Illiminative Materialism

I have several times remarked that, on the most popular modern doctrine of matter – that it is dead stuff – eliminative materialism is the only consistent sort. If the universe is nothing but dead stuff, it is impossible for us to be alive, or therefore conscious. You can’t assemble a living conscious mind out of nothing but dead stuff. Thoroughgoing, consistent materialists, who have the courage of their convictions, forge ahead and, on that basis, deny the reality of consciousness.

There are few such.

There are of course some problems with eliminative materialism. In the first place, it insists that there are no conscious minds such as those that confide in eliminative materialism. In the second, because eliminative materialism is not itself composed of dead stuff, on its own terms it has no concrete existence.

On eliminative materialism, there’s no such thing as eliminative materialism, and no one exists to believe or disbelieve it.

So it can’t be true. It can’t even be wrong. It cannot be meaningfully asserted; so it cannot be meaningful.

The most popular modern doctrine of matter must then be false. That realization opens up a fun discussion, but it isn’t the discussion I’m interested to have right now. I’m more interested to pick at the intellectual urge that motivates the move of modern minds toward materialism (as modernity misconstrues it), and then to eliminative materialism. I take EO Wilson, that genial sweet mind, to be a type of such moderns. In the dust jacket précis of his book Genesis: The Deep Origin of Societies, he writes (with, no doubt, no little help from the marketing guys):

Asserting that religious creeds and philosophical questions can be reduced to purely genetic and evolutionary components, and that the human body and mind have a physical base obedient to the laws of physics and chemistry, Genesis demonstrates that the only way for us to fully understand human behavior is to study the evolutionary histories of nonhuman species.

What struck me about this sentence was that no immaterialist or supernaturalist out there would suggest that the human body and mind do not have a physical base obedient to the laws of physics and chemistry, or to the causal order of our cosmogony. If a thing happens in our universe, well then, one way or another, it simply must conform to the laws of physics and chemistry of our universe as they have so far been expressed in its history, no matter how difficult it might be for us to discern how.

I have not yet read Wilson’s Genesis, and may never do so. But I have read several of his other books with great pleasure and admiration (Amazon knows this, and so suggested the book to me). From them, I know the cast of his mind well enough to wager that, despite the characteristic generosity and nobility – and, indeed, beauty – of his expressions of his basic presuppositions, he thinks nevertheless that there is in the end nothing but an aimless scurrying of dead pebbles. He takes the fact that what happens in our universe must obey the laws of physics to be a demonstration that what happens in our universe must be nothing more than what we can express by formulations of the laws of physics.

This is to mistake the fossil for the living form of which it is the record. It is to assert that there is nothing but fossils. It is the dead skeleton of eliminative materialism, draped in the gorgeous costume of something richer, wilder and more lively – and more true – that Wilson, being an honest and careful natural historian, cannot overlook, cannot resist, cannot but love. But, as we have seen, that doctrine is autophagous.

Wilson loves the subject of his work. On eliminative materialism, there is nothing in it to love. It is, rather, just dead stupid meaningless shit.

Consider then the proper opposite, the negative of eliminative materialism. It is, not amaterialism or immaterialism, but illiminative materialism.

What’s that?

It is, simply, the notion that the formalized Laws of Nature do not rule out such sorts of entities as cannot be by them formalized, but rather that they specify the basic degree of order that the activities of any such entities must in our world reliably express.

To take just one example: Newton’s Laws of Motion do not mean that the angels are not responsible for the ordination and urgence of events in our world. They rather express in formal terms the way that those angels – if they exist – must effect that ordination and urgence, so that we observe that their way everywhere evident in what happens under their ministrations. Would an angel concerned above all in his administration of his particular cosmic domain to obey the Lógos of our world – and of himself – arrange the affairs thereof in such a way that in it F ≠ ma? Of course not.

The good order of the universe, then, is just what we should expect the angels to generate for us.

That the stars move in the goodly, orderly way Newton discovered that they do in fact move does not mean that the angels are not moving them.

The discovery and formalization of that good order does not of course demonstrate the existence and activity of the angels in its pervasive realization. But it does certainly allow for them. It gives room for the angels. Whether they exist or not can then be a subject of other further researches.

So likewise for other sorts of entities that eliminative materialism rules out from the get go; such as animals, consciousness, agency, meaning, purpose, and – not least – philosophical doctrines like eliminative materialism.

Such is illiminative materialism.

Eliminative materialism rules out other sorts of entities than dead pebbles: ex + limine, limit, ablative of limen, threshold. Illiminative materialism rules them in, without sacrificing a jot or tittle of the Natural Law, or anywise relaxing its rigor: in + limen.

Eliminative materialism throws the baby, the bathwater, the basin, and then itself out over the threshold and into the outer darkness that beyond the pale yawns ever and insatiably ravening. Illiminative materialism allows us to bathe the baby and then drain away the dirt, to wrap and swaddle the babe and rock him by the fire, humming a lullaby.

Illiminative materialism does imply a different and more expansive notion of matter than moderns have so far generally felt comfortable. But that is neither here nor there; for so, likewise, after all, does quantum physics, which we have discovered to be true.

The bottom line: on eliminative materialism, there can be no such thing as eliminative materialism. On illiminative materialism, there can.

On eliminative materialism, there is no such thing as materialism of any sort. It cannot be true – or false, or meaningful, or anything at all.

On illiminative materialism, minds can exist and consider eliminative materialism. It can be a really existent and efficacious doctrine. It can be false. On illiminative materialism, we can understand eliminative materialism, and see that it must be wrong; must be meaningless; must be not even wrong.

On eliminative materialism, we can’t understand, at all.

As between the two notions, then, illiminative materialism is the more true.

37 thoughts on “Illiminative Materialism

  1. Eliminative materialism is not even wrong, for the reasons that you indicated. It’s not bulverism then to inquire into the motives of its advocates. It always strikes me as a way to shirk the cross of life or refuse the cup of existence.

    Illuminative materialism reminds me of “the light of the world’s Incarnation,” since “matter” is “mater” is “mother.” It’s typical that ordinary materialists know the least of anyone about the nature of matter, since “the darkness comprehended it not.”

    • Hah! “Illuminative materialism:” love it! Somehow I had not even thought of that elision when writing the essay. But it is veridical, and significant: knock, and the door shall be opened unto you; then shall the Light flood over the threshold and into your humble little unworthy cottage.

      Consider: the doors to the outside of your house open *inward.* When you knock upon them, you ask not for egress from your world, but for ingress of Light thereto. You knock on the doors of Hell that you had formerly locked.

      Modern materialists are a sort of gnostic. Like all gnostics, they consider themselves anointed initiates into a higher knowledge – “I fucking love science!” – and they despise dead stupid matter (and in the bargain those who muck about in it for the sake of their livelihoods, and of their lives, and of the lives of their babes). But unlike other, saner sorts of gnostics, who have healthier minds (I’m thinking here of the New Age people), they have no notion whatever of anything else. To them, all is shit, and nothing but.

      But then, it is actually rather wrong to call such folks modern. Like so many gnostics, they are antiquarians, who dote on the notions (about matter) of a past and forlorn age: that of the 19th Century. The New Agers, likewise (if you read the New Agers of 1880, you shall find that they say the same things exactly, and rather pathetically, as those of 1980 about the dawning New Age, except that they are better read, better educated, and write far better). The materialists, New Agers, and positivists are all actually *pre-modern.* They are obsolete.

      Properly considered, matter is, as you say, a thundering great and sublime and holy mystery. It is the font of becoming. What could be more shocking, or more humiliating? Only one thing: becoming himself: the Great I Am.

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  3. Eliminitive: “i see that the rock fell when i dropped it. I am the cause, and the means is the laws of physics, the end is the rock being on the ground. All these are sufficient to explain rocks falling, so absent evidence for anything else, there is naught else.”

    Illiminative: “i see that the rock fell when i dropped it. By the grace of God, i am held in existence and allowed the blessings of sense and motion. God is the cause, i am the means, and through the ordered universe He made, aided perhaps by angels, the end is this rock being on the ground there. All this is sufficient to explain my small part in this grand design, and there may be other parts to play.”

    If thats indeed a close approximation: i like it!

    • That is indeed a close approximation, although there are a couple tweaks that make starker the contrast between the two positions.

      Eliminativism: “I didn’t really see the rock falling, because I don’t really exist. My notions of the Laws of Nature don’t exist, either; nor do those Laws exist.”

      Illiminativism: “God is the First Causal agent; I am with the angels and perhaps many other sorts of beings a secondary causal agent, active in and factors of the falling of the rock. So many are the secondary causes implicit in the Lógos and expressed in every jot of his orderly creation, that there may be no sufficient explanation, no complete explanation, that I am computationally competent to discover.”

      • More incredulous than anything, but is there really a body of philosophical thought that–with apparent clarity and seriousness–disclaim reality itself? Seems to me they accept everything up to but excluding the conclusion; theyll buy the whole cow but refuse the milk. (I hope thats an actual idiom).

    • Yes. They can tell you all about the cause and effect of their dropping a stone on the ground, but have no answer to the questions of how and why they are telling you all this.

  4. If the universe is nothing but dead stuff, it is impossible for us to be alive, or therefore conscious. You can’t assemble a living conscious mind out of nothing but dead stuff.

    You state this as axiomatic, but it isn՚t. That is, this is not a truth that is universally agreed upon and can be accepted as foundational without any justification. It՚s something people disagree on.

    It՚s also subtly begging the question by calling matter “dead stuff”. Living beings are obviously material (at least in one aspect) and their stuff is not dead. Materialists don՚t believe that “the universe is nothing but dead stuff”, they believe that the living universe is composed of non-living parts. If you can՚t imagine how this could work or have other reasons to disbelieve it, that is a shame but doesn՚t prove anything.

    Instead of life emerging from the operations of natural law, you posit the activity of “angels”. OK. That really takes the whole discussion out of the realm of the serious for me. I notice you are careful to note that the actions of angels are in complete conformity with physical law. Thus, they are a completely unnecessary theoretical construct. To put it another way: Physical law is completely determinative, and so if angels can only act in conformity with physical law, they really can՚t do anything.

    The same might be said of people or other agents, of course. But with biological beings we have theories of how their minds are coupled to the world to produce something like agency (or starting to, this is not a very well-developed area). Or if you prefer, the illusion of agency.

    Hm, I guess I have argued myself into a theory of angels that I can accept! They are real in the same sense persons are real (that is, they are useful fictions or constructs). A person is a fiction tightly bound to a meat computer, while angels are disembodied or distributed constructs of pure software.

    • Imagine for a moment we are in some kind of plato’s cave, and instead of shadows playing against a wall we see a frying pan periodically levitating in front of us. On careful inspection we see a string, and someone outside the cave is alternately raising and lowering the frying pan. Would you argue: A) The person on the other end of the string can only pull it when the frying pan levitates enough to give some slack or B) the person is using the string to raise and lower the frying pan.

      To put it another way: Physical law is completely determinative, and so if angels can only act in conformity with physical law, they really can՚t do anything.

      To restate in my rubric: A) Angels can only act when physical law says they can, or B) Physical law describes the consequence of angels acting.

      That is to say: Are angels constrained by physical law, or is physical law constrained by the actions of angels? What if the Physical Laws we’ve documented are just the string? We can see the frying pan, but we can’t see who has hold of the other side.

      Admittedly, all of this is conceptual because I don’t think there’s a theological canon of physics, but I think it’s worth noting that what we can sense (see, touch, taste, hear, etc) is only a limited part of reality.

    • I gotta hand it to you, a.morphous: you are a serious guy, to follow the chain of reasoning where it leads and then have the courage even to be willing to admit to your conscious awareness, let alone publicly confess before this pretty doggone antagonistic audience, that you had arrived at a notion that made the angels conceivable to a good old fashioned hard ass skeptic such as yourself. That takes a remarkably tough mind. I’m honored to be in the company of such a mind, and admire you for it.

      It is interesting to me – it is *absolutely fascinating* – that in writing this comment you should have arrived surprised at the notion that angels might be cogently construed as distributed constructs of pure software, because exactly that crashed in on me with terrific force just the day before yesterday, prompting a really fun and productive brainstorm. I was in fact just about to start composing a post about the notion when your comment came in. A teaser: it is about how a demonic algorithm (or an angelic, for that matter) could be installed on a meat computer such as we run on, at our request; which is to say, at our prayer. I.e., a first pass at a psychobiology of demonic possession.

      This astonishing “coincidence” indicates to me that it might be rather important somehow or other that I should write that post.

      Lawrence Auster must be so pleased at this; he loves synchronicities.

      But I’ll get to that post later. It will be hard work, and responding to you right now will be easier. It will involve a lot less laborious path-breaking. Rationalization hamster at work over here.

      If the universe is nothing but dead stuff, it is impossible for us to be alive, or therefore conscious. You can’t assemble a living conscious mind out of nothing but dead stuff.

      You state this as axiomatic, but it isn’t. That is, this is not a truth that is universally agreed upon and can be accepted as foundational without any justification. It’s something people disagree on.

      Yeah. But they shouldn’t, because to disagree with it is just silly. It’s like saying, “There is no such thing whatever as mass, yet there is such a thing as force, which is mass multiplied by acceleration.”

      Tell you what. I’ll give you 88 bazillion dead pebbles, and you arrange them however you want. Click them together as you please, in as complex and orderly a fashion as you please. Show me how you get the assemblage of dead pebbles to wake up. Show me how you get it to be anything more than a bunch of dead pebbles, arranged in this or that way, and clicking and clacking together in this or that way.

      Until you can show me how you might make those pebbles wake up, you’ve got nothing.

      If you can’t imagine how this could work …

      I can’t. Can you? If so, could you please tell us how it could work? Seriously, it would be cool to find out how it could work.

      Read that line of mine carefully: “if the universe is nothing but dead stuff.” That means, “if, when you get right down to it, everything in the universe is entirely constituted of dead stuff.” How can you meaningfully attribute life to a state of affairs that, ex hypothesi, is composed entirely of dead things? To do so is like saying that there is no such thing as money, but nevertheless you can buy stuff with money.

      There is, literally, no cash value to classical materialism. It can’t be cashed out into life as we actually experience it.

      [You are] subtly begging the question by calling matter “dead stuff.” Living beings are obviously material (at least in one aspect) and their stuff is not dead.

      This is a great point, which I might have made myself. Indeed, I have made just this point many times. If the stuff of living beings is not dead, then … *it isn’t dead stuff.* Yes! I’m a panpsychist, remember? If the stuff of the cosmos is not dead, but alive, then the difficult question of how a bunch of dead pebbles might possibly be made to wake up pretty much goes away, *because the pebbles are not dead.* This is why neurophilosophers tend toward one of two camps: the dead end of eliminativism, or the sunny upland path of panpsychism. I’m familiar enough with the cast of your mind to intuit that you tend toward the latter option.

      Excursus: Even panpsychism doesn’t quite rule out eliminative materialism. The eliminativist can argue that the atoms of which the human organism is composed might be in some sense aware, but that it does not smoothly follow that the organism itself is really aware. Or, to put it differently, the eliminativist could argue that the awareness of the whole does not follow from the awareness of the parts thereof.

      He’d be right to argue that. More is needed. I don’t plan to provide it in this excursus, but it’s an interesting topic. How do you get a living cow, even out of a bunch of living atoms? Not a trivial problem. More on that later, perhaps.

      Materialists don’t believe that “the universe is nothing but dead stuff,” they believe that the living universe is composed of non-living parts.

      OK; how does that even make sense? You’ve got trillions of utterly dead particles, and you arrange them in the right way and they just wake up? Why? Where does the waking come from? Not from the dead particles, for they are utterly dead. There is in them no life that might be put to use or coordinated in a larger system of living parts that together constituted a living whole.

      The bottom line is that if you start with an utter vacuity of life, you can’t get life out of it. There are those doggone conservation laws, you know. There’s no free lunch, in respect to anything whatsoever. You can’t get something of x from nothing of x.

      Instead of life emerging from the operations of natural law, you posit the activity of “angels.”

      Not “instead.” I’m supposing that the operations of natural law *might just simply be* the activity of angels. So that the way angels act is in accord with the Natural Law that governs their actions; which is to say, with the Lógos. Scoot’s analogy of the levitating frying pan is spot on.

      … you … note that the actions of angels are in complete conformity with physical law. Thus, they are a completely unnecessary theoretical construct.

      That’s like saying that because a.morphous is in complete conformity with natural law, he is a completely unnecessary theoretical construct. You do see the problem with this line of argument, do you not? You would not dispute that your acts are in complete conformity with natural law, right? So, does that mean that you do not, in fact, act? Does it mean that you do not, in fact, exist?

      To put it another way: Physical law is completely determinative, and so if angels can only act in conformity with physical law, they really can’t do anything.

      Physical law is completely determinative, and so if a.morphous can only act in conformity with physical law, he really can’t do anything.

      See, this is the problem with improper reduction.

      But with biological beings we have theories of how their minds are coupled to the world to produce something like agency (or starting to, this is not a very well-developed area). Or if you prefer, the illusion of agency.

      We do indeed have some such theories out there. The problem is that most of them simply don’t work. At best, such theories produce only the illusion of agency. Which is to say that they produce no agency whatever – because, hello, illusory things are, precisely, *not real.*

      To say that agency is illusory is to say that there is really no such thing as agency, period full stop.

      How do you couple an illusion to what is real? You don’t; there is nothing out there in that illusion that you might couple to something else, because, again, the illusory thing is not real.

      The only sorts of theories that might possibly work to help us understand the relations between minds, their objects, their subjects, and their superjects, are the panpsychist, hylemorphic sorts.

      Hm, I guess I have argued myself into a theory of angels that I can accept! They are real in the same sense persons are real (that is, they are useful fictions or constructs). A person is a fiction tightly bound to a meat computer, while angels are disembodied or distributed constructs of pure software.

      Again, this is a courageous step. But I think you have an important prior decision to make: are persons – angelic or human – really fictions? If so, then you simply don’t exist. The fiction of your existence is not useful, because there is no such thing as someone who might find things useful.

      Let’s say that you are a routine running on a machine. The routine takes the sensory data of your body, and cranks out motor and autonomic behavior. The operations of the routine, strung together, constitute a history of transactions; a sort of story. The story is real enough, to be sure, for the transactions of the subroutine did truly occur. But is the subject of the story real? No; there is no such subject. Like Huck Finn, the subject of the story is a fiction.

      Huck Finn is not tightly bound to the physical books in which his story is recorded, because *he does not really exist so as to be bound to anything.* There is nothing to him that might be so bound. Huck is like a bot commenting at YouTube.

      Are you a bot? Or are you real?

      • It՚s interesting that we are following similar paths of thought., although not that surprising, I think we are both reaching what are fairly natural consequences of the concepts that are central to western thought – me with amused skepticism, you with fervent belief. I consider most of these concepts broken, and want to discover better ones. Computation is a source of better ideas but they aren՚t well-understood yet, even by the experts.

        However, one of the most annoying things about computation as it exists as a body of thought is how it embodies the very classifications it hopes to transcend. The software/hardware split in computing is an exact mirror of the mind/body split, a massive problem that cybernetics was supposed to get solve, to get past. Someone like you might take this simply as validation of the classical scheme of things; I view it as a fizzled revolution that is waiting for history to catch up to its potential.

        In short, don՚t put me on the side of the angels just yet.

        Show me how you get the assemblage of dead pebbles to wake up

        Read a molecular biology textbook and get back to me. We know an astonishing amount about how “dead pebbles” operate to constitute living organisms. What we don՚t know about is the /origin/ of life, but that՚s a separate question and there are plenty of theories, if no definitive one.

        If the stuff of living beings is not dead, then … *it isn’t dead stuff.* Yes! I’m a panpsychist, remember?

        You are someone who doesn՚t understand biology. And you are being confused by language, and perhaps improper use of metaphor. (Specifically: a human or other organism is either alive or dead in a fairly definite sense. But *matter* (stuff) is neither alive nor dead, except metaphorically. Metaphors can illuminate but they can also confuse. And just because dead humans do not, as a rule, become live ones, does not mean that inert stuff cannot be assembled into living stuff.

        I՚m not sure what you mean by panpsychism in this context, but if it means, the world՚s creatures still operate under physical law, but now we can consider their components “live” instead of “dead” – well OK. To me those sound like both sides of a bad coin, but if it helps you understand reality, go for it.

        This is why neurophilosophers tend toward one of two camps: the dead end of eliminativism, or the sunny upland path of panpsychism.

        I care very little about what any so-called “neurophilosopher” thinks. Well, that՚s not quite true, sometimes they can be illuminating, but only when they are coming up with interesting new explanatory metaphors (Dennett does this on occasion), not when they are busy proving things about their obsolete classifcatory schemes (see Dennett on qualia).

        You’ve got trillions of utterly dead particles, and you arrange them in the right way and they just wake up? Why? Where does the waking come from? Not from the dead particles, for they are utterly dead. There is in them no life that might be put to use or coordinated in a larger system of living parts that together constituted a living whole.

        No matter how much you keep repeating this, it doesn՚t become any better as an argument. It՚s just about your own lack of imagination and knowledge, and a fixed conception of what life is that has been obsolete for a hundred years. It՚s worse than wrong, it is boring. It shows a lack of interest, because there is a great deal to know about how large systems of parts constitute living wholes, and you don՚t seem to be aware of it.

        That’s like saying that because a.morphous is in complete conformity with natural law, he is a completely unnecessary theoretical construct. You do see the problem with this line of argument, do you not? You would not dispute that your acts are in complete conformity with natural law, right? So, does that mean that you do not, in fact, act? Does it mean that you do not, in fact, exist?

        Did you read my next sentence, “The same might be said of people or other agents, of course.” ?

        At best, such theories produce only the illusion of agency. Which is to say that they produce no agency whatever – because, hello, illusory things are, precisely, *not real.*

        I find this naive faith in the power of the word “real” both touching and annoying. It makes me more determined than ever to banish the word from my own thinking. You can already see the results, I՚m less of an atheist than I used to be. A theist believes god is real, an atheist believes that god is unreal, I՚m of the opinion that the term “real” or its negation is not adequate to describe the phenomena we are trying to indicate by the word “god”.

        “Agency” is similar, if less exalted. It՚s not real or unreal in any absolute sense, it՚s something created out of parts (which may or may not have agency of their own). The United States, for instance, is a created fiction that has become quite real through the operation of its parts (humans), hitching their own agency (whatever its nature) to the emergent agency of a collective. It has agency because people (inside and out) believe it does and act in accordance with that belief. It՚s real enough, but in this case we can see the processes that produced that reality; they are well documented. As a result of those processes, a mere idea has grown buildings and armies and laws and rituals and a history – and agency.

        But I think you have an important prior decision to make: are persons – angelic or human – really fictions? If so, then you simply don’t exist.

        See above.

      • The software/hardware split in computing is an exact mirror of the mind/body split, a massive problem …

        Not really. The software the brain runs on is hard-wired, albeit wetly and deformably. It is encoded in and as the morphology of the neural hardware. In the CNS, the software is a function of the architecture of the hardware. Edits to the software are accomplished via changes to the morphology of the network, either by changes to synaptic firing thresholds or by growth and attachment of new dendrites to cell bodies or axons. Thus at any given moment the brain is (mostly) not a universal Turing machine, capable of running any algorithm, the way that computers (mostly) are. Each control system of the brain can run the algorithm that it is morphologically set up to run, and no other. There may of course be quite a few multi-purpose Turing machines in the cerebral cortex. The neural control system that mediates consciousness seems to be a Turing machine. But for most control systems of the CNS, it is not so.

        The relation between hardware and software is not difficult. Not for me, anyway. Where’s the mystery?

        On the Cartesian notion of matter as utterly mindless stuff still so widespread among scientists and philosophers, on the other hand, the relation between mind and body simply cannot be ascertained. If matter is utterly mindless, the mind/body problem is still right where Descartes left it, with an unbridgeable categorical chasm – pineal gland or no pineal gland – between res extensa and res cogitans.

        Now, in principle, the causal connection between an instance of res cogitans and an assemblage of res extensa is no harder – and no easier – to pin down than the causal relations between two instances of res extensa, or two instances of res cogitans. Causal relations as such seem to be specifiable, but not completely explicable. Causation seems at bottom to be a thundering great mystery. Why should one thing ever cause another? The question seems almost nonsensical; impossible to answer it, absurd to ask it. To be a thing such as we are, it seems, *just is* to be caused, and to cause.

        Causal relations may therefore be simply basic and axiomatic for things that are not eternal – which is to say, that are mundane. We may just have to accept that mundane things cause and are caused, we know not why.

        To me it seems at any rate rather obvious that the Cartesian divorce between mind and matter is simply ill-conceived, and that it is far simpler just to return to the old Aristotelian scheme that it displaced (but never disproved), which fits much better to modern physics. On Aristotelian metaphysics – especially in its panpsychist elaboration – there is no such thing as a mind/body problem. It just never arises.

        When your explanatory scheme gives rise to new and intractable problems, that’s a pretty good sign that it’s wrong.

        Someone like you might take this simply as validation of the classical scheme of things ….

        It is at least an indication that the modern scheme of things is on shaky ground. On classical metaphysics, per contra, the mind/body problem simply does not exist. And that is an indication that classical metaphysics is more adequate and accurate than modern metaphysics.

        Show me how you get the assemblage of dead pebbles to wake up.

        Read a molecular biology textbook and get back to me. We know an astonishing amount about how “dead pebbles” operate to constitute living organisms.

        Sure. But that wasn’t the question, as you can of course plainly see from my statement that you quoted. The question was how to arrange the dead pebbles so that the arrangement is *aware.* If we are made of nothing but mindless pebbles, and the mindless pebbles can be configured so that they behave the way living bodies behave, then why are we aware? Why are we not mindless zombies, going to work every day, raising children, spending time on hobbies, and so forth, but without a jot of awareness of what is happening? If the mindless pebbles can be configured so that they behave the way living bodies behave, then what is our awareness *doing*? What is its *function*?

        Excursus: The zombie question is *huge* in the discourse of the philosophy of mind. Eliminativists suppose that we *are* in fact zombies, who imagine that they are awake, when really they are not. The question of who it is, exactly, that is awake to be suffering the illusion of wakefulness is never addressed. On eliminativism, no one is there in the first place to suffer that illusion. The fact of the illusion of wakefulness, then, is itself an illusion. But not an illusion that is actually suffered by anybody. There is then no illusion of wakefulness. We do not, then, have any feeling that we are aware. We don’t feel anything. We don’t feel that we think that we don’t feel anything.

        It’s a bit of a rabbit hole.

        Books on molecular biology don’t even take a shot at answering that question. I’ve read such books. I understand how neurons work, at the molecular level, and I understand how to build stacked and networked analog control systems out of neural circuits that can control the body, do math and behave like digital computers – and all that knowledge doesn’t answer the question. Because why? Because it is categorically unable to do so. It can show how to wire consciousness – believe me, I’ve seen it done, at least in principle – but it can’t show how that wiring becomes aware, let alone an agent.

        You are someone who doesn’t understand biology.

        You are someone who doesn’t understand metaphysics. And if you don’t understand metaphysics, you cannot at last understand anything else, including biology. All you can do is get comfortable that you know how to get on using the terms of biology, the way a physicist can do the math of QM without having the foggiest notion what the terms thereof actually mean; or better, the way that a man who knows nothing of engines or transmissions or linkages can drive a car. Such a man as the latter might say that he knows perfectly well how cars work: you push on the accelerator, and you go faster; push on the brake, and you slow down. But really of course he has no idea how any of it works. He knows only how to operate it.

        If you don’t understand metaphysics, and thus do not really understand biology either, or a fortiori epistemology, then you have no chance whatever in grappling with the mind/body problem. You are not equipped even to understand the nature of the problem, let alone try to solve it.

        But *matter* (stuff) is neither alive nor dead, except metaphorically.

        And you can demonstrate the truth of this statement … how?

        We’ve both been conflating liveliness and mindfulness in this thread. That’s natural enough, for the notions are tightly linked. But really it is mindfulness that is at question. Again, we may, sort of, know in principle how to assemble mindless particles into living bodies. What we don’t know is how to assemble mindless particles into living bodies *that are mindful,* because that’s a categorical impossibility. It’s like making a gold chain out of nothing but steel links.

        … if [panpsychism] means the world’s creatures still operate under physical law, but now we can consider their components “live” instead of “dead” – well OK.

        Yeah, that’s part of what panpsychism means, except without the scare quotes. Panpsychism is a controversial move, but it solves – or just forestalls – lots of otherwise categorically intractable problems. What is more, it does so by a deft swipe of Ockham’s Razor, supposing that the actual its of res extensa are bits of res cogitans, and that the rest of res extensa – those that are not themselves actual agents – are assemblages of res cogitans. On panpsychism, res extensa reduce without remainder to res cogitans. Ockham smiles.

        You’ve got trillions of utterly dead particles, and you arrange them in the right way and they just wake up? Why? Where does the waking come from? Not from the dead particles, for they are utterly dead. There is in them no life that might be put to use or coordinated in a larger system of living parts that together constituted a living whole.

        No matter how much you keep repeating this, it doesn’t become any better as an argument. It’s just about your own lack of imagination and knowledge, and a fixed conception of what life is that has been obsolete for a hundred years. It’s worse than wrong, it is boring. It shows a lack of interest, because there is a great deal to know about how large systems of parts constitute living wholes, and you don’t seem to be aware of it.

        So, in other words, you have *no idea* how to arrange lots of dead pebbles so that the arrangement is aware. You can’t tell us how it might be done even in principle. If you could, you would. If you couldn’t, but you knew of someone else who could, you’d point us to his work. But you don’t know of any such person. So, instead, you give us hand waving, and talk of how bored you are, and how incurious I am.

        Phfft. Show us how it’s done, or point us to someone who can.

        I find this naïve faith in the power of the word “real” both touching and annoying. It makes me more determined than ever to banish the word from my own thinking.

        So you want to give up on figuring out what’s real? I.e., on what’s factual, true, reliable? OK; well, to each his own, I suppose. My gosh; what a juicy mark you’d be for any grifter.

        “Agency” is … not real or unreal in any absolute sense, it’s something created out of parts (which may or may not have agency of their own). The United States, for instance, is a created fiction that has become quite real through the operation of its parts (humans), hitching their own agency (whatever its nature) to the emergent agency of a collective. It has agency because people (inside and out) believe it does and act in accordance with that belief. It’s real enough, but in this case we can see the processes that produced that reality; they are well documented. As a result of those processes, a mere idea has grown buildings and armies and laws and rituals and a history – and agency.

        This is the most insightful, provocative and fruitful bit of your last comment.

        Notice first that, as you say, the US gains her agency in virtue of the transitive agency of her agent constituents (and of the constituents of other nations who reckon her). If those constituents had zero agency of their own to bestow upon her, where would the US obtain her derivative agency? Remember: conservation laws are in effect, so you can’t get national agency for free. It must be bought, and paid for.

        Really; it’s a serious question. If the Founders had no agency, how did they manage to Found anything?

        Obviously the Founders *did* have agency. So, they had potency to incipiate something new: the US. Not some new fiction, but some new reality.

        What is paid for the nation that is bought? The lifeblood of her patriots; of her constituent agents, their agency pledged and pouring forth on her behalf.

        Second, the procedure you describe for the inception of the true reality and agency of the US is pretty much exactly the procedure I would suggest is at work in the inception of any novel whole. I suppose that there must have been a prior Form of the US, before any of its constituent agents could have aspired to partake that Form. The structure of the Constitution, e.g., was obviously one of the many thousands of real alternatives open to the Constitutional Convention, before they ever met – and, indeed, from before all worlds. The Convention convened to consider those alternatives. One of them was most alluring. They chose it. So doing, they literally brought something to life.

        Or, rather, and to be more careful, they considerately and consciously specified the legal Form of the nation whom they themselves already conjointly represented, and embodied; a nation who must have preceded their Convention; for, had she not, they could have had no metric by which to tell which formal constitutional arrangements were best suited to their own people.

        So there is a twofold motion at work in the inception of any novel whole. On the one hand, there is a coming together – a convention – of disparate entities, that have each some jot at least of agency (which is to say, of true options in the effection of their final causes), and who have enough in common with each other to convene as a society of like minds. This is the bottom up fold. When that convention is propitious for the influx, implementation and concrete instantiation of some aeviternal Form – such as the Form of the Constitution – there that Form is then likely, really, truly, and concretely – and more or less faithfully – manifest and implemented, present and actual. This is the top down fold.

        I am not embarrassed to say that I suppose that the aeviternal Form of the people of America is archetypally and concretely and primordially instantiated as a living angel; and that the actual convention in North America of the Americans occasioned a concrete mundane instantiation of that angelic form.

        The result is a novel concrete actuality, that has true agency all its own, discrete and disparate from that of its angel, and from the agencies of the agents who constitute it, and whose convention gave it occasion to rise manifest from mere formality into actuality.

        The same procedure could be mapped to the inception of a new human person, or a new church, or a new corporation of any sort. Or of a new badger.

        As Constitutionally instituted, then, the US is – or, at least, had been until recently – the legal formalization of a true and actual nation, a concrete people.

        But I think you have an important prior decision to make: are persons – angelic or human – really fictions? If so, then you simply don’t exist.

        See above.

        You seem to be saying that persons, the US, and even perhaps angels, are not fictional, but real.

        I would suggest that this is analogous to saying that mathematical truths are not fictional, but real; that we do not invent them, but rather discover and reveal them.

    • I mostly agree with a.morphous. It’s not clear what anti-materialists mean when they say that matter is “dead”. The matter of physics and chemistry can be quite lively. (Kristor’s challenge involving pebbles is not a fair test of the capabilities of “dead” matter, because it’s hard to initiate chemical reactions or build an electric potential from only this.) One could argue that being alive only applies to wholes (however one is to identify these) and not parts, in which case parcels of matter making up an organism are neither alive nor dead. One could argue that they are alive in virtue of being part of a living whole. One could argue that they are not alive because they are not considered in isolation living beings, but it would be best not to say “dead”, which carries the false connotation of being intert in addition to being non-living.

      Where I disagree with a.morphous (although it may be more a matter of wording than substance) is where he/she and Kristor are closest to agreement. To me, saying that matter is moved by physical laws and saying it is moved by angels is about the same thing–saying that matter must be moved by some immaterial being of pure intelligibility that transcends the material world. I suspect that Kristor’s angels are nothing but hypostasized natural laws. This is not the way I think of things. I would not say, for example, that a block on a spring is moved by Hooke’s Law, but that the block is moved by the spring, and the causal potencies of the spring are described by Hooke’s Law. Laws of nature are only ever descriptive. Probably people realize this with things like Hooke’s law, but I think it continues to hold for “fundamental” laws (e.g. the standard model Lagrangian) as well. Confusion on this point leads to speculation that the universe could come into existence from “nothing” because the laws of physics say so. I may be a more thorough-going materialist than both of you, at least as far as the material world goes!

      • Thanks, Bonald, good stuff. I am grateful for your input.

        It’s not clear what anti-materialists mean when they say that matter is “dead.”

        What I mean by “dead” is inactive, oblivious; in no way informed by the environment or acting upon it, but rather just pushed around by it, and so pushing around: “dead to the world.”

        The matter of physics and chemistry can be quite lively.

        Indeed. I don’t take the matter of physics or chemistry to be either inactive or oblivious. On the contrary, I take each basic physical transaction to be a transmission of information from one active, experiencing event to another.

        Kristor’s challenge involving pebbles is not a fair test of the capabilities of “dead” matter, because it’s hard to initiate chemical reactions or build an electric potential from only this.

        If subatomic particles really were dead – as a.morphous seemed to be suggesting in writing that materialists “believe that the living universe is composed of non-living parts” – it would certainly be a fair test. But they aren’t, as I think a.morphous would in the limit with the two of us agree. On the contrary, their behavior is as you say quite lively, and in that respect quite different from the behavior of pebbles.

        One could argue that being alive only applies to wholes … and not parts, in which case parcels of matter making up an organism are neither alive nor dead.

        … unless those parcels are wholes in their own right, in which case they are alive. If moreover being alive applies only to wholes, then by that token it simply *does not* apply to the parcels of matter that make them up – unless, again, those parcels happen to be wholes in their own right, in which case their liveliness is due, not to their participation of a lively whole, but to their own essential liveliness qua wholes, which they would enjoy whether or not they partook some greater whole. If liveliness pertains only to wholes, and the parts of a given whole are not themselves wholes, then the liveliness of the whole they partly constitute is not transitive to them.

        Consider the individual Christian. He is himself a whole, and also he participates the Church, which is another whole. He would himself be lively whether or not he was a Churchman. But if he were not himself lively, his involvement with the Church would not enliven him. A particular missal, e.g., is not itself essentially lively; and nor does its involvement with the Church enliven it.

        Again, my hammer is involved in my family. But that does not enliven it, for it is not itself essentially an integral whole. My cat, too, is involved with my family. But she would be alive whether or not she partook my family, because she is herself essentially an integral whole.

        I think it true that being alive is possible only to wholes. But then, also, I think all particles are wholes, so that most things are more or less alive. Not pebbles, to be sure. Pebbles, like heaps and hammers, are not wholes. They are not integrities bound together by their own inherent form, but rather mere happenstantial or accidental or instrumental assemblages.

        One could argue that they are alive in virtue of being part of a living whole.

        … in which case they would be not dead, but alive. This too, I think is true: parts participate the life of the whole they participate. Of any integral whole, I believe that all its parts – properly parsed – are themselves likewise inherently and essentially integral wholes, and thus alive in their own right.

        ‘Properly parsed’ wants some elaboration. My leg is not a whole in its own right. The cells thereof certainly are. The mitochondria and nuclei thereof? Yeah, probably. My liver – well, that’s a question I’d have to think about.

        To me, saying that matter is moved by physical laws and saying it is moved by angels is about the same thing – saying that matter must be moved by some immaterial being of pure intelligibility that transcends the material world. I suspect that Kristor’s angels are nothing but hypostasized natural laws.

        It’s a little trickier than that – one wants to be careful with those “nothing buts” – but you’re not far off. Angels are hypostasized Forms. This is not my idea; it has belonged to Israel in all her dispensations, since about 4,000 years ago.

        I would not say, for example, that a block on a spring is moved by Hooke’s Law, but that the block is moved by the spring, and the causal potencies of the spring are described by Hooke’s Law.

        It seems to me that this confuses efficient and formal causation. Angels and laws are not pushing things around efficiently, the way the spring pulls the block. They rather inform the spring and the block so that they have the physical characters that they do in fact have, thus informing their motions. The fact that the causal potencies of the spring are described by Hooke’s Law, and the fact that the spring behaves in accord with that Law, tell us that the spring has been informed by that Law; that it is (among other things) an instantiation of that Law. The angel of Hooke’s Law is the archetypal concrete instantiation thereof; each particular spring is a type of that archetype, and a participant therein.

        By analogy, the Platonic Form of the triangle does not reach down and push around the pencils, rulers and compasses of students in trigonometry classes, or their cerebral cortices. It does not effect their motions, but rather informs them.

        Laws of nature are only ever descriptive.

        Amen. The laws of nature are formal. They are not themselves concrete, except insofar as they are manifest as implemented (implement: … from Latin implere, “to fill, fill up, make full …”) in the formation of their angelic archetypes or extended types.

        I may be a more thorough-going materialist than both of you, at least as far as the material world goes!

        Insofar as you see that the matter of physics (as distinct from the matter of Aristotle) as we actually find it is lively, you are not a classical materialist, at all.

        Indeed, almost no one is quite a classical materialist. Even Lucretius and Democritus accepted the fact of the clinamen: the tendency evident in the otherwise completely random collisions of the utterly dead atoms in the void; the tendency that seemed to occasion something like flow, patterns, perdurance. The clinamen is of course none other than final causation, dressed up in atomist clothes to save the Democritean appearances, a radical and completely corrosive unprincipled exception; for, implicit in final causation is formal causation. From that, the whole Aristotelico-Thomistic panoply unfolds like a flower, implicit in the seed of the clinamen and overwhelming; and so, repudiates atomism.

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  6. The relation between hardware and software is not difficult. Not for me, anyway. Where’s the mystery?

    I didn՚t say it was a mystery, I said it recapitualated the split between mind and body that it was supposed to solve.

    To me it seems at any rate rather obvious that the Cartesian divorce between mind and matter is simply ill-conceived

    Well we can agree on that much.

    On classical metaphysics, per contra, the mind/body problem simply does not exist.

    Alright, maybe I՚ve been loose with my terminology. I tend to lump classical and Cartesian metaphysics together on the same side, that is, they are variations on the same bad ideas. They are both variations on dualism (or so I thought). Your presentation of Aristotlian ideas make them seem more interesting to me than I had realized (I have to admit having little formal education in the classics, and so my knowledge of them is spotty).

    If we are made of nothing but mindless pebbles, and the mindless pebbles can be configured so that they behave the way living bodies behave, then why are we aware?

    Why not? What you are really saying is that you can՚t imagine how your own consciousness could be a product of the action of mindless pebbles. But I don՚t see any problem with it, because there is nothing hard to understand about systems having properties that are different from those of their components.

    The zombie question is *huge* in the discourse of the philosophy of mind.

    So much the worse for philosophy of mind. It՚s a really stupid question that could only occur to people who don՚t understand systems.

    (me) But *matter* (stuff) is neither alive nor dead, except metaphorically.

    And you can demonstrate the truth of this statement … how?

    Don՚t be stupid, that is not meant to be a demonstrable truth, it՚s a critical examination of a conceptual metaphor.

    What we don’t know is how to assemble mindless particles into living bodies *that are mindful,* because that’s a categorical impossibility.

    You keep repeating this as if it’s an obvious axiom, and I keep saying it obviously isn՚t. (That is, it is obviously not a good axiom because it is not something that is immediately obvious to everyone). It՚s getting tedious. Let՚s agree to disagree and drop the discussion; it doesn՚t sound like there is any common basis on which to settle the argument.

    Note: it՚s true that *we* “don՚t know how to assemble” particles in such a way, but apparently nature manages to do it.

    Also note: I also don՚t know why you would assert that a material mind is a “categorical impossibility”. It is unremarkable to have things that are made out of parts that do not share the nature of the whole. A chair is made out of wood, not little chairs. If chairs can be made out of things that are not chairs, why can՚t minds be made out of things that are not minds?

    And one more note: I don’t understand how your opposition to this idea squares with your Aristotelianism. If the soul is the form of the body, and the material that comprises the forms is made of “mindless atoms”, it seems to me that materialists and Aristotelians have no argument, except perhaps over some nuances of language and emphasis. Materialists don՚t think that minds are *random* collections of “pebbles”, after all, they believe that minds are composed of “pebbles” arranged in very particular ways.

    Panpsychism is a controversial move, but it solves – or just forestalls – lots of otherwise categorically intractable problems

    It seems to be a no-op, which was a point in my previous comment. It՚s just a relabeling. The particles remain particles, with the same behavior as before, but you label them alive instead of dead. So what? It՚s the same sort of nonsense as the p-zombie argument.

    … they considerately and consciously specified the legal Form of the nation whom they themselves already conjointly represented, and embodied; a nation who must have preceded their Convention; for, had she not, they could have had no metric by which to tell which formal constitutional arrangements were best suited to their own people.

    I՚ve had this kind of argument with you before. Essentially you believe that humans cannot be creative, the best they can do is realize forms from the great library of forms that precedes them. This seems to me a dismal doctrine, and kind of useless (in about the same way the doctrine of determinism is dismal and useless). That is to say, from a godlike eternalist point of view there is no time, no freedom, no action, and no creativity. It՚s a deathlike stasis. But we are fortunate enough to be living, temporal, embodied, material creatures, making our choices and creating new things in defiance of this fatally static point of view.

    I am not embarrassed to say that I suppose that the aeviternal Form of the people of America is archetypally and concretely and primordially instantiated as a living angel

    You and Tony Kushner, who would have thought?

    You seem to be saying that persons, the US, and even perhaps angels, are not fictional, but real.

    Argh, you absolutely do not get it. I՚m saying that that persons and the US and I suppose angels are fictions that have grown into reality, that is, they have managed to entrain enough mental activity that they appear to have causal powers of their own. I think if you get past your rather naive notions of “reality” and “fiction” you will find that this idea not that strange or unusual.

    • I didn’t say [the relation between hardware and software] was a mystery, I said it recapitulated the split between mind and body that it was supposed to solve.

      Ah. So you did, sorry. And so it did. And as you say, it failed to do what it had been hoped it would do, to resolve the mind/body problem. That was foredoomed. It was a silly notion. Software running is no more aware than a musical score being played is aware, or a recipe being cooked, or an order being obeyed.

      I tend to lump classical and Cartesian metaphysics together on the same side, that is, they are variations on the same bad ideas. They are both variations on dualism (or so I thought). Your presentation of Aristotelian ideas make them seem more interesting to me than I had realized (I have to admit having little formal education in the classics, and so my knowledge of them is spotty).

      Some ancient philosophers were dualist, but most ancient dualists were Gnostics; i.e., clever sillies; fools. The main current of ancient thought – the Platonico-Aristotelian – was really not, although Platonism could be forced into a sort of dualism, and some of the Neo-Platonists were dualists. Aristotle in particular is non-dualist (some commentators consider him to have been the arch-Platonist). I think you would find his ontology interesting, and quite useful.

      He’s tough going, though; it’s super hard for moderns like us to read him for the first time, because we interpret so many of his terms as they are defined under Cartesian metaphysics, which is radically different. So it’s easy to get bogged down and totally confused about what the hell he is saying.

      The best introductions to Classical and thus Scholastic terminology I have read are those of Ed Feser. He helped me a great deal. I had read Aristotle, but had never been able to inhabit his ontology and comprehend it before I read Feser. The main benefit of reading him is that he explains Classical and Scholastic terms in ways moderns can understand. Once you get the terms, the weirdness of pre-modern philosophy goes away, and it gets a lot more comprehensible. You can get inside it, and then look out. And it makes more sense: more sense than it had before you understood its terms; way more sense than Cartesian dualism; and more sense than the modern and still fundamentally Cartesian synthesis. The modern synthesis is then seen to have tried to deal with many of the problems created by the Cartesian revolution by smuggling back into its ontology lots of Classical ideas that Descartes and his heirs had tried to dispose of. This smuggling has transpired without benefit of any knowledge of how the pre-moderns had already solved or forestalled those Cartesian problems. So lots of thinkers who construe themselves as modern materialists are actually Aristotelians. They just don’t know Aristotle well enough to be able to see that this is so.

      I hesitate to recommend Feser to you, because he’s an unapologetic Traditionalist Catholic apologist (who used to be a happy untroubled atheist until he tried to understand Aristotle), with all that that entails – and which might to you seem anathema. But then, he’s a far less radical Traditionalist than I am – I don’t think he is a monarchist, e.g. – and I suppose if you can stand reading my stuff you can probably handle him. You might try his Aristotle’s Revenge: the Metaphysical Foundations of Physical & Biological Science, just out. I have it but have not yet cracked it. Because it relates Aristotle to modern science, I am betting you’ll find it intriguing. I think you’ll be surprised, and pleased, at how well Aristotle fits with latter day science.

      Unlike most philosophers, Feser is easy and fun to read.

      For what it’s worth, Christianity at the level of high doctrine has always been consistently non-dualist. Judaism, too. But, to be fair, most Christians – being moderns, and thus Cartesians – are dualists, and are taken aback when they discover that the Church is not. It’s amazing how many Christians think that they’ll be resurrected as disembodied spirits. Which is a way of saying that it is amazing how many Christians are Gnostics.

      And, of course, almost all who are not Christian are working with quite ridiculous notions of Christian doctrine, and believe it to be dualist (and anti-scientific, superstitious, anti-intellectual …). Most who are not Christian, and quite a few who are, are working with notions of Christian doctrine derived from enemies of the Church, who (for obvious reasons) have not been interested to present her doctrines accurately, but rather to set up and promulgate straw men that are easy to kill.

      What you are really saying is that you can’t imagine how your own consciousness could be a product of the action of mindless pebbles. But I don’t see any problem with it, because there is nothing hard to understand about systems having properties that are different from those of their components.

      Here I think I owe you an apology. I realize that what I have been doing is implicitly setting the modern Democritean ontology that there exists nothing but mindless atoms and the void somehow or other manifesting organisms, minds, and the regularities we observe and call the Laws of Nature over against the perennial ontology traditional in Western philosophy (and almost everywhere else, it being implicit in both animism and primitive monotheism) – beginning with Socrates, continuing through the Schoolmen, submerged for a time beneath the tide of Cartesian dualism, and then resurging in the 20th Century (in Whitehead and his heirs, who take information seriously – who, that is to say, take formal causation seriously) – of actual mundane entities as all effective, teleologically ordered, intelligible, coherent, integral composites of form and matter. The former we might call the dead pebble ontology; the latter, the live pebble ontology. “Live” because what is intelligible must be to some extent therefore, and first, intelligent: must, literally, be somehow registering and integrating its antecedent causal factors (‘intelligent’ from Latin inter, “between, among” + PIE *leg-, “collect, gather”). The perennial live pebble ontology takes being to be an act of some agent; this is why “being” is a gerund.

      I realize, then, that what I have been saying is that it is categorically impossible for the dead pebble ontology to generate awareness. On the dead pebble ontology, there is no such thing as awareness, or animals, or Laws of Nature; these all rather are *nothing but* atoms scurrying mindlessly and chaotically through the void, *and nothing else whatsoever.* From the complete mindlessness and chaos of the dead pebble ontology, it is clearly impossible that awareness (or anything else for that matter) might somehow emerge (other than speciously). The whole system is dead!

      And thoroughgoing materialism of the eliminativist sort insists that, yes, in fact, awareness does *not* anywise emerge; that there is really no such thing.

      But what you have been advocating, as an emergentist – whether or not you realize that you have been doing so – is *not* the dead pebble ontology. Not quite, anyway. You’ve left it behind. You had to, if you were to make sense of your own experience. Like all emergentists, you have smuggled some Aristotelian notions back into the dead pebble ontology, *so that it is no longer dead.*

      In other words, you are a bit of an illiminativist, willy nilly, witly or not. And an Aristotelian, to boot. Sorry!

      As I mentioned in a prior comment, our notions about how novel entities of many parts might come into actual existence – might, that is to say, emerge – are not that far apart:

      Second, the procedure you describe for the inception of the true reality and agency of the US is pretty much exactly the procedure I would suggest is at work in the inception of any novel whole. I suppose that there must have been a prior Form of the US, before any of its constituent agents could have aspired to partake that Form. The structure of the Constitution, e.g., was obviously one of the many thousands of real alternatives open to the Constitutional Convention, before they ever met – and, indeed, from before all worlds. The Convention convened to consider those alternatives. One of them was most alluring. They chose it. So doing, they literally brought something to life.

      … So there is a twofold motion at work in the inception of any novel whole. On the one hand, there is a coming together – a convention – of disparate entities, that have each some jot at least of agency (which is to say, of true options in the effection of their final causes), and who have enough in common with each other to convene as a society of like minds. This is the bottom up fold. When that convention is propitious for the influx, implementation and concrete instantiation of some aeviternal Form – such as the Form of the Constitution – there that Form is then likely, really, truly, and concretely – and more or less faithfully – manifest and implemented, present and actual. This is the top down fold.

      It seems to me that the differences between us on this matter are two. First, whereas I think the US (once it has come to be) is an actual concrete that exerts agency all its own, you think it is a fictional thing that only *appears* to exert agency. In this respect, it seems to me, I am taking bottom up causation to be really at work, whereas you are taking it to be essentially specious: the Founders didn’t bring any new concrete real into being, they pretended to do so; the US is a fiction. Second, whereas I think the form of the US must always have been a formal potentiality if it was ever to be possible for the nation to have come to pass actually, you think that its form arose along with it, de novo, and as it were ex nihilo: springing fully armed out of the foreheads of the Founders, as it were. In this respect, it seems to me, I am taking top down causation seriously, whereas you take there to be no such thing.

      The zombie question is *huge* in the discourse of the philosophy of mind.

      So much the worse for philosophy of mind. It’s a really stupid question that could only occur to people who don’t understand systems.

      Or who understand systems better than you yet do. You don’t seem to understand the zombie problem. If you had read much philosophy of mind, you would know that these guys understand systems. Many of them are scientists. To be a philosopher of mind, you have really no option but to understand great swathes of psychobiology, from the quantum up through the neural control system.

      But *matter* (stuff) is neither alive nor dead, except metaphorically.

      And you can demonstrate the truth of this statement … how?

      Don’t be stupid, that is not meant to be a demonstrable truth, it’s a critical examination of a conceptual metaphor.

      Oh, OK. So, you didn’t mean to say something that was, you know, true. Or false, either. It was just some hand waving or something. Not to be taken seriously. Got it.

      What we don’t know is how to assemble mindless particles into living bodies *that are mindful,* because that’s a categorical impossibility.

      You keep repeating this as if it’s an obvious axiom, and I keep saying it obviously isn’t. (That is, it is obviously not a good axiom because it is not something that is immediately obvious to everyone). It’s getting tedious. Let’s agree to disagree and drop the discussion; it doesn’t sound like there is any common basis on which to settle the argument.

      On the contrary, I think we have a fair bit of common ground. Viz., the foregoing on the differences between the dead pebble ontology and the live pebble ontology. I think in fact that our positions are in fairly close agreement. You are less of a materialist, perhaps, than you think; not a Democritean.

      Not all axioms are immediately obvious to every Tom, Dick and Harry. Indeed, in the construction – or should I say, better, the discovery – of any logistical calculus, great care must be taken – and often, much counterintuitive work must be undertaken – to specify the set of relevant axioms properly and completely.

      Ask the next Tom, Dick or Harry you meet if he knows what an axiom is. Res ipsa loquitur.

      Note: it’s true that *we* “don’t know how to assemble” particles in such a way, but apparently nature manages to do it.

      Whether or not this is so is, precisely, what has been (at least apparently) at issue between us. You are begging the question.

      It is unremarkable to have things that are made out of parts that do not share the nature of the whole. A chair is made out of wood, not little chairs. If chairs can be made out of things that are not chairs, why can’t minds be made out of things that are not minds?

      You here object to my notice of your category error by committing it. Think of it this way: how could you assemble a nation without any men? How could you assemble a tree without any plants? How for that matter could you assemble a chair without any solids?

      I repeat my challenge: show us how in principle you might arrange mindless pebbles so that the arrangement is awake. You don’t see the difficulty in doing so; OK then, do so.

      I don’t understand how your opposition to this idea squares with your Aristotelianism. If the soul is the form of the body, and the material that comprises the forms is made of “mindless atoms,” it seems to me that materialists and Aristotelians have no argument, except perhaps over some nuances of language and emphasis.

      On the dead pebble ontology, it makes no sense to speak of the form of the body. There is on it no such form, and no such body, but only the specious appearances thereof, the “fictions;” indeed, no forms or bodies of any sort, other than those of the atoms.

      On the live pebble ontology, such talk does make sense. The materialists and Aristotelians have no argument so long as they are all Aristotelians; which is to say, illiminativists.

      Panpsychism is a controversial move, but it solves – or just forestalls – lots of otherwise categorically intractable problems

      It seems to be a no-op, which was a point in my previous comment. It’s just a relabeling. The particles remain particles, with the same behavior as before, but you label them alive instead of dead. So what?

      So you are no longer a dead pebble ontologist. Your universe has room for you. You can really exist, and act. So you can proceed to think, instead of mindlessly obeying the no-op command.

      … you believe that humans cannot be creative, the best they can do is realize forms from the great library of forms that precedes them. This seems to me a dismal doctrine, and kind of useless (in about the same way the doctrine of determinism is dismal and useless). That is to say, from a godlike eternalist point of view there is no time, no freedom, no action, and no creativity. It’s a deathlike stasis.

      Well, what can I say? I don’t see how anything might come to pass unless it were first possible for it to come to pass. Do you? I mean, the complete absence of such possibilities – which is to say, the complete absence of optionality – looks pretty doggone dead. If it were so, then *nothing could happen.*

      If your options are not somehow real, then, look out, *you have no options.* That’s determinism. Or even acosmism. Take your pick.

      I’m saying that persons and the US and I suppose angels are fictions that have grown into reality, that is, they have managed to entrain enough mental activity that they appear to have causal powers of their own.

      OK, that’s pretty clear. They *appear* to have causal powers of their own, but really they don’t. They don’t really exist. They have grown into specious “reality.” But not the real sort of reality, that is possessed only by … atoms and the void.

      Again, I recommend that Feser book. Might be a really cool experience. But, you gotta be ready to set aside your presuppositions at the door, or it will do you no good at all. It will just piss you off.

      • On the dead pebble ontology, it makes no sense to speak of the form of the body. There is on it no such form, and no such body, but only the specious appearances thereof, the “fictions;” indeed, no forms or bodies of any sort, other than those of the atoms.

        This “dead pebble ontology” doesn՚t seem very interesting, and nobody I know would hold to it, including the most extreme materialists (in the sciences). Maybe some of the duller philosophers would subscribe, but as I said, I don՚t really care at all what they think. So it՚s a strawman as far as I am concerned.

        So you are no longer a dead pebble ontologist.

        As you wish, but that՚s only because you՚ve constructed it as strawman. I am not an eliminative materialist in your sense; nobody is. Even the philosophical eliminative materialists like the Churchlands don՚t disbelieve that matter is organized into forms, they are eliminative about folk concepts of psychology and consciousness, not the very concept of form.

  7. I՚ve read Feser in the past and was not impressed; he struck me as a tendentious and obnoxious writer (content aside). But perhaps I should give him another try.

    Here I think I owe you an apology. …. The former we might call the dead pebble ontology; the latter, the live pebble ontology.

    What you are calling ontologies, I was referring to as metaphors in the last post. And the point was, viewing pebbles as dead or alive is in both cases a metaphor, that is, partial models of reality, attempts to frame it in terms of something else. You should read Lakoff

    From the complete mindlessness and chaos of the dead pebble ontology, it is clearly impossible that awareness (or anything else for that matter) might somehow emerge (other than speciously). The whole system is dead!

    Just going to note that you are again unjustifiably asserting this as an axiom with the only support being your personal lack of imagination.

    Like all emergentists, you have smuggled some Aristotelian notions back into the dead pebble ontology, *so that it is no longer dead.*

    In other words, you have been attacking a strawman this whole time.

    First, whereas I think the US (once it has come to be) is an actual concrete that exerts agency all its own, you think it is a fictional thing that only *appears* to exert agency.

    This perennial inaccurate restatement of my beliefs is getting tedious. I don՚t believe you are incapable of understanding what I՚m saying, so either take it seriously or not, but don՚t put different words in my mouth.

    You don’t seem to understand the zombie problem. If you had read much philosophy of mind, you would know that these guys understand systems

    I have and they don՚t, for the most part. It՚s fairly obvious; if you take the p-zombie problem seriously than you manifestly do not understand systems.

    me: Note: it’s true that *we* “don’t know how to assemble” particles in such a way, but apparently nature manages to do it

    you:Whether or not this is so is, precisely, what has been (at least apparently) at issue between us. You are begging the question.

    No more than you՚ve been doing.

    You here object to my notice of your category error by committing it. Think of it this way: how could you assemble a nation without any men? How could you assemble a tree without any plants? How for that matter could you assemble a chair without any solids?

    You aren՚t addressing my argument. Chairs are made from not-chairs, why can՚t minds be made from not-minds? Where՚s the category error?

    [continued!]

    • What you are calling ontologies, I was referring to as metaphors in the last post. And the point was, viewing pebbles as dead or alive is in both cases a metaphor, that is, partial models of reality, attempts to frame it in terms of something else.

      This might be a source of some of the difficulties we’ve had. I am treating the ontologies as literal and putatively accurate maps of metaphysical reality. A formal ontology is a model, of course, and I suppose in some sense could therefore be treated as a metaphor. But if we do treat it as a metaphor, we must be careful to remember that it is of quite a restricted sort. A formal ontology doesn’t suggest that x is sort of like y the way that rivers are sort of like time. It suggests that x is like y the way that 2 * 2 = 4; or like the way that both 2 and 4 are members of the set of even integers.

      Just going to note that you are again unjustifiably asserting [that the dead pebble ontology can’t generate awareness] as an axiom with the only support being your personal lack of imagination.

      I think it’s really cool that you can imagine how to accomplish this procedure. I’m terrifically impressed. But if it’s so easy peasy, I sure do wish you’d explain how it works. Show us how you would arrange a bunch of pebbles so that the arrangement was aware. If you can imagine it, you should be able to describe exactly what you can imagine. Piece of cake, right?

      I must also say that it seems to me a little much to suggest that I am unjustified in insisting that you can’t pull warm wiggly rabbits out of absolutely empty hats. Where’s the justification for saying anything to the contrary? Got any rabbits in that empty hat of yours?

      Like all emergentists, you have smuggled some Aristotelian notions back into the dead pebble ontology, *so that it is no longer dead.*

      In other words, you have been attacking a strawman this whole time.

      Nope. You started out by writing:

      Materialists … believe that the living universe is composed of non-living parts.

      And you keep insisting that it is possible to assemble such non-living parts in such a way that the assemblage can be aware. Forgive me, but that reads an awful lot like credence in the dead pebble ontology.

      See, emergentists, holists, and their latter day ilk, generally smuggle Aristotelian notions back into their dead pebble ontologies *without realizing that they have done so.* E.g., to talk of configuration space is to talk of the Platonic Realm of the Forms, *and so to reject materialism;* likewise, to talk of attractors in configuration space is to talk of Aristotelian final causation, *and so to embrace teleology.* Such smugglers don’t realize that their smuggles contradict the dead pebble ontology. They don’t see the contradictions, what with all the hand waving and pulling warm wiggly rabbits out of absolutely empty hats. So they retain their blithe credence in their basic old-fashioned materialist dead pebble ontology, even as they insist that the universe is in some respects alive; that the hat was absolutely empty, *and* that it had a rabbit in it.

      You seem to be something of an exception. You’ve left the dead pebble ontology further behind, and more consciously, than most. But then, on the other hand, you are still insisting you can imagine how to generate awareness from a complete absence thereof. So you read as saying, in effect, that the universe is constituted entirely of mindless stuff that is sometimes mindful – so that it is a vile and tendentious mischaracterization of your views to suggest that you think the universe is constituted entirely of mindless stuff.

      Don’t you see the contradictions so clearly manifest in what you are saying?

      It’s as if you want to eat your cake without paying for it or taking it or having it or being able to eat.

      First, whereas I think the US (once it has come to be) is an actual concrete that exerts agency all its own, you think it is a fictional thing that only *appears* to exert agency.

      This perennial inaccurate restatement of my beliefs is getting tedious.

      This bootless iterative effort to get you to state your beliefs clearly is getting tedious. You wrote:

      [Agency is] not real or unreal in any absolute sense …

      So, it is neither real nor unreal. That it is not real means that there is in fact *no such thing* as agency. But it isn’t unreal. So there is in fact such a thing as agency. But yet, that agency is not real.

      Dude: that’s a confusing way to talk. It’s a confused way to talk. It’s *nonsense.* It’s not really fair to get your dander up on account of the fact that I’m trying my best to figure out what the hell you mean.

      What the hell *do* you mean? Don’t answer me by reiterating somehow that agency is neither real nor unreal. That’s like saying that 2 squared both is and is not 4. It’s crazy talk.

      What is it that stops you from choosing either to think that agency is factual, or that it is not? What’s the reason for the hesitation? Why do you cavil at this? I don’t understand the reason of your hesitation.

      If you take the p-zombie problem seriously then you manifestly do not understand systems.

      Well, I am probably not reading you the way you intend. You’d better explain what you mean by systems, understanding, and what it is about the zombie problem such that taking it seriously means one doesn’t understand systems.

      me: Note: it’s true that *we* “don’t know how to assemble” particles in such a way, but apparently nature manages to do it.

      you: Whether or not this is so is, precisely, what has been (at least apparently) at issue between us. You are begging the question.

      No more than you’ve been doing.

      A.morphous: *We* don’t know how to pull rabbits out of empty hats, but apparently nature manages to do it.

      Kristor: What? It’s impossible to pull a rabbit out of an absolutely empty hat. You can’t get something from nothing.

      A.morphous: You say that as if it’s axiomatic. But it isn’t.

      Kristor: Of course it is!

      A.morphous: Nah; you just think it’s axiomatic because you have no imagination. I can imagine it happening, so it can’t be axiomatic.

      Kristor: How do you imagine you could pull a rabbit out of an empty hat?

      A.morphous: Well, I can’t, actually. But apparently nature manages to do it, so it must be possible.

      Kristor: You’re begging the question!

      A.morphous: No more than you are …

      Chairs are made from not-chairs, why can’t minds be made from not-minds? Where’s the category error?

      That first question commits the category error. Chairs are not made of chairs, but of solid components. If you don’t have any solids on hand, you can’t assemble a solid chair. It’s the solidity of the components of the solid chair that is relevant to the analogy with the mindfulness of the components of the mindful brain. If you don’t have any mind on hand – if there isn’t a jot of it to be found anywhere in the vicinity, that might be gathered together – why then, you can’t assemble a mindful brain, any more than you can assemble a solid chair without any solids.

      This will I feel pretty sure seem to you like yet another appeal to an axiom that you don’t take as axiomatic. Well, show me how you can assemble a solid chair from components that are not the least bit solid, and maybe I’ll start to think you’ve got something there.

      This “dead pebble ontology” doesn’t seem very interesting, and nobody I know would hold to it, including the most extreme materialists (in the sciences). Maybe some of the duller philosophers would subscribe, but as I said, I don’t really care at all what they think. So it’s a straw man as far as I am concerned.

      Yeah, it’s a dumb idea. But you must admit that you keep insisting that the living universe is composed of non-living components. Presumably, you mean to indicate that it is composed of *nothing but* such non-living components, which – according to the Standard Modern Model – are basically and exhaustively constitutive of everything in our cosmos. Like it or not, that “non-living components” lingo is dead pebble ontology lingo. It’s the standard lingo of reductive materialism.

      If you don’t want to be confused with one of those foolish dead pebble ontologists, you would do well to abjure their lingo.

      The remark that almost no one believes in the dead pebble ontology is I think true. That ontology is simply incredible. One can’t carry it into practice. One can’t act as if it were true. Because why? Because to act at all is to contravene it, and provide to it a decisive and devastating counterexample.

      This is why your decision about whether agency is real is so crucial. If you believe that you do really act, you implicitly reject the dead pebble ontology, root and branch, and depart from eliminative materialism altogether, and into illiminative materialism. In so doing, you leave behind the difficulty of describing how you could possibly imagine that an arrangement of mindless things might be aware. That just goes away. So do a host of other problems. Intellectual life then becomes vastly easier, and less puzzling.

      I truly fail then, utterly fail, to see the sheerly philosophical attraction to such a bright guy as you of cleaving to the slightest jot of the dead pebble ontology. Why do you cling to any tattered remnant of it? It’s not as though it could do you any good, like a gun or a religion. And it is not as though departing from it would require you to sacrifice anything we have learned from the science of the last 500 years. On the contrary. You’d lose nothing, other than a host of intractable problems. Why be a bitter clinger? Why not just go with the paradigm shift, as Penrose, Wheeler, Stapp, Tononi, & alii have already done?

      I ask this question honestly, but it is nonetheless a bit rhetorical, for I do see an obvious reason why any modern might want to cling to some bit of jetsam left over from the wreck of eliminative materialism: namely, that on it, there is no such thing really as morality. But once you leave eliminative materialism behind altogether and definitively, so that persons are thenceforth willy nilly moral agents, why then the moral stakes of life are suddenly far greater than can feel quite comfortable to a modern chthonic moral relativist or amoralist. On eliminative materialism, nothing matters except to subjects, which are in the final analysis illusory, so it’s not a big deal if you screw up; it’s not as if you’ve done something that is, you know, *wrong.* On the contrary, it’s all just atoms scurrying mindlessly and meaninglessly through the void, so no worries. On illiminative materialism, per contra, screwing up matters objectively; which is to say, absolutely. And that’s an intimidating prospect, that proffers the likelihood that quite a few serious unforced hedonic sacrifices might need to be made, intentionally. Duty looms. That makes life seem like a lot more work.

      But really, it isn’t so. Life is just as much work, and involves just as much suffering and heartache, on either paradigm. Because why? Because eliminative materialism – the Standard Modern Ontological Model – is simply false. It has nothing to do with life. We live in a world that is illiminative. There’s no escape. So while eliminative materialism seems like an easy out, it isn’t. There is no out.

      There is no out. So it actually sucks a bit worse to live life as though there is. To do so empties life of moral seriousness, and thus of meaning and significance; thus, also, of the deepest joys available to us.

  8. I am treating the ontologies as literal and putatively accurate maps of metaphysical reality.

    This attitude strikes me as hopelessly naive, or presumptious, or both. You believe yourself to have the power to assert literal and absolute propositions about the deepest of metaphysical issues; yet you can՚t keep from resorting to trite metaphors like “dead pebbles” to mean (I presume) subatomic particles, which are not pebbles and (as I argued before) though not alive, not really dead either.

    Nothing wrong with that, all of our thinking is inextricably metaphorical; it՚s basic to how we reason, even about the most abstract topics. Metaphors We Live By by Lakoff and Johnson is the book to read on this. But if we are all at reflective, it means we can also critically examine our metaphors – we can see around them as well as through them.

    Show us how you would arrange a bunch of pebbles so that the arrangement was aware.

    We don՚t know how to “arrange pebbles” in such a way. Information theory, natural selection, computation, and cybernetics suggests that it is possible to do, because they give us insight into how nature accomplishes it, but that is different from actually being able to do it. Presumably you are perfectly aware of this. There is at the present moment no proof that it is possible (other than the example of nature) but the fact that we don՚t know how to do it is not a proof that it is impossible.

    See, emergentists, holists, and their latter day ilk, generally smuggle Aristotelian notions back into their dead pebble ontologies

    Not sure why you are going on about this since it is a point on which I think we agree (except I don՚t think anyone actually holds to a “dead pebble ontology”). So we are all Aristotelians. So what?

    Don’t answer me by reiterating somehow that agency is neither real nor unreal. That’s like saying that 2 squared both is and is not 4. It’s crazy talk.

    You disappoint me. We are not doing mathematics, but metaphysics, and there contradiction is just a necessary part of the discourse. “Neither this, nor that” is a traditional formula for transcending dichotomies in order to better understand the absolute, which is definitionally beyond dichotomies. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neti_neti

    Well, I am probably not reading you the way you intend. You’d better explain what you mean by systems, understanding, and what it is about the zombie problem such that taking it seriously means one doesn’t understand systems.

    Oh gawd.

    Actually the best argument against taking p-zombies seriously doesn՚t even require any expertise with systems. It only requires being able to detect the circular assumptions in the structure of the proposed thought experiment. That is, it assumes (covertly, but not very) what it purports to prove.

    Chairs are not made of chairs, but of solid components. If you don’t have any solids on hand, you can’t assemble a solid chair. It’s the solidity of the components of the solid chair that is relevant to the analogy with the mindfulness of the components of the mindful brain.

    (a) this is not the case, “solids” are not actually very solid.
    (b) why is that the relevant aspect of the analogy? Just because you say so?

    I truly fail then, utterly fail, to see the sheerly philosophical attraction to such a bright guy as you of cleaving to the slightest jot of the dead pebble ontology.

    I just got through explaining how I don՚t and nobody else does, and you said above “The remark that almost no one believes in the dead pebble ontology is I think true”, so what are you talking about?

    [continued]

    • I do see an obvious reason why any modern might want to cling to some bit of jetsam left over from the wreck of eliminative materialism: namely, that on it, there is no such thing really as morality.

      You really do have a tendency to get things exactly backwards. To you, “moderns” are amoralists, but I have news for you: they are human beings like any others, and as such find it necessary to make moral judgements and follow moral values, even in the absence of god and received moral codes. The left and the modernists that you like to critique are not amoral, far from it, they are moralists through-and-through, although their values and moral judgements may not be your own. There don՚t seem to be a lot of pure hedonists around these days, at least, I don՚t get invited to those parties. And if there are any, I would bet a large amount that the philosophy of eliminative materialism does not play a large factor in their lives.

      On the contrary, it’s all just atoms scurrying mindlessly and meaninglessly through the void, so no worries. On illiminative materialism, per contra, screwing up matters objectively; which is to say, absolutely.

      Neti neti.

      IOW: You seem trapped by what appear to you as absolute binaries, clear choices of this or that, one thing or its opposite. There is no possibility of a middle-ground, or of alternative viewpoints that transcend whatever opposition you are fixated upon. To talk of such possibilities is simply to spout nonsense.

      Your signature move is to refuse to accept or understand these possibilities. That may be my fault, perhaps I am not explaining what I mean very well. But I am running out of ways to run variations on this theme, and really don՚t have any desire to bludgeon you into understanding something you would rather not. This is your blog and your worldview and if mine seems crazy to you (it՚s pretty much just simple common sense from my perspective) then perhaps we should agree to disagree.

      • I am treating the ontologies as literal and putatively accurate maps of metaphysical reality.

        This attitude strikes me as hopelessly naïve, or presumptuous, or both.

        All I’m suggesting is that the ontologies mean just what they say. I don’t see why that’s so hard to swallow. Throw such pejoratives as you like at that idea. The alternatives are hopelessly muddled. One can’t tell whether they are true or not, because one can’t tell what they mean.

        E.g.: “Agency is a fiction that is real, but it’s not, you know, really real.” What?

        I suppose you would say that that statement is both true and false.

        You can be as comfortable with that degree of confusion and cognitive dissonance as you like, but if you insist on talking that way, you can’t expect anyone else to find you convincing on the topic at hand, or for that matter even meaningful; because, hello, no one else will know what the hell you are trying to say.

        Like it or not, if you want to participate in dialectic, you are going to have to express yourself in statements that are definite, coherent, thus meaningful, and so capable of truth value. If on the other hand you want to stick with mere rhetoric, why then by all means forge ahead as you have been doing. But do not in that case expect anyone here to take your statements seriously – or to take them, at all.

        If your ideas about ontology are not so clear as to admit of definite, coherent propositions that can have truth value, then yes, you are right that it would be presumptuous of you, and naïve, to suggest that they are. But in that case it would seem to behoove you to withhold comment on such topics until you have studied and deliberated enough to have so clarified your opinions that they can be understood and put to the test – whether rhetorically, or dialectically.

        After all, even rhetoric benefits from internal coherence.

        Notwithstanding all that, you are of course entirely correct that in its comprehension of the Absolute, dialectic cannot but fall short in the end. One can say all sorts of true things about the Absolute – of the sort that are logically entailed in the notion of the Absolute – but one cannot comprehend it; for, that would be to tell of it implicitly all the things that can truly be told, and there is no way that a finite intellect could plumb those inexhaustible depths.

        Whensoever in its encounter with the Absolute the mind begins to boggle, it is then time that it should stop talking, and start worshipping. At that point, the plain duty of the intellect is with all mortal flesh to keep silent, and stand in fear and trembling.

        So, if you find that your mind is so boggled as it grapples with the Absolute that you are unable to say anything coherent about it with any sort of confidence, it is time to stop trying to say anything about it – including suggestions that no mind is capable of or ought to try understanding anything about it.

        You believe yourself to have the power to assert literal and absolute propositions about the deepest of metaphysical issues …

        No. I believe that I have the power to express myself clearly. Naturally such expressions take propositional form – as do yours. That this is so does not mean that I believe myself to have the power to assert propositions about metaphysical truth with unassailable authority. If I did believe that, I’d have been ignoring your assays.

        I think you have the power to express yourself clearly, too, so that your metaphysical propositions can be interpreted and then put to the test. But so far you have not expressed yourself clearly.

        … you can’t keep from resorting to trite metaphors like “dead pebbles” to mean (I presume) subatomic particles, which are not pebbles …

        Gosh. You really think after all the time we’ve spent talking to each other that I am so naïve or ignorant as to surmise that subatomic particles are solids? Sheesh. You really think that it matters to my arguments, whether or not I do thus surmise? Again, sheesh!

        By “dead pebbles” I meant just “dead bits of stuff,” no matter how “stuff” is otherwise construed. “Dead fields” would have served the same purpose, but would have required more explanations. So would “dead dingle berries.”

        Don’t get hung up on the pebbles.

        It is pathetic that I must explain this obvious rhetorical device. It is surprising that someone as putatively steeped in metaphor as you might have found this metaphor difficult.

        … subatomic particles, which are not pebbles and (as I argued before) though not alive, not really dead either.

        What’s the alternative to dead and alive? What do you mean by saying that x is neither really dead nor really alive? If you want anyone to understand what you are talking about, you’ll have to spell it out, and make a philosophical commitment, rather than retreating into waffling and hand waving.

        It *sounds* like what you are reaching for is something like, “subatomic particles are not totally dead, so they are at least a bit, somehow, alive.” Why not just say that?

        We don’t know how to “arrange pebbles” [so that the arrangement is aware]. Information theory, natural selection, computation, and cybernetics suggest that it is possible to do, because they give us insight into how nature accomplishes it, but that is different from actually being able to do it.

        Yeah. It is also different from actually showing that nature can do or has done it. We get glimmers and tantalizing hints, but no more. All of them, without exception, point away from the dead pebble ontology – a result that both of us find comfortable.

        Information theory, computation, and cybernetics show that it is possible to arrange mindless components in such a way that their arrangement is able to respond appropriately to environmental changes so as to perdure robustly. None of this is new. It’s been well understood since the 50’s. It’s all in Ross Ashby, and it’s a beautiful thing. What they do not do is show how an arrangement of mindless components can be *aware.* Design for a Brain is design for a brain, not a mind.

        Presumably you are perfectly aware of this.

        There is at the present moment no proof that it is possible [to awaken an arrangement of mindless components] (other than the example of nature) but the fact that we don’t know how to do it is not a proof that it is impossible.

        There are other proofs than the empirical sort. Some of them show that it is impossible a priori to get something of x from an absolute absence of x. It would be extremely interesting to hear of an a priori proof that it is possible to get something of x from an absolute absence thereof.

        Don’t answer me by reiterating somehow that agency is neither real nor unreal. That’s like saying that 22 both is and is not 4. It’s crazy talk.

        You disappoint me. We are not doing mathematics, but metaphysics …

        Oh, for Pete’s sake. I chose an example from mathematics only because you’d find it easy to take on board, and perfectly clear. OK, let me rephrase:

        Don’t answer me by reiterating somehow that agency is neither real nor unreal. That’s like saying that Kristor both is and is not male. It’s crazy talk.

        See how that works? Any contradictory assertion, about anything, will do.

        If you can’t pin down what “real” means specifically enough to tell us whether or not you think agency is real, or in what sense it is real, well then, *you just can’t tell whether or not agency is real,* period full stop. You have in that case therefore no definite opinion on the question.

        … contradiction is just a necessary part of the discourse [of metaphysics]. “Neither this, nor that” is a traditional formula for transcending dichotomies in order to better understand the absolute, which is definitionally beyond dichotomies.

        The Absolute transcends dichotomies, not by maintaining them, but by reconciling them in a monotomy that cuts away all falsehoods and leaves behind only knowledge. Logical contradictions *cannot* be basic to being as such. If you can’t see this, then I can’t help you see it.

        Neti, neti is a way of reconciling apparent dichotomies in a transcendent monotomy. It’s not enough to say that x is neither A nor B; you must also either say what x is *instead* of A or B, or else clarify A or B so that it is possible to see how, given the clarification, the notion that x is A or B can be credible.

        It’s not enough then to say that agency is neither real nor unreal, for that is to say nothing definite at all about agency.

        If the US or a.morphous are now actually doing stuff that their components could not do without them – which seems to be what you are suggesting, and which I would agree is true – then their agency is real. They are, and so they are able to act, and do in fact act.

        I don’t see why you find that difficult. Where’s the rub?

        I am not troubled at your suggestion that their agencies started out as formal fictions proposed by their components. I am comfortable with that notion vis-à-vis my Aristotelian realism because in order for that to have happened, those formal fictions must in the first place have existed always somehow qua forms – i.e., as pure possibilities – in order ever to have found actual instantiation even as fictions, and must in the second have become actually instantiated in history at the moments that they passed from potential acts into actual acts – i.e., the moments that their executive offices were defined and then duly filled by officers, who thenceforth themselves embodied the forms they instantiated.

        Actually the best argument against taking p-zombies seriously doesn’t even require any expertise with systems. It only requires being able to detect the circular assumptions in the structure of the proposed thought experiment. That is, it assumes (covertly, but not very) what it purports to prove.

        Not quite. The thought experiment poses two questions at the same time: given a zombie, then, first, what reasons do we have to think that it *could* or *would* be aware, and second, what reasons do we have to think that it *could not* or *would not* be aware? Eliminative materialism would answer that the zombie is not in fact aware, because there is no such thing as awareness (this being the supposed reason). Illiminative materialism would answer that the zombie is aware, because – in the final analysis – it is not possible to obtain such a zombie that is not aware (details on how to obtain such a zombie to follow).

        So far as I can tell, you are at bottom in the illiminative camp. You agree that the eliminative position is nonsense. But you seem to hesitate to commit yourself to the illiminative alternative. I can’t figure out what skin it rubs off your back.

        This is not the case, “solids” are not actually very solid.

        Neither are chairs. But both chairs and their components – legs, rails, seats, proteins, steel, wicker, leather, and so forth – are characterized by what we pick out and *call* solids. Both chairs and their components are such as to give rise to the apprehension of their solidity, so that they have that solid aspect. And that is what we mean by referring to the chair and its components as solid.

        How that solidity cashes out in the truest, best, most accurate account of the chair and its components is neither here nor there. If they cash out as not solid, then both the chair and its components are not solid; if they cash out as solid, then both the chair and its components are solid; or if they cash out as something in between, or something else altogether, then, again, both the chair and its components cash out as having the same characters.

        The chair and its components are, in short, *all the same sort of thing.* The components of the chair are not themselves chairs. But they are the same sort of things that chairs are – at least, in respect to what we call solidity, whatever that might be as most properly construed.

        Why is [solidity] the relevant aspect of the [chair] analogy? Just because you say so?

        No; we could pick out many other relevant aspects, as for example their electrodynamic character. Chairs and their components are all the sort of thing that is held together by electromagnetism.

        Any such aspect would do. The point of picking out any of those aspects would be to show, again, that while chairs are not made of chairs, and while it is therefore possible to make a chair out of things that are not chairs, nevertheless chairs and their components are in important relevant respects the same sort of things, and that it is impossible to make chairs out of things that are not the same sort of things as chairs. You couldn’t make a chair out of propositions, e.g., or of sounds or emotions.

        You could however make a chair out of living, aware human beings, for what it’s worth. That by itself would not of course suffice to make the chair itself aware.

        Now, it is true that the chairness of the chair arises, not directly from its components, but from their assemblage by some intelligences into an instrument. The components make their contributions, to be sure, and without them the chair would be no such thing; but they do so only at the behest and under the causal direction of the maker, seller, and user of the chair. The chair inherits its solidity from that of its components, but not its chairness.

        A chair is not aware simply on account of the fact that it is composed of living aware humans. By extension, a human person is not aware simply on account of the fact that he has aware components. The awareness of the components of a compound thing evidently does not suffice to establish the awareness of that thing. Its awareness must then arise from elsewhere than its components. As the solidity of its components is necessary but not sufficient to the chairness of the chair, so the awareness of its components is necessary but insufficient to the awareness of their arrangement in and as the compound thing.

        As an Aristotelian hylemorphist, it seems clear to me that the awareness of an aware compound thing arrives in it together with its form – with, that is to say, the actual instantiation in the configuration of its components of the form of an aware thing of its sort. Where the form of a thing is, there is the thing itself (cf. Matthew 18:20).

        You seem trapped by what appear to you as absolute binaries, clear choices of this or that, one thing or its opposite. There is no possibility of a middle ground, or of alternative viewpoints that transcend whatever opposition you are fixated upon. To talk of such possibilities is simply to spout nonsense.

        Your signature move is to refuse to accept or understand these possibilities. That may be my fault, perhaps I am not explaining what I mean very well.

        Yes. It’s not that I’m trapped in binaries, but that you have propounded no clear alternative that reconciles or subsumes or repudiates them. You’ve gestured in the direction of such an alternative, but have not given it. You have stated again and again that agency is neither real nor unreal. But you’ve not said what it is instead, or how it might be that from one perspective agency appears to be real, while from another it appears to be unreal.

      • I get the impression sometimes that we are talking about the same thing from two very different perspectives. You like to talk about angels while I like to talk of agents with an indeterminate level of reality, but perhaps these are just different ways of describing the same thing.

        Like it or not, if you want to participate in dialectic, you are going to have to express yourself in statements that are definite, coherent, thus meaningful, and so capable of truth value.

        This too is a hopelessly naive way to think about thinking. It՚s also not what most philosophy consists of, as far as I know, and not just the moderns. Most of it is not making statements with truth values but trying to discover or legislate the concepts over which truth values can be applied.

        But these are side issues. Sorry, but I think what I՚ve been trying to express has been extremely clear, but it՚s something you either don՚t want to understand, or can՚t. I can՚t fault you for either of those, but I also don՚t think I can express myself any more clearly.

        But in that case it would seem to behoove you to withhold comment on such topics

        Yeah that՚s my plan going forward.

        By “dead pebbles” I meant just “dead bits of stuff,” no matter how “stuff” is otherwise construed. “Dead fields” would have served the same purpose, but would have required more explanations. So would “dead dingle berries.”…Don’t get hung up on the pebbles.

        I՚m not hung up on the pebbles, I՚m hung up on trying to make you aware that you are reasoning via metaphor, and should open yourself to the possibility that your metaphors may not be applicable, since that՚s in the nature of analogical reasoning.

        What’s the alternative to dead and alive?

        That՚s something you have to figure out for yourself. Becoming aware of your metaphors is only the first step, figuring out how not to be overmastered by them is the next.

        Design for a Brain is design for a brain, not a mind.

        If you want to bring old-school cybernetics into the mix, I recommend McCulloch՚s Embodiments of Mind, and not just because of the title. He had a background in Christian theology, so I imagine you would find him interesting.

        The Absolute transcends dichotomies, not by maintaining them, but by reconciling them in a monotomy that cuts away all falsehoods and leaves behind only knowledge. Logical contradictions *cannot* be basic to being as such.

        Huh. That is a very interesting and novel (to me at any rate) theory of knowledge. I don՚t accept it however, not for an instant. Knowledge is not some pure product of the absolute, it՚s an imperfect human creation, and like art, reflects (well or poorly) a reality that is otherwise inaccessible. But while reality can՚t contain contradictions (that is, there is always a definite way things are (although even that remnant of solidity appears to vanish under quantum theory)), knowledge is not so constrained, any more than it is surprising when two images of the same person might look very different.

        I think this might be where we differ the most fundamentally. I՚m an epistemological pluralist; you are a fundamentalist objectivist monist. That underlies and is more fundamental than our political or religious differences, although they are no doubt quite related.

        Neti, neti is a way of reconciling apparent dichotomies in a transcendent monotomy. It’s not enough to say that x is neither A nor B; you must also either say what x is *instead* of A or B

        Um, what part of “It corresponds to the western via negativa, a mystical approach that forms a part of the tradition of apophatic theology” don՚t you understand? (from the wikipedia page).

        Illiminative materialism would answer that the zombie is aware, because – in the final analysis – it is not possible to obtain such a zombie that is not aware …So far as I can tell, you are at bottom in the illiminative camp.

        Yes, as far as p-zombies go we appear to be on the same side.

        But you seem to hesitate to commit yourself to the illiminative alternative.

        Don՚t think I՚ve said a word about it directly. My stance is not that it is wrong but that it is not particularly cogent, because its opposed to a strawman. All materialists believe in some concept of form, even the most extreme eliminative materialists.

        So maybe we have nothing to argue about.

        …while chairs are not made of chairs, and while it is therefore possible to make a chair out of things that are not chairs, nevertheless chairs and their components are in important relevant respects the same sort of things, and that it is impossible to make chairs out of things that are not the same sort of things as chairs. You couldn’t make a chair out of propositions, e.g., or of sounds or emotions.

        You are just reiterating your unqualified assumption for the dozenth time. You take it as axiomatic (or, I guess, definitional) that minds are so radically non-material that they can՚t be composed out of non-mental components. I don՚t accept the axiom, and nothing you have said has caused me to question that, and I suppose vice-versa. So I՚m happy to drop the matter.

        [a human՚s] awareness must then arise from elsewhere than its components. As the solidity of its
        components is necessary but not sufficient to the chairness of the chair, so the awareness of its components is necessary but insufficient to the awareness of their arrangement in and as the compound thing.

        The first part of that sounds like something I would say, that is, it supports my side of this particular argument. The latter I of course find to be false. And here I thought I was the inconsistent one. Why on earth should it be the case “that awareness of components is necessary for awareness of the whole”? At any rate, that՚s the whole point under argument so just restating it doesn՚t come any closer to proving it.

      • Like it or not, if you want to participate in dialectic, you are going to have to express yourself in statements that are definite, coherent, thus meaningful, and so capable of truth value.

        This too is a hopelessly naïve way to think about thinking. It’s also not what most philosophy consists of, as far as I know, and not just the moderns. Most of it is not making statements with truth values but trying to discover or legislate the concepts over which truth values can be applied.

        If it is naïve to think that we can concoct statements that have truth value – if, i.e., it is in other words simply *false* to think that we can concoct such statements – then all such trials are bound to be bootless, for no such discoveries or legislations can ever find expression in statements that are meaningful or therefore capable of truth value. Right? But, of course, in that case, the statement that it is naïve to think we can concoct statements that have truth value can be neither true, nor false …

        You see the problem. If philosophy does not ultimately achieve knowledge – apprehension of truth, expressible in meaningful statements that are capable of truth value – it is not philosophy to begin with, but raving.

        If you really want to stick with your position that your statements needn’t be coherent, definite, meaningful, and so forth, well then, knock yourself out. Just recognize that if you do, you’ll not be able to talk to other people usefully, *about anything whatsoever.* Seems like a lonely way to be. Kind of crazy, too.

        I’m not hung up on the pebbles, I’m hung up on trying to make you aware that you are reasoning via metaphor, and should open yourself to the possibility that your metaphors may not be applicable, since that’s in the nature of analogical reasoning.

        But you have not suggested any alternative to the metaphor I have been employing. All you’ve done is say, “that metaphor’s no good.” Why? What’s a better metaphor?

        What’s the alternative to dead and alive?

        That’s something you have to figure out for yourself.

        Sounds like, “I have no better metaphor …”

        … Knowledge is not some pure product of the absolute, it’s an imperfect human creation, and like art, reflects (well or poorly) a reality that is otherwise inaccessible.

        Knowledge is apprehension of reality. If there is no such thing as that apprehension, there is nothing for anyone to talk about, for in that case no statement can have truth value (this seems to be the epistemological position – or rather, the anistemological position – to which you incline), and our ignorance is utterly incorrigible, so that we cannot learn how to live well. If there is such a thing, then in principle it is perfectible: we can learn. In that case, not only are we able to talk, but we have good reason to do so; namely, that we can learn from each other, and so live better.

        Logical contradictions *cannot* be basic to being as such.

        … while reality can’t contain contradictions (that is, there is always a definite way things are (although even that remnant of solidity appears to vanish under quantum theory)), knowledge is not so constrained, any more than it is surprising when two images of the same person might look very different.

        Quantum theory does not eliminate reality. On quantum theory – as on Aristotelianism, on all other properly philosophical doctrines, and for that matter on plain common sense – there is a definite way that things are so far, and a plethora of ways they might now come to be: one actual world, and many worlds that might from it potentially eventuate. Quantum superposition is concurrent implicity of potentialities in the actual.

        I think this might be where we differ the most fundamentally. I’m an epistemological pluralist; you are a fundamentalist objectivist monist. That underlies and is more fundamental than our political or religious differences, although they are no doubt quite related.

        I think that’s correct, although the proper term for my position is “realist.” I think there is such a thing as knowledge, and you don’t. But if your position is true, then your position cannot be known to be true. So men of your persuasion are doomed to aver their own invincible ignorance on every topic whatever – including the topic of their own invincible ignorance. “There is no such thing as knowledge of truth, so this sentence cannot be true.”

        Neti, neti is a way of reconciling apparent dichotomies in a transcendent monotomy. It’s not enough to say that x is neither A nor B; you must also either say what x is *instead* of A or B …

        Um, what part of “It corresponds to the western via negativa, a mystical approach that forms a part of the tradition of apophatic theology” don’t you understand?

        Oh, I understand it alright. I’m a mystic. Neti, neti is not a way of denying that there is truth, or that we can know it. It is a way of ensuring that we don’t mistake our opinions for knowledge, so as, hello, to arrive eventually at knowledge. Not that Wikipedia is a wholly reliable source, but the very paragraph you quote there says:

        [Neti, neti] constitutes an analytical meditation helping a person to understand the nature of [Brahman] by first understanding what is not [Brahman]. [Brahman] is rotation, turning about. Motion [is] the nature of reality.

        The entry goes on:

        [Shankara] explains that Brahman is free from adjuncts and the function of neti, neti is to remove the obstructions produced by ignorance. His disciple, Sureshvara, further explains that the negation, neti, neti, does not have negation as its purpose, it purports identity.

        See how that works? Neti, neti ends up at a monotomous affirmation of truth – such as that motion is the nature of ultimate reality – in which all apparent dichotomies and plurotomies (which is to say, all varying perspectives) are resolved, reconciled, subsumed, or revealed to be illusory or mistaken. If neti, neti doesn’t end up at such an affirmation, it terminates, not at wisdom, but in the darkness and chaos of incorrigible ignorance and therefore of utter futility and despair – the exact *opposite* of the goal of the mystical quest (and of the quests spiritual, philosophical, practical, social …), and indeed an apt characterization of Hell.

        You take it as axiomatic (or, I guess, definitional) that minds are so radically non-material that they can’t be composed out of non-mental components. I don’t accept the axiom, and nothing you have said has caused me to question that, and I suppose vice versa. So I’m happy to drop the matter.

        It’s not that you can’t build a mind out of matter, but that you can’t build a mind out of nothing but utter mindlessness. You keep asserting that it is possible to get mind out of sheer mindlessness, but you have not once suggested how that might be done.

        I assert that you can’t obtain any bit of any x from an absolute vacuity of x; you assert the opposite.

        My assertion – reverting to metaphor here, to make this as concrete as can be – is that it is impossible to pull a live warm wiggly rabbit out of an absolutely empty hat. You assert that such a deed is doable. My assertion accords with all our experience. Your assertion contradicts all our experience. So, all our experience buttresses my assertion, and contradicts yours. That being the case, you are the one who is bound to produce some warrant for your assertion.

        So, OK: how the hell does one go about pulling a live warm wiggly rabbit out of an absolutely empty hat?

        [A human’s] awareness must then arise from elsewhere than its components. As the solidity of its
        components is necessary but not sufficient to the chairness of the chair, so the awareness of its components is necessary but insufficient to the awareness of their arrangement in and as the compound thing.

        The first part of that sounds like something I would say, that is, it supports my side of this particular argument. The latter I of course find to be false. And here I thought I was the inconsistent one.

        There is no inconsistency between the first and second sentences you quote. Both sentences support Aristotelian hylemorphism.

        Why on earth should it be the case “that awareness of components is necessary for awareness of the whole”?

        Because, again, it is impossible to generate a jot of x from an absolute absence of x. Your assertion that it is possible to do that would be credible if you could furnish an example of the procedure. But I don’t think you can, even in principle. If you could, you’d have done so by now. It would have been so much easier than all your sophistical evasions of the problem.

      • Quantum theory does not eliminate reality. On quantum theory – as on Aristotelianism, on all other properly philosophical doctrines, and for that matter on plain common sense – there is a definite way that things are

        I was referring to the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, in which there are a very large number of alternate worlds, all just as real as the one we perceive ourselves to be in. To be clear, this theory does not deny that there is a single reality (the universal wave function), but we only have access to a tiny slice of it. Effectively all possible worlds are equally real, and we just happen to be able to observe the one we find ourself in.

        I՚m not arguing for this, just clarifying it since I alluded to it in passing. It certainly violates plain common sense.

        I think there is such a thing as knowledge, and you don’t.

        Remarks like this are why I am dropping this conversation, it՚s an indication that you aren՚t interested in serious dialog. No point wasting more of my time or yours.

      • A.morphous, I didn’t mean to be flippant or dismissive with that remark. I intended rather to state accurately and forthrightly the anistemological implication of your stated opinions. You wrote:

        … while reality can’t contain contradictions … knowledge is not so constrained.

        But it is impossible to know that p & ¬ p; for, it is impossible for it to be true that p & ¬ p. If reality can’t implement contradictions, neither can knowledge of reality. An opinion that p & ¬ p, then, cannot be knowledge. It cannot be true.

        But the fact that it cannot be true is no big deal, so far as you are concerned:

        Like it or not, if you want to participate in dialectic, you are going to have to express yourself in statements that are definite, coherent, thus meaningful, and so capable of truth value.

        This too is a hopelessly naïve way to think about thinking.

        I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but your assertions that we can “know” things that can’t be true, and that it is in the first place naïve to think we are capable of concepts that can have truth value, read as a rejection of knowledge, as knowledge has been usually construed, in favor of “knowledge.”

        As I replied:

        If you really want to stick with your position that your statements needn’t be coherent, definite, meaningful, and so forth, well then, knock yourself out. Just recognize that if you do, you’ll not be able to talk to other people usefully, *about anything whatsoever.* Seems like a lonely way to be. Kind of crazy, too.

        So, now that you have been confronted with this fundamental difficulty at the heart of your thought, you have decided to stick with your opinions, and abandon dialectic and its search for knowledge of truth – this being the only sort of apprehension that is truly cognant, properly speaking.

        In a way, and from within your worldview, this move makes perfect sense. On your doctrine of knowledge and truth, we *can’t* help each other arrive at a better understanding of things via dialectic, or for that matter by any other means. It is “naïve” to think we might do so. On your anistemology, then, discussion as such, and always, is a waste of time.

        As your correspondent of long standing, I feel sad at this your turn away from community and toward isolation. But, the turn is yours to make, and of course I respect it.

        A last thought occurs to me. It seems clear to me at least that society supervenes upon some minimal amount of dialectic; rhetoric alone, unmoored from knowledge, can’t suffice to coordinate human activities adaptively. But knowledge supervenes upon truth, which supervenes upon reality. No truth → no knowledge → no dialectic → no society.

      • A.morphous, I didn’t mean to be flippant or dismissive with that remark.

        I outlined my view of epistemology, which of course is not the same as yours. Rather than engage with it, you falsely claimed that “I think there is no such thing as knowledge”. That felt rude. More importantly, it leads me to believe there is no real point of overlap between my thinking and yours, and not much hope of creating one.

        On your doctrine of knowledge and truth, we *can’t* help each other arrive at a better understanding of things via dialectic, or for that matter by any other means.

        See above. Either you are deliberately misrepresenting my position (rude) or you really can՚t understand it in the slightest (not your fault, but I don՚t see much point in trying to explain myself further).

        As your correspondent of long standing, I feel sad at this your turn away from community and toward isolation.

        Not to worry. You dwell in certainty, I dwell in uncertainty. Not as comfortable perhaps, but there՚s no lack of company.

        And, btw, I՚ve enjoyed your writing and may continue to do so. There is quite often a certain crystalline clarity to your work which I find quite appealing even if I disagree with most of its content and purposes.

      • A.morphous, thanks for this generous reply.

        I’ve honestly been engaging with your epistemology with all my might, and asking for clarification (of, e.g., how agency can be both real and a fiction, or of how we can be said to know what is contradicted by the knowledge of another), in hopes of understanding you well enough that I might see a way to interpret your thinking on this topic in such a way as to avoid the implication that you don’t believe in objective truth, or therefore in knowledge.

        I don’t mean to be rude. It’s just that, based on what you’ve told us so far, it honestly seems to me that your views implicitly and irresistibly terminate upon rejection of objective truth – as you’ve written, you are an epistemological pluralist, and *not* an objectivist – and therefore of radical skepticism of knowledge, properly so called. Nothing you’ve written yet has furnished a way out of this regrettable, and indeed fatal, conclusion. All you’ve done, really, is criticize my lack of imagination, that prevents me from just seeing what you just see. It would be awfully great of you to supply the defect you detect in me, and just tell me what you do in fact see – about, say, the simultaneous reality and unreality of agency.

        Again, I don’t mean to be rude. But I cannot but be honest. What is more, it really *would* be bad of me, were I to refrain from noticing to you a fatal defect in your theories. It would be uncharitable of me to leave you in error, when I might have helped you out of it.

        I’m glad you enjoy some of my writing. I’ll try to maintain that clarity.

      • It is amazing
        To witness…
        The articulation of positions
        Per hundreds of sentences.
        Yet the simplicity
        Of sheer rivalry
        Invisible in the distance.
        Competing desires
        In every instance!
        Ultimacy
        Versus amorphously,
        A creative sinnergy
        Wiff a dash
        Of that egalitarian insistence.

  9. It should be “illiminative”, with a double l. You see, as a prefix, ex loses its x before certain consonants, and the e undergoes compensatory lengthening: ex + līmine becomes (with the addition of a verbal ending) ēlīmināre ‘to carry out of doors’. But the prefix in does not lose anything. Instead, the n may assimilate either partially or wholly to the following consonant, as in words like “illicit”, “illustrate”, “impossible”, “immutable”, and many more. So in + līmen (plus suffixes) should make illimināre, perhaps ‘to carry in through doors’.

  10. A last thought occurs to me. It seems clear to me at least that society supervenes upon some minimal amount of dialectic; rhetoric alone, unmoored from knowledge, can’t suffice to coordinate human activities adaptively. But knowledge supervenes upon truth, which supervenes upon reality. No truth → no knowledge → no dialectic → no society.

    No truth → no facts → no acts → no agency → no cause follows from this as well, I think.

    • Just so. This might account for the fact that a.morphous has such ambivalent notions about whether there are agents.

      Thinking about the hierarchy of supervenience you have noticed: yes, absolutely right. I would however structure it as follows: Fact → Truth → Subject → Knowledge → Agent → Act → Fact. Delete any phase of this dependency relation and you delete the whole shooting match; which is to say that you delete causality.

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