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The Irrationality of Physicalism

  1. Jul 29, 2010 #1
    If physicalism (e.g. Scientific Realism) is true, then our beliefs and experiences are a result of the universe’s initial conditions and causal laws (which may have a probabilistic aspect).

    Therefore, assuming physicalism, we don’t present or believe arguments for reasons of logic or rationality. Instead, the arguments that we present and believe are those entailed by the physics that underlies our experiences.

    It is *possible* that we live in a universe whose initial conditions and causal laws are such that our arguments *are* logical. But in a physicalist framework that’s not why we present or believe those arguments. The fact that the arguments may be logical is superfluous to why we make or believe them.

    Obviously there’s nothing that says that our physically generated experiences and beliefs have to be true or logical. In fact, we have dreams, hallucinations, delusions, schizophrenics, and madmen as proof that there is no such requirement.

    So arguing for physicalism is making an argument that states that no one presents or believes arguments for reasons of logic.

    Note that this exact same argument can be used against any position which posits that consciousness is caused by or results from some underlying process.
     
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  3. Jul 29, 2010 #2
    I didn't really get your point. Are you saying that according to "physicalism" there's no freewill? I mean, our actions would depend solely on the initial conditions plus probabilistic events (atomic interactions)?

    If that's what you're saying, I disagree. We don't know how our minds work, but I don't believe they work according SOLELY to quantum mechanics.
     
  4. Jul 29, 2010 #3

    Pythagorean

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    But we aren't that logical of a creature 100% of the time. Logic is more of a social constraint that arises from conflicting points of view: I believe this, you believe that; we want to convince other people that we're right to justify our past or future actions. Evidence and logic are powerful ways to convince people.

    There's also genuine curiosity (which is irrational, but not unproductive). Scientists don't study systems because the scientist is inherently logical. Generally, a scientist is actually interested in the system (an emotional behavior) and is only logical about it because they are genuinely curious in how the system works.

    Overall, it seems like you're thinking in absolutes. People are logical for emotional reasons. Emotions arise as an evolutionary guide for organisms (generally, things that are bad for you are associated with bad experiences, things that are good for you are associated with good experience).

    There's also something to be said about correctly representing your environment so that you can survive longer and more comfortably in it. The more accurately you represent your environment, the better your chance of avoiding danger. Accurate representations require logic, despite their emotional motivation (to live happily).
     
  5. Jul 29, 2010 #4
    My point is that the assumption that science tells us something true about the way the world *really* is (in an ontological sense) leads to the conclusion that we can't justify our belief that science tells us something true about the way the world really is.

    In other words: If Physicalism is true, then a belief in Physicalism can't be rationally justified.

    This isn't to say that Physicalism if false. But rather that if Physicalists are correct, it's purely due to luck.

    This is related to my earlier posts, https://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=397064".


    So you are a dualist? What is the additional non-physical component to our minds, do you think?

    How do the mind and the brain interact? Is this interaction governed by rules or laws? How does the non-physical mind work? Does the non-physical mind exert causal influence in the physical world?
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 25, 2017
  6. Jul 29, 2010 #5
    Hmmmm. I don't see the relevance of these first two paragraphs...?

    Does science tell us something true about the world as it really is, or doesn't it? What is your opinion?


    Evolution. So what is evolution in a deterministic universe? It's just a description of how things have turned out, right? Not an explanation of *why* they turned out this way.

    In a deterministic universe, explanations about why things are a particular way must reduce to statements about initial conditions and causal laws, correct?

    Given a particular set of initial conditions, and a set of deterministic governing laws that control how things change over time, things can only turn out *one* way.

    Given that this is the case, what does evolution add?

    BUT, what about quantum indeterminism? Well, assuming physicalism, quantum mechanical laws would still enforce the necessity of the particular probability distributions that are observed.

    The probabilistic aspect takes place within the fixed and unchanging context of quantum mechanics. Like the randomness of the shuffle takes places within the deterministic rules of poker.

    Do the rules of poker change from one day to the next? The suits? The number of cards in the deck? Are those aspects random? No.

    Quantum mechanics has similarly fixed aspects. The randomness that is observed occurs within a fixed and apparently reliable deterministic framework.

    But even so, this still doesn't given evolution anything to do. All explanations still must reduce to statements about initial conditions and causal laws. It's just that the causal laws have a probabilistic aspect. http://platonicmindscape.blogspot.com/2010/07/determinism-vs-indeterminism.html" [Broken]

    Right? Or Wrong?
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  7. Jul 30, 2010 #6

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    Yes, science tells us something. It doesn't answer everything and it may even misrepresent things until they are better understood. But science does tell us something about reality, or else it would completely fail and there would be no interest in it.

    The answers to why may not exist, which would make it a meaningless question based on misconceptions about reality. Humans tend to personify inanimate things and I think this is a case of the same. Nature needn't have motivation for action. And as physicalism argues, neither do humans. Afterall, they're not somehow above the laws of nature (try and break any of the ones we have found).

    It depends on what kind of determinism your'e talking about. In the most general sense, no. initial conditions may not be important... but causal laws are kind of unavoidable if you want to be determining anything about a system.

    In the classical sense, yes.

    Personally, I think this is a narrow view of determinism. I think the general idea of determinism is more likely to say that it can turn out a definable *set* of ways. All that matters is causality. The causality needn't behave like mathematical functions.

    You said:

    "Therefore, assuming physicalism, we don’t present or believe arguments for reasons of logic or rationality. Instead, the arguments that we present and believe are those entailed by the physics that underlies our experiences."

    I guess what I'm saying is that this isn't particularly surprising from an evolutionary point of view, and it's not a valid argument against physicalism (which your title implies it might be).

    I generally agree that QM is still a deterministic system. I'm not sure what your point is though.
     
  8. Jul 30, 2010 #7
    Realism and Hard determinism are not synonymous.
    That's like saying I don't fart, the universe farts. Both are true of course, but when: I fart, its useful to know the source is me, in case you want to move away quickly.
    Our logic is based on our experience, that is not superfluous, its just local.
    You are simply eliminating individual identity, and folding everything into one system, the universe. However, regardless of how causality works, its clear to me that the universe is actually systems within systems. So its perfectly legitimate to attribute properties... beliefs to individual systems.
    Reductionism. It has its problems.
     
  9. Jul 30, 2010 #8
    Here you are, at first, correct. Since our brains are very good in surviving the earth enviroment, its "software" is dedicated to this enviroment and our beliefs are based on our experience. http://www.123opticalillusions.com/pages/opticalillusions40.php" [Broken]. Your brain sometimes distorts what you're seeing. In other words, you don't always see, for example, the colors as they really are, simply because you brain's "software" is limited, but that's because its made solely for your suvival. Therefore, you're correct, AT FIRST, to say: "the arguments that we present and believe are those entailed by the physics that underlies our experiences".

    I say at first because we know WHY this happened. This illusion can be explained. So yeah, at first your experience dominates, but if you take the time to analyze the situation, you can get a reponse different to the one you firstly got.

    Another example is: how on earth could the humans think of quantum mechanics? It's NOT based on our everyday physics experience, but when take the time to make experiments and analyze the results, you get a whole different answer.

    Well, I think physics is very accurate in explaining how a system without life evolves. They are governed by laws, even though some are probabilistic. But when you take into account a living organism, that's a whole different matter, and I think the argument "a living thing is made of atoms that are inanimate" doesn't hold, and I'll tell you why I believe (that's right believe) that.

    I'm an atheist and I think there's no such thing as a non-physical mind. We don't know **** about how the brain works yet. We don't know exactly how it makes a decision, how memories are kept, etc.

    For example, our memories may be kept like a DNA. I mean, the brain registers a moment you're living by arranging molecules in a certain way, then, when he wants to relive that experience, he just "plays the film" by reading those molecules. I don't know if this is the case, but it's a possibility. Of course, now and then (just like DNA mutation) there can be a error and the memory can be modified, but that's another topic.

    Decision making can be done a similar way. The brain collects information from the enviroment and runs them through its reality model, which may simply be some molecules arranged in some way, then sends signals all over the body to best respond to that moment. Since no two brains are alike, different people getting the same information from the enviroment can make different decisions.

    What I mean is, we have a LOT to learn yet, before we can know about how the universe works. I believe (believe, I have no proof, sorry) that the universe of non-living matter/energy evolves according to physical laws, some deterministic and some probabilistic, but a living being (intelligent or not) is not entirely governed by these laws, it can choose some actions over others.
     
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  10. Jul 30, 2010 #9
    Man, come on. Am I simply a horrible philosopher, or do I just take life seriously? Sometimes I feel as though people get caught up in silly academical games. Rather than say "Theory X says this, and so it follows this" in your attempt to construct a master argument, how about you truly consider the options? I'm not claiming to have THE answer. but that is simply because I am troubled by these issues and theire complexity and do not feel as though such a simplistic argument could ever do the subject justice.
    Your doing the old "Newtonian fallacy" where you model the entire world like it is a giant equation, "well, if I put in these initial conditions then it must be determined what will happen forever by the logical structure of what is happening and determinism". What is determinism? What is causality? What is the relationship between the two? Here's a vague notion to consider: Throughout philosophy and science we have been expanding our notion os causality. In Hume's time it was given that two events had to be "contiguous in space and time" and similar (he also gave the counterfactual definition), he made arguments as to how come we couldn't reason from effects to their causes and then to the cause's other effects, ala Newon's explanation of tidal forces etc. Now think of causality and the Humean problem of induction in a slightly different manner; if we model the things we see as "causally connected" using a logical structure, we couldn't say that causality is a logical structure because it may take varying forms of logical structure and not everything containing a given logical structure is causal. Think of the energy concept, this concept is, logically speaking, hard to define, yet we can use it to predict what we call "causal" relations between everything. Again what is the causal-determinist relation?
    Let's consider life, why do you insist on saying "ehhh what does evolution offer?' your too simplistic, "lets reduce everything and say there is nothing new"...No, your RIGHT there is no new "Strict physics" no new particles or fields or laws, but there is a relationship to non-linear thermodynamics, information storage and how not just physical tihngs (molecules and what not) but physical things plus their relations and structures correspond to the world. Are we to simply deny the living real aspect of reality in order to say "we have it figured out."
    Take the notion of the possibilisitc into your account, beyond a simply "therew is a probability that these paths are chosen BUT ONCE THEY ARE CHOSEN NOTHING NEW CAN FOLLOW FROM THE INITIAL CONDITIONS" come on man, what baout dynamical systems? control theory? feedback? cybernetics? are these not expanding our notions of how the world works and how it forms to the state we see it in today?.......
    Finally, you may be right about "laws having to reduce to some type of initial conditions"; but it is all about the scaling of the initial conditions, in order to predict we may have to have prior conditions to model form, but to say that all prior conditions are contained in the big bang initial conditions is ,to me silly.
     
  11. Jul 30, 2010 #10
    I never said that they were. Did you not see my parenthetical: "(which may have a probabilistic aspect)"?

    The issue isn't determinism vs. indeterminism. Rather it's about causality. Does every event that transpires have some cause (even in a probabilistic form), or doesn't it? If there are totally uncaused events, then what can we really say about reality? Why does it seem so orderly if there is no cause behind what happens?

    Note that quantum mechanical laws would still enforce the necessity of the particular probability distributions that are observed.

    The probabilistic aspect takes place within the fixed and unchanging context of quantum mechanics. Like the randomness of the shuffle takes places within the deterministic rules of poker.

    Do the rules of poker change from one day to the next? The suits? The number of cards in the deck? Are those aspects random? No.

    Quantum mechanics has similarly fixed aspects. The randomness that is observed occurs within a fixed and apparently reliable deterministic framework.

    Uh. Okay.

    Logic is an aspect of conscious experience, which has no causal role in physicalism or scientific realism.

    So, in a physicalist framework, we don't make or believe arguments because they are logical or rational.

    Rather, we believe the arguments *and* we believe that we do so because they are logical.

    But according to physicalism both beliefs are necessitated solely by the initial conditions of the universe plus the causal laws of physics (which may have a probabilistic aspect).

    You can look at it as systems within systems. Or you can look at it as one system. It doesn't make any difference. Both views have to give the same answers.

    Any properties attributed to any system still must be reducible (at least in principle) to statements about initial conditions and causal laws. Otherwise you've abandoned physicalism.

    If you aren't a physicalist, what are you?

    Yes. It does.
     
  12. Jul 30, 2010 #11
    Assuming physicalism, our brains are exactly the way they have to be given the initial conditions of the universe plus the causal laws of physics (which may have a probabilistic aspect).

    One event leads to another, which leads to another, which leads to another, and after about 13.7 billion years, we end up where we are now.

    Now, there may be some "randomness" in the connection between events, but surely you aren't arguing that this randomness isn't "constrained" in some way by some sort of governing necessity?

    If the randomness isn't constrained, how do you explain the order we see around us? Are we just on a lucky roll of dice and the order we observe could all dissolve into chaos at any moment when our luck goes cold?

    So...our brains are good at surviving on earth. So what? This observation has no significance in a physicalist/scientific realist framework.

    What do you use to analyze the situation? Your brain, right? What is your brain made of? Sub-atomic particles (or strings, or whatever) that interact according to the laws of physics. Any analysis your brain does of the situation must proceed in accordance with the laws of physics.

    So what does your statement mean then, really? We don't "analyze" the situation from outside the laws of physics. We do so using brains that are fully controlled *by* the laws of physics.

    We thought of QM with our brains, and our brains are composed from sub-atomic particles (or strings, or whatever) which are controlled completely and solely by the fundamental laws of physics.

    So, our discovery of quantum physics is an inevitable consequence of the universe's initial conditions and causal laws, right?

    How could it be otherwise? What else could have caused the discovery? God? Our immortal souls???

    Then you aren't a physicalist or a scientific realist. Which is fine. I'm not either.

    I find it entirely conceivable that human behavior and ability can be explained within a physicalist framework.

    What I don't find conceivable is that conscious experience can be explained within this framework.

    You sound like a vitalist or some sort of dualist.

    Either way, I'm definitely convinced that there is no free will.

    So, any decision must be either caused or uncaused.

    If it the decision is uncaused, then nothing more can be said about it. Things which have no cause have no explanation. If choices are uncaused, then they are just random. No free will.

    If the decision is caused, then what caused the cause? And what caused the cause of the cause? And so on. The decision is a link in a causal chain which must eventually be traced outside the person making the choice. No free will.

    Going further: But what caused that whole causal chain? Why that causal chain instead of some other? Why do any causal chains exist at all? Why not nothingness?
     
  13. Jul 31, 2010 #12
    RexAllen, I see your point. I really do. But experience shows that, when it comes to people, things are not as easy as quantum mechanics.

    Your idea always goes back to the cause of the cause of the cause of the cause... it can't be proven to be right or wrong. Yet.

    What I mean is, not too long ago Zeno's paradox seemed unsolvable, but that's because the greeks didn't know how to sum a infinate decrescent geometric series. In this case, neuroscientists or biophysicists or whatever will eventually get to how the brain actually works.

    For now, let's just agree to disagree.
     
    Last edited: Jul 31, 2010
  14. Jul 31, 2010 #13
    Our logic is determined by our every day experience, and that's why, when we enter completely new fields of experience, we have a struggle because our intuitions and logic may not grasp it.

    Take for example quantum mechanics, what goes on in the sub-atomic world is completely outside of our everyday experience, so at first the conclusions we had to draw from quantum mechanics where a radical break from our everyday logic intuitions.

    And to add one other thing:
    If you were to accept physicalism, and accept that there are underlying (physical) processes that constitute consciousness, your conclusion that physicalism were against your logic intuition and is seen as irrational, already refutes itself.
     
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