On Tue, Dec 8, 2009 at 2:28 PM, Brent Meeker <meeke...@dslextreme.com> wrote:
> Rex Allen wrote:
>> 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
>> refer to?"
> This question seems like a conundrum generated by abstracting symbols
> out their context of communication and action and then being surprised
> that you can't say what they communicate or what action they will elicit.

So the quote mentions "the words in our heads", but let's also include
the images in my head.  Or more generally yet, the thoughts in my head
which are "about things" out in the world.

You make the point that these taking these out of the context of
communication and action is what generates the conundrum.

But with respect to consciousness it's not clear to me that context
should matter.

So let's go to a Boltzmann Brain scenario.  In far distant future, the
de Sitter radiation being emitted from the cosmological horizon just
happens to come together in a extremely improbable but not impossible
configuration that is functionally isomorphic to a computer containing
the simulation of a brain, plus a set of lookup tables (keyed by time
slice) storing 70 years worth of sensory data.

The lookup tables don't contain a virtual world, instead (by complete
chance) the tables contain values that match the output that a
computer simulation of a virtual world WOULD produce if such an
environmental simulation were executed in tandem with the simulated

So.  Extremely unlikely.  But not obviously impossible.  Which means
that given enough time, it's probably inevitable.

So would this physical system experience consciousness?  Would the
person being simulated have "meaningful thoughts", even though it
existed outside of any meaningful context?

>> Evolution isn't a fundamental law, right?  There is no "evolution
>> field" or particle.  Evolution doesn't "select" anything.  Evolution
>> has no causal power.
> It's true it's a description and as such has no causal power - but
> neither do any of the "laws of physics".

I guess the question is do the laws of physics as currently formulated
*approximate* something that actually exists out in the world?

In the case of a universe where there really is no reason for the
distribution of matter and events in 4-D space-time, then the laws of
physics are indeed JUST a description of the way things seem to us as
conscious observers.  They are not an approximation of anything that
actually exists, and so in that case I agree that they have no causal

>> 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.
> If there is some randomness, then the initial state + laws of physics do
> NOT completely determine the present.

Let's say that I have some quantum dice and I say, "if the numbers
rolled add to an odd value I will do A, but if they add to even value
I will do B".

In this case, whether I do A or B is completely determined by the
random outcome of the quantum dice, right?  Well...that random outcome
plus whatever "caused" me to entrust my fate to those dice in the
first place.

So randomness is fundamental...it doesn't reduce to anything else.  So
I don't think that I've gone wrong by saying that if the physical laws
have a random aspect, then they (plus the initial state of the
universe) completely determine what happens.

> More philosophical scientists don't assume their
> theories indicate what's really real.

I wonder why all scientists don't avoid such an assumption?  It seems
to me that Kant makes a good argument that we probably can't know
anything about the underlying nature of reality.  It seems to hold up
pretty well even after 200+ years.  What we know are phenomena, with
knowledge of the underlying noumena being beyond our reach.

Quoting (http://www.philosophypages.com/hy/5g.htm):

"Having seen Kant's transcendental deduction of the categories as pure
concepts of the understanding applicable a priori to every possible
experience, we might naturally wish to ask the further question
whether these regulative principles are really true. Are there
substances? Does every event have a cause? Do all things interact?
Given that we must suppose them in order to have any experience, do
they obtain in the world itself? To these further questions, Kant
firmly refused to offer any answer.

According to Kant, it is vital always to distinguish between the
distinct realms of phenomena and noumena. Phenomena are the
appearances, which constitute the our experience; noumena are the
(presumed) things themselves, which constitute reality. All of our
synthetic a priori judgments apply only to the phenomenal realm, not
the noumenal. (It is only at this level, with respect to what we can
experience, that we are justified in imposing the structure of our
concepts onto the objects of our knowledge.) Since the thing in itself
(Ding an sich) would by definition be entirely independent of our
experience of it, we are utterly ignorant of the noumenal realm.

Thus, on Kant's view, the most fundamental laws of nature, like the
truths of mathematics, are knowable precisely because they make no
effort to describe the world as it really is but rather prescribe the
structure of the world as we experience it. By applying the pure forms
of sensible intuition and the pure concepts of the understanding, we
achieve a systematic view of the phenomenal realm but learn nothing of
the noumenal realm. Math and science are certainly true of the
phenomena; only metaphysics claims to instruct us about the noumena.


The Psychological Idea is the concept of the soul as a permanent
substance which lives forever. It is entirely natural to reason (as in
Descartes's cogito) from knowledge that "I think" to my real existence
as one and the same thinking thing through all time, but Kant held
that our efforts to reach such conclusions are "Paralogisms," with
only illusory validity. It is true that thought presupposes the unity
of apperception and that every change presupposes an underlying
substance, but these rules apply only to the phenomena we experience.
Since substantial unity and immortality are supposed to be noumenal
features of the soul as a thing in itself, Kant held, legitimate a
priori judgments can never prove them, and the effort to transcend in
this case fails.

The Cosmological Idea is the concept of a complete determination of
the nature of the world as it must be constituted in itself. In this
case, Kant held, the difficulty is not that we can conclude too little
but rather that we can prove too much. From the structure of our
experience of the world, it is easy to deduce contradictory particular
claims about reality: finitude vs. infinity; simplicity vs.
complexity; freedom vs. determinism; necessity vs. contingency. These
"Antinomies" of Pure Reason can be avoided only when we recognize that
one or both of the contradictory proofs in each antinomy holds only
for the phenomenal realm. Once again, it is the effort to achieve
transcendental knowledge of noumena that necessarily fails.


What is possible—indeed, according to Kant what we are bound by our
very nature as rational beings to do—is to think of the noumenal realm
as if the speculative principles were true (whether or not they are).
By the nature of reason itself, we are required to suppose our own
existence as substantial beings, the possibility of our free action in
a world of causal regularity, and the existence of god. The absence of
any formal justification for these notions makes it impossible for us
to claim that we know them to be true, but it can in no way diminish
the depth of our belief that they are.

According to Kant, then, the rational human faculties lead us to the
very boundaries of what can be known, by clarifying the conditions
under which experience of the world as we know it is possible. But
beyond those boundaries our faculties are useless. The shape of the
boundary itself, as evidenced in the Paralogisms and Antinomies,
naturally impels us to postulate that the unknown does indeed have
certain features, but these further speculations are inherently

The only legitimate, "scientific" metaphysics that the future may
hold, Kant therefore held, would be a thoroughly critical,
non-speculative examination of the bounds of pure reason, a careful
description of what we can know accompanied by a clear recognition
that our transcendental concepts (however useful they may seem) are
entirely unreliable as guides to the nature of reality. It is this
task, of course, that Kant himself had pursued in the First Critique."


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