Thanks for the quote and the link - and your own thoughts, of course.
Yes, I've always had the queasy feeling that most of what is generally
accepted to be manifest from God's perspective is actually acquired by
bare-faced, if mostly unconscious, metaphysical larceny.  But this
theft has been so regularly and blithely perpetrated by so many
people, with such impeccable credentials, that I am still inclined at
times to suspect some residual misunderstanding or naivety on my own
part.  I suppose that evolution has equipped us with such an
instinctive commitment to naturalism that it has become like one of
those insidious computer viruses that resists attempts to eliminate it
by immediately re-creating itself.

In some ways, the notorious "hard problem" might be less
controversially recast in the form of the question: Given the
metaphysical posit of some pole of maximal fragmentation, what is the
genesis and metaphysical status of its composite counter-poles?  After
all, nobody, even the most ardently committed "eliminativist", seeks
to controvert the manifest relevance of the "counter-poles", even
whilst being quite blind to the questions begged by their uncritical
assumption.  And in the absence of any intelligible possibility of an
"outside view", the answer, as you correctly state, must be
inextricably bound up with "what it is like to be an observer in our
world".  Under such constraint, it can hardly remain controversial
that all observational evidence must somehow be obtained "from the
inside" - after all, where else is there?  Rather, what seems to
require explication is how micro- and macro-scopic poles interweave in
the synthesis of an apparently stable, shared composite world.


On 26 August 2010 21:37, Stephen P. King <> wrote:
> 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,
> Stephen
> -----Original Message-----
> From:
> [] 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?
> David
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