Friday, July 16, 2010

The Irrationality of Physicalism

If Physicalism is true, then the belief in Physicalism can’t be rationally justified.

If physicalism is true, then our beliefs and experiences are a result of the universe’s initial conditions and causal laws (which may have a probabilistic aspect).

Therefore, assuming physicalism, we don’t present or believe arguments for reasons of logic or rationality. Instead, the arguments that we present and believe are those entailed by the physics that underlies our experiences.

It is *possible* that we live in a universe whose initial conditions and causal laws are such that our arguments *are* logical. But in a physicalist framework that’s not why we present or believe those arguments. The fact that the arguments may be logical is superfluous to why we make or believe them.

Obviously there’s nothing that says that our physically generated experiences and beliefs have to be true or logical. In fact, we have dreams, hallucinations, delusions, schizophrenics, and madmen as proof that there is no such requirement.

So arguing for physicalism is making an argument that states that no one presents or believes arguments for reasons of logic.

Note that the exact same argument can be applied to mathematical realism, or any other position that posits that consciousness is caused by or results from some underlying process.


Neil B said...

Allen, this adapted from my comment at Crude's blog also works at answering the question you asked in a previous thread here.

As for the regularity behind what we (and that also asks, how many are "we") see: instead of a world structure "explaining" it and then asking about infinite regression, consider the structure to embody the regularity of the universe. Your mind encounters some part of it and forms a phenomenology out of the interaction. (IOW, there's more than just your mind - well, mine too ...) It's not like "rules" but more like geometry, an intrinsic structure FWIW.

So you're like a structure exploring another structure - an irregular hexagon rolling around in an irregular decagon, and what you find is based on such as what corner fits into what. The decagaon, once "there" takes care of the regularities because they are on it to be found. However, these shapes are relational things that depend on their being on what is touching what.

The mistake the traditional materialists make is to presume their conceptualization of the decagaon and their philosophy of substance are reasonable and evident, but they aren't. To me it's not a configuration of matter, it's a structure of relations. BTW saying the wave function is just a math tool is a cop out. If not a wave, then what is really there? Sure, I can believe we can't represent things with our models, but that requires firmly dismissing realism per se, not a partial blow-off of a particular representational tool and keeping other representations. (This would not be a consistency problem for Allen, but for a "realist" ...)

As for why a the 'gons instead of nothing, I say "God". As for why "God" - you either get foundational arguments like from Plotinus for why a foundational perfect being has to exist, or you don't - I guess. As for why this - literally, because nothingness or a dead universe is just stupid and boorish. (The worst at Pharyngula really got after me for saying that, but their kind says things like "the universe expresses fundamental ideas of beauty" - why not, of meaningful life?

PS: There can't be many people other than a few pros and some interesting amateurs, who really get into and are conversant with this type of high metaphysics. I'm not a pro philosopher but took courses at UVA in the 70s (Ryle, Witlesstein - ugh) and became reasonably literate. Your story, if you want ...?

Crude said...

If Physicalism is true, then the belief in Physicalism can’t be rationally justified.

I actually have a hairsplitting objection here: I don't see where physicalism has enough content such that you can criticize it. I think you can make arguments against certain idealized examples of physics (Laplacian determinism, for example) but a snakey physicalist will always object that even if what you say is correct, there's another physicalist formulation out there (and against Laplacian determinism and cartesianism we have the modern quantum physics views, etc).

It doesn't really affect your argument, but it's worth keeping in mind to keep people from running.

Neil B said...

Crude, so how then do you see the world? I too cannot accept "materialism" (especially the tinny reductionism of Dennett or the wild west pseudo-reified MUH of Tegmark.) But neither can either of us accept a pure idealist type idea, that there are minds and experiences and nothing to hold that together - but REM that Liebnitz said "God" arranged for what happened. That's a far cry from Allen's "just happens" idea since it grounds the consistency in *something.*

But then what is the alternative? I see a relational system that produces phenomenal results (in the broad sense not just conscious experience) out of how elements of the system work together. It sounds like "stuff" but it isn't, since various "effects" can be had under various relative contexts (like, real qualia and conscious experience as "seen by your own brain", quantum results without worrying "what does the electron really do" etc.) And - can you buy into that, Allen?

Crude said...

Neil B,

I'd feel odd laying out my beliefs in Allen's blog, seems kind of intrusive. Or maybe I'm just being exceedingly polite.

Either way, I'll write up a post sometime. But suffice to say, I think Dennett's materialism is ridiculous and Tegmark's MUH is comedic. I've mentioned one alternative on my blog (classical and scholastic philosophy, which itself covers a wide variety of views under a larger unified heading), and part of it comes down to rejecting that 'mechanistic' view of the world.

But one area of agreement I can enter with Allen and possibly yourself is: "Materialism" is not proven, or warranted, or even suggested by science. Establishing that is, I think, both the deceptively easy task and a monumentally important one. Can you imagine what philosophy would be like if materialism had to be argued for rather than assumed without argument?

Allen said...

Crude, Neil:

I'm a bit behind on my responses, but I intend to catch up once the sun goes down! The weather's too nice here to spend the day inside!

Crude, I'm also very interested in the details of your position. The sooner the better on that post!

As to my background, I'm a 38 year old software engineer. Up until I read Hans Moravec's book in 2000 or so I was an average scientific realist...e.g., a layman who hadn't given much thought to what science really was, but believed all the stuff I read in magazines and popular books.

Moravec's book was a bit of a revelation, because it points out some of the issues with multiple realizability and functionalism, and also introduced me to the idea of platonic idealism.

So, years passed and I became a bit more familiar with the science and interpretations of QM but didn't really change my views - and then in April of 1998 I read David Chalmers' paper, "Facing Up To The Problem of Consciousness".

And that was another revelation. I saw the problem that had been there all along: why should unconscious matter give rise to consciousness???

And, in the two years since then, that's been my main preoccupation. Trying to come up with some coherent, consistent explanation for my conscious experiences.

And what I've basically concluded is that it makes no sense to construct elaborate theoretical frameworks positing the existence of all manner of fundamental entities and rules that somehow add up to an explanation of conscious experience...

...BECAUSE, then what explains the framework? Why those fundamental entities and rules instead of some other? Why not nothing at all? What is it about the framework that make reality prefer it to nothingness?

If you can't answer those questions, which are basically the same questions you started with about consciousness, then you haven't progressed at all.

But, what possible framework could possible pass that test? How can a framework explain itself as well as conscious experience? And given the problem of free will and causality how can you even justify your belief in any framework?

SO...that led me to:

Conscious experience is fundamental and uncaused.

There are no underlying entities or rules. Each instant of consciousness just exists, in the same way that a materialist would say that the physical world just exists, and in the same way that a theist would claim that God just exists.

Okay, back to the porch!

Allen said...
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Allen said...
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Allen said...

Holy frak. IE went crazy on me and triple posted!



Crude said...


As to my background, I'm a 38 year old software engineer. Up until I read Hans Moravec's book in 2000 or so I was an average scientific realist...e.g., a layman who hadn't given much thought to what science really was, but believed all the stuff I read in magazines and popular books.

Funny, I had a similar attitude towards science. For me, it all came crashing down in another way. That's what I'll get to once I finish writing up the post about the political scientist's research.

Chalmers has been pretty interesting as well.