On Mon, Nov 29, 2010 at 2:36 AM, Jason Resch <jasonre...@gmail.com> wrote:
> On Sun, Nov 28, 2010 at 10:15 PM, Rex Allen <rexallen31...@gmail.com> wrote:
>> On Sat, Nov 27, 2010 at 4:06 PM, Jason Resch <jasonre...@gmail.com> wrote:
>>> On Sat, Nov 27, 2010 at 12:49 PM, Rex Allen <rexallen31...@gmail.com>
>>> wrote:
>>>> "Information" is just a catch-all term for "what is being
>>>> represented".  But, as you say, the same information can be
>>>> represented in *many* different ways, and by many different
>>>> bit-patterns.
>>>> And, of course, any set of bits can be interpreted as representing any
>>>> information.  You just need the right "one-time pad" to XOR with the
>>>> bits, and viola!  The magic is all in the interpretation.  None of it
>>>> is in the bits.  And interpretation requires an interpreter.
>>> I agree with this completely.  Information alone, such as bits on a hard
>>> disk are meaningless without a corresponding program that reads them.
>>>  Would
>>> you admit then, that a computer which interprets bits the same way as a
>>> brain could be conscious?  Isn't this mechanism?  Or is your view more
>>> like
>>> the Buddhist idea that there is no thinker, only thought?
>> Right, my view is that there is no thinker, only thought.
> Do you believe as you type these responses into your computer you are
> helping bring new thoughts into existence?

Bringing "new" thoughts into existence?  No, I don't think I'm doing
anything like that.  To the extent that "I" exist at all, I do so only
as a spectator to thought, not as a generator of it.

Though, you do introduce here the question of time.  Since my position
is that only conscious experience exists...time can only be an aspect
of conscious experience, not something that exists in addition to
conscious experience.

As I mentioned to Bruno earlier, even assuming physicalism, we can
only be consciously aware of what is represented by the neural
structure of our brains.  Our awareness of time can only be of our
internal representation of it.  We can't be directly aware of the
external passage of time, can we?

So I would say that time exists within conscious experience, conscious
experience doesn't exist within time.  All experiences that exist, do
so eternally and timelessly.  There are no "new" thoughts coming into

> If I understood the other
> threads you cited on accidentalism, it seems as though you do not believe
> anything is caused.  Wouldn't that lead to the conclusion that responding to
> these threads is pointless?

Well, there is the possibility that I'm wrong and that someone will
point out something I've overlooked.

Other than that, ya it's pointless.  And yet I do it.  Damn my lack of
free will...

>> Once you accept that the conscious experience of a rock exists, what
>> purpose does the actual rock serve? It's superfluous. If the rock can
>> "just exist", then the experience of the rock can "just exist" too -
>> entirely independent of the rock.
> Believing thought alone exists doesn't give any explanation for why I see a
> relatively ordered screen with text and icons I understand, compared to
> something like this:
> http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/a0/Tux_secure.jpg
> There are far more possible thoughts that consist of a visual field that
> looks random, do you find it surprising you happen to be a thought which is
> so compressible?

Nope.  Meillassoux addresses your mistaken feeling of surprise in his paper:

"Such an astonishment thus rests upon reasoning that is dearly
probabilistic.  The anthropist begins by being surprised by a
coincidence too strong to be imputed to chance alone, and then infers
the idea of an enigmatic finality having predetermined our universe to
comprise the initial constants and givens which render possible the
emergence of man.  Anthropism thus reactivates a classical topos of
finalist thought: the remarking of the existence of a highly-ordered
reality (inherent to the organised and thinking being) whose cause
cannot reasonably be imputed to chance alone, and which consequently
imposes the hypothesis of a hidden finality.

Now, we can see in what way the critique of the probabilist sophism
permits us to challenge such a topos in a new way."

> Accepting that rocks exist allows the understanding that some of these rocks
> have the right conditions for live to develop on them, and evolve brains to
> use to understand the worlds they appear on.

Which all sounds very neat, if taken out of context.

But what is the significance of evolving brains?  What is evolution?
What causes it?

What is the significance of understanding worlds?  Let's just assume
deterministic physicalism.  In that case, such understanding was baked
in from the first instant of existence wasn't it?  It isn't a
surprising accomplishment...it was inevitable.

Even moving to probabilistic laws just adds a constrained element of chance.

> The thoughts of those life
> forms is not likely to look like random snow, since that would not be useful
> for their survival.

The contents of thoughts and the survival of the thinker are caused by
the same thing...the initial conditions and causal laws of the

The contents of thoughts do not cause the survival of the thinker.

Like 1Z, you're assigning causal power to abstractions that only exist
"for you".

> If I start with thought as primitive, and try to
> explain that thought under accidental idealism I can go no further.  While
> it explains the existence of thought (by definition) it seems like an
> intellectual dead end.

It's an answer that doesn't generate any additional questions...so
it's an "end" in that sense.

So there can only be one ultimate answer:  there is no reason for the
way things are.

That's it.

Supposed "answers" that introduce unexplained causal laws or entities
are vulnerable to the same questions they were introduced to explain.

What explains the order of our experiences?  Orderly causal laws!  But
then what explains orderly causal laws?

You just end up with infinite regress.  Or an unexplained first cause.
 Or some sort of circular reasoning.  This is a sign that you're on
the wrong path.

>> Once you accept the existence of conscious experiences, what purpose
>> does the brain serve? It's superfluous. If the brain can "just exist",
>> then the experiences supposedly caused by the brain can "just exist"
>> also.
>> If not, why not?
> Rather than say the brain causes conscious experience to exist, I think it
> is more accurate to say the brain is conscious, or the brain experiences.
> Stated this way, it isn't superfluous.

But the brain is superfluous if you accept
functionalism/computationalism.  Multiple realizeablity means that it
could be replaced by any functionally isomorphic system with no change
to experience.

So experience is something that could seemingly be common to a wide
variety of systems, even some that obey entirely different causal laws
than what is "experienced".

Right?  So, I think your point doesn't go through.

>>> Isn't this just idealism?  To me, the main problem with idealism is it
>>> doesn't explain why the thoughts we are about to experience are
>>> predictable under a framework of physical laws.
>> But then you have to explain the existence, consistency, and
>> predictability of this framework of physical laws.
> I see no reason we should abandon this goal, there is no evidence that the
> progress of human understanding has reached an impasse.

It's not a matter of human understanding reaching an impasse.

What is it exactly that we're understanding?  Truth?

What, exactly, is human understanding?

How does human understanding fit into the context of a deterministic
universe?  Probabilistic?

>> You still have the exact same questions, but now your asking them of
>> this framework instead of about your conscious experiences.  You just
>> pushed the questions back a level by introducing a layer of
>> unexplained entities.  Your explanation needs an explanation.
> Mathematical or arithmetical realism seems like a good place to stop.  It is
> easy to accept that mathematical truths simply are.

I find it easy to accept that conscious experience simply is.

That you find it easy to accept something else is neither here nor
there.  Why do you find it easy to accept?

So If you start with some set of assumptions, and use certain rules of
inference, you can derive certain conclusions.

Other starting assumptions and other rules inference will lead to you
arrive at other conclusions.  There's an infinity of possible starting
assumptions and rules of inference and conclusions.

But so what?  This doesn't strike me as a suitable ontological
foundation for conscious experience.  An assumption requires an
assumer, an inference requires an inferer, and conclusion requires a

I'll agree that you can describe aspects of conscious experience using
math.  But I don't see that conscious experience *is* math, or is
generated by math.

> If it can be
> demonstrated that this leads to consciousness through some level of
> indirection then this may also explain existence, consistency and
> predictability, etc.


So I know math via conscious experience.  I've had the experience of
doing some math.

But math causes conscious experience?  And also anger, love, the
experience of seeing red?  And even experiences of doing math?

Math causes experiences of math.

Hmmmm.  I don't see how or why that would be.

>> Also, you've introduced a  new question:  How does unconscious matter
>> governed by unconscious physical laws give rise to conscious
>> experience?
> How does unconscious matter become conscious?  I think it is a similar
> question with a similar answer to "How does unliving matter become alive?"
> The answer is through the right organization.

David Chalmers addresses this here:


Perhaps the most common strategy for a type-A materialist is to
deflate the "hard problem" by using analogies to other domains, where
talk of such a problem would be misguided. Thus Dennett imagines a
vitalist arguing about the hard problem of "life", or a neuroscientist
arguing about the hard problem of "perception". Similarly, Paul
Churchland (1996) imagines a nineteenth century philosopher worrying
about the hard problem of "light", and Patricia Churchland brings up
an analogy involving "heat". In all these cases, we are to suppose,
someone might once have thought that more needed explaining than
structure and function; but in each case, science has proved them
wrong. So perhaps the argument about consciousness is no better.

This sort of argument cannot bear much weight, however. Pointing out
that analogous arguments do not work in other domains is no news: the
whole point of anti-reductionist arguments about consciousness is that
there is a disanalogy between the problem of consciousness and
problems in other domains. As for the claim that analogous arguments
in such domains might once have been plausible, this strikes me as
something of a convenient myth: in the other domains, it is more or
less obvious that structure and function are what need explaining, at
least once any experiential aspects are left aside, and one would be
hard pressed to find a substantial body of people who ever argued

When it comes to the problem of life, for example, it is just obvious
that what needs explaining is structure and function: How does a
living system self-organize? How does it adapt to its environment? How
does it reproduce? Even the vitalists recognized this central point:
their driving question was always "How could a mere physical system
perform these complex functions?", not "Why are these functions
accompanied by life?" It is no accident that Dennett's version of a
vitalist is "imaginary". There is no distinct "hard problem" of life,
and there never was one, even for vitalists.

In general, when faced with the challenge "explain X", we need to ask:
what are the phenomena in the vicinity of X that need explaining, and
how might we explain them? In the case of life, what cries out for
explanation are such phenomena as reproduction, adaptation,
metabolism, self-sustenance, and so on: all complex functions. There
is not even a plausible candidate for a further sort of property of
life that needs explaining (leaving aside consciousness itself), and
indeed there never was. In the case of consciousness, on the other
hand, the manifest phenomena that need explaining are such things as
discrimination, reportability, integration (the functions), and
experience. So this analogy does not even get off the ground.


> I think a conscious
> organization of matter is a process that is aware of information.

So I have my conception of matter.  And I have my conception of
information.  And I have my direct knowledge of conscious experience.

But I don't see any combination of matter and information, as I
conceive them at least, that adds up to conscious experience.

Maybe you have some other conception of matter and infomation, or
maybe your conscious experience isn't the same as mine though.

So, as I've said, I find it quite plausible that one can represent the
contents of conscious experience using quarks and electrons or

If you were to set up a computer simulation that "represents" how my
conscious experience might change over time, then you could interpret
that system as being me.

But I don't see how representation could give rise to consciousness as
I experience it.  My experience isn't of being made a particular
arrangment of quarks and electrons.  My experience is of something
else entirely.

So there would have to be some principle that connects arrangements of
quarks and electrons to the conscious experience of sitting under a
tree.  And I don't see any such principle being articulated.

Bruno usually comes in with something about self-reference and lobian
machines at about this point.  And sure, you can represent
self-reference in logic.  But again, I see no reason that being able
to represent "X" in any way brings "X" into existence or explains
"X's" existence.

Logic is something that people do.  Logic isn't something that creates
people or explains there existence.  Bruno has it exactly backwards.

>> Meillassoux's solution uses Cantorian detotalization to counter
>> proposed resolutions to Hume's "problem of induction" that involve
>> probabilistic logic depending upon a totality of cases.
>> Meillassoux's main point with this digression into Cantorian set
>> theory is that just as there can be no end to the process of set
>> formation and thus no such thing as the totality of all sets, there is
>> also no absolute totality of all possible cases.
>> In other words:  There is no "set of all possible worlds".  And thus
>> "we cannot legitimately construct any set within which the foregoing
>> probabilistic reasoning could make sense."
> What about idealism, is there no "set of all possible thoughts"?  If not,
> what are the implications for your theory?

Meillassoux's point is not that there are no possible thoughts, but
rather that the collection of possible thoughts aren't a set...not
even an infinite set.

"In short, we begin by giving ourselves a set of possible cases, each
one representing a conceivable world having as much chance as the
others of being chosen in the end, and conclude from this that it is
infinitely improbable that our own universe should constantly be drawn
by chance from such a set, unless a hidden necessity presided secretly
over the result.

Now, if this reasoning cannot be justified, it is because there does
not truly exist any means to construct a set of possible universes
within which the notion of probability could still be employed. The
only two means for determining a universe of cases are recourse to
experience, or recourse to a mathematical construction capable of
justifying unaided the cardinality (the 'size') of the set of possible
worlds. Now, both of these paths are equally blocked here."

>> Things might be that way.  But this requires an explanation of the
>> existence of the information and the interpreter.  And then an
>> explanation of the explanation.  And then an explanation of the
>> explanation of the explanation.  And so on.
> Once you get to mathematical truth, will you really need an explanation for
> why 1 + 0 = 1?

How did I get to mathematical truth?  But what process?  What explains
that process?  Why that process instead of some other process?

Why do any such processes exist at all?

How do I know that the process has caused me to believe something that
is actually true instead of only "hallucinogenically" true?

Also, what is mathematical truth?  Isn't it essentially tautological?

"Everything that is a proposition of logic has got to be in some sense
or the other like a tautology. It has got to be something that has
some peculiar quality, which I do not know how to define, that belongs
to logical propositions but not to others." -- Bertrand Russell

>> Down the rabbit hole of infinite regress.  Doesn't seem promising, and
>> doesn't seem necessary.
>> Why not just accept accidental idealism?
>> Rex
> It doesn't seem to lead to anything fruitful, but perhaps I do not
> understand it well enough.

It's an answer to a metaphysical question:  What is the nature of existence?

What leads you to believe that this question *should* have a useful answer?

Accidental idealism has nothing to do with physics.  It is purely
about metaphysics.

Physics and metaphysics are two different things...which is why there
are two separate terms.

Physics is about usefulness.  Metaphysics is about the nature of existence.

Physics is about the ways in which facts can be connected.
Metaphysics is about what it means that there are any facts to start

Physics doesn't require metaphysics, though for contingent reasons may
profit from it.

Metaphysics doesn't require physics, though for contingent reasons may
profit from it.

> Do you see it providing any answers of the
> following questions:
> Why are there thoughts about brains?

Why are there brains?  Why are there physical laws that govern the
function of brains?  Why those physical laws instead of some other
physical laws?  Why do physical laws continue to hold over time?

And for each answer you may propose, what explains that answer?  What
are things that way instead of some other way?  If there's something
that enforces the consistency of physical laws - then what enforces
the consistency of the enforcer?

The only possible answer is:  there is no reason that there are
thoughts about brains.

But given the problems introduced by "multiple realizability" and the
possibilities of "dishonest" universes, the existence of brains seems
questionable anyway.

However, the existence of *thoughts* about brains is beyond question.
I've had them myself!

> Why can my thoughts contain memories of successful predictions made with an
> understanding of physics?

Same as above.

> What is my thought likely to be 10 seconds from now?

My?  What is the nature of personhood?  What is time?  Does the term
"now" have objective significance or only subjective significance?

> Why is my thought compressible rather than incompressible randomness?

There is no reason for that.

How do *you* explain this fact?

> Why do my thoughts contain ideas about a many billion year history of
> evolution?

Because billions of years of evolution seems consistent with your
observations.  But "seems consistent with your observations" and "is
true" are two entirely different things.

Why do you think your thoughts contain ideas about a many billion year
history of evolution?  Presumably something causes your thoughts to
contain these ideas...but why?  And what does it mean that this is the


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