“I do not pretend to know what many ignorant men are sure of.”  ~Clarence S. Darrow

 

“Dogmatism and skepticism are both, in a sense, absolute philosophies; one is certain of knowing, the other of not knowing. What philosophy should dissipate is certainty, whether of knowledge or ignorance.”  ~Bertrand Russell

 

“The educated in [the critical habit of thought] . . . are slow to believe.  They can hold things as possible or probable in all degrees, without certainty and without pain.”  ~William Graham Sumner

 

“What can be asserted without proof can be dismissed without proof.”  ~Christopher Hitchens

 

“Doubt is not a pleasant state of mind, but certainty is absurd.”  ~Voltaire

 

“It is wrong, always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence”  ~William K. Clifford

 

“The presence of those seeking the truth is infinitely to be preferred to the presence of those who think they’ve found it”  ~Terry Pratchett

 

“A belief which leaves no place for doubt is not a belief; it is a superstition.”  ~José Bergamín

Red flags go up for me whenever I’m faced with absolute certainty from somebody.  My experience tells me that such a person is probably either a fundamentalist Christian or Muslim or is a didactic pedagogue who feels that anybody who disagrees is obviously wrong.  Among us atheists, of course, religious fundamentalism is ruled out, so it always turns out (so far) that absolute certainty, in atheists, conceals over-confidence or intransigence or (more likely) both.

I used to feel certain that no entity, all-powerful or not, could possibly produce the unimaginable mass/energy of the entire universe.  But as it turns out, cosmologists now believe the universe has a grand sum of zero energy (thanks to "negative energy", like gravity).  I used to feel certain that consciousness was entirely subjective and abstract.  But observation explicitly factors into quantum theory.  And certain phenomena, like quantum entanglement, reveal that data is inherent to subatomic particles.  That seems a bit strange for a universe that existed for billions of years without intelligence of any kind (if you assume God does not exist).  And, of course, there's the favorite argument of Intelligent Design: our universe, fine-tuned to life on Earth.

I know that there's arguments for and against all these strange things.  The point is that, although we have theories that attempt to explain everything, they are only working models that fit observations.  They aren't the actual reality or "truth".  There were many scientific paradigms preceding modern ones and there will be many more to come.  Are there really 11 dimensions?  Is life limited to 3 dimensions plus time?  What if life existed in higher dimensions?  According to the math, if an entity existed in the highest dimension (the 11th?) he would have god-like powers, such as omnipresence.

I know that's a bunch of wild speculation.  The point is that there is too much we don't know.  So much, in fact, that certainty is an unjustified pretense.  The ineffable mystery of existence may never be solved.  I reject any certainty where the big questions are concerned.

Views: 117

Tags: Christian, Design, Intelligent, Muslim, atheist, certainty, dimensions, fundamentalist, hubris, pedagogue, More…pretense, quantum, theory

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Comment by Atheist Exile on July 24, 2011 at 3:22am

Glen, lets take a look at your replies  (if you can call them that) thus far:

 

  1. There is nothing in conceiving and executing plans or mental feedback that negates the causal chain. Neither is there a break in organisms more advanced than humans.
  2. Exile, You never said it. For me it is a necessary implication of your conclusion. I guess I was lumping you in with prior contributors who concluded that choice is real, albeit dependent.
  3. You have hit on the question of originality. Is it possible?  Your thoughts seem very close to the Doc and his then protégé, Alice. So I do not think you are alone in your self-determinism. Labels are different but reasoning seems fairly consistent.
  4. You are making the extraordinary claim. Billions of years of causation and a little grey matter changes the chain.
  5. If I understand, you see humans as more than matter in motion. Self-determined.  How about chimpanzees? Lemurs? Chipmunks? Ants? You have said that if you can anticipate and prepare for causality in the future then you are self determined. We are not the only species on earth which anticipates and prepares for the future. Does instinct negate self determinism?
  6. If you are always going to act in the way you are going to act, if there is no possibility of a different outcome, if events unfold inexorably, then you are not self determined. And no matter how pretty your sophistry self determinism is an illusion.
  7. But it is clear to me that a mechanical universe, one which only allows one effect or series of effects for every cause or series of causes lacks choice or self-determinism.
  8. Third point is a non sequitur. I do not think anyone will buy that without experimental confirmation. Fourth point stored is a redundancy. And it is not true. Other animals, not just mammals, access their memories and learn. Five may be true but it is not uniquely human. Six is not true. Artificial intelligence does.
  9. After a bad day of gambling your essay caused me to laugh and laugh. Very entertaining stuff. SCOPE-not only is it mouthwash, it is magic!

 

Do you notice anything about these replies?  You never once explain WHY any assertion is invalid.  You declare edicts, you rehash old arguments, you argue points I never made, you resort to ridicule.  I’ll address your replies (1 – 9) below.

 

  1. You’re arguing with yourself.  You put words in my mouth and debate them instead of what I actually said.  In fact, I said the opposite of what you attributed to me.
  2. Here you admit I didn’t say what your were arguing against AND that you were rehashing old arguments.
  3. Here you seem dubious that I could have an original idea, then try to equate my ideas with somebody else.
  4. Here you avoid specifics again and flippantly sum it up as “Billions of years of causation and a little grey matter changes the chain.”
  5. Whether or not other animals are self-determined is a whole other question.  Instinct is a frivolous point.  And anticipating/preparing for the future is just one part of self-determinism.
  6. Here you’re rehashing the same old determinist line and pronouncing, yet again, your edict that free will is an illusion.
  7. More rehashing and edicts.
  8. Here, after I had challenged you to get specific about specific assertions, you continue with proclamations (and I quote: “a non sequitur”, “I do not think anyone will buy that”, “it is not true”) instead of logical reason.
  9. Ridicule, coming after your prior comments serves only to illustrate that you’re not sophisticated enough for me to accuse you of sophistry.  Whatever you are
Comment by Glen Rosenberg on July 24, 2011 at 1:11am

Exile,

After a bad day of gambling your essay caused me to laugh and laugh. Very entertaining stuff. SCOPE-not only is it mouthwash, it is magic!

Comment by Atheist Exile on July 24, 2011 at 12:31am

I'll be posting this in 2 parts because it's too big for one post.  I'll post the last part first so that the whole thing can be read top to bottom.


Hi John,

 

You summarize your understanding as: “the crux of your philosophy seems to be that the combination of memory (past causes), sensory input (current causes) and intelligent extrapolation (future causes) somehow creates a junction at which causality is suspended, or superceded, and the mind is able to choose between these multiple causal factors. Tell me if I'm getting that right.

No, that’s not what I’ve written in this discussion.  In particular, you seem hell-bent on making self-determinism compromise causality.  I’ve reiterated that causality is: complied with, accommodated, not violated, not compromised, etc.  The crux of how self-determinism operates within the internal scope of our accrued experiences (as opposed to individual external causal events), without violating causality, is accounted for in these 3 previously stated points . . .

·  Because human beings store experiences as memories and reflect upon them via mental feedback, causality operates on us in an additional form which produces additional temporal modes in humans that separate them from mere inanimate objects (and possibly "unintelligent" life forms as well).

  • The "additional form" causality takes with humans is accrued or "pooled": internal instead of external.  Instead of simply being awash in a cascade of external causal factors (variations in temperature, radiation, friction, decay, erosion, etc.) as is the case with everything in the universe, we also have an internal store of causal factors, accrued over the course of our lives as memories that represent what we've learned through our experiences.
  • · Causality affects us in the present as it does everything else in the universe.  The "additional temporal modes" of causality operating in intelligent human beings represent the past and the future: namely, memory and anticipation.  Thus causality has a broader temporal influence on intelligent human beings.
Comment by Atheist Exile on July 24, 2011 at 12:30am

The additional form (pooled) is more significant than the additional temporal modes (memory and anticipation).  What is important here is that intelligent human beings (and possibly other animals) have brains evolved to be self-aware, future-aware, and causality-aware.  Our brains store memories (engrams) of our experiences (i.e. the events of our lives).  Because causality determines all events in the macro universe, it is also part and parcel of the experiences we store as memories.  Our experiences could not have context or subtext or cohesion without retention of the causal factors involved.  In effect, our memories constitute a “pool” of causal factors from our unique, individual, personal, experiences in the past.  In other words, human intelligence accrues an internal form of causality not found in inanimate objects or “unintelligent” animals.

Please note that we respond to external causality exactly like anything else.  But we also have an internal form of causality – a “pool” of past causal factors – that we respond to as we sift through it (mental feedback) for experiences most relevant to current situations.

Mental feedback can also be thought of as causal feedback: an internal form of causality, working in the “background” of our minds, that defines the scope of our potential, independent, actions.  The reason our internal causal feedback determines the scope of potential actions (instead of individual actions themselves) is because of its stored, accrued, pooled, form.  Although it grows with experience, our memories are relatively static.  External causality, on the other hand, is a dynamic cascade of events-affecting-events and it affects us in real time whenever we’re exposed to it.  This is a clear, major, difference between internal and external causality.

But we’re not significantly exposed to external causal factors all the time.  Most of the time, the world around us makes very little demands of our attention.  I compare this to the fact that so many inanimate objects, like rocks and space debris, spend virtually all their time in a state of inertia.  As we idly or proactively reflect on our lives and our futures, there is plenty of time and opportunity for internal causality to play its role.  If we’re intelligent enough, our internal causality should mesh relatively well with external causality.

To summarize self-determinism gives us a modest form of independent agency, without compromising causality, because our brains, via memories, create a new, internal, form of causality that I call causality feedback.  Causality feedback plays second-fiddle to external causality but that’s not usually a problem because external causality doesn’t usually dominate our attention.  Causality feedback draws from a relatively static pool of memories.  It’s this accrued property of internal causality that defines the scope of our independent agency.  We are simultaneously slaves to external causality and masters of internal causality.

Comment by Glen Rosenberg on July 23, 2011 at 12:09pm
Good synopsis John, although I may think so only because my understanding mirrors yours.
Comment by John Camilli on July 23, 2011 at 11:29am

Exile, I understand what you mean about taking one's own notions for granted as "common sense" and finding it difficult to explain the basics of it to other people because you've progressed beyond that point so long ago yourself. I do think you explained self-determinism well enough for me to understand, at least I hope I have the same understanding of it as you do. And it's not that I'm trying to skirt any of what you're saying. I felt like I was addressing your notions directly, but I'll rephrase: the crux of your philosophy seems to be that the combination of memory (past causes), sensory input (current causes) and intelligent extrapolation (future causes) somehow creates a junction at which causality is suspended, or superceded, and the mind is able to choose between these multiple causal factors. Tell me if I'm getting that right.

I agree with all of it except the part where causality is overcome, because no mechanism is described. If an event happens along a causal, determined path, it should be theoretically describable. And for an event to be a-causal, it would have to be self-sufficient; a cause unto itself, or an event caused by an a-causal body or system, like ours, if indeed it is. But we are not a-causal creatures, we are made up of parts which interract causally (unless you believe in something like a soul), and every effect we produce seems to happen according to set; immutable laws. For every event, a cause. And whether or not "time" is a correct notion, it's the language tool we have to discuss the other aspect of causality, which is that the cause precedes the effect. For every event, a cause that came before it. Meaning the past directly defines the future in predictable ways. Pre-determination. That humans cannot predict it accurately is the nature of the machine, because we're in it. And I think what we're in is a movie theater, where we sit and watch the movie called Existence. We are reactive spectators in an already filmed scene, only convinced that we are the players on the stage because it's all we've ever known. We've come to known our characters well, so well that we can predict much of how they'll think and act, but even we can never know exactly what we'll do next. It's not in our control.

Comment by Glen Rosenberg on July 23, 2011 at 9:41am

Exile,

Third point is a non sequitur. I do not think anyone will buy that without experimental confirmation. Fourth point stored is a redundancy. And it is not true. Other animals, not just mammals, access their memories and learn. Five may be true but it is not uniquely human. Six is not true. Artificial intelligence does.

I am not going to continue the critique except to say that none of this leads to the idea of self determinism.

I brought up animals to make you realize how artificial and aesthetic your thinking is. If humans are engaged in self-determinism and you are a proponent of evolution then you have to ask yourself the cutoff. And the notion of instinct versus reason must be relevant. It is relevant until you realize that both instinct and reason operate causally.

As for the similarity between your ideas and Michael's, their gift wrapped differently but they are essentially the same. Unfortunately I cant find the ad nauseum blog which would be helpful in pointing out the similarities.

Comment by Atheist Exile on July 23, 2011 at 6:11am
Yes, Glen, I found the blog.  And ad nauseum is definitely the word for it.   However, I don't see anything that confirms your earlier claim that Michael Tricoci's ideas are similar to mine.

As for the rest: what about other animals, instincts, yada yada yada . . . you're still rehashing your old arguments instead of addressing my VERY specific assertions.

That's fine.  Forget about it.
Comment by Atheist Exile on July 23, 2011 at 1:02am
What I'd really like to read from you guys first is how any of these assertions CAN'T work or be right.  Once that's out of the way, discussing relative merits is fine with me.  Otherwise, I think we'll be talking past each other.
Comment by Atheist Exile on July 23, 2011 at 12:58am

Okay, it's a new day and I've gotten my sleep.

@John & Glen,

Perhaps a chain of major assertions will make this easier for everybody . . .

  • Causality underpins all events in the macro universe: there are no uncaused events and all states are derived from prior states.
  • Intelligent human beings learn from their experiences with causality, store these experiences as memories, and draw upon them throughout their lives to anticipate and prepare for the future.
  • Memory accrues experiences, and because causality underpins all events, those experiences evoke their original causal factors when recalled.  Causality does not stop at the skull.
  • Human intelligence relies on mental feedback to learn.  Without it, stored memories would be inaccessible and dormant.
  • With mental feedback to revisit our memories, evolution has provided us with an essential mechanism of intelligence that learns from causality and anticipates it.
  • Inanimate objects can not learn from causality or have experiences to store as memories; so causality operates on inanimate objects ONLY externally (i.e. the laws of nature) and in the present.
  • Because human beings store experiences as memories and reflect upon them via mental feedback, causality operates on us in additional temporal modes and takes an additional form in humans that separate them from mere inanimate objects (and possibly "unintelligent" life forms as well).
  • Causality affects us in the present as it does everything else in the universe.  The "additional temporal modes" of causality operating in intelligent human beings represent the past and the future: namely, memory and anticipation.
  • The "additional form" causality takes with humans is accrued or "pooled": internal instead of external.  Instead of simply being awash in a cascade of external causal factors (variations in temperature, radiation, friction, decay, erosion, etc.) as is the case with everything in the universe, we also have an internal store of causal factors, accrued over the course of our lives as memories, that represent what we've learned through our experiences.
  • Because causality is basically binary (cause and effect), it is easy to understand and anticipate.  We don't need to divine the future to prepare for it.  We simply draw from the pool of personal experiences in our memory to make reasonable guesses at what to expect.
  • This pool defines the scope of our self-determinism.  We can not act beyond this scope.
  • Important to remember is that we're still subject to external causality and have no choice but to experience and respond to it.  But our internal store of experiences is our own unique, individual, personal set of causal factors that we sift through as we reflect on the past and future.
  • Yes, we are just as subject, in the present, to external causality as anything else but most of the time, external causality is merely background noise without appreciable influence.  After all, most inanimate objects in the universe spend at least 99.999% of their time in a state of inertia.  Animate beings aren't as static as inanimate objects but still . . . there's more than ample time and opportunity for us think and act based on our internal pool of experiences.

I'm not saying that this is definitely how independent agency arises from our interaction with the world around us.  I'm saying that it explains how we can have independent agency without compromising causality or determinism.

There are far stranger things, than independent agency, to be found in nature.

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