Empiricism Mute on Non-empirical Questions

QUESTION ELEVEN: Quoting me ‘Myself, I would not be interested in such a study [of the statistical relation between success in nations and their loyalty to standards of civility] because I believe that the deduction can be made from moral first principles that insults against the poor and weak are both craven and evil.’
I think so too, personally, but how do you convince people who don’t agree except by citing data?
For example, I could tell my Bulgarian students that they shouldn’t make jokes about Gypsies and Black people because it’s evil. I don’t because I want to keep my job, but also because the response would be “no, it isn’t evil.” How can I bring them about to my way of thinking except with evidence?

The question is incomprehensible to me. There is only one person I ever met who even alleged that he was persuaded by empirical evidence of non-empirical conclusions, and when I asked him for an example, he lied rather than admit he had no examples. This is not a case where there is something which is possible but happens not to exist in our world, such as talking trees. This is a case where the thing is impossible.

Here is my proof.

  1. Do you agree that the that international scientific community has reduced all empirical entities to certain basic constants, namely mass, length, duration, temperature, current, candlepower, moles of substance, such that any empirical subject (such as the acceleration due to gravity of a cannonball or color defined as light-frequency) can be expressed in terms of these measurable quantities or some calculated derivation of these quantities?  (I do note that for subatomic particles, some additional fundamentals are needed, but these are also quantities, and not qualities, and therefore do not effect the argument.)
  2. A quality is a judgment concerning an imponderable entity, such as true or untrue, valid or invalid, comely or ugly. A quantity is a multitude of magnitudes, or in other words, a quantity can be measured against a standard or counted with numbers or both. Do you agree that no quality can be reduced to quantity by any means whatsoever?For example, do you agree that counting the number of vowels used to express a given sentence written in ink in Esperanto will not necessarily tell you whether the sentence is true or false, fairminded or slanderous, self-evident or self-contradictory, lovely poetry or ungainly prose? That also measuring with utmost care the jots over the small I’s and small J’s even to the extend of counting every ink molecule will not give you sufficient information to make these judgment?
  3. If all empirical statements can be reduced to measured fundamental quantities, and no statements about imponderables such as good and bad, valid and invalid, fair or foul can be reduced to measurable fundamental qualities, then they have no overlap whatsoever in topic or probative value, Ergo no imponderable can be proved or disproved by purely empirical statement, no matter how numerous or complex.

To head off an obvious objection, the quantities facts about the molecules and atoms in a man’s brain have some sort of unknown relation to his ability to make qualitative judgments. Drunkenness or drugs or a blow to the head can, for example, impede the operations of memory and judgment and other cognitive powers, or drive him mad, or kill a man altogether. There is, however, not a single iota of evidence showing a relation between the imponderable cognitive content and any quantitative facts about brain molecules. You can blind a man by pouring a chemical in his eye, but you cannot make him partial to brunettes if he is partial to blondes by pouring a chemical in his eye, because his taste in the hair color of woman is not dependent upon eye chemistry. Likewise for the brain and the ideals perceived and thoughts entertained by the brain.

I have had many a weary discussion with a certain enthusiast on this topic, but he was unwilling, or perhaps unable, to grasp the basic difference between an organ like the brain, which is material, and thoughts and abstractions grasped or perceived via the mind, which are immaterial. It was like talking to a voodoo witchdoctor, who cannot tell the difference between a man and a doll representing him.

So this topic is a bit of a sore spot for me. If you plan to make the argument that non-empirical qualities can be reduced to empirical quantities because the human brain somehow is both empirical and non-empirical, both A and non-A, and this is thanks to sparkly rainbow hyperspatial unicorn fairy magic lodged in the brain, then excuse me from further discussion.

You can tell your Bulgarian students that it is wrong to mock and dishonor another for the same reason, whatever it is, that they do not wish to be mocked and dishonored. You persuade them by making reference to a moral category which of necessity must exist in their thinking. Even if they are unaware of it at first, a few simple questions will draw their attention to the fact that their objections to injustices done to them are not simply matters of physical pain or fear of physical pain, nor simply matters of trespass on property rights.

They know what a wrong is when it is done to them, but if their consciences are incorrectly formed, they might not be able to put into words why it is wrong, but they will know.

 

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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54 Responses to Empiricism Mute on Non-empirical Questions

  1. You can blind a man by pouring a chemical in his eye, but you cannot make him partial to brunettes if he is partial to blondes by pouring a chemical in his eye, because his taste in the hair color of woman is not dependent upon eye chemistry.

    If such a chemical were discovered, would you admit that you were mistaken? (Noting that it would actually be brain chemistry, but whatever – the point stands.)

    many a weary discussion

    Cheer up! The last time we discussed this we made great progress. In particular, we got to the point of agreeing that it is possible to perform mathematical operations on a list of measured positions and velocities of atoms in the human body, and come up with a list of future positions and velocities by the usual rules of Newton; but you asserted that such a calculation would be meaningless, and would give wrong answers. Will you agree that this is a falsifiable prediction about empirically-measureable facts? To wit, I can measure the position of the atoms in your body, calculate their position a second, a minute, or an hour into the future, and then check against a measurement made at that time. (Quantum effects aside, as always.)

    You occasionally ask me – demand of me, is perhaps the better phrase – what my axioms are; well, here is an axiom: The laws of physics are applicable at all times and all places, including every atom of human bodies without exception. You will see that it immediately follows that the calculation I refer to above is not meaningless; on the contrary it is accurate.

    • The Deuce says:

      Will you agree that this is a falsifiable prediction about empirically-measureable facts?

      Yeah, John, do you agree that the idea that there are no such things as falsification, predictions, or empirically-measurable facts is a falsifiable prediction about empirically-measurable facts?

      • Now then, that is not what I said. Please refrain from putting straw in my mouth.

        • The Deuce says:

          I gave the condensed version. You might as well have asked whether John would accept empirical proof of square circles were there any, or some other logically incoherent non-concept.

          The only rational response is that since incoherent things cannot exist, a situation in which something incoherent is proven (empirically or otherwise) also cannot exist, and if someone thinks they’ve found proof of such a situation, or even believes such a situation possible, then they’ve lost touch with reason and reality, and need to reinterpret the evidence in a coherent fashion.

          • I have a list of numbers, which I acquired by means unspecified. I perform certain mathematical operations on these numbers, thus getting a different list. I assert that the second list is, through the magic of my Awesome Mathemagical Powers, a list of the positions and velocities of the atoms in some particular object at a particular time. This may be wrong, but I cannot fathom why you say it is incoherent. Either the atoms occupy those positions or they don’t; wherein lies the contradiction?

            • The Deuce says:

              I have a concept of a square as an object with four equal length sides and four right angles. I assert that it’s perfectly possible for squares to exist. I even draw one to demonstrate it.

              I do the same for the concept of circles, arguing that the concept of a continuously curved shape with no angles is likewise possible.

              Then I claim that in the future, it’s possible that squares could be shown to be circles. This could be wrong, but I cannot fathom why anyone would say it is incoherent!

              —–

              You can imagine that there is some collection of matter, made up entirely of atoms, the future positions and velocities of which are exhaustively determined by (and predictable with) the mechanistic laws of physics. You can even call this hypothetical machine “John” if it floats your boat.

              You can suppose that John is a rational agent, capable of using logic to see the conclusions that follow logically from premises, who is therefore obligated by force of reason to assent to the logical implications of your premises if your premises are demonstrated to be true.

              Both concepts are coherent on their own. It’s when you say that John is “John,” or could even possibly be shown to be, that you delve into incoherent absurdity.

              • Well now, I have not yet said that. Can we please stick to one step at a time, and not leap ahead into the great unknown? Although I may be in-principle “merely” a meat machine, predictable from knowledge of the initial conditions, you do not have that knowledge. By insisting on charging ahead, on leaping to conclusions which nobody actually asserted and then disputing – nay, heaping mockery upon – those imaginary conclusions, while ignoring what was actually asserted, this debate has been kept at a standstill for three years. I would like to avoid that this time around. Can you please confine yourself to answering what I actually asked, and not what you imagine must be my conclusions from what you imagine must be my answers to my own questions?

        • The Deuce says:

          Let’s have some fun with the idea that John is composed entirely of atoms, and that one could possibly predict a list of future positions and velocities of those atoms, including all brain-processing and statements John may have in the future, using the usual rules of physics.

          Of course, we must suppose that Rolf is also composed entirely of atoms, the future positions and velocities of which might be predicted in mathematically deterministic fashion using the rules of physics.

          This means that when Rolf says “The laws of physics are applicable at all times and all places, including every atom of human bodies without exception,” his so-called “thought” is itself merely atoms configured in various positions moving with various velocities. And when he concludes with the “prediction” that it’s in-principle possible to predict the future of what anyone will think using the laws of physics, his so-called “conclusion” is also a bunch of atoms configured in various positions and velocities. And furthermore, anyone could in-principle look inside Rolf’s brain and see that there wasn’t any magical qualitative “content” in his “conclusion” that derived from the “content” of his “premises” via any imagined “laws” of “logic”. Rather, one configuration of brain-atoms was followed by another configuration of brain atoms, in a manner entirely mathematically predictable using the laws of physics.

          Now, Rolf’s “prediction” that “thoughts” are physically predictable configurations of atoms is itself a physically predictable configuration of atoms (according to Rolf), and yet Rolf is also telling us that this “logical reasoning” of his (which is just the physically predictable movement of atoms) implies something about reality itself!

          So, for example, the physically predictable velocities and positions of atoms in the brain of a small chunk of wet matter called “Rolf” at a given moment somehow demonstrate that all brains everywhere, including ones Rolf’s brain has never even been in the vicinity of, are entirely predictable configurations of atoms.

          For another example, if we could see the configuration of Rolf’s brain atoms at one point, we could not only predict the movement of those atoms, their future state, and exactly what they were going to cause Rolf’s fingers to type on the keyboard; we would be able conclude, simply by predicting those movements that he labels “my reasoning” (we wouldn’t even have to observe them, just predict them with the laws of physics) that “the laws of physics are applicable at all times and all places, including every atom of human bodies without exception”!

          In fact, Rolf tells us that in principle, he could predict the movement of John’s brain atoms using the laws of physics if he had the requisite knowledge. That means that if we looked only at Rolf’s brain atoms, we could determine not only the future configuration of Rolf’s brain atoms, but also the future configuration of John’s brain atoms!

          We need to recognize a new physical law that describes the remarkable way in which the movements of atoms in the 3-pound hunk of grey matter we affectionately call “Rolf’s brain,” despite it being entirely predictable in mechanistic physical fashion like any other piece of machinery, nevertheless imply all sorts of far-reaching facts, both physical and metaphysical, about all of reality and even the ultimate nature of reality, including unrelated pieces of matter with which it has had no physical contact.

          I hereby dub it quantum-superbull-cacaposition.

          • watermelonyo says:

            I like how you think an argument from incredulity with some mocking somehow becomes a clever reductio ad absurdum. It’s like a geocentrist arguing against heliocentrism by saying, “In principle, we could observe the earth orbiting the sun. We need to recognize a new physical law that describes this remarkable behavior. I hereby dub it stupid-earth-going-around-stupid-sun.”

            • The Deuce says:

              So you agree that quantum-superbull-cacaposition is a real and hithertofore unknown physical law pertaining to the atoms of Rolf’s brain and their connection to the entire universe, but you’re unhappy with the name. Still, I have just deduced the existence of a major new law that’s going to overhaul physics, and unify it with chemistry, biology, and psychology, so you could at least respect my earth-shattering contribution to science.

          • Yes, yes, I’m quite familiar with this argument. I can show where it fails, at least to people who are willing to listen rather than scoff. I must say that you, at the moment, are not impressing me on the point.

            However, at the moment I would like to try just to get you to answer some extremely simple questions; no appeal to consequences, no pseudo-clever mockery. Just answer the damn question, please.

            Is, or is not, the future position of atoms a checkable fact? Can, or can I not, apply mathematical operations to a list of numbers, get a different list, and check whether the second list matches the position of particular atoms at a particular time? Does, or does not, your theory claim that the second list will not, in fact, match the position of the atoms in a human brain? And is this, or is it not, a falsifiable prediction about empirical facts reducible to numbers?

            • Tilon says:

              Does quantum mechanics not show us that we cannot perfectly observe everything in the universe without altering it in some way?

              You seem to be only talking about Newtonian physics in a 21st century world where we have the complexity and unpredictability of quantum mechanics to contend with.

              • I’m sorry to be dismissive, but please familiarise yourself with the long history of this discussion, where that precise question has been answered at least a dozen times, before entering it. I cannot be writing the standard disclaimers in my every post, there would be no room for anything else and it would be awesomely repetitive.

            • A Spectator says:

              If one grants that a particular atom’s location can be determined by instrumentation which does not yet exist and that it’s future position could be calculated with as much as or greater accuracy than Newtonian calculations can determine the future location of a falling object (which, for one who has taken courses in physical chemistry, is already highly doubtful), how will such reasoning lead to a conclusion wherein that atom’s future location will determine the state of mind or, especially, the particular knowledge of an individual? So far, your conclusion looks an awful lot like one of your premises.

              • Indeed, to do so directly would require neurological breakthroughs which it is quite possible will never happen; but see my response at 12:51 to Nate Winchester’s similar question.

                As for physical chemistry, of course I’m aware of both the quantum difficulties and the chaotic ones; everything is in-principle and you may certainly take the predictions as being probabilistic if you like. By long-agreed convention our host and I ignore these points because they don’t matter to the fundamental argument we’re having, and speak as though Newton were the last word in physics.

                All that aside, please note that I did not say a word about states of mind, all that was introduced by other people. I spoke of atoms and asked whether a particular question was empirically testable or not.

                • A Spectator says:

                  I had assumed from the context that your line of questioning would lead to your conclusion and was asking how this might be done granted those premises. My citations of anxiety with regard to their feasibility was something of a tangent (likely as a result of pride, “Behold! I am aware that non-ideal particles are too complicated by modern standards for such calculation!”). As that discussion is already underway elsewhere, though, I can resume my less active role more suited to my station.

    • Where did you get this axiom? Is the axiom the result of an empirical experiment, or it is a postulate needed for the discipline of physics?

      Do you know if the axiom is true in all times, places, and conditions? It is, in other words, a universal affirmative statement?

      Is it true?

      • I have in the past answered many of your questions. Perhaps you would do me the courtesy of answering just one of mine, before asking still more.

        • I cannot answer your question because I do not understand it. You are asking me if a chemical were found that, putting it into my eye, would change my judgments and tastes against my will (or independent of my will) so that I now preferred blondes to brunettes, whether this would cause me to admit that I were mistaken?

          If I put on rose colored glasses, and I now see everything as rose colored, that is something effecting my perception, and the cause and effect seems clear.

          But you are asking about what would happen if I encountered a change of perception, of the physical characteristics of the eye, was correlated to a change in judgment and taste?

          I would not conclude I had mistaken that the categories of perception and judgment exist, no, because that is not what the experiment set out to prove.

          But I would say that since I have never even once, outside of a fairy story about love potions, ever even heard of a change in the content of a judgment being caused by external factors affecting the organ of perception, that I would indeed admit I was wrong about how taste in women would be categorized.

          If such a chemical were discovered, yes, indeed, I would admit that something I thought was a judgement was in fact a perception, and that beauty in women is a measurable material substance similar to the light frequency admitted of rose colored glass.

          I would not conclude that all members of the set ‘judgment’ are actually members of the set ‘perception’ because the experiment would not prove that. It would also involve a paradox, since ‘admission’ is a subset of ‘judgment.’

          Is that a sufficient answer?

          Now you may answer mine.

          • But you are asking about what would happen if I encountered a change of perception, of the physical characteristics of the eye, was correlated to a change in judgment and taste?

            I was actually thinking of changing your judgement and taste without any change in your perceptions. However, this perhaps does not matter for the argument.

            Edit to add: Excuse me; I should have read more carefully. You defined ‘perception’ as ‘the physical characteristics of the eye’, and of course I did not mean to leave those unchanged – allowing the substitution ‘brain’ for ‘eye’.

            If such a chemical were discovered, yes, indeed, I would admit that something I thought was a judgement was in fact a perception, and that beauty in women is a measurable material substance similar to the light frequency admitted of rose colored glass.

            Good, I am glad to hear it. Then your belief is at least in-principle falsifiable: There exists a set of sense impressions that would cause you to modify it.

            I would not conclude that all members of the set ‘judgment’ are actually members of the set ‘perception’ because the experiment would not prove that.

            Fair enough; we could apply similar tests to the members of the set ‘judgements’ one by one. I opine that if I can change your judgement on something so fundamental as attractiveness, I can probably change it on anything I please; but that’s not necessarily so.

            I further opine that if I do change your judgements by chemistry, at least on important matters, then there is a sense in which I’m killing you and replacing you with a man of the same name and occupying the same body but having different tastes, who therefore makes different judgements. But this is getting into implications.

            Where did you get this axiom? Is the axiom the result of an empirical experiment, or it is a postulate needed for the discipline of physics?

            It is not needed for the discipline of physics; physics could be done on the vastly weaker assumption “these laws hold in all times and places except when free-willed creatures intervene, free will being outside our scope”. Obviously some judgement would then be required on whether a free-willed creature had intervened or not, but as a merely practical matter that’s true anyway, since the axiom does not require us to calculate the effect of the whole universe on our experiments – it merely says that it can in-principle be done. As a matter of practicality, it’s much simpler just to discard the result when a rat runs (or a raindrop falls) into your particle beam, and do the experiment over.

            It is, therefore, an induction from experience: It is intuitively reasonable, I have never seen anything to contradict it, have seen many things obey it, and it is a simple and effective rule. Any exception, obviously, is a complication which should not be introduced until the need for it is demonstrated.

            Do you know if the axiom is true in all times, places, and conditions? It is, in other words, a universal affirmative statement?

            Is it true?

            As far as I know, yes. At which point, presumably, you claim that I am now saying I’m a mere meat robot, and that you therefore need not listen to my arguments. I do not in fact claim that; that is an inference which does not actually follow from the axiom. The chain of logic by which you claim that the axiom refutes itself (or rather, a man asserting it refutes himself) is mistaken. But showing why this is so is the work of a book, not a blog post, and I would like to pursue the fundamentals before we start on the implications. So I ask that you for the moment make the assumption that I am not in fact a meat robot, in spite of the axiom, and pursue the discussion without reference to this false inference; it is not that I cannot refute it, but that I cannot refute it while you insist on shouting it at me, and I also cannot refute it without looking at the fundamentals first.

            So, if you don’t mind, perhaps you’ll answer the other question I asked in my original post:

            [I]t is possible to perform mathematical operations on a list of measured positions and velocities of atoms in the human body, and come up with a list of future positions and velocities by the usual rules of Newton; but you asserted that such a calculation would be meaningless, and would give wrong answers. Will you agree that this is a falsifiable prediction about empirically-measureable facts? To wit, I can measure the position of the atoms in your body, calculate their position a second, a minute, or an hour into the future, and then check against a measurement made at that time.

            • Was there ever a doubt that any of my conclusions based on empirical evidence are in-principle falsifiable? I am bemused by the attempted reversal of roles.

              Tell me on what grounds, or by what experiment, your conclusions about materialism and empiricism could be falsified. I asked you this many years ago, and then again a year after that, and do not recall a clear answer.

              • Was there ever a doubt that any of my conclusions based on empirical evidence are in-principle falsifiable?

                You keep asserting that the points about which we are arguing are not based on empirical evidence, so I do not quite see the relevance of this. In particular, what empirical evidence do you have for your conclusion that beauty is not a perception but a judgement, or that the categories exist? If you have any, it is the first I’ve heard of it, and indeed I rather expect you to heap scorn on the idea; so your reply that whatever beliefs you may have that are empirically based, are falsifiable, is quite irrelevant to the point I was making.

                Tell me on what grounds, or by what experiment, your conclusions about materialism and empiricism could be falsified.

                I am working up to that. But to do so I need you to answer the question about lists of atomic positions. It forms, so to speak, a lemma in my theorem, and I cannot proceed without it.

                • “You keep asserting that the points about which we are arguing are not based on empirical evidence, so I do not quite see the relevance of this.”

                  No, sir, I keep asserting that you make the assertion that all knowledge is empirical.

                  When I ask you for empirical proof to back up this or various other statements you make, instead of admitting you have no experiment or observation to back up the claim, you just say you have. When asked for the details of these fabulous experiments, you don’t answer.

                  I have never once said that empirical conclusions cannot be falsified by empirical evidence. I claim only that metaphysical conclusions, such as a belief in radical empiricism, your belief system is not in principle falsifiable by empirical means.

                  I do not know at this point how to proceed in the argument. You do not admit that empiricism falls under the topic of epistemology, or that ontology falls under the topic of metaphysics. You keep pretending we are discussing a subject that can be determined by an experiment or an observation, and yet your proofs offered are ontological and epistemological arguments from first principles, that is, not physics but metaphysics.

                  This is surely a paradox, because while I believe that true knowledge can be deduced without empirical experimentation from first principles, YOU DO NOT.

                  If not, tell me what observation or what experiment would prove to you that your belief system is false?

                  If you cannot do so, please do me the courtesy of finally, finally, finally admitting that this is a metaphysical discussion, an argument from first principles, and not a conclusion of physics, open to being proved or disproved by experiment or observation.

                  If you do not understand the question — and I assume you do not — please do me the courtesy of asking a question so that I can explain any terms I am using that are not familiar to you, or fill in any line of reasoning you cannot see.

                  • If not, tell me what observation or what experiment would prove to you that your belief system is false?

                    I’m trying to do so. You keep ignoring me when I lay out the first step in answering this very question! Let me instead give the whole chain, as briefly as I can manage, in the hope that the argument will be more appealing when you can see where I’m going.

                    Once again: Suppose I calculate the location of the atoms – all the atoms – in your body at some future time, using only the laws of physics to do so. You assert that this cannot be accurate (except in special circumstances such as you being unconscious, or falling from a great height, or whatever), because I have not taken into account your intentions. Very well. Nonetheless, will you agree that I can, firstly, perform the mathematical operations involved? We seem in the past to have gotten into trouble when you assumed that I would not do mathematics that you believed to be meaningless or outside their proper scope. Rest assured, I suffer from no such scruples! I will happily take any list whatsoever of atomic positions and velocities, and apply the laws of Newton (and Maxwell, and whoever else) to them, without regard to whether they describe a living human or a block of iron. My calculation may be wrong or meaningless but it will be arithmetically accurate to fifteen decimal places!

                    Second, will you agree that this calculation is a testable one? At the specified time, your atoms will either be in the place I calculate, or not.

                    And third, is it not the case that if my prediction is wrong, then my theory is false? The Popperian logic seems airtight to me:

                    If axiom A is true, then atom X will be in location Y at time T
                    Atom X is not at location Y at time T
                    Therefore axiom A is not true.

                    Is there perhaps some reason you do not consider this procedure to fall into the category ‘experiment’? Alternatively, do you disagree with the first premise, or with the validity of the deduction? Do you say there is an additional, unexamined premise? (I do obviously assume that I made no error of measurement nor of arithmetic; I believe I can make the probability of either arbitrarily low by repeating the procedure many times. And Heisenberg is simply ignored, as is chaos theory.)

                    Perhaps you’re concerned that I might say “Clearly my knowledge of the laws of physics is wrong”, and assert that if I knew the true laws, I could make the correct calculation? I admit that this is a concern, because of course I can always postulate still another refinement that I don’t yet know about. Here I appeal to good faith. At some point you have to make the judgement that your project is just impossible, and that the falsity of the axiom is the simpler explanation. So, I ask you to believe that I would not simply add an infinity of hypothetical epicycles to save the axiom. A dozen at most!

    • distractedbrony says:

      I just want to comment here to say that, as a relatively new reader to this blog, who started at the beginning and has read maybe a tenth of the way through the massive archive over the past month, I’m glad to peek at the front page and see that you’re still hanging around.

    • The last time we discussed this we made great progress. In particular, we got to the point of agreeing that it is possible to perform mathematical operations on a list of measured positions and velocities of atoms in the human body, and come up with a list of future positions and velocities by the usual rules of Newton; but you asserted that such a calculation would be meaningless, and would give wrong answers. Will you agree that this is a falsifiable prediction about empirically-measureable facts? To wit, I can measure the position of the atoms in your body, calculate their position a second, a minute, or an hour into the future, and then check against a measurement made at that time. (Quantum effects aside, as always.)

      To be as polite as possible: therefore so what?

      Say Newton has determined that the Earth moves around the sun. Does it then matter whether the Earth believes that it does or not? If you argue at the ground for long enough, will the rotation reverse and the sun rise in the west?

      In other words, your statement is nonsensical. If all things are deterministic, then it is impossible that ANY “progress” was made. Just as it is impossible that by you arguing at the ground in the last hour, you somehow caused the earth to move 66,600 miles.

      Let us put it another way. You determine the position of all atoms in my body (particularly mind). Then with calculation, determine the location of all atoms in my body on June 27th, 2013 @ 8am, can you then tell me what new fact (if any) I have learned by that time before I have learned it?

      • [T]herefore so what?

        Therefore, may it please the court, we will finally have found a point of agreement, or of merely factual disagreement, around which we can make a discussion, as opposed to a shouting match. I’ve tried to go on to the implications. We won’t accomplish anything that way without first agreeing on the utter fundamentals; it’s taken three years just to get to the point of making our host realise what I mean by “applying the laws of physics”, because he does not understand the same thing by the phrase as I do, and we both thought our meaning was the only one possible. That’s what happens if you try to jump ahead, at least when two people have such utterly different philosophical starting points as are on display here. So, if you don’t mind, baby steps and agreement on utter basics before we explore any implications.

        Let us put it another way. You determine the position of all atoms in my body (particularly mind). Then with calculation, determine the location of all atoms in my body on June 27th, 2013 @ 8am, can you then tell me what new fact (if any) I have learned by that time before I have learned it?

        You presumably mean “before I would otherwise have learned it”, right? I assume you are not merely setting up a semantic paradox. To answer your question, it depends! Let us suppose that I can answer all questions about the location of your body at a specified time, including such questions as “The fourth carbon atom in the fifth neuron is at position {X,Y,Z} and moving upwards at such-and-such a speed”. Very well, but can I therefore read out the state of your knowledge? Not necessarily! The first requires only applying physical law that is currently known, and making measurements with a precision currently impossible; trivial! The second requires me also to know the code by which I can extract English statements from brain states. That is a neurological advance which need not follow from the physics alone.

        However, there is a trick I can apply to get around that: I can calculate the position of your bodily atoms on the assumption that somone asks you, at 0759, “what new fact have you learned today?” Supposing that you would answer the question honestly, I could extract the sound of that answer from the calculation, because the sound, of course, is a movement of atoms in the air, and by supposition I can answer all questions about atomic locations at specified times.

        Please note: To do the calculation as suggested, I actually need to know the position and velocity of all particles within a 24-lighthour radius of your body, as all of them can in principle impinge on your brain and change its state. So just measuring your body is not of itself sufficient. Additionally, yes, obviously the computer doing the calculations needs to be outside that 24-lighthour range, otherwise you get into paradoxes like “what if, on being told I’ll do X, I do not-X?”

        • You presumably mean “before I would otherwise have learned it”, right? I assume you are not merely setting up a semantic paradox. To answer your question, it depends! Let us suppose that I can answer all questions about the location of your body at a specified time, including such questions as “The fourth carbon atom in the fifth neuron is at position {X,Y,Z} and moving upwards at such-and-such a speed”. Very well, but can I therefore read out the state of your knowledge? Not necessarily! The first requires only applying physical law that is currently known, and making measurements with a precision currently impossible; trivial! The second requires me also to know the code by which I can extract English statements from brain states. That is a neurological advance which need not follow from the physics alone.

          As a mental exercise (pun intended) I will grant you whatever concessions you need. Infinite processing power and infinite data input, whatever. ;)

          However, there is a trick I can apply to get around that: I can calculate the position of your bodily atoms on the assumption that somone asks you, at 0759, “what new fact have you learned today?” Supposing that you would answer the question honestly, I could extract the sound of that answer from the calculation, because the sound, of course, is a movement of atoms in the air, and by supposition I can answer all questions about atomic locations at specified times.

          No, that is not the question. Say I have a ball. As we said, given all the infinite processing, data input, etc, once I release the ball, you will, given the data and physics calculation, be able to determine where the ball will land, correct? Whether I drop it from my hand or toss it up.

          Therefore, given the same allowances, shouldn’t you be able to predict the knowledge my brain atoms will contain later on just as you could predict the trajectory of the ball?

          • Let us drop the calculation of future positions and just say that I know the full state of your brain at some particular time, say yesterday morning when I had you in my super-duper MRI machine. At the moment, I cannot go from that knowledge to writing out what you know in explicit English sentences, because I do not know the code in which your brain stores your knowledge. Now, I certainly believe that such a code exists and is eventually crackable, although conceivably it differs between humans; but this is a separate argument, and it is about neurology, not physics.

            There are two different imaginary machines here: One is a thought-reading machine, which measures the electric fields in your brain and tells me, in English, what you believe about the Trinity. The other is a predicting machine, which calculates what the electric fields will be tomorrow morning, but doesn’t say anything about what you believe about the Trinity. If we grant the existence of both, we may take the output of the prediction machine and use it as input to the thought-reading machine, and then we’ll know what you will believe about the Trinity tomorrow. But the thought-reading machine is not necessary to the existence of the prediction machine, nor vice-versa. It could in principle be the case that one but not the other is possible. As a matter of engineering, I expect we’ll be reading current thoughts long before we predict details of human behaviour even an hour into the future.

            • Let us drop the calculation of future positions

              But we cannot since that’s the exact question. (rather like if I were to ask you the sum of two and two and you said, “let’s leave math aside in answering this…”)

              At the moment, I cannot go from that knowledge to writing out what you know in explicit English sentences, because I do not know the code in which your brain stores your knowledge. Now, I certainly believe that such a code exists and is eventually crackable, although conceivably it differs between humans; but this is a separate argument, and it is about neurology, not physics.

              Except, as XKCD points out, neurology would just be applied physics. ;) At any rate, all that is irrelevant. I’ll grant you “telepathy” by way of hand held brain scan with engram code analysis & translating all on your new smartphone. Or with the infinite computer. Regardless.

              There are two different imaginary machines here: One is a thought-reading machine, which measures the electric fields in your brain and tells me, in English, what you believe about the Trinity. The other is a predicting machine, which calculates what the electric fields will be tomorrow morning, but doesn’t say anything about what you believe about the Trinity. If we grant the existence of both, we may take the output of the prediction machine and use it as input to the thought-reading machine, and then we’ll know what you will believe about the Trinity tomorrow. But the thought-reading machine is not necessary to the existence of the prediction machine, nor vice-versa.

              No, it is the central challenge of determinism.

              Let us say that you are about to type up something of which I’m not aware. Some new fact I’ve never heard before. (about anything anywhere) You type that up onto the comment thread here. To be sporting, I’ll even tell you when I’m just about to read it (so you can take an analysis of the full state of all my atoms beforehand).

              Therefore given infinite data & processing, can you predict, from the photons that leave the monitor, strike my eye, pass through the lens cells (affecting those atoms), strike the retina, affect those atoms such that they affect the atoms of my optic nerve to the atoms of my brain, can you predict what the configuration of my brain atoms after all that? After the new knowledge has been received and whether it was accepted or rejected?

              After all, if “knowledge” is a physical force (like inertia) or measurable by physical forces (like gravity) then given the data on atoms of a brain you should be able to predict the affect on those atoms by the “knowledge” just as if you were predicting the trajectory of a ball when velocity or some other force were applied to it.

              • At any rate, all that is irrelevant. I’ll grant you “telepathy” by way of hand held brain scan with engram code analysis & translating all on your new smartphone. Or with the infinite computer. Regardless.

                Ok, you are granting for the sake of argument the thought-reading machine. Very well. In that case, yes, I can use my predicting machine to tell what new knowledge you will have before breakfast tomorrow. But please do note that this is a stronger set of assumptions than I was initially using, which did not include the thought-reading machine.

                • (sorry for the delay)

                  Therefore, can you also predict whether I will accept the fact as true or reject it as false? Or whether I will, in fact, end up lying and going to look at funny cat pictures instead of reading your post?

                  And (allowing that there might be a discovery changing this) what do you believe is the force which affects the atoms that “make” the “decision” on the above?

                  • Well, this is more difficult! Let me first note that I was thinking of the original formulation of your question, about a new fact to be learned before tomorrow, without the specification that I was going to be the one to tell you. If the predicter interacts with the predictee, we have quite a different situation, because now I’m required to predict, not only what you and all your environment will do, but also what I and my computer will do to change that. This is probably impossible, both for Godelian reasons and because the computer cannot very well contain the required representation, without compression, of all of itself.

                    If you learn the new fact “organically”, without the interference of the predicter, then yes, it can predict what you will do in response. If we assume that the new information is well specified in advance, for example that the predicter knows beforehand the text of the post and also knows the path by which it will come to the computer you read it on – recall that originally, the machine is specified to be outside the 24-lighthour radius of information gathering – then again, your reaction can be foretold. But if it has to predict itself, then no.

                    [quote][W]hat do you believe is the force which affects the atoms[/quote]

                    Electromagnetism, gravity, weak and strong nuclear forces.

                • Patrick says:

                  “Very well. In that case, yes, I can use my predicting machine to tell what new knowledge you will have before breakfast tomorrow. ”

                  Isn’t this basically a paradox what makes the whole thing in principle unfalsifiable?

                  The only way I can think of to prove your way beyond this is to demonstrate that you can know from your experiment that I can (or can’t) know the unknowable, without knowing it yourself. Double-blind, as it were.

                  • I don’t understand why you think it is a paradox. Please notice that I did not propose that Mr Winchester could know what he would know before he knew it; I proposed that I should know it. This is not only non-paradoxical, it’s not even unusual. Suppose a comet is headed for the Earth; then if I have a telescope and you don’t, I can predict with some confidence that tomorrow morning you’ll know about our impending doom. No vast, cool, and Jupiter-sized computations required!

                    Perhaps you had a different paradox in mind? If so, please lay it out in more detail.

  2. The Deuce says:

    Hi John,

    I will make one pushback to this: Namely, even though they are qualitative and not quantitative properties, I do know your thoughts about what is “good and bad, valid and invalid, fair or foul” on quite a number of topics. I know your thoughts on these things the same way that I know anybody’s thoughts on anything – I’ve experienced you communicating those thoughts in language. In other words, you’ve communicated qualitative concepts to me via empirical means.

    What this implies is that (1) is not entirely true. Not all empirically knowable entities have been or can be reduced to quantities, regardless of what individuals inside or outside the scientific community may think. It is quite clear that there are qualitative entities that can be known by experience, aka known empirically, but cannot be measured.

    But the essence of your point is still correct. There exist quantitative properties, which are subject to measurement, and many of which have been cataloged by the physical sciences, which deal with the measurable. There are qualitative properties which cannot be quantified or measured, and hence cannot be reduced to quantitative properties (or vice-versa). Since no amount of quantification can tell you anything about the unquantifiable, it is impossible to reach qualitative conclusions using the results of quantitative reasoning on the quantifiable measurements used in science.

    • I am not sure what you mean by communicated concepts to you by empirical means. This would seem to be a bit of a paradox. Surely there are concepts which exist in your awareness, concepts such as just and unjust, logical and illogical, true and false, which deal with the relationship between human action and an abstract standard of goodness or beauty, or which deal with the relationship between symbols and objects, or symbols and formal rules of logic, and so on. Now, symbols do not exist in the realm of the senses. The act by which, for example, a straight line can mean either the small letter l or the number one or the sign for the operation of division and so on is an act of the human mind, is it not? It is something done, not something seen or smelled or tasted or touched or felt with a finger? Then in what sense is this operation an empirical operation?

      If I write a word in ink on a page or speak the same word by vibrating air waves with my throat to you, is the word the same in both cases? In what sense is it ‘the same’? Not a single property of length, duration, mass, temperature, candlepower, current or moles of substance is the same between the moving air molecules and the silent ink molecules. The word is not material and not perceived by the senses.

      And even if it were, the word is not the same in different languages, yet surely the concept is the same. I can write the Pythagorean Theorem in very clear English or very bad ancient Greek, and the logic is the same in both cases, and the conclusion is true in both cases.

      But all this to one side, I am pleased at least one reader grasps that quantities and qualities cannot be both reduced to fundamental qualities.

      • The Deuce says:

        Hi John. We’re using “empirical” differently. The way I’m using it, “empirical” knowledge is simply knowledge gained by experience from information received via the senses. So, for example, my knowledge about the content of your thoughts on various topics is empirical knowledge, because I gained that knowledge by reading what you’ve written with my eyes.

        Of course, I can’t “measure” the contents of your thoughts, nor are they subject to scientific examination, and the very idea of doing so is nonsensical, because the content of your thoughts is not a quantity.

        As I see it, all knowable quantifiable entities are empirically knowable properties, but not all empirically knowable properties are quantifiable. You on the other hand essentially define “empirical” as being entirely commensurate with “measurable.”

        I would say that the empirically knowable consists of all contingent truths, plus all necessary truths that, despite being necessary, cannot be known by unaided human reason alone. Since contingent truths (such as the content of your beliefs, or the mass of earth) are not logically necessary and could have been otherwise, they can only be known through experience. Likewise, necessary truths that are beyond our ability to learn by unaided reason (like the Trinity) can only be known by us if God reveals them to our experience.

        FWIW, I think my definition is both the more traditional one and the more consistent one. The definition you’re using reflects, to a small degree imo, the tendency of moderns to think of the methods of modern science as encompassing all knowledge, and especially all empirical knowledge, when in reality they are incapable of either, but can only coherently address *measurable* empirically-known properties specifically.

        I also think my definition is better because it helps to focus on the crux of the issue: that immeasurable qualitative entities cannot be reduced to measurable quantifiable entities, and that attempting to do so is just to deny their existence altogether (which is especially incoherent when the qualitative entity being denied is the truth or rationality of belief). Imo, making it about “empirical” vs qualitative is more vague, and obscures the point about what precisely is so incoherent about reductionism somewhat.

        • Fair enough. By that definition, all knowledge is empirical, since every abstract proposition I ever met or invented I read in books, or I thought about in English, a language I was taught ‘empirically.’

          If we use your definition of empirical, you need to provide me with a word to refer to the difference between knowledge gained through the senses and knowledge gained by pure reason.

          I do not think we should use your term. Not only is that not the way it has ever been used (the word is a term of art in philosophy) it obscures the main point just where the most clarity is called for.

  3. PNG_pyro says:

    I really don’t understand your paragraph about brains and brunettes. You say that brain chemistry has a bearing on *something*, but I’m not sure what you’re talking about. Is your point that brain chemistry has no bearing on what truth is, because we simply perceive truth with our brain, and that eye chemistry has no bearing on what is beautiful, because we simply perceive beauty with our eyes?

    Maybe I’m a little confused because it seems to me that you’re saying whether a man likes brunettes or blonds can’t be changed. I’ve seen in myself how what I perceive as beauty can change, and I’m pretty sure this happens to others, too. It could probably even be induced, although directly manipulating brain chemistry seems a rather poor way to go about it.

    Beauty is, after all, in the eye of the beholder. Now, apparently there are caustic chemicals, too. : )

    • I am saying that brain chemistry is known to influence the capacity of the brain to think. I am saying there is no known correlation or causation linking brain chemistry with the content of thinking. I am saying that those who claim not only that some thought content is determined by brain chemistry but ALL thought content is determined by brain chemistry and nothing but are making a speculation based on metaphysical first principles, and not making an empirical claim that can be proved or disproved by an empirical test.

      I am further saying that if the man saying it has a brain controlled by brain chemistry, his statement is self refuting. Obviously what he says is determined, at least in part, by what he means to say (which is final cause) what his other thoughts logically conclude he should say (which is formal cause) and that to the limits of scientific measurement his brain chemistry would be the same if he said the opposite.

      The example I selected was because those who claim beauty is in the eye of the beholder, that is, based on factors too subtle or too irrational or too personal to be discussed, are also those who say the contents of the brain are described by the laws of physics. So on the one hand, they say things like a distaste for flag burning is arbitrary, but then say man has no free will and no decisions are arbitrary or can be.

      • to the limits of scientific measurement his brain chemistry would be the same if he said the opposite.

        How do you know that? Are you making a statement about the current limits of scientific measurement, or have you actually done the experiment and seen two people with identical brain chemistries (note that I include in this phrase the precise locations of atoms, not just such summarising quantities as pH and temperature) say different things?

        • Because brain chemistry is unrelated to content. With the same number of letters you can write out a statement, or write out the opposite, so it is not the number of letters that matter, but the content or meaning.

          And no, I have not performed any such experiment because such an experiment is impossible by definition. I cannot tell if you are making a joke by asking such a question. One cannot have a material experiment which compares the material measurements of the material symbols with the nonmeasured and nonmaterial meaning toward which those symbols point.

          You are asking me if I have performed an experiment which measures the quantities of qualities. You are asking a paradox.

          • But letters are a convention, agreed upon by humans. Is it obvious that brain chemistry is a convention, that the position of atoms is a symbol that can be made to point to any referent? At any rate it is not obvious to me.

            • False dichotomy. Reading and writing is admittedly a convention, but conventions are not necessarily the only thing which has the property we are discussing. The book-story analogy is merely the only analogy I have been able to invent to describe what little is known of the mind-body relation.

              But I am deeply skeptical of whatever it is you are taking for granted which you never seem to be able to get around to putting into words. I hear your conclusions over and over again, but no reasons leading to those conclusions. YOU have offered ONE axiom in all our debates with each other, and then declined to answer questions about how you came to know it to be true.

              I am waiting to be shown a proof to show that brain chemistry is not a convention, not something decided upon by the person, and not something else, not a a convention, which nonetheless has the property being discussed, that there is no one-to-one relation between physical states and subjective meaning.

              I myself have reason to doubt that a coherent thought experiment could even be imagined, much less performed, because of the logical incoherence of the unspoken assumptions.

              • The book-story analogy is merely the only analogy I have been able to invent to describe what little is known of the mind-body relation.

                Hmm… I’ll have to reread that one. I prefer using computers, the software-hardware duality of their nature explains a lot about mind-body in my opinion.

                Though I admit that a lot of it is because I work so much with them. ;)

              • YOU have offered ONE axiom in all our debates with each other, and then declined to answer questions about how you came to know it to be true.

                I thought I did. What about the answer did you find unsatisfactory?

                The book-story analogy is merely the only analogy I have been able to invent to describe what little is known of the mind-body relation.

                Fine, but what I’m disputing is that it’s a good analogy. I cannot see that you’ve made any argument to show why the brain must behave as letters do; the analogy certainly explains what your view is, but it does not provide any evidence in its favour.

                I am waiting to be shown a proof to show that brain chemistry is not a convention, not something decided upon by the person, and not something else, not a a convention, which nonetheless has the property being discussed, that there is no one-to-one relation between physical states and subjective meaning.

                I’m afraid I cannot quite parse this sentence. My view is that there is a one-to-one relation between physical states and subjective meaning, or at least a non-arbitrary relation.

                And yes, I have got a chain of argument for this; but you keep jumping off at the first link, namely the question about predictability of atomic movements. I cannot argue with a man who refuses to agree or disagree with the postulates, but insists on jumping to the conclusions. It’s as though Euclid had asked you, “Do you accept this fifth axiom?”, and you refuse to answer, but say “Never mind all that nonsense – what’s your proof of the Pythagorean theorem?”

                • “It is, therefore, an induction from experience: It is intuitively reasonable, I have never seen anything to contradict it, have seen many things obey it, and it is a simple and effective rule.”

                  Ah, well I had not realized this was your answer. Okay.

                  You refer to intuition, which is non-empirical, and to simplicity, which is also non-empirical (it is if anything an aesthetic judgment), and you say you have not seen anything that contradicts the concept. But by definition, neither you nor anyone could possibly see anything to contradict this concept, any more than you or anyone could see anything that contradicted the opposite, since it is a metaphysical hence a non-physical proposition. All visual clues of all visible behaviors would be the same whether or not

                  Is or is not your axiom a metaphysical axiom? I will tell you what the word means if you do not know.

                  “I cannot argue with a man who refuses to agree or disagree with the postulates, but insists on jumping to the conclusions. It’s as though Euclid had asked you, “Do you accept this fifth axiom?”, and you refuse to answer, but say “Never mind all that nonsense – what’s your proof of the Pythagorean theorem?”

                  Inanimate atomic motions are predictable if the inanimate forces involved are known. Obviously you cannot predict what I am going to do with atoms touching anything I can move, unless, as part of the information, you know my purposes and desires and my intent. The question of whether or not my intent can be reduced to atomic motions such that knowing atomic motions you can deduce my intent is what we have discussed many times. I submit that knowledge of atomic motions only gives mass, length, duration, temperature, current, candlepower, moles, and other metric qualities. I submit that no possible combination of these quantities by any mechanical operation whatsoever can deduce or derive a symbolic quality, since symbolic qualities refer to the relationship between concepts and objects (such as true and false) or concepts and concepts (such as logical and illogical) or between acts and objects (efficient and inefficient).

                  So the answer is that the physical properties of the physical aspect of atomic motions is in principle predictable, but in their other aspects are not.

                  And I recall having answered this question not once but several times over the past few years, so your accusation that I refuse to answer it is absurd. All that has happened is that I am weary of having answered it too often.

                  I have made a universal affirmative statement: “NO quality can be derived from any combination of these fundamental quantities.” All you need do to prove me wrong is offer the derivation.

                  Start with, for example, the weight and location of a red octagon made of iron, and from that deduce whether or not the red octagon possesses a true or false symbol, valid or invalid, fair or foul, efficient or inefficient or any other qualitative property?

                  If you cannot, please tell my why you think in principle it can be done.

                  If your answer is off topic, as it has been so often in the past, expect no further reply from me.

                  • I would like to leave these considerations of symbolic qualities to one side until we have settled the much easier question you asked in the other thread of discussion, “What observation would show that my theory is mistaken?” If we cannot agree on that simple point, there’s certainly no hope of tackling the complicated stuff. Besides, the derivation you ask for is intimately connected to the experimental question, and cannot be done unless I can convince you that my answer for the experimental question is at least coherent.

  4. Nostreculsus says:

    So, I decided to try Bing to search for “gypsy jokes” and I wind up here! Oh well…

    Q: How many gypsies does it take to change a lightbulb?
    A: None, but you lose a lot of light bulbs.

    Q: Did you know the male Gypsy Moth can smell the female Gypsy Moth from a mile away?
    A: That statement is also true when you remove the word moth.

    Little Johnny is at the funfair and is admiring the tattoos on a gypsy’s muscular arms.
    “Do they wash off?” asks Johnny.
    “Eh?” says the gypsy. “How would I know?”

    A guy in a bar leans over to the guy next to him and says, “Wanna hear a ‘gypsy’ joke?”
    The guy next to him replies, “Before you tell that joke you should know something. I’m 6′ tall, 200 lbs. and a gypsy. The guy sitting next to me is 6’2″, 225 lbs. and a gypsy. The fella next to him is 6’5″, 250 lbs. and a gypsy. Do you still want to tell that joke?”
    The first guy says, “Nah. I don’t want to have to explain it three times.”

    A gypsy walks up a table where a Jew, a Wop, and Pollock are already sitting.
    “Hey guys, Heard any good jokes lately?”

  5. distractedbrony says:

    Alright, this is too interesting a discussion, and too relevant to my interests, for me to just sit out of it on account of my vast ignorance and lack of any sort of good education. So, uh, with that…

    Mr. Wright, I wonder what your view is on the relationship between matter and spirit in the human mind, precisely?

    To me, it’s clear that there is some relationship such that each affects the other, but neither is reducible to the other. For instance, I think that even if Mr. Andreassen could calculate every position of every elementary particle of matter to infinite accuracy within n light-hours of your brain, and even if he also perfectly knew a “code” which would allow him to transform information about the states of those elementary particles into information about your mental states—hypotheticals to which I find no metaphysical reason to object—it still wouldn’t follow that he had shown that mental properties could be reduced to material properties, because the two kinds of properties are simply incommensurate. In formulating his “code” he would necessarily have relied on people’s subjective reports about their mental states, meaning he would not have gathered his code purely from an analysis of material properties (except on the circular assumption that subjective reports of mental states are also material). And on the other hand, I think it’s clear that “brain chemistry” is somehow related to the content of thoughts, at least as a necessary-but-not-sufficient factor. For when you change my brain chemistry by getting me drunk, it really does affect the way I think, and it does so in a more-or-less predictable way, if not always then at least in the average case. And surely it is no accident that the more intelligent animals in the hierarchy of nature also have the most complex brains. I worry that your examples, such as a vertical line standing for either the number one or the letter L, or the fact of different words in different languages having the same meaning, could be accused of frivolity, as it just seems like these objections could be met by a proper understanding of just how complex the brain is—context matters! Even the Enigma machine could take similar inputs and create different outputs, or create similar outputs from different inputs, because each input it received altered its initial state. Surely it’s no objection to claim that the human brain should not be able to perform a similar feat if it were purely material?

    So, again, I wonder how exactly you understand the mind to interact with the world of sensibles? For some of your arguments seem to me to imply that you think of the mind as existing in a vacuum entirely apart from the brain and the material world—which is surely a misunderstanding on my part.

    • “Mr. Wright, I wonder what your view is on the relationship between matter and spirit in the human mind, precisely?”

      I deep and dangerous question which will need more than one article to address, and more than human wisdom to answer. I will here say only that I consider matter to be the visible or outward sign of an inner essential property called mind or spirit. I consider the two to be something which cannot be described in terms of the other, but which are fundamentally tied together, as the height of a tower cannot exist if the tower has no length and no breadth. Technically, I consider mind and matter to be two different dimensions or aspects of the same reality. That reality is one thing in the real world, but the limitations of human categories of thought requires us inescapably to think and talk about only one aspect at a time.

    • In formulating his “code” he would necessarily have relied on people’s subjective reports about their mental states, meaning he would not have gathered his code purely from an analysis of material properties

      This is a sensible objection. I believe, however, that a full understanding of the physics involved will enable us to derive the code from first principles, without the intervening step of verbal reports – although, to be sure, the verbal reports are very likely to be a useful tool on the way. To analogise, in cracking Enigma it would have been very useful for the codebreakers to have the original plaintext; but it wasn’t necessary. The subjective reports are the equivalent of, not the plaintext, but at least hints to the plaintext – repeated phrases, headings, snippets that are the same from day to day. Very useful, indeed vital if you’re doing war work and need the code cracked right now, but not an absolute necessity.

  6. ChevalierdeJohnstone says:

    Hm. Not a fan of the Kantian stuff sneaking into the penultimate paragraph. If it is wrong for the Bulgarian students to make disparaging comments about gypsies and blacks ony because they believe it wrong for others to make disparaging comments about them, then if they simply accept that others may make such comments and it is no skin of their nose, they are free to disparage others. This is a quite common pagan belief, the idea essentially that morality simply depends on local custom, and though there is a lot of good in paganism this is one we are well rid of. In combination with a global transnational culture it has led to moral relativism, and we would be well to slay that evil beast and bury it in a hole.

    No, I don’t think you can avoid creationist teleology so easily. It is wrong to disparage others because they are God’s creation, and to speak disparagingly of any of God’s creations diminishes the speaker, makes them less than the kind and charitable human being they were created to be.

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