Monday, September 14, 2009

Afore I ferget...

* Just at a restaurant seated by a small family (granny and gramps with daughter and son-in-law). Granny was obsessed with finding the coolest seat in the palce, so they changed tables nearly three times and then she dragged the fan right up behind me. So funny.

* "When the style elf meets the Style coffee, happiness happens." -- Humanistic Cafe', Wenxin Rd.

* Ahh, how I sometimes wish I were still illiterate in Chinese. E.g., A couple weeks ago I read in the newspaper about a wife, overcome with both guilt for her 10-year affair and the fear that their new baby might not be her husband's, smashing her baby against a wall and then, seeing it was not dead yet, stabbing it 51 times. If memory and reading comprehension serves. A couple years ago I would have seen the gory photo and a bunch of difficult characters, and just directed my attention elsewhere. Now, however, I can explore the gory photo by way of all those comprehensible characters. Ignorance is bliss?

* Norman Doidge's The Brain That Changes Itself is astounding! Daniel Tammet's Embracing the Wide Sky is also extremely good.


UnBeguiled said...

Neuroplasticity presents a problem for a dualist, no?

Essentialism seems to me untenable.

Crude said...

I fail to see the challenge. Indeed, materialists were the ones particularly caught offguard by the brain's flexibility - it and discoveries along those lines overturned a lot of notions that the previous materialist consensus (behaviorism) was based on, such as ideas about the fixed/frozen nature of neurons, etc. They had to play some catch up with dualists/non-materialists in a few ways (Jeffrey Schwartz, Henry Stapp, etc make much of neuroplasticity as fitting more neatly under dualist/non-materialist schemes.)

As for essentialism, I don't even see the relevance. Though Aristotle's got a lovely quote.

"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit."

UnBeguiled said...

Hello Crude.

In order for me to make my point and to avoid the charge of attacking a straw man, I need to know what you believe.

Do you believe in heaven and hell as realms which your and my consciousness will eventually experience after the death of our bodies?

If so, what determines who goes where?

Simple questions.

I like the Ari quotation. I guess he wasn't always wrong.

Crude said...

Well, first off, I fail to see what that has to do with essentialism at all.

And the questions don't seem simple. "Realms"? As in 'particular physical locations one could refer to on a map'?

To be dead honest, I have no hard and immutable views on the specifics of heaven and hell. I'm sympathetic towards the thomist view (Which suggests 'I' or 'you' won't be in heaven or hell with dead bodies, because neither 'I' nor 'you' is a soul), but quite a lot turns on metaphysics. Even on that view, there's a question of whether hell/heaven is a location, a state of being, or something else.

There's a thousand ways to skin a cat, so my thoughts on heaven and hell have a lot more to do with trust than certainty in specifics.

UnBeguiled said...

I expected something woolly, and I got it.

Against my better judgement . . .

It seems to me, from reading Feser mostly, the Thomistic and/or Aristotelian and/or Scholastic view of the human species in general and each person individually is that there is some unchanging "essential" to us all.

But the last 150 years of biology has taught us that there is nothing essential to the species. All species are constantly changing. You cannot draw a hard line in our evolutionary history and say "this is the first homo sapien".

Likewise, neuroplasticity explodes the notion of an unchanging essential self or soul.

For the philosophical, biological, and neurological details, read Being No One:

or watch this:

Get over your self. It's imaginary, like so many other things people hold dear.

Crude said...

But "I" am not a species. At most, I'm a member of a species, a particular class of animal/being with given traits. Go ahead and posit that various traits may have appeared or disappeared during evolutionary history - that's of no concern to me. I doubt you sometimes wake up and wonder if you're really a man, or actually a carrot, despite common descent. So no, 150 years of biology hasn't taught us that. It hasn't even taught us that we can't draw a hard line and say "This is the first homo sapien" - since it certainly hasn't taught us that we can't say "homo sapiens have these essential traits, and anything that lacks them in their nature is not a homo sapiens".

And no, neuroplasticity doesn't "explode the notion of an unchanging essential self or a soul", any more than the fact that we age and die explodes such a notion. Really, do you think an individual's capacity to change was unknown? Do you not realize that this aspect is particularly accounted for?

And, get over my self? I have no idea who you could be talking to - no selves exist. Indeed, it can't be imaginary - imagining is something only a self can do. And people are selves by any reasonable definition, so those are out too. Of course, selves are also what reason, so even if certain ideas were imaginary, you'd have some severe trouble realizing as much.

Maybe you (I use the word loosely) think it's immoral to believe (even more loosely) in selves? But no, that can't be it. You already admitted morality doesn't exist. Only ethics, and ethics are arbitrary and subjective.

Ah well. I'd say you were being amusingly inconsistent, but.. there's no you to care about such things either. Convenient!

UnBeguiled said...

"And, get over my self? I have no idea who you could be talking to - no selves exist."

It's a joke.

"You already admitted morality doesn't exist."

Care to remind me when?

It seems we have a vastly different understanding of what essentialism entails.

My heaven/hell questions were an attempt to nail you down on what you consider yourself essentially to be. But being essentially duplicitous like the most slippery of theologians, you bailed.

Another joke.


Crude said...

No, it wasn't a joke. I did at least scan some reviews, some editorial summaries, some contents of Metzinger's book. Selves don't exist according to him. It's like hinduism, except at a glance vastly less plausible or coherent. Of course, maybe you're saying Metzinger's views are a joke.

What's more, your reaction is downright nuts. I honestly tell you that I don't have hard set in stone views on the matter, and that makes you get all furious? When's the last time you had a conversation about something controversial? And I mean a real conversation, with standards of politeness, trying to understand other points of view, not spoiling for some pointless fight, etc?

And we went over the subject of morality, ethics, and naturalism before.

Anyway - you really need to relax. I came into this conversation polite and serious. You melted down bizarrely fast. I don't know what Metzinger would call that kind of mentality, but I'm sure the words "maladaptive no-self behavior-control" or the like would pop up to describe it.

UnBeguiled said...

This is getting weird.

your reaction is downright nuts

makes you get all furious?

You melted down bizarrely fast

Specifically, what have I written that makes you say all that?

When's the last time you had a conversation about something controversial?

Last night.

Crude said...

Your past posts. Right in this thread. If you can't read them and see where you melted down or were suddenly and bizarrely hostile, oh well.

The Cogitator said...

Hey guys,

Nice to see you back. I told you: I'm not dead yet. ;)

1. Neuroplasticity (NP) in no way undermines Aristhomisic anthropology (ATA). As I have written at length before, ATA stipulates that matter alone is not definitive of reality; nor is pure form. Rather, it is the integral union of both modes of being which constitute actual beings. NP is just a modern illustration of this insofar as the matter of the brain is not constitutive of the "user" unless it is informed by entelechies (i.e., "telic energy") coordinated by the integral good of the organism. Interestingly, the subtitle of Doidge's book refers to "personal" triumph... almost as if he acknowledges the existence of substantial persons!

2. unBe, your line in the sand always seems to be that theism betrays "our common humanity." But now you deny there is any essentially common humanity. Kind of odd, don't you think?

3. unBe, you expected something "wooly" because you actually want to shoehorn a theistic response into a sound byte, and then react to frank nuances and conceptual subtelties as evasions. That really is a good way to derail a conversation. I won't say that you "melted down," but you did set into your tell-tale teeth-gritting, terse dismissiveness quite quickly. You really do come across as a pestiferous, snooty person, and I don't mean that as an insult, just as a way for you to consider how you seem to strike people. Joyless. Snide. Reptilian. I'm a prick in my own way, I know, so, again, I'm just saying we should always be mindful of how we say what we say. Fair enough?

4. Your stabs at essentialism are amateur in the extreme. I'm not convinced you grasp classical essentialism to begin with, so at present there is no need to address your allusions-to-critiques of it. Try reading D. Oderberg's book on essentialism before we continue on essentialism. Feser's *Last Superstition* is meant as an introduction to a vast literature, but you still seem obsessed with it as a mini summa. Instead, try reading a couple of the numerous books Feser cites in his notes. In any case, keep in mind as a general guideline that we are unable to *quantify* essential "clefts" in nature (i.e., essential distinctions) because they are *qualitative* differences. Can you quantify "now"? No, but you can grasp it conceptually. Time thus has an essential, enduring presentess which admits of accidental, relative quantifications. That's just an illustration of the more basic point: you must cease attempting to quantitatively reduce qualitative realities.


UnBeguiled said...

Hi Elliot,

I do not intend to be joyless, snide, or reptilian - but if that is how I strike people I need to change.

My understanding of essentialism comes from Feser. If my above attempt at a definition is amateur then straighten me out.

"you deny there is any essentially common humanity"

Yes and no. Let's unpack that.

If you and I had bricks dropped on our bare foot, we would react in similar ways and we could talk about the experience and realize that our subjective experiences are very much the same. Objectively, you could use an fMRI and observe that our brains light up in similar ways as well.

So we have a shared common experience as living human beings. Not identical, but similar.

But what about a dog? A brick on a dog's paw will cause a similar reaction and a similar fMRI scan.

So I affirm that you and I have a shared common experience. We have a common human nature. We also share certain aspects of experience with other animals.

So I deny an "essential" common humanity. Does that make any sense?


You may have noticed my tendency to always drag these conversations into the dirt of real world experience. Alas, that is my nature. That is how I understand things.

When folks start writing about spirits, entelechies, hylomorphs, ghosts, or forms - I have no way of understanding what they are talking about.

Don't get offended, but it's all angels on pin heads to me. Mumbo Jumbo. Meaningless metaphysical jargon.

Which is why, many months ago, I tried (and failed) to find a common epistemological ground from which we could start.

So I will admit my pestiferousness is sometimes intentional. If some woo-meister chiropractor claims he can cure my nephew's asthma by cracking his neck to manipulate the flow of innate intelligence, he will get my size 11 empirical boot right up his ass. So to speak.

"Telic energy"? Perfect example.

To summarize my position: it is entirely intelligible to speak of a shared human nature and also to refer to each other as individual human persons with needs and wants and intentions and so forth.

But, there is nothing essential that distinguishes us from other animals, nor is there an essential self that persists unchanging through time.

Crude said...

If you think that the fact that humans have some aspects in common with animals, or even vegetables, speaks against essentialism, all I can do is second Cogitator's advice and observations. That there is an essential human nature does not mean that the nature of a dog is wholly other, without comparison or points in common.

Oddly, I recently have been reading up on proclaimed materialists implying or either outright insisting that animals aren't "really" conscious. So no, dropping a brick on a dog's foot would not, by their measure, mean dogs experience 'just what humans do'. (In the relevant case the reasoning was that animals lack vocabulary/language in the style of humans, therefore they lack a necessary component for self-reflection, therefore animals are behavior through and through.)

UnBeguiled said...

"there is an essential human nature"

Can you tell me what you mean by that, using language that I might understand, given my scientistic handicap?

Also, if we stipulate that there is such a thing, at what point in our evolutionary history did it appear? Did Homo erectus have it 1.4 million years ago? Or did it begin earlier with H. ergaster or say later in H. rhodesiensis?

Suppose in the future a group of H. sapiens become geographically isolated (say on a Martian colony) for so long that they evolve radically differently so they cannot reproduce with Earth humans. Which group would have the "essential" human nature?

You and me and Hitler and Barry Obama and Megan Fox certainly share traits in common. Atheists like Steven Pinker write about human nature all the time. But what does calling something "essential" add to the conversation?

I am not a materialist. I am a naturalist, by which I mean I see no reason to believe in anything that other folks call "supernatural", such as ghosts or angels or Yahweh or demons or telekinesis. Naturalism does not entail materialism.

Anyone who claims my border collies are not conscious is farking bat-shit crazy. It seems to me as crazy as solipsism.

Crude said...

"Using language that you might understand, given your scientistic handicap"? If you're asking me to defend a metaphysical and philosophical concept on the terms of scientism - sorry, no. That's silly, like asking an idealist to defend idealism purely in terms of classical mechanics.

Which is why the questions don't mean much to me. When did (say) the rational soul appear in man? An interesting question - something for historians, philosophers and theologians to consider - but it's not too pressing. Maybe thousands of years ago, maybe much longer. Either way the essence is here, now. As for the mars example, why would either one or the other have to have it exclusively? And it's certainly possible for both to be in possession of, say, a rational soul. It's not a question of what essential 'adds to the conversation' in a casual sense - it's part of a greater metaphysical understanding. What comprises "matter" is a question philosophers get into shouting matches over, but it doesn't mean the question immediately pops up in conversation.

As for naturalism not entailing materialism - I will never cease to be amazed at how malleable 'naturalism' is. The word seems to mean little more than "I don't like or believe in Christianity" - not even "I don't like or believe in God and the supernatural", because I have seen one such entity after another, even wholly speculative, suddenly get slapped with the "natural" label, no matter how obviously implausible said label is.

As for the materialists, hey - I don't agree with them either. But there they are, in full scientism armor, coming to such conclusions. Decisively declaring materialism is true, then fighting with each other over what materialism means. And many would say the same thing about your conclusions, particularly given what you reject.

In fact, I gotta ask you this. What would you say to someone who claimed that science may be damn useful, but is wholly incomplete - that science doesn't let us get at intrinsic natures, that what science is restricted to cannot capture mental things like consciousness and experience, and that what -really- exists is some kind of thing, not physical, not mental, out of which the physical and mental emerge?

UnBeguiled said...

"Naturalism" is a word. Like all words, it does not have an inherent meaning. Rather, it acquires meaning by the way it is used. I told you what I mean when I use it.

You seem to think this is something unique or peculiar to the word naturalism. But of course "Christianity" is just a word. Paul Tillich and Fred Phelps are both labeled "Christian". But that is no indictment of the intelligibleness of Christianity. And so with naturalism.

So are you saying that what is essential to our species is that each member of our species has something called a "rational soul"?
If so, what does "rational soul" mean"?

Does my border collie not have a "rational soul" while an anencephalic infant does have a "rational soul"? If so, how do you know? By what method do you use to determine if a particular organism has a "rational soul"?

As for the mars example, why would either one or the other have to have it exclusively?

Because that was my understanding of essentialism. Straighten me out.

What would you say to someone who claimed that science may be damn useful, but is wholly incomplete

I would agree.

that science doesn't let us get at intrinsic natures

Perhaps not, but it seems to get us closer than any other method. Do you have a more reliable method for understanding a rose?

A rose will look red to us, but to a honeybee it might be stripped or spotted.

What method brought us that knowledge, by the way? Revelation? Armchair speculation? Guess again.

that what science is restricted to cannot capture mental things like consciousness and experience

It seems to me science is only restricted to what can be inter- subjectively investigated. You need to make an argument that those things are somehow excluded.

and that what -really- exists is some kind of thing, not physical, not mental, out of which the physical and mental emerge?

Interesting. Some third category? But why should I believe such an elaborate theory? It seems rather cluttered and non-parsimonious. William of Ockham just facepalmed in his grave.

UnBeguiled said...

I just googled "facepalmed in his grave" hoping I was the originator of such brilliant hilarity.

Alas, I am third. The dead subjects of my predecessors? Darwin and Einstein.

Crude said...

If the theory seems cluttered and non-parsimonious, take it up with Bertrand Russell. I just wanted to see what you thought of his views on the subject. Hearing his thoughts quickly derided is interesting.

Debate about 'inherent meanings' is beside the point here. You can argue that labeling Tillich and Phelps as "Christian" is "no indictment of the intelligibleness of Christianity", but if you also call Ghandi a Christian, or Dawkins, then yes - something's gone wrong. Likewise, when generators of universes operating outside of time, hypothetical programmers operating our simulated universe, full-blown panpsychism and dualisms, are all ideas or entities that can be filed under "naturalism", I submit something has gone wrong. Hilariously wrong.

As for essentialism - as I said, if you're insisting I operate within the framework of scientism, forget it. It's a metaphysical and philosophical subject, and if you think such things are bullshit, there's no point. I'd have to argue against scientism first, and that's as interesting as arguing against objectivism with a die-hard Randite.

UnBeguiled said...

So we agree that people use the word "Christian" in different ways, and people use "naturalism" in different ways. What's your solution? We stop using language?

My solution is we clarify our language, in an attempt to understand each other.

You now know what I mean when I use the word naturalism. What's the problem here?

I'll assume you hold an Orthodox Christian view of classical theism. Somewhere between Tillich and Phelps.

Will you please help me understand what you mean by essentialism? Explain it to me like you would explain it to Deepak Chopra.

Today I heard Bertrand Russell proclaim that science would soon explain all of physics, and it would cease to be anything interesting. I think it was recorded in the 30's.

Where can I read about his third category?

This may be something you cannot comprehend, but it is important if you care to understand me. I acknowledge no infallible authority. So stop patting yourself on the back, thinking you scored some kind of "gotcha".

I don't think you fully grasp the force of my Martian Colony Argument. Assume the two populations are isolated for 2 billion years, so as to become as different from each other as worms are from dolphins.

Crude said...

You project a lot, Unbeguiled. I didn't pat myself on my back - I said your response was interesting. And it's exactly that. You may think yourself beholden to no authority - from over here it seems more like you simply scream 'bullshit!' whenever you fail to grasp something, or it goes against your preconceptions. If you want to read more about the subject, neutral monism is what you're after. If Russell proclaimed that science would soon explain all of physics, I'd love to see the quote - sounds out of character even for him.

As for naturalism, I'm simply commenting on how once it had this nice, tight meaning in philosophical parlance - and it has since morphed beyond recognition in same. I have a feeling that, ironically enough, the intellectual position never really recovered from the advances of science and technology.

As for your martian colony argument, I fail to see how a rational nature would or could change. Do you think, after 2 billion years, that two plus two may equal four for the people on earth, and sixteen for the people on Mars? And why should I assume that species always change in relevant fundamental ways when enough time passes? That's certainly not borne out by science - and it's doubly dangerous to make such an extrapolation with humanity, which gets "special case" status in a number of ways.

UnBeguiled said...


What is a "rational soul"? Answer the question about dogs and brainless babies please.

What is essentialism?

Re: Naturalism

"I'm simply commenting on how once it had this nice, tight meaning in philosophical parlance"

When was that exactly? What was the meaning?

"Physical science is thus approaching the stage when it will be complete, and therefore uninteresting." - B.R.,1925

Crude said...

As I said, I won't bother discussing this with you unless you agree to jettison scientism as the framework for explanation. Set that aside and I'll happily answer the question. Hell, I'll meet you halfway.

"The fundamental thesis of real essentialism is this: every finite material body has a twofold composition, being a compound of act and potency." To give a rough example, "tigers" are defined by the presence and lack of given properties. This does not require that tigers have been in existence from all time in a specific form, or that tigers never go extinct, etc.

Interesting quote from Russell. Must've come before the QM treatment reached him. As for naturalism, I'm thinking of its pretty much universal consideration up to the 20th century.

UnBeguiled said...

"jettison scientism as the framework for explanation" was what I meant by the Deepak Chopra quip.

How does your act/potency compound apply to neutrinos? How does essentialism help us understand and explain what they are and how they behave?

Your characterization of some bygone glory days of naturalism seem to me almost certainly mythological. I think it is only recently that philosophers have attempted to make it "nice and tight". This despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of philosophers are naturalists, and have been for over a century.

Dogs and brainless babies please.

The Cogitator said...

You guys have touched on a host of topics, but for the sake of clarity and in the interest of time, I will limit myself to only one or two points.

1. A rational soul is the capacity in a being to deliberate according to reasons and abstract concepts. "Soul" should not be taken in a strictly religious sense; metaphysically it is more or less the principle of an entity which integrates its subsidiary components and powers into a functional whole. It is the
source of "immanent energy" in a being which demarcates it ontologically from other beings. The rational soul is the power by which humans "navigate" the web of reasons as embodied agents. It is but the highest functional capacity in human nature, rooted more basically in the vegetative (nutritive) and animal (sensitive) powers of human nature.

2. We employ "essentialism" all the time by referring to things. If a horse is not essentially different from a horsheshoe, how do we have any way in reality to tell them apart? We may mislabel things all the time, but it is only because of the "ontic stubbornness" of things to be what they are essentially in reality which helps us discover our errors over time. Truth is the conformity of the intellect with reality, and essence is the "access point" for us to penetrate the intelligible nature of any entity.

3. Indeed, the ineluctability of essence pops up in unBe's "anacephalic baby" gauntlet.

3a. unBe implicitly acknowledges an essential differnece between that baby and his collie by referring to them as formally distinct entities. You can't compare and contrast two things without a knowledge of what they are.

3b. Second, the gauntlet further implies essence is at work by suggesting an anacephalic baby lacks something essential to human nature. And yet... if the baby were not essentially human, how could we invoke it as an example of a human in contrast to a dog? A Scholastic maxim holds: Action follows capacity and capacity follows nature. (Primary and secondary potency and act, etc.) We recognize abstract deliberation by a dog would transcend the nature natural capacities of a dog, which is why the idea seems so alluring and magical. We also recognize that a severely handicapped infant lacks the ability to express (or, activate) its proper human nature. Again, we know it is an anacephalic human.

4. Seeing two populations of human diverge over time would not detract from the fact that retain (or lose) human nature as defined as "an embodied rational agent." Terrestrial humans are but a sub-class of "embodied rational agents"; there could easily be other beings with the same nature but a different moniker. As long as something is substantially generated by "embodied rational agents" (such as a genetically 'contiguous' anacephalic baby from prior humans) and displays nutritive, sensitive, and rational capacities, it has the essence of what we call our human nature (even if it were labelled as Martian or whatever).


UnBeguiled said...

"A rational soul is the capacity in a being to deliberate according to reasons and abstract concepts."

OK. Many Christians claim that our consciousness persists after the death of our body. They call that persisting thing a "soul". Do you think we have a soul like that?

The Cogitator said...


Concerning immortality: Thomistically, human consciousness is actually derivative of rationality. Hence, the endurance of the soul (as our integral rational capacity) is related to the *objects* of our intellects. Insofar as the intellect *actually* exists in its being informed by its (perceptually mediated) concepts, any content it attains which is of an enduring, indeed eternal, character, provides that the intellect in some way endures eternally by virtue of being informed by an eternal object. As a crude example, once the intellect grasps the eternal truth of addition, that truth implants a lasting mark or structure on the soul. Grapsing addition comes to us perceptually (cognitively, sensibly), but is not itself a purely empirical, physical operation. Its abstract permanence transcends, and helps us transcend, the particular sensible manifestations of cases of addition. The soul partakes of eternal things by the intellect. So, while our state after death is not naturally proper to us, since we are *properly embodied* (and thus await the resurrection of the flesh), there is some way in which we can endure "holographically" or "virtually" in the pure contemplation of eternal truth. For more, read Adrian Reimers's book on the soul, or search for my notes from it here at FCA.


Crude said...

Well, I return to catch up on the question only to see Cogitator has replied for me (and likely better than I would have put it). Looks like I yet have more reading to do!