Dear David,

        Very well said! Let me add a quote from Carlo Rovelli (in the
context of discussions of the notion of observation in QM) found in "Quo
Vadis Quantum Mechanics?" (ed. Elitzur, Dolev and Kolenda):

"My main suggestion is to forbid ourselves to use the point of view of God.
Do not compare two different observers, unless you are, for instance, a
third observer who interacts with the two. In order to make this comparison
you have a quantum mechanical interaction. So, very simply, the answer is
like that of special relativity: I am telling you that, with respect to this
observer, this comes first and this comes second. Intuitively one might
think that this cannot be. But really there is no contradiction."

        It seems to me that the assumption of the *observer at infinity* in
modern physics (and its intersections with mathematics and philosophy)
and/or the ansatz of "context-free" and/or "coordinate-free" plays
essentially the same role as God did in classical era thought. I claim that
it is the failure to critically examine the logical consequences of this
tacit assumption or postulate that is a source of problems and paradox in
our attempts to move understanding of our Universe forward. Like it or not,
there is a reality to *what it is like to be an observer* in our world and
any denial of its reality, however illusory or epiphenomenal that might be,
does not help our understanding. Failure to confront the Hard Problem with
eliminatist propositions is thus argued to be at best intellectual timidity.

Kindest regards,


-----Original Message-----
[] On Behalf Of David Nyman
Sent: Thursday, August 26, 2010 12:38 PM
To: Everything List
Subject: What's wrong with this?

I've been waking up with a persistent thought again, prompted this time by
the way many mainstream philosophers of mind seem to unconsciously adopt a
particularly insidious form of direct realism, whilst being quite blind to
it.  It centers on the idea of extreme physical reductionism, which I take
to be the hypothesis that all composite phenomena can be completely recast,
in principle, in the form of a causally complete and closed "ground level"
account of non- composite micro-physical events.  I'm not concerned at this
point whether such a restrictive view is "true", or whether it is at odds
with digital mechanism etc., but only that I take it to be a core assumption
from which numerous people, including many philosophers, derive theories of
the mental.  I want to argue that the consequences of such a view are
perhaps more radically restrictive than commonly assumed.

If we could remove ourselves from the universe and take a strict
reductionist-god's eye view (which means having to drop all our usual mental
categories - a very hard thing to achieve imaginatively) then, strictly
adhering to the above hypothesis, all that would remain would be some
ground-level physical machine grinding along, without the need for
additional composite or macroscopic posits.  Take your pick from current
theory what is supposed to represent this "machine", but that needn't
necessarily be at issue for the purpose of the argument.  The point is that
removing everything composite from the picture supposedly results in zero
difference at the base level - same events, same "causality".

I should stress, again, I'm not personally committed to this view - it seems
indeed highly problematic - but it is what the recipe says.
Now, just to emphasize the point, when I say it's a hard thing to do this
imaginatively, I mean that it isn't permissible to "look back"
from this reductionist-god's eye view and continue to conjure familiar
composite entities from the conjectural base components, because
reductionism is a commitment to the proposition that these don't exist.
Whatever composite categories we might be tempted to have recourse to - you
know: molecules, cells, bodies, planets, ideas, explanations, theories, the
whole ball of wax - none of these are available from this perspective.
Don't need them.  More rigorously, they *must not be invoked* because they
*do not exist*.  They don't need to exist, because the machine doesn't need
them to carry all the load and do all the work.

Now, many people might be prompted to object at this point "that's not
reducing, that's eliminating" as though these terms could be kept distinct.
But I'm arguing that reductionism, consistently applied, is inescapably
eliminative.  The hypothesis was that base-level events are self-sufficient
and consequently must be granted metaphysical (and hence "physical")
reality.  Nothing else is required to explain why the machine exists and
works, so nothing else need - or indeed can non- question-beggingly - be
postulated.  If we really feel we must insist that there is something
metaphysically indispensable above and beyond this (and it would seem that
we have good reason to) we must look for an additional metaphysical
somewhere to locate these somethings.

Essentially we now have two options.  We can follow Kant in locating them in
a metaphysically real synthetic first-person category that transcends the
ground-level (which stands here, approximately, for the "thing-in-itself").
The alternative - and this is the option that many philosophers seem to
adopt by some "directly real" sleight-of- intuition - is that we somehow
locate them "out there" right on top of the micro-physical account.  It's
easy to do: just look damn you, there they are, can't you see them?  And in
any case, one wants to protest, how can one predict, explain or comprehend
anything above the ground floor *without* such categories?  Yes, that is
indeed the very question.  But the reductionist-god's eye view (if we've
done it
right) should convince us - weirdly, but unavoidably - that they just aren't
automatically "out there", metaphysically, at our disposal.  If this eludes
us, it can only be because we've fallen into the error of retaining these
indispensable organising categories intact, naturally but illicitly, whilst
attempting this imaginative feat.  Unfortunately this is to beg the very
questions we seek to answer.

I suppose the nub of this for me is that - whether we consider ourselves
monist or dualist, or amongst the ontological uncommitted - we have need of
both analytic and integrative principles to account for the states of
affairs that confront us.  There is, as it were, a spectrum that extends
from maximal fragmentation to maximal integration, and neither extreme by
itself suffices.  The only mystery is why anyone would ever think it would.
Or am I just missing something obvious as usual?


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