Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Noumenal soul and the causal order

      If I don't know 'what I am' but only know 'that I am', does that mean that 'I' ultimately refers to something unknowable? a Kantian noumenon?
      In the Critique of Pure Reason Kant is absolutely convinced of the truth of Newtonian mechanics. Kant saw it as the task of metaphysics to establish, a priori, the underpinnings of the Newtonian view of the world of phenomena.
      This leads him, in Groundwork for the Metaphysic of Morals into extraordinary gyrations, attempting to reconcile free will with determinism. Every action my physical body performs is determined. And yet, these actions when motivated by thought of the Moral Law are 'free'. The only difference between actions motivated by empirical desire and actions motivated by the Moral Law lies in the way they are 'rationalized' by the agent, whether as hypothetical or categorical imperatives.
      This isn't the kind of 'freedom' we want or is worth wanting, would be my reply. The day I was born determined absolutely, on Kant's Newtonian picture, that I would become a person who was only motivated by the Catagorical Imperative, or a person who ignored morality and just did what he wanted — or something in between. as most of us are.
      I remember reading some time ago a contemporary criticism of Kant's 'causal whirligig'. Looking up the phrase on the internet I found this, in a letter from Hamann to Herder:

      Hume is the man for me, for he at least honors the principle of belief, and includes it in his system, while our contryman [i.e. Kant] keeps on chewing the cud of his causal whirligig, without a thought for belief. I don't call that honest. (Quoted in Louis Dupré The Enlightenment and the Intellectual Foundations of Modern Culture.)

      I've mentioned in a YouTube video P.F. Strawson's scepticism in The Bounds of Sense about Kant's alleged 'proof' of universal determinism. The most Kant can establish, Strawson thought, was that there must be a rough causal order, sufficiently 'regular' to allow for us to distinguish (most of the time) between veridical perception and false sensory judgements.
      This misses, perhaps deliberately, Kant's point: Either there is such a thing as objective truth or there isn't. If there isn't, on the basis of causal linkage, a definite answer — even though we may never discover this — to every question that can be raised about the past, then there is no objective truth. There are merely Humean 'beliefs' more or less well supported (or provoked by) experience. An intolerable conclusion, for Kant.
      To allow for free will by smashing the scientific picture of the world and allowing random irruptions in the causal order is surely too high a price to pay for free will. Hume, for one, does not consider this a serious possibility. His 'rules' for judging cause and effect would be rendered useless. Hume is in fact a compatibilist about free will. Nothing is to be gained by making the agent a roulette wheel, capable of generating random uncaused 'actions'.
      However, there is an alternative, a 'loop hole'.
      In an essay I wrote in my first year as a graduate student at Oxford (in Hilary Term 1977, for M.J. Woods) I believed that I had found a way round the standard objections to mind-body interaction:

      Let C be a system constituted by individuals which may be in one of two states, 0 or 1. Let 0–>1 be a 'random' process which has a relaxation rate R (i.e. there are on average R transitions 0–>1 per second). Such a system might be a substance whose molecules are changing from a higher to a lower energy state. We may suppose that a Cartesian mental event is able to determine whether molecule A or molecule B undergoes the change of state 0–>1, and that such interactions can occur without violating the law of statistical mechanics according to which the relaxation rate for C is R. The  brain functions as a relay which converts local changes of state of certain kinds of molecule into, say, electrical impulses.

      On this picture, we know what the 'soul' or 'I factor' does, but there is no suggestion that one could ever deduce from this what it is. It remains 'noumenal', in Kant's sense.

      That was, in fact, the last time I seriously considered the possibility (and only hypothetically) that mind-body interactionist dualism might be true. (I don't recall Woods' reaction to this particular essay but I can picture him now, squirming in his seat, as I read my essays out aloud, following the usual practice. Having me as a student was a penance.)

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Monday, 24 July 2017

Between 'I am I' and 'private objects'

      'I exist, although I might not have existed.' — What kind of fact is that? Whom am I informing? and on what occasion?
      For the longest time (four decades, in point of fact) I found the following argument persuasive:
      'I am I' can only ever be the assertion of a tautology. I might as well say, 'a turnip is a turnip', or, 'everything is equal to itself' (the so-called 'law of identity').
      If one tries to fill out the content of 'I am I' by describing 'what only I can know' about the contents of my consciousness, the end result is nugatory, sheer emptiness. 'Always get rid of the private object in this way,' advises Wittgenstein. 'assume that it constantly changes, but that you do not notice the change because your memory constantly deceives you.'
      It is futile even attempting to state what I mean when I say (to myself) 'I exist', or 'I am I', because a statement is necessarily something that conveys meaning to another individual, another subject, another 'I'.
      That's not the end of it, however, because there is still something to say. Previously, I was quite inventive in finding 'things to say'. In The Metaphysics of Meaning, I argued that the temptation to assert 'I am I' as if it meant something is the expression of a deep metaphysical illusion. In Naive Metaphysics, I took a different tack, arguing for a metaphysical contradiction between 'the subjective and objective worlds'.
      An 'illusion', a 'contradiction'. Anything, but actual, literal fact.
      If materialism is absurd, as I claimed, and for the reasons I gave — that materialism cannot account for 'my existence' — then there is, there must be an actual fact here. But how to express it? I can't state it. I can't even 'show' it (whatever that would mean) because showing, like stating, implies another subject that the putative 'fact' is shown to.
      'I can show it to myself.' — That's the question. How can I?
      — I am beginning to see the point of Sartre's take on this seeming paradox in Being and Nothingness, following on from his earlier essay The Transcendence of the Ego. I can be consciously aware of objects, as in ordinary sense perception, or I can be aware of my awareness, or aware of my awareness of my awareness, etc. At each iteration, an 'object' is brought into being, but the actual subject, the ego, never appears. The subject of a mental act, can never as such be an object. In the terminology of Being and Nothingness, the 'For-itself' cannot as such be something 'In-itself'.
      And yet, as Sartre notes, we constantly make other subjects 'objects' of our awareness, and moreover are aware of being 'made into objects' by another subject's 'look' (as in the famous story of the keyhole http://follydiddledah.com/image_and_quote_8.html). Sartre saw this pessimistically as a dialectic without a resolution, a battle that neither side can ever win.
      Leaving aside Sartre's dialectic of self and other, I will always and forever be distinct from GK, the spatio-temporal continuant from whose physical point of view I encounter, engage with, act upon the world. Freedom, true freedom, is the impossibility of encompassing the actual subject within the causal order. Every change that I bring about in the world, through my actions, comes (as it were) from outside the world.
      And now it occurs to me that there is a very simple and familiar way to model this.
      Previously, I have used the concept of virtual reality (as in a 3d shooter game) as a model for Aristotle's hylomorphism. The 'objects' in the game are defined by rules (their Aristotelian 'form') that dictates how they behave in a given 'physics model'.
      For example, in the 3d shooter game 'Marathon', gravity is lower than it is on Earth, that is to say, qua virtual object you can 'fall' a greater 'distance' without 'hurting' yourself. When designing a Marathon scenario, physics models can be varied according to taste.
      In the virtual environment of the 3d shooter game, 'monsters' are 'bots' whose behaviour is written into the program. This behaviour is more or less predictable: some monsters will give chase if you shoot at them, others will wait for you to come to them. But there are also one or more virtual agents or 'marines' whose movements are actions of the players, interacting with the program. Each player is outside the world of the program, a human being in the real world. (One thing marines and monsters have in common is that marines, like monsters, are more or less easy to 'kill'.)
      However, the model can be iterated. The 'players outside the program' might be virtual agents in a more comprehensive program — if what we term 'the universe' is just virtual reality or computer simulation. The alien beings playing this game will themselves appear as 'human beings', jostling along with any number of indistinguishable 'human bots' whose behaviour is written into the 'universe program'. (We can call these 'zombies'.)
      How do I know that I am not a mere 'human bot' or zombie? I just know, because I have point of view, I am an agent. But that's all I know. I know that I am, but I don't know what I am.
      For what it's worth, my sense is that, at the present time, the possibility that the universe might be a computer simulation is given more credence than the possibility that mind-body interactionist dualism might be true. What I seem to be moving towards is the notion that these two seemingly distinct possibilities might ultimately amount to one and the same thing.
      But aren't these hypothetical 'alien beings' themselves spatio-temporal continuants inhabiting a 'real' physical world? Sure, if you are taking the model literally. I am suggesting that one might view this rather along Aristotelian lines — effectively, a version of idealism: less extreme than Platonic idealism, but an idealism nonetheless. There is no physical mega-computer generating 'the world'. There is just purposeful reason (Aristotle's 'unmoved mover') that has created our world of 'forms'.
      The form of a person would be to exist as 'a being such that its own existence is an issue for it' — an existential take on Aristotle's 'rational biped'.

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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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Saturday, 20 May 2017

Slippery soul

      Here's the whole deal from the top:
      (I've already gone over some of the arguments but it doesn't hurt to go over them again. Especially knowing how error-prone I can be.)
      A (possibly novel) modal argument for the existence of a soul entity would be this. I can conceive of a possible world (W*) exactly like the actual world (W), except that I am not in that world.
      By hypothesis, GK* in W* has all the same physical and mental properties as GK in W.
      However, GK* is not I.
      Consider the metaphysical hypothesis that the difference between GK in W and GK* in W* is that they have different souls. If the souls of GK and GK* are different then something is different between W* and W. However, it is the one and only difference. The absolute, impregnable identity of souls is the only thing that distinguishes W* from W.
      Apart from supplying a 'magical' (as I called it) principle of individuation, can we say anything else about the soul?
      As always, there are three options: interactionism, epiphenomenalism and parallelism.
      On the interactionist (Cartesian) theory, a human body needs a soul in order to function. There is a real, detectable difference between a living body with a soul and a living body lacking a soul. The latter behaves like a zombie, or, perhaps, differs from a body with a soul in less easily detectible ways (clever zombie).
      On the epiphenomenalist or parallelist views, the soul has no causal impact on the physical world. A 'zombie' would say exactly the same thing as I am saying now. But my zombie double is not an 'I', it merely speaks and behaves exactly as I would.
      (Then comes the reply that whatever physically explains why a zombie would 'speak and behave exactly as I would' must also, by hypothesis, what physically explains why I speak and behave in that same way. As I've said before, that's close to a refutation of epiphenomenalism but not clinching.)
      If my agency, my capacity to act on the physical world is real, then interactionism is the only acceptable theory. However, it is not clear how one establishes the proposition, 'My agency is real.' That's a claim GK (or GK*) would make regardless of which of the three variations of the soul theory is true.
      Put that question aside.
      As I argued in my previous post, if 'identity of soul' is the one and only thing that distinguishes GK in W from GK* in W*, then one has to recognize the additional epistemic possibility that the soul of GK in W five minutes ago is different from the soul of GK in W now. If my soul regularly, or continually, 'changes its identity', I would never know. Seeming 'memory' of my apparent identity cannot prove things either way.
      There are two ways of taking this:
      A verificationist would say that the unverifiability of the hypothesis 'GK five minutes ago has the same soul as GK now' shows that the notion of 'having the same soul' or 'having a different soul' is simply meaningless. The hypothesis has no content. That's close to what Kant says in the Paralogisms.
      The alternative is to say that I just don't know and cannot know whether my soul is the same soul that existed in me five minutes ago or not. But I believe that it is the same. It's just one of those things you have to believe. You can never be wrong (you can never find out that your belief was false) but believing the opposite — believing that your soul regularly or continually changes identity — would make life absurd. (Or, at any rate, more absurd than it is on any theory.)
      Didn't I say, 'You can believe anything, you can disbelieve anything'?
      Yes, but I still can't quite believe how I got here...
      The soul is 'magical'. An instant solution to a seemingly insoluble problem, a solution that is indeed immune from refutation. An unassailable metaphysical fact. Unverifiability is a worry, but not a knock-down argument.
      So why not bite the bullet. Accept that this is something, maybe the one and only thing, the one and only fact, that you absolutely cannot know. The ultimate mystery of 'being I'.
      — I hate this. But for the moment, I can't think of a decent reply...

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Thursday, 18 May 2017

The magical principle of individuation

       Following my 'Ask a Philosopher' post on the location of the soul...
      When I talked about this to John W. he reminded me of my quote in Naive Metaphysics, 'What, you wretch, so you want to avoid talking nonsense? Talk some nonsense, it makes no difference!' (Wittgenstein, giving a rough quote of St Augustine).
      I can imagine a possible world where any given fact might have been different, even in a small way. The pen pot on my desk might have been one tenth of an inch to the left. If you're a determinist, then in order for that to have been the case the Big Bang would have had to bang ever-so slightly differently. Sounds incredible, but that's the logic of determinism. A different effect, even every-so slightly different, requires a different cause.
      I can also imagine (and here comes the 'nonsense') a world that is physically identical to the world in every respect, the only difference being that the person known as 'GK' is not I. Or, I seem to be able to.
      (Note that this is a different scenario from the one where the person known as 'GK' is a zombie, who behaves in every way like GK in the actual world, except that 'all is darkness inside'. As I argued in the Pathways Philosophy of Mind program, by hypothesis, GK-zombie speaks and behaves in the very same way as I do, writes the very words I am writing now, about the alleged possibility of a 'GK-zombie' in another possible world, or, as we know, a 'GK-zombie-zombie'. Which is close to being, if it isn't actually, a reductio ad absurdum of the zombie, or 'epiphenomenal dualist', hypothesis.)
      GK in the other possible world is conscious in the same way as I am conscious. The only difference between us is that he is not I. Or, to vary the thought experiment, in Nietzsche's Eternal Recurrence, the next GK along and all the other GKs past and future, are not I. Only I can be I. If I am writing these words now, then whoever writes these words in the past or in the future – or in another possible world physically identical to the actual world – is someone other than I.
      I am I. But how do I know this?
      It occurs to me that it is logically possible that I came into existence five minutes ago. The GK who started writing the first sentence of this post was not I, I only seem to remember writing it. What's the difference between there being I and there not being I five minutes ago? None. The hypothesis of either I, nor not-I, is 'non-functional, a spinning wheel, otiose'. (Which is what I said in my Ask a Philosopher answer in relation to Berkeley's view of Descartes' theory of 'material substance'.)
      This is all 'old hat'. In Naive Metaphysics, I had already come to the conclusion that one can only meaningfully speak of the 'I-now'.
      As I would now express it, according to the 'otiose' hypothesis of I, the soul is a 'magical principle of individuation', unconstrained by any empirical or otherwise detectable conditions. God gave me my I, my individual soul. I 'trust' that God wouldn't deceive me into thinking that I existed five minutes ago when I didn't.
      That's something that both Descartes and Berkeley implicitly believe. – The only problem being, as I argued in my book, even God looking down on the world from His objective standpoint cannot tell apart a possible world where GK is I, and a possible world where GK is not I.
      (Kant's response to Descartes is in the Paralogisms of Pure Reason, Critique of Pure Reason, Part II Transcendental Dialectic. Descartes mistakes the a priori transcendental unity of apperception for the 'perception of unity'. Not a 'substance' as Descartes believed but a metaphysical principle.)
      The question is, how it can help to call the 'I' a 'mental substance', or 'spirit', or 'soul'? What possible principle of individuation for souls could there be other than the sum total of the soul's mental properties? But if that is the case, then there can't be 'a world that is physically identical to the world in every respect, the only difference being that the person known as 'GK' is not I'.
      The two worlds are indiscernible, and therefore identical, Leibniz would say.
      Hence, the 'magic'.
      – Then the only remaining option is to give up all talk of entities or substances. This isn't about thing-hood but rather a task. At any given moment, I am the one asking the question. The question isn't, as Kant believed, 'how to construct an external world.' And yet there seems to be something right about the idea of a 'principle'.
      What principle? As long ago as 1985, I talked about the principle that 'I am the one asking the question' ('The 'I'-Illusion'). As I would now put it, all knowledge is communicable, but metaphysical knowledge has this peculiarity that it is irreducibly subjective in character. Metaphysical knowledge isn't knowledge of 'facts'. The task of metaphysics is to align oneself with reality. There is nothing to 'know'. There is only 'adjusting my mental attitude'.

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Saturday, 13 May 2017

Questions about the One

      Frankly, I don't know whether I believe this or not. But didn't I say, 'You can believe anything, you can disbelieve anything'?
      You build your metaphysic, just as Descartes said (he was doing metaphysics, not epistemology!) on the thing you can't deny, the absolute rock-solid, gritty, inexplicable fact that this is. (And I'm not talking about the 'myth of the given', you epistemologists.)
      Fichte takes 'I' as his starting point. Posit the 'I' as the the Real. To my knowledge, Fichte is the only philosopher who has done that. Start with I. There can't be I without not-I. The I cannot act, and therefore cannot be without the 'positing' of something 'external' to it.
      Or take Hegel. You start with Being, Parmenides' One. Philosophers like Schelling who think they've found reality in Being have merely found 'the night in which all cows are black'. Being, thought of in this way, as absolutely undifferentiated, lacking any specific quality, is no different from Nothing.
      Now, this is where things get interesting. Hegel says that the 'synthesis' of Being (thesis) and Nothing (antithesis) is Becoming. Somehow, time has wiggled its way in there. Determinacy, qualities, 'being not' something, can only arise for a world in time, says Hegel.
      Leslie Armour, 'doing a Hegel' in his book Logic and Reality (Van Gorcum 1972) ventures the opinion that Hegel was wrong. The third stage has got to be 'Determinate Being'. Well, I vote for Hegel here. Without a temporal dimension, you can get mathematical determinacy (remember, mathematical entities are 'pure abstract objects', they exist in all possible worlds) but not physical determinacy. There couldn't be a possible world without time. To be, physically or mentally, is in some sense to persist — for some period of time.
      OK, so I have my I-now (from Naive Metaphysics onward, in The Metaphysics of Meaning I dismissed it as an 'inexplicable illusion'). But I also have 'necessary being', the universe of all possible worlds, condensed into the One. Two starting points, not one. And the interesting thing (or rather the totally frustrating thing) is that there seems to be no way to connect the One to the I-now.
      I can say that all conscious subjects in all possible worlds are 'I-now'. That's a lot but I'm not worried about numbers. But then the same old question comes up, why there is, or how there can be this I-now when there is a possible world identical to this world in every respect where there is not this I-now.
      Then what about these 'possible worlds'? David Lewis in his book On the Plurality of Worlds (building on his earlier Counterfactuals, which I studied in my undergraduate days) is one of a few (how few?) philosophers claiming that all possible worlds are equally 'real', including our so-called 'actual' world. It's all a matter of perspective, he says.
      The problem is, when philosophers talk about 'possible worlds', it's always linked to the conceptual resources of a given language. There are many more possible worlds than that! In fact, you can't count them, you can't arrange them in a space of any number of finite dimensions (n-dimensional space, where n is a real number). Take any method of measurement, arrangement you like, there will always be countlessly many possible worlds in between the two closest possible worlds that you are able to discern in your method of description, whatever it is.
      (Quine effectively made this point with his 'rhinoceros in the doorway' example in his essay 'On What There Is'. Possibilia don't have any meaningful identity. 'No entity without identity.')
      So, in my picture of the One (aptly named, it seems) there is no point at which, when the magnification is turned up sufficiently high, you being to discern individual possible worlds. They're all together, smeared, indistinguishable. Cows in the night. You end up viewing the One as just a source of endless 'potential' (sound familiar?).
      On the other hand, if you start with our 'actual' world, and have counterfactual thoughts about various ways the world could have been, then you have a method for constructing a strictly limited set of possible worlds (relative to the language). Maybe, one could extend the construction indefinitely, Working backwards, you approach the starting point of the One asymptotically.
      Back to the I-now. It's a starting point because it's undeniable (for Cartesian sorts of reasons). Metaphysics is defined (I say) by the fact that 'I am asking the question'. On the other hand, the One is a starting point because I believe that 'something is'. But what I mean by 'is' is something that could not exist contingently. There must be something necessary because the universe is not a 'game of dice'.
      There is this. And there is that. The this and the that seem to bear no relation to one another, there's no line of argument connecting them, other than the sheer fact that each (I say) is undeniable.
      An idiotic conundrum...
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Wednesday, 10 May 2017

The random and the necessary

      Suppose that we go with Parmenides' idea that what is, is necessary. Einstein remarked, 'God does not play dice with the universe.' He was talking about physics (objecting to the Copenhagen interpretation of Quantum Mechanics) but he might just as well have been talking metaphysics.
      What is, is necessary.
      But now we have a choice between two radically different ways of construing this 'necessity':
      According to Leibniz, this world is what is, and is necessary, because of God's choice. Being omnibenevolent, God can only choose for the best, therefore this world is the best of all possible worlds.
      According to David Lewis, all possible worlds are equally 'real'. What we term the 'actual world' is no more or less real than all other possible worlds. What is cannot be the actual world, because the actual world is merely a part of what is, not the whole. What is, is the universe of all possible worlds.
      Each of these two alternatives embraces necessity and rejects randomness.
      I don't have any outright objection to the claim that the actual world is the best of all possible worlds. It might be, for all we know, and assuming that there could be an objective criterion for what is 'the absolute best'. The human imagination stretches only so far. If this is the best of all possible worlds, then there seem to be a heck of a lot of 'necessary evils' (even if we are not driven to the point of asserting that everything is a necessary evil as Voltaire remarked sarcastically in Candide). But that is only us, and our limited view. What I reject is the Leibnizian solution to the problem of necessity.
      Either you simply go with the ontological argument, and assert that a being with 'all the perfections', or God, necessarily exists just because 'He' has all the perfections. Or you claim, with Leibniz, that the only conceivable 'sufficient reason' for the existence of our actual world is choice by an being sufficiently powerful and wise that it is impossible that a world could be chosen that was not the 'absolute best' — which entails that such a being is necessarily infinite and not finite.
      The argument from sufficient reason appears to have the form of 'inference to the best explanation'. In this unique case, the 'best explanation' is the only conceivable explanation. There is a sufficient reason, there cannot not be, and an infinitely perfect being is the only explanation that fits this requirement, because only an infinitely perfect being can be a 'reason' for its own existence.
      So it turns out that whichever route you choose, you run into the ontological argument. The argument from sufficient reason appears to give support to the ontological argument (the 'best' explanation is the 'only possible explanation') as well as appealing to the ontological argument (the idea of a being that is a 'reason for its own existence').
      — This is all heavy stuff.
      Sorry, but when I hear the phrase 'infinitely perfect being' the words make no sense to me. It's just a fairy tale. It's not real, regardless of how many philosophers once embraced the idea.
      Because a selection has been made, an infinitely perfect being 'must' exist. But how can Leibniz be so sure that there is a selection? Nothing has been said to rule out the alternative: that all possible worlds are equally 'real', as David Lewis claims.
      But now we run into a problem that doesn't seem to have worried Lewis.
      All possible worlds are equally real. All conscious subjects, qua inhabitants of all possible worlds, are equally real. So here we are, surveying the whole lot, all possible worlds. Or, rather, here I am.
      But where am I?
      More precisely, where to put an 'I-now' that seems completely redundant according to this picture.
      Somehow, from the unqualified necessity of all possible worlds, comes something that seems utterly contingent: I-now, my subjective world, the issue of my existence.
      The sad news for the God party is that Leibniz's theory fares no better than Lewis in this regard.
      As I argued in Naive Metaphysics, even an infinitely perfect being cannot tell the difference between a GK who is I and a GK who is not-I. From the objective standpoint, they are one and the same.
      The solution?
      I argued in The Metaphysics of Meaning that a metaphysic has to explain everything, or it is otiose. If there's just one little bit that you can't fit into your theory, then you have to reject the theory. There's no alternative.
      The 'one little bit' is the I-now.
      You can't extract the I-now from the One (= universe of all possible worlds).
      You can't derive the One from the I-now.
      And so we're back, it seems, with Wittgenstein's 'two godheads'.
      My 'theory of subjective and objective worlds' is part of the story, but not the whole of it. Each a mirror image of the other, both 'worlds' are merely constructions based on 'our' shared language. In Whitehead's terminology, they are not what is actual. To suppose otherwise is the 'fallacy of misplaced concreteness'.
      What is actual is the I-now and the One...
      ... The unspeakable this and the unspeakable that.

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Tuesday, 9 May 2017

A world without 'I'

      Following my 'Ask a Philosopher' post yesterday in response to the question, Why is there something rather than nothing?...
      A few years ago, we had this question from James:

      Okay, I'll admit the need for the contemplation of the various ideas as detailed by this site... and human consciousness in general. But come now, Kollidge Kids. The "basic facts" of existence are:
      1. There was "nothing".
      2. "Bang".
      3. There was everything.
      Ain't there something wrong here? We all understand that "everything" is created... from other "things". Everything. No exceptions. Except... Everything.
      Seems to me, the entire human population should huddle together one week out of the year and contemplate the utter nonsense of the fact of "our" existence. Why we don't walk around muttering "We came from nothing. We came from nothing. We came from nothing," is a mystery in itself...

     I replied to James:

      What cracks me up is that you don't notice an equally big problem staring you in the face every time you look at the bathroom mirror in the morning.
      Let's play a game of suppose. Suppose there were an explanation of why there is something rather than nothing... Now, you are looking in that bathroom mirror, and you think, 'Hang on a second, why is there this face in the mirror? Why am I me? Why is there such an individual as I?'...
      I think that this is a question that deserves to be pondered at least once a day, not one week every year. Not for very long, though. I suggest a couple of minutes, at the maximum...

      Originally posted on  http://www.philosophypathways.com/questions/answers7.html#25 the question was selected for the 'Big Bang Theory page' on our '10 Big Questions' web site http://123infinity.com/big_bang_theory.html.
      'Why is there an individual such as I?' is the question I called my 'idiotic conundrum' (in my book Philosophizer). There does seem something absurd about it. One day I will die, and the world will be a world without 'I'. Before I was born, the world was a world without 'I'. Every night during deep sleep when my brain and nervous system are occupied with managing GK's autonomous functions, the world is a world without 'I'.
      And yet, when I think about the possibility that I might never have been, it seems incredible that there is 'I' at all. No explanation of how the universe came into being, or why there is 'something rather than nothing' can explain why there is a world with 'I' rather than a world without 'I'.
      In my answer to James, I recognized the weirdness of raising this question. It's worth thinking about for 'a couple of minutes at the maximum', I suggested, somewhat facetiously.
      I could have said: The problem is never going to be solved. No-one is never going to crack it. So why not just leave it alone?
      I don't see discussions of this anywhere. It's not a topic on the academic philosopher's agenda. But I'm not worried about what academic philosophers think. I wouldn't have written my book, if I had cared more than a hoot.
      The question, as I stated in my first YouTube video, Why am I here? isn't so much asking why, as raising the prior question how it can be a fact at all, a feature of the world, that there is 'I', rather than 'no-I'.
      The problem is, there is no way to state the question — either the question of explanation or the question of fact — in terms that would be comprehensible to any other person. Another person can only ask the question about him or herself, there is no parallel question about me, because that just becomes a question about the world being the way it is, having GK in it, rather than being a world without GK.
      — This is all old ground which was covered in my 1994 book Naive Metaphysics, as well as Philosophizer. I'm just putting down a marker here, to show that the question is not going to go away any time soon...

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Friday, 5 May 2017

The One

      — More thoughts following my 'Ask a Philosopher' post on 30 April, Parmenides' One. This isn't the way I want to go, but I'm going to give it a try anyway...
      I wrote my first 'serious' (non-beginner) philosophy essay as a first year undergrad at Birkbeck College, over the Christmas/ New Year holiday 1972-3. The title, 'Parmenides' Way of Truth'. I spent far longer and read far more than one would reasonably expect for a freshman essay, but something drove me. The forbidding figure of Parmenides was an irresistible challenge. There was no backing down.
      And when it was all done, I knew what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.
      We know what Parmenides wrote. It's preserved in the fragments from his book 'The Way of Truth'. But the actual logic of the argument is unclear.
      So let's try with a clean slate. Let's not worry about whether or not Parmenides would recognize this has his argument.
      Something is. That's a reasonable claim to make, surely. Even if Descartes is right and the only thing I can be certain of is 'I am', then something is because I am something...
      ... and not nothing.
      Might nothing have been? That's the implication of Heidegger's question (in What is Metaphysics?) 'Why is there something rather than nothing?' I can't remember exactly how he gets there, but Heidegger, in speaking of the idea of nothing, infamously asserts, 'Das Nichts nichtet.' Nothing noths — the claim that Carnap and the Logical Positivists fastened upon as illustrating the absurdity of metaphysics.
      Well, you can hardly consider the possibility that nothing is, which is implied by the notion that there 'might have been' nothing. Nothing can be said about nothing other than it 'noths'. — I would say that one cannot even say that. Speaking for myself, I simply cannot get my mind around the sheer 'possibility of nothing'. You could try imagining 'empty space' but obviously that's just a picture. There really is nothing for the mind to hold onto. And wasn't that the point Heidegger was making? (and which the Positivists clearly missed).
      What does father Parmenides say? Nothing is unthinkable. You cannot think 'nothing', you cannot refer to 'nothing', you cannot say anything about 'nothing'. The only alternative is that...
      Something is.
      What is this something? What can we say about it? Here, I depart from the text of 'Way of Truth'.
      There are apparently two possibilities, that what is, contingently is, and that what is necessarily is. We know that something must be. There cannot be nothing. But why can't you say that it is necessary that 'something is', but contingent that the 'something' in question is configured one way (has one set of properties) rather than another way (has another set of properties)?
      Now we are at the nub of it.
      Contingency is anathema. What is ultimate, cannot be contingent. The 'ultimately contingent' is sheer irrationality. Here, I find myself agreeing with Hegel: the real is rational, it must be.
      What Parmenides says is that contingency implies 'what is not', and what is not is unthinkable. If the 'something' is white, then it can't be black. If the 'something' is square, then it can't be triangular. It's harder to see why that is a problem. The best case one can make (see the unit on Parmenides in the Pathways Program, The First Philosophers) is that, if we are talking about reality, that which is, then not or negativity cannot be part of reality or involved in any way with it. Omnis determinatio est negatio. All determination is negation. What is, in itself and apart from any view taken of it (as it were 'from outside') cannot be white because that implies negation by the above principle. It is not black.
      (In the unit on Parmenides, I compare Sartre's view in Being and Nothingness that Being is the One of Parmenides and Nothingness arises from the discriminatory actions of consciousness.)
      I'm not totally happy with this story about negation, which is why I am looking for an alternative 'take'.
      Contingency is anathema. What is, necessarily is. But we can say more. It is no less impossible to accept that existence, necessary in itself, gives rise to a contingent reality, a universe that might have been different in countlessly many ways. The Big Bang might have banged differently. Earth might not have formed, I might not have been born, etc.
      The American philosopher David Lewis has the response to this (Counterfactuals, On the Plurality of Worlds). All possible worlds are equally 'real'. Our world is just another possible world, no more 'real' than any other possible world.
      Now we're talking! But would Parmenides agree?
      The One is all possible worlds.
      Taken together, as the entire range of what can be, there is no negativity. Every conceivable property is manifested, every logical possibility realized.
      What we term 'the actual world' is merely an aspect of the One.
      The actual world is a world in time. Every time is a 'now' but only one time can be now. What one logically should say about that is that now is merely an aspect of the history of the actual world.
      The actual world contains many conscious subjects, each of whom conceives of themself as an 'I'. But only one 'I' can be I. By parity of reasoning, I am merely an 'aspect' of all conscious beings.
      Then, finally, we come to the I-now. The this.
      The One, or the That, cannot be without the this. The two ultimate, indescribable 'realities' exist at opposite poles. The One, or the That, manifests itself in indescribably many thises. Each this looks back to the One.
       — Where have I heard that before?...

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Thursday, 4 May 2017

Belief, disbelief and make-belief

      You can believe anything.
      You can disbelieve anything.
       — Consider, for example, the reaction of 'disbelief' when someone witnessis a murder or a terrorist bombing. Their first thought is, 'This can't be happening.'
      The true believer reacts in a similar way when incontrovertible evidence is presented to them that their belief is false. Flat earthers and moon-landing deniers belong to this group. Unlike the disbelieving witness, who more or less quickly acknowledges what they have seen with their own eyes, the true believer remains stuck in the attitude of denial.
      In analytic philosophy, the paradigm of belief (e.g. in Davidson's theory of action as the result of a belief-desire combination) is that of information, or 'laying oneself open to the world'. According to this paradigm, 'deciding to believe' is an anomaly, the exception.
      We assert the opposite: deciding to believe is the norm, not the exception. Human beings are make-believers, that is how we create, and colour our personal and interpersonal reality, our world.
      Of course, we are 'open' to information all of the time. It is only when a thought is identified specifically as a 'belief' that an additional element appears. A belief is something you hold, it is a possession, something you stand by and defend.
      Where does reason come in all this?
      In the world shared by true believers, the 'reasonable' thing (from the point of view of self-understanding and mutual understanding) is to follow the dogma. To reject the dogma is a mark of irrationality. What is rational or reasonable is 'what the others believe'.
      One can see how you can derive a practical advantage from 'make-believing'. For example, the mother who refuses to believe the telegram telling her that her son was killed in action. 'He's out there, somewhere,' she says. It's a comfort, a way of putting off indefinitely the grief of bereavement.
      What that doesn't explain is how human beings learned to make-believe.
      Non-human animals have learned from evolution how to mimic and deceive, but they don't 'invent' false facts, given that accurate information is vital to their survival. So how did human beings acquire the trick?
      This is the point where we would offer a partly-empirical theory about the strange phenomenon of dreaming. The theory is in principle open to refutation, although it is not clear what kind of experiment one would perform (hence 'partly-empirical' or 'quasi-empirical').
      Cats and dogs are known to dream, that is to say, they exhibit all the associated signs of dreaming such as rapid eye movement, limb twitching and the sounds associated with action in the physical world.
      What do they dream about?
      Here's a plausible hypothesis: For non-human animals, dreaming has evolved as a dress rehearsal of the kinds of actions they do in the physical world that are necessary for survival. An example would be a cat dreaming about catching a mouse. In the cat's dream, the mouse behaves the way mice normally do. That's the point.
      If you could interpret the cat's thoughts, in the dream, they might be something like, 'If the mouse is there, then I will stalk three steps then pounce.' The dream-action is repeated, over and over again, in every possible variation. Then, when the cat encounters a mouse in reality, it has already rehearsed the precise series of actions that it will do.
      For a cat, dreaming is a form of mental play, a self-training routine that doesn't require expending valuable energy that would be required for physical play.
      It is only with human beings, that dreams have acquired the additional function of wish fulfilment (Freud). The need for wish fulfilment arises from the dynamic of interpersonal relations (e.g. mother and child). Non-human animals are social, but not personal or inter-personal.
      Equally important, the inventiveness of human dreaming leads to creative endeavour in the physical world, which in turns influences our dreams, in a self-stoking cycle. We turn our 'wish fulfilment' fantasies into reality.
      As I argued in Philosophizer, our human capacity to dream explains the interest we take in fiction. Our interest in fiction in turn explains the phenomenon of religion, which is essentially a fiction which becomes our shared reality through the action of make-believe.
      Receiving Holy Communion, on this view, is essentially no different from children playing 'doctors and nurses'.
      We give our consent to a fiction, more or less knowingly or unknowingly. The 'true believer' is at one end of the spectrum of belief. At the other is the kind of person who enjoys going to church — or the mosque or synagogue — not just for the sense of warmth and fellowship, but also in a mood of conscious and deliberate consent to a story you have heard over and over again, a story that you choose to become part of your 'reality'.
      Am I against 'belief'? Not at all. I am against the imposition of belief.
      I am offended.
      The offence is not always the same, or to the same degree. Nevertheless, like John Stuart Mill, I deny your right to protection from 'conflicting opinions'. I deny your right to subject those under the age of consent to brain washing, even when — or especially when — they are children in your care.
      Let's get it all out in the open. Put on your costumes, parade your holy texts, give us a good show.

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Friday, 28 April 2017

The question

      For many persons, metaphysics begins and ends with faith.
      This is a clue, for us, because it points to a 'something' that is seen to be of human concern — something to do with there being a world, something to do with right and wrong, something to do with the fear of death and awareness of our finitude ('original sin' in Christianity).
      God is a, or the, metaphysical being.
      God is the greatest, most perfect, infinite — the possessor of every superlative, and more beyond our limited comprehension. God is the answer to every question. God knows infinitely more things that we finite beings can ever know. And so on.
      My charge, my complaint has nothing to do with paucity of evidence — the problem Dawkins and Hitchens make so much of. Evidence is in the eye of the beholder. The philosopher William James recognized the overpowering force of religious revelation. How can you judge revelation scientifically, if you have not been similarly blessed?
      The believer has a point.
      It takes great skill, knowledge and powers of discernment to read a microscope slide, or an X-ray. I am not going to argue with a physician over what those little specks or those faint shadows 'mean'.
      My objection is different. Based on what believers say about their 'God', based on what they do or have done under the influence of their belief, an impartial observer can only conclude that God... is a monster.
      You see an object to love, worship and obey. I see a monster. If God is a person — a question about which there has been much theological debate — then one must judge Him (or Her, or It) on the basis of what is said and believed about that person. Not knowing the individual concerned at first hand, that's all there is or could ever be to base a judgement upon.
      And what is said and believed about God could only be true if God is a monster. How can they not see that?
      It is possible that God exists, or at least some being answering to at least some of the properties attributed to God. In that case, unlike Russell who said 'You should have given me more evidence for believing in you,' my response is, 'Go to Hell.'
      There's no arguing with God. There's no arguing with a true believer. Yet, the true believer and I have something in common which to me is more important than what separates us: awareness of a metaphysical question.
      In the Greek legend of the battle between the Gods and the Titans, the only thing that ultimately distinguished those that were 'Gods' from those that were not, was that a God, by definition, is 'worthy of worship'. The Gods claimed Mount Olympus while the Titans were condemned to incarceration in Tartarus.
      And just as the Greek thinker Xenophanes questioned the worthiness to be worshipped of the Gods on Olympus, so I am questioning the worthiness of Xenophanes' 'one God', in the various hyperbolic descriptions that have come down from religious tradition.
      There is only the question.

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Thursday, 27 April 2017

Why metaphysics?

      'Philosopher' is a political label (the 'lovers of wisdom'). 'Metaphysics' is a library classification ('the books after Aristotle's Physics'). Does it really matter what term you use?
      Somehow, 'metaphysics' seems more apt for what I am doing than 'philosophy'. Fact is, I'm not sure I know what philosophy is any more. I have little in common with the philosophers (so-called) of the Academy. But metaphysics... that's a word, an idea that has always moved me.
      There is something to know metaphysically, or from a metaphysical standpoint. Something apart from empirical science or even logic (or 'analysis').
      I have a question. A metaphysical question. I call it a metaphysical question, because there is no other way to make sense of it. Not that it makes any sense anyway, but it seems to.
      Something is. What is 'is'? Or what is 'what is'?
      I don't even know if that's the fundamental question. Maybe we should be looking for something that comes before is. ('Nothing' or 'is-not' would be one candidate, 'becomes' would be another, Pirsig's 'Quality' would be a third possibility.) That's a question I shall leave open.
      You've got to start somewhere...
      But that doesn't excuse making a false start, or a bad start...
      The thing is, when you've tried so many times, and each time you didn't end up where you hoped you would be — with something that at least 'looked' like an answer — why should this time be any different?
      Why not just admit it: I don't know how to do this.
      Then don't even try.
      Take a step back. There is something else to explain. I can explain how this starts. Instead of trying to 'answer the question', look to see where the question — or the idea of metaphysics — comes from. Catch it at the moment of its birth, if you can. Or if not, take your best guess from the evidence available.
      Instead of seeking a 'metaphysical explanation' of reality, or the world, or 'is', I am setting out to explain metaphysics.

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