Archive for category Physical and Nonphysical
If the mind is not the brain, then we need to say that there is an additional thing out there, which is the mind. It will be a very mysterious thing.
That thing needs to interact with the brain somehow. We know, from experimental psychology, that many psychological functions are functions of the brain — the brain is implicated in memory, learning, sensory and motor functions, executive functions, language, etc.
So we need to say that the mind and the brain bear some sort of relationship to each other, and both contribute in their own ways to psychological functioning.
It makes sense to me to say that the brain serves functions which are more “mechanical,” lower-level, than the functions served by the mind. The mind, then, would serve higher-level functions. Under this view, we would say things such as these:
* My brain is the thing that computes sums, but my mind is the thing that enjoys doing math.
* When I compose music in my head, my temporal lobes contain a representation of the music, but my mind is the thing that is performing the creative act of composition.
* When I feel pain, there is a chain of signaling proceeding from my peripheral neurons, and eventually into my brain, but that which feels the pain qualia is my mind.
These examples give a rough idea of the sort of division of functions I am hypothesizing. I can make the idea more concrete with a metaphor.
Imagine that my body is a giant robot, like the robots in Gundam Wing, and my mind is the pilot of this robot. The brain is the set of instruments, in the cockpit, with which the pilot interacts with the world.
* The occipital lobe is a video display.
* The temporal lobe is a sound system.
* The motor cortex is a control panel, with joysticks, buttons, etc.
* The frontal lobe is a sort of digital assistant, which automatically performs various helpful tasks. Among other things, it has a pocket calculator, a calendar, and software that gives me important reminders from time to time.
* The brain also has a filesystem which stores all of my memories.
This crude analogy is intended to illustrate the sort of relationship that the mind and the brain might bear to each other. A finished theory would give precise descriptions of the respective functions of the mind and the brain; but I do not have that information.
My year-long struggle with materialism may finally be ended.
I shall summarize the problem. For a long time I objected to materialism without knowing why. Eventually I made a concerted attempt to articulate my problems with it.
It turns out that my strongest ethical intuition is that whatever happens is good and acceptable. There is no true wrongness in existence. Ethics consists of following the way of the universe, without fighting for or against anything. My inability to believe in badness constrains my worldview significantly.
Every sufficiently developed metaphysics implies an ethics, and every sufficiently developed ethics implies a metaphysics. For instance, Christianity has both a metaphyics (God exists, Jesus is his son sent to save humanity, we go to heaven or hell when we die) and an ethical theory (be a good Christian). The metaphysics and the ethics do not make sense without each other. If the metaphysics is false, then it makes no sense to follow the ethics. If the metaphysics is true, then the ethics are the only ethics that it makes sense to follow. We may make similar comments about every religion. Each religion gives us a metaphysics and an ethics which cannot be separated from each other.
Materialism is a metaphysics, so under our theory it must imply an ethics. What ethics does it imply? Precisely this: that nothing objectively matters, and we can choose to hold whatever value system we care to hold. Note carefully that under many metaphysics, this is not true.
For a long time I rejected materialism because I did not agree with the ethics that it implied. To me, materialism was a despairing worldview. The chief problem I had was that materialism does not place inherent value on humanity or enlightenment. The most serious problem was the idea that we die with our bodies. It seemed wrong to me that human existence should be limited and finite, and that it should be possible for this thing, the only thing of value, to be destroyed by unconscious, amoral, and random forces.
I felt that the world existed for the sake of humans, and humans existed for the sake of God. The goal of the natural world was to become human, and the goal of humans was to become God. This ethics necessarily implies a metaphysics. It requires us to postulate the existence of God, postulate reincarnation, and in doing so reject materialism.
An additional aspect of my problem was my inability to believe in true badness. I cannot believe in hopeless situations. It could conceivably be the case that humans are what matter, and that human existence is limited, finite, and subject to arbitrary annihilation. But under this worldview, evil exists. So I cannot hold this view.
At this point the only solution I saw was to reject materialism. But this was difficult for me to do, because I felt that I might be deceiving myself. There is no observable evidence to the effect that materialism is false. Materialism is, if not definitely true, certainly a possibility that is not ruled out by the evidence. The only thing that ruled it out was my ethics. Being a logical person, I was not comfortable with this.
A couple nights ago I came to a resolution of this problem, and possibly the end of my long struggle with materialism. I came to believe in the possibility — though not the certainty — that materialism is true. In order to do this I had to become emotionally OK with the possibility.
The dam broke when I realized that dying and permanently ceasing to be conscious could be like enlightenment. I thought, maybe humanity and consciousness is a cosmic accident that has no bearing on anything, and the universe as it is, dead and amoral and unconscious, is just fine without it. I was able to believe this, and be OK with it.
In part I was able to believe it because it lined up well with things I already felt. I already saw humanity as a piece of gum on a giant cosmic shoe. I already felt that the way of the universe was askew from human concerns, and that really our existence was subordinate to the existence of another force unimaginably vaster and grander than ourselves.
These were never propositions of despair for me, because I always saw the higher force as good. I always wanted to be on its side. Thus, my only ethics was to follow the way of the universe. Whatever the higher force wants, I want. If this isn’t true, then I just need to change what I want until it is in conformity with the way of the universe.
So I translated the foregoing ideas into the context of materialism. Under materialism, the universe doesn’t care about humanity. OK, then; if materialism is true, then I don’t care about humanity. If it’s possible for me to die, then I am OK with dying. If it’s possible for the whole human race to be gobbled up by nanobots in the next ten minutes, then I can accept that as a good outcome.
I’m OK with the idea that a human is not a more valuable form of existence than say, a star or a squirrel or a rock. I’m OK with the idea that consciousness is not more valuable than unconsciousness, that intelligence is not more valuable than unintelligence. If that’s true, then when we die we just change to a different form which is neither better nor worse.
My impulse to believe in universal goodness is, apparently, so strong that I am more ready to stop caring about humanity than I am to stop having faith in the way of the universe.
I am not at all depressed any more by the idea that materialism is true. Actually, it has broken down the walls between myself and nature. I used to be caught in the Enlightenment idea that humans are superior to nature and that it exists for us. Now I feel that we are one with nature and not superior to it. All physical things appear more wonderful to me now that I see them as being as valuable as I am.
Under materialism, nothing matters. But this does not have to be a proposition of despair. If nothing matters, then by virtue of this everything is beautiful and acceptable.
Under physicalism, existence consists of mathematical patterns. Everything that exists is a mathematical object as described by whatever physical theory is a true description of the universe.
If physicalism is true, then everything that exists is isomorphic to some mathematical construct. A mathematical construct is something such as a natural number, a set, a graph, etc.
If physicalism is false, it can still be the case that existence consists of mathematical patterns. Let us call this view “mathematicalism.”
Mathematicalism. Everything that exists is isomorphic to some mathematical construct.
If physicalism is true, then mathematicalism is true. But mathematicalism can still be true if physicalism is false. Thus, for instance, things such as souls, angels, and demons may exist, and be mathematical patterns. It might be that the mind is an entity distinct from the brain, but nonetheless a mathematical pattern like the brain.
Why do we believe what we believe? I suggest three factors.
Experience coherency. It is clear that our beliefs are founded upon our experiences. I am unlikely to accept a belief that does not cohere with my experiences, and I am less likely to reject a belief which strongly coheres with my experiences.
Just as our experiences shape our beliefs, our beliefs also shape our experiences. This is obvious with the case of spiritual intelligences. I believe in spiritual intelligences, and I seem to experience contact with spiritual intelligences. The more strongly I hold this belief, the more frequent and vivid these experiences are. In times when I do not hold this belief, I do not have these experiences.
There seems to be a kind of feedback loop: the more I see it, the more I believe it, the more I see it, the more I believe it… It works the other way as well: the less I see it, the less I believe it, the less I see it, the less I believe it…
I suggest that such a feedback loop between belief and experience is a common feature of beliefs in general, and not peculiar to this case. What we experience determines what we believe, and what we believe determines what we experience.
In the case of propositions about objects in physical world, beliefs seem to have less of an effect on experience. It is indeed possible to deny the evidence of one’s senses if this is strongly enough in conflict with a strongly held belief. But this rarely happens. On the other hand, with beliefs that are not propositions about physical or mathematical objects, it is easy to believe that it constantly happens that what we believe shapes how we see the world. It is easy to believe that to some extent “seeing is believing” with beliefs that are not propositions about physical or mathematical objects.
Belief coherency. One factor determining whether we accept or reject a belief is its coherency with our experience. Another factor is its coherency with the other things that we believe.
I am more likely to believe something if it coheres with what I already believe. I am less likely to believe something if it does not cohere with what I already believe.
It is possible to undergo a “paradigm shift,” in a which a whole set of interdependent beliefs are replaced with another set of interdependent beliefs which is inconsistent with the old set. Thomas Kuhn described this phenomenon in the history of science. One can also see it for instance when a person accepts or rejects a religion.
I suggest that paradigm shifts occur because it is very difficult to “sit between two stools” (as Gurdjieff put it). To have inconsistencies in one’s belief system is stressful, requires cognitive effort, and generates cognitive dissonance. Therefore, when one is torn between two belief systems, it is likely that eventually one will reject one of the systems wholesale and embrace the other one wholesale.
Social coherency. We believe things that other people believe. All of us have a many-tiered circle of trust. We have groups of people whom we trust and mistrust to greater and lesser degrees. If a belief is not held by people in our circle of trust, then we are less likely to believe it. If a belief is held by people in our circle of trust, then we are more likely to believe it. The size of the effect is in proportion to the closeness of the people in question to the center of our circle of trust.
I suggest that social coherency is an incorporation of others’ beliefs and experiences into our determination of our beliefs. In other words, we believe things that cohere with our experiences (experience coherency) and beliefs (belief coherency), and we also believe things that cohere with others’ experiences and beliefs.
Let us analyze how these tools explain why we believe the things that we believe.
Arguments are a major factor in determining our beliefs. We are more likely to accept a belief if somebody can provide a convincing argument for it. I suggest that an argument is a means of revealing belief coherency. An argument proceeds from premises to conclusion. It has no effect if the listener does not believe the premises. If they do believe the premises, and the argument is internally strong, then they will believe the conclusion. They believe the conclusion because the argument has demonstrated to them that the conclusion coheres with things that they already believe (namely, the premises).
Arguments are the foundation for mathematics and philosophy. Evidence and arguments are the foundation for science. Evidence is, in essence, a process of sharing experience within a circle of trust (namely, scientists). A scientist says, “we experienced x as the outcome of our experiment,” and the rest of the scientific community takes it as a datum that this experience occurred.
Our available evidence and arguments together are not sufficient to account for our beliefs. Our beliefs are underdetermined by the available evidence and arguments. If we were all familiar with exactly the same body of evidence and arguments, it would still be possible (probably easy) to hold differing beliefs. The duality between physicalism and anoological non-physicalism is an example of a place where our beliefs are underdetermined.
What accounts for the portion of what we believe that is not fixed by the evidence and arguments? I suggest that belief coherency is an important factor. Since our beliefs are underdetermined, we simply adopt the belief system which is the simplest account of the data. The desire for coherency probably plays a significant role in forming our beliefs when these beliefs surpass the data, but I am not yet willing to state that it is the whole story.
What accounts for religious beliefs? After scientific and mathematical beliefs, these are the most prominent and highly developed belief systems in human society. Religious beliefs are not primarily based on arguments or evidence. Why do people believe them?
I suggest that social coherency is a factor: that people hold religious beliefs in part because the people around them hold religious beliefs. This alone can account fairly well for the people who are religious only in a casual manner, who are not passionate about religion but believe in it in a passive way without ascribing great importance to it.
This, however, does not explain how people originally came to hold religious beliefs. I suggest the following hypothesis, which however does not so much answer the question as narrow the domain of inquiry:
(H.1) One or more great individuals are the first cause of every religion’s existence.
(H.1) states that Christianity exists because Christ existed, Islam exists because Mohammed existed, Buddhism exists because the Buddha existed, Taoism exists because Lao Tzu existed, and Hinduism exists because the various Indian gurus (e.g. Gaudapada, Adi Shankara) existed. (H.1) need not mean that these figures were the only figures instrumental in bringing about any religion; it may be the case that there were many other important figures in each case.
Furthermore, I suggest the following:
(H.2) People who are passionately religious hold religious beliefs because they have religious experiences.
“People who are passionately religious” would include the great individuals of (H.1). If (H.2) is true then experience coherency plays an important role in deciding peoples’ religious beliefs.
I am going to give an improved formulation of some of the concepts explored in the previous post. First I present the following hypothesis:
The Anoological Hypothesis. It is impossible to arrive at reasoned consensus regarding the truth-value of any proposition about non-physical non-mathematical entities. In particular, it is impossible to prove any non-tautological proposition about non-physical non-mathematical entities.
“Anoological” is composed of the Greek words “nous” (mind or spirit) and “logos” (reason). Put simply, therefore, the anoological hypothesis is the hypothesis that we do not have rational knowledge of anything mental or spiritual. Put more precisely, we only have well-defined and widely agreed upon propositions about physical and mathematical entities, and we have no well-defined or widely agreed upon propositions about non-physical non-mathematical entities. Let us further explore the meaning of this hypothesis and the reasons for believing it.
Firstly, what is meant by “non-physical non-mathematical entity?” It is any entity that is not describable by the physical sciences or by mathematics. Such entities include God, souls, angels, demons, heaven, hell, Cartesian egos, astral planes, brahman, Platonic forms, etc. They also include thoughts, feelings, sensations, intentions, consciousness, etc., if these entities are not describable by the physical sciences.
We will divide the entities just mentioned into two further roughly defined categories, for convenience. “Psychological entities” are those entities which are features of the human mind, such as thoughts, feelings, sensations, intentions, and consciousness. “Spiritual entities” are God, souls, angels, etc. Psychological entities may or may not be non-physical non-mathematical entities. Spiritual entities definitely are. These categories are not intended to be precisely defined, or necessarily exhaustive of the category of non-physical non-mathematical entities.
The three categories “physical entities,” “mathematical entities,” and “non-physical non-mathematical entities” are intended to be exhaustive of all entities that are discussed by human beings. The inclusion of mathematical entities as a category is necessitated by the clear fact that mathematical entities are not physical entities, and nonetheless are the objects of our most firmly established knowledge. Here we must leave aside the debates about whether or not mathematical entities exist, and what they are if they do exist.
What is meant in the anoological hypothesis by “reasoned consensus?” Firstly, by “consensus” I mean the kind of consensus that mathematical and scientific propositions frequently obtain, where almost all people with knowledge on the subject agree upon a single truth-value for the proposition in question. Consensus is a measure of the level of agreement in informed peoples’ beliefs.
That non-tautological propositions about non-physical non-mathematical entities rarely have such consensus is readily apparent. Certain propositions about psychological entities have consensus, such as “pain hurts” and “pleasure feels good.” It is not clear, however, that any of these consensus-bearing propositions are non-tautological.
It is clear at any rate that there is no non-tautological proposition about any spiritual entity about which there is consensus. According to physicalists, spiritual entities do not exist, and therefore all non-tautological propositions except for “x does not exist” are false of spiritual entities. This proposition does not have consensus, because many people believe that spiritual entities do exist. Physicalists and believers in spiritual entities together assure that there is no non-tautological proposition about spiritual entities which has consensus, because physicalists deny all of the propositions which believers in spiritual entities affirm, and vice versa.
There have been, and are, groups of people in which non-tautological propositions about non-physical non-mathematical entities had or have consensus. The present entire world population is not such a group of people, but we can cite examples of other such groups. In Medieval Europe it was the consensus that heaven and hell existed. In much of India it is the consensus that people live through a series of incarnations. Among physicalists it is the consensus that spiritual entities do not exist.
When examining groups other than the present entire world population, it is sometimes the case that there is consensus about propositions about non-physical non-mathematical entities. However, in none of these cases (except possibly the case of physicalism) is this “reasoned consensus.”
“Reasoned consensus” means, consensus due to the fact that the propositions upon which there is consensus have been proven. “Proof” means the kind of justification provided for mathematical theorems or scientific hypotheses. It does not necessarily mean mathematical proof; there is the possibility of admitting much that is informal and uncertain in the kind of proof under discussion. It is conceivable that we could stretch the notion of “proof” to include some justifications for believing in physicalism. Though I myself do not believe that this is the case, I do think it is possible to argue it and so I do not assert positively that consensus about physicalism is never reasoned consensus. At least all consensus besides physicalism that has existed in human history regarding propositions about non-physical non-mathematical entities has not been reasoned consensus.
It is difficult to say precisely what proof consists of. What modes of reasoning are admissible? What types of evidence are admissible? What premises are admissible? Such problems are complex. One useful measure (but not a final definition) of proof is its ability to produce consensus. This would appear to create a circle in definition between “reasoned consensus” and “proof,” but it does not. Consensus can be produced through means other than proof, such as charisma, duress, or brainwashing. “Reasoned consensus” excludes all means of producing consensus other than proof.
That is all for the meaning of the anoological hypothesis. Let us now consider the grounds for believing it. These are chiefly empirical in the informal sense. Put simply, a great many propositions about physical and mathematical entities have been proven. No proposition about a non-physical non-mathematical entity has ever been proven. Even such valiant attempts as Descartes’ ontological argument have failed to produce consensus. That this has consistently been the case after many, many attempts to prove such propositions, is strong evidence for the proposition that it cannot be done. This proposition is the anoological hypothesis.
The anoological hypothesis, if true, has large implications. Specifically, it implies that all ontologies must be consistent with exactly one of two hypotheses:
Physicalism. Non-physical non-mathematical entities do not exist.
Anoological non-physicalism. Non-physical non-mathematical entities exist, and it is impossible to prove that they exist.
Physicalism is the usual choice in philosophy today. Anoological non-physicalism is a little-considered alternative, and also the only conceivable alternative to physicalism if the anoological hypothesis is true.
Furthermore, if the anoological hypothesis is true, it is impossible to prove either physicalism or anoological non-physicalism. This is so because physicalism and anoological non-physicalism are both propositions about non-physical non-mathematical entities, and under the anoological hypothesis such propositions cannot be proven. If the anoological hypothesis is true, then we are stuck with these two ontological alternatives, and no means to establish one over the other.