|Part of the motivation for this page comes from Allan Randall's Computational Metaphysics. Allan concludes his metaphysical excursion in a strangely truncated form of idealism based on Strong AI and the Many Worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics. All of this because he has forgotten about Wigner's Friend, I believe.
Wigner's Friend is an extension to Schrodinger's Cat thought experiment. It simply raises the question of who observes the observers. This is a question that has famously been left unanswered. Somewhere else on the Internet it must have been stated that no one short of God can observe the observers. (Actually I find one example of "observe the observers" & quantum, and there is ample mention of God and everything else. Remind me to peruse it later.)
It remains the standard view that the observer role in QM may be satisfied by virtually any registering mechanism, which need not be artifactual. The moon has very adequately registered the impact of asteroids, or so it is generally surmised.
More technically, a registration process is supposed to be any trace of an event, where 'trace' is a disturbance in a medium, such as the ionization path of a cosmic ray. The wave function of a neutrino from the Sun spreads out uniformly until it interacts with another particle deep in the Earth, for instance. Its wave function has been collapsed by the interaction. This is fairly straight forward. But what about the molecules in the air? How spread out are they? Supposedly this is only until they collide with the next air molecule. But now we have no trace. At best we can observe the gross diffusion of pollutants. Otherwise the measurement process becomes anti-entropic or Maxwell demonic, i.e. physically impossible. So an air molecule can spread out to the moon and beyond, if it so chooses. Who is to stop it? The measurement process has become lost in the interstices of quantum statistics, where there is no trace of the individuality that defines any actual measurement.
Let us now stand this problem on its head. To measure a quantum system there must be an external 'classical' system. Suppose, however, that the quantum system in question is the universe. What would it take to collapse the wave function of the universe? This is a notoriously open question in cosmology, especially relative to the quantum fluctuation origin of the Big Bang. How do we know that our universe is not merely a virtual quantum universe that could at any moment dissolve back into a sea of probability?
Think of those infinitely(?) many other uninhabitable, unobservable quantum universes. Do they or can they be assigned any physical reality? Do they exist only in the imagination of the quantum cosmologists, like a herd of unicorns? Physicists, by professional necessity, are most adept at sweeping the quantum problems under the rug. Or perhaps they are passing the quantum buck. If so, where does the Quantum stop?
Before attempting to answer that, we might well wonder why the Quantum in the first place.
The Observation Factor (part 2)
Why the Quantum? Classical physics would be impossible without the Quantum. Solid objects could not exist, atoms could not exist without something very much like the quantum laws we have. And certainly life would be impossible without the metabolic process made possible by quantum chemistry.
What about the measurement problem? Metabolic process are enzymatic. An enzyme process is paradigmatically a microscopic measurement process. It is anti-entropic because it is not statistical, because it robustly involves individualized molecules. The principle recordings of all these quantum measurement events are our healthy, negentropic bodies.
In general, quantum physics deals only with ensembles, while our ordinary experience refers only to particulars. There could be no experience without converting the quantum probabilities into experienced actualities. That is exactly what the measurement process is stipulated to accomplish. This is collapse of the wave function.
But what about our minds? Could we not just be content quantum zombies? Why do we go around creating, imagining, communicating and all the other strange things that we do with our minds?
A remarkable aspect of our minds is our memory. That, combined with our natural curiosity and our tool making abilities, has enabled us to cooperatively compile a comprehensive portrait or record of a significant portion of the observable universe, including especially of ourselves. This is far beyond the ken of zombiedom.
Is this just a very peculiar accident of nature, or might it actually be understandable as an extension of the observer principle, i.e. no phenomenon is real, unless observed? Any particular reality is garnered only by collapsing or bootstrapping itself through observation. And when we speak of a universe, we cannot just be referring to microscopic phenomena. One enzyme reaction record hardly constitutes a phenomenal world. To bootstrap a phenomenal world would require world observers. A record without a context is no record at all. It could just be a statistical fluctuation. Context implies coherence and coherence implies rationality. But where will that context be when the dying Sun incinerates the Earth? Where will the bootstrap be then, or where was it before the Earth was born? Is there a less fragile extraterrestrial connection?
To maintain logical consistency, something of an external nature must be posited. Why then do cosmologists, at least in public, generally refuse to entertain the stunningly obvious notion of a cosmic observer? Can they honestly say they have no need of that hypothesis? It certainly appears that the need is all but inscribed on the Quantum slate.
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What is it and does it make sense? It is a reductionistic or atomistic account of existence, and, no, it doesn't make sense.
At the most basic, logical level there is the problem of modality. Consider the property of mass. Mass is resistance to force. Mass is not strictly a fact. It is a counterfactual concept. It makes sense only in the hypothetical, ideal context of theoretical physics. It is not something superficially given. It is not an atomic fact. It is a highly interpreted conceptual handle.
Am I saying that mass is not material? Is it not physical? No, it is not physical because it is *P*hysical. It is not a sui generis thing. It is a theoretical construct taken out of the discipline of Physics that has only very indirect observational effects. And so is everything else that we can refer to scientifically. This is simply the problem of holism. A scientific theory does not depend on or refer to any individual facts. It is an interpretation of a very ill-defined collection of facts.
Could we not resort then to a plain language sort of materialism or naturalism? Well, sorry, but a language has only that much more theoretical and historical baggage. This baggage cannot get us any closer to the noumenal reality that is supposed to be the 'raw' or 'naked' material world.
Why do we even bother to suppose that such a world exists, when it has no support from science or from common sense? My answer is a question. Have you ever known anyone to espouse materialism for other than ulterior motives? This is not to say that metaphysics isn't always so burdened. It is simply to point out that materialism is about as far as anyone can get from being an exception to that rule. The fact that any materialist has ever pretended otherwise is perhaps the biggest strike against them.
So do we just throw metaphysics into the dustbin of history? Don't get me started, but that is a whole other piece of the intellectual blood sport that frolics under the innocuous label of (anti-) 'metaphysics', and don't let anyone tell you otherwise.
There is only one alternative to all the blood-letting, figurative and otherwise, and that is coherence. When was the last time anyone checked to see if the world could possibly be coherent? Was it less than a century ago? Not to my knowledge. What's the matter? Not enough blood, yet, sacrificed to the gods of incoherence? Any time now, boys and girls.
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Coherence remains the central idea of our cosmology. Coherence is how the disparate parts of the world relate to each other. Many types or coherence are commonly known to us:
* self, organism, organization, ecosystem, religion, work of art, field of study, game, etc
All of these types of coherence compose our world. I am claiming, however, an overriding, cosmic coherence. This coherence comprises the substance of our immaterial world. Leading up to the eschaton, this cosmic coherence becomes comprehended by us. The temporal boundaries of our history, the Alpha & Omega, figure prominently in its ultimate coherence.
The coherence of the world derives from its status as a creation. We, as co-creators, play a greater part in the creation as we begin to comprehend our role in the eschatological context. We consciously align ourselves with the cosmic plan or the will of God. This is how we become one with God as the ultimate aspect of coherence.
From the eschatological perspective we will begin to see how the A & O combine teleologically into a singular eternal presence. Creation is a work in progress mainly in its details, which is the level on which our own lives play out.
From one perspective all creation is just a glimmer in the eye of God, as might be a symphony in the mind of the composer. After that it is a working out of the details. We are just those details. The logically necessary fact of creative optimization is another aspect of the coherence of creation. There may be grades of symphonic creation, but this is not the case for our world. There is a necessary singularity of coherence and consciousness, and our world is by no means peripheral to that. There is an unmistakable centrality of the spiritual gravity hereabouts which is the consequence of our proximity to that singularity.
Polytheism is fundamentally incoherent. Cosmogony is not the work of a committee, as is no other work of art. The potential potency of a cosmic self is the substance of creation. That absolute potentiality is necessarily self-realizing, unless you happen to be able to demonstrate the logical impossibility of God.
By the logic of immaterial, relational, coherent existence, there can be no secondary substances or creations, unless they are functionally integral to the one absolute potency.
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I had encountered Dan on the web before, but without having to pause. He obviously warrants some consideration here. Now I am better focused on Donald Davidson's crucial role in the defense of physicalism. Previously I was too much in the thrall of David Chalmers' approach to the mind-body problem to fully appreciate Davidson's 'anomalous monism' ['Mental Events' (1970)], although that phrase was familiar to me from my second stint in graduate school.
Dan Hutto's essay, Davidson's Identity Crisis (c.1999), is a standardly dense philosophical piece. He criticizes Davidson's attempt to defend a non-reductive physicalism and then recommends idealism in its stead. To my present knowledge this essay defines the state of the art of current critical (non-speculative) idealism, and as such is a useful yardstick. To follow up on Dan, I recommend you go to his book forum.
Along these lines you should also consider Mark Rowland's Two Dogmas of Consciousness. This piece provides a further example of the convolutions surrounding physicalism. The tracking down of physicalism seems rather like the hunting of the Jabberwocky, or perhaps of the Snipe. At present there appears to be no outstanding defender of physicalism or materialism. Dennett and Dawkins are the best known popularizers of materialism, but neither of them figure in the current academic debates.
While following up these leads I came across Hugh Mellor and Tim Crane who jointly authored 'There is No Question of Physicalism' in 1990.
"We examine the various definitions and defences of physicalism that have been offered in recent philosophy of mind, and argue that no nontrivial version of physicalism is true. Physicalists need to define the physical in a way that (a) excludes the mental and (b) shows why physical sciences have an ontological authority that psychology and other non-physical sciences lack. Physicalists have used the following notions in attempting thus to define and defend physicalism: reducibility to physics, causation, laws and supervenience. We show why all these attempts fail."
This article was reputed to be the definitive refutation of physicalism. I have not yet been able to locate the article nor any extended discussion of it on-line.
Then I notice a new book by David Papineau, "Thinking about Consciousness" (OUP 2002). (Note that a complete draft of this book is presently available.)
"The relation between subjective consciousness and the physical brain is widely regarded as the last mystery facing science. David Papineau argues that there is no real puzzle here. Consciousness seems mysterious, not because of any hidden essence, but only because we think about it in a special way. Papineau exposes the confusion, and dispels the mystery: we see consciousness in its place in the material world, and we are on the way to a proper understanding of the mind."
The beat goes on. The two sides pay attention to each other only when they are locked in the same room, which happens infrequently.
I continue to focus on the four books and the discussions of them that can be found on the SWIF page. This is the best single source for the current mind-body debate that I have come across so far. I hope to provide a summary here soon.
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I have spent several hours reading over the book discussions on SWIF. I see little progress over previous discussions besides the dubious distinction of their being more convoluted and jargon laden.
There remain two sides to the debate: materialist and non-materialist. Both sides agree that our experiential intuition strongly favors the non-materialists. This fact forces the materialists to take the offensive, but there are only a very limited number of logical moves open to the materialists.
* dwell on the allegation that non-materialism subverts the scientific enterprise
* rationalize or deconstruct the counter-intuitive nature of materialism
* construct a theoretically plausible physical model for the mind
Let's take the last item first. No such model existed until Alan Turing proposed the concept of a universal computing machine in 1936. The possibility of Artificial Intelligence has been with us ever since. The mind-body debate closely parallels the debate on natural vs. artificial intelligence. The hypothesis that there is no fundamental distinction is labeled 'Strong AI'.
Despite occasional reversals of fortune, the lay advocates of Strong AI remain active, many of them under the banner of Transhumanism. There are many gradations of transhumanism, up to and including aspects of theism, eschatology and immortality. Needless to say, the philosophical or academic materialists do not engage in such speculation.
In this current discussion, two models of the mind are considered: representationalist and functionalist.
I have spent some hours lost in the discussions of representationalism, while not able to grasp the relevance to the mind-body debate. However, I have just come across Naturalism Without Representationalism by Huw Price. By page five he seems on the verge of addressing the larger issues.
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Apparently I had run across Huw's paper, Naturalism Without Representationalism (c.2002), back in July, but made no direct reference to its content. (The HUP still does not acknowledge the existence of the book in question.)
His paper comes closer to direct refutation of naturalism than anything of which I am presently aware. Interestingly it is couched in naturalistic terms, but I would claim that his 'subject naturalism' verges on oxymoronicity, and is tantamount to a reductio ad absurdum for naturalism.
What Huw claims to prove is that the only way to save naturalism from its own internal contradictions is to turn it into a language game, a la Wittgenstein. These contradictions turn on the problem of representationalism, under which term this paper was listed fourth.
The naturalist is confronted with a problem of self-reflexiveness. If the issue of reference or representation is an empirical one, as it must be to conform to naturalism, then the existence of any represented entities remains open, including the concept of semantic reference itself. Thus there is no unequivocal foundation from which to launch the enterprise of philosophical naturalism. There is no uncontested bootstrap. Naturalists are left with no warrant to leap from language to the world. The only partial recourse is 'subject naturalism', which tries to put the best possible face on the prospect of an endless language game. This can hardly be a desirable outcome for our erstwhile naturalists.
It does appear that naturalism is very much in question, and from the inside. This very recent, unpublished paper is tantamount to a logical self-refutation. What will be the response?
What we seem to be witnessing is that the disputations among materialists are gradually forcing all of them further into the very few remaining logical dead ends, from which they seem unable to extricate themselves. In the logical equivalent of quicksand, the more they struggle, the deeper they sink.
The pluralism of postmodernism is the recognition that there are no unquestionable foundations for any systematic or constructive philosophy. Since they all live in glass houses, the philosophers are reluctant to throw stones, and so we witness the nearly interminable end game of materialism.
I am presented with yet another opportunity to advertise my ignorance, this time of Berkley's argument against representationalism: (appeared in a Treatise concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge, 1710)
* We do not and cannot perceive physical objects directly.
* Objects are perceived only as mediated by our mental representations of them.
* In order for an idea to represent an object, however, it must resemble that object in some manner.
* Yet, that which is perceptible has no properties in common with that which is imperceptible.
* Thus representationalism is self-contradictory.
This simple argument may well explain the prevalence of non-representationalism as is found principally in functionalism, which is an outright denial of all mental properties. Functionalism is a hybrid of behaviorism and pragmatism. It has no metaphysical pretensions concerning the nature or existence of an external world. But then how 'bout those putative functions? Is not the functionalist committed to representing allegedly objective functions? How can we coherently discuss that which we cannot perceive? How can we communicate that which cannot be represented?
Perhaps this is why functionalism is not considered to be a fundamental piece of philosophy. It is considered a language game, pure and simple. I am not aware that Dennett has any higher aspirations for his enterprise than as a temporarily remunerative pastime. Should we suppose that he has an impractical bone in his body?
Berkley, on the other hand, evidently had higher aspirations, but then he was just another of those impractical idealists.
(Let me just note here that the running battle between the computationalists and the connectionists among the proponents of AI hinges precisely on the existence or not of mental representations or symbol processing. It may behoove us to take look: Representation)
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Atomism & Transhumanism
Materialism is tantamount to atomism. Atomism, of one form or another, is the logical foundation for every deconstructive enterprise. The primary target of any such enterprise will, of course, be God. Next in line is the concept of humanity. Naturalism, ironically, is just the view that there is no such thing as human nature, or any other nature for that matter. There are no essences, nor anything essential. There are even no natural kinds. There is no meaning. At most there may be an ad hoc, pragmatic functionalism. And who decides what are to be our functions? Whomever, or whatever has the power to do so, of course.
And what is our function? Our function is to remake the world, atom by atom, or to turn the atoms loose to remake the world in their own image. We wipe the slate clean of all the accumulated historical, natural accidents, including ourselves, by the way, and start in from scratch. Atom by atom we reconstruct the human genome and every other genome. Or, better yet, atom by atom we construct nanobots, provide them with artificial intelligence and turn them loose upon the world, that is upon ourselves and the rest of nature. Their task is to reconstruct the world.
This is the vision of Transhumanism. It is the perfectly logical end of any deconstructive world view. If the End is not nihilism, then it is a totalizing, absolute reconstruction. Is this a vision, or is it the ultimate anti-vision? In whose image do we reconstruct the world, and to what End? The Transhumans are perfectly silent on this score. They see no End, only an endless means that is totally self-justifying in its necessary inevitability. Along the way, if these self-organizing atomic beings develop the capacity to create new universes, more power to them.
The only possible limiting factor might be the existing laws of physics. However, given that physics is just another accident of nature, anytime a new universe is created, the laws of physics could be re-initialized, and reset to any desired combination or pattern, one might logically suppose.
Does this train of thought not lead us into a conundrum? This (non-) vision is meant to be a strictly linear one. But isn't there a logical circularity, or a vicious circle hiding in here somewhere? What happened to the inevitable problem of self-reflexivity? If it is possible to create a world, any sort of world, then how unlikely is it that we would be the very first creatures to ever initiate such an inevitable process. Is it not much more probable then that we exist rather far downstream from any such inevitable origin of a (deliberate?) cosmic creation process or chain? This is a view that is strongly muted in the glossy brochures of Transhumanism, but which haunts almost every literary fiction of that genre.
Deconstruction leads either to nihilism or reconstruction. Given reconstruction, is it more likely that we are the reconstructors or the reconstructed? Creators or creatures? How can we begin to find out, if we don't begin to ask?
Would it be fair to say that we might just be afraid to ask? Let us not underestimate the psychic paralysis of this most primal of all fears and its every subsequent denial.
On a perfectly pragmatic note, the Transhumans may say to themselves, 'Well, we'll just go on minding our own business until someone or something demonstrates otherwise.' Fair enough. Stay tuned for the mini-messiah.
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[continued from Huw Price]
The best expose of current thinking on the problem of representations that I have come across is this position paper, Does Representation Need Reality? appearing in Understanding Representation in the Cognitive Sciences -- A. Riegler, M. Peschl & A. von Stein (eds.), 1999.