be standard terms but I assert they are not as incompatible as is routinely claimed. We needn't know what is perfectly moral to know objectively what is less moral.

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.

Yup. That link contains one of the simplest and most effective antidotes to non-realism I know of:

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.

How to deal with non-realism?

Ignore it until it goes away.

Every description of reality that matches it is true.

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.

Jaynes? Didn't you mean Aumann? Breaking the walls won't be easy, because she deliberately compartimentalize. So I'm not sure that pointing out that in "real" life, she acts as a realist would work. Most likely, she would say it's not the same thing, and that different methods of thinking apply to different situations. She denies the possibility of a unified principle, let alone the fact that we may have found it.
Sorry, my bad. I think drilling for the reason might help. If you keep asking, innocently, playing a dumb devils advocate ("But what do you mean by X? How does Y justify Z? I don't understand why Q, etc.") and then you can at some point criticise her for believing in strange things that she can't explain to you in simple terms. Roll up your sleeves and use the 37 ways words can be wrong, is my advice. Orthogonal idea: Find some way to incite cognitive dissonance with her world view on the basis, perhaps, of object level morality. On a personal note I happen to almost only interact with Traditional Rationalist or Very Sane For Common Man persons, so I have little practical knowledge of this.

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.

There is something.

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.

Your rephrasing assumes the existence of the observing 'I', which is still something. So it doesn't contradict the quote at all.
Fair enough, but the full quote from the OP says: I interpreted this to mean, "a shared reality external to myself and others does definitely exist", which is too strong a statement. But it's possible that my interpretation was wrong.
I do not exclude in that statement that we all live in totally separate parts of reality (Everett branches, light cones, or whatever). In this case the text I am answering to doesn't come from an agent. (You can apply the same reasoning to yourself and my text.) Of course, I have empirical reasons to believe that you are an agent, and that we are interacting, and therefore we are part of the same whole in a stronger sense.
If I'm interacting with somebody(say, via philosophical argument), we share a reality.
I think at this point it might be helpful to taboo "reality". I would rewrite your statement as something like this: That sentence is unwieldy and, frankly, boring, but it does avoid making unwarranted assertions. That said, going into this much detail is probably not useful. If you and your interlocutor can't even agree on whether both of you exist, there probably isn't much room for productive dialogue.

There is something. All that there is, we generally call "reality". Note that by this definition, reality is unique.

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.

That's little more than tautologies here.

To quote EY, belief feels like truth from the inside. Have you rationally examined your belief in reality?

Reason without a starting point forms a very, very small closed loop with nothing interesting inside. "Cognito ergo sum" is about the extent of it. In order to do anything interesting, you need to assume that you can rely on your senses at least a little bit, and there's not really very much you can do to examine that belief.