The Tyranny of Physicalism: You’re Either a God or a Goofball

Discussion in 'Critical Discussions Among Proponents and Skeptics' started by Bucky, Jun 26, 2015.

  1. Bucky

    Bucky Member

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    Nice little article that I've found short and to the point:
    http://esoterx.com/2015/06/13/the-tyranny-of-physicalism-youre-either-a-god-or-a-goofball/

    For @Saiko's joy, here's the transcript:

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    Deep in the heart of darkest Forteana, you inevitably stumble across a subspecies of philosopher I like to call “Defenders of Reason”, sporting the elegant and seductive plumage of reasonability and repeatability in a performance designed to signal reproductive availability to like-minded mates. To these stalwart knights of skepticism, UFO’s, ghosts, Bigfoot, and all manner of folklore and paranormal phenomena are not just an intellectual black-hole from which no illumination regarding the human condition can escape, they are actual dragons to be slain. In the same breath they will decry what they regard as obvious hokum of little social or scientific import, but not so subtly fall back on the time-honored trope of maintaining that while most adults are not susceptible to such magical thinking, “what about the children?”, posturing that they are humanists, simply concerned with our welfare.

    Conspiracy theorists, alien abductees, ghost hunters, and psychics are gently patted on the head and told they have a “belief system”, that anecdotes don’t equal evidence, and as concisely summarized by philosopher Stephen Law in an interview about his latest book Believing Bullshit: How not to get sucked into an intellectual black hole, “Every last anomaly can be explained away”.

    The foundation of this bold assertion? The confidence that there are a set of beliefs that are genuinely reasonable and a set of beliefs that are unequivocally unreasonable. Some things exist and some things don’t exist, the savvy philosopher can easily discern the one from the other, and anyone who attempts to engage such things without entirely disentangling significant complexes of emic (internally consistent systems of cultural thought) and etic (what is observable by a cultural outsider) phenomena, is merely attempting “pseudo-profundity”.
    This conveniently sidesteps the fact that one of the central, and unresolved debates of ontological philosophy, ever since philosophy emerged as a paying gig, has been the question of the existence of physical entities vs. non-physical entities, giving primacy to physical evidence as the sole arbiter of reason.

    Now, the question of whether non-physical entities can exist is as appropriate to anomalistics as corned beef is to cabbage, that is, it pairs very nicely, but stinks to high heaven. One can hardly peruse the vast literature of strange phenomena without noting that the preternatural has an annoying tendency to scoff at the constraints of pure physicalism, often behaving as if the laws of the physical universe are helpful suggestions rather than hard and fast rules, that is, it refuses to behave reasonably, thus in a world anchored to reason as determinative of existence, it is accorded no right to exist.

    While philosophers can generally agree that abstract properties which cannot be located in space and time such as numbers, mathematical functions, or colors have some sort of meaningful existence, they tend to equivocate on whether observing the apparent reality of non-physical properties (which is generously self-serving of them since if they didn’t they would be out of a job) is the same thing as allowing for the existence of non-physical objects.
    This of course, arrays the physicalist who maintains that reality is a single physical substance against the idealist who maintains that reality is incorporeal and experiential. Tucked into a fold of idealism is the more popular dualism which, desirous of sounding more reasonable, points out that it is particularly problematic to suggest that the mind and body are identical. The dominance of the physicalist paradigm in the past century or two has a lot to do with the fact that its application has demonstrated we can blow things up in a really big way. It’s tough, and perhaps ill-advised, to argue with folks who have just shown you that when you put enough of them on a problem, they can level your city, rain death from orbit, cut down on defrosting time, or get your car 100 miles to a gallon.

    Succumbing to demands for incontrovertible physical evidence of anomalous phenomena is like refusing to be a Chicago Cubs fan purely because they haven’t won the World Series since 1908. We like them not because they are a good baseball team, but because they are a baseball team despite seemingly insurmountable odds. Were ghosts ever “proven” to exist, they would immediately be subsumed under physicalism and held up as a poster child for the validation of a monistic conception of reality.

    Because our myths and monsters refuse to behave like responsible physical objects, the fact that folks continue to perceive them is held up as a shining example of the failure of human reason and an unearned triumph for physicalism.

    I can’t tell you whether there is any value to aligning your chakras, talking to your spirit dolphin, or pouring over electronic voice phenomena for indications that ghosts really hate us, but given the fact that countless philosophers and scientists continue to struggle over the nature of reality, it seems disturbingly disingenuous to declare the possibility of non-physical existence, and thus the vast majority of anomalistic phenomena as deluded fantasy.

    I make an effort never to be as trite as to respond to a debatable point by quoting Hamlet’s quip, “there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy”, but I might proffer the suggestion that if you think your perspective has cornered the market on reality, you’re either a god or a goofball.
     
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  2. Paul C. Anagnostopoulos

    Paul C. Anagnostopoulos Nap, interrupted. Member

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    This is a classic argument where the author refuses to specify what a nonphysical entity is.

    "While philosophers can generally agree that abstract properties which cannot be located in space and time such as numbers, mathematical functions, or colors have some sort of meaningful existence, they tend to equivocate on whether observing the apparent reality of non-physical properties (which is generously self-serving of them since if they didn’t they would be out of a job) is the same thing as allowing for the existence of non-physical objects."

    What? I don't see how this can possibly be assumed. If it turns out that there is something about numbers, functions, or colors that we cannot explain (even in principle) in terms of other physical things, then perhaps. But until then, the existence of numbers does not imply the existence of nonphysical objects in the sense that people are talking about.

    "It’s tough, and perhaps ill-advised, to argue with folks who have just shown you that when you put enough of them on a problem, they can level your city, rain death from orbit, cut down on defrosting time, or get your car 100 miles to a gallon."

    Oh yes, I'm sure this is the very reason why scientists adopt methodological naturalism. Because they don't want to be argued with and will kill you if you do.

    "I can’t tell you whether there is any value to aligning your chakras, talking to your spirit dolphin, or pouring over electronic voice phenomena for indications that ghosts really hate us, but given the fact that countless philosophers and scientists continue to struggle over the nature of reality, it seems disturbingly disingenuous to declare the possibility of non-physical existence, and thus the vast majority of anomalistic phenomena as deluded fantasy."

    Why the assumption that anomalistic phenomena are nonphysical? It's as if he is saying that things we don't understand must be nonphysical.


    ~~ Paul
     
    Last edited: Jun 27, 2015
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  3. malf

    malf Member

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    Should not the closing remark...

    ... apply equally to anyone who subscribes strongly to any philosophical worldview?
     
  4. E.Flowers

    E.Flowers New

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    I'm not sure why you assume that the author is really debating that anomalistic phenomena is not physical per se. The impression that I get from him is that it is incredibly ostentatious to assume that just because something seems incompatible with our current models, that means that it is wrong by default. Especially because the scientific community as a whole is aware that said models are approximations, and that they are incomplete. That is, if "completeness" is even a realistic long-term goal.
     
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  5. E.Flowers

    E.Flowers New

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    Of course... The problem starts when you influence which one gets the funds.
     
  6. malf

    malf Member

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    I suspect those decisions are taken pragmatically rather than philosophically.
     
  7. E.Flowers

    E.Flowers New

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    I wish you were right, but that is not the case. And its not only about the "fringe" sciences, but the "inconvenient" ($$$) ones as well.
     
  8. Paul C. Anagnostopoulos

    Paul C. Anagnostopoulos Nap, interrupted. Member

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    Is that his main point?

    "Succumbing to demands for incontrovertible physical evidence of anomalous phenomena is like refusing to be a Chicago Cubs fan purely because they haven’t won the World Series since 1908."

    I think if he was just talking about incompatibility with current models, he would have left out the bold word. You may be right. I think the writing is a bit murky.

    ~~ Paul
     
  9. E.Flowers

    E.Flowers New

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    The conclusion is pretty clear. The retoric in that sentence seems pretty irrelevant to the conclusion and more of a potshot at "hard" physicalism, the idea that if we don't know how to explain it (or fit it into one of our models) then it is either "impossible" or at the very least we should ignore it. The world series would be the functional model and the Cubs would be the phenomena itself. It's not the best of examples.
     
  10. Paul C. Anagnostopoulos

    Paul C. Anagnostopoulos Nap, interrupted. Member

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    I'm not sure it's so clear. But, as I said, I think the writing is murky.

    "Now, the question of whether non-physical entities can exist is as appropriate to anomalistics as corned beef is to cabbage, ..."

    "the preternatural has an annoying tendency to scoff at the constraints of pure physicalism,"

    "they tend to equivocate on whether observing the apparent reality of non-physical properties"

    ~~Paul
     
  11. Bucky

    Bucky Member

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    It is irritating, isn't it? :)
    I mean, for a materialist of course.

    For someone who doesn't faithfully adhere to the creed, the question is not as gut wrenching :)
     
  12. fls

    fls Member

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    It's not so much "gut-wrenching" as it is "suspect".

    It looks suspiciously like "non-physical entities" is stuff that a physicalist wouldn't exclude in the first place.

    Linda
     
  13. Paul C. Anagnostopoulos

    Paul C. Anagnostopoulos Nap, interrupted. Member

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    What Linda said. Plus, really, if you are going to postulate the truly nonphysical but then make no effort to pick it out from all of reality, why would you expect scientists to deal with it? Deal with what?

    ~~Paul
     
  14. Bucky

    Bucky Member

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    Sorry... don't read Linda anymore.
    I didn't know there were multiple classes of non-physical such as "truly non-physical"

    In any case I won't play this silly dichotomy game. Hardcore materialists are the only subjects who need a Valium every time something non physical pops up in a discussion. :)
     
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  15. malf

    malf Member

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    Why would you start a thread (or even post) in this part of the forum?
     
  16. Bucky

    Bucky Member

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    To increase sales of Valium? :D

    Is this part of the forum dedicated to hardcore materialists only? If so, I am sorry, I didn't receive the memo.
     
    Last edited: Jun 29, 2015
  17. Paul C. Anagnostopoulos

    Paul C. Anagnostopoulos Nap, interrupted. Member

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    What? I'd say it's exactly the opposite. Proponents are constantly trying to convince us that something like an idea is nonphysical in some sort of metaphysically important way. They even use energy as an example of the death of "materialism," as if we don't already agree that the traditional definition of materialism is obsolete. They complain that when we finally find something "truly immaterial," the nasty physicalists will simply subsume it under physicalism.

    I'm fine with no dichotomy, but then what is the point of the article?

    ~~Paul
     
  18. Bucky

    Bucky Member

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    When you say "proponents" you realize you're talking about anybody else who doesn't necessarily adhere to strict physicalism, right?

    Then what is the new definition?
    Last time I checked materialists are still confident that any mental phenomena is easily explainable in terms of matter. Doesn't that match the "obsolete" version of materialism?

    I checked the inevitable wikipedia for an answer on what is matter, and got more questions but no answers...
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matter

    Wasn't materialism supposed to be some sort of monism? Are you going to tell me that we'll get there sometime in the future? Maybe with strings or such? (although it seems a dead end?) Why there exist a monistic philosophical position that has no idea of its founding ontological primitive? I am not saying this in a mocking way, it's really confusing.

    At least a position like idealism is clear and consistent. Consciousness is the ontological primitive, and it's not a "teapot orbiting the Sun" or a pink unicorn. It's rational and grounded in the in "the fundamental datum of existence" (to put it à la Kastrup)... and it's even backed by evidence from experiments in the quantum world.

    At this point it's worth wondering if there is such a thing as physicalism... :)
    Given the ever elusive definition... panpsychism is soon to be swallowed by frustrated "once physicalists", with no answers for consciousness and life...

    So I guess the end game here is... whatever will turn out to be true about reality we'll call it "physical".
    It's a good trick to never have to admit to be wrong. Ingenious, love it :)
     
    Last edited: Jun 29, 2015
  19. Paul C. Anagnostopoulos

    Paul C. Anagnostopoulos Nap, interrupted. Member

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    Yes, assuming we can even define what strict and non-strict physicalism are.

    The obsolete version is that everything is a physical object, like a rock. That went out the window once we understood forces. Everyone agrees it's obsolete.

    Physicalism and idealism are monisms, along with neutral monism. We will end up wherever we end up, and either decide that one of the existing metaphysical terms fits it or invent a new term. What I don't think we'll end up with is some form of strict dualism, where the physical/nonphysical or natural/supernatural are crisply separated. I don't see how that could work.

    But then you have to invent all the mechanisms to obtain the apparently physical out of the mental. For example, you have to explain why the trees in my yard are consistent from one viewing to the next, even though no conscious being is looking at them. Seems easier to simply wait and see what empirical investigations turn up. Scientists aren't wedded to physicalism so much as to some form of naturalism. This is so because no one has any idea how to study something truly supernatural.

    We can call it whatever you like. I have nothing invested in the term physical. My only point is that I dont think it will turn out to be a dichotomy.

    ~~Paul
     
  20. E.Flowers

    E.Flowers New

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    Yes Paul, the article's conclusion deals with the incompleteness of our models and the pretentiousness that is clinging to one "truth" based on the few things that we (think) that we know, it is quite clear :"if you think your perspective has cornered the market on reality...". He does go on a lot of tangents and potshots as much as possible, but the overall narrative is just elaboration towards a conclusion.
     
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