Monday, 17 July 2017

Poverty of materialism

      Let's get one thing straight. Materialism isn't some new-fangled philosophy. It is as old as philosophy itself. There has always been the belief or supposition that material entities configured in the right way could somehow give rise to the spark of consciousness.
      Back in the time of the Presocratic atomists — or Epicurus, or Lucretius — the materialist party were the revolutionaries attacking the popular idea of a 'soul'. Their arguments, no less than the arguments deployed by materialists today, were founded on a challenge laid down to the soul party. You don't know what wondrous things might arise from a system of material particles configured in the appropriate way.
      According to the Stanford Encyclopedia, Aristotle reports that the soul atoms of Democritus were 'fiery'. (I seemed to remember that soul atoms were meant to be 'slippery' but that would be water, according to the article.) It is disappointing that Democritus didn't see that heat or fire is something that requires explanation in terms of the 'logic of locomotion' (as Jonathan Barnes calls it). On the other hand, Democritus would be regarded as a genius if he had anticipated the kinetic theory of heat.
      Let that pass.
      The case of Democritus illustrates the point that materialists, when pushed, will tend to appeal to special properties of material systems, such as electrical current or quantum effects. We don't know how, but somehow a computer that works in the way a brain does can do things that a mechanical computer such as the one designed by Charles Babbage in 1849 could never do — even if we built a Babbage Engine the size of a planet.
      The problem with this idea is that it breaks with the assumption that every computer is functionally equivalent, in principle, to a Turing Machine. (For 'Turing Machine' see https://www.cl.cam.ac.uk/projects/raspberrypi/tutorials/turing-machine/one.html.) There are practical limits to what a purely mechanical computer can do, but those are the only limits. Theoretically, there is no limit. If the brain is just a computer, then in principle — if one had a suitable physical material and appropriate machinery — one could build a Turing machine that was conscious.
      Materialists believe this. They have to, because that's their position. Never mind how completely ludicrous it is. — But then again how do I know it's ludicrous? Isn't that just my knee-jerk reaction? Where's my argument?
      Let's play a game of imagine.
      Imagine that God exists, but that He didn't create the universe. God sees all by 'intuitive perception' (according to Kant). God doesn't have a point of view, because His point of view is the 'View from Nowhere' (Nagel).
      God has been traversing endless space and time looking for a universe in which life exists. Or, rather, he 'flips' between numerous universes the way one might turn pages in a book. Page after page of chaos, random combinations of particles, weird 'laws'. Then, at long last, he finds our universe of universal laws and order. The Goldilocks universe where the evolution of intelligent creatures is possible.
      From the 'view from nowhere' God spies these creatures, these 'humans', and sees how their brains give rise to intelligent behaviour, the treasures of literature and art, wondrous inventions. God has no difficulty with the materialist theory because He can see that it is indeed the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
      — The problem with this picture is that, with all His immense knowledge, the ability to 'intuit' the position and velocity of every particle, or measure every field or charge or wave, God doesn't know what I know: that I exist. (I argued this point in Naive Metaphysics, but I was still nominally attached to the materialist party then.) God knows what my brain is doing, down the finest detail, He can predict my every action or utterance, but the one thing He can't do is distinguish me from my doppelganger, my perfect physical copy.
      I exist (or 'I exist now') isn't simply a fact that I know. It is an absolute reality. It is the actual. It is the one indestructible piece of grit in the materialist machine that brings it grinding to a halt. I exist. To exist is to exist here and to exist now. There is no 'here' or 'now' for the view from nowhere. All places are 'here', all times are 'now'.
      It follows by reductio ad absurdum that the 'God' I have described could not exist. What such an all-seeing God is alleged to 'know' — the truth of materialism — could not be the case.
      So, how is it that materialists don't see this?
      The reason is the same as it has always been: materialism is an ideology.
      An ideology becomes stronger, more resilient, the more people subscribe to it. As a materialist you are the one asking for evidence, for proof. You can scoff at those who assert that they 'exist'. What is that statement, after all, but sound waves caused by events in the brain? As for you, yourself, it may not be possible to imagine how you could be a Turing Machine, but imagination isn't required. You just know that you are.
      — That's why I say that materialists don't know that they exist.

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