I don't think that having different concepts or perspectives means that
people don't know what they are talking about. Free will is a concept which
is so fundamental that it is literally necessary to have free will before
you can ask the question of what it is. I think that it is the claim that
we don't know or can't know what words like free will and consciousness
refer to which are more of a distraction.
In the days before computers, physicists and mathematicians spent decades
poring over there slide rules and logarithm tables. Some made new
discoveries, but most did not. I don't see any difference with
philosophical debate. Not everyone wants to be limited to thinking about
things which can be detected by inanimate objects. I wouldn't waste my time
focusing so narrowly on that aspect of the universe, but I wouldn't
begrudge someone else that right. Why should it bother me if people argue
about esoteric terms or count blips from a particle accelerator?
On Friday, September 6, 2013 2:34:51 PM UTC-4, John Clark wrote:
> This is what gives philosophers a bad name! In just one day people have
> sent the following philosophical gems to the list, enough hot air to
> signifacantly contribute to global warming,
> * I also do not “KNOW” whether or not I really do have “free will”. But
> if I do [blah blah]
> * How do you explain the experience of “free will” then?
> * The experience of free will is not a snap shot, instead it [blah blah]
> * If free will exists (and also of course that we have it) then [blah blah]
> * If instead free will does not in fact exist, then [blah blah]
> * consciousness necessarily must exist in the first place in order for
> free will to exist.
> * Are you maintain that the experience of free will does not itself exist?
> * Can you conceive of “free will” without introducing a subject in which
> it arises and is experienced?
> And so it goes, on and on arguing about if free will exists or not, but
> never once does anybody stop to ask what the hell "free will" means before
> giving their opinion about it's existence. People argue passionately but
> they don't know what they're talking about, by that I don't mean that what
> they are saying is wrong, I mean that they quite literally DON'T KNOW WHAT
> THEY'RE TALKING ABOUT.
> When he was a student at Princeton Richard Feynman had an encounter with
> philosophers, years later this is what he had to say about it and why he
> developed a contempt not for philosophy but for philosophers. I gave this
> quotation before but apparently it needs repeating:
> "In the Graduate College dining room at Princeton everybody used to sit
> with his own group. I sat with the physicists, but after a bit I thought:
> It would be nice to see what the rest of the world is doing, so I'll sit
> for a week or two in each of the other groups.
> When I sat with the philosophers I listened to them discuss very seriously
> a book called Process and Reality by Whitehead. They were using words in a
> funny way, and I couldn't quite understand what they were saying. Now I
> didn't want to interrupt them in their own conversation and keep asking
> them to explain something, and on the few occasions that I did, they'd try
> to explain it to me, but I still didn't get it. Finally they invited me to
> come to their seminar.
> They had a seminar that was like, a class. It had been meeting once a week
> to discuss a new chapter out of Process and Reality - some guy would give a
> report on it and then there would be a discussion. I went to this seminar
> promising myself to keep my mouth shut, reminding myself that I didn't know
> anything about the subject, and I was going there just to watch.
> What happened there was typical - so typical that it was unbelievable, but
> true. First of all, I sat there without saying anything, which is almost
> unbelievable, but also true. A student gave a report on the chapter to be
> studied that week. In it Whitehead kept using the words "essential object"
> in a particular technical way that presumably he had defined, but that I
> didn't understand.
> After some discussion as to what "essential object" meant, the professor
> leading the seminar said something meant to clarify things and drew
> something that looked like lightning bolts on the blackboard. "Mr.
> Feynman," he said, "would you say an electron is an 'essential object'?"
> Well, now I was in trouble. I admitted that I hadn't read the book, so I
> had no idea of what Whitehead meant by the phrase; I had only come to
> watch. "But," I said, "I'll try to answer the professor's question if you
> will first answer a question from me, so I can have a better idea of what
> 'essential object' means.
> What I had intended to do was to find out whether they thought theoretical
> constructs were essential objects. The electron is a theory that we use; it
> is so useful in understanding the way nature works that we can almost call
> it real. I wanted to make the idea of a theory clear by analogy. In the
> case of the brick, my next question was going to be, "What about the inside
> of the brick?" - and I would then point out that no one has ever seen the
> inside of a brick. Every time you break the brick, you only see the
> surface. That the brick has an inside is a simple theory which helps us
> understand things better. The theory of electrons is analogous. So I began
> by asking, "Is a brick an essential object?"
> Then the answers came out. One man stood up and said, "A brick as an
> individual, specific brick. That is what Whitehead means by an essential
> Another man said, "No, it isn't the individual brick that is an essential
> object; it's the general character that all bricks have in common - their
> 'brickiness' - that is the essential object."
> Another guy got up and said, "No, it's not in the bricks themselves.
> 'Essential object' means the idea in the mind that you get when you think
> of bricks."
> Another guy got up, and another, and I tell you I have never heard such
> ingenious different ways of looking at a brick before. And, just like it
> should in all stories about philosophers, it ended up in complete chaos. In
> all their previous discussions they hadn't even asked themselves whether
> such a simple object as a brick, much less an electron, is an "essential
> John K Clark
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