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Posted by Harvey on June 17, 2002 22:44:21 UTC

Hello Luis,

***H: "I believe this is a SAP account..." L: Bostrom: "WAP then says that, within a universe, observers find themselves only at spatiotemporal locations where observers are possible. SAP states that observers find themselves only in universes that allow observers to exist." Our positions seem fairly obvious to me. Presuming there's 'meaning' beyond the ways we describe (and approximate for each other) reality is presuming an outside force to contemplate reality.***

I'm not sure if you are frowning on an SAP position or not. You alluded that the 'roulette wheel' might account for the 'winnings' of there being all these fine structures which make observers possible. This is a SAP account and I conclude that you are another poor SAP such as myself. Are you or aren't you a poor SAP at the roulette wheel trying to get enough winnings to pay for the universe as we observe it?

***From the position of the SAP, "meaning" hints at the same thing Bostrom describes as "universes that allow observers..."***

A quick informal definition of 'meaning': a map of phenomenal to the mental whereby all truth conditions of the phenomenal can be understood in a satisfactory manner as if we are dealing with a formal language. For example, if you see the sign 'Stop' (a phenomenal), then there is a map in your head (head) whereby all truth conditions of the Stop sign can be understood satisfactory and obeyed. For example, you know it is 'true' to put your foot on the brake and 'false' to put your foot on the accelerator.

In terms of a random meaningless world, this would translate into the map not being able to provide a satisfactory understanding of the phenomenal to be understood. For example, if the universe has a mostly random beginning and a mostly random end (and we know this to be the case), then the question might be "why should we continue living once the better part of our lives are completed while the worst part of our lives will await us?". This might occur quite reasonably if one finds out that they have some dilapidating disease whereby the future isn't so bright. There is no map from the phenomenal (the future pain and anguish) to some satisfying mental reason as to keep living.

A particular SAP account doesn't necessarily add satisfactory significance to the meaning of the universe from every angle. What it can do is perhaps provide a more satisfactory explanation as to why the universe has these 'just so' features which are difficult to explain just from a WAP account. The phenomenal aspects of the physical constants can now be mapped from a previously understood series of absurd coincidences to an mentally satisfactory reason as to why the universe has 'just so' features. Meaning has been added, but not necessarily the kind of meaning that makes one accept the lose of a loved one or the effects of a dilapidating disease.

***"my arguments do not have to show there exists something beyond the material level..." Obviously this was my point. That pure inference is legless is fine, since it needs only to support itself.***

How so? If materialism cannot even define a 'material level' that is fully acceptable within physics, then why should we buy into its propositions? The discussion of what exists and what doesn't exist is open and fully questionable. There is no de facto correct hunch. I cannot understand why you think that inferences are poorly constructed when in fact you need inferences to make statements substantiate your materialism. That doesn't make sense to me.

***H: "Once we begin to doubt an oversimplified material perspective, then we doubt the premises by which many accept materialism." L: Only if you consider materialism's known explanations, and not materialism itself.***

Then what is your support for materialism if you don't have an effective explanation to support it?

***Key to self-preservation is the notion that I'm on top of things. I've got it all outlined, right here, in these little, mental blocks... Trouble is, when an object doesn't exactly fit into one of these blocks, the mind experiences conflict. "I'm fine it's just that there's a deeper level than my feeble senses can detect" is a very common way out of this cognitive conflict. It's easy to dismiss our own confusion as an indicator of "something" beyond our senses, but the more we project our descriptive inconsistencies beyond the domain of our own inventions, the longer our path to a more accurate understanding becomes.***

Our scientific experiences are theory-laden. You cannot disassocatiate our theories (i.e., the domain of our inventions) from our experiments (i.e., our experiences by which we notice descriptive inconsistences of our theories). We have legitimate grounds to accept our theories as good approximations as to what is actually happening in nature (i.e., scientific realism) since our experiments are dependant on those theories being correct. Case in point, particle accelerators are based on the injection of theoretical entities (e.g., electrons, protons, neutrons, etc) and measuring the effects of our particle collisions according to our theoretical understanding of how particle detectors should register the statistical patterns they generate. We base the existence of particles based on second generation decays of particles that we can measure (e.g., muons). If we allowed only our direct experience to be the guide in determining what particles actually exist, then particle physics would have come to a ceasing halt a half century ago. We absolutely must project theoretical understanding of particle collisions in order to understand particle decay and particle creation. Granted, we lack full theoretical understanding, but we are still able to project our theoretical understanding of particles to our observations whereby we can understand the world of particles.

***>>>"if making valid logical inferences is invalid..." Big, and incorrect, if. An inference supported by one observation is infinitely more valid than an inference supported by no observations. Pure inference is pure illogic. (BTW, I admire your attempts to equate inter/extrapolation to pure inference.)***

An inference is something that is made from a premise. Premises can be logical/mathematical, philosophical, or observational based. The strength of an inference is dependent on a number of factors, such as whether it is based on a logical fallacy, whether the premises are widely accepted, whether the observations are relevant to the inference being made, etc. If our premises and inferences are sound, then there are minimal risks in accepting a conclusion. If our premises and inferences are based on dubious reasoning, then the risks of false conclusions are very high.

All of science is based on philosophical premises, so it cannot be the case that philosophical positions are false or unacceptable (otherwise we should reject science). Similarly, there are many philosophical positions that have enhanced science (e.g., Einstein's early antirealist position with respect to Mach's views). So, I cannot understand what your complaint is. You hold a philosophical position of materialism, and yet you want to prevent others from doing so simply because they are modeling their thoughts using the rules of valid inferences. In this case, you are holding a materialist philosophy based on antirealism of mathematics, and yet when questioned about this dubious position you cry foul. Really, Luis, why the objections? Why don't you focus on answering my objections and less on the fact that objections have been made. Objections are a fact of taking a philosophical position and that comes with the territory anytime you want to say anything meaningful about the world (or object to the meaningfulness that someone else has wishes to argue in favor of).

***"A materialist is someone who believes that 'meaning' is not something that actually has material existence since 'meaning' is not a material thing." Then I'm no materialist, and I disagree with your conclusion that 'meaning' is not a material thing. Everything is material.***

According to a materialist everything is reducible to a material thing. If you believe meaning actually exists, then you are saying that a map from the phenomenal to the mental actually exists and that it cannot be reduced to material stuff. This is like saying that there really is a Bugs Bunny and that there really is a Daffy Duck. These cartoon beings of course do not exist, rather they can be reduced to the efforts of artists, writers, television producers, camera manufacturers, satellite manufacturers, television manufacturers, retailers, etc. It takes an elaborate infrastructure to 'create' Bugs Bunny and the illusion that he 'exists'.

The 'meaning' that you say exists, is not really something that is 'out there' having its own separate existence from the material universe. You can reduce this meaning to atoms, and that onto more basic constituents of matter.

***H: "why does this fundamental stuff act in a manner to cause nuclei, atoms, molecules, planets, stars, etc to form?" L: I think that you cannot see my point of view because the anthropic bias is inextricably ingrained in your way of thinking; you actually consider the consideration "why" -- re the universe -- to be a fair and objective consideration! I know you well enough to see you'd not throw this concept of "why" around as mere tautology; you actually think this is a valid and objective question! If I ask "why," I'm seeking to understand the motives of a being. To ask "why" in the context you do presupposes a universal sentience.***

Not at all. I'm talking about an explanation in the form A therefore B. Why A in the place of not-A? In terms of a materialist explanation, you can say that A is material, and say that B is materially transformed from A through some unidentified process. But, what is missing is why A versus not-A. This has nothing to do with a sentience explanation. It has everything to do with providing a basis for materialism. If materialism cannot answer this question, then maybe its wrong. Maybe it is absolutely false and that question is the area in which shows it is false.

Luis, I know you have a bias against any type of existing order in the universe (i.e., non-material), but you cannot allow your bias to prevent you from considering other possibilities. From science we obviously have good reason to suspect order in the world, in fact this is all that science can study in any depth is order (e.g., galaxies, stars, planets, quarks, nuclei, atoms, molecules, animals, people, etc). It is natural to take the progress of science in the way of explaining the natural ordering of the universe as a clue to perhaps the order being a fabrication of the human mind, but I think this is the wrong conclusion of science.

The conclusion of science seems to be that mathematics and logic are so effective at understanding the natural ordering of nature, that we should be solidly convinced that nature is inherently mathematical. If it weren't, certainly we would have come upon non-mathematical structures (e.g., violations of the Pythagorean theorem in flat space). So far, those exceptions haven't been found, not even once. I can easily imagine a finding that is announced that scientists detected violations of mathematical utility in nature, or a finding by mathematicians that two well-known theorems clearly contradict and cannot be reconciled, etc. This is a possibility in a materialist derived world, but it is not a possibility in a logically derived world.

***H:"Do you not agree it's more sensible to examine the fallibility of our senses than to simply accept our desire to mindlessly accept them?" L: How might you suggest we "examine the fallibility of our senses"? Through instincts and "gut" feelings? Isn't it possible indeed, a much more parsimonious possibility that these instincts and "gut" feelings are also material phenomena? Clearly, the more we explain, the more we seek to explain.***

I don't suggest that we examine our senses, that's my point. We are better situated if we accept our senses and only doubt them when we can no longer, in full intellectually honesty, believe that our senses are correct (e.g., my pencil dropping in the holodeck). At which time, we have to back-up and decide what is 'real' and what could be in error. Maybe it requires that we go to sleep and wake up the next day. Maybe it means that we should leave the holodeck room and determine it is a holodeck. Maybe we should give ourselves a drug test to make sure we haven't accidentally taken some mild hallucinogen. The point is that we accept our prejudices as necessary if and until we are forced to rethink those views.

***Confusing the not-yet-understood with something beyond what we will ever be able to detect is ignorant.***

Confusing epistemology for ontology is ignorant. We are severly limited in knowing ontological facts of the world, therefore we have to rely on our epistemological knowledge in providing indications of what is ontologically correct. All of epistemology is based on ontology since we have to have some accepted premises about the world to make any meaningful comments about it. This is why I reject the notion of studying our senses to see if they are accurate before we begin our study of nature. Rather, we accept our notions of the world and study and amend our views as an on-going basis. The same applies to the areas that add human significance to the world. If we give up on our human significance, then this is not much different than if we sacrifice our human senses. We cannot give up on what makes our contact with the world useful and meaningful otherwise the operation might be a success but the patient dies in the process.

***"It is natural to cling to meaning." Absolutely, it is natural to maintain a sense of importance.***

It is not only natural, but necessary - especially when we do not have necessitating reasons to reject meaning and significance of our place in the world.

***H:"Are you suggesting that mathematics that goes through some type of Darwinian natural selective process where we reject the math that doesn't work in nature (i.e., there is no pure abstract mathematics)?" I'd agree to the parenthetical i.e., but I do not see how this is derived from the first part of your question. I mean, the idea that we might somehow reject "the math that doesn't work in nature" makes us sound like quite an influential force in nature, and dismisses the key idea that we are nature.***

This is interesting. From your perspective I take it that whatever math we discover is simply part of the universe and therefore part of the way that the universe works. Hence, the universe is of course mathematical since we thought of it and we are part of the universe, hence completing the loop. But, then my question is why can't we describe the universe in terms of Bugs Bunny cartoon plots. Why is Warner Brothers of so little use in describing the quantum behavior of particles? Why isn't Daffy Duck's measurement of the triangle used more often in deep space experiments?

***"rather than inch closer to a theist stance, the mathematical antirealism is much more of a pleasing alternative. Could that be in any way correct?" Could be, but I honestly don't think so. In my limited view math is a manmade concept, and nature just is. Sounds circular because to me the whole idea of "why" is circular. Why are we here? Because we're here. To you, the answer is useless. To me, the question is useless.***

I'm disappointed in this answer because I've seen you answer 'why' questions in other contexts, and I think you are quite fond of 'why' questions when the argument is in your favor with the question being asked. The question is what is it about 'why' questions that lead you to say they are useless. I'm sure it is because you don't feel that we can give an adequate answer, but I find that it doesn't stop you from making ontological statements of the world (e.g., mathematical order doesn't exist 'out there'). From my perspective it is like you are trying to fix the game where you get to decide what questions are asked, which philosophical arguments are accepted, and whose conclusions we should accept as the one who has the most merit.

I think you should accept that you hold a philosophical position and that you are not in a philosophically privileged position of not supporting the beliefs that you hold. You have to work to provide answers to the problems facing materialism, and that dumb faith in it is not good enough. Otherwise, I can't see the difference between your position that is telling me that I ought to believe from that of a fundamentalist who is telling me I ought to believe. I need to see satisfactory responses to these challenges (e.g., how materialism can explain the emergence of logic). Just citing beliefs is not good enough. At least you are not citing biblical references as the reason why we should believe (rather you don't cite anything but just to reject other views other than the materialist view).

***H: "If true, it means that whatever relationships you have in this world are finished at the time of death like the trash you threw away last week" L: (and so forth...) It's a very scary idea, and I'd LOVE it if we could see once and for all that a part of us continues after death, but I'm afraid reality doesn't always conform to something simply because we all want it to.***

I'd love there to be a scientific model that could explain and make a belief in God and an afterlife an easily grasped fact of the matter. But, unfortunately we live in a world where trips to Vegas are necessary and you have to see what real luck buys you. Just imagine you are the 'stuff' of the universe on your next trip, take a dollar out of your pocket and put it in the nearest slot machine to the exit. Just for fun, pretend that the result of that gambling event is the result that the stuff of the universe would have in causing 'all of this'. Unless you win a few million dollars, don't bother trying to explain to yourself why 'all of this' was lucky enough to be generated from the stuff that just 'is' (when luck couldn't even buy you a Mercedes). Rather, think about what dumb luck really buys - a trip to the buffet (i.e., if you are really lucky).

Take Care, Harv

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