What is an idea?

rng35
Posts: 4
Joined: 2009-01-29
User is offlineOffline
What is an idea?

     I do not believe in metaphysics, nor am I trying to present an arguement for them. I do, however, wonder if pure materialism can account for ideas. I am not a scientist and my scientific background is woefully limited. I know that the physical portion of thought(if there is more than one portion) consists of different eletrical firings that occur in the brain, but I wonder if they are what an idea actually is. The ability to comunicate and modify ideas, as well as an idea's ability to survive the person who concieved it, seem to imply an independence from the mind. In the same way, it seems impossible to scientificly define a great piece of literature or work of art. We can say definitively what materials a Rembrandt is made of, but it doesn't seem we can scientifcly measure the meanings we attach to it. I think the answer may lay somewhere in human psychology and perception, but that too seems to fail in fully accounting for our thoughts.


Wonderist
atheist
Wonderist's picture
Posts: 2479
Joined: 2006-03-19
User is offlineOffline
Google: Physicalism,

Google: Physicalism, information.


Jeffrick
High Level DonorRational VIP!SuperfanGold Member
Jeffrick's picture
Posts: 2375
Joined: 2008-03-25
User is onlineOnline
try this

 

  I"ve been in a debate with Brian on this topic before.  My guess is that you are talking about "talent".  That's the difference  between people who compose music and Mozart.

  People who write novels and Hemingway.

  People who sing and Pavarotti.

  People who do voice overs and Alexander Scourby.

  What ever topic you propose there is one person who can do it better then anyone else whoever lived, that is called "talent".

"Very funny Scotty; now beam down our clothes."

VEGETARIAN: Ancient Hindu word for "lousy hunter"

If man was formed from dirt, why is there still dirt?


Hambydammit
High Level DonorModeratorRRS Core Member
Hambydammit's picture
Posts: 8657
Joined: 2006-10-22
User is offlineOffline
 Quote: it seems

 

Quote:
 it seems impossible to scientificly define a great piece of literature or work of art.

Sure you can.  But the description isn't going to be concise, nor is it going to make you swoon with intellectual pleasure.  What you're really saying (I think) is that it's impossible to predict which song will become popular, or which work of art will become a cult icon.

That's true to an extent, but not because it's impossible to define.  It's because there are too many unknown variables.

Also consider that music companies are in the business of predicting what will be big and then making sure it becomes so.  Same for book makers.  The point is that "great literature" or "great music" has multiple meanings.  By sales standards, Britney Spears is great.  So is Grisham.  For my money, both suck balls.  (Actually, let's skip Britney sucking my balls... I have some self respect.)  Hmmm... just saw that this is KeWK.  Hope that wasn't too graphic for you.

The term "great literature" is pretty much the same as "love."  Get a thousand people in a room and ask them what it means, and you'll get basically a thousand answers.  That doesn't mean it's indefinable.  It means there literally are a thousand different meanings.  That's not impossible for science to describe, but why in the world would they want to catalog 6 billion different definitions of such a vague word?

 

 

Atheism isn't a lot like religion at all. Unless by "religion" you mean "not religion". --Ciarin

http://hambydammit.wordpress.com/
Books about atheism


rng35
Posts: 4
Joined: 2009-01-29
User is offlineOffline
        I have to

        I have to apologise for my lack of clarity. While what you said about Spears and Grisham certainly is true, I was calling more into question the substance of a book(subtance here meaning what it is not its quality). Lets take Grisham for example, an single copy of The Street Laywer might be printed in soft cover, on relatively cheap paper, with an imperfection on the dots of half its "I"s. Science could note inumerable qualities unique to that one book. However, none of them would alter the reader's impression of the story contained in the book. That seems to imply some degree of seperation between the physical book and the story it contains. Even our thoughts seem to be physical representations of seperate ideas. I realise this isn't a terribly convincing argument, but I can't find an idea dependent on a single physical form.


Hambydammit
High Level DonorModeratorRRS Core Member
Hambydammit's picture
Posts: 8657
Joined: 2006-10-22
User is offlineOffline
 I realized what your

 I realized what your argument was the first time.  I am apparently the one who's not being clear.

Let's look at something a little more concrete first, then we'll come back to literature.  Let's look at human attraction.  Scientists have discovered statistical constants that govern attraction between humans.  The easiest one to nail down is symmetry.  If you take a hundred random subjects and measure them for bi-lateral symmetry (that is, whether or not each side of their body is equal, and if it is not, how much it is off), and then have a thousand people rate each of them on a set scale of attractiveness, you will see not just a strong, but an overwhelming correlation between symmetry and attractiveness.  Sure, there will be stragglers who will not think the most symmetrical of the bunch is as attractive as somebody in the middle of the pool, but these will be mostly statistical anomolies, and are usually relatively easy to explain as relatively unique environmental issues.  (For instance, the person looks like the subject's asshole uncle.)

Women with a 0.7 waist to hip ratio are consistently rated as the women with the most attractive bodies.  There is a rather exact definition of "feminine" and "masculine" for facial structure, and straight men overwhelmingly prefer feminine facial structure.

I could go on listing things that we know scientifically about human attraction, but the point is well made.  The next thing you need to know is that we can test people to see if they're lying.  In tests where subjects rate the attractiveness of people, and are hooked up to various sensing devices, scientists can learn empirically that they are telling the truth or lying.  For instance, several such tests have discovered closet gays, whose galvanic skin response, heart rate, pupils, etc, showed interest and excitement while their test responses indicated the opposite.  Of course, this information was kept confidential, and only released as part of general findings, with no specific information.

So, here is a tangible aspect of love -- sexual attraction -- which we can most certainly deal with scientifically.  So, when we say, "Love is a state which includes sexual attraction," we can quantify love.  As I mentioned before, individual definitions of love will vary between individuals, but that is no concern.  Once any individual definition is well articulated, it can be scientifically tested.

Ok, I'm going to do music next because I know a lot more about music than literature.  (I have two degrees in music and none in literature.)  Music is not a universal language, but it does have universal effects.  In one notable study, students who listened to Mozart while doing math did better than those who listened to Stravinsky.  This despite the fact that the students came from diverse ethnic, cultural, and therefore musical backgrounds.  Whether they liked Mozart or Stravinsky was not relevant in the test results.  Similarly, certain musical devices have universal hypnotic effects, regardless of the aesthetic pleasure they impart to the listener.

Without going into painful detail, we can scientifically predict what certain musical devices (I mean compositional and performance techniques) will do to listeners, and we will be correct most of the time.  It's not a perfected science, but it's getting better, and we have no reason to believe it will stop doing so.  So, in short, we can scientifically create a piece of music that has every potential to be a huge hit.  Cultural factors will play a big role in this, and we cannot hope to predict what politics and market forces will wreak havoc on our composition's chances, but that is a different matter.  Popularity is not the same thing as inherent quality, and science can very well describe the inherent qualities of a piece of music.

Be careful of an equivocation here.  When you rate "Blackbird" as a 10 and "Why Don't We Do It In the Road" as a 7, you can certainly say that Blackbird is a better quality song than Why Don't We Do It in the Road, but you do not mean the same thing as if a scientist said it with regard to the degree to which the song conforms to know models of musical influence on human physiology.  Your degrees of quality are as subjective as your definition of love.  Still, if we had enough data to accurately model the algorythm your brain uses to evaluate music, we could plug it into a computer and  predict with virtual certainty whether or not you would like a particular song.

The same goes for literature.  There are themes that are universally appealing, just as there are body shapes that are universally appealing.  (Remember... averages and statistics!)  If you construct a story of a working class hero who rises from poverty and oppression to become a hero, it will, all things being equal, appeal to working class people in poverty and oppression.  If it is written with a very erudite style fitting British nobility, it will likely fall flat on its figurative face, though.  Hopefully, I've made my point clearly enough, and don't need to give more examples.  The point is that our brains create ideas which don't exist as matter, but the ideas are intrinsically and unavoidably tied to our brains, for our brains are the organs which, entirely through physical processes, create the awareness which conceptualizes the idea.  Our only limit to quantifying this creation process is lack of data... not a real metaphysical divide.

 

 

Atheism isn't a lot like religion at all. Unless by "religion" you mean "not religion". --Ciarin

http://hambydammit.wordpress.com/
Books about atheism


bayjohn
Posts: 16
Joined: 2009-01-02
User is offlineOffline
Defining the visible and audible

rng35:  Your observation/speculation/investigation here is one of the great questions in human reasoning and logical justification.  Can science and/or biology explain beauty?  Is beauty limited to the visible and audible?  Why do some people consider one thing precious while others look upon the same thing as worthless?

The human eye sees the beauty of the person from the exterior and later may learn the "inner beauty" of the person's character from interaction.  A divine eye sees the beauty of the person from the inside out (reference Matthew 12:35) from a Christian perspective.  Is beauty in the eye of the beholder?  (The relative aspect) Or, is beauty defined by a prescribed set of character traits in the visible/audible realms?

I truly believe that mankind will never be able to answer this in a way that is satisfactory to most audiences.  Science is used to prove and disprove faith, but how do you explain the unexplainable?

Where is the end of the abyss?


Archeopteryx
Superfan
Archeopteryx's picture
Posts: 1037
Joined: 2007-09-09
User is offlineOffline
bayjohn wrote:Your

bayjohn wrote:

Your observation/speculation/investigation here is one of the great questions in human reasoning and logical justification.  Can science and/or biology explain beauty?

I would wager that even if the answer to this question is yes, most people will still contend that the answer is no.

For example, Hamby recently posted a thread describing how research has uncovered the variables that determine "attractiveness" in members of the opposite sex. (Not accounting for each individual's personal preferences, of course; for example, I'm partial to brunettes over blondes, but that's probably more of a result of associations with my life's experiences than with biology.) But it just FEELS better to say that a girl is stunning, beautiful, gorgeous, than it does to say that a girl is very symmetrical and has a perfect 0.7 waist/hip ratio.

When we take something that is beautiful and explain its beauty in scientific terms, then we are no longer using the artistic language, and so it no longer feels like we are talking about something beautiful.

To put it another way, consider that we could describe to people as "making love" or "mutually cooperating in the reproductive process". Technically, both of those say the same thing, but one FEELS like we're talking about something beautiful and the other one does not. But that does not mean that sex is beautiful or that it is not beautiful.  It just means that there is more than one way to describe sex.

Similarly, we very likely could break down the exact reasons why a sunset is beautiful. We could describe the sunset in terms of how the atmosphere scatters certain wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation, and how the human brain arbitrarily labels those same wavelengths with "color", and how those colors can have particular psychological effects, triggering the release of pleasant chemicals, etc etc.

But that doesn't FEEL as good. And yet, we're talking about the same thing.

It is an unfortunate fact of reality that some people will let feelings override thought, hence the birth of Stephen Colbert's concept of "truthiness". So, even if the answer is yes, some people will still say the answer is no.

"Science cannot describe beauty", I believe, is a statement born of "truthiness".

Quote:

  Is beauty limited to the visible and audible?

Surely it's limited to the five senses we have at our disposal, these two not excluded.

Quote:

  Why do some people consider one thing precious while others look upon the same thing as worthless?

A little bit of biology and a little bit of social construction of reality?

For a biology example, some people can taste PTC and some people can't. If there is food on the table containing PTC, the tasters will very likely not like the food (since PTC tastes bitter to them) and the non-tasters (which is the group I would fall into) would probably enjoy the food just fine.

For an example from the other category, I'll say again I prefer brunettes. I'm still attracted to blondes for the same reasons I'm attracted to brunettes, which is biological. But I PREFER brunettes, because they FEEL more attractive. But this is very likely nothing more than me making positive assocations with brunette-ness based on my life experience.

 

Quote:

The human eye sees the beauty of the person from the exterior and later may learn the "inner beauty" of the person's character from interaction.

"Inner beauty" is a metaphorical expression. To translate this from "feelings-based" language into "thinking-based" language, we would find that it means something analagous to: "something about this person's personality and habits are very compatible with me, and that makes me very comfortable" and maybe a little bit of "this person exhibits certain qualities that I would like to emulate".

But it's much more concise, and much more pleasant-sounding, to just state metaphorically that the person is beautiful "on the inside".

Quote:

  A divine eye sees the beauty of the person from the inside out (reference Matthew 12:35) from a Christian perspective.  Is beauty in the eye of the beholder?  (The relative aspect) Or, is beauty defined by a prescribed set of character traits in the visible/audible realms?

It is probably prescribed by a variety of things working in unison: biology, experience, context, convention.

 

 

Quote:

I truly believe that mankind will never be able to answer this in a way that is satisfactory to most audiences.  Science is used to prove and disprove faith, but how do you explain the unexplainable?

Where is the end of the abyss?

Through most of this response, I'm basically just giving you my perspective, but this is the one point in your post where I must take issue with your words.

I must ask: WHY do you believe science will never be able to answer this in a way that is satisfying? Because it hasn't yet? Does that mean it never will? How can you possibly assert something so absolute and believe it so absolutely?

To me, this sort of statement makes it sound like you don't just THINK science will never be able to answer those questions; it also sounds like you wouldn't very much like it if science DID answer them.

When speaking of science, nothing is automatically lumped into an "unexplainable" category. In science, that categoy is a to-do list.

 

A place common to all will be maintained by none. A religion common to all is perhaps not much different.


rng35
Posts: 4
Joined: 2009-01-29
User is offlineOffline
            

             Here I have to be redundant, while you've given excellent and facinating information about how ideas interact with the physical world, the question still remains as to what an idea is. At the end of your last post you wrote that ideas don't exist as matter. This still begs the question of what an idea actually is. Even if our physical brains create ideas by a physical process, the question seems to remain as to what the final product actually is. I realise you addressed this to some extent at the end of your post, but your answer seemed to address the process of creating an idea not the actual substance of an idea. On an unrelated note, what is it that makes Stravinsky more intelectualy stimulating than Mozart?


Thomathy
SuperfanBronze Member
Thomathy's picture
Posts: 1861
Joined: 2007-08-20
User is offlineOffline
rng35 wrote:This still begs

rng35 wrote:
This still begs the question of what an idea actually is
Well, it actually doesn't beg the question, but it does, perhaps, raise the question.

An idea is the result of the brain.  It is the chemical interactions, the energy; the stuff of brains.  It is every bit as material as everything else in this universe must be.

Perhaps Hamby didn't make it abundantly and explicitely clear, but he means to say exactly that our brains create and fascilitate ideas.

 

BigUniverse wrote,

"Well the things that happen less often are more likely to be the result of the supper natural. A thing like loosing my keys in the morning is not likely supper natural, but finding a thousand dollars or meeting a celebrity might be."


Hambydammit
High Level DonorModeratorRRS Core Member
Hambydammit's picture
Posts: 8657
Joined: 2006-10-22
User is offlineOffline
 Free Will: Why we don't

 Free Will: Why we don't have it, and why that's a good thing.

I most certainly make it abundantly and explicitly clear in this essay.

This thread has just gotten to the point of repetition.  To those of you who are asking what an idea is, I have several book recommendations:

How the Mind Works, Steven Pinker.

Consciousness Explained, Daniel Dennett

The Quest for Consciousness, A Neurobiological Approach, Christof Koch.

Until you have absorbed the material in these three entry level books, you have no business making pronouncements on what ideas are or are not.

 

 

Atheism isn't a lot like religion at all. Unless by "religion" you mean "not religion". --Ciarin

http://hambydammit.wordpress.com/
Books about atheism


Thomathy
SuperfanBronze Member
Thomathy's picture
Posts: 1861
Joined: 2007-08-20
User is offlineOffline
Sorry, Hamby.  I didn't

Sorry, Hamby.  I didn't mean to say that you have never made it both of those, just that perhaps your interlocutor didn't see it that way.  That essay, in case I never mentioned it, is a great resource that I have found myself referring back to several times.

BigUniverse wrote,

"Well the things that happen less often are more likely to be the result of the supper natural. A thing like loosing my keys in the morning is not likely supper natural, but finding a thousand dollars or meeting a celebrity might be."


Wonderist
atheist
Wonderist's picture
Posts: 2479
Joined: 2006-03-19
User is offlineOffline
rng35

rng35 wrote:

             Here I have to be redundant, while you've given excellent and facinating information about how ideas interact with the physical world, the question still remains as to what an idea is.

I answered your question in the very first reply. Ideas are information. Google physicalism.

Quote:
At the end of your last post you wrote that ideas don't exist as matter.

Right. Not matter. Information. Do some basic reading about physicalism and you'll see that matter is not the only thing that physically exists. Along with information, there's space, time, energy, physcial forces (such as gravity), etc.

Wonderist on Facebook — Support the idea of wonderism by 'liking' the Wonderism page — or join the open Wonderism group to take part in the discussion!

Gnu Atheism Facebook group — All gnu-friendly RRS members welcome (including Luminon!) — Try something gnu!


rng35
Posts: 4
Joined: 2009-01-29
User is offlineOffline
           

            Working up the ladder:

            Natural, I am indeed reading up on physicallism, however, absorbing a phillisophical concept takes time and I want to do it correctly. At the time, Hamby's post was more accessible than yours. That is why I've been responding to him and not you. Also, I don't think "Google Physicallism" constituted a valid answer to my question, and I think its was a bit ridiculous of you to think it would end the conversation.

            Hamby, thank you for the book sugestions. I will certainly get to all of them and your essay as time allows. If I have come off as pushing a definition of ideas it was unitentional. I realize I am not qualified to speak on the subject, but I don't think "well what about x" constitutes "saying what an idea is or is not". I did want to thank you for remaing reasonably patient in your responses to my admitadly repetetive questions. I know its frustrating trying to work around a one track mind.

           Thomathy, You have my undying gratitude for your enlightening link to wikipedia. Indeed, "In American English, "begging the question" is generally used to mean that a statement invites another obvious question I am an American using an American vernacular, and the idea that information/ideas are immaterial does invite the obvious question of what they are. One might even say it begs the question of what they are. The  next time you want to show off the size of your intelectual dick, why not link information thats actually petinent to the question at hand?

           I think Hamby was right in saying this thread has become redundant. Beyond Thomathy's inevitable critique of my use of the word size, I don't see much of anything new on the horizon. I'll read up on your sugestions and get back to you when I'm informed.

    


Thomathy
SuperfanBronze Member
Thomathy's picture
Posts: 1861
Joined: 2007-08-20
User is offlineOffline
rng35 wrote:Thomathy, You

rng35 wrote:
Thomathy, You have my undying gratitude for your enlightening link to wikipedia. Indeed, "In American English, "begging the question" is generally used to mean that a statement invites another obvious question I am an American using an American vernacular, and the idea that information/ideas are immaterial does invite the obvious question of what they are. One might even say it begs the question of what they are. The  next time you want to show off the size of your intelectual dick, why not link information thats actually petinent to the question at hand?
Well, this is nice. If you were using the phrase not in a philosophical context, you only had to say so, and not be condescending. It's unnecessary. I wasn't attacking you and I was not showing off the size of my intellectual dick. I was pointing out a misuse of a particular phrase. It seemed an important distinction to make considering the implications involved if indeed you were accusing Hamby of a fallacy and because of the conversation. It is unimportant where you come from or how the phrase is typically used, you might appreciate that in an online discussion it's better to be exact or else confusion may arise. Incidentally, the phrase is often used similarly where I'm from and it's no less inexact or confusing in online discussions about the nature of things like ideas.

BigUniverse wrote,

"Well the things that happen less often are more likely to be the result of the supper natural. A thing like loosing my keys in the morning is not likely supper natural, but finding a thousand dollars or meeting a celebrity might be."


spin
spin's picture
Posts: 188
Joined: 2008-10-29
User is offlineOffline
Plato's heaven

rng35 wrote:
I do not believe in metaphysics, nor am I trying to present an arguement for them. I do, however, wonder if pure materialism can account for ideas.

 

Actually, David Hume set the approach for ideas centuries ago. There are two types of ideas in one's heads simple ideas (based on direct sense perceptions, an intensity of color, the pitch of a note) and complex ideas made up of simple ideas whose combination may or may not reflect the real world outside the head. Ideas are part of the software of the brain. Books are one means of storage.

The substance of an idea is merely what the brain uses to store it, nothing more. Hambydammit supplied some good references for the working of the brain. Pinker is a good heavy starter.

These days the nature of ideas are eminently accounted for.

rng35 wrote:
I am not a scientist and my scientific background is woefully limited. I know that the physical portion of thought(if there is more than one portion) consists of different eletrical firings that occur in the brain, but I wonder if they are what an idea actually is.

That's like saying the physical part of a computer program are the electrical impulses in a CPU. Obviously that is not true. It is the combination of electrical impulses that is the special part, the combination kept alive by the electrical energy. Remove the electricity from the brain and you'll have no more ideas, but the electricity maintains the ideas.

We've had a few million years of cerebral evolution to account for the complexity of what the brain can do, but it is all based on ever greater levels of complexity, combinations of Hume's simple ideas, these days mostly manipulated via the use of language, which provides the handles for ideas that allow further combination.

rng35 wrote:
The ability to comunicate and modify ideas, as well as an idea's ability to survive the person who concieved it, seem to imply an independence from the mind.

That's the benefit of the tools of language and the ability to translate language into written symbols. These are just symbols that help a brain reconstruct the language that holds the ideas that were formed in a head -- reconstruct them in another head. Writing would mean nothing without the language. Language would mean nothing without the head to process it.

Are you marveling at the method the species has developed for passing on ideas? It is marvelous, but it is wholly within the material world.

rng35 wrote:
In the same way, it seems impossible to scientificly define a great piece of literature or work of art.

I think Hamby has provided you with a means of understanding what is happening here. Any great cultural artefact is able to provoke both the intellect and the emotions. Though there are very many ways of dong so, all can be catalogued. But again we would be dealing with vast complexities. Small areas have already been dealt with. Vladimir Propp has catalogued the functioning of folk stories in such a way as to reduce them to a number of principles, each of which has a task. Others have dealt with the classification of plots. Ancient writers catalogued character types. And the raw material of great literature has been encroached upon. It is the literature that breaks the rules, that test what we are familiar with that stimulate the brain and cause our appreciation. But is there anything non-material about ideas? So far there is no evidence for it.

rng35 wrote:
We can say definitively what materials a Rembrandt is made of, but it doesn't seem we can scientifcly measure the meanings we attach to it. I think the answer may lay somewhere in human psychology and perception, but that too seems to fail in fully accounting for our thoughts.

This is really a repeat of the electrical firings you mentioned earlier. It's not the materials, but the combinations. The complex idea is made up of many simple ones. It is how they are arranged, combined, made to interact that is the important issue.

Great art doesn't exist in a vacuum. The perceiver needs to be educated to interact with the cultural artefact. Shakespeare doesn't do much for an uneducated audience. The stories weren't his (with the possible exception of the Tempest), so one doesn't appreciate Shakespeare for his stories. Can one appreciate Hamlet without knowing that it is structurally a revenge tragedy (and what exactly is a revenge tragedy?), but at the same time it is a double revenge tragedy, but at the same time it is a critique on the notion of revenge and a parody of revenge tragedies?

Very few enduring cultural artefacts are naive enough to reach an uneducated audience. You really need to know the context of the artefact otherwise it will be opaque to you.

Your reaction to great art is generally a learned response. That fact should take the mystique out of the ideas in great art when looked at in retrospect.

I think you'll need to find specific instances to support your notion of ideas somehow not being accounted for by education in its widest sense.

 

 

spin

Trust the evidence, Luke


Kevin R Brown
Superfan
Kevin R Brown's picture
Posts: 3142
Joined: 2007-06-24
User is offlineOffline
Quote:The next thing you

Quote:
The next thing you need to know is that we can test people to see if they're lying.

Ack! NO!

No, we currently cannot!

 

I'm not just trying to bust your balls - I really hate this particular notion, which many people somehow have been convinced is true. We can use a polygraph machine to detect when a person is anxious, and well-trained people can pick-up on tells when a person gets anxious. Anxiety, obviously, is not strictly caused by lying.

Moreover:

1) Pathological liars do not get anxious while lying, and pass polygraph tests without giving any indication that they were being untruthful

2) Even a normal individual can still pass a polygraph exam while lying as long as they think that they are telling the truth - either because they do not have accurate information or because they have convinced themselves of a lie.

Quote:
We can say definitively what materials a Rembrandt is made of, but it doesn't seem we can scientifcly measure the meanings we attach to it.

I'd argue that we can, and we do. I mean, if there was absolutely no criteria to define what makes Rembrandt or Picasso's paintings so marvellous, we would expect to find some painters that are lauded for works that are merely scribbled messes of random lines. Expert use of color, composition and form produce predictable results - a brilliant, head-turning piece of artwork. Art is subjective, as Hamby already said, only because there are so many variables at play; objectively, we know that certain colors always complement one-another (i.e. : Reds & blacks; Blacks & yellows; Reds & whites; Greys & Beiges , certain shapes always convey particular emotions and certain compositional arrangements are always easy to admire.

There isn't a 'perfect' piece of literature, music or visual art because people are so radically different, and their individual tastes change over time.

Quote:
"Natasha has just come up to the window from the courtyard and opened it wider so that the air may enter more freely into my room. I can see the bright green strip of grass beneath the wall, and the clear blue sky above the wall, and sunlight everywhere. Life is beautiful. Let the future generations cleanse it of all evil, oppression and violence, and enjoy it to the full."

- Leon Trotsky, Last Will & Testament
February 27, 1940


Hambydammit
High Level DonorModeratorRRS Core Member
Hambydammit's picture
Posts: 8657
Joined: 2006-10-22
User is offlineOffline
 KB, I'm not talking about

 KB, I'm not talking about a polygraph, and I'm not talking about detecting anxiety.  I'm talking about detecting arousal.

 

Atheism isn't a lot like religion at all. Unless by "religion" you mean "not religion". --Ciarin

http://hambydammit.wordpress.com/
Books about atheism


Wonderist
atheist
Wonderist's picture
Posts: 2479
Joined: 2006-03-19
User is offlineOffline
rng35

rng35 wrote:
            Natural, I am indeed reading up on physicallism, however, absorbing a phillisophical concept takes time and I want to do it correctly. At the time, Hamby's post was more accessible than yours. That is why I've been responding to him and not you. Also, I don't think "Google Physicallism" constituted a valid answer to my question, and I think its was a bit ridiculous of you to think it would end the conversation.

It's really not that complicated, and does not need a complicated answer. Just realize that ideas are information, and everything falls into place. Does this website exist? If you answer 'yes', then you admit the existence of information, because at the end of the day, this website is entirely composed of information. Same with ideas.

Don't make it so complicated for yourself. Google physicalism is a concise and direct answer to your initial query.

Wonderist on Facebook — Support the idea of wonderism by 'liking' the Wonderism page — or join the open Wonderism group to take part in the discussion!

Gnu Atheism Facebook group — All gnu-friendly RRS members welcome (including Luminon!) — Try something gnu!


omniadeo
Posts: 1
Joined: 2009-03-02
User is offlineOffline
natural,You, like most

natural,

You, like most self-congratulating materialists, are a very poor and  inadequate phoilosopher. You simply punt the question. "This website is nothing other than information, and it exists."

Great. So what?

To a rock, presumably, this website menas nothing. To a flea, this website means little, if anything, other than a place to hop. To someone who only speaks Chinese it means little more. But you and I "have minds" and speak and read English and care about this topic and for us it has meaning. In other words we are conscious, and this particular type of information informs our mental state.

So, how do you prove that our consciousness, or any consciousness, is the product of physical events that existed prior to consciousness?

Be careful here. Don't argue against some easy theistic strawman of your own imaginings. Just give me a clear rational argument for why we must consider physical reality as prior to and cause of all consciousness.

Good luck!


Wonderist
atheist
Wonderist's picture
Posts: 2479
Joined: 2006-03-19
User is offlineOffline
omniadeo wrote:natural,You,

omniadeo wrote:

natural,

You, like most self-congratulating materialists, are a very poor and  inadequate phoilosopher.

Care to back that ad hominem up with some evidence? And by the way, I'm a physicalist, not strictly a materialist.

Quote:
You simply punt the question. "This website is nothing other than information, and it exists."

I didn't punt the question. I pointed to a resource that would tell you all you need to know about the answer: Google information and physicalism.

Quote:
Great. So what?

To a rock, presumably, this website menas nothing. To a flea, this website means little, if anything, other than a place to hop.

Obviously you didn't google physicalism, since you are referring to the colloquial definition of 'information', not the physicalist's definition. Information in the physical sense does not need a mind to appreciate it. It is simply the state and structure of the universe. The wavelength of a photon travelling from Alpha Centauri to Earth is information, regardless of whether that photon strikes an eye with a mind attached to it, or merely strikes a Nitrogen molecule in the atmosphere and bounces away back into space, or even if it never strikes anything at all.

This website is information regardless of whether we view it or not. If all life went extinct tomorrow, the computer files that make up this website would still exist on the hard drive of the server computer, as little bits stored as ferromagnetic regions on a hard disk. That's information. There's nothing magical or mysterious about it.

Quote:
To someone who only speaks Chinese it means little more. But you and I "have minds" and speak and read English and care about this topic and for us it has meaning. In other words we are conscious, and this particular type of information informs our mental state.

You are talking about a particular type of information. You even said it yourself, 'this particular type of information'. I'm talking about *all* information, including that which is not appreciated by a conscious mind. This is the physicalist meaning of information. Yours is the colloquial meaning. Physical 'information' is a superset of colloquial 'information'.

Quote:
So, how do you prove that our consciousness, or any consciousness, is the product of physical events that existed prior to consciousness?

Were you conscious when you were a single fertilized egg cell in your mother's womb? No? Didn't think so.

How did you gain consciousness from that state? Your cells divided and differentiated, creating a basic structure of your body. Some of those cells further differentiated to form your initial brain cells. And then those cells divided and differentiated further to develop you fetal brain, which began to respond to environmental stimuli.

This basic awareness developed in complexity after you were born and, thanks to your human inheritance, reached the point where you became aware of your own awareness. Et voila! Your consciousness arose out of physical events that existed prior to your consciousness.

This is how human minds develop from single cells, and there's a motherlode of scientific research to support this. We're learning more and more about it every day, in fact.

If any of these physical developments had failed, you would not have the consciousness you have today. If your brain were to get damaged by accident or disease, you would lose (or diminish) the consciousness you have today.

Consciousness arises from the structure of the brain. Structure is information. QED.

Quote:
Be careful here. Don't argue against some easy theistic strawman of your own imaginings. Just give me a clear rational argument for why we must consider physical reality as prior to and cause of all consciousness.

Because there is no other explanation that fits the evidence, or that makes as accurate predictions as the physical account of consciousness. Theistic ideas about consciousness consistently are disproven or unsupported by evidence.

Where is your evidence of the non-physical soul?

Quote:
Good luck!

Good luck to you! You have the much more difficult task!

Wonderist on Facebook — Support the idea of wonderism by 'liking' the Wonderism page — or join the open Wonderism group to take part in the discussion!

Gnu Atheism Facebook group — All gnu-friendly RRS members welcome (including Luminon!) — Try something gnu!


Hambydammit
High Level DonorModeratorRRS Core Member
Hambydammit's picture
Posts: 8657
Joined: 2006-10-22
User is offlineOffline
 omniadeo, you have a

 omniadeo, you have a talent for red herrings, and you seem to like to insult people.  It's not a good first impression for someone who presumably has the philosophical chops to keep up in a conversation about consciousness.

Quote:
To a rock, presumably, this website menas nothing. To a flea, this website means little, if anything, other than a place to hop. To someone who only speaks Chinese it means little more. But you and I "have minds" and speak and read English and care about this topic and for us it has meaning. In other words we are conscious, and this particular type of information informs our mental state.

(Ahem...)

Brilliant.  And this ties into...

Quote:
So, how do you prove that our consciousness, or any consciousness, is the product of physical events that existed prior to consciousness?

... a completely unrelated question!  Awesome work!  I suppose you were just typing because... um... hmmm... Tell me again why leading up to a question with unrelated material is philosophically sound?  Maybe I haven't taken that class.

Quote:
Be careful here. Don't argue against some easy theistic strawman of your own imaginings. Just give me a clear rational argument for why we must consider physical reality as prior to and cause of all consciousness.

There are several reasons why we "should" consider physical reality as prior to and cause of all consciousness.  (Only a theist would speak in such absolutes as "must" in this context.  It would be a strawman to suggest a materialist would use the same language.)

1. There's the whole "absence of any evidence to the contrary" bit.  That goes a damn long way.  When we have no ontology to describe anything other than physical reality as a cause of consciousness, and any attempt to construct one ends in absurdity, that's a pretty strong case right out of the gate.

Honestly, we could stop right there.  It is the privilege of people with minds to speculate as much as they want about anything they want, but when accuracy is our goal, we must employ some means of verifying accuracy.  Since science is the only proven tool, and since appeals to anything else always return to science, we must go with what we have and say that speculation is just that.  The thing is, we have no evidence of consciousness after death.  We have no evidence of disembodied consciousness affecting the material universe.  We have no evidence for the existence of a non-material universe.  (What in the universe would it be?!)  We have the evidence from all over the animal kingdom that when brains are removed from animals, the animals no longer display any signs of consciousness whatsoever.  We have fantastic machines that quantify brain activity and note direct correlations to thoughts and actions prior to the subject becoming aware of their thoughts and actions.   We have the absurdity of opposing time to suggest any other system of cause and effect.  We have detailed understanding of how sensory data is translated and rerouted through the brain by means of various material processes, and we observe that the data is received before it has an effect on the receiver.

In short, we've got a huge puzzle that is pieced together by biology, neurology, psychology, physics, chemistry, epistemology, and logic, and all the pieces point directly to physical causality.  On the other side, we have the religious and the postmodernists, neither of whom have contributed a damn thing to a science journal, but insist we give their position respect as an "alternative theory."

Humbug.

Just to be fair, I'll continue, despite the case being more or less sealed at this point:

2) Consciousness can only be measured in one way, and that is by physical observation.  We, as conscious agents, can detect agency through a dazzlingly complicated set of inferences about the "motive" of our subject.  This, on the surface, appears to cause a problem of circular reasoning, for we must assume consciousness to prove it.  However, the problem is solved rather simply by eliminating the presumption that consciousness is anything more than the predictable movement of matter from instability to stability.  You see, the problem of consciousness is caused by those who would presume it to be magic, while those of us who see it as a logical and predictable manifestation of physical processes have no such problem to solve.  We observe that entity X behaves in this manner, and appears to react dynamicaly to its environment.  We postulate that only through data processing can this be possible, so we reach the obvious conclusion that X is a computer -- that is, a data processing device.  We choose to say that data processing and dynamic interaction with the environment is called "consciousness" and so we are done.  No magic to explain, no circular logic to overcome.  Just the observation that we are dynamic interacters, and it appears astronomically certain that there are other dynamic interacters sharing our environment.  We call the process of interaction, "consciousness."

Done.

 

Atheism isn't a lot like religion at all. Unless by "religion" you mean "not religion". --Ciarin

http://hambydammit.wordpress.com/
Books about atheism


Hambydammit
High Level DonorModeratorRRS Core Member
Hambydammit's picture
Posts: 8657
Joined: 2006-10-22
User is offlineOffline
 By the way, since he's not

 By the way, since he's not going to look it up, here's the deal with information:  Information was originally defined by Claude Shannon in 1948.  The definition is mathematical, but the language equivalent is this -- ignorance reduction.  A bit of information is the minimum of data required to reduce uncertainty by half.  

[EDIT: Itchy trigger finger... wasn't finished]

The trick to this is that the information exists independent of an observer to become less uncertain.  Consider a box in which there is space for three rocks.  There are either three, two, one, or zero rocks, so four choices.  The rocks and the box exist, regardless of whether someone observes them.  There is a bit of information "<2" that exists.  Whether this information is conveyed to you, it is a physical truth that there are less than two rocks in the box.  There is a bit of information">0" that also exists, and between the two bits, we can determine that there is one rock in the box.  Whether we do this or not is irrelevant.  The box exists and has one rock.  The information necessary to communicate this is a real thing, regardless of the existence of an agent capable of receiving or transmitting that information.

 

Atheism isn't a lot like religion at all. Unless by "religion" you mean "not religion". --Ciarin

http://hambydammit.wordpress.com/
Books about atheism


Zaq
atheist
Zaq's picture
Posts: 269
Joined: 2008-12-24
User is offlineOffline
Information

It seems like people are having some trouble grasping the idea of ideas existing as information, so I'll suggest this.

 

Ideas are patters.

 

An idea is a particular pattern that your brain has developed, or a particular pattern that has been assembled in a computer's memory, or a particular pattern of ink on a page.  This pattern is easily replicable.  By explaining my idea to you I am able to induce a pattern in your brain that corresponds to your understanding of that idea (it may be inexact, of course).  By scanning the document my computer can print the pattern on many more pages.

 

^^The above post is interesting, but may break down at sub-atomic levels when QM really kicks in (in terms of needing an observer).  And is there any particular reason why it's half?  In your example of 0,1,2,3 rocks in a box, "not 3" wouldn't be considered information?  Or would it be something like a fraction of a bit of information?

Also, I suppose I should apply my explanation to your example for demonstrative purposes.  The information would be the pattern that the rocks are forming in relation to the box (inside or outside).  In this case there would be three binary (two-valued) pieces of information, one for each rock.

Questions for Theists:
http://silverskeptic.blogspot.com/2011/03/consistent-standards.html

I'm a bit of a lurker. Every now and then I will come out of my cave with a flurry of activity. Then the Ph.D. program calls and I must fall back to the shadows.