On Sat, Dec 5, 2009 at 5:22 PM, Brent Meeker <meeke...@dslextreme.com> wrote:
> Rex Allen wrote:
>> On Fri, Dec 4, 2009 at 10:35 PM, Brent Meeker <meeke...@dslextreme.com>
>>> Rex Allen wrote:
>>>> What is your alternative to the "everything" universal acid? That
>>>> things just are the way they are (uniquely), and there's ultimately no
>>>> explanation for that. Right?
>>> Exactly so. "It's just happened that way" and "Everything happens and
>>> so this happens too." are both equally useless. Progress is only made
>>> when we can explain why this rather than that.
>> So, we have our observations, and we want to explain them, so we need
>> some context to place them in. So we postulate the existence of an
>> external universe. But then we want to explain what we see in this
>> external universe, and the only option is to postulate the existence
>> of a multiverse.
>> Nothing can be explained in terms of only itself. To explain it, you
>> have to place it in the context of something larger. Otherwise, no
>> explanation is possible, you just have to say, "this is the way it is
>> because that's the way it is."
>> Basically there's only two way the process can end. Two possible
>> answers to the question of "Why is the universe this way instead of
>> some other way?":
>> 1) Because things just are the way they are, and there's no further
>> explanation possible.
>> 2) Because EVERYTHING happens, and so this was inevitable in that
>> larger context of "everything".
>> What other option is there, do you think?
> Look at what we actually take to be explanations. For example,
> inflation is taken to be an explanation for the homogeneity of the CMB,
> for the flatness of space, for the absence of magnetic monopoles. Why?
> First, because it replaces these seemingly disparate observed facts with
> a single theory that is consistent with our other theories. Second, and
> more importantly, it predicted higher order correlations in the CMB
> which were then observed. So we are still faced with explaining the
> inflation; which some people might explain as, "That's just the way it
> is." and others might explain,"Out of all possible universes some must
> inflate", but neither of those predicts anything or leads to any
> experiment. A real explanation would be one describing an inflaton
> field and predicting its experimental manifestation.
> So the option is don't adopt non-explanations and simply admit that
> there are things we don't know and that's why we do research. Theories
> need to be consilient and specific and testable and predict something we
> didn't already know, but turns out to be true. That's the gold standard.
> So I agree that in some sense the two options you present above seem to
> be the only possible ultimate statements, sort of like the schoolmen
> who "proved" that "God did it" was the ultimate answer everything. But,
> I don't think ultimate statements are worth much because they are like
> junk food explanations - no nutritional value.
Well, I would say that your "explanations" provide the illusion of
nutritional value, but in fact are also junk food.
It seems to me that your example isn't an explanation, but a narrative
that just describes a plausible scenario consistent with what we
observe. The difference between explanation and description is maybe
a subtle difference, but it seems like an important one when thinking
about metaphysics and ontology.
I think there is a problem when you try to find a place for yourself
inside your own narrative. When you try to explain your experience of
observing, in addition to WHAT you observe.
Assuming physicalism and barring downwards causation, *within that
framework* what does it mean to claim that you understand something,
that you have explained something, or that you have predicted
Within the framework of bottom-up physicalism, what does it even mean
to say that you "exist"...since you are (apparently) not a fundamental
entity and so don't appear on any inventory of the contents of such a
universe. Electrons: check. Quarks: check. Brent Meekers: Nope,
none of those...only electrons and quarks (and other fundamental
But even if you exist within such a system, and are fully accounted
for by the system, then your experiences are a kind of "epiphenomenal
residue" of the fundamental processes of the system. You don't have a
handle on the universe...the universe has a handle on you. You are
run through your paces by your constituent molecules, experiencing
whatever their configuration entails in each given moment. But why
would this experience necessarily be of what actually exists?
Returning to the earlier point, what are observations? How are they
accounted for in a physicalist ontology? Why do some configurations of
matter and energy have "conscious subjective experiences", when there
is nothing in our conception of matter, energy, OR configurations
which would lead one to conclude (before the fact) that by arranging
them in particular ways one could create experiences of (for instance)
You can say that "subjective experiences", i.e., qualia, are an
emergent property of certain physical systems, but "emergent
properties" are not real properties...emergent properties exist only
in the mind of an observer. An observer is required to map emergent
properties onto the *real* fundamental entities and their fundamental
You could say that qualia are "illusory", but in that case my question
would be what kind of illusion are you claiming that consciousness is?
What, precisely, are you proposing? It's easy to say "consciousness
is an illusion", but I think you'll have a harder time unpacking that
into something meaningful.
It seems to me that illusions are revealed by inter-comparing many
observations of the way thing seem, detecting inconsistencies, and
then judging which observation is more consistent with what we have
inferred from previous observations.
For instance, in the case of the "moon illusion", by comparing your
observation of the distant moon to something like a dime that you can
hold at arm's length, you are able to determine that the image of the
moon does not in fact change sizes from the horizon to the zenith,
despite your persistent impression that it is larger at the horizon.
The dime provides a reliable and accessible standard to judge the moon
Illusions deal in inconsistencies in the way that things seem to us.
But this "seeming" of things is itself an aspect of consciousness.
Illusions are basically manifestations of consciousness. You can't be
deluded without being conscious.
It's possible that everything we observe is an illusion. But I don't
believe that it's possible, or even reasonable to propose, that our
experience of observing is an illusion. Instead the experience of
observing is the stuff that illusions are made from.
In other words, as Bruno has said, an illusion of consciousness would
Okay, try to follow me here: to say that your consciousness is an
illusion is to say that it seems to you that the way things seem to
you is inconsistent with what you have inferred from the way that
OTHER things have seemed to you in the past.
So, again, at the end of the day all we have is our observations, our
experiences...how things "seem" to us. I may not exist, but the
experience of being me definitely does. To deny that denies
everything else as well.
I think that a physicalist framework is a useful way to think about
our observations...it's a good tool, but physicalism goes to far in
making ontological claims.
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