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?



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