Dialog with a Materialist

Part of an ongoing conversation:

Jordan 176 (quoting me) writes:

1. If reductionist materialism is true, all reality is unselfaware matter in motion.

Self-awareness is a property of sufficiently complex information-processing systems. The system as a whole is self-aware, though this property does not inhere in the elements. This is called an "emergent property." Emergent properties were unknown to the Ancients, but they are common to many sorts of complex systems; for instance, the physics of gas molecules drives the weather even though individual gas molecules have no "weather" themselves.

Hence your deduction

2. If all reality is unselfware matter in motion, I do not exist

fails to follow.

My comment:

I beg your pardon. You are correct. As stated, the one sentence does not necessarily follow from the other. The link between the two statements had been argued before, both in this and other places, but I did not draw it out here. Let me amend that.

The missing minor premise is that "I" properly so called exist when and only when I have conceptual existence, including such properties as free will, self-awareness, the ability to tell true and false, the ability to think, to make symbols, to manipulate symbols, and so on. A symbol is a thing which has a the property of truth when it corresponds to its alleged subject, the thing it is trying to correspond to, and false otherwise. Marks on pages and pressure-waves issuing from mouths and speakers can serve as the material substrate for symbols, much as neural activity can serve as a material substrate or reflection of thought, but the thought itself cannot be merely the material substrate because it has non-material properties, such as truth-value.

Bits of matter, merely by being set in motion, cannot take upon itself non-material properties, such as true-false, just-unjust, beautiful-ugly, selfaware-nonselfaware.

Bits of matter, merely by aggregating, cannot take upon itself symbolic meaning, for this is again a non-material property.

Indeed, non-material properties do not "come from" anywhere in the material sense, since they are controlled by final causation and formal causation, that is, by intent and by logic, and not caused by mechanical causation. We can say that twice two is four ergo twice four is eight. We can give a formal cause for the truth of that proposition. We cannot say twice two is four because a cog of four ounces in Adding Machine R1047 was moved by lever of four inchesto click over a tab of half an inch square on which a mark was written that represents to an observer the number that observer’s father called taught him stood for the number "4". That neither accounts for why twice two is four nor even makes any relevant statement about it.  Twice two is not four "because" a given adding machine, or even all of them together, were constructed so to say. The reverse is true. The adding machine was constructed with the gears and levers in their places because the marks made on the wheels and tabs held a symbolic meaning to the makers, who, in turn, perceived that twice two is four and always has been and always shall be. No historical event, had it gone differently, could have somehow "caused" twice two to equal five. 

According to reductionist materialism, which you sum up nicely in your paragraph, the mental property "meaning" is an emergent property of a material property of matter in motion, much like "weather" is an emergent property of gas molecules which themselves have no weather. Oxygen and Hydrogen cannot be wet or rainy, but H20 molecules in the air, in a certain density, can be wet or rainy. Weather is an emergent property of an aggregate of elements, such as gas molecules.

Or, to use an equally good example, a clock can keep time, but single gear or wheel cannot. Clocks are themselves time keeping machines made up of part that are not time keeping machines. Timekeeping is an emergent property of an aggregate of elements, such as cogwheels.

The clock parts are dead, the clock when assembled and wound up moves and keeps time, but it is still dead. Motion, a property than can emerge from material part in the aggregate emerges, but life does not. The air molecules are inanimate, but the weather, in the aggregate, can have pressure and humidity and wind speed and direction, and a host of other properties individual air molecules lack. 

You say, in effect, that  my brain (like that of any other human brain) is like a clock. The particles are dead, but when assembled and set in motion, my mind emerges from my brain, grants itself self-awareness, and makes deductions about reality, including the apparently false deduction that I exist, I am self-aware, and I have free will.

But, of course, my mind is not what makes deductions any more than the clock deduces the time. All is merely matter in motion. The brain atoms are merely in a configuration, and there is no one and nothing that can deduce anything, since deduction implies a symbol that reflects a concept in reality, which symbol is correctly reflecting reality (true) when it corresponds to something outside itself, and incorrect (false) when it does not.

Indeed, the concept "correspondence" is a relation between thoughts and the things thoughts represent, and has no material qualities and cannot be described as matter in motion. Hence, if my thoughts are matter in motion and nothing else, they cannot be true or false any more than a wheel or gear in a clock can be true or false. This includes that particular thought or set of thoughts known as awareness or self-awareness.

Now, you might say that a clock an keep time badly, or be broken, but a clock cannot lie. If the hands point at the wrong marks on the clockface (which only to an observer represent the concept of time), the clock is not trying to deceive itself. The concept "lie" or "deceive" relate to observers with minds who draw correspondences between symbols in their head, concepts those symbols represent, and marks on a clockface.

You may answer that a sufficiently large and complex clock–if we only added more gears and wheels–would be a mind with self-awareness, able to know good and evil, joy and sorrow, because self-awareness is an emergent property of wheels and gears in motion.

However, the words "emergent property" do not act as a magic wand, allowing you to make anything come out of anything.

The emergent properties must be present in the constituents at least in potential.The emergent property has to be able to be reduced to the elements of which it is composed, as, for example, pressure can be expressed in terms of the density and motions of the gas molecules involved. 

When no reduction is possible, obviously, no emergence of a property in the aggregate is possible.

For example, suppose I were to say that Tuesday is made up of the hours and minutes of Tuesday. It is a division of time: but Tuesday has certain properties that, say, the first minute of Tuesday’s dawn-hour does not have.

With me so far?

If I were to say that Tuesday is made of dogfood, and not made of time, you would be nonplussed. If I further said that enough cans of dogfood organized in the proper pyramidal stack, and then set in motion rolling down a hill could define Tuesday, you would laugh. This is because dogdfood and Tuesday are not of the same nature, and one is not an emergent property of the other, and cannot be. Even I had thousand or millions of cans of dogfood, or moved them, or arranged them in some fashion, you cannot make Tuesday out of dogfood.

Likewise, mental objects are of a different nature than material objects. One cannot be reduced to the other as one cannot be used to describe the other.

Let me make a distinction hard for you to grasp. Let us call a book the physical properties of a book, say, a story written in Chinese, or some language you do not speak. Let us furthermore say that the same story told in the same words has been recorded onto a tape machine, again, in a language you do not speak.

Let us say the book, the physical object, has certain properties, as mass, height and page count, and the weight and position of the ink-strokes on the page. Let us say you know each one down to a sub molecular level.

Let us say that the tape recording, the physical object, when played through a recorder, has certain emergent properties, namely, the volume and amplitude of the pressure-waves issuing from the tape-machine’s speakers. Let us say you know each pressure wave and all its characteristics, as, how far it travels, how loud it is, and so on.

Let us further say the story has certain properties: it is a tragedy, involving romantic betrayal, with a surprising plot-twist in the climax, but a bittersweet ending. Let us say I know the story (because I speak the language) and I have it memorized, and, as an artist, I know every property related to the story told.

How does your knowledge lead to my knowledge?

How it is even possible in theory for knowledge of pressure waves and the mass and location of ink-molecules to "emerge" into knowledge of why the surprise plot-twist at the end led to the betrayal of the protagonist, and the ironic, bittersweet ending?

Question: Are any of these properties of the same nature as each other?

Question: if the plot-element properties story, such as the surprise ending, exists only in the physical properties of the book, how is it that the SAME story exists in the tape machine?

You cannot say the pattern is the same, because, in this case, different symbols of a different nature — one a spoke word, and the other a written pictoglyph — has NOTHING in common in their physical nature.

The written word "two" and the gasp of air that sounds like "tu" are connected and only connected by a meaning that we who know the language have made in our minds to the same concept. The matter of the spoken word, pressure waves, is not like the matter of the written word, ink molecules. Only the concept is the same.

Adding a computer that writes letters in pixels or a human brain that writes in nerve cell electrons does not change the basic question.

But you say concepts are an emergent property of matter.

My brain, if I were not here to observe it, would exist as a material object. The atoms could be put in motion, even into complex motion, as complex as a pyramid of dogfood rolling down a hill. But if I am not inside here to observe it, than there is no I here.

I am a concept. "I" am a noumenal category of a unity of perception. Perception implies a perceiver. Sight implies a seer.

If "I" am an aggregate of unselfaware material motions, using the words "emergent property" will not give an aggregate of unselfaware motions meaning, any more than adding ink molecules to a book in a language you do not read will change the plot of the story.

I am also amused that you casually undermine your own argument by using words like "Information" and "information-processing" and "self-aware" without noticing that these are symbols for types of mental objects. You are like a man taking about the symbolic meaning and purpose of a billiard ball. If billiard balls are all that exist, and there are no billiard players, then the billiards can have mass and motion, but not meaning, not symbols, not true-and-false, not just-and-unjust, not any mental concept.

So, you are trying to sneak in a confusion between matter, which is measured magnitudes of empirical things, with meaning, which is a conceptual formality of true or untrue symbols, merely by using a phrase "information system" which conflates the distinction. It is a word-game, or, rather, an ambiguity in your thinking.

The second comment does indeed follow from the first, if we do not grant the sly premise that the word "emergent property" allows us just to assume that we can get Tuesday from an aggregate of dogfood cans.

Your philosophy has lead you to conclude you are a meat-robot. But if you are a meat robot, your thought-pulses have no necessary bearing on reality. All your beliefs, including the belief that you are a meat-robot, are the unthinking and automatic property of your programming, and ergo are neither true nor false.

You continue to state, as if it is clear, the paradox that only matter exists. When questioned, you merely repeat yourself, but you offer no support for the idea.

I am from Missouri. Show me, please. Produce your evidence. Show me the experiment; put it right in front of my eyes.

Or if this is a conclusion from a rational deduction rather than an empirical fact, please produce your arguments and reasons. State your axioms. Define your terms. Draw your conclusions. Show me, sir, please.

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