Mod+ 251. PATRICIA PEARSON, MAINSTREAM MEDIA JOURNALIST TACKLES SURVIVAL OF CONSCIOUSNESS

Discussion in 'Skeptiko Shows' started by alex.tsakiris, Aug 12, 2014.

  1. David Bailey

    David Bailey Administrator

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    The problem is that these definitions - e.g. libertarian free will - arose out of a struggle to relate free will and consciousness to a supposedly deterministic universe - a universe that was closed, so that nothing outside the universe could be acting upon it. Suppose there was a philosophy of N-rays - it would become irrelevant once it was realised that N-rays didn't exist!

    Analogously, all the philosophical finessing of the concept of free will - designed to fit it into a deterministic universe (augmented by pure chance) stands to fall as we explore evidence - such as NDE's - that there is a non-material world. When science and philosophy build on foundations that turn out to be false, whole chunks or erudition simply become irrelevant.

    To be clear, I am not asserting that NDE's prove that free will exists independently of the physical universe, but I am saying that if that is what we are discussing, then we should use the concept of free will in its traditional form.

    David
     
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  2. DominicBunnell

    DominicBunnell New

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    Clarity and precision are important so that we don't have people saying things like "Those materialists think that there is no mind, no consciousness, no freedom, no meaning and no value." You can't get away with saying something like that in philosophy unless you say exactly what you mean by the terms materialism, mind, consciousness, freedom, meaning and value.

    I'm sure that if more precise terms like compatibilist/libertarian free will and emergentist/eliminativist materialism were used, it would increase understanding and bring people together more. But I suspect this is precisely why they're not used.

    The historical points you make about the connection between free will and determinism are no doubt correct, but I'm more interested in the question of whether concepts like libertarian free will and the strong sense of moral responsibility that goes with it are even logically coherent. Galen Strawson argues not, and I suspect he's right.
     
  3. David Bailey

    David Bailey Administrator

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    Would Newton have benefited from describing his work in terms of epicycles?
    As soon as you start to consider the possibility of a non-material world, these terms only confuse. My feeling is that these ideas have only befuddled the issue. Take for example compatibilism:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compatibilism
    It sounds fine to say that the concept of free will need not relate to metaphysics, but it leads to nonsense, such as trying to lay blame (for example) on a computer program, rather than the programmer or the person who decided to use the program. The only reason the idea is popular, is to provide a shaky support to the notion that the mind can be grounded in physics, or in computation.

    The study of ψ, NDE's, and other related subjects, blow this idea out of the water. NDE's seem to indicate that the mind can exist without physical support. You may wish to try to argue that that hasn't been adequately established, but if you do, you won't (I suspect) make much use of concepts like compatibilism!

    OK - if you were able to argue convincingly that NDE's were hallucinations, and that other ψ phenomena didn't really exist, or were not what they appear to be, then you might want to fall back on notions like compatibilist free will, but otherwise, that whole elaborate set of ideas is bunk!
    I think that most philosophers have chosen to take the materialist hypothesis as fact, and spin their theories on that basis. I guess Skeptiko is about questioning that supposed fact - the very foundation of that way of thinking - so ideas like emergence (which has never shown that much promise) simply join the dustbin of ideas like phlogiston.

    Galen Strawson seems ultimately driven to advocate panpsychism - which gives a small amount of consciousness to everything - presumably right down to electrons. That seems a rather difficult idea because at the level of fundamental particles two electrons (say) are identical in a mathematical sense (the wave function simply changes sign when two electrons are swapped, and since everything depends on ψ ψ* (where ψ relates to the wave function, not psi :) ) ).

    Besides, even panpsychism is saying that the mind (and therefore free will) is a fundamental metaphysical entity - chopping it up into small bits doesn't really make a difference!

    David
     
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  4. DominicBunnell

    DominicBunnell New

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    We're going a bit off topic here. My point is just that vagueness and ambiguity are often used for rhetorical purposes. For example, people sometimes say, "There's no freedom on materialism," but they intentionally leave it vague whether they're talking about political freedom, economic freedom, the everyday feeling of making choices, libertarian free will, or all of these things.

    One good thing about analytic philosophy is that you can't get away with making statements of this kind, and this is why there's a lot less name-calling, insulting language and us-vs-them tribalism.
     
  5. David Bailey

    David Bailey Administrator

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    We aren't going off topic at all! There is nothing vague about using the concept of free will with its traditional meaning, if that is what is being discussed! Conversely, there is no point in using terminology that relates to materialist explanations for consciousness, if that is not being considered.

    A cook isn't being vague if he refers to salt, even though that term would be vague to a chemist!

    David
     
  6. DominicBunnell

    DominicBunnell New

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    We're going off topic because you seem to want to have a philosophical discussion right here about free will, determinism, quantum physics and materialism, but this is not an appropriate place for this.

    It's amazing that you see nothing wrong with people making statements like, "There's no freedom or meaning on materialism." Even if we grant that everybody in the debate understands that we're talking only about metaphysics and the philosophy of mind and not about politics and ethics (and by the way this is almost never the case when people in the paranormal/new age world are attacking materialism), it's still a vacuous statement. Vague and ambiguous statements like this are great for insulting and demonizing people, but they have no place in serious philosophical discussion.

    Another big problem is that terms like 'metaphysics' and 'phenomenology' have completely different meanings in the paranormal/new age world from the meanings they have in professional philosophy. This is yet another reason why we need very clear and precise definitions on Skeptiko.
     
  7. David Bailey

    David Bailey Administrator

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    Most discussions - both here and in real life - move about a bit, because people see issues from different perspectives.
    I would agree that this is the biggest conceptual problem with materialism. I don't think that watering down the concept of free will achieves anything - if we are simply a set of interacting particles, obeying Schroedinger's equation (or indeed any other equation), with the wave function being collapsed at random - or indeed not collapsed, as in Many Worlds - there is no reason to attribute freedom or meaning or qualia to any part of that. I guess that is what persuaded Galen Strawson to think about panpsychism.

    You would like everyone to be putting a qualifier in front of "free will", but I think that is nonsense - we know so little about consciousness.

    I see a certain analogy with this scenario, back from the time when people were siting round a camp fire, trying to understand what fire was.

    UG1: I think before we can discuss fire, we absolutely must define what we are talking about!

    UG2: Well - ugh - maybe something very hot that destroys stuff, but can be useful on cold nights.

    UG1: No - that isn't what I had in mind at all - I think we should define fire as a process in which the essential spirit of matter is released, and warms us all before it dissipates!

    UG2: Well, OK, but how will that definition help us understand the phenomenon?

    Definitions really aren't always useful, if they make implicit assumptions. Definitions of poorly understood phenomena - such as free will - are far more likely to suffer from this problem.

    David
     
  8. DominicBunnell

    DominicBunnell New

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    I think you're making a mistake in thinking that, just as the existence of psi phenomena is largely an empirical question, so the existence of freedom, meaning and value is too. Strawson argues that libertarian free will and moral responsibility are logically impossible, and Nagel argues that ultimate meaning/purpose is logically impossible, and so there's no need to go out and look at the world to see if these things exist. If the arguments work, then we know they don't exist, just as we know that a round square doesn't exist.

    I like Strawson precisely because he's an out-of-the-box thinker. He rejects both materialism and libertarian free will, and so skeptics and paranormal believers don't know which box to put him in or which team he's on. Similar things could be said about Nagel, McGinn and Chalmers.

    Strawson favours panpsychism over emergentist materialism because he thinks 'spooky emergence' of 1st person subjective experience from mindless matter is impossible. It's got nothing to do with free will. He still thinks libertarian free will and moral responsibility are impossible. Indeed, one of his main points is that libertarian free will is impossible on materialism, dualism or panpsychism.
     
  9. gabriel

    gabriel New

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    It often seems like the aim of the materialist project is to remove philosophy from science, and by extension, to take such "irrelevances" out of the public domain. Materialists may wish materialism/naturalism were not a metaphysic, but it most certainly is. There is no way of suggesting the universe is exactly what one directly perceives, without using the language of philosophy to negotiate that view. The material process makes sense until the conscience perceiver is involved, then it gets hugely complicated. Suggesting it isn't complex, or that the percipient is a sideshow, is simply crap philosophy and wishful thinking. Materialism has no serious role for the perceiver, which is why many of us find it incomplete.
     
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  10. Matt²

    Matt² New

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    Your list; psi, the afterlife, ghosts and UFOs, is a Non-Sequitur. They are not related to each other, as understood.

    Believing or not believing is irrelevant. There is either evidence or there isn't. Therefore one can either accept the evidence or deny it.
     
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  11. DominicBunnell

    DominicBunnell New

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    This reminds me of something. Like the terms 'metaphysics' and 'phenomenology', the word 'belief' has a completely different meaning in paranormal/new age circles from the meaning it has in professional philosophy. For philosophers, to say you believe something just means you think it's true, and that's it. But for other people 'believe' and 'belief' are somehow felt to be connected to 'faith'. It's a very strange situation. I say we just go with the definition used by the philosophers.

    I really just meant 'psi and the afterlife'. I realize that many people here are skeptical about ghosts and UFOs.
     
  12. DominicBunnell

    DominicBunnell New

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    You're absolutely right that materialism, like panpsychism or dualism, is a philosophical/metaphysical position and not a scientific one. The reason many scientists deny this is that they don't understand philosophy and think it's a waste of time. That is, they are guilty of scientism. If you ever hear a scientist saying that materialism is just 'the truth' or just 'the way things are', then you know immediately that they know nothing about philosophy.

    There are two things that I can state quite confidently: 1. Many top scientists are very ignorant about philosophy. 2. Many top scientists are very ignorant about psi research.
     
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  13. Matt²

    Matt² New

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    I am also reminded of something, dancing around the topic. Absolutely everyone on the planet has, in some fashion or another, faith in something they believe or a belief. Some believe in ancient narratives, super-beings with wings, and a book that is the sum total of all that is known, just ask, they'll tell you. Some believe there there is an ultimate particle, there was just one miracle needed to create existence, but the rest is easily explained, and books that are the sum total of all that is known, just ask, they'll tell you. Both position rely heavily on faith. What's the relevance? I don't know, but since metaphysics, phenomenology, religion, belief, faith, and philosophy was mentioned, then I wanted to come across clever and hip too.

    When discussing psi, the afterlife, ghosts, UFOs and belief is thrown, this implies Argument from Ignorance and an absence of evidence. Which is ridiculous, because if the evidence supports a claim, then it's okay to believe it. But, since skepticism has been mostly hijacked by pseudoskeptics, debunkers, and those that like things just the way they are, belief = faith = religion now. Even this isn't lacking irony, since organized religion hijacked faith. And I find that, on a side note, an interesting cowinkydink.

    Anyone and everyone that claims a belief and faith are required and there is a lack of evidence for psi, the afterlife, ghosts, and UFOs, then I would suggest these persons have a belief and faith in their denial. The rest have a belief and faith in what the previous persons tell them to believe.
     
  14. Juicy Fruit Jackson Jr.

    Juicy Fruit Jackson Jr. New

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    UFOs to me are the ultimate litmus test to judge how skeptical and clear-headed a person is. Anyone who believes there's not a genuine phenomenon not leaving itself to prosaic explanations is either willfully ignorant or severely compromised in a way that I can't comprehend.
     
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  15. DominicBunnell

    DominicBunnell New

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    But you're using precisely the weird meaning of the word 'believe' that I object to. I believe that there was a big bang, evolution, etc just means I've looked at the evidence and think that these things are true. That's all. Apart from things like 'I'm conscious now' or '2 + 2 = 4', we're always dealing with belief.

    Even though I really like the Paracast, one thing that really annoys me is when the presenters say things like, "I don't want to believe in UFOs. I want to know." That's a perfect example of this strange use of the word 'believe'.

    If you mean 'faith' then just use that word instead.
     
  16. DominicBunnell

    DominicBunnell New

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    What? Everybody knows the Rendlesham Forest UFO was just a lighthouse and/or the planet Venus. :D
     
  17. Juicy Fruit Jackson Jr.

    Juicy Fruit Jackson Jr. New

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    :D
     
  18. Matt * Matt, check out this link Gabriel posted as it touches on what you say:

    Is it time to give up on “Skepticism”?

     
  19. Matt²

    Matt² New

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    Close. It was the combined reflection of Venus and the lighthouse off an atmospheric inversion layer onto swamp gas.
     
    Last edited: Aug 23, 2014
  20. DominicBunnell

    DominicBunnell New

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    Yes, but your definition of 'faith' as 'belief without evidence' is very controversial. This is the definition that the new atheists always use, but philosophers have problems with it. For example, the theist has plenty of 'evidence' for their beliefs. They would count as evidence the fact that there's something rather than nothing, that there's libertarian free will and moral responsibility, that there's love, that there are objective moral values, and that the universe is fine-tuned.

    Defining 'faith' is extremely difficult. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry makes my head hurt:

    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/faith/

    In any case, the point I'm making is that many people in the new age/paranormal world have an irrational fear of using the terms 'believe' and 'belief'. They're perfectly good words and they shouldn't be afraid of using them.
     
    Last edited: Aug 22, 2014
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