61 thoughts on “Sandpit

  1. /let me try again, I removed my link, so you’ll have to contend with the wikipedia entry for a start. Also please consider English is my third language and i am rather stifled atm by a flare up in my chronic illness. But thanks for putting up with me exercising my brain./

    Perhaps we should consider your question @42 above and go for a rummage in philosophers tool box?

    “”How can a fully determined system render a world with indeterminism?””

    You would have come across the ‘free will’ debate, which has captured the above conundrum for a long time. Though it is also a central question which has puzzled scientists and philosophers across disciplines, particularly where complex or large systems over time or in certain circumstances are involved, from physics and biology to cosmology and so on. So it is an age old problem in philosophy and has been dealt with in various ways. Though recently with new insights in science and mathematics, particularly our new understanding of chaotic systems, we rediscovered the concept of ’emergence’, here in a particular context as it, or so I hope, fits your @42:

    “”What passes between systems are three things basically; matter, energy and information. Matter and energy, whilst being “useable” by systems in themselves, are also information carriers. It is the transport of information and the operations on it that count in terms of epistemology.””

    You may find the wikipedia entry on “emergence” more yielding. Personally, my earliest interest in the subject emerged in the ‘Ant Fugue’ of the classic ‘Gödel, Escher and Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid’ by Hofstadter. Although I more fond of his later ‘The Mind’s I’, which he wrote or rather ‘composed and arranged’ with Daniel C Dennett, by making extensive use of crucial texts by a raft of significant modern thinkers around the subject which your questions poses. In particular the ‘Reflections’ after featuring Richard Dawkins chapter on ‘Selfish Gene and
    Selfish Memes’ were very insightful for me and has led on to further exploration in that field.

  2. @Ootz

    Yes, Wittgenstein’s definition is much better than mine. I agree on that. If I could have my comment again, the more improved “me” would, I hope, write something more like Wittgenstein’s formulation. Or I might just quote him in future;

    “Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language.”

    To my mind, this statement carries some important implications. Philosophy is carried out in language. This does not exclude other possibilities like philosophy being carried out in acts of commission or omission (including even silence). But some philosophy at least is carried out in language. This holds out the possibility that language has at least two uses apart from standard functional uses like “pass me the salt please”. It can bewitch intelligence with falsehoods, myths, fabrications conventions passing as norms and so on or it can be used to penetrate and puncture these very illusions.

    The testable physical truth claims of religion have largely been found to be false. The testable provenance truth claims about how their own sacred texts originated, are attributed and dated and so on, have largely been found to be false. While science, especially as scientism, lacks or lacked for a long time many things including checks against its own hubris and certainty in its deterministic phase, philosophy remained to assist corrections of such views. Science indeed could also be argued to have self-corrected via later discoveries particularly those of Darwin, Einstein and Max Planck, Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg to name a few. (Evolution, Relativity and Quantum theory.)

    Religion shows little of this kind of ability to self-correct error. I won’t say it has none. But in terms of objective, physical corrections it shows little or none. Morally, it can be argued there can be a self-correcting and developmental tendency in religion. The teachings attributed to Christ do show an advance over Old Testament morality. Though this Christ figure is not the only one to discover the essential logic of “The Golden Rule” and the capability of forgiveness to de-escalate the violent spiralling of hate and revenge.

    I would ask, considering all the above, why we would place any special store in religion and grant it special privileges, which our society still does. For example, why is proselytising religion state subsidised and seen as an unexceptionable activity in many quarters, yet arguing against religion or merely positing humanist values in their own right is especially singled out as all of unreasonable, confrontational, intolerant and so on? There is a double-standard at work here where fanciful fabrications and self-referential truth claims (the doctrine of revelation is proved by written claimed revelation) are accorded some special and undue respect including unearned (indeed squandered and often refuted) intellectual respectability as opposed to mere toleration which should be their only due.

    Do I have to take seriously and accord respect to every nonsensical myth the human brain is capable of concocting? Clearly, the answer is no. In turn, large, complex religio-mythic systems with many followers do demand more respect even if only in the sense that a billion deluded minds constitute a force whereas one deluded mind generally does not. According mass religion positive respect from a Humanist point of view is simply acceding to the fear of its force and influence. I accord tolerance but no respect for such belief systems exept for parts of their moral system which are congruent with my own. I respect persons from my Humanist ethics so I don’t harass or browbeat religious individuals. However, I express my views robustly in public forums like this one from time to time. I would only cease (probably but not certainly) if theocratic oppression rose again in Western society and theocrats once began executing people like me who question dogma.

    The only reason religion is now reasonable in the West is that the scientific-humanist religion forced it to be reasonable. Power (intellectual, social and political) was taken from religion. Dogma was rolled back and adopted the necessary guise of reasonableness to retain acceptance and respectability.

    In relation to the references to Germany and Russia. They were still ostensibly Christian societies. The capability of “modern” Christian societies to transmute into intolerant totalitarianism might say something about Christianity as a predisposing condition for these types of transformations or it might not. But there is also no justification for the reasoning that the abandonment of such religion was an important causative factor or facilitator. The Thirty Years War was very arguably a Christian religious war at the outset and for a considerable part of its duration. Focusing on modern totalitarian bêtes noires is standard cherry-picking. Did belief in divinely ordained constraints stop the Thirty Years war?

    ” The Thirty Years’ War was a series of wars in Central Europe between 1618 and 1648. It was one of the longest, most destructive conflicts in European history.

    Initially a war between Protestant and Catholic states in the fragmenting Holy Roman Empire, it gradually developed into a more general conflict involving most of the great powers of Europe, becoming less about religion and more a continuation of the France–Habsburg rivalry for European political pre-eminence.” – Wikipedia.

    Ootz, I respect you but not the cherry-picking arguments contained in your first quote. I respect neither the author’s rhetoric nor his (il)logic, nor his (lack of) knowledge of history.

  3. I apologise for leading you to a perceive inadequacy of my link.

    However, I’d like to point out that the writer’s emphasis was not on religion a such, rather than the blind or should I say absolutist position it takes akin, but opposite of fundamentalist followers of monotheistic religions. May I point out that the writer was one of the 43 scientists and philosophers who have signed and sent a letter to Tony Blair and relevant Government departments, concerning the teaching of Creationism being introduced in public schools. He also has warned about Islamophobia phobia in the New Humanist

    “”The real lesson of tolerance is that disputes should be settled by reasoned dialogue rather than abuse or violence, and that we should always accept that we may have much to learn from people whose beliefs initially appear strange. But these virtues are a far cry from the sentimental pretence that all claims to religious truth are somehow ‘equal’, or that critical scrutiny of Islam (or any belief system) is ignorant, prejudiced, or ‘phobic’. By all means let us be well-informed about Islam, but let us not assume that once we are, we shall altogether like what we find.””

    This does not sound like “”.. a lack of ability to self-correct error.””. Thus, I venture to assume you somehow missed this crucial statement in his critique

    “”.. an appreciation of the difference between transcendence and supernaturalism …””

    Let me also remind you of another religious leaders categorical statement:

    ““If scientific analysis were conclusively to demonstrate certain claims in Buddhism to be false, then we must accept the findings of science and abandon those claims.””

    You may also want to visit Paul Davis writing in ‘The Mind of God – Science and the Search of Meaning’, which contrary to popular believe does not make substantiated case for theism or a believe in god, rather than elaborately illustrates, that particular aspects of religion or method within religious practice is akin to fundamental scientific and philosophical practices and insights. Umm yeah, hard to summarise such a profound book, but it surely does provide the reader with some fundamental concepts, which are essential for a ‘rational’ discussion in philosophy of religion.

    And let me finish with a quote from my favorited scientist Richard Feynman, a maverick and genius, who had a knack of transcending religion and science in his appreciation of the beauty and efficacy of the nature of things:

    “Religion is a culture of faith; science is a culture of doubt.”

    As I suggested, let’s move on from battles, truth and for that matter religion, as I am much more interested in your question which made me bring up the concept of ’emergence’ and for that matter my emphasis on the difference between transcending and superstition.

  4. @Ootz

    I take some of your points. I certainly read too hurriedly. However, there is basic ground I simply will not cede to religion. The strong form of the “faith” argument gains no credence with me. “Faith” in this sense is simply a fancy word for “blind belief”. Because people can utter a talismanic word with great passion and vehemence, they then conclude that this validates their entire argument.

    Interlocutor 1: “I have FAITH!”
    Interlocutor 2: “Oh, okay, that indicates the end of all reasoned argument. Your position is not open to examination or refutation no matter what evidence can be assembled or logic employed.”

    I am not saying you are Interlocutor 1. I am the sarcastic Interlocutor 2, of course.

    The issue of emergence is interesting. “Emergence” is a real phenomenon IMO. I am not sure even that word is strong enough. Initially Physicalist philosophy worked with the word and concept of supervenience. I have read and need to re-read a paper with the title “Emergence not Supervenience”. But as I say, even “emergence” is not strong enough. A first look suggests to me that “evolution” needs to be the word and a full philosophical definition of that word (as opposed to just a biological definition) needs to be such that it encompasses supervenience, emergence and system evolution even in non-living systems.

    How can a monist Physicalist explain Mind or Consciousness as the sine qua non of emergence or evolution? I would simply invoke a “brute fact” claim as a first maneuver.

    “In contemporary philosophy, a brute fact is something that cannot be explained. To reject the existence of brute facts is to think that everything can be explained. “Everything can be explained” is sometimes called the principle of sufficient reason.” – Wikepedia

    Theists, deists etc. invoke brute fact. God explains everything but God is unexplained, as the uncaused cause. Thus “God” is the brute fact. The King James Bible expresses it most eloquently and succinctly in “I am, Who am.” This is perhaps the simplest, yet most powerful a priori justification one can read in all of religion or philosophy. As one susceptible to poetry, it has a strong effect even on Militant Me. Yet, I remember Wittgenstein’s warning; “Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language.”

    There is nothing invalid about Physicalism invoking brute fact as Idealism and Dualism in full essence do it too with “God”. On the other hand, the advantage of Occam’s razor belongs to Physicalism. Physicalism invokes the simplest explanation without recourse to deus ex machina or spirit in the substance. Everything arises in and from physical substance. Physics, biology, neurology and so on keep providing new more detailed schema which explain more and more of what is going on and they do so in testable, verifiable and repeatable ways (which science also permits successful predictions). This is not to say we can discover everything. Indeed, I am of the opinion that we will not and cannot. I am of the opinion that there are or will be limits to human knowledge even with all the “instruments and helps” as Bacon called them.

    What lies beyond those limits we will ever only be able to speculate. But claims by special “knowers” or special “knowing texts” to know the unknowable should always be treated with the utmost scepticism. Many are the scheming hoaxers and grasping charlatans in this world.

  5. Sorry, I used “sine qua non” incorrectly above. I was searching for the Latin phrase which means something like “the highest expression” or “highest outcome”. Is it something like “summam perfectionem (propelli experitur)”?

  6. I used to help someone with mathematics, first year undergraduate level. A friend of hers was introduced to me, and upon hearing that there are people who do research in mathematics, she expressed surprise that there was “more” mathematics to be discovered/created. I found it interesting that someone could think of a field, mathematics in this case, as being known completely. Mathematics is an open-ended system: there is always more to find, think about, or to create. Mathematicians construct new objects out of existing ones, and so on. So, there is always more to know. Since mathematics is a subset of all possible knowledge, it follows that there is always more to know in general. I have a proof of this, but it is too large to fit in the margin…

  7. Thank you Donald, absolutely so! Gödel was just one important corner stone in that development as my above mentioned four colour theorem. Game theory would be an other one, of which many people are perhaps aware of but not know the implications thereof. But recent developments with increased specialisation and whole new interdisciplinary fields, such as cognitive science with it’s neural-networks, artificial intelligence and particularly simulation and modelling. people also have to consider that at present we double the amount of data we generate doubles approx every two years at present and expected to be doing so every day with a few years. That will take an awful lot of number crunching.

    We are basically living through the equivalent of a renaissance in terms of speed and quality of new insights. At the same time we also need a slick system to drive us out o the mess and save our beacon.

  8. @Ootz

    Good points about the increase in knowledge and data. They are not the same thing of course but your point still holds. The puzzling thing is, with all this increase in knowledge, neoliberal economics gets no nearer to solving its problems. In fact its dogma becomes more ossified every year.

  9. O ye of little faith 🙂 I recon one could put a reasonable argument together nw, that there are patters emerging which indicate a change in the tide and even possibilities of tsunamis. Old structures are crumbling everywhere and behavioural science based suggestions of cognitive ‘agility’ and ‘nudging’ are coming from the Lodge and Davos.

    But thanks for feedback Iko, good to know you get my drift. I am a volunteer with Broadband for Seniors, because I see the digital divide to be an obstacle to the tide change. In a similar way, I like to hang around insightful discussion on important issues and like to enrich or enhance these discussion, so we can have productive debate, fleshing out the issues, asking relevant and valid questions and so on. This aspects are just as important as logical or mathematical prowess for decent philosophical discussion probing deeper and deeper the ‘truth’ or as I would term it, the beast we are riding.

    One way I can participate in that is by highlighting and illustrating common cognitive traps on which an important discussion or debate can flounder. One of those has come increasingly to my attention as an obstacle to progressive thinking – false dichotomies. For example, recently I had a hell of a time to get a hearing on either side of a pretty intense water fluoridation debate online. In fact both sides assumed I was arguing against them, where as was suggesting that if they would spend the same amount of money and effort on dealing with the underlying problem it would be a win win situation, namely no need for water fluoridation and better dental health outcomes as well as reducing one of the biggest health risks and cost to our public system. I had the figures and all, but no the trap of false dichotomy had too much of a cognitive strangle hold on all. So Ikonoklast, consider this, could there be a third, or forth option for that matter, for establishing the “truth” between your “(hard) science” and “superstition”, something perhaps even more efficacious or even elegant? You don’t have to leave your comfortable “pure Physicalist Monist system” but just consider the possibility.

    I nearly added to my last sentence re our “need for a slick systems”, that we also need slick operators to drive it and don’t worry I include myself here too.

  10. Iko, how is your groin? You have my sympathy, it is frustrating being laid up with health issues. Today I feel the best for months, no pain and the cognitive fog nearly clear. My apologies for the often garbled sentences and tortured writing in my comments above. It is a symptom of my illness and I appreciate your patience and interaction on a topic I am passioned about as a fellow autodidact.

    I thought you maybe interested in this article I picked up this morning. It illustrates how recent developments in another keystone discovery in mathematics (fractals). It beautifully deals with a transcending phenomena, namely literature. It is amazing how through simple binary codes (black ink and white page) symbols, words, sentences and ultimately literature emerges. These patterns of black and white fit our innate abilities to decode and transcend to gain meaning, being touched emotionally and become an important aspect of being human.

    Hence my previous statements about the whole being more than the sum of its parts, as well as emphasis on emergence and transcending with regards to your very pertinent question

    “”How can a fully determined system render a world with indeterminism?””

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