Return of the Robot Zombie Slaves

Part of an ongoing discussion with a collection of molecules:

I said, “Under the materialistic model, there is no necessary reason to assume the universe is something human beings can understand. It may be the case that it is, but it may not be.”

You said, “Do humans in fact understand the universe? We have a bunch of useful tricks, certainly. …It may be that humans, in fact, can’t understand the universe, but can find some nice tricks that enable us to kill our enemies and get lots of bananas.”

Stripped of the condescending metaphor likening all human accomplishments to banana-getting, your statement in support of the materialistic model seems to confirm that what I said about the materialist model. The fact that the planets move according to a few, simple, elegant and beautiful laws is, for example, to the materialist, a lucky coincidence, or a mystery.

I said, “All you are doing here is invoking the Magic Darwin Fairies again: you assert that finding a correct model of the universe has some survival value.”

You said that by ‘understand’ you mean finding a useful trick. You then say “Finding useful tricks is, by construction, useful!”

Deducing the motions of the stars and planets according to the Ptolemaic or Newtonian model is useful, but Newtonian’s PRINCIPIA is not an genetically inherited trait. There is no immediate practical application to the knowledge of the procession of Mercury brought about by Einstein’s relativity: nevertheless I understand it, hence the word understand means, in common parlance, something other than utility. Hence, your assertions fail on two counts: (1) Not everything understood is useful (2) not everything useful is a trait favored by natural selection.

You say, “Yes, if you deny that the universe contains objective truth! But material objects genuinely do behave with regularity; there is an objective truth about them to be discovered. Thus a model such as ‘A is A’ is useful because it is true.”

I deny that materialism can give a coherent account of where truth exists in the universe, or why men just so happen to know it, or even whether men can know it.

My reasoning goes this way: 1. Materialism asserts that all things are matter; 2. matter is measurable magnitudes in extension, and can be expressed in terms of mass and length, duration, candlepower, temperature, etc.; 3. meaning has neither measurable magnitude nor extension, and cannot be expressed in terms of mass and length, duration, candlepower, temperature, etc.; 4. therefore if materialism is true, there is no meaning in reality. 5. “Meaning” includes signs, ideas, statements, representations, and everything that symbolizes a referent. 6. Only signs and ideas can have the following relation between symbol and referent: true or false, insightful or misleading, valid or invalid. 7. Therefore if materialism is true, there are no symbols and no ideas in the universe, and hence no truth. Materialism does not imply that all thoughts are false–materialism implies that thoughts do not exist at all, because no symbols of any kind exist. The theory of Materialism, if true, proves that all theories (including the theory of materialism) are meaningless, neither true nor false. Which is a self-contradiction.

(And I think your example is misplaced. “A is A” is the principle is self-identity in formal logic, it is not the principle that material objects behave with “regularity”. Regularity in turn is a category of thought, that is, a symbolic relation, such as cause and effect, between discrete events. A is A is an abstract description of the process of logic, having no utility outside of philosophical discussions. It neither overcomes enemies nor gets bananas.)

“Observe that your Platonic separation of matter and thought has a problem…That is, when I decide to throw a rock, my arm moves and the rock is thrown; but since thought cannot move matter, you require a miracle to explain the concordance.”

Sorry, is this comment directed at me? I am not sure if I have a Platonic separation of thought and matter. I have been saying that thought and matter are two dimensions of one reality, related to each other as the meaning of a letter is related to the shape and color of the ink-shape that represents or stands for or manifests it.

Or, if you like, the relation of mind to matter is the relation of form to matter. An “ice cube” both has the substance of frozen water and the shape of the cube, and this is neither a coincidence nor a miracle. To me, talking about discovering the content or meaning of thought “inside” the matter that represents thought is like talking about finding shape of the ice cube in the temperature and fluid properties of the water: it cannot be done.

Your assertion that thoughts cannot move muscles seems to be an arbitrary assertion. I would say that the fact that thoughts can move matter is a primary datum: I experience it when I type these letters here.

Your assertion is also a something of a straw man, since I did not say that it takes a coincidence, much less a miracle, to coordinate the material causes of matter and the material causes of thought: I said that thoughts cannot be described at all in terms of material causes.

As best I can guess, the basic difference between our positions is that you are looking at it as an “either-or” and I am looking at it as a “both-and”. The basic difference is not that you are a determinist and I am an indeterminist. The basic difference is that you think determinism and indeterminism are mutually exclusive and I do not. To you the question is “mind or matter?” and you chose matter. I think determinism and indeterminism are mutually necessary and interdependent. One cannot be imagined without the other. To me the answer is “mind and matter.”

As I have said before, this conversation will never move past the point of the both of us endlessly restating our positions and talking past each other until and unless we address more fundamental metaphysical issues, such as ontology and epistemology. What is the nature of existence as such? How do we know existence exists? Such questions may seem far fetched from our topic, if not aetherial, but failing to address them will fail to move the conversation past this point.

“I suggest, however, that the materialist problem is much more amenable to investigation, since it asserts a strong connection between matter and thought, and we know how to affect matter. Thus, we may one day learn how consciousness arises from matter, in the sense of being able to explain that such-and-such a configuration of atoms has a consciousness of this kind, and if you move them like so it is angry, and if you twist that one it becomes a Ghibelline, and so on. Your insubstantial spirits offer no such possibility.”

Forgive me, but since there is nothing outside of love potions in fairy stories which allowed a person could be turned from a Guelph into a Ghibelline merely by twitching matter one way or the other, rather than by convincing a him to support the Emperor as opposed to the Pope, I would suggest that the fact that your model allows for the possibility is its most obvious drawback.

I also suggest your chain of reasoning is backward. You reason that 1. The content and meaning of thoughts can be reduced to a material cause; 2. Therefore changing the matter can not only disarrange or damage thoughts, changing matter can alter the content or meaning of thoughts; 3. Therefore man can one day be reduced to subhuman robot slaves by the National Institute for Coordinated Experiments, and the humanity of man be abolished.

Indeed, humanity is already abolished and just not aware of it yet, because humanity never existed, since we all already merely meat machines and always have been, robot slaves brain-programmed by blind nature rather than by the N.I.C.E.

My reasoning is that 1. the National Institute for Coordinated Experiments are characters in a fairy tale; 2. Because changing matter cannot alter the content or meaning of thoughts, it can only (through intoxication) damage or disarrange them; 3. Because the content and meaning of thoughts cannot be reduced to material causes, even hypothetically.

If we were a robot slave programmed by blind nature we could not become aware of that idea nor of any other ideas since neither ideas nor awareness would exist, nor, if they existed, would they have any meaning.

117 Comments

  1. Comment by Martin T.:

    To me, talking about discovering the content or meaning of thought “inside” the matter that represents thought is like talking about finding shape of the ice cube in the temperature and fluid properties of the water: it cannot be done

    I was going to compliment the analogy especially as I am simply a zombie slave of Mr. Wright but then I realized I am really just an unknowing pile of salt water. I just want to know how it is that I know that I don’t know.

  2. Comment by Robert Mitchell Jr.:

    I think the reason this continues to be an issue is because this is not really about Materialism or “Meat Machines”. This is about Pride, the “Vision of the Anointed”. You argue with a creature that claims to be a Materialist and yet demands the title “Doctor”. If Materialism were true, then that would be an obvious defect in the machine, since nothing “Achieves” anything and there is no effort, just a dance of atoms. Yet the title is demanded, because Materialism is something that applies to Other People(tm). Materialists act as if they are the only aware people in a world of “meat machines”. It is the oldest sin, “You Shall Be As Gods”.

    • Comment by D. G. D. Davidson:

      . . . Except we can’t read Dr. Andreassen’s mind to see whether he’s prideful, and it doesn’t affect the argument, so there’s no point in bringing it up.

      But the good doctor has contradicted himself enough over the course of this lengthy and often repetitive discussion to make plain that he doesn’t quite “get” the philosophical issues involved. When the debate first started, he was contradicting himself about every other sentence. From where I’m sitting, he seems to have refined his position somewhat since then, so the argument has been worthwhile. Though I still seem him writing self-contradictory arguments, he does it less often: The one about thought arising from motions in matter followed by an insistence that free will exists is the most recent example.

      At any rate, I hope Dr. Andreassen and Mr. Wright keep it up because I’m finding it to be a nice supplement to my rather slight philosophical education.

      • Comment by Robert Mitchell Jr.:

        We don’t have to read his mind, just his posts. He’s quite touchy when people forget to call him “Doctor”. We can argue that his pride is correct or a sin, but he has made it quite clear he’s proud of that title. So why should a meat machine feel pride, other then it’s broken, flawed, and not to be listened to?

  3. Comment by Mary:

    Deducing the motions of the stars and planets according to the Ptolemaic or Newtonian model is useful,

    Is it?

    Well, some, for determining time, but the Ptolemaic does that so well that people still use it in preference to the Keplerian one to determine what the sky will look like from earth on a given date. It is a great rule in evolution that “useful” means useful right here and now and no shilly-shallying — if something would be useful if it developed a little more but is not useful now, it’s not useful, and it will not evolve further.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      This implies that Kepler is not useful, which, if we believe in Magic Darwin Fairies, means that we none of us believe in the Kepler model, because our genetic makeup, thanks to the brilliance of blind natural process eliminating random variations in belief-genes, have eliminated this gene in us!

      Just kidding. I do wish “New Atheists” who idolize Darwianism as an ersatz religion would (1) read Darwin, what he actually says and (2) restrict their comments to inheritable characteristics, not merely the beliefs and opinions or factions and parties to whom they have a disliking.

      I have yet to hear any of my atheist readers refute, or even answer, my hypothesis that atheism is a genetically inherited mental disorder caused by an inability to see deliberate intention in creation, similar to an autistic child’s inability to read human facial expressions. The characteristic is useful for reproduction because it allows the atheist to disregard religious sexual taboos which would otherwise hinder fathering bastards on a harem of indiscriminate paramours.

      Have I or have I not offered a “theory” as coherent, and backed by as much evidence (namely, zilch) as the “theory” that religion is caused by a genetic predisposition towards anthropomorphism, id est, dumb and stupid and idiotic cave men being unable to tell the difference between fancy and fact?

      • Comment by SFAN:

        http://www.technologyreview.com/biomedicine/26963/?ref=rss

        I’m not sure yet of how would this affect the nature vs nature debate, but it may end up being relevant.
        (and it’s another example of “(Dr.) evil medical school” science, like “dark matter” or “shadow biosphere” XD)

      • Comment by robertjwizard:

        >> “I have yet to hear any of my atheist readers refute, or even answer, my hypothesis that atheism is a genetically inherited mental disorder caused by an inability to see deliberate intention in creation, similar to an autistic child’s inability to read human facial expressions.”

        Well I hope you aren’t expecting me to answer it. I think the Dawkins type hypothesis to be a complete load of BS.

        They will not be able to refute it since, like the original, it is totally arbitrary.

        • Comment by John C Wright:

          “Well I hope you aren’t expecting me to answer it. I think the Dawkins type hypothesis to be a complete load of BS.
          They will not be able to refute it since, like the original, it is totally arbitrary.”

          Exactly. You and I are thinking with the same brainwave.

          You see, REAL atheists say things like this, “I don’t believe in God for the same reason I don’t believe in unicorns: I have never seen one, and the stories I hear from people who have (or claim they have) don’t make sense to me, and don’t make sense given what I see of the universe around me.” but BOGUS atheists say things like this, “Science gives the true meaning of life! Science is all powerful! Science has proven that free will does not exist and that human consciousness is a by-product of brain mechanics! Darwin proved that God does not exist! Marriage is rape! Property is theft!”

          A real atheist would never even bring up the idea that men “evolved” a belief in God, any more than he would bring up the idea that men “evolved” a tendency to think the world was flat when it is actually round. Whether the world is flat or round is a matter of fact, and making a mistake about it is merely a mistake, perhaps even a common mistake, but every mistake does not need a Darwinian explanation to explain it.

          Bogus atheists make real atheists look bad.

          • Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

            Perhaps you are mistaking the purpose of such arguments. Given that there is no good evidence for gods, there is still a question to be answered: Why do so many people believe in and worship nonexistent entities?

            In a similar vein, an economist who discovers that most humans use hyperbolic discounting (and are therefore vulnerable to Dutch books) may still want to explore why such a mistake should be so common. He might well look to evolutionary models to see if he can explain it; but he would not make the argument “because this arose through evolution, it is a mistake”. He knows it’s a mistake from separate grounds, namely the existence of the Dutch book.

            • Comment by wrf3:

              RA wrote Given that there is no good evidence for gods…
              Ok, then let’s play by your rules. If God existed, what evidence would you expect, and why? Furthermore, what evidence would you accept, and why? Finally, why do you think that you are able to perceive such evidence? The problem with some atheists is that they don’t have a scientific theory of what constitutes evidence, nor do they have a scientific theory of how evidence is perceived, nor when enough evidence has been presented.

              As examples, the “invisible pink unicorn in the garage” analogy is utter nonsense. Christians agree that God shares the attribute of invisibility. But the difference between the invisible pink unicorn and God is that God is intelligent. So an atheist demanding scientific evidence of God will need 1) a scientific definition of intelligence and 2) a scientific test for intelligence. For everyone’s amusement along this line, I offer this very, very short story.

              Next, I’m a big fan of the Showtime TV show Dexter. Season 5 was interesting in that the theme was transformation. Several of the characters changed throughout the season. Dexter sees transformation all around him and says that “nothing, nothing is set in stone.” And yet his despair remains. Paradoxically, even as he acknowledges the possibility of change, and sees it all around him, he extinguishes that hope for himself. He is caged by a philosophy that isn’t supported by the evidence he knows to be true.

              Finally, I’m reminded that I need to schedule my yearly eye exam. When I wait in the examining room, I always rummage through the drawers by the exam chair. The contents don’t really change from year to year and there are always two books that interest me. One book contains a set of color prints used to test for color blindness. Numerical digits are placed inside circles, with both of various colors. I can see all of the digits so I’m not colorblind. The other book has four three dimensional pictures of a fly. The fly’s wings are supposed to look as if they are above the fly’s body. But I can never see the 3D effect. There is evidence that I just can’t process.

              When atheists say that “there is no good evidence for God,” they simply haven’t made their case.

            • Comment by Robert Mitchell Jr.:

              Your “given” is not a given. Especially on this website, where the owner has good evidence God exists. So, again, begging the question. And further, implying that you don’t believe in anything you have not personally witnessed. A premise that, if followed by enough, would end Civilization, and an odd bit of hubris, given that you have no credible evidence that you have earned your doctorate…..

            • Comment by MenTaLguY:

              I’m noticing a disconnect in the discussion here. I think we need to distinguish between gods and a Supreme Being; they are not the same thing. Socrates (in his time) was considered an atheist for acknowledging only the latter.

              If we wish to prove or disprove a small-g god, we need only climb Mount Olympus. There isn’t an equivalent empirical procedure for demonstrating the existence (or non-existence) of the God of Socrates (which Christian thinkers traditionally identify with the Christian God, but that’s a separate discussion).

  4. Comment by DmL:

    “I” “am” “enjoying” “watching” “this” “debate.” “I” “await” “with” “great” “interest” “the” “rebuttal” “by” “our” “astute” “Doctor.”

    -”A” “collection” “of” “atoms”

  5. Comment by SFAN:

    So what you’re basically saying is that the guiding laws and properties of nature have to be stored in an additional dimension or aspect of the noumena we describe as matter -which by definition is “blind” or “blank”- and that is the same substrate where consciousness, or even thought, arises?* (that may sound too much like a hardware/software thing, which is probably too pedestrian – and I must admit I’m not sure I grasp the finer points of your argument when it refers to the mind/brain problem,although I’m making progress with the chess analogy and such)

    I don’t think that’s usually given much thought,those principles are simply assumed to be inmanent,”that’s just the way it is”, in the same way that the space-time “block universe where nothing happens” is sort of assumed to just exist hanging curled there in eternity.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      Is the question addressed to me? I do not think I am saying the laws of nature are stored in a noumenal dimension, albeit that might be an implication of what I am saying. I am saying the laws of nature, the laws of cause and effect, are not material things, even if matter obeys them.

      If the laws of nature were physical things, one could change the laws of nature by finding the physical place where they were physically written and by physically rewriting them. If the laws of nature are not physical things, but are instead descriptions of physical things, then they are symbols. Symbols are thoughts and ideas.

      I suppose these thoughts can be imagined to be in a Platonic world of Forms, or in the Mind of God, or could be assumed to exist in that place where we humans think our thoughts, which is not a place at all, but the think called “the mind.” Thoughts are mental rather than physical, noumenal rather than phenomenal, a priori rather than a posteriori, spiritual rather than carnal, formal rather than material.

      • Comment by SFAN:

        Yes,thanks. As you said, my current understanding of that is probably more Platonic than Aristotelian, while your position is most likely something both more sophisticated and
        down-to-earth, like form-structure-information.

        Your words can be vibrations in the air, ink shapes on paper or electrons ordered in bytes, but your ideas are the same… and I’m replying to your ideas, even if I couldn’t have read them without photons doing their thing…

        So, to sum up, again: from what I’ve gathered, what you say is that, even if one could say than brains “compute” information, the hardware is a means to an end, a carrier, and what makes a brave tin soldier** act is not that, say, the weightier group of cogs A clashes with the group of cogs B so the first smashes and overrides the second, but that the concept of duty is acknowledged as having precedence over the concept of self-preservation…. *even if he could never compute that without cogs A and B* -since he’s a tin soldier,not the ghost of a dead soldier- (maybe a better example would be something simpler like an abacus and arithmetics… but I guess the thing is that, even if that were true, other rational concepts are not so easily derived from/converted into math), and anybody who knew his service record would be sure he would die for his country.

        Maybe it’s just that, as with your example of the love potion, we have got so used to
        see androids, cyberpunk implants and such in SF that we forget that they are *fictional*.

        (I had written a couple of paragraphs more but I’ve got the impression I may still be missing your point about immaterial ideas, and so it’s probably better to understand that step more clearly first, if you’re not already bored to death of banging your head into a wall ^^U I will keep reading and trying to figure it out without thinking out loud)

        ** I think you once admitted that an “inorganic person” could theoretically be built from and indistinguishable from a human being, and so capable of reason and courage – if that’s not true, simply assume I was talking about a real, flesh and blood, soldier.

  6. Comment by SFAN:

    * Interestingly enough, then the same “problem” -if it’s indeed a problem- of mind-body interaction could arguably have to apply to the influence of any laws governing particles.

    ** although certainly that’s not arbitrary,can be deduced from simpler elements/axioms etc I think that may be one of the main points in the brain debate: that if you see the brain as a computer, it’s “code” it’s not just a convention -even if articulate- like language,or rather,writing, but a coherent system based on elementary maths, binary units, “logic gates etc”, so that the “cogs”,by moving and bumping against each other -inked letters don’t do that on the page- according to logic laws, would produce logical (non-conscious) statements, although of course high-level languages have a lot more wiggle room as to how they are designed -or Independence Day would be less funny and SETI easier-.

    I was also wondering if you admit the possibility that those laws, or even logic, could have been (created?) different. I think there was a post a while ago where as a thought experiment you asked if there was any way to hack the operative system of matter,so to speak (although your point was, I think, that it’s is not stored in anything manipulable like matter, and it’s therefore absurd, not that the rational “dimension” could be conceivably be changed)

    • Comment by SFAN:

      (oops, this is the body of the post those footnotes were referring to)

      So what you’re basically saying is that the guiding laws and properties of nature have to be stored in an additional dimension or aspect of the noumena we describe as matter -which by definition is “blind” or “blank”- and that is the same substrate where consciousness, or even thought, arises?* (that may sound too much like a hardware/software thing, which is probably too pedestrian – and I must admit I’m not sure I grasp the finer points of your argument when it refers to the mind/brain problem,although I’m making progress with the chess analogy and such)

      I don’t think that’s usually given much thought,those principles are simply assumed to be inmanent,”that’s just the way it is”, in the same way that the space-time “block universe where nothing happens” is sort of assumed to just exist hanging curled there in eternity.

      * Interestingly enough, then the same “problem” -if it’s indeed a problem- of mind-body interaction could arguably have to apply to the influence of any laws governing particles.

    • Comment by SFAN:

      (As you might guess, those are footnotes for a post that seems to be missing.Sorry again)

  7. Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

    I have yet to hear any of my atheist readers refute, or even answer, my hypothesis that atheism is a genetically inherited mental disorder caused by an inability to see deliberate intention in creation, similar to an autistic child’s inability to read human facial expressions. The characteristic is useful for reproduction because it allows the atheist to disregard religious sexual taboos which would otherwise hinder fathering bastards on a harem of indiscriminate paramours.

    Have I or have I not offered a “theory” as coherent, and backed by as much evidence (namely, zilch) as the “theory” that religion is caused by a genetic predisposition towards anthropomorphism, id est, dumb and stupid and idiotic cave men being unable to tell the difference between fancy and fact?

    I must admit that I appear to have missed the post or comment where you put forth this theory; my apologies.

    The two theories are equally testable, indeed, the experiment I proposed to test the inheritability of purpose-attribution would simultaneously test the inheritability of non-purpose-attribution. Finding the degree to which such intuitions are genetic does not of itself answer the question of which intuition is more useful for reproduction, which indeed may depend on the intuitions of the surrounding humans – it is very common in nature to find strategies whose usefulness depends on the strategies of other players. A second step is required for this question. But I would be satisfied if you agreed that the inheritability of purpose-attribution, or its opposite, is a scientific question.

    As best I can guess, the basic difference between our positions is that you are looking at it as an “either-or” and I am looking at it as a “both-and”. The basic difference is not that you are a determinist and I am an indeterminist. The basic difference is that you think determinism and indeterminism are mutually exclusive and I do not. To you the question is “mind or matter?” and you chose matter. I think determinism and indeterminism are mutually necessary and interdependent. One cannot be imagined without the other. To me the answer is “mind and matter.”

    This may indeed be the nub of the disagreement, for I am forced to admit that I do not understand how you reconcile determinism with its opposite. It appears to me a paradox, an impossibility – a literal contradiction in terms. “A is not-A”, you blithely assert, while accusing me of contradicting myself!

    Forgive me, but since there is nothing outside of love potions in fairy stories which allowed a person could be turned from a Guelph into a Ghibelline merely by twitching matter one way or the other, rather than by convincing a him to support the Emperor as opposed to the Pope, I would suggest that the fact that your model allows for the possibility is its most obvious drawback.

    Well then, have we not at least arrived at a point where our models make different predictions for the physical universe, and the difference may therefore be considered an empirical question? Your model, apparently, predicts that I will never change a man’s convictions by simply moving his brain atoms around, or subjecting him to magnetic fields, or causing him to imbibe a potion; while mine says that such a thing is possible. (Obviously I leave out such means as inflicting pain until my victim recites the sentences I prescribe for him, or having a tape recorder whisper while he sleeps until he finds himself reciting my story will he or not – we are speaking of real conviction, not brainwashing.) Neurobiology is a science in its infancy, and is not my field in any case; but can we agree that this question, whether we can change a man’s true conviction by changing his brain, is a scientific controversy to be settled by experiment? Of course, if your model is confirmed, it is in some sense no victory; you will presumably say, “Science demonstrates what all rational men knew by reasoning from first principles – film at eleven, Nobel Prizes at twelve.” Still, at least those who are not convinced by your reasoning will be forced to eat crow. Can we agree that your model is falsifiable, that there exists a set of experimental results which would discredit it?

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      “The two theories are equally testable, indeed, the experiment I proposed to test the inheritability of purpose-attribution would simultaneously test the inheritability of non-purpose-attribution. Finding the degree to which such intuitions are genetic does not of itself answer the question of which intuition is more useful for reproduction…”

      I do not think “purpose-attribution” is a definable attribute of the physical properties of an organism. If you are dealing with non-physical and non-empirical and non-measurable properties of an organism, what you are doing is not really empirical science, even if dressed up in scientific sounding language.

      • Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

        I gave a method for measuring it. Perhaps you could say what you think is wrong with that method?

        To remind you, my method is a simple multiple-choice test, with questions such as these:

        1. A tree falls in the forest. What is the most likely explanation?
        a. A logger cut it down.
        b. The wind blew it over.
        c. It was old and rotten.
        d. A beaver needed it for a dam.

        In this case I would give a point of purpose-attribution for answers a and d. Repeat for a hundred questions, see if relatives’ answers are correlated.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      “This may indeed be the nub of the disagreement, for I am forced to admit that I do not understand how you reconcile determinism with its opposite..”

      I would be happy to explain. They are not opposites, any more than the cube shape of an icecube is the opposite of the frozen-water substance of an icecube. Shape and substance are not opposites but compliments.

      Matter acts in a fashion determined by cause and effect, what is called mechanical causation. Mind acts in the fashion determined by means and ends, what is called final causation.

      This defines two categories: (1) the category of nature, which is a description of un-intentional but orderly reactions and (2) the category of human action, which is a description of intentional acts. (The category of animal behaviors is a third category, since the intent of animals is not based on deliberation on their part, but on their instincts and appetites. It is nontheless purposeful behavior, since ‘this’ is done for the sake of ‘that’).

      These two categories are two ways of describing two different aspects of reality which do not and cannot overlap, with the sole exception of a plea of insanity, where someone claims that a mechanical cause, such as intoxication of the brain or a malfunction of the thinking machinery, destroyed the defendant’s ability to control himself.

      In that case, the mechanical causation places the actions of the defendant in the same moral category as a fall of hailstones — merely an “act of God” something where there is no human responsibility and no one to blame.

      Your argument proposes to reduce one of the categories to the other, but they are incompatible, and reduction can only take place where both things can be expressed in terms of the same elemental ultimate parts. The elements of matter are mass, length, duration, amount, candlepower, temperature; the elements of human thought and human action are means and ends, true and false, logical and illogical, accurate and inaccurate, efficient and inefficient, good and bad, honorable and dishonorable, fair and foul, and other meanings. Nothing on one list appears on the other list, therefore one category cannot be reduced to the other.

      Listing the physical properties of the symbols, either words on paper or electrons in the brain, does not actually reduce the one category to the other, since there is no necessary physical connection nor cause and effect linking a symbol to the thing the symbol represents. The mental act of representing a subject is not a physical cause and effect reaction.

      This is the one crucial step I have explained many times but which I despair of making clear to you, which is why I insist the conversation has to move to the next step of talking about ontology and epistemology, the inquiry into what is “being” and how we can know it.

      Your theory of the universe would place all human actions (including the action of making a theory of the universe) into the category of non-human actions, where there is no human responsibility. This is a paradox, since if you are not responsible for your theory making, the theory cannot be true, any more than the insane defendant truly willed the act of which he is accused.

      • Comment by Neo-Scotist:

        There’s a simpler solution to the free-will “problem”, namely, the determinist is committing a modal fallacy

        Descriptions of something can be understood as necessary or possible.

        A necessary fact or truth of logic would be that a triangle has three sides. That a triangle has three sides will be true in all possible universes. It does not admit an exception. You will never see of a four sided triangle.

        A possible truth would be, “I am reading a fantasy novel,” You can imagine other universes were I am reading a horror novel or a science fiction novel. There’s nothing in the statement “reading a fantasy novel” that implies necessity.

        Take these statements: matter is not destroyed or created, things are caused by another, bob killed Jane. They are descriptions.

        The determinist sees these descriptions of the universe, and subtly and unconsciously changes the meaning of these descriptions to imply necessity: matter *cannot* be created or destroyed, things *must* be caused by another. Bob *had* to kill Jane.

        They’re committing a modal fallacy.

        The determinist has to prove that the “laws” of the universe cannot admit of exceptions. They have to show that the descriptions of the universe are truths of logic…in fact; the materialist and atheist should be the last to think of mysterious, magical, invisible “laws” or “rules” guiding the universe and the course of history!

        As far as I am concerned, the “laws” of the universe describe regularities and no more. There’s no reason to suppose that they are necessary and if you keep that in mind the “free-will problem” never arises in the first place.

        Happy new year to all.

        • Comment by John Hutchins:

          We have gone from both sides of the argument assuming that there are laws of nature and an explainable universe to both sides questioning the existence of both. It is like we are following Descartes descent where he questions everything, next I suppose everyone will begin questioning each others existence and then their own existence.

          The problem doesn’t go away by declaring there is no solution, all you have done is say that it is unsolvable.

          When God created the earth he gave command and order to all of the object that he created. Not only that the bible declares that God is god of order. Saying that unordered is ordered, while no different then some other positions orthodoxy holds, really is saying A and not A, a logical contradiction. If your axioms are leading you to contradictions then you should really be considering your axioms instead of debating the structure of the universe or saying someone’s axioms are incorrect.

          As for me, I believe in a universe that is totally understandable by humans. Everything has rules that govern them, just as God has given man rules that are to govern our actions. Man is able to break those rules while the dust of the earth follows the rules of its creator, hence man is lower then the dust of the earth in that regard. There are laws that govern Gods actions, not that he can’t break them but that he won’t and if he were to break them then he would cease to be God. “any man who hath seen any or the least of these hath seen God moving in his majesty and power.”- D&C 88:47.

          Rather then going into a detailed explanation here if you want to know more you can look up D&C 88:1-50.

      • Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

        This is all fine as a description of practical reasoning; humans, because we have limited brains that deal in high-level concepts, must necessarily reason this way when deciding how to act. But it does not suffice as a description of the true underlying reality. You separate the movements of chemicals in the brain and the thoughts of the man; very well, for practical purposes so do I. But you are left with a mystery: Why do they correspond? When the man decides to shoot his wife’s lover, we have a moral fact. When his finger pulls the trigger, we have a physical fact. Yet these two facts must somehow correspond to each other; otherwise I could “decide” to shoot someone and find my body giving them the contents of my wallet. Your theory simply asserts the correspondence as a brute fact; I don’t find this satisfactory. I want an explanation, and supply it by saying that the material facts cause the moral facts. And it does indeed follow that a sufficiently thorough examination of the material facts would tell you what the moral facts were. Your oft-repeated litany of weight, number, and so on is simply wrong: Moral facts are composed of these quantities, in a way not yet understood. I remind you that there was a time when living matter was thought to consist of stuff not accessible to mere chemistry; that theory was exploded by the synthetisation of urea. Your theory is similarly superstitious: You assert that, merely because you do not see how these things can be physical, they cannot possibly be so.

        Let me return for a moment to Robot Kasparov, because I don’t think you have fully thought through the consequences of your theory, and would like to ask some questions in a Socratic spirit, if I may. To remind you, the thought experiment is this. I build a brain-emulating computer: It stores the position of every atom in Kasparov’s brain, calculates the forces on them, adjusts their position accordingly, rinse and repeat. The nerves of Kasparov’s body give electrical input as before, which the computer digitizes and uses to calculate further forces on its simulated atoms; and simulated outgoing nerve pulses are sent to the body. Now, my question, which I think I’ve asked before and never got a response to: What will happen to the physical chess pieces in front of robot Kasparov?

        I’m not asking whether robot Kasparov is conscious, has free will, or is legally responsible for its acts. I’m not asking whether such a computer is in-principle impossible to build because of quantum mechanics. I’m only asking whether Kasparov’s body will move the chess pieces as Kasparov would have done, move them in a different way, sit inertly doing nothing, or do something else entirely. I’m asking for a prediction purely in the physical world. The computer may not emulate Kasparov’s chess; if so we can ask why not; but it must certainly do something, if it’s only melting down because I neglected to supply it with a heat sink. I ask for your prediction of the physical action of such a computer.

        • Comment by Robert Mitchell Jr.:

          But to ask the question is to show how thoughtless it is. The computer may make a move, but how can you know that it is the move the player made, unless you make a perfect simulation of the universe the player was in? The player, after all, has free will, and will not make the same move every time, unless, of course, you are in fact denying free will exists……

          • Comment by wrf3:

            Does free will obey the laws of physics?

            • Comment by Neo-Scotist:

              More importantly, who proved there were laws that must be obeyed to begin with?

            • Comment by Robert Mitchell Jr.:

              Well, what is “Free Will” for the purpose of this discussion? I think that we would agree it is a choice between possibilities. Free will does not allow us to fly without help, but comes into play when that help fails. You have free will when it comes to falling to the left or right. In chess, excluding tantrums and cheating, there is still choices, possibilities, when following the rules. We have no “Perfect game” mapped out for chess, so even a perfect map of a player’s brain may not follow what the player does. We can’t know if it was a failure of the simulation (unless it overtly breaks the rules) or a choice.

              • Comment by John C Wright:

                My own theory, for what it is worth, is that “free will” is a legal, not a scientific, category. Animals, small children and madmen who cannot chose to conform to the dictates of the laws are both excused from the penalties of disobeying it, and placed under the control of keepers or parents or asylum-wardens who are given legal control over their actions. One might shoot a dog because it is dangerous, but one cannot “execute” a dog because dogs are not competent to stand trial.

                Free will is not a scientific category, because science rests on the assumption that every physical event being investigated is determined or caused by the prior physical event. While we humans can talk about probabilities and possibilities, the fact of the matter is, probabilities only exist in the future, not in the past, and we human cannot even tell if probabilities and possibilities exist as real things in the physical universe or are only an illusion caused by the passage of consciousness through time. It is as if we walk down a corridor with many doors, and before we open any door, it is a door with an additional corridor behind it — but the moment we walk in time past the door it becomes a painted door, with nothing behind it but brick, that was not opened and never could have been.

                All “scientific” talk about free will must founder on the inescapable rock of the fact that we cannot define probability and possibility in a scientifically rigorous way. Using numbers to say that we do not know which side of a tossed coin a coin will land on or which of six sides a die will fall, is NOT such a definition, it is merely a mathematical description of our uncertainty in our minds. Modern physics says the uncertainty of subatomic particles is in the interaction between the observer and the event, and speak of these descriptions of uncertainty as if they were empirical events — as if subatomic particles have no position or no mass when no observer is looking at them — but I side with Einstein in that controversy, and agree with him that this is a model, or, better yet, a pretense, projecting the limitations of measurement onto the reality meant to be measured.

                The assumptions of modern physics, if taken perfectly seriously, deny causality, which in turn denies even the possibility of physics. One cannot investigate the regularity behind the causes of event if one lives in a universe where events happen for no cause. One cannot reason in a universe where things happen for no reason.

                • Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

                  Modern physics says the uncertainty of subatomic particles is in the interaction between the observer and the event, and speak of these descriptions of uncertainty as if they were empirical events — as if subatomic particles have no position or no mass when no observer is looking at them — but I side with Einstein in that controversy, and agree with him that this is a model, or, better yet, a pretense, projecting the limitations of measurement onto the reality meant to be measured.

                  Then I am afraid you are roughly fifty years behind the times; Einstein has been proved wrong experimentally.

                  The assumptions of modern physics, if taken perfectly seriously, deny causality, which in turn denies even the possibility of physics. One cannot investigate the regularity behind the causes of event if one lives in a universe where events happen for no cause. One cannot reason in a universe where things happen for no reason.

                  Again you are mistaken; quantum mechanics does not deny causality, indeed it is perfectly deterministic as far as amplitudes (which are the fundamental objects) go. Amplitude Psi at time t=0 implies a specific amplitude Psi’ at time t=1, and you will never get any other result. That’s causality. It is merely that the amplitudes are not the little billiard balls which human intuition finds it easy to deal with.

                  I am afraid you are being misled by the physics of fifty years ago, and worse, by a deal of bad philosophy surrounding that mistaken physics.

                  • Comment by wrf3:

                    Then I am afraid you are roughly fifty years behind the times; Einstein has been proved wrong experimentally.

                    To which experiment, or experiments, are you referring? If it’s Bell’s Inequality, what do you think of Joy Christians’ work Disproof of Bell’s Theorem by Clifford Algebra Valued Local Variables?

                  • Comment by John C Wright:

                    Unfortunately the physicists have made a philosophical error exploded some two thousand years ago, with Heracletus, which is why their metaphysics is bad. Einstein was right and Bell’s proof did not prove what he said it proved, because one cannot prove a metaphysical postulate, or disprove it.

                    I am not saying the observer can determine both the mass and position of a particle at a give time, or tell which way in a double slit experiment a photon will go. I am saying that the physicists, as good physicists must, described the uncertainty as if it were present in the system, not in the observer’s information. Since there is no way to determine what the system looks like in the absence of the observer, Bell notwithstanding, all that is going on is that Heisenberg and Schrodinger when they cease to do physics, where they are unparalleled geniuses, and start to do philosophy, where they are amateurs, they made an amateurish mistake.

          • Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

            Ok, simulate the whole universe then. Better still, simulate a chess match of 1998, where Kasparov’s moves are known, using Kasparov’s brain as of 1998, and compare to the historical record. It’s a thought experiment; minor things like requiring time travel ought not to stop you.

        • Comment by SFAN:

          Interesting. As you might have guessed from my comments on brave tin soldiers and inorganic persons, I also think this kind of thought experiment should help to clarify the issues involved. You have refined your cyberShakespeare incorporating something both simpler and more technical, the chess analogy, and since it’s modelled after a human brain it’s not merely passing the Turing test like a Chinese room.

          The only objection I can think of is that,even if the movements are the same,
          the reasons behind the moves are still a matter of logic that the computer/brain has been built/evolved into corresponding to,and without some immaterial laws of nature and logic the particles themselves wouldn’t be able to behave so the mechanism works either.

          In that sense (if that’s the experiment’s outcome) neither Mr. Wright’s nor your position would be falsifiable – which is not surprising, since they are not not so much competing scientific theories but metaphysical assumptions.

        • Comment by John Hutchins:

          Why don’t before we try this on a whole person we see if this is possible for one bacteria cell in a controlled medium? We know how a bacteria grows and can model what the bacteria cell will do so lets see if we can simulate the bacteria cell as a cell and make that work. This would give us a better idea of what you purpose is even remotely possible.

          That said if there is another type of matter that interacts with normal matter to cause cascading changes within the quantum states of atoms within the brain then without a correct understanding of that other type of matter and the rules it follows a computer would never be able to accurately model a humans actions. Not saying that this is the case, it is just one possibility. The point is that no one knows enough about how humans work to have a good prediction of what would happen. There are many theories, some based on some small amount of evidence, but all contain a huge amount of unknown assumptions about how things work.

          To even answer your question, thought experiment that it is, requires one to make assumptions on if humans are Turing machines or Turing computable as well as if the Church-Turing thesis accurately describes all that humans can do.

          If humans were Turing machines, your assertion, then placing Kasparov’s states into another Turing machine could easily cause a Halting problem to occur meaning the computer would likely just sit there and do nothing.

          • Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

            If humans were Turing machines, your assertion, then placing Kasparov’s states into another Turing machine could easily cause a Halting problem to occur meaning the computer would likely just sit there and do nothing.

            You are confusing the Halting Problem, which applies to mathematical objects, with a computer crash, which can occur in physical machinery. They are not remotely similar. Your statement is nonsensical.

            Your point about the bacterium is much better; if it turns out we can model bacteria but not humans, that would be very interesting indeed.

            • Comment by John Hutchins:

              Sit there and calculate incessantly without reaching a conclusion, the robot would possibly do nothing if Kasparov’s state induces a halting problem. Although it could be a Halting problem and the computer make the robot play a perfect game of chess, which would be a much more interesting outcome.

              • Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

                If the robot sits still for more than an hour or so, then it is already behaving very differently from the non-robotic Kasparov, no? So this is not a problem with the experiment, it is one possible outcome. In this case it would tell us that we don’t fully understand the physics of brains, or that there is a component of free will which no physics can account for.

        • Comment by John C Wright:

          We have been over this terrain before. “But you are left with a mystery: Why do they correspond?”

          They do not correspond. The word “correspond” indicates either a symbolic relation between the world of symbols and the world or matter, or a material relation between the world of symbols and the world of matter. You keep looking for a chain of mechanical cause and effect to lead into or out of the world where the law of cause and effect applies.

          Imagine a Chinese clock. There are symbols on the clock face that represent something to a Chinaman, but which mean nothing to anyone else. Imagine the best clockmaker in the world studies the clock and can reproduce the clockworks, wheels, and gear exactly and precisely. The clockmaker is Swiss, and does not speak Chinese, or know anything about Chinese hour-keeping, or how many hours are numbered in their days, or what those hours mean. You ask the clockmaker to tell you when the clock will ring the Hour of the Ox, which is the favorable hour for matters dealing with the Imperial Concubine. The clockmaker can take the whole clock apart and put it back together, and repair it when it is broken, but he cannot read Chinese, and he does not know which hour is the Hour of the Ox. Nor can any information about the clock tell him this.

          The information is not in the clock. It simply is not there. You cannot make it there, you cannot pretend it is there, you cannot keep insisting that it must be there.

          Now, suppose a philosopher came across the clockmaker studying the Chinese clock. Suppose he asked, “This is a total paradox! HOW IN THE WORLD CAN YOU COORDINATE THE CLOCK SO THAT IT RINGS TWO BELLS AT THE HOUR OF THE OX?”

          The answer is that there is no coordination whatsoever. The Chinese clock rings the Hour of the Ox when the wheels and gear ring the little bell. The hand point at a character which, in the language of those who can read Mandarin, means “Ox.” The hour called Ox is one that all Chinamen know, and they can tell you how far above or below the horizon they expect the sun to be at that hour. There is no coordination because there is nothing to coordinate.

          There are no words in the clock to make it mean “Ox” because the clockwork is an unthinking machine, not a man with a mind who knows words. There are no wheels and gears in the minds of the Chinese to make their brains move in the same way as the clock to coordinate their thoughts to the thoughts of the Chinese clock because that are men with minds and not unthinking machines.

          There is no chain of cause and effect, no gears turning clockworks, leading from the thought “Ox” to the wheels inside the clock. There is no chain of logical reasoning leading form the wheels inside the clock to the thought “Ox.” Chains of cause and effect are only for clockworks and other material and mechanical phenomena. Chains of logical reasoning are only for symbols in the minds of men and angels.

          The chain of mechanical cause and effect inside the clockwork cannot be described as a chain of logical reasoning. The chain of logical reasoning by which a Chinaman can look at the Chinese clock, read the symbols on the fact, and know of what hour of the day the bells rings cannot be described as a chain of cause and effect. The two are not coordinated. The two are not uncoordinated. The two have nothing to do with each other at all. They are not mutually exclusive. They are two ways of describing two aspects of the same thing.

          I am trying to be as clear as I can. That matter is admittedly obscure and difficult.

          • Comment by SFAN:

            I am reminded of Leibniz, but again, you probably meant something more sophisticated.
            I take it that we happen to have a brain mechanism that is able to produce “reasoning”
            , be it because it was created like that or somehow evolved through trial and error.
            So thoughts are the experience of that (and?)or perhaps simply the proper label for those
            processes the brain happens to reproduce. The interesting thing here is that you mention
            angels, which means there’s such a thing as pure reason, or at least a very different
            substrate/hardware (the same as with letters written on paper, screens, or recorded…)

            • Comment by SFAN:

              Reason in man is rather like God in the world. ~ Saint Thomas Aquinas

              That gives a new? meaning to “Man was created in the image of God”,
              if you take into account your point about image processing,that the
              dots/atoms are one thing and the visualization/concept is another.
              Or man’s brain is the coleccion of dots and God’s reason is the image.

          • Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

            The information is not in the clock. It simply is not there. You cannot make it there, you cannot pretend it is there, you cannot keep insisting that it must be there.

            But you are treating the clock as though it were the whole universe. For your Swiss clockmaker I shall substitute a (sufficiently skilled) neurobiologist to examine the brain of the Chinese builder, or some other Chinese; I assert that by this means, I can find the hour of the Ox, even though my neurobiologist speaks no word of Mandarin. Thus the information exists in the world of matter, even though it is not in the clock itself.

            • Comment by John C Wright:

              The same argument applies to the clock as to the clockwork brain you fantasize about.

              If there were such a thing as a clockwork brain, you, the observer, could not read what the clockwork brain said unless you spoke or understood the language (whatever we mean by language) that the brain was thinking in.

              You may feel free to hypothesize, if you wish, that there is an electronic or neuro-chemical “language” underlying or underpinning the thoughts, or representing them, but these are not the thoughts, which are symbols, they are marks, like the marks on the dial of the Chinese clock that mean nothing to someone who does not understand what they mean.

              I am frankly rather puzzled that every time I point out that your materialism inherently assumes an observer who is doing a mental process that cannot be described or depicted as material, you simply make another assumption from another point of view, and assume a second observer but never notice that this second observer suffers from the same conceptual incoherence as the first.

              You keep trying to look at people as if the person has no point of view himself. You keep talking about what brain processes or physical motions or the motions of corpses look like from an outside observer and you never seem to notice, no matter how often I bring it up, that the outside observer must be conscious, must have an “inside”, in order for the observation to exist.

              Let me try again.

              In order for an observation, any observation, to exist, there must be a observer and a thing observed.

              Observed things can only be observed to have external properties, such as mass, length, duration, current, temperature, amount, candlepower. Observers, in the act of observing things, use symbols or thoughts. Symbols have internal properties, such as true and false, valid and invalid. Using symbols or thinking is also a purposeful action. Purposeful actions have internal properties such as efficient and inefficient, good and bad.

              While the thing observed can be a thing made of matter, i.e. something with external properties and no internal properties, no intention and no mind and no meaning, the observer cannot lack internal properties because the observation, in order to be an observation, must mean or represent something (in this case, the thing observed).

              The observer cannot be a thing with external and no internal properties. The physical sciences by design deal only with observed things and their external properties, and the physical sciences deliberately limit themselves from not inquiring about the internal properties, if any, of observed things.

              From this, it is illegitimate to conclude that observers are observed things with no internal properties, since, by definition, if the observation were true that observers had no internal properties, then the observation would be neither true nor false.

              Clear?

        • Comment by John C Wright:

          “What will happen to the physical chess pieces in front of robot Kasparov?”

          Surely that depends on what the robot Kasparov decides to do. All you have done in your thought experiment is assume that a perfect mechanical model of a man’s brain will think and act like he does. If so, his actions are incomprehensible except when described in terms of means and ends — what is mechakasparov doing and why is he doing it?

          if on the other hand we assume the mechanical copy of the brain is merely a machine and does not think and act like Kasparov, then the machine will act as the builder and programmer have built it and programmed it to act, carrying out meaningless (to it) physical motions as long as its power supply holds out.

          I do not see how this is different in principle from the thought experiment we discussed way back when, where Kasparov writes a very complete book, including “chose your own adventure” type decision points at the bottom of each page, telling the reader what page to turn to and to follow the instructions on that page. In theory, Kasparov could write down every thought in his head and every possible ramification and implication of every thought, and the reader, if he is careful to follow the book exactly, could impersonate Kasparov well enough to fool Alan Turing. The book is a perfect model of Kasparov. Does this mean the book is alive? Does this mean Kasparov is no different from a book? Does this mean the words in the book have no meaning, or that the book can act like Kasparov without a reader to read and follow the “how to think like Kasparov” instructions?

          In other words, your thought experiment leaves out the vital piece of information that would enable one to answer the question. You have not told me what the machine is from the machine’s point of view.

          It is as if you asked me whether Kasparov were alive, or whether he was dead, but every atom and electron in his dead brain and dead body were being moved by very fine invisible wires through the motions he WOULD HAVE moved through had be been alive. Would he or would he not look like a living man? The answer is, yes, assuming the puppeteer can make the corpse look like a living man in his motions, the motions would be those of a living man; but if we assume the puppeteer cannot make the corpse look like a living man in his motions, then no, the motions would not be those of a living man.

          Your question does not control for the variable of what you are apparently trying to control for.

          • Comment by SFAN:

            I think I find this slightly more clear. But would the Kasparov machine (as opposed to CyberKasparov) make the same moves as Kasparov or only an approximation? If they are the same, you could still say that it “arrived” at those “conclussions” by a different “process”, like that Deep Blue computer (more akin to “number crunching” all possibilities, not unlike your gamebook analogy)
            But I was wondering if you consider CyberKasparov conscious, or it doesn’t need to be, and it is “human” as long as its “deductions” follow the same “lines” as the original Kasparov, and so should be *described* in rational terms (in that case, it could be “rationally self-aware” (with goals and motives) without being “conscious”).
            Is the difference between mechaKasparov and the Kasparov machine one of consciousness or one of algorythms?

            • Comment by John C Wright:

              “But I was wondering if you consider CyberKasparov conscious, or it doesn’t need to be, and it is “human” as long as its “deductions” follow the same “lines” as the original Kasparov, and so should be *described* in rational terms (in that case, it could be “rationally self-aware” (with goals and motives) without being “conscious”). Is the difference between mechaKasparov and the Kasparov machine one of consciousness or one of algorithms?”

              I always read such questions with a slight sensation of bewilderment.

              CyberKasparov is conscious if, when you ask him whether he is conscious, and he says “yes” he is telling the truth.

              CyberKasparov is not conscious if, when you move some bits of matter such as buttons on a keyboard or air compression waves in a microphone, other bits of matter are moved, and these in turn move other bits of matter, and one of those other bits of matter just so happened to be shaped and designed by you to look like or sound like a symbol that only an unwary person would mistake for something that is really a symbol, in this case also shaped by you to look like a”yes” but not having any meaning behind those letters: and it is also the case that anyone unwary enough to mistake these meaningless marks for a real symbol uttered by a real person would be being lied to, assuming the real person existed, and meant to utter those symbols, and we in his right mind and competent to understand what the symbols meant.

              So you tell me which, in the scenario we are discussing, is happening? Is there someone thinking and planning CyberKasperov’s moves, either at this point in time or, more likely, earlier? Is that someone in fact Kasparov, or the engineer who build the chessplaying machine, or perhaps an odd combination of both? Or is CyberKasperov thinking and planning his own moves?

              Obviously you cannot tell merely by looking at the physical properties of the moves whether they are meaningful or not. You would have to understand chess and chess strategy to be able to tell the difference between purposeful moves meant to win a chessgame and random moves having no purpose. You, the observer, would have to understand chess to understand whether CyberKasparov was making meaningless, poor, good or masterful moves.

              However, this is a matter of understanding, not a matter of physical measurement of anything that can be measured physically. The size and shape of the chessmen not only do not change depending on the meaningfulness of the moves, the same game can be continued on a different board or electronically or blindfold with no board at all. Chess is a purely mental construction having no physical properties whatsoever, so the attempt in the scenario to see whether an automatic chessplayer could play chess without actually playing is doomed to either be a question with no answer, or to be a question that merely repeats back whatever assumption you started with.

              The scenario, in other words, either assumes what it is trying to prove, or it does not prove anything either way, or clarify any of the ambiguities and mysteries that surround the mind body relationship.

              I suggest we work backward: Prove to me that you are conscious, and have a mind, and make decisions, and have a conscience, using only the measurements of the physical properties of your nervous system and body, and then we will be in a position to discuss how to make such a measurement on a machine.

              • Comment by SFAN:

                Before going into that, I wanted to comment on something that you often point out.
                “As we both know, all physical properties of physical objects and events can be reduced to simple terms: length, mass, duration, current, temperature, amount, and luminous intensity.”
                But wouldn’t that leave out the structure of anything minimally complex, like a machine?
                (unless you include all information regarding spatial distribution under “length”)
                If “the soul is the form of the body”,is the form of the machine the “ghost in the shell”?

                Don’t get me wrong – although I try to be open-minded, I can’t for the life of me figure out how could consciousness arise from matter (that’s probably my “cogito ergo sum” axiom), so I can relate.
                I’m willing to accept that concepts and its understanding can’t be derived from physical properties ,but I fail to see why a physical brain would be necessary (see my references to Lebniz and angels).
                Maybe it’s just that the neural net it’s just a substrate, something as neutral as paper, and the
                distribution of the neurons is just the pattern of the micro-fibers in the sheet, the circuitry that projects the empty pixel matrix of a screen, where to write words (or images) to think with.
                (ie there’s no pure thought, and language has to be written somewhere) Is the brain an abacus we use as a tool, even though the concept of numbers, and the relation of the beads (their combined length, and position within a structure) with them and the coins we are counting is in our mind?
                Not to mention a library of records for data (consciousness has no memory,it only experiences Now)

                • Comment by SFAN:

                  Another analogy that could be of help is equations, a mathematical structure / relation between variables, which while can have only some specific values, could actully refer to anything (the concepts the brain is computing, the meanings of symbols)

          • Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

            “What will happen to the physical chess pieces in front of robot Kasparov?”

            Surely that depends on what the robot Kasparov decides to do.

            Quite so, but the question I’m asking is, will MeKasparov move the pieces in the same manner that Human Kasparov would? This is not a question about meaning, it is one that can be answered by measurement! “Piece number 3 is at position (14, 10) at time 72″.

            All you have done in your thought experiment is assume that a perfect mechanical model of a man’s brain will think and act like he does. If so, his actions are incomprehensible except when described in terms of means and ends — what is mechakasparov doing and why is he doing it?

            I have assumed nothing, I have asked you what you think will happen. I have a belief about what MeKasparov would do, but I do not see how that belief comes into it, since I’m asking for your opinion rather than giving my own. Nowhere in my question did I make reference to the thoughts of MeKasparov; that would indeed be an assumption. I asked only what would happen to the chess pieces, leaving open the possibility that your answer is “nothing – the robot sits inertly”. You can look in my sleeves if you like, there are no assumptions there either!

            If on the other hand we assume the mechanical copy of the brain is merely a machine and does not think and act like Kasparov, then the machine will act as the builder and programmer have built it and programmed it to act, carrying out meaningless (to it) physical motions as long as its power supply holds out.

            Quite so, but again, I’m not asking about the meaning of the actions, but asking only what the actions are; I’m trying to trace the path of the bullet, not decide whether the killing was a murder. I am hoping we can reach some common understanding about the external, measureable parts of the problem; thus I’m ignoring the internal life of MeKasparov (if it exists) for the time being.

            I do not see how this is different in principle from the thought experiment we discussed way back when, where Kasparov writes a very complete book, including “chose your own adventure” type decision points at the bottom of each page, telling the reader what page to turn to and to follow the instructions on that page. In theory, Kasparov could write down every thought in his head and every possible ramification and implication of every thought, and the reader, if he is careful to follow the book exactly, could impersonate Kasparov well enough to fool Alan Turing. The book is a perfect model of Kasparov. Does this mean the book is alive? Does this mean Kasparov is no different from a book? Does this mean the words in the book have no meaning, or that the book can act like Kasparov without a reader to read and follow the “how to think like Kasparov” instructions?

            No, no, and no, respectively, but these are not the questions I’m asking. I’m asking whether I can make such a `book’ by using a computer to simulate the motion of atoms. You persist in leaping off to the philosophical implications and arguing against conclusions I have not drawn, without answering the very basic question I’m asking. Perhaps you are under the impression that the possibility is obvious, and therefore cannot believe I would ask such a basic question? I assure you that it is not obvious to me what you believe on the point, and I really would like to know.

            In other words, your thought experiment leaves out the vital piece of information that would enable one to answer the question. You have not told me what the machine is from the machine’s point of view.

            That’s because I don’t know whether the machine has a point of view. I have an opinion on how the chess pieces would move, but I do not know whether the machine is conscious. (More accurately, I incline slightly to the opinion that the machine is not conscious, but only slightly, because the manner in which consciousness arises from matter is very badly understood. My reasoning for my weak opinion is that we know that a certain organisation of carbon atoms gives rise to consciousness, but we do not know whether it is a function of their interrelations or of the physical atoms, and so we do not know whether we can change the substrate of the relationships and still maintain the consciousness. But this is a rather technical point that wanders far afield from what I’m trying to establish.) By all means tell me whether you think the machine would be conscious or not; but that’s not what I’m asking.

            It is as if you asked me whether Kasparov were alive, or whether he was dead, but every atom and electron in his dead brain and dead body were being moved by very fine invisible wires through the motions he WOULD HAVE moved through had be been alive. Would he or would he not look like a living man? The answer is, yes, assuming the puppeteer can make the corpse look like a living man in his motions, the motions would be those of a living man; but if we assume the puppeteer cannot make the corpse look like a living man in his motions, then no, the motions would not be those of a living man.

            All right, I shall try to rephrase the question in these terms. Would my computer be a successful puppeteer? That is, would it move chess pieces in the same (physical) manner that Kasparov does? Note that this is not equivalent to the question, “Can I build a computer to beat Kasparov at chess”.

            • Comment by SFAN:

              In my comment (on the queue) I asked more or less the same questions, although I got the impression that he accepted that the first MeKasparov would make the same movements as the real one, and that the second “Deep Blue” Kasparovot* machine could make the same movements or a good approximation, but wouldn’t have gone through the same mental processes. The thing is, is consciousness necessary for “free will” or not? I’d say madmen,children and even animals are conscious, so is more a matter of them not being rational, and perhaps MeKasparov could conceivably be rational (and intellectually self-aware with its own goals) but not conscious, although if his inorganic brain is so perfect that’s not likely.

              * even if “robot” sounds more like an autonomous android than “mecha”…

        • Comment by D. G. D. Davidson:

          Over and over and over again you set up this thought experiment that starts by assuming materialism and ends by demanding materialism. Your thought experiment only works if the conclusion you’re trying to reach is assumed from the start; that is why you have never gotten the answer you want.

          • Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

            Over and over again you insist that I am assuming materialism. I assume nothing, I merely ask what you think would happen. Suppose materialism is false; nevertheless, if I build my computer and turn it on, something will happen, yes? Can you not say what you think that something is? I have an expectation about the mvoement of the chess pieces, and yes, that expectation is based on materialism, but I make no demand that you expect the same thing. I am only requesting that you say what your own expectation is. How is this an assumption or demand of anything whatsoever?

            If your theory implies that my experiment would do something other than what I expect, that’s fine. That is, in fact, the entire purpose of the thought experiment: I want to figure out what you are saying. I cannot fathom why you think this requires an assumption of materialism; can you please point to the place where that assumption is made?

            • Comment by wrf3:

              Over and over again you insist that I am assuming materialism. I assume nothing…

              Not according to your other statement:

              I was saying that this proposition (more accurately, the underlying proposition that meaning arises from matter) I believe simply on the grounds that it seems reasonable to me, that my intuition, wisdom, or experience tells me it is so.

              That meaning arises from matter is a necessary consequence of materialism. When you wrote,

              There is some supporting evidence, such as the disruption of meaning caused by a bullet or a concentration of alcohol to the brain…

              You filtered this evidence through the lens of your worldview. IOW, you couldn’t come to any other conclusion without abandoning your materialism. For example, I can put a bullet though a computer and disrupt the working of its software. But that doesn’t say anything about the existence of me, the programmer, who put the software in the first place. As a materialist, you will automatically exclude the idea of a Programmer for this universe.

              • Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

                Where am I assuming materialism in the setup of the MeKasparov experiment?

                • Comment by wrf3:

                  Where am I assuming materialism in the setup of the MeKasparov experiment?

                  It’s one of your foundational assumptions through which the results of the experiment will be interpreted. For example, I happen to agree with you that the Kasparov Robot will move identically to Kasparov (assuming that gross random effects aren’t a necessary part of the system). So, now what? What does that mean? Does it mean that matter is necessary for information? If so, that’s a conclusion conditioned by your materialism.

                • Comment by D. G. D. Davidson:

                  The reason Mr. Wright has never given you the straight answer you’re looking for in your MeKasperov/MechaSpeare experiment is because the thought experiment is nonsensical unless materialism is assumed. That’s why he keeps asking what MeKasperov wants to do; if he wants to play chess, he will play chess. Or if he has no mind and no will of his own, then he will do what he is programmed to do: if he is programmed to move in such ways that a human observer interprets as chess, then he will move in such ways.

                  The experiment assumes materialism because it is nonsensical without materialism. If materialism is not assumed, then vital information is lacking and the question, “What would MeKasperov do?” cannot be answered.

                  The thought experiment assumes determinism: it implies that a thoughtful human and a thoughtless automaton are really no different, that an unconscious being can behave exactly like a conscious one because both unconscious and conscious beings are at the mercy of the blind movements of their atoms. I know you object to this characterization, but it is the implication of the metaphysics you are proposing. The metaphysics you have outlined does not allow for free will even if you insist that free will exists.

                  Your thought experiment must assume materialism and determinism because without determinism it is simply nonsensical. The information provided in the experiment is insufficient unless materialism and determinism are assumed. That is why the thought experiment is fishing for a materialistic answer.

                  The non-materialist answer to the thought experiment is a question: Where is the mind and what is it intending? If the mind is MeKasperov’s, then MeKasperov will do whatever he wants, whether that’s playing chess or eating a MekSandwich. If the mind is MeKasperov’s creator, then MeKasperov will do what it’s programmed to.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      “Can we agree that your model is falsifiable, that there exists a set of experimental results which would discredit it?”

      Well, strictly speaking, for if the subject drank the love potion that make him turn from the Guelph to a Ghibelline, it would not be open to empirical verification that he was not just pretending. It would not be open to verification that he was not persuaded according to what he remembers as being a line of reasoning or an appeal to his emotions that persuaded him. In order to falsify my theory, we would have to trace back the chain of the steps in his reasoning and reach a step where we find, not an earlier step of reasoning, but a love potion.

      Speaking loosely, if we lived in a world where it was commonplace to drink love potions to make a man fall in love, or to make him change his mind about what political party he supports, or to make a man change his mind about questions of metaphysics, politics, economics, theology, and any or every other theory, conviction, and aspect of his character and personality, then, two things would also be true:

      (1) Your theory would theoretically be proved true to a nonhuman observer.
      (2) Your theory would not be in practice proved true to you, since you could not practically shake the suspicion that you may have simply drunk a potion labeled “theory of materialism” rather than actually having, you know, seen the evidence been convinced by a reasoning process and come to the conclusion that materialism was the theory that fit the facts seen.

      If your theory is true, there is no such thing as theorizing. Your theory is that something like natural love potions operate in the nervous system and create thoughts and conclusions and other chemical epiphenomena, which have no truth value and which mean nothing: they are merely chemicals.

      • Comment by Crude:

        I’m reminded of this Jerry Fodor quote:

        “if it isn’t literally true that my wanting is causally responsible for my reaching, and my itching is causally responsible for my scratching, and my believing is causally responsible for my saying. ..if none of that is literally true, then practically everything I believe about anything is false and it’s the end of the world.”

        When you say “if your model is true, there is no such thing as theorizing”, I think you’re on to something important. One problem with the idea of talking about whether we can “change a man’s mind” by changing around the matter in his brain is that we’re still operating under the view that the man has a mind to change. Is someone claiming that there is a fact-of-the-matter about what a man believes? Or that ‘such and such a brain state is objectively “about” such-and-such thought’? Because, as I said in another thread, my understanding is that such talk is not materialist talk.

        Since I’m short on time, I’ll illustrate with this quote: “Scientists will discover that when the brain is in this state it gives rise to the thought that ‘today is Friday’, and when it is in that state it gives rise to the thought that ‘Russia is a big country’.” If that’s a materialist claim, someone should really let Richard Swinburne know he’s a materialist.

        And if denying that men have beliefs – on the grounds that a belief is about something, and if beliefs are anything they are brain states, and brain states are physical, and physical things can’t be ‘about’ anything – isn’t materialism (or naturalism), then someone also needs to inform Alex Rosenberg he’s neither a materialist nor naturalist. (To which I imagine he’d angrily respond, “Of course I’m not! I’m made of matter! ‘I’ don’t even exist!)

      • Comment by D. G. D. Davidson:

        The experiment Dr. Andreassen proposed earlier for discovering whether attributing purpose is genetic is not a sound experiment, either. You can’t determine if something is genetic by giving people a quiz on whether or not they believe it.

        Dr. Andreassen, you were earlier criticizing the so-called social sciences for not being real science, so why in the world are you dabbling in the blatantly pseudoscientific field of evolutionary psychology?

        • Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

          You did not read my experiment fully. You can indeed discover whether a quality is genetic by measuring it in a survey and then checking for correlations between relatives. This is how we know that intelligence is partly genetic.

          A healthy contempt for the current state of affairs in the soft sciences does not compel me to say that nothing scientific can ever be done in those subjects. Observing that most of evolutionary psychology (as popularly presented) is bunk does not prevent me from designing an experiment in that field which, properly conducted, would not be bunk.

          • Comment by D. G. D. Davidson:

            Your experiment would not work to prove what you think it proves. Asking questions like your tree-in-the-forest one and seeing if the answers correlate between relatives does not prove that “purpose-attribution” is genetic; other explanations, such as similar rearing or cultural background, are possible. It may even be that you, the experimenter, are reading “purpose-attribution” into the answers when those being questioned see something different. After all, you are asking vague questions and giving people the chance to offer vague answers that are equally valid simply because too little information is given. The “most likely” reason a tree fell down? What does that even mean?

            Your experiment starts by assuming what you are trying to demonstrate. You seem to have that problem a lot (witness MechaSpeare).

            • Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

              I should have said “scores” rather than “answers”. The objection that I may be measuring the effects of being raised together is easily met by the usual method of twin studies: Compare twins raised apart with twins raised together; this is a standard tool for disentangling nurture from nature.

              I don’t understand your objection to “most likely”; it looks quite well-defined to me. I could rephrase it as “Given that a hundred trees fall, which of these causes accounts for the majority?” I note that I don’t care whether the subjects think they are attributing purpose or not; indeed I would go to some lengths to prevent them from knowing what’s being measured, lest I skew the results. I’m looking for the basic intuitive appeal of purposeful and purposeless explanations; if the subjects know this, they will start thinking about it and the experiment will be spoiled.

              • Comment by deiseach:

                But that’s not a universal test; by which I mean, of your four alternatives (why did this tree fall down?) (d) a beaver needed a dam would not apply since there are (to the best of my knowledge) no beavers in County Waterford.

                And since most of the “forests” round here are actually commercial plantations by the Forestry Commission, the most likely reason for a tree falling down would be (a) a logger cut it down.

                This has nothing to do with an unconscious tendency to attribute purpose in a materialist world, it has to do with basic observable and commonly known facts.

                (Of the non-commercial forests, we’ve had several severe storms, so (b) the wind blew it over would also be a possibility. Therefore, of your four questions, I can confidently predict that if you asked them round here, the answers would stack up in order of preference as (a) by a wide margin, followed by (b), with some (c) and no (d) at all, at all. I don’t see that this would tell you much one way or the other about the plain people of Waterford and their tendency to attribute purposefulness to natural phenomena.

                • Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

                  Oh, come now. This is why I have a hundred questions, so that such purely local effects get lost in the noise. Make real objections, if you would; not silly ones merely for the sake of saying something.

                  • Comment by John Hutchins:

                    I think the problem he pointed out in your experiment is valid. Any question you ask will have ways of looking at it that allow for someone to think of a reasonable answer that has nothing to do with attributing purposefulness to any action. So you are in effect measuring whether people think according to whatever reasoning they are using that an action is caused by a purposeful actor, not if they are attributing purposefulness to all actions.

                    You are looking only at the attributed proximate causes when you are trying to say that people assign final causes to purposeful actors. Saying God destroyed the temple in Jerusalem in 70 A.D is correct as is saying that the Roman legions destroyed the temple in Jerusalem in 70 A.D. as is saying a fire caused the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in 70 A.D. What answer one gives would be dependent on whether you are asking in a religious setting, in a general knowledge setting, or in a history class.

                    If you take me to a lab or classroom and give me a sheet of one hundred questions I am very likely to answer as literally as possible, which is not what you are trying to measure. Then again, apparently I might not be the best person to be answering your questions in the first place, see magic Darwin fairies, maybe most people would answer in the way that you are looking for.

                  • Comment by D. G. D. Davidson:

                    “Purely local effects” will likely apply to every question you can come up with.

                    “What is the most likely reason the tree fell down?” is a silly question without more information. Where are we? What causes most trees to fall down in this area? Those are the sorts of questions people will want to answer before giving the “most likely reason” the tree fell, and this will be the case with every other question you come up with.

                    And, as Mr. Hutchins points out so well, and as I tried to say already, you’re simply not testing for what you think you’re testing for. This is why evolutionary psychology is bogus: it starts with some very, very big assumptions and pretends it can empirically test things that cannot be empirically tested. When you refuse to acknowledge the limitations of science, you end up doing bad science.

                    • Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

                      “Purely local effects” will likely apply to every question you can come up with.

                      Indeed, and when averaged over many people, they will cancel out. That’s what “lost in the noise” means. Come now, this is measurement 101.

                      “What is the most likely reason the tree fell down?” is a silly question without more information. Where are we? What causes most trees to fall down in this area? Those are the sorts of questions people will want to answer before giving the “most likely reason” the tree fell, and this will be the case with every other question you come up with.

                      And my subjects will supply their own answers to each of these questions, and when all the competing answers are tallied, they will cancel and you’re left with what “feels right” to an average human. But if you like, I can add a refinement to the experiment: In each survey, I’ll have one-tenth of the questions (selected at random, obviously) have an essay section in which the subject is asked to explain his choice. Then I look through them have a hapless grad student look through them for local factors that don’t cancel out, and adjust accordingly.

                    • Comment by D. G. D. Davidson:

                      This still does not tell you whether religion or even this nebulous “purpose-attribution” is genetic. “What feels right” is your interpretation of the results, not necessarily what is going on in the people being researched. If you turn around and claim you’ve proven that religion is a gene thing, you have still made a huge leap for which you still have no supporting evidence.

                      Let’s say you asked 100 questions. Let’s say for each question a thoughtful experimental subject with a vasty knowledge of local conditions gave the statistically most likely local cause, whether it involve merely natural phenomena or deliberate human acts. You tally the results and find he attributed events to human actions 70% of the time. Then you claim he has the “purpose-attribution” gene. Can you see that you have misinterpreted the data?

                      You do not know whether your research subjects are putting down what are actually the most likely answers or only putting down “what feels right,” or doing what I would do, which is call your questionnaire stupid and put down answers at random, thoughtlessly, because I simply cannot answer a dumb question like, “What is the most likely reason a tree fell?” without more information. You are making enormous unsupported assumptions when you go to interpret your data.

                      And even so, as already pointed out, even if you manage to support the assertion that some people are more likely than others to attribute human purpose to events that humans can indeed influence, this says nothing whatsoever about religion.

      • Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

        Hmm, I hope that was the mod filter. Reposting in case it was the gremlins. I notice they tend to be active with posts it took a long time to write.

        If your theory is true, there is no such thing as theorizing. Your theory is that something like natural love potions operate in the nervous system and create thoughts and conclusions and other chemical epiphenomena, which have no truth value and which mean nothing: they are merely chemicals.

        Here, I think, we arrive at the point where you utterly fail to comprehend materialism, just as I fail to comprehend your `reconciliation’ of determinism and indeterminism. (I think, perhaps, we are describing the same fundamental problem, “How does consciousness of meaning correspond to movements in the brain”, but in different words.) In particular, I assert that thoughts are indeed chemicals, and nevertheless they have truth-values and meaning. If this sounds to you like a paradox, keep in mind that your theory is likewise, in my estimation, based on a paradox or contradiction in terms.

        Now, you will perhaps ask, “How do I measure the meaningfulness of a chemical?”, and the answer is that I don’t know, but I expect the problem to be solved within the next century. You may call this an article of faith, if you’re so inclined.

        Perhaps an analogy will make things clearer: The truth of a thought is analogous to the north-pointing property of a compass needle. A compass needle, obviously, is not intelligent. Nevertheless it tells truth: It says where magnetic north is. (Unless it consists of a non-ferrous metal, in which case it is analogous to a dead brain.) It can be `confused’ by the nearness of strong magnetic fields. In the same sense, a human brain, although a purely material object, can tell truth; it can describe regularities in the orbits of planets, to take one example.

        Suppose I create a potion that causes men to believe that killing others is a moral good. This belief is objectively wrong; the opposite belief, that killing is bad, is objectively correct; and I see no contradiction between these two statements and the statement that both beliefs are caused by chemicals, or consist of chemicals. In my compass-needle analogy, the potion-induced belief is equivalent to a compass needle made of silver: It does not point north, does not tell truth, and this is purely a chemical property.

        Next, you will perhaps ask, “How do I know that this belief of mine is true, since it is a chemical and I cannot test it except with other chemicals?” And ultimately, I cannot really know anything. But that is true of any theory whatsoever, short of Descartes’s cogito. In the same sense, you cannot know that you are not babbling nonsense which merely appears correct and rational to yourself because of flaws in your thinking. Whether your thoughts are chemicals in motion or Platonic abstractions is not relevant! They can be flawed either way.

        I think you are concentrating too much on consciousness. Humans are conscious, and therefore feel the truth of logical reasoning; but the reasoning is valid independent of your feelings about it. The brain-movements that are a syllogism would be equally truthful, or useful, to an organism that had no consciousness of them. If you imagine a world full of zombies, their inputs and outputs identical to humanity’s but with no consciousness, they would still have textbooks with “F=ma” in them – because that’s how you get information from one zombie to another – and their rockets would still fly; the symbols, then, would still carry the same meaning, except that nobody would apprehend it.

        Human brains are a formal system, a very large one, with a consciousness attached; because the consciousness doesn’t have access to the low-level operations of the system, things like “Neuron X fires while neuron Y is in state Z”, it tends to imagine that the high-level ones are ontologically real. But a syllogism in fact consists of a lot of neurons moving together to mean “All A are B, X is A, therefore X is B”. The consciousness can only apprehend the useful shorthand, indeed that might even be its actual purpose. A species that communicated by transfer of neuron movements would be rather slow of speech.

        A formal system can include other formal systems through correspondences in theorems; thus complex numbers can be treated geometrically, for example. So a human can check the truth of geometry by testing, in effect, whether “The angles of a triangle add to two right angles” has a corresponding valid neuron-movement. (The conscious being will experience rightness or wrongness, but this is not ontologically fundamental.) Now, correspondence with other formal systems is not truth, as such. But in the case of humans, if our internal system did not correspond to basic kinematics and geometry, we’d be eaten by tigers. Thus, there is good reason to think that, when a human says “That’s true”, even though it is a movement of chemicals, those chemicals are describing, through some complicated mapping, a regularity of the universe – a truth. And what’s more, that mapping is so complex that it can treat almost arbitrary symbols, even ones that did not appear in the ancestral environment. That’s because the most necessary thing to describe was other human brains; and when you can predict the behaviour of a human, you’re well on your way to predicting anything whatsoever. Quantum mechanics is child’s play by comparison.

        No formal system embodies all possible truths. To take a trivial example, I feel confident in asserting that no human will ever know the trillion-and-seventeenth Busy Beaver number. But this is merely the same as saying that humans are limited; it cannot come as a surprise to anyone. Thus, the objection that a set of chemicals cannot test the assertion that it is a set of chemicals, even if it were true, would be no objection at all; it would merely be a demonstration of the same limitedness. A rational being (in your sense) cannot test the assertion that it is not hallucinating and all its theories are nonsense, but this is no critique of its rationality, it merely demonstrates limits to certainty.

        Let me ask a question: Suppose I did find a potion to turn Guelphs into Ghibellines. (Or Christians into Muslims, perhaps; or some other controversy that has relevance today.) What would you say? Would you really, really defend your current theory, in the face of that evidence? It seems to me more likely that your chemicals would, reluctantly, move to represent the true state of affairs, namely that they are indeed chemicals.

        Before you ask, I have an answer to the converse question, of what would convince me that I was wrong: Demonstrate that some part of physics is not Turing-calculable. A while back another commenter here asserted that the timing of quantum collapse, in the Copenhagen interpretation, is not calculable, although he offered no evidence for it. Nonetheless, if such a thing were demonstrated, I should have to abandon my theory. (It doesn’t have to be quantum collapse, anything non-Turing-calculable will do. Note that this is not the same as `stochastic’, which we already have many examples of.)

        • Comment by John C Wright:

          “Here, I think, we arrive at the point where you utterly fail to comprehend materialism… In particular, I assert that thoughts are indeed chemicals, and nevertheless they have truth-values and meaning. If this sounds to you like a paradox, keep in mind that your theory is likewise, in my estimation, based on a paradox or contradiction in terms.

          Now, you will perhaps ask, “How do I measure the meaningfulness of a chemical?”, and the answer is that I don’t know, but I expect the problem to be solved within the next century. You may call this an article of faith, if you’re so inclined. ”

          Please tell me how you came to have this conclusion? On what is it based? If it is an article of faith, by what authority is it s moral duty for you to hold it? In other words, if you believe it because it is something you are supposed to believe, why are you supposed to believe it?

          The two paradoxes, yours and mine, have different qualities. I resolve my paradox simply, the same way Plato resolved the paradoxes of Heraclitus and Parmenides.

          If you recall, Parmenides held that all being was fixed and absolute, and therefore incapable of change and decay and thus our senses (which represented a world filled with change and decay) were false. Heraclitus held that all being was in flux and continual change, and therefore incapable for stability or continuity and thus our reason (which represented ideas that were stable and continuous) was false. (Purists will forgive me for not presenting these philosophers more accurately, but I am only using them as an analogy). Plato drew a distinction between the world of the forms and the world of the senses, and held that the world of the senses was filled with the flux of Heraclitus, but participates in the world of the forms or ideas, which is governed by the changelessness of Parmenides. The advantage of this distinction is that it both fit the facts and did not lead to the absurd conclusions of either Heraclitus nor Parmenides.

          My “paradox” says that some things — matter in motion — can be described only in terms of measurable magnitudes, in terms of cause and effect, and that to ascribe purpose to them is meaningless. Other things — human action — can be described only in terms of meanings, means and ends, and that to fail to ascribe purpose to them is meaningless.

          My distinction could be proved false by a single counter-example. Show me, either in real life or as a thought experiment, a bit of matter than has an innate meaning independent of any observer, or show me a human action that can be described completely and meaningfully without reference to any meaning, and my distinction is exploded.

          Your paradox, on the other hand, seems to me to face a more difficult barrier. The question “how do you measure the meaningfulness of a chemical?” is a question that by its nature admits of no possible answer. “Meaningfulness” means “not measurable.” A “chemical” means a simple physical component of a complex physical system, where “physical” means “measurable but not meaningful.”

          So, to my ears, it sounds like you are saying, “within the next century, science will prove A is non-A.” I cannot disagree with the statement because I cannot understand it.

          If you had a chemical that could turn a Guelph into a Ghibelline or make Siegfried forget Brunhilde and fall for Gutrune, it would not change my theory in any way, shape, or form, since my theory is not a theory of physics, that is, a model for explaining otherwise ambiguous sense data, it is a metaphysical theory, that is, a framework or model without which all reality, not just sense data, is meaningless and not open to interpretation.

          Whether or not any part of physics was not Turing Calculable has nothing to do with your (or anyone’s) theory of materialism. Materialism is a metaphysical framework, like Cartesian dualism, like monist immaterialism, a framework used to categorize reality into meaningful elements. It is not a theory of physics and cannot be proved nor denied by any possible combination of physical sense data in this or any other universe.

          • Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

            Please tell me how you came to have this conclusion? On what is it based? If it is an article of faith, by what authority is it s moral duty for you to hold it? In other words, if you believe it because it is something you are supposed to believe, why are you supposed to believe it?

            That is not the sense of `faith’ I was using; rather I was saying that this proposition (more accurately, the underlying proposition that meaning arises from matter) I believe simply on the grounds that it seems reasonable to me, that my intuition, wisdom, or experience tells me it is so. There is some supporting evidence, such as the disruption of meaning caused by a bullet or a concentration of alcohol to the brain; but how one interprets this is a question of wisdom, as you put it, or intuition, as I prefer. We were discussing, the other day, what counted as reasonable evidence for the resurrection of Jesus, and you said, if I recall correctly, that it was in some sense a question of the individual’s wisdom or experience – either one dismisses the Gospels as folk tales, or one accepts them as eyewitness evidence, and there is no objective procedure for deciding between them, only judgement. That is the sense of `faith’ I’m using here – perhaps `a point of judgement’ would be the better phrase.

            My distinction could be proved false by a single counter-example. Show me, either in real life or as a thought experiment, a bit of matter that has an innate meaning independent of any observer, or show me a human action that can be described completely and meaningfully without reference to any meaning, and my distinction is exploded.

            A human brain is a bit of matter that has meaning to itself; it is the observer of its own meaning. Your distinction is invalid because it assumes that the observer is not material, which is the thing you’re trying to argue in favour of; naturally you get the result you want by assuming it from the beginning.

            You say, “Nothing has meaning except in relation to a conscious observer”, and I say “All meaning arises from matter”, and you seem to believe that these statements contradict each other. I don’t think they do, because conscious observers are made of matter, and therefore your statement can be reformed as “Nothing has meaning except in the presence of certain pieces of matter”. This does not contradict that meaning arises from matter.

            Whether or not any part of physics was not Turing Calculable has nothing to do with your (or anyone’s) theory of materialism.

            I see I have insufficiently distinguished between two separate, though related, concepts. One is that meaning arises from matter, does not exist in its absence, and can be determined from the movement of matter in an objective way. The other is that humans, and by extension our universe, are Turing machines, as opposed to some other sort of calculating machine; this can be disproved in the manner I suggested. I stated this very unclearly, to the point where I suspect I was myself confused over the distinction.

            • Comment by John Hutchins:

              I see I have insufficiently distinguished between two separate, though related, concepts. One is that meaning arises from matter, does not exist in its absence, and can be determined from the movement of matter in an objective way. The other is that humans, and by extension our universe, are Turing machines, as opposed to some other sort of calculating machine; this can be disproved in the manner I suggested. I stated this very unclearly, to the point where I suspect I was myself confused over the distinction.

              I was wondering about that. The two things are not the same at all. Also, you still are assuming that even if humans are not a Turing machine they are still some type of machine. If machine means that there is some mechanical process that is reproducible and predictable then I will have to say that first by asserting such you not only weakly imply a violation of the Church-Turing thesis (there are systems that are not Turing calculable) but strongly (that such a system is mechanical in its operations). If you simply meant that they exist in the material world and not the strong violation of the Turing thesis then I think we (me and you) may be in some form of partial agreement on some aspects of materialism, although I still think people aren’t Turing machines.

              Nor do I think that changing the atoms would change the person as much as you think it would, the whole other type of matter making up our spirit sort of messes with that. Although if the attraction to the other person were merely physical (the product of hormones) then you might be able to create a love potion of sorts, probably wouldn’t work on a husband and wife that have been married a long time but might work for the type of love found in Romeo and Juliet.

              There may be a language that communicates more directly to any human observer such that they are not required to “know” the language to understand it. It would still (possibly) be meaningless to any non-human observers. That though is mostly speculation, and doesn’t move the argument in either direction.

        • Comment by Gigalith:

          [blockquote]Before you ask, I have an answer to the converse question, of what would convince me that I was wrong: Demonstrate that some part of physics is not Turing-calculable.[/blockquote]

          Before I answer this, I have a question of my own:

          Suppose we had access to an infinite energy source, and tools that could create and manipulate sub-universes. With these powers, we set out to discover each Busy Beaver number, in order. Whenever we would come up against a “limit” (whether we have them or not), we create a sufficiently large sub-universe and wait for a race of greater beings to evolve and solve the problem for us. If necessary, we can warp them up to our universe, give them control of the Universe-O-Tron, and let them repeat the process to summon an even greater being, who can do to the same if need be.

          Given this setup, do you think we will eventually discover any arbitrary Busy Beaver number, or is there some number that would defeat us and our creations?

          • Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

            All right, in your setup, we could indeed discover any given Busy Beaver number, although it would still take infinite time. However, your key assumption is “given an infinite source of energy”. In other words, I assert that humans are limited, and then in your counterargument you say, starting out, “Assume that humans are not limited”. I trust you see the difficulty.

          • Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

            Apart from the problem of assuming infinite energy, I was a bit sloppy in my use of “know” in the post you responded to. I should have been specific, and said “No human will ever follow the steps of a proof of the value of Busy Beaver Number one-trillion-and-seventeen”. The Busy Beaver problem is an extension of the halting problem, which asserts that no particular Turing machine can have the operations required to calculate all Busy Beaver numbers. This does not, of course, prevent any machine from merely storing the value of any given BB number. It would do so, however, not as a deduction from first principles but as an axiom in itself.

        • Comment by Tom in Arizona:

          Demonstrate that some part of physics is not Turing-calculable.

          Whoever said quantum physics was right, because, by definition, nothing in quantum physics is calculable before the fact. Heisenberg uncertainty or the indeterminacy principle is to quantum physics what “nothing faster than c” and “gravity is a warping of space-time” are to relativity.

          I’m afraid the person who said it does not have to prove it; since in denying it, you’re denying the Heisenberg uncertainty principle. If you’re concerned to deny one of the basic ideas of modern physics, sorry, “Doctor” but the burden of proof is on you.

          The only demon science ever managed to disprove is Laplace’s.

          • Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

            Sorry, but you have no idea what you’re talking about. To take a trivial example, the probability that an electron will strike a particular point on a screen after passing through a two-slit apparatus is extremely calculable.

            • Comment by Tom in Arizona:

              The probability that it will strike a particular point, yes—but not which particular point it actually will strike. Therefore it is only calculable to a point, and must actually be observed to yield a definite result—and yet that definite result is still obtainable, therefore the process is not finished till it’s obtained. Then again, “what constitutes an actual experimental result” isn’t, technically, science: it’s philosophy of science; the difference between “probably” and “actually” is basic metaphysics. And, since I had to explain something to you—the difference between hylomorphism and dualism—that’s explained in every intro-level philosophy course, plainly philosophy and metaphysics are an area where you don’t know what you’re talking about.

              • Comment by Gigalith:

                Certainly we cannot know the result of a quantum die before it is rolled, but that has nothing to do with whether or not a Turing Machine can roll its own die. If nothing else, a Turing Machine can run every possibility ala Many Worlds, and simulate quantum phenomena without ever choosing one to be “right”.

              • Comment by Gigalith:

                Addendum: The question is not whether we can use a computer to learn what we will see, it is whether the universe could possibly be running on some Cosmic Computer without violating our current knowledge of the universe.

  8. Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

    I hope my response is in the mod filter, as opposed to the bit bucket where the gremlins keep their loot.

  9. Comment by Randall Randall:

    “Because changing matter cannot alter the content or meaning of thoughts, it can only (through intoxication) damage or disarrange them;”

    Well, this part, at least, seems testable in the near future, even if not immediately. Is there any chance we could hammer out the rough form of an experiment that you’d agree would test this? Say, the same specific thought introduced into multiple subjects through a brain interface to be determined, or something. Obviously, if you’re correct in this (and if I understand your position), brain-computer interfaces will mysteriously fail to provide input, except possibly in raw sense form.

  10. Comment by wrf3:

    Your third point is problematic: meaning has neither measurable magnitude nor extension, and cannot be expressed in terms of mass and length, duration, candlepower, temperature, etc.;

    Meaning can be expressed materially as two (or more) physical quantities in relation to each other. Consider an image processing system that can convert light to ones and zeros. The ones and zeros that describe an object; say, a cat, can be associated with ones and zeros that are a label for the cat. It doesn’t matter what the label is, since it doesn’t matter if the label is ‘cat’ or ‘zqellbt’. The label is arbitrary. The label, however, can be communicated, and thus shared meaning can arise.

    The “laws” of logic then arise out of shared communication. A. J. Hoover in “Don’t You Believe It” wrote: Probably the most basic law of human thought is the principle of contradiction. Some call it the “Law of Contradiction,” others call it the “Law of Noncontradiction.” Both terms refer to the same thing. Whatever you call it, this principle is the basis of all rational thought and rational communication.

    Michael Licona in “The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historical Approach” wrote: Historians are required to make numerous philosophical assumptions before entering every historical investigation. For example, they assume the external world is real. They assume our senses provide a fairly accurate perception of the external world. They assume logic facilitates our quest for truth rather than merely functioning as a pragmatic tool that aims at our survival and quality of life. They assume natural laws in effect today were in effect in antiquity and that they operated in a similar manner. More importantly, the majority of historians assume that history is at least partially knowable. [pg 156]

    Assuming that evolution has the creative power materialists maintain that it must have, we can then derive an evolutionary explanation for the development of logic and meaning. But I’m not optimistic that we’re going to be able to solve the problem of universals any time soon.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      “Meaning can be expressed materially as two (or more) physical quantities in relation to each other. Consider an image processing system that can convert light to ones and zeros. The ones and zeros that describe an object; say, a cat, can be associated with ones and zeros that are a label for the cat. It doesn’t matter what the label is, since it doesn’t matter if the label is ‘cat’ or ‘zqellbt’. The label is arbitrary. The label, however, can be communicated, and thus shared meaning can arise.”

      There is some ambiguity here in what you mean by “expressed.”

      Allow me to propose that there is a fundamental difference between symbols and atoms. Here I am using the word atoms also to refer to other fundamental particles, waves, pulses of energy, everything material in the material world.

      Atoms do not, in the absence of an observer ascribing meaning to them, mean anything. They don’t mean anything in and of themselves. They do not represent anything in any of themselves. Atoms do mean something or stand for something when and only when an observer assigns a meaning to them, such as that a cross makes the “t” sound or a snake curve makes the “s” sound.

      Atoms have measurable properties, such as mass, length, duration, candlepower, and so on.

      Symbols have a relation between symbol and object. The symbol “stands for’ the object. The symbol “represents” the object. An observer seeing the symbol is supposed to think of the object instead of thinking of the symbol. Symbols therefore have meaning. A symbol can be true or false, accurate or inaccurate, efficient or inefficient, and so on. Unlike atoms, all symbols have a purpose: symbols are meant to communicate. They have a final cause; symbols exist for the sake of the attempt to communicate. Unlike atoms, symbols have a moral code: you can lie or you can tell the truth, you can flatter, you can slander. Symbols are intentional. Atoms are unintentional.

      Now the difficult thing to grasp here is that a symbol remains the same even when embedded or expressed in different mediums. For example, the same message can be written by a skywriter, and the symbols will be made of water vapor, and can be chiseled in stone or recorded on magnetic tape, spoken as air compression waves or broadcast as radio waves or sent as semaphore. But the properties of the symbols qua symbols, whether they are true or false, flattery or slander, remains the same no matter the medium.

      Take my word for it as a lawyer: there is a case on the books where a man sent in check to pay the IRS printed on a tee-shirt, and the court of law held that is was valid commercial paper. Another men branded his check into the side of a cow, and it was also held valid. The MEANING of the message was independent of the medium in which the message was sent.

      The odd thing about symbols is that they can point to material objects, but they can also point to abstractions from material objects and to universals, and to imaginary objects, and to paradoxes that have no referent in the material universe, and to things that do not and cannot exist. Wiping out all symbols in the universe would not wipe out the objects to which those symbols point, merely because the symbol is not the object to which it points.

      So when you talk about “an image processing system” I must raise the technical objection that there is no such thing as an “image” except when there is an observer who gives to those meaningless dots in a photo or meaningless ink shapes on a page the meaning the artist intended to give. A hexagon drawn around a capital Y is not actually a cube, even if you shade in one parallelogram so that the eye trained to see in perspective sees it as a cube. We often use the word “image” to refer to the physical medium in which the image is embedded or encoded or expressed, but, technically speaking, the “image” is in the imagination of the observer, created or recreated by him using the physical image as a aid to his imaginings.

      The materialists slide easily between talking about symbols and images as physical material things and talking about them as symbols in the reason and images in the imagination, and on this one ambiguity raise their entire superstructure of speculation. Once that distinction is made, however, materialist claims either turn into paradoxes or become disconnected logically from their conclusions.

      So, to me, the only real argument is whether this distinction is a valid one, and represents reality.

      • Comment by wrf3:

        There is some ambiguity here in what you mean by “expressed.”
        Sorry. Meaning is simply the arbitrary association of two objects, where one object is designed at a label (or symbol) for a thing. In the case of us humans, we see a “cat” and assign an arbitrary set of phonemes to the object. We can point to the object, say the phonemes, thereby expressing the association of the label with the object. Another human can then agree to use that label for that object, thus creating shared meaning.

        Allow me to propose that there is a fundamental difference between symbols and atoms. Here I am using the word atoms also to refer to other fundamental particles, waves, pulses of energy, everything material in the material world.
        Let’s make it simple and use 1′s and 0′s, since we should all agree that we can represent 1′s and 0′s any number of material ways. In fact, we could represent everything as NAND gates (or NOR gates…).

        Atoms do not, in the absence of an observer ascribing meaning to them, mean anything.
        I agree.

        Symbols have a relation between symbol and object. The symbol “stands for’ the object. The symbol “represents” the object. An observer seeing the symbol is supposed to think of the object instead of thinking of the symbol.
        So we’re in violent agreement so far.

        Symbols therefore have meaning.
        But symbols are composed of atoms, which you say don’t have meaning. If we use NAND gates, the meaning is found in the way the gates are wired together.

        Take my word for it as a lawyer: there is a case on the books where a man sent in check to pay the IRS printed on a tee-shirt, and the court of law held that is was valid commercial paper.
        For a little bit of humor: see how one blogger paid an overdue account.

        So when you talk about “an image processing system” I must raise the technical objection that there is no such thing as an “image” except when there is an observer who gives to those meaningless dots in a photo or meaningless ink shapes on a page the meaning the artist intended to give.
        I don’t disagree with you. I’m assuming a bootstrapped system. The argument is how the bootstrapping occurs; one side says evolution can (likely) accomplish the bootstrap; the other says that a pre-existing intelligence bootstrapped our (lesser) intelligence.

        A hexagon drawn around a capital Y is not actually a cube, even if you shade in one parallelogram so that the eye trained to see in perspective sees it as a cube. We often use the word “image” to refer to the physical medium in which the image is embedded or encoded or expressed, but, technically speaking, the “image” is in the imagination of the observer, created or recreated by him using the physical image as a aid to his imaginings.
        Right, but our imagination is just software running on biological NAND gates. And the software itself is expressed as NAND gates.

        • Comment by SFAN:

          Maybe because it’s the default model in the computer age, I posted some comments along those lines (logic gates etc). But the metaphysical side of all this can’t be so easily dismissed. Although I should probably wait for the results of cyberKasparov to ellaborate of that (I wrote a thing or two)

        • Comment by craig:

          Symbols certainly are not composed of atoms. They may be communicated from one subject to another by means of atoms — sound waves, particles of chalk on a slate, etc. — but the concepts themselves of zero and one have no intrinsic form, no size, no mass, and no volume. The atomic motion in a human brain necessary to contemplate “zero” bears no relation to the sound waves or physical marks necessary to communicate the concept to another; the only relation is whatever a human subject has previously arbitrarily assigned. If you and I agree that “zero” is the particular arrangement of sounds to use for that concept, then it is; if we don’t so agree, then it isn’t.

        • Comment by John C Wright:

          “But symbols are composed of atoms, which you say don’t have meaning. ”

          Symbols qua symbols are not composed of atoms. Unfortunately in English we do not have a word for the ink mark on a page and the meaning of a letter or a word — we use the same word “word” to refer to both, albeit obviously the meaningless mark is different from the meaning of the word.

          Marks are composed of atoms. Marks that have a symbolic meaning ascribed to them by an observer have a meaning to that observer and to any other observer who shares his language.

          “Right but our imagination is just software running on biological NAND gates.”

          That noise you did not hear was me spitting my coffee on my monitor. One cannot possibly hold that conclusion once you have agreed that symbols, which have no physical properties and only have meaning, differ from marks, which have no meaning and only have physical properties. You have agreed to a fundamental dualism between meaning and matter, that the two are incommensurate and incompatible, and then in the next sentence blithely asserted that the two incommensurate things are one and the same. I don’t follow this leap of faith.

          • Comment by wrf3:

            Marks that have a symbolic meaning ascribed to them by an observer have a meaning to that observer and to any other observer who shares his language.
            Sure. That’s not what we’re arguing about. The argument is whether or not the meaning is some ethereal thing completely independent of matter. You’re arguing for Plato; I’m arguing against (even though I’m on record elsewhere as saying that λογος is correctly translated as “software”). All software is hardware — it’s NAND gates (as one example) all the way down.

            That noise you did not hear was me spitting my coffee on my monitor.
            ;-)

            One cannot possibly hold that conclusion once you have agreed that symbols, which have no physical properties and only have meaning, differ from marks, which have no meaning and only have physical properties.
            Except that I haven’t agreed to this. I said that both marks and symbols have physical properties, because the relationship between the mark and the label can be encoded via physical properties.

      • Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

        Atoms do not, in the absence of an observer ascribing meaning to them, mean anything.

        And observers consist of atoms. Thus your statement reduces to “Aroms do not mean anything in the absence of atoms”. I suggest that this is not a distinction at all, much less one on which to build a philosophy.

        • Comment by John C Wright:

          “And observers consist of atoms”

          No, sir. Atoms are what observers body’s are made of, but not what observers are.

          Observations can be true or false, accurate or inaccurate, efficient or inefficient, and therefore observations are symbols, or, if you like, sense impressions or representations or qualities of meaning. You have so far failed to explain how such qualities of meaning can be expressed in terms of physical measurements of physical properties.

          As we both know, all physical properties of physical objects and events can be reduced to simple terms: length, mass, duration, current, temperature, amount, and luminous intensity. I cited this list before, but you called it a “mantra” which leads me to believe you do not recognize that these are the base units for all physical measurements of physical properties. Anything, such as force or acceleration or volume, that is a physical property can be expressed ultimately in terms of these simple physical measurements.

          Now, all you have to do to win the argument is to express a quality of meaning in terms of a quantum of measurement: tell me how many foot-pounds or amperes or joules or units of life or degrees of arc make a true sentence false or a valid syllogism invalid?

          All you have to do to win the argument in a way more satisfactory to you is admit that it cannot be done because the two things, quality and quantity, measurement and meaning, are incommensurate and incompatible. One cannot be expressed in terms of another.

          If you make this admission, perhaps then you will cease to “tell” me that your mind and mine and all the symbols and ideas we decide to think and use to communicate consist of nothing but meaningless measurements of meaningless bits of unintelligent matter in motion with no other properties and no other way to describe them. The word “tell” has no meaning if there is no such thing as meaning in the universe.

          • Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

            No, sir. Atoms are what observers body’s are made of, but not what observers are.

            That is where you make your mistake: You are your body, neither more or less. If I damage your body I damage you; if I destroy your body you cease to exist; I cannot make you cease to exist except by damaging your body.

            This does not deny that you have free will in the legal sense, or moral responsibility, or meaning; it merely says that these things arise from the matter of your body.

            Now, all you have to do to win the argument is to express a quality of meaning in terms of a quantum of measurement: Tell me how many foot-pounds or amperes or joules or units of life or degrees of arc make a true sentence false or a valid syllogism invalid?

            I don’t know, but this is not a demonstration that it cannot be done.

            I cited this list before, but you called it a “mantra” which leads me to believe you do not recognize that these are the base units for all physical measurements of physical properties.

            Of course I recognised them. I was accusing you of using them as a mantra, to substitute for thought. Clearly I was being too subtle.

            If you make this admission, perhaps then you will cease to “tell” me that your mind and mine and all the symbols and ideas we decide to think and use to communicate consist of nothing but meaningless measurements of meaningless bits of unintelligent matter in motion with no other properties and no other way to describe them.

            I have not said any such thing. It is you who insist that matter cannot have meaning; I am insisting that matter does have meaning. You are welcome to disagree with this, but please do not distort my position. Your characterisation of what I’m saying is accurate only under your own view, which I am strenuously denying.

            • Comment by wrf3:

              That is where you make your mistake: You are your body, neither more or less. If I damage your body I damage you; if I destroy your body you cease to exist; I cannot make you cease to exist except by damaging your body

              Nonsense. You’re letting your materialism control your evaluation of evidence. We exist first and foremost in the mind of God. This body is just a vessel, as it were, for our software.

              • Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

                This at least offers itself up to experimental test. I suggest you volunteer to be shot, and we will see whether you still exist after the bullet has passed through your brain. If you wake up in Heaven (or even Hell – the dispute is not about anyone’s virtue), I will admit I was wrong. If your consciousness is snuffed out like a candle, you still won’t admit you were wrong, because you won’t exist. So, clearly, it’s a win-win scenario for you.

                Or to put it another way: Your god does not exist, therefore we do not exist in its mind, either primarily, secondarily, or otherwise.

                • Comment by wrf3:

                  This at least offers itself up to experimental test.

                  You’re just blowing smoke. Name one experiment where the experimenter can’t observe the results.

                  I suggest you volunteer to be shot, and we will see whether you still exist after the bullet has passed through your brain. If you wake up in Heaven (or even Hell – the dispute is not about anyone’s virtue), I will admit I was wrong. If your consciousness is snuffed out like a candle, you still won’t admit you were wrong, because you won’t exist. So, clearly, it’s a win-win scenario for you.

                  In the interest of science, the only way to scientifically perform this experiment is for you to be the volunteer. Right? If it will make you feel better, we can both volunteer at the same time. Have to have reproducibility, after all, don’t we?

                  Or to put it another way: Your god does not exist, therefore we do not exist in its mind, either primarily, secondarily, or otherwise.

                  You can’t even correctly devise an experiment; nor do you understand the epistemology entailed by your worldview. So we should believe you when you say God does not exist? From, The Truth Wears Off: “As Palmer notes, this wide discrepancy suggests that scientists find ways to confirm their preferred hypothesis, disregarding what they don’t want to see. Our beliefs are a form of blindness.”

  11. Comment by steve rose:

    My impression is this discussion suffers from failing to consistently distinguish materialism from reductionism. Materialism is the ontological claim that existence consists of matter in motion. Reductionism is the epistemological claim that all phenomena can be rendered as physics. Materialism is about the territory (e.g. brains are made of atoms), reductionism the map (e.g. brains are understandable as physics). These separate claims need be argued for independently.
    It is often assumed that materialism implies reductionism but this is not so. Take the case where the territory is the natural numbers 0,1,2,3, … and the map standard Number Theory. The structure of Number Theory is not reductionist, i.e. reducible to a single theory. Had we chosen Presburger arithmetic as the map or Euclidean geometry the territory then reductionism would hold. Whether knowledge of nature is structured more like Number Theory or Presburger arithmetic cannot be answered by appeals to materialism. A simple ontology does not guarantee a simple epistemology.
    The arguments here have included complex thought experiments involving minds, brains, and consciousness. However, the current state of knowledge about minds, brains, and consciousness is primitive, leaving ample wiggle room to evade opposing arguments. For that reason I would like to try out a different approach which doesn’t reference these concepts. Though I have no strong opinion I will assume materialism (as defined above) true.

    Explain the trajectory of a falling body. This is done by the laws of gravity and mechanics. Attach some knobs to the gravitational field to allow its parameters to vary. As we turn the knobs the motion of the body changes as the field changes, as expected. If the motion did not change we would conclude gravity was not the correct explanation. Now zoom out until we are observing the universe from the outside. In front of us is a larger panel of knobs allowing changes to the electromagnetic, strong and weak fields, physical constants, number of spatial dimensions, dynamical rules, continuous to discrete, etc. As we turn the knobs we see changes large and small. Stars increase their life span, or vanish entirely. Galaxies disappear, all manner of wonders appear.(If you are squeamish about destroying universes we will imagine turning the knobs transports us to a different universe.)
    What if we found an object that kept appearing in the different universes, itself unchanged as the physics changed? We ought to conclude that physics was not the correct explanation for that object. Does our world contain such an object? Lets see.
    We spin the knobs and find ourselves looking down upon Conways Game of Life. We see a glider move across the screen and a block remain motionless. The shapes and motions can be traced directly back to Life’s game rules. Presumably, so can every other object we see. Puffer trains, boats, spaceships, glider guns producing new gliders, the Sieve of Erastosthenes producing prime numbers, eaters consuming the gliders and so on. Spin the knobs again and we are looking at the von Neumann automata. Naturally there are no blocks and gliders, we have changed the rules. But as we catalogue these new objects we find something familiar. The Sieve of Erastosthenes producing prime number. If this were a creature of the Lifeverse what is it doing here. Now spin the knobs and we observe our world of 4-d spacetime and quantum jumping and ice cream cones. Very different than the previous worlds yet once again we find the Sieve. Now the Sieve is a Turing machine and what is here true of the Sieve is true of all Turing machines, they are comfortable in all these different universes.
    From this I conclude that computation is a kind of metaphysics consisting of patterns invariant across all physics. And physics is not a candidate theory-of-everything, it is a theory of non-computational dynamics. Where computation begins the explanatory power of physics ends. Since computation is essential to biological systems a complete understanding of them as physics is a chimera. Biology is not just fancy physics. Even the imagined reduction of chemistry to physics cannot be fully carried out. Just construct a Chemical Sieve. Likewise, mind and free will involve computation ( I am not claiming mind is reducible to computation) and will therefore not yield their secrets to physics.
    In short, the existence of computers refutes reductionism.

    It is interesting to note that many of the apparent difficulties reconciling free will with physics also appear when considering simple machines. Consider a room evolving under classical physics. The room traces out a unique trajectory through phase space. Inside the room is a Tinkertoy Sieve producing prime numbers. It traces out a unique trajectory through computation space. What is the relationship between these trajectories? How does it come about that the next prime number lies exactly on the momentum conserving path? And the one after that, and after that …?
    Now turn the temperature knob up 10 degrees giving every atom in the room a random kick. The path through phase space changes. The path through computation space does not, the prime number path still conserves momentum. What is going on here? Does the Sieve will the atoms to swerve in service of its goals. Do the atoms conspire to find the prime numbers? What do atoms know of prime numbers? I suggest this is nearly as strange as free will. Is the Sieve an illusion? Whatever is happening here is also happening in the Lifeverse, Neumannverse, quantumverse etc., and so is not explicable in terms of the physics of the room.
    Even if we assume God-like control of the initial conditions our ability to affect the Sieve is limited. We can create it. We can destroy it. But we cannot alter its trajectory or turn it into a sorting program or Ghibillene. While it exists its destiny is its own, underived from and undisturbed by physics.
    Bonus argument: The behavior of the Sieve is a function of the structure of prime numbers. A physics explanation would be equivalent to a physics explanation of the prime numbers. But the prime numbers are logically prior to physics, being built into the math used to write its equations.

    That the properties of software do not derive from the properties of hardware is standard computer science, well known for three quarters of a century. That prominent thinkers (e.g. Douglas Hofstader) know this and remain reductionist puzzles me. Enough so that I wonder what obvious point I’ve overlooked. But until I am shown the error of my ways this is my story and I’m stickin to it.
    BTW, not all physicists are reductionist, cf. David Deutsch and Nobelist Robert Laughlin.

  12. Comment by Randall Randall:

    *From this I conclude that computation is a kind of metaphysics consisting of patterns invariant across all physics.*

    I think that this becomes somewhat less interesting when we note that all we can say is that this is true across all laws of physics which can be simulated within our own. It seems as though it would be surprising were we *not* to find commonalities across laws of physics which appear consistent and can be run via simulation within our own.

    *That the properties of software do not derive from the properties of hardware is standard computer science, well known for three quarters of a century.*

    The properties of software may well derive from physics, however. It’s not clear to me how we could show that they do or do not.

    • Comment by steve rose:

      May I assume you are unimpressed with my claim that physics can’t explain the prime numbers and therefore can’t explain a machine whose behavior is a function of the prime numbers?

      *The properties of software may well derive from physics, however. It’s not clear to me how we could show that they do or do not.*

      Perhaps explanation does not mean what I think it means. I am assuming that if x explains y then changing x will have some effect on y. This suggests an experiment. I will seek the 10th prime number by running the Sieve on a) a microprocessor b) a set of Tinkertoys and c) a roll of toilet paper, pile of stones and trained circus bear to shuffle the stones. In all cases the Sieve returns 29. I have varied the relevant parameter x and y is unchanged. I believe this conclusively demonstrates that the Sieve is not explained by the whatever “physics” of circus bears and toilet paper. Also not explained by the quantum physics of microprocessors or the Newtonian physics of Tinkertoys. If some other physics is proposed can I not run an experiment?

      If the outcome of a computation depended on the material properties of the substrate you could not count on the same program running on different machines to produce the same output. If you can not count on that computers would make great doorstops.

      *I think that this becomes somewhat less interesting when we note that all we can say is that this is true across all laws of physics which can be simulated within our own. It seems as though it would be surprising were we *not* to find commonalities across laws of physics which appear consistent and can be run via simulation within our own.*

      This is interesting but I am not entirely sure of the correct interpretation. Therefore I preface my remarks with the disclaimer that they might not be on point.

      Yes we expect commonalities across physics. The Parable of the Sieve is an attempt to show that one commonality is that computational universes are not reductionist.

      Surprise is subjective. If I see the glider completely explained by Life’s game rules and make the reasonable hypothesis that all Life patterns can be likewise explained I expect the Sieve like the glider to vanish when the rules are changed. When the Sieve, unlike the glider, shows up in the Neumannverse I, for one, am surprised. Very. I claim this shows the Sieve to be an object of very different type than the glider and shows the Lifeverse to be non reductionist.

      You say the appearance of the Sieve within the mathematical construct of Life does or might derive indirectly from the physics of our world via simulation (again, apologies if I misunderstand). So be it. If this is true then the Lifeverse has some properties which are derived from something outside of itself. Also known as not reductionist. If the Lifeverse is not reductionist and derives this property from the physics of our world does that make our world more or less likely to be reductionist?

      • Comment by wrf3:

        If the outcome of a computation depended on the material properties of the substrate you could not count on the same program running on different machines to produce the same output. If you can not count on that computers would make great doorstops.
        Huh? Of course the computation depends on the material properties of the substrate. But we achieve reproducibility by managing the properties of the substrate so that they conform to an ideal, i.e. a NAND gate.

        • Comment by steve rose:

          What do I need to build a Sol-type star. I need hydrogen, not to much and not to little. I need to bring it all together in a space not to large and not too small. I cannot replace the hydrogen with uranium or yarn. I cannot have to much angular momentum. The constraints are severe. This is because the structure and behavior of the star is a function of the material properties of the component parts. The same is true of motorcycles and cupcakes.

          What do I need to build a NAND gate. Just about anything will do. Microprocessors, tinkertoys, circus bears, dripping faucets, talking parrots and on and on. I can do this precisely because the behavior of the NAND gate or Turing machines in general, is not a function of the material properties of its component parts. That is the essence of computation.

      • Comment by Randall Randall:

        *Perhaps explanation does not mean what I think it means. I am assuming that if x explains y then changing x will have some effect on y. This suggests an experiment.*

        There is no way to change x. You can try to simulate changing x, but you can’t change it in any fundamental way, because the simulation is still immersed in x at all times. It’s possible to imagine that there could be laws of physics that operate in a universe in which there are no prime numbers, but it’s not really possible to imagine in detail what those laws of physics would be with minds running on prime-number-having physics (imagination being a sort of simulation, in and of itself). I haven’t thought of (can’t think of?) any experiment that could possibly show us whether physics in all universes is restricted to what any universe would consider logical or valid math.

        In a historical and evolutionary sense, rather than an ontological sense, I think it’s clear that math can be derived from physics. To then assert that math is ontologically distinct from (prior to, in your previous comment) physics is of the same cloth as asserting that mind is ontologically distinct from physics — it’s not clear to me that we gain anything from making that assertion. If it turns out that mind cannot be implemented in physics, that will be an argument of some weight against math being a derivation of physics, so it’s testable to some extent. However, we’ll essentially have to simulate complete nervous systems from the molecules up, with a constant and mysterious failure for them to think, before it would seem likely that this was the case. I’m not sure what conclusions to draw about math’s distinctness from an experiment which seems to show that mind is ontologically distinct.

        *Surprise is subjective. If I see the glider completely explained by Life’s game rules and make the reasonable hypothesis that all Life patterns can be likewise explained I expect the Sieve like the glider to vanish when the rules are changed. When the Sieve, unlike the glider, shows up in the Neumannverse I, for one, am surprised. Very. I claim this shows the Sieve to be an object of very different type than the glider and shows the Lifeverse to be non reductionist.*

        I don’t have any quarrel with your observations about the Lifeverse and the Neumannverse. Rather, I’m unsure that extrapolating to the next level up, our universe, is valid.

        • Comment by steve rose:

          I think you are attributing more ambition to my argument than intended. My goals are more modest but I see I have been unclear on a few points. Brief recap: my original post meant to push three ideas. 1) materialism is distinct from reductionism (as opposed to say Daniel Dennett who claims materialism is reductionism, I believe this is Dr. A’s view 2) materialism does not imply reductionism (a materialist system may be reductionist or not) 3) in our world reductionism is false even if materialism is true. I argue point 3 with no mention or assumptions about minds or brains. The argument is consistent with a wide variety ( but not all ) ontological views. I tried to avoid ontological claims, except materialism which I don’t even assert true, just assumed to make point 3.

          I then reached the conclusion that the maps of physics do not cover the terrain of computation. The boundary between them is epistemological, not ontological. Nature takes no note of it. It concerns the limits of our methods of understanding. I am not saying beyond physics there be dragons. It’s like saying my Ohio roadmap fails to list the contents of my library. This does not imply my bookshelves have some special ontological status. It’s about the limits of the map. The reductionist would admit current physics maps are limited but claim in principle, in the ideal limit all knowledge will be assimilated. I say Turing machines will not be assimilated ( into the maps). And maybe other things.

          This approach produces unexpected consequences i.e. that chemistry is not fully reducible to physics and where and why the boundary line is drawn around physics. I hope this means the argument is not completely vapid.

          *There is no way to change x. … the simulation is still immersed in x at all times.*

          Here I was unclear about what I meant by x. In the 10th prime number experiment I meant to show that if you say the Sieve requires some specific material property to run ( silicone etched chips for example) I could build a Sieve without that property. X is that property. In other contexts I say you can vary the physics. By physics I mean the maps. The ideas, equations, procedures inhabiting our minds and textbooks. To vary them means to examine different models and calculate the consequences. This is standard practice in physics. We assume Newtonian gravity and calculate how a spaceship behaves. Then Einsteinian gravity. We notice the spaceship acts differently. We put clocks in the ships. They act differently. We put observers in the ship looking out the window. They see different things. We put the Sieve in the ship. It acts exactly the same. If we take seriously the varying behavior of the ships, as telling us something important, we ought to take seriously the unvarying behavior of the Sieve. What is it telling us? That is my basic question.

          *I don’t have any quarrel with your observations about the Lifeverse and the Neumannverse. Rather, I’m unsure that extrapolating to the next level up, our universe, is valid.*

          Fair enough. I take the view that mathematical objects can be studied without reference to physics of other aspects of our world. From that perspective it not clear to me in what sense the Lifeverse is one level up or down or sideways to our world. But if the Lifeverse is non reductionist and our world is reductionist that means there is a real sense in which our world is fundamentally simpler and less rich than Conway’s toy. A hard pill for me to swallow.

          If the machine on your desk or in your phone escapes the maps of physics what is its relationship to physics. Here I will indulge in wild speculation. Based on a analogy with a formal system and its Godel string I conjecture the computer ( or its behavior if the distinction matters) is a true but unprovable object within the system of physics.

          • Comment by John C Wright:

            This may be on a tangent to your argument, but my argument is that materialism, whether true or false from an perfectly objective and perfectly nonhuman point of view, is useless from a point of view any human mind can understand, because the metaphysical categories of the human mind cannot reduce qualitative judgments (true and false, valid and invalid, efficient and inefficient, good and bad) into measurements of quantities (mass, length, duration, temperature, current, amount, candlepower) and therefore materialism cannot be used as a model by the human mind to come to correct or complete descriptions of what our fellow humans are doing, or our fellow living organisms.

            You cannot tell if someone is guilty or innocent by measuring the weight or bloodpressure of the brain. Guilt is simply not a physical property any more than whether the plot and characterization of the characters in a book can be determined or deduced from the physical characteristics of the book alone. By physical characteristics alone, I exclude the non-physical characteristics of the story in the book or the nonphysical characteristics of the meaning of the words or letters in the language in which it is written.

            • Comment by wrf3:

              You cannot tell if someone is guilty or innocent by measuring the weight or bloodpressure of the brain.

              Didn’t a Mythbuster’s episode use an MRI machine to determine whether or not someone thought they were guilty?

              Guilt is simply not a physical property

              Yes, it most certainly is, just like the set of potential chess moves in a computer’s memory is fully described by physical properties.

              any more than whether the plot and characterization of the characters in a book can be determined or deduced from the physical characteristics of the book alone. By physical characteristics alone, I exclude the non-physical characteristics of the story in the book or the nonphysical characteristics of the meaning of the words or letters in the language in which it is written.

              You’re assuming your conclusion that the meaning of the words is non-physical. You’re making the opposite mistake of Dr. A. He claims that because our mental states can be affected by material means that we are purely material. Put a bullet in my head and I cease to exist. He ignores the analogy to the computer: I can put a bullet in my computer, but that doesn’t mean I can’t restore the software from a backup. You, on the other hand, ignore the fact that software can be represented in a purely physical means. All software is NAND gates, wired a certain way. One side wants to say that what we call “mental” states is outside the system, the other wants to say it’s purely inside the system. Neither of you are going to be able to prove your positions via current lines of argument, IMO.

              • Comment by John C Wright:

                “You’re assuming your conclusion that the meaning of the words is non-physical. You’re making the opposite mistake of Dr. A

                No, not at all. You assuming my conclusion is an assumption. Here is my argument:
                1. Whenever one statement can be reduced to another statement, the two have at least one property in common.
                2. There is a class of statements that refer to facts. All statements of empirical physics, by the deliberate design of empirical physics, can be reduced to quantitative statements measuring mass, length, duration, temperature, amperage, amount, candlepower. By design, these statements contain no qualities or judgments. By design, these statements only concern themselves with mechanical cause and effect.
                Likewise, there is a class of statements that refer to symbols. Symbols represent referents. The relationship between symbol and referent contains a judgment of true or false, accurate or inaccurate, sense or nonsense, logical or illogical, and, since the act of making symbols or using them is a deliberate act, contains a judgment of efficiency or inefficiency. These statements concern themselves with means and ends, and not with cause and effect.
                These two classes of statements have no properties in common.
                3. Ergo, no statement of the second class, statements about symbols, can be reduced to a statement about the first class, statements about physical facts.

                A fortiori, if one cannot even make a statement where symbolic or intellectual or mental or spiritual reality is reduced to mechanical notation, such a statement cannot be a true picture reflecting reality. If materialism is incoherent as a statement, it cannot be true as a fact.

                In order to prove my argument false, all that would be needed would be for a statement of the second type, “A is a false representation of B” to be expressed in terms of a statement of physics, “F=MA.”

                AND in addition, I make a second argument:

                1. If the theory of materialism is true, then all intentional statements (including any statement of the theory of materialism) are merely unintentional physical effects of previous physical conditions.
                2. An unintentional physical effect cannot be “true”, because the category of “true or false” applies only to intentional statements.
                3. Therefore the theory of materialism, if true, is not true — which is absurd.

                The grooves on a gramophone cylinder can have many properties that can be described physically, including the shapes of the soundwaves that emerge from that cylinder when it is played as intended on a gramophone player. However, those groves cannot be called “true or false” — nor, if the meaningless noises that emerge from the gramophone are mistakenly thought to be the living voice of a real person speaking a false statement, can the gramophone cylinder be cajoled, threatened, bribed, punished, or sent to confession to amend its false and lying ways. The same noises will emerge from the gramophone cylinder the next time it is played on the player.

                The materialist argument consists of the simple logical error called the fallacy of the undistributed middle. It goes as follows: 1. voices emerge from the living throat of living people, speaking truth or lies, meaningful sentences or nonsense. 2. Voices emerge from the grooves on the gramophone cylinder when played on a machine, as determined by their physical composition and nothing else. 3. Therefore living people are (or are the same as) gramophone machines, as determined by their physical composition and nothing else.

                The “argument” cannot really be argued against because it is not an argument, it is merely an arbitrary (and absurd) assertion.

                • Comment by wrf3:
                  “You’re assuming your conclusion that the meaning of the words is non-physical. You’re making the opposite mistake of Dr. A

                  No, not at all. You assuming my conclusion is an assumption. Here is my argument:
                  1. Whenever one statement can be reduced to another statement, the two have at least one property in common.

                  I want to make sure I understand this. Reduced, how? By logical decomposition?

                  2. There is a class of statements that refer to facts. All statements of empirical physics, by the deliberate design of empirical physics, can be reduced to quantitative statements measuring mass, length, duration, temperature, amperage, amount, candlepower. By design, these statements contain no qualities or judgments.

                  That doesn’t appear to be true. There is at least one famous equation, Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Princple, which contains a judgment: ΔxΔp ≥ h/4π

                  By design, these statements only concern themselves with mechanical cause and effect.

                  I don’t think that now is the time to get into the difference between Newtonian and Quantum mechanics.

                  Likewise, there is a class of statements that refer to symbols. Symbols represent referents. The relationship between symbol and referent contains a judgment of true or false, accurate or inaccurate, sense or nonsense, logical or illogical, and, since the act of making symbols or using them is a deliberate act, contains a judgment of efficiency or inefficiency. These statements concern themselves with means and ends, and not with cause and effect.
                  These two classes of statements have no properties in common.

                  But this, too, isn’t true. If I were to take the statement “symbols represent referents” then I might symbolize it thus: S⇒R. The property that they have in common is the ⇒ operator, which is no different in principle from =, , +, -, *, / etc… All of these can be represented by hardware, i.e. mass, length, …

                  3. Ergo, no statement of the second class, statements about symbols, can be reduced to a statement about the first class, statements about physical facts.

                  But of course they can. I can encode any piece of software, which is all about symbol processing, as NAND gates. In fact, Gödel encoded statements about symbols into a limited alphabet, which can easily be encoded into hardware.

                  So, this disposes of your first argument.


                  AND in addition, I make a second argument:
                  1. If the theory of materialism is true, then all intentional statements (including any statement of the theory of materialism) are merely unintentional physical effects of previous physical conditions.
                  2. An unintentional physical effect cannot be “true”, because the category of “true or false” applies only to intentional statements.
                  3. Therefore the theory of materialism, if true, is not true — which is absurd.

                  Your proof contains the absurdity that you attempt to show, namely, by starting with “if the theory of materialism is true”. You’re putting into your argument the thing you claim cannot be put into your argument.

                  The grooves on a gramophone cylinder can have many properties that can be described physically, including the shapes of the soundwaves that emerge from that cylinder when it is played as intended on a gramophone player. However, those groves cannot be called “true or false” — nor, if the meaningless noises that emerge from the gramophone are mistakenly thought to be the living voice of a real person speaking a false statement, can the gramophone cylinder be cajoled, threatened, bribed, punished, or sent to confession to amend its false and lying ways. The same noises will emerge from the gramophone cylinder the next time it is played on the player.
                  The materialist argument consists of the simple logical error called the fallacy of the undistributed middle. It goes as follows: 1. voices emerge from the living throat of living people, speaking truth or lies, meaningful sentences or nonsense. 2. Voices emerge from the grooves on the gramophone cylinder when played on a machine, as determined by their physical composition and nothing else. 3. Therefore living people are (or are the same as) gramophone machines, as determined by their physical composition and nothing else.

                  But that’s clearly not true; just because A and B have the same external characteristics (the soundwaves), it doesn’t mean that they have the same internal characteristics. Both a clock and a computer can display time, but they are very different classes of machines. A clock is a finite state automata; a computer is a Turing machine. They are machines defined by the class of language they can accept.

                  • Comment by John C Wright:

                    1. Q: “Whenever one statement can be reduced to another statement, the two have at least one property in common.” Reduced how?

                    A: The word “reduced” here means the same information is stated in a simpler form. A example from physics would include Newtonian simplification of Kepler’s laws to simpler laws of motion. The seven qualities I list are taken from a high school physics text book as the reductive properties of any physical matter or energy in motion.

                    2. Q: “By design, these statements contain no qualities or judgments.” There is at least one famous equation, Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Princple, which contains a judgment: ΔxΔp ≥ h/4π

                    A: The equation is not a judgment of true or false, efficient or inefficient, good or bad. It is a statement of inequality having to do with quantities. It is not a description of the internal mental state of mind, goal, purpose, or final cause of an photon passing through a double slit. As far as I can, your counterexample is not only false, it is not even on the same topic as under discussion.

                    3. “Likewise, there is a class of statements that refer to symbols. Symbols represent referents. The relationship between symbol and referent contains a judgment of true or false, accurate or inaccurate, sense or nonsense, logical or illogical, and, since the act of making symbols or using them is a deliberate act, contains a judgment of efficiency or inefficiency. These statements concern themselves with means and ends, and not with cause and effect. These two classes of statements have no properties in common.”
                    But this, too, isn’t true. If I were to take the statement “symbols represent referents” then I might symbolize it thus: S⇒R. The property that they have in common is the ⇒ operator, which is no different in principle from =, , +, -, *, / etc… All of these can be represented by hardware, i.e. mass, length, …

                    A: I am afraid I do not understand your response. You seem to be saying that if a statement is written down in a physical medium and the physical marks or electron volts or whatever is being used by a person as a symbol, then the subject matter of the statement becomes a physical property. If you write down “symbols represent referents” by using three other symbols, an s, an arrow, and an r, this does not make the statement a statement about matter rather than a statement about referents. It does not make the statement false if true nor true if false.

                    I cannot argue with this, because I don’t follow you.

                    Q: “Ergo, no statement of the second class, statements about symbols, can be reduced to a statement about the first class, statements about physical facts.” But of course they can. I can encode any piece of software, which is all about symbol processing, as NAND gates.

                    A: And I can write any statement on a typewriter. This does not mean I can take a statement “symbols refer to referents” and reduce it to a statement about force times mass versus acceleration. The word “symbol” does not refer to anything made up of little bits of time or little bits of mass. Statements about bits of time and bits of mass can only be reduced from statements that are about things, say, air pressure, that are actually about little bits of time and little bits of mass.

                    As far as I can tell, your refutation consists of ignoring my argument and making arbitrary statements to the contrary. In order to prove the argument wrong, what you would have to show is that a statement about symbols could be reduced to a statement about the magnitudes of some physical properties. You have not done that. All you have said is that any group of symbols can be manipulated logically, which is not a point in dispute.

                    4. Q: Your proof contains the absurdity that you attempt to show, namely, by starting with “if the theory of materialism is true”. You’re putting into your argument the thing you claim cannot be put into your argument.

                    A: I don’t know what to make of this statement. I cannot tell if you don’t know what an reductio type argument is, or if you cannot syllogism, or if you are disagreeing with the principle under discussion, or what your reason for disagreement is.

                    5. Q: The grooves on a gramophone cylinder can have many properties that can be described physically, including the shapes of the soundwaves that emerge from that cylinder when it is played as intended on a gramophone player. However, those groves cannot be called “true or false” — nor, if the meaningless noises that emerge from the gramophone are mistakenly thought to be the living voice of a real person speaking a false statement, can the gramophone cylinder be cajoled, threatened, bribed, punished, or sent to confession to amend its false and lying ways. The same noises will emerge from the gramophone cylinder the next time it is played on the player.
                    The materialist argument consists of the simple logical error called the fallacy of the undistributed middle. It goes as follows: 1. voices emerge from the living throat of living people, speaking truth or lies, meaningful sentences or nonsense. 2. Voices emerge from the grooves on the gramophone cylinder when played on a machine, as determined by their physical composition and nothing else. 3. Therefore living people are (or are the same as) gramophone machines, as determined by their physical composition and nothing else.

                    But that’s clearly not true; just because A and B have the same external characteristics (the soundwaves), it doesn’t mean that they have the same internal characteristics. Both a clock and a computer can display time, but they are very different classes of machines. A clock is a finite state automata; a computer is a Turing machine. They are machines defined by the class of language they can accept.

                    “You’re assuming your conclusion that the meaning of the words is non-physical. You’re making the opposite mistake of Dr. A

                    No, not at all. You assuming my conclusion is an assumption. Here is my argument: 1. Whenever one statement can be reduced to another statement, the two have at least one property in common.

                    I want to make sure I understand this. Reduced, how? By logical decomposition?

                    2. There is a class of statements that refer to facts. All statements of empirical physics, by the deliberate design of empirical physics, can be reduced to quantitative statements measuring mass, length, duration, temperature, amperage, amount, candlepower. By design, these statements contain no qualities or judgments.

                    That doesn’t appear to be true. There is at least one famous equation, Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Princple, which contains a judgment: ΔxΔp ≥ h/4π

                    By design, these statements only concern themselves with mechanical cause and effect.

                    I don’t think that now is the time to get into the difference between Newtonian and Quantum mechanics.

                    Likewise, there is a class of statements that refer to symbols. Symbols represent referents. The relationship between symbol and referent contains a judgment of true or false, accurate or inaccurate, sense or nonsense, logical or illogical, and, since the act of making symbols or using them is a deliberate act, contains a judgment of efficiency or inefficiency. These statements concern themselves with means and ends, and not with cause and effect. These two classes of statements have no properties in common.

                    But this, too, isn’t true. If I were to take the statement “symbols represent referents” then I might symbolize it thus: S⇒R. The property that they have in common is the ⇒ operator, which is no different in principle from =, , +, -, *, / etc… All of these can be represented by hardware, i.e. mass, length, …

                    3. Ergo, no statement of the second class, statements about symbols, can be reduced to a statement about the first class, statements about physical facts.

                    But of course they can. I can encode any piece of software, which is all about symbol processing, as NAND gates. In fact, Gödel encoded statements about symbols into a limited alphabet, which can easily be encoded into hardware. So, this disposes of your first argument.

                    … AND in addition, I make a second argument: 1. If the theory of materialism is true, then all intentional statements (including any statement of the theory of materialism) are merely unintentional physical effects of previous physical conditions. 2. An unintentional physical effect cannot be “true”, because the category of “true or false” applies only to intentional statements. 3. Therefore the theory of materialism, if true, is not true — which is absurd.

                    Your proof contains the absurdity that you attempt to show, namely, by starting with “if the theory of materialism is true”. You’re putting into your argument the thing you claim cannot be put into your argument.

                    The grooves on a gramophone cylinder can have many properties that can be described physically, including the shapes of the soundwaves that emerge from that cylinder when it is played as intended on a gramophone player. However, those groves cannot be called “true or false” — nor, if the meaningless noises that emerge from the gramophone are mistakenly thought to be the living voice of a real person speaking a false statement, can the gramophone cylinder be cajoled, threatened, bribed, punished, or sent to confession to amend its false and lying ways. The same noises will emerge from the gramophone cylinder the next time it is played on the player. The materialist argument consists of the simple logical error called the fallacy of the undistributed middle. It goes as follows: 1. voices emerge from the living throat of living people, speaking truth or lies, meaningful sentences or nonsense. 2. Voices emerge from the grooves on the gramophone cylinder when played on a machine, as determined by their physical composition and nothing else. 3. Therefore living people are (or are the same as) gramophone machines, as determined by their physical composition and nothing else.

                    But that’s clearly not true; just because A and B have the same external characteristics (the soundwaves), it doesn’t mean that they have the same internal characteristics. Both a clock and a computer can display time, but they are very different classes of machines. A clock is a finite state automata; a computer is a Turing machine. They are machines defined by the class of language they can accept.

                    A: Again, your rebuttal not only does not answer the argument, it does not even address it. I cannot tell what your point is. You seem to think that computers are in principle different from clocks and gramophones, and you seem to think that this has something to do with the argument under discussion. Whether a computer is a Turing Machine or not has no bearing on this argument, which is whether or not the internal properties of an object are determined by its external properties.

                    Yes, OBVIOUSLY the fact that two objects have the same external output, such as soundwaves, does not mean that they have the same internal qualities, such as honesty. That is the point of my argument, vigorously stated and repeated many times.

                    • Comment by wrf3:

                      Things are forking so much that the discussion is getting unwieldy. I’ll try to follow your notation.

                      Response to 1A: In order for me to reduce something, I have to have reduction operators. For example (I assume this example is allowed), I can reduce an equilateral triangle into 3 lines all having the same length, and three angles all having the same measure. This means that I have to have the definition of line and angle, and I have to be able to compare lines with lines and angles with angles. Are these definitions and operations allowed?

                      Response to 2A: I’m struggling to map what I think your talking about into what I think I’m talking about; namely, what precisely do you mean by judgement? For me, it’s simply a comparison between two things. As a software engineer, a description of an internal mental state is no different than a description of an external state, say, of length. We may not agree on how to describe an internal mental state, but it doesn’t matter, since the description itself is arbitrary.

                      Response to 3A: Let me return to the example of the triangle. I can program a computer to recognize equilateral, isosceles, and scalene triangles. If I want to get fancy, I can combine a camera and a speech synthesizer to the machine so that, with suitable programming, I can show it pictures of triangles and it can respond “that is a scalene triangle,” or “that is an equilateral triangle.” Furthermore, in theory anyway, I can construct the entire apparatus — including the software — solely in hardware, i.e. in terms of the oft repeated physical quantities. This machine makes judgments. What I don’t understand is why this doesn’t overcome your objection “This does not mean I can take a statement ‘symbols refer to referents’ and reduce it to a statement about force times mass versus acceleration.” It seem to me that I just did what I think you claimed I can’t do.

                      Response to 4A: You began your proof with the statement “if materialism is true…”, which is the thing you a priori deny (“there are no intentional statements”) since the premise is an intentional statement. It’s like asking “Can God create a rock so heavy that He can’t lift it?”

                      Response to 5A: Yes, absolutely, computers are in principle different from clocks and gramophones. I don’t have a good intro to this, but see here.

            • Comment by steve rose:

              I agree with your argument and conclusions. One thing I was attempting was to reach similar conclusions via a different route.

          • Comment by wrf3:

            This approach produces unexpected consequences i.e. that chemistry is not fully reducible to physics and where and why the boundary line is drawn around physics. I hope this means the argument is not completely vapid.

            My two son’s Scoutmaster had, among several advanced degrees, a PhD in chemistry. When he taught a class on the Chemistry merit badge, not only did he say that Chemistry is fully explained by Quantum Mechanics, he started teaching the class that way!

  13. Comment by John Hutchins:

    “As a materialist, you will automatically exclude the idea of a Programmer for this universe.”

    Coming from a very strange perspective that could theoretically be called materialism, this isn’t necessarily the case. Everything can be made of matter and exist in a material plane but the ordering of the matter from an unordered state to an ordered state can still demand the presence of a “Programmer” or as the Popol Vuh calls them “the Framer and the Shaper”. Some sand, copper, gold, and other elements don’t of themselves make a computer. If I put all the matter that goes into a computer in a room together they don’t suddenly come together to create a computer and start calculating (same with any other objects you wish to try and make a Turing machine from). Even many of the laws of physics may have been determined by some all powerful physical entity ordering things to best meet its wishes.

    Of course our resident scientist would disagree on this point and claim that according to the laws of probability life can spring up by itself with no need for a “programmer” or anything else, he would also claim that since humans are Turing machines then putting enough elements into a room together will eventually cause them to come together to make a Turing machine that will start calculating things by itself. Also he would probably say that all laws of physics are somehow inherent within the matter itself.

    Just pointing out that there are other ways to believe in a type of materialism that does admit a supreme being.

    • Comment by wrf3:

      Just pointing out that there are other ways to believe in a type of materialism that does admit a supreme being.

      Does that supreme being depend on matter for its existence? There aren’t that many choices: either the universe had a beginning, or it didn’t. If it did have a beginning, then the supreme being either preceded the universe, came into existence when the universe did, or came into existence after the universe did. If the universe didn’t have a beginning (i.e. matter/energy has always existed), then the supreme being could be co-existant with matter. It seems to me the only way to be a materialist and acknowledge a supreme being would be in the latter case. Is this how you see it, or did I make a mistake somewhere in my analysis?

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