Posted: Feb 25, 2018 2:43 pm
by zoon
Thommo wrote:
zoon wrote:………
I think human social thinking probably does involve some fairly intractable confusions when it comes to subjectivity and objectivity, the independence of an external world from thought, but then I'm starting from the physicalist assumption that thoughts are the products of entirely physical brains, so I would expect jamest to dismiss any views I may have on resolving the confusion.

Where I disagree both with Buddhists and with jamest is that as far as I can tell they think that some human-like being or force is in overall charge, they assign a moral structure to the universe so that human moral concerns are addressed, and good and bad deeds are punished or rewarded by something other than human actions. From the stars to the molecular structure of human brains, there's a huge amount of evidence that the mathematical laws of physics and chemistry provide accurate descriptions and predictions, and that human-like supernatural interventions are not there. I want miracles from jamest before I become a believer.

You may well be right about all that, and I don't have much to say in response.

The truth is I'm not much interested in "positions" or "philosophies" (and by this I really mean metaphysical commitments). If I die and suddenly awaken in the god-mind and find out idealism is true, I won't be thinking "wow, I should have listened all along", because a specious argument is still a specious argument. It's the quality of reasoning that interests me.

There are plenty of positions I hold that I object to here on ratskep because the arguments people put forward are (in my evaluation) extremely wanting.

The thing is we don't actually get anyone arguing for physicalism by and large. The closest we ever get is people saying that physicalism accounts for features in the world that idealism does not (e.g. why consciousness only occurs where there's a brain or other similar physical structure).

You are perhaps taking exception here to my calling myself a physicalist? – in that I am thereby expressing a metaphysical commitment which goes beyond the available evidence and arguments?

I’m contrasting physicalism with idealism here, jamest being an idealist. It seems to me that idealism does imply that the universe is ultimately controlled by something like a human mind. The arguments against idealism are, I think, the same as those against theism: the huge and increasing volume of evidence that everything we are aware of follows mathematical descriptions, contrasted with the effectively total lack of evidence for supernatural events. I agree with you that this is not 100% certainty, it does not, for example, approach the certainty of mathematics.

My position is that I can’t know anything for certain, even that 2 plus 2 equals 4, but that to worry about this, or to be careful to express my uncertainty in everything I say, is a route to madness (it defeats itself, for starters). Assuming physicalism (OK, there’s a problem there), my brain was designed by natural selection not to discover any ultimate truth, but to control my body in ways that promote the survival of my genes. There’s nothing to stop human brains (e.g. after a stroke) being wrong about simple mathematics or anything else, and sometimes they are designed to be overconfident about fallible guesses.

For practical purposes other than discussing brains in vats and such, 2 plus 2 is damn well 4 as far as I’m concerned (though I think Russell and Whitehead took a 3 volume book to prove that 1 plus 1 is 2?). For a dodgier commitment, such as my atheism, I am happy to express my readiness to look into further evidence, to consider the possibility of miracles. At the same time, I call myself an atheist, not an agnostic, because I think the probability of there being some human-like being in charge of the universe is, for most purposes, small enough to be ignored. I could be wrong, and the line’s a fuzzy one, but, again, expressing uncertainty all the time instead of leaving it to be understood by the audience is something of a waste of communication space.

I call myself a physicalist in the same spirit in which I call myself an atheist. I think theists are wrong and atheists are right, and when I say this, I hope that my audience will take my caveats as read. In the same sort of way, if I promise a friend to come and help in the garden at a certain time, I assume the friend will take as read that if there’s a life or death emergency where I have to help instead, then I will break my promise. Language is full of unstated assumptions, or it wouldn’t be fast enough to be a viable communication system?

I’m sure that 2 plus 2 equals 4, I’m reasonably sure that there are no gods, and my plans to meet up with family in a couple of hours are full of uncertainties which we didn’t bother to mention when drawing up those plans. At the same time, I accept that I can’t be sure of anything. Is this just wildly woolly thinking?