Occasionally, you hear someone claiming that creationism should not be taught in schools, especially not as a competing hypothesis to evolution, because creationism is a priori and automatically excluded from scientific consideration, in that it invokes the "supernatural".
So... is the idea here, that creationism could be true, but even if it were true, you wouldn't be allowed to teach it in science class, because science is only about "natural" things?
It seems clear enough that this notion stems from the desire to avoid a confrontation between science and religion. You don't want to come right out and say that science doesn't teach Religious Claim X because X has been tested by the scientific method and found false. So instead, you can... um... claim that science is excluding hypothesis X a priori. That way you don't have to discuss how experiment has falsified X a posteriori.
Of course this plays right into the creationist claim that Intelligent Design isn't getting a fair shake from science—that science has prejudged the issue in favor of atheism, regardless of the evidence. If science excluded Intelligent Design a priori, this would be a justified complaint!
But let's back up a moment. The one comes to you and says: "Intelligent Design is excluded from being science a priori, because it is 'supernatural', and science only deals in 'natural' explanations."
What exactly do they mean, "supernatural"? Is any explanation invented by someone with the last name "Cohen" a supernatural one? If we're going to summarily kick a set of hypotheses out of science, what is it that we're supposed to exclude?
By far the best definition I've ever heard of the supernatural is Richard Carrier's: A "supernatural" explanation appeals to ontologically basic mental things, mental entities that cannot be reduced to nonmental entities.
This is the difference, for example, between saying that water rolls downhill because it wants to be lower, and setting forth differential equations that claim to describe only motions, not desires. It's the difference between saying that a tree puts forth leaves because of a tree spirit, versus examining plant biochemistry. Cognitive science takes the fight against supernaturalism into the realm of the mind.
Why is this an excellent definition of the supernatural? I refer you to Richard Carrier for the full argument. But consider: Suppose that you discover what seems to be a spirit, inhabiting a tree: a dryad who can materialize outside or inside the tree, who speaks in English about the need to protect her tree, et cetera. And then suppose that we turn a microscope on this tree spirit, and she turns out to be made of parts—not inherently spiritual and ineffable parts, like fabric of desireness and cloth of belief; but rather the same sort of parts as quarks and electrons, parts whose behavior is defined in motions rather than minds. Wouldn't the dryad immediately be demoted to the dull catalogue of common things?
But if we accept Richard Carrier's definition of the supernatural, then a dilemma arises: we want to give religious claims a fair shake, but it seems that we have very good grounds for excluding supernatural explanations a priori.
I mean, what would the universe look like if reductionism were false?
I previously defined the reductionist thesis as follows: human minds create multi-level models of reality in which high-level patterns and low-level patterns are separately and explicitly represented. A physicist knows Newton's equation for gravity, Einstein's equation for gravity, and the derivation of the former as a low-speed approximation of the latter. But these three separate mental representations, are only a convenience of human cognition. It is not that reality itself has an Einstein equation that governs at high speeds, a Newton equation that governs at low speeds, and a "bridging law" that smooths the interface. Reality itself has only a single level, Einsteinian gravity. It is only the Mind Projection Fallacy that makes some people talk as if the higher levels could have a separate existence—different levels of organization can have separate representations in human maps, but the territory itself is a single unified low-level mathematical object.
Suppose this were wrong.
Suppose that the Mind Projection Fallacy was not a fallacy, but simply true.
Suppose that a 747 had a fundamental physical existence apart from the quarks making up the 747.
What experimental observations would you expect to make, if you found yourself in such a universe?
If you can't come up with a good answer to that, it's not observation that's ruling out "non-reductionist" beliefs, but a priori logical incoherence. If you can't say what predictions the "non-reductionist" model makes, how can you say that experimental evidence rules it out?
My thesis is that non-reductionism is a confusion; and once you realize that an idea is a confusion, it becomes a tad difficult to envision what the universe would look like if the confusion were true. Maybe I've got some multi-level model of the world, and the multi-level model has a one-to-one direct correspondence with the causal elements of the physics? But once all the rules are specified, why wouldn't the model just flatten out into yet another list of fundamental things and their interactions? Does everything I can see in the model, like a 747 or a human mind, have to become a separate real thing? But what if I see a pattern in that new supersystem?
Supernaturalism is a special case of non-reductionism, where it is not 747s that are irreducible, but just (some) mental things. Religion is a special case of supernaturalism, where the irreducible mental things are God(s) and souls; and perhaps also sins, angels, karma, etc.
If I propose the existence of a powerful entity with the ability to survey and alter each element of our observed universe, but with the entity reducible to nonmental parts that interact with the elements of our universe in a lawful way; if I propose that this entity wants certain particular things, but "wants" using a brain composed of particles and fields; then this is not yet a religion, just a naturalistic hypothesis about a naturalistic Matrix. If tomorrow the clouds parted and a vast glowing amorphous figure thundered forth the above description of reality, then this would not imply that the figure was necessarily honest; but I would show the movies in a science class, and I would try to derive testable predictions from the theory.
Conversely, religions have ignored the discovery of that ancient bodiless thing: omnipresent in the working of Nature and immanent in every falling leaf: vast as a planet's surface and billions of years old: itself unmade and arising from the structure of physics: designing without brain to shape all life on Earth and the minds of humanity. Natural selection, when Darwin proposed it, was not hailed as the long-awaited Creator: It wasn't fundamentally mental.
But now we get to the dilemma: if the staid conventional normal boring understanding of physics and the brain is correct, there's no way in principle that a human being can concretely envision, and derive testable experimental predictions about, an alternate universe in which things are irreducibly mental. Because, if the boring old normal model is correct, your brain is made of quarks, and so your brain will only be able to envision and concretely predict things that can predicted by quarks. You will only ever be able to construct models made of interacting simple things.
People who live in reductionist universes cannot concretely envision non-reductionist universes. They can pronounce the syllables "non-reductionist" but they can't imagine it.
The basic error of anthropomorphism, and the reason why supernatural explanations sound much simpler than they really are, is your brain using itself as an opaque black box to predict other things labeled "mindful". Because you already have big, complicated webs of neural circuitry that implement your "wanting" things, it seems like you can easily describe water that "wants" to flow downhill—the one word "want" acts as a lever to set your own complicated wanting-machinery in motion.
Or you imagine that God likes beautiful things, and therefore made the flowers. Your own "beauty" circuitry determines what is "beautiful" and "not beautiful". But you don't know the diagram of your own synapses. You can't describe a nonmental system that computes the same label for what is "beautiful" or "not beautiful"—can't write a computer program that predicts your own labelings. But this is just a defect of knowledge on your part; it doesn't mean that the brain has no explanation.
If the "boring view" of reality is correct, then you can never predict anything irreducible because you are reducible. You can never get Bayesian confirmation for a hypothesis of irreducibility, because any prediction you can make is, therefore, something that could also be predicted by a reducible thing, namely your brain.
Some boxes you really can't think outside. If our universe really is Turing computable, we will never be able to concretely envision anything that isn't Turing-computable—no matter how many levels of halting oracle hierarchy our mathematicians can talk about, we won't be able to predict what a halting oracle would actually say, in such fashion as to experimentally discriminate it from merely computable reasoning.
Of course, that's all assuming the "boring view" is correct. To the extent that you believe evolution is true, you should not expect to encounter strong evidence against evolution. To the extent you believe reductionism is true, you should expect non-reductionist hypotheses to be incoherent as well as wrong. To the extent you believe supernaturalism is false, you should expect it to be inconceivable as well.
If, on the other hand, a supernatural hypothesis turns out to be true, then presumably you will also discover that it is not inconceivable.
So let us bring this back full circle to the matter of Intelligent Design:
Should ID be excluded a priori from experimental falsification and science classrooms, because, by invoking the supernatural, it has placed itself outside of natural philosophy?
I answer: "Of course not." The irreducibility of the intelligent designer is not an indispensable part of the ID hypothesis. For every irreducible God that can be proposed by the IDers, there exists a corresponding reducible alien that behaves in accordance with the same predictions—since the IDers themselves are reducible; to the extent I believe reductionism is in fact correct, which is a rather strong extent, I must expect to discover reducible formulations of all supposedly supernatural predictive models.
If we're going over the archeological records to test the assertion that Jehovah parted the Red Sea out of an explicit desire to display its superhuman power, then it makes little difference whether Jehovah is ontologically basic, or an alien with nanotech, or a Dark Lord of the Matrix. You do some archeology, find no skeletal remnants or armor at the Red Sea site, and indeed find records that Egypt ruled much of Canaan at the time. So you stamp the historical record in the Bible "disproven" and carry on. The hypothesis is coherent, falsifiable and wrong.
Likewise with the evidence from biology that foxes are designed to chase rabbits, rabbits are designed to evade foxes, and neither is designed "to carry on their species" or "protect the harmony of Nature"; likewise with the retina being designed backwards with the light-sensitive parts at the bottom; and so on through a thousand other items of evidence for splintered, immoral, incompetent design. The Jehovah model of our alien god is coherent, falsifiable, and wrong—coherent, that is, so long as you don't care whether Jehovah is ontologically basic or just an alien.
Just convert the supernatural hypothesis into the corresponding natural hypothesis. Just make the same predictions the same way, without asserting any mental things to be ontologically basic. Consult your brain's black box if necessary to make predictions—say, if you want to talk about an "angry god" without building a full-fledged angry AI to label behaviors as angry or not angry. So you derive the predictions, or look up the predictions made by ancient theologians without advance knowledge of our experimental results. If experiment conflicts with those predictions, then it is fair to speak of the religious claim having been scientifically refuted. It was given its just chance at confirmation; it is being excluded a posteriori, not a priori.
Ultimately, reductionism is just disbelief in fundamentally complicated things. If "fundamentally complicated" sounds like an oxymoron... well, that's why I think that the doctrine of non-reductionism is a confusion, rather than a way that things could be, but aren't. You would be wise to be wary, if you find yourself supposing such things.
But the ultimate rule of science is to look and see. If ever a God appeared to thunder upon the mountains, it would be something that people looked at and saw.
Corollary: Any supposed designer of Artificial General Intelligence who talks about religious beliefs in respectful tones, is clearly not an expert on reducing mental things to nonmental things; and indeed knows so very little of the uttermost basics, as for it to be scarcely plausible that they could be expert at the art; unless their idiot savancy is complete. Or, of course, if they're outright lying. We're not talking about a subtle mistake.
It seems like you should be able to make experimental predictions about irreducible things. Take a quark, or a gluon, or the Grand Quantum Lifestream, or whatever reality is at the bottom, I don't really follow physics closely. In any case, you can make predictions about those things, and that's part and parcel of making predictions about airplanes and grizzly bears.
Even if it turns out that the Grand Quantum Lifestream is reducible further, you can make predictions about its components. Unless you think everything is infinitely reducible, but that proposition strikes me as unlikely.
Well, maybe the fundamental basis of reality is like a fractal. I wouldn't want to rule that out without thinking about it. But in any case it doesn't sound like what you're arguing.
I had a similar, shorter conversation with a theologian. He had hired me to critique a book he was writing, which claimed that reductionist science had reached its limits, and that it was time to turn to non-reductionist science.
The examples he gave were all phenomena which science had difficulty explaining, and which he claimed to explain as being irreducibly complex. For instance, because people had difficulty explaining how cells migrate in a developing fetus, he suggested (as Aristotle might have) that the cells had an innate fate or desire that led them to the right location.
What he really meant by non-reductionist science, was that as a "non-reductionist scientist", one is allowed to throw up one's hands, and say that there is no explanation for something. A claim that a phenomenon is supernatural is always the assertion that something has no explanation. (I don't know that it needs to be presented as a mental phenomenon, as Eliezer says.) So to "do" non-reductionist science is simply to not do science.
It should be possible, then, for a religious person to rightly claim that their point of view is outside the realm of science. If they said, for insta... (read more)
I have a feeling "no explanation exists" was meant in the mathematical sense of "exists". Which means exactly that there is no possible string of characters that is an explanation for X.
Once, in a LARP, I played Isaac Asimov on a panel which was arguing whether vampires were real. It went something like this (modulo my memory): I asked the audience to define "vampire", and they said that vampires were creatures that lived by drinking blood.
I said that mosquitoes were vampires. So they said that vampires were humanoids who lived by drinking blood.
I said that Masai who drank the blood of their cattle were vampires. So they said that vampires were humanoids who lived by drinking blood, and were burned by sunlight.
I (may have) said that a Masai with xeroderma pigmentosum was a vampire. And so on.
My point was that vampires were by definition not real - or at least, not understandable - because any time we found something real and understandable that met the definition of a vampire, we would change the definition to exclude it.
(Strangely, some mythical creatures, such as vampires and unicorns, seem to be defined in a spiritual way; whereas others, such as mermaids and centaurs, do not. A horse genetically engineered to grow a horn would probably not be thought of as a "real" unicorn; a genenged mermaid probably would be admitted to be a "real" mermaid.)
I think this depends a lot on your exposure to centaur and unicorn myths. Both creatures were imagined in Greece; the centaur was just a mashup of man and horse, and the unicorn was just a kind of horned donkey found in faraway places. Thus, if you slapped a horn on some donkeys (or just found an oryx) you'd have a Greek unicorn.
But in medieval Europe, the unicorn became a symbol of purity, able to cure diseases and drawn to virgins. Oryxes can't cure diseases and aren't drawn to (human) virgins, which to a large extent is the point of a unicorn (to someone who adopts the medieval European imagination of unicorns).
A nitpick: The Odyssey had sirens singing, not mermaids -- and those were half-bird women, not half-fish women. See how they were depicted in ancient times
Nonsense. If there was a creature that:
... then basically everyone would agree it was a vampire. LARPy Asimov is just being annoying when he tries to spin the question about the universe into a question about semantics.
Phil: Vampires ARE real. Both humans and animals can become vampires after being bitten by another vampire (very often a bat or racoon). After being bitten, they will go crazy and attempt to bite others. They also are unable to cross running water.
The virus has been discovered, and a vaccine exists.
Yeah, I know, those aren't "real" vampires, even though that is very likely the source of the vampire mythology.
Of course water flows downhill because it wants to be lower. It just is not in its nature to be able to want anything else, which distinguishes it from more flexible want-systems like ourselves.
As to the supernatural, I suggest a useful analogy is mathematical objects, like 5, pi, the complex plane, or the Pythagorean theorem. These objects are not physical; they are not made of quarks nor reducible to them, even though any concrete instantiation of them (or instantiation of a thought about them) must involve some physical process; they are non-natural e... (read more)
I still seem to be able to envision what things would look like if a form of Cartesian dualism were true. Our ordinary laws of physics would govern all matter except one or more places deep in the brain, where the laws of physics would be violated where the soul is "pulling the strings" of the body, as it were. These deviations from physics would not happen unlawfully, but rather would be governed by special, complicated laws of psychology, rather than physics. In principle, this should be testable.
Unlawfulness and nonreductionism are distinct concepts; I can see how the former is incoherent, but the latter still seems logically possible, if false.
My point was that vampires were by definition not real - or at least, not understandable - because any time we found something real and understandable that met the definition of a vampire, we would change the definition to exclude it.
But the same exchange might have occurred with something entirely real. We are not in the habit of giving fully adequate definitions, so it is often possible to find counterexamples to the definitions we give, which might prompt the other person to add to the definition to exclude the counterexample. For example:
A: What is a dog?
B: A dog is a four-footed animal that is a popular pet.
A: So a cat is a dog.
B: Dogs bark.
A: So if I teach a cat to bark, it will become a dog.
Constant: with dogs, you can point to examples and say "these animals, and animals closely related to these are dogs".
I think it comes down to the fact that, if you want to understand the universe around us, the scientific method is consistently successful and supernaturalism is consistently a failure.
If you want to actually prove that scientific method is better, it's very hard to do without reasoning with the scientific method itself, which would be circular logic and thus inconsistent with the scientific method.
So let's just say that, I like to know how the universe works, and if any form of supernaturalism were the best way of doing that, then I would use it. Instead I use the scientific method, because that is what works.
Supernaturalism has other uses, but they are not uses that I subscribe to.
Okay, so here's a dryad. You cut her open, and see white stuff. You take a sample, put it under a microscope, and still see white stuff. You use a scanning tunneling microscope, and still see white stuff. You build an AI and tell it to analyze the sample. The AI converts galaxies into computronium and microscopium, conducts every experiment it can think of, and after a trillion years reports: "The dryad is made of white stuff, and that's all I know. Screw this runaround, what's for dinner?"
But using an outside view of sorts (observed behavior), you can still predict what the dryad will do next. Just like with quarks and with Occam's razor and with prime numbers. And things you haven't reduced yet, but think you can, like people or the LHC.
So, what would you call this dryad?
If you look at it in an STM, you aren't going to be able to see white stuff, because that isn't sensitive to color. But since you were able to image it at all instead of crashing your tip, you can also tell that dryad insides are electrically conductive. We should be able to determine the resistivity of dryad, as a function of gate voltage, impurity density, magnetic field, etc.
No matter what the result is, we now know more about dryad stuff.
So I'd suggest that they be insulating instead, as that closes off all those transport experiments.
In that special Cartesian theater, I can picture an even smaller Homunculus pulling the strings of the larger. And so on. Turtles.
Ennui: "In that special Cartesian theater, I can picture an even smaller Homunculus pulling the strings of the larger."
But what if the homunculus were ontologically fundamental?--of course the notion is silly and of course it's false, but I'm not yet convinced that it's literally nonsense on the order of square circles or A-and-not-A. It could be that I just need some intuition-reshaping, but in the meantime I can do nothing else but call it as I see it.
Aaron - yes, I know that. It's beside the point.
Z. M. Davis: But if you think about the things that the homunculus tends to do, I think you would find yourself needing to move to levels below the homunculus to do it. To give it a coherent set of actions it is likely to take, and not to take, at any given time, you would have to populate it with wants, with likes, with beliefs, with structures for reasoning about beliefs.
I think eventually you would come to an algorithm of which the homunculus would have to be an instantiation, and you would have to assume that that algorithm was represented somewhere.
I... (read more)
The dictionary has at #1: "of, pertaining to, or being above or beyond what is natural; unexplainable by natural law or phenomena; abnormal."
It seems about right. E.g. travelling into to the past is supernatural.
It's deeper than science being only applicable to natural things -- reason as such is only applicable to natural things. Once you are in the realm of the supernatural anything is possible and the laws of logic don't necessarily hold. You have to just close your mouth and turn off your mind and have faith. Which does not give a teacher a lot of material to work with...
Somebody let me know if I'm pushing my allowed post rate?
Tim: I'm not sure about that definition. Are we saying unexplainable by natural law as understood by humans at the time - ie quantum tunneling was supernatural 100 years ago, but is no longer?
Or would that mean unexplainable by the natural laws that exist? I just don't like this one because then we've simply defined the supernatural out of existence. The set of supernatural things and the set of real things would be non-overlapping by definition.
more pragmatically you can't teach creationism because you wouldn't know which which creationist story to teach? The christian one isn't the only creation story. How about the jain one? the buddhist story? the viking story? the Roman creation story?
One way to go about it would be to assemble the whole canon of stories, and then look about in the world around us to see if there is any evidence that helps support or falsify the different accounts. Maybe one could examine the stories and create some testable predictions from them and .... oh, hang about...
Howmany believers in the supernatural examples given in this post would after reading this post remain believing the supernatural?
About teaching ID as science, isn't it often done before learning how to do scientific research?
People seem to learn about God, bible, while they still believe in Santa .
I share your difficulty of imagining irreducible mental stuff, but I'll still assign a 10^-3 chance of it being there anyway. Anyone else care to assign a number?
Robin, what's your algorithm for drawing up a number like that? I'd genuinely like to know.
I only ask because you can get 1000-1 on Stoke to win the Premier League this season, and I'd rather have a tenner on that than on 'minds are made of fundamental mind-stuff' at the same odds.
What does it mean for something to be irreducible?
I would ask the same question as Nominull and Tiiba: Why is a fundamentally mental thing different from a fundamentally physical thing like quarks? If we discovered a spirit in a tree that wasn't composed of quarks and leptons, is there a reason we couldn't take that spirit to be a new fundamental particle that behaves in such-and-such a way, just as a down quark is a fundamental particle that behaves in such-and-such a way?
Eliezer: If, on the other hand, a supernatural hypothesis turns out to be true, then presumably you will also discover that it is not ... (read more)
This is why I claim that atheism is an established scientific result. One of the strongest lines of evidence is, indeed, that we have successfully reduced minds and shown the notion of an irreducible mind to be incoherent. Mind as an irreducible simple is basic to all monotheistic religions. Demonstrating something once thought coherent to be incoherent is, of course, one of the strongest lines of evidence in science. Other avenues through which atheism has been established by science include conservation in physics, chemistry and biology (which led direct... (read more)
I thought about this a bit more last night. I think the right justification for religion - which is not one that any religious person would consciously agree with - is that it does not take on faith the idea that truth is always good.
Reductionism aims at learning the truth. Religion is inconsistent and false - and that's a feature, not a bug. Its social purpose is to grease the wheels of society where bare truth would create friction.
For example: In Rwanda, people who slaughtered the families of other people in their village, are now getting out of jai... (read more)
Eliezer, I think I agree with most of what you say in this post, but unless I misunderstand what you mean by "Bayesian confirmation," I think you're wrong about this bit:
I think that while you can in this case nev... (read more)
What if they pass through each other? Then the one doesn't move, and the other doesn't stop.
@poke (i think you posted in the wrong thread) -- if you did a survey, limited to scientists, and asked questions like "is general relativity largely correct?', or 'Does DNA encode genes?', you would get near-100% agreement. If you asked 'is atheism true?', you would get a much lower number. Therefore, whatever opinions or arguments might seem convincing to you personally, atheism is not the strongest modern scientific result.
As ought to be obvious, statements about god are not scientific statements. You will not find peer-reviewed scientific liter... (read more)
Why do you say that you find people who are certain they know what 'god' means amusing, then make it clear that you believe you know what 'god' means? Do you find yourself amusing, then, and in error?
One of the strongest lines of evidence is, indeed, that we have successfully reduced minds. . .
Just what exactly are you referring to here?
"Mind as an irreducible simple is basic to all monotheistic religions." - poke
That is a wonderful definition of religion. And I think it covers all religions, not just monotheistic, which is why it could be so useful. Most definitions of religion have trouble covering the non-theistic versions, such as Buddhism and Jainism, which yours does cover. ("Mind as an irreducible simple" would be required to make their reincarnation systems work.)
Atheists don't know what god means - it is meaningless.
God is a shapeshifting horror from the outer beyond that constantly adapts its properties to whatever is most convenient given the argument currently being considered.
The dictionary doesn't specify that. Often it won't make much difference (assuming our understanding of physics is pretty good), and other times it would be clear from the context ("the ancients would have regarded human flight as supernatural").
The point is that "supernatural" has an established meaning that is supported well by the etymology of the word. I don't see much of a case for attempting to redefine the term it to mean something relatively arcane which the etymology gives no indication of.
This is just a version of my second option available to the theist. There's a knowable "physical" world and an unknowable one beyond it. There's no reason to believe this is the case. Moreover, if you believed ... (read more)
Tim, see The Argument from Common Usage and 37 Ways that Words can be Wrong.
Mathematical entities are material? Do tell. What are they made of? How do you determine their position and mass? Why do you say that you find people who are certain they know what 'god' means amusing, then make it clear that you believe you know what 'god' means?
I thought I made it clear that I don't, but my apologies if I expressed myself in too subtle a fashion for you.
Let me try again. People deploy the term "god" in different ways and mean different things by it. I'm distinguishing two different broad classes of meaning. One set of mea... (read more)
Eliezer, your characterization of religion is not generally accurate, as evidenced by the fact that not all religious persons posit an irreducibly complex God. As one example, Mormons posit a material God that became God through organizing existing matter according to existing laws.
On the other hand, I wonder, do you attribute irreducible complexity to quarks?
If god(s) exist and (s)he/they/it created the universe and we possessed irrefutable evidence for both of those things, then s(he)/they/it would be "natural", and so, yes, you would be allowed to teach this in science class in that case.... (read more)
Phil Goetz, could you elaborate on the psychology of mythical creatures? That some creatures are "spiritual" sounds to me like a plausible distinction. I count vampires, but not unicorns. To me, a unicorn is just another chimera. Why do you think they're more special than mermaids? magic powers? How much of a consensus do you think exists?
The findings of science are almost irrelevent. The means justify the ends. The usage of concepts that are not clearly and properly defined is incompatible with scientific methodology, and thus incompatible with science.
No sane, rational, and sufficiently-educated person puts forward arguments incompatible with science.
poke: There's a knowable "physical" world and an unknowable one beyond it. There's no reason to believe this is the case.
How would you know? Surely there are a great many things that are unknown and unknowable. The idea that it constitutes a separate "world" is your phrase, not mine.
Moreover, if you believed something like this, you would be able to say "I'm an atheist about the physical world" and we could all agree on that and discuss whether talk of "something beyond the physical world" is coherent.
Er, no. You ... (read more)
"- my tentative analogy between mathematical objects and supernatural entities"
By the Chair of Jacob Klein! That part. Right there. No. The Eide are not that. The Eide are what thinking thinks about, the Forms (Eide) the Mind (Nous) Shines (phaino) Upon. They are "seen" only in the light of the intellect. Supernatural entities - I guess you mean ghosts or souls or such - are not. . .ack! English sucks sometimes. . .
This is very difficult, as English doesn't have good terms to equal the Greek. German might be better. WTF. Ghosts ... (read more)
Frelkins -- thanks for the references. I am pretty philosophically illiterate and it wouldn't surprise me at all to find out that I'm reinventing stuff that has been around for thousands of years.
I did not mean to imply that supernatural entities are identical in every way to mathematical entities; I'm just using mathematical entities as a club to beat up a certain sort of simple-minded materialism. It turns out that even science geeks talk about immaterial entities all the time. That's interesting.
You are right, this is probably not the place to discus... (read more)
I think it may have to do with how heavy a load of symbolism the creature carries. Unicorns were used a lot to symbolize purity, and acquired magical and non-magical properties appropriate to that sym... (read more)
To Phil, who asked for a definition of "vampire":
A vampire is a person possessed by the lust for vengeance. That spirit is notably difficult to kill or banish. The young and innocent are particularly susceptible. Once you invite it into your home, it can always return. Of those completely possessed by it, one can say "on reflection, there's no one there". It thrives in the unexamined dark and cannot abide the full light of day.
This post seems to be saying this:
"Our universe is reductionist. [Other reasoning.] Therefore, we cannot imagine what a non-reductionist universe would be like."
If we cannot imagine what a non-reductionist universe would be like, it is impossible to come to the conclusion that our universe is reductionist.
I remember, when first reading this article, that it was really convincing and compelling. I looked it up again because I wanted to be able to make the argument myself, and now I find that I don't understand how you can get from "if the staid conventional normal boring understanding of physics and the brain is correct" to "there's no way in principle that a human being can concretely envision, and derive testable experimental predictions about, an alternate universe in which things are irreducibly mental." That seems like too large a jump for me. Any help?
I have to wonder if your characterization of people who deny reductionism is really correct. I agree most of them are probably confused and do not have a coherent model in the first place - certainly actual non-reductionism is a confusion - but I'm not certain all of them are confused in the way you say.
From my experience it seems that the claims of the people who deny "reductionism" could be coherently understood if we assume that they are actually confused about what reductionism actually consists of, and that they are not denying actual reduc... (read more)
Reminds me of Conversational Atheist posting that “Christians rarely realize the very real problem that arises for them once “supernatural explanations” are on the table”. Allowing them opens the floodgates to all sorts of alternative explanations for miracles.
I'm sorry for posting such a pointless comment, but how do we change how the comments are sorted? I can see a Sort By: Old thing above the comments, but nothing happens when I click on it. Is there somewhere I can change settings, or something?
Sure we can. We can use a Turing complete language to program a crappier, non-Turing complete language that runs within our existing Turing complete framework. You've described how to convince you that 1+1=3, after all.
Well, for star... (read more)
If reductionism was wrong then I would expect reductionist approaches to be ineffective. Every attempt at gaining knowledge using a reductionist framework would fail do discover anything new, except by accident on very rare occasions. Or experiments would fail to replicate because the conservation of energy was routinely violated in unpredictable ways.