On 26 Aug 2010, at 18:37, David Nyman wrote:
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 centres 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
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,
I am not necessarily opposed to such view. It may depend on some
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 emphasise 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
Are you sure? Not all reductionists will agree. Perhaps James D.
Watson (co-discoverer of the helical structure of DNA) would agree. I
have heard that Watson believes only in atoms, and when someone asked
him if he believed also in molecules, he would have said: No! Only
But most reductionist would say that they believe in atom and in their
properties, and this makes it possible to enter in a great variety of
different combinations having themselves even more non trivial
properties. Why would a reductionist be committed in saying that such
higher level features do not exist?
In my opinion such reductionist will have a difficulty to explain
consciousness and private subjective experience, but not other third
person describable properties. In my opinion physics and chemistry can
explain why an avogadro number of H20 leads to wetness (but not to the
wetness qualia unless they can explain electron and quarks from only
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.
I understand this. Actually this is like the neoplatonist Gods, who
are usually rather dumb. They are lost in the infinities of details
But again, nobody should be interested in the rather unavailable God
perspective: if molecules and cells notions are available from the
perspective of some group of molecules or cells, that is all what
counts from *their* perspective.
Don't need them. More rigorously,
they *must not be invoked* because they *do not exist*.
Like in quantum field theory. There is nothing but a vast unique
field. But again, it is in the nature of that field to have many
singularities capable of playing the role of particles etc. And
particles will need to exist ... only from the perspective of
particles or organized group of particles.
need to exist, because the machine doesn't need them to carry all the
load and do all the work.
I am not sure. It would be like saying that prime numbers don't exist
because they can be defined entirely in term of addition and
multiplication. But usually we say that prime numbers exist *because*
some number have this and that relation with some numbers.
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
Only in God's eye. But who cares? Well, probably God, and that is
probably why he will try to forget for awhile who he is and why he
will lost himself in his creation .... ;-)
The hypothesis was that base-level events
are self-sufficient and consequently must be granted metaphysical (and
hence "physical") reality.
Or "arithmetical" reality. It depends of the chosen theory.
Nothing else is required to explain why
the machine exists and works,
That is because, like the non eliminativist reductionist, you endow
the basic components with basic (but rich) properties. If not, you can
not even talk about machines. Any machine is already an abstract
organization of some primitive elements (emerging or not from deeper
so nothing else need - or indeed can non-
question-beggingly - be postulated.
But in elementary arithmetic, you can prove the existence of numbers
with very long and complex high level properties. You don't need to
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.
We have to postulate or agree on consciousness, and on a minimal
amount of consciousness content, like the numbers (for example).
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
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.
I don't see why.
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.
But the reductionist will explain the integrative part through the
properties of its elementary objects. Like we can explain why a number
develops point of view relatively to some universal numbers, etc. Or
like we can explain why observer "see" the quantum wave collapse,
despite they don't exist in the Quantum-God's eye.
There is, as it were, a
spectrum that extends from maximal fragmentation to maximal
integration, and neither extreme by itself suffices.
Yes. That will explain the variety of necessary internal views.
Internal modalities gives the necessary contingencies (BD<something>,
or [ ]<>(something)).
The only mystery
is why anyone would ever think it would.
The fundamental ontology may be simple. A quantum topology for a
physicalist, elementary arithmetic for the mechanist. The rest is
internal relative perspectives. This is clear in physics from Galileo
to Everett, and it should be clear now in mathematics or arithmetics
with mechanism, which has the advantage to explain not just the high
level relations between the quanta (the sharable chunks of reality)
but also the high level relation between the quanta and the qualia,
the sensible and non directly sharable chunks of reality. (But this
capital nuance is not of concern here).
Or am I just missing
something obvious as usual?
We don't have to explain how God believes in "us, them, this and
that". We have to explain why *we* believe in those things, and may be
in God. By God I mean the fundamental reality by-definition (be it
arithmetical truth of quantum topological truth, or the bearded male
outside the universe, whatever...).
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