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Tuesday, May 05, 2009

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Hi,

I hope you have read Douglas Hofstadter and if so, presume that you disagree with his views on consciousness?
Or is it more that you don't see the significant difference between something 'real', and an illusion that we cannot see past?

Either way I'd love to hear your thoughts.
Thanks for the great blog.

D.

Hi, Daevid.

If you're interested in the reasons that, whatever it may be, consciousness can not coherently claimed to be an illusion, I would point a few posts down the main page of this blog where a title asks that very question. I would also point you to a post I made towards the bottom of the following page in reply to 'Blue Devil Knight'. Here is the link:

http://maverickphilosopher.typepad.com/maverick_philosopher/2009/04/f-h-bradley-on-the-nonintentionality-of-pleasure-and-pain.html#comments

As for Hofstadter, to be perfectly honest, I don't see him discussed very much in the philosophy of mind. His popularity in non-academic circles seems to be far greater than his influence in more professional circles, but perhaps I'm just not reading the right stuff. I do know that he is a staunch defender of computationalism, and wrote a book called 'Godel, Escher, Bach' on that very topic, and released a new one more recently called 'The Golden Braid'. The title of the former is, I think, a variation on the title of a 1961 paper by J.R. Lucas called 'Minds, Machines, and Godel'. Hofstadter disagrees, obviously, with Lucas on the verity of computationalism. Nevertheless, I recommend that you visit Lucas's Oxford website and read his Godelian papers for what is, to my mind, a supremely forceful refutation of computationalism; more effective than Searle's, though Searle is more popular. His article, 'Turn Over the Page', is probably of most interest to you, as it engages Hofstadter directly. I also recommend his book 'The Freedom of the Will' (OUP 1970), which can be ordered from the OUP for an outrageous price, or bought second hand, which is how I got it. Here is his website:

http://users.ox.ac.uk/~jrlucas/

I hope this helps. There is a good bibliography of computationalism on his site, too, which alone would merit a visit.

For what it is worth, I second Mr Bortignon’s recommendation of J.R. Lucas, who is an excellent but much-neglected philosopher. Deriving from Lucas and ultimately Gödel, a sketch of an argument ad absurdum against mechanism or computationalism can be given as follows:

I.The human mind is fallible and contains inconsistencies.
II.The human mind is a formal system like that of a machine.
Therefore,
III.The human mind is an inconsistent formal system.
IV.An inconsistent formal system is thoroughly inconsistent, that is to say, any proposition that can be stated in that system can be proven using its rules.
Therefore,
V.The human mind is thoroughly inconsistent, that is to say, any proposition that can be stated by it can be proven using its rules.
Therefore,
VI.The human mind can prove itself to be a consistent formal system.
And,
VII.Propositions (I)-(VI), and propositions in contradiction to them, can be proven by the human mind.
And,
VIII. The contradiction of (VII) can be proven thereby.
And,
IX. The contradiction of (VIII) can be proven thereby.
Ad infinitum.
Therefore,
X. The human mind, being thoroughly inconsistent, cannot recognise its own mistakes or recognise the truth of anything.

Since every reasonable man rejects (X) but accepts (I) and (IV), given an understanding of the world of humanity along with the validity of Gödel’s theorem, he must reject (II), given that the reasoning is valid.

Bill (and Peter),

What do you mean by "physical" (entity/property), "physicalism," and "matter"? I'm serious.

Bill,

Thanks for providing a nice overview of our discussion in Flagstaff, which was unfortunately cut short by forces beyond my control (where was my free will?). I hope to expand upon those topics further here.

I shall just briefly comment upon one thing you said:
"I say he [Peter] doesn't really appreciate how horrible conscious life is, when we judge it objectively, and not just in terms of our privileged instances of it. So from my point of view, he is involved in a subtle self-deception: he evades the true nature of our predicament."

Assume there is a benevolent God. Why would a benevolent God create a whole world with conscious beings in it if its real value, its real worthiness, is not contained within it but beyond it? If life within this conscious world is so "horrible" and so without redemption within it, then whatever it is that awaits us after it cannot redeem *its* value, even if it is the most wonderful afterlife one can imagine. While such an afterlife could make life after death pleasant, (although I doubt the meaning of such description as applied to the state of afterlife), I cannot see how it could convert conscious life on earth into a worthy enterprise. According to your position the meaning and worthiness of this conscious life on earth is derived exclusively from whatever it is that happens to it thereafter. I, on the other hand, cannot see how the thereafter can salvage in any shape and form this life and endow it with any value when it lacks any value on its own. According to you one who fancies not to have lived at all here in this world and laments not to have been terminated before being born expresses a reasonable and rational position. Why? Because they simply express the wish to have skipped a worthless stage in the history of their consciousness and just jumped to a life where being conscious has some value.
On the other hand, if this life has its own value and worthiness, then it provides its own meaning to our existence as conscious beings, regardless of that which happens beyond. I cannot imagine a benevolent God which fabricates a world that has no meaning of its own. Thus, whether or not there is a meaningful afterlife, I hold we must cherish and value this world.

Deogolwulf,

Your proof assumes classical logic in which the consequence relation is *explosive*: i.e., from P and ~P any proposition Q (expressible within the formal system) follows. This feature of classical logic (and intuitionistic logic as well) seems to be counterintuitive because there may be systems that while contain a contradiction are, nonetheless, not trivial (i.e., everything follows within such a system). Paraconsistent logics are designed to formulate a consequence relation that is not explosive, thus allow for a system to contain a contradiction without rendering it trivial.

I think that the specific formulation of the view that consciousness does not exists in terms of illusion is vulnerable to the argument Bill outlined in his previous post. The concept of illusion presupposes consciousness; therefore, to say that consciousness is an illusion presupposes that consciousness exists and, hence, such an argument presupposes that which it explicitly denies. I think somewhat more complicated arguments along these lines may be proposed against other versions of the nada-consciousness view.

peter

Do not all assertions of 'emergence' or 'supervenience' depend upon and simply restate the assertion that "The whole may be greater than the sum of the parts?"

And, is not that assertion exactly to assert that "1 + 1 may = 4 (or some other non-2 sum) in some circumstances?"


A whole may never be greater that the sum of its parts. When we mistakenly believe that we have identified a whole greater than the sum of its parts, it will always be the case that we have missed something or misidentified something.

Ilion,

While some conflate emergence and supervenience, I would rather find a way of distinguishing them, although that feat may not be easy.

I do not think that "the whole is greater than the parts" issue captures the issue of the emergence of consciousness. I am unsure what you mean by saying that the view that consciousness is emergent is analogous to that 1+1 may sometimes not equal 2? While the later is provably contradictory, I have not yet seen a similar proof that the former also leads to a contradiction.

Consciousness, the way I view it, emerges as a property or, going along with Bill's suggestion, as a substance under certain conditions which involve among other things a specific biological mechanism. Once it emerges, however, it features characteristics that are not reducible to the underlying physical conditions which gave rise to it. I think that emergence might be required in order to explain other phenomena as well.
Why do I hold (hope) that the emergence route is the most promising? Well, what are the alternatives? I reject reductive or eliminative materialism for some of the reasons Bill already articulated. I cannot see how Cartesian dualism solves the interaction problem. The interaction problem for me is much deeper and pervasive than merely to account for cases such as for instance how a conscious desire makes my arm go up. Actions, complicated activities (to be distinguished from mere isolated actions), long term planned and deliberately executed chunks of activities, behavior, and even routine and repeated behavior, among others, appear to be produced by antecedent causes that seamlessly integrate and combine conscious and as well as physical elements. We need an account of consciousness that can work seamlessly with underlying physical component, yet no be completely reducible to it. Emergence, I believe, is the only option that holds the promise to deliver this result.

peter

Peter Lupu: "I do not think that "the whole is greater than the parts" issue captures the issue of the emergence of consciousness."

But of course it does, no matter what one is asserting 'emerges.'

"Emergentists" claim that "as feature or property 'X' does not exist in any constituent part of this whole under consideration, yet does exist in the whole, it is the case that 'X' "emerges" from the whole." How is this not just a long-winded way of asserting that "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts," and perhaps of disguising just what one is asserting?

Consider one of the premier exemplars of 'emergence:' the wetness of water. No individual water molecule is wet, yet, supposedly, out of a mass of them "wetness" emerges. But the truth is that "wetness" is not a property of water, whether of individual molecules or en masse: "wetness" is a human perception of water in quantity (I suppose that the correct term is 'qualia').


Peter Lupu: "I am unsure what you mean by saying that the view that consciousness is emergent is analogous to that 1+1 may sometimes not equal 2? While the later is provably contradictory, I have not yet seen a similar proof that the former also leads to a contradiction."

I mean precisely that "a whole" cannot ever be "greater than the sum of its parts." I mean that the belief/assertion that "A whole may be greater than the sum of its parts" expresses a logical impossiblity, and is thus always a false assertion. I mean that everytime a person imagines he has identified "a whole" which is "greater than the sum of its parts," it is the case that he has overlooked something or misidentified something.

In short, I mean that the concept of "emergence" is nothing but irrational woo-woo; it's Magick (the spelling is to distinguish such a manner of thinking from the 'magic' of fairy-tales and fantasy novels). It is, amusingly, an example of the sort of thinking in which some 'atheists' like to accuse that Christians necessarily engage.


Peter Lupu: "... analogous to that 1+1 may sometimes not equal 2? While the later is provably contradictory, ..."

Does not that proof depend upon the very thing you appear to be disparaging in your response to Deolgolwulf -- classical logic and intuition? (I wonder, does "This feature of classical logic (and intuitionistic logic as well) seems to be counterintuitive because ..." strike you as a bit odd?)


Peter Lupu: "While the later is provably contradictory, I have not yet seen a similar proof that the former also leads to a contradiction."

Should we believe to be true anything which has not been proven false? (And who is setting the criterion of 'proof?' What makes that fellow over there the authority over what I, or you, should believe?)

Where have we ever seen a whole which is greater than the sum of its parts? Many people believe this and assert this, but where have we ever seen such a thing?

=========
Does not all our (individually and collectively) knowledge rest upon that which we know intuitionally, which is to say, non-rationally -- which is to say, that which we know to be true *simply* because we know it to be true? Yes, it does.

Now, of course, one realizes that we may be mistaken about some belief being known intuitionally. Nevertheless -- since intuitional knowledge is the basis of *all* our knowledge -- the burden of proof lies with the one who seeks to deny an intuition.

That "the whole may not be greater than the sum of its parts" *appears* to be self-evidently true (i.e. it appears to be something we know intuitionally). That is what "emergentists" are up against; until they show that this is not really true then no rational man should take 'emergence' seriously.

Hi Daevid,

I have Hofstadter's Goedel, Escher, Bach, and I read chunks of it in the '80s. Judging from my marginalia, I didn't think much of it.

You are suggesting that there is a distinction between reality and and "an illusion that we cannot see past." No doubt there is a verbal distinction here. But is there a real distinction? This wannabe distinction seems utterly devoid of content. An illusion that no one can ever overcome or see through -- from what point of view is it being pronounced an illusion? For whom is it an illusion? How does it differ from the reality it supposedly hides? Aren't you using 'illusion' in some extended sense that drains it of all meaning? Or if you say there is a reality, but that it is completely unknowable, are you saying anything at all?

Brodie,

Thanks VERY much for the link to Lucas' site.

Vlastimil,

We can take 'physical' and 'material' to be cashed out in terms of current physics and the sciences based on it such as chemistry and biology. Right, Peter?

Peter writes, "If life within this conscious world is so "horrible" and so without redemption within it, then whatever it is that awaits us after it cannot redeem *its* value, even if it is the most wonderful afterlife one can imagine."

Why not? Here is an analogy. Suppose Tom had a miserable childhood, but after he escaped from his dysfunctional family, things began to look up and the rest of his life was happy and successful. Indeed, we may add that Tom's difficult childhood toughened him and contributed positively to the excellence of his adulthood. Can we not say that the later phases of his life 'redeemed' his childhood? Suppose Tom had died right before escaping from his rotten family. Then we might judge that his life was not worth living. But given that he lives to be 90 we can say that on balance is life is well worth living.

But perhaps we should leave God and the afterlife out of this discussion. The issue is the value of consciousness as we experience it 'here below.' What interests me are the rational grounds, if any, of your strong intuition that consciousness 'here below' is positively valuable. Can you support this intuition with reasons? We can call you a metaphysical optimist: it is good to exist, to be alive, and to be conscious, despite the fact that we will soon be the opposite, and despite the fact that the contents of consciousness are mighty shitty when you consider all conscious beings including all nonhuman sentient beings.

Why are you not a pessimist or a nihilist?

It may be, of course, that our competing value intuitions are not rationally supportable.

Bill,

The central issue, it seems to me, is whether there are some things that are valuable for their own sake independently of any consequences. Your example of Tom is one where his miserable childhood is valuable only because of its consequences. In itself it has no value except insofar as we endow life itself a value for its own sake.
To see this you only need to entertain the following question: Would it not be preferable for Tom to acquire the advantages that his difficult life gave him subsequently but without having to suffer the life he did suffer? Suppose the very same advantages could have been obtained by Tom in the course of a more pleasant and uplifting life? Would he or anyone not prefer the later over the former?
This shows that the value of the misery he undergone as a child stems only from its consequences; such misery has no value on its own.
Are there things that are valuable for their own sake and not for their consequences? Sure! Philosophy, for instance and art. And playing chess. Some people love the game of chess. They play it not because it endows them with honor, money, and ratings but because they simply see a value in the game itself: it is valuable for its own sake. Now, surely most if not all will aspire to excel and perhaps advance in their rankings or even make some money. But these aspirations do not stem from the love of the game, but from ones other psychological needs. The game as such is not essential in order to achieve these incidental goals. They can be achieved by other means. If Robinson Crusoe would have loved the game, then he would have played it with himself without such benefit.

If conscious life had no value for its own sake, then it cannot have value for the sake of anything else. For then it is not essential in order to obtain such value. If conscious life here and now is only valuable because it is a transition to some other existence, then given all that we know about life here and now, it would be rationally preferable to obtain that other existence without the transitional stage. But, I simply cannot see anyone rationally preferring to skip their life here and now so as to only experience that other existence, whatever that may be.
Only if life has an intrinsic value can it bestow some of this value on other things.
I do not see a coherent thought in the following notion: I would have been better off not existing as a conscious being at all. This is not a coherent thought.

You ask: "Why are you not a pessimist or a nihilist?"

That I can explain. Whether or not conscious life has an intrinsic value or some other sort of value, life is more uplifting and enjoyable when one goes through it while believing that such a value exists than if one goes through it thinking that it does not. For according to the former outlook, one can enjoy many moments and find them intrinsically and sometimes even consequentially valuable; according to the later outlook one spends their life waiting to transit to some other existence, whether or not such exists.
Now, you might ask: But, don't you want to know the truth? Don't you want to live a life guided by the truth?
Sure! But I answered the question why I prefer to be an optimist rather than a pessimist. If you were to ask me: What would you prefer to be an optimist who lives with the illusion that conscious life has intrinsic worth when it in fact does not or a pessimist who lives a miserable life but is right that it has no value? To such a question I would have no ready made answer, for both truth as well as a worthy and overall happy life are intrinsically valuable. Such a question pits truth against a worthy and happy life and I have no way of rationally choosing among the two, at least not at the present time.

peter

I am just about to read through all your recommendations, and appreciate the discussion, but just wanted to quickly point out that the Hofstadter book I was referring to is called I Am A Strange Loop, where he expands on the ideas relating to consciousness that he touched on in Godel, Escher Bach.
I wouldn't want to try and paraphrase his ideas but I found it very thought provoking, if a little sentimental in parts.

Thanks

Daevid.

Daevid,

You're right about the title of the newest Hofstadter book. 'The [Eternal] Golden Braid' is the subtitle of his 'Godel, Escher, Bach'. 'I Am A Strange Loop' is the book I was referring to as his latest. My mistake.

When you've finished reading Lucas and some of the discussions of the notion of 'illusion' anent consciousness on this site (and how the claim that consciousness is an illusion--made by Hofstadter, Dennett and others--presupposes the existence of conscious experience and is therefore incoherent as a 'refutation' of consciousness), I recommend you read this useful reply by Penrose to critics of his book 'Shadows of the Mind', available here:

http://psyche.cs.monash.edu.au/v2/psyche-2-23-penrose.html

You can probably just ignore Penrose's biological explanations (I do). His anti-computationalist arguments don't in any way depend on them.

Is the idea that consciousness is emergent similar to Simmias' argument in the Phaedo, namely that the soul is a type of bodily harmony instead of something immaterial? If that is the case then I would ask how something that is dependent on matter cannot be reduced to matter. Of course I could be missing something, but doesn't it just have to be the case that we should be able to "go backwards" from the emergence of consciousness into the physical processes that created it? In other words, the music produced by the guitar must always be reducible to the strings on the guitar (along with other material factors). If matter is all that we have to work with, then matter + matter = matter. How could it be any different?

Also, the value of consciousness is an interesting question? It seems as if consciousness is a term that is analogous to the rational soul of man. If this is accurate, then the final cause of consciousness is to contemplate God. Thus, I would submit that the argument over W1 and W2 misses the point, the purpose for which consciousness exists cannot be separated from its actual existence. So if I entertained atheism and the annihilation of myself upon my death, I would certainly say that the brutish existence is preferable to the human existence. This world is permeated with evil, and all goodness found within it must be treasured as if it were an invaluable item recovered from a disastrous shipwreck.

Perhaps if a question pits truth against a worthy and happy life, it is not a question proper to man.

Ilion,
1) You maintain the following two theses:

(a) The emergence-thesis is identical to the thesis that “the whole is greater than its parts”;
(b) The thesis that the whole is greater than its parts is logically impossible, always false, etc:

“I mean precisely that "a whole" cannot ever be "greater than the sum of its parts." I mean that the belief/assertion that "A whole may be greater than the sum of its parts" expresses a logical impossiblity, and is thus always a false assertion. I mean that everytime a person imagines he has identified "a whole" which is "greater than the sum of its parts," it is the case that he has overlooked something or misidentified something.”

Therefore,
(c) The emergence-thesis is “logically impossible”, “always false”, and every time a person entertains the emergence thesis, they “overlooked something or misidentified something.”

2) I do not know what you mean by “greater” in the thesis “the whole is greater than its parts”. So perhaps you will be kind enough to explicate the meaning of this term in the whole/part thesis. It seems to me that there are obvious examples where a whole can be coherently, legitimately, and by necessity be said to be greater (in a reasonable interpretation of this relationship) than the parts. e.g.,

(i) Consider my house. Suppose I dismantle my house brick by brick, 2 x 4 by 2 x 4, every nail, screw, etc., and place all of these parts in one big pile exactly where my house used to be. Now, surely my house has properties that the pile does not: e.g., while the house protects me from rain, sun, wind and so forth, the pile does nothing of the sort. So there is a clear sense in which my house is greater than merely the totality of its parts.

(ii) Consider objects a, b, c, d. Suppose S is a set such that S = {a, b, c, d}. Now, S has properties that none of its members has: e.g., while S has the property of having object a as a member, none of the objects a, b, c, d, has this property. Moreover, suppose S is an ordered set S = . Then S has the property of having object a as its first member. But neither any of its members has the property of having object a as the first member nor does the mere collection of these objects.

(iii) Consider any population: e.g., the population of US citizens. The mean income of this population is say $X. None of the elements of this population has the property of having the mean income of $X. In fact, it is quite possible that no US citizen earns $X. So the whole has a property that none of its members has.

(iv) A painting can be beautiful, but its parts may not be. In fact it could be that only this particular configuration of parts yields the beauty this painting has. So none of the parts nor a pile of the parts has the property of being beautiful.
Etc.,

3) Therefore, unless you explain in what sense you deny the logical possibility that the whole is greater than its parts, your thesis (b) is trivially false. As for thesis (a), we cannot evaluate it unless we know more what is meant by thesis (a).

4) As for the wetness example. If wetness is not a property of any molecule of water or a mass of water but rather it is, in your words “… a human perception of water in quantity (I suppose that the correct term is 'qualia')” then it is not an example of emergence or of the whole/parts case and we need not worry about it.

5) You say: “In short, I mean that the concept of "emergence" is nothing but irrational woo-woo; it's Magick (the spelling is to distinguish such a manner of thinking from the 'magic' of fairy-tales and fantasy novels). It is, amusingly, an example of the sort of thinking in which some 'atheists' like to accuse that Christians necessarily engage.”

I understand that you hold the view that emergence is nothing but “woo-woo” “Magick” etc., very intensely and with a firm conviction. But, could you be kind enough and *prove* these claims or *demonstrate them by some arguments* rather than just announce them so that all of us including myself can benefit from the certainty you seem to have regarding these views?

6) Regarding the venerable matter of 1 + 1 = 2?
“Does not that proof depend upon the very thing you appear to be disparaging in your response to Deolgolwulf -- classical logic and intuition? (I wonder, does "This feature of classical logic (and intuitionistic logic as well) seems to be counterintuitive because ..." strike you as a bit odd?)”
I am having trouble understanding what you are trying to say here, so let me simply clarify my previous comments on the subject. One of Deolgolwulf’s premises is this:
IV.An inconsistent formal system is thoroughly inconsistent, that is to say, any proposition that can be stated in that system can be proven using its rules.
The idea that an inconsistent formal system; i.e., one in which (P & ~P) is provable, entails every proposition Q (no matter what Q is) depends upon a certain interpretation of the consequence relation; namely, that it is explosive. Now, I do not “disparage” classical, intuitionistic logics nor even the consequence relation being explosive. I merely point out an obvious fact, one which no one so far as I know denies: the fact that an inconsistent system (in the above sense) entails every proposition whatsoever and therefore becomes trivially useless is simply counterintuitive. This fact that I have just stated has absolutely nothing to do with the proof of the proposition that 1 +1 = 2 in classical or intuitionistic or any logic nor does such a proof depend upon a consequence relation being explosive or not being explosive. If mathematics is consistent, then the proof of this proposition is simple and requires very few premises. So going back to Deolgolwulf’s premise (IV) one could legitimately deny this premise on the grounds that it presupposes an explosive consequence relation that is counterintuitive but essential to his argument. That is all I have said. On the other hand, I have no clue what you were trying to say.

7) You say:
(i) “Should we believe to be true anything which has not been proven false? (And who is setting the criterion of 'proof?' What makes that fellow over there the authority over what I, or you, should believe?)”
and also
(ii) “That "the whole may not be greater than the sum of its parts" *appears* to be self-evidently true (i.e. it appears to be something we know intuitionally). That is what "emergentists" are up against; until they show that this is not really true then no rational man should take 'emergence' seriously.”
So in (i) you appear to be saying that proof should not be a necessary condition of belief (and also that we lack agreement as to which proofs are to be accepted) and in (ii) you are saying that (and I paraphrase) until the proponents of emergentism prove that it is not identical to the whole/parts thesis or that if it is, the later is coherent, “no rational man should take 'emergence' seriously.”i.e., proof is a necessary condition of belief. Which one you hold?

peter

Mr Lupu,
First off, I want to tell you how much I appreciate that you are seriously grappling with this. I cannot begin to express how how greatly I appreciate that you are engaging an idea you reject. That you are arguing for a false, and necessarily false, belief (and that I don't expect that you will recognize the error today; perhaps in a few months you'll work your way through it) pales in light of the fact that you are arguing and thinking and seriously engaging the matter.

Few of our beliefs are held in isolation, they generally are intertwined with other beliefs. So, disgarding some individual belief, even one clearly false, is no simple thing -- one has to work through the process of disentangling it, which process frequently calls into question other beliefs.

I can't do this working-through-it for you (nor you for me, were it the case that I am in error) -- I can't tell you that you've had enough time to solve the question. It's your belief-complex; and you have to do the work, and see the connections, and do the disentangling and the rejecting or salvaging of other of your beliefs.

Which is to say, this belief you appear to hold (else, why are you denying its denial?) is in error, and you are resisting seeing the error -- and that's OK (depending upon how goes about that resistence, of course). We can't discard our beliefs simply because someone else says they're false; that would be irrational. Likewise, as a practical matter, we can't discard our beliefs simply because someone has presented an argument, even a very good argument, that a particular belief we hold is false and we presently are unable to see a counter-argument to that argument.

Rather, we must be convinced -- we must freely give assent -- before we can work through discarding the current belief or adopting a new belief.

-------
Perhaps coincidentally, this same general topic came up a few days ago on Victor Reppert's Dangerous Idea blog (in this thread: http://dangerousidea.blogspot.com/2009/05/poofy-materialists.html ).

What is different about the two exchanges, that of you and me, and that of me and the two persons at Mr Reppert's blog? They are in error and you are in error and I am not at all shy about asserting that. So what is different?

Ilion,

Please leave no more comments on this site. You have just shown that you are unteachable. Peter Lupu very patiently went through your confused and dogmatic comments and made a reasonable response to them. But in your last response to him you simply ignore his points -- all of which are correct -- and instead adopt, quite absurdly, a superior tone, as if he is the one that needs to think harder when you are the one who needs to think harder.

So no more comments from you on pain of DELETE and BLOCK.

I wonder, does this make me a 'fascist'?

The nature of a house, at least from a materialist perspective) is purely material. How, then, can it not be reducible to its material parts? Let's say that we did take apart a house piece by piece and throw the pieces into a pile. We then call the collection of pieces a 'garbage pile.' Is the garbage pile greater than the sum of its parts, meaning every individual piece of the house? Since I am not a materialist, I would say that a house cannot be reduced to its material cause because a house also has a formal, efficient, and final cause as well. From the materialist perspective, though, it seems as if a house must always be merely the collection of the parts of a house, just arranged in a way that conforms to the definition of 'house.' This does not entail anything qualitatively different from the collection of the individual parts of the house, though. As long as you reject any immaterial cause, all of the properties that distinguish a house from a pile of house-parts must always be material, so matter + matter = matter. How can you ever get something that is essentially non-material from the material?

I also do not want to suffer the same fate as Illion, so let me also add how handsome Bill is, and kind, and benevolent, and intelligent.

Edward,

It's an emergent property, of course!

More seriously, I think I understand what you're saying. I suppose one reply would be that those distinctions you mentioned are at best useful fictions. On the other hand, how useful does a fiction have to be before you start considering that it might be real?

And as to Bill's question in jest - no, not a fascist, and the fact that comment culture has become so ingrained online that some people seriously cannot admin their own blogs freely without that label being thrown around seriously (not that it's been here) is a sad statement. And I say this as someone who gets a kick out of Ilion's posts at times. Hell, I'd say it if I were banned too.

Edward,

I wish to remind you that the question was whether the whole is *greater* than or is it identical to the *sum* of its parts. The example of the house parts then seems to be a counterexample to the *sum* claim. So is the example of a set, and ordered set, and so on.
Now, if someone wishes to change the thesis in some way and claim that the whole is identical to the parts relative to some other property, not merely with respect to a sum, then we can evaluate the new proposition accordingly. I have simply argued that a house has properties that a pile of its parts does not. Therefore, the house cannot be identical to or be merely the collection or sum of the parts. I don't think that there can be a dispute about this. Whether the properties which the house has and the house-pile lacks are themselves physical or are reducible to such and so forth was not part of my argument. That is a separate question that I did not address in discussing the whole/part issue.

You ask whether a garbage-pile is greater than the sum of its parts. I don't know: perhaps it is, perhaps it is not. But, either way it would not have a bearing upon my example. Why? Because I was giving the house example as a counterexample against the following general thesis:
(T) All wholes are identical to the sum of their parts.
In order to refute (T) all I need is one case in which a whole is not identical to the sum of its parts. I have proposed such an example. Whether the garbage-pile does or does not constitute another counterexample has no bearing upon whether the example I did give is a counterexample.

peter

Edward in an obviously light and joking tone said:

"I also do not want to suffer the same fate as Illion, so let me also add how handsome Bill is, and kind, and benevolent, and intelligent."

This post is not intended as a criticism of this statement. It is taking the opportunity to bring out something underlying the light tone of this remark which is worth taking on and making explicit.

This is what I know about Bill. Bill loves philosophy; he is fully dedicated to it in a manner I have rarely seen and few really know; he invests his soul in it; and he is a professional. So what should one do when they are all of the above and at the same time wish to manage a blog like this one to the benefit of others?

One the one hand, one wishes to raise and discuss serious philosophical issues in a serious way. On the other, one also wishes to allow all sorts of views and people to participate. What is the correct balance?

I think Bill's answer is this: let those with a serious philosophical background participate and benefit us all. Also let those who do not have a background in philosophy but are serious and can make a valuable contribution participate. Let those who do not have the background and do not necessary have at this time something valuable to contribute but have a perspective on the issues that is honest and they are also willing to learn participate.

Those who are dogmatic, think they know everything when they do not, unwilling to keep an open mind or take a professional philosophical attitude, unwilling to learn or discuss matters or ever admit that their position might require more reflection, etc., are out. Why? Because in the end they are not contributing to the discussion and do not advance the issues; neither they themselves nor others who engage in the conversation learn anything from the exchanges; such people are simply interested in perpetuating and floating their own dogmatic views or positions.

The boundaries are not always easy to determine; and occasionally the judgments are iffy; but Bill has made a decision, and in my mind it is a correct one, to have the site open and make judgments on case by case basis. It is harder on him, but it is one good way to run a valuable site. Those who participate in this endeavor longer than I know exactly how much struggle is involved and feel a sense of gratitude to Bill for taking the time and effort to do it. As for me, it is at this stage of my life a life-saver.

peter

Is there a difference between the whole being reducible to its parts and the whole being identical to its parts? I think there is, and that is what I was addressing in the above example.

And let me express my sincere appreciation to both you and the Maverick for your dedication to philosophy. I am only an undergraduate, barely out of my teens, but I consider invaluable the opportunity to read and engage with men such as yourselves.

Peter writes,

>>Those who are dogmatic, think they know everything when they do not, unwilling to keep an open mind or take a professional philosophical attitude, unwilling to learn or discuss matters or ever admit that their position might require more reflection, etc., are out. Why? Because in the end they are not contributing to the discussion and do not advance the issues; neither they themselves nor others who engage in the conversation learn anything from the exchanges; such people are simply interested in perpetuating and floating their own dogmatic views or positions.<<

That's the essence of it. The trouble with punks like the one I just banned (and whose last scurrilous comment I deleted) is that they exemplify the anti-Socratic property. Socrates' wisdom consisted in a knowledge of his ignorance: he knew that he didn't know. The anti-Socratics 'know' what they don't know. Good examples are the followers of the Rand ideology as we saw back in January and February. People like this have no idea what philosophy is.


Well, Peter, first I'll just say that that is a very good summary of Bill's administrative philosophy, and then go on to say that although Bill and I have had our differences, I defer unhesitatingly to his erudition and professionalism, and that as a dedicated amateur of philosophy I have learned a great deal in the years I have been following the various discussions at this outstanding website.

I am sure that Bill is now wishing I would wrap this up in the next thousand words or so, so I just want to offer a practical, real-world example of the reality of emergent properties: the auto-insurance industry.

Let's say that in an inattentive moment another driver has plowed his car into mine. I have gathered up all the parts. Nevertheless, his insurance company writes me a check. Why bother, if nothing is lost?

Edward,

If a house is reducible to the mereological sum of its parts, then the house is identical to the sum. But surely this is false: the house has properties that the sum does not have. For example, the house provides shelter, the sum does not. It's as simple as that. A house is a physical thing composed of physical things but it is not reducible to the latter. So there is a clear sense in which it is an emergent entity. That in a nutshell is Peter's point against the silly assertion that a whole is never greater than the sum of its parts.

There is nothing to debate here. It is just a matter of seeing a fairly obvious point. Whether mind is emergent from its material substratum is of course eminently debatable!

Malcolm,

Thanks for the kind words. We have had our differences, but I must say you are *unfailing* civil, and better in this department than me. I am sure you understand why I blocked the offender. Peter took the time to patiently explain to him why it is wrong to think that a whole is never greater than the sum of its parts, and when he did so, the offender not only refused to consider the points but adopted a attitude of arrogant superiority. If you click on the link above to Reppert's site you can see how he behaves in debate.

I like your example!

Malcolm,

I must apologize to you, and several others, for not responding as yet to several posts that were addressing some things I have said. Unfortunately, while I make sure that I reserve time to be involved in the discussions on this site, due to personal reasons I cannot always dedicate sufficient time to pursue all the interesting subjects and posts that appear here. I try my best to be involved and respond as frequently as I can, but occasionally these choices require me to neglect perfectly cogent posts by someone that are directly addressed to me. I am sure we all face the same situation, but I simply wish to let you and others know that if I neglected in the past one or more of your comments or posts, it was not because I did not think they merit a response, but rather because my personal situation allows a limited time and I cannot always dedicate the time required to respond as thoughtfully as such posts deserve.

peter

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