On Sun, Dec 6, 2009 at 11:34 PM, Brent Meeker <meeke...@dslextreme.com> wrote:
> Rex Allen wrote:
>>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?
Upwards from fundamental entities and laws. Downwards from things
that are composed of fundamental entities and from "emergent" laws.
So if everything reduces to fundamental entities and their causal
relations, then there is no downwards causation.
To quote*** (see below) Paul Davies, from his paper "The Physics of
"As physicists have probed ever deeper into the microscopic realm of
matter so, to use Steven Weinberg’s evocative phrase (Weinberg, 1992),
‘the arrows of explanation point downward.’ That is, we frequently
account for a phenomenon by appealing to the properties of the next
level down. In this way the behaviour of gases are explained by
molecules, the properties of molecules are explained by atoms, which
in turn are explained by nuclei and electrons. This downward path
extends, it is supposed, as far as the bottom-level entities, be they
strings or some other exotica."
If downwards causation IS possible, then behaviors can emerge which
aren't reducible to the fundamental entities and their causal
relations. Consciousness might be an example of this.
So quoting Davies again:
"Whilst the foregoing is not contentious, differences arise concerning
whether the reductionist account of nature is merely a fruitful
methodology, or whether it is the whole story. Many physicists are
self-confessed out-and-out reductionists. They believe that once the
final buildings blocks of matter and the rules that govern them have
been identified, then all of nature will, in effect, have been
explained. Obviously such a final theory would not in practice provide
a very useful account of much that we observe in the world. A final
reductionist theory would not, for instance, explain the origin of
life, or have much to say about the nature of consciousness. But the
committed reductionist believes such inadequacies are mere
technicalities, and that the fundamental core of explanation is
captured – completely - by the reductionist theory."
*** Note that I'm just quoting those passages to save time in
articulating the points myself. I'm not invoking him as an authority,
or necessarily saying I agree with anything else he says in his paper.
>> nothing means anything.
> 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?"
My point would be, how does meaning reduce to fundamental entities
like quarks and electrons (or fields, or strings, or whatever).
>> 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?
I would ask for an understanding of how it is that they have meaning
to you. You seem to take this for granted. I'm thinking of something
similar to the symbol grounding problem:
"The Symbol Grounding Problem is related to the problem of how words
(symbols) get their meanings, and hence to the problem of what meaning
itself really is. The problem of meaning is in turn related to the
problem of consciousness, or how it is that mental states are
meaningful. According to a widely held theory of cognition,
"computationalism," cognition (i.e., thinking) is just a form of
computation. But computation in turn is just formal symbol
manipulation: symbols are manipulated according to rules that are
based on the symbols' shapes, not their meanings. How are those
symbols (e.g., the words in our heads) connected to the things they
>> 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.
Evolution isn't a fundamental law, right? There is no "evolution
field" or particle. Evolution doesn't "select" anything. Evolution
has no causal power.
Again, assuming reductive physicalism, the initial state of the
universe and the fundamental laws of physics (which may or may not
have some sort of random aspect) completely determines what animals we
observe in the present. Evolution is just a useful fictional
narrative that helps us think about what we observe. A description of
what we observe, not an explanation for it.
So I think this was a good example of how you muddy the water with
>> 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.
Hmmm? Are you referring to quantum indeterminism undermining the
>> 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 that...it'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?
So do we make choices? Or do we just have the epiphenomenal
experience of making choices? Given either determinism or quantum
randomness, what does "choice" mean?
Do we manipulate the world? Or do we just have the epiphenomenal
experience of manipulating the world, when in fact everything we do is
determined by the initial state of the universe plus the laws of
As for definition of explanation, I'd go with:
1. A statement identifying the reason for, or cause of, an event or state.
2. A statement which is intended to produce a feeling of comprehension.
3. A statement which produces a feeling of comprehension.
As for "an example of a good explanation"...hmmm. Well I'm leaning
towards the idea that an explanation in the sense of definition 1 is
like "libertarian free will". It sounds plausible initially, but when
you really parse it out you find that it's not a consistent concept.
For the reasons that I gave earlier with the two choices of "things
just are what they are" and "everything exists and so this exists".
Which leaves definitions 2 and 3. In which case a "good explanation"
is one which does a good job of producing a feeling of comprehension.
And I'm not dismissing scientific models per se. I agree that it is
possible to construct models whose "ontologies" are consistent with
what we observe. I just doubt that this tells us anything about what
is ontologically real.
Which is not that radical a claim, I think. Computationalism even in
it's physical (non-Bruno) version implies the same thing. We could be
in a simulation or some sort of virtual reality, and it would be
impossible to detect.
>> 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
Did "you" design a ramjet? OR did the fundamental causal laws of the
universe act though a set of quarks and electrons (whose current is a
direct consequence of the initial state of the universe) in such a way
that something which could be interpreted as a ramjet design was
produced. And as a side effect, you had the conscious experience of
designing a ramjet.
>> "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.
That's basically what I said, right? Models that predict what?
Observations. Though, I take your point.
> 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
I think I've seen this conversation before. Someone quoted David
Chalmers' response to Dennett making the same point. You said that
Chalmers was a historical revisionist, but offered no evidence, and
that's where it was left. AND, I imagine that's where we'll leave it
But, for good measure, here part of the Chalmers quote:
When it comes to the problem of life, for example, it is just obvious
that what needs explaining is structure and function: How does a
living system self-organize? How does it adapt to its environment? How
does it reproduce? Even the vitalists recognized this central point:
their driving question was always "How could a mere physical system
perform these complex functions?", not "Why are these functions
accompanied by life?" It is no accident that Dennett's version of a
vitalist is "imaginary". There is no distinct "hard problem" of life,
and there never was one, even for vitalists.
> 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?"
Actually I would think that if virtual reality becomes common, for
example in super realistic fully immersive computer games, that will
incline people to take a more Kantian view. A view in which what is
observed isn't taken to indicate anything at all about what actually
exists or what actually is.
I would especially expect this to be the case if, in this future you
describe, it turns out that the "multiple realizability" aspect of
functionalism actually allows many of the strange scenarios that it
implies are possible in thought experiments.
> Journalist: What variable is complementary to "truth".
> Neils Bohr: Clarity.
"Kant's teaching produces a fundamental change in every mind that has
grasped it. This change is so great that it may be regarded as an
intellectual rebirth. It is capable of really removing the inborn
realism which arises from the original disposition of the intellect. …
the man who has not mastered the Kantian philosophy, whatever else he
may have studied, is, so to speak, in a state of innocence; in other
words, he has remained in the grasp of that natural and childlike
realism in which we are all born, and which qualifies one for every
possible thing except philosophy." -- Arthur Schopenhauer
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