Rex Allen wrote:
On Sun, Dec 6, 2009 at 8:09 PM, Brent Meeker <> wrote:
You seem to be reading a lot into my post.

Ha!  Ya, once I got going I figured I'd just throw everything in there
and see if any of it elicited any interesting feedback.

I never said that
consciousness is an illusion.  In fact I didn't say anything about
consciousness at all. My post was about what makes an explanation a good
one and that being "ultimate" is historically not one of them.

So my point is that:  in a reductionist theory which implies a
physicalist reality with no downwards causation, 
What defines "upwards" and "downwards".  Why would "downwards" causation make any difference?

nothing means
You mean things don't stand as symbols for something else?   That reminds me of George Carlin's quip, "If we're here to care for other people, what are those other people here for?"

Things only have the "appearance" of meaning.
The above words have the appearance of meaning to me - and so they do have meaning to me.  I don't know what else I could ask for?

In such a reality, things just are what they are.  If you find some
explanations "good" and others "bad", that's just the epiphenominal
residue of more fundamental physical processes which are themselves
unconcerned with such things.
Having predictive theories was no doubt selected by evolution - as well as a psychological to see meaning in things.

In such a reality if you predict an event that comes to pass, both
your prediction AND the event were inevitable from the first instant
of the universe, implicit in it's initial state plus the laws of

That's one theory, formerly more popular than now.

Looked at in a block-universe format:  the first instant,
you making the prediction, and the predicted event all coexist
simultaneously.  In this view, while your prediction was accurate,
there's no reason for's just the way things are in that
block of reality.  Scientific theories only describe this fact, they
don't explain it.

So what science deals in is descriptions.  Not explanations.  The
feeling that something has been explained is an aspect of
consciousness, not an aspect of reality (at least not reality as
posited by physicalism).

But then you need to ask yourself what does constitute an explanation?  If you dismiss scientific models that show you how to make choices and manipulate the world and allow you to predict events, what is it you're looking for?  What's your definition of "explanation"?  Can you give an example of a good explanation?  Does it have to be teleological?  ultimate?  holistic?

I don't think that this is usually made clear.  And it seems like a
subtle but important distinction, philosophically.

So I take your point about the schoolmen.  There aren't many practical
applications for the idea that "things just are the way they are".
But still it's an interesting piece of information, if true.

But if physicalism is correct, then how useful are your "explanations"
really?  You *feel* as though it's useful to know about inflation and
the CMB, but underneath your feelings, your constituent quarks and
electrons are playing out the parts that were set for them by the
initial state of the universe plus the laws that govern it's

Well I haven't used quark theory, but my "explanations" have helped me design a very fast ramjet.  I'd feel a little uncertain about flying in an airliner designed by people who thought aerodynamics didn't explain anything.

Maybe that initial state and the particular governing laws were set
according to the rules of some larger multiverse...or maybe they just
are what they are, for no reason.

How about this:

"Science is about observations.  Philosophy is about clarity."

I'd say science is about making models that predict what is observed and not the contrary.

Since you rambled about consciousness I'll share my speculation about it.  I think people resort to "philosophical" explanations when they don't have scientific ones and when scientific ones are found they stop worrying about the philosophical questions.  At one time people worried about vitality, the life-force, elan vitale, that animated things.  But as more and more was learned about molecular biology, DNA, metabolism, evolution, etc, people stopped worrying about "life".  They didn't explain it.  They only described it and how it worked (in great detail).  The DNA isn't alive, none of the molecules are alive and yet there is no elan vitale either.  The old questions about life just seem ill posed.  Not answered, yet irrelevant.  I think the same thing will happen to "consciousness" that happened to "life". 

We will learn to describe consciousness by causal models, we'll predict the effect of salvia and mushrooms on different people's consciousness.  We'll build robots which appear to be conscious.  We'll add electronics to brains based on our predictive models and cure Alzheimer's the same way we build airplanes based on aerodynamics.  And if someone asks, "What is consciousnees?"  he'll be looked at as if he'd asked "Where is the edge of the Earth?"

Journalist:  What variable is complementary to "truth".
Neils Bohr: Clarity.

I just want to be clear about the implications of the various
narratives that are consistent with what we observe.


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