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Old 24th September 2012, 07:22 PM   #161
Brainiac2
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Originally Posted by marplots View Post
You've hit ocogent resoning involves.n ttruehe reason why I am not a fan of the philosophy referenced in the OP. It uses logic as if the method triumphed over reality. I don't see why it should be so. To me, reality itself grounds logic and is not a good object for logical analysis. I would claim that reality is pre-logical and this explains the difficulties raised in the OP.


I don't agree that fallacious reasoning should be considered evidence proving philosophy worthless. Instead it should be merely an indication of a flawed methodology either cunningly used or else based on ignorance of what cogent reasoning involves.
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Old 25th September 2012, 08:26 AM   #162
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Originally Posted by levi View Post
Can someone please answer my questions? Besides logic and ethics, which ethics could be argued is biological is there any philosophy that is not just a person saying there opinion?
Philosophy is an extremely broad discipline and is not just an opinion. Some people get carried away with radical skepticism (usually in Metaphysics), but that is not the totality of Philosophy. I'm studying Ethics and Political Philosophy at the moment, and though there's a lot of arguing, there are still right and wrong answers, especially in Political Philosophy where we can observe the consequences of implementing certain policies.
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Old 25th September 2012, 04:44 PM   #163
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So philosophy when it applies to mereological nihilism it is just an opinion?

When it applies to persistence of personal identity is it also just an opinion? If it is how you do come up with accurate account of persistence of personal identity? For example when you take someone put them through a teleporter machine similar to star trek are you still the same person? Or if the star trek teleporter machine accidentally produces 2 identical copies which one is you? Or if someone just produces an identical copy of you with the same memories are they both you?

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Old 26th September 2012, 12:24 PM   #164
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Originally Posted by levi View Post
So philosophy when it applies to mereological nihilism it is just an opinion?

When it applies to persistence of personal identity is it also just an opinion? If it is how you do come up with accurate account of persistence of personal identity? For example when you take someone put them through a teleporter machine similar to star trek are you still the same person? Or if the star trek teleporter machine accidentally produces 2 identical copies which one is you? Or if someone just produces an identical copy of you with the same memories are they both you?
I'd hate to say they are opinions, but you can think of them that way. Philosophy has rules, and you need to follow those rules. One rule is to make sure your claim is logically sound (i.e. internally consistent). After this, you want to present evidence that this claim is actually true. Sometimes you have no methodology to confirm or refute the claim and thus have to resort to intuition, often in the form of thought experiments.

Persistence of the ego is yet untestable, as far as I know. We can speculate as to whether or not the person entering the Star Trek teleporter is the same as the one who comes out the other side, but we have no way to determine that it's true... yet. That's unfortunately where I have to stop in that thought experiment because I don't know how to determine whether that person is the same without a scientific experiment. We'll just have to wait for technology to advance enough to accomplish this feat.

If the teleporter created an identical copy of the person so one went in and two came out (and assuming that the self would persist had the teleportation worked correctly) I see no reason to claim that the copy is not also that same person. Of course, we'd need to define what exactly constitutes a "same person." We may have the same DNA and memories (up to the point of cloning), but the stimuli I perceive does not affect that other person's brain/body and thus, as time progresses, we become different people. Does the fact that when I poke my clone I don't feel it indicate that we are not the same person? Or is it merely the physical makeup of an organism that constitutes a specific individual?

And as for mereological nihilism, I'd say it's worse than an opinion; it's flat-out nonsense. Objects with parts exist, as is obvious from perception. You can redefine existence so that this statement becomes true, but semantic arguments add nothing to our knowledgebase. The pragmatic value of concepts such as mereological nihilism is exactly zero, so they really aren't worth wasting your time.
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Old 26th September 2012, 01:49 PM   #165
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Originally Posted by levi View Post
So philosophy when it applies to mereological nihilism it is just an opinion?

Well, I don't see what else it could possibly be. We could perform any number of scientific tests to determine whether tables exist, using methods ranging from sociology (poll 1000 people asking whether tables exist or whether they own a table or whether they would accept a free table or reject it due to nonexistence, or set up controlled double-blinded conditions under which test subjects must determine whether or not a table is present) to physics (can we detect the gravitational field of a table? can a table influence the propagation of a beam of light?) and every one of them will tell us that tables exist. The nihilist can only say, "well, of course the table is sitting right there, but it doesn't reeeeeally exist because things that are made up of parts don't exist, only the parts exist." How could we test that notion? It's a claim about the meaning of the word "exist," not a claim about anything in the world that we can test. Even the nihilist will, after a hard day's philosophizing, sit down at a table that doesn't exist to eat food that doesn't exist and listen to his nonexistent family talk (in speech that doesn't exist) about their day that couldn't really have happened. The merological nihilist has merely redefined the word "exist" to mean "is an irreducible quantum of energy."

Calling that claim an "opinion," though, might not be the right word. Although the word is used in a variety of ways, I'm only truly comfortable using it to refer to ideas about future decisions or actions. In popular usage we call "cell phones should be outlawed" and "cell phones cause brain tumors" both "opinions," but only the first is on safe ground as such, as it is a decision that could be or could not be put into effect as the future unfolds; the second is a claim of fact, which can be right or wrong, and its rightness or wrongness is in no way affected by any number of people believing it. Similarly with the "opinions" of historians about historical points. Shakespeare either did or did not write all the plays attributed to him, but whether he did or not is utterly unaffected by the sum total of everything ever said or believed about him subsequently. On the other hand, your own personal opinion (or "taste") about whether Shakespeare's plays are worth watching can effect your future actions such as whether or not you will watch them. And your beliefs about whether cell phones cause brain cancer will likely affect your future decisions about whether to use them. So we call all these things -- beliefs about unknown but definite facts, beliefs about future decisions, personal preferences, and so forth -- "opinions," but it is all a bit of a muddle.

If you believe that nothing exists except quanta of energy, then how does that belief affect your future decisions or actions? If you or any nihilist can answer that question, then I'd be willing to call nihilism an "opinion" without reservation. Otherwise, it is a notion, and nothing more.

Imagine you were extremely small and fast, so that you naturally perceived quanta of energy directly. You want to study the universe around you. You could observe photons moving around, and sometimes interacting with each other in particular ways, and that is all. Now, if you happened to be living in the first few minutes after the Big Bang, before high-energy photons had condensed into quarks, quarks into protons and neutrons and electrons, those particles into atoms, atoms into molecules and so forth, that might be all you need. But if you were trying to understand the present day universe around you, you'd have to figure out the properties of assemblages such as quarks and protons and atoms and molecules if you wanted a meaningful explanation, an explanation that predicts what might happen next, for what you were observing. Even if a table remained forever too large a thing for your comprehension, you would understand much more by not adopting nihilistic ideas than by adopting them.

The same happens not only in the real universe but in abstract ones as well. Given the abstract ideas called numbers, 1, 2, 3, 4, and so on, there are a few things you can do. Given one number you can count to the following one; you can add two numbers and get another; you can compare the magnitude of numbers; you can even multiply. But if you start dividing, you get results that aren't numbers as you know them, but fractions: ratios of numbers. A ratio is a relationship, a shared property, of two numbers. The ancient Greeks were big on ratios; they found them in music (a very earthly and human thing) and astronomy (to them, the heavens), and thought that such an idea, that could unify such vastly different things at the very extremes of nature, must be the key to understanding the entire universe. Our word "rational" comes from that formative (and essential, though ultimately inadequate by itself) idea.

The dedicated merological nihilist, though, must reject ratios, because ratios have parts! So where does that leave them, in the history of development of mental tools and explanations? If they veer off even from the baby steps the ancient Greeks made, what kind of music or astronomy can they manage? If they cannot replace explanations with better explanations, it wouldn't appear they have much to contribute.

----------

What about philosophy in general; is it nothing but opinions (or not even that, but mere notions)?

Philosophy is a very broad sphere, and in the past it has definitely included aspects of reality that are not matters of opinion today. It wasn't so long ago -- a hundred or two hundred years -- that people had no idea how thinking about making your arm move could make your arm move, or how an embryo takes on the shape of a creature resembling its parents, or how old the earth is, or what causes disease. Go a few more hundred years back, and we had no idea how vision works (for example, do the eyes emanate rays that detect objects, or vice versa?), why fire is hot, what the space above the sky is made of or why the lights there move the way they do, or why breathing is necessary. All those things were matters for philosophers. So the ancient Greeks could philosophize that fire is one of the four basic elements of nature and responsible for the heat of all hot things; the Victorians could discuss how embryology reveals the process of forms attracting themselves into being from the future backwards; the ancient mystics could imagine a ghostly spirit form that does the pushing when we move a limb, and so forth. For the most part these ideas were not testable, and for the most part they were wrong. But it was the untestability, not the wrongness, that made them philosophical ideas or notions or (I say grudgingly) opinions.

When such questions and notions become testable, they tend to shift from philosophy to science. That's apparently happening now with ideas about how cognition and self-awareness work, as cognitive neuroscience and computing theory make inroads.

That ongoing process tends to leave untestable ideas in the realm of philosophy. What can an untestable idea be, other than a notion or an opinion? But some ideas (like all the ones mentioned above that are now aspects of science or have been contradicted by science) are merely untestable by happenstance. A complete schema of all aspects of human brain function doesn't exist yet but there's no reason to believe it never could. Even the ancients could imagine building a tall tower to reach the transparent dome of the sky and verify or falsify its existence, even though they couldn't actually do so.

Other ideas are untestable by their very nature, and deliberately so. So it is with solipsism and nihilism.

To use is also to test, so untestable ideas are also unusable. If I cannot detect the invisible intangible dragon in my garage by any means, I also cannot use it or my knowledge of it toward any end. That, in many people's philosophical opinion, is an irrefutable reason to disregard any such idea.

----------

Quote:
When it applies to persistence of personal identity is it also just an opinion? If it is how you do come up with accurate account of persistence of personal identity? For example when you take someone put them through a teleporter machine similar to star trek are you still the same person? Or if the star trek teleporter machine accidentally produces 2 identical copies which one is you? Or if someone just produces an identical copy of you with the same memories are they both you?

There are two known cognitive aspects of personal identity: memories, and certain patterns of perception. The latter is sometimes expanded into "personality" and sometimes regarded as just another aspect of memory. What I mean specifically is your immediate perceptions and internal reactions to things, which you can compare against your narrative memory to examine for consistency over time. For example, you taste lima beans, and you dislike the taste. You also remember previous occasions where you tasted lima beans and also disliked the taste. That is a consistency, one of numerous small pieces of evidence that "you're still you."

Of course, over time your perception of the taste of lima beans might change. That change over time will likely still be part of your narrative memory, but maybe you haven't tasted lima beans for decades and then you do, and decide you now like the taste. Or maybe you've lost the memory of the intervening decades due to a brain injury, and you're now surprised that you like the taste of lima beans when in your childhood, the last time you can remember, you did not.

So in those cases, are you still you? It becomes a non-trivial question, especially in the latter case where you do not have a narrative memory bridging the gap between then and now.

Most people accept that memory and perception-habits have a lot to do with continuity of personal identity. What isn't generally accepted is whether that's enough to actually constitute personal identity.

You and a another person of the same age and with similar physical characteristics are captured by a sadistic evil wizard, who give you a sadistic choice. One of you will be killed; however, all the memories and perception-habits of the one who is killed will first be transferred to the other's brain, erasing that person's memories and perception-habits in the process. (Let's say, to avoid unnecessary digressions, that the wizard's magic for accomplishing this involves hyper-advanced nanotechnology that unravels all the neural connections in the victim's brain, and then rewires the neural connections in the survivor's brain to match as closely as possible. We can then further specify that the rewiring takes place rapidly but step by step over a period of an hour or two, while the person is awake.)

So, would you prefer to be the one whose body is killed but whose neural configuration (and therefore memories, etc.) is preserved by duplication in the other, or the one whose body survives but whose neural configuration is completely changed?

This is the same basic question as the teleporter, but it also addresses it from the other side, since you can now also examine the point of view directly opposite to the one who's destroyed but re-instantiated as a brain configuration in another body; that is, one who's not destroyed but whose brain configuration is changed to match another's. (In order to avoid another distraction, let's disregard altruism and assume the decision is made solely on self-interest. If necessary we can postulate that the two were mortal enemies who were trying their best to kill each other when the wizard intervened.)

Those who believe in souls or other comparable dualistic ideas would prefer to be the survivor. They would say, "I'll have different memories, of another person, but I'll be the same awareness that continued uninterrupted. I'll be the same soul." In fact, those who believe in reincarnation already believe that exact thing happens, and has happened to "them" countless times previously, when reincarnating from one lifetime to another.

Those who have more materialistic beliefs would prefer to be the "transferred" victim. They would say, "My conscious experience is, and always has been, a perception constructed from memory -- neural wiring and synaptic coefficients -- including both narrative memory and perceptual-habit memory. It will continue to be so, after those structures are re-created in the survivor's brain. My conscious experience won't be 'uninterrupted' but that doesn't matter; it's never been uninterrupted, and it's likely that it is in fact interrupted moment by moment every day." Those are the ones who would willingly ride the teleporter, for the same reasons.

Duplication doesn't raise any difficult questions that this memory transfer process or the teleporter scenario doesn't already. If we imagine that the victim who is to be killed after his memories are transferred to the other, is not yet killed after the transfer is complete (and the transfer process does not damage his own brain), then he will still regard himself as himself even after seeing that the survivor is now experiencing his memories and identity. No magical telepathy develops between them just because they are now duplicates of the same identity. Even though they are copies, they are separate copies, and their experiences immediately start diverging. For instance, they are standing in different places so they see different things.

(Asking whether they are the same person is a pointless question, depending entirely on nuances of meaning that we ascribe to the descriptor "same." They are not one person, they are two; they are (briefly, at the outset) the same identity but two copies. My copy of the script of Hamlet is a different copy than your copy -- I could smudge mine and yours would not become smudged -- yet they are the same play! Is that a deep mysterious paradox? It is not.)

So, the victim, like the person stepping into the teleporter, is still "himself" and still likely be reluctant to complete the process and die. In my evil wizard scenario, however, the materialist and the dualist will both agree that this reluctance is irrational, a trick, an unnecessary vestige of animal instinct. The materialist will think so because he thinks his duplicate will continue to propagate his consciousness just as well as his own brain does. The dualist will think so because he thinks his awareness will survive death anyhow. So they will deeply disagree on the reason, but both admit that their reluctance to die is an overreaction.

----------

The merological nihilist should agree with the materialist in this case, and step into the teleporter without hesitation. Conscious experience has parts, after all; it is made up of perceived separate moments in time, and it's effected by an instrument, the brain, that has more separate parts and more complex parts than just about anything else we have direct experience with. So the nihilist should not be concerned at all about the possible discontinuation of something that never existed in the first place. But then, the nihilist should also be equally unconcerned about stepping in front of a bus, for exactly the same reason. So a seal of approval from the Nihilist Association of America would not and should not be a major selling point, for those contemplating using the teleporter.

Respectfully,
Myriad
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Old 26th September 2012, 04:42 PM   #166
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Thank you Merton and Myriad for your answers so far and everyone else.

Let us say the universe like the fundamental particle is similar to computer code. I know very little about computers. But I do know that one and zeroes are the basic building blocks of a computer. Let us say that like the 1 and 0 the fundamental particles combine in a similar fashion. How would a table exist than?

IF this is not clear I can always explain it again.

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Old 26th September 2012, 05:18 PM   #167
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Originally Posted by levi View Post
Thank you Merton and Myriad for your answers so far and everyone else.
Anytime.

Quote:
Let us say the universe like the fundamental particle is similar to computer code. I know very little about computers. But I do know that one and zeroes are the basic building blocks of a computer. Let us say that like the 1 and 0 the fundamental particles combine in a similar fashion. How would a table exist than?

IF this is not clear I can always explain it again.
Well, we don't know the whole picture. We might have strings vibrating at different frequencies and/or attached to branes which we perceive as the subatomic particles, but string theory is highly theoretical. According to particle physics, quarks interact via gluons to form protons and neutrons, the former interacting with orbiting electrons via electromagnetism. Electromagnetism is also responsible for the combination of atoms into the molecules comprising the material from which the table is made. Then an organism works that material into our concept of a table (a flat, lifted surface).
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Old 26th September 2012, 05:41 PM   #168
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Can a table still exist even with the rules I said about similarities to computer program?

If I am not mistaken merton did not say.

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Old 26th September 2012, 05:47 PM   #169
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I have to say that merological nihilism isn't without value. There is the semantic game part but there is also a real world consequence that comes from parts and emergence.

For example, we must be careful to pay attention to scale and cross boundary stuff. Imagine it like a kind of telescope that can zoom in and out on our cloud. If we are interested in weather patterns, we would want to look at the whole cloud phenomenon to see whether it is going to rain or not. If we are interested in climate, we may want to look at how clouds as a category behave and how they block the sun. If we want to seed clouds, we'd be more interested in the molecular nature and nucleation. Maybe for measuring cosmic rays we'd be interested in the atomic nature of a cloud's constituents.

None of that should be controversial, but the merological nihilist points out there's even more to the story. For example, what happens when some phenomenon crosses the category boundaries we have set? At what level is a cloud a collection of water molecules and what level something that looks like a puffy rabbit? I'm not versed enough about clouds to come up with an example, but it may be that climate models have to deal with clouds not only as "things that block the sun and move around" but also as "things that absorb energy depending on their constituent molecules" -- or something similar. My guess is that such questions are coming up as computer components reach the nano-scale and begin to see quantum effects (again, I'm guessing, not being trained in that either).

Insofar as merological nihilism makes us look at the picture in a more holistic way, I think it's still useful. The abandoning everything on the objection that reality doesn't fit nice logical boxes I don't find much value in. Questions I am interested in are how do the properties of lower scales propagate upward and how does emergence arise? Is there always a chaotic element? Is statistics the right (or only) tool? Where are the grey areas between transitions?
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Old 26th September 2012, 06:30 PM   #170
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Asking how a table would exist in a model universe made of computer code is a bit like asking how a flight attendant would exist in a model airplane made of balsa wood and a rubber band.

However, we don't need a table to refute nihilism. It suffices to show that any meaningful thing exists that is made of parts, correct?

So, let's start with a model universe that, conceptually at least, resembles computer code. I'm going to use an old stand-by, the Game of Life cellular automaton. It's an infinite grid of square cells, each of which can be black or white. By default, they are white. At each time step of the cellular automaton, each tick of the clock, cells turn black or white depending on the previous state of their eight closest neighbors. If you're not already familiar with it, you can read about the Game of Life here.

The rules of the Game of Life do not specify or describe any "things" in that model universe, other than individual black and white cells and the property of neighbor-ness. However, it turns out that some patterns of multiple black and white cells have collective properties. For example, some patterns of black cells are stable; they remain the same from one cycle to the next. The linked page shows a dozen examples of such patterns.

A bit more interesting are patterns of black cells that, over a few cycles, repeat the same pattern but in a different position. These patterns therefore have the property of moving across a grid of white cells. They're called spaceships. The simplest spaceship, called a glider, requires only five black cells, and moves one cell diagonally every two cycles. The Game of Life Wikipedia page has an animated gif near the upper right corner of the page, showing a series of gliders being created by a more complex repeating (but overall stationary) pattern. The gliders are the small splotches that move downward and to the right at the bottom right part of the grid.

Now, our nihilist must certainly insist that gliders do not exist. And he has a case. After all, this model universe contains only black cells and white cells, and every cell follows the same rules. There is no special property of any of the individual black cells that make up a glider at any given moment. A glider is not "black cells that move." It cannot be, because cells (black or white) never move. What is moving is, apparently, a pattern. But the rules that make up this model universe do not address patterns, only cells. So gliders do not exist. Only the parts that make them up -- the grid cells -- exist.

I like this model, because it gives the nihilist a strong argument, free from "obvious" or "common sense" notions like tables. Do gliders exist?

Here's one counter-argument, heavily paraphrased from David Deutsch. Imagine a big Life grid, 1,000 cells on a side. It's all white except for one glider that's in the upper left corner, oriented so as to propagate downward and to the right like the ones on the Wolfram page. About 1,998 cycles later, a grid cell near the bottom right corner turns black.

Let's consider the question, Why did that cell turn black?

There are two ways to answer that question. One answer says, it turned black because the cycle before, certain of its neighbors were black and others were white, and so by the rules of the Game, it turned black. But why were those specific neighbors black or white? Well, on the cycle before that, certain of their neighbors were black and others were white, and so by the rules of the game, some turned black, or remained black, while others turned white, or remained white. But why were all those neighbors-of-neighbors black or white during that cycle? Because the cycle before, ...

This "explanation" can be continued all the way back to the initial cycle, where our initial pattern of cells were black, which can then be taken as an arbitrary starting condition or axiom. But even accepting the axiom, that "explanation" is poor. It doesn't actually explain anything. It doesn't answer the question "why" except by repeating, in every detail, everything that happened (more or less in reverse order). In other words, it answers the question "why did the model universe produce this specific phenomenon" with "because it did, look, run it again and see." But the question was "why?," not "what happened?."

Another possible explanation is: the cell near the bottom right turned black in cycle 1,998 because the glider that started in the top left at cycle 0 reached it.

That explanation answers "why?" In other words, that explanation is an actual explanation.

Our nihilist, of course, will prefer the first "explanation" because it does not invoke any entities that, because they're made of parts, do not exist. But the first explanation, as noted, offers no insight. Most of us (including the nerdy types who play with Life grids and invent things like the bizarre and remarkable constructions described on the Wikipedia page) prefer the second explanation that does offer insight, that does answer the question "why?".

The glider can readily explain a specific phenomenon, so mustn't we allow that it exists?

Not so fast, says our imaginary nihilist. We only need an explanation because we are there watching in the first place. In fact the phenomenon we're trying to explain, the turning of a particular cell black at a particular time, is also only important because we focused our attention on it. Otherwise it's no different and of no more significance than any other cell at any other time. So the phenomenon, our "explanation" for the phenomenon, and the "glider" that we invoke as part of our explanation, all exist only as cognitive illusions in our spectating minds, not in the model universe itself! Nihilism shoots and scores, and is back in the game!

However, the Game of Life has more tricks up its sleeve. It turns out that this simple set of rules for a simple model universe has a remarkable property: it is computationally universal. That means that one can construct a programmable computer in this model universe, out of gliders and other more complex patterns of black cells, which act as switches and logic gates and clocks and memory elements and the circuitry that connects them together. That means that a Life pattern can, in principle, be created to perform any computation that any known kind of computing machine can do. It can spit out successive digits of pi, find prime numbers that have never been identified before, apply a Gaussian blur to a digital photograph, calculate the orbital mechanics necessary to slinshot a spacecraft around Jupiter and into orbit around one of Saturn's moons, play chess, run a chatbot, or whatever.

Well, so what, says our nihilist. Pi, prime numbers, digital photographs, Jupiter, chess games, and English text don't really exist either. More things that are made of parts and so exist only in our minds. But isn't that argument be growing thin at this point? The game has become a stalemate: the nihilist's position is unfalsifiable, and therefore both irrefutable and useless. Specifically, not only can that position not explain anything itself, it cannot even allow any other explanations of anything to exist.

But we can go a step further, if we accept the "computationalist" materialist premise that all mentation including conscious experience is generated by universal-type computation. Because then we can, in principle, create a conscious mind within the model universe itself. Then it's not just ourselves observing the Game of Life that can perceive composite Life objects as explanations. Observers within the game can do the same, and are themselves made up of such objects.

That's quite an impressive showing, for things that don't exist. Just like in our own universe. What would the Game of Life's Descartes, made of quintillions of flickering cells interacting in unimaginably complex ways, say about her existence? Should she accept the nihilists' claim: "You only think you think, because you only think you are?"

Respectfully,
Myriad
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Last edited by Myriad; 26th September 2012 at 08:34 PM. Reason: to fix the Wikipedia link
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Old 26th September 2012, 07:36 PM   #171
marplots
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Originally Posted by Myriad View Post
(snipped a bunch -- worth reading)

Let's consider the question, Why did that cell turn black?

There are two ways to answer that question. One answer says, it turned black because the cycle before, certain of its neighbors were black and others were white, and so by the rules of the Game, it turned black. But why were those specific neighbors black or white? Well, on the cycle before that, certain of their neighbors were black and others were white, and so by the rules of the game, some turned black, or remained black, while others turned white, or remained white. But why were all those neighbors-of-neighbors black or white during that cycle? Because the cycle before, ...

This "explanation" can be continued all the way back to the initial cycle, where our initial pattern of cells were black, which can then be taken as an arbitrary starting condition or axiom. But even accepting the axiom, that "explanation" is poor. It doesn't actually explain anything. It doesn't answer the question "why" except by repeating, in every detail, everything that happened (more or less in reverse order). In other words, it answers the question "why did the model universe produce this specific phenomenon" with "because it did, look, run it again and see." But the question was "why?," not "what happened?."
It is not obvious to me that "Why?" and "What happened?" are actually different questions. I prefer to say the why is the same as the how. In other words, the most fulsome explanation of a phenomenon is the phenomenon itself. In this light, existence represents and "explains" itself and replaying the "game" is the only way to arrive at any authentic description in depth -- everything else is a model and the model making is what's being challenged.


Quote:
Another possible explanation is: the cell near the bottom right turned black in cycle 1,998 because the glider that started in the top left at cycle 0 reached it.

That explanation answers "why?" In other words, that explanation is an actual explanation.
I'd say that explanation is a linguistic shortcut only and says the same thing only if we leave out all the details we understand the listener knows about (or could learn in the repetitive way described).

Quote:
Our nihilist, of course, will prefer the first "explanation" because it does not invoke any entities that, because they're made of parts, do not exist. But the first explanation, as noted, offers no insight. Most of us (including the nerdy types who play with Life grids and invent things like the bizarre and remarkable constructions described on the Wikipedia page) prefer the second explanation that does offer insight, that does answer the question "why?".
I'll go ahead and claim the "insight" on offer is illusory and results from a compression into arbitrary categories of what actually happened. I could as soon offer the same sense of insight with an alternative explanation that used consistent, but different rules for the game. For example, after 30 steps, the board is erased and the previous configuration is moved diagonally 7 places (or whatever would duplicate the final result). Without replaying the history, we cannot know what gaps there may be and how poor our insight may be as well.

The rest I agree with and was very cogent.
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Old 27th September 2012, 09:32 AM   #172
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Originally Posted by marplots View Post
I'll go ahead and claim the "insight" on offer is illusory and results from a compression into arbitrary categories of what actually happened. I could as soon offer the same sense of insight with an alternative explanation that used consistent, but different rules for the game. For example, after 30 steps, the board is erased and the previous configuration is moved diagonally 7 places (or whatever would duplicate the final result). Without replaying the history, we cannot know what gaps there may be and how poor our insight may be as well.

The rest I agree with and was very cogent.

Fair enough. I don't agree, and I think there's a large and important difference between the two explanations. If one had the ability to track or predict a system tick by tick and particle by particle (a sort of omniscience), then perhaps the aggregate understanding of what a "glider" is and how it behaves would be unnecessary to understand what happened in the lower right region of the example Life grid around cycle 1998, or to predict that occurrence in advance (say, sometime around cycle 30). Similarly, if one could calculate movement in the solar system based on knowing and accounting for the position and motion and mass of every individual atom making up the solar system, one could plan a trajectory for a space probe without resorting to any linguistic shortcuts such as the notion of "the planet Jupiter" moving in "its orbit."

But such shortcuts (another word for them is "tools") are how we develop and increase our capabilities, both mental and physical. Not being omniscient in that particular way, when a Game of Life hobbyist wants to develop a Life Turing Machine, he builds it out of gliders and guns and eaters and other known patterns with certain aggregate useful behaviors. When a cave woman wants to make fire she doesn't (and cannot) look for a high concentration of particles that will individually react in a certain exothermic way to torsional stress; she looks for a piece of flint.

There's nothing wrong with having a different explanation, offering different insight, that also explains the results observed. It's called an alternative hypothesis. However, your 30-step hypothesis could be tested, and would fail to make correct predictions about future events caused by existing gliders in the Life model universe (since not all gliders move down and right), nor about the future of other patterns (since many stable or oscillating patterns do not move, or more at different rates) and would quickly be rejected. That's called science.

Respectfully,
Myriad

ETA: It occurs to me, based on the above and on the merological nihilist viewpoint, that a truly omniscient god of this universe, if it didn't use the same kinds of linguistic shortcuts cognitive tools we use, might not only be unconcerned with our existence (or the existence of atoms, water, animals, stars, galaxies...) but unaware of it. Such a god might know the future trajectory of every particle, yet have no idea (and no need to know) that certain of those trajectories in a certain place and time mean a king is beheaded.
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Old 27th September 2012, 10:15 AM   #173
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This, to me, gets at the essence: "But such shortcuts (another word for them is "tools") are how we develop and increase our capabilities, both mental and physical."

The objection is about what we sacrifice when we follow this method. I think the piece in the OP is merely pointing out how inexact and flawed such things are in practice.

I would make the distinction between the conceptual realm (such as the game of life) which is well crafted to be discrete and the real world to which we want to apply our models. At some point, says the argument, we do a little skip step, an elide that gets us past the logical inconsistencies. Remember, we are trying to understand the world beyond our ken by first discovering stuff and then looking for rules about the stuff we discover. The mereological nihilist is pointing out the flaw in how we conceptualize "stuff."

As a practical matter, I think everyone understands this. The interesting thing is how we are able to make theories that work, based on logic and mathematics, when those things cannot be rigorously applied (at least, so the argument goes). Look too closely and the cloud isn't a cloud. Reality isn't captured in the same way I can grab the idea of "2" as an irreducible point on a number line.

I'm a pragmatist, so "good enough" is good enough for me. But there is a point to be made about prediction -- unlike the well defined and constrained game of life, our real world predictions degrade and drift away as they extend further afield. This is the result of a mismatch and in the end we simply have to play the game to see what happens.

I'd also mention that model making isn't just a handy tool but made necessary by the limited capacity of my brain and my ability to experience reality directly. I'll even claim it's inborn in any creature that monitors its own body functions.

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Old 27th September 2012, 12:46 PM   #174
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Originally Posted by marplots View Post
As a practical matter, I think everyone understands this.
This is my problem with mereological nihilism; we already know that reality has fuzzy boundaries--to let my Biology background show, the definition of species or even life is a good example of exactly how fuzzy these boundaries are--but we still obtain useful information by creating these arbitrary distinctions.

And I really don't know how parthood entails nonexistence anyway. I mean, if the parts exist, then in what sense does the whole not? For example, let's say a bottle consists of two parts: the non-porous material that holds liquid and the lid which allows the container to be sealed on command. Let's also say that these parts are fundamental and therefore exist. When we say, "hand me that bottle," aren't we really just saying, "hand me that arrangement of parts which consists of non-porous material and a lid"? It really does seem like a semantic argument to me.
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Old 27th September 2012, 02:48 PM   #175
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Originally Posted by Merton View Post
And I really don't know how parthood entails nonexistence anyway. I mean, if the parts exist, then in what sense does the whole not? For example, let's say a bottle consists of two parts: the non-porous material that holds liquid and the lid which allows the container to be sealed on command. Let's also say that these parts are fundamental and therefore exist. When we say, "hand me that bottle," aren't we really just saying, "hand me that arrangement of parts which consists of non-porous material and a lid"? It really does seem like a semantic argument to me.
That's where the disagreement lies. We don't actually have a "fundamental," at least not in the mathematical sense. Perhaps the closest is an elementary particle like an electron with no internal structure, but I'm not a physicist. I gather the well defined starts to break down at deeper levels. The argument is that this carries through.

In one sense it is semantics, but semantics of an important form. This isn't just the niggling we do when we argue about word choice in a forum, but more about whether the words and concepts we use match up with reality close enough to generate the confidence we feel instinctively.

In your, "hand me that bottle" example, you would do as well to point instead of naming the object you wanted. It's the same problem whether you say it or indicate it some other way. How am I to know just exactly what you are pointing at? Only because you and I share the general idea of what constitutes a bottle does this work (and the same goes for the cap and glass part as separate entities).

In practice, it might come up when I attack you for having nukes. My claim is that nukes are aggressive weapons and indicate your desire to rule over me. Your claim is that they are defensive weapons and I am the aggressor.

In my example, I'm using a dual description for the properties of the same item, instead of waffling on what constitutes the item itself, but the idea is the same -- we get two different, equally valid descriptions that lead to different outcomes (whether I am justified in attacking you or not).

If you just add to the description and combine both properties (a nuke can be both defensive and offensive) the problem pops up again in other ways (a nuke isn't a weapon at all until it's launched) until your best description is the nuke itself and how it is used.

We actually use this property of reality when we want to test a description. Experiments are a type of checking behavior against the gold standard, reality itself. The mereological nihilist says this process is too flawed to have any logical confidence in.

The cap and bottle still exist, but they don't exist as separable entities from whatever constitutes "all of existence" and thinking they do is a mental trick, a kind of illusion. They would accuse you of playing a semantic game. Your example of a species is a good one because it clearly is us imposing a structure on nature that doesn't exist and we can also see others making contradictory claims (the "kinds" of creationists) that are just as valid (at least among believers). The mereological nihilist would ask, on what grounds, other than arbitrary preference, do you divide reality up this way instead of that?

My answer to them would be that reality isn't subject to the rules of logic at all. And this is why reductionism doesn't hold any power over it.

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Old 28th September 2012, 05:06 AM   #176
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I would just like to interject and thank Myriad, in particular, for his exceptional recent posts, that articulated clearly things I have struggled to describe, and to thank Marplots for his recent contributions too.

The advantages and disadvantages of dealing with various levels of abstraction and their emergent behaviours.

Thanks guys, for an exchange to cut out and keep
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Old 28th September 2012, 05:36 AM   #177
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Originally Posted by dlorde View Post
I would just like to interject and thank Myriad, in particular, for his exceptional recent posts, that articulated clearly things I have struggled to describe, and to thank Marplots for his recent contributions too.

The advantages and disadvantages of dealing with various levels of abstraction and their emergent behaviours.

Thanks guys, for an exchange to cut out and keep
I don't want anyone to be misled.

Myriad is the skilled and schooled one here. I'm just reacting to his posts as best I can and learning as I go. He's got arguments, I have opinions.
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Old 28th September 2012, 06:56 AM   #178
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Originally Posted by marplots View Post
... He's got arguments, I have opinions.
I respect his arguments and appreciate your opinions
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Old 28th September 2012, 08:54 AM   #179
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Originally Posted by marplots View Post
That's where the disagreement lies. We don't actually have a "fundamental," at least not in the mathematical sense. Perhaps the closest is an elementary particle like an electron with no internal structure, but I'm not a physicist.
Ah. I was assuming there was a loss of existence between the fundamental and the composite, which I would consider unjustified.

If there is no fundamental, then we didn't lose existence because it never existed (huh? ). I don't know that this really leads anywhere though.
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Old 28th September 2012, 09:12 AM   #180
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Originally Posted by JoeBentley View Post
Philosophy, the idea that you will learn the secrets of the universe once you figure out the difference between ketchup and catsup.
Or pickalilly and piccalilli
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Old 28th September 2012, 01:11 PM   #181
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I found another link for mereological nihilism that refutes it. Does this happen to also refute mereological niihilism?

http://web.missouri.edu/~mcgrathma/pubs.html
http://web.missouri.edu/~mcgrathma/p...sNoProblem.doc
And can someone explain the article to me

And I would like to thank everyone for there earlier posts.
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Old 28th September 2012, 02:55 PM   #182
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Originally Posted by marplots View Post
I don't want anyone to be misled.

Myriad is the skilled and schooled one here. I'm just reacting to his posts as best I can and learning as I go. He's got arguments, I have opinions.

From my point of view, the converse is true. I make no claim to be schooled (indeed, many branches of philosophy are among the biggest gaps in my formal education; otherwise I might have spelled mereological correctly in my previous posts) -- and to the extent that I'm skilled, I'm skilled at something modern school systems seem to value highly, but perhaps should not: the ability to write essays about subjects I know nearly nothing about! (Think about it; doesn't that describe most classroom expository writing assignments at most levels short of the Master's thesis?)

And in general, I like taking ideas from computing theory and mixing them with philosophy, and seeing what dissolves or reacts or explodes; it's like the modern equivalent of a Gilbert chemistry set.


As for the McGrath article: I think it makes a good case for its conclusions, particularly the second:

Quote:
Second, while it is true that the nihilist may appeal to indeterminacy of factual content to give a distinctively nihilist answer to the puzzles, and one which puts her in a position to cite them in avoidance arguments, the indeterminist approach comes at a significant cost: a great many ordinary statements of persistence and/or destruction will fail to be determinately factual.

This seems to echo (from the opposite side) marplots' point about the cost of conceptualizing composites.

However, I'm not educated in this area enough to really understand the puzzle in the lump/statue "puzzle" that the paper focuses on. The puzzle is supposedly: a certain arrangement of a mass of malleable clay is both a "lump" and a "statue." After it is squished (without adding or removing any clay), the "statue" no longer exists but the "lump" still does. This should not be possible because if two objects (the statue and the lump) have the same parts, then they are the same object and so if one continues to exist the other must also.

To me, this is no puzzle at all; the latter claim (the "supervenience principle") seems ridiculous. Do philosophers not spend their childhood playing with Tinkertoys and Legos and building blocks the way many engineers do? How could they be surprised that the building-block set continues to exist after your sister has pushed the building-block tower over? Computer scientists ran into this kind of problem as soon as they started building semantic networks for AI uses. You build such a network by making links between, say, the category-object "bird" and the property-objects "has-wings" and "can-fly." And then you have to figure out how to handle penguins, statues of birds, birds with injured wings, birds trapped in small boxes, dead birds, birds with their wings surgically removed, and bird embryos inside eggs. The programmer writing an object-identifying AI doesn't have the luxury of tossing the problem aside by claiming these cases as proof that birds don't exist.

For me "statue" and "lump" are both reasonable descriptors or explanations for the initial arrangement of clay; after the squishing, one is no longer a good description and the other still is. There is nothing exclusive or fundamental about either description. Does that make me some flavor of nihilst myself?

Before going any further, I'd like to ask levi for some context. Are your questions related to course work you're currently doing? Is there some kind of assignment you're working on, and if so, could you please tell us exactly what the assignment is?

Respectfully,
Myriad
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Old 28th September 2012, 03:06 PM   #183
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No assignment. Just curious what the article means. If i knew anyone in the field of philosophy I would ask them. But I don't. So that is why I am asking here.

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Old 28th September 2012, 04:28 PM   #184
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Originally Posted by levi View Post
No assignment. Just curious what the article means. If i knew anyone in the field of philosophy I would ask them. But I don't. So that is why I am asking here.

Okay, no problem. I only asked because we have had correspondents working on school assignments here at times, and it's easier to be more helpful knowing what the project is in those cases.

Respectfully,
Myriad
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Old 1st October 2012, 09:16 PM   #185
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Originally Posted by marplots View Post

My answer to them would be that reality isn't subject to the rules of logic at all. And this is why reductionism doesn't hold any power over it.
Can someone explain this? You believe the universe doesn't make logical sense?

If you could predict every particle or particles that was the basic building of the universe would I exist?

Earth is composed of fundamental particles. If you don’t use macroscopic object does the earth still exist?

Can you make the argument that I am a composed of fundamental particles, cells and as a whole conscious human at once? How does this not violate Leibniz law? Does this make Leibniz law not work in all circumstances but in some it does?

Could someone believe the metal exists and not a glass existing, while believing a human could exist and is different than the same cells existing just not composing a human? Could you believe a metal bottle and plastic cap are 2 items and then believe a human is both cells and a whole?

I am assuming that the fundamental particles combine in such a way to never compose whole items. Is that possible and how? I don’t mean an atom and a compound. I mean in such a way that the fundamental particles never lose the properties when they form an atom, smaller and bigger.

According to the articles are these just different notions and there are arguments for each? It doesn’t supply a correct answer for the notions? http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/ma...-constitution/ http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/problem-of-many/

And the problem of the many can someone explain to me how it applies to humans or was it already explained?

I realize a few of these question have already been answered but I don't understand do you or don't you exist if you can predict every fundalmental particle? I gave a more detailed explaination earlier sorry for repeating it.

Thanks

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Old 2nd October 2012, 04:58 AM   #186
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I said: "My answer to them would be that reality isn't subject to the rules of logic at all. And this is why reductionism doesn't hold any power over it."

Originally Posted by levi View Post
Can someone explain this? You believe the universe doesn't make logical sense?
The simplest form of what I meant is the question, "Why is there something rather than nothing?" Is that a question logic can handle?

If you like, we can bring it closer to home. Why are you here and not someone else. Using logic and reductionism on this question informs us that somewhere along the line, it was a matter of chance -- not only that your sperm-egg combination won the lottery, but how you developed to become the person reading this was influenced by bajillions of other chance happenings.

How would things look if logic and reductionism did hold the ultimate sway? It would look like a computer program. There would be elementals and reductionism would get you (eventually) to a sequence of ones and zeros and the job would be done. Even better, you could run those ones and zeros through your algorithm and predict the future quite well.

But reality doesn't seem to be like that. When we use logic, we grant some things the status of irreducible so we can make it work. No doubt, you've seen how this makes for an irritating argument at times. One party will make a claim based on one set of logical premises and the other will object to the results by attacking the premises. We all know there's plenty of wiggle room in anyone's particular division of the world. It becomes a rhetorical game to carve out different slices to make different points.

For example, one will decry the needs of the poor. The next will point out the poor aren't really poor from a worldwide perspective. Another will use poor, not in a strict monetary sense, but in a "poverty of experience" sense and shift the whole thing to a discussion about happiness and a fulfilling life.

The fact that this is possible points up where our concepts and reality are in conflict. How long is the coastline of England anyhow? 1) You have to go and measure it -- there is no logical process which will tell you without interacting with the world directly; 2) Even if you do go look, your answer will depend on how you frame the data and your premises.
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Old 2nd October 2012, 07:06 PM   #187
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Marplots maybe I am mistaken but your posts sounds like the concept of gunk. Gunk is where there are no fundamental particles it just keeps on dividing and dividing into infinity. The smaller particle is created by the observation of the bigger particle. For example a macroscopic objects observing a smaller object and changing it. And when you observe the smaller particles that are created by the bigger object they combine in a way that creates fractals when you zoom in. Or a bigger particle and the smaller particle form a fractal pattern the same as when you zoom into a fractal. The next question you should ask is, how does the bigger causes the smaller? Once you create the smaller how does it exist when it not observed by the bigger?

I bet this is just nonsense but tell me if I am on to something and can someone answer my questions from my previous post and answer my crazy theory simply.

And if my crazy theory is not explained properly I can always try again.
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Old 3rd October 2012, 12:05 PM   #188
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Can someone please answer my questions from 2 posts ago?
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Old 3rd October 2012, 03:16 PM   #189
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Originally Posted by levi View Post
Can someone explain this? You believe the universe doesn't make logical sense?
At some levels, no it doesn't. The rules of boolean logic do not apply in QM. You can have indeterminant states, quantum jumps/tunneling and things like the double slit experiment.
Quote:

If you could predict every particle or particles that was the basic building of the universe would I exist?


Earth is composed of fundamental particles. If you don’t use macroscopic object does the earth still exist?
yes, this is one of the huge problems with the way certain people interpret QM, wave forms exist before, during and after interactions, they do not need 'observation' to exist.
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Old 3rd October 2012, 09:35 PM   #190
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Originally Posted by Merton View Post
I think you need to ask a mereological nihilist such as Peter Unger this question. Unless someone here believes the same thing (and I doubt you'll find one on a skeptic forum), we can only guess as to the rationale for espousing such a philosophy.

A quick Google search yielded the following result, which may answer your questions better: http://www.zenflowerradio.com/Publis...nofAXIO3R2.pdf

An excerpt (page 271 of the original document, page 27 of the PDF):



My initial reaction is that quantum atoms absolutely can relate to each other and therefore his philosophy fails. I'm assuming, however, that he's going to use novel definitions of "touch, contact, connect, or relate" in order to accomplish this.
Did Dancing Dancing use this as his source because I am not sure of the accurarcy of this link?
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Old 5th October 2012, 05:43 PM   #191
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Originally Posted by levi View Post
If you could predict every particle or particles that was the basic building of the universe would I exist?

A lot of these questions are like looking at one of those pictures that in detail depict a person sitting at a table or something like that, but if you look at the entire pattern of light and dark it shows something else. Here's one classic example: http://www.weirdoptics.com/entries/14-All_Is_Vanity.jpg. Does it make any sense to ask, "is this picture really a picture of a skull, or really a picture of a young woman, a mirror, and some furnishings?" Is that a reasonable question, or are there invalid assumptions in that question?

How about one of those photo-mosiac portraits like this one; is it really a portrait of a man or is it a lot of little pictures of magazine covers?

Or for that matter, is any picture in a newspaper or on a computer monitor really a picture of anything, or just a meaningless grid of different size or color dots?

Suppose you pick up a sea shell from a table and put it down on a shelf. An alien who can perceive all your particles is asked, "why did those particles (the ones making up the shell) move?" The alien can answer, "because a bunch of particles moved close to it and exerted electromagnetic forces on the shell particles, causing them to move." "You" are not a necessary idea for the alien to explain the event. However, how much understanding or ability to predict future movements of the shell does this explanation give the alien? Assuming the alien isn't omniscient, developing a more sophisticated model of the event, including your brain and arm and hand, would give the alien a better understanding. (Again, "better" can be read as "conducive to predicting future movements of the shell using far less computational power" if you prefer.)

But let's consider a similar situation where you are in the role of the alien. You are walking on a beach, and you see a sea shell. It captures your interest, so you're staring at it intently when you then see the sea shell move. Since you're looking at the shell, you can clearly see that what caused it to move was that some water surrounded it, then the water level rose as a current in the water pushed the shell toward you, then receded again leaving the shell in its new position. That's all the explanation you need -- clearly the water moving as it did was sufficient to cause the effect. So what difference does it make for you to understand that a wave moved the shell on the beach? The same difference that it makes for the alien to understand that you rather than a happenstance cluster of interacting particles moved the shell in your living room. You can understand and predict the movement using less computational power.

But that is not a small difference. It is an enormous difference. Because computational power is limited, so a more computationally-efficient explanation often makes the difference between predictability, partial understanding, or total mystery.

If all that exists are quanta of energy and explanations, don't underestimate the importance of the latter.

Here's an example: a solar system probably lacks the computational power to understand the movements of all the particles that make it up. But if that solar system contains particles that form a planet that evolves creatures with brains, those brains have enough computational power to perceived and understand the behavior of the explanations called the sun and planets. It's okay that the brains are themselves explanations; it just means that explanations have computational power. So if the universe is to understand itself, it must contain explanations that understand explanations.


Quote:
Earth is composed of fundamental particles. If you don’t use macroscopic object does the earth still exist?

It exists as an explanation, and that's quite sufficient.

Quote:
Can you make the argument that I am a composed of fundamental particles, cells and as a whole conscious human at once? How does this not violate Leibniz law? Does this make Leibniz law not work in all circumstances but in some it does?

You are explanations composed of other explanations composed of other explanations that are ultimately composed of fundamental particles. In what way is the you composed of fundamental particles different from the you that's composed of cells or the you that exhibits a whole consciousness? The only difference is the computational power required to perceive you in those different ways, and that's not a property of you, but of the observer. Leibniz law evaded. Is there a philosophy prize? For that insight and solution to an apparently hitherto unsolveable problem, I claim it.

(What I seem to be expressing here is also a sort of dual, or figure/ground reversal, of George Henry Lewes' notion of emergence. You might want to look into that concept, for insight into mereological nihilism from a completely different direction.)

Respectfully,
Myriad
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Old 5th October 2012, 05:55 PM   #192
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Originally Posted by Myriad View Post
It exists as an explanation, and that's quite sufficient.
And this is the very point a lot of people don't seem to grasp.

We have a language to describe things on a level that is useful to us. Yes these things often exists as either the part of something larger or as a collection of smaller things in some literal sense, but obsessing over that as some grand paradigm shift of thought is just silly.

Yes the Earth, myself, and my toaster are all just collections of atoms, but thinking of them that way has zero practical application 99.99% of the time.
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Old 5th October 2012, 05:56 PM   #193
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Originally Posted by levi View Post
Can someone please answer my questions from 2 posts ago?
I didn't read through all the ranting above because the answer to your question is in use of the word "qua." I skimmed and didn't notice anyone using it. (Surprise surprise surprise)

Philosophy is not crap, rather, people having philosophical conversations are corrupting the dialogue because they don't want to put logical parameters around the topic of conversation in order to deconstruct the ideas and learn about them.

Instead they want sound brilliant by cock blocking someone else's contributions to the discussion. (they feel clever when they do this.)


Qua is the key to a legitimate philosophical conversation.

Quote:
qua   [kwey, kwah] Show IPA
adverb
as; as being; in the character or capacity of: The work of art qua art can be judged by aesthetic criteria only.
Quote:
"Qua" is a latin term now used in philosophy. "Qua" (pronounced "quay") roughly means "in general". Therefore "humans qua humans" is a fancy way to say "humanity in general" (all of us, no divisions whatsoever).

Read more: http://wiki.answers.com/Q/What_does_...#ixzz28TZBnzRT


Quote:
Metaphysics (Greek: τὰ μετὰ τὰ φυσικά) is one of the principal works of Aristotle and the first major work of the branch of philosophy with the same name. The principal subject is "being qua being", or being understood as being. It examines what can be asserted about anything that exists just because of its existence and not because of any special qualities it has. Also covered are different kinds of causation, form and matter, the existence of mathematical objects, and a prime-mover God.
If you are just having a conversation with a bunch of loudmouths espousing their pet theories and going off the rails into "what if" and "how do you know" and "well prove it then, smartypants"

You are not having a philosophical discussion. Philosophers will put parameters around the ideas in order to examine them. They might then change the parameters to examine it from a different perspective.
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Old 5th October 2012, 05:57 PM   #194
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Myriad always has very insightful posts -- recommended reading.

I disagree with the notion of computational efficiency as he used it though.

Quote:
"But that is not a small difference. It is an enormous difference. Because computational power is limited, so a more computationally-efficient explanation often makes the difference between predictability, partial understanding, or total mystery."
My disagreement is that the answers are not equivalent and they have to be to compare and claim efficiency. What's really going on is the answer sought is made "lumpy" and then you point to the method that gives the lumpy answer (as opposed to the detailed one) and say, because it suffices, it's more efficient. But the level of detail needed is driven by the answer sought.

So, for example, if the question is, "When will I be dead?" Then I can efficiently answer, "In a thousand years you will be dead."

If you then ask me to pin it down to 50 years or so, I'd need more information, even more if you want me to pin it down to a decade or a year. And just as importantly my error bars start to go up. At some point the error swamps the answer I am able to give.

The computation required is set by the question and the level of detail, and it generates an associated error. If my question is lumpy, the error is lumpy too and the answer has the feel of accuracy necessary to the measurement.

In this light, one of the most efficient answers possible is: "Stuff happened." As long as the question is just as lumpy, that works.
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Old 5th October 2012, 07:51 PM   #195
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Originally Posted by truethat View Post
Qua is the key to a legitimate philosophical conversation.

That's odd. During the thread, levi has linked to several lengthy papers by professional philosophers published either in professional journals of philosophy or in professionally edited anthologies of philosophy. I've read most if not all of them in their entirety (I might have missed one back in the thread somewhere), and in those, the word "qua" has appeared exactly zero times.

When I want to talk about trees qua trees, I use the word "trees." If I refer to trees in some other sense (such as things possessing particular qualities of trees, or some particular tree or type of tree, e.g. "trees in my backyard" or "trees I've crashed my car into" or "data structures incorporating tree-like branching"), I use additional words that describe and if necessary explain that sense. "Qua" appears unnecessary unless one is habitually remiss in doing that.

Respectfully,
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Old 5th October 2012, 08:00 PM   #196
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like I said, it is grossly missing from a discussion on the nature of "being" or "existence."

It rather reads like a bunch of grad students tossing their favorite idea into the ring.



http://www.oswego.edu/~echel/Aristot...Philosophy.pdf

http://thephilosopherschair.com/tag/...eing-qua-being


That's not to suggest that this isn't a fun and interesting discussion. But it is neither a philosophical nor an academic discussion. Since levi has asked about the validity of Philosophy I wanted to point out the difference.


If you are going to discuss "being" and "existence' that is certainly not the same as discussing trees which are tangible objects and not theoretical ideas. That this nuance is not clear to you is partly why the conversation has not answered levi's questions. At least that's how it seems to me, I could be wrong.

Before discussing "being" we must first put the parameters around what concept of being we are going to discuss. Hence "being qua being" "being as we accept being to be for the purpose of this discussion."
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Old 6th October 2012, 04:06 AM   #197
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Originally Posted by levi View Post
Did Dancing Dancing use this as his source because I am not sure of the accurarcy of this link?
No, what I said about QM just comes from reading about it. The waveforms are waveforms, observation means interaction of particles or fields.
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Old 6th October 2012, 07:43 AM   #198
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Originally Posted by Myriad View Post
A lot of these questions are like looking at one of those pictures that in detail depict a person sitting at a table or something like that, but if you look at the entire pattern of light and dark it shows something else. Here's one classic example: http://www.weirdoptics.com/entries/14-All_Is_Vanity.jpg. Does it make any sense to ask, "is this picture really a picture of a skull, or really a picture of a young woman, a mirror, and some furnishings?" Is that a reasonable question, or are there invalid assumptions in that question?

How about one of those photo-mosiac portraits like this one; is it really a portrait of a man or is it a lot of little pictures of magazine covers?

Or for that matter, is any picture in a newspaper or on a computer monitor really a picture of anything, or just a meaningless grid of different size or color dots?

Suppose you pick up a sea shell from a table and put it down on a shelf. An alien who can perceive all your particles is asked, "why did those particles (the ones making up the shell) move?" The alien can answer, "because a bunch of particles moved close to it and exerted electromagnetic forces on the shell particles, causing them to move." "You" are not a necessary idea for the alien to explain the event. However, how much understanding or ability to predict future movements of the shell does this explanation give the alien? Assuming the alien isn't omniscient, developing a more sophisticated model of the event, including your brain and arm and hand, would give the alien a better understanding. (Again, "better" can be read as "conducive to predicting future movements of the shell using far less computational power" if you prefer.)

But let's consider a similar situation where you are in the role of the alien. You are walking on a beach, and you see a sea shell. It captures your interest, so you're staring at it intently when you then see the sea shell move. Since you're looking at the shell, you can clearly see that what caused it to move was that some water surrounded it, then the water level rose as a current in the water pushed the shell toward you, then receded again leaving the shell in its new position. That's all the explanation you need -- clearly the water moving as it did was sufficient to cause the effect. So what difference does it make for you to understand that a wave moved the shell on the beach? The same difference that it makes for the alien to understand that you rather than a happenstance cluster of interacting particles moved the shell in your living room. You can understand and predict the movement using less computational power.

But that is not a small difference. It is an enormous difference. Because computational power is limited, so a more computationally-efficient explanation often makes the difference between predictability, partial understanding, or total mystery.

If all that exists are quanta of energy and explanations, don't underestimate the importance of the latter.

Here's an example: a solar system probably lacks the computational power to understand the movements of all the particles that make it up. But if that solar system contains particles that form a planet that evolves creatures with brains, those brains have enough computational power to perceived and understand the behavior of the explanations called the sun and planets. It's okay that the brains are themselves explanations; it just means that explanations have computational power. So if the universe is to understand itself, it must contain explanations that understand explanations.





It exists as an explanation, and that's quite sufficient.




You are explanations composed of other explanations composed of other explanations that are ultimately composed of fundamental particles. In what way is the you composed of fundamental particles different from the you that's composed of cells or the you that exhibits a whole consciousness? The only difference is the computational power required to perceive you in those different ways, and that's not a property of you, but of the observer. Leibniz law evaded. Is there a philosophy prize? For that insight and solution to an apparently hitherto unsolveable problem, I claim it.

(What I seem to be expressing here is also a sort of dual, or figure/ground reversal, of George Henry Lewes' notion of emergence. You might want to look into that concept, for insight into mereological nihilism from a completely different direction.)

Respectfully,
Myriad
Any particular reason why the universe needs to understand itself?
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Old 6th October 2012, 08:07 AM   #199
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Originally Posted by tsig View Post
Any particular reason why the universe needs to understand itself?

There's no evidence that it needs to, so no need for there be a reason. However, it appears evident that it tends to; that might have a reason but I don't know what it is.

Respectfully,
Myriad
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Old 10th October 2012, 12:04 PM   #200
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Originally Posted by dlorde View Post
I would just like to interject and thank Myriad, in particular, for his exceptional recent posts, that articulated clearly things I have struggled to describe, and to thank Marplots for his recent contributions too.

The advantages and disadvantages of dealing with various levels of abstraction and their emergent behaviours.

Thanks guys, for an exchange to cut out and keep
Seconded!
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