Philosophy is actually Science.

The further back you go in history, the less separate philosophy and science are. Even Newton called his work “philosophy”. All the Greek thinkers were engaging with the frontiers of science of their own time: Euclidean geometry and astronomy. If you go back and read Plato’s explanation of the Theory of Ideas, it was nothing else besides an explanation for both craft knowledge, engineering, and science. (Think of the craftsman with his idea of the table in the Republic). Even though we now see Plato’s philosophy as rather non-scientific and religious,  what he was fundamentally after was an explanation for how humans have knowledge that allows them to get things done. We are still trying to solve this problem. While we have made a lot of progress since Plato’s time, his contribution is still important.

While the Ancients had their politics, the politics was a side dish served with their confrontation with the frontiers of science. That’s why you can spend your life reading them even if you disagree with their politics. Not the case with others who take their cue from political issues and are stuck in philosophically-“informed” rallying and shaming. In my view, anybody who makes political activism a large part of their philosophy condemns their work to oblivion rather than millennia of admiration. Look at Plato, Marx, Sartre and Heidegger; in spite of their genius, their political activity are all blots on their legacies.

I see this all the time when I engage others in discussion. This is the main problem with the Continental Tradition since (but not including) Heidegger: lack of sincere engagement with fundamental science. Husserl and Heidegger both got their start from engaging with debates on the foundations of formal or exact science, and the later Heidegger contributed essentially to my understanding of what I’m doing as I study computer science. Even “The Question Concerning Technology” is foundational for my metaphysics, if you have the subtlety to see it. However, the later politicization of his thinking was not neutral and therefore abandoned the path of true philosophy since Thales. Heidegger was too scared of the modern world to properly develop his engagement with science. It is only decades later that we can repair his mistakes.

So when I debate someone suffering from “dead-end” philosophy, I just ask them “Where’s the connection with fundamental science that we see with Thales, Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, Aquinas, Descartes, Hobbes, Leibniz, Hume, Kant, Hegel, Mill, Marx, Nietzsche, Husserl, Heidegger and all the analytic thinkers? What’s changed? How is that a good change? Have the foundations of metaphysics changed, or have you lost your way?”

There is no essential and objective basis for a demarcation between science and philosophy except for what ever the  limits of science might be at the time. Philosophy is the frontier of science, not it’s opposite. This has always been the case: both fields grow at the same rate, and debate the same issues from different perspectives.

Philosophy is not a part of science, rather science is part of philosophy.

 

Dialogue on Consciousness – Biology and Qualia

One of the major tenets of nonnaturalism with respect to phenomenal consciousness is the idea that “qualia” do not fit in anywhere in “nature”.  [Definition:”Qualia” is a coinage of recent analytic philosophy of mind. It refers to the purely subjective consciousness. “What it is like to be x.” It is generally agreed that rocks have nothing that it is like to be a rock, but there is something that it is like to be in pain, or to be angry, to be a fish or a human. This “what it is like” is called “qualia”. ]

We only have direct access to our own qualia, and have to infer or have indirect access to the qualia of others. According to many, this means that qualia cannot be interpreted as a physical process nor consequently as a biological process. I assume (but of course do not know) that there are enough people working on reverse engineering the mind such that a physical reduction will make decent progress in the next few years. In this post, I would like to discuss how this is a priori possible by interpreting qualia biologically. This will entail the basic ideas behind a theory that would be a candidate for a naturalistic theory of qualia and subjective consciousness.

First, a little background: according to my view (explained elsewhere in this blog), living creatures as such are essentially functional where ‘function’ is a combination of physical processes and information processing. Since I am not discussing the physical implementation of this function at all, I will ignore what Aristotle calls ‘material causes’ and ‘efficient causes’. Instead I will only deal with ‘formal causes’ and ‘final causes’. And these latter will be spoken of as “information processing” and biological “functions” respectively.  I will show how consciousness has a biological purpose (final cause) and how it serves that purpose ( formal causes ). More specifically, consciousness is a form of “data mining” of a person’s total accessible information, both conscious and subconscious, from the external world, metabolism and health.

Much of this analysis is derived from an online dialogue on this subject. First, there is a challenge from a non-naturalist “Q”, who denies that qualia have any biological function at all and cannot possibly be caused by any physical process.

Q: “Dennett and other naturalists claim that non-naturalism

“goes against literally mounds of scientific evidence that a functioning brain and mind (conscious experience) are one in the same and that consciousness is actually what an active brain state produces when it’s doing what it does. In some way, it’s similar to “roundness” and “rolling” of a ball down a hill. That’s what certain “round” things do when they are on a “slope” in a gravitational field.”

This analogy is ridiculous. “Roundness” and “rolling” are observable features of the physical world. “Consciousness” is not. You could run a million brain scans on me and, in the end, all you’d have is information about physical entities (neurons, electrical charges and so on.) You can’t observe my qualia in this way. Or, to put it another way: I could be a philosophical zombie and the brain scans wouldn’t pick this up. Consciousness is something above and beyond a feature of the physical world.”

A: To illustrate my response, let’s start with an example from settled science: the physics of weather. It seems natural for people to be non-naturalists concerning many natural phenomena, and among the most universal of these is the weather, especially lightning. But some humans are naturalists w.r.t. this and claim that lightning “is” static electricity. Since static electricity seems likely to be supernatural this contradicts the predominant opinion of the human race. While lightning is publicly observable, static electricity is not. Or is it? You cannot see static electricity itself, merely its effects. On the other hand, consciousness cannot be seen directly, only its effects…. unless you’re consciousness itself. But what if you were static electricity? Then would the analogy be exact?

Q: “This is a better analogy, when modified as you suggest. But then are you admitting that consciousness is not illusory or epiphenomenal — it is a force that causes effects, not an effect caused by forces?”

A: The reason I put “is” in quotes is to highlight the relevance of the Question of Being to this topic. What does it mean that one thing “is” another? That lightning “is” static electricity? Or that Earth “is” a planet? Or that humans “are” animals? Obviously being a human is not the same as being an animal, but yet the statement is true is it not? I think that same is true of the statement “humans are conscious”.

A similar problem exists with the statement “Mathematics is a human invention.”, which is either true or not depending on what you mean by “is”. Likewise with “x is consciousness”.

Q: “For the last one, I’d say that the problem resides more in what is meant by “human invention”. Still — good questions. Will give them some thought.” I think that it’s probably “real” it’s just real in a different way from other things. There is not one way to say “is”, but many, as Aristotle says. For example, lots of people say that “really” numbers don’t exist. Nonsense! What they really should say is that physical objects and numbers “are” in very different ways.

Q: I guess the central question at stake here is, “Is consciousness a causal force (or the manifestation of/effect of a causal force) that is distinct from and independent of deterministic physical forces, or is it not?” That sums it up pretty well, methinks.”

A: Yes it is a causal force; it’s much more physical than a number, but even a number has physical effects.

Q: “Am in total agreement with that — but I’m a bit puzzled. I thought you saw consciousness as, essentially, a higher-level emergent phenomenon arising from lower-level deterministic complexity. Have we been in violent agreement all along (like for the past 2 years, LOL?).”

A: That’s how I see it, all right

Q: “So if consciousness is reducible (in principle) to fundamental deterministic physical forces, in what sense can it ALSO be a causal force acting independent of them?”

A: I don’t care if physical forces are deterministic or not. It’s pretty obvious that we are physical beings who have consciousness.

How independent is “independent”? If we look at cultural concepts and memes, we see that they sort of take on a life of their own as “mass psychology” and can be said to really exist even though they are not independent of individual humans. Likewise qualia/consciousness takes on a life of its own even though it’s fundamentally dependent on matter and energy. All these things exist, they just exist in different ways.

Saying that some “x” is ultimately a “y” does not mean that x is not real. it’s a different sort of being, that can be referred to under two different aspects, one as functional adaptation, the other as qualia. As a functional adaptation, it is something which can be seen in its effects on the physical world. For the example of mathematics, one can refer to numbers as being created by humans, but you can also say truthfully that “2+2=4” was true long before humans evolved, by looking from within the “world of numbers”. From this aspect, numbers seem to be the supernatural entities revered by Pythgoras, since our very way of considering them abstracts from their physical substrate.

Abstraction from physical substrate” is exactly what makes them so useful, since the formal qualities are meant to apply to any physical situation that is formally congruent to the number, equation, shape, etc., not to something made of a certain material or in a certain location, or from a certain culture, etc., the latter all being more concrete but also more limited in scope.

From another perspective, according to Karl Popper’s ontology, there are three types of things:

1) First World- physical things

2) Second World- qualia, or subjective experience

3)Third World- memes, ideas, cultural artifacts like numbers, poems, theories, styles, techniques, etc.

Where is “consciousness” in all this? It seems that it is #2, except that for higher animals, there is overlap with #3. However, any particular creature’s experience of being aware of a number (#2) is not the number itself (#3). However, the quality of the Second World is greatly affected by what sorts of things are subjectively experienced; First World or Third World. Consciousness for animals is the existence of qualia (2nd world). Consciousness becomes human when the experience of 2nd world phenomenology because interwoven/imbued with 3rd world entities, schemas and ideas which go beyond the merely present and thus make possible both knowledge and error on a level greater than that possible for mere “non-human” animals.

You might reasonably ask about consciousness: “Why should it be good to enlarge the possibility for both knowledge and error?” The answer is to enlarge the domain of possibilities from which to select. Thus the realm of knowledge/ignorance is a special case of the Baldwin Effect and the “evolution of evolvability”. These are reasons why biological evolution follows an path of exponential growth much like Moore’s Law, where evolution proceeds at a faster pace as time goes on. We can see how consciousness reflects this because conscious creatures have much more individuality than unconscious; meaning they present a wider variety of phenotypes for selection to work with. But this ‘individuality’ is merely a by-product of consciousness, not its original function. In short this original function is to boil all the confusion of so many different stimuli from so many different levels of reality (merely physical, social, past memory, inner physical drives of sex, hunger, warmth, etc.) into a condensed form where it can affect the decision processes that define an animal’s actions. How else could all the myriad factors that go into a single decision be brought into relation with a decision other than by some form of data mining? And how else would it be implemented than by consciousness? Chalmers makes much of how “surprising” consciousness is as  the basis for non-naturalism, and I agree it is surprising. However, it is far less surprising once one sees its function. All biological functions are fundamentally information processing, so we should expect to see the essence of consciousness as a form of information processing. All that remains is to take this formal and functional analysis as the starting point for the reverse engineering of how consciousness performs this function. But this aspect of the subject is beyond my expertise.

 

.

Show me the Arkhe!

 

I would like to challenge you to try to think from first principles. This means you are searching for an explanation for your beliefs which is the most comprehensive and cohesive with known facts.

Thinking from first principles will eliminate dualism of any kind. While there have been dualisms proposed by the great Thinkers, Philosophy and Science can never ever be satisfied with an unbridgeable dualism.

For example, why should there be an “is/ought” distinction? Are their ANY cases in which we fell confident that this does not apply? Are their any things in this universe that have a purpose as a matter of undeniable fact? What is the purpose of bird’s wings? If I say that “A bird OUGHT to be able to fly.”, am I committing the naturalistic fallacy? What if I say that “Humans ought to talk to each other and think about things.”, is THAT justified any less than something I say about birds? I don;t think so.

Not only do wings have a purpose for birds, but birds also have an ecological purpose. They perform a function for the biosphere. What’s so mystical about that? There’s nothing supernatural or non-physical about purpose or function. Perhaps you might think that there is, but the fact that you think that way has a rather nifty explanation which is far more comprehensive and cohesive than the explanation you will give for why your life has purpose.

Dualism is the mind-killer. Face your dualism and let is pass over you. When it is gone, only the Arkhe will remain.

Long ago we thought there was two kinds of matter: celestial and terrestrial. But then we found they were the Same. Later on we had a dualism of matter and energy; those also were the Same.

What about Matter/Energy and Space and Time, are they not totally different?. Later on, we found out that is the Same as well.

What about the difference between Physical reality and Information, are they not totally different? Guess what? Later on, we found out that information is a physical phenomenon. (No kidding! Look it up.)

So if you come up with some tiny thing you think is so special that it could never ever be the Same as something else. I will laugh at you.

Any statement of the form “There are only two types of things: x and everything else.” is by definition unwarranted. Its very form violates the conditions of possible knowledge. This is because all explanation as such must subsume the explanandum under a genus as a new species with a difference from other species.

Formerly light was essentially the field of visibility and on the other hand there had recently been discovered “radiation”. One was visible and the other not; two things could not seem to be more different, could they? But in due course science explained radiation. How? Simple, we found that it was actually a form of light; invisible light, but light none the less. Now are you going to accept an argument that light qua light must be visible? In a very common sense way “light” is visible by definition, but science is not limited by common sense usage of any term. What physics has done with “light”, Philosophy must do with “consciousness” and “ethics”. Ethics is not necessarily ethical, and consciousness is not necessarily conscious.

 

Naturalism and the “Testimonial Imperative”

 

Introduction: the Challenge of Philosophy

Years ago, a creationist challenged me to justify the assertion that people evolved from apes when we share lots of characteristics with raccoons. Now I know that we have many more characteristics in common with apes than any other animal, but rather than quibble about details I realized that I did not know the basis of evolutionary theory. My philosophical studies had focused on the history of astrophysics and cosmology, and I realized that I could not generalize my philosophy of science to explain the Darwinian revolution. I admitted to him that I could not justify it other than out of respect for scientific authorities.

For the next few years, I read the relevant books to understand evolution. First the “Origin of Species” itself, which easily refutes all the haters, but I kept on going for years, because evolution and its related disciplines are so vast; they overlap with mathematics, economics, and computer science quite a bit.

Realizing your ignorance is the beginning of a wonderful new stage in the search for truth. I know what it is like to reply to an objection using empty nonsense without really understanding the argument in its strongest sense. Of course I understand that evolution has not fitted the human race to be composed of freethinkers; we will always be the exception. It’s a law of nature. So I am very compassionate when I see people replying to me with empty nonsense. However, I will never ever willingly waste a day of my life believing in empty nonsense, for reasons explained below.

The Practical Basis of Naturalism – the “Testimonial Imperative”

The “Testimonial Imperative” simply means calling a spade a spade; or more precisely for the subject of ethical theory, every “ought” must be cashed out in terms of an “is”, and every “is” is only that which can be referred to without ambiguity, is defined operationally, and is known to exist with some specific level of certainty and evidence.

One may reasonably challenge me to cash out the Testimonial Imperative (TI) itself in terms of the “is” as a test of its completeness. After all the TI is itself and ethical standard like any other. So let us test it by applying it to itself and translate it from “ought” to “is” thusly: My strategy is to clearly define everything so that people know what I am saying and can better judge my words, and to clearly show how my words relate to higher principles which unite other areas of accepted knowledge. I cannot do this on my own, but require others to follow the same rule. Therefore, if you will not speak naturalistically, I will ignore you. I will ignore you because ultimately you are using vague terms which refuse to give up their meanings under scrutiny. Why should I put up with your nonsense ? You can’t possibly have any reply worthy of my time without accepting the Testimonial Imperative and its corollary, Methodological Naturalism.

If you decide to provisionally accept for the time being my demands of discourse, you could say that “How do you know that your Imperative is actually an Evolutionary Stable Strategy (ESS)? If it is not, then within Selection Theory your whole position is as unfounded as any theocracy.” I accept that caveat, since it applies to any ethical stance whatsoever concerning anything from scientific honesty to  the prohibition of murder to abortion rights. This is exactly what our moral basis is: I am taking a stance with my life on a certain definition of an adaptive strategy. Mine is “Philosophy”; which includes science, secular politics and freethinking in general. I am simply phrasing my definition of this strategy in the same way that any other moral principle is *actually * defined (iif it is ever defined at all!). When I oppose murder or aggressive warfare, I am taking a stance by pledging allegiance to an adaptive strategy that excludes these practices. Prohibiting murder and aggressive warfare have proven effective stratgies over many thousands of years, not only for humans but almost all other animals, so I am safe in this respect. Few will object on the point of theory, perhaps only quibbling over how this rule applies to specific cases. The number of ethical rules that are supported with this level of certainty are rather large; lying, stealing, gluttony, greed, envy, and lust are good examples.

So far so good. But when I take an ethical stance concerning the Search for Truth, I am on far shakier ground than with murder. However, the form of justification in both cases is the same because intellectual honesty is just as much an ethical virtue as other forms of honesty. I like to think it’s the most important, but perhaps it’s not. The main thing is that for Selection Theory, I am clearly defining all my terms, including “ought”, and I am clearly explaining how my oughts are binding. While you are clearly free to refuse to accept my ought, this only means that you are declaring yourself as one who does not care for the Truth, because you are not at all willing to accept the first principles of discourse, Aristotle’s “Three Laws of Thought”.

The Testimonial Imperative, like every other imperative (ethical or otherwise), is part of an adaptive strategy, which for humans means the regulation of cooperation. This strategy is a new thing; it seems weird to people because our ancestors did not search for the Truth in the way that some modern people do; i.e. by practicing Philosophy. (NOTE: When I capitalize “Philosophy”, it includes “science”.) Part of following the strategy of Philosophy is to define things clearly (Aristotle’s “Three Laws”) and to look for ultimate principles (the “arkhe”). Ignoring the arkhe means to take an unprincipled position. Truths are either axioms, or they are derived from axioms. Even contingent empirical truths have an axiom: For example, “I saw it happen.” is based on the axiom, “If you see it, it happened.”

While in my personal life, I like and cooperate all kinds of people, in my Work I will not respect anyone who tries to avoid the duty of defining what they mean or of relating what they say to the Arkhe. The desire to avoid this is a way to avoid the Truth. I agree that there are many well-founded fields where certain things are left vague because they are not ‘interesting’. These vague terms could be seized on by others unfairly. Creationists do this with certain aspects of legitimate biology, and I very much hope that I do not commit this error. However, it is very clear that almost every evolutionary concept is more clearly defined than almost every creationist concept. And this clarity is not merely in theory but also in practice. Likewise, when I do metaethics, I will define the broad range of my concepts more clearly and with firmer basis than is possible with any other competing theory. Also, my ethical concepts will be defined and explained using higher principles. It may be handy to simply define a principle out of nowhere, such as when Newton created “Gravity” and a name for some unknown force that affected matter. However, this cannot be the final result of science; gravity must eventually be explained in its relation to other phenomena. This is exactly what Selection Theory does with ethics. Just as gravity must eventually be cashed out in terms of other natural forces, ethics must be brought into theroretical relation with the rest of Nature. Perhaps Selection Theory has some fatal flaw unseen by me, but something like it must be the case. The nice thing about a naturalistic theory like mine is that even if it is wrong, it’s still a better use of your time than non-naturalism. This is because a naturalistic theory refutes itself, while non-naturalism never hazards any meaningful assertions about anything and merely maintains the deceptive appearance of knowledge.

The relation of ‘Physics’ and Ethics in Aristotle

‘Physics’, for Aristotle, is essentially the study of things which change in space and time.  The only things that are not ‘physical’ in this sense are unchanging essences (math, logic) and God (which for Aristotle was an ‘unchanging substance’.). God is included in the Physics Book VIII because of its role in explaining eternal physical motion, not because it is physical in itself. On this view, anything that changes through time is part of “physics”. IN algebra, adding x to y to get z is a ‘change’ in a sense, but it’s not taking place in time, so it’s not ‘physical’. Rocks, planets, stars, the weather, atoms, light, lightning, etc. are all physical because they change in time.

Living things are also ‘physical’ in Aristotle’s sense; they have every attribute that any other physical thing has: mass, energy, size, et cetera. However, they also have other things that nonliving physical objects do not have: heredity, metabolism, adaptation, function, ecological niche, genome, genotype, phenotype, et cetera.

These are very interesting and surprising characteristics that you could not predict from physical characteristics, so many people are tempted to say that there is something nonphysical about life. This intuition is nearly universal among traditional beliefs and in “vitalism”. Vitalism was taken seriously by Aristotle and  many other scientists up until the early 20th century, but no longer. However, it is still a fact that biological properties are different in meaning from physical properties, so in philosophy some people try to make this seem like some fatal flaw in physicalism. However, every such criticism cannot get around the fact that every biological fact is “superveninent” on the physical. This  means that you cannot change a biological fact without changing a physical fact., and conversely the only way to change a biological fact is to change some physical fact. Life may of may not be ‘reducible to physics (whatever that means), but there is nothing supernatural about life; it breaks no physical laws and it is implemented only by physical laws. Biology is perhaps just a shorthand that simplifies the expression of certain things that certain physical objects do.

Just as “physics” has the subfield of biology, so also Aristotelian biology has a further subfield: ethics .  According to Aristotle, “ethics” is the study of a certain subset of living creatures which “have logos” and are “political”. Neither of these terms have a simple translation from Greek into English. But in my view it means those animals which can:

  • Speak.
  • Think.
  • Live in a society.
  • Be “responsible”, which means:
    • Be held responsible for one’s actions by others.
    • Accept responsibility from others for one’s own actions.
    • Hold others responsible for their actions.
  • Have character (behavioral tendencies).
  • Perhaps many others….

All of these above processes are changes which take place in time, and which can only be done by particular kinds of living creatures. In any case, there is no way that ethics could possibly be relevant to any non-physical being without engaging in fantastic speculations that contradict ancient and modern physics. For Aristotle, the ‘soul’ was defined as a principle of change in living creatures, and not as anything ‘supernatural’ or having anything to do with an afterlife. Ethics was thus defined as a subfield of “physics”, the study of the principles of change in nature.

The famous ‘Four Causes’ apply within ethics just as they do in every other subfield of “physics”. Perhaps there are some differences in how they are used, but they apply. As such, Aristotle’s “Physics” can be seen as a foundation for his Ethics. It is certainly a foundation for my adaptation of his ethics to our modern world. The biggest change that we see in the modern world is that only biology and ethics have final causes, whereas nonliving physics does not. This is not a very contraversial thing to say nowadays, and it leaves the validity of final causes in biology and physics intact. Biology cannot get along at all without final causes, because without final causes you could not say “birds should be able to fly” or “the immune system should retain antigens from previous pathogens” or “the temperature of the earth should allow for liquid water”. Of course each of these statements makes some assumptions to be true, but they are all naturalistically meaningful and decidable. Furthermore, if ethics is a subfield of biology, then it must also have final causes, and they must work in a similar way. Just as birds should fly, humans should be able to talk and cooperate to satisfy their mutual needs in an efficient manner. While some ants rely on slavery exclusively, humans tend to rely on voluntary cooperation, and in both cases the ultimate causes are those common to all living creatures. And as time goes on, slavery is losing out to voluntary systems and this trend is is the basis for the ethical statement “Slavery is wrong.” It could have been the case that slavery was more adaptive than freedom, but as it turns out this is not true.

Modern physics also includes everything we need to explain ethics, since all living creatures follow the physics of information. All life is just information processing; evolution itself as well as the behavior of living creatures are all essentially forms of information processing. This means that without information processing, there can be no life and vice versa, because they ultimately mean the same thing.

Conclusion

So what is the upshot for our current situation? Obviously Aristotle’s Physics as he has presented it cannot be accepted, so are all the above irrelevant to us? No, In my opinion the teleological aspect of Aristotle’s Physics has been merely “demoted” down to biology, which is where it was really suitable in the first place. Aristotle saw that final causes were ubiquitous in biology, so he assumed that this was true of the rest of ‘physics’ as well. But in the modern world, we know that final causes originated  with life and are meaningless apart from life. Since we know that physics preceded biology, the sun is not ‘for’ the Earth’s biosphere in the robust sense that Aristotle and Classical Theism have in mind. Rather, the teleological aspect is emergent from the behavior of certain molecules in certain conditions.

The applicability of Aristotelian teleology is limited to the results of evolution, the biosphere, and the inputs necessary for life.  Ethics falls within this sphere, and as such Aristotelian final causes are applicable. The final causes are the same as those defined by evolution: not going extinct, also known as “inclusive fitness”, the passing on of DNA. That’s what ethics is for: promoting forms of cooperation which pass on DNA. Something like this view is or should be the default view, since it assumes that the behavior of a certain organism has an evolutionary origin. This axiom is assumed in the study of all other organism besides humans, and the world will not end if you try out this assumption on one more creature.

If you disagree with this, please leave a comment telling the rest of us what ethics is for. While you formulate your answer, ask yourself is your alternative really the sort of thing that could be the founding theory of a branch of natural science? Because that is what ethics is. The only other conception that makes any sense is the Platonic and Kantian conception of ethics as a formal or exact science. This theory cannot be dismissed out of hand, but on my view all the aspects of ethics that support Platonism are most parsimoniously seen as deriving from the most general axioms of evolutionary game theory, which even in their general form are imperatives followed for a purpose.