Materialism and the mechanistic world-view – the idea that the everything is a machine operating in terms of mindless, mechanical forces – has severe nihilistic implications. An alternative to this view is that the universe is alive, and that consciousness permeates it – a view called ‘panpsychism.” When his wife began to think that panpsychism might be true, Sam Harris, a famous anti-religion atheist. initially told her to remain silent about her views in case she lost all street cred. When she asked scientists she knew their own views, it turned out that many of them were also secret believers in panpsychism.
The fact that Annaka Harris and the scientists thought it necessary to lie by omission is troubling. It shows that science, as a human activity, can suffer from the usual human tendencies, one of which is the desire to belong to a group and to reach for social status. Groups define themselves by who they exclude as much as their positive beliefs, and they reward with the maintenance or increase of status and punish by demotion those who dissent. Hence, the creation of orthodoxies.
Another oft-commented upon human tendency is the desire to have something to worship. If religion is abandoned, a religious attitude will usually simply be taken towards something non-religious. Communism was atheist so the Russians simply worshipped Stalin instead, and the Chinese turned Mao Zedong into a demi-God in their imaginations. I have met an engineer with such reverence for science and his own status as a scientist that he is tremendously conceited about his ability to think about philosophical, or any other, topics beyond the scope of his expertise. He definitely seems to see himself as a priest of science – an idea that Francis Bacon, credited with contributing to “the scientific method” actually championed, including the idea that scientists should wear special robes to distinguish themselves from hoi polloi. Continue reading →
“Michael” writes: “Freedom and determinism are empty categories; they cannot be employed to distinguish any sequence of events from any other.”
Logically, this could be because all events are free or because all events are determined. It seems likely that the writer thinks all events are causally determined.
Presumably by “events” the writer includes “actions.” However, without the concept of freedom there are no actions per se. Actions are performed by an actor, an agent who is a center of decision-making. In determinism, there are no agents. There is only a series of “sequences of events” – a constant stream beginning when time began and ending when the physical universe ceases to exist. Each event is the result of a prior event in mechanical fashion, and each event will cause some future event. Continue reading →
Social class, home environment, genetics and other factors all contribute to differences between individuals. People differ in looks, height, income, social status, morality, various kinds of intelligence and athleticism, musical ability, industriousness, discipline, and nearly every other human characteristic. Differences in culture, history, and geography generate differences between groups. Being born into a culture that emphasizes hard work, education, conscientiousness, and thrift is a tremendous advantage.
“Social justice” advocates describe the resulting disparate achievements as “inequalities” with the suggestion that these represent some kind of injustice. Unequal achievement is treated as though it must be the result of discrimination, “privilege” or some other unfairness, while it is in fact the inevitable consequence of differences between individuals and groups. These differences will exist no matter how a society is organized barring a race to the bottom where the laziest, least talented individuals set the bar and every achievement that surpassed that pitiful measure got confiscated and distributed – removing any incentive to do anything much at all. Continue reading →
The Person shares in the Divine as being made in the image of God. We too are free. We are co-creators with God; He in His macrocosm and we in our microcosm.
What it means for us to be made in the image of God is not self-evident. Berdyaev’s philosophy explores what it might mean and takes it further than most.
Perhaps we underestimate just how many things we have in common with God.
Berdyaev agrees with the mystic Jacob Boehme that God emerges as Being from the Ungrund whose nature is complete Freedom. Freedom is more fundamental than love, or goodness. It is their precondition. The Ungrund is beyond concepts and rationality.
The Ungrund is that from which God as a being, as the Creator, emerges. As Berdyaev writes, tautologically, the Creator does not exist without the created, God as love does not exist without the loved. God the Creator emerges simultaneously with His creation. God and Man create each other in this sense. God the Creator is the Logos responsible for cosmic order. Continue reading →
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and, love your neighbor as yourself.
Your neighbor is a Person – the highest possible good, along with God. Your neighbor’s supreme value comes from the fact that he is made in the image of God, with an immortal soul and shares in God’s eternal nature.
Kant gets close to this when he writes “treat yourself and others always as an end, and never merely as a means.” However, Kant posits the moral law as of supreme value. It is possible to see that this is where his true devotion lies. This is the fatal mistake of elevating something higher than the individual, concrete, Person in conjunction with God. This accounts for the intuition that there is something ascetic, forbidding and anti-human in Kant and his willingness to seek to achieve an illusory moral purity, through, for instance, never lying under any circumstances; a moral purity being unattainable in a fallen world. Continue reading →
Consciousness is what permits intelligent responses to unpredictable and unknown situations. A truly safe and functioning self-driving car would have to be conscious. At the moment computers regard a car filled with water, suspended 20 feet in the air on the end of two prongs of an earth moving machine as “parked.” It can’t tell the difference between a statue and a person. Snow and other weather conditions that obscure the sides of the road mean it grinds to a halt.
George Dyson, the science historian, son of Freeman Dyson, in an interview with Sam Harris pointed out, in response to Harris’ concern that if AGI is ever created it needs to be “controlled,” that, by definition, AGI will not be controllable. It will have a mind of its own. If we ever did develop an intelligence capable of safely driving cars in the actually variable conditions encountered in real life, i.e., outside the bland environment of southern California, there is no reason for thinking it would be our slave and drive our cars for us. More likely, we would be its slaves and drive cars for it.
Folk psychology is the derogatory term used by physicalists for our normal natural language (e.g., English, Spanish, etc.) way of describing mental states and explaining why people behave in certain ways.
E.g., she didn’t go to the concert on Saturday because she hates Taylor Swift.
Some materialists believe that those who believe in the existence of thoughts, beliefs, desires, motives and other mental states are victims of “folk psychology,” an unscientific attitude that will in due course be replaced by explanations in terms of the activities of nerves or brain states.
For those people, folk psychology is a kind of superstition, like belief in demons, and it will be left behind by the onward march of scientific understanding.
The alternative to folk psychology
The alternative to folk psychology is supposed to be scientific descriptions of the brain. Instead of talking about beliefs, we will describe brain states, or nerve firings. Instead of saying “Timmy likes Sally,” we will say “Timmy is in brain state G.”
There is no evidence of any kind that natural language descriptions of mental phenomena will be replaced by scientific descriptions of the activity of the brain. The claim that this will happen is complete science fiction at this point in time.
It does no good to complain that I am talking about beliefs and desires when there is no alternative at all to doing so. It would be like accusing me of being old-fashioned for driving to work instead of teleporting. Teleportation does not actually exist and may never exist. There is nothing scientific about contrasting reality with science fiction. Continue reading →
John Searle introduced the Chinese Room thought experiment in 1980 order to give people a way to picture the difference between what computers are doing and the human mind.
The thought experiment was rendered necessary because many analytic philosophers have promoted CTM – the computer theory of mind. CTM is almost certainly not true. Computers are machines and machines are rule-following devices. Goedel’s Theorem and Alan Turing’s analysis of the Halting Problem prove that even mathematics is not simply a rule-following exercise. If it were, then mathematics could be formalized – meaning it could be reduced to the manipulation of symbols without having to worry about what those symbols mean. In fact, in such a scenario, “symbols” per se are eliminated and simply replaced with zeros and ones. Mathematical formalism would mean that truth is irrelevant, but Goedel’s Theorem relies on truth at crucial moments in its proof. The human mind is capable of “seeing” or perceiving truth, at times, such as with Goedelian propositions, and self-evident axioms such as P = P, in a way that cannot be reduced to rule-following and algorithms. Because of these issues, no machine can replace human mathematicians for solving the outstanding problems of mathematics. And the halting problem demonstrated that non-algorithmic (i.e., non-computer) methods are necessary for testing algorithms. The process cannot be automated and thus the human mind is capable of doing something other than following algorithms.
A student commented the other day that Berdyaev reminded her of some utopian summer camp in the Adirondacks she had gone to in high school devoted to ecological wonderfulness. Why? God is your friend, and never your judge or king. Like any friend, his offer of friendship comes with no threats and no consequences, delivered by Him at least. Any “friend” who said “Be my friend, or I’ll blow your head off,” or, even worse, “Be my friend, or I’ll condemn you to eternal torment” would be a psychopath, without doubt.
Today, after having time to think, and after today’s Avicenna reading, I replied that there is an awful (awe-ful) aspect to Berdyaev – complete freedom means complete moral responsibility. Humanity continually searches for escape from this. We dream up ever new escape routes and “get out of jail free” cards. Continue reading →
Berdyaev points out that if God and the individual human Personality are not someone’s highest ideal then that person is effectively promising to sacrifice the individual in the name of that supposedly higher ideal. The logic is simple and undeniable.
If someone says that under any circumstances, no matter what competing goods there may be or seem to be, the Personality is sacrosanct and to be protected at all costs, then that person is elevating Personality to the highest level of their morality in the manner that Berdyaev identifies as necessary and has abandoned his former allegiances.
Alternatives to the genuine highest good include the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people, well-being, just plain “happiness,” social justice, feminism, equality, the nation, workers of the world, rationalism, science, and progress.
Every one of those “goods” is a murderous cult bent on the immolation of the human individual. If any object to this accusation, let him agree that Personality is paramount and beats out all competing ideals and that his former highest good is now secondary and always, in every situation, to be trumped by God and Personality. Continue reading →