A Critique of Biological Materialism

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Quotidian
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Re: A Critique of Biological Materialism

Post by Quotidian » October 2nd, 2014, 5:03 am

Fooloso4 wrote:What Plotinus and the others are talking about is the opposite of science and discursive knowledge.
I interpreted the expression 'the opposite of science' as being the idea that 'intuitive/mystical thinking' and 'scientific thinking' are dichotomous, or opposed, but I might have misinterpreted what was said.
Neopolitan wrote:If someone can explain precisely what an "unmediated experience" or what "unmediated experience" is, and how it relates to "biological materialism", I would be much obliged. If the person who is defining it is also advocating it, a quick explanation of how it would work and what subjects of "unmediated experience" are being considered, this would also be appreciated.
Reading Fooloso4's post again, he said:
We hear these descriptions of unmediated experience, but unless or until we have such experience ourselves we are necessarily thinking in terms of mediated experience and concepts. I cannot dismiss such experience, but hearing such descriptions is not the same as having them. This was a point made in the passage from the Republic. All too often those who have not had this experience fool themselves by thinking they understand and now feel qualified to make metaphysical statement about which they have no understanding. They somehow overlook the very thing that is being pointed to.
Which I think is perfectly true. The snippet I provided from Plotinus, is very much like the kind of thing you would find in Buddhist texts. Fooloso4 is saying that such expressions arise from 'descriptions of unmediated experiences', which in Zen Buddhism refers to experiences of 'kensho' or 'satori', meaning 'attaining great insight' or 'realizing the Way' in the Buddhist lexicon. As he then says, however, really understanding what that means, is not at all easy - in other words, people fool themselves into thinking they are understanding such things when they actually don't - and grasping such ideas wrongly is worse than not grasping them at all.

What I then referred to in my post#54, was the idea of 'unmediated experience' as the basis for the claim that meditative experiences converge on a common core or as Huston Smith (religious studies scholar) might say a 'common vision' among many different spiritual paths. To put it colloquially: that is the view that 'there are many paths, but only one mountain'.

How this relates to biological materialism: I should say that the term 'biological materialism' is simply 'scientific materialism' using the language of biology: genes, natural selection. and so on, as being the basis of everything about life and mind. Materialism is simply the view that 'all that exists is ultimately physical'. Nowadays, that means 'consists of and can be explained in terms of mass-energy, or those things and forces which are studied by physics'.

As for 'biological materialists', they are those who advocate the kinds of views quoted earlier in this thread, namely, Crick, Dennett, Dawkins, and many others. When those kinds of thinkers speak in terms of biology, they do so in terms of genes and natural selection as an 'algorithm'; i.e. comparable to a computer program. But that still rests on the basis that ultimately everything is explainable in principle in terms of physics, even if we can't explain all the details right now; biochemistry is ultimately just complicated chemistry, and chemistry is ultimately just complicated physics, and physics describes all that really exists.

So their view is that what we know as 'mind' is the culmination of an essentially physical processes, which in turn are understandable in principle via the natural sciences. So the developmental hierarchy is, first primitive life forms, which evolve over billions of years to complex life-forms, which eventually develop sufficiently complex organs to give rise to what we now understand as mind (which ultimately can be understood in terms of neurosciences).

That view has a clear historical basis in the way science developed from late medieval times until the present, however I and many others still believe that there is a fundamental problem with it, which is what this thread is about. Suffice to say here that, not being a materialist, I don't accept that the 'fundamental reality of the universe' is either physical, or is the subject of the science of physics, or can be described in physical terms. Cruse and Zimmer, whose essays are linked at the top of the thread, believe that 'mind' is an irreducible aspect of the entire process, i.e., is not something that is a product of physical causes.

So that brings me to:
Radar wrote:Either unconscious matter-energy has a latent power for consciousness — in which case the absence of consciousness is phenomenal only and not fundamental — or else it is the veil of a consciousness which emerges out of a state of involution that only appears to us as unconscious. Either way, biological materialism is seriously undermined.
There is a recent upsurge of interest in panpsychism 'Panpsychism is the doctrine that mind is a fundamental feature of the world which exists throughout the universe', with Galen Strawson being one advocate of this approach. He too thinks that it is impossible to explain he nature of conscious experience with regards to physical entities. As for 'emergence', he says
that emergence isn’t possible. ‘For any feature Y of anything that is correctly considered to be emergent from X, there must be something about X and X alone in virtue of which Y emerges, and which is sufficient for Y.’ But Strawson holds that there isn’t anything about matter in virtue of which conscious experience could arise from it; or that if there is, we have literally no idea what it could be. In particular, we can’t imagine any way of arranging small bits of unconscious stuff that would result in the consciousness of the larger bits of stuff of which they are the constituents. It’s not like liquids (Strawson’s favourite example of bona fide emergence) where we can see, more or less, how constituent molecules that aren’t liquid might be assembled to make larger things that are. How on earth, Strawson wonders, could anything of that sort explain the emergence of consciousness from matter? If it does, that’s a miracle; and Strawson doesn’t hold with those. 1
I'm not going to go into Strawson's solution, which I haven't studied enough to really understand, but suffice to say he is taken seriously, and I take this to be one of the (many) signs that kind of materialism espoused by Dawkins and Dennett is on the wane (although still influential.)

But I do think the old-style of idealism, which Bowne and others represent, is the better option.

To try and relate that to the earlier point about 'unmediated experience': the Buddhist idea of 'awakening' is such that, until we have undergone that, or realised what it is that Buddism is pointing to, our picture of the world is fundamentally distorted by 'avidya', or ignorance, meaning literally 'un-knowledge'; therefore, whatever theories we produce will be so irretrievably tainted by afflictive emotions that we are bound to misconstrue whatever we're looking at (at the risk of stating it too simplistically).

-- Updated October 2nd, 2014, 8:21 pm to add the following --
Bohm2 wrote: There is no biological "materialism" to begin with, to be undermined. Primarily, because the "materialism" part is open, evolving and provisional. One can't undermine something that isn't well-defined.
I quite agree that if you analyse the terms 'material', 'physical', and 'mind', it turns out that none of them are truly defineable in any ultimate sense. So what you're saying is technically correct, but that fact is not reflected in the actual debate. Materialism - scientific, philosophical and biological - is a recognizable set of ideas, axioms, and practices, which is indubitably influential in current culture, even if it is actually meaningless in the sense that you identify.

When I was at Sydney Uni the Professor of Philosophy was D.M. Armstrong, whose best known book was 'A Materialist Theory of Mind':
Armstrong holds to a physicalist, functionalist theory of the mind. ... Armstrong did not accept behaviourism and instead defended a theory he referred to as the "central-state theory" which identifies mental states with the state of the central nervous system. In A Materialist Theory of Mind, he accepted that mental states such as consciousness exist, but stated that they can be explained as physical phenomena.

-- Updated October 3rd, 2014, 12:11 am to add the following --
Neopolitan wrote:Unless we have good reason to believe otherwise, some sort of evidence or a convincing argument that goes beyond baseless claims, it is rational to assume that mass-energy is non-conscious and that non-consciousness (the absence of consciousness) is the fundamental state.
The fundamental state of what? If you say the 'fundamental state of mass-energy' , we don't know what that actually is. The Large Hadron Collider has been built to arrive at a fundamental definition, but what it has produced so far is a lot of further questions. What we have are sets of models.
Furthermore, the only phenomenon worth talking about in this context is consciousness - not the absence thereof - and we have no good reason to believe that consciousness is anything but contingent.
Looked at objectively, consciousness is an attribute of sentient organisms and is in that sense contingent. But from another perspective, consciousness is the one indubitable datum as it is the basis of any theory, philosophy or view. So in this case, 'what is to be explained' is also 'that which is doing the explaining'; I think that puts the question as to 'what is the nature of consciousness' in a different category to the questions of the natural sciences concerning the nature of phenomena that can be analysed in objective terms.
In other words, as Fooloso4 alluded to, consciousness is quite likely an emergent feature of complex biological systems, not something that saturates this universe of ours. Consciousness is experienced and expressed by these complex biological systems, but it doesn't reside in those complex biological system in any meaningful sense.
See comment above from Strawson about the inapplicability of emergence in regards to consciousness. But I do agree that the notion that consciousness 'saturates' the universe is mistaken. I suppose I do agree that consciousness is a latency present in the Universe itself, which is manifested in evolutionary processes.
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Re: A Critique of Biological Materialism

Post by Fooloso4 » October 2nd, 2014, 10:40 am

Radar:

the only thing left is to posit something from outside entering into the material body
.

So, let me see if I understand: a natural explanation of natural phenomena is superstitious and magical thinking, but something from outside entering into the material body is not. I’ve got to get a new dictionary, mine has it all wrong.
Physics. Water is a compound, reducible to its components.
Chemistry not physics. Water is not reducible to hydrogen and oxygen. Try it. There must be a magical force that comes from outside to make water. The hand of God!
Consciousness, on the other hand, is not reducible to neurons or neuron activity.
You are right again! I got a bunch of neurons and waited for the magic of consciousness to arise. Nothing. I thought the consciousness in them must be asleep, but I couldn’t wake them up. The only logical conclusion is that the greatest magician of them all – you know the one that turns staffs into snakes and defeated Pharaoh’s magicians, must be taking a nap. Even He must rest.
There's more than one kind of not knowing
And there are two kinds of ignorance – not knowing and thinking you know what you do not know.
You can assume anything you like.
Don’t be so coy. Tell us what you know. Tell us of your experience of your consciousness becoming conscious of cosmic consciousness. What need have you for Browne or Ralston, they cannot tell you what you already know. Not knowing is, for you, no longer an option. Unless ... perhaps ... Radar, you have your radar pointed in the wrong direction. Pointing toward the heavens you cannot detect the absence of a blip when the hand that points points to itself. An absence that is occluded because your head is full with books and promises and so if you did turn your gaze inward it would not be possible for you to see that all that is there are your beliefs, your insistence that this world is not enough, tales of transcendence … but alas, transcendence is not achieved by pointing elsewhere. It is not about what I assume about you, it is about what you assume about you.
Last edited by Fooloso4 on October 2nd, 2014, 12:16 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: A Critique of Biological Materialism

Post by Bohm2 » October 2nd, 2014, 11:33 am

Quotidian wrote:
that emergence isn’t possible. ‘For any feature Y of anything that is correctly considered to be emergent from X, there must be something about X and X alone in virtue of which Y emerges, and which is sufficient for Y.’ But Strawson holds that there isn’t anything about matter in virtue of which conscious experience could arise from it; or that if there is, we have literally no idea what it could be.
I agree with a lot of Strawson's arguments but I don't agree with his panpsychist solution as Strawson contradicts himself. For example:

1. Strawson argues that we make the mistake of assuming we know enough about the non-experiential stuff (e.g. matter/physical) but we don't...this is a fatal mistake. (I agree with this part)

But then Strawson, himself, makes that same mistake because:

2. Strawson then argues (that we know) that non-experiential stuff is not intrinsically suitable to accomodate the experiential.

But how can he possibly know this, given our lack of knowledge of the non-experiential, particularly it's intrinsic aspects? I agree that we have no clue how the mental emerges from the properties of the brain, but the brain itself is made of matter (e.g. neurons-molecules-atoms-...), whose ultimate nature we really do not know.

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Re: A Critique of Biological Materialism

Post by Radar » October 2nd, 2014, 11:49 am

Vijaydevani wrote: Only if all matter-energy demonstrated a latent power of consciousness even if it were only under the right conditions could we conclude that consciousness is fundamental.

So until and unless all matter-energy demonstrates a latent power of consciousness, we must assume that consciousness itself is phenomenal and not fundamental. There is no valid reason to believe that consciousness is all pervading.
I could simply mention that non-locality seems to be a fundamental feature of reality, which implies universality to any localized feature. And if that's the case, then we're back to gradations.

But what does it take to exist? What does it mean to be from a scientific point of view?
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Re: A Critique of Biological Materialism

Post by Fooloso4 » October 2nd, 2014, 2:01 pm

Quotidian:

You are quite correct, I think that is just what it is [mind-body dualism as being akin to "spirit-material" dualism, or possibly "supernatural-natural" dualism (as described by Neo)].
Zhuangzi’s story of the butcher, a short version: this butcher in distinction from others whose knives have become dull has kept his knife sharp because he cuts along the natural divisions and does not hack the ox apart. In other words, you are not dividing along natural divisions but hacking the world apart according to your own way of dividing.

As my friend and teacher Joseph Margolis said: the natural is ontologically prior to the cultural, but we only know nature via cultural means, hence, the cultural is epistemologically prior to the natural.

You will find in Margolis an ally against materialism or what he calls scientism, but he does not endorse any kind of ontological dualism.

In more detail he argues for:
(i) the rejection of all forms of transcendental or modally necessary or cognitively privileged or foundationally hierarchized epistemic and/or rational resources; (ii) the recognition of human selves and their cognitive and conceptual competence as historically and culturally formed and transformed (historicized, in fact) in ways that preclude any escape from provisionality, contingent perspectives, the denial of any principled distinction between practical and theoretical questions, the absence of any assured realist import assigned antecedently to facultative powers as such; (iii) the recovery of realism only in constructed or constructivist terms by way of perception and experience, never initially regarded as ‘‘representations’’ in the Cartesian or Kantian sense (Vorstellungen) but regarded rather as ‘‘appearings’’ (Erscheinungen) on which any viable realism must (and can) depend; (iv) the tolerance, in terms of a constructive realism, of plural, potentially incompatible or incommensurable interpretations of any admitted ‘‘data’’ of experience, in terms of (iii), where questions of truth, confirmation, legitimation, and the like are, broadly speaking, themselves pragmatic, Darwinian, historicized, and entitled to objective standing only in constructivist terms; (v) the caveat that epistemically relevant data are only consensually tolerated (certainly not criterially confirmed), within the practical life of one or another society, as having realist standing and as never being posited in terms of a principled disjunction between cognizing subjects and cognized world or as involving representational tertia assigned segregated subjects; and (vi) the acknowledgement, under the foregoing conditions, of the inseparability of the analysis of physical nature and human culture and (coordinately) of knowledge and the nature of the real world, the indefensibility of reductionism, the sui generis distinction (without implicating dualism) of language, languaged thought, cultural life, history, and science itself. (METAPHILOSOPHY Vol. 36, No. 5, October 2005)
V and vi are most relevant with regard to the irreducible interrelationship between the ontological and epistemological. Mind-body, spirit-material, supernatural-natural do not mark ontological divisions. They mark the way you attempt to divide up the world and the result will be a dull knife.

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Re: A Critique of Biological Materialism

Post by Radar » October 2nd, 2014, 4:23 pm

Quotidian wrote:
There is a recent upsurge of interest in panpsychism 'Panpsychism is the doctrine that mind is a fundamental feature of the world which exists throughout the universe', with Galen Strawson being one advocate of this approach. He too thinks that it is impossible to explain he nature of conscious experience with regards to physical entities. As for 'emergence', he says
that emergence isn’t possible. ‘For any feature Y of anything that is correctly considered to be emergent from X, there must be something about X and X alone in virtue of which Y emerges, and which is sufficient for Y.’ But Strawson holds that there isn’t anything about matter in virtue of which conscious experience could arise from it; or that if there is, we have literally no idea what it could be. In particular, we can’t imagine any way of arranging small bits of unconscious stuff that would result in the consciousness of the larger bits of stuff of which they are the constituents. It’s not like liquids (Strawson’s favourite example of bona fide emergence) where we can see, more or less, how constituent molecules that aren’t liquid might be assembled to make larger things that are. How on earth, Strawson wonders, could anything of that sort explain the emergence of consciousness from matter? If it does, that’s a miracle; and Strawson doesn’t hold with those. 1
I'm not going to go into Strawson's solution, which I haven't studied enough to really understand, but suffice to say he is taken seriously, and I take this to be one of the (many) signs that kind of materialism espoused by Dawkins and Dennett is on the wane (although still influential.)

But I do think the old-style of idealism, which Bowne and others represent, is the better option.
I agree that Brown's kind of idealism is the better option. I understand the appeal of panpsychism and that much of what I said strongly suggests it, nevertheless, it is my sense that panpsychism is the merely the effect or manifestation of a still deeper reality. But the 'unmediated experience' of this reality, or "no-mind," still has to be realized and interpreted in, and expressed through, a sieve-like mind, and this makes me wonder Aquinas would have written had he continued to write after his experience.

BTW, based on the review, I might have to get Strawson's book.
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Re: A Critique of Biological Materialism

Post by Bohm2 » October 2nd, 2014, 5:23 pm

Radar wrote:I might have to get Strawson's book.
You can download most of his papers in first link below for free. I've read many his papers and the other papers by the well-known panpsychist philosper William Seager (who teaches at my previous university-see 2nd link below). They raise some good points, but I don't think their good criticisms/insights of "materialism" (as naively understood) necessarily leads to panpsychism.

https://utexas.academia.edu/GalenStrawson

http://www.utsc.utoronto.ca/~seager/mywork.htm

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Re: A Critique of Biological Materialism

Post by Radar » October 2nd, 2014, 6:01 pm

Bohm2 wrote:
Radar wrote:I might have to get Strawson's book.
You can download most of his papers in first link below for free. I've read many his papers and the other papers by the well-known panpsychist philosper William Seager (who teaches at my previous university-see 2nd link below). They raise some good points, but I don't think their good criticisms/insights of "materialism" (as naively understood) necessarily leads to panpsychism.

https://utexas.academia.edu/GalenStrawson

http://www.utsc.utoronto.ca/~seager/mywork.htm
Thanks for the links, but I'm still getting the book. :)
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Re: A Critique of Biological Materialism

Post by Neopolitan » October 2nd, 2014, 8:07 pm

Fooloso4 wrote:As my friend and teacher Joseph Margolis said: the natural is ontologically prior to the cultural, but we only know nature via cultural means, hence, the cultural is epistemologically prior to the natural.
So what we see of nature, we see through a lens of culture - a culture which derives from the nature that is partly occluded by the mechanism through which we view it?

If so, then to see more clearly, we need to wipe away the cultural obstructions that smear our lens. It seems to me that our magically thinking friends have a lens that is so clouded it's a miracle in itself that they see anything through it at all.
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Re: A Critique of Biological Materialism

Post by Quotidian » October 2nd, 2014, 8:37 pm

Zhuangzi’s story of the butcher is Taoist. It is supposed to illustrate the virtues of those who 'discern the way', in this case in the form of a skilled butcher finding the 'space between the muscles'. But what Taoists mean by 'natural' is quite different to what Europeans mean; amongst their aims are the attainment of immortality, and in practical terms, Taoism was embedded in traditional magical and yoga; it was not at all 'naturalistic' in the modern sense 1.
Fooloso4 wrote: the natural is ontologically prior to the cultural, but we only know nature via cultural means, hence, the cultural is epistemologically prior to the natural.

You will find in Margolis an ally against materialism or what he calls scientism, but he does not endorse any kind of ontological dualism.
I did discover Margolis once several years back but I didn't read him, although I thought at the time I discovered him that he was a very impressive person. I think I would be correct in surmising that he is a genuine humanist, as distinct from the many who say they're 'secular humanists' but whose ideas really amount to negation of the human. (I put Dennett in that category.)

But I don't agree with him that man is only a creature of history; I maintain there is a vertical dimension to human existence which corresponds to the transcendent. Human existence ultimately emanates from that dimension and returns to it. You could say that is a 'meta-philosophical' difference between his school of thought and mine.
Fooloso4 wrote: Mind-body, spirit-material, supernatural-natural do not mark ontological divisions. They mark the way you attempt to divide up the world and the result will be a dull knife.
The real point of dualist explanations is that the things subsumed under 'mind' cannot be accounted for, even in principle, only in terms of the objects of natural science (i.e. phenomena). One way of illustrating this is with respect to the very concept of 'natural law' itself. Natural laws are the discovery of principles which can be encoded in symbolic form and which make predictions about the way things invariably behave. But the laws themselves are of a different order to the phenomena they describe. The same can be said of numbers, logical inferences, conventions, rules, and many other things that are intelligible, as distinct from the phenomena they describe. 'Rational mind' is the faculty which allows us to perceive such things; but they are perceived, not simply manufactured or contrived (although there is a somewhat porous boundary between those that are real and those that are imaginary).

But the reason that physicalist explanations fail is simply because they treat the intelligible as the product or derivative of the phenomenal, when really the nature of the intelligible is basically different to, and in some important sense prior to, the phenomenal. That is precisely why Greek philosophy recognised that knowledge of rational principles was of a higher order than mere empirical knowledge, as it constitutes insight into the underlying order. (Such ideas keep coming up even in modernity; see for instance Eugene Wigner's well-known Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences).

Yesterday I read a passage from Wittgenstien's Tractatus (6.371 - reproduced in a book on Buddhist philosophy) as follows:
The whole modern conception of the world is founded on the illusion that the so-called laws of nature are the explanation of natural phenomena.

Thus people today stop at the laws of nature, treating them as something inviolable, just as God and Fate were treated in past ages.

And in fact both are right and both wrong; though the view of the ancients is clearer in so far as they have a clear and acknowledged terminus, while the modern system tries to make it look as if everything were explained
I think this idea that modern thought 'makes it look like everything is explained' is precisely the same error as Cruse and Zimmer identify, with respect to the world being thought of as a 'self-organising machine'. Whereas for the early moderns, nature was the 'testimony to the divine intellect as the First Cause', nature is now portrayed as 'self-originating' or as if it contains its own ground or explanation; it is rather as if science thinks it can 'reverse-engineer' reality itself, by taking apart its innards (like what Craig Venter is attempting with DNA.)

But the ground, explanation or rationale of 'nature' is nowhere to be found within it; we have not discovered anything actually fundamental, in the ontological sense (because, in Buddhist terminology, it is empty, or in Christian terminology, dependent.) I think the saying 'cosmos is all there is', is actually an expression of the process whereby 'the Universe' has been transposed into the place formerly occupied by deity (a big claim, of course, but well argued in the previously-mentioned Theological Origins of Modernity M.A. Gillespie.)

As noted before, in other epochs, there was a recognition of 'degrees of reality' which I think is the proper subject for ontology. 'Ontology' is, after all, the study of the 'nature of being as such'; if it were 'the study of what exists' then it would be no different to science. This shows up in the 'hard problem': it is dealing with an ontological distinction; and it is telling that Dennett's argument against it is simply to deny that the problem is real, because for him, there is no such thing as an ontological distinction (in the same sense, and for the same reason, that there are no metaphysical truths.)
Neopolitan wrote:to see more clearly, we need to wipe away the cultural obstructions that smear our lens. It seems to me that our magically thinking friends have a lens that is so clouded it's a miracle in itself that they see anything through it at all…
We get by. As a senior tech writer, I make a pretty good income from writing extremely clear technical prose about difficult systems and subjects.

Anyway, according to the higher philosophies, our vision is not only occluded by cultural conditioning but also by (in the Buddhist lexicon), desire, hatred and stupidity and their innumerable consequences. In nearly all the traditional philosophies, the very aim of the practice is to overcome those kinds of obscuring factors so as to obtain purity of vision.
'For there are many here among us who think that life is but a joke' ~ Dylan

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Re: A Critique of Biological Materialism

Post by Fooloso4 » October 2nd, 2014, 9:28 pm

Neo:

If so, then to see more clearly, we need to wipe away the cultural obstructions that smear our lens.
Culture is the lens, and so, we can wipe away obstructions, but not the lens itself, not culture itself. We can examine the lens but cannot do so from the outside. Culture is historical. It changes, and so, the way we see things and think about things changes. There is no invariant structure of thought or nature. No truth that is not a historically determined truth. We are inexorably historically situated. We can examine, alter and reject assumptions, premises, and constructs but must do so using other assumptions, premises, and constructs.

But history is not teleological. Perhaps following Nietzsche’s lead Margolis looks back behind Plato and the world that we still in many ways see according to the image he created, to Parmenides and Heraclitus.

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Re: A Critique of Biological Materialism

Post by Vijaydevani » October 2nd, 2014, 9:57 pm

Radar wrote:
Vijaydevani wrote: Only if all matter-energy demonstrated a latent power of consciousness even if it were only under the right conditions could we conclude that consciousness is fundamental.

So until and unless all matter-energy demonstrates a latent power of consciousness, we must assume that consciousness itself is phenomenal and not fundamental. There is no valid reason to believe that consciousness is all pervading.
I could simply mention that non-locality seems to be a fundamental feature of reality, which implies universality to any localized feature. And if that's the case, then we're back to gradations.

But what does it take to exist? What does it mean to be from a scientific point of view?
Let me start by saying that I was highly impressed with your conclusion, "Either unconscious matter-energy has a latent power for consciousness — in which case the absence of consciousness is phenomenal only and not fundamental ". Although your statement ends up claiming exactly the opposite, the depths to which you have thought about this is fantastic.

Having said that, no, you cannot make your claim about non-locality. You repeated your mistake of using a negative. Absence of locality is of no relevance. Just as absence of consciousness is not of significance. It the the presence of either which can be used to assess its properties. Absence of locality is not a property of locality and absence of consciousness is not a property of consciousness.

What it takes to exist and what it means to be are not really scientific questions.

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Re: A Critique of Biological Materialism

Post by Neopolitan » October 2nd, 2014, 10:38 pm

Fooloso4 wrote:
neopolitan wrote:If so, then to see more clearly, we need to wipe away the cultural obstructions that smear our lens.
Culture is the lens, and so, we can wipe away obstructions, but not the lens itself, not culture itself. We can examine the lens but cannot do so from the outside. Culture is historical. It changes, and so, the way we see things and think about things changes. There is no invariant structure of thought or nature. No truth that is not a historically determined truth. We are inexorably historically situated. We can examine, alter and reject assumptions, premises, and constructs but must do so using other assumptions, premises, and constructs.

But history is not teleological. Perhaps following Nietzsche’s lead Margolis looks back behind Plato and the world that we still in many ways see according to the image he created, to Parmenides and Heraclitus.
I was thinking in terms of the more thoughtful of us using this understanding to identify which of our assumptions, premises and constructs are purely cultural and which are based on the underlying reality. We could do this by abandoning our assumptions (etc) and working from there, given that anything based on reality will reassert itself in short order, while the cultural obstructions won't.

This does mean that we need to be careful about relying too heavily on ancient stars of the world of philosophy, unless their key message is to not rely on cultural assumptions!

A pertinent example would be the assumption that consciousness pervades or underwrites all mass-energy (as in versions of panpsychism). We could abandon this assumption, if we were to have held it in the first place, and see if it changes our understanding of the universe. If consciousness really pervades or underwrites all mass-energy, this "assumption" will reassert itself. I don't think it does, because we have perfectly natural mechanisms by which consciousness can arise in complex lifeforms - like emergence, for example. We should not necessarily assume emergence, of course, but if it keeps asserting itself as a mechanism (like it does in many complex systems) then we can keep it.

Hopefully this makes sense. I do realise that culture provides us with blinkers so that we simply cannot see some obstructions, for example the widespread and apparently unshakable belief among our politicians that growth is not only "sustainable" but that an absence of growth would be catastrophic (be that economic growth, population growth or whatever). Fortunately culture is not monolithic, which affords us the opportunity to learn from those who don't share all of our assumptions.
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Re: A Critique of Biological Materialism

Post by Fooloso4 » October 2nd, 2014, 10:40 pm

Quotidian:

Zhuangzi’s story of the butcher is Taoist. It is supposed to illustrate the virtues of those who 'discern the way'
That is correct, but conversely those who do not discern the way, those who do not know where the joints are and the spaces between them, that is, those who do not know the way the world divides, hack away, their knives becoming dull. We do not have to decide whether the world divides as the ox does to get the point that when we force the world to conform to our divisions we do not, so to speak, see the ox.
amongst their aims are the attainment of immortality, and in practical terms, Taoism was embedded in traditional magical and yoga
Some scholars make such claims but others, in my opinion, persuasively reject it. Essays on Skepticism, Relativism, and Ethics in the Zhuangzi edited by Paul Kjellberg presents essays offering differing views by leading contemporary scholars.
'Rational mind' is the faculty which allows us to perceive such things; but they are perceived, not simply manufactured or contrived (although there is a somewhat porous boundary between those that are real and those that are imaginary).
What do you make of non-Euclidean geometry? It is a formal system but the axioms are contrived. What follows is logically consistent but it was regarded as a novelty until it was found to be useful for things like curved space. It was not perceived, it was constructed somewhat arbitrarily but with logical consistency.
when really the nature of the intelligible is basically different to, and in some important sense prior to, the phenomenal
Although you use the word “really” what you are describing is not ontologically determined but rather expresses your epistemological assumptions. But you do not see the intelligible as an assumption, you see it as ontologically primary, as that from which all else comes to be and that which makes what is intelligible.

At one time I thought along much the same lines. It gradually dawned on me that what I was seeing was a product of my imagination inspired by Plato and the desire for transcendence. It no longer holds me captive as it once did. That image has not been replaced by the truth but rather a skepticism regarding metaphysical speculation. The idea of:
the study of the 'nature of being as such’
is meaningless to me. I do not know what being is. (I say this after spending many years studying Heidegger). I do not know what it means for being to have a nature.

This is not a philosophical argument against metaphysics. What I am saying is, I suppose, closer to psychology. It is about what we do when we think and speculate.

-- Updated October 2nd, 2014, 9:53 pm to add the following --
Neo:

which of our assumptions, premises and constructs are … are based on the underlying reality.
What would those be? If we can look at some we can try to figure out if they are free of historicized thinking.
Fortunately culture is not monolithic, which affords us the opportunity to learn from those who don't share all of our assumptions.
I agree. A monoculture of beliefs and ideas, like the suburban lawn, needs a lot of fertilizer to grown.

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Re: A Critique of Biological Materialism

Post by Quotidian » October 3rd, 2014, 12:14 am

Neopolitan wrote:If consciousness really pervades or underwrites all mass-energy, this "assumption" will reassert itself. I don't think it does, because we have perfectly natural mechanisms by which consciousness can arise in complex lifeforms - like emergence, for example
I agree that the idea the consciousness 'pervades' in any literal sense, is problematical. But again, I think this notion of 'consciousness pervading' in that sense comes up because we can't help but think about consciousness except as 'an object of analysis'. If we are to think of it, it has to be 'other' to us - something which is somehow pervading or extended. That also bothers me about the notion of 'panpsychism'; it is an idea that I don't much care for.

But viewed from a naturalistic perspective, 'consciousness' does indeed appear only ever as 'an attribute of conscious beings' such as animals and people; furthermore, understanding how such beings evolve provides the naturalistic account of the way consciousness developed. And I think that is what you're appealing to.

But the problem that Strawson has identified with invoking 'emergence' is that 'there isn’t anything about matter in virtue of which conscious experience could arise from it; or that if there is, we have literally no idea what it could be'. That is, perhaps, a restatement of the hard problem of consciousness - that no amount of information about third-person, objective entities reveals 'what it is like to be alive' - that is, consciousness is irreducibly first-person, or has a quality or qualities which are irreducibly different to anything revealed by solely objective analysis. So even though consciousness is an attribute of organisms, accounting for its particular qualities (such as intentionality, its first-person nature, and so forth) on the basis of what is known about matter and even about evolutionary theory, presents insuperable problems.

So the idea that consciousness is explained by a 'natural mechanism' also begs the question because it simply assumes that 'consciousness is the product of natural or material processes', without giving any real account of what it is or why it developed in the first place (except for as a function of biological adaption, which is hardly a sufficient reason.)

From one of the essays linked at the top of this thread:
In 1978 [Karl Popper gave a lecture] to Darwin College at Cambridge University, entitled ‘Natural Selection and the Emergence of Mind.’ Popper, who was then, as he made clear, influenced by Richard Dawkins’ book The Selfish Gene, claimed that the human mind had ‘emerged’ from Mindless nature solely as the result of the workings of ‘natural selection.’ He closed his lecture with these words: “It is thus the entire range of phenomena connected with the evolution of life and of the mind, and also of the products of the human mind, that are illuminated by this great and inspiring idea that we owe to Darwin.”
Zimmer comments:
For such thinkers humanity is an emergent property of (or inherent in) mammal DNA, which is an emergent property of reptile DNA, which naturally arise in turn from amphibian, fish, and ultimately protozoan DNA; the formation of DNA in general is an emergent property of complex protein molecules, and then of simple molecules and atoms, which inevitably arise in solar systems and are an emergent property of the cosmic conditions created by the Big Bang.
Which is just what the Wittgenstein quote above says:

'The whole modern conception of the world is founded on the illusion that the so-called laws of nature are the explanation of natural phenomena.'

Fooloso4 wrote: The study of the nature of 'being as such' is meaningless to me.
I get that. I am trying to distinguish philosophy (and philosophical psychology) from science. Science, after all, deals with 'what exists'; if you believe some people, nothing apart from what science can study exists. But philosophy is concerned with such questions as 'why do I think this way'; as I said earlier it deals with exposing the kinds of models that we base our interpretations on.

Science deals with what you see out the window; philosophy reflects on you looking out the window.

Furthermore, I am trying to distinguish between the sense in which things like 'Newton's law of acceleration' exists, and a stone that falls subject to that law, exists. I am interested in the idea that the way in which laws (and numbers) exist, is different to the way in which stones exist.

This has actually come up in physics directly, because of the questions about the sense in which you can say that such things as electrons and the like exist; according to Heisenberg, they don't exist in the same way that stones and flowers exist (see The Debate Between Plato and Democritus).
you do not see the intelligible as an assumption, you see it as ontologically primary, as that from which all else comes to be and that which makes what is intelligible.
Well, let's discuss this by (a) putting aside all forms of reasoned inference and 'if: then' statements, and then (b) not using any words.

Ready?

Sarcasm aside - the structure of thinking, of language, and so on, plays a foundational role in the formation of knowledge, does it not? You have said so already in this thread. What I am saying is that such things are internal to the process of thought, they are not givens in the world of phenomena or of nature. And I think that amounts to 'an ontological distinction'.
'For there are many here among us who think that life is but a joke' ~ Dylan

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