By R.N. Carmona
Why a blog post and not a proper response in a philosophy journal? My very first journal submission is still in the review process, close to two months later, for one. Secondly, blogging allows me to be pedantic, to be human, that is, to express frustration, to show anger, to be candid; in other words, blogging allows me to be myself. Probably of highest priority is the fact that I do not want my first publication in the philosophy of mind to be a response. I want to eventually outline my own theory of consciousness, which is strongly hinted at here, and I prefer for that to be my first contribution to the philosophy of mind. I do not find panpsychism convincing and I think there is another theory of consciousness, similar to panpsychism in ways, that is much more cogent. I have outlined some qualms I have with panpsychism before; to people new to the blog, you can read here. In any case, I will be responding to a number of points in Strawson’s Realistic Monism: Why Physicalism Entails Panpsychism. Here I will outline refutations that should leave panpsychism unresponsive once and for all as it is not a productive theory of consciousness, i.e., it does no explanatory work and does not illuminate further research; it gives us no real direction to go in.
Strawson states: “You’re certainly not a realistic physicalist, you’re not a real physicalist, if you deny the existence of the phenomenon whose existence is more certain than the existence of anything else: experience, ‘consciousness’, conscious experience, ‘phenomenology’, experiential ‘what-it’s-likeness’, feeling, sensation, explicit conscious thought as we have it and know it at almost every waking moment” (3). Strawson not only sounds like an absolutist, but he has, no doubt intentionally, boxed out real physicalists like the Churchlands and Daniel Dennett. For my purposes, I deny none of these things. I am not an eliminativist though in the past I have called myself such when I lacked a better term for my own point of view. Now, I believe I have located a better term and so, I call myself a recontextualist. I do not deny qualia. What I strongly deny is what panpsychists think they entail: usually a version of nonphysicalist panpsychism or even covert substance dualism in where mental phenomena are ethereal. In light of this, I suggest that qualia are physically reducible in obvious ways already known to us and in currently non-obvious ways yet to be discovered or understood; we simply have to do the work of demonstrating how what-it’s-likeness is physically reducible. I do not think Strawson dodges recontextualism and this will become clearer as we move on.
He explains: “It follows that real physicalism can have nothing to do with physicSalism, the view — the faith — that the nature or essence of all concrete reality can in principle be fully captured in the terms of physics. Real physicalism cannot have anything to do with physicSalism unless it is supposed — obviously falsely — that the terms of physics can fully capture the nature or essence of experience” (4). I think the word physicSalism is clunky and so, I will exchange it for the word physicsism, which I think ties nicely to its predecessor scientism. There is not a chasm between someone who thinks science is the only way of knowing and someone who thinks physics is capable of explaining everything. Strawson makes the mistake of thinking physics stands alone among the hard sciences, as if it is the ground level of scientific explanation. I think chemistry joins physics in that department and as such, real physicalists can be physicsists if they are also chemistrists, the idea that a great number of physical phenomena are reducible to chemistry. If monism, that there is only one substance, and physicalism, that this one substance is physical in nature, are true then it is incumbent on Strawson to address the notion that science cannot apprehend certain physical phenomena. Strawson, therefore, is guilty of the same dualistic tendencies he accuses Dennett of (5), and he seems to bite the bullet on this in offering his “‘experiential-and-non- experiential ?-ism’” (7). Per his view, there are actual physical phenomena explainable by science, especially ground level hard sciences like physics and chemistry. On the other hand, there are quasi-physical phenomena in where Strawson feigns at physicalism while also betraying the fact that he means nothing more than nonphysicalism. This has to be qualified.
So, let us grant that Strawson would qualify the sense of sight as uncontroversially physical. Now, he claims that the what-it’s-likeness of seeing red is also physical and yet, science has no account for this per his claims; not only does science have no current account, but it can never have a viable account because, in his own words, “experiential phenomena ‘just are’ physical, so that there is a lot more to neurons than physics and neurophysiology record (or can record)” (7). I am a real physicalist and I strongly disagree with this statement. For starters, I think his statement is informed by a conflation some people tend to make: if something is explainable by science, it lacks existential meaning and so, anything that is explained by science enables nihilism. In other words, if we can explain the origin of morality without recourse to God, morality is suddenly meaningless in the so-called ultimate sense and just is relativistic or subjectivistic. This is wrong-headed. Explaining the what-it’s-likeness of red would not change the fact that red is my favorite color; nor would it change my experience of seeing a blood red trench coat hanging in a clothing store, as if begging me to purchase it. In a naturalistic world, meaning is decided by us anyway and so, nihilism does not follow from the fact that science explains something. Love is not any less riveting, captivating, and enrapturing if science somehow explained every detail about falling in love, loving one’s children, loving the species one belongs to, and loving species entirely different from oneself.
This aversion to science eventually explaining qualia reeks of nonphysicalism and to my mind, just is nonphyiscalism being labeled as physicalism, which is really just a nominal label that is so far failing to cohere with what is normally meant by physicalism. The notion that physics, chemistry, genetics, and neurophysiology can never record those aspects of neurons that account for qualia is incompatible with physicalism. If science can apprehend physical substance, and qualia are a physical substance as Strawson claims, then science can apprehend qualia. To say otherwise is for Strawson to admit that what he means by physical in the case of qualia is actually not physical at all. It is covert dualism and nonphysicalism. I have no qualms with scientists fully understanding why red is my favorite color. This does not then dampen my experience or make it meaningless.
Likewise, I know that sexual attraction reduces to mostly superficial, properly aesthetic, considerations and pheromones that induce a reaction in my brain, which then translate to a host of bodily reactions, e.g., feeling flush and then blushing, feeling either nervous, excited, or some combination of both, feeling a knot in my stomach. This does not accomplish making my attraction meaningless or, at least, making it less meaningful because, in truth, while I understand the science of attraction, it does not register when I am in the middle of experiencing attraction. These considerations factor even less when I have fallen in love. I do not think, “well damn, scientists have me pegged and I am only feeling all of these sensations because of serotonin and dopamine releases in my brain; love is ultimately meaningless.” What gives vibrance to experience is the experiencer.
Experience is akin to aesthetics, hence why we find some experiences pleasurable while there are others we can describe with an array of negative words and connotations. Science can also explain why a lot of people hate waiting for a long period of time, why just as many people hate the feeling of being out of breath, and why pretty much anyone hates going to work after a night of inadequate sleep. Science explaining these experiences does not change the interpretation of the experiencer; science does suggest why we have very common associations between most experiences, from pleasurable to painful to everything between, and that speaks to us being one species. So, experience can be explained by science and science can even predict the interpretation of this or that experiencer, but science does not dampen phenomenal experience. Panpsychists confuse that we have phenomenal experience with that we interpret phenomenal experience. Physicalism is not opposed to science fully explaining either of these and in fact, it has done much in the way of explaining both. Strawson tries to avoid this and yet claims: “If everything that concretely exists is intrinsically experience-involving, well, that is what the physical turns out to be; it is what energy (another name for physical stuff) turns out to be. This view does not stand out as particularly strange against the background of present-day science, and is in no way incompatible with it” (8). Well, if indeed it does not stand out as particularly strange against the background of present-day science, then all concrete things can be explained by science. This entailment seems uncontroversial and obvious for anyone identifying as a physicalist.
Strawson stipulates that “real physicalists … cannot deny that when you put physical stuff together in the way in which it is put together in brains like ours, it constitutes — is — experience like ours; all by itself. All by itself: there is on their own physicalist view nothing else, nothing non-physical, involved” (12). This is patently false as it alludes to mind-brain identity theory. It is not just atoms coming together in brains like ours. Human consciousness is compound reductive. In other words, human consciousness is not reducible to just one physical, macro aspect about our biological structure. That is to say that it is not reducible to just our hands or just our feet or just our brains. Strawson’s conflation of physicalism, as usually construed, and mind-brain identity theory leaves out crucial elements of experience, namely our central and peripheral nervous systems; the parts of the brain because anyone versed in the pertinent science knows that when it comes to the brain, the parts are more integral to consciousness than the whole; sense apparatus like our eyes, noses, pain receptors, and so on; and finally, external objects that provide the mind with data to process, interpret, make sense of, and so on.
From the perspective of differential ontology, and given that I have been thoroughly disabused of flippant idealism and solipsism, I know that my thoughts are not organically generated as if in a vacuum, within my brain. My thoughts are invariably and intimately connected to whatever I am occupied with, in the present time by Strawson’s various claims about what physicalism entail. If he had never written his thoughts, then I would not be countering his claims with my own. Perhaps I would be thinking about lunch at 12:26 pm ET, but alas, I am not. The point being that when I do start to think about having lunch, my thoughts about what to eat will be influenced by hunger pangs that amount to a feedback loop between my brain and my gut, again demonstrating the importance of organs other than just the brain in accounting for my experience, and pretty much any human being’s experience, of hunger. That feeling would take priority over my desire to respond to Strawson. Deciding what to eat amounts to constraints, like what food I have in my pantry and refrigerator and a desire not to spend money on takeout. So, I can only end up eating what is already available to me; in this case, only unexpected factors can change this course. Perhaps a neighbor or a relative is decided on bringing me baked lasagna and since I currently do not know that they have these plans, that option does not feature in what I am thinking of having for lunch. In any case, what has become clear is that phenomenal consciousness reduces, in part, to a litany of physical objects, some of which are not even in your vicinity. What is also clear is that the brain alone does not account for phenomenal consciousness.
Strawson and other panpsychists are looking in one of the right places, to be sure, but understanding phenomenal consciousness is like understanding a crime scene, and as such, we have to be aware of various factors that make the crime cohere, from blood spatter patterns to the murder weapon to point of entry (and whether or not it was forced entry) all the way up to possible motive. If we stop short at the murder weapon, then we can conclude the person was stabbed, but we cannot make any conclusions as to how many times, in what areas of the body, by whom, and for what reason. Phenomenal consciousness, uncontroversially, is exactly like that! Strawson and panpsychists sit out on the porch of the brain and do not venture into a mansion with many rooms, light switches, outlets, and the such. Neurons, synapses, neurogenesis, neurodegeneration, memory formation, recollection, confabulation, and so on are critically important in accounting for certain experiences. We cannot say the what-it’s-likeness of déjà vu is due to the fact that particles are conscious. That tells us nothing, does not help us elucidate on this experience, and ultimately, lacks explanatory power. It is simply a vacuous claim. Real physicalists can enter the many-roomed mansion and start to explain why this experience feels a certain way, and why some of us interpret it the way we do; for instance, there is a delay between seeing and being aware that we have seen, and so, in those small intervals of time, we can fool ourselves into thinking we have already seen what we just realized we saw. In other words, your brain “knows” what you see before you realize you have seen it. Generally, however, scientists think that déjà vu is tied to memory, so if we are sitting on the porch, trying to explain what it’s like to have this experience, we are in the wrong part of the house. We have to venture into the hippocampus, for instance (see Hamzelou, Jessica. “Mystery of déjà vu explained – it’s how we check our memories”. New Scientist. 16 Aug 2016. Web.).
I will free to skip the entire section on emergentism because while I find this account intriguing, it is implausible and has, what I think, are obvious commitments. Strawson defines it as follows:
Experiential phenomena are emergent phenomena. Consciousness properties, experience properties, are emergent properties of wholly and utterly non- conscious, non-experiential phenomena. Physical stuff in itself, in its basic nature, is indeed a wholly non-conscious, non-experiential phenomenon. Nevertheless when parts of it combine in certain ways, experiential phenomena ‘emerge’. Ultimates in themselves are wholly non-conscious, non-experiential phenomena. Nevertheless, when they combine in certain ways, experiential phenomena ‘emerge’. (12)
If this is the case, then emergentism is committed to idealism and to solipsism, “sometimes expressed as the view that “I am the only mind which exists,” or “My mental states are the only mental states”” (Thornton, Stephen. “Solipsism and the Problem of Other Minds”. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Web.). The obvious drawback here is that there is no way to pin down where these properties emerge from. The source will vary from one first person point of view to the next or, to put it facetiously, from one person under the illusion that they have first person perspective to another person under the same illusion. I will claim that all that exists is my mind while someone else can lay claim to their own mind existing. I will then claim that all else emerges from my mental states while the next person makes the same claim. Then the question becomes, when we are both shopping for clothes, why do we both see a blood red trench coat for sale and why is it that my mental state of wanting to buy it does not emerge from his mental state of barely noticing the coat? How can these same properties group together to become the same object from two people under the illusion that their respective mental states are the only mental states? Emergentism, with respect to consciousness, does not evade these problematic commitments.
To understand the next couple of sections in his paper, in where Strawson’s claims go off the rails and get even wilder, the following have to be kept in mind:
- The non-experiential thesis: “[NE] physical stuff is, in itself, in its fundamental nature, something wholly and utterly non-experiential” (11)
- Real Physicalism: “[RP] experience is a real concrete phenomenon and every real concrete phenomenon is physical” (12)
- P-phenomena: “the phenomena of liquidity reduce without remainder to shape-size-mass-charge-etc. phenomena” (13)
- “The central idea of neutral monism is that there is a fundamental, correct way of conceiving things — let us say that it involves conceiving of them in terms of ‘Z’ properties — given which all concrete phenomena, experiential and non-experiential, are on a par in all being equally Z phenomena” (23)
Setting aside Strawson’s side-stepping of chemistry, which easily shows how liquid water can “emerge” from two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom, the reason we cannot have Z phenomena is because the question of how consciousness can come from non-consciousness is itself reducible to a scientific question that has yet to be fully answered: how did life arise from non-life? Consciousness, as we know, is found in living things, so per the combination problem, what criteria need to be met for a consciousness like ours to take shape? Is it size, mass, shape, charge? Buildings and mountains are far more massive than us and by extension, are larger and have more particles generating what should amount to greater charges; and yet, mountains and buildings do not appear to be conscious at all. This is a critical clue because clearly, the haphazard combination of particles when a mountain forms or when a building is erected does not accomplish giving rise to consciousness like ours. Briefly, the combination problem can be formulated as follows:
Take a hundred of them [feelings], shuffle them and pack them as close together as you can (whatever that may mean); still each remains the same feeling it always was, shut in its own skin, windowless, ignorant of what the other feelings are and mean. There would be a hundred-and first-feeling there, if, when a group or series of such feelings where set up, a consciousness belonging to the group as such should emerge. And this 101st feeling would be a totally new fact; the 100 feelings might, by a curious physical law, be a signal for its creation, when they came together; but they would have no substantial identity with it, not it with them, and one could never deduce the one from the others, nor (in any intelligible sense) say that they evolved it.Goff, Philip, William Seager, and Sean Allen-Hermanson. “Panpsychism”. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Summer 2020. Web.
To do away with Strawson’s assertions concerning consciousness coming from experiential ultimates, I summon help from an unexpected source. Though the neo-Aristotelian uses this thought experiment for different purposes, it is enough to show that basic organization does not consciousness make. Jaworski, no doubt inadvertently, presents a version of the combination problem that cuts deeply into Strawson’s thesis. He explains:
Suppose we put Godehard in a strong bag — a very strong bag since we want to ensure that nothing leaks out when we squash him with several tons of force. Before the squashing, the contents of the bag include one human being; after, they include none. In addition, before the squashing the contents of the bag can think, feel, and act, but after the squashing they can’t. What explains these differences in the contents of the bag pre-squashing and post-squashing? The physical materials (whether particles or stuffs) remain the same — none of them leaked out. Intuitively, we want to say that what changed was the way those materials were structured or organized.Jaworski, William. Structure and the Metaphysics of Mind: How Hylomorphism Solves the Mind-Body Problem. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016. 9. Print.
Intuitively, I do not say that what changed is just the organization or structure of these materials. That dodges Jaworski’s neo-Aristotelian commitments. I also add that the spark of consciousness is what changed. There is, in this case, irreparable damage to the claustrum, thus making consciousness impossible to turn back on, so to speak (see Koch, Christoph. “Neuronal “Superhub” Might Generate Consciousness”. Scientific American. 1 Nov 2014. Web.). Furthermore, there is irreparable damage to other pivotal organs that make it possible for us to make any claim to being alive. The liver, heart, stomach, etc. have all lost their function. The matter is still there, but the electric fields that make us conscious are permanently off. This is why I am conscious and an inanimate object, equal in size and weight to me, perhaps a boulder, is not conscious. Non-experiential things can be used to design other non-experiential things or can naturally form into other non-experiential things given that organic compounds and electric fields are entirely absent. The question of how consciousness arises from non-consciousness just is the question of how life arises from non-life. Just because we currently do not have a fuller, more detailed picture does not mean we have license to offer theories like panpsychism, which possess nothing in the way of explanatory power. The panpsychist and neo-Aristotelian think they are headed in some definite direction, but they are both quickly approaching dead ends.
Electric fields theory (EFT) of consciousness, indeed similar to panpsychism, at least prima facie, is where panpsychists should place their chips. Tam Hunt elaborates:
Nature seems to have figured out that electric fields, similar to the role they play in human-created machines, can power a wide array of processes essential to life. Perhaps even consciousness itself. A veritable army of neuroscientists and electrophysiologists around the world are developing steadily deeper insights into the degree that electric and magnetic fields—“brainwaves” or “neural oscillations”—seem to reveal key aspects of consciousness. The prevailing view for some time now has been that the brain’s bioelectric fields, which are electrical and magnetic fields produced at various physical scales, are an interesting side effect—or epiphenomenon—of the brains’ activity, but not necessarily relevant to the functioning of consciousness itself.
A number of thinkers are suggesting now, instead, that these fields may in fact be the main game in town when it comes to explaining consciousness. In a 2013 paper, philosopher Mostyn Jones reviewed various field theories of consciousness, still a minority school of thought in the field but growing. If that approach is right, it is likely that the body’s bioelectric fields are also, more generally, associated in some manner with some kind of consciousness at various levels. Levin provided some support for this notion when I asked him about the potential for consciousness, in at least some rudimentary form, in the body’s electric fields.Hunt, Tam. “The Link Between Bioelectricity and Consciousness”. Nautilus. 10 Mar 2021. Web.
While I am committed to monism, the idea that only physical substance exists, and am therefore committed to physicalism, I am not committed to the idea that particles are the kinds of ultimates that attend to consciousness. Cells are the ultimates that attend to conscious beings like ourselves. This is the reason why the boulder lacks consciousness despite weighing as much as I do. Intuitively, the boulder should have roughly the same amount of particles in its structure as I do, but of utmost priority here is determining what I possess that the boulder does not. I am, as it were, activated by electric fields, receptive to my environment, can respond and adapt to it. The boulder, on the other hand, cannot do this. One might want to ask why, when the boulder finds itself gradually eroding under a small waterfall, it does not simply relocate itself? If, like me, it has a rudimentary spark of consciousness, why does it resign itself to a slow death, i.e., erosion? Bioelectric fields account for why I will move out of the way of an oncoming vehicle while the boulder remains idle under the waterfall, slowing eroding as time goes on.
This is probably the most damning response to Strawson: various domains of science are needed to understand consciousness. If EFT is accurate, and I see no reason for it to be inaccurate, cell biology is just as crucial as physics, chemistry, and neurophysiology. This makes for a comprehensive understanding of consciousness, comprised of the convergence of all our domains of knowledge. Philosophy of mind no doubt has a role to play, but not when it ventures far and wide from what science suggests. There is already a fundamental distinction between non-life and life, between inanimate objects and people. It follows, therefore, that if consciousness is inhered in living things, then it cannot be attributed to non-living things. This smacks of common sense and yet, philosophers are willing to occupy the fringes with popular theories like panpsychism. Some pretty anecdotes have come from this idea. Some say we are the universe experiencing itself, but if the universe already had all the makings of phenomenal consciousness, why does it need overrated chimpanzees who are preoccupied with reality tv, social media, violence against one another, and all manner of mundane and superficial nonsense to understand itself? If any composition at all, even absent bioelectric fields, are enough to account for consciousness, why not just configure itself into a Boltzmann brain that has no potential to develop the silly prejudices and biases humans tend to have?
My account starts to make clear how I can be committed to NE and RP and lead us in the right direction as it concerns Z phenomena. P phenomena are well-accounted for as they pertain to inorganic compounds. Of course, it begs the question to say that we have not quite nailed P phenomena as they concern organic chemistry. To reiterate, our ignorance with respect to how inorganic compounds become organic compounds that are essential to life does not give us license to make as many wild assumptions as we please. Any hypothesis, even within philosophy, especially if it encroaches on the territory of science, has to demonstrate awareness of scientific literature or at least, incorporate science wherever it is germane to one’s theory. Claiming that particles are actually experiential entities that account for why we are conscious pushes the buck back. Panpsychists have moved the goalposts and if they were correct, we would still be tasked with comprehending the consciousness of things utterly unlike ourselves. Thankfully, we do not have to do that and we can focus our energy on understanding why there is a what-it’s-likeness to our experiences. Again, there are important clues: for instance, people who were born blind cannot see while dreaming:
When a blind man is asked if he dreams the answer is immediate: ‘Yes!’ But if we ask him if he sees anything in the dream, the answer is always doubtful because he does not know what it is to see. Even if there were images and colours in his brain during the dream, how could he recognize them? There is, therefore, no direct way, through the dream reports, to evaluate the presence of visual activation in the dream of congenitally blind subjects.Carr, Michelle. “Do Blind People See in Their Dreams?”. Psychology Today. 29 Dec 2017. Web.
If experiential particles give rise to sight, then why do particles seem entirely dependent on eyes? Why do they not simply configure themselves in another way in order to circumvent the blindness of the eyes? It is quite telling that in the absence of a sense, the corresponding phenomenal aspect of experiences associated with that sense are also absent. My compound reductive account predicts this; this is unsurprising on my theory of consciousness whereas on Strawson’s account, and any panpsychists account, there is no way to account for this. Severe retinopathy is usually what causes people to be born blind. There are millions of light-sensitive cells within the retina, along with other nerve cells that receive and process the information that is sent to your brain, by way of the optic nerve. On EFT, therefore, blindness is damage within the electric fields that result in sight. The cure for blindness is to restore the electric fields within these cells so that communication between nerve cells is possible. That would then restore any corresponding phenomenal experiences. The mere organization of particles clearly does not accomplish this. EFT seems to have far more explanatory power than panpsychism does and if we took pains to assess just our five ordinary senses, we would be able to see that like blindness, anosmia, aguesia, deafness, and things like neuropathy, hypoesthesia, and CIP (congenital insensitivity to pain) are all reducible to nerve cell damage in the nose, mouth, ears, and extremities respectively. In simple terms, bioelectric pathways are damaged and thus, turn off communication to the brain, and in turn, cut off the corresponding qualia. This is essentially what I mean by recontextualizing qualia and Strawson clearly does not dodge that bullet.
Ultimately, I think EFT should supplant panpsychism in popular circles. I can agree with the notion of conscious cells because they are among the smallest structures atoms have assembled into within living things. I disagree with the idea of conscious particles because when they organize into air fryers, thermostats, buildings, mountains, and sand dunes, despite having comparable mass, size, shape, and charge to living things, none of these objects appear to be conscious; in other words, none of these objects appear to be aware, awake, attentive, and most importantly, alive. I can knock on a fish tank and the fish with the blankest stare in the tank can respond to a stress signal and move away from that area in the tank. I can throw a rock repeatedly into a harder material and it will continue to remain idle; put another way, I can take a geologist’s hammer to sediment over and over again, whether for a dig or in a fit of sustained rage, and the sediment will remain idle, allowing me to crack and break it as much as I please. Conscious beings, on the other hand, have a bias toward survival and retention of their structure. To use as humane an example as possible, if you were to do something that caused an insect pain, perhaps sending minor electrical charges into one of its legs, its automatic response will be to try to escape the situation. The insect, like you, wants to survive and ensure that it is not crushed or, in this case, burnt to a crisp. The same cannot be said of the myriad, non-experiential macro objects around us day in and day out. Strawson and panpsychists, aside from co-opting terms like physicalism when they really do not mean physicalism, would do well to renounce panpsychism and accept a better theory of ultimates: electric fields theory of consciousness. Then they can come to my pluralist physicalist account that allows for compound reductionism. To my mind, this is the only real way to study consciousness.
Lately, I have been thinking a lot about time, both on a personal level and on a philosophical one. Setting aside all of my thoughts on the kind of freedoms and privileges I would need to truly own my time, the phenomenon of time occupies my thoughts, in many ways from the mundane to the complex. When I was younger and far less patient, I would grow incensed having convinced myself that I picked the wrong bus out of the two that showed up at roughly the same time because the other bus eventually drove past mine. As I got older and my philosophical tendencies started to take root ever deeper, I started to notice how whenever the other bus drove by the bus I was on, it would never get too far ahead. In fact, it would arrive at my stop less than a minute before mine did.
So came my idea of virtual simultaneity. From there, I would imagine a parallel me, a sort of ghost, who in another universe got on the other bus and I would imagine how far ahead of me he would be on his walk toward my building. I would then speed up so that I would catch up to my parallel on my way home as means to feel better about not having been on the bus that arrived earlier. This is how I think about time, in a very intimate sense. Nothing stops me in my tracks like an article about time. My mind could be furtherest from time and from philosophy more generally, reading fan theories about a show I am into or looking up the latest sports scores, and when scrolling, an article about time shows up and I am immediately in that headspace. This was the case two days ago when I read Musser’s article “A Defense of the Reality of Time.”
Time is one of the most difficult phenomena to apprehend in the universe. It is as elusive as it is seductive. It is safe to say that no one has won over this lover’s heart. No one has seduced her enough to understand all of her mysteries and secrets. It is because of this that I am often discouraged to write anything about time, despite growing confidence in my philosophical capacities. But just then, Musser said something that got the gears of my mind running.
“Well, what if time had two dimensions?” As a purely algebraic question, I can say that. But if you ask me what could it mean, physically, for time to have two dimensions, I haven’t the vaguest idea. Is it consistent with the nature of time that it be a two-dimensional thing? Because if you think that what time does is order events, then that order is a linear order, and you’re talking about a fundamentally one-dimensional kind of organization.Musser, George. “A Defense of the Reality of Time”. Quanta Magazine. 16 May 2017. Web.
What if the critical error we continue to make is thinking of time as one-dimensional? What if time has more than one dimension, just like space does? A cursory look at Superstring Theory (ST) will begin to sound exactly like me in a footrace with parallel me. Parallel or possible worlds emerge from the fifth and sixth dimensions of ST. If it were possible to see the fifth dimension, we would be able to take note of similarities and differences between the world we occupy and a parallel world. Perhaps this is what our imagination does. If a runner gets a cramp in her calf a few meters from the finish line, she may envision herself winning the race in a world in where she did not get injured. Perhaps we do, in fact, see the fifth dimension, but I digress.
In the sixth dimension, one would be able to see the universe as it was at the beginning and an array of possibilities. One would, for instance, see universes in where the rate of entropy is lower or higher than in ours. If Boltzmann was correct, and time emerges from basic probabilities, then we would see universes in where .000000001 nanoseconds do not equal a second, but instead, .0.000000001515 nanoseconds equal a second, implying that time moves slightly slower in that universe than it does here. This is to say nothing about the arrow of time, which could move in the opposite direction (see Cartwright, John. “We may have a spotted a parallel universe going backwards in time”. New Scientist. 8 Apr 2020. Web. and De Chant, Tim. “Big Bang May Have Created a Mirror Universe Where Time Runs Backwards”. Nova. 8 Dec 2014. Web.).
In the seventh dimension, one may find themselves in the mirror universe on the other side of the Big Bang, in where the arrow of time travels backwards. The eighth dimension would give one access to exotic universes, with initial conditions so far from our own. In the ninth, one would possess the power to compare and contrast every possible world from worlds very much like our own to worlds decidedly unlike ours. Finally, the tenth dimension exhausts every possibility.
The fact of the matter is that we simply do not fully comprehend our own universe and so, we can be gravely mistaken about time. If one considers ST, and not necessarily whether the theory is true, but rather what the theory can teach us, one quickly notices that ST’s dimensions have consequences for time that are arguably more important than their ramifications for space. If ST is the case or if something close to it is true, time is ultimately nonlinear and therefore, not one-dimensional. So let us walk through what two-dimensional time might look like. First, imagine that the ancestors of homo sapiens in the far off future have invented time machines. If they can travel to and fro in time, time is still one-dimensional. In two dimensions of space, one can move horizontally and vertically. So then the question arises, what would it mean for time to move vertically?
Prior talks about a quasi change or “what is common to the flow of a literal river on the one hand…and the flow of time on the other” (Oaklander, Nathan. Adrian Bardon ed. “A-, B- and R-Theories of Time: A Debate”. The Future of the Philosophy of Time. New York: Routledge, 2012. 23. Print.). Rivers, in our world, do not rise, but they do fall. Setting aside evaporation, which does speak to water traveling upward, for time to flow vertically downward, we can imagine a powerful waterfall. Though this is completely new territory and may look like a new way of thinking about time, anyone who has ever thought about the past as something long dead and inaccessible implies that the flow of time travels vertically downward, forever making the past impossible to re-experience directly. For instance, Emery, et al. write: “According to presentism, only present objects exist. More precisely, presentism is the view that, necessarily, it is always true that only present objects exist. Even more precisely, no objects exist in time without being present” (Emery, Nina, et al. “Time”. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 2020. Web.). Presentists therefore, believe that objects in the past are in a state of oblivion, but if Temporal Parts Theory (TPT) is correct, then objects and events in the past are annihilated and their corresponding intervals of time are also annihilated. A brief review of TPT is in order.
The Temporal Parts Theory of Identity (hereon TPT) is derived from the notion of time being, in some sense or to some degree, like space. One can think of, for instance, a linear timeline depicting the years all 46 U.S. Presidents held office. Or one can think of the x-y axis used in physics. Time is represented by the x-axis whilst space is represented by the y. Or one can think of a space-time diagram containing two axes representing space and another to represent time. These sorts of considerations have led some philosophers and scientists to ask whether time is a dimension. According to some accounts, time is the fourth dimension. Time, however, is not always analogous to space. D.H. Mellor discussed these disanalogies at length. He, for instance, concluded that there is no spatial analogue for our feeling of the passing of time. We cannot, in other words, attribute the passing of time to spatial changes (Mellor, D. H. Real Time II. London: Routledge, 1998. 95-96. Print.).
With respect to parts, however, time and space are analogous. Theodore Sider explains:
Temporal parts theory is the claim that time is like space in one particular respect, namely, with respect to parts. First think about parts in space. A spatially extended object such as a person has spatial parts: her head, arms, etc. Likewise, according to temporal parts theory, a temporally extended object has temporal parts. Following the analogy, since spatial parts are smaller than the whole object in spatial dimensions, temporal parts are smaller than the whole object in the temporal dimension. They are shorter-lived.Sider, Theodore. “Temporal Parts”. 2008. Web.
Consider, as an example, the b-moments in Friedrich Nietzsche’s life. Friedrich Nietzsche’s birth on October 15, 1844 is one b-moment and his death on August 25, 1900 is another. The dates of both represent distinct b-times. On TPT, he is spread out from October 15, 1844 to August 25, 1900. If we were to depict him in a space-time diagram, his parts on our diagram will depict his temporal parts. If we were capable of watching Nietzsche in his infancy, we will be observing a temporal part, then another that resembles it, and then another. If one were to watch infant Nietzsche long enough, his later temporal parts will be slightly bigger than the previous ones. That is to say that Nietzsche is no longer an infant; he is now, for instance, a toddler. So on our space-time diagram, Nietzsche grows the further we move away from his birth. It is also worth noting that temporal parts have spatial parts and vice versa. Nietzsche’s hand, like Nietzsche himself, persisted within the interval of time his life occupies. The parts he was comprised of will also be represented on our space-time diagram.
Nietzsche, therefore, has spatio and temporal parts, so if presentism were correct, the interval of time represented by the ~54 years Nietzsche lived would enter oblivion. The flow of time, as it pertains to Nietzsche’s life, ends and yet, continues. Perhaps a better analogy (though in actuality, this is time moving in three dimensions), presentists seem to imagine that time is like a river, at least on the surface, but within it are whirlpools in where intervals of time meet their end. With difficulty, therefore, one can imagine time in more than one dimension even if one is not convinced of presentism. Consider instead the growing blocking theory (GBT). On GBT, the present and the past are real and the future becomes real when the present edge meets it. Similarly, on the moving spotlight theory (MST), only objects within the spotlight are considered present though objects on the peripheries still exist (Emery, Ibid.). How might two-dimensional time look like under GBT or MST?
For simplicity’s sake, I will consider GBT. Since presentists deny the spatio-temporal parts of the past and thus, bury the past, we can imagine that for presentists, time moves to the right on the x-axis (that is, along the first quadrant of the axis) and also downward on the y-axis (along the fourth quadrant). Growing block theorists, on the other hand, since they believe in the future emerging at the present edge, see time moving in the same direction as presentists on the x-axis, but moving along the y-axis in the opposite direction, upward in the first quadrant. In other words, if the death of temporal parts is a downward movement, the birth of temporal parts is an upward movement.
To pursue a brief tangent, not all theories of time think of time as a line. Eternalists see time in one dimension, but their view of time is more in keeping with a circle. Emery, et al. state:
One version of non-presentism is eternalism, which says that objects from both the past and the future exist. According to eternalism, non-present objects like Socrates and future Martian outposts exist now, even though they are not currently present. We may not be able to see them at the moment, on this view, and they may not be in the same space-time vicinity that we find ourselves in right now, but they should nevertheless be on the list of all existing things.Ibid.
Another eternalist conception that has been entertained can be called recurrentism. Nietzsche probably explains it best:
What if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: “This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything unutterably small or great in your life will have to return to you, all in the same succession and sequence—even this spider and this moonlight between the trees, and even this moment and I myself. The eternal hourglass of existence is turned upside down again and again, and you with it, speck of dust!”
Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: “You are a god and never have I heard anything more divine.” If this thought gained possession of you, it would change you as you are or perhaps crush you. The question in each and every thing, “Do you desire this once more and innumerable times more?” would lie upon your actions as the greatest weight. Or how well disposed would you have to become to yourself and to life to crave nothing more fervently than this ultimate eternal confirmation and seal?Nietzsche, Friedrich W, and Walter Kaufmann. The Gay Science: With a Prelude in Rhymes and an Appendix of Songs. New York: Vintage Books, 1974. 373. Print.
On the cosmological interpretation of eternal return (see here), eternalism simply is the idea that time is like a circle. There is a sense in which recurrentism is already implied and though eternalists are usually not committed to the idea of time literally repeating itself, if Socrates and Martian outposts exist, then time and causation are a loop. This implies that some future event will jumpstart the Big Bang and every event in the universe will play out in identical ways all over again. This is precisely the sort of thinking entailed in the presentist’s response to eternalism. Heather Dyke explains:
According to this argument, any theory that assigns ontological privilege to the present moment while also recognizing the existence of non-present times faces an insurmountable problem: it is unable to account for our knowledge that we are located in the present. If anything is certain, surely our knowledge that we are present is! But if past times exist as well as the present time, what is to say we are not located in one of those past times, mistakenly believing ourselves to be present? We might insist that our experience of presentness is so compelling that it must be veridical. But what about Queen Elizabeth I’s experience of presentness? That’s pretty compelling too, yet she is in the past, so her experience misleads her. Perhaps our experience misleads us too.Dyke, Heather. Presentism and eternalism. Time, metaphysics of, 2011, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-N123-2. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis.
We tend to give the present an ontological status greater than that of the past and the future. It appears that the only escape we have is the idea of spatio-temporal oblivion. Queen Elizabeth I is not somewhere in the past under the mistaken impression that she and not us is present. Time, therefore, probably does not have one dimension. Forward implies backward and up implies down, so any linear or circular view of time runs into problems of recurrence and all sorts of time-related paradoxes like the well-known Grandfather Paradox. Without straying too far in quantum mechanics, all of this is already implied in Bell’s Theorem: “Most models of nature are reversible in time; we can run the basic equations backwards in time as easily as forwards in time. This implies that theories with causality forwards in time must also have causality backwards in time; this was ignored by Bell” (t’Hooft, Gerard. “Time, the Arrow of Time, and Quantum Mechanics”. Frontiers. 29 Aug 2018. Web.).
Especially for people high on the idea of the universe being conscious or that there is a god(s), the universe would therefore offer us clues to help us better understand time. Think of the notion of space and time changing places within a black hole. Going back to the paradigm, namely the four-dimensional concept of space-time, time would then have three dimensions and space would have one. As Pösel explains:
Only outside the cylinder does the intersection with a plane at constant height (“at constant time” as seen from the outside) correspond to a snapshot. Inside the cylinder, time and space have switched places. Inside, the intersection image doesn’t show a snapshot – it shows something much more weird: a caleidoscopic combination of many different times. After all, inside, time is not the axial, but the radial coordinate, and all the different distances from the “center” which you see in the sketch correspond to different moments in time. Instead of the spatial structure of the black hole, the sketch shows a strange mix of space and time!Pössel, Markus. “Changing places – space and time inside a black hole”. Einstein Online. 2010. Web.
I would highly recommend getting a handle of Pössel’s illustrations if you would like to better understand how time and space trade places within a black hole. For our purposes, the fact that this happens in a black hole might offer a clue. Perhaps the lesson to be learned from the inner workings of blacks holes is that time has more than one dimension. Maybe the relativity of time inhered in General and Special Relativity has to do with the fact that time is superimposed or even supervenes on space in a different way relative to one’s direction in space. In other words, time has a horizontal behavior, so to speak. It has a slightly different vertical behavior. Further still, it has another behavior along curved or edged spaces within the dimension of depth. On Earth, we commonly move as though we lived in two-dimensions, so thinking of moving in a third dimension is difficult to conceptualize. We would have to travel in space to get a better idea of how the effects of gravity, over long distances, look like traveling along a curved surface. Or, we can simply think of the difference between Mario on Super Nintendo versus Mario on the Nintendo Switch. When Mario performs any movements in the depth dimension, or to add to our x- and y-axes, a z-axis, he is now covering diagonal domains analogous to the width of a cube, for instance.
To exhaust a well-known example, time moves faster at higher altitudes, the further one is from the Earth’s center. This might be suggestive of time behaving differently along the vertical axis. This also readily explains the relative experiences of someone falling into a black hole and another person seeing this happen. Recall the following:
1. The light coming from the person gets redshifted; they’ll start to take on a redder hue and then, eventually, will require infrared, microwave, and then radio “vision” to see.
2. The speed at which they appear to fall in will get asymptotically slow; they will appear to fall in towards the event horizon at a slower and slower speed, never quite reaching it.
3. The amount of light coming from them gets less and less. In addition to getting redder, they also will appear dimmer, even if they emit their own source of light!
4. The person falling in notices no difference in how time passes or how light appears to them. They would continue to fall in to the black hole and cross the event horizon as though nothing happened. (“Falling Into a Black Hole Sucks!”. ScienceBlogs. 20 Nov 2009. Web.)
If the observer never quite sees the faller fall into the back hole while the faller notices no difference in the passage of time and ultimately, crosses the event horizon, time here can be taking on a different behavior along the z-axis, in the dimension of depth along a curved plain. The 3:1 relation of space-time can be simplified with a 3:3 relation which is virtually the same as 1:1 or colloquially, one-to-one. To my mind, if simplicity is the aim, then this is our next recourse. ST was borne out of an attempt to condense the three dimensions of space into one dimension. That unfortunately did not work, at least not as intended. We should therefore attempt to think of time in three dimensions and see how this might help the project of unifying physics.
Ultimately, our theories of time, along with physics, may be impeded by the idea of one-dimensional time. Maybe it is time for us to begin thinking about the behavior of time in two or three dimensions. ST already shows that there are peculiarities about time across multiple dimensions, implying further that the ten dimensions of ST are not dominated by space. In other words, it is not that nine out of the ten dimensions belong to space and still one to time. There could be a disproportion, like a space-time ratio of 6:4, but if ST entails a few dimensions of time, we should begin conceptualizing how time behaves in a multi-dimensional setting. This might help us to finally unravel all of her mysteries and secrets. Until then, I leave you with a mind-bending interpretation of what happens inside of black hole from Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar.”
By R.N. Carmona
Philosophy of mind begins and ends with the mind-body problem. Philosophy, more generally, begins and ends with problems, so philosophy can be considered a sort of Russian doll in where a major problem implies any number of minor problems. Philosophy, therefore, makes progress insofar as there are solutions for these problems. The enterprise, however, is hyper-specific and thus, what appears to be a solution for the major aspect of an issue is often not considered a solution for the minor aspects connected to it. For example, Howard Robinson identifies the following implicit issue within the mind-body problem: “The problem of consciousness: what is consciousness? How is it related to the brain and the body?” (Robinson, Howard, “Dualism”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2020 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)). The hard problem of consciousness is entailed as well: what is phenomenal consciousness? How do qualia relate to the brain and/or body? Though we understand awakeness, awareness, and a lot about how consciousness traces to the brain, e.g., Francis Crick and Christoff Koch’s idea that the claustrum is the “conductor of consciousness” (see Stiefel, Klaus M. “Is the key to consciousness in the claustrum?”. The Conversation. 26 May 2014. Web.), proponents of the hard problem are not convinced that physicalism has solved the mind-body problem. This is where we find ourselves in the philosophy of mind.
The mind-body problem appears to find a solution in the severe brain trauma experienced by Phineas Gage in 1848. An explosion sent a tamping iron through his left cheek bone at a high speed; the iron exited at the top of his head and was found several rods (the equivalent of ~5 meters) behind him. His brain injury was such that it resulted in drastic changes in his behavior. John Martin Harlow, the physician who attended to Gage, published a report in the Bulletin of the Massachusetts Medical Society in where he discussed Gage’s behavioral changes:
His contractors, who regarded him as the most efficient and capable foreman in their employ previous to his injury, considered the change in his mind so marked that they could not give him his place again. He is fitful, irreverent, indulging at times in the grossest profanity (which was not previously his custom), manifesting but little deference for his fellows, impatient of restraint of advice when it conflicts with his desires, at times pertinaciously obstinate, yet capricious and vacillating, devising many plans of future operation, which are no sooner arranged than they are abandoned in turn for others appearing more feasible. In this regard, his mind was radically changed, so decidedly that his friends and acquaintances said he was “no longer Gage.”Costandi, Mo. “Phineas Gage and the effect of an iron bar through the head on personality”. The Guardian. 8 Nov 2010. Web.
Gage’s case lends strong support to the notion that what we call the mind is intimately connected to the brain in some important way. Even though thinkers like Leucippus, Hobbes, La Mettrie, d’Holbach, Carnap, Reichenbach, and Schlick thought that the brain generates thought similarly to how the liver secretes bile, there was no theory in the philosophy of mind that equated the brain and mind until U.T. Place in 1956 (Smart, J. J. C., “The Mind/Brain Identity Theory”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2017 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)). Mind/Brain Identity Theory can therefore, be regarded as the earliest version of physicalism in the philosophy of mind.
In philosophy, more generally, I take major issue with negative positions. Briefly, a positive philosophical theory is the result of the evidence in question. Take, for instance, bare data about brain impairments and corresponding behavioral changes from Phineas Gage to the 40-year-old man who exhibited sexually deviant behavior caused by a cancerous tumor in the right lobe of his orbifrontal cortex (Choi, Charles. “Brain tumour causes uncontrollable paedophilia”. New Scientist. 21 Oct 2002. Web.). Mind/Brain Identity Theory, given bare data of this sort, would point to changes in the mind corresponding to some impairment in the brain. There are other points of data for a theory to account for, but the insights of neuroscience, cognitive science, and psychology are crucial and must be accounted for under any positive theory in the philosophy of mind. Negative theories, on the other hand, often bypass an alternative interpretation of the relevant data and hinge on the fact that a given positive theory or a group of them falling under some category, e.g., physicalism, fail to account for or have overlooked other points of data. The challenge to physicalism is that it has failed, hitherto, to account for qualia.
Qualia (singular quale), what it is like to see red or taste pizza or touch silk, are supposed to lead us to the inescapable conclusion that since qualia are nonphysical properties, mental property is also nonphysical. Nonphysicalist theories in the philosophy of mind are the result of physicalism’s lone incapacity up till this point to incorporate phenomenal experiences into its paradigm. Later, I will show why nonphysicalists have been hasty to dismiss physicalist theories. For present purposes, some historical background on the hard problem of consciousness is in order. While credit is due to Chalmers for naming the problem, he does not deserve recognition for being the first person to identify it.
A Short History of The Hard Problem of Consciousness
David Chalmers is often associated with the hard problem of consciousness, but I think the credit rightfully belongs to Wilfrid Sellars. The basic thrust of the problem was spelled out in such a manner as to be the equivalent of stating it explicitly. The fact that Sellars did not call the problem what we now call it, ‘the hard problem of consciousness’, does not take away from the fact that he did much more work in attempts to unify two conflicting images which he dubbed manifest and scientific.
At first glance, this might be a reframing of Kant’s phenomena and noumena, but it is useful to note that Sellars’ manifest and scientific images would both be categorized as phenomena. On Kant, the scientific image would not qualify as noumena. Some modern day philosophers, taking after Donald Hoffman, a professor at the University of California Irvine, have it that we have evolved in such a way that we are pretty much shielded from apprehending ultimate reality, i.e., the Kantian noumena (Frank, Adam. “What If Evolution Bred Reality Out Of Us?” NPR. 6 Sep 2016. Web.). We evolved to perceive and thus, to solely apprehend the phenomena.
With that in mind, Sellars’ scientific and manifest images correspond to the Kantian phenomena. Yet there appears to be an irreconcilable contradiction between them. On the manifest image, a Rubik’s cube has a distinct three-dimensional shape and six colors – usually yellow, orange, red, green, blue, and white. Assuming we are trichromats that do not have green-red color blindness, we all apprehend this object more or less equally. On the scientific image, however, the cube does not have a distinct shape; nor does it have colors. The cube is comprised of particles and empty space, and though the colors are fully explainable by the science of chromatics – namely as the result of wavelengths in the electromagnetic spectrum – particles in and of themselves do not have a color. Aside from that, the Rubik’s cube seems to have these colors because we have three photoreceptor cells in each retina allowing us to see these colors. The colors, to put it another way, are not inherent to the object.
Sellars was interested in the project of saving appearances or, in other words, unifying reality as it seems given human perception versus reality as explained through science. This is the hard problem of consciousness made explicit: neuroscience cannot explain phenomenal consciousness. This is Sellars’ exact dilemma. The contradictory images are best viewed in human consciousness. Neurologists and neuroscientists can explain to us why we see and what brain regions are involved when we see or even when we imagine seeing, but they cannot tell us why we see how and what we see. In other words, science can readily explain why we see the colors we see, but it cannot tell us how neurons and brain regions give rise to quaila; there is something it is like to see a Rubik’s cube and given the hard problem, the scientific image cannot be invoked to explain the manifest image.
The Challenge From Nonphysicalists
Nonphysicalists, like any negative theorists, are essentially telling us to forget about the explanatory success of physicalism and focus, instead, on its seeming failure. In other words, nonphysicalists have no alternative explanation that works as well or better than physicalist explanations of non-phenomenal consciousness like awakeness and awareness, for example, but since they are purporting to offer a metaphysical explanation for phenomenal consciousness, we should therefore, abandon physicalist modes of explanation. I think that, first and foremost, the onus is on any negative theorist in philosophy to account for all of the same data in a more cogent manner than positive theorists before reaching into areas not illuminated by them. Otherwise, the inductive bias that people tend to have for a working paradigm remains justified. Put another way, if the positive theory has successfully accounted for all of these points of data, we have no reason to believe it cannot account for more troublesome points of data like qualia, given that enough time is granted. There is also a glaring problem with the inclination toward a metaphysical account after physical accounts have done most of the heavy lifting. It appears to beg the question for a nonphysical bias usually tracing back to religious predilections.
Think of synesthesia. For people who have synesthesia, hearing color, tasting sounds, and seeing numbers and letters as colored is a common experience. As with most sensory disorders, there is a neurophysical correlate to synesthesia (Barry, Susan R. “The Brain of a Synesthete”. Psychology Today. 26 Jul 2012. Web.). Sometimes the onset of the disorder is preceded by brain trauma. Jason Padgett, who was assaulted outside a karaoke bar, suffered a severe concussion. He claims to see geometric shapes and angles all around him. This is an unusual sense(s) for the majority of us and there would obviously be something it is like to experience the world in the way he does, i.e, qualia associated with these quirky senses. There is, however, something to be said about the fact that a brain injury preceded the emergence of these peculiar senses. While I am wary of inferring causation from correlation, correlation is a powerful indicator and when considering that Padgett’s case is not unique, the correlation might be suggestive of causation (see St. Michael’s Hospital. “Second known case of patient developing synesthesia after brain injury.” ScienceDaily, 30 July 2013.).
Panpsychists and Aristotelian hylomorphists say nothing about the misattribution of qualia. They want potential detractors of physicalism to believe that qualia are invariably uniform and predictable. In other words, the examples invariably are what is it like to taste pizza or what is it like to see red, but they never make mention of an increasing number of cases in where we can ask what is it like to taste Bach’s “Lacrimosa” or what is it like to hear burgundy. Recently, Julie McDowall’s synesthesia went viral because she can tell people what their names taste like. Interestingly, in some cases, she told people what their names looked like, e.g., Naomi looks like colorful lego pieces. Panpsychism and modern-day hylomorphism, aside from having no way of accounting for awareness, awakeness, and other aspects of consciousness already explained under physicalism, have overlooked synesthetic qualia because they are essentially live counterfactuals. We do not have to imagine another world in where people taste sounds and hear colors; these peculiarities happen all around us, and so, if they want to conclude that qualia and physicalism are incongruous, then synesthetic qualia and nonphysicalism are irreconcilable. To see this, it will be necessary to take a closer look at these two negative theories.
An Examination of Panpsychism and Hylomorphism
Setting aside the more mystic treatments of panpsychism, the non-reductive physicalist version of it promoted by Strawson and Chalmers is fallacious and though that is not enough to show where it has gone wrong, it makes for a false start. John Heil states:
The idea would not be that electrons and quarks have minds, but that qualities of conscious experiences are included among the qualities possessed by fundamental things. On the version of panpsychism endorsed by Strawson, electrons would not have mini-souls, but merely contain experiential ingredients of consciousness, a kind of primitive awareness. Only fully developed sentient creatures would undergo recognizably conscious experiences. You can make a triangle or a sphere by organized non-triangular or non-spherical elements in the right way, but the elements must have some split characteristics. Similarly, you can make a conscious mind by arranging elements that are not themselves minds, but the elements must have some conscious characteristics.Heil, John. Philosophy of Mind: A Contemporary Introduction. Third ed. New York: Routledge, 2006. 172. Print.
The notion that the constituents of consciousness must themselves be conscious, as some proponents of panpsychism put it, or as Strawson puts it, that they must have rudimentary experiential ingredients, is a fallacy of division. Despite this, it is not difficult to see the appeal of panpsychism. If you spread out the parts of a thermostat or a microwave, given that you know anything about the components that go into a thermostat or a microwave, you will understand how the bimetallic strips in a thermostat, that are comprised of two different metals, when placed back to back, serve an important function because one metal has a high coefficient of linear expansion and therefore, expands when the temperature increases, resulting in the bending of the bimetallic strip in one direction toward either opening or closing the circuit. Unfortunately, it is just not possible to spread out the parts of the brain and nervous systems, right down to the microscopic level, in order to confirm that particles have experiential ingredients. Moreover, one can pick apart a computer, a microwave, or a thermostat down to its barest parts, understand the function of each part, and put these appliances back together in working order. A panpsychist can then assert that brains are similar to household appliances, but they would have considerable difficulty showing how the combination of w amount of electrons and x amount of protons, if configured to make a neocortex and an amygdala, will result in y functions and z behaviors. The panpsychist’s domain of analysis is on the same macro-level that physicalists operate in, so they therefore, have no way of substantiating their assertions.
We will circle back around to panpsychism shortly, but a brief overview of hylomorphism is necessary because both of these negative theories in the philosophy of mind rely too heavily on the same considerations. A go-to example used by hylomorphists is in order:
Suppose we put Godehard in a strong bag — a very strong bag since we want to ensure that nothing leaks out when we squash him with several tons of force. Before the squashing, the contents of the bag include one human being; after, they include none. In addition, before the squashing the contents of the bag can think, feel, and act, but after the squashing they can’t. What explains these differences in the contents of the bag pre-squashing and post-squashing? The physical materials (whether particles or stuffs) remain the same — none of them leaked out. Intuitively, we want to say that what changed was the way those materials were structured or organized.William Jaworski, Structure and the Metaphysics of Mind: How Hylomorphism Solves the Mind-Body Problem. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 9. 2016. Print.
Setting aside Bernard Williams’ astute observation, namely that this ‘polite materialism’ is incongruous with the Neo-Aristotelian’s confessed dissatisfaction with materialism, this thought experiment misses the mark. Briefly, in keeping with Aristotle, hylomorphists state that the mind is not just an accumulation of materials, but instead, a structure or a composite organized in a certain way that then gives rise to powers that have causal capacities. On the surface, it is a non-reductive physicalist account, but once Aristotelian causation is properly accounted for, along with Aristotle’s treatment of substance and forms, one starts to see how hylomorphism, like panpsychism, are appropriated by nonphysicalists, especially ones who have religious biases. In any case, we do not need to imagine a graphic case like a crushed human being in a bag, a thought experiment that begs the question for hylomorphism. Hylomorphists should ask what structural difference is there between a living person at 3:49 pm and the same person pronounced dead at 3:53 pm. Setting aside theories of time, the living human, named Henry, is structurally organized as the hylomorphist asserts; dead Henry is organized in the same way, no pulverization necessary. Hylomorphism, unlike versions of physicalism, cannot explain what changed over the course of four minutes.
This is precisely the problem with negative theories in the philosophy of mind. They take for granted what physicalism has already explained, offering no alternative explanations, and then proceed to make claims extending from questions physicalists have, thus far, not been able to address. A panpsychist or hylomorphist is not saying anything about the brain gradually moving toward complete inactivity, the death of neurons, and ultimately, brain death resulting in the loss of function of every one of Henry’s organs. The physicalists did all the heavy lifting, offering positive theories that account for far more data than nonphysicalists hoping to high heavens that there is a viable alternative to Cartesian dualism. The nonphysicalists, by contrast, want to get by with nothing in the way of a cogent explanation, content with identifying what is, more than likely, a temporary weakness of a physicalist framework that has had far more explanatory success. In other words, we do not need to crush Henry’s structure to account for any difference between a living Henry and a dead one. Nor do we have plausible ways of deconstructing Henry, down to scores of subatomic particles, in order to understand his internal workings and how these experiential ingredients come together as a fully functioning human consciousness. It appears that the panpsychist making these assertions intends to make demands that are impossible to meet, to essentially move the goalposts out of a begrudging recognition of the fact that physicalists have much in the way of a working explanation for how all of the parts of the brain communicate, how neurons and synapses account for connectivity, and how these constituents come together to produce consciousness, including qualia. We do not need negative theories of mind unless these negative theorists do the hard work that will put them in a position to offer alternative explanations that are consistent with their nonphysicalist framework; it is not enough to stand on the shoulders of a giant they believe to be wrong.
The Sensuous Zombie
Now, imagine a person indistinguishable from a human being. Imagine then that this person is blind, deaf, and mute. Furthermore, imagine that this person cannot taste, smell or feel anything. Imagine that this person is devoid of all senses, even hunger pangs, a full bladder, and bowel movements. On my reductionist account, sensations feature in the information received from the physical world. Sights, sounds, colors, textures, and so on inform our awareness, which in turn informs our consciousness. Information mediates awareness and consciousness. This is in agreement with David Chalmers’ view. Where we differ is that I conclude that without our senses, we would not have phenomenal consciousness, especially since the qualia of sight is simultaneous with whatever we are seeing.
My p-zombie shows that my reductionist account succeeds, since accounting for the p-zombie’s self-knowledge and qualia is impossible. Whatever account one might render is all but ineffable. Can this p-zombie proceed as Descartes did and eventually say “I think therefore I am”? If s/he knows of no people and no other objects, how can this person prove him/herself to exist? On my differential ontological view, we know who we are, in part, because of differentiation with other people and objects, i.e., “I am because we are, and since we are, therefore I am” (see Herrera, Jack. “Because You Are, I Am”. Philosophy Talk. 12 May 2017. Web.); there are no essential properties about us.
The pivotal difference between my p-zombie and Chalmers’ is that it is probable that someone can be born this way. Of course, I would not wish the combination of these disabilities on anyone, but paralysis, blindness, deafness, anosmia, etc. have all occurred separately. Though the probability of all of these conditions being present in one individual is extremely low, it suffices to say that someone born taste-less or with a distorted sense of taste will either have no associated qualia or corresponding qualia that differ from normal experiences, e.g., chocolate tastes like spinach. Therefore, this leaves us with a powerful suggestion we cannot ignore: qualia, whether normal or synesthetic, and the lack thereof are contingent upon sense apparatus and communication, via the nervous system, to our eyes, noses, mouths, etc. There are, for example, widespread reports from people who have been infected with COVID-19 in where their sense of smell is degraded or goes away entirely. Ordinary flu strains and common colds can have these effects as well, but scientists looking into why this happens have shown that COVID-19 disrupts the normal functions of sustentacular cells, which “maintain the delicate balance of salt ions in the mucus that neurons depend on to send signals to the brain” (Sutherland, Stephani. “Mysteries of COVID Smell Loss Finally Yield Some Answers”. Scientific American. 18 Nov 2020. Web.). How is it possible, then, that the disruption of the function of sustentacular cells turns off smell-related qualia entirely? While one may remember what it is like to smell a rose, there is no longer corresponding qualia when one takes in a huge whiff of a bouquet of roses. Anosmia prevents one from having this experience.
The likelihood that anosmia can turn off qualia is much higher given physicalism than on any nonphysicalist alternatives, especially in light of the fact that nonphysicalists have no alternative explanations for why certain qualia are normally associated with this or that sense apparatus, be it the eyes or the nose. Moreover, the nonphysicalist has no explanation as to why brain trauma leads to synesthetic qualia and often omits such cases to suit his arguments against physicalism. What is more damning for the nonphysicalist enterprise is that though they go on ad nauseam about what it is like to be a bat, they have no account for why some blind people develop echolocation to navigate their surroundings. In other words, in cases where normal qualia are inaccessible due to impairment or lack of use of, for instance, the eyes, new senses must result in new qualia. This is readily predicted under physicalism, but not at all under nonphysicalism.
The Future of Consciousness
Ultimately, I think that as the issue currently stands, we are at the mercy of our scientific tools. To my mind, the best way forward is comparative study of consciousness. However, I do not think our current scientific tools are fit for the task, e.g., to monitor the brain activity of Thomas’ flying squirrel as it calculates trajectories while navigating the lush forests in Indonesia and Malaysia. What is it like to be an octopus, to taste through one’s arms (see Lambert, Jonathan. “How octopuses ‘taste’ things by touching”. Science News. 29 Oct 2020. Web.)? One may think this is not possible for a human, but what if it is? What if neuroscientists had a way to map the sense of taste onto the skin of our arms? Would this not result in qualia that correspond to this strange new sense? I will let David Eagleman have the last word:
If it sounds crazy that you would ever be able to understand all these signals through your skin, remember that all the auditory system is doing is taking signals and turning them into electrical signals in your brain. It doesn’t matter how you get those data streams there. In the future, other data streams could be streamed into the vest, meaning that people could walk around unconsciously perceiving the weather report. Snakes see in the infrared range and honey bees see in the ultravnstantiolet range. There’s no reason why we can’t start building devices to see that and feed it directly into our brains.Erickson, Megan. “Welcome to Your Future Brain: Inside David Eagleman’s Neuro Lab”. Big Think. 17 May 2012. Web.
By R.N. Carmona
Before starting my discussion of the first chapter of Neo-Aristotelian Perspectives On Contemporary Science, some prefatory remarks are in order. In the past, I might have committed to reading an entire book for purposes of writing a chapter by chapter review. With other projects in my periphery, I cannot commit to writing an exhaustive review of this book. That remains undecided for now. What I will say is that a sample size might be enough to confirm my suspicions that the Neo-Aristotelian system is rife with problems or even worse, is a failed system of metaphysics. I am skeptical of the system because it appears to have been recruited to bolster patently religious arguments, in particular those of modern Thomists looking to usher in yet another age of apologetics disguised as philosophy. I maintain that apologetics still needs to be thoroughly demarcated from philosophy of religion; moreover, philosophy of religion should be more than one iteration after another of predominantly Christian literature. With respect to apologetics, I am in agreement with Kai Nielsen who stated:
It is a waste of time to rehearse arguments about the proofs or evidences for God or immortality. There are no grounds — or at least no such grounds — for belief in God or belief that God exists and/or that we are immortal. Hume and Kant (perhaps with a little rational reconstruction from philosophers like J.L. Mackie and Wallace Matson) pretty much settled that. Such matters have been thoroughly thrashed out and there is no point of raking over the dead coals. Philosophers who return to them are being thoroughly retrograde.Nielsen, Kai. Naturalism and Religion. Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus, 2001. 399-400. Print.
The issue is that sometimes one’s hand is forced because the number of people qualified to rake dead coals is far fewer than the people rehashing these arguments. Furthermore, the history of Christianity, aside from exposing a violent tendency to impose the Gospel by force, also exposes a tendency to prey on individuals who are not qualified to address philosophical and theological arguments. Recently, this was made egregiously obvious by Catholic writer Pat Flynn:
So what we as religious advocates must be ready for is to offer the rational, logical basis—the metaphysical realism, and the reality of God—that so many of these frustrated, young people are searching for who are patently fed up with the absurd direction the secular world seems to be going. They’re looking for solid ground. And we’ve got it.Flynn, Pat. “A Hole in The Intellectual Dark Web”. World On Fire Blog. 26 Jun 2019. Web.
Unfortunately, against all sound advice and blood pressure readings, people like myself must rake dead coals or risk allowing Christians to masquerade as the apex predators in this intellectual jungle. I therefore have to say to the Pat Flynns of the world, no you don’t got it. More importantly, let young people lead their lives free of the draconian prohibitions so often imposed on people by religions like yours. If you care to offer the rational, logical basis for your beliefs, then perhaps you should not be approaching young people who likely have not had an adequate exposure to the scholarship necessary to understand apologetics. This is not to speak highly of the apologist, who typically distorts facts and evidence to fit his predilections, making it necessary to acquire sufficient knowledge of various fields of inquiry so that one is more capable of identifying distortions or omission of evidence and thus, refuting his arguments. If rational, logical discourse were his aim, then he would approach people capable of handling his arguments and contentions. That is when it becomes abundantly clear that the aim is to target people who are more susceptible to his schemes by virtue of lacking exposure to the pertinent scholarship and who may already be gullible due to existing sympathy for religious belief, like Flynn himself, a self-proclaimed re-converted Catholic.
Lanao and Teh’s Anti-Fundamentalist Argument and Problems Within The Neo-Aristotelian System
With these prefatory remarks out of the way, I can now turn to Xavi Lanao and Nicholas J. Teh’s “Dodging The Fundamentalist Threat.” Though I can admire how divorced Lanao and Teh’s argument is from whatever theological views they might subscribe to, it should be obvious to anyone, especially the Christian Thomist, that their argument is at variance with Theism. Lanao and Teh write: “The success of science (especially fundamental physics) at providing a unifying explanation for phenomena in disparate domains is good evidence for fundamentalism” (16). They then add: “The goal of this essay is to recommend a particular set of resources to Neo- Aristotelians for resisting Fundamentalist Unification and thus for resisting fundamentalism” (Ibid.). In defining Christian Theism, Timothy Chappell, citing Paul Veyne, offers the following:
“The originality of Christianity lies… in the gigantic nature of its god, the creator of both heaven and earth: it is a gigantism that is alien to the pagan gods and is inherited from the god of the Bible. This biblical god was so huge that, despite his anthropomorphism (humankind was created in his image), it was possible for him to become a metaphysical god: even while retaining his human, passionate and protective character, the gigantic scale of the Judaic god allowed him eventually to take on the role of the founder and creator of the cosmic order.”Chappell, Timothy. “Theism, History and Experience”. Philosophy Now. 2013. Web.
Thomists appear more interested in proving that Neo-Aristotelianism is a sound approach to metaphysics and the philosophy of science than they do in ensuring that the system is not at odds with Theism. The notion that God is the founder and creator of the cosmic order is uncontroversial among Christians and Theists more generally. Inherent in this notion is that God maintains the cosmic order and created a universe that bears his fingerprints, and as such, physical laws are capable of unification because the universe exhibits God’s perfection; the universe is therefore, at least at its start, perfectly symmetric, already containing within it intelligible forces, including finely tuned parameters that result in human beings, creatures made in God’s image. Therefore, in the main, Christians who accept Lanao and Teh’s anti-fundamentalism have, inadvertently or deliberately, done away with a standard Theistic view.
So already one finds that Neo-Aristotelianism, at least from the perspective of the Theist, is not systematic in that the would-be system is internally inconsistent. Specifically, when a system imposes cognitive dissonance of this sort, it is usually good indication that some assumption within the system needs to be radically amended or entirely abandoned. In any case, there are of course specifics that need to be addressed because I am not entirely sure Lanao and Teh fully understand Nancy Cartwright’s argument. I think Cartwright is saying quite a bit more and that her reasoning is mostly correct, even if her conclusion is off the mark.
While I strongly disagree with the Theistic belief that God essentially created a perfect universe, I do maintain that Big Bang cosmology imposes on us the early symmetry of the universe via the unification of the four fundamental forces. Cartwright is therefore correct in her observation that science gives us a dappled portrait, a patchwork stemming from domains operating very much independently of one another; like Lanao and Teh observe: “point particle mechanics and fluid dynamics are physical theories that apply to relatively disjoint sets of classical phenomena” (18). The problem is that I do not think Lanao and Teh understand why this is the case, or at least, they do not make clear that they know why we are left with this dappled picture. I will therefore attempt to argue in favor of Fundamentalism without begging the question although, like Cartwright, I am committed to a position that more accurately describes hers: Non-Fundamentalism. It may be that the gradual freezing of the universe, over the course of about 14 billion years, leaves us entirely incapable of reconstructing the early symmetry of the universe; I will elaborate on this later, but this makes for a different claim altogether, and one that I take Cartwright to be saying, namely that Fundamentalists are not necessarily wrong to think that fundamental unification (FU) is possible but given the state of our present universe, it cannot be obtained. Cartwright provides us with a roadmap of what it would take to arrive at FU, thereby satisfying Fundamentalism, but the blanks need to be filled, so that we get from the shattered glass that is our current universe to the perfectly symmetric mirror it once was.
Lanao and Teh claim that Fundamentalism usually results from the following reasoning:
We also have good reason to believe that everything in the physical world is made up of these same basic kinds of particles. So, from the fact that everything is made up of the same basic particles and that we have reliable knowledge of the behavior of these particles under some experimental conditions, it is plausible to infer that the mathematical laws governing these basic kinds of particles within the restricted experimental settings also govern the particles everywhere else, thereby governing everything everywhere. (Ibid.)
They go on to explain that Sklar holds that biology and chemistry do not characterize things as they really are. This is what they mean when they say Fundamentalists typically beg the question, in that they take Fundamentalism as a given. However, given Lanao and Teh’s construction of Cartwright’s argument, they can also be accused of fallacious reasoning, namely arguing from ignorance. They formulate Cartwright’s Anti-Fundamentalist Argument as follows:
(F1) Theories only apply to a domain insofar as there is a principled way of generating a set of models that are jointly able to describe all the phenomena in that domain.
(AF2) Classical mechanics has a limited set principled models, so it only applies to a limited number of sub-domains.
(AF3) The limited sub-domains of AF2 do not exhaust the entire classical domain.
(AF4) From (F1), (AF2), and (AF3), the domain of classical mechanics is not universal, but dappled. (25-26)
On AF2, how can we expect classical mechanics to acquire more principled models than it presently has? How do we know that, if given enough time, scientists working on classical mechanics will not have come up with a sufficient number of principled models to satisfy even the anti-fundamentalist? That results in quite the conundrum for the anti-fundamentalist. Can the anti-fundamentalist provide the fundamentalist with a satisfactory number of principled models that exhaust an entire domain? This is to ask whether anyone can know how many principled models are necessary to contradict AF3. On any reasonable account, science has not had sufficient time to come up with enough principled models in all of its domains and thus, this argument cannot be used to bolster the case for anti-fundamentalism.
While Lanao and Teh are dismissive of Cartwright’s particularism, it is necessary for the correct degree of tentativeness she exhibits. Lanao and Teh, eager to disprove fundamentalism, are not as tentative, but given the very limited amount of time scientists have had to build principled models, we cannot expect for them to have come up with enough models to exhaust the classical or any other scientific domain. Cartwright’s tentativeness is best exemplified in the following:
And what kinds of interpretative models do we have? In answering this, I urge, we must adopt the scientific attitude: we must look to see what kinds of models our theories have and how they function, particularly how they function when our theories are most successful and we have most reason to believe in them. In this book I look at a number of cases which are exemplary of what I see when I study this question. It is primarily on the basis of studies like these that I conclude that even our best theories are severely limited in their scope.Cartwright, Nancy. The Dappled World: A Study of The Boundaries of Science. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999. 9. Print.
The fact that our best theories are limited in their scope reduces to the fact that our fragmented, present universe is too complex to generalize via one law per domain or one law that encompasses all domains. For purposes of adequately capturing what I am attempting to say, it is worth revisiting what Cartwright says about a $1,000 bill falling in St. Stephen’s Square:
Mechanics provides no model for this situation. We have only a partial model, which describes the 1000 dollar bill as an unsupported object in the vicinity of the earth, and thereby introduces the force exerted on it due to gravity. Is that the total force? The fundamentalist will say no: there is in principle (in God’s completed theory?) a model in mechanics for the action of the wind, albeit probably a very complicated one that we may never succeed in constructing. This belief is essential for the fundamentalist. If there is no model for the 1000 dollar bill in mechanics, then what happens to the note is not determined by its laws. Some falling objects, indeed a very great number, will be outside the domain of mechanics, or only partially affected by it. But what justifies this fundamentalist belief? The successes of mechanics in situations that it can model accurately do not support it, no matter how precise or surprising they are. They show only that the theory is true in its domain, not that its domain is universal. The alternative to fundamentalism that I want to propose supposes just that: mechanics is true, literally true we may grant, for all those motions whose causes can be adequately represented by the familiar models that get assigned force functions in mechanics. For these motions, mechanics is a powerful and precise tool for prediction. But for other motions, it is a tool of limited serviceability.Cartwright, Nancy. “Fundamentalism vs. the Patchwork of Laws.” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, vol. 94, 1994, pp. 279–292. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/4545199.
Notice how even Cartwright alludes to the Theistic notion of FU being attributable to a supremely intelligent creator who people call God. In any case, what she is saying here does not speak to the notion that only the opposite of Fundamentalism can be the case. Even philosophers slip into thinking in binaries, but we are not limited to Fundamentalism or Anti-Fundamentalism; Lanao and Teh admit that much. There can be a number of Non-Fundamentalist positions that prove more convincing. In the early universe, the medium of water, and therefore, motions in water, were not available. Because of this, there was no real way to derive physical laws within that medium. Moreover, complex organisms like jellyfish did not exist then either and so, the dynamics of their movements were not known and could not feature in any data concerning organisms moving about in water. This is where I think Cartwright, and Lanao and Teh taking her lead, go astray.
Cartwright, for example, strangely calls for a scientific law of wind. She states: “When we have a good-fitting molecular model for the wind, and we have in our theory (either by composition from old principles or by the admission of new principles) systematic rules that assign force functions to the models, and the force functions assigned predict exactly the right motions, then we will have good scientific reason to maintain that the wind operates via a force” (Ibid). Wind, unlike inertia or gravity, is an inter-body phenomenon in that the heat from the Sun is distributed unevenly across the Earth’s surface. Warmer air from the equator tends toward the atmosphere and moves to the poles while cooler air tends toward the equator. Wind moves between areas of high pressure to areas of low pressure and the boundary between these areas is called a front. This is why we cannot have a law of wind because aside from the complex systems on Earth, this law would have to apply to the alien systems on gas giants like Jupiter and Saturn. This point is best exemplified by the fact that scientists cannot even begin to comprehend why Neptune’s Dark Spot did a complete about-face. A law of wind would have to apply universally, not just on Earth, and would thus, have to explain the behavior of wind on other planets. That is an impossible ask because the composition of other planets and their stars would make for different conditions that are best analyzed in complex models, accounting for as much data as possible, rather than a law attempting to generalize what wind should do assuming simple conditions.
Despite Cartwright’s lofty demand, her actual argument does not preclude Fundamentalism despite what Lanao and Teh might have thought. Cartwright introduces a view that I think is in keeping with the present universe: “Metaphysical nomological pluralism is the doctrine that nature is governed in different domains by different systems of laws not necessarily related to each other in any systematic or uniform way: by a patchwork of laws” (Ibid.). I think it is entirely possible to get from metaphysical nomological pluralism (MNP) to FU if one fills in the blanks by way of symmetry breaking. Prior to seeing how symmetry breaking bridges the gap between MNP and FU, it is necessary to outline an argument from Cartwright’s MNP to FU:
F1 Theories only apply to a domain insofar as there is a principled way of generating a set of models that are jointly able to describe all the phenomena in that domain.
MNP1 Nature is governed in different domains by different systems of laws not necessarily related to each other in any systematic or uniform way: by a patchwork of laws.
MNP2 It is possible that the initial properties in the universe allow these laws to be true together.
MNP3 From F1, MNP1, and MNP2, the emergence of different systems of laws from the initial properties in the universe imply that FU is the probable.
Lanao and Teh agree that F1 is a shared premise between Fundamentalists and Anti-Fundamentalists. As a Non-Fundamentalist, I see it as straightforwardly obvious as well. With respect to our present laws, I think that FU may be out of our reach. As has been famously repeated, humans did not evolve to do quantum mechanics, let alone piece together a shattered mirror. This is why I’m a Non– as opposed to Anti-Fundamentalist; the subtle distinction is that I am neither opposed to FU being the case nor do I think it is false, but rather that it is extremely difficult to come by. Michio Kaku describes the universe as follows: “Think of the way a beautiful mirror shatters into a thousand pieces. The original mirror possessed great symmetry. You can rotate a mirror at any angle and it still reflects light in the same way. But after it is shattered, the original symmetry is broken. Determining precisely how the symmetry is broken determines how the mirror shatters” (Kaku, Michio. Parallel Worlds: A Journey Through Creation, Higher Dimensions, and The Future of The Cosmos. New York: Doubleday, 2005. 97. Print.).
If Kaku’s thinking is correct, then there is no way to postulate that God had St. Peter arrange the initial properties of the universe so that all of God’s desired laws are true simultaneously without realizing that FU is not only probable but true, however unobtainable it may be. The shards would have to pertain to the mirror. Kaku explains that Grand Unified Theory (GUT) Symmetry breaks down to SU(3) x SU(2) x U(1), which yields 19 free parameters required to describe our present universe. There are other ways for the mirror to have broken, to break down GUT Symmetry. This implies that other universes would have residual symmetry different from that of our universe and therefore, would have entirely different systems of laws. These universes, at minimum, would have different values for these free parameters, like a weaker nuclear force that would prevent star formation and make the emergence of life impossible. In other scenarios, the symmetry group can have an entirely different Standard Model in where protons quickly decay into anti-electrons, which would also prevent life as we know it (Ibid., 100).
Modern scientists are then tasked with working backwards. The alternative to that is to undertake the gargantuan task, as Cartwright puts it, of deriving the initial properties, which would no doubt be tantamount to a Theory of Everything from which all of the systems of laws extend, i.e., hypothesize that initial conditions q, r, and s yield the different systems of laws we know. This honors the concretism Lanao and Teh call for in scientific models while also giving abstractionism its due. Like Paul Davies offered, the laws of physics may be frozen accidents. In other words, the effective laws of physics, which is to say the laws of physics we observe, might differ from the fundamental laws of physics, which would be, so to speak, the original state of the laws of physics. In a chaotic early universe, physical constants may not have existed. Hawking also spoke of physical laws that tell us how the universe will evolve if we know its state at some point in time. He added that God could have chosen an “initial configuration” or fundamental laws for reasons we cannot comprehend. He asks, however, “if he had started it off in such an incomprehensible way, why did he choose to let it evolve according to laws that we could understand? (Hawking, Stephen. A Brief History of Time, New York: Bantam Books. 1988. 127. Print.)” He then goes on to discuss possible reasons for this, e.g. chaotic boundary conditions; anthropic principles.
Implicit in Hawking’s reasoning is that we can figure out what physical laws will result in our universe in its present state. The obvious drawback is that the observable universe is ~13.8 billion years old and 93 billion lightyears in diameter. The universe may be much larger, making the task of deriving this initial configuration monumentally difficult. This would require a greater deal of abstraction than Lanao and Teh, and apparently Neo-Aristotelians, desire, but it is the only way to discover how past iterations of physical laws or earlier systems of laws led to our present laws of physics. The issue with modern science is that it does not often concern itself with states in the distant past and so, a lot of equations and models deal in the present, and even the future, but not enough of them confront the past. Cosmological models, for purposes of understanding star formation, the formation of solar systems, and the formation of large galaxies have to use computer models to test their theories against the past, since there is no way to observe the distant past directly. In this way, I think technology will prove useful in arriving at earlier conditions until we arrive at the mirror before it shattered. The following model, detailing how an early collision explains the shape of our galaxy, is a fine example of what computer models can do to help illuminate the distant past:
Further Issues With The Neo-Aristotelian System
A recent rebuttal to Alexander Pruss’ Grim Reaper Paradox can be generalized to refute Aristotelianism overall. The blogger over at Boxing Pythagoras states:
Though Alexander Pruss discusses this Grim Reaper Paradox in a few of his other blog posts, I have not seen him discuss any other assumptions which might underly the problem. He seems to have focused upon these as being the prime constituents. However, it occurs to me that the problem includes another assumption, which is a bit more subtle. The Grim Reaper Paradox, as formulated, seems to presume the Tensed Theory of Time. I have discussed, elsewhere, the reasons that I believe the Tensed Theory of Time does not hold, so I’ll simply focus here on how Tenseless Time resolves the Grim Reaper Paradox.
To see the difference between old and new tenseless theories, it is necessary to first contrast an old tenseless theory against a tensed theory that holds that properties of the pastness, presentness, and futurity of events are ascribed by tensed sentences. The debate regarding which theory is true centered around whether tensed sentences could be translated by tenseless sentences that instead ascribe relations of earlier than, later than, or simultaneous. For example, “the sun will soon rise” seems to entail the sun’s rising in the future, as an event that will become present, whereas the “sun is rising now” seems to entail the event being present and “the sun has risen” as having receded into the past. If these sentences are true, the first sentence ascribes futurity whilst the second ascribes presentness and the last ascribes pastness. Even if true, however, that is not evidence to suggest that events have such properties. Tensed sentences may have tenseless counterparts having the same meaning.
This is where Quine’s notion of de-tensing natural language comes in. Rather than saying “the sun is rising” as uttered on some date, we would instead say that “the sun is rising” on that date. The present in the first sentence does not ascribe presentness to the sun’s rising, but instead refers to the date the sentence is spoken. In like manner, if “the sun has risen” as uttered on some date is translated into “the sun has risen” on a given date, then the former sentence does not ascribe pastness to the sun’s rising but only refers to the sun’s rising as having occurred earlier than the date when the sentence is spoken. If these translations are true, temporal becoming is unreal and reality is comprised of earlier than, later than, and simultaneous. Time then consists of these relations rather the properties of pastness, presentness, and futurity (Oaklander, Nathan. Adrian Bardon ed. “A-, B- and R-Theories of Time: A Debate”. The Future of the Philosophy of Time. New York: Routledge, 2012. 23. Print.).
The writer at Boxing Pythagoras continues:
On Tensed Time, the future is not yet actual, and actions in the present are what give shape and form to the reality of the future. As such, the actions of each individual future Grim Reaper, in our paradox, can be contingent upon the actions of the Reapers which precede them. However, this is not the case on Tenseless Time. If we look at the problem from the notion of Tenseless Time, then it is not possible that a future Reaper’s action is only potential and contingent upon Fred’s state at the moment of activation. Whatever action is performed by any individual Reaper is already actual and cannot be altered by the previous moments of time. At 8:00 am, before any Reapers activate, Fred’s state at any given time between 8:00 am and 9:00 am is set. It is not dependent upon some potential, but not yet actual, future action as no such thing can exist.
I think this rebuttal threatens the entire Aristotelian enterprise. Aristotelians will have to deny time while maintaining that changes happen in order to escape the fact that de-tensed theories of time, which are more than likely the correct way of thinking about time, impose a principle: any change at a later point in time is not dependent on a previous state. That’s ignoring that God, being timeless, could not have created the universe at some time prior to T = 0, the first instance of time on the universal clock. This is to say nothing of backward causation, which is entirely plausible given quantum mechanics. Causation calls for a deeper analysis, which neo-Humeans pursue despite not being entirely correct. The notion of dispositions is crucial. It is overly simplistic to say the hot oil caused the burns on my hand or the knife caused the cut on my hand. The deeper analysis in each case is that the boiling point of cooking oil, almost two times that of water, has something to do with why the burn feels distinct from a knife cutting into my hand. Likewise, the dispositions of the blade have a different effect on the skin than oil does. Causal relationships are simplistic and, as Nietzsche suggested, do not account for the continuum within the universe and the flux that permeates it. Especially in light of quantum mechanics, we are admittedly ignorant about most of the intricacies within so-called causal relationships. Neo-Humeans are right to think that dispositions are important. This will disabuse of us of appealing to teleology in the following manner:
‘The function of X is Z’ [e.g., the function of oxygen in the blood is… the function of the human heart is… etc.] means
(a) X is there because it does Z,Larry Wright, ‘Function’, Philosophical Review 82(2) (April 1973):139–68, see 161.
(b) Z is a consequence (or result) of X’s being there.
It is more accurate to say that a disposition of X is instantiated in Z rather than that X exists for purposes of Z because in real world examples, a given X can give rise to A, B, C, and so on. This is to say that one so-called cause can have different effects. A knife can slice, puncture, saw, etc. Hot oil can burn human skin, melt ice but not mix with it, combust when near other mediums or when left to increase to temperatures beyond its boiling point, etc. One would have to ask why cooking oil does not combust when a cube of ice is thrown into the pan; what about the canola oil, for a more specific example, causes it to auto-ignite at 435 degrees Fahrenheit and why does this not happen when water is heated beyond its boiling point?
As it turns out then, Neo-Aristotelians are not as committed to concretism as Lanao and Teh would hope. They are striving for generalizations despite refusing to investigate the details of how models are employed in normal science, as was made obvious by Lanao and Teh’s dismissal of Cartwright’s particularism and further, in their argument against Fundamentalism, which does not flow neatly from Cartwright’s argument. For science to arrive at anything concrete, abstraction needs to be allowed, specifically in cases venturing further and further into the past. Furthermore, a more detailed analysis of changes needs to be incorporated into our data. Briefly, when thinking of the $1,000 bill descending into St. Stephen’s Square, it is a simple fact that we must ask whether there is precipitation or not and if so, how much; we are also required to ask whether bird droppings may have altered its trajectory on the way down?; what effect does smog or dust particles have on the $1,000 bill’s trajectory; as Cartwright asked, what about wind gusts? What is concrete is consistent with the logical atomist’s view that propositions speak precisely to simple particulars or many of them bearing some relation to one another.
Ultimately, I think that Lanao and Teh fail to establish a Neo-Aristotelian approach to principled scientific models. They also fail to show that FU and therefore, Fundamentalism is false. What is also clear is that they did not adequately engage Cartwright’s argument, which is thoroughly Non-Fundamentalist, even if that conclusion escaped her. This is why I hold that Cartwright’s conclusions are off the mark because she is demanding that generalized laws be derived from extremely complex conditions. It is not incumbent on dappled laws within a given domain of science to be unified in order for FU to ultimately be the case. It could be that due to symmetry breaking, one domain appears distinct from another and because of our failure, at least until now, to realize how the two cohere, unifying principles between the two domains currently elude us. Lanao and Teh’s argument against FU therefore appeals to the ignorance of science not unlike apologetic arguments of much lesser quality. The ignorance of today’s science does not suggest that current problems will continue to confront us while their solutions perpetually elude us. What is needed is time. Like Lanao and Teh, I agree that Cartwright has a lot of great ideas concerning principled scientific models, but that her ideas lend support to FU. A unified metaphysical account of reality would likely end up in a more dappled state than modern science finds itself in and despite Lanao and Teh’s attempts, a hypothetical account of that sort would rely too heavily on science to be considered purely metaphysical. My hope is that my argument, one that employs symmetry breaking to bolster the probability of FU being the case, is more provocative, if even, persuasive.
For starters, I will reiterate what I wrote in my response to Hellenistic Christendom:
Both Irenaeus and Hick systematized human (Libertarian) free will.1 Arguably, there’s an inconsistency in their view of free will because they don’t focus on the origin of the human propensity for evil, i.e., original sin. If one were interested in a systematic reconciliation of the Original Sin Theodicy and Hick’s theodicy, it would be a rather simple task. The only issue would be in assuming that God allowed the Fall because he wanted human beings to ascend to moral perfection. He wanted to give us a choice and of course, a choice isn’t real unless there are alternatives. You can choose to lead an immoral life, to live in sin, or you can, per the Old Testament, keep God’s commandments or, per the New Testament, confess your sins and accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. This sort of theodicy would run into exegetical issues, however. Human beings do not, on their own will, ascend to moral perfection. According to Ephesians 2:8, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.”
Moral perfection or perhaps better put, holiness, isn’t a summit one reaches; it is more like, especially given allusions in the Bible (e.g. Colossians 3), a garment that you are adorned with. So Irenaeus and Hicks failed at this systematization because they forgot that “he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5). As a person driven by great personal pride, I can see the allure of Irenaeus and Hicks’ point of view; we are essentially Sisyphus, but we succeed at pushing the boulder to the summit! It is, however, not a Christian point of view.
But can it be a naturalistic, atheistic point of view? There’s quite a lot to unpack if one were to entertain the pertinent and yet tangential discussion on determinism and free will. If human beings have free will, it is highly probable that it is not congruous with the Libertarian view, the notion that ceteris paribus, one could choose a different course of action. Suffice to say that a Nietzschean view is more probable: the great person is distinct from the ordinary person and it is through great people that we achieve moral nobility.2
I happen to think that Nietzsche was right in his conclusion though one would be hard pressed to find in his works anything resembling a cogent argument supporting said conclusion. Nietzsche thoroughly explains the difference between great people and the herd and these allusions are present in his treatment of master and slave morality and in his idea of the Übermensch. Nietzsche, however, does not provide us with a road map detailing how a slave becomes a master, how a member of the herd ascends to greatness. In fact, for Nietzsche, it’s not so much an ascent to greatness, but rather a descent, especially given how important suffering and solitude were to him and should be for a great person.
So I want to offer an informal argument because, to my mind, determinism is the wind at the back of every member of the herd. Even absent Irenaeus’ omniscient god, in where it would be hard to reconcile human free will with this deity’s predetermination, on naturalism, there is a sense in which most actions, moral or otherwise, are predetermined. Although I don’t think determinism applies to mundane actions (see here), I think it certainly applies to actions carrying greater consequences and moral implications. So before a person becomes great and strives for moral perfection, one must first become aware of as many determinants as possible, so that in having this awareness, one assumes control of the determinants that would otherwise determine a given decision.
Nietzsche’s great person does not leave the herd by accident, but rather by getting to know the chaos. Nietzsche describes it thus:
Cause and effect: such a duality probably never exists; in truth we are confronted by a continuum out of which we isolate a couple of pieces, just as we perceive motion only as isolated points and then infer it without ever actually seeing it. The suddenness with which many effects stand out misleads us; actually it is sudden only for us. In this moment of sudden- ness there is an infinite number of processes that elude us. An intellect that could see cause and effect as a continuum and a flux and not, as we do, in terms of an arbitrary division and dismemberment, would repudiate the concept of cause and effect and deny all conditionality.3
A great person therefore has the kind of intellect that doesn’t separate and breaks things, and categorizes them as causes and effects. Such a person would see the entire continuum and moreover, their role within that continuum. As such, this individual would not be controlled by cultural norms, societal expectations, religious tenets, and so on. This person would be able to act free from all determinants, assuming a well-placed tumor doesn’t dictate his/her behavior.4
An atheist who subsumes Irenaeus’ theodicy or perhaps more accurately, the thinking that underlies his theodicy, has to be the kind of individual that becomes great. Then s/he is free to pursue moral perfection. In keeping with Sartre’s atheistic existentialism, such an atheist would will meaning for the suffering and evil we see in the world and may take it upon themselves to help others transcend the herd mentality. This thinking is implicit on the Kardashev scale. Michio Kaku, for instance, thinks of the human race as a type 0 civilization, on the cusp of a worldwide language (English), interconnected (the Internet), and technically advanced enough to harness the energy of the planet. It is not, however, a type I civilization capable of harnessing the energy of its star (e.g. Dyson Sphere) or controlling natural disasters like hurricanes and earthquakes.5 Scientists and philosophers alike have entertained the idea that the destiny of humanity is an ascent up the Kardashev scale, but prior to doing so, what’s implied is a moral ascent, for it will take a moral species to disarm its militaries and set aside its sociopolitical and cultural differences.
So while Irenaeus’ theodicy is incongruous with Christian theology, it is not inconsistent with atheism. We do not need a god who wants us to achieve moral perfection. We can very well expect that of ourselves and of one another. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of work to be done both personally and collectively. Assuming Nietzsche was right, greatness is reserved for a select few while mediocrity awaits the herd. Perhaps then what’s needed is the right kind of master so that the subordinates have a good example to follow. I hold that Irenaeus had in mind a noble view of the human species and that regardless of the fact that his view is not in keeping with Christian theology, for an atheist to write off his theodicy either as an ineffective justification of suffering and evil or an interesting heresy is tantamount to tossing the baby out with the bath water. Irenaeus saw the great potential in the human race and he thought it possible that we could, of our own will, achieve moral perfection. It is a noble view that any atheist should adopt; it is probably the view at the heart of humanism. We are truly better without a god!
1 Cramer, David C. “John Hick (1922-2012)”. International Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Web. ND.
2 Anderson, R. Lanier. “Friedrich Nietzsche”. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 17 Mar 2017. Web.
3 Kaufmann, Walter. “The Gay Science”. Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm, 1844-1900. The Gay Science; with a Prelude in Rhymes and an Appendix of Songs. New York :Vintage Books, 1974. p. 173.
4 Choi, Charles. “Brain tumour causes uncontrollable paedophilia”. New Scientist. 21 Oct 2002. Web.
5 Creighton, Jolene. “The Kardashev Scale – Type I, II, III, IV & V Civilization”. 19 Jul 2014. Web.
My purpose here is to respond to a post published by Steven Dunn over at Philosophic Augustine. I met Steven several years ago in conversations on Tumblr. Over the years, he has maintained a resolute interest in philosophy, which is something I greatly admire about him. Few things remain constant over several years, so the fact that he has retained his passion for philosophy is impressive. He’s also grown a lot with respect to his knowledge and that’s to be applauded.
Prior to reproducing our discussion hitherto, I want to be clear about what I’ll be looking to accomplish in this response: a) address his latest response that features Aristotelian personalism and metaphysics b) circle back around to Bill Vallicella’s argument. I think it’s important not to lose sight of the argument, especially given that that’s the reason I commented on Steven’s Facebook post to begin with. I will make it clear that even if one granted the undeniable personhood of a fetus, it still would not follow that an abortion is equivalent to murder. With that said, here is the discussion as it stands; my reply to Steven’s latest response will follow.
Steven Dunn: Philosopher Bill Vallicella over at his blog Maverick Philosopher considers a brief but important argument:
(a) Abortion is murder.
(b) Abortion ought to be illegal.
The question: Can one consistently hold (a) and not (b)? Suppose an added proposition:
(a) Abortion is murder.
(b) Abortion ought to be illegal.
(c) Murder is illegal.
I posted this argument on my personal Facebook page which wrought the response of one of my old friends from the Tumblr blogosphere, R. N. Carmona. Carmona is a philosophic tour de force, one of whom I’m familiar with conversing and debating since I was 17 in 2013 (now I’m 24).
There was a lot of heated exchanges between me and Carmona. After learning of his upcoming book, Ending the Abortion Debate, I knew that this issue was something he was well-versed in and felt passionate about. The following exchange doesn’t do full justice to Carmona’s overall position, but the highlights I’m sure are as he would see fit. Enjoy!
R. N. Carmona: (a) is unsound, hence making the whole argument unsound. Aborting an embryo or non-viable fetus simply is NOT murder. Most abortions happen before week 16, with a majority of them happening before week 9. At no point in those times does a fetus resemble an infant and more importantly, the hallmarks of a person aren’t present yet. That happens at around week 22, hence the hard cut off in most states at 20 weeks. Specifically, EEG waves register in the neocortex at around week 22 and the neocortex isn’t full developed till around week 36. I’d argue that it’s murder after week 22.
The only time I make exceptions after that many weeks is if there’s a threat on the mother’s life, but if the choice is between the quality of life of a mom and her family and a nine week old fetus, it’s an easy choice. Keeping abortion legal prior to week 20 reduces maternal mortality, which, if you’re pro-life, you should care about. Moreover, restrictive policies increase infant and maternal mortality. We’ve had lots of tries at the conservative Christian way: Northern Island, the Muslim World, the Philippines, etc. Restrictive policies do not work.
This is precisely what my next book is about. Want to end abortion? Get behind the issue. Address poverty, lack of education, lack of access to contraception, domestic violence, etc. That’s the only way to slow the rate of abortion. Restricting it won’t work and those conservative states that have passed heartbeat bills are about to find out the hard way.
Steven Dunn: There is actually a large extent in which I agree with you. I’ve read a lot of your writing on this issue and I appreciate you’ve pointed the dangerous restrictive policies that do currently exist. There is also an importance as you say in addressing poverty, lack of education, etc.
However, my initial problem began when you claimed that aborting an embryo or non-viable fetus is not murder. Even though non-viable fetuses have no chance of survival, that still does not warrant moral permissibility to end its life. I don’t see where the line of moral difference changes with an embryo, fetus, or fully grown human infant. Is it a spatial difference? Is it a temporal difference? Does the week, day, or trimester matter when ending the life of a *potential human?
Of course, we could have a metaphysically more significant conversation than the kinds of questions I’m asking you. I just think that these questions are a good starting point. Also, what is the “hallmarks of a person”?
R. N. Carmona: The hallmark of a person is quite simply, the consciousness attributed to human beings and higher order animals like dolphins and the great apes: neuroplasticity, memory acquisition, language capacity, etc. Even simpler than that, the capacity to apprehend taste, texture, sound, and so on. Even them who are mentally disabled, assuming they aren’t blind or deaf, can have these experiences. The blind and deaf, though lacking an important sense, still have propensities for memory acquisition, language, and so on.
And that’s the difference: spatio-temporal. Of space, because the potential person now occupies a uterus, taking nutrients from the would-be mother; of time because the potential person is currently not in the world, i.e. is not a citizen of a given country; is not protected by laws.
Potential simply is not enough. The fetus is potentially stillborn or potentially going to die of SIDs or will potentially be an ectopic pregnancy or will potentially be born to become a serial killer that will make Ted Bundy blush. You can’t speak of potential as though it’s solely and predictably positive; potential can be very negative. In fact, this child can be the reason the mother dies and leaves behind a husband to raise several kids, including the newborn, on his own. Potential simply isn’t enough to obligate a woman to continue a pregnancy she’d rather terminate.
So yes, the week matters because so long as a fetus isn’t viable, abortion should be permissible. The moral difference changes once the fetus is viable. Potentiality simply isn’t a good argument. Viability is a much stronger argument.
Furthermore, the moral difference changes when purposeful modification comes into play. Sure, an infant doesn’t have that capacity: it doesn’t, for example, set goals for itself. However, the parents, once they are told that the fetus is developing well, start to purposely modify on the fetus’ behalf: they start thinking of a name, buying clothing, setting up its room, putting money in its college fund, etc.
No parent, even if they’re a Christian conservative, begins to purposely modify at conception or even in the early weeks. It’s simply not enough to go on and tells you that, behaviorally speaking, most parents write off potential. Potential isn’t enough for anyone to go on and that’s why most people need something concrete before they begin to purposely modify on their baby’s behalf.
So yes, there’s a simple line to draw between a non-viable fetus and a viable one. I can speak of organismality as well, namely comparing and contrasting between organisms to come to a good conclusion regarding what a non-viable fetus most closely resembles, and it’s clear that they don’t resemble a newborn. There are marked differences, but I digress.
Steven Dunn: I would clarify that you are *technically correct in saying that potentiality is not enough. A potential X of course is not an X. Because I am a potential speaker of the French language doesn’t mean I can speak the French language. However, potentialities are still nonetheless grounded in being: they are realities not merely possibilities.
They are actual human beings with various potentials.
Though they are not realized among differing spatial and temporal locations/positions, I don’t think you’ve provided a meaningful account of persons. Human persons, as I see it, are instances of personalized being; persons possess phenomenological qualities that make them eligible for relationships – or interpersonal love. I think our definitions of persons should capture something specific (and simple), rather than be a construct of various qualifiers (neuroplasticity, apprehension of the senses, etc).
One biological example worth mentioning that I think you’ll appreciate is the cognitive capacity of bonobos – which is one of my favorite areas of primatology to examine their analogous behavior with humans. They’re sympathetic, they can experience pain, they are highly intelligent, they can have an extensive non-verbal vocabulary, etc.
Despite these striking qualities, they do not fit under the definition of persons I’ve provided above.
What does it mean to be a real person? A couple things: (i) what W. Norris Clark has called the “participation structure of the universe”; rational-intelligibility that allows for human persons and the universe to find meaningful relations/predictions; (ii) existence as a dynamic act of presence and (iii) action as a [self] manifestation of inner-being.
I think your definition of persons is merely conditional; it’s dynamic but not exhaustive. Human beings – that is, if a personalized being possesses such potentialities – are intrinsically valuable; there can be no moral difference among this being’s spatial or temporal location.
In summary. . . I think you are raising issues that aren’t typically addressed by conservatives. It’s important that we better handle areas of women’s reproductive healthcare, which can be dealt with through better and intentional education, personal conviction, etc. However, I think we need to agree that the moral question is not somehow addressed because we’ve raised current social or political problems surrounding abortion. There are consequences and symptoms that need to be taken care of, by all means. However, if structurally we are dealing with the intentional ending of a human life then we need to talk about it.
R. N. Carmona: I disagree there. What I hear is Aristotelian language here and I reject his metaphysics all the way through. Potentialities are not realities grounded in being. I think even Aristotle makes a distinction between potentiality and actuality, and as I recall, he doesn’t conflate them in this manner.
Persons do, however, possess phenomenological qualities, like phenomenal consciousness, but that isn’t what makes them eligible for relationships and interpersonal love. What’s needed there is simple empathy and bonobos and chimps, in general, are capable of that; that’s one reason why some advanced nations recognize them as persons. So rather than a construct of qualifiers, it’s more a recognition of qualifiers taken together to get a basic definition of person.
The base anthropocentrism of theists doesn’t allow them to accept that other higher order animals are persons, and that’s what you’re doing here. Dolphins call each other by name and remember individuals for decades. Elephants can also remember individuals after years of not seeing them. So while there’s certainly a distinction between a human person and a dolphin person, there is overlap that qualifies them both and that overlap is found in the sciences. The issue here is that your definition relies less on science and more so on an implied belief in the soul or on metaphysics rather than science.
I agree with (I) as it’s pretty much purposeful modification paraphrased. (II) relies heavily on Aristotelian metaphysics and I reject it outright. (III) stems from two, but alludes to libertarian action of will, which I don’t think anyone has. There’s no [self] without the [other] and other is much more crucial in action, especially willful. I think human persons can change course, but only after realizing enough deterministic conditions underlying their actions, thus empowering them to experience determinants that may lead to an overall change of course.
Think of the proverbial alcoholic; he doesn’t willfully change his bad habit, but what he does is “change” a given number of determinants so that his actions may change and out of a recognition that if he doesn’t make these changes, he is pretty much enabled: a) stops associating with friends who drink regularly b) doesn’t go to bars when invited c) goes to rehab. And so on and so on and so on.
Action itself isn’t in a vacuum, but dynamic and intertwined with the flux of all there is. So human potential takes course in a deterministic manner and any human looking to have any semblance of control over that will reposition herself with respect to determinants. A fetus is incapable of this sort of purposeful modification, which I think is the most actualized of all.
So my definition, while not alluding to souls or anything religious, is also sufficient because it recognizes the role of the other in the shaping of the self. The embryo and non-viable fetus do not interact with the other in the manner in which persons do and it is simply potentiality and not actuality, to use your language. What is commonly aborted is (what can be) rather than (what is), so that spatio-temporal difference lays the groundwork for a moral difference and the moral difference lies in purposeful modification which I think your (I) paraphrases.
Any metaphysic that doesn’t account for the other, even something as arbitrary as a chair, isn’t complete. Hegel understood this and is the forefather, I think, of modern metaphysics, starting in the phenomenologists that soon followed him. Hurssel relied a lot on Aristotle too and I’m not alone in seeing that he was mistaken for doing so, but again, I digress.
Steven Dunn: I would respond to your outlook on Aristotelian personalism as not fully appreciating what the system has to offer. In our personal conversations on abortion I have mentioned to you that yes, personalism and the potentiality principle has largely been carried and grounded in Catholic moral theology. I understand, therefore, we both don’t share views in the inspiration of Christian theology.
Hence, we need to find anthropological and philosophical commonalities in which we can meaningfully proceed in a discourse about human persons and what exactly is developing in the womb. The best system that does this, in my view, is Aristotle’s conception of being from his Metaphysics and the further extension from Thomas Aquinas’ doctrine of persons (with some modifications).
Aquinas argued that persons are that which is “perfected in all of nature.” This essentially means that persons are not merely special “modes” of being amongst others, but that personhood is being when it is allowed to be at its fullest. In other words, persons are not restricted by sub-intelligent matter. There are a number of reasons why persons – humans – possess the special status that they do, and while I think there are theological reasons for this I think I can still demonstrate that apart from any inspired or “revealed” source.
First, Aquinas’ notion of person was conscious of the distinction between person and nature, because providing a consistent account of personhood meant that a consideration of God as Triune (one divine nature amongst three persons) and Christ as the God-man (divine person possessing two natures) needed to be contextually consistent.
Therefore, it has been an accusation by some leading Catholic philosophers (Wojtyla, Ratzinger, Clarke, etc) that Aquinas falls short of a comprehensive philosophical definition of person because the medievals relied primarily on the Boethian definition of person: “An individual substance of a rational nature.” Hence, I would argue for a further inclusion of the concept of “relation,” which is fundamental to our understanding of what it means “to be.”
Aquinas moved away from the what has been called “self-diffusiveness” of the Good as seen by the NeoPlatonists (the collaboration of the Good with all “substances”) and instead moves to Supreme Being, where Existence (esse) – as I said before – now becomes the root of all perfection. Supreme Being is the subsistent Act of Existence, where now the self-diffusive Good now becomes self-communicative Love.
Hence we have three primary qualities for the relationability of persons: being is (1) self-communicative (showing that persons are intelligible [ratio] by their actuality); (2) being is self-manifesting (persons are immediately relatable to other beings); and (3) being is intrinsically active (persons are not merely present but actively present).
Suppose a being for example that existed in reality but didn’t or couldn’t manifest itself to other beings, or if it didn’t or couldn’t act in any way. If this kind of being lacked such properties then other beings couldn’t have knowledge of its existence; it would be almost as if it had no being at all. Now imagine if all beings existed in this sort of way; the universe itself wouldn’t be connected in the unified sense that philosophers and scientists typically speak of the rationality of the universe.
Now combine this with the potentiality principle. According to Current Anthropology (2013), potentiality is a principle not so foreign to them: potentiality “denotes a hidden force determined to manifest itself – something that with or without intervention has its future built into it.”1
Let me be clear that potentiality is the only relevant metaphysical principle worth considering for abortion. My position, to be clear, is not:
- X is a creature of a certain sort.
- Creatures of this sort have right R.
- Therefore, X has a right R.
Premise 2 of course begs the question in favor of what I want to prove. In summary, my position is that the full and perfect realization of being is always inherent in its nature. All living things, including mindless plants, dolphins and gorillas have a proper end or “good” which is naturally directed within their nature – even from a formless or potential state. Nothing can exist without potentials, and potentials cannot be realized apart from something actual.
Now the metaphysical picture I’ve provided is not mere conjecture but is what historically has served as the foundation of Western intelligentsia for over 1,500 years, until the advent of the modern model by Descartes and Newton. And I would argue that that move away from the model of classical metaphysics has been one of the greatest errors and blunders of Western thought. It was an illegitimate move because it’s not as if new physical discoveries were made, hence “outdating” the Aristotelian system.
Descartes, among other French intellectuals at his time were responsible for the shift away from potential/actual, the four causes, and his metaphysic of being. Bad move.
R.N. Carmona: While not mere conjecture and arguably the foundation of Western intellgentsia for over 1,500 years, one would have to gloss over important bits of history to make that argument. One of the more significant bits of history I have in mind is the Christian and Muslim censorship and destruction of texts that were not in agreement with monotheism, especially works that were of a more naturalistic flavor. Carlo Rovelli puts it succinctly:
I often think that the loss of the works of Democritus in their entirety is the greatest intellectual tragedy to ensue from the collapse of the old classical civilization…We have been left with all of Aristotle, by way of which Western thought reconstructed itself, and nothing of Democritus. Perhaps if all the works of Democritus had survived, and nothing of Aristotle’s, the intellectual history of our civilization would have been better … But centuries dominated by monotheism have not permitted the survival of Democritus’s naturalism. The closure of the ancient schools such as those of Athens and Alexandria, and the destruction of all the texts not in accordance with Christian ideas was vast and systematic, at the time of the brutal antipagan repression following from the edicts of Emperor Theodisius, which in 390-391 declared that Christianity was to be the only and obligatory religion of the empire. Plato and Aristotle, pagans who believed in the immortality of the soul or in the existence of a Prime Mover, could be tolerated by a triumphant Christianity. Not Democritus.2
It’s not a mere coincidence that Aristotelian metaphysics stood in fashion for so long, nor was it established that the Aristotelian system was better than other systems. In that same time period, theists, especially Christians, held a virtual monopoly on ideas and as such, metaphysical frameworks with more naturalistic bents were destroyed or censored. Due to this, there was a reluctance on the part of skeptics and naturalists to offer a naturalistic metaphysical system. They were rightfully afraid of The Inquisition. So, Aristotelian metaphysics didn’t dominate the landscape because it was the best framework, but rather, because the game was rigged in its favor.
Copernicus and Galileo, for instance, dealt with the consequences of challenging theistic thought. Copernicus’ De revolutionibus “was forbidden by the Congregation of the Index ‘until corrected’, and in 1620 these corrections were indicated. Nine sentences, by which the heliocentric system was represented as certain, had to be either omitted or changed.”3 Galileo’s house arrest is a well-known historical fact and there’s no need to tread over old coals here. More to the point, “Bruno [was]…much more of a philosopher than a scientist. He felt that a physicist’s field of study was the tangible universe, so he challenged any line of thought that utilized nonphysical elements and avoided what he considered the juvenile exercise of calculation. To him, computational astronomy missed the true significance of the sky.”4 Bruno held to eight purportedly heretical theses and they served as the reason for his execution. Among these theses were patently naturalistic positions: the universe is spatially infinite, there are other planets very similar to ours, there were humans before Adam and Eve, the Earth moves in accordance with Copernican theory.5 In all but one of these positions, Bruno has been proven correct. So the notion that Aristotle’s system is best overall or, at the very least with respect to defining personhood, is already disputable because as has been demonstrated, competing, especially naturalistic, frameworks were discouraged. Despite this, before I set out on my own exploration with regards to what best explains potentiality, I will challenge Aristotle’s personalism.
Even if I were to grant that Aristotle offered much in the way of explaining personhood, there’s still the question of how any of these criteria apply to embryos and early fetuses. Take for instance, (1) self-communicative (showing that persons are intelligible [ratio] by their actuality). To my mind, embryos and early fetuses are not self-communicative nor intelligible, and that’s because they have yet to develop the organ that makes this possible, namely the brain. Now, while I recognize that Aristotle offers an interesting conundrum worth considering, i.e., as you put it, “Nothing can exist without potentials, and potentials cannot be realized apart from something actual,” I don’t see that a fetus’ obvious intelligibility and self-communication follows. As we will see shortly, there’s a better explanation for the notion that nothing can exist without potentials and that no potentials can be realized separate from something actual.
In like manner, let’s consider also (2) being is self-manifesting (persons are immediately relatable to other beings). On the assumption that Aristotle was correct, I don’t see how embryos and early fetuses are self-manifesting and immediately relatable to other beings. If anything, it is only relatable to its parents and siblings, assuming they had children already. Since it has not emerged independently within the world, it is not relatable to other people, the ecosystem in its locale, nor the wider biosphere. The fact that it isn’t independently within the world makes so that it isn’t relatable to any other beings. Furthermore, it’s relation to its parents and siblings is best explained and anticipated by genetics, which we will get to shortly.
Let’s also consider (3) being is intrinsically active (persons are not merely present but actively present). Again, embryos and early fetuses are not present, let alone actively present for the same reasons they aren’t self-manifesting. The fact that it is not independently within the world, once again, proves problematic for the third criterion. I can grant that it is actively present once born, for its parent(s) is now self-modifying on its behalf. It is interacting with other persons in a very obvious manner and relies on them for its physical, emotional, and psychological growth, growth that is crucial for its potential to eventually become a person who has a theory of mind, a sense of self, an ego, memories, desires, goals, and so on. Within the womb, that simply is not the case early in any pregnancy. The woman’s voice and music can help with brain development starting at 29-33 weeks. So harkening back to what I said earlier, interpersonal interaction is only possible when the brain is sufficiently developed, which strongly favors the thesis that the brain is integral to a human person rather than a soul.
Now to the matter of what better explains the predictable potential of a human fetus, after which three conclusions should be immediately clear: either 1) that we do not require a metaphysical explanation for potentiality and personhood or 2) that given genetics and evolution, what’s necessary is a metaphysical framework that is congruous with and readily predicts scientific facts and 3) that nothing can exist without potentials and that potentials are not realized without actuals has been solved.
One of the primary reasons I reject Christian theism as a worldview is because it gives human beings an undue “special status” all while ignoring human evolution. Human potential or more specifically, homo sapien potential wouldn’t exist without an ancestor’s (probably homo antecessor) potential. Furthermore, homo sapien potential would not have been realized without the actuality of ancestors and likewise, without the divergence of ancestors, great apes would not have progressed as they have. As you well know, we share about 98.5% DNA with chimpanzees and some 96% with gorillas, two facts that establish a common ancestry. So this “special status” is actually an example of special pleading because it’s not at all clear why chimps and gorillas do not qualify for such status; also, neanderthals, given what we currently know about them, are in many respects like homo sapiens (a fact that made their interbreeding possible) and as such, would qualify for such status without question. Yet on Christian theism, no human ancestor qualifies for this status, an attitude I find very suspicious.
Human evolution, like evolution in toto, has an underlying genetic component that explains these variations in populations over time. That same genetic component continues among all populations of species and thus, better explains “the perfect realization of being…inherent in the nature of mindless plants, dolphins, and gorillas.” Furthermore, potentiality does not denote a “hidden force determined to manifest itself,” but a rather statistically predictable pattern present in the genome of an organism; it isn’t hidden at all, but rather in plain sight. The pattern is so predictable that one can readily explain how and why that which is formless becomes something with form.
So prior to circling back to Vallicella’s argument, I will offer a brief overview showing how the actuality of parents results in the potentiality and probable actuality of a child. It is also important to note that given genetics, there are a number of factors that determine morphological sex, eye color, hair color, skin tone, and so on. So let’s imagine that in universe A, Jack and Jill have a baby girl named Janice and that in universe B, they have a boy named Jake. Let’s consider the important differences in each child, differences that explain why Janice exists in A and Jake in B.
In universe A, Jack and Jill are both 24-years-old when they agree to having a child. Jack and Jill are wealthy and have spent the last four years of their relationship traveling. Neither of them are stressed and have no trouble being happy and grateful for all that they have. When considering that high stress increases the probability of having a boy, it is no surprise that Jill gives birth to Janice nine months later. Yet that still does not explain why Janice has brown eyes (though both her parents have blue eyes), her mother’s hair color, and her father’s hitchhiker thumb. In the main, had another sperm fertilized the egg, Janice very likely would have been born with completely different features. Despite low stress levels, there’s also the fact that Jack has five sisters and no brothers, therefore increasing the probability of having a girl. This still does not explain why Janice has brown rather than blue eyes, blonde rather than brown hair, and a hitchhiker thumb rather than a straight thumb.
Allelic combination is important in explaining her phenotypic features. Should both parents pass on recessive genes, Janice is born with a hitchhiker thumb. Or alternatively, if there’s a combination of dominant and recessive genes, she may have a chance to have a hitchhiker thumb or a straight thumb. If there’s a combination of dominant genes, then she will predictably have a straight thumb (see reference). Eye color tends to be similar, albeit more complicated.
For instance, the assumption is that since Janice’s parents have blue eyes, she will also have blue eyes. There are two genes integral to determine eye pigmentation: OCA2 and HERC2. An active HERC2 activates OCA2, which determines pigment; given this, we know that this is what explains Janice’s brown eyes. Her counterpart in universe B, Jake, has either a broken HERC2 or a broken OCA2 and therefore, has blue eyes (see reference). He also has brown hair and a straight thumb. He has a straight thumb because instead of a recessive and dominant gene (what we find in Janice’s genome), we find two dominant genes in Jake’s genome. Their disparate hair colors are also explained in this manner as well. It is also likely that in Universe B, Jill gave birth to Jake because of the high levels of stress she experienced during pregnancy. Jack and Jill decided to conceive at the ages of 31. During the pregnancy, they moved from Middletown, NY to New York City because they both wanted more job opportunities. The crowded commutes, her career, the noise pollution, among other things, stressed Jill out to no end and this increased the probability of having a boy, hence (probably) the birth of Jake.
Form, likewise, follows suit. Drosophila have been important in research in evolutionary biology and genetics. In observing curious mutations in these flies, geneticists discovered homeotic genes that determine the body pattern of all organisms. The research gets very technical and makes for quite the tangent, but homeotic, or Hox genes themselves come from a Hox-like ancestor that explains the similarities Hox genes have from organism to organism (see reference). The graphic makes the extrapolations of their research clear.
What is also clear is that the following turns out to be false: “All living things, including mindless plants, dolphins and gorillas have a proper end or “good” which is naturally directed within their nature – even from a formless or potential state.” It’s not so much that there’s a natural tendency even from a formless, potential state, but rather, that there’s an evolutionary and genetic history that informs how a comparatively formless embryo develops into a human being. There are also traits that are arbitrary as there’s no purpose as to why someone would have brown rather than blue eyes or a hitchhiker thumb rather than a straight thumb. Some traits are inconsequential with respect to who a given person is.
Aristotelian metaphysics is considered outmoded by contemporary philosophers and scientists because it is incongruous with various scientific paradigms. Setting cosmology and physics aside, as I think I’ve shown, Aristotle’s concept of a person is incongruous with evolution and genetics and the system did nothing in the way of anticipating the advent of evolutionary biology and genetics. His system speaks of personhood in a patently non-naturalistic or even supernatural manner whereas genetics and evolution show that personhood is linked to certain types of purely physical organisms. What is required is either no metaphysical framework at all (à la logical positivists) or a framework that coincides with modern philosophical and scientific paradigms. Aristotle’s system doesn’t accomplish that and far from a “bad move,” Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, and everyone who eventually stood on their shoulders have every justification to move away from the Aristotelian system. Although interesting, that potentials can’t exist apart from actuals is explained by genetics for that which is animate and memetics for that which is inanimate. In fact, Aristotle was closer to correct with regards to universals and particulars, an explanation that can be applied to inanimate objects rather than living entities. Yet despite the potential for a human embryo to become an actual human person, a roughly predictable, naturalistic set of occurrences take place before every human birth. The process is also a fragile one as an injury to the would-be mother can end the pregnancy; genetic anomalies and an implantation anywhere other than the uterus can make it so that this potentiality never results in an actuality. Aristotle’s system also doesn’t explain the fragility of this process not just in humans, but in other organisms as well. It should therefore be clear that conclusions aforementioned have been firmly established and that if metaphysics remains a concern for philosophers, we have to do better than what Aristotle and his disciples rendered us.
Now to circle all the way back to Vallicella’s argument. Even if one were to grant the undeniable personhood of a fetus, either through the medium of Aristotelian metaphysics or another metaphysical framework altogether, there’s still the issue that the intentional killing of this person doesn’t constitute a murder. The pivotal error pro-choicers make is that they tend to define abortion and ignore what it’s being equated to. They should also consider the legal definition of murder, since Vallicella is alluding to the legal rather than the moral definition.
The killing of an embryo or fetus is done with intentions and motives altogether different from those underlying homicide, and as such, from a legal standpoint, it can’t be approached as murder or even a lesser offense like manslaughter. There is no degree of murder applicable to abortion; the intention and motive are not the same either, so even from a legal perspective, abortion is not murder. It would constitute an intentional killing of a different sort, of an even benevolent sort. Therefore, a woman who has an abortion can’t be tried and convicted as a murderer, neither can the doctor who performed the abortion. Let’s consider first degree murder. Premeditation is already an issue for Vallicella’s argument; the prosecution wouldn’t be able to argue that the mother had a malicious intent to kill this person. As for second degree, even though lacking the premeditation criterion, implies a reckless disregard for human life. The prosecution can’t accuse a woman of that either.
What’s more is that, if you were right in that a fetus is a person despite its viability, then restrictive policies would be the only choice we’d have. Like Vallicella’s argument implies, murder is treated in an extremely restrictive manner; even self-defense has to be established with no room for doubt. So if abortion were murder, it would be dealt with in like manner. So setting metaphysics and ethics aside, from a practical point of view, we should be wary of equating abortion with murder because we have dealt with the latter in a restrictive manner and we should know better, especially given the deadly consequences of such policies. So even if for solely practical reasons, we should shy from such equivalence even if it could be proven that abortion is murder. The issue here is that no pro-lifer has qualified that statement in any manner that doesn’t make for a bare assertion. Abortion is simply not murder and to think of women who have abortions as murderers is to misunderstand this issue altogether. What we should be addressing are the common motivations for seeking an abortion: poverty, domestic violence, lack of employment opportunity, and so on. I can go on, but I’ve probably overstayed my welcome as it is, so for the time being, I will leave this here.
The featured image to this article was taken from https://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/explore/collection/work/4291/
The featured image to this article is Rembrandt’s Two Old Men Disputing (1628).
-  Taussig, Karen-Sue, Klaus Hoeyer, and Stefan Helmreich: “The Anthropology of Potentiality in Biomedicine: An Introduction to Supplement. Current Anthropology (vol. 54). 2013.
-  Rovelli, Carlo, et al. Reality Is Not What It Seems: the Journey to Quantum Gravity. Riverhead Books, 2018, pp. 32-33.
-  “Nicolaus Copernicus.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 4. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908.20 Jun. 2019 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04352b.htm>.
-  NA. “Bruno and Galileo in Rome.” Honors Program in Rome, University of Washington. 2003. <https://depts.washington.edu/hrome/Authors/pev42/BrunoandGalileoinRome/pub_zbarticle_view_printable.html>
-  Ibid. 
By R.N. Carmona
Many might be confused by the post-theist label. It does not mean that one is a theist unaffiliated with organized religion. This doesn’t mean one believes in a deity. Post-theism describes an attitude that one is beyond the god question. The atheist label no longer makes sense because the question of god is a settled fact; a god doesn’t exist and never did, so one doesn’t lack belief, but rather proceeds with the knowledge that there’s no god and conducts their life as such.
One no longer dwells on the question or considers the question. Yes, this is compatible with gnostic atheism because it requires knowledge rather than mere non-belief sans knowledge, i.e., agnostic atheism. However, the question of whether a god exists no longer interests the post-theist; it no longer occupies her time in that it’s something she gives no thought to. Religion and belief in god is a relic of human history. So she is as post-atheistic as she is post-theistic.
Post-(a)theism is a stronger position in that it isn’t a proclamation of non-belief or even knowledge of there being no god. It’s a stronger claim: religion was borne out of human ignorance; our lack of scientific knowledge, historical knowledge, philosophical understanding and reasoning, and technological progress resulted in a belief stemming from agency over-detection, among other fallacious conclusions. Religion was the result of primitive thinking, underdeveloped reasoning, and a severe misapprehension of the world we live in.
In many ways we are all post-theistic in that we don’t attribute lightning, tidal waves, strong winds, volcanic eruptions, and earthquakes to the wrath of a god. We moved passed polytheistic explanations of natural phenomena and remain only with the palpably silly idea that a god created the universe and world. The post-theist gets to a point where those notions are as ridiculous as the idea that Zeus launches every lightning bolt everywhere – including on planets like Jupiter. If one is to learn about causation, the dispositions of material objects, and the universe, one will see that these do not allow for such an explanation; never mind that god is a human projection, a way of seeing our own image even behind phenomena we can’t even begin to control.
God is the name of an idealized human, infinite in every domain we are finite in: infinitely knowledgeable, powerful, moral, and good; every one of us will die and yet god is considered eternal. God is the name of human naiveté and arrogance, the notion that the creator of the universe must be a perfect version of ourselves. God is the name of the lack of imagination of our ancestors. If anything, imagination hasn’t discovered a super-human controlling and governing the universe; imagination has discovered natural forces that move celestial bodies and oversee their formation; imagination has scaled down the universe to previously incomprehensible small scales; imagination has proven once and for all that the universe is probabilistic, that chance rather than agency is more prevalent in the universe. Imagination has shown that the idea of god was borne from a lack of creativity rather than masterful ingenuity. Whether you like it or not, we are beyond the need for god as ultimate explanation or temporary placeholder; we are beyond the question of whether one exists. This is the age of post-theism.
By R.N. Carmona
Before I talk about the philosophical depths and conundrums of this type of mimicry, allow me to define it. Batesian mimicry is when one species adapts the features of another, usually poisonous species, so as to protect itself from predators. The most common example is the viceroy who adapted the wing patterns of the monarch for sake of avoiding its predators; note: this might actually be an example of Müllerian mimicry. Evolutionary biologists and geneticists have a handle on the genomic going ons that contribute to this, but philosophically speaking, this form of mimicry is intriguing. It boggles my imagination.
Let me preface my remarks by saying that I’m far from sympathetic to pseudoscience and as such, I don’t think creationism gets any closer to explaining the why of Batesian mimicry. Intelligent design doesn’t either. I highly doubt that the god of the Bible is siding with the prey and therefore, harming the predator. The height of benevolence would want what’s best for both prey and predator and wouldn’t actively harm one or the other. There’s also the case of imperfect mimicry, so if one wants to imagine that a designer is writing code into the fabric of reality, the designer isn’t the perfect designer of monotheism. With that said, my philosophical hold up has nothing at all to do with creationism and/or intelligent design.
My question is this: how did the viceroy know that a monarch’s pattern would protect it from predators? Does it have enough intelligence to understand its surroundings that well? Did it, in other words, survey its surroundings to the degree that it understood that birds avoid monarchs because of their wing patterns? Assuming we relinquish our tendency to belittle animal intelligence, how did the viceroy have the power to put these genetic changes into motion? That, that (!) is a question science doesn’t seem to care to answer. We can vaguely say that nature made this happen, but that moves the question of agency into a vague, mindless concept. Furthermore, it doesn’t explain the power of an animal to rewrite its genome.
Philosophers from Plato to Kant suggested that there may be more to reality than we realize. Before the advent of quantum mechanics, philosophers understood that reality might not be as simple as it appears on what Kant called the phenomenal level. There may be more to it. The powers of mimicry may be a hint. In Doctor Strange, the Ancient One, portrayed by Tilda Swinton, suggested that cells can be made to repair themselves and organize in all sorts of ways. She also implied that doctors like him are accustomed to one known way and are unaware of others. Humans do not have powers of genetic changes that are directed to a given end in the way some animals do. Batesian, Müllerian, and acoustic mimicry might be a most unexpected vindication for thinkers like Kant.
Westworld inclines me to ideas of competing engineers coding and recoding the fabric of our reality. Perhaps the true nature of reality is an elaborate game, a desperate reach for data, a simulation aiming to remap history before the present the engineers find themselves in. Perhaps not. Not everything makes sense; not everything has to. The Ancient One was right about that as well, but there are aspects of nature that don’t appear to be confined to nature and certainly can’t be readily explained by nature in and of itself. The noumenal, the Hegelian Absolute is the overarching objectivity that humans, in all their subjectivity, are striving for. There are phenomena available to our perceptions that may suggest that our arms are much too short to reach up and grasp that object of our desire. Perhaps we are doomed to decades of subjectivity, an existence that never apprehends truth. For some of us, there’s certainly no comfort in that.
Maybe this is the price we pay for being aware of our consciousness. In being aware of our consciousness, we have been disconnected from the full fabric of reality. Because of this awareness, maybe we are veiled from that which lies behind the curtain. We believe ourselves to be on the stage performing in the most meaningful way and in the only way that’s considered significant when in actuality, we are the audience that sees but the shadows of the performance. We can explain mimicry in our very limited ways, but we’ve apprehended only shadows. We have nothing in the way of why and nothing in the way of explaining to what is nothing short of a super power. We have nothing in the way of explaining the will and agency that drives such mimicry and much less the awareness necessary to accomplish it. Plato may have been right. Here we sit in the cave…
Book is now available for purchase here! Here are the Table of Contents to whet the appetite:
Chapter 1: Philosophical Approaches to Atheism
Chapter 2: Refuting the Kalam Cosmological Argument
Chapter 3: The Moral Argument Refuted
Chapter 4: Refuting Plantinga’s Victorious Ontological Argument
Chapter 5: On Qualia and A Refutation of the Argument from Consciousness
Chapter 6: Refuting the Fine-Tuning Argument
Chapter 7: The Failures of Aquinas’ Five Ways
Chapter 8: Transcendental Arguments and Presuppositionalism Refuted
Chapter 9: The Argument from Assailability
Chapter 10: The Arguments from History and The Multiplicity of Religions
Chapter 11: The Argument from Cosmology
Chapter 12: On the Leibnizian Cosmological Argument
I hope you guys enjoy!
By R.N. Carmona
A Christian on the Humans of New York Instagram page brought up the Leibnizian Cosmological Argument (LCA) and named a few of its Christian defenders. Like I’m fond of pointing out, in naming just Christian defenders of the argument, it is likely he hasn’t considered actual objections. He’s read a degraded form of objections via the lens of these Christian authors. This is why I call apologetics, pseudo-philosophy.
In actual philosophical discourse, the participants in a given discussion are as charitable to one another as possible and they try very hard to ensure that nothing is lost in translation. They constantly correct themselves if they misinterpret what their opponent has said or they attempt to show that their interpretation better captures what their opponent is trying to say. Apologists don’t do this. Apologists straw man an objection, sometimes in ways that seem sophisticated, in order to make the argument or counter-argument easier to address. This is precisely why I advised him to deal with J.L. Mackie, for example–to read him directly and not through the lens of one of his favored authors. Then he would find that even Christians reject the Leibnizian Cosmological Argument (LCA).
A quick example of what I mean: in responding to my Argument From Cosmology, my opponent says that the opposite of my conclusion is as follows: the fact that an x can’t be shown to exist in relation to y doesn’t mean that x doesn’t exist*; in other words, that god can’t be shown to exist in relation to the Earth doesn’t mean god doesn’t exist. Yet on Judaism and Christianity, god created the Earth. Modern science tells us that planets have no creator; they form naturally over an extended period of time. We have real time data of planet formation in other systems. The history of our planet doesn’t resemble anything mentioned in the Bible. By extension, I argue that god doesn’t exist in relation to the universe, since he didn’t create it. Modern cosmology tells us as much.
His assertion is not enough to refute my argument. In fact, all he’s concluding is the opposite of what he misunderstood as my conclusion. My actual conclusion is this: x does not exist in relation to y iff it is necessary that x exist in relation to y. If god did not create the Earth or the universe, he doesn’t exist in relation to either, and by extension, doesn’t exist; however, on Christianity, it is necessary that he does. This is precisely what his favored LCA says. Through the Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR), for every being or state of affairs that exist, there is a sufficient reason for why they exist. It then adds, that for every being or state of affairs that exist, there is a necessary reason for why they exist. Therefore, god is the necessary and sufficient reason for why these states of affairs exist.
My Argument From Cosmology best captures a decisive criticism of the LCA without directly engaging it. J.L. Mackie stated that PSR need not be assumed by reason. Reason only asks for antecedent causes and conditions that explain each being or state of affairs. These are considered facts until they themselves are explained by something prior to them. On reason, nothing is prerequisite beyond this.
Thus, going back to my conclusion, x does not exist in relation to y iff it is necessary that x exist in relation to y. In order for Christianity to hold true, god would have had to create the Earth and the universe. If we have reason to doubt that he created the Earth, and modern science establishes this conclusively, then we have much reason to doubt that he created the universe. If the Earth can be explained by antecedent causes and conditions, then the universe can as well. My argument offers a number of plausible explanations fielded in modern cosmology all whilst arguing that there cannot be the type of causation Christians would require, i.e., the type of causation that allows for an immaterial agent to create material objects. At best, such causation is unknowable and it is probable that there will be no hard evidence for it; hence the Christian must retreat to agnosticism. At worst, such causation is impossible and there cannot be any evidence for it; thus, the Christian must retreat to atheism.
Ultimately, my argument addresses the LCA by implication, i.e., my argument implies a defeater of the LCA. Therefore, I do not have to address it directly. The same can be said of the KCA. Rebuttals to both arguments are implicit in my argument. That fact alone should give apologists pause.
In any case, my point has been made: apologetics is pseudo-philosophy. Apologists prop it up by being uncharitable and purposely (in most cases) misinterpreting a claim or argument made by atheists. Apologists are also modern sophists: it matters not how things might be or probably are; what matters is what they think is the case, what they say is the case, or what they deem possible–as though possibility implies probability. Apologists are also quite fond of straw men, which they use to make their arguments seem superior to those of their opponents. Unlike them, I have defined PSR correctly and I’ve summarized the LCA charitably. However, I’ve also shown that my Argument From Cosmology considers the LCA, albeit indirectly. My argument implies a decisive blow to the LCA. It is therefore necessary to deal with my argument directly; it isn’t enough to choose a favored argument and deem it superior on the basis of a misinterpretation of my conclusion.
*His assessment is correct assuming that x isn’t necessary with relation to y. The fact that I (x) cannot be explained with relation to an invention (y) doesn’t mean I do not exist. Even the actual inventor of invention (y) doesn’t have this sort of connection to the invention in question. Another agent could have been the inventor. On Christianity, however, there are no other gods and hence no other creators. Thus, if god did not create the Earth, there is reason to doubt he created anything else in the universe and therefore, the universe itself. As stated, for Christianity to be true, it need only be shown that god is necessary in this possible world; the LCA, as originally formulated, wants Anselm’s deity and therefore, on the LCA, god is necessary in all possible worlds. My argument casts much doubt on this, especially since god is the necessary being antecedent to all contingent beings. If this connection fails on a minor front, e.g., god didn’t create all baseballs, that’s fine, for even then he would underlie the reason for the reason of the baseballs, namely human beings. If it fails on a major front, as I’ve shown in the case of the Earth and all planets for that matter, a glaring problem arises for Christians, for even if they posit a being that willed the laws of physics, what they have is a deity far removed from the deity in the Bible. That would make for a separate discussion altogether.