Ontologically confused materialist

wavefreak
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Ontologically confused materialist

I have some more questions about ontologies and stuff. Hopefully you can straighten me out.

 

Basically it seems to me that if strict materialism is correct and all that we can know is limited by the capacity of our brain to encode knowledge, then to say something that has no positive ontology does not exist is incorrect. We can only say that lack of ontologocal status means that our brains cannot encode such things, but not that such things cannot exist.

Essentially, what we know is limited by our brains structures. But to say all that can be known can be encoded into our brains seems absurd. All that humans can know is not necessarily all that can be known. Now things like logic, rationalism and ontologies are all part of the knowledge domain supported by our brain and as such even these are subject to our limitations of encodability. So while it is correct to say that something without a positive ontology has no coherent domain of discourse, we cannot make the claim that it does not exist, only that we have no coherent framework in which to discuss it.


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This is quite a popular

This is quite a popular position in philosophy.
Kant would agree with you and I think that Todangst does as well.
Todangst's position is 'agnostic atheism', in that any statement that refers to 'God' is meaningless but that doesn't rule out 'existence' beyond 'conceptualisation'.
I think it is also the official position of the Catholic Church.

I, on the other hand, disagree.
The concepts of 'thing' and 'exist' are also tied to our conceptualisation so to suggest that some 'thing' could 'exist' outside of our conceptualisation, it appears to contradict itself.
Another thing you should note is that even if there was a 'possibility' of a transcendent existence, none of our concepts would be applicable to it. This includes relations like 'cause'.

Such a transcendent being could have absolutely no relevence or bearing on reality as we know it, because everytime we tried to relate it to our conceptualised reality we would be conceptualising it in someway and thereby contradicting ourselves.


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Strafio wrote: This is

Strafio wrote:
This is quite a popular position in philosophy. Kant would agree with you and I think that Todangst does as well. Todangst's position is 'agnostic atheism', in that any statement that refers to 'God' is meaningless but that doesn't rule out 'existence' beyond 'conceptualisation'. I think it is also the official position of the Catholic Church. I, on the other hand, disagree. The concepts of 'thing' and 'exist' are also tied to our conceptualisation so to suggest that some 'thing' could 'exist' outside of our conceptualisation, it appears to contradict itself. Another thing you should note is that even if there was a 'possibility' of a transcendent existence, none of our concepts would be applicable to it. This includes relations like 'cause'. Such a transcendent being could have absolutely no relevence or bearing on reality as we know it, because everytime we tried to relate it to our conceptualised reality we would be conceptualising it in someway and thereby contradicting ourselves.

 

I guess I'm not even thinking of transcendent beings or knowledge. A dog "knows" things that we cannot by virtue of its sense of smell. We can know about its sense of smell, we can even measure it, but we can not acquire the specific knowledge of what the dog actually smells because our sensory organs and brain structures cannot encode what a dog's sensory organs and brain structures can.


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When we are talking about

When we are talking about existence/non-existence we are talking within a particular language game. If you mean to say that there is more to life than cold facts, then I agree with you and I believe that our intuition etc gives us all sorts of important non-cognitive knowledge.

However, in the context where the word 'materialism' means anything, i.e. the context of cold facts about how nature is, it is true. To say that there's more to life than the material is to say that there's more to life than hard fact. And it's true, just you shouldn't try to infer 'facts' about 'immaterial' things from this.


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ontology from the bottom up

Gentlemen,

I am new to this forum so please excuse me if I am breaking in to the discussion impolitely.  I have been a rational responder spectator for a couple weeks but have not waded in anywhere, but I think your exchange is intriguing.  Strafio, you said the following:

"The concepts of 'thing' and 'exist' are also tied to our conceptualisation so to suggest that some 'thing' could 'exist' outside of our conceptualisation, it appears to contradict itself.
Another thing you should note is that even if there was a 'possibility' of a transcendent existence, none of our concepts would be applicable to it. This includes relations like 'cause'
."

If I might suggest, as my subject line indicates, you appear to be discussing ontology from the bottom up.  Within the pale of materialism this is quite possibily the only option available since all things within the materialistic realm must be explainable/conceptualized from within the materialistic realm.  However, for the "heretical theist" who started this thread, there is the possiblity of an a se being - a self-contained or independent being - who has the ability to communicate into the "material realm", into the "closed" system.  This is what one might call ontology from the top down.  Although we might not be able to climb up the ladder of transcendence, there is nothing that would be illogical or unreasonable (at least from heretical theist's presuppostions) for an a se being to descend that ladder to communicate (download?) truth that would otherwise be unattainable to those at the bottom.  But if one's presuppositions will not allow the existence of anything outside its system (i.e. a consistent materialstic position) then this is an absurd possibility.  But then the problem for the materialist of begging the question presents itself.

Cordially,

boat14  


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boat14cpc wrote:

boat14cpc wrote:

If I might suggest, as my subject line indicates, you appear to be discussing ontology from the bottom up. Within the pale of materialism this is quite possibily the only option available since all things within the materialistic realm must be explainable/conceptualized from within the materialistic realm. However, for the "heretical theist" who started this thread, there is the possiblity of an a se being - a self-contained or independent being - who has the ability to communicate into the "material realm", into the "closed" system.

How can you use the term 'being' without stealing the concept of materialism?

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This is what one might call ontology from the top down.

But there's no way to render it coherent.

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Although we might not be able to climb up the ladder of transcendence, there is nothing that would be illogical or unreasonable (at least from heretical theist's presuppostions) for an a se being to descend that ladder to communicate (download?) truth that would otherwise be unattainable to those at the bottom.

This is a special plead fallacy.

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But if one's presuppositions will not allow the existence of anything outside its system (i.e. a consistent materialstic position)

False. Why do I continually see this false claim?


Materialism does not rule out your view a priori, it merely states that to discuss entities, once must presuppose materialism. Materialism speaks to matters of matter, to matters of nature. Your claim involves the supernatural! 

Theists are claiming that there is something beyond materialism, something transcendent, etc. The burden is therefore on them to present 'another way', contra materialism, to make their definitions coherent. 

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But then the problem for the materialist of begging the question presents itself.

You're begging the question that there IS something beyond materiailsm in order to make this very charge! You're using the same style of argument that most theists realize, implicitly, that they are forced to use: the charge that materialism or physicalism is ruling out your claim a priori. The reality is that your side simply cannot provide a 'supernatural ontology'. You work our side of the street because, quite frankly there is no 'your' side of the stree to work at all.

So please stop with the complaints about materialism and present your case. Or concede the issue.

 

 

"Hitler burned people like Anne Frank, for that we call him evil.
"God" burns Anne Frank eternally. For that, theists call him 'good.'


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wavefreak wrote:

wavefreak wrote:

I have some more questions about ontologies and stuff. Hopefully you can straighten me out.

 

Basically it seems to me that if strict materialism is correct and all that we can know is limited by the capacity of our brain to encode knowledge, then to say something that has no positive ontology does not exist is incorrect.

The issue is a bit more subtle. 'Non existence' is a term that exists only in contradistinction to existence. Otherwise, the term itself has no ontological status! So to say that something has no ontological status IS to say that it doesn't exist.

BUT to a negative theologian, 'his god' which he holds is 'without any ontological status' is defined as the creator and sustainer of all existence and therfore, 'beyond existence', and therefore to say that it 'does not exist' is akin to trying say that a window does not exist because you can see through it. "God" is not an existent in the first place, seeing as the class of all existents belongs to the class of natural entities.

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We can only say that lack of ontologocal status means that our brains cannot encode such things, but not that such things cannot exist.

To say that our brains 'cannot encode such THINGS" implies that these 'things' exist, and therefore steals from naturalism and therefore commits an internal contradiction. So you can't make such a presumption, all you can say is that there is a mystery.

This is precisely why negative theologians employed the use of purposeful double negatives in their discussions of god, such as "god does not exist and god does not not exist and even god does not not not exist" and so on. In a sense, christians were using Buddhist Koans in order to try and get around the impossibilty of talking about something that you can't talk about....

By the way, the Buddhist talk of Nothingness as the ultimate grounds for existence... their position is negative theology through and through.

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Essentially, what we know is limited by our brains structures.

I disagree in a way that you may come to accept: humans create extra-mental storage spaces: libraries, computers, the internet, and this store of knowledge is both beyond the capacity of any human to contain, yet, fully available to any human.

But this is a digression.

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But to say all that can be known can be encoded into our brains seems absurd. All that humans can know is not necessarily all that can be known.

You cannot use an argument from ignorance to justify the existence of 'something specific' beyond our ignorance, it is a logical fallacy.

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Now things like logic, rationalism and ontologies are all part of the knowledge domain supported by our brain and as such even these are subject to our limitations of encodability.

I disagree to a degree. Again, a human can already create a computer that outpaces his own ability to store information.

And let's go back to your own use of the unknown to bolster your case. As I have already stated, it is a logical fallacy. But here is yet another problem with your argument: Those who employ the argument from ignorance always do so without considering the other side - perhaps the very unknown you call upon to justify your case can be used against you?

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So while it is correct to say that something without a positive ontology has no coherent domain of discourse, we cannot make the claim that it does not exist, only that we have no coherent framework in which to discuss it.

To say 'we cannot make the claim that it does not exist" again commits a stolen concept fallacy: to make the statement, you must presume that it exists, yet, to do this you must assume a positive ontology.

All we can say is that a definition without a positive ontology is incoherent. We cannot say that it may 'still exist', in fact, as per negative theology, that statement is absurd. The claim is merely beyond us, and therefore, we must remain silent regarding two of Saint Bonaventura's eyes of knowing: the eye of flesh (empiricism) and the eye of reason (reason). Only the 'eye of faith' can contemplate such matters, and then, only through revelation - i.e. signs, the bible, etc. which of course also require faith for us to leap from the known to the unknowable.

There's a certain nobility in this form of theism, but in the end, it strikes me as pathology. 

 

"Hitler burned people like Anne Frank, for that we call him evil.
"God" burns Anne Frank eternally. For that, theists call him 'good.'


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Strafio wrote:

Strafio wrote:
This is quite a popular position in philosophy. Kant would agree with you and I think that Todangst does as well. Todangst's position is 'agnostic atheism', in that any statement that refers to 'God' is meaningless but that doesn't rule out 'existence' beyond 'conceptualisation'.

Thanks for using the 'scare' quotes, because there's really no coherent way to speak of 'existence beyond existence'. 

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I think it is also the official position of the Catholic Church.

Yes, and it's probably no coincidence that I was raised a Catholic!

But I do think that leaving the theist with 'existence' beyond existence leaves him with, literally nothing anyway. So in a very real sense, there isn't a great leap from my agnostic atheism to strong atheism.

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I, on the other hand, disagree. The concepts of 'thing' and 'exist' are also tied to our conceptualisation so to suggest that some 'thing' could 'exist' outside of our conceptualisation, it appears to contradict itself.

It does! Which is why I have no problem tolerating that position: the negative theologian is left with an internal contradiction to pray to.... he's forced to rely on Orwellian double speak and non contingent faith....

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Another thing you should note is that even if there was a 'possibility' of a transcendent existence, none of our concepts would be applicable to it.

Yes.

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This includes relations like 'cause'. Such a transcendent being could have absolutely no relevence or bearing on reality as we know it, because everytime we tried to relate it to our conceptualised reality we would be conceptualising it in someway and thereby contradicting ourselves.

Or we could say it 'could' be relevant to us, based on a true omnipotence, and then swallow yet another crimethought, another internal contradiction.

 

"Hitler burned people like Anne Frank, for that we call him evil.
"God" burns Anne Frank eternally. For that, theists call him 'good.'


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boat14cpc wrote: If I might

boat14cpc wrote:
If I might suggest, as my subject line indicates, you appear to be discussing ontology from the bottom up. Within the pale of materialism this is quite possibily the only option available since all things within the materialistic realm must be explainable/conceptualized from within the materialistic realm. However, for the "heretical theist" who started this thread, there is the possiblity of an a se being - a self-contained or independent being - who has the ability to communicate into the "material realm", into the "closed" system. This is what one might call ontology from the top down.

Good observation.
You could say that my materialist argument is that 'top down' ontology is incoherent. It misuses language, applying words outside of their necessary context.

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Although we might not be able to climb up the ladder of transcendence, there is nothing that would be illogical or unreasonable (at least from heretical theist's presuppostions) for an a se being to descend that ladder to communicate (download?) truth that would otherwise be unattainable to those at the bottom.

Like I said earlier, it's unreasonable as it abuses language.
The words one uses a words that are defined within a naturalistic context. To use them transcendently is to misuse them. So there's a contradiction involved - using language to try and describe something beyond language.

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But if one's presuppositions will not allow the existence of anything outside its system (i.e. a consistent materialstic position) then this is an absurd possibility. But then the problem for the materialist of begging the question presents itself.

I see what you're saying here and it all depends on whether the materialist has an argument against the top down approach or whether it is just a presupposition, as you suspect. I use a linguistic argument to claim that the top down approach is incoherent. If my argument succeeds then there is no presuppositioning or question begging - just a valid recognition of the limits of our language. Your thoughts?


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todangst wrote: But I do

todangst wrote:
But I do think that leaving the theist with 'existence' beyond existence leaves him with, literally nothing anyway. So in a very real sense, there isn't a great leap from my agnostic atheism to strong atheism.

Indeed. I'm finding the difference between weak and strong atheism blurrier by the day. It's almost turned into word play.

My new line of thought has made things even more confusing.
Have you seen that topic I wrote about language and fundamentalism? It makes claims that moderates/liberals are speaking a different language when they talk about God. Rather than describing the state of the empirical world, the truth maker of their religious beliefs are how it transforms their experience of life. So what we mean by atheism (lack of belief of a God in empirical reality) doesn't really contradict their position, it's the fundamentalists who insist on historical and scientific facts who are at odds with us.

I think that modern theology seems to reflect this too.
Have you read George Smith's book lately?
In the first chapter he comments on various 'radical theologies' who appear to have redefined theism and 'God belief' in a way that is actually atheistic. Spinoza's pantheism is another good example too.


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todangst wrote:   The

todangst wrote:

 

The issue is a bit more subtle. 'Non existence' is a term that exists only in contradistinction to existence. Otherwise, the term itself has no ontological status! So to say that something has no ontological status IS to say that it doesn't exist.

But the concepts of exitence and non-exitence only exist as encodings in our brain. Ontology itself is only some state in my neurons. The system for description of reality exists only within the brain. So we can only say that what our brain is able to encode is what we can know. The structure of our brains enable a language that includes the concept of ontological status and the structure of that language infers that lack of ontological status implies lack of existence. But this is a consequence of the language, not necessarily reality. To claim that a human mental structure is capable of fully describing reality seems absurd. So to say that *blah* does not exist because it has no ontological status seems to be overreaching. It is more precise to say that within the structure of a language that supports the concept "ontological status" a concept that has no ontological status does not exist within that language.

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BUT to a negative theologian, 'his god' which he holds is 'without any ontological status' is defined as the creator and sustainer of all existence and therfore, 'beyond existence', and therefore to say that it 'does not exist' is akin to trying say that a window does not exist because you can see through it. "God" is not an existent in the first place, seeing as the class of all existents belongs to the class of natural entities.


I had to look up negative theologian. It seems irrelevant to me. I am not trying to use this line of reasoning to prove anything about the existence of god. I am only trying to understand the implications of strict materialism. God (or not god) is a popular context around here, but we could substitute flarbles for god and not lose anything.

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wavefreak wrote:

We can only say that lack of ontologocal status means that our brains cannot encode such things, but not that such things cannot exist.

To say that our brains 'cannot encode such THINGS" implies that these 'things' exist, and therefore steals from naturalism and therefore commits an internal contradiction. So you can't make such a presumption, all you can say is that there is a mystery.

More precisely then, our brains can only encode the existence of things that conform to the language that supports "ontological status" as a concept.

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wavefreak wrote:

Essentially, what we know is limited by our brains structures.

I disagree in a way that you may come to accept: humans create extra-mental storage spaces: libraries, computers, the internet, and this store of knowledge is both beyond the capacity of any human to contain, yet, fully available to any human.

But this is a digression.

 

Another thread already discussed knowledge stored on external media was not knowledge until it was perceived by an intelligent observer. But, yes, it is a digression.

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wavefreak wrote:

 

But to say all that can be known can be encoded into our brains seems absurd. All that humans can know is not necessarily all that can be known.

You cannot use an argument from ignorance to justify the existence of 'something specific' beyond our ignorance, it is a logical fallacy.

 

This is overstating my claim. I am saying we cant say ANYTHING about what is outside the capacity of the human brain to support. I cannot use this to justify the existence of god nor can I claim that god does not exist.

 

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wavefreak wrote:

Now things like logic, rationalism and ontologies are all part of the knowledge domain supported by our brain and as such even these are subject to our limitations of encodability.

I disagree to a degree. Again, a human can already create a computer that outpaces his own ability to store information.

And let's go back to your own use of the unknown to bolster your case. As I have already stated, it is a logical fallacy. But here is yet another problem with your argument: Those who employ the argument from ignorance always do so without considering the other side - perhaps the very unknown you call upon to justify your case can be used against you?

Again, you may be thinking I am claiming more than I actually am. I am only claiming that it is an overstatment to say that god does not exist because of lack of onotological status. If god does exist, it may in fact be impossible to coherently discuss him/her because of this lack of ontological status, but that is a limitation of what our brains can encode, not a limitation of what exists.

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wavefreak wrote:

So while it is correct to say that something without a positive ontology has no coherent domain of discourse, we cannot make the claim that it does not exist, only that we have no coherent framework in which to discuss it.

To say 'we cannot make the claim that it does not exist" again commits a stolen concept fallacy: to make the statement, you must presume that it exists, yet, to do this you must assume a positive ontology.

All we can say is that a definition without a positive ontology is incoherent. We cannot say that it may 'still exist', in fact, as per negative theology, that statement is absurd. The claim is merely beyond us, and therefore, we must remain silent regarding two of Saint Bonaventura's eyes of knowing: the eye of flesh (empiricism) and the eye of reason (reason). Only the 'eye of faith' can contemplate such matters, and then, only through revelation - i.e. signs, the bible, etc. which of course also require faith for us to leap from the known to the unknowable.

There's a certain nobility in this form of theism, but in the end, it strikes me as pathology.

 

I am not trying to justify theism. I am trying to understand the limits of what I can know and hence the limtis to what I can claim.

 

Thanks for your comments. They are very helpful.


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Strafio wrote: todangst

Strafio wrote:
todangst wrote:
But I do think that leaving the theist with 'existence' beyond existence leaves him with, literally nothing anyway. So in a very real sense, there isn't a great leap from my agnostic atheism to strong atheism.
Indeed. I'm finding the difference between weak and strong atheism blurrier by the day. It's almost turned into word play.

It really is. For example, Strong atheists typically say that they are open to being wrong. Well, how does a Strong atheist who honestly is willing to reconsider his claim, and who is willing to concede to human error, really different from a weak atheist? 

 

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My new line of thought has made things even more confusing. Have you seen that topic I wrote about language and fundamentalism? It makes claims that moderates/liberals are speaking a different language when they talk about God.

I agree, and I should read your post. Fundies are talking about their dad, liberals are talking about their mom.

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 Rather than describing the state of the empirical world, the truth maker of their religious beliefs are how it transforms their experience of life.

Which only speaks to the value of holding to their belief, not its truth.

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 So what we mean by atheism (lack of belief of a God in empirical reality) doesn't really contradict their position,

I wrote my above comment before reading this, I am glad we agree.

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it's the fundamentalists who insist on historical and scientific facts who are at odds with us.

And for this reason, they are the easiest to refute.  

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I think that modern theology seems to reflect this too. Have you read George Smith's book lately? In the first chapter he comments on various 'radical theologies' who appear to have redefined theism and 'God belief' in a way that is actually atheistic. Spinoza's pantheism is another good example too.

Yes. You've touched on what I predict will be happen to theism.... it will be synthesized with atheism!  After all, who cares more about matters of theism than we atheists?!

"It is an insult to God to believe in God. For on the one hand it is to suppose that he has perpetrated acts of incalculable cruelty. On the other hand, it is to suppose that he has perversely given his human creatures an instrument -- their intellect -- which must inevitably lead them, if they are dispassionate and honest, to deny his existence. It is tempting to conclude that if he exists, it is the atheists and agnostics that he loves best, among those with any pretensions to education. For they are the ones who have taken him most seriously."

- Galen Strawson 

 

I tend to side with the Hegelians on such matters,and yes, Spinoza will be looked upon as a precusor.

 

"Hitler burned people like Anne Frank, for that we call him evil.
"God" burns Anne Frank eternally. For that, theists call him 'good.'


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wavefreak wrote:

wavefreak wrote:

But the concepts of existence and non-exitence only exist as encodings in our brain.

    Yes, these concepts exist as concepts solely because of brains, you are right, but we must then ask: why do they exists as concepts in brains? And the answer is because these ideas are unavoidable, these ideas are axiomatic.

 And why are they axiomatic? Because existence is axiomatic once we are conscious. So yes, these are encodings in our brain, and yes they only exist as encodings in our brain, but the reason they exist in our brains is that they must exist in our brain, given the existence necessarily preceeds consciousness.

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Ontology itself is only some state in my neurons.

Yes. But again, we must ask why is this so? The reason: because existence is axiomatic. Existence preceeds reason, which includes metaphysics and finally, ontology.

You're turning me into a Randian today.

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The structure of our brains enable a language that includes the concept of ontological status and the structure of that language infers that lack of ontological status implies lack of existence.But this is a consequence of the language, not necessarily reality.

You're argument begins at step 2. If we go back to step 1, we must ask: Why must our brains produce thoughts that all necessarly assume the ideas of existence, identity and consciousness that, in turn, lead to ontology? Because existence, identity and the fact that you are conscious is axiomatic.

So, the very reason ontology is a consequence of language is because it is a consequence of reality.

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To claim that a human mental structure is capable of fully describing reality seems absurd. So to say that *blah* does not exist because it has no ontological status seems to be overreaching.

I could be wrong, but I think you're confusing induction with deduction. We don't need to know everything to know that a deductive conclusion is true.

Inductive methods are uncertain because we can never know whether something new will contradict our claim.

Deductions can rule out a claim, a priori.

One does not need to fully describe reality in order to hold that a solely negative definition without a universe of discourse equates with "nothing', because this is the conclusion of a deduction. In fact, the very definition of 'nothing' would be 'no ontological status'.

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It is more precise to say that within the structure of a language that supports the concept "ontological status" a concept that has no ontological status does not exist within that language.

True. But it is just as precise to say that something with no ontological status in our language does not exist!

 

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I had to look up negative theologian. It seems irrelevant to me.

Then I need to do a better job of presenting these points, because Negative theology is a key part of the foundation of the Catholic church, and it is even found in the writings of Martin Luther!

And I think it is the solution for both of us here. 

Wavefreak wrote:

More precisely then, our brains can only encode the existence of things that conform to the language that supports "ontological status" as a concept.

Anything that exists, must exist as something. To exist is to exist as something. To have identity. So anything that exists must have some ontological status. This is not merely a limit of our brains, it is a limit, period. As per basic metaphysics.

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You cannot use an argument from ignorance to justify the existence of 'something specific' beyond our ignorance, it is a logical fallacy.

wavefreak wrote:

This is overstating my claim. I am saying we cant say ANYTHING about what is outside the capacity of the human brain to support. I cannot use this to justify the existence of god nor can I claim that god does not exist.

Ok. I withdraw the charge.

 

wavefreak wrote:

Again, you may be thinking I am claiming more than I actually am. I am only claiming that it is an overstatment to say that god does not exist because of lack of onotological status.

And my response is that it is not an overstatement, because we can know this, deductively, and therefore, certainly. To exist is to exist as something, to have an identity. We cannot speak of existence sans identity. This was the discovery of Kant. "Existence' cannot be used as a predicate because the term, on it's own, adds nothing descriptive that isn't already contained in the concept of identity.

However, again, to a Negative theologian, this is all moot, seeing as 'god' is not natural, ergo, god is not an 'existent' in the first place! The very reason 'god' is beyond reason in their estimation is because 'god' cannot be contained as an existent.

You see, to exist is to exist as something, and not something else. For this reason, to exist is to be limited. But 'god' is unlimited. Ergo 'god' cannot be an existent. "god' is said to be the creator of exitence,the sustainer of existence, beyond existence, transcendent to it, to be unlimited by anything.

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If god does exist, it may in fact be impossible to coherently discuss him/her because of this lack of ontological status, but that is a limitation of what our brains can encode, not a limitation of what exists.

It is a limitation on what exists, by definition. It's not a matter of the finite nature of the human brain, it's a matter of basic metaphysics. To lack ontological status is to have no identity, and seeing as to exist is to have identity, to have no identity is to not exist.

Which is precisely why negative theologians hold that god is not an existent.

Quote:

To say 'we cannot make the claim that it does not exist" again commits a stolen concept fallacy: to make the statement, you must presume that it exists, yet, to do this you must assume a positive ontology.

All we can say is that a definition without a positive ontology is incoherent. We cannot say that it may 'still exist', in fact, as per negative theology, that statement is absurd. The claim is merely beyond us, and therefore, we must remain silent regarding two of Saint Bonaventura's eyes of knowing: the eye of flesh (empiricism) and the eye of reason (reason). Only the 'eye of faith' can contemplate such matters, and then, only through revelation - i.e. signs, the bible, etc. which of course also require faith for us to leap from the known to the unknowable.

There's a certain nobility in this form of theism, but in the end, it strikes me as pathology.

wavefreak wrote:

I am not trying to justify theism. I am trying to understand the limits of what I can know and hence the limtis to what I can claim.

I think the limits are clear:

No theist can coherently speak of a 'god'. This wasn't my idea. Theists from Augustine to Aquinas to Thereasa of Avila to Catherine of Sienna to Luther to Soeren Kierkegaard have said as much, based on the logical ramifications of how they define their god.

Even the famed positive theologian Aquinas has said:


[quoteSumma Theologiae I, Q.3, Prologue]
"The existence of a thing having been ascertained, the way in which it exists remains to be examined if we would know its nature. Because we cannot know what God is, but rather what God is not, our method has to be mainly negative…What kind of being God is not can be known by eliminating characteristics which cannot apply to him, like composition, change, and so forth."

So what can a theist speak on? They can speak about natural events that they feel jibe with a 'god' governed universe. OR they can claim that non contingent faith, or revelation helps 'break down the impossible barrier' for them, ala Kierkegaard and Luther (the leap of faith)

Quote:

Thanks for your comments. They are very helpful.

Pleasure talking to you, as usual. I trust that you see that I am even open to a theological position here: negative theology, and that, therefore, our discourse is not simply between a theist minded person and someone with the sole goal of disabusing you of your beliefs!

 

PS Some points on negative theology:


P1. To be natural is to have identity
P2. supernatural is defined as above nature
C1. therefore the supernatural is above identity (or is beyond identity) and we cannot apply any term with any ontological status to it.

Nogods from the infidelguy forum writes: 


For a negative theologian to say that God does not exist is incorrect. To think it leads to atheism also appears to me to be incorrect unless we accept the RC Church as an covert atheist organisation. The Roman Catholic Church has built one of the oldest, most powerful and dynamic religions in existence upon the bed-rock of negative theology.

As I understand it, negative theolgians are stating that there is nothing we can state about the nature of God's ontology. All existence that we know has a cause, dwells in time, by nature is limited and contained by boundariesetc, No matter how we try to break out of our concept of existence, we will always fail. We cannot grasp God's ontology, to think we can is to create a false God.

That is very different from saying God does not exist, or even that there are not things we cannot know about God, since God has revealed them, but even those things are beyond our comprehension and have to be accepted on faith.

It is hardly likely that the Augustine, Aquinas, Thereasa of Avila or Catherine of Sienna, would be called Doctors of the Church, if they had nothing but incomprehensible things to say about God. They have lots of positive things to say - just look at Augustine's debates with Pelagians, Donatists and Arians - but it is all based on faith, accepted by faith, and limited by our finite nature.

The only time we will fully comprehend according to via-negative theology is when we see the beatific vision (Similar, but not the same as a protestant idea of heaven), we will at that time understand: "For now we see things in a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now my knowledge is in part; then it will be complete, even as God's knowledge of me. 1 Cor 13:12

To paraphrase John Paul II "Reason is faith's handmaiden, but the handmaiden is unable access faith's chamber." See JPII's encyclical letter  'Fides et Ratio.' (Faith and Reason)

 

"Hitler burned people like Anne Frank, for that we call him evil.
"God" burns Anne Frank eternally. For that, theists call him 'good.'


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Gah!   I could spend the

Gah!

 

I could spend the rest of my life thiking about this and not get anywhere.

 Tongue out

 I'll retreat to my corner and cogitate for awhile.


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wavefreak wrote: We can

wavefreak wrote:
We can only say that lack of ontologocal status means that our brains cannot encode such things, but not that such things cannot exist.

I think that to bring brains into this is to perhaps miss the point, and it's slipping into 'top down' habits.
When we look at the limits of knowledge, we're talking about normativity of our rational practice. So although the brain is the physical explanation of our mind, that's not really what we're looking at here.
When we talk about physical explanations we presuppose the conceptual framework, the conceptual framework that is rooted in the normativity of our practice.

When we're looking at the limits of understanding, we're not talking about physical causes, we're looking at the root behind our practice, what we are trying to achieve in all this.

todangst wrote:
For example, Strong atheists typically say that they are open to being wrong. Well, how does a Strong atheist who honestly is willing to reconsider his claim, and who is willing to concede to human error, really different from a weak atheist?

That sums it up perfectly!

Quote:
Which only speaks to the value of holding to their belief, not its truth.

Yep. Although if one of them talks about truth, I don't feel the need to contradict them as we know what they mean by 'truth', just so long as they don't start to equivocate on us...

Strafio wrote:
it's the fundamentalists who insist on historical and scientific facts who are at odds with us.

Todangst wrote:
And for this reason, they are the easiest to refute.

I'd also say that they are the only ones in need of refutation as they are the ones that contradict common sense. I think we still have some disagreement with liberals, but nothing serious. Only of interest if you are a philosopher.

Quote:
Yes. You've touched on what I predict will be happen to theism.... it will be synthesized with atheism! After all, who cares more about matters of theism than we atheists?!

I tend to side with the Hegelians on such matters,and yes, Spinoza will be looked upon as a precusor.


I'm not very familiar with Spinoza or Hegel, but you're talking about their projects to rationalize religion? If I remember right, Soren Kierkegaard's Fideism was a direct reaction to Hegelianism, right?

Talking of Kierkegaard, I think that he and Wittgenstein are also doing the same thing but approaching it from the opposite end. They start with faith as it is and advocating it as such. They look at the rational persuits of science, metaphysics, history, etc and recognise that there's no place for God there, but they also recognise that there's a place for 'faith' in a person's lifestyle, and that making rational sense or treating them like a 'normal' belief is to miss the point.


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linguistic abuse?

Strafio,

Thank you for the intellectual grist to grind.  My first question upon which I am not clear is how does "transcendant" language necessarily abuse the context in which it is used?  Our language is used/defined in a material-context but not necessarily strictly in a material-context.  There are certainly things to which we can point, like intuition, laws of logic, syntactical principles in human communication, etc. that would be difficult to account for in a strictly materialistic context.

Following along these linguistic lines, it seems to me that all human language (and even knowledge itself?) is analogical, not binary.  [I think this is why I am often uncomfortable with mechanistic or technological analogies in reference to humans and epistemology.  Knowledge is less like downloading new info but more like growing a new branch on a tree.  The branch might start out small and weak, but the more TLC it gets the longer and stronger it gets.  But I digress...]  But an a se being could still use anthropomorphic communication, use  analogical communication structures inherent in our language to "speak" transcendant language into our context.  

I think this is why Wittgenstein "gave up" on his search for the linguistic algorithm, not because he necessarily believed in God per se but because he recognized the analogical nature of language.  In his later years, he moved away from his logical atomism to a more balanced approach where he recognized the necessity of propriety and functionality in communication without depreciating the value or truth claims of that communication.  

So in conclusion, I think the idea of defining our context as strictly materialistic would grant the truth claim that transcendant language is incoherent, but if one does not grant so, then he is free (logically speaking) to use transcendant language.  Please let me know if I have misrepresented your line of reasoning or have been unclear in my own.

Cordially,

boat14            


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Hopefully I don't seem too

Hopefully I don't seem too thick headed, but I'm going to come at this from a different angle. I'm not sure that I have expressed myself clearly.

 

We can all agree that there are gaps in our knowledge (this is not god of the gaps so be patient). As we progress those gaps are filled with new knowledge. My contention is that the gaps that we are able to fill are in principle constrained by the structure of our brains and the way we encode knowledge on that structure. A thousand years ago, the gaps in knowledge contained things we now call quarks. Quarks indeed existed then, but not to us. The structure of our brains allowed us to fill that gap and now we know about quarks. But I hold the position that there are things in the gaps that we CAN'T know by virtue of the fact our brain structure cannot encode the knowledge. This is not a suggestion that god exists in these gaps. In fact, I hold that we can say NOTHING about these gaps other than they are there, things exists in them, and we must accept we cannot apprehend explicit knowledge of what they are. But this does not prevent these things from interacting with the things we CAN know. 

 

So, what does ontological status say about this? There are three domians, that which we know exists, that which we can know exists but as yet do not (the gaps we can fill), and that which exists but can't be known (the gaps we can't fill). Does lack of ontological status mean that the concept in question cannot exist in any of these three domains of knowledge?   


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You guys are all pretty

You guys are all pretty cool, loving this.


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boat14cpc wrote: So in

boat14cpc wrote:
So in conclusion, I think the idea of defining our context as strictly materialistic would grant the truth claim that transcendant language is incoherent, but if one does not grant so, then he is free (logically speaking) to use transcendant language. Please let me know if I have misrepresented your line of reasoning or have been unclear in my own.

I think I get you and for the most part agree.
I'm glad that you're familiar with Wittgenstein's later philosophy as that's the major background to my thought, so it will make communication that little bit smoother.

You're right, not all language need be in the materialistic context.
There's obvious examples like jokes and greetings, and more controversial examples like mental concepts such as beliefs. It's not a case that I am saying that we should be talking about the materialistic context, my claim is that we are.

People talk about a God who 'exists', who causes things to happen. They believe that this God interacts with the material world. The materialistic language game exhausts all possibilities on the world of our senses, from directly sensed objects to indirect causes. If a 'God' has any bearing on our world at all then it is definable within this language game. Transcendence means that it is not definable within this language game.

If your 'God' is transcendent, then there are two possibilities.
Either you still maintain a connection to our material world and thereby contradict yourself or you're left with a concept with absolutely no relevence to our world. If so, what relevence does your 'transcendent being' have? What is its linguistic function?
Many people tend to answer this question with naturalistic terms, not always explicitly claiming a connection between this being and physical events but atleast implying so in double speak.

It's possible that they are playing a completely different 'language game' with different meanings for 'being' and 'existence', if so, what is the point in this language game? What is its function in our everyday life?
In the meantime, Strong atheism denies the possibility of 'God' having any bearing on the material world. In this case, even if there is a special theological language game, it doesn't not contradict atheism.


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wavefreak wrote: We can all

wavefreak wrote:
We can all agree that there are gaps in our knowledge (this is not god of the gaps so be patient). As we progress those gaps are filled with new knowledge. My contention is that the gaps that we are able to fill are in principle constrained by the structure of our brains and the way we encode knowledge on that structure.

Dude, I still think that the physical explanation of our knowledge is irrelevent, but carry on. Smiling

Quote:
A thousand years ago, the gaps in knowledge contained things we now call quarks. Quarks indeed existed then, but not to us. The structure of our brains allowed us to fill that gap and now we know about quarks. But I hold the position that there are things in the gaps that we CAN'T know by virtue of the fact our brain structure cannot encode the knowledge.

The thing is, how would our brain not be able to handle them?
In the case of a quark, the gaps had a hole ready for them to fit.
There were unexplained phenomena that the concept of a 'quark' filled. The linguistic framework was in place that the concept of the quark could be built out of.

Quote:
I hold that we can say NOTHING about these gaps other than they are there, things exists in them, and we must accept we cannot apprehend explicit knowledge of what they are. But this does not prevent these things from interacting with the things we CAN know.

Already you've brought these 'unknowable things' under conceptualisation. You've called them 'things' that 'interact'. That's a causal relation. You can change the word around all you like but whenever you think of something 'unknowable' causing/interacting with the knowable, you've already tied it with the concepts of causation/interaction, which brings with it a framework of temporality atleast, and in doing so you totally contradict the supposed transcendence.

A thing that might help clarify this position is how we define certain concepts in physics. I think it was Hertz who said if someone asks you how you define a force, ask them to explain physics without it. The concept is defined by the part it plays in the explanation. Many of our physical concepts, e.g. quarks, aren't objects we directly see but are defined by the effects they have on our observable experience. So anything that interacts with the material world cannot be transcendent, as this interaction is enough for it to be conceptualised into the materialistic framework.

Does that help?


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Where does transcendence fit

Where does transcendence fit in? Everything is part of the physical world, regardless of what domain it is in. I offered three domains within physical reality, that which we know already (what we have already encoded), that which we don't yet know (but can be encoded) and that which exists but can't be known (cannot be encoded). It is all material, no transcendance or immaterialism is required.


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If I get you right, you are

If I get you right, you are making an analogy here.
We see a creature with a brain and see that there are some things that it is not capable of understanding. Maybe there are some things beyond our brains too.

I presume that what you mean by 'coded' is that we can comprehend it. So this isn't really about our brains so much as our minds - how we encode information about the world and whether it can leave anything out. How we encode our beliefs is through language and its structures. When we talk of 'outside language' we come to transcendence. So when you talk about something that our brains can't code, you are still talking about transcendence, but once again taking the outside view.

You are picturing a brain that cannot grasp a part of reality.
The big question is, why isn't the brain grasping it?
Secondly, in order for this description of a possibility to be coherent, the narrator must see the reality that the brain doesn't.
There are some coherent possibilities, for example:
It might be that the concept isn't graspable until the scientific theory that gives it context has been develloped. (e.g. the quark)
It might be that the brain in question hasn't develloped the linguistic competence to grasp the concept, or is incapable of such linguistic competence. (e.g. an ant)

The possibility you want to throw up is a part of reality that the brain cannot handle at all - that it is completely transcendent to this brain. If so, what is it that the narrator has in order to comprehend this reality that the brain has not? What special powers must we give this narrator? Whatever the narrator comprehends in this scene, what is it about the brain that it cannot?

Another point is that you said that this 'physical thing' had an effect on our observable world. If you read my last paragraph again on the previous post, you will see that it is enough for us to comprehend it, and that many of our physical concepts are of this sort.


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Strafio wrote: If I get you

Strafio wrote:
If I get you right, you are making an analogy here. We see a creature with a brain and see that there are some things that it is not capable of understanding. Maybe there are some things beyond our brains too. I presume that what you mean by 'coded' is that we can comprehend it. So this isn't really about our brains so much as our minds - how we encode information about the world and whether it can leave anything out. How we encode our beliefs is through language and its structures. When we talk of 'outside language' we come to transcendence. So when you talk about something that our brains can't code, you are still talking about transcendence, but once again taking the outside view. You are picturing a brain that cannot grasp a part of reality. The big question is, why isn't the brain grasping it? Secondly, in order for this description of a possibility to be coherent, the narrator must see the reality that the brain doesn't. There are some coherent possibilities, for example: It might be that the concept isn't graspable until the scientific theory that gives it context has been develloped. (e.g. the quark) It might be that the brain in question hasn't develloped the linguistic competence to grasp the concept, or is incapable of such linguistic competence. (e.g. an ant) The possibility you want to throw up is a part of reality that the brain cannot handle at all - that it is completely transcendent to this brain. If so, what is it that the narrator has in order to comprehend this reality that the brain has not? What special powers must we give this narrator? Whatever the narrator comprehends in this scene, what is it about the brain that it cannot? Another point is that you said that this 'physical thing' had an effect on our observable world. If you read my last paragraph again on the previous post, you will see that it is enough for us to comprehend it, and that many of our physical concepts are of this sort.

 

This is not an analogy. It is, at least to me, a consequence of strict materialism. Nothing we can think or know can exist as anything but a state or process in the physical structure of our brain. The encoding I am speaking of is the actual processes and states. I am saying that the processes and states of our brains strictly limit what can be encoded (known).

An analogy would be a string production system. If I have A, B and the rule a string y is valid if it is A, B, or x+AB where x is any previously validated string. The things that can be encoded then are A, B, AAB, BAB, AABAB, BABAB, etc. The string BBB is not part of the encodeable strings of this system. So BBB is outside the domain of what this system can know.

So what I am saying is that there are things that exist which our brains cannot encode. And it is indeed possible that unknown things can interact with what is known. Back to quarks. A thousand years ago, we had no knowledge of quarks, nuclear forces or anything that was underlying the physics of the material world . But because our brains had not yet encoded that knowledgedid not prevent us from expecting that every time we dropped a rock it would fall. We knew that as fact.

Your analogy of a narrator is not valid to what I am trying to say. The mind IS the brain - its states and processes. We cannot narrate beyond what our brains can support. I am saying that our brain supports the concept that its states and processes cannot support (encode) things that MUST exist.

A better analogy is that a cat's brain cannot encode quantum mechanics. But quantum mechanics is still real and things still interact with the cat even on a quantum mechanical world.

We are a cat to the totality of existence. We can push our knowledge only as far and in the directions that our brains support. No further. But reality does not stop at that boundry. What is beyond that boundry is not knowable, but still exists.


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wavefreak wrote: This is

wavefreak wrote:
This is not an analogy. It is, at least to me, a consequence of strict materialism. Nothing we can think or know can exist as anything but a state or process in the physical structure of our brain. The encoding I am speaking of is the actual processes and states. I am saying that the processes and states of our brains strictly limit what can be encoded (known).

Fair enough, but bear in mind this important observation:
By describing a situation in the third person you are playing the part of the narrator. Now either you are making a claim from your own perspective or you are using the analogy of a being like you who can see something that we can't. You've denied the analogy so we'll assume the former.

You say you are starting with materialist assumption and looking at the consequences. Now let's look at the sentence in bold. That is not materialism. Materialism only makes claims about the empirical world, not about knowledge in general. I don't believe that moral knowledge is material, and I don't think that certain material concepts like beliefs are material context. (you've seen me talk about this in that thread about Language and Fundamentalism)
All materialism makes claims about is empirical facts.
Knowledge isn't itself isn't an empirical object, so it doesn't necessarily have to be code in the brain. (like I said, it's better to think of it in the linguistic structure and it's a question of whether linguistic operations reduce to brain functions)

To get back to what you were saying, you claim that a physical brain might have limits that stop the person from comprehending the world. Remember that you are painting a third person perspective with a common human perception. So anything that you are perceiving in this narration is something that has been comprehended by you. That means that anything that you describe in this scene is comprehendable by something with the right linguistic competence.

So to summarise:
You are describing a scene with a third person view on a person. This third person view has a narrator. So if there is something that this narrator describes then it is comprehendible by a brain.

Remember you are claiming that this is a consequence of materialism, but by starting with a material assumption, everything has been defined within materialistic bounds, i.e. what is comprehensible to us.

Quote:
So what I am saying is that there are things that exist which our brains cannot encode. And it is indeed possible that unknown things can interact with what is known. Back to quarks. A thousand years ago, we had no knowledge of quarks, nuclear forces or anything that was underlying the physics of the material world. But because our brains had not yet encoded that knowledgedid not prevent us from expecting that every time we dropped a rock it would fall. We knew that as fact.

Here you aren't talking about something the brain couldn't 'encode'. You are talking about something potentially discoverable (through our linguistic forms of understanding) that although hasn't been discovered yet, it is atleast understandable in principle.

Quote:
The mind IS the brain - its states and processes.

I don't actually agree with that.
When we talk about things like 'beliefs' we are not necessarily referring to existing things. We are playing a different language, so to speak.

Quote:
We cannot narrate beyond what our brains can support. I am saying that our brain supports the concept that its states and processes cannot support (encode) things that MUST exist.

And the only argument you've given for this is that there's somethings that are encodable that we haven't encoded yet. In contrast, I've pointed out that your position in incoherent as when you talk about the brain you talk from a third person perspective, i.e. from the perspective from the narrator, so anything that 'must exist' is therefore described by the narrator who presumably has encoded this knowledge in his brain.


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Let's backpedal. By

Let's backpedal.

By materialism, I mean that nothing exists accept the ohysical realm. Protons, neutrons, quarks, electric fields, etc. That's it. There is no "thing" out there for abtract ideas. Even an abstraction is only states in the brain. Literally, the mind IS the brain. I could very well be wrong, but this is what I mean when I think of strict materialism. Everything that I am saying rests on this definition.  


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wavefreak wrote: Let's

wavefreak wrote:

Let's backpedal.

By materialism, I mean that nothing exists accept the ohysical realm. Protons, neutrons, quarks, electric fields, etc. That's it. There is no "thing" out there for abtract ideas. Even an abstraction is only states in the brain. Literally, the mind IS the brain. I could very well be wrong, but this is what I mean when I think of strict materialism. Everything that I am saying rests on this definition.


Materialism claims that all empirical objects are physical things.
If the mind is an empirical object then it is material.
Some philosophers of mind think it is, I disagree.

Also, I think that this 'exist as states in the brain' is a bit silly.
It means that I have multiple existences - as my material existing self and as the multiple conceptions of me that various people have. We have concepts of material objects that may or may not exist in the empirical world. We have the notion of existence in mathematics which is a different context. Other than that, it doesn't really make sense to talk about existence. (unless ofcourse you define a new sense of existence for the 'language game' at hand)

Even if your definition of materialism is correct, your argument still fails. As you describe a physical possibility and then talk about it not being 'encodable' in a brain. This is a self contradiction. Whenever you talk about something physical, it is by definition encodable in the brain, i.e. materialistically definable.


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Strafio wrote: Materialism

Strafio wrote:

Materialism claims that all empirical objects are physical things. If the mind is an empirical object then it is material. Some philosophers of mind think it is, I disagree. Also, I think that this 'exist as states in the brain' is a bit silly. It means that I have multiple existences - as my material existing self and as the multiple conceptions of me that various people have. 

 

This may be our problem. I never meant to imply objects exist only as states in our brain. An apple sitting on a table has a material existence regardless of my brain states. I only meant that knowledge exists as states in our brains. I wasn't being clear. I am saying that things exists that we can never explicitly know about because our brains cannot support that knowledge.

 

 


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wavefreak wrote: I am

wavefreak wrote:
I am saying that things exists that we can never explicitly know about because our brains cannot support that knowledge.

I know, but to call them 'things' that 'exist' implies that they are encodable. Think about what you are doing here. You are describing a hypothetical situation of a physical event that our brain are incapable of encoding. But in order to describe this hypothetical situation, you are limited to what your brain can encode, so you always end up contradicting yourself.


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I guess I don't see the

I guess I don't see the contradiction. I can talk about infinite sets but I cannot enumerate them. WHy can't I talk about what can't be known? I can't say much about it. But I don't have to remain silent.


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You do not need to enumerate

You do not need to enumerate infinite sets to meaningfully talk about them. You merely need to set their boundaries. Like the natural numbers; start with 0, count upwards and there's no last number. I get what you're saying about infinite; there will be gaps in your knowledge as your brain can't store every number, but it doesn't need to. We merely need to store the limited rules by which we can generate whichever number we need to access.

If you can talk about something, then why can't you know about it?
If you are talking about something then you understand it, and all that remains is empirical evidence to confirm or disconfirm facts about it. If you were saying that there are hypothesis that cannot be confirmed or falsified so are therefore unknowable, that would be different. But I don't think that's what you're trying to put forward here.

Here's a mind experiment:
If there's something unknowable then what is it we are missing?
This is what philosophers like to call a two horned dilemna.
If you specify what we are missing then it is no longer unknowable. Many concepts in physics are defined purely by the effect they have on the observable.
If instead you deny that anything observable is missing, then your 'existing thing' falls into absolute irrelevence and we call into question what you are even talking about.


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Let’s make this a bit

Let’s make this a bit more austere. I’m still not sure I have clearly articulated what I’m thinking.

Let E be the set of all things that exist. Materialism forces us to accept that everything in this set has some basis in the physical – protons, neutrons, whatever.

Let T be the set of all thoughts. We know that thoughts exist. It follows then that thoughts are elements of E. So then a thought can be nothing more than a physical thing in our brain. Whether that thing is quantum mechanical, biochemical, electrical or anything else, it is still a physical state or process. This also forces us to accept that there is no such thing as abstractions that exist separate from the physical states of the brain. There is no “place” for concepts like the square root of 2 to exist apart from the actual structures of the brain. To suggest otherwise is to invoke something akin to supernatural. You can’t define this place except in terms of what it is not (not physical).

An interesting thing about the set E is that some elements in it refer to other elements – i.e. thoughts. I think we can safely assume that anything in E that is not a thought has an actual physical existence outside the human brain.

We can also say this as any thought that refers to a non-thought refers to something that is real. Let’s call knowledge any thought that refers to something real. Or even better, there is a subset K= the set of all thoughts that reference non-thoughts. Or, in other words, the sum total of knowledge.

Another subset is U = the set of all elements in E for which there are no referring thoughts. Or what we don’t know. What is interesting about this set is that we can not actually say much about it. We can’t say how many elements are in it. We can’t say anything about the properties of any of its elements. We can’t even say that it isn’t empty (even though we reasonably assume that it is not).

Now lets create a function that re-assigns elements of U into K and call it L (for learning). Essentially this function links a thought to something real.

Is there any element in U for which L fails?


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I still say the same. If

I still say the same.
If something is material, in set E, then it has material properties. That means it has knowable properties and it's a just a matter of coming to know them though evidence etc.
So if something material is unknowable, it's because we cannot have any kind of contact/evidence of it, direct or indirect. But the idea of the object is still 'encodable'.


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Strafio wrote: I still say

Strafio wrote:
I still say the same. If something is material, in set E, then it has material properties. That means it has knowable properties and it's a just a matter of coming to know them though evidence etc. So if something material is unknowable, it's because we cannot have any kind of contact/evidence of it, direct or indirect. But the idea of the object is still 'encodable'.

 

But the only thing encodeable is that there is some object that exists that can't be known. This encoding can be equally applied to all unkowable objects. We can still not say anything about any specific object in the set of unknowables. We can know of the set, we can know that the set *may* not be empty, but we can know nothing of any individual element in the set. So what we are encoding is not an element in the set, but a statement about the set itself. 


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wavefreak wrote: But the

wavefreak wrote:
But the only thing encodeable is that there is some object that exists that can't be known.

Not really. If something is material then all the possibilities are encodable. It might be a cause of a material event, or a material object with properties like shape, spacial position, cordinates, etc. Even if all it is is a subtle effect on something 'knowable' then this effect is it's encoding.

Quote:
We can know of the set, we can know that the set *may* not be empty, but we can know nothing of any individual element in the set. So what we are encoding is not an element in the set, but a statement about the set itself.


The fact that the element is inside the set pre-supposes that the element can be encoded. Especially as there will be predicates that apply to all material objects like space-time coordinates. I'd also like you to answer this dilemna I brought up for you earlier:

Strafio wrote:
If there's something unknowable then what is it we are missing?
This is what philosophers like to call a two horned dilemna.
If you specify what we are missing then it is no longer unknowable. Many concepts in physics are defined purely by the effect they have on the observable.
If instead you deny that anything observable is missing, then your 'existing thing' falls into absolute irrelevence and we call into question what you are even talking about.
I don't think we can carry on until you answer this dilemna.


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final post for this thread

Strafio,

I am going to attempt to reply to the following quote, but I am finding difficult to articulate what I want to say in a coherent fashion. So please bear with me.

You wrote:

"People talk about a God who 'exists', who causes things to happen. They believe that this God interacts with the material world. The materialistic language game exhausts all possibilities on the world of our senses, from directly sensed objects to indirect causes. If a 'God' has any bearing on our world at all then it is definable within this language game. Transcendence means that it is not definable within this language game."

I think I can conceive that the italicized portions above are true statements in themselves, but I think that you mean more by it than you actually say. If I can turn the positive language of your statements into a negative to represent what I seems to be the fuller or more acute meaning of what you are saying, I think I might be able to offer a critique. So a negative re-wording of the italicized portion might say something like the following: "Because no part of our language exists in nor is conditioned by a transcendent context, there are no linguistic possibilities that can properly describe transcendent realities." If I have not properly represented your thought, then the critique which follows will be irrelevant and I apologize for wasting your time. Nevertheless...

I can grant that our language exists within and is conditioned by a material context but I cannot grant a mere material context in both senses. Speaking from a Christian theistic perspective, God can also "speak" into a material reality without losing a transcendent or a se status, especially if one grants that language/knowledge is analogical. In one important sense, all of our material context is conditioned by a transcendent one. The Bible speaks of God having a dwelling place (i.e. hear in your dwelling place and forgive...) but it also speaks of Him as not being able to be contained within our material context [i.e "heaven and highest heaven cannot contain you..."]. In one sense, we have true, justified, belief concerning a transcendent God because of language given by that God using materialistically conditioned language. Notice the two parts of the communication: transcendent communication (top down) by using human language structures (bottom up). But in another sense, because we are finite and materialistically conditioned, we do not exhaustively or completely know what there is to know about transcendent realities or material realities. Our knowledge of/language concerning the transcendent is analogical by virtue of the fact that we are not transcendent but it is true language and true knowledge nonetheless.

I realize that this is less a critique of your statement than a positive case for the epistemology to which I hold. Unfortunately, I have run out of available time for working on this forum. I will return to this forum to read whatever you have to say in reply, but I am content to leave the last word with you. If you wish to correspond over email ([email protected]), I think I can make time for that. Finally, if you are ever in southside Virginia, I'd love to buy you a beer.

Cordially,

boat14

P.S. If you haven't read it already, you should read Michael Polanyi's Personal Knowledge. He was a Hungarian physical chemist who turned philosopher in his fifties because he had become disgruntled with the idea of the cold, dispassionate, strictly empirical approach to science prevalent in the hard sciences.


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boat14cpc wrote: "Because

boat14cpc wrote:
"Because no part of our language exists in nor is conditioned by a transcendent context, there are no linguistic possibilities that can properly describe transcendent realities."

I don't really like that definition as it is 'top down' again!
I'd rather go through the positive things that language can describe, (like objects in space-time and relations like cause-effect between them) and then ask, rhetorically, what's left? As I will have covered everything of relevence then there ought to be nothing left.

Quote:
I can grant that our language exists within and is conditioned by a material context but I cannot grant a mere material context in both senses. Speaking from a Christian theistic perspective, God can also "speak" into a material reality without losing a transcendent or a se status, especially if one grants that language/knowledge is analogical.

You kind of lost me here as I didn't understand a lot of what you are saying. I think I got what you meant by language being conditioned within an material context, but existing within a material context?
What do you mean by God 'speaking' into material reality?
Are you sure you're not stealing materialistic concepts like 'speaking' here?
And what does it mean for language/knowledge to be analogical?

Quote:
I realize that this is less a critique of your statement than a positive case for the epistemology to which I hold.

Well, it's the right way to counter argue.
I didn't understand your case, let alone find it convincing, and I get the feeling that we'd only come to understanding through long debates and squabbling over the definition of transcendent! Laughing out loud
You say you don't have much time here but we'll see how it goes. Smiling

Quote:
Finally, if you are ever in southside Virginia, I'd love to buy you a beer.

I'm more of a cider drinker but if I find myself on your side of the Atlantic I might just take you up on this!

Quote:
If you haven't read it already, you should read Michael Polanyi's Personal Knowledge. He was a Hungarian physical chemist who turned philosopher in his fifties because he had become disgruntled with the idea of the cold, dispassionate, strictly empirical approach to science prevalent in the hard sciences.


Sounds interesting.
As it happens, I fully advocate personal knowledge, that there's a time for the strict cold accuracy of science and time for looser, more poetic ways of looking at the world. But that's ways of looking at the world and experiencing life rather than perceiving 'transcendent truth'.


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wavefreak wrote: I guess I

wavefreak wrote:
I guess I don't see the contradiction. I can talk about infinite sets but I cannot enumerate them.

But the reason you understand the definition of the set is because the definition itself finite.  

I can write a one line statement in math that generates an infinity, the line is finite.

 

Quote:
 

 WHy can't I talk about what can't be known?

Because in this case, your not actually speaking about an unknown, you are speaking about a potential infinity based on your understanding of a finite formula 

I'm sure you realize why you can't actually speak about what is really unknown!

Quote:
 

I can't say much about it. But I don't have to remain silent.

What you can speak upon is what you KNOW, based on your understanding of the formula. Your analogy fails. 

"Hitler burned people like Anne Frank, for that we call him evil.
"God" burns Anne Frank eternally. For that, theists call him 'good.'


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Strafio wrote: You do not

Strafio wrote:
You do not need to enumerate infinite sets to meaningfully talk about them. You merely need to set their boundaries.

Which is a finite statement.

In other words, you speak based on knowledge of the formula.

You're not actually speaking about the 'unknown' when you consider that a formula indictates a set of numbers that you cannot actually count out... such an idea is incoherent.... knowledge speaks to what we know!  

 

"Hitler burned people like Anne Frank, for that we call him evil.
"God" burns Anne Frank eternally. For that, theists call him 'good.'


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There is still some

There is still some disconnect between what I'm thinking, what I'm writing and what you guys think about what my writing is saying about my thinking.

I think.

 

I'll get back to you. 


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Cool stuff. We'll watch this

Cool stuff. We'll watch this space! Eye-wink


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Let’s decompose this some

Let’s decompose this some more. Since it hinges entirely on what our definitions are, I want to talk about this some more in terms of sets. Please be aware that I am not a set theoretician or a logician so if I do things that are out of step with those disciplines, I apologize in advance. I am using sets because it helps me structure my thoughts, not because I have some deep understanding vis-à-vis set theory or logic.

 

I’ve defined a few sets and a function:

E = The set of all things that exists

T= The set of thoughts

K = The set of all things known

U = The set of all things unknown

L = A function that moves things from the set of unknowns to the set of knowns.

 

I think I can define each of these more precisely. Since what exists is really the important one, I’ll start with that.

E = is the set of all things that exist.

Because I am assuming *only* materialism is valid, this eliminates things like supernatural or anything else that is defined as immaterial. In order to exist something must have some basis in the material. There is nothing that exists that is also not an element of this set. It may or may not be necessary for this material existence to be confined to our space-time, based on theoretical ideas like the multi-verse or branes. But even these theoretical constructs have some form of material existence. So for flying pink ponies to exist, there must be an actual physical construct somewhere. It could be new particles, fields or forms of energy in a different universe, but it still must have physical existence. I might even offer these two statements as axioms (set theoreticians and logicians can twitch in disapproval as needed).

Axiom 1 - X exists if and only if it is material

Axiom 2 – Nothing exists that is not in E

So big whoop. The set of everything. A bit boring, actually. It gets more interesting when we start talking about subsets of this set. The one most interesting in the context of this discussion is the subset of thoughts.

We must accept that thoughts exist else the discussion is over. Hence by axiom 1, thoughts are material and by axiom 2 thoughts are in E. A thought as a material object makes sense if you consider that any concept has some mapping to a particular set of neurons, synapses and bio-chemical states in the brain. We already know through brain imaging that specific areas of the brain are active for specific functions. It isn’t too hard to accept that for a concept like “dog” a pattern of neurons becomes active and that this pattern is enough the same between separate activations that the physical structure of the pattern is relevant to the concept “dog”.

So we can partition E into two subsets E = {X={X1, X2, … , Xn}, T = {T1, T2, … Tn}}. T is the set of all thoughts, and X is everything else such that X OR T = E and X AND T is empty. I would consider X infinite and T finite, but I don’t think it is relevant.

 

Any feedback before I continue?


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Wavefreak, I think you're

Wavefreak, I think you're trapping yourself within a representation of mind/brain that isn't working for you.

 I recommend maybe take a look at some of the work being done now with emergent phenomena.  It's still strictly materialist, though controversial, but might do the job for you.

Also in a related vein, some of your set work might benefit from a look at Davidson's work on supervenience.  I have to admit, I haven't been able to get a handle on it yet and maybe it's totally irrelevant to what you're trying for, but then again maybe its a model that might better describe the relationship between your terms K and E.

"After Jesus was born, the Old Testament basically became a way for Bible publishers to keep their word count up." -Stephen Colbert


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Textom wrote: Wavefreak, I

Textom wrote:

Wavefreak, I think you're trapping yourself within a representation of mind/brain that isn't working for you.

I recommend maybe take a look at some of the work being done now with emergent phenomena. It's still strictly materialist, though controversial, but might do the job for you.

Also in a related vein, some of your set work might benefit from a look at Davidson's work on supervenience. I have to admit, I haven't been able to get a handle on it yet and maybe it's totally irrelevant to what you're trying for, but then again maybe its a model that might better describe the relationship between your terms K and E.

 

I checked out those links. Cool stuff. Ultimately, I may indeed be trapping myself. But I'm not done digging my hole just yet. If nothing else, this is making me think about what I'm thinking. 


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Wavefreak, all seems fine so

Wavefreak, all seems fine so far.
I should just note that everything in the set 'material' will, by definition, have material properties. (as well as the 'formal' properties that come with it being describable in set theory)

Do you agree with that?

btw, it's funny that Textom should mention Davidson.
Davidson's position on the mind is very similar to my own.


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Strafio wrote: btw, it's

Strafio wrote:
btw, it's funny that Textom should mention Davidson. Davidson's position on the mind is very similar to my own.

Cool, and not to steal the thread away, but maybe you could explain it in simple terms?  If not here, then in another thread maybe sometime.  I'm still reading but not wrapping my head around it for some reason.

"After Jesus was born, the Old Testament basically became a way for Bible publishers to keep their word count up." -Stephen Colbert


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Bear in mind that this is my

Bear in mind that this is my own personal interpretation on it as much as anything else, and there's chance that Davidson's position is significantly different.

It starts with the topic of mental causation.
It seems common sense the desires cause our physical actions, and physical stimulations cause us to have sensations. This agency seems necessary by common sense and the denial of it, epiphenomenalism, is usually used as a way of accusing a position of failing.

Substance dualism, for instance, had instant problems with causation. In a not so obvious way, these problems extended to all types of dualism. The exclusion argument is as follows:

1) Every physical event has a physical cause.
By the laws of conservation, any event that happens must have had a previous physical cause.

2) The exclusion principle.
No physical event can have more than one cause unless it is a case of overdetermination - e.g. two bullets hitting a man at the same time are each individual causes of death.

3) Mental to physical causation is not overdetermined.
That is, if a desire causes an action then it was the desire the caused the action. Otherwise the desire wasn't really necessary - the action was going to happen by physical causes anyway. We like to think that if a desire caused an action, then a lack of desire would've resulted in a lack of said action. So mental to physical causation is not a case of over-determination.

C) The desire is a physical object.
As the desire is the cause of the action, and the action has atleast one physical cause, the desire must be this physical cause. As such, the conclusion of this argument is that only reductive physicalism allows for mental causation, and any competitors must fall into epiphenomenalism.

However, reductive physicalism appears to have problems of its own, namely the explanatory gap. Many mental concepts feel 'straight jacketed' when reduced to a physical state or function, and others seem to elude it altogether. So there appears to be the dilemna; dualists recognising the un-physicalness of mental concepts but being metaphysically forced to admit to epiphenomenalism while the reductive physicalists are metaphysically sound with the causation, but appear to have difficulty in nailing down mental concepts into physical form.

Davidson starts off by backing 'epiphenomenalism' by giving arguments as to why psycho-neural laws are impossible - why it is impossible to reduce psychological laws to physical laws. (compared to biology that can be reduced to chemistry which in turn can be reduced to physics.)

He then claims that when we say "desires cause action", we don't mean 'cause' exactly in the physical sense, e.g. lifting a ball and releasing it causes the ball to drop at the acceleration of 9.8 m/s/s.
Desires are more like social explanations for actions rather than physical type causes. So to use Wittgensteinian terminology, 'beliefs' and 'desires' (and other intentional states) are a part of the social language game, predicting and making sense of human behaviour and interactions, rather than the empirical language game of physics.

The arguments to support this tend to make use of the linguistic nature of our intentional states. One example is externalism. A proposition containing a belief can involve information that the believer is not aware of. For instance, if I saw my cat suddenly dart away from my friend, I might say "my cat believed that John would hurt her".
We would agree that the cat believes this, even though it references John by name and the cat doesn't know he's called John.
This externalism implies that when I declared my cat believed something, I wasn't referencing a thought inside my cat's head, rather I prescribing the belief that fit the ideal behavioural explanation and made sense of her darting away.

(That probably wasn't a good example of externalism. A better example of externalism comes from Putnam and his 'twin earth' mind experient.)


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more fun ...

Now is where it gets a little dicey.

 

 

 

The set T is where it gets really interesting. Thoughts, even while they are material in and of themselves, are referential – they can refer to other material objects. They most often refer to other thoughts. Explicitly, a thought that refers to another thought is a neurological pattern that invokes another neurological pattern. So the concept “dog” is a brain pattern that does not refer to a particular dog that has physical extent, but a thought like “that dog” can refer to a specific physical entity separate from the pattern in the brain that is the thought. Also thoughts can refer to thoughts that refer to actual physical entities. We could say that a chain of thoughts that ends in one for an external referent is how we define what is perceived as real. So now the set T can be subdivided as T = {{T1, T2, … Tn},{TT1, TT2, … , TTn},{TE1, TE2, … , TEn}} where Ti  is a thought, TTi is a thought that refers to another thought and TEi is a thought that refers to a real object. This allows us to create a set in E for any X that is referred to by some thought. The set E can be written as:

E = {{X1, X2, … , Xn},{XR1, XR2, … , XRn},{{T1, T2, … Tn},{TT1, TT2, … , TTn},{TE1, TE2, … , TEn}}}

For clarity,

E = {X, XR, {T, TT, TE}} where

X = {X1, X2, … , Xn} = the set of things that exist for which there is no referring thought.

XR ={XR1, XR2, … , XRn} = the set of things that exist for which there is a referring thought.

T = {T1, T2, … Tn} =  the set of thoughts that do not refer to other thoughts or to external entities. I’m not sure if this is possible so it might be an empty set.

TT = {TT1, TT2, … , TTn} =  the set of thoughts that refer to other thoughts.

            TE = {TE1, TE2, … , TEn} =  the set of thoughts that refer to external entities.

Please note that I am constructing a highly simplified model of thoughts and reality. I am purposely ignoring things like nouns, adjectives, action, and other common attributes. I feel this is allowable since I am really only interested in thoughts that correspond to what is real or not real and ultimately all of the detail in language still brings us to things that are real or not real.

So now the question arises, how does an element in X become an element in XR? Or how does a new thought end up referring to an element in X? Or more simply, how do we learn about an element in X? Actually, it doesn’t matter. It is enough to know that we do learn about elements in X and in so doing they are moved from X to XR.

 


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I'm just wondering how

I'm just wondering how you're going to get to the conclusion that there can be an object that is un-encodable by the brain. Smiling

This is a tangent, but just reminding you that I disagree that 'beliefs = neurons' is the only materialist position on the mind. If you read my reply to Textom you'll see a brief introduction to an alternative one. I'd be interested to see what you make of that if you have the time.


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Strafio wrote: I'm just

Strafio wrote:
I'm just wondering how you're going to get to the conclusion that there can be an object that is un-encodable by the brain. Smiling This is a tangent, but just reminding you that I disagree that 'beliefs = neurons' is the only materialist position on the mind. If you read my reply to Textom you'll see a brief introduction to an alternative one. I'd be interested to see what you make of that if you have the time.

 

Two things. I may not get there at all. I may find this excercise disabuses me of the notion.

 

I am also aware that you don't consider beliefs=neurons, so even if I get to the point of talking about encodings, it will only be valid for the case where beliefs=neurons. It may also be a good launching point to understand why you don't think beliefs=neurons. 


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Very well.

Very well. Smiling


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I've stalled on this. I'm

I've stalled on this. I'm trying to avoid restricting the sets so much that it becomes comepletely contrived.  Otherwise I have a very fancy strawman.

 

One thing that is interesting is that using this model, it would appear that most things in the physical realm don't have actual mental referents. For example, I can talk about an atom, but this is not any particular atom. So in fact, the overwhelming majority of individual atoms in the universe have no refering thought in any human brain. And , further, the idea of "atom" actually refers to a pattern in the brain, not an actual atom.

Don't know where I'm going with this. Sort of a stream of conciousness thing here.