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

Transhumanism, anyone?

Dru W.
user 2391280
Louisville, CO
Post #: 115
Ahh, Jeeze,
There's been some interesting discussion, but it's depressing that it isn't yet driving to any level of explanation that allows anyone to derive whatever conclusion they will. But then that's a reductionistic process, isn't it?
We've got abstraction chasing abstraction -- like a dog chasing it's tail. Instead, of relying on definitions of abstractions -- that apparently we don't all agree on -- if they have yet all been disclosed -- can we not drill down and define directly what should be the point of the matter. Let's strip out a few layers of abstractions -- describe what's really going on.
From my reductionist perspective and likely that of others -- Ken needs to show us the magic -- and if it is magic how he continues in the materialist camp. Use isomers, should you want, but we would need to see specifically a description (not a reference to someone else's description) on why there's magic there. Why are isomers different than diamonds and graphite or graphene? When something's different -- it's different. Isomers are different. Or use any other example -- but drill down and describe the guts of the emergent argument -- without referring to someone's opinion of that arguement. What are the facts of the argument? Please, focus on those facts.
And should Ken want to talk morals -- amongst ham sandwiches and infants -- or lack there of, begin with the fact that morals DO exist -- NOT that they can't logically exist from your perspective -- but they DO exist. We DO have sentience and consciousness and an inherent potential for morals. beginning with that then show the logical failure -- dealing with those facts -- without hopefully denying the facts in some alternate take on reality. Jeeze, let's try to get a little grounded here -- somehow or for most of us it's huge waste of time. Let's get down to a level where the logical explanations are CLEAR and people can draw what conclusions they may.
Dru
303 666 -- 7665
A former member
Post #: 147
Hi, Dru. Welcome to the conversation.

Ahh, Jeeze,
There's been some interesting discussion, but it's depressing that it isn't yet driving to any level of explanation that allows anyone to derive whatever conclusion they will. But then that's a reductionistic process, isn't it?

Well, I've done my best; and, if I say so myself, it's a far, far clearer best than most of what you'll find in the philosophy journals and the (rare) other places where these issues are discussed (including Wikipedia, which was very recently edited to be more inadequate than ever).

If you'd like to read in greater depth, with a greater wealth of (factual) examples, let me know and I can point you to a book or two.

In my opinion, the burden of proof now lies with anyone espousing reductionism -- not with those espousing emergentism.

We've got abstraction chasing abstraction -- like a dog chasing it's tail. Instead, of relying on definitions of abstractions -- that apparently we don't all agree on -- if they have yet all been disclosed -- can we not drill down and define directly what should be the point of the matter. Let's strip out a few layers of abstractions -- describe what's really going on.

That's what the example of isomers was intended to provide.

From my reductionist perspective. . .

Well, given what you have to say below about consciousness, you are, about as emphatically as possible, not a reductionist. Neither is Rich. Neither is Jeanette.

Ken needs to show us the magic -- and if it is magic how he continues in the materialist camp. Use isomers, should you want, but we would need to see specifically a description (not a reference to someone else's description) on why there's magic there. Why are isomers different than diamonds and graphite or graphene? When something's different -- it's different. Isomers are different. Or use any other example -- but drill down and describe the guts of the emergent argument -- without referring to someone's opinion of that arguement.

Nope. There's no magic, so there's no magic to show you. I have never, not in so much as a single sentence, ever said or even implied that there was. And neither has any other emergentist. The vitalists espoused a kind of magic, but emergentists don't go there. Again, the example I've provided of isomers doesn't refer to anyone else's description of why they are significant in this context. It drills directly into the guts of the emergentist argument.

The continued talk of "magic" as concerns emergentism, and the continued assertion of positions (such as the real existence of consciousness) that are 100% incompatible with reductionism make it clear that neither position has really been grasped yet by the participants in this conversation.

What are the facts of the argument? Please, focus on those facts.

I can't think of a clearer example than that provided by isomers. There wouldn't be any point, anyway. Other examples would simply illustrate the same fact: we find properties above the level of microphysical stuff than aren't the same as the properties of that microphysical stuff. And because we do, reduction won't always work as an explanation, and higher level stuff isn't always properly described by, or explained (bottom up) by, the microphysical. This isn't speculation. It's brute fact.

And should Ken want to talk morals -- amongst ham sandwiches and infants -- or lack there of, begin with the fact that morals DO exist -- NOT that they can't logically exist from your perspective -- but they DO exist. We DO have sentience and consciousness and an inherent potential for morals.

Well, these are all the sort of contentions that emergentists make, and that reductionists never do -- or, more to the point, never can. Consciousness, morality -- these things aren't found in quarks, or strings, or atoms, and, according to the reductionist, if they can't be found there, they can't be found anywhere at all. Nor can they explain anything. How could they, if they don't exist?

In my opinion, the difficulty folks are having here isn't really a lack of clarity -- rather, it's that the dots aren't yet connecting in people's mind from what reductionists contend, to what those contentions, in the real world, inescapably imply.

Nor are the dots yet connecting that, from the reality of phenomena such as isomers, those contentions are false. They're just as false as saying that the Earth is flat, at least if they are taken to provide a comprehensive account of reality and/or the nature of causation. The reductionists are something like the three blind men who are invited to touch an elephant, and each of whom takes the particular part of the elephant that they've touched (tail, trunk, side) for the whole of the elephant. Reductionism works perfectly well for some things -- but not when emergent properties are present.

Best,
Ken
Anneli
user 11327411
Englewood, CO
Post #: 23
I wasn’t able to look into this as much as I wanted to, but what I did find made me wonder about Materialism, of either kind. If Materialism states that all that exists is matter and energy, then doesn’t it therefore have to deny the differences between matter, energy and consciousness? It may not be magic, but there is a difference that definitely exists. It’s what makes a sandwich very different than an infant.

I have no idea of the quality of the “Kheper” website, but here is its definition of Materialism.
Materialism is the simplest (or most simplistic) explanation of reality: the belief that all that exists is the physical; there are no higher realities; no psychic or spiritual truths independent of the physical world. Materialism itself is a meme, a specific, culturally determined way of thinking about reality.

A slightly longer definition: Philosophical materialism (physicalism) is the metaphysical view that there is only one substance in the universe and that substance is physical, empirical or material. Regarding the "big questions", the sceptical or Materialistic explanation of the universe is that everything is matter and energy, and there is nothing else. Spiritual substance is a delusion. Consciousness is explained simply as an emergent phenomenon of the physical brain. There can therefore be no such things as the "supernatural ", paranormal phenomena, post-mortem existence, or occult phenomena. These are either delusions or reducible to physical forces. Materialists are not necessarily atheists (as it is possible to identify God with the material universe, as in Pantheism). However, Atheism is often a corollary of Materialism, especially in the sense of a denial of a supernatural personal God or any sort of higher creative power. Materialists do not deny the reality of such things as love or justice, beauty or goodness.

Consciousness is called, “just an emergent phenomenon”. “It is the belief that all that exists is the physical”. Doesn't this exclude the experience of consciousness.

These quotes are from an article called: “Is materialistic reductionism self refuting?” It’s about Keith Ward’s book “Is Religion Dangerous?”

“…the idea that “nothing exists except matter” is self-refuting because if it were true neither it, nor any other idea, would actually exist.”

“Materialism, he says, is “entirely dissolved by quantum physics”, and “consciousness resists translation into purely physical terms”.”

I believe that we are made up of matter and energy that developed into something else, that we call “consciousness”. I think that it emerged from chaos, time and evolution, but I don't think that consciousness is only equal to the sum of its parts.

Maybe I just incorrectly interpret consciousness as a non-physical thing. Does Materialism say that experience is as physical as our bodies? Do we really know enough about consciousness to say what it is or isn’t?
A former member
Post #: 148
Hi, Anneliese:

Well, let me see if I can answer your (as always very insightful) questions.

You ask:

I wasn’t able to look into this as much as I wanted to, but what I did find made me wonder about Materialism, of either kind. If Materialism states that all that exists is matter and energy, then doesn’t it therefore have to deny the differences between matter, energy and consciousness? It may not be magic, but there is a difference that definitely exists. It’s what makes a sandwich very different than an infant.

Well, any attempt to define materialism that also attempts to be clear and succinct isn't going to provide much in the way of qualification or nuance. This sort of statement can serve reasonably well as a "quick and dirty" characterization, but what it can't do is stand in for some 2,500 years of investigation and discourse concerning this topic -- discourse that has become increasingly complex, increasingly abstract, and increasingly nuanced. (I'm rather touched by Dru's hope that I could clear this all up over the course of a few postings here.) And I don't think anyone yet has all the answers.

So, much qualification is needed.

For starters: Einstein's famous equation "E=mc2" was famous because it asserted a startling equivalence between mass (one property of matter) and energy. So it could actually be said that there's really only "one thing" that can take one of two possible forms (mass or energy).

(Incidentally, a related notion is that mass/energy can be neither created nor destroyed -- in which case there's a real problem with making any sense of how there came to be any of the stuff in the first place. It would appear that the "big bang" did what physics says can't be done.)

Now, having said this, let's go back to your question: "If Materialism states that all that exists is matter and energy, then doesn’t it therefore have to deny the differences between matter, energy and consciousness? It may not be magic, but there is a difference that definitely exists. It’s what makes a sandwich very different than an infant."

This question goes to the very heart of the controversy. The reductionist does think that we have to deny any (and all) apparent differences between mass/energy and consciousness.

The emergentist materialist agrees that, materially speaking, everything is made of mass/energy. (There doesn't appear to be good evidence for the existence of anything else.) Nevertheless, the emergentist wants to salvage the idea that there are real differences between a sandwich and an infant.

But if the emergentist is also a materialist, how can that be?

Well, there's kind of a inconsistency in materialist thought that the emergentist has taken note of and believes to be of tremendous significance.

Let's go back to the idea that everything is really mass/energy. Now, all matter has the property of mass, so that's clearly something pretty fundamental about it. Nevertheless, mass isn't the only property of matter. We're not really sure yet why that should be the case. As I said, we don't have all the answers yet.

Yet even when we talk about something as primitive as a quark, we still find that it does, in fact, have other properties than mass (including such oddities as electric charge, color charge, and spin). And when we talk about something as complex as an atom (of , say, hydrogen, the simplest form of matter in the periodic table of the elements) we find all sorts of further properties still. So how do we get from mass to all this other stuff? Do we want to say that only mass is really real, and these other properties are illusory?

Phooey.

And we haven't really found any point in the continuum of physical complexity where this same issue hasn't surfaced.

Now, the value of the example provided by isomers lies in this: we can see both how and why the new properties arise. They arise because the spatial structures of the isomeric molecules are different, and not because the properties of the component atoms are in any way different.

The case of consciousness is no doubt far more complex than this, but nevertheless may well be no different in principle, particularly since once we have emergent properties interacting with other emergent properties, the door is wide open to both tremendous complexity and tremendous novelty.

So how about this, instead: all that we really know, so far, is that there's stuff that's "more fundamental" and there's stuff that's "more complex" -- but we've found that the stuff that's "more complex" really does have properties that are different from the less complex stuff. And why not, after all?

Now we continue to two statements that are, at the very best, controversial. (And, in my own view, seriously confused.)

Materialism itself is a meme, a specific, culturally determined way of thinking about reality.

This assertion is the condensed essence of post-modernism, and, as such, it's mostly twaddle.

First: if all ways of thinking were culturally determined (which is the full version of this claim), there could never be any new ideas. Human culture would always have to have been exactly what it is now. But it hasn't been.

Second: cultural influences have nothing to do with the truth value of assertions. If I say that 2+2=4, then 2+2=4 no matter how our culture may have influenced our arrival at that truth.

Materialists do not deny the reality of such things as love or justice, beauty or goodness.

Well, they absolutely, positively do deny the reality of such things IF: 1) they are consistent in their thinking, and 2) if they are reductionistic materialists in their basic premises.

Consciousness is called, “just an emergent phenomenon”. “It is the belief that all that exists is the physical”. Doesn't this exclude the experience of consciousness.

On a reductionistic account, yes. On an emergentist account, no.

These quotes are from an article called: “Is materialistic reductionism self refuting?” It’s about Keith Ward’s book “Is Religion Dangerous?”

“…the idea that “nothing exists except matter” is self-refuting because if it were true neither it, nor any other idea, would actually exist.”

I agree, if by 'matter' he's referring to the reductionistic account of matter.

“Materialism, he says, is “entirely dissolved by quantum physics”, and “consciousness resists translation into purely physical terms”.”

My response here would be the same.

I believe that we are made up of matter and energy that developed into something else, that we call “consciousness”. I think that it emerged from chaos, time and evolution, but I don't think that consciousness is only equal to the sum of its parts.

Well, an emergentist would say that consciousness is greater than the sum of its parts.

Maybe I just incorrectly interpret consciousness as a non-physical thing. Does Materialism say that experience is as physical as our bodies? Do we really know enough about consciousness to say what it is or isn’t?

The reductionist is committed to the view that consciousness is, in some sense or another, illusory. However, she/he can rarely be found actually asserting this, because it is such a wildly implausible view.
A former member
Post #: 151
Ken says:"
If you'd like, instead, a canonical statement of the most fundamental assertion espoused by reductionists, here's one that isn't the least bit controversial (this isn't my phraseology, BTW):

All individuals are constituted by, or identical to, microphysical
individuals, and all properties are realized by, or identical to,
microphysical properties.
"

and then continues to defend as a definition this position:
All individuals are identical to microphysical
individuals, and all properties are identical to,
microphysical properties.


The difference seems important to me, even putting aside for the moment all the nihilistic consequences Ken says follow.

Can you elaborate a bit here, Rich?

Best,
Ken
Rich
Rich.Carlson
Denver, CO
Post #: 60
Can you elaborate a bit here, Rich?

Well that pretty much encapsulates the discussion so far. Placed side by side and in bold text and the difference between an accepted view and your eliminativist mischaracterization still isn't visible to you.
A former member
Post #: 152

Hi, Rich.

In response to my request for elaboration, you commented:

Well that pretty much encapsulates the discussion so far. Placed side by side and in bold text and the difference between an accepted view and your eliminativist mischaracterization still isn't visible to you.

Well, I guess I would encapsulate the discussion so far a little differently.

You said (on March 16):

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 then quoted chapter and verse concerning the most canonical of the reductionists who did, indeed, maintain that these phenomena and properties don't exist at 'higher' levels. (And still do maintain that view.)

As for the "interaction of their more fundamental components" -- well, that might be, though you provided no examples of this, didn't show how that was the case in the example I provided of the isomers, and, most importantly, didn't explain how, if that actually was the case, that that wouldn't constitute a variant of emergentism rather than a variant of reductionism.

I suspect that one reason you didn't do that is because you confused emergentism with vitalism (also March 16 -- emphasis added):

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.

So, each of your claims constituted a flagrant mischaracterization of the respective position. And your claims concerning my invocation of a "strawman" or a "caricature" turned out to be in error. Nevertheless, you apparently decided that I was the one mischaracterizing reductionism. It was in order to make your case that you engaged in your exercise with the bolding of text.

Now, if there's some sort of different sort of reductionist position lurking here, as you are apparently persuaded, whether or not that amounts to anything of significance depends upon the details of that position. Hence my (still unsatisfied) request for elaboration.

But I don't think it does amount to anything of significance.

On my take, the use of "or" in the construction in question means that the author was invoking paraphraxis for the sake of clarification. But let's assume that that view is false. Then we'd have the following position you evidently regard as being both tremendously different from the alternative and of enormous significance:

All individuals are constituted by microphysical individuals, and all properties are realized by microphysical properties.

And I guess I would just disagree that this constitutes some sort of drastically different account of reductionism, and one maintained by some significant number of reductionists. In particular, I don't see that there's any recognition here of unique properties at a "higher" level that don't exist at the "lower" level. The only claim I can discover here is one that emergentists share with reductionists: that "all properties are realized by microphysical properties." But whereas the reductionist thinks that these realized microphysical properties are all of the properties that there are, the emegentist has pointed out that, while the emergent properties couldn't exist without the coexistence of the microphysical properties, they nevertheless constitute something separate from those properties, and are unique to, and found only at, the "higher" level.

So, again, I think, given your previous statements, that your views are far more conformable to emergentism than to reductionism, and I again deny that I've mischaracterized the reductionistic view. Rather, I think your claims to that effect were, and possibly still are, very much grounded in a misunderstanding of both positions.

Best,
Ken
Rich
Rich.Carlson
Denver, CO
Post #: 61
Rather than take another pointless spin around the merry-go-round, I'll just post a lengthy quote from one of Ken's favorite whipping boys and supposed exemplar of the idea that there is only one sort of reductionism and that it denies or 'explains away' the existence of complex phenomena. I particularly like the final sentence and the adjective Dennett uses to describe the reading of reductionism Ken's been putting forth.
Now I'm going to leave this tiresome debate permanently and go have an infant for lunch. I mean a sandwich. I never can tell the difference.

from
Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life
Chapter 3, Section 5: "Who's Afraid of Reductionism", pp. 80-82
by Daniel Dennett

The term that is most often bandied about in these conflicts, typically as a term of abuse, is "reductionism." Those who yearn for skyhooks call those who eagerly settle for cranes "reductionists," and they can often make reductionism seem philistine and heartless, if not downright evil. But like most terms of abuse, "reductionism" has no fixed meaning. The central image is of somebody claiming that one science "reduces" to another: that chemistry reduces to physics, that biology reduces to chemistry, that the social sciences reduce to biology, for instance. The problem is that there are both bland readings and preposterous readings of any such claim. According to the bland readings, it is possible (and desirable) to unify chemistry and physics, biology and chemistry, and, yes, even the social sciences and biology. After all, societies are composed of human beings, who, as mammals, must fall under the principles of biology that cover all mammals. Mammals, in turn, are composed of molecules, which must obey the laws of chemistry, which in turn must answer to the regularities of the underlying physics. No sane scientist disputes this bland reading; the assembled Justices of the Supreme Court are as bound by the law of gravity as is any avalanche, because they are, in the end, also a collection of physical objects. According to the preposterous readings, reductionists want to abandon the principles, theories, vocabulary, laws of the higher-level sciences, in favor of the lower-level terms. A reductionist dream on such a preposterous reading, might be to write " A Comparison of Keats and Shelley from the molecular Point of View" or "The Role of Oxygen Atoms in Supply-Side Economics," or "Explaining the Decisions of the Rehnquist Court in Terms of Entropy Fluctuations." Probably nobody is a reductionist in the preposterous sense, and everybody should be a reductionist in the bland sense, so the "charge" of reductionism is too vague to merit a response. If somebody says to you, "But that's so reductionistic!" you would do well to respond, "That's such a quaint, old-fashioned complaint! What on Earth did you have in mind?"
I am happy to say that in recent years, some of the thinkers I most admire have come out in defense of one or another version of reductionism, carefully circumscribed. The cognitive scientist Douglas Hofstadter, in Godel Escher Bach, composed a "Prelude ... Ant Fugue" (Hofstadter 1979, pp. 275-336) that is an analytical hymn to the virtues of reductionism in its proper place. George C.Williams, one of of the pre-eminent evolutionists of the day, published "A Defense of Reductionism in Evolutionary Biology" (1985). The zoologist Richard Dawkins has distinguished what he calls hierarchical or gradual reductionism from precipice reductionism; he rejects only the precipice version (Dawkins 1986b, p.74) More recently the physicist Steven Weinberg, in Dreams of a Final Theory (1992), has written a chapter entitled "Two Cheers for Reductionism," in which he distinguishes between uncompromising reductionism (a bad thing) and compromising reductionism (which he ringingly endorses). Here is my own version. We must distinguish reductionism, which is in general a good thing, from greedy reductionism, which is not. The difference, in the context of Darwin's theory, is simple: greedy reductionists think that everything can be explained without cranes; good reductionists think that everything can be explained without skyhooks.
There is no reason to be compromising about what I call good reductionism. It is simply the commitment to non-question-begging science without any cheating by embracing mysteries or miracles at the outset. Three cheers for that brand of reductionism -- and I'm sure Weinberg would agree. But in their eagerness for a bargain, in their zeal to explain too much too fast, scientists and philosophers often underestimate the complexities, trying to skip whole layers or levels of theory in their rush to fasten everything securely and neatly to the foundation. That is the sin of greedy reductionism, but notice that it is only when overzealousness leads to falsification of the phenomena that we should condemn it. In itself, the desire to reduce, to unite, to explain it all in one big overarching theory, is no more to be condemned as immoral than the contrary urge that drove Baldwin to his discovery. It is not wrong to yearn for simple theories, or to yearn for phenomena that no simple ( or complex! ) theory could ever explain; what is wrong is zealous misrepresentation, in either direction."

A former member
Post #: 157
Hi, Rich.

In your latest response you commented:

Rather than take another pointless spin around the merry-go-round. . . .

I don't, myself, see the merry-go-round in question. You and others have challenged the views I've advanced here, and I've responded. That's what we do in philosophy - and science and mathematics, too.

Thus far, the challenge has failed. And, as we'll see, adducing Dennet (in his own characterization of himself, very much a reductionist of precisely the type that I've described) doesn't advance the challenge in any way. Indeed, we'll see that both Dennett in particular, and reductionism in general, remain guilty precisely as charged. Moreover, as we'll also see, Dennett is very much a zealot, who misrepresents both reductionism and emergentism.

But thank you for introducing Dancin' Dan all the same, because the quotation provided richly illustrates why a) he, in particular, is full of hot air; b) how he, therefore, richly merits a good whipping (though it's been long since he was a boy); c) why he is very much an exemplar of the sort of reductionism under discussion; d) hasn't actually put forward any other sort of substantive reductionism, nor has nobody else; and, lastly, e) illustrates the precise way in which Dancin' Dan is a little stupid and/or misinformed, and/or dishonest in his zelaous misrepresentation of emergentism.

To continue:

I'll just post a lengthy quote from one of Ken's favorite whipping boys and supposed exemplar of the idea that there is only one sort of reductionism and that it denies or 'explains away' the existence of complex phenomena. I particularly like the final sentence and the adjective Dennett uses to describe the reading of reductionism Ken's been putting forth.

This last sentence reads as follows: "It is not wrong to yearn for simple theories, or to yearn for phenomena that no simple ( or complex! ) theory could ever explain; what is wrong is zealous misrepresentation, in either direction."

As mentioned, what we'll also see is that a) Dennett is, himself, guilty of zealous misrepresentation, and that b) neither I nor any other major emergentist is.

Now I'm going to leave this tiresome debate permanently and go have an infant for lunch. I mean a sandwich. I never can tell the difference.

smile Obviously, as a good emergentist, your comment is very much tongue in cheek.

I'll continue in a subsequent posting, as I'm out of time for the moment.


A former member
Post #: 173

Those interested in the nature of scientific explanation may wish to read this article by Tony Rothman in the current American Scientist:

http://www.americanscientist.org/issues/pub/2011/3/the-man-behind-the-curtain­

This is the sort of thing that leads one to grow weary of the Dancin' Dans of the philosophical world.

Best,
Ken
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