The eliminativist responds: The world would look the same to me (a complex brain process) if dualism were true. But it would not look the same to the immaterial ghost possessing me, and we could write a computer program that simulates an epiphenomenal universe, i.e., one where every brain causally produces a ghost that has no effects of its own. So dualism is meaningful and false, not meaningless.

The dualist responds in turn: I agree that those two scenarios make sense. However, I disagree about which of those possible worlds the evidence suggests is our w... (read more)

This is an excellent and fair summary of the debate. I think the one aspect it leaves out is that eliminativists differ from dualists in that they have internalized Quine's lessons about how we can always revise our conceptual schemes. I elaborated on this long ago in this post at my old blog.

What makes us think _any_ of our terminal values aren't based on a misunderstanding of reality?

by bokov 1 min read25th Sep 201389 comments


Let's say Bob's terminal value is to travel back in time and ride a dinosaur.

It is instrumentally rational for Bob to study physics so he can learn how to build a time machine. As he learns more physics, Bob realizes that his terminal value is not only utterly impossible but meaningless. By definition, someone in Bob's past riding a dinosaur is not a future evolution of the present Bob.

There are a number of ways to create the subjective experience of having gone into the past and ridden a dinosaur. But to Bob, it's not the same because he wanted both the subjective experience and the knowledge that it corresponded to objective fact. Without the latter, he might as well have just watched a movie or played a video game.

So if we took the original, innocent-of-physics Bob and somehow calculated his coherent extrapolated volition, we would end up with a Bob who has given up on time travel. The original Bob would not want to be this Bob.

But, how do we know that _anything_ we value won't similarly dissolve under sufficiently thorough deconstruction? Let's suppose for a minute that all "human values" are dangling units; that everything we want is as possible and makes as much sense as wanting to hear the sound of blue or taste the flavor of a prime number. What is the rational course of action in such a situation?

PS: If your response resembles "keep attempting to XXX anyway", please explain what privileges XXX over any number of other alternatives other than your current preference. Are you using some kind of pre-commitment strategy to a subset of your current goals? Do you now wish you had used the same strategy to precommit to goals you had when you were a toddler?