The Denver Philosophy Meetup Group Message Board › Transhumanism, anyone?

Transhumanism, anyone?

A former member
Post #: 137
Jeanette commented:

I've never heard anyone claim that there's no difference between a human being and a rock.

Or that there aren't qualities in the combination of things we're made of that don't exist in the fundamental components we're made of, qualities that emerge from the combination of those basic elements, their interactions with each other, and their interactions with their environment.

Your version of "reductionist materialism" doesn't exist.

Reductionistic materialists never put their thesis in terms this blunt, because assertions like this are clearly false, or at least highly implausible. Indeed, they do everything humanly possible to squirm away from saying the obvious. But what you've also never heard a reductionistic materialist say is that there are properties at less "fundamental" levels that simply don't exist at the more fundamental levels. (Anyone who says that is an emergentist.) And if there are no such properties, then it follows, inevitably, that there's no difference between a human being and a rock, at least no difference other than chemical composition, etc.

So, unfortunately, it isn't "my version" of reductionist materialism that we're talking about here -- there isn't any other version. There can't be. That what's meant by reductionism: every physical phenomenon can be accounted for exclusively in terms of the properties of the smallest piece of physical furniture, whatever that piece of furniture is construed as being. There's nothing new to be found above that level, apart from the sort of thing that we find when 10 sulfur atoms weigh 10 times more than 1 sulfur atom.

That's why people like Dennett are stuck in a dead end. On his view, there can't be any consciousness, because consciousness isn't a property of quarks (or whatever). So he doesn't explain consciousness -- he explains it away as a complex sort of illusion.

In biology similar claims are made: there's no such thing as structure and/or function (as applies to things like cells and organs). These terms don't mean anything.

And so on.

So you see, Jeanette, you're an emergentist. All that's left is for you to get comfortable with that, and to realize that reductionism is nonsense.

--K.


Rich
Rich.Carlson
Denver, CO
Post #: 55
Ken,
We might all be more open to your ideas if you would stop repeatedly misrepresenting all forms of reductionism as eliminativist. The caricature was old even before you started trying to put an albatross of supposed nihilism around its neck.
It would also be helpful if you would (1) make a clear argument as to why certain phenomena (any one, take your pick) are somehow irreducible, (2) clarify your ontological position about these phenomena and the supposedly novel emergent properties, and (3) give a straightforward example or description of how downward causation is supposed to work (if that is included in your emergentist perspective).
Punching the strawman and telling reductionists they don't believe what they say about phenomena but somehow believe what you say they believe is getting you nowhere in terms of credibility

-Rich
A former member
Post #: 138

Dru:

You commented:

Damn, I've been a supporter of Ken's arguments -- or at least his approach to his arguments -- to this point -- and lacking yet any better definition. I'm afraid however, we part ways severely on the point of those damn evil Reductionistic Materialists -- of which I'm one. At least we use almost identical terms. I often identify myself as a Materialist - Reductionist (never heard anyone else use those almost identical terms together, cool). Not to waste any more time on terms though -- the actual argument should be rather succinct.

However tiresome, it probably needs to be said over and over again that emergentism is a materialism, because the common misconception is that reductionistic materialism and materialism are synonymous.

Nothing could be further from the truth. That's like saying that the term "chess" and the term "game" are synonymous.

What both sorts of materialism contend is that there are no spirits, and there is no magic -- or no miracles to use a term from another vernacular that is still in common use (although it appears that there is a level of fundamental acausality in the universe).

The divide between reductionism materialism and emergentist materialism arises beyond that point over the issue concerning whether or not there are unique physical properties/entities to be found above the level of quarks (or whatever is standing in for the most fundamental bit of stuff on any given day).

The reductionist wants to reduce all phenomena that appear to be unique to the properties of the most fundamental bits of stuff. The emergentist says that there are new properties that emerge above the level of that stuff that aren't the properties of the fundamental bits of stuff. Moreover, says the emergentist, if that's the case, then genuinely scientific explanations have to be stated in terms that include the emergent properties, not just in terms of the properties of the fundamental stuff (which, of course, are always present, and which is what has rather confused the whole issue).

In my view, the controversy is already over, and has been for some decades. The emergentists are right and the reductionists are wrong. The reductionists, quite simply, lost the argument. The discovery of isomers already made that clear. Subsequently, the discovery of molecules of the same composition but with different chirality and different physical properties closed the door on reductionism forever.

Despite the arguments of folks like Dennett (in philosophy of mind), and others (in biology and other branches of science), I say the controversy is over because no reductionist has yet succeeded in re-opening that door.

Best,
Ken
Rich
Rich.Carlson
Denver, CO
Post #: 56
With this post of Ken's I think I'm finally beginning to see why he keeps bringing this up.
He avers that

The divide between reductionism materialism and emergentist materialism arises beyond that point over the issue concerning whether or not there are unique physical properties/entities to be found above the level of quarks (or whatever is standing in for the most fundamental bit of stuff on any given day).

The reductionist wants to reduce all phenomena that appear to be unique to the properties of the most fundamental bits of stuff. The emergentist says that there are new properties that emerge above the level of that stuff that aren't the properties of the fundamental bits of stuff. Moreover, says the emergentist, if that's the case, then genuinely scientific explanations have to be stated in terms that include the emergent properties, not just in terms of the properties of the fundamental stuff (which, of course, are always present, and which is what has rather confused the whole issue).
<Color added for emphasis>

Ken keeps telling us that we don't get what emergentism means. When it appears that what is going on is that Ken doesn't get what reductionism means.

So let me give it a try:
It isn't that reductionists claim these phenomena or properties don't exist at 'higher' levels and that emergentists do. It's that reductionists are perfectly happy accepting the existence of the wide array of phenomena at all levels, accept that they are different, but view them as resulting from the interaction of their more fundamental components. In contrast, the standard emergentist view claims that there is something extra coming into play that is not dependent on the interactions of the more fundamental elements.
That is the essential emergentist claim - that something new or extra exists at this level.

Reductionists are perfectly happy recognizing that there is a difference between ham sandwiches and toddlers. They just don't think there's something new being added into the mix that makes them so, while emergentists do.
Perhaps it is this fundamental misunderstanding as to where the difference lies that drives Ken to caricature the reductionist position over and over and over. Not content to accept the difference that emergentists hold there to be something new added in while reductionists don't, he goes an extra step and claims that reductionists deny even the existence of these things. In order to accommodate the reductionists that accept that these differences do exist he keeps trying to claim as emergentists a whole group of people perfectly willing to accept these differences, and to redefine reductionism as the denial of 'higher' level phenomena altogether.

Ken, I think you're grinding your axe on a spurious notion of what reductionism entails and missing the real crux of the issue that separates emergentism.
A former member
Post #: 139
Hi, Rich.

You commented:

Ken, We might all be more open to your ideas if you would stop repeatedly misrepresenting all forms of reductionism as eliminativist. The caricature was old even before you started trying to put an albatross of supposed nihilism around its neck.

Rich, I suggest that you not speak of "we" here. Others should be free to speak for themselves, and not have words put in their mouths. Also, it isn't like anyone has been arguing for some sort of purportedly non-eliminativist reductionism and I've run roughshod over them. No one, other than yourself, here and now, has even mentioned this position (if it really is a position - more about that in a moment).

Second, I haven't represented all forms of reductionism as being eliminative (though I could have, and perhaps should have). True, that is the form of reductionism I've been discussing; but that's because it's been hard enough for the folks here to follow that argument, which is clearer, by far, than the arguments around purportedly non-eliminativist reductionism.

Now, inconvenient though it may be, the position that I've attacked isn't a caricature, and there's no misrepresentation going on, because the position in question is a real position that has long been, and is still, defended. (In philosophy of mind, most conspicuously, by the Churchlands.) It's true, of course, that the position I've attacked is old, in the sense of having been around for quite a while. However, unlike purported non-eliminativist reductionism, it does, at least, have the virtue of being clear and consistent, which I take to be requirements of being coherent.

I didn't, it should be obvious, place the albatross of nihilism around the neck of the (eliminative) reductionists: they did that themselves, and very proficiently indeed. That's because this particular albatross follows directly from their premises. No one has ever shown otherwise. And no one ever will.

What about 'non-eliminativist reductionism?' In my opinion, this position is incoherent - that is, it's not so much wrong as not actually a unique position at all. I believe that it is, in fact, either actually emergentist, or else actually eliminativist. (If you contend otherwise, please state, and then defend, your position.) In the event that I'm right about this, there's no point in mentioning this position (and, therefore, there can be no misrepresentation) because it actually turns out to be one or the other of the positions that I have discussed.

You go on to comment:

It would also be helpful if you would (1) make a clear argument as to why certain phenomena (any one, take your pick) are somehow irreducible

I have already done so: a good example is provided by isomers, which are either structural in nature, or else spatial in nature, that is, of different chirality. Before I continue, I should say that whenever I say "reductionist" or "reductionism" I mean "eliminative reductionist" or "eliminative reductionism" because of my conviction that there is no such thing as "non-eliminative reductionism," that phrase being a contradiction in terms.

To continue, two molecular isomers are molecules comprised of precisely the same component atoms, but which have either different structures or else the same structure but different chirality or spatial isomerism (that is, are right and left-handed versions of a molecue of the same structure). Structural isomers (and, in particular, tautomers) typically have different chemical properties, even though they are comprised of precisely the same individual component atoms. Therefore, the chemical properties in question are irreducible.

Therefore, reductionism fails.

(2) clarify your ontological position about these phenomena and the supposedly novel emergent properties,

My apologies, but I'm not quite sure what you're after here, Rich. (Please feel free to clarify if you don't think my answer, following, is responsive.) My ontological position in the case at hand is simply a statement of empirical fact: isomers comprised of identical component atoms nevertheless have different, and therefore emergent, chemical properties.

and (3) give a straightforward example or description of how downward causation is supposed to work (if that is included in your emergentist perspective).

It is so included. The same example will suffice again. Downward causation is in play in any case where physical properties that only exist at a higher level serve as the relevant explanatory (causal) factor for a given physical outcome, in particular a physical outcome that impacts entities at a level of lesser complexity. We can see downward causation at work with isomers -- the properties found in a given isomer will have chemical effects that are not only different from the effects of their component atoms, but also different from the effects of other isomers, and this is true of both structural and spatial isomers.

To choose an example with respect to the nervous system: upward causation is in effect when a mosquito bite on one of my extremities results in a sensation of itching. Downward causation is in effect when I elect to scratch that mosquito bite.

Punching the strawman and telling reductionists they don't believe what they say about phenomena but somehow believe what you say they believe is getting you nowhere in terms of credibility

Asserting that a strawman is being attacked is only valid if nobody now, or ever, has actually defended a given position. That assertion fails flagrantly in this case. I can quote you chapter and verse if you insist. (Do you? Please advise.)

Best,
Ken
A former member
Post #: 140
Hi, Rich.

You commented:

It isn't that reductionists claim these phenomena or properties don't exist at 'higher' levels and that emergentists do. It's that reductionists are perfectly happy accepting the existence of the wide array of phenomena at all levels, accept that they are different, but view them as resulting from the interaction of their more fundamental components.

I'm sorry, Rich. This may be a good statement of your personal position, but it isn't the position of folks like the Churchlands, and it wasn't the position of the Logical Positivists, nor is it the position of the others who have essentially retained the same overall point of view as the Logical Positivists. It's a good thing that it wasn't their position, because it's false. (I'll explain why, again, in a moment.)

You go on to say:

In contrast, the standard emergentist view claims that there is something extra coming into play that is not dependent on the interactions of the more fundamental elements.
That is the essential emergentist claim - that something new or extra exists at this level.

The emergentist asserts that there are properties at higher levels of complexity that aren't found at lower levels of complexity. In that sense it can be said that something new (not really "extra") can exist at higher levels. Emergentists also assert that these new properties aren't dependent upon the interaction of the more fundamental elements, because they're not.

Let's take the example I posted in an earlier response concerning isomers. In particular I'd like to focus on spatial isomers.

Two molecules are spatial isomers if they have the same molecular structure, but exist in right and left handed forms. These isomers have different chemical properties, but not because of interactions among their component atoms (if we really wanted to be true to reductionism, we'd have to speak in terms of the "interactions" of quarks). There aren't any interactions. The differences are, rather, attributable to the differing chiralities of the respective molecules. These are structural differences.

Reductionists are perfectly happy recognizing that there is a difference between ham sandwiches and toddlers. They just don't think there's something new being added into the mix that makes them so, while emergentists do.

This statement is incoherent. If there aren't any differences in the properties of ham sandwiches and toddlers, there aren't any (relevant) differences at all. The reductionist you speak of (yourself) is happy recognizing a difference that he can't recognize because it doesn't have any basis in reality.

Perhaps it is this fundamental misunderstanding as to where the difference lies that drives Ken to caricature the reductionist position over and over and over. Not content to accept the difference that emergentists hold there to be something new added in while reductionists don't, he goes an extra step and claims that reductionists deny even the existence of these things. In order to accommodate the reductionists that accept that these differences do exist he keeps trying to claim as emergentists a whole group of people perfectly willing to accept these differences, and to redefine reductionism as the denial of 'higher' level phenomena altogether.

Well, I can restate this in a way that would make the foregoing assertions true. Here's that restatement:

It is Rich's fundamental misunderstanding as to where the difference lies that drives him to misunderstand the emergentist position. Not understanding that emergentists don't believe that there is something "added" he doesn't realize that he must be an emergentist, simply because the facts require him to be. He keeps trying to claim as reductionists a whole group of people who don't understand that the reasons why they're happy to accept differences are factually false. Moreover, he repeatedly redefines reductionism in terms that simply don't fit the claims of actual reductionists, and, which, if they did, would be false.

Rich, I think you're grinding your axe on a spurious notion of what reductionism entails and missing the real crux of the issue that separates emergentism.

Best,
Ken
Rich
Rich.Carlson
Denver, CO
Post #: 57
Sigh.
I won't even bother getting into this again; I think we've both provided enough rope to see who hangs themselves.
I'll just clarify that what I loosely called emergentism would more accurately be called strong ontological emergence, and that if you actually want to address the particular forms of eliminative materialism advocated by Pat Churchland or Dan Dennett you might get better feedback (from me at least) by discussing them in particular rather than trying to broadside reductionism in general.
-Rich
Rich
Rich.Carlson
Denver, CO
Post #: 58
And as an aside, I'm not arguing either against emergentism or for reductionism, just against what I see as a recurring polemical misrepresentation of one side. I'm actually in favor of a weak epistemological form of emergetism. I just don't see a clear airing of the ideas happening here.
Jeanette M. N.
wickedatheist
Denver, CO
Post #: 3,720
Ken, reductionism as you describe it sounds like some of the ancient Greek philosophers' speculations about the nature of matter and qualities of perception and atomism in its earliest form.

If you want to argue against that version of reductionism, then you should spend less time arguing against a view that you claim reductionists secretly believe, and more time building a time machine.

Rich, as quoted by Ken:

Ken, We might all be more open to your ideas if you would stop repeatedly misrepresenting all forms of reductionism as eliminativist. The caricature was old even before you started trying to put an albatross of supposed nihilism around its neck.

Ken:
Rich, I suggest that you not speak of "we" here. Others should be free to speak for themselves, and not have words put in their mouths.

I am free to speak for myself, but I'm finding that each time this same discussion starts up it goes around in the same circles. And I don't disagree with Rich, so that makes two of us "reductionists." I think that's enough of us that we qualify as a "we," so that Rich has my permission to speak for me, and I'm going to go do other things.
A former member
Post #: 141
Rich commented:

I'll just clarify that what I loosely called emergentism would more accurately be called strong ontological emergence

I think this sort of labeling tends to have somewhat limited value. We usually do better to explain what we mean, because then there's no doubt about what is meant.

But if we're going to use this sort of terminology for purposes of brevity, then I agree that what you are calling emergentism is some sort of strong ontological emergence. However, I would maintain that it's a fallacious sort, if it requires that there be something "extra" to be found in emergent phenomena.

Fortunately, I don't know of any proponents of this sort of emergence. We could walk through the canon of the primary theorists of emergentism, and if we did so, then, to the best of my knowledge, we wouldn't find that any of them argue for emergence of this kind.

This is the sort of -- well, strawman -- that we encounter among -- well, reductionists who haven't taken the trouble to read actual theorists of emergentism. And I suspect you've been drinking their Koolaid.

To continue, you commented:

. . . if you actually want to address the particular forms of eliminative materialism advocated by Pat Churchland or Dan Dennett you might get better feedback (from me at least) by discussing them in particular rather than trying to broadside reductionism in general.

Well, these guys pretty much represent the mainstream of reductionism as most people encounter it; and, in particular, they represent the sort of reductionism argued for by the people who have been read and discussed in this forum. (Which is how the other thread concerning this issue arose to begin with.)

True: if, and only if, there's some sort of non-eliminative materialism out there that can hold water, then to address the Churchland flavor of reductionism is to address exclusively a particular form of eliminative materialism. However, if some sort of purported non-eliminative materialism turns out, on closer examination, to be either a form of emergentism, or else a restatement of the Churchland form of reductionistic materialism, then addressing that form of reductionism is, rightly, a broadside against reductionism in its entirety. Because, if that's the case, then that's the only sort of reductionism there actually is.

And it is my take that, in fact, the only form of reductionism that is coherent is eliminative reductionistic materialism. I've invited you to defend some other form, and you haven't done so. I should say that I don't blame you for that. I don't think it can be done.

Best,
Ken
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