John Collins writes > Dear Stathis, > This was an interesting post. You're right in that, until quite > recently, we've understood the world only as well as we've needed to, in > order to survive. But if you believe, as some people on this list do, that > instantaneous 'observer moments' are the only fundamentally real objects in > the universe, (and that the reasoning, 'I think therefore I am' runs > primarily in that direction) then it is the logical structure of our > thoughts that is at each moment retrospectively generating a history in > which there evolved a creature intelligent enough to think them.
It is indeed a question of which one suspects to be more fundamental: observer moments? or what I'll call "atoms and processes". An important aspect of this is the age-old desire for *certainty*. But beginning with several developments in 20th century mathematics, perhaps culminating in Morris Kline's excellent book "The Loss of Certainty", this goal becoming more and more deprecated with the passing of each decade. In fact, the XX century saw many axiom-based philosophic schemes which, it seems to me, were little more than manifestations of "math-envy". And such schemes and such thinkers are in less repute than ever these days. (Yet it sounds as though a number of people on this list are impressed with the *certainty* with which one can regard his or her 1st person experiences, and believe that this is one of its chief advantages.) Instead, the best theories appear to be those based upon ideas similar to those of Popper, with "Pan-Critical Rationalism" being the highest and best form. From these we affirm that our best theories are those whose origins ---however dubious---have, vitally, withstood powerful and well-directed criticism, and the test of time. Among these honored theories are, of course, all our best scientific theories including heliocentrism, the theory of evolution, GR and QM. Also these last centuries deployed ideas that were (or should be) the death of vitalism, from Kohler in 1828, through Urey in 1952 to Watson and Crick in 1953. These laid what seem to be an irrefutable basis for the main contentions of materialism, to wit, that even the most complex phenomena we know of, including the workings of the human brain, ultimately reduce to the laws of chemistry and physics (i.e. QM). It is difficult to overstate how successful QM has been. Accuracies of fifteen decimal places are routine! No one could have anticipated such unprecedented success. Thus we at this time have very little reason to doubt the contention that brain behavior ontologically reduces to QM. To me, regarding "observer-moments" as fundamental smacks of solipsism. It strikes me as entirely useless. The different observer-moments of different (or even the same) entities are not at all comparable, and we have no means (except introspective ones) to study the phenomena. Why not instead adopt the scientific model? That is, that we are three-dimensional creatures ensconced in a world governed by the laws of physics, or, what I'll call the "atoms and processes" model. About observer-moments, I would say what LaPlace answered to Napoleon about a deity: "I have no need of that hypothesis". To be sure, we all have our 1st person experiences, but they're inaccessible to anyone else. Moreover, their very existence is hardly problematical: would you really believe some aliens who landed here and enjoined us in conversation, and then claimed to have none? As Eugene Leitl is reported to have said, "Experience is just what the system looks like from the inside". Jack earlier wrote > [Lee wrote] > > It wouldn't > > make sense on evolutionary grounds for typical mammals > > such as ourselves to be unable to report internal > > impressions, plans, feelings, and anticipations. > > This it seems to me is a black box approach. Shades of Skinner's > behaviorism? Not terribly useful or satisfying IMHO. One could > take the same approach to any biological system or process: > pronounce it adaptive (at least sufficiently till now) and > leave it at that. "Next problem!". I would say that it's not quite fair to label the materialist approach "behaviorist", because the behaviorists were notorious for limiting their inquiries to areas outside the brain. The brain is a material device, and of course demands explanations. First-person accounts, on the contrary, while irreplaceable in psychiatry, have never been of much use in scientific theories, and efforts to so use them were generally abandoned along about 1890, and for very good reason. Lee Corbin