The Irreducible Remainder of Improper Reduction

If you reduce all x to nothing but y, then what you have left at the end of the process is no x at all: nothing to explain. To say that x is nothing but y is to say that there is really no such thing as x in the first place.

Eliminative reductionists generally prefer to overlook this difficulty. They try to explain explananda exhaustively as nothing but collisions of dead items, yet retain their reference to the explananda. They won’t take the last entailed step of asserting that there is in the first place simply no such thing as the explananda.

They can’t. If improper reduction is to proceed – if these reductionist guys are to have jobs – it must have something to operate upon. To say simply, e.g., “there is no such thing as consciousness,” is just silly, is risible. Nobody would pay to hear such a stupid statement. People want to understand the consciousness that is the warp of all their lives, not hear that it does not exist in the first place. Much better then to say that consciousness is a configuration of particles or a condition of fields or something, because to all but the most alert readers it does not have the effect of deleting consciousness from reality altogether, and with it the very reason of the investigations of reductionist cognitive scientists.

The bottom line is that when reductionists say that x is nothing but y, they cannot really mean it. Nor do they, in fact. They still talk about consciousness as if it is real, ergo available for explanation. How not? You can’t assert that you yourself do not really exist, for what does not exist can have no property or capacity of any kind, including the capacity to assert that it does not exist.

70 thoughts on “The Irreducible Remainder of Improper Reduction

  1. Pingback: The Irreducible Remainder of Improper Reduction | Neoreactive

  2. Pingback: The Irreducible Remainder of Improper Reduction | Reaction Times

  3. I’m not aware of other reductionist/eliminativist approaches but this incomprehensibility/redundancy argument was made by Feser himself in his refutation of the Blind Brain Theory (BBT), but it did not faze Bakker one bit. Mind you his theory has been in development for the past 10 years and has been in constant discussion with the findings and researchers involved in the brain sciences. This is not simply a collection of random musings from some bitter naturalist. He writes: “The reason it seems mired in self-contradiction is that you assume uses of intentional idiom necessarily presume the reality of intentional phenomena. But since the question at issue is, What do intentional idioms amount to? this intuition is a question-begging one.”

    Bakker does not argue that consciousness in and of itself is an illusion, rather that our meta-cognition of it is. Since metacognition is all but blind to the mechanistic nature of the brain, it cognizes cognition otherwise, in nonmechanical, acausal, magical terms. Normative judgements, intentional relations, and so on: these are simply ways our brain naturally mischaracterizes its own activity. That’s the gist of it. (if one is not interested enough to go through the entire paper dedicated to the theory available freely online, then you could also see here: https://www.quora.com/What-is-the-Blind-Brain-theory-about-What-does-it-state-and-from-which-field-of-knowledge-does-it-take-origin)

    The theory’s most worrisome application would have to apply to the issue of morality: “There’s such a thing as moral cognition, and labs around the world are discovering a great deal about our ability to judge–*discovering.* Because of this, I view all moral/ethical speculation that proceeds in ignorance of these findings to be naïve, horrifically so, in some cases. Since there’s no way to decisively determine ‘What is morality?’ a priori, empirical findings automatically become relevant. So I’m curious to hear what your views are, Matthew, and how they incorporate findings from the science of moral cognition.

    Moral cognition is heuristic cognition. This is a fact.

    On the high dimensional view of biology, they’re simply no ‘natural kinds’ correlated with moral properties. There’s no such thing as moral properties. This explains the interminable nature of moral debates, the fact that moral claims are perpetually underdetermined: there’s no ‘moral fact of the matter.’ And this I think, is a disaster, particularly given the challenges on our horizon. There’s all kinds of problems here, but I think they clearly pertain to humanity, not to the theoretical shortcomings of BBT.

    Especially when it comes to moral matters, the more readily a given theory delivers us what we *want* to hear, the less trustworthy we should assume it to be, simply because we now know, as a matter of empirical fact, that we are hardwired to rationalize our moral intuitions–and in many troubling ways.”

    • All very interesting. But if there is no such thing really as intention, then the theory that there is no such thing as intention is not about anything real. It is meaningless; nothing more than noise. So it insists.

      Honestly, talking to an eliminativist is like trying to talk to a man who says only, “I am lying.”

      • I don’t understand. Would it be mere nose if I were to engage in a scientific explanation with someone (Mike) experiencing a heat mirage in the desert, consequently believing that there is water on the road ahead of him? The water isn’t there, just like intention isn’t there, but all humans, like poor Mike in the desert, *feel* as if it is the case. But I, from a third person perspective, can empirically account as to what forces bring about such an illusion, and the only thing the Mike can rely on is his experience of said phenomena. Yet he is wrong, and I am right. Science has a lot to say about how lived experience and intuition ultimately do not amount to much.

        How are the two cases any different and how is either self-defeating as an endeavor?

        Bakker comes along and provides a full material explanation of the factors that bring about the illusion of intentionality, subjectivity, meaning etc. with an empirically verifiable set of explanations. Certainly he has to refer to all these things he eliminates as if they’re actually there, since there is an actor (humans) that insists upon their existence; that is the nature of uncovering an illusion, to my understanding.

      • The difference between telling Mike that his impression of the water is mistaken and telling him that *none* of our impressions or mental acts are in fact about anything is that the latter statement is perfectly general in its application, so that it covers itself. If the latter assertion is true, then it is itself numbered among the mental acts it asserts are meaningless.

        If all statements are noise, then “all statements are noise” is noise.

      • If I may answer for Josh, if all mental acts are illusions, then the impression that this or that impression is illusory is itself illusory, and it becomes impossible to tell the difference between illusion and verisimilitude, there being no such difference.

      • Intentionality exists (at least) as a qualitative feature with the mind. Blue exists (at least) as a qualitative feature in the mind. To say that “intentionity just is…” and then go on to explain some thing that doesn’t have “intentionalness” (the essence of intentionality) or to say that “blue just is…” and then go on to cite things which don’t have “blueness”, is to abstract everything *but* the phenomena I am trying to understand. Okay, so rods and cones and light and whatever makes blueness in my mind, but what *is* blueness.

        Eliminative reduction can by definition never explain the thing it wishes to eliminate.

  4. Kristor: Your primary assertion, that reductive explanations are perverse and non-explanatory, is right, but your secondary assertion, that no one would pay to hear perverse reductive non-explanations, is wrong. Modern people have a perverse attraction to perverse reductive non-explanations of things, will indeed pay to hear them, and will react orgasmically to hearing them. Whole university departments are founded on perverse non-explanatory explanations of X, Y, or Z – and it costs Big Bucks to study in these departments. Aspirants to certified expertise in non-explanations gleefully pay those Big Bucks, or rather their parents do, with half the tab picked up by taxpayers when it’s a public university. (Sincerely, Tom)

    • Tom: Sure. But the only reason that the reductionists have anything to sell is that they continue to talk as if there is such a thing as what they have eliminated, when ex hypothesi there is no such thing out there to explain. They make the rabbit disappear from the box, then pull it out of their sleeves. If they just baldly declared that there is no such thing as x, their market would dry up. The assertion is not only stupid, but – the kiss of death in the age of YouTube – it is boring.

      • I agree with you, Kristor, but the observation, undoubtedly true, poses a host of new questions. For example, what is the explanation – the genuine, not the phony, explanation – why modern people hunger after, and are eager to pay for, perverse non-explanations of things? I have been reading an extremely eccentric book, Lewis Spence’s Will Europe Follow Atlantis (1943), in which the author tries to explain why people have found the fatuous pronouncements of Bolsheviks and Nazis believable. Spence invokes “the fatal tendency of the weak and thoughtless to accept the novel.” (One could add: “Even when the ‘novel’ is perverse or monstrous.”) I find the phrase striking. And while it is true that Spence’s words are more of a description than an explanation, they might, despite their limitedness, point the way to an explanation, a genuine, not a phony, one, as accurate descriptions sometimes do. I would relish the opportunity to consider your answer.

        Heidegger, in respect of whom I am reluctant to be in agreement, says in Being and Time that Neugier – “curiosity” or a thirst for news – is one of the identifying characteristics of inauthentic mass man. I am unsure whether he offers words as to why, or not. It might be a case, once again, of mere description.

        Another question, which, while I might answer it fairly readily myself, would produce discourse more interesting to me were it answered by you, is: Why do the people paying for perverse non-explanations not see what you and I readily see? (Why do they not see namely that “they [the ‘explainers’] continue to talk as if there is such a thing as what they have eliminated”?)

        PS: I’d like to hear from Jake Freivald, too, as he has addressed the identical topic in his remark below. As a matter of fact, I’d like to homestead in the Freiwald although there’s not much chance of that in contemporary North America.

      • Interesting questions, Tom. If my own experience of attraction to them is any indication, I think that reductive explanations are attractive because they are parsimonious, and what is more they tie things that are difficult to think about to things that prima facie seem much easier to think about, like atoms. Most people think of atoms as composed of little Rutherfordian pebbles. A parsimonious explanation of something muddy and complex in terms of items that are simple and well understood has a great deal of appeal.

        [It’s only when you dig at the Rutherfordian basis that you get into trouble. What is charge, anyway? What is mass? Such questions turn out to be at least as difficult as any that you started with. It is then that your confidence in your parsimonious reduction starts to evaporate into air.][But few do this sort of digging.]

        And feeling confident that one has understood something murky is worth a lot to people. It is a valuable feeling, that something or other is “settled science.” It’s a huge reduction of anxiety. That’s why people are willing to pay a lot for it, and the fact that they have paid a lot for it – in money, or in learning biochemistry and neurobiology and cybernetics, or whatever – disinclines them to jettison their tidy little reductions.

        As to why people can’t see that improper reduction eliminates the explananda from reality, I think it’s quite an honest oversight. People think of consciousness, e.g., as real. They don’t stop thinking of it as real when they learn the reductionist “explanations” of consciousness, even though under reductionism they ought to. But the term is still active in their cognitive system, despite the fact that their preferred explanation demonstrates its emptiness. So they use it, blithely, and never suffer the pain and difficulty and cognitive dissonance that would attend the loss of it. In a word, they make unprincipled exceptions, in order to get along, and – as with the Democrat who sends his kids to private school and lives as far from the ghetto as he can – it never occurs to them that this is what they have done.

        I hate to sound like an intellectual authoritarian, but I think that the reason this sort of philosophical sloppiness – a simple failure to connect the dots – has more and more pervaded the West is that since the Reformation and the Enlightenment, ordinary folks have been expected to puzzle this stuff out for themselves from scratch, rather than accepting with confidence the preachments of the parish priest and the village leech – who, in turn, took their bearings from their bishops and professors, who had derived their teachings from and through a tradition evolved over millennia. Speaking as a layman, it is clear to me that most laymen are ill-suited to the task. They find it boring, bewildering, difficult, and frustrating. This is why all societies have a priestly class, or caste, or tribe. The monastic Schoolmen argue arcane points of doctrine amongst themselves in their chapter houses, but from the pulpit they preach a consistent system of thought, a safe harbor for the intellectual sheep under their care, built and tested over centuries of patient ratiocination and discourse among brilliant, highly trained specialists, upon which skilless untutored laymen may rely, and in which they may take comfort.

        We are no different. It’s just that, since the Enlightenment, there has been no universally recognized supreme intellectual authority. On the contrary, there has since about 1500 been a welter of competing proposals about how human life ought to be ordered, each with its priesthood, but with no central mediating court and parliament, such as the Vatican used to provide. Priestly authority is still invoked, by signs and rituals – but as in Imperial Rome, the only cult with any power to command is that of the state.

        Ordinary men are all now utterly on their own. Almost none of them are fit to handle the job. Consider, by way of comparison, how many people are competent to service their own automobiles, dishwashers, or computers. More of them, perhaps, than an expert in these fields might condescendingly think, but fewer than would disagree with him about their own competence. So, confusion and anxiety about the basic questions of life has increased and spread. And there is no Geek Squad for breakdown in the meaning and coordination of life, no 800 number or trademarked tech support.

        People are *absolutely desperate* for answers – you can’t live long without them – and they will glom on to the first doctrine that gives them a way to understand the meaning of their own life and decisions in the context of a coherent, compelling and appealing cosmic narrative. Having found it – however shabby and insubstantial it is, in comparison with the High Medieval synthesis – they will hang onto it like death. So we get all sorts of absurd cargo cults, like Scientology, anthropogenic global warming, Nation of Islam, New Age, UFOs, rape culture, and socialism – or any of the conspiracy theories that blame everything on this or that cabal. Each of these cults furnish a lodestone to their adherents, a central organizing principle of human life.

        That is what they sell, and that is what people buy.

      • @ Kristor

        Off-topic, but how does anthropogenic climate change, a series of climatological findings, constitute a doctrine that gives people a way to understand the meaning of their own life and decisions in the context of a coherent, compelling and appealing cosmic narrative? I suppose you would be referring to extremists like Guy Mcpherson here, who believe all humans will be dead by 2030 at the latest because of melting ice, drought etc., and who have therefore created faux-cults around their persona, prophesying doom. But informing people of a dire catastrophe at hand through at least *some* scientific research, of dubious content/origin or not, hardly equates with providing them with a cosmic narrative.

      • You know, I’m not sure. But people do it. Lots of people seem to think that saving the planet is what our lives are and ought to be about, and for. The planetary imperative gives them a way to understand their quotidian acts – like recycling or posting on Facebook about the glaciers – as contributions, howsoever small, to a transcendent good, and as therefore themselves good.

        People can use all sorts of odd things as a unifying cosmic narrative. There is even a cult of Dawkins.

      • @ Kristor

        Understood, though I think what you are referring to is a philosophical type of ecology (I’m sure there’s a distinct term for that, not bothered enough to look it up right now), that I would agree could very well constitute a belief system that one could structure one’s life around. What got me confused is the use of anthropogenic climate change in the specific, since a deep belief in its existence and severity does not automatically entail one committing to Green ethics and philosophy. A prime example of this is myself; though I believe anthropogenic climate change is real and potentially the biggest threat that my generation must face if it is to avoid tragedy, I hardly feel obliged to pursue an Earth-first mentality (as of yet).

        But, yeah, this is really a moot point so no point in derailing the discussion. And in any case, judging by the way things are going in mainstream media, I have reason to believe climate change will be become an increasingly recurring theme around these parts, so I’ll save my breath for then 🙂

  5. But they call consciousness (x) an epiphenomenon of particles and physics (y), thus saying that your consciousness exists, but is wholly determined by things that are not your consciousness.

    Wrongheaded, to be sure, but most people seem to be fine with that.

    • Epiphenomenalism is an attempt to save the appearances. It doesn’t work. What epiphenomenalists are saying is that the aimless hurry of dead pebbles *appears* to be something other than the aimless hurry of dead pebbles, but this appearance is of something that is not in fact there, like a mirage. They eliminate consciousness as an actual feature of reality. But this is not to explain consciousness. It is to delete it from the list of reals that call for explanation.

  6. So everything that has been shown to be no such thing, yet still remains, is regarded as a delusion – eg. there is no such thing as consciousness, but people still act as if there is – so this is a delusion.

    In fact they say that *everything* is delusion because the validity of process of reduction is itself a delusion – but they behave in a way that makes it clear that they (delusionally, by their own definition) believe they can discern that:

    …When it comes to delusions, some delusions are more delusional than others…

    Thus the delusions of (soi-disant hard-nosed, honest, courageous) secular-scientific-leftist-logical-reductionist kinds of delusion, are nothing like so delusional as the delusions of religious and traditional people – which are just pathetic, sad, low-status, cowardly wishful-thinking types of delusion.

    IN a world of nihilism – the usual stance is: “Everybody may be psychotic, but at least I am not as psychotic as you.”

  7. You are confused, but so are a lot of materialists. To give a complete material explanation of some x doesn’t mean x isn’t real. At least for any useful interpretation of “real”.

    Take “blue”, as was discussed in another post. We know how it works. It doesn’t exist as some kind of Platonic ideal; instead it is a function of the nature of electromagnetic radiation (which is a continuous spectrum without any discrete region labeled “blue”) and our evolved sensory capabilities which happen to include photoreceptors with a sensitivity centered on a certain region of that spectrum. Other species may lack those photoreceptors (and have ones that we don’t have) so probably wouldn’t have any concept of “blue” that corresponds to ours.

    Does that mean that there is no such thing as blue? No, that’s stupid. “Blue” is a useful concept to humans, no more and no less.

    • “You are confused… To give a complete material explanation of some x doesn’t mean x isn’t real. At least for any useful interpretation of ‘real.'”

      Kristor’s argument is that no “material explanation” is ever complete or real. Material so-called explanations are not explanations at all – they are pendulations, nothing more than eternal tick-tocking between terms,

      How do you know that blue “doesn’t exist as some kind of Platonic ideal”? Tell us specifically and in detail.

      Are you – Mr. X – real? Or do you merely “correspond” to something? Maybe you “identify” as something, “X,” Napoleon, “Caitlin Jenner,” or a billionaire. I advise you to “identify” as a billionaire and to try to cash your check at the bank.

      • And this is exactly the “trick” of the amorphous ones… Anti-Christians have an identity and yet they do not. They merely desire to subjugate lesser liberals and burden the white Christian with the blowback. So, where “we” see an anti-white Christian identity in the enemy, his raw desire is a simple maximization of his autonomy AMONGST those engaging in the exact same endeavor. And in the zero-sum paradigm of the material reductionists, one either gains or loses in relation to other radical liberals. So the grand delusion has an infinitely fractured cabal of radical liberationists cutting each others’ throats and silently consenting to a collective scapegoating of white Christians. In a nutshell, it is wS that has the radical liberal self-annihilate and thus void of identity and final substance.

    • To give a complete material explanation of some x doesn’t mean x isn’t real.

      Yes, it does. A complete explanation of x has accounted for absolutely all its factors. There is nothing else to it than those factors: given those factors exactly, you get exactly x. X then is – as reductionists so often put it – “nothing but” those factors. I.e., other than those factors, there is nothing to x. It is only those factors. When we point to x, we point only to those factors. Aside from them, there is nothing else to x at all.

      As you say, under the materialist scheme, there is no blue region of the spectrum. It just isn’t there. Under materialism, blue is a useful but false figment of our own imagination. It corresponds to nothing real.

      Sorry. You can’t have it both ways. If materialist reduction does indeed work, then its explananda just don’t exist.

      • Sorry. You can’t have it both ways. If materialist reduction does indeed work, then its explananda just don’t exist.

        I know you think your logic is impeccable and ironclad, as always, but on my side I happen to have reality, which is that we have a pretty good material explanation of blue and are still able to use the concept in daily life, associate various meanings with it, and generally get on with business. So I do have it both ways, despite your prohibition.

      • I didn’t argue that you couldn’t use the concept of blue. Indeed, it is hard for me to see how you could get along without it (this in itself is a pragmatic argument for its verisimilitude, but never mind that).

        I argued that under a successful materialist reduction of blue, the concept does not refer to anything real; that it is, i.e., a false idea, superfluous, like the ether. Ockham’s Razor is relentless that way.

    • I don’t quite understand. To what have you reduced blue, such that one would ask the question, “does blue exist”? Causation of a phenomenon is not the phenomenon of course. And no one thinks that phenomena must be detectable in order for them to exist.

  8. To both Bertonneau and Kristor, who hew to the truth in varying degrees: Romans 1.
    End of story.

    Too much angst and too much “reasoning.” Neither of which redound to true insight and discernment, no matter the erudition of the discourse employed.

    Sign me, “let’s get on with the really big questions.”
    Like, where will you spend eternity?

    Debra

  9. Pingback: This Week in Reaction (2015/09/27) | The Reactivity Place

  10. @ a.morphous

    The question is a matter of simple introspection. Consider your own consciousness: that sentient awareness which is you. Consider that it is composed entirely of non-conscious substances: the “spark of consciousness” is nothing but non-conscious material, however tightly ramified it may be.

    What you have, then, is not consciousness, but a complexly organized non-conscious structure.

    Yet, do you remain conscious / are you aware / is there subjectivity?

    If so, eliminativism has failed to explain that first and most basic datum (indeed, the backdrop against which all data is cast: not blue, but the perceiver of blue).

    The non-theist Thomas Nagel makes the point in Mind and Cosmos.

    • Well, I am not an eliminativist, so your remark is misdirected. An eliminativist bascially says, since there is a material basis for consicousness and other mental phenomena, the latter are not real. That is, to put it bluntly, idiotic, like saying that because birds and chairs are made out of atoms, birds and chairs are not real. I have no patience for that kind of thinking.

      I also have no problem with the idea that consciousness can be composed out of non-conscious materials, given that chairs are made out of non-chair materials.

      • Kudos and all, but, while a chair has wood as its material cause, the thing that makes a chair a chair, its chairness, can’t be composed of any materials (even if chairness is a social construct).

      • You’re expressing a premise that cannot but lead to eliminativism. You choose to refer to consciousness as real, despite entertaining the possibility that it is entirely composed of non-conscious “stuff”. This would make it intricately organized non-conscious “stuff”, not consciousness. Such is eliminativism.

        Conciousness is not a complex of brain noise (neural processes). It is that which hears the noise; that to which phenomena are perceptions. The very presence of a perceiver.

      • You’re expressing a premise that cannot but lead to eliminativism.

        And yet, it hasn’t.

        This would make it intricately organized non-conscious “stuff”, not consciousness.

        Unfortunately that is an assertion, not an argument.

        Conciousness is not a complex of brain noise (neural processes). It is that which hears the noise

        People have been trying to figure out how the ghost and the machine interact for a few hundred years now. I choose not to believe in ghosts.

      • @ a.morphous

        Let’s unpack my mere assertion, then:

        You hold consciousness is nothing other than a structure of non-conscious substance. You concede there is such a thing as consciousness, but suggest it is equal to its opposite (non-conscious substance).

        Conscious experiences, then, are (nothing other than) non-conscious material moving around. This aporia renders your conscious experience of feeling a computer key against your finger, and the wind blowing out where only rocks can hear, definitionally identical. Both are, again, only non-conscious stuff moving.

        But you concede the above is a matter not of argument but of choice: the choice not to believe in the ghost, only in the machine.

        This is precisely what the eliminativists mean to say eliminate: the ghost. You have opted for calling the cerebral ordering of non-conscious substance “consciousness”, the eliminativists have opted for not calling it so. Your rejection of their position speaks to your credit, but is inconsistent.

      • You concede there is such a thing as consciousness, but suggest it is equal to its opposite (non-conscious substance).

        What a weird way of putting it. “You concede that there is such a thing as waves, but suggest they are equal to their opposite, water”.

        That word “opposite” really gives you away, or it really opens up the whole pathology of western thought, the idea that mind is opposed to reality, estranged from it.

        I believe that consciousness is real, but it is not a ghost, it is an emergent phenomenon of the material world. From my perspective, you guys are the eliminativists, because you exile consciousness to an imaginary realm.

      • Santiago: I think what a.morphous is doing is subsuming formal and final causation in material causation. Mind then is implicit in the neural structure of the brain just as waves and vortices are implicit in the molecular configuration of water. Waves and vortices are not something extra added to water, but simply features of water, parts of the way it behaves. Likewise with mind and the brain: the brain is not a neural substrate of consciousness, but rather the brain *just is* conscious.

        This way of looking at things is not incongruent with the Aristotelian perspective orthosphereans are likely to find more adequate. Hylemorphism distinguishes formal and final causes from material and efficient causes, but insists that in any subsistent individual they are and must be integrated in a substantive unity, a single concrete entity.

        Complex systems theory – which seems to be what a.morphous adheres to – does the same thing. It just smuggles in formality and finality under the cover of materiality and efficiency, using them without even realizing that this is what is happening.

        Talk of a homunculus or a ghost in the machine is Cartesian. It is the categorical alienation of mind from matter in Cartesian metaphysics that a.morphous thinks (rightly, in my view) is a sickness of the Western mind. In rejecting such a ghost, a.morphous is deleting the ghost from Cartesian metaphysics. All he is left with are the res extensa, spatially extended matter. Extension is formal. But extension is only a tiny portion of the formal specification of things, and also therefore of the adequate explanation of things. Eliminative materialism reacts to this explanatory poverty by saying, “I don’t care: that stuff that mere extension and its functions can’t explain (namely, intensions) just doesn’t exist – it is illusory.”

        A.morphous refuses to take that step. But it seems that he does not see, as you do, that extension is radically incapable of accounting for intension. Like the complex systems theorists, all he can say is that intension somehow “emerges” from extension. It’s hand waving, but it’s honest hand waving. It recognizes that there is that “somehow” preceding “emerges.” The “somehow” is a black box.

        Nothing shameful in black boxes. Every theory must resort to them sooner or later.

        Post-Cartesians like complex systems theorists are I think all incipient Whiteheadians. Indeed, many of them are avowed Whiteheadians. And a Whiteheadian – as Whitehead himself clearly saw – is a Platonist properly footnoted.

      • @ a.morphous

        “You concede there is such a thing as waves, but suggest they are equal to their opposite, water.”

        Reflect on this parody. The materialist defines reality as constituted entirely by matter/energy (and empty space). If reality were constituted entirely by water and empty space (no air, objects to exert gravity, etc), would there be waves? Perhaps, but consider:

        A brain can be reduced to matter because matter includes that which the definition of “brain” includes, i.e. particles, configurations thereof.

        Consciousness cannot be reduced to matter because (the materialist definition of) matter excludes that which the definition of “consciousness” includes, i.e. interiority, awareness.

        The word “consciousness” refers not to an objective structure but to the subjective awareness. Yet subjectivity is what you have excluded from your definition of reality’s sole constituents.

        Consider pan-psychism. It is more coherent than materialist reductionism, and does not risk “exiling consciousness” anywhere.

      • @Kristor

        Thank you for your post, it adds necessary context, and I cannot but be warmed by the prospect that we may all be Platonists at heart (Refusal to adopt eliminativism; complex systems theory; Whitehead; Plato).

        Indeed, your reference to Whitehead is confirmatory. I was suspecting an incomplete reductionism (thus my reference to pan-psychism).

      • Yet subjectivity is what you have excluded from your definition of reality’s sole constituents.

        But I haven’t. You are confusing me with an eliminativist. I have no problems at all with subjectivity. I just don’t think it requires the insertion of magic immaterial substances into an otherwise material reality. That is, subjectivity is not a primitive constituent of reality but an emergent property.

      • Nemo dat quod non habet, a.morphous. You can’t obtain x from absolute vacuity of x. Chairness is not implicit in the material constituents of chairs, so as to be able to emerge from them. Nor is saltiness implicit in either sodium or chlorine. A whole cannot be derived from or therefore explained by only its constituent material parts.

      • There is no confusion. Your premises cannot but be denials of consciousness to one who does not share faith in emergentism. This system’s “emergent properties” come in two types: 1) objective patterns of various sorts; 2) subjectivity. It supposes that the latter is a subset of the former only as a matter of choice. Do explore Whitehead if you haven’t, at the very least it may serve you in fighting the Western pathology you mentioned.

      • You are such a materialist that you apparently cannot conceive of any being that is not composed of some “substance” or that is not extended. Nobody has suggested that subjectivity is made of some “substance” let alone some “magic substance” whatever that could possibly mean.

        Whether this real thing is emergent or is a primitive constituent of reality is not germane. Read the title of this post. To say that it is “emergent” yet real is just to say that that emergent reality is not contained in the explanation, an irreducible remainder.

        When I ask you what blue is, I am talking about that color that I see. You may go on to tell me some of the measurable characteristic of objects that are blue, how their atoms are arranged so they reflect a certain spectrum of light. That’s very interesting, but the thing that makes and object blue is ultimately its BLUENESS, and you can’t go from your explanation to that thing I actually see, which is what BLUENESS *actually is*. You can tell me how rods and cones respond to the patterns made by the photons on their receptors, and this triggers responses from neurons and causes some kind of deterministic chain reaction in my brain. That’s very interesting, but you can’t go from that to the thing I actually see, which is what BLUENESS *actually is*. You can tell me how organisms that possessed the ability to distinguish the color blue had more surviving descendants. That’s very interesting, but you can’t go from that to the thing I actually see, which is what BLUENESS *actually is*. BLUENESS just is different from any of the measurable material attributes of things which contain blueness. If you try to reduce a blue object to its measurable attributes you will be left with BLUENESS itself as an irreducible remainder. If you want to call that remainder “emergent”, it is no different from acknowledging the reality of irreducible immaterial being.

      • You are such a materialist that you apparently cannot conceive of any being that is not composed of some “substance” or that is not extended

        I am not sure what you mean by a “being”, but I certainly can conceive of things that are not composed of material substances, such as mathematical objects.

        Nobody has suggested that subjectivity is made of some “substance” let alone some “magic substance” whatever that could possibly mean.

        So what are you trying to say about it?

        When I ask you what blue is, I am talking about that color that I see. You may go on to tell me some of the measurable characteristic of objects that are blue, how their atoms are arranged so they reflect a certain spectrum of light. That’s very interesting, but the thing that makes and object blue is ultimately its BLUENESS, and you can’t go from your explanation to that thing I actually see, which is what BLUENESS actually is.

        You are subtly and probably unconsciously shifting from “blueness” as a subjective experience or quale to something that is inherent in blue objects, which most certainly are not the same sort of thing. Your experience of blue may be ineffable and immaterial (I don՚t think so, but let՚s grant it as a possibility), but what makes objects blue is perfectly material and well captured by purely material theories. These theories reach beyond the blue object into your nervous system, since we also know exactly why and how eyes are sensitive to blue light. Apparently if you write BLUENESS in all-caps it makes the differences between these things vanish, leaving only the pure idea and banishing all the troublesome problems of perception and cognition.

        BLUENESS just is different from any of the measurable material attributes of things which contain blueness.

        Let՚s say that is so. You still have a choice about whether you want to emphsize the irreducible difference of this from the things about blue that we can actually measure and see (that is, you prefer obscurantism) or you can emphasize the connections, as I have been doing. Which do you think leads to a better understanding of the reality of BLUENESS?

        BLUENESS is a construct, which doesn՚t make it unreal. On the contrary, it just makes it connected to the rest of reality. As it happens BLUENESS is a construct that is pretty universally mapped (by humans). But how about “Cerulean”, a subtler color concept which maybe 20% of people will have some idea of? Or the color names invented by the paint companies? Is “Tart Orange” real? Well, sort of, it has as definite meaning as described in the color swatch book and used by interior decorators and others. That doesn՚t mean it was platonically defined from before the world began, even if you spell it TART ORANGE.

      • If Tart Orange is *ever* to be painted in some poor godforsaken blameless room, it must from all eternity be possible to be thus painted. Eternal possibilities are the only possible possibilities. If Tart Orange can be painted anywhere, it must always everywhere have been possible that Tart Orange might be painted somewhere. If a thing happens, it must eternally have been possible for it to happen.

        God eternally recognizes the possibility of Tart Orange here for us. Nevertheless, he creates the world. I’m sure he has his reasons; how not, since he is omniscient? Mutatis mutandis, Tart Orange must not be so bad after all.

      • I actually didn’t mean to go so far as to suggest that blueness is inherent in blue objects. For my purpose here, it was enough to show that it was at least a real, immaterial, quale.

        Your point about emphasis is wrongheaded. If I emphasize the irreducible remainder of improper reduction in this discussion, well, read the title of the post.

      • If a thing happens, it must eternally have been possible for it to happen.

        Well, I suppose, but since that is tautologically true of everything it is a completely useless statement. So what’s your point?

        We were I think talking about BLUENESS and whether it inheres in minds or objects or somewhere else entirely. Let’s say I invent a color of my own, which I will call “Fried Purple”. You don’t know what this means, although if I create a swatch and point you to it, you will, and then we can discuss it. If Behr can do it, so can I. According to you “Fried Purple” has existed eternally even though I just made it up, and (I suppose) has an eternal essence which also transcends mere temporality. And every other color or color name I could come up with also has existed as an eternal possibility.

        Don’t you see how entirely useless this style of thinking is? There are interesting differences between BLUE and TART ORANGE and FRIED PURPLE, but you can’t even begin to think about them if all you can say is that they all have eternal essences.

      • If a thing happens, it must eternally have been possible for it to happen.

        Well, I suppose, but since that is tautologically true of everything it is a completely useless statement. So what’s your point?

        You had written:

        Is “Tart Orange” real? Well, sort of, it has as definite meaning as described in the color swatch book and used by interior decorators and others. That doesn’t mean it was Platonically defined from before the world began, even if you spell it TART ORANGE.

        But as you now agree, it is not just true, but tautologically true, that Tart Orange had to have been defined from before the world began if it was ever to have been able to come to pass in any world (whether or not you want to characterize that eternal definition as Platonic is beside the point).

        Don’t you see how entirely useless this style of thinking is? There are interesting differences between BLUE and TART ORANGE and FRIED PURPLE, but you can’t even begin to think about them if all you can say is that they all have eternal essences.

        I never said that the only thing we can say about things is that they all have eternal essences. That’s a silly idea. But so is the idea that anything that comes to pass does *not* have an eternal essence. As you say, that idea (which you had advocated) is tautologically false.

        It is of course true that we can’t learn anything about the differences among the Forms by pointing out that they all have eternity in common. But that’s not the sort of use to which anyone puts talk of the eternity of the Forms. The Forms as such are useful in metaphysics, which is the perfectly general science of what it is to be a thing. The truths of metaphysics are true of everything whatsoever *by definition.* If you want to investigate the differences between particular things, metaphysics is the wrong discipline to employ. Natural history of some sort would be a better bet.

        Now, you may think metaphysics useless in your day to day life. Most people would agree with you in that, I suppose. But they err, as do you. The fact is that you couldn’t begin to do your day to day life except under a whole nexus of metaphysical presuppositions. I grant that for most people that nexus is more of a mare’s nest than a tightly woven seamless net. This seems particularly to be the case for people who reject metaphysics. Nevertheless it is always there. Every one of our acts implicitly presupposes the truth of numerous – indeed, logically, numberless – metaphysical propositions. So, not only are metaphysical propositions useful, but they constitute the very basis of usefulness.

      • But as you now agree, it is not just true, but tautologically true, that Tart Orange had to have been defined from before the world began if it was ever to have been able to come to pass in any world “,”,

        No, you are shifting the point. You said, and I agreed, that “If a thing happens, it must eternally have been possible for it to happen.”. Duh. That is not even close to the same thing as your statement above.

        And even saying “before the world began” indicates something severely wrong in your thinking. “Before” is a temporal term, there is no “before the world began”, except maybe metaphorically.

        But so is the idea that anything that comes to pass does not have an eternal essence. As you say, that idea (which you had advocated) is tautologically false

        I said nothing at all about essences. (Nothing positive anyway)

        If you want to investigate the differences between particular things, metaphysics is the wrong discipline to employ.

        I՚ll say.

        The fact is that you couldn’t begin to do your day to day life except under a whole nexus of metaphysical presuppositions.

        I sort of agree with that.

        So, not only are metaphysical propositions useful, but they constitute the very basis of usefulness.

        Your metaphysics – if you took it seriously and consistently – is worse than useless. If the universe is an eternal timeless construct in the mind of God, then there is no creativity, no freedom, no action, no agency, nothing but stasis. Not coincidentally, materialism has exactly the same problem if you try to turn it into a consistent and totalizing metaphysics, but few people do, and at least those who do don՚t pretend they can read morality out of it.

      • We’re talking past each other a bit in these last two comments due to a bit of terminological muddiness, part of which is due to my carelessness, and part of which is due to connections between some dots that – contrary to what I had thought – you seem not yet to have twigged.

        I was careless in saying “before the world began.” I should have said “before all worlds.” That ancient usage would more clearly have connoted that (of course) I meant to indicate not temporal priority but metaphysical priority.

        As to the dots and their connections: the formal specification of the possibility of a particular definite thing must be identical to the formal specification of the particular definite thing itself (bearing in mind that what is indefinite isn’t a specific thing in the first place). If a thing x has the properties a, b, and c, then the possibility of x must have just those properties too, in order to be the possibility of exactly x, rather than of something else. The specification of the possibility of x then *just is* the definition and specification of x; or, as we could equivalently say, the form of the possibility of x *just is* the form or essence of x.

        Putting it this way, we can see that one way of understanding the impossibility of a thing is to understand that its formal specifications are incoherent: they contradict or contravene each other in such a way as to be incompossible in the same entity. The notion of a circular square is a good example. Circularity and squareness are incoherent formally, and this is just to say that they are incompossible actually.

        If the universe is an eternal timeless construct in the mind of God, then there is no creativity, no freedom, no action, no agency, nothing but stasis.

        This could be true if God were static and if both God and the universe were thoroughly necessary. But, first, eternity does not entail stasis: that the life of God is one moment does not mean that it is a moment of inactivity – of lifelessness, of death. This is easier to see if you consider that a single moment of your own life is not static, but, precisely, active. Second, eternity does not entail necessity. What is necessary must be eternal, but not vice versa. There is room in eternity for contingency, and so for freedom, action, agency – for causation, time, and space.

        This is *very* difficult to grasp, so I expect you’ll react with incredulity. I did, too, for decades.

  11. But the eliminativist argument states that indeed there is no subjectivity. Consciousness, as you say, is but a complexly organized structure that produces the illusion of a subject (this “most basic datum”). All eliminativists hold on to this notion; that subjectivity/consciousness/decision-making/awareness is not what it seems, intuitively. Also, as stated before, for eliminativists the *only* valid truth-seeking (though they would probably disagree with the use of term ‘truth’) medium is the scientific method ergo introspection is not taken seriously. In terms of his Blind Brain Theory of Consciousness, as an example, Bakker writes:

    In the course of writing a dissertation on fundamental ontology, I stumbled across a new, privative way of understanding the purported plenum of the first-person, a way of interpreting intentional idioms and phenomena that required no original meaning, no spooky functions or enigmatic emergences—nor any intentional stances for that matter. Blind Brain Theory begins with the assumption that theoretically motivated reflection upon experience co-opts neurobiological resources adapted to far different kinds of problems. As a co-option, we have no reason to assume that ‘experience’ (whatever it amounts to) yields what philosophical reflection requires to determine the nature of experience. Since the systems are adapted to discharge far different tasks, reflection has no means of determining scarcity and so generally presumes sufficiency. It cannot source the efficacy of rules so rules become the source. It cannot source temporal awareness so the now becomes the standing now. It cannot source decisions so decisions (the result of astronomically complicated winner-take-all processes) become ‘choices.’ The list goes on. From a small set of empirically modest claims, Blind Brain Theory provides what I think is the first comprehensive, systematic way to both eliminate and explain intentionality.

    • But subjectivity *just is* that thing you are calling an illusion. Those other things are accidents proper to subjectivity, but they are not the thing itself; just as “blue” *just is* that color that I see, wavelengths are not “blue”, but a particular wavelength is an accidental property inherent to blueness.

    • Seraphim, thank you for providing that passage.

      It begins its proposal (the Blind Brain Theory) with “theoretically motivated reflection” and its co-opting of “neurobiological resources”. This already concedes such a thing as “reflection”.

      One may agree that our reflections make use of neural mechanisms evolved for functions other than those reflections. The result is that we perceive neural firings (“astronomically complicated” processes) as intention/choice (mere folk psychology). But how is it that there is such a thing as perception to begin with? There ought be nothing at all to mistake itself for a subject.

      In terms of the scientific method: It may be applied to the subjective space (one may still legitimately engage in contemplation).

      If what is meant (by the eliminativist) is that the scientific method ought only be applied to phenomena whose measurement can be somehow registered by our five senses (even if by way of specialized apparatus), another difficulty emerges:

      This view itself did not result from following the scientific method. No experiment ever “proved” that only experiments whose results are detectable via the senses yield “knowledge”.

    • … for eliminativists the *only* valid truth-seeking … medium is the scientific method ergo introspection is not taken seriously.

      Ex hypothesi eliminativi, a rod or cone may extrospect. No other part of the visual system may do so. So likewise for all the other sensory systems of the CNS. *All* other CNS activity is introspection. *All* scientific operations – indeed, all neural operations – other than registrations on sensory cells are introspective – including such acts as concluding that introspection is bogus.

      Indeed, even the rod and the cone are reflecting on their own molecular states, and reporting on them. It is only certain molecules, such as rhodopsin, that extrospect.

      Come to think of it, even rhodopsin is engaging in introspection of the electrical condition of its own constituent atoms.

      If introspection is not to be taken seriously, then almost nothing can be.

      It may be synchronicity, or Chastek may have been following this discussion; either way, he has just posted a pretty funny reductio of BBT: The TBBT, or Totally Blind Brain Theory.

      • I was following the discussion. I have no confidence that I would ever be able to keep up with Bakker in an argument, but I’m pretty confident mine is not the sort of critique he would bother with.

        I disagree with Bakker in his reading of the cog. sci. lit, though I only read it as a hobbyist. As I see it, cog. sci. can never entirely do without some appeal to the homunculus metaphor of consciousness (Tim Wilson goes as far down Bakker’s road as a pure experimenter can go, but even he can’t do without a homunculus-executive) but we can only cash in this metaphor with an account of a cognitive power whose own power is its object. I see no account of how a spatially extended system can do this. Power in physical systems mediates object acquisition and so must be transparent. The logic of BBT thus seems to gesture in the direction of a person as a physical-spiritual hybrid, though this still leaves us with having to flesh this out. Logically, the hybrid might be soul-body or antenna-broadcaster or separated-participated intellect or noosphere-organism, or trans-physical alien-cosmic knower, etc.

      • Exactly. I’ve been working on a post about embodiment that is motivated by just such skepticism that the soul (or any of its metaphorical counterparts you’ve listed) can be spatially extended – not, at least, in the same way that other corporeal items are spatially extended. Any such spatial extension would scream for an addition to the budget of physical energy operant in the system. That dog won’t hunt. Josh just said this same thing a different way.

        The difficulty is not unique to embodied minds. It is at work with any formed substance. Form can’t be some extra added stuff like electrons that gets whipped in among the other particles and forms them, so that you could in principle excise it the way you could surgically remove the pineal gland.

        Yet, no form, then no stuff of any sort.

        PS: Clerk-Maxwell’s demon was an extra-thermodynamic agent at work in sortition of gases between two chambers. Its “work” of sortition added no energy to the system, nor did it expend any. That’s why it had to be a demon. The demon was the homunculus of the system. Or you could characterize it as a strange attractor.

        PPS: The same difficulty is at work with Divine intervention in a finite causal system, that has conservation laws and so forth.

        PPPS: This is our clue that Divine intervention in the cosmos might be no more mysterious – or less – than our own intervention in our bodies.

        PPPPS: That James was following this discussion does not mean that his post on the TBBT was not an instance of synchronicity. Usually by “synchronicity” we mean to indicate coordinations between events that we had not expected, or never find out about. But strictly speaking there is synchronicity we expect and know about (and therefore find unremarkable), and then there is synchronicity we don’t. All cosmic order is synchronistic. Our accounts of things describe what we know about the synchronicities we know about. But both sorts are equally mysterious.

  12. If you reduce all x to nothing but y, then what you have left at the end of the process is no x at all: nothing to explain. To say that x is nothing but y is to say that there is really no such thing as x in the first place. Eliminative reductionists generally prefer to overlook this difficulty.

    This is a difficulty only if one is really in love with words and expects / hopes that every word should “really” mean something in order to be useful. But words can be useful without that – they can simply be mental tools, such as various levels of abstraction. All this because the human mind is limited, so whenever we talk about about something broad and wide, we need to simplify it. We either dig deep but in a really narrow field, being really precise but not too broad, or we take a broad view and thus must simplify and abstract things.

    Words can work very much like visual perception. If you use a microscope on blades of grass, they will be all different. Looking at lawn from our usual standing position, the blades of grass seem very similar. Get up on a helicopter and all we see is unform green grass. Get into out outer space, and the green grass, yellow wheat fields and red-roofed towns all melt into one color.Which of these perceptions is the most real? Probably the most zoomed-in one. Which would suggest only electron microscope pictures are real and if we invent a better one, we should de-real those perceptions, too. Well, or perhaps we can be less attached to the idea of final realness and we can just consider our perception more or less accurate but never fully so.

    And the same with words. Aerodynamics of an airplane wing is entirely reducible to quantum movements, and from a helicopter seeing lawn as a green carpet is entirely reducible to blades of grass. Yet, these higher level abstractions are useful, when our view is really broad and wide, as in those case our brain or eyes cannot process much detail.

    No, there are actually problems with reduction, but not these types of problems. The problems tend to arise from the “what do you actually want to know” problem. It is usually two-dimensonal. A book as a object is entirely reducible to a certain type of paper, blots of ink by certain typographical rules and so on. As an object it is reducible and entirely eliminable. However, the content: the information, intent, meaning in it cannot. Because the same content could be given in a different typography, on a different matter, even in a different language.

    Generally speaking, the only truly non-reducible thing is information (in the broad sense, meaning, intent), the rest works very well. It looks like the universe is made of information and matter, or intent or matter, they are not reducible to each other, but have fun reducing everything else to them.

    • It is the sort of elimination you write about in your last two paragraphs that the post was about – the sort that eliminates intention from reality, ergo also information (although the elimination of information entailed in the elimination of intention is not usually noticed by eliminativists).

  13. The categorization of colors is irrelevant to my point, though interesting in itself. I must have expressed myself very badly to make you think this was a counter argument. I am not as good at this as Kristor.

  14. Pingback: Ontological Depth versus Improper Reduction – The Orthosphere

  15. Pingback: Ontological Depth versus Improper Reduction – CHRIST THE MORNING STAR

Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s