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Posted by Harvey on June 18, 2002 20:45:03 UTC


In our communication, I am also experiencing frustrations at your responses. I am also feeling that you are ignoring what I am saying and that it feels like I am spinning my wheels.

***As far as the body of our disagreement -- Here is my view: ontology and theism are circularly co-dependent; I find that you argue for meaning beyond the material level from the presumption of sentience beyond the material level (since 'meaning' is only 'meaning' if in the presence of sentience), or you argue for the existence of sentience beyond the material level from the presumption of meaning beyond the material level. This, I feel, is the fundamental problem with your stance.***

There is no 'material level'. That is what I've been trying to say. Our concepts of 'material level' are all theoretical statements that are based on our ontology.

***Getting this across to you has been frustrating -- again, not because I want to convince you to change your mind, but rather because I want us to approach these considerations from a common ground. For instance, although I lend empiricism more weight than you at least we both agree that it is not entirely invalid.***

Empiricism resides within the context of our conceptual framework of the world (i.e., our ontology). We have to understand each other's conceptual framework (e.g., materialism, idealism, etc) before we can understand how to properly interpret empirical findings. Again, this is an area that I haven't been able to communicate to you.

***I feel like we're not communicating because you continue to speak as if both our positions are mired within the hyper-material reality you impute into what we both witness as material reality. You've rejected my entire argument before spelling out your considerations of it.***

We have a conceptual framework that is our ontology. There is no de facto conceptual framework. I get the impression that you believe we all start out with a de facto 'material level' conception of the world, and from I (versus you) tries to add the fluff of meaning. What I am saying is that you can't start off at a de facto position of materialism. The starting point of our conceptual framework is our sense impressions and the manner in which we interpret those sense impressions.

***The whole point of my argument is the questioning of the assumptions of ontology! I was getting into much the same sort of questioning in our last discussion, but you lost interest and so it's taken this far for us to get back to it.***

You start with ontology. There is pre-ontological view of the world from which we either build or choose not to build. I think this is perhaps the most fundamental issue in which we need to come to an agreement.

***You: Once we begin to doubt an oversimplified material perspective, then we doubt the premises by which many accept materialism.

Me: Only if you consider materialism's known explanations, and not materialism itself.

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


There is no 'arrggh'. Luis, you don't start with materialism. Materialism is an advanced ontological model. You start with a much more primitive ontological model of the world. A much more primitive ontological model deals in very simple terms such as what Ug the homo erectus male might have thought about (e.g., this is a rock, Ug throws rock and hits animal, Ug likes food, Sug is my female, etc). This simple ontology is the starting point of any discussion of how we build an advanced ontology (e.g., materialism, idealism, platonism, nominalism, etc). Advanced ontologies are needed to make sense of a much wider exposure to the world. Ug, the hypothetical homo erectus, didn't have the experience of math, logic, abstract thinking, science, etc. Hence, concepts such as what is highly valued by materialists, nominalists, etc would be completely meaningless.

***Okay, before I get into it, let me hit upon the SAP/WAP thing -- I think you're much stronger in your anthropic bias; mine is a much weaker anthropic bias than yours.***

No, you are incorrect Luis. You have as much anthropic bias as I do. In fact, we all have as much anthropic bias as everyone on the planet. The reason is that we are all human (anthro) and hence we cannot even imagine our concepts of a non-anthropic bias since by definition we could not be human to lack this bias. What I think you want to say is that we try to imagine what the world is really like (ontology), and we try to correct for human distortion by imagining what those distortions might be and riding them from our thoughts (e.g., anthropocentric thoughts, etc). Of course, the correction is still a human thought, but we feel it is a justified human concept which is why we accept our attempt to identify and correct for anthropocentric thoughts.

***To me there is no clean-cut division between a SAP and a WAP; no one can fully escape the anthropic bias. But I feel that I'm certainly a WAP guy next to you. And although I don't think it's possible to entirely free oneself of this bias, I feel we must do our best. This is a tough proposition for me, because there is a point where we can't fully abandon our bias and still hold any sort of useful view of the world.***

The purpose of SAP and WAP terminologies is just to identify specific frameworks by which we interpret meaningful data (e.g., coincidences in the physical constants). We cannot help but find coincidences meaningful since this is how we are wired. The question is how do we deal with the meaningful data in light of our anthropic biases. Since we feel justified in identifying what we suspect are anthropic biases, we attempt to interpret the meaningful data in the context of the WAP and SAP frameworks. If a particular frameworks accounts for the meaningful data in a way that is satisfactory, then we feel a sense of success in our efforts.

Now, the issue here is that I get the impression that you dismiss data simply because it is meaningful. I gather that you see 'meaning' as an anthropic bias that must be accounted for using some framework which can eliminate the need to explain that meaningful data. However, this is not justified or acceptable. The meaningful data must be explained because it is meaningful. Simply saying that meaningfulness is a human bias is not acceptable since all the other facts of the world which we consider meaningful you do accept (e.g., basic human sense impressions). If meaningfulness is to be discarded in one situation because of human bias, then you must remain consistent and discard all human meaning right down the line. This, as it turns out, is impossible since in order to connect with the world we must accept sense impressions as meaningful. I am assuming you are connected with the world, therefore you are stuck with trying to explain meaningful data in a meaningful way - rather than simply discount and ignore it.

***My roulette parallel was my way of saying, "given the breadth of the universe, we should not be surprised at some of these coincidences -- coincidences without which we'd not be here to even consider them." Maybe I should've made the example about Russian Roulette w/a trillion-chamber revolver! I can't see how you took this example as an indication that my anthropomorphic tendencies are somehow stronger than yours.***

Let's review the original context of your statement:

H:"I see emergence of unbelievable complexity that I think randomness alone cannot explain."

L: "In the midst of such vastness, and considering just how minuscule the earth is in relation to the universe, just how exceptional does a random event have to be in order to be truly exceptional? Surely you can appreciate the enormity of the universe. Given the known (never mind the not yet discovered) size and age of the universe, just how unlikely is our situation? If you play roulette for a million years, would you attribute your winnings to something more than 'randomness alone'?"

I don't see WAP in this paragraph. What I see is SAP. Remember, the key word for SAP is the word 'must'. If you consider 'must' interpreted under the favored probability framework, then it means that coincidences are explained as a result of the sheer number of attempts that nature had to get it right on the money. WAP is not about coincidences and multiple attempts to arrive at 'coincidental values', it is about multiple possibilities to get the same (or adequate) result and if it wasn't an adequate result we wouldn't be here in the first place. SAP acknowledges the coincidences but tries to explain them with roulette played for a million years, whereas WAP disacknowledges the coincidences and tries to discount them by showing all the other values that life could have grown up in had things been different.

***"In terms of a random meaningless world..." (meaning requires sentience)"

Perhaps. But, we are sentient so we can only approach the world with our sentience.

***"The discussion of what exists and what doesn't exist is open and fully questionable... (presumes existence lies beyond the material level in order to question opposite presumption)***

You assume that there is a 'material level' that is a de facto position. The term 'material level' is a conceptual framework based on meaningful data. Once we accept that our conceptual framework of a 'material level' is not some de facto requirement, we must question all conceptual frameworks and choose the ones which are the most promising in accounting for the world as we currently experience it (including scientific and philosophical inquiry).

***"a more satisfactory explanation (is more) difficult to explain... from a WAP account" (satisfaction is irrelevant without sentience)***

Satisfaction is required to have sentience. That is, unless we are satisfied in the meaning of a thought or statement, we cannot form other thoughts and statements. Since we have sentience, we must have satisfaction in our explanations - including the WAP framework to explain meaningful data (e.g., coincidences in the physical constants).

***"you need inferences to make statements substantiate your materialism." (in other words, materialism as a foundation needs to conform to a premise which presumes itself to be the foundation of materialism)***

No. You have a conceptual framework handed to you from childhood, parents, society, evolution, etc, and this framework has certain biases and incorrect conceptions of the world. We must analyze our beliefs to the core premises and decide if our inferences from those premises are correct or not (based on what we accept as being rational). The goal is to revise and fine-tune our conceptual framework to better account for the way that the world appears to us such that it is consistent. One of the first issue to address is our sense impressions and how to treat their meaning in terms of the way the world really is. Do we accept the meaning of our sense impressions as meaning that what we see is real, or do we reject them as not real, or as approximate depictions to what is real, etc.?

***"materialism cannot even define a 'material level' that is fully acceptable within physics..." (materialism defines itself; you're confusing the acceptance of an idea by people with an objective validity ['acceptability'] of science)***

Materialism is a philosophy that reduces the world to matter and its constituents. This position is a very sophisticated one since it is not immediately apparent that there are no such things as a 'rising sun', fictional characters, etc. According to the materialist, the only things that actually exist are some yet to be discovered irreducible indivisible stuff. Everything else is an illusion.

***"All of science is based on philosophical premises, so it cannot be the case that philosophical positions are false..." (begging the question [of the validity of ontology] & historical/causal fallacy: "All of Madonna's records have been platinum sellers, so it cannot be that she has no talent...)***

This argument itself is based on a philosophical position. You cannot argue the truth of your proposition by assuming my proposition and then concluding that mine is false.

***"you want to prevent others (from holding a philosophical position of materialism)..." (I do? Have I threatened you? I thought we were engaged in a friendly debate) ... "you are holding a materialist philosophy based on antirealism of mathematics, and yet when questioned about this dubious position you cry foul." (I've cried foul? How? Where?) ... "Really, Luis, why the objections?" (what objections???)***

Each time I reject the materialist dogma you tell me that I have to accept it as if it were some de facto belief of being human. When I make an argument to show that it is not, you say that I am making inferences and that this is not acceptable. I state that inferences are acceptable since we need inferences to make any meaningful statement of the world, and then you retort that my inferences are not supported simply because they are aren't the same inferences that a materialist would make. It is as if you think that materialism is de facto the correct belief. That's incorrect.

***"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. " (begging the question -- nothing material prevents the contemplation of 'meaning' as a purely material phenomenon!) ... "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... " (false dilemma -- assumes that a mental process, specifically the consideration of a fictional character, cannot be materialistically real unless it is precisely the same as the character portrayed).***

I'm not sure what you are trying to say. I am saying that mental things don't exist as far as a materialist is concerned. Mental things are reducible to material things (e.g., chemical reactions of synapses, etc). That's my point, meaning is not real according to the materialist, it is reducible to material things. This reply to this exchange:

H: "A materialist is someone who believes that 'meaning' is not something that actually has material existence since 'meaning' is not a material thing."

L: "Then I'm no materialist, and I disagree with your conclusion that 'meaning' is not a material thing. Everything is material."

Notice that concepts are not material, they are reducible to material things.

Warm regards, Harv

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