Can Physicalism be defined non-instrumentally?

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Re: Can Physicalism be defined non-instrumentally?

Post by Steve3007 » June 28th, 2020, 4:34 pm

To define "the physical" or "matter" without doing it in terms of the patterns in possible observations (or the subjects/activities that involve studying those patterns) I presume people would just say something like "matter is all the stuff that exists". That would mean that physicalism as "the view that everything is physical" (or materialism as "the view everything is matter") boils down to the view that everything that exists is everything that exists. Not very enlightening.

So I haven't yet seen a reason to say "yes" to the title of this topic.

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Re: Can Physicalism be defined non-instrumentally?

Post by The Beast » June 28th, 2020, 4:48 pm

Mechanically, there are two kinds of thoughts. The automatic thoughts and reason. If I smell a rose the automatic thought is the smell and all other thoughts are after thoughts absurd or not done by reason. Passive? One can have automatic thoughts about non-physical objects. If this is true, then non-physical objects exist or is this only asserted by the normative reason.

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Re: Can Physicalism be defined non-instrumentally?

Post by Terrapin Station » June 28th, 2020, 5:26 pm

Consul wrote:
June 28th, 2020, 3:49 pm
No, what I would say is that nonexistent things are represented as having properties that they don't really have, because they are really nothing in themselves, being nothing but mere Gedankendinge ("thought-things"), intentional objects of thought or imagination.
Right. So what part of any of that would you say is nonphysical?

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Re: Can Physicalism be defined non-instrumentally?

Post by Steve3007 » June 29th, 2020, 4:06 am

Consul wrote:…everything that exists, is real.
If, here, you mean "real" as the antonym of "abstract" then you're saying that everything that exists is extra-mental. I disagree.

When you quoted David Lewis, later in that post, did you do so because you agree with what he said or just because you thought his views were worth airing?

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Re: Can Physicalism be defined non-instrumentally?

Post by Gertie » June 29th, 2020, 5:03 am

Steve3007 wrote:
June 27th, 2020, 11:34 am
Physicalism is the idea that everything supervenes on the physical. But what do we mean by "the physical"?

One way to define the physical is in terms of the patterns in diverse sensations. We can propose that there exists an extra-mental world which causes our sensations. We can then say that the fact that single entities in that world give rise to diverse sensations is what causes those diverse sensations to be related to each other via those patterns. We can then say that those entities, in that world, are "the physical".

But that is an instrumental definition. It defines "the physical", and therefore Physicalism, in terms of its utility for describing and predicting patterns in sensations. Is there another way?

It also means that Physicalism is not necessarily tied to Materialism. Materialism is the idea that everything supervenes on matter. But there is no coherent reason to decide that those entities should only be given the label "matter". Other labels are available. Under this instrumental definition, the label(s) used would depend entirely on what is most useful for describing and predicting the patterns in those sensations.
If I'm understanding you I think what you are pointing to here is that all knowledge is inferred, except directly known experiential states. Thus we build models of an exterior world 'out there' (and call it say Physicalism) based on the content of those experiential states.

I don't think this is controversial, and is a caveat which can be applied to all such models and 'isms' which postulate the existence of anything but experiential states themselves.

The 'other way' is to take a leap of faith and assume the content of your experience refers to something real independant of your conscious experience of it, and try to understand what that real stuff 'out there' is. Materialism for example does that.

You can make a case for stuff existing independantly of a conscious being (you) experiencing it, but you can never have that directly known certainty that anything exists beyond your own experiential states. It's a radical scepticism which is irrefutable imo, but kinda pointless too, because we have to take the leap of faith to get anywhere. Even experientially - my dinner won't come to me on its own however much I imagine it.

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Re: Can Physicalism be defined non-instrumentally?

Post by Gertie » June 29th, 2020, 5:08 am

Consul
Supervenience may be sufficient for nonreductive physicalism, but it's not sufficient for reductive physicalism. For example, the mental states of immaterial souls might supervene on the physical states of bodies; but if so, they would still be nonphysical, physically irreducible states of nonphysical, physically irreducible things, in which case reductive physicalism is false.
Right. Panpsychism too.

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Re: Can Physicalism be defined non-instrumentally?

Post by Steve3007 » June 29th, 2020, 5:51 am

Gertie wrote:If I'm understanding you I think what you are pointing to here is that all knowledge is inferred, except directly known experiential states. Thus we build models of an exterior world 'out there' (and call it say Physicalism) based on the content of those experiential states.

I don't think this is controversial, and is a caveat which can be applied to all such models and 'isms' which postulate the existence of anything but experiential states themselves.

The 'other way' is to take a leap of faith and assume the content of your experience refers to something real independant of your conscious experience of it, and try to understand what that real stuff 'out there' is. Materialism for example does that.
The distinction that you appear to make between Physicalism and Materialism in the above passage (bold added for emphasis) is not a distinction that I would make.

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Re: Can Physicalism be defined non-instrumentally?

Post by Steve3007 » June 29th, 2020, 5:59 am

Gertie wrote:The 'other way' is to take a leap of faith and assume the content of your experience refers to something real independant of your conscious experience of it
This appears to be a counterpoint to your earlier part, which begins with "If I'm understanding you...". My point in the OP was not to posit that the exterior world only exists as mental models; it was not about Idealism. Therefore, I might have to say no, I don't think you are understanding me.

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Re: Can Physicalism be defined non-instrumentally?

Post by Gertie » June 29th, 2020, 6:37 am

Steve3007 wrote:
June 29th, 2020, 5:59 am
Gertie wrote:The 'other way' is to take a leap of faith and assume the content of your experience refers to something real independant of your conscious experience of it
This appears to be a counterpoint to your earlier part, which begins with "If I'm understanding you...". My point in the OP was not to posit that the exterior world only exists as mental models; it was not about Idealism. Therefore, I might have to say no, I don't think you are understanding me.
I wasn't suggesting that your claim was the exterior world only exists as mental models, rather that the instrumentalist aspect of physicalism you're pointing lies in the act of creating models based on the content of our experience, because the mental experience itself is all you can be certain exists. That's the underlying premise implied. Is that wrong?

If that's a correct reading, we can tackle the underlying problem by taking the leap of faith to by-pass the fact that all knowledge is based in mental experience, and just assume that the content of our mental experience is referencing something real 'out there'. Like material stuff and forces. You could call that a cheat hack, but if you want to talk about things like materialist monism for example, it's one you're forced to make I think.

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Re: Can Physicalism be defined non-instrumentally?

Post by Steve3007 » June 29th, 2020, 8:07 am

Gertie wrote:I wasn't suggesting that your claim was the exterior world only exists as mental models, rather that the instrumentalist aspect of physicalism you're pointing lies in the act of creating models based on the content of our experience, because the mental experience itself is all you can be certain exists. That's the underlying premise implied. Is that wrong?
Okay, yes, that is broadly correct. The only slight caveat I would add is that I don't see a need to emphasize that "mental experience itself is all you can be certain exists". That is true, but I wouldn't want it to be seen as implying some kind of need for certainty. Some people do seem to have that need, with the result that they often retreat to some form of Idealism, with the vain hope of performing a Cartesian-style exercise of re-building an edifice of certain knowledge. (Exemplar here: RJG).

My point is a simple (and perhaps obvious) one: that we can't define "matter" or "the physical" in any way other than by referencing patterns in our observations. Of course, if anybody wants to propose a definition of those terms that doesn't need those references, and which doesn't reduce Physicalism and Materialism to empty tautologies, I'd be happy to hear it.
If that's a correct reading, we can tackle the underlying problem by taking the leap of faith to by-pass the fact that all knowledge is based in mental experience, and just assume that the content of our mental experience is referencing something real 'out there'. Like material stuff and forces. You could call that a cheat hack, but if you want to talk about things like materialist monism for example, it's one you're forced to make I think.
I wouldn't refer to it either as a leap of faith or a cheat hack. The theory that there exists a real world is based on the evidence of the patterns in diverse sensations. Not being certain doesn't, in my view, make it a leap of faith. I wouldn't divide the world into certainties and leaps of faith with nothing in between.

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Re: Can Physicalism be defined non-instrumentally?

Post by Pattern-chaser » June 29th, 2020, 10:11 am

Steve3007 wrote:
June 29th, 2020, 8:07 am
Gertie wrote:I wasn't suggesting that your claim was the exterior world only exists as mental models, rather that the instrumentalist aspect of physicalism you're pointing lies in the act of creating models based on the content of our experience, because the mental experience itself is all you can be certain exists. That's the underlying premise implied. Is that wrong?
Okay, yes, that is broadly correct. The only slight caveat I would add is that I don't see a need to emphasize that "mental experience itself is all you can be certain exists". That is true, but I wouldn't want it to be seen as implying some kind of need for certainty. Some people do seem to have that need, with the result that they often retreat to some form of Idealism, with the vain hope of performing a Cartesian-style exercise of re-building an edifice of certain knowledge. (Exemplar here: RJG).

My point is a simple (and perhaps obvious) one: that we can't define "matter" or "the physical" in any way other than by referencing patterns in our observations.
Indeed we can't. ... Which is just emphasising the bit you don't really "see a need to emphasize", isn't it? 🤔😉
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Re: Can Physicalism be defined non-instrumentally?

Post by Terrapin Station » June 29th, 2020, 10:12 am

Gertie wrote:
June 29th, 2020, 6:37 am
. . . the act of creating models based on the content of our experience, because the mental experience itself is all you can be certain exists.
A problem with this that's never acknowledged is that we can be no more certain of mental experience being mental experience when it comes to most things. It's common to act like it's a default that all phenomena are at least mental experience (to a person, at least), but that's not clearly the case at all. A large portion of "the phenomenal stream" is simply objects (a) with no attendant ''this is a mental experience'' phenomena attached, and (b) even if the phenomenal stream always had "this is a mental experience" phenomena attached, those "this is a mental experience" phenomena are different than the object phenomena in the phenomenal stream.

What am I saying here?

I'm an avid hiker, so I like to use trees as an example. When you're hiking, there are a lot of trees in the phenomenal stream (well, at least if you're hiking someplace like the Eastern U.S.). Trees appear all over the place, obviously. For most of those, there's no attendant "this is a mental experience of a tree" present. There's just a phenomenal tree. (I'm using "phenomenal" in the sense of simply "appearing.") To get from that to "this is a mental experience of a tree" we have to do something theoretical, and that theoretical move is something we can't at all be certain of.

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Re: Can Physicalism be defined non-instrumentally?

Post by Noit U Love » June 29th, 2020, 10:24 am

Pattern-chaser wrote:Indeed we can't. ... Which is just emphasising the bit you don't really "see a need to emphasize", isn't it?
I see your point but, no, I don't think it is emphasizing that. I'm saying we can't define "matter" without reference to patterns in our observations. That's not the same as saying that we can't be sure that matter exists or that "mental experience itself is all you can be certain exists". My main theme in the topic is meaningful definitions of Physicalism.

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Re: Can Physicalism be defined non-instrumentally?

Post by Terrapin Station » June 29th, 2020, 10:51 am

I think what typically happens, by the way, is that people think of themselves as humans situated in the world, with bodies, brains, etc., and then they think about the fact that the only way they know anything about the world is via information entering their senses, processed by their brains, etc., where they realize "I can't know anything otherwise, so what I'm really knowing in this situation is something my brain is doing."

However, we can't get to conclusions like that if we don't accept that we're bodies with brains, situated in a world that doesn't consist only of our minds, etc. so "we can only be certain of our minds" declarations, arrived at in the above way, couldn't be more dubious, because we can't get to the conclusion without assuming the standard realist picture of things.

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Re: Can Physicalism be defined non-instrumentally?

Post by Consul » June 29th, 2020, 2:47 pm

Steve3007 wrote:
June 28th, 2020, 4:23 pm
I'm still none the wiser as to how you would define "the physical". It may be be as I did in the OP. But I'm not sure.
Okay, let's try this one:

x is a physical entity =def x is part of the subject matter of physics (the basic science of matter-energy-space-time [MEST]), or x is causally-compositionally (mechanico-mereologically) realized by (complexes of) entities belonging to the subject matter of physics.
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