John Mikes wrote:
Dear Brent, just a tiny (but fundamental?) question. You wrote (never mind 'on' what): /"One can look at them that way, but ARE they that way?"/

It was Rex who wrote that.
// /the BIG question: are we in any position to identify 'real existence' *(are)* vs. our assumptions - what we like to call here 'descriptions'? There are so many as/pre/sumed thought experimental descriptions floating around that it takes a superhuman mind to scroll back ALL with ALL consequences included and arrive at a "pristine primitive" - if at all possible. Even in such case: _OUR judgement_ is completely blurred by the interpretations our mind(set) formulates anything into, based on its limited computing (we call it 'tissue-work?' with genetically differential origination?) plus the previously absorbed experience (memory etc.) subjected to a 'human'(?) logic what we cannot surpass (our mind?). / // /So how do we distinguish "What - I S - ?"/

I don't think we do. We formulate our theory/model of the world. If it works we provisionally accept it as a good description of the world. It might be true, but even it is we'll never *know* with certainty it is; it will always be provisional for us. And the lesson of history is that it will be subsumed with a better, more accurate or more comprehesive theory in the future.

Brent

/ /
// /Bruno makes it easy: *"leave it to the universal machine"* - but I am afraid that anyone of us imagining a universal machine and its given information (interview?) (no matter if accepting the exclusivity of arithmetical aspects, or not) still hovers within our presently applicable HUMAN terms and explanations of OUR mind. It was different for Thomas Aquinas, for Newton, for Moses, or the Vedaic sages, but WE have OUR vocabulary and meaning-glossary to use, following our present 'ways' - and we use it that way. / // /Excuse me if I do not refer to the rest of your very valuable post, I just wanted to shoot at a presumption that bothers my agnosticism./ // /Best regards/ // /John Mikes/ // //

On Sat, Jan 16, 2010 at 2:06 AM, Rex Allen <rexallen...@gmail.com <mailto:rexallen...@gmail.com>> wrote:

    On Fri, Jan 15, 2010 at 12:05 AM, Brent Meeker
    <meeke...@dslextreme.com <mailto:meeke...@dslextreme.com>> wrote:
    > Rex Allen wrote:
    >>
    >> On Thu, Jan 14, 2010 at 10:16 PM, Stathis Papaioannou
    >> <stath...@gmail.com <mailto:stath...@gmail.com>> wrote:
    >>
    >>>
    >>> There is no real distinction between the different
    possibilities you
    >>> mention, but evolution has programmed me to think that I am a
    single
    >>> individual travelling in the forward direction through time.
    >>>
    >>
    >> How did evolution do that?  By what means?  Using what causal
    powers?
    >>
    >> Evolution can't really be used as an explanation for anything
    can it?
    >>  Evolution is just a useful fictional narrative that helps us think
    >> about what we observe.
    >>
    >> For example, if deterministic physicalism is true, then the initial
    >> configuration of matter at the universe’s first instant, plus the
    >> causal laws that govern the subsequent behavior of this matter as
    >> applied over 13.7 billion years fully determines the current
    state of
    >> the universe today.
    >>
    >> In this case, there is nothing for evolution to do. It is purely a
    >> description of what we observe, not an explanation of it. The
    state of
    >> the world is today was fixed by the initial conditions plus the
    causal
    >> laws of physics.  Any explanation for the way you are lies
    there, not
    >> with "evolution".
    >>
    >> There is no “competition” for survival. There is no “selection”.
    >> Instead, events involving fundamental particles unfold as they
    must…in
    >> the only way that they can.
    >>
    >> When we say “competition among creatures”, what we really mean
    is “it
    >> is as though there were competition among creatures”. Because what
    >> really exists are fundamental particles (quantum fields, strings,
    >> whatever), not “creatures”. It is only in our minds that we take
    >> collections of quarks and electrons and form them into creatures.
    >>
    >> Since they aren't fundamental laws, evolution and natural selection
    >> have no causal power.  We just speak of them as if they did.
    >>
    >> Further, even allowing for some kind of quantum randomness still
    >> doesn’t give “evolution” anything to do. Though it does muddy the
    >> water a bit.
    >>
    >> Right?  Or wrong?
    >>
    >

    > You invoke physical determinism and causal laws - but you can look
    > at those too as "merely descriptions".

    One can look at them that way, but ARE they that way?

    If the current state of the universe is a necessary consequence of
    it's initial state, then "causal laws" are what provide the necessary
    aspect of the relationship.  In this case, any question about why
    things are the way they are today can be "transformed" into a question
    about the initial state of the universe and the particular causal laws
    that govern it.  But what explains those things?  Presumably there is
    no explanation.  They just are that way.  So anything you say about
    them is merely a description of the way they are.

    BUT, if the current state of the universe could have been otherwise,
    even given it's initial state, then you are definitely correct, the
    "causal laws" are merely descriptions of how things happen to have
    happened.

    Surely there is some fact of the matter as to which of the above is
    the case, don't you think?  Though they both seem to lead to the same
    conclusion:  ultimately there is no explanation for the current state
    of the universe.


    > Evolution assumes randomness, whether epistemic or inherent it
    serves to
    > explain.

    So, again, surely there is some fact of the matter.  Either
    deterministic physicalism is true of the reality we experience, or it
    is false.

    Epistemic randomness is just the appearance of randomness from the
    subjective viewpoint of some observer...not actual randomness.  So in
    this view, the appearance of evolution would not make evolution a true
    theory in the deterministic world as it actually exists.  Evolution
    would be a kind of shorthand, or mnemonic, or a metaphor to help our
    limited intellects think about what actually exists...fundamental
    entities and causal laws.

    Unconstrained inherent randomness would seem to be pure chaos...which
    would occasionally give the appearance of deterministic order, but
    this would be a temporary illusion.  Any appearance of evolution here
    would also be illusory.

    A second kind of non-deterministic system would be a deterministic
    system with some inherently random variable as input, where the
    randomness is "clamped" and used to drive some aspect of the
    deterministic part of the system.  For instance, a slot machine which
    used some source of true randomness to generate a number which would
    be used to control the spin behavior of the reels.  The randomness
    only shows up in a very restricted way.  In THIS case, evolution would
    still have to be reduced to the structure of the deterministic part of
    the system and how it constrains the any random aspects.  The actual
    "random numbers" that come up can't be explained...they're random.
    The way the system reacts to these random inputs is exactly the same
    as it would react to psuedo-random inputs.  Which really turns it back
    into a case of "epistemic randomness".

    The key thing is that evolution and natural selection have to be
    "cashed out" in terms of something more fundamental, with nothing left
    over.

    As a side note, the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics
    counts as deterministic physicalism, correct?

    > Yet evolution, like physical laws,
    > have predictive value.  They go beyond just describing what has
    already been
    > seen.

    What is your theory as to why our predictions are ever correct?
    Evolution doesn't count as an answer since it has to be cashed out in
    terms of some more fundamental theory, right?  To answer "evolution"
    is dodging the question.

    If you are assuming deterministic physicalism, then the first thing is
    to place you and your predictions inside of your physicalist world
    view. So your predictions are *caused* by past events, which were
    themselves caused, and so on - back to either a first “uncaused
    cause”, or back along an infinite chain of prior causes.

    In this view, what “explains” the success of your predictions?
    Well…there is no explanation.  Your prediction was correct because
    that’s just the way the universe is. Both your prediction AND it’s
    success were completely determined by the initial state of the
    universe 13.7 billion years ago, plus the laws of physics that we
    have.

    Since the universe’s initial state has no explanation, then neither
    does anything that follows from it, since they can only be explained
    in terms of something which is itself unexplained. Ultimately, things
    just are the way they are.

    We develop plausible narratives that fit with how this world appears
    to us.  As it turns out, the world is a pretty consistent place, so
    the way that things appear to us today is pretty similar to the way
    they appeared yesterday, and so it seems reasonable to extend these
    descriptive narratives to predict how things will appear to us
    tomorrow.

    But why this consistency over time in the world? Well, apparently
    there is no reason for this crucial quality, that’s just the way
    things are.


    >
    > So what do you consider a 'real' explanation?
    >

    I'd say an explanation must be tailored to the intended meaning of
    some question.

    Let's take the question "Why am I here?"  What qualifies as a "real"
    explanation will be any set of statements that evokes a feeling of
    comprehension in the questioner.

    So:

    1)  The person asking the question may be interested in some subset of
    the sequence of events that lead to their current state.  For
    instance, historical information on thier ancestors.  In this case a
    descriptive genealogy that only goes back a couple of hundred years
    might serve as an explanation.

    2)  Or, the person may be asking for some description of the chain of
    reasoning (their own or someone else's) that led to their current
    state...e.g., "Why did you bring me here?", or "Why did I invest all
    my money in pork-belly futures?"

    3) OR, they could be asking a broader question about the nature of
    reality...what is "it" that has led to their subjective experience of
    existence?  What is the underlying nature of reality?

    For questions that are limited in scope, explanations are (relatively)
    easy...in that they boil down to some sort of description of the way
    things are (or were).  I give you a description and you take it as an
    explanation.

    But, questions don't have to be limited in scope.  Which leads to the
    further question of what kind of description could possibly evoke a
    feeling of comprehension for this type of question?

    I would say that all that we can know are our perceptions, what we
    consciously experience. From this we can derive all sorts of beliefs
    about the way things *really* are. But these beliefs inevitably
    involve unproved assumptions.

    Therefore it seems to me that the fewer unproved assumptions, the
    better. And it seems to me that the theory with the fewest of these is
    that conscious experience is fundamental. Conscious experience is what
    *really* exists and everything else is just an aspect of it.

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