Wednesday, December 30, 2009

More on Ross, Feser, etc....

13 comment(s)
At Dr. Feser's blog, in the post alerting his readers to my posting "Immaterial Aspects of Thought" at FCA, a reader, David Brightly (DB), objected and I replied.

DB: "Isn't Ross, in his section II, really making an epistemological point? … we can see that every output will be the perfectly determinate sum of the inputs, provided the device operates within its design range of ambient conditions. … He's saying that it's indeterminate what the device is doing. I'm afraid I flatly disagree."

As Dr. Feser replied, the epistemological point hinges on an ontological difference between a plus- and a quus-machine (pm and qm). To wit, that the latter is “informed” in a way formally incompatible with how the latter is informed. In fact, the argument about physical indeterminacy wouldn’t even require differentiating outputs, since the outputs for the pm could be triggered by auditory inputs of the form “five,” “fünf,” “cinco,” etc., whereas the identical outputs on the qm could be triggered by—and therefore represent—auditory inputs of the form “John,” “Mary,” etc. Let us then imagine that the outputs for the pm were recorded by a digital video camera and set off fireworks, whereas the outputs of the qm triggered a video camera to shut off an idling engine down the street. In this way, both pm and qm would be “doing different things,” even though their physical composition and input/output array were identical.

I imagine the objector will say pm and pm are, on my hypothesis, actually just parts of larger physical systems—call them S(pm) and S(qm)—which are determinate in their own ways. The problem is that this objection already grants the essential point, namely, that, in and of themselves in purely physical terms, pm and qm are formally indeterminate. For all we know—and literally, for all their doing physically—they could always be running different functions. Indeed, even if we established the “forms” of S(pm) and S(qm), we could just rig one of them to a new video camera system and trigger some different physical outcome, in which case, even the larger systems would be indeterminate with respect to their endless formal possibilities. It’s not just that we don’t know which function a physical/material system is “running”; the problem is that nothing about the systems themselves in purely physical/material terms restricts—determines—their being instances of a single formal operation. Pure functions, however, can never be indeterminate in this way, and therefore crucially differ from physical systems. A pure function—say, addition—can never even possibly be “running” a different incompossible operation than what it is, nor can it even possibly “mutate” to alter its formal parameters without ceasing to be the same formal operation. Add to this that pure functions exhaustively include every possible instance of themselves, whereas any single case of a function in purely physical terms is just that—a single case of some function—and therefore the single-physical case is intrinsically formally-incommensurate with the instance-exhaustion of any pure function.

Presumably, the objector would claim that all physical functions are determinate in the sense that they all “tie in” to the entire cosmos. In this way, all physical systems would be like massive Rube Goldberg devices (e.g., S(qm) triggers a video camera to shut off a car, which traps a chicken inside, which kills the chicken and release noxious fumes, which float into the atmosphere, which deflect photons back into space, which eventually get sucked into a black hole, etc.”). The problem is, no matter how Byzantine one made his Goldberg cosmos, it would still be intrinsically formally-indeterminate, since it could suddenly advert to running an incompossible somewhere down the spatiotemporal road (“amplified grueness”). For that matter, the cosmos could collapse and cease to be—would we then be justified in saying any formal functions also ceased to exist? Purely formal functions cannot ever advert to running a different function, nor can they be limited to a subset of their instances. Hence, even the cosmos as a purely physical system is intrinsically indeterminate in a way formal operations cannot be. If the human mind is a purely physical system, it follows that our minds are always just as intrinsically indeterminate with respect to cases of formal truth, which means we never actually and formally-determinately perform pure functions, which is absurd. That is Ross’s argument.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Going home for the first time...

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Bethlehem is our hometown and birthplace.

Calvary is our compass and crucible.

The New Jerusalem is our home and healing.

Merry Christ Mass!

Stop me if ya heard it before...

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So there was this guy, call him Lars. Eight years ago, towards the end of his time at university, Lars finally caved in and got a cell phone. Then, four years ago, give or take, Lars caved in again and bought a new cell phone. And it was good! At the time, it was a fancy little number: had a camera in it.

The years passed and Lars used his phone with all the solicitude and regularity of a hen feeding chicks (or, if you like, an eagle eating Prometheus' liver). But then in the course of time, entropy began to set in. The battery acted strangely, sometimes shutting down suddenly. After enough times being dropped, the phone was prone to going mute for a few days at a time. But in time it recovered its voice and all was well. It was Lars's dearest hand-held friend, a companion, a log of his past in text-message and jpeg-form, a Rolodex, an alarm clock, a handy reference for practicing Chinese characters, a diversionary tool in awkward situations, and more.

Not long ago, though, his two-year phone contract expired and he was without a number for a while, prepared to remain so indefinitely. But then a friend gave him an old SIM card to use and Lars was back in business.

A few weeks later he went into a cell phone shop to see about buying a new cell phone. Bracing concept! Lars needed something with enough RAM to store and play MP3's so he could keep learning Spanish (with Pimsleur). The next day he went to see Avatar--again, but this time in 3D! (the things we do for love, right?)--and, as he had done so many times before, he shut off his phone as the previews played. Three hours and a sore arse later, as Lars left the theater, his dear little phone was not to be found, not in any of his bag's compartments or in any of his ten or so pockets. He had liked Avatar's ending the first time he saw it, even though, it's true, the first time he saw it--in the third row center!--he had gotten so dizzy he nearly puked and had to step out and then return to watch the rest of it from the exit aisle. This time, had his phone gotten dizzy and stepped out? Had it bolted when it realized Lars was about to leave it for a new gadget? Had fate decided to hasten Lars's purchase of a new phone? Had a thief finally caught Lars off-guard after all those years and grabbed the prized phone? He would have asked his movie-mate to call him... but, like a good viewer, as he had done so many times before, he had shut off his phone as the previews played. Dead end. Missing dial tone. It was all mystery and darkness to Lars.

Two days later he was better adjusted to the loss, but his heart remained heavy and pensive. While chatting online with a friend, for whom he was to sub some classes the next day, she asked him, "Did you lose your phone?"

"Yeah, how'd you know?" Lars replied.

"I texted you and someone wrote back in English that they found your phone and you need to call them to get it," she explained.

"A ransom message!"

"Ha, no no, but do you remember your own number?"

"Yes! This is great!"

And so Lars hurried outside to the nearest pay phone... to call himself... but alas, the phone was dead! So he ran down the street to the next nearest phone and successfully called himself, himself in the hands of a kind stranger.

"Hello," answered the kind stranger.

"I heard you have my phone, that's great, thank you, sorry to call so late," Lars prattled.

"Ah, yes, my girlfriend found it. When do you want to get it?"

"Well, I work tomorrow..."

"Okay, where can we meet? How about 7 PM?"

"Ahh, well, I work until 9 PM, and then I've got another thing after that," mumbled Lars.

"Okay, where is your work?"

"Uhhm, well, I'm subbing for a friend, so I can't remember the address," Lars explained, sheepishly.


"But it's near Eastern University!"

"Ah, perfect, I'll be passing Eastern on my way home."

"Great, what's your name?"

"Max. With two x's," answered Maxx.

The hungry click of dwindling credit made for a slow counterbeat to Lars' beating heart.

"Thanks alot, Maxx, I think--"

And then the phone died. Lars dialed again and jammed more coins into the phone.

"Hello?" Maxx began.

"Maxx? Yes, it's me. Let's meet... ah, shoot... what road?"

"All right, slow down..."

"Okay, uhhm... Ah! Let me get your email and then I can tell you tomorrow for sure," Lars suggested.

"All right," Maxx agreed. "Talk more slowly, please, go ahead."

And so did Christmas come early for Lars. He called himself just in time to reach someone else and he got his phone back just in time to swap out for a new one. Life is funny sometimes.

I come recommended by 4 out of 5...

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... I'm a factor in the whole plan.

But seriously: I may be the most hardcore mosquito assassin you know. (Or "know," as it were.)

I grew in Florida and I've lived the past 6+ years in Taiwan. Mosquitoes have been a part of my life as long as I can remember. Over the years, especially in the last five or so, I honed my mosquito killing skills to unparalleled levels. I don't mean to boast, but, well, let's just say I put the QUIT in mosquito... or the "O!" in it, if that sounds more threatening.

So now I'm going to do you a favor. I'm going to share--at no charge!--my elite mosquitocidal techniques with you. (Now please go to Paypal to handle your no-charge fee in large unmarked bills.)

1st Technique: Wet hands.

It speaks for itself, but just in case the n00bs among you are still unwise to the ways of mosquitoes, let me break it down. Most people think it's hard to catch mosquitoes with their hands. And sometimes it is. But many times what happens is that we do catch them, but when we open our palms to inspect the carnage, the little devils fly away before we notice and we think we failed to grab them. Nope. We failed to make them stick. Hence: wet hands. Even a tangential strike will sometimes adhere them, by the wings, to your skin, and then it's killin' (or pluckin'?) time. Adding a little soap to the skin helps too.

2nd Technique: Fabric missiles.

The principle here is to foil the mosquitoes' extremely well evolved escape flight mechanism. You've probably seen it a hundred times. There--right there!--on the wall, or on the ceiling, or on the side of a dresser, is a juicy little devil throbbing with your own blood inside it. Your reflex is to palm-smash it, but this is a bad idea for two reasons. First, if you do squish it, you've got a blob of blood and legs on the wall/furniture. Housekeeping Fail! Second, our reflex is to try to "net" the mosquito with the large surface of our palms, so we swap at it more or less head on. But mosquitoes escape such attacks by flying, incredibly quickly, laterally. By the time our hand is about to hit them, they're already halfway out from under our palms (usually away from the trunk of your body). We usually don't even see their flight path because we're so intent on a head-on strike that we "tunnel vision" and miss the lateral motion. So, if you want to try to kill a mosquito on a flat surface with your hand--which is not a technique I endorse--, I strongly recommend a lateral swiping motion (akin to Mr. Miyagi's famous "wax on, wax off" technique, but rougher and more diagonally downward).

Palm-kills are possible (and I admit they are very gratifying for the domestic hunter), but better by far is a fabric missile. When you see a mosquito on the wall or etc., grab a t-shirt or a towel--something not too light--, ball it up, and then shoot it at the little devil in a two-handed basketball pass. Why is this a solid technique? For one thing, the towel/shirt can move faster than your hand (or at least, faster without the pain of smacking a wall at full force). Second, the towel/shirt naturally expands in flight and thereby "nets" the mosquito's lateral escape as it encroaches. Now, keep in mind, this technique does often but not always kill the mosquito, so you need to "follow your kill." There's nothing more aggravating than thinking you killed a mosquito, only to see it recuperate a few minutes later and fly away to pester you again. On the plus side, though, a confirmed kill with a fabric missile won't make the critter burst and smear like a conventional palm strike. Good housekeeping FTW!

3rd technique: Fire and ice.

I bought a "non-toxic" bug spray a few weeks ago, which turned out to be about as good a purchase as "non-drying paint." I have sprayed mosquitoes point blank, numerous times, with the stuff, but it just makes them fly away and land somewhere else, stronger and meaner, for all I know. So one day I was curious to see if the non-toxic stuff was at least dangerous in another satisfyingly virile way. I sparked my lighter and sprayed the flame--Shazam! Blowtorch in the hand! Since then, I have roasted countless mosquitoes.

This technique is great for many reasons, though it has one or two flaws, which I will discuss presently. First, the blowtorch is a great method, since, like the fabric missile, the flame moves faster and farther than your hand. Second, even if it doesn't kill a mosquito in one shot, the mere proximity to such a relativity huge flame will crisp its legs and wings, making it easier to kill on the next round. (My favorite result along these lines is seeing them come out of the fireball and slowly spiral down like a damaged plane. Follow your kill!) Third, torching mosquitoes is hella fun (Plus, it heats up a cold room in a pinch.)

An alternative technique, which I admit I have not tried yet, but which I believe is theoretically flawless, is the "icicle gun." Turning any pressurized can upside down and spraying it will emit a blast of extremely cold mist. The fluid inside is pressurized gas, so it is very cold--inversely to the way hotter liquid disperses as gas. I once burned a dear friend's leg with this technique--accidentally!--so I know it is harmful to carbon-based life.

Drawbacks to the fire-and-ice method? For one thing, maybe you won't like singeing the hair on your fingers now and then. Second, I've found that tilting the can upwards so as to kill a mosquito overhead somehow separates the flammable element from the emitted spray, which just kills the flame and scares off the mosquito. Also, the icicle gun will allow subzero liquid to trickle onto your finger, so be careful.

Never knew I was such a sick geek, huh? I am full of surprises, I guess. Now, off you go, to the killing fields! All I ask in return is that you report back with your tales of mosquitocidal success!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Ross gets some play!

6 comment(s)
[From a thread at Philosophy Forums, via Dr. Feser. Go here to read "Immaterial Aspects of Thought" itself. I realize this post keeps growing (see the glosses ADDED 20., 21., 23., 25.12.09 below), but it's all eventually going into a book, so I need the raw material together at some point. ;) ]

Seeing as I think I might have been the one to spur aletheist to read Ross's essay, via Dr. Feser's link to my posting the essay at my blog –– –– I feel behooved to chime in on the discussion so far.

First of all, Ross doesn't mean judgment is ratiocination, as someone suggested by saying a judgment is a weighing of probabilities, etc. This is why Ross specifies in note 2 that "thinking" means judgmental understanding, and cites Aristotle in _De Anima_ (bk. 111, ch. 4, 429b, 30): "Mind is in a sense potentially whatever is thinkable, though actually it is nothing until it has thought." Because a single act of intellection––formal judgment––is necessarily incompossibly determinate, whereas a physical system is in principle always subject to differing formal determinations––descriptions––the actuality of the intellect gives shape to the potency of matter, not vice versa.

Second, plus/quus is hardly the linchpin of Ross's argument. It is a case in point, like grueness, amplified grueness, gavagai, points on a curve, rule-following, etc. Further, others have reached the same conclusions by different means, such as Plato, Aristotle, St. Thomas Aquinas, Mortimer Adler in _Mind Over Matter_, David Braine in _The Human Person_, John DePoe, Norman Malcolm (mutatis mutanids), Victor Reppert, et alii.

Now, some of the nitty gritty.

Contrarian, and perhaps others, have referred to idealizations (and self-models) as counters to Ross's argument, but Ross explicitly addresses the place of nomic/mathematical idealizations in the essay. A falling ball does not exhaustively and exclusively perform a = dt^2. Its action and composition could equally well descriptively perform an infinite number of incompossible functions. The physical does not in se manifest itself prescriptively to us, but it is only manifest to us under formal descriptions. F = ma is a formal idealization on OUR part, which is why empirical variations from it now and then (including the inescapable errors of friction, measurement indeterminacy, etc.) don't call for a whole new law in every case. Is the Law of Inertia really a determinately physical happening? (I.e., Has any physical object ever moved without the influence of any other and in a perfect vacuum?) Physical science works because natural objects conform well enough to our formal abstractions, and vice versa; but physical science doesn't work as well as we might like because there is in principle an infinite gap between what any formal ratio accomplishes in a single case and what a physical system (on any order of magnitude) accomplishes in a single case. Is the Bode-Titius law a genuine law of nature? Under certain conditions, yes. But obviously it's just an obscure limiting case of sounder Newtonian physics, which themselves are but limiting cases of Einsteinian relativity, and so on. The history––and, yes, future––of science is nothing more than humans saying, "Oh, so nature wasn't actually doing ____ but ____* instead!" If a physical system WERE as determinate as formal description of it, scientific progress would halt there. (Just imagine if a physical system, once subsumed by a formal-mathematical principle, could NEVER be defined otherwise in the way addition or modus ponens cannot be redefined.) The very fact that differing data can be used to support different formal theories is based again on the underdetermination of the physical as such. The physical data DO fit differing theories, but differing theories, if sufficiently formalized, don't fit each other. In this (among other things) the physical and the formal (as primary content of the intellect) differ in-principle. That's the heart of the matter.

A physical object in any instance is subsumable to a myriad of formal operations, whereas the grasp we display of any one of those formal operations––however obscure or limited it might be empirically or computationally––is incompatible in a single case with any other function, and in a way in-principle beyond the myriad of law-like simulations on display in physical nature at any instant. What a physical system is "really doing" depends on our grasp of what is a formally coherent description of it. As Ross notes, there are no (prescriptive) logical relations in physical nature because physical phenomena are never under only one quantitative relation. That is how and why the physical is underdetermined in a way qualitatively unlike determinate intellection.

(I should mention in passing that the issue does not just pertain to science. Why/How did the unitary physical constitution of, say, "Piss Christ" strike some as a brave work of art and others as a rank abomination? "Piss Christ" qua physical system is simply indeterminate, like any physical system, with respect to possible formal definitions, whereas as those formal judgments are mutually incompossible. [And as for the objection that they might be synthesized or reconciled in a 'higher reading', that just underscores the point: "Piss Christ" qua physical system is but soft wax to the firmness of formal determinations in the intellect.] The fecundity of creative art presupposes the indeterminacy of the physical compared to the actuality of a formal vision.)

A very fine rejoinder referred to binary voltage readings in a CPU. Yet, this fails too, since even the binary voltage readings computers make in their time cycles are only intelligible to us as a determinate algorithm because WE program them to do so as we already grasp the operation.

(Digression: This is why the reference to a program's source code also just begs the question. Who shapes the potency of binary code into a definite formal algorithm if not the programmer by the actuality of his/her intellect? [As for the rejoinder that Darwinian algorithms {à la Steve Grand's a-life, etc.} could and do spin out novel algorithms as they go, and thereby trump our intellectual grasp in a physically determinate, albeit idiosyncratic, way, actually this just reinforces the point. Viewed purely physical from the outside, we'd have no real way of saying, "This program has evolved to follow ____ function," since at any instant it could evolve along new lines, and only at the end of the evolution drill could we, looking back, intellectualize just what it had done all along. Until its outputs are subsumed to a formal ratio, by the intellect, the algorithm's physical constitution is literally indeterminate in and of itself. But, again, so is any physical system in and of itself.])

If we looked at the input/outputs of the voltage readings only, from the outside, as it were, we would have no purely physical way of determining in a formally pure way what the machine is doing. For all we know in purely physical terms, the machine could be running (at LEAST) one the following two algorithms:

"F(V): 10 t>1 min<60 mins read voltage V 20 V = 1 GOTO 30; 30 reset V to 0 GOTO 10; … 20 V = 0 GOTO 40; 40 go to 10"


"F(V'): 10 t>1 min<60 mins read voltage V 20 V = 1 GOTO 30; 30 reset V to 0 GOTO 10; … 20 V = 0 GOTO 40; 40 go to 10 … 20 V = 1 on forty-billionth cycle GOTO 50; 50 shut down".

We would see the same results and the machine would just as easily be simulating F(V) as F(V'). No one denies that machines simulate the functions we desire and grasp; as Ross says, machines add like puppets walk. Leaves "add" by piling up on a windy day, but that is hardly addition. The argument really is as simple as asking, "COULD this computer/machine be performing––indeed, COULD it at all perform––a different formal operation and still produce the same detectable results?" The answer is yes, in every case, and this shows the difference: we simply can't grasp operations like "addition," "modus ponens," etc. without concomitantly grasping that no other function fulfills the same formal criteria. We can certainly fathom that, at a moment's notice down the line, we might slip and start performing a brave new function called "mantraddition" (define it as you like), but once we grasped WHAT each function is, we would admit that they are incompossible, no matter how closely they simulate each other in their physical outputs. For that matter, a mathematician someday might discover a genuine law that says addition becomes mantraddition under certain very abstruse geometric conditions, and any instances of addition previously (unknowingly, for centuries) done under those conditions would not have been "addition" all along. We'd be humbled and amazed, but we'd still see at least that the two functions are incompossible, even if performing either one makes no practical difference in real life.

Further, waving at Occam's razor is a red herring, since nothing in purely physical terms logically prescribes us to use it, and a case of petitio principii, since Occam's principle itself is just another formal judgment which we impose on, not derive "raw" from, physical reality. Occam's razor doesn't help here, since the skepticism of mentation ON A PHYSICALIST READING is endemic to any rule-usage, even linguistic ("Occam's razor stipulates…").

Without such an in-principle cleft between the actuality of formal operations and the potency of the physical, we would be reduced to something like a man asked to measure inches in inches. We need at least a stereoscopic metaphysics to give coherence to the physical as potential surd.]

[ADDED 21.12.09:

Jedaisoul asked: "+ is a physical entity???" Do you mean to say that + is a non-physical entity? The + can and does perform a multitude of functions; as such it is, in and of itself qua (mini) physical system, as indeterminate as any other (midi or mega) physical system. It is precisely because the abstractions behind symbols are determinate in a way that asymmetrically "dominates" their physical representations (e.g., + for addition, etc.) that we see the ontological asymmetry between the formal and the physical.

Further, do you claim that computers use numbers, or merely coded representations of numbers? We use numbers; computers don't. They use simulations of actual numbers, which is one more reason why they simulate actual functions without performing them as we do.

You seem to dislike Ross's use of the word judgment. But he explains how he means it and why it is essential to intellection. Again, give the essay at least one more reading. The reason Ross looks to thinking as judgmental understanding, and why it must be determinate in the way no physical state can be, is because a pure function is "truth-preserving" in a single case and in every case. But physical functions are truth-preserving of one and the same function only within particular parameters. (Put differently, they are truth-preserving for too many incompatible functions, and therefore essentially unlike pure functions as truth-preserving forms.) It is the inherent contingent parameter-particularity of physical functions which separates them decisively from the exhaustive parameter-universality of formal operations as such.

In any case, Ross is not the one who demonstrated physical underdetermination. Take it up with Duhem and Quine, inter alia. Cf. e.g. Nancy Cartwright and Ian Hacking. Ross just happens, in typical fashion, to have connected modern analytic advances with ancient insights.

Contrarian: You're getting warmer. You said that Ross needs to show that an "indeterminate system cannot generate a determinate one." This is not the issue, actually. The issue is whether any PHYSICALLY determinate state is ever adequately and exclusively determinate in the way our intellect is via formal operations. Whatever determinate state S(d) an indeterminate physical state S(~d) terminates in at time t is perfectly well subsumable to and describable by countless other functions. But a pure function is not so hetero-subsumable and counter-describable.

Contrarian said: "Doesn't matter whether its behavior is intelligible to us."

Again, warmer, but not seeing the bridge. The problem is not whether a physical system is intelligible to us, but that it is overly intelligible to us. There is an inverse proportion between a thing's essential determinateness and its "understood-flexibility." It is precisely because we can ascribe all kinds of incompatible but competitively coherent formalizations of a physical system that it is indeterminate in a way no formal reality can be. The point is not––I repeat NOT––that the physical is indeterminate as such. The point is that concrete versus abstract entities are determinate in totally different ways, a difference Ross elaborates in _Thought and World_ by reference to the "transcendent determinateness" of the concrete versus the abstract. The endless number of physical particular predicates which pertain to any physical object––its "overflow" predicates––simply surpass the ability of the intellect to tie down under one formal statement. By contrast, no purely formal entity CAN be transcendentally determinate, since if its determinateness transcended the intellect, like the overflow de re necessities of any physical object do, it would not BE an object of the intellect. Ross is not an idealist trying to subvert the physical to the immaterial. He is simply delineating how each form of being has its own proper mode of existence, giving each domain its proper due. The issue is that, insofar as they possess crucially different determining factors, the physical and the immaterial are not identical.

You grant the real cleft that exists between idealized physical functions (e.g., F = ma, etc.), but still fail to see how decisive that is here. Physics says a falling rock behaves as if it is obeying F = ma. But because a falling rock does not perfectly and exclusively (let alone always) conform to F = ma, but just as easily behaves "as if" it is behaving innumerable variants of F = ma, the falling rock––like any physical system––is determinate with respect to a limitless range of competing variant functions. Admitting the rock is formally determinate in infinitely differing ways is just another way of saying the rock qua physical system is infinitely indeterminate. Which is Ross's point. Anything which in a single case coherently instantiates an infinite number of incompossible functions doesn't actually instantiate any one of them. Potentially, yes, but formally determinately, no.

Contrarian said: "If we knew nothing about the machine, we would still see it behaving consistently in one way given a 0 input, and in a different way given a 1 input. There are many such binary "switches" in Nature, too. Though the system as a whole may be non-determinate, it has determinate features."

Two points.

1) By admitting the physical system as a whole is non-determinate, you're just restating Quine's insight and Ross's thesis.

2) Again, the issue is not whether we CAN detect pockets of real determinateness in nature and define them in some formal way. We can. We do. Which is just the problem: we can and we do and we can and can and can ad infinitum. Let me put it this way: Ross is not saying that physical reality is not determinate, but that it is overly determinate. The problem is not that physical nature is not amenable to any formal determinations, but that it is amenable to all too many. The issue is that, even in the act of defining S(d) as "actually performing" F(S(d)), we can easily––and without limit––incorporate S(d) under other formally incompossible functions. The data points F(s(d)) leans on in S(d) really can fit an infinitude of other functions (or curves), even though any and all of the competing function/curve are mutually incompossible. Because S(d) "fits" F(S(d)) just as "perfectly" as it fits F'(S(d)), F''(S(d)), … F^n(S(d)), it doesn't exhaustively-formally fit F(S(d)). Precisely because S(d) is really determinate with respect to ANY AND ALL of its coherentized functions––or has "determinate features," as you put it––, thus it is indeterminate with respect to any one of them (at the exclusion of all the others contenders). F(S(d)) is always perfectly F(S(d)), and incompatible with divergent functions, but S(d) is not––cannot be––determinate in a single case in the same way (viz., incompatibly with other encompassing curves/functions), since it really is coherently determinate via F'(S(d)), etc.]

[ADDED 22.12.09:

Contrarian wrote: "'ll have to show that [a.] the indeterminate physical system cannot, consistently with its own laws, generate a determinate formal system. I.e., that [b.] there is no logically available path from the physical to the formal."

Contra a.: The challenge is not to show that an "indeterminate physical system cannot ... generate a determinate formal system," since the point is that a physical system generates a myriad of formal operations in any case. A single physical "point" S(d1) at time t is coherently an instance of infinitely many incompossible functions: it fits on any curve: like any physical constellation, it is formally indeterminate in and of itself. Its physical parameters are subsumable to countless variant formal systems, and therefore it is indeterminate in the way no formal operation ever is. The issue, again, is not (i) whether a physical system can be formally determined, and therefore determinate. The issue is that (ii) a physical system is overly formally determined, and therefore indeterminate unlike any act of (formal) intellection. Duhem, Quine, Kripke, Goodman, Ross, Feser, Braine, Machuga, I, et alii, accept (i) as truism, and accept (ii) as a sort of modal restriction against (i)'s being affirmed in physicalist terms. (i) is true, but not to the benefit of physicalism.

Contra b.: Again, the problem is not that there is "no logically available path" from S(d) to F(S(d)), but that there are too many such paths. Being coherently "open" to innumerable functional ascriptions, a physical system is indeterminate as just one of them. But this is not the case whenever we perform an actual, specific function. If it were--i.e., if addition were possibly also quaddition in the very act of performing addition in a single case--we could never actually "run" a pure function. But we do, ergo, etc. A function is what it is and nothing else. A physical emulation of a function is what it is, too, in its de re necessities, but these necessities are simply incommensurate with the truth-preserving capacity of a pure function (just as the essential formal 'austerity' of a function is incommensurate with the limitless overflow actualities of a physical object). Any physical system S(d) (and any "slice" of the physical system S(t1(d1)), S(t2(d2)), etc.) is simultaneously "running" a limitless number of variant functions. But we don't run any more than one pure function when we do a single function in a single case. That's the insuperable divide.

If you want a sound bite, here it is: A function actually contains every possible instance of it in a single case without remainder, whereas as a physical system potentially contains every possible function in a single case. That's the decisive difference.

Also, Ross addresses the issue of sufficiently higher levels of generality (e.g., modus ponens is a true case of an otherwise invalid form "If C then P"). Even in just a single case, a particular pure function is what it is in its own particular way, whereas increasing or decreasing levels of physically generality are never determinately true in the same way.]

[ADDED 23.12.09:

Contrarian said: "By "physicalism" I mean simply the doctrine that the universe of experience, including "mental experience" (Kant's phenomenal realm) is explicable in terms which lend themselves to empirical investigation."

If this is the "physicalism" you want to salvage from formal underdetermination problems, be my guest. (Sounds more like "shmysicalism" to me.) I'm baffled why you think positing immaterial abstract entities has any place in PHYSICALism/MAT(T)ERIALism. Admitting a physical/non-physical cleft in being just gives away the game. Hence, I doubt most self-respecting physicalists would grant the divide you blithely admit (Kantian style). Physicalism stipulates that ALL phenomena, perceivable or otherwise, are properly reducible (and actually reduced) to wholly physical states of affairs. But Quine, Kripke, Goodman, Ross, et alii have demonstrated that certain formal operations are determinate, in se, in a way that the physical cannot in principle exhaust/satisfy.

Let's go through this again:

Any instance of a pure function is irreducibly a formal whole and includes every possible instance of its "instance-conditions." By "instance-conditions" I mean the logical and operational criteria which congrue with the definition/form of that function in a single case. A pure function is called a "pure function" because its notionally hermetic definiteness excludes incompossible variant formality within itself (i.e., excludes "polyformal impurities" [my term of art] in its own definition). Addition can't possibly be quaddition, though a single case of "x ? y = z" could be addition or quaddition (or something else altogether, ad infinitum). So, the formal has (at least) two essential criteria: 1. instance-exhaustion and 2. variant-exclusion. Physical states simply cannot meet these criteria, and therefore differ essentially from pure functions.

Now, physicalism says that whenever we do addition and the like, all that is "really happening" is the emergence (or crystallization) of a complex pattern of physical elements. On physicalism, "formal patterning" (and everything else, for that matter) is just a complex arrangement of physical components devoid of intentionality and reason. But the point, again, is that no physical state, no matter how complex -- indeed, the more complex the worse -- ever satisfies the conditions of any single one of the functions it is simulating. The physical state is, after all, just an INSTANCE of a function, whereas a function itself is never just an instance, but actually includes all its possible instances in a formally exhaustive way. (Again, the claim is NOT that physical systems can't be [or aren't] determinate, but that they are never determinate as pure functions must be. A physical instance of a function IS determinate, only not determinate in the right way to ground pure functionality as we grasp/employ it.) "To be a function" means to be unlimited in "instance capacity," but since a physical system can be (at least) only one instance of a function, no physical system is IDENTICAL with "what a function is." If a function were just "an instance of some operation" it would cease to BE a pure (instance-exhaustive) function. Not only is every physical state just one instance of a function, but also is an instance of innumerable variant functions. "To be a pure function" entails "to be THIS function and not possibly any other one." Any instance of a physical state is subsumable to endless variant functions and therefore can never wholly instantiate the truth-preserving capacity of a pure function. F = ma is always wholly and solely F = ma, whereas objects in motion are neither purely cases of F = ma nor only cases of F = ma. A function is "all there and only that" at once, whereas a physical system is never formally "all there" or "only that" in a single case. The formal and the physical essentially differ in this respect.

I repeat: The formal has (at least) two essential criteria: 1. instance-exhaustion and 2. variant-exclusion, but physical states simply cannot meet these criteria, and therefore differ essentially from pure functions. Now here's the rub: No physical system can ever exclusively instantiate a SINGLE function in ALL its instance-capacities, and yet we undeniably encounter pure functions in reality, so real "pure functionality" must be grounded in (or generated by) a non-physical system or power. This power is classically referred to as the intellect. By grasping a pure function, in just a single case, the intellect congrues with the existential criteria of a pure function: namely, it both (1.) encompasses all possible instances and (2.) manifests a single function to the exclusion of variant forms. If no physical system can do the same, but the intellect does so, it follows that the intellect is not a physical power.

In any case, by propping up "physicalism" with a generous empiricism the "shymsicalist" is just traipsing right back into the nest where (Duhemian/Quinean) underdetermination was born. If the infinite array of physical permutations can't satisfy the existential criteria of pure functions, the tiny clumps of empirical data we have can hardly be expected to do the same. Again, if that's the (Kantian?) physicalism physicalists want, they can have it.]

[ADDED 25.12.09:

As St. Thomas said, "Sapientis enim est non curare nominibus (The wise man is not fussy about words)." This thread has reached a saturation point of sorts, so, while I appreciate the opportunity to elaborate on and sharpen the thrust of Ross's argument, I see no reason to keep sharpening the knife for those who will not cut their own coneptual fetters. Perhaps you can understand how disheartening it is to dialogue with some going by the name “contrarian,” since it suggests a forthcoming rebuttal to any argument or claim will be made, just to be authentically contrarian. It’s no less heartening to read another interlocutor’s replies and say to myself, Jedi-style, “These aren’t the rebuttals you’re looking for.”

An ideology gradually conforms to its content, which is why it has become apparent (esp. in this thread) that "physicalism" is as indeterminate as its object, the physical. (Once a worldview and its key elements start getting scare-quotes de rigeur, its days are numbered.) I think reading Alex Rosenberg's recent précis of his argument about "disenchanted" naturalism goes a long way towards showing how little warm-blooded physicalism can allow the abstract-concrete, empirical-formal cleft with which (1) Jedaisoul and (2) Contrarian agree.

In the first (1) case, to say that formal truths have no bearing on physical reality is not only to admit Ross's argument is correct, but also to recognize that, pace scientism, "reality" and "nature" are bigger than "the physical." (I must wonder, though, how seriously Jedaisoul-- who apparently hosts a website devoted to Einsteinian relativity et relata-- can assert that formal truth has no bearing on physical reality. A case of "Methinks the fellow doth protest too much"? Or perhaps a case of cutting off one's nose to spite one's face?) Ross says over and over again that recognizing the in-principle immateriality by which the intellect operates is not to deny or trivialize the systematically material medium in which it operates. (E.g., A wave-function is formally distinct from the particular ocean swell that manifests its form, but the wave-function is not actually materially separable from the water. Hylomorphism 101.) Ross does not deny that our thoughts occur in and through our brains-bodies, only that they occur by and as such physical systems. Acts of intellection shape our neural matter the same way a wave-function shapes water.

Recognizing the in-principle incapacity of the physical to instantiate formally true operations entails that, when we do instantiate formally true operations, it is not possibly on account of the physical matter which mediates the operations, but on account of a power commensurate with the formality of the operation. One of Aristotelianism-Thomism’s axioms is that, for sentient creatures, nihil est in intellectu quod non prius fuerit in sensu (nothing is in the intellect that is not first in the senses). A corollary is that each sense is formally proportionate to its proper object: the eye is the organ of the visible, the ear of the audible, etc. It just so happens that the brain-- or rather, the entire human nervous system including its intentional relations to the 'external' world (which I'll refer to as iHNS)-- is the analogously proportionate organ of intellection on a case by case basis. iHNS is the proper potential medium for the immaterial activity (or actuality) of intellection. But, being merely a physical medium, not even iHNS can be the generative basis for purely formal operations: for no physical system can be that. Operative formality must happen somehow, and it can’t happen by the purely physical, so it follows that we-- in our very bodies in actual spacetime-- make it happen by some not-purely-physical principle.

In the second (2) case, to say that physicalism just means a realist scientific approach to the world is just to revive classical "Aristhomism." That's exactly why Ross's argument is but a piece of-- and all of a piece with-- his broader metaphysics (esp. in Thought and World). This is hylomorphism of a very scientifically literate kind. Materialists may not care to see the inescapable value of immaterial principles in science, but for those who have eyes to see, the "stereoscopic" metaphysics of modestly realist hylomorphism just is the constitution of productive science. Aristotelian forms are what some modern philosophers of science call "structure," so if you want to see how non-physicalist realism functions in modern philosophy of science, read up on structural realism. Ross has argued numerous times that science functions on a hardware-software paradigm; formal order is real "software" everywhere in material nature, which just is what science tracks. Admitting the irreducible role of the irreducibly formal is not to undermine science-- on the contrary-- but it is to be rid of physicalism and materialism as such.]

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Something like science...

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If the scientist denies substantial forms in nature, he must still face the question, "Does science have a specific nature?" If it does not, then there is no better or worse––no more or less substantially actual––way to do science. Substance is an irreducible set (or mode) of essential features (or conditions) for a thing's existence. If science has no substantial form––on the supposition that there are no substantial forms as such––then there are no essential features for actually instantiating science. As such, a (version of the) scientific method inclusive of substantial forms (qua explanatory structures) just as well counts as science as a non-substantial version of the scientific method. In that case, though, the scientist has no scientific grounds for denying substantial forms in science. He just happens to prefer a non-substantial 'flavor' of science. To say, "I know science, and that is not it," is just a de-platonized way of saying, "I apprehend the pure Form of Science and that crude terrestrial approximation does not partake of It."

Perhaps the scientist will just bite the bullet and deny science has a true substantial form. Instead, he may say, à la Quine, Hempel, Carnap, Ayer, et alii, that science is just "S(a,o,s): a nominal arrangement of axioms, operations, and conventional symbols." In that case, however, either no genuinely scientific discoveries can break the completeness of that system––rather like a borrowed foreign word cannot violate the larger syntactical and grammatical parameters of the borrowing language––or real discoveries wholly beyond the parameters of that set will destroy 'science' qua S(a,o,s). If the validity of scientific cognition just is its conformity with a conventional axiom-operation-symbol set, then any new line of inquiry will either never count as science or will so radically diverge from S(a,o,s) as to falsify S(a,o,s) itself. Science, then, will be either iteratively derivative or inherently self-destructive. If science is just a Kantian enterprise tracking the ineluctable contours of our own cognition, then no discoveries can actually transcend––'surprise'––our immediate cognitive system qua S(a,o,s).

Objection: Kantian science does allow for cognitive novelty, since the ongoing immersion of the mind in the infinite pursuit of noumenal forms triggers new insights within the cognitive system itself. We are surprised by our own insights. This objection only shifts the problem back one step, since it presupposes a substantial form of the world which generatively constricts and amplifies our cognitive 'inner' world. Hence, if science does have a universal, substantial form, then it demands the existence of such things in general.

Friday, December 18, 2009

To say, "I love you…"

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…is to say, "I want to suffer."

I read this profound quotation from Sigmund Freud in a great story I finished last night: “Whoever loves becomes humble. Those who love have, so to speak, pawned a part of their narcissism.”

As for the restayuz, here's some free advice: Don't settle. Don't settle on a "good enough" future. Don't be cowed by bigots. Don't pretend that fear is courage. Don't be a "pathetic figure" in your own life story. I've told it before to friends who needed to hear it and I'm saying it again: Don't settle.

That's right. That amnesia-crutch you like so much right now? Careful you don't settle for it. It'll just end up being the pole you hang your white flag of surrender on.

If g is possible, g exists...

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[Just trying out some ideas from James Ross's Philosophical Theology....]

Let's define "g" as "a necessary or necessarily existing being" and "(Ex)(gx)" as "a necessary being exists." Is g possible? It seems so, for g is not logically inconsistent. There is nothing intrinsically incoherent in coupling "necessary" and "existing." If there were, the assertion A of the impossibility of "necessary + existing" would have to be true in every possible case, and would therefore be a necessary truth-- which is to say the assertion A that "necessary existence is impossible" would necessarily exist. If A is possible, it is impossible. If A is impossible, then g is at least possible. So g is at least possible.

Now, if g is possible, the conditions of its existence entail that nothing can bring about or prevent (Ex)(gx). For if anything could bring it about that (Ex)(gx), then g is contingent, not necessary, which violates g itself. Alternatively, if anything could prevent (Ex)(gx) then g is, once more, contingent, not necessary, which violates g itself. The very possibility of g entails that no other possible state of affairs (P(~g)) could bring about or prevent (Ex)(gx). If anything P could bring about or prevent (Ex)(gx)-- producing (~g)-- then g as such would not be possible. For if (P(~g)) could bring about ~g, then g would be a contingent being, not a necessary being. The alleged possiblity of (P(~g)) entails the impossibility of g, but g is possible, so (P(~g)) is not possible. Nothing can bring about or prevent g. The possibility parameters of g exclude the possibility of its non-possibility.

So, if g is possible, there must be some explanation for its being. Define "g accounts for itself" as (gEg), and "something besides g accounts for g" as (qEg). If qEg, then q is an essential factor in g. As such, if qEg is possible, it is just as necessary as g. If, by contrast, gEg, then g exists as necessarily as any a priori truth of the form "m accounts for m insofar as m accounts for m." Hence, whatever account is given of (Ex)(gx), if g is possible, then g is necessary. If g is necessary, g is actual. Therefore, if g is possible, g is actual, and necessarily so.

If we define "G" as "God exists" and "(Eg)(Gg)" as "God exists and is a necessary being," then, if G is possible, G is actual, and necessarily so. G would have to be an omnipotent being, to which all possible effects are causally accessible, for if any effect E or set of effects (E(E)) were causally inaccessible to G, then E or (E(E)) could bring it about that G does not exist. But G not existing is impossible by definition. Therefore, G exists necessarily and omnipotently.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Reporting live...

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Is there ever a wholly determined and complete "way the world is"? Determinism entails that there is such a "report" on all things at every instant, since at every instant the world necessarily is the way it is without an indeterminate remainder. If there is a complete and fully determinate way the world is, it would include a complete "report" of that state of affairs.

However, if the way the world is necessarily entails a report on all things, then the way the world is at any instant would have to include a report about the way of the world just subsequent to the report's existence. On determinism, ex hypothesi, at time t1 the existentiation of the report is either wholly determined to obtain or not to obtain. If at t1 the world is of W(x,y,...n) characteristics, the report R about W(x,y...n), coherent and complete only at time t2, would add a new fact to W(x,y...n), namely R(W(x,y...n)), which is in principle not included in W(x,y...n) prior to t2. If R(W(x,y...n)) is included in R(W(x,y...n)), then the way the world actually is would not be W(x,y...n), but rather W(R(W(x,y...n))), in which case any report about the world as a fully determinate state of affairs would be undecidable--indeterminate--between W(x,y...n) and W(R(W(x,y...n)), which, in turn, of course means the world is never actually wholly determinate. If it is determined to be that R(W(x,y...n)) will come to be, then, if R(W(x,y...n)) is determined to be the true statement of the way the world is at t1, then R(W(x,y...n)) necessarily includes R(W(x,y...n)) itself as already being included in W(x,y...n). Yet, R(W(x,y...n)) is false if it does not include its own existence and its existence as a true meta-statement is only true on the exclusion of its existence in W(x,y...n)), for R(W(x,y...n)) is true in reference to W(x,y...n)), not W(R(W(x,y...n))).

On a more specific level, if at any time t I am wholly determined to be of P(W(x,y...n)) character, then my character (or action) at time t+1 is strictly and wholly predictable. Now, my strictly and wholly predictable character at t+1 could be a state of affairs in which either I correctly predict my next action or I don't. In that case, however, if my character at t already deterministically includes my correct or incorrect prediction of my next action, then P(W(x,y...n)) includes an indeterminate element which can only be true (or determinate) at t+1, in which case P(W(x,y...n)) at t is in principle not fully determined. As such, neither I nor the world are wholly determined. For the very factuality of the truth-content about such determinateness requires a meta-determination of its determinateness at a time subsequent to its alleged determinateness. The world may be determinate at t, but that can't be a coherent and complete truth at t, since the true, complete proposition-set about the world-at-t must, at t+1, propositionally "bracket" and enclose the world-at-t, even though the world-at-t does not include the determinate truth of its meta-description until t+1. As such, the fully dterminate description of the world-at-t is only true at t+1, at which time, of course, it becomes evident that the world-at-t was indeterminate with respect to the reported world at t+1.

[ADDENDUM on 10.12.09:

Someone may object that this only proves a pseudo-indeterminacy, in which truth-conditions spiral recursively towards infinity--viz., "It is true that it is true that it is true that it is true that... R(W(x,y...n))--without altering the fact that such an infinite pseudo-indeterminacy resolves into the one deterministic state of affairs, namely W(x,y...n). All recursive meta-Rs are true only as logical "emanations" of the one deterministic W(x,y...n); as such, they don't conflict with the actual, singular determinacy of W(x,y...n).

The problem is, however, that W(x,y...n) is only possible as a propositional truth-- viz., "The world is wholly determinate now at time t and at all times"--if R(W(x,y...n)) actually exists as the truth about W(x,y...n). The propositionally coherent determinism of W(x,y...n) requires R(W(x,y...n))'s veracity about W(x,y...n). If a meta-observer stepped back from W(x,y...n) and said, "It might be true that R(W(x,y...n)) or that R(W(x,y...(n-1))) is." But then, the truth of R(W(...)) would be indeterminate with respect to the a posteriori correctness of the meta-observer's decision for R(W(x,y...n)) or R(W(x,y...(n-1))). As J. R. Lucas says in The Freedom of the Will, albeit with a slightly different emphasis, "Truth outruns provability."

We can't assert that W(x,y...n) is the fact of the matter until R(W(x,y...n)) is a coherent proposition; and it can only be coherent if W(x,y...n) is the fact of the matter. (By analogy, "Quags are blath" is not a coherent, assertable proposition unless quags exist blathly as a determinate matter of fact.) Once, however, R(W(x,y...n)) exists in W, W(x,y...n) is no longer the fact of the matter: in fact W(R(W(x,y...n))) is. There is an inherent indeterminacy between the allegedly determinate completeness of W(x,y...n) and its completeness being assertably true in R(W(x,y...n)). Is it the truth that R(W(x,y...n)) or R(W(R(W(x,y...n))))? R(W(x,y...n)) doesn't include itself (yet) as a true state of affairs, since it is necessarily a subsequent, novel fact added to W(x,y...n). Once, however, R(W(x,y...n)) is true, it is actually a truth-maker for R(W(R(W(x,y...n)))), and R(W(x,y...n) no longer true: in fact R(W(R(W(x,y...n)))) is. In that case, "the actual world" is necessarily indeterminate between, at least, W(x,y...n) and W(R(W(x,y...n))). Only if R(W(x,y...n)) is true is it true that W(x,y...n). Once R(W(x,y...n)) actually exists as the truth, however, W(x,y...n) must immediately become W(R(W(x,y...n))), otherwise it would lack at least one determinate state of affairs (viz., R(W(x,y...n))). Lacking all determinate states of affairs, W(x,y...n) would therefore not be truly and wholly determinate in itself, whereupon determinism in the actual world is would be false.

We can easily spin this inherent indeterminacy to infinity, but in that case we have a W which is indeterminately true not in just two ways, but in an infinitude of possible states of affairs. Consequence for determinism? A state of affairs comprised of an infinite number of possible states of affairs is indeterminate in potentially infinite ways. So determinism is false in the actual world. It can't be a determinately true R in W that R(W(x,y...n)), since R(W(x,y...n) would have to include itself as a determinate truth in W(x,y...n), whereupon W(x,y...n) is no longer determinately and singularly W(x,y...n), but is W(R(W(x,y...n))).]

[ADDENDUM on 11.12.09:

The world in which R(W(x,y...n)) is true is not the world about which R(W(x,y...n)) is asserted. R(W(x,y...n)) is only true if W(R(W(x,y...n))) is the fact of the matter. Then, however, W(x,y...n) is not the fact of the matter: W(R(W(x,y...n))) is.


I don't think time-indexing will help either. A critic might say that R(W(x,y...n)) is true at t2 of W(x,y...n) at t1, and therefore (t2(R(W(x,y...n))) cannot impinge on the determinateness of W(t1((x,y...n)). But if A at t1 predicts (asserts) R(W(x,y...n)) then at t2 W(R(W(x,y...n))). Now, if A at t1 predicts (asserts) wrongly R(W(t1(x,y...n))), then at t2 W(¬R(W(x,y...n))). Alternately, if A at t1 predicts (asserts) correctly R(W(x,y...n)), then at t2 W(R(W(x,y...n))). Either way, at t1, W, as a singular necessary grounding condition for its effects, is indeterminate between W(t2(R(W(x,y...n)))) and W(t2(¬R(W(x,y...n)))) as its true effects. At t1 it can be true either that R(W(x,y...n)) or ¬R(W(x,y...n)), and therefore at t1 either W(R(W(x,y...n))) or W(¬R(W(x,y...n))), in which case ¬(□W(x,y...n)). So determinism is false.]

I'm not feeling it...

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Freedom of will is rooted in rationality. As St. Thomas says in De Veritate (24, 2, resp.), "Totius libertatis radix est in ratione constituta [the root of liberty, whole and entire, is constituted in reason]." We don't will to be hungry or to feel sad, but we can will to eat or watch a funny movie. Even when we "will ourselves" to feel happy, we do so as a condensed description of "taking concrete steps to enact a practical syllogism of means"--which are indeterminate--"to that rationally and/or ethically indeterminate end." (Viz., what do I mean by "being happy"? How should I go about achieving happiness? When should I start? How long should I persist in this or that means-direction? Etc.) Not all volitional feelings are rational and not all rational willing is emotional. This disjunction is why I think compatibilism is incoherent. Cf. my latest few posts on freedom, reason, and agency:




As for being forced or induced to "feel the will to move your foot," it's just a magnetic version of influence we know well enough in a social-linguistic form. I may will to go to a Gators game without much feeling in the decision. But a pre-game frenzy of fans on the street could induce in me the feeling of willing to go to the game. For that matter, I could initially will not to go but then be induced to feel the will to go. Doesn't mean I will go, though. Doesn't mean I won't go, either. That's the thing about indeterminism. Akrasia is a reality.

Feeling the will to do something is not the same thing as willing to do it for rational reasons. Willing to act according to reason is not necessarily an emotional process, though emotional processes typically incorporate rational deliberation. Obviously kinesthetic and aesthetic sensibility figures into all reasoning at some level, however attenuated, but in the end I am only accountable for acts of reason. The law recognizes how emotional inducement attenuates responsibility, too. I have specifically dealt with neural inducement here: i-kicked-you-he-agreed.html

As for the rejoinder that idealism might account for rationality in a deterministic world--since in idealism "all is thought"--I would say that idealism cuts no ice. For, as Berkeley showed, the world "functions" the same in idealism as in materialism, but without the mystery-mongering he saw in the reign of "matter itself." If all "matter" is thought, as on idealism, then I face the same spectre of irrationality for taking material phenomena at face value, since they would still function irrationally (e.g., it would be a "law of thought" that a coin is now heads and now tails). If rationality is mapped onto matter, albeit in an idealized form, then rationality is subject to the same randomness and aimlessness as we see in physicalism. Plus, on empirical grounds, the language (of thought) is crucially shaped by our embodied contingency. Hylomorphism admits this, that our rationality is molded but not constituted or determined by our engagement with the material world. Idealism is just a holographic form of physicalism.

As for the rejoinder that panpsychism might account for reasoning in a deterministic world--since if even the simplest matter "thinks" then obviously thought can flourish under physical determinism--I would allow for panpsychism as long as it is grounded in a solid doctrine of analogia entis. In a sense, relative to the infinite otherness of God, all things, even atoms, are "relational," "intentional," "personal" ... but only analogically so. God has a "mind" in as radically an inverse way as, say, fermions have "minds." Man as microcosm is balanced between both extremes, between relative sheer mindlessness and absolute supramindfulness, so to speak. Analogy, analogy, analogy.

I should add that, yes, I actually do believe in "determinism," in the sense that everything actual is actually determined. But that is just a kind of "determinism" which admits that what is, is; and it includes "background" indeterminism for the "getting to" of what is. This "actualist" determinism just resolves into the law of identity (what is, is; what is X, is X, etc.), which then gets on the ramp towards robust Thomism.

SOURCE mutatis mutandis: This thread at Dr. Feser's blog.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Don't mind me...

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The world is a wholly physical matrix of fully determined material causation, devoid of all intentionality and purpose. Material beings are inherently irrational. The human person is a wholly physical entity wholly subject to determined material causation. All semblances of purpose and value and consciousness are simply emergent illusions of a mindless physical substrate.

Even so, for those animated by the illusion of rational consciousness, the wise man does not "fall for" the illusions of teleology and hierarchical value in the world, for he knows that purpose and "soul" are illusions brought about randomly but deterministically by natural selection. Not falling for illusory intentionality means not taking wholly natural phenomena for "pointers" to some higher purpose or meaning.

Insofar, however, as other people are wholly material entities, as devoid of immaterial "mind" as falling rocks and rising flames, the wise man should also pay no heed to their illusory signals of reasoning and value. As wholly material entities, persons are as irrational as falling rocks and rising flames. Ignoring the illusory "chatter of determinism" as it flows through allegedly "rational beings" like himself includes ignoring signals taken as "arguments for determinism." Asserting the value of truth as opposed to falsehood is as much a random, mindless illusion as asserting the value of the human species over others, or the value of chastity over fornication. The world being inherently devoid of "inherent values" and sipraphysical "meaning," the "inherent value of truth for truth's sake" is simply an illusion. This of course means that believing determinism simply because "it is true," is as much an illusory valuation as all others. Moreover, heeding and affirming the meaning of wholly random and physical sounds like "Determinism is true" is just a regression to the illusory anthropomorphism against which determinism militates.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Wrong, I guess...

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Rape is a crime in which one agent external to another forces the latter to engage in sexual activity. By "forces" the law means the activity was initiated and consummated against the latter agent's will. The law also assigns responsibility for that consummation to the former agent. The former agent is guilty of rape by depriving the latter agent of his or her freedom to resist the influence of the external agent.

Determinism is a doctrine in which one or many agents external to an agent force the latter to perform any and all of its actions. By "forces" determinism means the actions were initiated, sustained, and completed wholly on account of conditions external to the latter agent. The external agent (or the set of determining conditions) is the explanation for the latter agent's actions, and this because the latter had no freedom to resist the deterministic influence of the former.

How does rape differ from being a mere deterministic event? Why is a rapist guilty of assaulting a victim but a falling tree is not guilty of assaulting its victim? Compatibilism seeks to integrate "having a will" and "being determined" by saying that "having a will" just means not being coerced to act contrary to one's internal dispositions at time t1. According to compatibilism, being wholly determined by our molecular constitution––under the influence of the weather, magnetic currents, our diet, etc.––does not eradicate our having a will, since we are able to exercise our will precisely as the actions we do in distinction to the things we observe. I may have no choice about wanting to eat a slice of chocolate cake on the table, but my will is still intact as I am integrally involved in nature bringing it about, deterministically, that the cake gets eaten. As long as an agent acts within the parameters of its determined physical and cognitive options, the agent still has a "will" on compatibilism.

If agent B at time t2 influences agent A to act contrary to A's dispositions, then it can be said B deprived A of A's will. Oddly, this means disagreeing with and persuading other people is a form of subjugating their "will," since persuasion brings a listener to a new set of dispositions at time t2 against the original impulses of their will at time t1. If compatibilism is meant to preserve the only kind of meaningful "will" people can have in a deterministic world, why do compatibilists attempt to persuade other people of compatibilism, since doing so would suppress and eliminate other people's wills in exactly the way compatibilism is meant to preserve them? If compatibilists want to salvage my will for me as the ability to act in accord with my own dispositions, as opposed to being coerced to a new set of dispositions, then the best they can do is stop trying to persuade me against my dispositions against determinism.

Unfortunately, it is easy to conceive of a "compatibilist" account of rape: insofar as, say, the woman's legs opened and her vagina widened in response to the insertion of the rapist's penis, her actions did not "violate" her own natural constitution. Nothing in the rape violated the determined parameters of the victim, since it was always in her power to open her legs and a perfectly natural capacity of her vagina to receive a penis. Even more bizarrely, the actions of the rapist are but a whole-body form of persuasion. Typically, men and women use sound waves––and good doses of alcohol––emitted from their lungs (and home stereos) to persuade each other to have sex. Now and then, however, some people are determined by prior conditions to exercise their will in an uncoerced way to persuade others to have sex with them by much more full-bodied means.

It is a mere weak-kneed bias on the part of determinists to regard the "mental states" of an agent as more important than its somatic actions and entire physical constitution in accounting for its actions. After all, for determinists, any agent's mental states are a direct function of "lower level" somatic behavior and total physical influence. I could, by holding a gun to his head, "persuade" a man to shoot a total stranger, and he would do it even if he didn't "feel like it." I can, and often do, tell myself to take out the trash even when I don't feel like doing so. In both cases, the actions would be the result of a successful persuasion by whatever means against another agent's initial dispositions. Persuasion is as persuasion does. In the end, both forms of persuasion––seduction and rape––derive from the same deterministic matrix and both result in the same thing: the target complied with the perpetrator's influence. If every rapist is just an overly determined man, and every man is just an over-determined agent, then there seems to be little to object to in any action from a purely metaphysical standpoint. Strangely, though, for a determinist, rape is wrong, I guess. But I can only guess.

Jovial skepticism…

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"Scientists Behaving Badly" by Dr. Stephen M. Barr

Scientific knowledge is a highly reticulated structure of mutually supporting facts and inferences. Every well-established scientific fact is held in place by numerous links to other known facts, both closely related and seemingly distant. There are many scientific facts the denial of which would bring vast expanses of the edifice of human knowledge crashing down. …

The scientists who are questioning the “consensus view” on anthropogenic global warming are not proposing such wholesale revisions. Quite the contrary. All the scientists who are involved in these climate controversies, whether skeptics or ardent alarmists, are working within the same basic framework of modern scientific theory. They accept the validity of the same laws of thermodynamics, chemistry, fluid dynamics, and so forth. They disagree only in their analysis of a specific physical system that everyone agrees is tremendously complex.

…there are very well-known, highly respected and accomplished scientists, knowledgeable in the relevant fields, who are openly skeptical about various aspects the “consensus view” on global warming. Just to mention two: Prof. Richard S. Lindzen of MIT, one of the world’s leading climatologists, and Prof. Will Happer of Princeton University [cf. my previous post], who was for several years the director of energy research at the United States Department of Energy (one of the main funders of scientific research in this country). Nor are Lindzen and Happer alone. Scientists who share their views may be in the minority, but it is hardly an insignificant minority.

Read the whole thing, it isn't long.

I want to clarify that my reservations about AGW do not amount to a wholesale rejection of "the very idea," but are rather a two-fold "hold on a second here."

First. If "follow the money" is a good rule of thumb for journalism, the same goes for the AGW research industry. We must be careful and well informed about who is pulling the strings on high-flying scientific politicking. And we must be soberly aware that a "consensus view" in science can all too easily become a clannish code word for the fallacy "majority = truth".

Second. I think climate science is such a vast and immensely complex branch of inquiry that the words "inherently unpredictable" do not seem out of place. Elaborate modeling, if not scrupulously wedded to a truly collegial "trial by facts," is all too easily an Icarus-like play thing for political ends. Dr. Barr's piece well expresses much of my jovial skepticism vis-à-vis "the global warming thing."

Friday, December 4, 2009

Okay, time for a survey...

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This is weird.

I was eating dinner a little while ago, mulling over how I had phrased, or should have phrased, a line or two in a recent post or two. It had to with describing someone unaware of an unpleasant reality. On top of that, I've been on a U2 jag the past few weeks, especially How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb and No Line on the Horizon. One of the lines in "A Man and a Woman" (track 7 or so on How To) is, " can't be numb for love...." Add to this that I'm about halfway through Konrad Lorenz's challenging and informative Behind the Mirror: A Search for a Natural History of Human Knowledge, his discussion of the compound layers of perception, reflex, and habituation which synthesize to form human cognition. Altogether, I've got perception and cognition on the brain, even more than usual. (Plus, of course, I had food in my mouth, so there you go all over again.)

So, trying to find "the right word" to describe someone's insensitivity to something unpleasant, but not obtrusively upleasant, I considered "numb to," "blind to," "deaf to," etc. Then, to complete the sensory sweep, I threw in "mute" and... and... I tried to throw in a deficiency word for the nose. But I couldn't! So I thought about it in German and Chinese. A miss and another miss!

So help me out:

skin >> feel <-> numb
ear >> hear <-> deaf
eye >> see <-> blind
mouth >> speak <-> mute
nose >> smell <-> ???

I can't think of a simple term that means "can't smell"--and now that I mention it, I can't find a word for "can't taste" either--and it looks like I'm not the only one. See here and here for the same question, and an apparent answer: anosmia, anosmic, hyposmia, hyposmic. To top it off, here's an FAQ by an anosmic man himself!

I admit that answers my question, but I am still, ?, miffed that the word is a piece of medical jargon. Any child knows how to say "deaf" and "blind" in his mother tongue, and with only a few more years she can say "mute" and "numb." But why should a fairly literate person like me, with a strong interest in cognition and medicine, have no idea how to describe "can't smell" in my mother tongue and two foreign languages I love? This asymmetry signals something important about human perception and our sense of our bodies. Think about it: smell and taste are not only closely connected, but also the only senses in which visible objects of sensation physically enter our bodies. Sure, photons enter our eyes and strike our retinae, and sound waves enter our ear canals and vibrate our auditory fibers, but ancient man had no idea about such 'abstract' stimuli. Smoke, incense, perfume, wine, bread, pepper, farts, lemon juice--all these things and more visibly enter our noses and mouths when we perceive them. Shouldn't that add to the significance of smell and taste, so that language reflects their importance more than the virtual absence of "can't smell/taste" words indicates? It probably goes without saing that we are all pretty sensitive about things physically entering our bodies, so it seems we should give greater attention to the sense that literally bring foreign masses into our own system.

Then again, perhaps the bulky obviousness of smelling and tasting made them seem less myserious than sight and hearing. (As for touch, well, surely sexual titillation and physical pain suffice in any culture to make the skin a most pronounced organ of perception!) Sight seems gives us access to things near and far by an unseen mechanism; much the same goes for hearing. Further, smell and taste are connected with eating and drinking, whereas sight and hearing enable us to enjoy music, dance, and visual art. Perhaps the connection between the senses of satiety--smell and taste--compared to the senses of aesthetics--sight and hearing--demoted the former to houses of the poor, to those trapped in the endless toil of finding enough to eat and live another day, whereas the latter connected people with leisure and luxuries outside the margins of sheer survival. I realize the sense of smell has had some recent popularity, in works like Das Parfum and The Emperor of Scent, but all the same, olfaction is the odd man out on Team Senses.

Since I think we should use as little jargon as possible, unless we're actually using jargon in a principled way, I propose a "common man's" neologism for anosmic and hyposmic: unbescented. Clunky, perhaps, but it boasts a little poetry. So, now you know: if you can't see and can't smell you're blind and unbescented. Of course, this still leaves out "can't taste," which I see is "ageusic" (from ageusia), so I guess my shot in the dark proposal wasn't too far off the mark: agustic (from agustia). I admit ageusia and ageusic sound pretty good, but perhaps agustic and agustia can find a place at the table too.

I'm willing to bet a broad linguistic/anthropological survey would yield at least two results.

One, very, very few languages have a simple word for "being unable to smell/taste," but would have easy words for "being unable to feel/hear/see/say." I suspect Greek and Latin have such words, since anosmia and agustia are Greek and Latin terms, respectively.

Two, any languages that do have "everyday" words for anosmia and ageusia both are closely connected in a language family and correspond to a very different sense of the body than most Western people have.

Let them fall as they may...

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Last week I was approached by a man selling, of all things, broom handles. Not brooms, just the handles thereof. I instantly thought of selling spoon handles without spoon heads, but the thought left me as I was brought under his spell.

"I, sir, want you to buy three broom handles from me," he crooned.

"But why do I need broom handles?" I asked. "I have brooms."

"Sounds reasonable enough, but let me put it this way," he crooned anew. Whereupon he took five or six broom handles from his cart, grasped them in two hands as one upright bundle, and then let them fall like giant pick-up sticks. "That, sir, is why you should buy three broom handles from me," he concluded.

"I don't follow," I admitted.

"I shall rephrase my argument," he said, whereupon he gathered the scattered broom handles again to form a standing column. He opened his arms and the sticks fell to the ground akimbo. "As I say, sir, that is why you should make my broom handles yours."

"But you haven't given me any reason," I objected, weakly, afraid I was missing something obvious.

"Ah, but I have, sir," he countered, "for I have sent millions of photons into your retinae, along with soothing auditory undulations through the air into your ear canals, and thereby triggered deterministic responses from you which mean you should buy three of my broom handles."

"But I don't see how that is true at all," I objected, more confidently. "You've given me no argument, no reasoning, as to why I should buy them."

"You say tomayto, I say tomahto," he retorted, with a flick of his fingers. "We all know every action of the human is just an action of the human body, and every action of the human body is just an orchestrated cofiring of millions of synapses and efferent nerve impulses. For all I know, you don't want my broom handles--yet--because you had too little, or maybe too much, coffee for breakfast."

"Look," I set in, "even if I grant that we are deterministic organisms, you have to admit your impulses aren't the right ones to trigger my unfree response to your sales pitch. You should at least try to manipulate the relevant areas of my brain. I'm not determined to respond to falling broom handles."

"So," he replied, "you mean to say you have a good reason for not buying my broom handles?"

"Yes. I don't want to buy them," I answered.

"But that's hardly a good reason, sir, since, as we both know, your desire not to buy them is just a deterministic result of 'what lies beneath'. You think the irrational, deterministic fall of my broom sticks is a bad reason, or no reason at all, for deciding to buy them, yet you claim the equally meaningless, deterministic swirl of neurotransmitters in your brain is a good reason not to buy them. Now I don't follow, sir."

"Clever argument," I began, "but the difference is that I can decide from 'within' my own network of determined responses. My deliberation is an internal factor for my reasoning, but your broom handles are outside the relevantly determined network."

"So now you mean to say the real you, the you I should be trying to convince to buy, is a free-floating eye hovering over all the deterministic synapses in your brain that can freely choose which of them to activate? I thought materialism led away from Descartes's so-called ghost in the machine, not towards it."

"No, what I mean is that whatever my consciousness might be--maybe its in my ventromedial prefrontal cortex, like I remember Steven Pinker said--it is the segment of the deterministic world that you need to work on to get me to buy your broom handles. And I admit they are nice broom handles, don't get me wrong."

"So you mean to say I have a free choice about which part of you I run down? Now I am the free-floating analyst of an otherwise locked-down deterministic world?"


"On top of that, how do you or I even know where you and I begin and end in contrast to the environment that determines us? If your consciousness module--maybe in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, like you say--is determined by surrounding modules for perception and motor activity, and if those modules are determined by everything else causally pressing in on them, then how do you make a distinction between inside and outside? I'm just as essential a causal determinant in your whole make-up as the air, the force of gravity, the strong and weak attractions in your molecules, and so on. That's why I have just as much reason to believe dropping broom handles will win you over. I have no reason to trust the automated output of your brain as an truly rational, deliberate basis for you not buying my goods, and therefore you have no reason not to trust that my broom sticks fall in a way that argues compellingly for buying my broom handles. The propositional content of anything you say is a mere epiphenomenon of the air being emitted from your lungs into my ears. Or do you believe that Platonic strips of meaning are waiting for us to say them in any language at any time--that Meaning In General floats 'somewhere out there' waiting to form grammatical sentences which convey it? Do you really think the immaterial meaning of a sentence can effect its material production? If you do, then why not allow for all kinds of immaterial causation? If you don't, though, why do you think an abstract coherent meaning adds anything at all to the causal efficacy of the things we say and hear? It's not up to you to say what a good reason should be for your decisions, since your reasons for parsing good and bad reasons are just deterministic prejudices and impulsive cognitive blind spots that define 'you' long before you ever had a say about it--not that having a say about it would do much good."

By then I was hankering for a broom to sweep the little man away.

+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +

My neural firing is a purposeless, unreasoning and deterministic as the toppling of broom handles. Why is the former "rational" but the latter is not?

"If my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain, I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true ... and hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms." -- J. B. S. Haldane, Possible Worlds

"One absolutely central inconsistency ruins [the popular scientific philosophy]. The whole picture professes to depend on inferences from observed facts. Unless inference is valid, the whole picture disappears.... [U]nless Reason is an absolute[,] all is in ruins. Yet those who ask me to believe this world picture also ask me to believe that Reason is simply the unforeseen and unintended by-product of mindless matter at one stage of its endless and aimless becoming. Here is flat contradiction. They ask me at the same moment to accept a conclusion and to discredit the only testimony on which that conclusion can be based." -- C. S. Lewis, Is Theology Poetry?

"If minds are wholly dependent on brains, and brains on biochemistry, and biochemistry (in the long run) on the meaningless flux of the atoms, I cannot understand how the thought of those minds should have any more significance than the sound of the wind in the trees." -- C. S. Lewis, Is Theology Poetry?

"It is idle to talk always of the alternative of reason and faith. It is an act of faith to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality at all. If you are merely a skeptic, you must sooner or later ask yourself the question, "Why should anything go right; even observation and deduction? Why should not good logic be as misleading as bad logic? They are both movements in the brain of a bewildered ape?" -- G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

"...with me the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man's mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey's mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?" -- Charles Darwin, to William Graham (3 July 1881)

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Doing my work for me?

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I have been working on a couple largish pieces the last few weeks about naturalism and scientific explanation. Needless to say, I am critical of naturalism as a sound metaphysics for sound science, despite the fact that science is commonly conscripted as "proof" of naturalism. I still intend to post the pieces as time permits, but I do feel my thunder was stolen to some degree by the recent appearance of Alex Rosenberg's essay, "The Disenchanted Guide to Naturalism", to the attention of which I was brought [*] by Dr. Feser's post about it. Why do I feel Rosenberg, an ardent naturalist, stole my thunder against naturalism? Well, he is so blunt and so thorough in his assertions that naturalism necessarily leads to nihilism––a world devoid of any meaning, values, purpose, abstract entation[1], desires, beliefs and so on––that I feel like there's little left for me to say besides, "Thanks and keep the tip!" As Dr. Feser says, "the position Rosenberg rightly takes to follow from naturalism is not only depressing; it is incoherent. Therefore, naturalism is false."

As I hope to show in my upcoming essays, most of naturalism's "nature" is terribly impoverished, anemic even. By exalting nature beyond its dignity as a creature, naturalism ends up honoring nature in the breach, leaving her without both a proper character of her own and any 'supremacy' over man apart from his arbitrary manipulations of her resources. Leeching nature of metaphysics is naturalism's greatest assault on nature. Without finality, for instance, natural laws have no proper connection between cause and effect. Likewise, without essence, there are no fermions and bosons all the way down, as Rosenberg puts it, since such things are either are what they are in essence, and this is discoverable by humans, or they are void of any essential character, in which case they are mere constructivist nomenclators which, as a result, can't be said to define the rest of reality. Rosenberg's précis is rather long, and Dr. Feser's analysis is only as short as it ought to be, but I highly recommend reading both posts in full. For my part, at this juncture, I will only note three oddities, from among many, in Rosenberg's essay. As Dr. Feser's analysis shows, Rosenberg's (or any committed naturalist's) metaphysical problem is trying to have his cake for later and eat it now too.

First example. When Rosenberg says, "What science has discovered about reality can’t be packaged into whodunit narratives about motives and actions. … Our demand for plotted narratives is the greatest obstacle to getting a grip on reality", he does so in a paragraph that tells us a story about the world and man's place in it. Once upon a time, humans believed in purpose, magic, and divine realities, but along came the Light of Science and now humans are free (free, that is, from the illusion that they are free). For good measure, in his best nanny-voice, Rosenberg adds a moral for all you younguns still hankering after narrative coherence: "It’s also what greases the skids down the slippery slope to religion’s 'greatest story ever told.' Scientism helps us see how mistaken the demand for stories instead of theories really is." The End. To Rosenberg's claim that concrete organized complexity could not possibly have come about in any other way than by Darwinian "passive envrionmental filtration," I can only retort that our sense of the world cannot come about in any other way than in a narrative mode. So if the apparent conceptual ineluctability of the former is proof of its truth, then the performative ineluctablity of narrative metaphysics is proof of its truth, in which case the former can't cut against the latter as Rosenberg wants it to do.

[A year or two ago I wrote a lengthy post about the irreducibly aesthetic-narrative nature of human existence, and how this points to God. Cf. [2] below for a key quotation from that post in which Bertrand Russell anticipates Rosenberg's narrative anti-narrativism.]

Second example. In his third paragraph, Rosenberg alludes to the methodological fallibility of science, but then brushes it aside so he can get on with his nihilistic narrative. He says one reason more scientists don't draw radically nihilistic, eliminative conclusions from their research is because "science is fallible and scientists are taught never to be definitive even about their own conclusions; the persistent questions are so broad that no scientist’s research program addresses them directly, and few are prepared to stick their necks out beyond their specialty when they don’t have to." Einstein quipped that the man of science makes a poor philosopher, but at least the way Rosenberg portrays them makes them brilliant thinkers. Scientists aren't prepared to stick their necks out––while Rosenberg is quite willing to stick his neck out and up and then lower his nose––about sweeping metaphysical nihilism most likely because they instinctively grasp how destructive naturalistic nihilism would be for their actual work. You can't very well choose to pursue a new line of research, or persist in an old one, if the cosmos literally has no beliefs, desires, purposes, or wills.

Even so, Rosenberg tries to ride over the main difficulty under a cloak of philosophical synthesis. There is an inverse ratio between scientific certainty and scientific rigor. One of the most cherished aspects of science for "scientismatics" (my term of art for devotees of scientism) is its relentless self-correcting process, especially in contrast to dogmatism, revelation, etc. That being so, it is impossible for a scientismatic––a term which Rosenberg would gleefully embrace for himself––to endorse any reigning scientific account of the world as "the final word," since doing so makes a scientific Weltbild into a dogma or revelation. As such, all the weight Rosenberg et alii put on the account of the world according to current science should literally only be taken ex hypothesi. But then how can a hypothesis ground an entire worldview? Indeed, how can the cosmos as a whole, much less the eternal existence of the cosmos, be ascertained by scientific means? As Stanley Jaki has argued in numerous places, the cosmos, as a single coherent whole, is an object of scientific belief, not a rational deliverance of science itself. Likewise, how does one "test for" causality without assuming it? Or how does one "test for" the law of identity if there are no 'minds' over against brute matter to which that law can appear as "self-evident"? It follows that scientism's ideological security devolves to the quality of its metaphysics, but, alas, since physics is the structure of nature, metaphysics has no place in scientism. Basically, then, Rosenberg wants to subsume metaphysics to sheer science, but he can only do so by a metaphysical inflation of "science as we know it" to "the way the world really is." In any case, the foregoing doesn't even touch the problem, raised so acutely by Dr. Feser in this post et alias, as to what a scientific "theory" can even mean (that word again!) in naturalism.

Third example of Rosenberg's eat-cake-have-cake modus operandi. In the third section of the essay, Rosenberg gingerly piles on against finality, purpose, and design by showing how Darwinian natural selection provides a wholly mechanistic account of organized complexity as "the inevitable result of" the second law of thermodynamics. I first encountered Rosenberg's "a priori Darwinism" (my term of art) reading some lectures he gave at Duke a few years ago about Darwinism as "the only game in town." In this latest essay he espouses the same thing by saying Darwinian natural selection follows deductively (and thus irreformably) from the second law of thermodynamics: "Any explanation of the very existence of even the slightest adaptation must be Darwinian. … [G]iven the 2d law, the only possible source of adaptations in the universe that was originally bereft of them is the process Darwin discovered." A trenchant narrative, to be sure, but how is this any longer science? A scientific theory should be falsifiable, but by saying that Darwinism is a logical necessity, Rosenberg pretty much makes Darwinism an axiom of reason. Are we seriously to believe that Darwin's meticulous pondering over mounds and mounds of biological data, after centuries of similar pondering by great explorers, only resulted in a virtual law of logic? I think Darwin would be nonplussed about the supposed obviousness of his insight.

Why does Rosenberg insist Darwinism is the only possible account of organized complexity? I quote:

Scientism, and for that matter science too, needs an explanation of adaptation in general that starts from the complete absence of any. Otherwise, we have not explained how even the simplest, most minimal sliver of adaptation could have emerged in a world with zero adaptation. Since the process of adaptational evolution is, unlike the basic processes in physics, a one-way past to future process, it can only be driven by the 2d law of thermodynamics, since that is the source of all irreversible processes in the universe.

Leaving aside the historically naive hubris which such an account displays––since the history of science is strewn with the corpses of past "final theories" which turn out to be but limiting cases of some higher law––Rosenberg subtly contradicts his a priori Darwinism with reference, in the first section of the essay, to the "fundamental laws of nature [as] mostly timeless mathematical truths that work just as well backwards as forward…." All the biological and organic design we seem to see in the world is "just the foresightless play of fermions and bosons producing, in us conspiracy-theorists, the illusion of purpose." Moreover, "if physics fixes all the facts, it could not have turned out any other way." By coupling "timeless mathematical laws" to temporal 'design' in a rigorously Darwinian way, however, Rosenberg faces two problems. First, what could "trigger" timeless mathematical laws to instantiate temporal sub-mathematical phenomena? Stephen Hawking and, I believe, John Wheeler noted that, for all their beauty and simplicity, the laws of physics lack the ability to breath life into their own content, to give flight to their amazing idealized designs. As Nancy Cartwright has argued in several places, "natural law" requires a lawgiver, which makes Rosenberg's surprisingly blithe reliance on such a Platonic idea as timeless, immaterial, abstract forms a strong pointer toward an eternal lawgiver.

The second problem is that if, somehow, timeless, mindless, and volitionless mathematical laws could make the real world real, and if the result as we now find it "could not have happened in any other way," then the world as we now see it is also a timeless reality, a mere derivation of those timeless mathematical laws. For the timelessness of the most basic mathematical laws, combined with their mysterious but deterministic 'fruition' in the irreversible world as we know it, entails that the irreversible world is necessarily a function of reversible laws. If that were true, however, the basic laws would not be reversible, since their actual operations necessarily result in irreversible phenomena, and do so in a timelessly (eternally). So, the universe is either the way it is from all time, in which case responsible scientific thinkering succumbs to sheer a priori idealism, or the world could have developed other than it actually did so, and scientismatic necessitarianism is false. So, in turn, is Rosenberg's naturalism false.

[1] Yeah, I just made that word up. Entation. It means the act of something actually existing, or a case thereof. Meh. I like it.

[2] From my post, "The center of the circle…":

Physics has demonstrated time and again the irreducibly specific nature of the material universe, a specificity that shouts contingency. For, anything that is one way specifically could exist another way specifically. And this 'could' is the essence of contingency. The universe demonstrates quantifiable specificity on every level, in every nook and cranny, and this is because it is the farthest thing from an eternal, infinite, homogeneous, undifferentiable, nonspecific pantheistic eternal cosmos. From another perspective, however, the universe is a great light show for children. Are they wrong to see faces in the heavens when physicists are busy seeing the heavens in our faces? (We are all stardust…) Is the poet wrong to see the world as a great symphony of light when the physicist is busy seeing the world as a cacophony of dark matter? Neither one is right or wrong in their proper modes of perception. Only when they impose their aesthetic lens on someone using a different lens, will their be a dispute. Only when the poet tries to strangle the physicist's vision with a glistening portrait of Mother Nature, or the physicists tries to explode the poet's vision with a humming portrait of the unified filed theory, will there be a clash. The thing that unites them is not their specific vision of the cosmos (i.e., how big its circumference is or what its texture is), but their bedrock commitment to the idea that the cosmos has a shape at all. Just as no section of the circle can escape the omnipresent primacy of the invisible center

Consider the Ecclesiastes-like somberness of Bertrand Russell's words in "A Free Man's Worship" (1902):

…even more purposeless, more void of meaning, is the world which Science presents for our belief. Amid such a world, if anywhere, our ideals henceforward must find a home. That Man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labors of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins—all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.

There are at least two great ironies here. One is that these words are surely among the more immortal words penned by man, though they are driven by a consuming vision of the mortality of all man's words and works. (Methinks he protests too much!) Art, including beautiful rhetoric, is hoisted as a flag of protest against the futility and finality of the world. Art repudiates doom. Art is created as a lasting sign of the human trace upon the world. So even when it accentuates or, as the case may be, glorifies, the frailty of all human efforts, it is intended to outlast the passing flux and be a lasting marker of the unlasting, an intransigent icon of the transient, a feud with futility. (I explored this topic in my story, "From the Forest Itself", if you care to brave the telling of that tortu(r)ous tale.)

In any case, the second irony in Russell's is what really concerns us. Even by painting such a grim picture of the world, Russell did just that––painted a picture. He took a heap of meaningless debris and formed it into a coherent collage of despair. Even when he said the universe is meaningless, he ascribed to it a total meaning, namely, utter meaninglessness. I could just as easily imagine an artist taking a heap of garbage and calling it "Life". It may strike hard against hope and good cheer, but it still strikes artistically, meaningfully, 'shapefully'. We simply cannot escape giving a larger coherent shape to the world as we experience it, even when we say the world shape is ugly, erratic, and pointless. And this is a crucial inevitability. For to live as creatures that inevitably and automatically give a shape to our experience, is to live as beings inevitably and automatically confronted by the point of origin in the same way every segment of a circle is confronted with its central point. The reason the world inevitably takes on a shape in our eyes, is because the world is radically contingent on God as its shapeless shaper, as the uncreated creator. This, then, is what the cosmological argument is getting at: even if the world seems like bad art (as criticisms of the design argument would have it), it still seems like art, and ineluctably so, because it depends for its existence on God in the same way a circle cannot help but be shaped by its center.

The aim of science is to give a coherent picture of the world. But if science cannot account for its own 'shaping' tendency, it falls to religion to give that ultimate level of order and aesthetic depth to the world. Believing in the universe––an empirical object which we can never observe––is necessary for understanding it and admiring it as one 'piece'. Likewise, believing in the Creator, and beholding the world as one 'piece', is even more crucial for knowing and admiring nature's beauty. Dostoevsky is right: The world will be saved by beauty. The world can only be called 'the world' if it is beheld in the mind's eye as one thing with one ultimate shape. And that shape is nothing other than a shape-transcending abstractness as incense vessel, shining mirror, rocking cradle for the glory of God among us. Just as the specific events in the flux of spacetime all depend on God as their uncaused cause, so the entire structure of the cosmos depends for God as its absolute index of shape.