Saturday, August 30, 2014

An Important Footnote

In my post yesterday I said something which needs completion and it's an important enough addition that I'm putting it in a separate post.

I think that's about as likely as the Cato Institute issuing a paper in favor of government redistribution of wealth to produce economic progress for the poor and destitute instead of the present policies favoring government redistribution of wealth to further enrich the already obscenely wealthy such as those who sponsor the Cato Institute.

Friday, August 29, 2014

2. What Would A Predecessor of Consciousness Be and How Would It Be Subject To Natural Selection?

It is tempting to go into E. O. Wilson's very brief promotion of the work of the two "neurophilosophers"  Patricia Churchland and Daniel Dennett,  making greatly exaggerated claims for their work while not saying anything about it, other than that they all agree on the value of contemporary neuroscience and the ability to draw conclusions about consciousness from that.  Like all of the people I know of who have made a name in this effort, they are dogmatic materialists who have only contempt for anyone who questions their basic materialist fundamentalism and the stories they make up on that basis.  Also typical, he summarily brushes aside their opponents with derisive terms that don't address their objections ("mysterians"). His claim that Churchland and Dennett, "have helped to demonstrate, for example the ancillary nature of morality and rational thought*," really means that they are often claimed, by their fellow materialists, to have succeeded in squeezing those into an adaptationist scenario under natural selection.  Being more familiar with Dennett than Churchland, I would say that what he does is reduce and invent novel definitions of things which are not explainable through his extreme adaptationist interpretation of natural selection in order to fit his coinages into natural selection, where the actual concepts and experiences of those things have been known to not fit into natural selection from the start.

Indeed, Wilson kind of notes that problem while both skimming over it to pretend that the problems don't matter and not really noting that his oracle, Charles Darwin, was well aware of the problem his theory faced in dealing with thought.

Neuroscientists, to their credit, have no illusions about the difficulty of the task. They agree with Darwin that the mind is a citadel that cannot be taken by frontal assault.  They have set out instead to break through to its inner recesses with multiple probes along the ramparts, opening breaches here and there;  by technical ingenuity and force they hope to enter and explore wherever they find space to maneuver.

I will refer to my recent post of a letter by Darwin in which he goes much farther than Wilson would want to take seriously in the implications of the idea that our thinking is the mere ancillary result of natural selection.  It would empty our ideas, even our science of any possible value of truth or objective significance.

Materialism removes any possibility of significance being a real quality of anything. What the materialist view of life boils down to is the devaluing of all aspects of it, us included, making us no different from any other locus of chemical reactants reacting.  Thoughts would have no more truth value than the digestion of lactose or metals oxidizing in the atmosphere.   The theory of Natural Selection, never mind its mere ancillaries such as Sociobiology and "neueophilosophy" would not escape that demotion and would have, in fact, the same lack of truth value as the most retrograde aspects of the "postmodernism," "mysterianism" that Wilson scoffs at or, for that matter, statements issued by ISIS or contained in this weeks National Enquirer.   Wilson's school of thought removes any legitimate claims that it or any academic topic has to the attention of a public entertained or enthralled by other ideas.

How the quest for reproduction by molecules and their hosts, living organisms, even conscious animals, can be real or ever have arisen in such a universe is a puzzle that came to me as I read Wilson's article.  How do you explain why molecules before life would have ever had an urge to reproduce if nothing matters?[See update]  Why our earliest ancestor would have reproduced, perhaps at great risk to its continued existence in the earliest acts of reproduction,  promises to be a fun thing to think about.  It feels like an idea which could confound the likes of Dennett and Wilson, especially if you brushed aside their mild derision and airy dismissal and pressed the issue.

Furthermore, the entire description of the mind as a "citadel" to be taken by fMRI and other imaging is diverting as a narrative metaphor but it is absurd considering that any such attempt will have to begin from within that very "citadel" using whatever "defenses" it has hidden within those very recesses which the minds of neuroscientists and others will strive to take it from.   The absurdly inadequate as well as opportunistic metaphor of taking a castle will, as is typical of the psychological use of metaphor, become the frame of the intellectual attempt while forgetting that it is an shoddy, rude and inadequate metaphor.  The metaphor will become the message which was predetermined by the intentions of those waging the campaign.  Does anyone have any doubt that Wilson, Churchland, or Dennett and their fellow materialists will never produce any findings that contradict their a priori  intent of "finding" a material explanation of the mind?   I think that's about as likely as the Cato Institute issuing a paper in favor of government redistribution of wealth to produce economic progress for the poor and destitute.


Perhaps even more problematic for the attempt to explain consciousness as a product of molecular action as worked on by natural selection is that it requires there to be some sort of pre-consciousness that developed such as the eye is believed to have developed from some kind of light sensitive nerves at the skin. What that precursor could have been is far harder to imagine and define than a physical nerve that is sensitive to light.

Consciousness isn't a divisible or reducible phenomenon, it is a direct experience of itself, the means through which we experience anything or think or speak about it.  We talk about "semi-consciousness" to refer to our occasional muddied thinking but any conscious experience is consciousness.  You are either conscious or you are not, you aren't half-conscious because any consciousness is an experience of consciousness.  There is no getting around the fact that consciousness would have had to come about full blown.  A light sensitive bacterium that can be seen to react to light can justly be considered to be conscious of the light. How could you explain its clearly intentional action on any other basis?  Of course that requires us to imagine, with our human minds, what it's like to be a bacterium which, I submit, is unlikely to be accurate because we are not bacteria, living the lives of bacteria in their habitat.  But the fact that they can react to external stimuli, taking action that is, clearly, good according to them in response to it, justifies considering them to be conscious.  Any attempt to define that bacterial consciousness will inevitably not really address it, it will merely be an attempt for us to match it to a human narrative based on human experiences with no possible verification from the bacteria that we got it right.  And that would be easy compared to coming up with a comprehensible precursor to consciousness that had real effects in the world and lives of creatures we must imagine in their entirety because we have no specimens of pre-conscious, behaving organisms.  We couldn't even identify any alive today.

Yet the effort to turn consciousness into a mere product of molecular action, favoring their reproductive success, the development of the quest for reproductive success, requires us to go much, much farther and imagine some kind of unimaginable predecessor experience that was not experienced but which, through natural selection, became consciousness.  If Wilson would like to describe such a state of being I'd be curious to see what he comes up with, though I doubt it would be even as relevant to our experience of consciousness than direct democracy in a town meeting is to life in an ant colony. Any such explanation of this "pre-conscious" "pre-experience" will be a merely imaginary construct motivated by materialist fundamentalism and professional opportunism.   How this "pre-consciousness" removed from experience of an organism would work in a scheme of reproductive success in natural selection would have to wait for an explaination of what it would be, though I suspect the cart would come before the eohippus in whatever is written.

And if you think that last sentence was extreme, it is less extreme than the effort to chop away at the experience and phenomenon of consciousness because you insist that everyone must begin with natural selection and work backward to force all of life into that, already, artificial construct.  Which is what Wilson, Dennett and Churchland do.  In that they ignore the fact that it is consciousness that precedes all intellectual activity, it precedes the invention of natural selection, something which does not have an independent existence that comes before Darwin's idea, which is the product of consciousness.

*  Consider what that sentence could mean, and it is hardly a well thought out concept or statement.   What would it mean for any intellectual, indeed scientific or philosophical exposition, if rational thought were merely "ancillary" to some unspecified something.   Despite the attitude we are supposed to take in respect to such intellectual products, that would make any academic enterprise dependent on reason to be even lower down on the imagined hierarchy.  Only materialists never seem to take that into consideration.

Update:  I don't believe there is intentionality in molecules, I don't even believe molecules within living organisms have intentions, that's a claim derived from Wilson's Sociobiology, though it's been implied by natural selection in its atheist, materialist fundamentalist interpretation from the start.  I am merely pointing out the consequences of believing what Wilson et al are claiming.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

E.O. Wilson Against Free Will: 1. To a Myrmecologist Everything Is Ants

I  have read the essay, "On Free Will and how the brain is like a colony of ants," by E.O Wilson, which appears in this months' Harpers magazine and am going to be taking some time with it.  The reason for that is that Wilson has managed to include so much sloppy thinking stated so arrogantly and with a pose of authoritative difinitude and philosophical ineptitude that it is breathtaking that a major magazine would publish it.  That an academician of his standing can write something like it looks like a milestone in the march of intellectual decadence mistaking itself as a golden age.

It was tempting to point out that Wilson's problems begin as soon as the third sentence of his text but looking again at the title that would put off the critique far too long.   I recall someone pointing out, back in the 1960s, when he still had a position in science of the kind that Wilson does today, that B. F. Skinner's work with pigeons in boxes was the obvious frame through which he looked at everything, including the human mind.  Back then Skinner's model of thought was  just as much science as Wilson's is today.  But it was science which was rather definitively demolished by a philosophical look at it.  His social and cultural influence lasted as long as he lived due to the repute that a position as a senior faculty member of Harvard and then an emeritus professor can create and sustain among those who aren't particularly deep thinkers.   I would guess that his greatest influence came after behaviorism was debunked due to his ability to turn out a couple of best selling books.

I will be rash enough to doubt that Wilson's ant metaphor for the brain will last any more than Skinners pigeon metaphor did.  That both of those were the products of a larger materialist monist ideological foundation, which it also shared with such other discontinued models of the mind as that of the Freud might start to imply that problem with those cathedrals of science are built on wet sand that inevitably rots them from the foundation.  I doubt that any of them tell us much of anything except for the preferred framing of the men who produced them.  That all of them enjoyed the full status of science in academic, social and even legal contexts is, as well, testimony to the fact that repute in science is no guarantee of reliability or even durability, though it can, sometimes, produced institutions which share more with established churches than most of those inside them would care to have pointed out.

As I said the serious problems begin with the first three sentences of Wilson's text.

Neuroscientists who work on the human brain seldom mention free will. Most consider it a subject better left, at least for the time being, to philosophers. Meanwhile, their sights are set on discovering the physical basis of consciousness, of which free will is a part.

Being such a rank amateur in philosophy that I would object if someone even called me an amateur, a philospher might point out that there are some rather glaring problems with an assertion that free will can have a physical basis, especially a physical basis of kind which science is designed to study.  This is due to the dependence of scientific explanations on relationships within nets of causality, in which every result is the product of definable and set deterministic precedents and their determined actions.  Such a method of study could look for something outside of that net of causality and never find it and free will, by definition, would have to be free of that net.   If, as Wilson unsurprisingly insists, that anything legitimate to be said on the subject would have to be said by science, then, of course, free will can't be more than a delusion.   Anything called "free will" or "consciousness" for that matter, which can't be detected with science could not be redefined to fit into science and retain its most important and salient features.

To definitely say that consciousness has a physical basis - in itself unproven and likely unprovable - is subject to the same problems as basing free will on physical causation.   I would hope that a competent and free thinking philosopher, honest enough to be trying to discern the truth or reality instead of propping up a preferred ideology would point these problems out.  And a competent philosopher could probably come up with aspects of that problem which I have not even noticed.   I will remind any neuroscientist, materialist philosopher, not to mention emeritus myrmecologist of the dangers that philosophical short cuts made for the behaviorism which Wilson's Sociobiology succeeded.  Though I don't think you could really say that it supplanted the earlier, defunct science so much as filled the vacuum left by its demise.

Wilson then says

No scientific quest is more important to humanity. 

iven the piece I reposted here last week in which I identified the Holocaust (and other genocides by dictatorships) as the most important moral event of the last century and the fact that it was brought about by people who either held that free will was a delusion, impossible, not important or bad, I would agree with a statement that promoting the belief and respect for it, as well as other metaphysical attributes of the mind, is among the most important quests of humanity.

Given the fact that every, single time that scientists insist that it is their business to trap consciousness or, worse, free will,  in a net of causation and mount it as a pinned specimen for display and further study, that they end up damaging that belief, I wish they would cut it out of their consideration.  It is especially troubling to have Wilson, the world's most famous ant man looking into the question because we have already seen his framing and how that presents human life and societies.  His practice in Sociobiology and its successor, evolutionary psychology, to assert shared "traits" from the social insects manifested from them, clear across the entire animal taxonomy, in human beings, even without any real evidence that there are "behaviors" or that "behaviors" asserted are actually the same in species no more closely related than the hundreds of millions of years of evolution from a theoretical shared ancestor* is hardly a scientific determination,  they are more the products of willful narration than of actual links based on rigorous evidence.

Wilson then asserts that:

The physical basis of of consciousness won't be an easy phenomenon to grasp. The human brain is the most complex system, either organic or inorganic, known in the universe.

He goes on to present the rudest of schematic descriptions of the neuro-anatomy of brains, itself based on the, presumably, preliminary knowledge we have of that "most complex system... known in the universe".  Even more problematically, he asserts how those are asserted to work on the basis of that schematic knowledge.  If he is aware at the problems of asserting anything like that on the basis of present day knowledge of the brain, he doesn't seem to take those seriously.  If he is aware that all of the assertions made about how "the brain works" are, as well, based in ideological if not philosophical assumptions - his own materialism, for example - I don't see any evidence of that, whatsoever.   The extent to which that flow chart could be the product of imagination based on ideology and required framing within the scientific and academic establishment is worth considering, certainly if the question is as important as Wilson says it is.  But that is hardly ever done, even by philosophers and never, to my knowledge, by neuroscientists.  But, considering the fact that the crude materialism that is the foundation of all of this article was shown to be fatally problematic in physics and how that is ignored by those who invoke physics, I'm not waiting up nights for them to understand the problem of their assertions.

I have increasingly come to believe that a lot of stuff, even very important stuff, within science is the artifact of framing and ideology, desiring to fill in gaps in knowledge and entire areas of human experience.  Some of those, I've come to conclude, exist only in the imagination of scientists.  I have become skeptical that the mother of all such ideas, natural selection, is a real thing, believing it is merely a required lens through which members of the educated class are required to view evolutionary science, biology and, as can be seen in this topic, the utterly ineffable matter of the consciousness which is the basis of everything we think, including thinking about these things, including the thinking of Wilson and his fellow ideologues.  As a matter of academic legalism, it is also the vocabulary through which everything said about such things is required to be expressed, on pain of disrepute and expulsion.  Even using a different vocabulary will be considered incomprehensible and heretical.

I think a look at discontinued science might teach us a lot about how such required thoughts come into being, gain currency and then become a required means of understanding,  only to, then, be overturned**.   I look at the list of discontinued science from the past century and those sciences today which, being based on anything from a total lack of evidence to study, to ideologically framed evidence, to the ideologically framed creations based on ideological framing, and even the further manipulation of those creations and find that the dogma of materialism is, in every case, the foundation and the motive for it.  I went through "exobiology" yesterday and I've gone through others, abiogenesis, .... on the basis of the outrageous assertions of certitude based on scant to no evidence in those and Wilson's assertions in this article, I will predict that all of those will, in the future, be as forgotten as any now ditched idea is.

Considering the title of his piece, Wilson says something,  incredibly unaware of its irony.

Philosophers have labored for more than two thousand years to explain consciousness.  Innocent of biology, however, they have for the most part gotten nowhere.  I don't believe it too harsh to say that the history of philosophy when boiled down consists mainly of failed models of the brain.

Call me a skeptic but I, somehow, think that long after the 20th century world's foremost ant specialist's model of the brain has long been relegated to a quaint curiosity, if not a joke, people will still find even such things as Plato's cave and large parts of the Buddhist psychology useful and relevant.  For Wilson to make such a statement in an article with his title is an example of incredible arrogance of the kind that only the truly unaware and pathologically narrowly focused can have.

In the episode of WKRP in Cinncinati in which Dr. Joyce Brothers played the jeans magnate, "Vicky von Vicky," she walks in on three of the regulars rather bizarrely kneeling on a hotel floor in her jeans - they're hoping to nail down an advertising account.  As they are trying to explain their behavior she says,
"All I see are three pairs of jeans on the floor".   Which is as much if not more of an insight into how the human mind might operate as anything I read in Wilson's article.

*  Considering that those "behaviors" today are actually separated by two divergent lines of evolutionary history, those hundreds of millions of years should be multiplied by two,  I'd think.

** Physics has produced a good example to study, the luminiferous ether.   
I move through this “luminiferous ether” as if it were nothing. But were there vibrations with such frequency in a medium of steel or brass, they would be measured by millions and millions and millions of tons’ action on a square inch of matter. There are no such forces in our air. Comets make a disturbance in the air, and perhaps the luminiferous ether is split up by the motion of a comet through it. So when we explain the nature of electricity, we explain it by a motion of the luminiferous ether. We cannot say that it is electricity. What can this luminiferous ether be? It is something that the planets move through with the greatest ease. It permeates our air; it is nearly in the same condition, so far as our means of judging are concerned, in our air and in the inter-planetary space. The air disturbs it but little; you may reduce air by air-pumps to the hundred thousandth of its density, and you make little effect in the transmission of light through it. The luminiferous ether is an elastic solid, for which the nearest analogy I can give you is this jelly which you see, 5 and the nearest analogy to the waves of light is the motion, which you can imagine, of this elastic jelly, with a ball of wood floating in the middle of it. Look there, when with my hand I vibrate the little red ball up and down, or when I turn it quickly round the vertical diameter, alternately in opposite directions;—that is the nearest representation I can give you of the vibrations of luminiferous ether.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Life Is Good So Is Thinking So Is Thinking It Through

I am a bit behind in answering my hate mail/hate comments.  It's one of the benefits of getting hate messages, you don't feel an obligation to answer it unless you want to.  And one of the benefits of having your computer down for several days.  It's back, for now.

One recently found message in my trash asserts that "life exists on many planets ... life is a result of physics not of your imaginary friend in the sky", along with some rather predictable invective.

How does that follow?

I have dealt quite definitively, I assert,  with the question of "other life" in the universe based on present day knowledge.   The chances of there being life on any planet is known to be at least one in whatever the number of possible venues of life in the universe there are.   If you want to consider the possibility of life in places other than planets, you're just stupendously increasing both the range of possible numbers of those variables and the unlikelihood of knowing what those are.

At present we know that to be 1/p in which 1 is the known number of places in which life is known to exist and p is whatever whole number, including 1 where life can possibly arise in the universe.  At present we know that number can be 1/1 and it is possible that is the correct number for that probability.  In fact, that is the only possible value of that quotient that we know is possible, today.   I would say that anyone who thinks people, unaided by a vastly more able intelligence, could get that to be even 2/2 would be wildly optimistic.  I doubt that anyone short of God could know what the figure in the denominator of that fraction would be.  I doubt anyone short of that universal intelligence would have any way of knowing what the number or even types of locations in which life could arise in the universe is.  I think if you believe that likely far larger number is going to be known by people you are even more wildly optimistic.  One of the biggest problems in discovering it would be that we would have to know all possible life forms and the conditions under which those arise.  Which is a practical impossibility because we will never know if we do know all of those.

As to the discovery of "other life" killing off God, I don't see how that follows. Not at all.  It doesn't even kill off the God of the Hebrew scriptures.

If, as is widely believed, God willed there to be life on our one planet, God might want to use some of the rest of creation to will more life into being.   In the Genesis creation story God is said to have looked on the creation of life several times and seen "that it was good".

In the King James translation of Psalm 30 it says "in His favor is life".   Despite what some self-appointed bully boy of fundamentalism said to get his name in the news (Ken Ham) the idea that God might have found life so good that it is an intrinsic part of the physical universe also named as His creation that life will arise, over and over again, in many forms, with many purposes that we can't comprehend because we don't happen to be God.

Despite what current atheists repeat out of ignorance, the entire text of The Bible asserts, over and over again that life is good, that life is part of the purpose of God and that the diversity of life is good. The idea that God finds life to be good is entirely consistent with there being life in other places in the universe.

I look at what some numbnuts like Ken Hamm says about scriptures and see that what he said says everything about what his preferences are and not what is said in the scriptures.  I look at atheist assertions about what the finding of "other life" means and see everything about what their preferences are, not what a conclusive conclusion that could be drawn from that would be.

No, your claim, and it is one that other pop-atheists have asserted, that finding "other life" would be the nail in the coffin of God is wishful thinking on your part. If you bothered to think about the question instead of making wild claims of the certainty of "other life" being there when we have no evidence that is true, you might stop wasting your time on such flawed ideas.

So, the real answer to your assertions is that no one knows if there is "other life" and no one knows what that existing or not existing implies about the "existence" of God.  But one thing is sure, anyone who claims what you did hasn't thought their position through.

Update:  The fact is that the existence of life on one planet, ours, is an enormous problem for atheists because they can't explain its existence.  When you mix the human intelligence and consciousness that they use to think about these things into the problem, it's a lot harder for materialists, atheists, than it is for religious people.  That is why atheists expend so much effort in to turning consciousness into the same thing as lifeless chemistry, because life and conscious life is a far bigger problem for them than it is for non-materialists and, especially, non-atheists.  I haven't looked at it yet, but there is an article in the Harpers magazine a friend just gave me in which E.O. Wilson addresses the question of free will.  I, somehow, doubt he's going to entertain the idea that it is at all possible because such a thing is not possible in materialism.   I might bother reading it within the next few days and may go through what he says, if it's any different from what I've read from atheists over and over again.   Even as expansive an atheist as Sartre held Les Jeux Sont Faits.

Monday, August 25, 2014

More Problems

I'm going to have to have a real computer person try to fix this thing so I might or might not be posting for the next few days.  It's decidedly screwed up, giving that irritating blue screen that says it Windows couldn't start and it's trying to fix the problem.  Yeah, like Windows 8 did on the other computer I've tried.  I thought I'd get used to Windows 8 but I hear a rumor that Microsoft is bailing on it, already. Jerks.  

Sorry about that but some days I hate my computer.

Update:  I've answered that question before, the reason I haven't asked people to give me money or buy me things was said best by the late Quentin Crispe in The Naked Civil Servant,  I don't ask strange men for things because I don't think they'd give it to me.  For better or worse, this effort relies on my ability to pay for the overhead.