Saturday, 3 December 2022

Often it's extremely hard to decide what is the rational thing to believe.

It's extraordinarily difficult for most of us to decide what the truth is on many contentious issues. Will we witness catastrophic climate change in the coming decades? Does psi exist? Is there some type of afterlife? What policies or political system is the most favourable for promoting economic growth, and indeed should such growth necessarily be our aim? Will consuming 5 to 10 portions a day of fruit and vegetables (provided not potatoes) promote health and longevity? Does an objective morality exist, or is what we judge as praiseworthy or heinous behaviour simply a reflection of one's culture? Do we have free will?

At the outset, we should recognise in ourselves the prior propensity to favour a particular side on any given issue. Most often this results in us seeking out those sources that back up our beliefs whilst at the same time we shun those sources that contradict them. That is, we tend to read or listen to people defending what we are predisposed to believe in the first place, and to ignore, or even adopt a hostile stance, to the arguments advanced by the opposing side.

To counteract this natural propensity, it therefore might seem sensible to simply listen to both sides of an argument, then attempt to make up our own minds. But arguably this is not ideal. For is it sensible to pay equal attention and give equal time to the arguments of a lone maverick compared to the arguments of the many experts who disagree with that maverick? Perhaps instead, the best strategy is to simply trust what experts say on any particular topic?

It might seem especially wise to listen to scientists. They are, after all, supposedly informed by what the science says and might be expected to be objective and impartial. But even when it comes to scientists
there are vested interests in asserting a specific view, and vested interests by others in denying that view. There's groupthink, there's the fear of the impact on their careers for those scientists in voicing a contrarian or unfashionable view. There are positions that seem clearly false, but where no-one dares point it out, that is they are afraid to point out that the emperor has no clothes. In short, there are many pressures to conform and simply parrot the mainstream position. However, unfortunately for the mainstream position, many of the alleged discoveries in science cannot be replicated.

And frequently there are no experts as such. Or at least there are no people that are especially privileged in having superior knowledge to the rest of us, even if we are not aware of this. To give one example, the predictions of economists fare little better than flipping a coin.

There is another worry with scientists. The very fact they enjoy a high level of prestige and are respected, means they are listened to and judged by most people to know what they're talking about, even when they pontificate on topics that reside outside their area of expertise. For example, when they derisively dismiss psi, an afterlife, "God", an objective morality, and other contentious issues of a philosophical nature. But, given that most of them have never studied philosophy, or perhaps even given these topics much thought, how seriously ought we take their opinions here?

It's also worth pointing out that there are contentious issues where one personally can be confident in the correctness of a specific stance. This is so despite the fact that the opposing view to one's own might be held with a great deal of conviction and passion. Let's, for example, consider predictions regarding technological progress and, in particular, the so-called technological singularity. There are supposedly informed and respected people that worry that sentient robots will be developed that take over the world and enslave humanity. But, at least to my mind, the very notion of such a technological singularity is preposterous. For a kick-off, it rests on the implicit notion that consciousness or sentience is quite literally merely information processing. This seems to me to be straightforwardly false since information processing simply fails to connote consciousness. Apart from that, we should be very leery of such predictions involving technology since people like Elon Musk and others have vested interests in playing up the rate of technological progress and change. And let's face it, overstating the rate of change in technology is exciting, it's what people like to hear. They don't want to hear someone predicting an unimaginative prosaic future.

We can also be confident of a specific stance if we are informed by having direct experiences, or experiences reported by those whom we trust. Hence, we can witness for ourselves the peculiar weather in recent years that seems to justify our worry about climate change. And many of us have had direct experience of psi. But on other issues where the answer is not so obvious, how do we decide?

My solution?  First and foremost, think for yourself.  Do your own homework if a topic particularly interests you.  Listen to both sides, but be cynical of people claiming this, that and the other.  Don't be afraid of voicing a minority opinion, or even an opinion that might be uniquely yours.


Wednesday, 19 October 2022

Our inexplicable existence in a cold dark Universe

What is this world that we inexplicably find ourselves in? Were we placed here by some unknown intelligence for some unfathomable reason? Or is it all just a huge joke, that it's all just meaningless fortuity and happenstance that we find ourselves in existence now and having such thoughts?

If that were not enough, this world, this reality we find ourselves in, is highly strange. Consider our situation. We exist, apparently, on the surface of a small sphere that is suspended in the midst of an effective eternal, cold, dark, nothingness. An effective nothingness utterly inhospitable and even possibly entirely bereft of any complex life apart from on this one tiny planet. When we gaze up in wonder and forlorn hope seeking to understand why we're here, what it all means, what our role might be, whether there is other life out there, the stars merely gaze back down at us with cold pitiless indifference.

I find our situation to be highly peculiar. Certainly not something I thought about as a child, but the weirdness of our situation has slowly dawned on me the older and older I get. And even at my relatively advanced age, the feeling of weirdness continues to grow.

Perhaps we will eventually find out the answer to such questions in some unknown reality after we die, perhaps we won't. Personally, I feel that we will.

Thursday, 29 September 2022

What can we do about being stuck in a miserable and futile existence?

 

The following article, I’m stuck in a miserable and futile existence, quotes someone who laments:

I see a therapist once a week. But I have a shameful and persistent feeling of despair. I’m stuck in a miserable and futile existence. I don’t like work. I hate being trapped within someone else’s schedule, sending pointless emails, attending pointless meetings. I hate the nine-to-five, the long commute, asking permission to take leave – it’s just sleep, work, sleep, work.

I have no garden, and noisy neighbours. I won’t starve or lose the roof over my head but I can neither afford to go away on holiday nor to dine out or buy clothes and books.

My family and friends are wonderful. I have a partner who loves me. But I am just desperately unhappy. How can I say any of this out loud to the people close to me? I feel like a petulant child: stuck, wailing. I don’t know how to be alive in this world and be happy. 

The rise of modern capitalism and the introduction of the division of labour to maximise profits has resulted in most people living their lives as wage slaves, obliged to do work that is dull and repetitious. For many people, this is partially offset by the meeting up with people in the workplace, making friends, having a laugh with them. But for others who are not so gregarious, and maybe find it awkward to get on with others, going to work is often then just a daily grind that is unfulfilling and simply lacks any personal meaning. It is surely not how we are meant to live. Many of us are simply existing, not living.

It is true that we can get temporary distractions from the “toys” we can buy; the latest smartphone, or TV, or whatever. Or going on holiday. But even here, we are constantly comparing ourselves to others, feeling a failure as many others seem to be able to afford more than we can, or go on holiday more frequently. They can afford the latest and most expensive smartphone, and we can’t. But even when we do have enough money to buy all the latest gadgets’, this most often only temporarily ameliorates any feelings of emptiness, loneliness, and despair.

Nor, for many of us, is it helpful if we didn’t work at all. Many people find it profoundly boring not being in a full-time job as an employee. That they have nothing to do all day. Indeed, many people claim that when they were unemployed they were sleeping 12 hours a day and were just depressed.

I suggest that, ideally, we need to have a job, find work, which engages our interest. One needs to be intimately and emotionally involved in the product we're creating or the service we're providing. To produce something, or provide some service, that other people really appreciate together with the knowledge that not many others have the requisite skills to do likewise. It's working towards some goal, and for others to exclaim "wow" when they see what you've done. It's pride in producing something, or providing some service. And this in turn will encourage a sense of purpose and enjoyment in the work.

That’s the ideal, but in reality not the sort of work that most of us will ever obtain since modern industrial capitalist society creates precisely the type of work that is dull and repetitious. This is compounded by the fact that most of us work for 40 or more hours a week, hence leaving us less time for more purposeful activity. Incidentally, this is particularly vexing since it is my suspicion, and indeed some evidence suggests, that we could be just as productive, if not more so, if we worked fewer hours.

It seems to me that for a meaningful, fulfilling life, what we really need, what we really yearn, is a feeling of being alive. A feeling of life being an adventure. That life is a journey with ongoing meaningful experiences. But our modern industrial capitalist world forces us into meaningless soulless work and also conveys the message that we are just mere meat robots with no free-will destined to cease to exist when we die. All of which is antithetical to our yearning souls.

To be honest, I suspect we were all much happier in the Stone Age. Life won’t have been insipid, bland and boring back then. Yes, it might have been a hard life. A life full of many close brushes with death. But the comradeship and camaraderie when others save your life, and you theirs and the collective outpouring of emotions with the bitter and sweet taste of life in the raw, more than compensates. As would the implicit feeling that death is just another journey and all will come right in the end.

But I am not here to exclusively rail against all the failings of our modern world (I’ve done that elsewhere). To coin a phrase, it is what it is. The question is, for those who live bleak unfulfilling lives, what can we do about it?

If we cannot find work that is fulfilling, perhaps we can at least find work that has shorter hours, or where we interact with those with a similar mind-set to our own.

But I think the best course of action is to develop goals that we can strive towards. Develop an interest on some topic and read extensively about it. Or learn some new skill. It’s the striving towards a goal of some nature, even if it’s only a short term goal, which creates meaning and direction in our lives. But not unrealistic goals, rather something that you feel you can genuinely attain with some dedication and effort.

Wednesday, 6 July 2022

The Many Fallacies of "The Soul Fallacy"

1. Preliminary


I recently finished reading The Soul Fallacy by Julien Musolino for the second time, and I thought I'd pen down some of my thoughts.

As a preliminary, I should mention that my reading of skeptical sources on whether or not there is an afterlife is extensive. In my experience, the arguments opposing an afterlife, a soul and substance dualism, all tend to be very similar. In general, it seems they employ the same fallacious arguments and mischaracterize their opponents' positions in precisely the same manner. It can be deduced from this that skeptics of an afterlife are not, in the main, independently coming up with their own thoughts, ideas, and arguments. Rather, they appear to be reading from the same sources and/or each other and regurgitating what others have already said1.

The Soul Fallacy follows this same trend. Hence, my criticisms of the arguments that Musolino makes also apply to many of the pervasive criticisms and misconceptions of a soul that one finds echoed in both skeptical literature and discussion boards on the net.

2. What is the Soul?


Since the author, Julien Musolino, is attempting to argue that the soul doesn't exist, he first needed to define it. So how does he conceive of the soul? More importantly, does it align with the way I and others sympathetic to an afterlife conceive of it?

Early on in the book, Musolino says he agrees with the following conception of the soul:
[The soul is] the traditional idea that there is something incorporeal about us, that the body is spiritualized by a mysterious substance. In this view, the soul is the nonphysical principle that allows us to tell right from wrong, gives us our ability to reason and have feelings, makes us conscious, and gives us free will. Perhaps most important, the soul is the immortal part of ourselves that can survive the death of our physical body and is capable of happiness or suffering in the afterlife. This is the soul that this book is about. (Musolino, Julien. The Soul Fallacy (p. 65). Prometheus. Kindle Edition.)
He also informs us that, “the soul hypothesis is a scientific claim about the detachability of mind and body and the existence of a mysterious substance powering our mental lives” (Ibid. p. 87). At another point, he says that those who believe in a soul hold that “the mind and voluntary behavior is triggered by an influx of soul substance” (Ibid. p. 152).

So, according to Musolino, soul proponents hold that the body is spiritualised by a mysterious substance and this substance both creates and powers our mental lives. I'll also note that this word “substance” is strewn throughout the book with it frequently being labelled as mysterious. The obvious question here is, what on earth actually is this “substance”?

Unfortunately, he never answers this question. But, clearly, what Musolino is referring to is what is generally labelled a mental substance. I explain this term's meaning in a blog post, The self or soul as a mental substance. In brief, it is the commonsensical conception of the self. The idea here is that with every thought, there is a thinker, and as well as experiences in the broadest sense, there is someone that experiences them. So a thinker or experiencer, or more generally the self, is not identical to thoughts and conscious experiences, rather the self is that which has those thoughts and experiences. It is what we all instinctively believe. That is until we are educated out of this conception of the self as a consequence of it being difficult..nay..impossible to reconcile with materialism. Note that this self needn't entail that it survives the death of our bodies, but if it does survive, then we can refer to it as the soul.

Are phrases like “mysterious substance”, and “influx of soul substance”, likely to conjure up this commonsensical conception of the self? Clearly not. It conjures up the impression that we are talking about something unknown, obscure, and baffling. And, of course, something mysterious. Quite the converse of what a mental substance actually refers to. Why do this? Why give a misleading impression? Why not just provide a definition of a mental substance similar to what I just gave? There seem to be two possibilities here:
  1. His principal purpose is to persuade people that there is no soul. If portraying souls as being something unknown, obscure, and baffling furthers that aim, then that is a price worth paying, even though it is misleading.
  2. He doesn't understand what a mental substance is and genuinely thinks it depicts something obscure and baffling.
Neither possibility places the author in a favourable light.

As for “1”, if it is indeed fairly obvious that souls do not exist, then why resort to underhand methods to persuade people of its non-existence? Surely it is vastly preferable to precipitate a genuine understanding in people that mental substances or souls are unlikely to exist? Yet if “2”, surely that would make him the wrong person to be writing this book? To be fair to the author, though, those that subscribe to materialism frequently mischaracterize what a mental substance is, and in a comparable manner.

There is another major problem with Musolino's conception of mental substance. This idea that this mysterious substance “gives rise to the mind” (p. 152), conjures up the idea that the soul and mind are two distinct things, even though the mind is caused by the soul. Since we are directly acquainted with our own minds, but not souls, this will naturally lend support to the idea that souls are superfluous. After all, why hypothesize an invisible soul to account for our minds when we have our visible, tangible bodies that can fulfil that role?

But many of those that subscribe to an afterlife hold that minds, mental substances, souls, and indeed selves all refer to one and the same entity. Arguably, we are all immediately acquainted with the fact that we are thinkers and experiencers (mental substances), and the question is simply whether such a self, so characterized, survives death. There is no additional entity—a “soul”—that is being hypothesized.

In summary, Musolino's conception of the soul is a morass of misleading characterizations, leaving the reader with the impression that souls are wholly mysterious, whilst at the same time leaving the reader in the dark as to what a soul actually is.

3. The Soul is a Scientific Hypothesis?


Musolino persistently claims throughout the book that the hypothesis of a soul is a scientific one. He says:
Maintaining that the soul plays an active role in our psychological functioning, that it can operate independently from the body, and then trying to argue that these claims are not scientific is a clear case of doublespeak. (Ibid. p. 58)
And shortly after he says:
[T]he idea of an immaterial substance that can interact with our body to make us do the things that we do— act morally, feel sad or elated, or jump up and down on Oprah Winfrey's couch Tom Cruise– style— is a claim about physics. (Ibid. p. 59)
A self's conscious states do indeed play a role in our psychological functioning. What this boils down to is that soul proponents, as well as those interactive dualists that deny an afterlife, reject the idea that the physical world is closed. The phrase that the “physical world is closed”, sometimes referred to as physical causal closure, refers to the idea that all change in the world is purely and exclusively a result of the interactions of the four physical forces existing in nature (namely, gravity, electromagnetism, the weak nuclear force, and the strong nuclear force). Believing in a causally potent soul/self contradicts such physical causal closure.

I agree that, at least in principle, this contravening of physical causal closure will be detectable. However, I suspect that the initial impact on consciousness will likely be minute, perhaps on the quantum scale. It is only then, via physical chains of causes and effects, that this initial impact cascades into larger and larger effects. Importantly, since neuroscientists are virtually all materialists, they won't be looking for any such influence, least of all any minute influence. Furthermore, and crucially, our functional MRIs lack the resolution to make any assertions in this regard in any case.

Musolino also states that psychology and biology will be impacted by the existence of a soul. However, even if we grant that these disciplines are, in principle, reducible to fundamental physics, in practice they have their own laws--laws that are revealed by our empirical investigations of the world. Hence, if causally efficacious non-material selves or souls exist, their activity in the world will be implicitly incorporated into such laws.

There is a more decisive reason, though, why dualism, and by extension, the existence of a soul, isn't primarily a scientific hypothesis. To see why we have to go back to the 17th century when modern science was born. At that time, it was taken as a matter of fact that the world is full of colours, sounds, odours, and other qualitative aspects. This created a problem for a scientific description of the world since such qualitative aspects of the world cannot be measured, and hence cannot be captured by mathematical equations. For example, neither the red colour of a tomato nor its characteristic taste can be captured by mathematical equations.

It took Galileo's reimagining of the world to take care of this problem. In this reimagining, material objects, indeed, the whole material world including the brain, don't really possess colours, sounds, odours, and other qualitative aspects. Instead, the material world was defined as merely consisting of the quantifiable or measurable aspects of reality; namely size, shape, location, motion, and nothing else. Hence, colours, sounds, and odours and so on were no longer treated as being part of the material world at all, instead they were relegated to existing in the mind only. And in fact, at least in science, the words standing for these qualities have been redefined to refer to those aspects of the material world that precipitate the appropriate qualitative experiences in our minds. For example, colours were redefined to refer to the respective specific wavelengths of light that objects reflect. The upshot of all this is that it left the material world as being exclusively composed of things and processes that can, in principle, be detected by our measuring instruments, and thus can be measured. 

The consequence of this was that the physical sciences could now potentially describe the material world in its entirety. That is, no aspect of the material world resides beyond its ambit. Yet, science also has its limitations since it can only describe that which is measurable, or in other words, that which is material. This means that our experience of colours, sounds, and odours reside beyond the ambit of science. So too do our emotions, our thoughts, the pains we experience, and indeed, the entirety of our conscious lives. Hence, consciousness as a whole, and a fortiori, the self or soul that has all these conscious experiences, resides outside the ambit of science. 

In order to make this notion that science has its limitations more clear, it might be illuminating here to introduce an analogy. Metal detectors have a great deal of success in detecting metal. But they cannot detect wood, plastic, rubber, or anything else non-metallic. And, so long as metal detectors are merely metal detectors, they will only ever be able to detect metal, and never anything else. In a similar manner, the physical sciences can only detect the material or that which is measurable. It cannot detect that which is non-measurable, so it cannot directly detect consciousness, or selves, or souls should they exist. At best, we could only measure the effect on bodies initiated by the causal power of consciousness. But, as I have already mentioned, such an initial mental influence is unlikely to be currently detectable.

I conclude, contra Musolino, that we cannot claim that the soul is a scientific hypothesis. It is a philosophical one and, more specifically, a metaphysical one.

I perhaps should add here that although a type of dualism is seemingly entailed by virtue of the way that Galileo defined the material world, this in no shape or form entails the existence of a soul that survives the death of our bodies. All dualism means is that there are two types of things or existents in the world. There is the material world, cashed out by everything we can measure. And there is consciousness, with all its contents. There is nothing innately contradictory about physical things and processes somehow creating such a non-material consciousness.  


4. Reductive Materialism


Pixelated "illusion"

Despite the carving up of reality that Galileo introduced that seemingly entailed a type of dualism, there is a position that explicitly denies any type of dualism, a position called reductive materialism,2 This holds that consciousness, if it exists at all, is reducible to material processes. The argument is that although consciousness might seem very different to any physical thing or process, this doesn't mean that it is. Musolino, near the end of his book, tries to illustrate this to his readers by presenting us with a picture of what appears to be an assortment of random pixels (see picture above). However, when viewed from afar, the pixels can be seen to represent a crude picture of Elvis Presley. Let me try to further illustrate this idea by providing my own example. A house seems something very different to its component bricks, but nevertheless, a house is nothing but an assemblage of such bricks. In a similar vein to these examples--or so the argument goes--it might seem strange that our conscious experiences are really nothing but an assemblage of neurons firing, but that is what they are. Note that, here, we are not saying that the brain somehow causes consciousness, rather, consciousness just are brain processes, but at a different level of analysis.

We would rule out the possibility of a picture of Elvis existing without any pixels or anything else composing it. Likewise, should reductive materialism be correct, then it definitively rules out any type of essence or soul that might continue on after our brains cease to function. Indeed, if reductive materialism could, purely by reason, be shown to be the correct depiction of the mind-body relationship, there would be no need to appeal to any empirical arguments in order to reject a soul. So there would be no need to appeal to, for example, an argument such as the apparent dependency of the mind on a properly functioning brain.

Yet there is a problem here, and it is this: the analogies appealed to are false, and, it seems to me, transparently so. For, at least in principle, we can always see how an object--say some elaborate model created by Lego or Meccano--is merely an aggregation and arrangement of its component parts. More importantly, we wouldn't expect that Lego bricks, no matter how many and elaborately assembled, could somehow constitute an experience. So, to mention a few examples. Lego bricks, no matter how arranged, could ever as a collective whole somehow constitute the bitter taste of lemons, or of a pain like cramp, or the experiences of blueness, or of any other raw experience. And it doesn't help if we imagine the Lego bricks are able to move in relation to each other. Nor even if we imagine the bricks to have other properties, say the ability to repulse or attract other bricks. At the end of the day, they cannot, as a collective whole, constitute anything other than an elaborate physical structure. The exact same point applies to the ultimate constituents of material reality, namely electrons and quarks. Neither the Lego bricks nor any other physical object or process, can, as a collective whole, constitute raw experiences.

It appears to me, then, that at least reductive materialism is not tenable, as it cannot be squared with the existence of consciousness. How does Musolino respond to this argument?

He doesn't. He says:
If body and mind are two sides of the same coin, then how can we reduce the latter to the operation of the former? I'll let philosophers worry about this question. (Ibid. p. 65)
So Musolino doesn't even attempt to justify reductive materialism3. He's not the only one, either. None of the authors of The Myth of an Afterlife attempt to justify reductive materialism either, nor indeed anywhere else that I've ever seen.

Musolino does, however, advance philosophical arguments against dualism, although he simply repeats more or less the same arguments that many others have made. I have argued in various places that none of these arguments has merit (for example, see my A Causal Consciousness, Free Will, and Dualism under the subheading Various Objections and my The Alleged Problems with Interactive Substance Dualism). Moreover, even if, contrary to my position, these objections did have some force and moreover were even decisive, this could do nothing to make reductive materialism tenable. It would merely oblige us to choose another position on the mind-brain relationship, apart from reductive materialism or dualism. Perhaps some variant of idealism, for example. In fact, some variant of idealism is what I personally gravitate towards.

To reiterate, reductive materialism's failure to accommodate consciousness in no shape or form implies that brains do not somehow create consciousness. Nevertheless, its failure is of high significance. For since the birth of modern science in the 17th century, it was the gradually spreading conviction that the world is wholly material that justified a rejection of a soul in the first place (see my Science, the Afterlife, and the Intelligentsia).

But if, as I have argued, consciousness cannot be reduced to material processes, then it is something extra above material processes, even though arguably produced by them. Consciousness is then not publicly observable. That is, no matter how much we might explore someone's brain, we will only ever detect material processes; we could never see someone's thoughts, or emotions, or any other mental phenomena. So instead, we are obliged to infer that others are conscious through their bodily behaviour. Yet, if their consciousness itself is invisible, how could we know that it ceases to exist when their bodies eventually cease functioning? That it doesn't depart the body and continue existing, perhaps ascending to another reality?

The answer to this question is allegedly the empirical data, and especially the fact that dysfunctional brains lead to impaired minds. It is to the consideration of such empirical data that we will now turn.

5. Dysfunctional brains lead to impaired minds


As I have mentioned, in my experience, those who reject a soul virtually never advance arguments for reductive materialism. Instead, in order to justify their stance that brains create minds, what they almost exclusively do is to appeal to the empirical evidence. This evidence, in turn, almost exclusively revolves around the fact that dysfunctional or damaged brains can have a major impact on our minds. Musolino, in common with other skeptics, likewise mainly relies on the empirical evidence. For example, he says:
If damage to only parts of the brain can make you lose your ability to see, think, or feel, then how can all these abilities remain intact when your whole brain is completely kaput? (Ibid. p. 153)
Exactly the same sentiment is expressed by many other skeptics of souls. The philosopher Sam Harris, for one, and I respond to him in my blog post, The Mind-Brain Correlations. I recommend people read that blog post now if they haven't already (it's fairly short). Here is a relevant question: would Musolino, Harris et al. be equally mystified by the fact that someone’s vision can be more and more impaired as the lenses in their eyeglasses fog up, even though, notwithstanding this, their vision is fully restored when they take their eyeglasses off?

Of course, they might attempt to counter this by saying that eyeglasses and other such examples are incorrect analogies. However, it seems to me, that such analogies are only incorrect if one assumes up-front that brains create minds. Since that is precisely the issue at hand, it follows that saying it's an incorrect analogy would, therefore, simply beg the question (in the sense of the informal fallacy). 

Indeed, on the face of it, it seems to me that in this context, the analogy of eyeglasses and vision are of a similar nature to brains and minds. For just as there is no possible mechanism in the lenses in eyeglasses that could create vision, similarly there is no conceivable mechanism within brains that could create consciousness. To elucidate, we have chains of material causes and effects occurring in the brain and these causal chains, like all material causal chains, are exclusively characterised by properties such as mass, charge, momentum, spin, and so forth. But, at the end of such causal chains, we get a sudden abrupt change, a radical disconnect from these measurable processes to subjective experiences such as the greenness of grass, the warmth of love, the smell of roses, and so on. These subjective experiences do not have physical properties, so the usual material causal mechanisms cannot apply to account for their existence. Indeed, to my mind, this possibility that brains create consciousness is, on the face of it, just as outlandish as to suppose our glasses are creating vision.

I feel I may still not yet have adequately conveyed the deeply implausible nature of this hypothesis that brains create consciousness. Let me put it this way. When I was a child, one of my favourite books was The Marvellous Land of Oz. In this book, the main character constructs a man mainly made out of wood, but also with a pumpkin for a head. A magic spell makes this wooden man come alive, that is, become conscious. As young children, I'm sure that most of us would think this is at least plausible, but as adults, most of us would find such an idea absurd. And yet, this is comparable to what we are being asked to accept. For, in a sense, it seems equally magical that brains could create consciousness, since there is no conceivable mechanism. 

But let's waive aside the deeply implausible nature of this claim that brains create consciousness. Let's, for the sake of argument, accept that it’s at least possible. That it might well be an unanalysable brute fact about the world that certain physical activity of a certain type of complexity just spontaneously brings conscious experiences into being. Why, though, prefer this possibility to the alternative that selves and their conscious states already exist with brains merely affecting our minds?

Indeed, this alternative is surely vastly more plausible. To illustrate this, consider the following. Let's imagine that I can see a tree in front of me. How is this possible? Well, the tree has to exist, my eyes need to be functioning, and the appropriate regions of my brain need to be functioning correctly. Considering how incredibly complex my brain is, this makes for an intricate causal chain. Yet, for all that, I can stop my vision of the tree, in a sense, delete my vision, by the simple act of closing my eyes. Or, to introduce my eyeglasses example again, my vision of the tree could be compromised, or even blocked if the lenses were fogged up. Conversely, my vision of the tree can be restored by the simple act of opening my eyes again or cleaning the lenses of my eyeglasses. However, opening my eyes or cleaning my lenses obviously play no role in creating my vision. The bottom line is this. The process by which we are able to visually see is a complex, involved one. Contrariwise, very simple acts or procedures can block or restore our vision. But it would be very naive to suppose that these very simple acts and procedures play any role in the actual creation of our vision.

The point is this, generally speaking, the act of creating something tends to be a convoluted and complex one, whereas merely adversely affecting something is, typically, far easier to achieve. Why not, therefore, prefer the far more feasible and relatively unproblematic hypothesis that the self and its conscious states are not created by the brain at all? That the brain, instead, merely changes, modulates, and attenuates this pre-existing self with its conscious states?

Musolino has other things to say regarding the empirical data.  He says:
Your memory, your ability to talk, and your personality can be wiped out by brain damage. People who suffer from asomatognosia will assure you that part of their body, say their left arm, does not belong to them. In anosognosia, patients are convinced that a paralyzed limb is perfectly functional. The Capgras delusion is a condition in which patients sincerely believe that their loved ones have been replaced by impostors. Individuals who suffer from Fregoli syndrome hold the delusional belief that they are persecuted by a person who can take the appearance of different people. All these conditions result from damage to different areas of the brain. The allegedly indestructible soul is very fragile indeed. In light of such evidence, how can anyone believe that the mind will continue to function when the entire brain has given up? (Ibid. p. 161)
What Musolino refers to as the fragility of the mind is simply that it can be changed and altered by the brain, which he believes implies that the mind is created by the brain. As I have already argued above, this in no shape or form follows. We also need to remember here that we’re talking about a mental substance as defining the self or soul (see part 2). In which case, beliefs, memories, and indeed personality, are properties of such a self–they can change without the self or soul literally changing, least of all without the soul being destroyed. To reiterate, the proposal is that the brain is merely able to attenuate, allow or block the expression of such properties (see my The self or soul as a mental substance, where I elaborate upon this idea).

But what, specifically, should we say about delusional beliefs? If the brain doesn't create consciousness, could it still precipitate delusional beliefs such as, for example, Capgras syndrome?

To go back to my eyeglasses. Suppose someone has perfect unaided vision and puts on a pair of eyeglasses where the lenses both contain aberrations of a certain nature. Wearing them, she might think she can read the registration plate of a car 25 metres away. But, in fact, what she thinks are the letters and numerals are incorrect, as she can ascertain by taking the eyeglasses off.

So delusional beliefs are not definitive proof that the brain wholly causes our consciousness. Having said that, if we consider this evidence in isolation, it is surely the more straightforward explanation. However, we also need to take into account that we have no conceivable mechanism whereby brains could create consciousness. Moreover, even if we did, the brain merely affecting consciousness in various ways is undoubtedly a far less convoluted and complex task than actually creating consciousness.

6. Summing Up


How impressive are Musolino's arguments that there is no soul? Of pivotal importance to his arguments is the notion that the soul is a scientific hypothesis. But, as I argue above, in no shape or form can this be maintained. Furthermore, he fails to understand both the dualism he attempts to attack and the reductive materialism he subscribes to but chooses not to defend. His attacks against the former appear to be a more or less copy and paste from other sources, attacks that I think lack any meaningful impact. Worse yet, he clearly fails to understand what is meant by a mental substance and, therefore, what a soul is. So there's a lack of understanding of any of the main terms. Moreover, the few philosophical arguments he advances are naive and shallow.

Having said that, the empirical arguments don't depend on knowing what any of these terms mean; rather, they attempt to show more directly that the mind in every way is implicitly dependent on a functioning brain. However, in the general sense, the fact that X affects Y in no shape or form implies that X creates Y. I gave the example of eyeglasses, but many other examples could be given (see my blog post Brains affecting Minds do not rule out an Afterlife where I provide more examples).

I think Musolino, just like other materialists, simply buys into and echoes the prevailing belief that our ubiquitous technology and control of the world somehow vindicates the idea that the physical sciences must potentially describe the whole of reality, otherwise why would science be so phenomenally successful? I discuss the origin of this pervasive belief in my Science, the Afterlife, and the Intelligentsia4 I find it perplexing that people do not understand that such a materialist perspective is not consistent with the existence of consciousness, regardless of whether consciousness is created by the brain or not.

In conclusion, I do not think that this book offers any substantive arguments against the notion of a soul. Indeed, I regard it as being even poorer in this regard than The Myth of an Afterlife (see my review of that book).

There's a lot I haven't covered in this review. I do, though, cover more of the material in my Kindle notes. In addition, I also cover some of Musolino's arguments in various blog posts here, here and here, although the latter two are not concerned with the soul as such.

1 Of course, this doesn't just apply to those skeptical of a soul. My experience is that this is universal, most notably in politics, where people gravitate to polarised positions and adopt all the beliefs of their chosen in-group. They generally do not independently formulate their own views.


2 There are other forms of "materialism" that Musolino never mentions. Most notably, there is non-reductive materialism. However, it seems to me that in as much as non-reductive materialism holds that qualia exist and are irreducible to material processes, then it cannot be materialism; at least not in the sense of being exhausted by its quantitative properties. Rather, it seems to me that it's actually a form of dualism; namely, a form of property dualism. As such, the arguments I advance in part 5 that question the plausibility of the thesis that brains somehow create consciousness, will also apply to non-reductive materialism.


3 He claims there is overwhelming evidence supporting materialism, by which he appears to mean reductive materialism. However, it is clear to me that he simply means overwhelming evidence that the brain somehow creates consciousness. Unfortunately, Muslino seems confused about what both the words materialism and dualism actually mean.


4 Recently, I have slightly modified this Science, the Afterlife, and the Intelligentsia essay.



Saturday, 4 June 2022

Why are people so certain there's no soul or an afterlife?

Are we essentially souls and will our souls continue on after we die? Both from a philosophical perspective and by virtue of all the evidence, I gravitate strongly towards a "yes" answer.

This is not to say I am certain. For one thing, it all seems very fanciful that at the threshold of death I'll ascend into some other reality, and to perhaps be greeted by dead relatives. We live in a cold, harsh, dreary, material world and it feels implausible, far-fetched, whimsical, and a product of wishful thinking to suppose there's anything beyond this life.

And there's also another reason. The preponderance of educated people, and especially those with a scientific background, emphatically reject the existence of a soul or an afterlife. Indeed, both professional scientists and philosophers appear to be virtually unanimous in this judgement. If so many seemingly intelligent people disagree with me on this issue, and indeed seem so certain in their dismissal of an afterlife, could it be that I am missing something?  That I'm not understanding something?

To be absolutely honest, having extensively read skeptical literature in addition to having thought deeply about this topic for decades, I don't think I am missing anything. I think many educated people are extremely impressed with the phenomenal success of modern science and this has played a pivotal role in encouraging a certain metaphysical view of the world -- namely that the world is wholly material, and that science, at least in principle, can provide a complete account of it. Our fundamental natures, that is what we essentially are, will not be excluded in such an account. Hence, the conclusion is that we are wholly material beings whose behaviour is simply the inevitable consequence of physical laws playing out. In other words, we are no different to any other material object. The existence of consciousness is played down, being reinterpreted as being one and the very same thing as a material process, or even being viewed as simply being an illusion.

Groupthink amongst the intelligentsia reinforces this materialist conception of reality. Even when academics harbour doubts, they are likely to keep such views close to their chests since dissenting views are often ferociously attacked.
One notable example here is the philosopher Thomas Nagel who was ferociously attacked for having the temerity to attack materialism in his book Mind and Cosmos . This despite the fact he rejects both an afterlife and a God.

I think that in something like 500 years time
, an afterlife might well be universally accepted and many people will look back to this time with some bemusement and even bewilderment at peoples trenchant certainty in materialism. They'll be especially bemused and bewildered at those who believe consciousness is an illusion. Indeed, to a certain extent, the behaviourism of the early 20th century is already viewed with incredulity by many. Human beings, including academics, are very prone to believing in the most fatuous things, and it is often only in retrospect that a sufficient number of people recognise this fatuity for what it is.

So intellectually I believe in an afterlife and for the reasons I have expressed in a number of essays in this blog. Nevertheless, the fact that an afterlife feels fanciful together with so many peoples unwavering certainty that this is the only life there is, does give me pause for thought.     

Sunday, 8 May 2022

After death will we be subsumed into a universal soup of consciousness?

After death I don't think our individual selves or souls are subsumed into a universal soup of consciousness, which I regard as being close to the extinction of the individual. Perhaps we survive as distinct entities, but acquire an infinite telepathic identification and empathy with all others, or at least of those souls similar to oneself. So a kind of joining together. This of course need not happen immediately after death, but may be the ultimate destination.


Tuesday, 19 April 2022

Philosophy has been accused of making no progress, does it therefore make it pointless?

 

Science makes progress so why doesn't Philosophy?

Since the scientific revolution of the 17th Century, the progress of science has been a relentless triumphant one. This is vindicated by the fact that it has been extraordinarily fruitful in terms of the prediction and manipulation of our environment, as well as in the creation of our technology. The same cannot be said for philosophy. Why has there been such a lack of progress in philosophy, especially when we compare it to science?

We first have to recognize the difference between science and philosophy. Both disciplines seek to establish the truth. But, although there is overlap, in general, I would suggest that the nature of the truths that each of these disciplines seeks to establish are of differing types.

At a minimum, science seeks to accurately describe how the physical world unfolds and to manipulate the environment in the creation of our technology. Here we can easily see why progress is relatively easily achievable. For i
f someone proposes a scientific theory that describes some aspect of the world, it is in principle susceptible to being tested through our observations. A theory that fails to mirror what we actually observe can be discarded.

Now, let's consider philosophy and specifically the most important questions we can ask ourselves. Questions such as, 'what is the world', 'why is there something rather than nothing', 'does a creator exist', 'do we have free will', 'is there a purpose to our existence'? Or in the realm of ethics where we ask practically important questions such as, 'what is the Good', 'how should we live', 'should society seek to maximise happiness', and so on. All these questions appear to be purely philosophical since it seems there are no empirical investigations we can carry out that can help us to establish the answers to them. The resolutions to such questions have to rely upon arguments alone.

So, what generally (but see the next section) demarcates scientific issues from philosophical ones, at least for a lot of the deeper philosophical questions, is that the former can be tested, the latter has to rely upon arguments.

There's a problem with just exclusively employing arguments though, and it is this. Even if the arguments are sound, other people have to be able to understand them, and a sufficient number of people at that to overturn prevalent pre-existing beliefs. Compounding this problem, people have to be motivated to read the arguments in the first place. How many people are motivated to read an argument that contravenes their implicit beliefs? And, even when they do, might they not be doing so in order to try and pick holes in it rather than adopting an attitude of an open-minded enquiry and a dispassionate search for the truth? If that were not enough, philosophy is extremely difficult. It includes asking the most important questions we humans can ask ourselves, and the process of reasoning to certain conclusions can engender no end of misunderstandings and confusions. Sound reasoning is frequently heavily outweighed by erroneous reasoning that comes to incorrect conclusions.

So the reason why philosophy doesn't progress is due to the fact that on the few occasions where someone has an insight and produces a sound argument for something or other, it does not have sufficient influence amongst other people to gain sufficient traction. People will frequently not be able to comprehend the argument. Or they may feel antipathy towards the conclusion of the argument if it contravenes their entrenched beliefs. More often still, though, philosophical arguments are simply ignored. Contrast this with science. For example, consider the science behind powered flight. Would such science have been convincing in the absence of a practical demonstration? It seems not since the stories regarding the success of the Wright brothers were met at first with ridicule. But seeing is believing. In short, science progresses because people are convinced by what they can see with their eyes. Philosophy generally lacks this validation.

Is philosophy therefore pointless, or even meaningless?

It is commonly felt that because philosophy doesn't progress, at least in the form of universal assent, then it has no use at all. That is to say, it is pointless. Indeed, there are even some that suggest that the questions philosophy asks are meaningless. I suppose the idea here is that if no progress is made, then this implies no progress can be made because the questions themselves are, in principle, unanswerable. And they presume they are unanswerable since they are, quite literally, meaningless.  

I do not think this charge passes muster for one second. First of all, the lack of progress will be for the reasons I mention above. Moreover, clearly many philosophical questions have at least meaning, even the deepest questionsFor example, either there is a creator (however conceived), or there isn't. If the latter, then the whole shebang came into existence by blind fortuity, or by
 happenstance, or by however one chooses to frame it. But, even when rejecting a creator, the question of whether or not there is a creator still has meaning. So, whatever the truth is here, whether there is a creator or not, there is a fact of the matter, even if it is a fact that forevermore lies beyond the ability of human beings to fathom.

There are further reasons to reject the contention that philosophical questions are meaningless, or at least pointless. I mentioned above that what demarcates scientific issues from philosophical ones is that the former is decided by empirical investigations, the latter by arguments. But that was a bit simplistic. It is somewhat more involved and nuanced than this. In fact, there is no rigid demarcation between science and philosophy.

For example, consider 
Galileo's argument that demonstrates that objects of different weights must fall at the same acceleration (see my post Thought Experiments in my other blog). Thought experiments, such as this are, strictly speaking, philosophical. But Galileo's argument is an example of a thought experiment that can be empirically investigated -- namely by dropping two objects of different weights from a high height and seeing if they reach the ground at the same time.

There are also examples of philosophical reasoning or thought experiments that although cannot be empirically established at the time they are articulated, are eventually susceptible to empirical investigation. So, for example, George Berkeley back in the 18th Century in his essay Du Motu produced sound arguments against the notion of absolute space, although his argument was ignored by virtually everyone. Berkeley's insight foreshadowed the rejection of absolute space in the 20th Century that came with the general acceptance of Einstein's special theory of relativity. 

So we can definitively conclude that at least some philosophy is able to establish truths about the world. And what is pivotal to their widespread acceptance is whether they can be empirically investigated -- sound arguments alone are generally insufficient. But whether some sound philosophical argument or insight can be empirically investigated or not is incidental to an argument's soundness. That is, a philosophical argument can be sound, even if it can never be empirically validated.

Should we exclusively refer to science to establish truths about the world?

It seems to me to be clear that our empirical investigations of the world do not always overturn those reached by a process of reasoning. To give one example, if we measure the area of a circle and it differs from πr², we wouldn't conclude the geometrical reasoning establishing it is πr² was incorrect. Rather, we would assume our measuring was inaccurate, or alternatively that it wasn't a perfect circle. Likewise, if we had measured objects of different weights falling at differing accelerations, would we conclude that Galileo's thought experiment was flawed and even pointless? No, because given the crucial proviso that Galileo's reasoning was sound, we should conclude there must have been some mistake in our empirical investigations that only seem to suggest that the heavier an object is, the faster it falls. Perhaps the experimenter was dropping a stone and a feather! 

There is another reason to reject this contention that we should just rely solely and exclusively on science to tell us about the world. Earlier, I said that at a minimum science seeks to accurately describe how the physical world unfolds and to manipulate the environment in the creation of our technology. But the vast majority of people -- and this also includes the vast majority of scientists -- regard science as doing much more than this. They regard science, or at least physics, as revealing to us the ultimate nature of reality. That our scientific theories depict literal states of affairs. That the plethora of subatomic particles and the four forces featuring in our theories in physics, all have a literal existence. There is also most scientists' belief that the success of science entails that materialism, indeed often reductive materialism, provides the correct depiction of reality.1

As many of you will know, I question all of this. For example, see my What physicists claim exists can be doubted, my Self-floating books, my What philosophical questions does science answer?, and my Why the existence of consciousness rules modern materialism out.  

But whether you agree with me or not in any of these essays is simply not relevant. By all means, disagree with me, but this doesn't alter the fact that these issues are philosophical ones, not ones that can be decided by science itself. The problem here, though, is that most people, including scientists, do not appear to understand this. Our scientific education, which in turn smuggles in certain metaphysical suppositions, instils certain beliefs about the nature of the world. We soak up, almost by osmosis, western "wisdom" about what exists, what the world is and so on.

So philosophy, or more specifically metaphysics, is always implicitly involved in forming our conception of the nature of reality. It's just that many people, including scientists, are not aware that it is. They mistakenly think that science validates their metaphysical conception of reality. I regard this as highly undesirable. As those who have read some of my blog will be aware, this in my opinion had led to many fatuous conclusions regarding the nature of the world and what we human beings are.

Let me provide just one example of such fatuous conclusions. Consider the claim that physicists make that consciousness in and of itself lacks any causal efficacy. In reality, everything we ever do, and even think, is the result of the blind interactions of subatomic particles and their forces. But if we strip physics of its metaphysical assumptions and hold that physics merely describes changes in material reality that utilizes mathematical equations, we can see how silly this is. For, when we get right down to it, we are effectively saying that the patterns we observe in the subatomic realm serve to negate our immediate and direct experience of our own causal agency.

Let me go into more detail to try and explicate this further. Firstly, people are immediately aware of their own causal agency.  They then project this concept of causal agency into the material world in order to try and make sense of change within it (i.e. they don't like to suppose the patterns in the material world are just a brute fact). Crucially, they regard such material causes as accounting for all change in the world, this includes our brains too since they are material objects. Couple this with the belief that the brain produces consciousness, then it follows that it will be such material causes that account for the totality of our behaviour, including the progression of our thoughts.  Hence, they now deny their immediate experience that it is their own consciousness per se that is responsible for their behaviour.

Just reflect for one moment how crazy this is. First of all, it seems we were directly cognisant of the mental causal potency of our own consciousness as witnessed by our ability to move our own bodies and think our own thoughts. We thereby inferred the material world is also governed by causes, this time by material causes. We then
turned this on its head.  For we now deny that our own immediately experienced causal agency exists, and in fact, only the inferred causal agency in the material world exists!2

Conclusion


Scientists enjoy a prestige only dreamt of by professional philosophers. Hence, there is a disincentive for philosophers to advance ideas challenging scientists' metaphysical presuppositions. A philosopher doing so risks having their ideas labelled "absurd" and even being mercilessly ridiculed. This in turn runs the risk of their careers being negatively impacted. Because of this, and due to other factors such as groupthink, professional philosophers tend to pander to scientists beliefs. Regretfully, as a consequence, philosophy lacks the impact it should and ought to have. Philosophy's lack of influence is not due to its pointlessness though, it's due rather to the unjustified hegemony of scientists' metaphysical beliefs.
 
 

1 Note that materialism is independent from the question of whether our theories in physics depict a literal state of affairs -- one could be a dualist, for example, and be happy to hold that our theories in physics gives a literal representation of material reality



2 Of course, one can believe both in the causal efficacy of consciousness or mental causality, and material causality too. However, that would contravene physicists belief that the world is physically closed. Physically closed just means they believe that only material causes exist (see a relevant post in my other blog here)

Friday, 8 April 2022

My beliefs regarding a "God".

I'm not an atheist, at least not the modern western kind with the associated beliefs that the Universe is a brute fact, and we are just biological robots with no afterlife and simply create our own meanings to our lives. I do not think we have compelling reasons, or frankly any reasons, to believe any of this.

But I also reject this idea that there is this cosmic superhero type of God who is all powerful and tinkers with the laws of nature to bring about desirable ends. That is, I do not believe in the type of "God" that atheists tend to focus on and ridicule.

I'm not sure what I do believe, I only have a vague feeling. I think such a question is perhaps beyond what we human beings can understand or discern.

But, if pressed, I would say that I tend to gravitate towards the idea that there is a fundamental non-personal ‘spiritual presence’ that pervades and suffuses the entirety of reality. That reality as a whole is somehow infused with this conscious presence that we all somehow partake in. And that all conscious creatures -- indeed all things, all events, everything that has been, everything that will be -- is infused with ultimate meaning. But what such an ultimate meaning is eludes us in our present states.

Thursday, 24 March 2022

Is there much point in arguing with others?

Whatever the topic it seems to be a pretty much universal tendency for those who oppose a particular stance or position, to only address the more naïve and weakest arguments for it. And even when engaging with more thoughtful opponents, they tend to attribute to them a more naïve or simplistic position than the one they actually hold and attack that instead.

When challenged on this, they tend to defend this strategy by claiming that many, if not most people, do actually subscribe to the belief in question for the very reasons that they are attacking.

Of course, most people might well believe something for weak or misguided reasons -- or  indeed, often for no reasons at all. But I do not see how this has any relevance to the truth or falsity of a more nuanced stance on the belief in question.

For example, many people believe that evolutionary theory holds that we humans descended directly from apes, or even monkeys. But would attacking such a notion and showing how implausible it is, have any implications for the actual mainstream evolution theory? Obviously not, since attacking such a wrongheaded notion of evolution doesn't touch the idea that both humans and apes evolved from a common ancestor (humans didn't evolve from apes!). But this type of attacking of the more naïve stances taken on a belief happens constantly, for example when attacking the notion of an afterlife.

If we want to show a belief is foolish, we don't achieve this by attacking and ridiculing the weakest reasons and/or evidence, even though many people might be convinced by such weak reasons/evidence. Rather we should seek out the strongest reasons or evidence and attempt to show that it is lacking.

I think the main goal when people argue is to get back-slapped by their supporters and increase their status and prestige amongst them. But I also think they themselves become convinced that they have genuinely confronted the best reasons and evidence. People actually self-deceive themselves that they have genuinely engaged with the more powerful arguments and defeated them. This seems to be pretty much universal, even within the academic community.

Wednesday, 16 March 2022

The degrading of our mental faculties as we age

I know I keep banging on about the same topic, but I just find it extraordinary that people (mainly skeptics, but also some believers) think the degrading of our mental faculties arising from a dysfunctional or impaired brain will also apply in any afterlife.  Hence, if someone is suffering from dementia at the time of their death, then they will also be suffering forevermore from dementia in any possible afterlife.  For example, Bill Nye said:

"People my age have a lot of grandparents and parents who are not as sharp, certainly not as athletically capable or physically capable as they were when they were younger.

"And so watching ourselves die is to me, overwhelming evidence that there is no life after death.

"There's certainly no — it doesn't seem to be any reason to think that when you die, you go back to your optimum age at your optimum athletic ability in your optimum intellectual sharpness."

Either:

a) The brain produces consciousness and the self.

b) Consciousness and the self/soul can exist apart from the brain.  However, when the self/ soul is associated with a brain (embodied), the brain affects the self's/soul's conscious states.

If there is an afterlife, at least in the sense of a soul dwelling in some afterlife realm, then "a" cannot be true. So if there is an afterlife we must subscribe to "b".

So assuming "b", any deterioration in our mental faculties that happens as a consequence of a dysfunctional or impaired brain is . .well . . due to the brain and the brain alone... duh... Or, in other words, it's not due to any change in the soul or self. Therefore, there cannot be any implications for our mental faculties in any afterlife. To understand this, consider the following analogy.

Bob has normal visual acuity. One day he puts on a pair of fake eyeglasses that just uses normal glass in the frame rather than lenses.  So his vision is not altered. What if he continues to wear them year after year and never takes them off during this time?  Also, he never cleans the glass nor replaces it? As time goes by, the glass will accumulate dirt and possible damage, and Bob's vision will progressively get worse and worse. But then, one day, he whips the eyeglasses off, and voila! His vision returns to his initial visual acuity.

So why on earth would it be any different for the soul or self? If the brain doesn't create the self, soul, or consciousness, how on earth could the detrimental effects arising from a dysfunctional brain somehow mysteriously linger on when one is in a disembodied state, as in the afterlife?  Our souls will no longer be associated with a brain, hence a dysfunctional or impaired brain cannot possibly affect our mental faculties in any afterlife.  It's just silly to suppose otherwise, and I think people are simply not thinking this through.



 

Sunday, 6 March 2022

Self-floating books

Let's imagine there's a stack of books floating in mid-air. There appears to be no reason for it. 

But suppose someone says we can explain why the top book is there. It's being supported by the book beneath it. The 2nd top book, that is, is exerting a force on the top book keeping it where it is.

Likewise we can explain why the 2nd top book is there -- it's being supported by the 3rd top book. And so on.

But what about the bottom book? Perhaps we can say there's no explanation for that. It's just a brute fact that it can float there mid-air!

But if that is the case have we actually provided an explanation for why any of the other books are there in mid-air? Surely not, we've simply kicked the explanatory can down the road, so to speak.

A similar situation exists in physics.  We observe the regularities of the world and say the reason why there are such regularities is ultimately due to fundamental physical laws and/or due to innate forces as revealed by physics.  Why do these fundamental physical laws or forces exist?  We don’t know, they are just a brute fact about the world with no further explanation.  But given that these physical laws/forces exist, we can explain how they give rise to certain phenomena.

It seems to me though that this is the same type of "explanation" as our floating stack of books. 

Going back to the stack of books.  I said that it might be suggested by someone that the top book remains where it is due to resting on the book beneath it, which exerts an upward force keeping the top book in its place.  But why can’t each book simply be self-floating?  The bottom book appears to have the capacity to be self-floating, so if no further explanation is required here, then why would any of the other books be different?

We imagine that forces exist out there in the world.  But, strictly speaking, we always just see events following each other.  We project forces into the world because we like explanations.  But, especially when we consider such forces do not provide a true explanation, do we have any reasons to suppose that such forces literally exist at all?

Consider computer games.  Our character that we control performs various actions in that game – our character perhaps presses a button in that game environment and a building in that game explodes.  But there are no actual forces here, the game does what it does due to following the rules the computer programmer has implemented.  

Do we have any compelling reasons, or indeed any reasons at all, to suppose our reality is different?  Even if there is no analogical equivalent to a computer programmer or "God", perhaps reality simply exhibits patterns that our physics describes?  But physics doesn't tell us why reality is like it is, it doesn't provide any true explanations any more than it does with our floating stack of books.

Related: 

What physicists claim exists can be doubted

The difference between science and metaphysics

Do scientific explanations actually explain?



Friday, 25 February 2022

The Alleged Problems with Interactive Substance Dualism

I read the following blog post  Arguments Against Mind-Body/Substance Dualism and Responses.  I typed out a response which I posted in my facebook group here  and also as a comment below his blog post.  Unfortunately, despite apparently being sympathetic to dualism, the author didn't accept it.  Normally it is those who subscribe to materialism that refuse to publish my comments! (One example is here).   I reproduce my comment below without alteration. 

All these arguments are ridiculous.

1. Damaged brains lead to damaged minds.

Churchland claims this “comes close to being an outright refutation of (substance) dualism.”

Obviously we can think of many examples where A affects B but where no-one would dream of concluding that A produces B. For example, eyeglasses affect our vision. As the lenses fog up, become scratched, perhaps warped or whatever, our vision will suffer. But then, when we take our glasses off, our vision is restored to what it was originally.

Moreover, just as there is no conceivable mechanism within eyeglasses that could produce vision, so there appears no conceivable mechanism within brains that could produce consciousness.

This damaged brains lead to damaged minds objection can only be rescued if we assume that cognitive ability, moods, memories etc are intrinsic to the soul and should never be able to be changed or altered, or attenuated. But here one would be assuming a materialist conception of personal identity and hence would be begging the question. For the substance dualist has a commonsensical conception of the self. The self is that which makes one feel one is the very same person from one hour to the next, one day to the next, and one year to the next. One’s moods might change from one hour to the next, one’s interests and even intelligence might change from one year to the next, nevertheless, it is still that person that undergoes all these changes. The I or me is the mental substance; contrariwise the moods, cognitive abilities, memories, interests and so on are the properties of the self/mental substance. These properties can change without me ceasing to exist and turning into another person.

2. Problem of embodiment

The critic of substance dualism asks: What is it for the mind to be housed in a body? What is it for a body to belong to a particular subject? The problem of embodiment, argues the critic, makes the union between mind and body mysterious.

What’s really mysterious is what this objection means or amounts to. One could retort that all change and interactions in the entire Universe are equally mysterious. The facts of the Universe are just given and physics merely describes change using mathematical equations. Likewise, it is a fact that my consciousness affects my body as is exemplified by the words that I am typing out now. Although we don’t have the mathematical equations describing such interactions, I don’t see any reason why they should not eventually be forthcoming.

3. Problem of the physical conception of human beings

There is the argument from the physical conception of human beings at the beginning of life. According to this objection, no one views fertilized ova as having minds; rather, these are purely physical entities. But if human beings began as wholly physical beings and nothing non-physical was later added, then they are still wholly physical creatures and substance dualism must be false.

Why on earth would the critic of dualism assume nothing non-material would be added? How can we be conscious at all if nothing is added?

4. Problem of Interaction 

Interactionism on substance dualism maintains that the mind and body causally influence each other. But some philosophers argue that this causes problems: if, on substance dualism, the mental substance is so radically distinct from the physical substance (the mental is, unlike the physical, immaterial, unextended, and therefore has no size, shape, location, mass, motion, or solidity), then they lack commonality necessary for interaction. 

I suggest that the people who voice this objection have a certain view of reality where only certain types of regularity are permitted; namely a mechanistic view of reality where all changes are captured by such contiguous physical chains of causes and effects. Essentially, they hold the view that A influences B because there is some innate power in the world that travels from A to B and necessitates change in B.

But, why must reality be limited to such regularities? Why must causes be contiguous? What permits us to a priori rule out a reality that admits influences from consciousness, or indeed even mystical principles, or magic and so on? Note that in saying causes may not need to be contiguous, we are not contradicting any physical laws. Rather, we are contradicting the mechanistic view of reality, which at best is a presupposition of science, or at least it was a presupposition of science back in the 17th and 18th Centuries. Physics simply tries to model reality based on observations in the past to predict events in the future. We call these regularities physical laws. I do not believe we can impose a priori constraints on the patterns we find there, that is we cannot say reality must conform to contiguous causes. Empirical investigation should guide our beliefs rather than a priori presuppositions. Should we dismiss the phenomenon of entanglement because it contravenes such assumptions? And, if we don't, then the alleged universality of contiguous physical causes and effects is refuted. Where one exception is found, we can surely not be surprised if we find others.

5. Argument from evolution

Churchland says:

The important point about the standard evolutionary story is that the human species and all of its features are the wholly physical outcome of a purely physical process… If this is the correct account of our origins, then there seems neither need, nor room, to fit any nonphysical substances or properties into our theoretical account of ourselves. We are creatures of matter. And we should learn to live with that fact.

The evolution story is supposed to explain the origin of our bodies and why our bodies have the characteristics they do. It only accounts for the arrival of consciousness should one assume that consciousness is literally part of the body, or in other words, if one assumes materialism upfront. But, as I have argued elsewhere, materialism is fatally problematic. Apart from that, we have yet again, a clear case of question begging.

Indeed, in order for evolution to account for consciousness, consciousness has to actually do something. But the mainstream view is that the physical world is closed, hence our consciousness is causally superfluous.

(Also see my A Causal Consciousness, Free Will, and Dualism, under the heading "Various Objections")

Often it's extremely hard to decide what is the rational thing to believe.

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