Seeking Closure on the Closure Discussion

Bel Roise once again asks a question to attack the Foundation of my philosophy. Okay, not really, but I could not resist the pun.

Time permits me at the moment only to reply to one remark in his long and thoughtful response:

I was merely asking how can it be that qualia, which I know to be real and which we both agree are not reducible to physical facts, can move objects or -perhaps I should put it this way-, how can objects in the physical move in such accordance to qualia?

When you see a woman with whom you are in love, the loveliness of the beloved draws you, sets your soul in motion, and is the final cause, the purpose or goal, of the various acts of courtship and valor by which the brave deserve the fair. Agreed? This is motion, but it is not physical motion. It is a cause, but it is not a mechanical cause. The photons bouncing off the bouncy young girl are not pushing the suitor to go pick flowers and scribble bad poetry with means of and only by means of the mass-energy of the photon. Photons of a similar mass and energy coming from a flashlight have never produced a single ode.

Your question is ambiguous, in that you are actually asking about ’cause’ in the sense of ‘purpose’ or ‘goal’ or ‘inspiration’ or ‘aspiration’ but you are using the word ’cause’ in the sense of a mechanical lever applying external pressure to an inert and animate body.

Because these words are the same in English, and because all our metaphors and words for mental events are the same words we use for physical events, it is nearly impossible in our thoughts to make and maintain this distinction, even though the distinction clearly exists in reality.

If I see the beloved and run to her, the mechanical actions of my legs can be explained in terms of physics and follow the laws of physics with nothing unexplained and nothing left over to be explained. But since I run the same way when running from a taxgatherer, or running for fun, or for sport, or for health, or for no reason I can name, clearly the explanation of why I am running is not a question physics even begins to dream of addressing.

The huge, elaborate, centuries old argument about determinism and indeterminism, materialism and dualism, and so on, are all based on this crucial failure to distinguish two completely unrelated questions: how I run versus why I run. The materialist says that why I run is a subset of how I run, so that answering the one question answers the other.

Namely, he says that a careful examination of my leg muscles and the nerve impulses actuating them and the life processes of my cells can tell him what little molecular wheels and gears and springs are unwinding in my brain like clockwork, and that my mind and my brain are one and the same, and that therefor the epiphenomenon called love is an illusion, or, rather, that love is a physical pressure of nine inch-ounces of force pushing against the gear in my medulla oblongata that turns the crack in my hypothalamus that sends the electrons to the leg that jerks the muscle in galvanic response.

Now this is obviously nonsense on stilts and all sober philosophers are right to howl in laughter until they hiccup at the idea, holding their sides, slapping their knees, and wiping their eyes. You cannot have a quality called love equated or transliterated or set to represent a physical momentum measured in quantities of ounce and inches, because the mental act of equating or transliterating or representing is a symbolic, that is, a mental, act and not a physical one. We often use physical metaphors to describe the act of inventing or perceiving the relationship between a symbol and the thing a symbol represents. We can call it a link, and think of a oval of iron, or call it an image, and think of a photograph, or call it a logic gate, and think of a portcullis or sluice that opens or closes, barring or permitting traffic to flow.

My contention here is that if we cease to use the metaphor of materialism, and make the careful distinction between the two unrelated topics of how I run and why I run, we can see that there is not one but two ways in which words like “motion” or “move” is being used.

If Joe Onlooker happens to see a blind orphan in the snow next to his dead seeing eye dog (whom the orphan does not yet realize has died of the cold) get run over by an improperly parked car sliding down an icy hill, this scene will surely move Joe to tears. But the orphan has not sprayed pepper into Joe’s eyes. To describe this ‘movement’ as a chemical reaction is irrelevant and foolish. The actual physical mechanism by which Joe’s emotion of pity and horror is expressed by the symbol and the somatic reaction of eye-wetness is of interest only to a medical doctor.

If, on the other hand, Joe runs to snatch the orphan out of harm’s way, and is struck by the car, Joe is “moved” in a very different sense of the word, and the distance his broken body rebounds as the momentum of the fender, hood and windshield is imparted to Joe’s flesh and bone can be measured with all the nicety and precision a physicist in a lab coat and thick green goggles might desire.

So, to answer your question, qualities, like Joe’s pity for the orphan, does not and cannot “move” objects like Joe’s nerves and muscles, if by move we mean “react to a mechanical cause.” If the qualities cannot be reduced to quantities, no quantitative measurement of them is possible. The mechanical cause of Joe’s muscular and nervous action must be traced back to molecular cellular reactions, biological processes, and ultimately to nutrients in the ecology and to the sun, or traced backward through all the generations of Darwinian evolution to the first single celled organism in Eden. At no point in this chain is there any mechanical motion set in motion without a mechanical reason that is prior in time.

But, to answer your question in another way, qualities, like Joe’s pity for the orphan, does and can “move” Joe’s soul, if by move we mean “inspire a motion in the mind.” The virtue of self sacrifice shown in this hypothetical is the product of mental and spiritual activities, such as Joe’s upbringing and education, the kind of character Joe’s parents and peers raised and trained Joe to be, and the kind of man Joe persuaded and raised and trained himself to be. In this particular hypothetical, pity and physical courage combine to make the self-sacrificing decision, and perhaps it is a decision made by Joe’s inner character before he is consciously aware of it.

The way we usually talk, because usually we are not concerned (and rightly so) with the niceties of philosophy, we would say “Joe saw the danger to the orphan; the sight caused his heart to fill with pity and bravery; and he threw himself in the path of the car to knock the orphan to safety.”

And so it sounds like the chain of cause and effect goes” (1) from the photons carrying the message of danger to the ophan (2) to Joe’s eyeballs to that mysterious something-or-other materialists always gloss over that performs a miracle that makes a decision to react (3) to Joe’s brain matter, which generates an electric signal (4) to Joe’s leg muscles which set him in motion (5) which flings his body in harm’s way.

The materialist is confident that step (2) where the miracle occurs will soon, perhaps next week, be explained by some neurologist in Sweden. After all, things once thought to be qualities, like colors and sounds, have been reduced to measurements of quantities of component wave vibrations, so why not the miracle even of step (2) and all human decisions?

But the chain of cause and effect is not how it sounds. There are two chains of cause and effect, one going from past-to-future and describing the mechanics, and one going from future-to-past and describing the purposes.

The first chain of cause and effect runs from creation through to the mechanical and biological facts that led to Joe’s ancestors, to Joe’s childhood, to Joe, and includes the unnumbered molecular and cellular and medical facts of all the processes in Joe’s body. Joe’s decision to move is not a biological process, but it is a process with a biological component or aspect or viewpoint, and everything medical science can tell us about the neural and muscular actions of a man setting himself in motion will reveal this first chain of cause and effect without ever once needing to refer to any decision on Joe’s part.

This is not because Joe is an automaton whose thoughts are determined by mechanical brain actions and this is not because Joe is a magician whose immaterial spirit creates brain electrons out of nothing by telekinesis. This is because and only because if you and I are talking about the medical and mechanical chains of cause and effect leading from past to future, we never talk about his decision.

We don’t say it is a cause, like a spirit that creates action without reaction, and we don’t say it is not a cause, like the helpless automaton.

We simply don’t talk about it at all.

If we want to talk about the decision, we talk from a different starting point and use a different vocabulary, not the vocabulary of measuring ounces and inches and electron-volts, but the vocabulary of events in the human mind and soul, abstractions concerning the spiritual world and Platonic forms. We talk not about the physical cause and effect leading from past to future but about the final cause and effect leading from future to past.

In this second conversation, Joe foresees and foretells the death of the orphan, and this causes both the emotion of pity and the passion of fortitude in his guts and heart, the seat of instinct and of passion. He has the virtue of fortitude because he has been trained to perceive and love courage, and he contemplates the images of courage as he sees them manifest in the world around him, and in the abstract in the world superior to this world. Not just his reason, but his whole character at once calls out to him to save the orphan, and so complete is this decision of his will, that there is no need for debate or introspection, and this, ironically, makes the decision less difficult than many a decision of less importance where his mind was not made up. His goal is to save the boy; he examines the means available, and there is nothing at hand efficiently to pull the child out of danger without risk to himself, and do he willingly takes the risk. He examined the morality of the situation, and being a civilized man, he accepts the mystical and Christian notion that the strong must serve the weak, and protect widows and orphans, and being a man from a free country which does not have socialized medicine, his soul has not been corrupted into a passive habit of waiting for an authority to act on his behalf and in his stead; but not being a Libertarian only concerned with looking out for number one, he does not stand with his hands in his pockets telling other onlookers that a free market would have produced a car with better brakes, or a private police force been more efficient at saving orphans.

In this second conversation, we may talk about upbringing and virtue and heroism and self sacrifice. We do not need to be Buddhists or partisans of Bishop Berkley who say that the physical body does not exist except as an illusion produced by the mind, which is the only reality and the only substance, and therefore the muscles were set in motion my the mind in the same way any imaginary object can be made to move by he who imagines it moving. In this second conversation, we are not talking about muscles at all.

So, if your question is, “how does the mind set the body in motion?” my answer is, if we are talking in casual conversation, “the will moves the body. I decide to run, and then I move my legs” In a more philosophical conversation, my answer is, “Mentally speaking, the will is set in motion by inspiration of the Good, which is the ultimate goal of all action, and the specifics of the action are modified or initiated by virtue, habit, passion, and considerations of ends and means. Physically speaking, the leg muscles are moved by nerve impulses moved by other neural and cellar pulses and motions reaching back and back through all my ancestors to the primordial slug science teaches us is named Ubbo-Sathla.”

About John C Wright

John C. Wright is a practicing philosopher, a retired attorney, newspaperman, and newspaper editor, and a published author of science fiction. Once a Houyhnhnm, he was expelled from the august ranks of purely rational beings when he fell in love; but retains an honorary title.
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16 Responses to Seeking Closure on the Closure Discussion

  1. The first chain of cause and effect runs from creation through to the mechanical and biological facts that led to Joe’s ancestors, to Joe’s childhood, to Joe, and includes the unnumbered molecular and cellular and medical facts of all the processes in Joe’s body. Joe’s decision to move is not a biological process, but it is a process with a biological component or aspect or viewpoint, and everything medical science can tell us about the neural and muscular actions of a man setting himself in motion will reveal this first chain of cause and effect without ever once needing to refer to any decision on Joe’s part.

    Splendid. Then why is it that I cannot, armed with perfect knowledge of all the biological components and whatnot, say in advance that Joe will throw himself at the car? Or if you prefer, that “The oddly-shaped lump of carbon and hydrogen which we refer to as ‘Joe’ will take this particular path through space, intersecting the path of this hollow shell of iron and plastic (the ‘car’) at such-and-such a time”?

    If I can trace mechanical cause-and-effects backwards, why can I not trace them forward?

    • Suburbanbanshee says:

      Exactly. Because a purely mechanical cause and effect won’t be able to predict a decision.

      Of course, even when cause and effect is purely mechanical and acted out by objects without will, there’s still chaos and uncertainty to mix things up a bit.

      So it seems that the universe is designed to keep up narrative interest. :)

      • Randall Randall says:

        “Because a purely mechanical cause and effect won’t be able to predict a decision.”

        If not, then there will be a mechanical effect without a mechanical cause. I do not think (any longer) that that is what Mr. Wright is arguing.

        Also, I think A&W agreed to exclude chaos and randomness to keep it simple, with the understanding that neither believes that mind or free will requires those (if it exists). I might well be wrong — there have been months when I did not follow this debate. :)

        • The OFloinn says:

          “Because a purely mechanical cause and effect won’t be able to predict a decision.”

          If not, then there will be a mechanical effect without a mechanical cause.

          How so? If I decide to make a cup of tea, the boiling of the water, the steeping of the tea leaves, the pouring, etc. all have “mechanical” causes.

          • Randall Randall says:

            After you have made the decision to have tea, but before you’ve moved a muscle to make that happen, mechanical effects will have happened in the brain due to the decision. If the decision is ultimately a physical process, then they have a mechanical cause. If the decision is not a physical process, then they do not.

            It seems to me that Mr. Wright’s position is that we live in a deterministic universe in which everything that happens (including people’s decisions and the effects thereof) could be modelled *in principle* to a sufficient degree to predict the state of the world in some future time, but that the modeller will still not be able to understand why people’s decisions were made without reference to abstractions like “people” and “choice”.

            I wouldn’t even disagree with that if we used a slightly weaker statement like “it’s enormously easier to understand events using abstractions like ‘people’ and ‘choice’ “. (I don’t have any opinion on whether the universe is ultimately deterministic, but assuming it is, I mean). We already have lots of examples of this kind of useful abstraction, like biology over chemistry, and chemistry over physics, as mentioned elsewhere in this thread. Could you derive all of chemistry from a sufficiently accurate and detailed model of quarks? If the theory of quarks is correct, then yes. Talking about sodium and chlorine atoms is a useful abstraction anyway, given the computing power necessary to simulate even one.

  2. MikeR says:

    My frustration with this discussion is that 1) there is evidently some connection between mind and body (e.g. there is some sort of causal connection between Joe’s pity and the movement of Joe’s body) and 2) Mr Wright seems to say that there is nothing we can say about the connection, and/or that even trying to talk about the connection doesn’t make sense.

    But (1) is true, and so (2), to me, merely illustrates the short-comings of Mr. Wright’s philosophical framework.

    It may be true that there is as yet no framework that provides a satisfactory explanation of the connection, but I would rather say that than gamely sticking with a philosophical framework in which either these sort of questions make no sense or in which parallel but non-intersecting explanations of mind and body are thought adequate.

    • Darrell says:

      Mr. R

      I think that Mr. Wright and Dr. A essentially agree on outcomes, and that it is in the theoretical underpinnings of their agreement on which they disagree.

      Dr. A appears to subscribe to a theory of Reductive Physicalism with Eliminative Materialism, if you will, being his theory of the mind. At the bottom of the well of turtles is “excitations in Hilbert-space fields.” Dr. A, as you might suspect, is a monist.

      Mr. Wright, if I recall rightly, refers to himself as a compatiblist (a determinist who believes in free will – a position that I thought Dr. A held as well, but I am now uncertain) and believes in an “underlying reality” for which BOTH physical and mental descriptions apply while neither is able to do so fully and sufficiently without the other. To provide an analogy, if one person only sees a car crash and another only hears a car crash then neither witness can fully describe the crash. Nor did hearing the crash did cause what the one witness saw anymore than seeing the crash cause what the other witness heard.

      I suspect that Mr. Wright is quite possibly a monist, or at least someone that would argue that we are unable to observe what the underlying reality “really” is. If this is so, and I stand ready to be corrected, then the underlying disagreement is what is reality composed of? Do we have access to observing this underlying reality?

      Dr. A answers these questions with excited Hilbert-fields and yes, through the lens of physics. Everything else is, to him, an imprecise short cut like chemistry, an imperfection in language, and/or the imperfect ability of humans to understand matters that are both complex and counter-intuitive.

      • Oddly enough, Amelia Windrose in my ORPHANS OF CHAOS trilogy is asked exactly this question, and replies that she believes in monads, but that she cannot explain how the physical dimension of the monad relates to the mental dimension of the monad. It cannot be a physical relationship, like a gravity field, because then a brick would have to have the concept ‘brick’ attracted by gravity and connected to it; it cannot be a symbolic or mental relationship because then the physical brick would have to have the concept ‘brick’ producing or manifesting it the way a mind produces an imagination or a god produces an avatar. So she said the concept was unanswerable.

        At the time I made it up, I meant it for a clever bit of science fictional reasoning, but seeing how this conversation is trending, now I am not so sure.

        Since you are the first person to ask me, I am do indeed believe physical determinism (and for that matter the omniscience and foreknowledge of God) is entirely compatible with free will, which is not a theory of physics but a category of moral capacity. I am an immaterialist monist along the lines of Bishop Berkley, in that I assume that the only way sense impressions could make an impression on my thoughts and come into my awareness is if the things sensed were things like thoughts, external forms of thought, as it were. I believe all things are thoughts in the mind of God. God, in His grace, has granted physical objects sufficient independence of Him that they act of their own nature, and, for a parallel reason, man acts of his own volition.

        I differ in emphasis from Berkley where I hold that what we call matter is a specific manifestation of a concept or an idea placed in such a relation to us that we can perceive it from the outside, seeing the external nature of a concept by its behavior, rather than, as with concepts we contemplate by introspection, perceiving the concept from within.

        So I am something also like a Thomist, who holds that the inward soul of man is the essence of man, and the outward body is his form. If you can grasp this rather non-intuitive concept, you can see why I think of Cartesian mind-body duality as a misleading metaphor.

        I hope I will scandalize no one if I say I agree with Ayn Rand on this point. The mind and body are one. We are not corpses without ghosts nor ghosts without corpses, as Cartesian dualism would have it. That is why I believe in the Resurrection of the body, a glorified body, and not in merely the Gnostic silliness or dismal Socratic notions of becoming a floating wisp of gossamer after death, or a pure mental entity like an angel.

        We are, in effect, thoughts thought into being by the Divine Mind. From Shakespeare’s point of view, Hamlet’s external garb of dark clothing or the skull of Yorick he contemplates are made of the same substance as the melancholy of that indecisive prince. Both are inventions of Shakespeare, maintained by his imagination. There is no admixture or separation of two separate substances if Shakespeare directs Hamlet to drop his sword while fencing with Laertes and pick up his opponent’s blade by mistake. But no one can mistake the imaginary sword (represented on stage by a prop) with Hamlet’s famous soliloquy, or think the sword is only in Hamlet’s mind or words the way the arms one takes up against a sea of troubles are. Neither does anyone doubt that Hamlet, from the point of view inside the play, has free will, and so his indecision has moral and dramatic weight, whereas Sir Tristan, after he quaff a love potion that overthrows his reason, does not.

        I freely confess that as a writer, this metaphor seems quite natural and quite appealing to me, and that is I had the power of a god to make the characters I invent real and act of their own free will and not mine, I would do so. And, at times, something so akin to this happens that I cannot say what is the difference.

        Determinism is a built-in and inescapable category of human thinking. No one, not even modern physicists, can say that events happen for no reason, not and really mean it, not and make sense. Likewise, so-called indeterminism, free will, is a built-in and inescapable category of human thinking. No one, not even a modern Liberal, can say that no man is ever at fault no matter what he does, and no one, not even a Hindu, can say that everything which happens to a man is his own fault.

        But there is a difference, unbridgeable and fundamental, between human action (things we do on purpose, to get something or to do something) and inanimate reactions (things which happen for no purpose, merely because the machinery of the universe is in that shape and can move no other way). Any philosophy that for any reason comes to the conclusion that one or the other does not exist (that matter is illusory or mind is an epiphenomenon) is useless for every day life.

        And since the purpose of philosophy is to learn how to live and how to die and how to bear sorrow manfully and without undue emotion, obviously a philosophy that is useless for every day life is useless altogether.

        If you have reached the conclusion that no humans ever can or ever will reach conclusions, then you have entered the land of absurdity, and need to retract and retrace your steps. If you make it all the way back to your axioms without detecting a flaw, abandon your axioms and get better ones.

    • Instead of saying what I seem to say, you can always ask me what I say. For everyday purposes, if we are not engaged in a philosophical debate based on (in my opinion) a confusion of words, it is perfectly right and clear and just to say that Joe’s pity set Joe in motion.

      The only thing we need to know as a philosopher is that Joe’s pity did not give Joe’s muscles the mechanical energy to use this skeleton as a set of levers to propel him forward. That came from the nutrition in his lunch, which was stored as energy in his cells, which was released when the muscles contracted.

      The only reason why we are having this discussion at all is because of an honest confusion over whether Joe’s pity, which pulls him toward the kid, and Joe’s lunch, which gave his legs the stored energy needed to propel him toward the kid, are the same thing or are different things?

      Is Joe’s pity a type of ADP-ATP energy stored in his brain cells released by pity-carrying photons entering through the eye and exciting the optic nerve? Or is Joe’s Pity a different type of cause altogether, a final cause, a purpose, a goal, an end toward which his actions are directed?

      So, far from saying we cannot talk about this, all I am saying is that we cannot talk nonsense about this. Pity is not the same as lunch. Pity does not shove on brain atoms the way neuro-chemical energy shoves on muscles cells. It is not the same thing.

      This alleged philosophical debate is between people who say that pity must be made of neuro-chemical energy or else otherwise it could not shove Joe’s leg muscles into action, and those who say that pity is a ghostly visitor from another dimension which can neither affect nor be affected by anything Joe is or does.

      Think of Joe’s brain, and every material part of him, as being the outside, the three dimensional cross section of a fourdimensional being. The matter moves and never violates the rules of matter. His pity is on the inside. His pity inspires him and stirs him and he never violate the rules of the mind, nor performs an act of telekinesis.

      But Joe is one man, one thing, one reality. It has an inside and an outside, body and soul, form and essence, the thing it ‘is’ and the thing it is ‘made of’.

      Forgive, but if this is confusing, how do you read a novel? How do you reconcile the fact that some of the properties of the novel, its mass, its number of pages, its length and duration and temperature, tell you nothing about whether the story is entertaining or dull, too long or too short, comedy or tragedy?

      If you met an eccentric who thought that all physically heavy books must have philosophically weighty plots, or thin books have thin characterization, or narrow books have narrowminded authors, would you consider it to be an unacceptable and confusing framework to ask the eccentric to make a simple distinction when he says the word “novel” whether he is referring to the physical book or the nonphysical story?

      All I am asking for here is a simple distinction between final cause and mechanical cause, which anyone who has read Aristotle could make, or taken Philo 101. The conversation is meant to allay an artificial yet frumious philosophical opinion that since lunch causes muscle energy, and pity inspires the legs to move, pity therefore is made of lunch meat, and therefore has location, duration, extension, mass, and so on.

      This is not a philosophical framework. This is how everyone lives and everyone talks except for philosophers during debates like this one.

      • MikeR says:

        Mr Wright,

        I also believe that Joe is one unitary creation, and agree that pity is not lunch or neuro-chemical energy. I am also sympathetic to Amelia Windrose’s reply. (BTW, the answer to how I read novels is too quickly; I read this one, and don’t recall this gem.)

        We both agree that a purely mechanical explanation of Joe is not complete.
        But Joe’s formal cause is at least partially formed by Joe; and a more intelligible and useful description of Joe, as a mechanical system, can be had with reference to both the mechanical and the formal rather than just the mechanical. This suggests to me that Joe, even viewed solely as a mechanical system, is not a closed system or deterministic.

        Free will certainly informs ethics. But it does this, in my view, because it is a miraculous suspension of the laws of physics. It is a metaphysical gift to us, and not wholly separate from the purely physical.

        This view, I suppose, removes me from the conversation, for what can a systematic philosophy say about the miraculous?

        • “This suggests to me that Joe, even viewed solely as a mechanical system, is not a closed system or deterministic. ”

          Hmmph. That is a very good point. I will have to return to my pillar in the wastelands of Egypt and meditate on this. If this is what Dr Andreassen all along has been trying to ask, I regret that he did not hire you to express his thoughts two years ago.

          I would say any explanation of Joe which told you how he moved across the snowy street without telling you what he was trying to do or what his motive was would be incomplete as an explanation. But I am not sure that means the deterministic laws of cause and effect are broken. Joe does not levitate across the street like a mystic monk. He moves his muscles and we can trace the muscular motions through mechanical causes and effect all the way back to the nutrients in his lunch and the organisms he ate in his sandwich and the energy that came from the sun.

          You see, I do not think that free will suspends the laws of physics because the laws of physics are designed never to address the topic of free will, or any volitional act in man or brute, or any final cause in nature of any kind, one way or the other. The laws of physics simply do not address the topic at all, and cannot address the topic.

          I do indeed think the existence of free will is a miracle in the sense that it is a sign. But free will does not break the law of physics for the same reason it does not break the law that says all diatonic songs end on their beginning note and return to center. That law concerns music, not human free will. Physics concerns billiard balls and things like them, not human free will. If you attempt to treat human free will like billiard balls, you find you cannot.

          • MikeR says:

            Yes, I certainly do not think that free will suspends all the laws of physics; they are, I think, suspended only to the extent necessary to allow Joe’s action to have a moral nature. And certainly a too generous suspension of physical laws would tend to blunt the moral dimension of human action–if we lived in a fantasy world where we could reverse or quickly and completely heal any harm we caused, our actions would not have the consequential quality that they do.

            I agree that physics cannot address free will, and the laws of physics are so designed. But–and I think this is where we disagree–it does not follow, even in principle, that the laws of physics can provide a complete physical description. Perhaps of a billiard ball, but certainly not of Joe.

            How, by the way, do you view the exemplary beverage service at the wedding in Cana, or the selectively supportive surface of the Sea of Galilee? I see them, from the physical point of view, as a suspension or alteration of the usual laws of physics. Insofar as we are made in the image of God, can this not imply that we have a bit of the divine or miraculous in us?

            I also may look at the laws of physics somewhat differently. They are means by which we can make physical explanations and predictions. They are, of course, based on past observations and, to the extent we find them accurate and useful, we think them true. While this assumption of the relationship between accuracy and truth is sufficient for everyday use, there is no necessary or intrinsic relationship between the two, and the assumption is, I think, misleading in these philosophical discussions. When I see Joe, I see good reason to think that the jurisdiction of the laws of physics is somewhat less than the whole of the physical universe because the usefulness or accuracy of such laws declines in some respects in Joe.

            • But–and I think this is where we disagree–it does not follow, even in principle, that the laws of physics can provide a complete physical description. Perhaps of a billiard ball, but certainly not of Joe.

              No, no. We do not disagree at all. All I said was that if Joe were flung out a window, he would fall at 32 feet per second per second, just like any other material body, unless some other factor, such as him grabbing a passing flagpole, intervened. I also say that falling Joe does not fall for no reason, but because of gravity.

              That is all. Nowhere and nohow do I say or imply that the description of the physics involved in the rescue of an orphan or the leap of a suicide is a “full” description, or even a significant description. Indeed, often the physics of a human action is the least interesting part of the event. No jury ever talks about the rate of acceleration due to gravity during inquiries into murders and suicides. They talk about the legal and moral issues. The real issues.

              I also may look at the laws of physics somewhat differently. They are means by which we can make physical explanations and predictions. They are, of course, based on past observations and, to the extent we find them accurate and useful, we think them true. While this assumption of the relationship between accuracy and truth is sufficient for everyday use, there is no necessary or intrinsic relationship between the two, and the assumption is, I think, misleading in these philosophical discussions.

              To the contrary, unless I misunderstand your point, not only are we in exact agreement, it was precisely to stop the misleading assumption in a philosophical discussion that I have been patiently (and then less patiently) been repeating myself hoarse these last two years. I am delighted to find someone who says the same as I do.

              Physics is a game, like boxing, with artificial rules about what blows are legal and how long the fight lasts. Real fighting with gloves off is like real life, and there are no neat simple rules that requires either the physical universe nor the much greater spiritual universe to behave as the umpires called physicists demand.

              Scientists are wrong about Pluto, and wrong about the Apatasaurus. They are wrong about cause and effect, and when they stumble into my territory, into philosophy, they make elementary errors, and they are not only dead wrong, they look ridiculous.

              I believe in science but not in scientists, and I do not believe science can answer, or should even open its yap, about nonscientific questions.

              • MikeR says:

                Mr Wright,

                I can quibble with your phraseology on points, but, now that I understand what you are saying–and what I am thinking, I no longer think there is any substantive disagreement between us.

                Thank you for willingness to engage and for your prose, which is a pleasure to read and which to my ears has something of Chesterton in its cadence. (I suppose that is another answer to your question on novels: when I am reading well, I read visually and aurally.)

                Mike

                • “I can quibble with your phraseology on points, but, now that I understand what you are saying–and what I am thinking, I no longer think there is any substantive disagreement between us.”

                  My experience is that not some but MOST disagreement are semantics, not substantive. That is why most philosophical arguments are actually a little dull– they require us to define our terms and ask and answer questions until our meaning is clear, and so the verbal pyrotechnical that are so exciting never get fired off.

                  That is also how you tell the difference between the thoughtful man and a loudmouth. The loudmouth attacks the character of his opposition is his first, and usually his only, argument. He does not debate, he merely poses and postures.

                  “which to my ears has something of Chesterton in its cadence”

                  Thank you! That is the second finest compliment I ever received!

    • mhssu says:

      I’d object to your characterization of (2). Mr Wright’s not saying that the connection doesn’t make sense- He’s saying that you can’t make sense of the connection in mechanistic terms. The idea of man as mechanism is an incomplete abstraction from reality. It is to talk of parts moving without reference to the whole, when they could not move, qua parts of the whole, except as parts of the whole and as directed by the nature and teleology of the whole. This kind of abstraction is useful for certain purposes, perhaps, but it is inherently limited. Once one admits formal and final causes into the metaphysical picture, the issue resolves itself.

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