Brent and 1Z (the "twins"...a dynamic duo of blunt skepticism):

On Fri, Aug 14, 2009 at 2:43 PM, Brent Meeker<> wrote:
>> Well, I think that's what I'm saying.  Causal explanations are not
>> really explanations, because you can never trace the causal chain back
>> to it's ultimate source.
> That's silly.  If my wife's car won't start and I explain that it's out of 
> gas, that's
> really an explanation even if I don't know why it's out of gas.  he 
> operational
> definition of an explanation of an event is what you would do to effect or 
> prevent that
> event.

Oh.  Is that what we're interested in here?  Operationally defined explanations?

I apologize.  I had not realized.  I thought we were discussing deeper
issues.  So sure, if you want to stick to "operational explanations",
things are pretty straightforward.  Physics is indeed the language for
operational explanations and perhaps we should confine ourselves to
discussions of the latest developments in physics.  I propose a name
change, from the "Everything List" to "Everything Physics-related

Though, actually, I thought that we were discussing the *ultimate*
underlying nature of reality.  Not operational explanations that
provide us with strategies for avoiding car problems in that reality.
So, upon further reflection, I think I'm in the right list.  You,
however, may not be.

Okay, sarcasm over, though I think my point above is valid.

BUT, actually I do very much appreciate your response, as it forces me
to examine, clarify, and articulate my own thoughts.  Which is the
whole point of this exercise I think.  So, the only thing worse than a
negative response is no response!  Ha!

> In general there are multiple things you could do and hence multiple causes of
> an event.

There are many ways the history of the world could have played out
differently that would have resulted in your wife's car not having an
empty gas tank (many of them quite gruesome) but if physicalism is
correct then there's only ONE way the world DID play out...and that is
the causal structure that led to your wife's situation.

> The image of a causal chain leading back to an ultimate link is misleading - 
> it is
> more like causal chain mail that branches out as you trace it back.

I follow your meaning, but it just means that the chain is a directed
acyclic (presumably!) graph, that can be divided into layers, with
each layer viewed as a link in the chain.  But there must be a base
layer, right?  An infinite past is a possibility too, I suppose, but I
don't think that negates my argument, it just changes the wording a
bit.  But let's not go there just yet.

> But just because you can't trace it back to a single ur-cause doesn't nullify
> my advice to my wife to put gas in the tank.

Okay, two scenarios:

1)  Physicalism is true, you're in the real world, and your wife ran out of gas.

2)  Physicalism is true, you're in a computer simulation of the real
world, and your virtual-wife ran out of virtual-gas.

SO, in both scenarios, your operational approach to explanation is
useful.  But it isn't meaningful in the context of what I take us to
be discussing:  the underlying nature of reality.

Your operational explanations have SUBJECTIVE MEANING.  Not absolute
meaning.  If they had absolute meaning, then they wouldn't apply in
both scenario 1 and scenario 2.

My point is that there IS NO absolute meaning.  And where there is no
meaning, there can be no explanation.  In an absolute sense, things
just are what they are.  Tautology.

>> BUT if we take an identical block of granite to be something that just
>> exists uncaused, like our universe, then there can be no explanation.
> There can in the same way QM explains the decay of unstable nuclei.  That's 
> what
> cosmogonists are searching for.

Same argument as above.  QM is a theoretical framework that is
consistent with our observations.  As such, it has subjective meaning,
since observations are subjective.

Anywhere you subjectively make the same types of observations that you
make here on earth, then QM will be a good framework to use when
attempting to anticipate future events.  Even if you are *really* in a
computer simulation.

What are unstable nuclei?  They are nuclei that have lower energy
configurations that they can relatively easily be jostled into.  Why
are those other configurations lower energy?  Why the relative ease of
jostling?  Why does there exist a phenomenon capable of jostling in
the right way?  Because that's the way things work in this universe.

But if the laws of physics were different, then what we observed would
be different.  If physicalism is true, maybe there are yet other
universes with different physical laws out there where all nuclei are
stable.  Unstable nuclei just cannot form under those alternate laws.
Seems possible, right?

The existence of unstable nuclei is consistent with our observations.
Even if they don't actually exist, using them as theoretical
constructs makes sense when thinking in terms of QM, which we
ultimately only bother to do because it makes useful predictions.
It's useful.  Even if we were actually in a computer simulation being
run on an alien computer in an alternate universe whose physical laws
didn't produce unstable nuclei, for our subjective purposes inside the
simulation, we would want to talk about unstable nuclei, because they
fit our simulated observations, and it's easier to think in terms of
unstable nuclei rather than in terms of mathematical equations which
could be interpreted as such.

>> Ultimately your answer is:  unstable nuclei decay because that's what
>> unstable nuclei do.  Tautology.
> No, it's not a tautology because there is an underlying theory that explains 
> why some
> nuclei are stable and some aren't and exactly how unstable they are.

No, it's a tautology because it just takes what we observe and
restates it in an alternate form without supplying any absolute
explanation for why it should be that way.  It only gives us a
subjectively useful "operational explanation".  See above.

>> If conscious experience is uncaused and acausal, then in some sense
>> knowledge is irrelevant.  Your uncaused experience could be of
>> believing that you "know" something which is actually false (e.g.,
>> that 121 is prime).
> Why do you suppose you have uncaused experiences?

A trap?  Nice try, Mr. Meeker.

I don't think that there is a reason I suppose this.  That's just the way it is.

I have the subjective feeling that it is because I've had the
conscious experience of concluding:

1)  Physicalism has an explanatory gap

2)  Platonism, which initially seemed better, also has an explanatory gap

3)  Uncaused things cannot have meaning or explanations in an absolute sense

4)  All causal explanations of consciousness ultimately lead to uncaused origins

5)  Things which follow entirely from uncaused beginnings are
themselves ultimately uncaused

6)  Therefore, one way or another, directly or indirectly,
consciousness is uncaused.

7)  Given the choice between directly uncaused or indirectly uncaused,
I'll take directly uncaused.

>> If conscious experience is caused, then knowledge is...still
>> irrelevant.  But for a different this case what you *can*
>> know is determined by those external causes.  You could be caused to
>> believe that you *know" something which is actually false (e.g., that
>> 121 is prime).  But if you then trace the causal chain back, you will
>> never find what ultimately caused you to be wrong
> Why do you think this?  Maybe I found 121 in a table of prime numbers that 
> was erroneous.

What caused the table to be erroneous?  What caused that?  What caused
what caused that?  Etc.

>  Maybe a friend told me 121 was prime.

What caused him to do that?  Etc.

> Maybe my calculator malfunctioned due to a cosmic ray hit.

Why are the laws physics that we observe such that cosmic rays are
generated and calculators are susceptible to malfunctioning when hit?
What caused your calculator and the comic ray to be in the same place
at the same time and thus collide?  What caused you to use a
calculator instead of just remembering that 11 * 11 is 121?  What
caused what caused all these things?  Etc.

1Z...that's my response to your post as well.

> Why would I try to phrase my answer in terms of "the ultimate cause"?

Because you want to understand the underlying nature of reality?

> Why would I even suppose there is such a thing as "the ultimate cause"?

Human nature?

> And why would the absence of an ultimate cause have any relevance
> to my explanation in terms of proximate causes?

It would have no relevance to that particular "operational
explanation".  But we're not here to discuss operational explanations.
 That's for physics blogs.

Further, we're not here primarily to discuss what kinds of entities
might exist which would also be consistent with our observations AND
subjectively useful in our operational explanations.  That's also for
physics blogs.

We're here to discuss what really is.  Absolute explanations that
account for "Everything", the entire ontological stack of what exists.

>> Do you see what I'm getting at with all of this "uncaused" stuff, and
>> the equivalence between an uncaused universe and just an isolated
>> uncaused conscious experience?  At all?  Anyone?
> Nope.

How about now?  Even if you don't agree, surely you see?

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