Why is the Universe the Way it is?

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One of the fundamental questions shared by science, philosophy and theology is the question of why the universe is the way it is. Over the centuries, the answers have fallen into two broad camps. The first is that of teleology. This is the view that the universe is the way it is because it has a purpose, goal or end for which it aims. The second is the non-teleological camp, which is the denial of the teleological view. Members of this camp often embrace purposeless chance as the “reason” why things are as they are.

Both camps agree on many basic matters, such as the view that the universe seems to be finely tuned. Theorists vary a bit in their views on what a less finely tuned universe would be like. On some views, the universe would just be slightly different while on other views small differences would have significant results, such as an uninhabitable universe. Because of this apparent fine tuning, one main concern for philosophers and physicists is explaining why this is the case.

The dispute over this large question nicely mirrors the dispute over a smaller question, namely the question about why living creatures are the way they are. The division into camps follows the same pattern. On one side is the broad camp inhabited by those who embrace teleology and the other side dwell those who reject it. Interestingly, it might be possible to have different types of answers to these questions. For example, the universe could have been created by a deity (a teleological universe) who decides to let natural selection rather than design sort out life forms (non-teleological). That said, the smaller question does provide some interesting ways to answer the larger question.

As noted above, the teleological camp is very broad. In the United States, perhaps the best known form of teleology is Christian creationism. This view answers the large and the small question with God: He created the universe and the inhabitants. There are many other religious teleological views—the creation stories of various other cultures and faiths are examples of these. There are also non-religious views. Among these, probably the best known are those of Plato and Aristotle. For Plato, roughly put, the universe is the way it is because of the Forms (and behind them all is the Good). Aristotle does not put any god in charge of the universe, but he regarded reality as eminently teleological. Views that posit laws governing reality also seem, to some, to be within the teleological camp. As such, the main divisions in the teleological camp tends to be between the religious theories and the non-religious theories.

Obviously enough, teleological accounts have largely fallen out of favor in the sciences—the big switch took place during the Modern era as philosophy and science transitioned away from Aristotle (and Plato) towards a more mechanistic and materialistic view of reality.

The non-teleological camp is at least as varied as the teleological camp and as old. The pre-Socratic Greek philosophers considered the matter of what would now be called natural selection and the idea of a chance-based, purposeless universe is ancient.

One non-teleological way to answer the question of why the universe is the way it is would be to take an approach similar to Spinoza, only without God. This would be to claim that the universe is what it is as a matter of necessity: it could not be any different from what it is. However, this might be seen as unsatisfactory since one can easily ask about why it is necessarily the way it is.

The opposite approach is to reject necessity and embrace a random universe—it was just pure chance that the universe turned out as it did and things could have been very different. So, the answer to the question of why the universe is the way it is would be blind chance. The universe plays dice with itself.

Another approach is to take the view that the universe is the way it is and finely tuned because it has “settled” down into what seems to be a fine-tuned state. Crudely put, the universe worked things out without any guidance or purpose. To use an analogy, think of sticks and debris washed by a flood to form a stable “structure.” The universe could be like that—where the flood is the big bang or whatever got it going.

One variant on this would be to claim that the universe contains distinct zones—the zone we are in happened to be “naturally selected” to be stable and hospitable to life. Other zones could be rather different—perhaps so different that they are beyond our epistemic abilities. Or perhaps these zones “died” thus allowing an interesting possibility for fiction about the ghosts of dead zones haunting the cosmic night. Perhaps the fossils of dead universes drift around us, awaiting their discovery.

Another option is to expand things from there being just one universe to a multiverse. This allows a rather close comparison to natural selection: in place of a multitude of species, there is a multitude of universes. Some “survive” the selection while others do not. Just as we are supposed to be a species that has so far survived the natural selection of evolution, we live in a universe that has so far survived cosmic selection. If the model of evolution and natural selection is intellectually satisfying in biology, it would seem reasonable to accept cosmic selection as also being intellectually satisfying—although it will be radically different from natural selection in many obvious ways.


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  1. Doris Wrench Eisler

    What speaking of “the way the universe is” amounts to is the way we interpret it, not the other way round.
    We can only speak of or appreciate our experience of the universe, something like an ant at a picnic believing the picnic is about it: it isn’t, but the ant does quite well by the situation, anyway.

  2. Mike,

    Teleology is associated with some notion, no matter how vague, of ‘mind’. All teleological ideas about origins of the cosmos are based on an extrapolation from human intelligence, perhaps made more convincing that as humans are to animals so some intelligent entity is to humans. It is also coloured by our natural propensity to feel dualistic: mind and body.

    But this is an old error that persists through mechanisms of our continued ‘feeling’ of what it is like to think and by the history of philosophy and theology that continues to push this stuff.

    There is no evidence of anything like a ‘mind’ that is not based on the fact that it feels like we have a mind. But consider first that the neurons of the brain are not so different from the neurons of the peripheral senses, but the former are connected in complex ways, so that in a real sense the brain’s neurons are sensing each other in a mass sensing love-fest. This is the only system we know of that is this complex, so that such a system can be intelligent, self-aware, possess identity, and have all the facets we attribute to ‘mind’ cannot be used as an indication that there is actually some separate mind. Then ask yourself what it would feel like for a mechanistic highly complex system that monitors and directs its own actions, and yet cannot sense in details that very mechanism. Would such a mechanistic system not feel as though its ‘program’, its ‘operating system’, is a separate mystical phenomenon that seems to pluck decisions out of the blue? We have no good reason to suspect that the brain and all its attributed teleology is nothing more than a very complex system.

    And with that, plus all in science that tells us that Evolution is a process that performs localised negative entropy operations that build complex things from simple things, from water molecules to brains, there is no need to presuppose anything remotely like a teleological designer of the universe. And I fail to see any alternative meaning of teleology in this regard that is not theistic in some sense.

    We seem to be localised complexities, in a universe that is predominantly, massively, simple. There is no need to assert that anything more complex was involved in the creation of the universe. Teleological presuppositions are just that, presupposition. Interesting philosophical speculations on a par with solipsism and a ton of other ideas that remain unevidenced.

    Without teleology the fine tuning idea falls flat; not that it was ever any good. Of course any system that contains some attributes appears fine-tuned to have those attributes. It’s such an uninteresting fact that it’s barely worth stating. The slightest variation in the ripples of the early universe and there might have been no me and you, because maybe some other species became dominant; or more likely, no Solar system, no Milky Way; but maybe any number of other outcomes, with perhaps some other planet somewhere with newly intelligent species declaring the universe was fine tuned for them, therefore God.

    The thing that physicists and cosmologists can try to explain is what prior mechanisms preceded what we see now. That’s not really explaining fine tuning but rather explaining what is.

    The teleology camp have to start with the presupposition that intelligence is something fundamental. But there’s no need to do that. The non-teleology camp ends up with the same stuff: humans that make decisions, but grounds that in physical and biological mechanisms with a consistency of explanation that includes all known science. We don’t have to presuppose anything but rather measure what we find (royal ‘we’ acknowledged).

    Notice how the teleological camp has to forever make what amount to unevidenced ‘excuses’, every time some new science comes along:

    – God created the earth, as the centre of his interests! No he didn’t, it’s part of a heliocentric system. OK, well, he created the solar system. No he didn’t, it’s part of the galaxy. OK, then he created the galaxy. No, the galaxy is in a universe. Well OK, but God put it at the centre of the universe. There is no centre of the universe. …

    – God created man! No he didn’t, evolution resulted in humans and other species. OK, well God created the evolutionary process, that created man. …

    With all the non-teleological stuff, you can ask, “How do you know that?”, and answers will be provided in detail, or someone will go off and start looking for answers. Ask a teleologist, “How do you know that?” and you’ll get flim-flam from philosophers, or faith and hand waving from theists; but never any detail, never any actual answers.

    The teleological camp is, as you say, quite diverse. The non-teleological camp less so that you imply – who really takes on board ancient philosophical ideas as being anything other than the history of ideas; surely no one really takes them seriously? OK, philosophers excused. Outside of some philosophical metaphysical speculations, of which I maintain solipsism is the only viable extreme position and all others are just twiddling the knobs, most non-teleologists hold to an entirely mechanistic view as the only viable one, because its all the evidence we have. A few faint hearts cling desperately to notions of free-will via the very dubious notion of compatibilism, but even they are pretty firm on mechanism.

    The ‘necessity’ stuff is just a poorly thought out philosophical ploy. Since in the matter of universe creation business we don’t have the foggiest clue, how the heck do you decide what is necessary and what is not. Same for the ‘all possible worlds’ nonsense, and the associated twist of all possible instances of ‘me’, some married some not, some dead some alive, … all arising out of the very poor notion that an infinity of things must by definition include all imagined possibilities. Even if there were infinite universes, by what precise theory does one claim that they are not all exactly the same? Maybe, if we were familiar with the matter of universe creation, we might find that there is a meta-universe rules that states that every time a universe pops into existence it is exactly like this one; or maybe it’s a binary rule that states that all universes are exactly like this one, or a totally made of blue cheese. Speculate away, but some of the claims to what is probably the case are entirely meaningless without evidence to support them.

    Doris made the point much more succinctly. The universe is how we discover it to be.

    I’m quite happy to contemplate any metaphysics you like, but because it’s all speculation it’s just as easy to come up with alternatives. The reason variations on a multiverse persist, for example, is that there are models that describe it, in various ways, and there are cosmological observations that support those models.

    Again, Doris put it succinctly: it’s down to interpretation. But the significant point is that interpretation amounts to building models, and the only ones worth paying attention to are the ones supported by data. The rest is fantasy dressed up as philosophy or theology.

  3. A very interesting post by ML with most points covered except consciousness and intelligence. Consciousness is still a mystery; a physicist has been quoted as saying that it may have to be considered as fundamental. So far there is no empirical evidence to show that it is, as it eludes objective analysis. The teleological view and the random view appear to be opposed to each other, although they may work in concert.

    If there is a template at the etheric level in the newly discovered L-field responsible for maintaining forms, then Plato’s view of the Forms and the Good could mean that there is a perfection that evolution at the material level randomly aspires to. Natural selection would sort out life forms at the material level to correspond to their templates, or precursory forms, sorting out would require necessity.

    Creationists do not subscribe to randomness; they perceive an either/or situation rather than and/both. As well they take a literal view, perceiving creation as occurring in solar rather than in aeonic time;a day being interpreted as our solar day, not an aeon. The Swedish philosopher Bjorklund made a distinction between eternal in the divine sense and in human perception which clothes it in the limitations we call time.

    The mechanistic, materialistic view of reality may be losing ground based on the new physics. That a chance-based purposeless universe view is both ancient and modern shows there has been little progress in settling the question so far. The universe having worked out on its own would be, to quote: the equivalent of a Rolls Royce being the end product from a whirlwind in a junkyard. Life being associated only with the zone we are in presumes that life requires in all zones what is necessary to sustain it in this zone, which is unlikely.

    The multiverse is a possibility that would select out multiple options, randomly coming up with some that work by chance out of infinite probabilities. This would denote finiteness; infiniteness in contrast would not be expected to require experimentation. Multiverses as experiments for the best option would be an inefficient way of doing things. Spinoza and Einstein could not subscribe to an infinite intelligence that was detached from the universe. Their perception may be that if only the trial and error of finiteness were responsible for fine tuning it would appear purposeless, or illogical, minus a touchstone.

  4. Vina,

    “a physicist has been quoted as saying that it may have to be considered as fundamental”

    Why, if we don’t know what it is? Why make that presupposition? This is like saying that some ancient flat earth proponents think they might have to conclude that the oceans are fundamentally bottomless, based on the fact that to them they appear to be very deep. They’d have been wrong, and there’s no reason to suppose your physicist isn’t wrong in his guess – and a guess is what it is.

    On the other hand, given that consciousness is the ONLY mystery that has anything approaching a non-material quality, and given that even that has to be considered in the light of all the other illusions human brains succumb to, and given further that we only know of it in ourselves and animals on this planet, in all the universe, then it could well be that it is quite right that we should infer that consciousness is not fundamental at all but rather an artefact, a process, that is mistaken for something fundamental by the brains that are perceiving it.

    Other than human brains perceiving their own consciousness, is there any other evidence at all that consciousness is anything special at all? Isn’t it odd that we see it as special? Perhaps it’s better to think of consciousness as drunkenness: seems fabulous from personal experience as one sees oneself as the life and soul of the party, yet others look on and see a loud drunken crashing bore. The trouble is we have nothing to compare it to. It could be that of all dominant species in all the planets of the universe, we are simply plain dumb, and our childish excitement over our own specialness is looked on as a cute affectation.

    But no, let’s pretend we are special. It feels much grander.

  5. “Because of this apparent fine tuning, one main concern for philosophers and physicists is explaining why this is the case.”

    Mike, don’t wave a red rag at the atheist; their horns grow stronger and sharper by the day. You know, Dawkins used to be more moderate and ‘live and let live’ in his atheism.

    Religious people taking up the term “fine tuning”, as to be a scientific hint to the existence of a supernatural creator, dives scientist bananas. It’s just a figure of speech. It does not suggest there is a cosmic tuner. If there is a cosmic tuner, he probably couldn’t tune a banjo, let alone a harp. Most of the visible universe (which is all of it, since the discovery of the cosmic background radiation), is hostile to the existence of life.

    Why are the stars the way they are? If they weren’t, there would be no astrophysics around to observe them.

    If Aristotle were around today, which university department might you find him in?

  6. RM,

    A philosophical or scientific approach requires that we be open to any proposition, no matter how seemingly preposterous, even if it does not resonate with us. Whether something is real or not, verifiable or not, only time will tell. If any in the Middle Ages proposed that images and sound would be accessible from the ether, seen and heard by all, they would be treading on dangerous ground, in spite of the validity of their perception.

    J. C. Bose did experiments on tin which proved that it has the ability to sense. He also did experiments on plants which showed a conscious response. There are a number of heavy hitters who have regarded consciousness as fundamental. Shankara, in the eight century, referred to the consciousness of particles; A. Goswami, Ph.D.,wrote ‘The Self-Aware Universe;’ physicist Even H. Walker referred to non-thinking entities being responsible for the detailed working of the universe: the proton, electron, neutron, neutrino, and photons as all being conscious within their respective limits. Max Plank regarded consciousness as fundamental stating: “I regard matter as derivative from consciousness. We cannot get behind consciousness.” Nobel laureate Eugene Wigner saw the formal inclusion of consciousness in physics becoming an essential feature of any further advance in scientific understanding.

    If consciousness does turn out to be fundamental, and it is a big if, it would not make us special. It would just mean that we have a better instrument for expressing it. By no personal merit are we at the top of the evolutionary pyramid, with self-consciousness and the ability to unravel the mysteries of the universe. This involves responsibility towards the rest of nature, which we ignore at our peril.

  7. The full Max Plank quote is: “I regard matter as derivative from consciousness. We cannot get behind consciousness. Everything that we talk about, everything that we regard as existing postulates consciousness.”

  8. s. wallerstein

    Tin senses?

    I hope I haven’t said anything to offend it lately.

  9. The ant at the picnic, I’ve never heard that analogy before and to my mind it does sum up the situation brilliantly. So far as consciousness is concerned it appears that even if the neural correlates of consciousness are identified in their entirety, the hard problem of consciousness still remains, which is basically to solve the conundrum as to how the irritation of nervous tissue can result in a state of consciousness. T. H. Huxley likened this to the appearance of a genie when a magic lamp is rubbed. What exists outside the human mind continues to be a puzzlement. How ever life does seem somehow or the other to get by in what appears to us to be a massive continuum of action and reaction. For the animate and inanimate a fitness to survive seems paramount but we have to be careful in this connection for out there, things, whatever that may mean, just are, things in themselves that is all. In this connection it appears that truth cannot be ‘out there’ that is to say it cannot exist independently of the human mind, sentences cannot exist out there. The world is out there but sentences are not, only descriptions of the world can be true or false but the world is on its own, unaided by the describing activities of humans it is neither in itself true or false The ability of the human brain to understand all this, the human viewpoint, is such that the best we can say there is in operation a process or system which includes the animate and inanimate. And so far as the animate is concerned it is as much importance as the ant at the picnic. The philosopher Colin Mc Ginn has argued that is currently the human mind is insufficiently developed to deal with this problem.
    There is evidence to suggest strongly that our senses do deceive us. For instance, colour is purely a human construct, a human experience, which has no existence in the world outside of the human or animal mind. The same goes for sound, taste, and smell. If our brains deceive us by suggesting that these qualities have existence in the world then this is surely evidence that our senses are not to be relied upon.
    In this connection A. N. Whitehead has said in his book Science and the Modern World, as follows
    ”The mind in apprehending, also experiences sensations which, properly speaking are qualities of the mind alone. These sensations are projected by the mind so as to clothe appropriate bodies in external nature. Thus the bodies are perceived as with qualities which in reality do not belong to them, qualities which in fact are purely the offspring of the mind. Thus nature gets credit which should in truth be reserved for ourselves: the rose for its scent: the Nightingale for his song: and the sun for his radiance. The poets are entirely mistaken. They should address their lyrics to themselves, and should turn them into odes of self congratulation on the excellency of the human mind. Nature is a dull affair, soundless, scent less, colourless; merely the hurrying of material endlessly meaninglessly.
    The best analogy I can think of is, say me, and a person who purports to speak ancient Greek and English, (i.e. an interpreter), and a third person who only speaks ancient Greek. The Greek speaks non-stop and the interpreter tells me in English what The Greek is saying.
    Think of the Greek as Reality the interpreter as my sensory organs and brain, and me is just me i.e. a mind, as opposed to a brain. How can I be sure the interpreter is accurately and truthfully telling me exactly what the Greek is saying. He could be making it all up, or have only a passing knowledge of ancient Greek and fills in the rest from his own imagination, or he could  highly censor  his so called interpretation or he could faithfully and accurately translate perfectly. None of these alternatives (and there may be more) can I accept or reject I just have to go on trust that the system seems to be working and seems to be making some sort of sense, notwithstanding the fact that I have discovered by pure reason alone that the interpreter has stated falsehoods, which he unwittingly repeats again and again How far it matches what the Greek is actually saying I know of no way of checking. Neither do I know if he is an fact a Greek nor that the noise I hear is in fact ancient Greek All I know is what the interpreter has told me and that there is a degree of unreliability in his translations. It seems then that we are in a perpetual state of mistrust as to what reality is like. I am not permitted to examine the Greek directly in the same way as I am not permitted to examine Reality directly. A sceptical viewpoint but one I cannot seem to reject.
    I am doubtful that cause and effect are natural processes Kant described them as human prerequisites for understanding the world. we cannot embrace reality in one go and make a decision. We do not have a God’s eye view. We find it necessary to examine small bits of what we call the World, which we divide into cause and effect. This however is unjustifiably to single out two events from what is in fact a continuous system. From what we find by means of using this process we then apply to the world as a whole, which is to commit the fallacy of composition that is to say applying the qualities of a part to the whole. I have been trying to think of obvious continuous systems where causes and effects are difficult to distinguish and are in a continuous state of flux. Meteorology is a prime example of a continuing system which never stops, it has prevailed since this planet had an atmosphere. Things everywhere blend into each other pressures go up and down winds rise and fall there is never a break in what is a system of continuous flux. It is only when we start to describe it in human terms that we start partitioning off certain parts into cause and effect that we are able to approximately predict over the short term what might occur Thus air of differing temperatures flowing past each other generate, cause  electrical charges on themselves which we experience as what we call lightening i.e. the effect. But the whole thing is continuous and there is no warrant for calling certain parts causes and other certain parts effects; where exactly would the line be drawn between these two descriptions.? Whilst great advances have been made in the science of meteorology forecasts can still be incorrect for simple fact is the impossibility of considering every item in the vast continuous system that meteorology represents.
    I think physicist Niels Bohr summed up the situation well when writing about Quantum Theory. He stated. ‘There is no quantum world. There is only an abstract quantum physical description. It is wrong to think that the task of physics is to find out how Nature is. Physics concerns what we can say about nature.’

  10. Vina,

    “A philosophical or scientific approach requires that we be open to any proposition, no matter how seemingly preposterous, even if it does not resonate with us.”

    I agree. It’s great to contemplate possibilities. But the Max Plank quote hardly sounds like a speculative musing, more like a conclusion.

    And those ‘heavy hitters’? They may be very good at some of the stuff they do, but remember they still have biological fallible brains. They are just as susceptible as the rest of us to the latching onto some notion and then running with it until they convince themselves its true. For those of us with more mundane brains that occupy ourselves with daily life and dip our toes into radical and complex ideas, some clever brain that can string a convincing argument together will tend to sound convincing. But there is nothing known about human brains that says a clever brain necessarily can’t convince itself that something false is true; and quite a lot known that suggests this is quite common. There have been many very bright people that have spouted nonsense because they got the wrong end of the stick.

    On the notion of sensing, when it comes to tin or human brains what does it mean to ‘sense’? It merely means to receive some input that is sufficient to respond to: the very basics of causation, cause and effect.

    Whenever I read stuff on panpsychism and the like it always seems the proponent is starting top-down, observing what they think is consciousness in humans, and other animals, maybe being influenced by a history of philosophy, and theology that presumes consciousness is ‘something’ in its own right to the extent that there might even be gods. They then start digging down through weaker and weaker examples of intelligent consciousness and somehow manage to convince themselves there is a connection, until they get down to what we would call inanimate matter and conclude the connection is consciousness. No surprise then that two of the figures you list, Bose and Goswami, are from a culture that sees the mystical consciousness stuff as being significant.

    On the Goswami site, http://www.amitgoswami.org/: “What do we mean by materialist science? Materialist science takes it as its basic axiom that everything is matter. We have literally managed to train a whole generation of students on the idea that everything is material, but this Newtonian world view that has shaped our understanding for centuries is now giving way to the revelations of quantum physics which goes beyond materialism; to show that consciousness, not matter, is the ground of all being.”

    I think they are right that there is a connection between conscious brains and inanimate matter, but that they get it entirely the wrong way round. Rather than consciousness being the ground of all being, it is rather a process, a function, that emerges under certain complex states of matter.

    This is Deepak Chopra land. It uses so much equivocation, and never offers a definition of what consciousness is. Remember that the quantum physics is based only on the consistency found between theoretical physics and experiment. Where is the maths that defines consciousness so that it fits into the theory? Where is the experiment that shows that that quantum physics ‘goes beyond the material’? Where is there even a definition of what we are prepared to call ‘material’?

    There are some speculative ideas that as we dig deeper that what we think of as ‘hard’ and ‘solid’ matter of the material world will vanish completely and we’ll be left with what is essentially ‘information’ – distinctions, disturbances in who knows what, that we observe as particles. But we’re already happy to call ‘material’ the stuff which is essentially empty – the ‘space’ between the atoms that make up our ‘solid’ material world.

    None of that vanishing ‘solidity’ of the material implies in the slightest that this is related to consciousness. That’s just solipsism by another name. The problem for the Indian mysticisms around consciousness is that the simpler material explanation “does not resonate” with them – they are already stuck in their own perspective determined by their own biasese.

    This isn’t the case with ‘materialists’. It is not axiomatic that everything is matter, but rather that we start out labelling what we see and touch as ‘matter’, and then start examining what that is. Materialists are not averse to accepting the “seemingly preposterous”, when the evidence is convincing – you can hardly accuse of that when we hold that humans are related to bacteria through an evolutionary history, that relativity can really result in different ageing experiences, that particles can remain entangled with no apparent physical connection. There is no shortage of “seemingly preposterous” stuff in modern physics, cosmology or biology. And don’t you think it odd that some of those that assert as true the seemingly preposterous notion that there is a God, based on no evidence whatsoever, can deny Evolution?

    So, give us something that really does demonstrate consciousness in tin, and if the theory and evidence match, we’ll eventually come to accept it. But there’s nothing but assertions from these masters of woo. That they may be expert on some field, be it quantum physics, or neuroscience, does not mean that can not think nonsense.

    I am not offering any concrete refutation of consciousness as Goswami or Chopra see it, no more than I’m offering a refutation of solipsism. I’m merely pointing out that the claims that consciousness is ‘the ground of all being’ is nothing more than an assertion.

    Note that it’s usually these mystical types that declare that we don’t understand consciousness, don’t know what it is, and yet go on to tell us that they just happen to know enough that they can be sure it exists in tin and trees. It’s these guys that are simply concocting some vague notion and then believing it. This is exactly the stunt the religious pull: “Oh you atheists can’t understand God with your theory and experiments because he’s beyond all that, he’s ineffable; though not quite so ineffable that I can’t tell you exactly what he wants and doesn’t want in the way of our moral behaviour.”

    There has never been (to my knowledge, correct me if I’m wrong) anything that shows that any of the mystical ‘transcendence’ stuff transcends anything other than the common sense of its proponents. Can meditation create material changes in the brain that make it have internal self-aware experiences that ‘seem’ mystical and seem as if they are transcending the body? Sure. Is there anything that suggests that this is not merely an internal brain experience? No. Close your eyes and tune out, and all the evidence you have is entirely consistent with your brain messing around with its own internal perceptions.

    What “does not resonate” with these guys, what they are unable to contemplate seriously, is the other “seemingly preposterous” notion that consciousness is an illusory unreal thing that human brains think is something other than a material process.

    Instead of starting with consciousness and humans, start with basic physics, and just suppose for a moment that tin is not conscious. I’d suggest that some god peeking into our early universe and seeing no intelligent life, no life whatsoever, but only complex elements, even tin, would have no reason to presuppose consciousness exists in that universe.

    From simple inanimate matter arises ever more complex stuff, all entirely consistent with the models, the ‘laws’, we create to describe our universe. It is really difficult to define a clear boundary between life and non-life, so why not stop treating it as some magical boundary and just suppose it’s a continuum of complexity in basic matter? Is that too “preposterous” an idea? We can do the same when it comes to brains – they are just biological systems, chemistry and physics.

    The single sensory nerve cell is merely like most other cells in most ways. It interacts with its environment by mechanisms of chemistry and physics alone – and physics and chemistry at the scale of atoms and molecules is pretty much determined by electromagnetic interactions between electrons and ions. Yes, they in turn are determined by other details of physics, including the quantum stuff. But biology is basically cells interacting through chemical processes.

    Even the action potential that nerve cells use is nothing more than chemistry, the movement of ions across through chemical gates. That the action potential travels along a nerve cell as a wave is completely consistent with many other non-living complex systems that are expressed as the rhythmic and resonant interaction among system components.

    And a brain is not much more, as far as we yet know, than lots of nerve cells interacting with each other. They interact in complex ways, so that they are effectively reacting to each other in complex circuits. Neurons in the brain play both sensing and ‘motor’ functions among themselves. Parts of the brain in systems of cells respond to each other in a sense that we can meaningfully say they ‘monitor’ each other and ‘control’ – the functionality we attribute to agency all too easily.

    The brain is a self-monitoring adaptive system on a scale that far surpasses anything we can yet make with non-biological systems. But imagine that we do eventually create systems that begin to self-monitor on this scale, if that’s not too “preposterous” – as you suggest, it shouldn’t be. How would we describe a system that becomes so complex it can construct models of its own behaviour within its own circuits? Is it really too much, so “seemingly preposterous”, that this couldn’t be called self-awareness?

    What if such a system could detect and monitor its own processing only using some high level ‘conceptual’ model? What if this system couldn’t form conceptual models of its own process down to detailed circuits? In other worlds, what if to this artificial system it could tell it was engaged in concept processing, but could not detect how this was implemented directly in hardware? Would such a system not be tempted to feel that it’s conceptual self-aware processing was in fact a separate ‘mind’ that had some ‘conscious’ existence of its own?

    Is that not what human brains are doing?

    Evolutionary biology and anthropology suggest that sometime in the distant past a group of animals evolved a brain that became self-aware and began to contemplate its own being. This is no more than one step along a long trail from what we humans call inanimate matter, all the way through early complex systems that show only some of the features of what we call life, through to life of ever more complexity, where the physically and chemically self-contained units appear, from our perspective, to be behaving teleologically.

    I don’t think it’s a coincidence that when I stub my toe on corner of a table I curse the table as if it’s its fault. We humans have this capacity to place meaning and agency into everything we come across – even seeing Jesus in a piece of toast. We follow characters on TV as if they are really speaking animals. Once you get used to it there’s nothing too conceptually disturbing about Roger Rabbit interacting with Bob Hoskins as Eddie Valliant.

    There are many illusions that our brains construct that are obviously illusions on examination, because they involve stuff outside our bodies: visual and audio illusions, or the sensory illusions of the false hand illusions of amputees that can see they don’t have a hand but can seriously feel they have. The problem with internal brain illusions, like the non-physical mind, or free-will, is that they are not so easy to overcome because they have no corresponding external method of investigation.

    Our brains seem to be nothing more than self-aware systems that feel like their brain processes constitute a separate mind; and our history of philosophy and theology has firmly fixed that notion into our heads. Because our brains can’t sense their own workings we feel like we have minds, and we are culturally attuned to this story and it’s difficult to shake off – confirmation bias if ever I saw it.

    If anyone is “open to possibilities” I’d say it’s the materialists that are resisting the temptation to draw unwarranted conclusions from personal introspection and are prepared to follow where the data leads into the “seemingly preposterous” notion that we are just more complex matter that is locally, within a brain, self-aware. That seems to be the “seemingly preposterous” notion that all those enamoured by the mysticism of consciousness are unable to consider seriously, when really that’s all that the data shows.

    All our ideas about consciousness being something fundamental come entirely from personal internal brain experience, internal brain introspective examination of it, and speculative debate about it in philosophy and theology. There is nothing, zero, in the way of anything else that tells us anything about consciousness in this respect. We don’t even know that there is consciousness outside our own heads, but only infer it from how we observe our behaviour matches the behaviour of other humans. We aren’t sure to what extent other animals are conscious the way we are, other than by observing external behaviour, and more recently comparing brains and brain activity, by examining brains, alive and dead. But even then we are only inferring that whatever we’ve got, they, other people, other animals, have something like it too.

    None of this comparative brain stuff actually tells us anything specific about consciousness, as a thing in itself. Nothing that we have tells us consciousness is anything more than a process in material brains. This is a very poor starting point from which to ‘ground all being’ in consciousness.

    Sure, as a speculative musing the panpsychists and friends are on a par with solipsism. Knock yourself out contemplating those possibilities. But when it comes to the way in which consciousness is considered by Chopra or Goswami, or Plank, there is simply nothing in their musings that is supported by anything worthy of serious consideration. It’s flim-flam.

  11. Don,

    I think Mc Ginn and Whitehead are starting from a presupposition that the mind is something in itself, and as such, since that’s the starting point, our mental observations, we can’t then say anything meaningful about reality, because, as in your Greek analogy, we’re only ever interpreting reality. But it is still a presupposition of a mind that they start with, and that prevents them seeing further.

    I agree with Bhor’s point as you cite it.

    The significant difference though arises when cumulatively, by many different routes, science provides excessively more consistency across its various fields. And they are all collectively consistent with there being a material world, with material brains that have material thinking ‘mind’ processes going on inside them. That material perspective then goes on to show, as you say, that the brain is able to deceive itself. The solution to your Greek problem is to bring in more interpreters, have them interpret the dialogue independently, and check their stories for consistency. This is what science has been doing, especially since the Enlightenment, and that is why it is such a vastly more consistent story than those from philosophers like McGinn.

    This presupposition of a mind was always the problem with the zombies of Chalmers. He presumes there is a consciousness that you can remove that would leave the zombies to continue to act as if they were humans. But if the mind is the physical brain in action then the only way you can remove consciousness is to alter the brain so that it is no longer doing conscious stuff. And when we do that we don’t get zombies, we get people sleeping, people unconscious, or brain dead people, all not not doing what conscious people do. A thought experiment is all well and good, but if it doesn’t relate to the way the world is then it’s not telling you anything about the world. The only thing that clinched the thought experiments of Einstein was the experimental confirmation of them.

    Philosophy that makes claims about the world that is not supported by evidence is more often than not bad philosophy. Sometimes philosophical claims may later turn out to be confirmed by evidence, and they are often extolled as great insights. Sometimes they are, but quite often they are merely lucky or reasonable guesses. We congratulated the Greek atomists when it was eventually shown that atoms seem to be the last word in reality. Now, not so much, because we’re not sure that there is any end to how reality can be divided.

    Maybe consciousness is the ground of all being. But even if that turns out to be the case it will still be true that panpsychics were asserting that with no justification whatsoever. It will not even warrant the credit of being a lucky guess. It will always be an assertion from zero evidence, in inference too far.

  12. The Universe is the way it is because of an Omnipresent, Omniscient and Omnipotent Void Field (VF) which pervades the tiniest to the grossest form of matter. It is the VF which gives FORM to matter. It is the VF which is responsible for aggregation of matter into various FORMS – nucleus, atom, molecule, solid, liquid, gas, plasma and so on. Depending upon the proximity scale the VF exhibits varied FORMS. At the nuclear level it is the nuclear binding force. At the atomic level it is responsible for perpetual motion of the electrons. At the human level the VF is the Self which coordinates mind and body. The Universe is thus a VOID FIELD that contains matter and energy within it.

  13. Dennis Sceviour

    The difficulty is one of infinite regress. To observe the universe with the senses, one must assume first that sensory perception is part of the universe, and then assume one can be apart from it. Why?

    Causality may be an invention of human trickery. The question why has no meaning itself. So when the question why is asked, the questioned has no answer other than the trickery of pretense, dialectic, invention of meaningless responses, and examples of infinite regress. This does not mean causality is not a powerful tool. The child soon learns that if he does not answer the question why, then he will be reprimanded. This makes causality a tool of power control and not a topic of reason.

    Bertrand Russell solved the problem of existence and infinite regress by denying there is any need to confuse observation with explanation. “Russell: I should say that the universe is just there, and that’s all (Bertrand Russell and Frederick Copleston, 1964, “Debate on the Existence of God”).” Modern Zen masters have also likened enlightenment to see without explaining seeing.

  14. Dennis Sceviour

    Google glitch. The date of the Russell and Copleston debate was 1948.

  15. Dennis,

    I agree infinite regress is a problem, for everyone and so any speculation about it offers no answers for anyone. The religious that resort to the ‘first cause’ argument think they are getting around it some how – their mistake.

    I agree causality is a problem, for everyone and so any speculation about it offers no answers for anyone. For that reason I don’t think it offers an power control to anyone who is not equally vulnerable to power control themselves.

    It seems that humans are programmed to want explanation, to crave understanding, and while that is the case there will be attempts to explain and understand and there will be disagreements about it – though that in itself doesn’t mean one set of explanations or one understanding can’t be better that others, and nor does it guarantee any of them will be anywhere near right. Russell and zen masters might offer consolation to those that suffer the angst of not knowing with sufficient certainty, but many of us are quite happy to keep looking and don’t particularly feel the need to give up on the search. I can accept the universe is just there, but then still remain curious about how it came to be there, what mechanisms were involved.

  16. The polarization between proponents of consciousness being fundamental and proponents of it being a product of evolution, brain chemistry and neural firings will remain until there is evidence that disprove one or the other. The fact is that we do not know. The new physics in studying the fifth element, space, or the quantum vacuum could shed light on the problem. Space was originally thought to be gaseous, then void, and now is known to be seething with energy and micro elements, including the newly discovered Higgs Boson or Higgs field; the origin of mass. The director of the CERN project said to a reporter who asked what the Higgs had to do with him, “because of it you are here.”

    Evolutionary biology and anthropology can “suggest” any number of things from somewhere in the distant past. Until more is known and understood about the elements in space and their implications for the origin of life, it will not be clear whether consciousness was present at the beginning or originated with animals evolving a physical brain over time; the supposition being that evolving a physical brain originated and enabled consciousness and intelligence. If there is an element that shows consciousness to be independent of biology, it is more likely to be discovered by the new physics studying the micro elements of space,than by neuroscientists studying the brain. One benefit of scientific research on the brain would be to get to the root of physical anomalies and help ease human suffering.

    The fifth macro element whether referred to as space, ether, or the quantum, as well as Hyperspace, if found to be a further macro element, could change the implications for understanding the origin of life, of what preceded mass. Now that the origin of mass has been discovered it is not unlikely that at some point, if there is a mental element, it too will be discovered. In identifying the subtler elements of space the implications for new technologies could surpass anything we could presently imagine. All this may appear to be a threat to the many branches of biology that have morphed into numerous disciplines that seem bent on absorbing the mental, social, artistic, and all other forms of human expression into the many specialties this has engendered; subsuming the mind to the body on the assumption that there is no mind. A culture that believes in the supremacy of the body is very different from one that believes in the supremacy of the mind. The former is more likely to be fodder for Big Parma, as well as experts of all kinds. There would be no real threat to biological science if a mental element were discovered, so long as humans have a biological component there will always be a place for biological science.

  17. “The new physics in studying the fifth element, space, or the quantum vacuum could shed light on the problem.”

    What leads you to think this? It hasn’t shed any light on any of the information relating conscious variation caused by brain state changes, such as illness, the expression of genes in neurons, their inhibition, the localisation of many brain functions that correspond to specific conscious experiences, … It’s a long and details list. What detailed science is there to show consciousness has anything at all to do with very small scale physics? Squat.

    “The new physics … ” – tells us nothing about consciousness whatsoever.

    “The director of the CERN project said to a reporter who asked what the Higgs had to do with him, “because of it you are here.”” – And tells us nothing about why some of the large scale systems such as humans exhibit conscious behaviour while other large scale systems like mountains do not.

    “Evolutionary biology and anthropology can “suggest” any number of things … ” – Fair enough, in terms of comparing absolute certainties with scientific claims, the science claims are ‘suggestions’. But compare what evolution, anthropology and other science tell us compared to the woo stuff of Chopra and Co. it sure does seem like the science is a lot closer to certainty.

    “If there is an element that shows consciousness to be independent of biology, it is more likely to be discovered by the new physics studying the micro elements of space,than by neuroscientists studying the brain.”

    Does it? What science is currently showing that the small scale stuff is more likely to reveal anything about consciousness at all?

    “The fifth macro element whether referred to as space, ether, or the quantum, as well as Hyperspace…” – or ‘woo’, ‘supernatural’, ‘paranormal’, … Making names up for stuff to make it sound profound doesn’t get us any closer to understanding it.

    “Now that the origin of mass has been discovered it is not unlikely that at some point, if there is a mental element, it too will be discovered.”

    It could have been said, with equal conviction, and with equal zero relevance, “Now that [heliocentrism/atoms/bacteria/…(anything actually discovered)] has been discovered it is not unlikely that at some point, if there is a mental element, it too will be discovered.”

    “In identifying the subtler elements of space the implications for new technologies could surpass anything we could presently imagine.”

    Or, “In identifying the subtler elements of space the implications for magic could surpass anything we could presently imagine.”

    “All this may appear to be a threat to the many branches of biology …”

    It may appear to be a threat to those that fall for this stuff, but I bet there are no biologists worrying about looming redundancy because of it.

    “on the assumption that there is no mind.”

    You have it the wrong way round. It was always presumed there was a mind because it felt like it, and still does. But no mind has been found, and the science that has come along keeps on making it look more and more as though the conscious feeling that we have a dualist mind is an brain caused mental illusion that differs from optical illusions only in that the illusion is entirely internal to the brain.

    “A culture that believes in the supremacy of the body is very different from one that believes in the supremacy of the mind.”

    OK. But materialists don’t believe in the supremacy of the body or anything – they just take things for what they turn out to be. But what they have been doing for the last few centuries is challenging the supremacy of the mind as presumed by philosophers and theologians.

    “The former is more likely to be fodder … experts of all kinds.” – No. Chopra makes good money from the gullible of the latter kind that are fodder for his woo.

    “There would be no real threat to biological science if a mental element were discovered, so long as humans have a biological component there will always be a place for biological science.”

    That’s handy to know.

  18. Re: Ron Murphy May 3, 2014

    Thanks for your interesting reply, I think you have got to start somewhere and give a name to something unless you will have nothing to speak about. At best something seems to be going on, what ever it is I am not sure, but I am prepared to accept the word Mind for it. So far as I can make out there are objects in the outside world which are similar to myself, and it seems reasonable to think by analogy at least, that these objects additionally have in their construction what I have called Mind. It does seem impossible that I could function with the Mind of another to which it seems I am unable to gain immediate access. I am accordingly cut off from these objects which I know exist in my mind. This is tantamount to a solipsistic viewpoint and rightly or wrongly philosophically that is how I feel. So far as my day-to-day existence is concerned I guess I come across as pretty normal, whatever that may mean.
    You suggest bringing in more Greek interpreters but surely that has already been done, we all agree that the sky is blue, but we all know that isn’t Each and every Greek interpreter seems to be stating the same sort of falsehood to all Minds.
    I understand the point you are making concerning scientific method which seems to be the only facility we have in trying to understand this world in which we find ourselves. How ever science is a tentative business knowledge being often rejected or refined by new discoveries. Today’s scientific truths often become tomorrow’s scientific myths additionally the problem of Induction is such that certainty in anything seems just to elude us. That said the corpus of scientific knowledge does to a large extent represent the world as human beings see it. From a pragmatic point of view this works very well, we have reached the Moon and are as like to reach Mars in due course, pragmatism tells us that if it works we may consider it as the case; in truth however we have perhaps only scratched the surface in understanding. Like the ant at the picnic we think we have got it made. Little does the ant know the vast complexity which exists outside of his or her little world.
    Your comments concerning Panpsychism are interesting, in my early days of philosophy it did seem to me to be the answer to the problem of consciousness i.e the mind is everywhere. Reading Galan Strawson on the subject and others and attending Strawson’s lectures I began to think it was the only answer. Notwithstanding the complexities in argument and a massive talent that well known academics have in expounding their pet theory I eventually concluded that I was not really won over by the points made. All we have to elucidate the mysteries which beset us is the scientific method and possibly as Popper said, Bold Conjectures. Maybe Panpsychism is a Bold Conjecture, but so far that is all. It seems to fail on several counts. Initially apropos Popper, there seems no way of falsifying it. Additionally it is not testable, not compatible with existing science, not a simple explanation.
    Returning to Colin McGinn and his paper (the name of which I cannot recall at the moment) containing the suggestion that we are epistemologically limited; i still suspect that this could be a fact and humans do not curremtly have the appropriate genetic composition to elucidate this problem.

  19. RE:- ikay Kumar May 4,
    I am not familiar with the expression Void Field. The search on the Internet has revealed nothing other than in the programming language C the expression the field is void seems common. Can you explain exactly what a Void Field is in itself rather than speaking as to the effects which it has So far as I can remember I have never come across this expression in so far as it is responsible for, as you say, the aggregation of matter into various forms

  20. “…although it will be radically different from natural selection in many obvious ways.”

    Or in other words, not even remotely a good analogy.

  21. Both the non-teleological and the teleogical ones are non-answers.

    If a multiverse explained why our universe is the way it is, then what explains why the multiverse is the way it is.

    If randomness explains it then there is still further explanation needed.

    Why did we end up with an environment in which the logic of a Turing Machine can be implemented? Not every random search will end up with this.

    In fact most mathematically definable random searches will not result in something where the logic of a TM is implemented, even given an infinite search space and an infinite number of steps.

    One of the furphies of infinity is that given an infinite number of things doing stuff for infinitely long then everything will happen.

    But you can have infinitely many things simply repeating the same steps infinitely. Even non-repeating infinities are not guaranteed to cover every possibility.

    Likely we can never answer the question of why reality is the way it is, rather than some other way.

  22. Don,

    I agree that we are epistemologically limited. In our post-post-modernism world that is well understood within science I think. I would invite woo proponents to offer up any materialist scientists that denounce their woo that also do not agree with this epistemological uncertainty inherent in human investigation, and hence in science. The problem is that many proponents of woo imply that science is still in its period of modernist certainty, while they themselves feel they are at the cutting edge of post-modernism and the post-modern relativism that has it that all evaluations of reality are on an equal footing.

    They think that simply positing a possibility and liking the sound of it is good enough. They tend to use vague phrases such as ‘it resonates’, which merely means that the concept they have fallen for has triggered some contextually fitting and comforting notions already in their brains. What a lovely feeling, to think that the way we can communicate with each other and with the whole of reality, like some super Doctor Doolittle that converses with animals, and tin – ‘at one with the universe’. But it’s all rather too easy. Hats off to the mystics that can sit for hours and zone out, or in, whichever it is, and have their brains take on some very interesting and satisfying states; but you can’t rely on just that to then go on to claim that you’ve been in touch with some other aspects of the universe and have established that it’s all consciousness. It has all the utility of the work of Sisyphus with his bolder – all very enlightening with regard to the capacity of a single brain and body to endure monotony and contemplation, but hardly, as far as we can tell, revealing of anything about the wider universe whatsoever.

    The distinguishing features of science include the hard work put into challenging our natural perception of reality in far more rigorous and varied ways than any of these un-scientifically supported claims. And it is unsurprising that proponents of woo go to great lengths to make their claims sound scientific. They want to use science to justify their beliefs, and then criticises science when it fails to justify them – their pet notion ‘resonates’ with them, so surely it deserves a pass on the rigour. Have you noticed how they often are tend to be so hurt by the rejection? It’s an odd mixture of incredulity that a materialist interpretation can tell us something about consciousness combined with an over-credulity in believing they have the answer, and then a further incredulity that no one believes them.

    I really don’t think materialist proponents are generally closed minded enough to reject strange phenomena. Who would have believed quantum weirdness had the science not demonstrated persuasively that this is how reality works at that level of investigation? There was resistance to it – and quite rightly for anything that makes such “preposterous” claims. We are forced to accept it, in so far as the science shows and continues to show evidence for it. There’s no doubt that quantum stuff is very uncomfortable for many scientists, but they simply can’t overcome the evidence that supports it. Their emotional attachment and bias towards a more deterministic reality may drive some to keep searching for faults in quantum physics, or for a more convincing deterministic foundation beneath it, but for now they simply accept what science tells us – reality is weird. There would really be no serious problem accepting what is currently labelled as woo, if only its proponents could demonstrate their claims. And I don’t have a problem with Chopra and the like carrying on their quest to find the evidence. My complaint, and the complaint of many materialists, is that the woo proponents are claiming they know stuff they can’t back up, and make good money out of selling those empty claims. If conciousness is foundational to reality it will be incorporated into the materialist understanding of reality, as a foundation for the material universe we observe by our natural senses. They merely have to put up the evidence as opposed to simply making the claims.

  23. RM,
    The discussion is on whether consciousness is fundamental or not. New physics is not studying brain function but the micro elements of space. To find what is fundamental it makes sense to start at the source of all life. If consciousness is found to be fundamental,the new physics will have plenty to tell us about it.

    Mountains and human brains are very different things, being a perfect instrument is more important than scale. Small scale stuff revealed the origin of mass.

    “Science is a lot closer to certainty.” It is true that a lot of esoteric stuff is baffling, but as with the best science fiction it is often ahead of its time; it is amazing how much of it turns out to be valid, verifiable and useful. An example of this are the micro technologies that initially were like pipe dreams and too esoteric to be ever valid, much less useful.

    It is true that science has done a terrific job, and when not close to certainty is willing to expand its horizons to include new theories and information, that is its strength.

    The fifth element: space and ether (often interchangeable) are old terms. The quantum vacuum was coined when the ether was declared defunct because it had previously been thought to contain gaseous elements. It was discovered that was not the case. The information was invalid, not the element that was the source of the wrong perception. Hyperspace is a relatively new theory that is generally accepted and is explained very well by the respected physicist Michio Kaku.

    What you list has not been considered fundamental. When the origin of an element has been discovered that has been considered fundamental it is legitimate to question what, if anything, might precede it.

    The technologies derived from quantum mechanics are well know and numerous. Future technologies are already being speculated about such as quantum computing and many others. It is science “not magic.”

    People “don’t fall for this stuff” they follow it as a way of keeping up with what is happening in science. It is not likely to cause redundancy among biologist but it may extend their perceptions to the further reaches of space, which can only be a good thing.

    There is not a problem with taking things for what they turn out to be, so long as the conclusion is valid. It is too early to be sure that the conclusion that mind does not exist is valid. Mind may appear to be a “mental illusion” if fMRI scans cannot pinpoint it in the brain. Although mass is visible, its source could not be discovered by studying biology; it is unlikely that the source of mind will be discovered in the brain. Patricia Churchland has said that mind does not exist. This could be compared to the original perceptions about space, as gaseous, as a void, etc. It is best not to be too dogmatic at the start of research; there is quite a ways to go yet. Just as well the average person does not follow this stuff; they are blissfully unaware of it, and hopefully, such a conclusion will not begin to affect their lives in insidious ways.

    Philosophers and theologians (except the severely orthodox), with good reason were, and are, wary of anything that is reductive, that devalues thought, reason, or autonomy. If the mind is an illusion it cannot be a “mental illusion” as that denotes that it exists.

    What Chopra does I am not familiar with, people have freedom to follow whatever appeals to them, so long as they are not harming anybody.

  24. Robin,

    No, it is still a useful analogy. After all, if a selection mechanism that involves randomness can work at the level of organisms, then this provides some support (by analogy) for the claim that randomness and selection can work at a higher level. I am reversing the approach Plato took in the Republic: he looked at the city to examine the soul. I’m looking at natural selection to examine cosmic selection.

  25. JMRC,

    I certainly would not assume that the apparent fine tuning must be the result of a tuning deity or a teleological tuner (or even a theological tuna).

    The “if it wasn’t this way, we would not be here to talk about it” does have some appeal, since it nicely mirrors the answer to apparent design at the small scale (fish seem eminently designed for water because they’d not be in water in they could not survive there…they’d be dead). However, the “hey, it is just that way” strikes some scientists as unsatisfactory-while they are not aching for teleology, they want something more substantial. But, you can’t always get what you want.

  26. The idea of teleology without a mind seems to be a coherent notion. For example, Plato’s Good has no mind, nor do the Forms-yet they provide a purpose. Aristotle’s first mover also seems to be mindless. Jumping ahead, Spinoza’s God could be seen as not having a mind in the usual sense-it does not make decisions, think, or feel-yet all that happens occurs because of necessity.

    But, I do see the appeal in the idea that teleology implies or assumes a mind.

  27. Vina,

    “Small scale stuff revealed the origin of mass.”

    And as yet not a hint of the origin of consciousness, except that in the sense that all the small scale stuff can be scaled up into biological systems that are reasonably well understood, and only specific biological systems exhibit what we are so far prepared to label as consciousness. Nothing that is known demonstrates the opposite, that consciousness is foundational. It’s pure speculation.

    “People “don’t fall for this stuff” they follow it as a way of keeping up with what is happening in science.”

    What science? I ask again if you can provide anything other than the speculative claims of people like Goswami.

    “There is not a problem with taking things for what they turn out to be, so long as the conclusion is valid.”

    And how is the conclusion that ‘consciousness is foundational’ at all validated by any known science? It’s just a speculation no different from that of solipsism: something that occurs to thoughtful humans as an imagined reality, that without testing is no more real than Superman. Just because you can imagine it doesn’t make it real.

    “It is too early to be sure that the conclusion that mind does not exist is valid. Mind may appear to be a “mental illusion””

    But all the cards are stacked in favour of that conclusion being reached with strong evidence.

    “if fMRI scans cannot pinpoint it in the brain.”

    fMRI is still a relatively new and crude tool. But still, can you tell me what tools the foundational consciousness lobby have that is revealing anything about their claims.

    “Although mass is visible, its source could not be discovered by studying biology; it is unlikely that the source of mind will be discovered in the brain.”

    But there you are already presupposing there is a mind that is something other than the behaviour of the brain. What have you got that would make you even suppose that, other than personal feeling and all the history of philosophy and theology that has grown out of that very same feeling. The ‘foundation’ of all thought (philosophy and theology) that suggests the is a mind is real is yet prior thought (personal introspection on personal brain experience) – it’s entirely founded on brain feelings. Nothing; really, nothing, tells us anything about consciousness other than this.

    “Patricia Churchland has said that mind does not exist. This could be compared…”

    This is a rather futile game: It was once thought that tiny creatures did not exist, but hey, bacteria; therefore fairies?

    It is no more than a conceptual game you are playing. I already agree that if consciousness should be discovered to be something that is foundational to other material stuff then I will accept it. Heck, if there’s the slightest hint that this is the case I’ll turn down my scepticism a few notches. But in all this you have offered nothing to show that anyone knows what consciousness is to any extent that justifies a claim that it is foundational.

    “It is best not to be too dogmatic at the start of research”

    What research? Point to some research. The dogma is peddled by people like Goswami: making claims to some system of knowledge without evidence.

    “there is quite a ways to go yet.” – As in: there’s quite a way to go before we can demonstrate that magic fairies actually exist – i.e. all the way. There is nothing.

    “Just as well the average person does not follow this stuff; they are blissfully unaware of it, and hopefully, such a conclusion will not begin to affect their lives in insidious ways.”

    Sadly that is not the case. The ‘average’ person is often well too aware of this stuff and buys into it with hard cas. More often they lap up this stuff while being blissfully aware of the science and reason that shows that there is no evidence to support it. The pushing of woo is insidious.

    “Philosophers and theologians (except the severely orthodox), with good reason were, and are, wary of anything that is reductive, that devalues thought, reason, or autonomy. ”

    The pejorative use of the term ‘reductionism’ is a dishonest representation of science. First, reductionism is an indispensable tool that reduces the number of variables in an investigation so that you can attribute cause and effect appropriately. It is not used as the one and only tool of science. It is used to get at the foundational stuff; and the results are then built up into models that are far more predictive then other ‘holistic’ systems like theology, or these pseudo-sciences, which take grand ideas and make predictive claims that have never been distinguishable from chance. The ‘reductionaism’ cry (and ‘scientism’ is another) is a fraudulent preservation tactic of systems like theology and other woo. It is used to dissuade us from looking at their systems reductively because doing so shows them for the frauds they are.

    “What Chopra does I am not familiar with, people have freedom to follow whatever appeals to them, so long as they are not harming anybody.”

    That’s a cop-out that you hear from people enamoured by these quacks. Well, they do do varying degrees of harm. In some cases they have very sick people following entirely stupid regimes based on evidential support for their efficacy, and that has been known to result in actual bodily harm. Charlatans use this flaky excuse to con people out of money. At the very least it is propagating ignorance. I know plenty of people that skip straight from the astrology to the likes of Chopra.

    Anti-vaccine adherents get a decent hearing because the public are told ‘science can’t know everything’, which while true is most often delivered as an excuse to peddle the woo. Dumb celebrities are recruited to air this stuff, and then we find populations of infection. While health workers in countries like strife torn Syria have a hard time carrying out programs, people in the US are voluntarily making themselves vulnerable to incoming infection from places like Syria.

    While there might be no obvious direct problem with presupposing consciousness is foundational, this “so long as they are not harming anybody” is the biggest bunch of do-nothing crock I’ve ever heard.

    But hold on. Is it harmless? Take a look at this: http://www.amitgoswami.org/how-women-can-prevent-or-even-heal-breast-cancer-explore-and-find-love-and-live-healthily-ever-after/.

    Here is a ‘quantum physicist’ telling women that there cancer may be due to ‘vital energy’ – what vital energy? Where are his physics experiments that demonstrate there is such a thing; and then, where are the experiments that it is related to cancer at all; and then where are the experiments that show any efficacy of any methods he supposes they might use. This is life-threatening stuff. He even promotes ‘wisdom of the ancients’, including TCM. It is a very complex system tried over several centuries, so it would be very surprising if it were totally ineffectual. The problem is that it’s very easy to mix the woo of vital energy with various practices and medications that range from the beneficial, through the ineffectual to the downright detrimental. Can acupuncture relieve some nerve related injuries and conditions? Sure, if you’re lucky. But that doesn’t mean that the ‘principles’ upon which it is based are sound or efficacious in any but a few specific ways.

    The complexity of medicine is difficult enough even under rigorous scientific conditions because human systems a very complex and we all react to corrective procedures in different ways – and this is a specific area where reductionism is limited in what it can do. But that does not give a pass to flaky ‘holistic’ nonsense. As limited and as difficult as the reductionist science is in this regard it is still what we have to do. We have to make our reductionist science better, and not discard it for ‘ancient wisdom’, which is nothing more than ancient ignorance. Except of course the ancients also used few bits of lucky trial and error, which sometimes gave results; as did much folk medicine – and guess what, trial an error is nothing more than the precursor of more rigorous reductionist science.

  28. Vina,

    “If the mind is an illusion it cannot be a “mental illusion” as that denotes that it exists.”

    Yes it can: The adjective ‘mental’ can still be used with reference to the activity of the brain that is our conscious experience. Even the term ‘mind’ can be used as the name of a model of the brain activity that we have come to call the mind. But the feeling that the mind is something separate is illusory. And so the dualist mind is an illusion, brought on by the brain engaging in what we can call ‘mental’ activity.

    This is no more exceptional than referring to the ‘operating system’ of a computer as if it exists as something – it does not exist as a separate entity but as a pattern in the formations of the material substances of computer’s disks, memory, CPU. The ‘mind’ is part of the operating system of the brain, and consists of dynamic patterns of brain stuff. Though computer operating systems are not currently conscious there are enough similarities to make the analogy.

  29. This whole discussions hinges on whether Causality exists beyond the Universe. I.e that the Universe has a cause and possibly a purpose.

    However a Universe (presumably) is all there is, including such (interpretive?) notions as causality and purpose.

    The arguments are therefore recursive and ‘beyond pure reason’

    The moment you ask ‘Why the universe? Why this universe?’ your are defining a space beyond this universe out of which and beyond which its existence can be explained.

    This cannot be done. You must introduce some extra Universal realm and that is of course where religion begins – with the notion of ‘spirit’ or ‘the objective observer’ or ‘consciousness’ as orthogonal to (independent from) the Reality it is concious of/aware of/observes.

    That is, the necessary condition to experience a Universe as we do, as an independent and externalised entity, is to introduce an (arbitrary?) division of experience into That which IS, that which SEEMS and that which is the SEER.

    I personally feel that this was known millennia ago, and the bastardized version that has come down to us is the Father, The Son, and the Holy Ghost. And in the end that is what esoteric religion is all about. Very old attempts to summarise a fundamental issue of metaphysics.

    So what I would say is that the faux divide of teleological and non teleological is just that.

    Today the materialistic perspective is that just as it always musts be, the phenomenal universe is explicable by invisible forces of Nature (natural laws, Angels, Daemons?) acting on the material world of (energy, substance, earth) to produce phenomena. Philosophically all we are saying when we talk of Gravity is no different from saying ‘it is in the nature of stones to fall’ . In both case that quality of Mass is the key. And the nature of – well we have moved part of that to outside the stone and made it an invisioble angelic force called Gravity, but that is a minor transform, And we can describe it very exactly because we have the language of number: Mathematics. WE haven’t proved or disproved te existence of God merely made him Impersonal and unfeeling rather than personal and caring, but the spiritual dimension where gravity and so on works to intercede between the Law (Will of God) and the World, still exists.

    And that is why I always maintain that science is religion, run through a transform to shuffle the terms about a bit, and change our attitude to them, but the fundamental problem remains.

    And that is Korzybsky’s point. What we conceive the universe to be. and what it is. are not the same.

    And in fact we have no way to even tell if they are close.

    And we should be very aware of this fact, because much of what passes for order in the world my be no more than order in the way we choose – or are able – to look at it.

    That leads to another metaphysical presumption that we are in fact the God who created the world we experience.

    Which is roughly the basis of Idealism.

    Which Kant an Schopenaure modified to say that actually what our experience was best regarded as was an externality – of which we were also somehow a part – that we divided – or was divided for us, into what Schopenhauer called ‘will’ which we ‘represented’ to ourselves as the phenomenal world.

    Will being roughly the intentionality of the world – its laws if you like. – as well as its fundamental energy to be in existence.

    Where I am leading – trying to lead – is this: In order to expereince the world in the way we do, we have to introduce entities – concepts – whatever – that we have no right to assume are valid correct or meaningful. All we can say is that they are in some sense useful.

    The temptation of the profane is to ascribe existence to these entities as if they had the same level of realness as the phenomenal world.

    This I feel is the Great Mistake. The moment we place ‘Causality’ ‘Out There’ as a principle that existed beyond or conception of it, we have created a new order of reality that didn’t exist before. THtity is USEFUL to behave AS IF it were, is undeniable., It gives us natural philosophy (science) as a possible tool to analyse the world with and with which to predict the future. It is part of our mapping of the Universe into a representation in space-time. Causality is the quality of an ordered rendering or experience into a time sequence, where one sequence leads on to the next.

    Leaving aside quantum physics for the moment the classical scientific world view is exactly of an entity whose behaviour is so irrevocably constrained that what will be will be, and even if we think we have free will we dont, because we are part of this massive mechanistic thing whose every last detail is implicit in the unfolding of its creation. Time is merely a way of experiencing a little piece of it in more detail, but in principle there should be the equivalent of a Fourier transform where the world past present and future exist in a timeless space, and time is just a way of looking at it.

    And science allows us to map the rules governing its shape and therefore predict in small inaccurate ways the future.

    THAT IS in fact the neatest way I can think of rational materialism in the classic sense. Causality is an illusion: its merely the shape of something we observe unfolding as we take a trip through time.

    But even here we still have an issue,. we are still ‘outside of the process, looking in’ ..and that takes us back to the inherent paradox of an independent consciousness in a bounded universe.

    Thinking about thinking, is a recursive exercise. It is always self invalidating. The ability to encapsulate a whole world view into the terms of a mathematical proposition is perhaps neat, in that it enables us to give it quality and form but we are still in the end playing with a hierarchy – this time of pure thinking.

    And that of course is the problem that Eastern mysticism addresses – they understand Kant, and say ‘well pure reason wont get us there, so let’s stop thinking altogether and see what happens to Experience.

    And unsurprisingly, once the Mind stops making a distinction between Self and Other, they report Unity and once the mind stops interpreting things into space-time they experience Eternity! And once they embrace Ignorance they experience Bliss!


    However the curious and interesting thing is that these experiences are possible at all. Its not proof, but it is suggestive that the world as we experience is not, if not ALL our creation, certainly showing the Hand Of Man in its detail.

    Space and time are ways it seems in which we interpret the world, not universal qualities of it. And we can switch that process off.

    And the world does not change as a result, but our perception of it does.

    Switch off Time, and causality has no meaning.

    Switch off spatial discrimination, and there is only the one thing left.

    It’s ‘shape’ is what we interpret into time and space and separating it into discrete events connected by causal chains is what we do as rational thinking beings. But that isn’t what it is, and extending what is only our way of experiencing it into its own existence is committing a logical error.

    All we can say is that experience is, and we seem to have in some way a choice of how we experience it, of which normal rational thinking is but one special case.

    And my contention is that in adopting ‘normal rational consciousness’ we divide the experience into parts, one of which will and must be always a mystery to us so long as we remain in that state of mind.

    And some people call that God, but I rather call it My Self. The one bit I can never see, because its the bit that does the seeing.

    What is on my screen in front to me is a representation of something that exists out there on the Internet, but the greater mystery is the computer it all runs on. Which is NOTHING LIKE the experience of looking at the screen, it is in fact of a different order altogether.

    And that is the general principle: in order to have experience, you need both something to experience and something that can experience it. The moment we experience, the universe is split into us and it.

    And the questions that Mikes paper addresses are simply artefacts of that splitting process as is religion and teleology.

    The real mystery now transforms from why the universe, why this universe? to ‘why do we split [It] the way we do?’

    Because it is, because we (choose to) see it, and it is the way it is because we (choose to) see it in those terms.

    The problem is not solved, but it is transformed into a different one.

    This takes me to a final point. I am, you might say, a connoisseur of metaphysics. Science is the detailed study of the world as viewed through one metaphysical proposition. Religion is a poetic reference to its implicit assumptions – it reminds us that they are there.

    Philosophy is currently at an impasse. Competing metaphysics have been detailed throughout human history and in the end all are shown to be at best unprovable a priori constructions and assumptions sets, and at worst – and usually, self referential paradoxes.

    And I think it can be proved that they always must be, though I lack the means to express that proof.

    Wittgenstein at this point gives up. Having more or less demonstrated the innate inability to arrive at the Truth.

    But IO am an engiuneer, and less concerned with truth and perfection, thah utility, and I suppose te way to describe my own personal adventures into philosophy would be to say that it was the sort of suspicion that Wittgenstein seems to have confirmed, that we cant arrive at the Objective Truth, but must always resort to some sort of inherently paradoxical assumption set in order to actually do any thinking at all. I call these ‘worldviews’. And the point is not which one is ‘correct’ because none can be – but to understand their intrinsic assumption sets and what purpose – human purpose – it fits them for.
    I..e rational materalism as a propositions allows us to detail the nature of existence in order to predict the future. All science does is to predict the future. In the end that’s its only worthwhile quality.

    Similarly a personal religious view is more about ones inner pyschology and feeling. It has a completely different set of assumptions and allows the practice of religion, which is in its deeper and more esoteric form, a way to reprogram the Self.

    And that is what I feel philosophy needs in order to progress: First of all understand that metaphysical systems are utilitarian approximations and stop worrying about it, because Wittgenstein proved they can never be True. Understand them as tools in a tool box, with different human purposes. Understand their limitations and their natures and use them to attack specific problems not try and winkle out the Truth, because that you never will arrive at by reason alone.

    Mikes post is like the sound of one hand clapping, it forces us to look at the assumptions we make when we consider the world to be as we conceive it to be, and shines a torch on those assumptions.

    Philosophy needs that. Instead of thinking about stuff, we should try and make a temporary leap of imagination, and succeed in thinking about thinking itself. Yes, we need to introduce yet another layer to the hierarchy of concepts, that caries its own paradoxes and idiocies with it, but that’s OK, we aren’t looking to solve the mystery of existence, just make a machine tool that can make worldviews so we can churn out metaphysical systems on a production line to enable us to have the full tool bag.

  30. Re:-Leo Smith May 5, 2014 at 7:51 pm

    “Philosophy needs that. Instead of thinking about stuff, we should try and make a temporary leap of imagination, and succeed in thinking about thinking itself. Yes, we need to introduce yet another layer to the hierarchy of concepts, that caries its own paradoxes and idiocies with it, but that’s OK, we aren’t looking to solve the mystery of existence, just make a machine tool that can make worldviews so we can churn out metaphysical systems on a production line to enable us to have the full tool bag.”
    A lot of what you say here I am in agreement with, and on other points I am not. I will at this juncture select the above passage. I’m pretty sure that mankind has already spent a considerable time in thinking about thinking and so far no final and irrevocable conclusion seems to have been reached. You appear to think that a mechanical contrivance can produce worldviews, what ever they may be and these may ultimately solve the, or a problem. I’m not clear as to how any of these worldviews could be known to us as being worthy of consideration and in any case what ever worldview comes up how are we to judge its worth or use because we are still in the same position surely of being one step from reality. We are somewhat like Frank Jackson’s ‘Mary in the black and white room’ who knows everything but having been constrained in that room has never the opportunity to test her knowledge against what actually exists in the world as we know it. As you probably know Mary is eventually released from the room and becomes the first time in her life subject to the human experience of colour. Even then she would still not know if her experience were the same as other people’s. Similarly you say eventually you have a full tool bag, but how would you know it is full and how would you know that any metaphysical system it produces was of any worth? We cannot access reality to make any tests or comparisons.
    An interesting point occurs to me here. If Descartes’s Demon fooled us all of the time we would never detect him, for the simple fact that living in a world of complete and utter deception would be undetectable.

  31. RM,

    If it is agreed that the mental activity of the brain that is our conscious experience is referred to as mind. And it is agreed that there is not a single non-changing mind but a series of separate mental components or ‘small minds’ developed over millions of years that come and go from the centers of the brain. A coalition of minds that are dormant until called into play. Could they be referred to as mind if they are not in play but dormant while the brain is active or temporarily employed with a fixed reaction, or a particular talent, or some other activity?

  32. Mike,

    “The idea of teleology without a mind seems to be a coherent notion.” – Many philosophical terms can be cobbled together with sufficiently vague other terms to build a coherent yet meaningless system. We might say, for example, that automata are mechanistically teleological since they can have goals, and that brains do not require minds; so yes, I can see how minds are not required, if we define our terms in such a manner they mean what we want them to mean – the Humpty Dumpty methodology.

    What, in Plato’s Good, constitutes its teleological nature? Not that I take Plato’s Good to be a worthy concept anyway. Are we sure that it’s not a mistake in translation, with an extra ‘o’ finding its way in there? Because to all appearances it seems awfully like modern sophisticated theological notions of God – you know, the non-teleological one used hide God behind a veil mist and meaningless equivocation.

  33. Vina,

    Having components of consciousness, modules of the brain that interact, does not imply that there are many ‘little minds’, no more than a wheel or a horn is a ‘little car’; even though the collective of such humunculi has been popular in the Beano: http://thecurseandthecure.co.uk/tag/the-numskulls/.

    Though there is evidence from split brain patients and from people with massive brain reductions from disease of the excising of diseased brain material can sometimes function consciously, even exhibiting some independence of complex behaviour, that merely illustrates that the whole of a typical brain isn’t necessary for conscious behaviour, or conscious self-awareness. It implies only that the required mass and complexity of neuronal system required for consciousness is less than a whole brain. It doesn’t imply ‘little minds’ in some reducible sense such that consciousness is still present in smaller and smaller components, down the smallest of bits – say bits of some trace mineral, such as tin.

    It seems far more reasonable to infer that consciousness emerges, as a process or behaviour, in massively complex systems. We just don’t know the details of what is required. Just as many morphological forms appear in biology it may be that there is more than one way of being conscious; so an important question we can’t answer is whether or not there are forms of consciousness that are significantly powerful but which we can’t recognise as consciousness. We seem to be able to recognise logical intelligent behaviour, perhaps because that’s what we have – so we notice in in apes, dolphins, corvids, even though they don’t have the language to communicate their consciousness. Maybe being able to reason is the important ability, whether language based or not.

    We know so little about consciousness itself we can say very little about what is required for it. We know so much about the material world that it really is reasonable to suppose that our brains are all there is in terms of our consciousness – particularly when we can clearly alter the brain and alter conscious experience so reliably. And yet we know zip about any non-material stuff: spiritual, supernatural, or separate ‘mental’ phenomena, so we really have to conclude, even if tentatively, that they are fantasies of theologians; unrestrained speculative philosophy; science fiction; stories.

  34. RM, thanks for your reply to my question.

    There will be two different views in a world of relativity: an exoteric worldview presupposes an esoteric worldview. We can play devil’s advocate for those in physics, and other disciplines, who propose, tentatively, that consciousness may be fundamental. Whether it is an esoteric view that will morph into exoteric perception and verification only time will tell.

    The history of how things are the way they are has morphed from the worldviews of the Greeks and the Renaissance, to modern humanism. For the Greeks it was simple: Heraclitus in ancient Greece described the Logos (ratio or law in nature and reason in man) as common to all. Plato perceived the Forms as the origin of this ratio or logos which he termed nous. This change in name did not signal a break from the thinking of Heraclitus, Plato just clarified how logos or the ratio worked by introducing the Forms. Aristotle took it a step further in distinguishing between nous (passive reason) and the higher Nous, or the immortal aspect of the soul, which he perceived as relating to nous (passive reason) as the Forms related to matter.

    In the Renaissance, DaVinci’s Vitruvian Man reflects the worldview of that time; man or humanity was perceived as corresponding to a universal ratio. A lot of great architecture and art resulted from that worldview.

    Today’s humanist worldview relies on the autonomous, self-conscious, rational, single self. Humanism as it is today has morphed quite a bit from the humanism of the Renaissance. Whether it is viable or not is the question. If DaVinci were to draw Vitruvian Man today he would have to separate him from the circle that represents nature and the universe because that is the worldview, and maybe it is why we have to ask why things are the way they are.

  35. Ron Murphy,

    Aristotle seems to have a teleological universe that is not run by a mind. Also, Taoism has teleology without a guiding mind-although no one knows the Tao.

  36. Vina,

    From before Plato and Aristotle, through to the current time, philosophers and theologians have engaged in the speculative business of metaphysics. Quite a bit of what was metaphysics is now physics, a science, with all the variety of disciplines upon which it is ultimately based. Many branches of science made progress using empirical methods without the deeper understanding of physics that underpins them. Chemistry was very much a matter of finding out what works on a bulk scale – where even a few grams is considered bulk, and were chemical reactions can be studied without understanding why they work. Chemistry is no longer akin to alchemy. We know why chemical reactions work, in terms of the make-up of atoms, to a very productive degree. Brain science amounted to the black box study of behaviour, with only a few hints from erroneous brains that there might be deeper explanations; and neuroscience and neurology has revealed a lot more detail – not least of which is the chemical and hence the physics that is the foundation of the way the brains performs specific tasks. The brain and our attempts to fathom out why it engages in conscious behaviour is still to be figured out – but nowhere is there the slightest hint of any of the metaphysics of Plato’s forms. They are mostly dead ideas that do little more than amuse philosophers and their students.

    Aristotle was somewhat on the right track in that he had a higher regard for empiricism. But it seems he didn’t actually practice it. Not a crime as such – theoretical physicists today don’t actually get their hands very dirty from much more than chalk dust, pencil graphite, and ink. But they do pay attention to the empirical stuff that their colleagues are doing. Poor Aristotle had an excuse I suppose – there was little empirical knowledge available beyond the commonly observable – but even Aristotle couldn’t get that right:

    Russell, History of Western Philosophy:

    “Democritus— such, at least, is my opinion— is the last of the Greek philosophers to be free from a certain fault which vitiated all later ancient and medieval thought. All the philosophers we have been considering so far were engaged in a disinterested effort to understand the world. … What is amiss, even in the best philosophy after Democritus, is an undue emphasis on man as compared with the universe. First comes scepticism, with the Sophists, leading to a study of how we know rather than to the attempt to acquire fresh knowledge. Then comes, with Socrates, the emphasis on ethics; with Plato, the rejection of the world of sense in favour of the self-created world of pure thought; with Aristotle, the belief in purpose as the fundamental concept in science.”

    That pretty much says it for the unfortunate lack of focus on the universe. Russell thought they assumed to too simple, too easy, and perhaps not worth worrying about. Maybe they didn’t really know where to start and that’s why philosophy became interested in how we know stuff – something philosophy has not been a jot further on with to any significant degree. I think the primacy of thought over evidence is the key to this error: http://ronmurp.net/2011/12/23/thought_v_experience.

    But even for the most simple of verifiable claims: “Aristotle could have avoided the mistake of thinking that women have fewer teeth than men, by the simple device of asking Mrs. Aristotle to keep her mouth open while he counted.” (Russell again I think, though I haven’t noted where from).

    I was recently looking for some good sources for a young relative who was only just getting to grips with the importance of empiricism, and I found this part of this page made the point quite well about the differences between science, philosophy, religion:

    “Opinion, Authority, and Superstition” – It’s odd that the discipline that charges itself with being the most rational can so easily tie itself up in ideologies, commitment to a variety of metaphysics with no evidence to support them, even bad philosophy, and most unforgivable, atrocious reasoning. I really do think the ancients had a reasonable excuse; modern philosophers not so much. Why is Aristotle still such an authority? By all means take what we can from the ancients and adapt it to a modern perspective informed by all we have learned since then, but I don’t think you’re going to get very far at all if your think “distinguishing between nous (passive reason) and the higher Nous, or the immortal aspect of the soul” is contributing anything whatsoever to an understanding of the universe. It tells us more about that corner of the universe that is the brain of someone that thinks this stuff is useful than it does about the universe in any grand sense.

    “Today’s humanist worldview relies on the autonomous, self-conscious, rational, single self. ”

    Not true for all Humanists. It may be true of someone, like Raymond Tallis, but I think that though he’s an atheist he is so enamoured by the human spirit that he is lost in the notion of human specialness. But that need not be the view of all Humanists. Humanism is more about figuring out how humans can get along, given our understanding of what humans are, as animals with brains that can reason to some extent, but which have many fallibilities, many similarities, but many differences. Humanists generally try to accomplish that regard for humans in the context of what science tells us, even if what science tells us might seem a little uncomfortable (usually superficially).

    As a Humanist myself I have no problem accepting that I’m a biological mechanistic automaton with a complex control systems that provides a significant measure of ‘degrees of freedom’ of behaviour, and that this complexity also delivers an illusion that I have a mind that is somewhat free of physical causes. I have no problem accepting that my brain feels like a conscious whole and provides what feels like a singular identity, but that this too might be an illusion produced by a number of non-conscious interacting component brain regions. I really don’t need the bunk that is the soul to save me from existential angst.

    “maybe it is why we have to ask why things are the way they are”

    So far the reason we ‘have’ to ask why things are the way they are seems to be no more than the behaviour of a complex system, the brain, that has evolved to search for the more basic answers, about where it can find food, shelter, sex. In that evolutionary process we acquired language, probably for its utility in achieving those basic goals. The base curiosity developed and so we ask other questions.

    I think its worth noting that this doesn’t seem to be something all human brains do naturally; and despite our educational systems it seems to be something some brains actively resist. Food, shelter sex seems to be all that some want still – though it may be dressed up in a desire to acquire more than we need, fashion items, which are no more than the attractive beads with which traders bedazzled less technologically savvied peoples. We admire the cave paintings and artwork of some early humans, but it’s worth remembering that even now we don’t all paint (once no longer persuaded to do so in school) and so there’s no reason to think that all early humans were artistic, inquisitive, no reason to think they were all staring at the stars in wonder and trying to figure out what it all means.

    Our curiosity about non-immediate stuff may have been no more than a means of searching for the basic needs more effectively at one time. I suppose we could think of it as an evolutionary invention waiting for an application, and only in the recent history of the last few thousand years has it turned out that our more esoteric interests turned out to be fruitful beyond what we could have imagined.

    In developing our imagination we now imagine more than we are capable of, so as well as asking “What?” and “Why?” and “How?” we also ask “What if?”. The trouble is that in philosophy and theology the “What if?” is presumed to be an answer to “What?”, “How?”, “Why?”, without really checking.

    It seems that if secular philosophy allows people like Plantinga and the theologians and Chopra and the pseudo-scientists to make grand claims based on nothing more than “What if?”, with asking more persistently, “How do you know that?” Of course philosophers often forget t ask that of their own discipline.

  37. Mike,

    “Aristotle seems to have a teleological universe that is not run by a mind. ”

    Really? Then in what sense is it teleological? It seems that by this method that Superman can fly, with equal justification. Superman can fly as a consequence of asking “What if there was a man that could fly?”, and then defining him as such, and applying the same process to his other powers. But we know that science fiction can easily lead to contradictions in the stories because the author hasn’t thought through all the consequences. Reality does that for us – it produces only that which can be produced. The only difficulty for us regarding reality is how difficult it often is to discovery it, to understand it.

    But with Superman we take it to be a myth, as we also do with Greek gods. So Aristotle asked, in his own terms, “What if the universe were teleological?” And so it is? Simply by definition? Therefore God? Therefore fairies? Just because a philosopher defines teleology not to require a mind is that enough?

    One of the many problems with philosophy is that terms get repurposed far too easily. I think the reason for that is because they are rarely based on concrete knowledge about reality, but were speculative fictions that sounded profound when spun into a story. Equivocation is the inevitable outcome.

    So, first we need to establish how we are going to define ‘teleological’ today, and the same for ‘mind’, and determine what the distinction is that matters in this context. And then look back at Aristotle and ask if in putting that current meaning of ‘teleological’ into his system, does it make sense to say his universe was ‘teleological’ and yet lacking a ‘mind’? Are the terms sufficiently distinct to be able to conclude that from what he wrote?

    And then we can ask if he is doing anything more than defining fairies, Superman, gods? Is he saying no more than I would be if I said “I’ve invented a car that’s not a car.”? How about, “I love you so much I can’t bear it, so I must kill you.”, does that not contain a contradictory or equivocal meaning of ‘love’? Is Aristotle’s teleological universe anything more than equivocation?

  38. Aristotle believed in a final cause-that is, all things aim to their end. While conscious beings like us choose some goals, things like rocks and water do not-although they are claimed to act to ends. Aquinas added God to this, thus putting a mind in charge.

    If you want, you can define teleology in a way that requires a mind. Then we’d need another term for what was teleology that does not require a mind.

  39. s. wallerstein


    Aims are mental properties. When someone attributes them to the universe, they are implicitly attributing some kind of mind to the universe.

    While one can claim, as Aristotle did, that the universe has aims and ends without there being a mind aiming, there still seems to a mind of sort behind the mindless aims and ends.

    Of course, on a poetic level one can attribute aims and ends to the universe as a metaphor, that’s a bit like attributing wheels to eyes. It works as a metaphor (his eyes wheeled as she approached), but not literally.

  40. Dennis Sceviour

    It is easy to “term for what was teleology that does not require a mind.” Here is a suggestion. If Teleology is a theory of consequences then divide the criteria into intrinsic and extrinsic types. If the intrinsic criteria are excluded, then there is no question of mind. For example, if a farmer decides to water the field because it is good for the plants, then it is an extrinsic decision. If the farmer decides to water the plants because his horoscope says it is the right thing to do today, then this is an intrinsic decision and a problem of mind.

    Does the universe have any other purpose than to be a universe?

  41. Dennis,

    And the difference between this mindless teleology and naturalistic deterministic non-teleology is? 👿

  42. Sorry about the evil icon – ironically my tablet key/display came over all teleological and directed the icon under my finger.

  43. Dennis Sceviour

    Ron Murphy,
    The farmer still has the free will to not water the field. What is the deterministic point?

  44. Dennis,

    You might think the farmer has free will, but how do you know that he has? How do you know that you have free will?

    Imagine two scenarios:

    1) You have the real free will of a separate dualist mind or soul. Your mind makes a decision and acts on it. As the action happens, and after the event, you observe the action. You feel you made a free will decision.

    2) You don’t have free will, and you don’t have a separate mind. All actions you perform are caused by physical events in your brain. Your brain cannot detect the small scale events, but instead the small scale events cause a side effect whereby your brain feels as though it is making a free will decision. The effect is so strong that from your brain’s perspective it even feels that it made the decision before hand.

    So, both feel exactly the same. How do you tell which is really going on?

    Bear in mind that we have no other evidence of free will, dualist minds, other than personally it feels as though we do. And e don’t even have that regarding souls – they are a complete invention required to account for the continuation of ‘life after death’: one fantasy required to explain another. So (1) doesn’t have a lot going for it.

    Bear in mind that it is possible to cause a human to do something quite specific and have their brain rationalise that it was their decision. So (2) has a lot of evidence to support it.

    Bear in mind that all of science only ever shows materialist causation or mere materialist correlation. There is nothing in any science whereby some event attributed to free will or gods or teleology cannot also be explained with equal conviction as materialist phenomena, from a purely rationalist perspective. Plus the materialist explanation is often consistent with evidence from various sources. The non-materialist stuff only ever comes from someone’s imagination.

    So the teleological universe, directed to some end point, while not containing purpose, is an imagined one that is indistinguishable from a deterministic universe. The meaning of the term ‘teleology’ loses all distinction and becomes a mere notion, a fantasy, for all we can tell. And there are plenty of alternative fantasies available – my second favourite being solipsism.

    Materialism is also an imagined reality – my personal favourite. The ONLY reason that it is more persuasive than the others is the shear in your face persistence of it. Let some monk meditate off onto some astral plane; but slap him round the head and he’ll be back in the room pretty damned quick. Stand in front of an oncoming bus and pray to God that he perform a miracle and let the bus pass right through you, and see how that goes for you. Die with the intention of coming back from the other side to tell us all about it – how often does that happen? (more on that last point later)

    So, what definition of non-mind teleology would you like to use? Then, how does that apply to the universe in such a way that some other description (e.g. mind teleology, natural non-mind non-teleology) isn’t also consistent with what we observe? In what way is Aritstotle’s universe distinguishable from any other?

    The ONLY reason humans invent gods with minds, or if they don’t like that idea then non-mind teleology, is because they first think they observe it in themselves, and then extrapolate wildly. Some of the easily refutable extrapolations have lost their persuasiveness (earth bound demons, ghosts, dog-heads of the medieval period, witches, goblins, gods on mountains, …) because they were never actually found to have the properties and capabilities attributed to them, and the phenomena they were supposed to be causing had naturalistic explanations when we looked more thoroughly. So theologians, becoming ever more ‘sophisticated’ become ever more vague. And philosophers that can’t bring themselves to take materialism seriously put great store by the fact that ancient philosophers imagined other possibilities that are more in keeping with preconceptions about what human minds are. The ONLY reason they get away with it in persuading the gullible is that as yet the evidence for naturalistic of extra-universe explanations is difficult to gather. But given that some of the current theories, of for example inflation, give pretty good accounts of extra-universe stuff, and cosmological observations match what the theories predict should be intra-universe effects, and we still haven’t seen God or purpose, then the alternatives to materialism are looking ever more flaky the more we push the boundaries.

    And yet still, inside this universe, all of science, from physics, through chemistry, biology, neuroscience, it all hangs together, and it tells us brains aren’t as reliable as is required to do the sort of pure reason we like to. We know brains are really unreliable. If they had been naturally reliable we wouldn’t have needed Aristotle to give us the syllogism – we’d have reasoned correctly quite naturally. The fact that we did need the ancient philosophers to get the ball rolling is testament to the fallibility of minds, and later science confirms it in spades. And because humans do science the simple science we do isn’t perfect either; so we have to work really hard to make it as good as we can; and though we still fail it’s the best we’ve got. And because it isn’t perfect that’s no excuse to dumb down and start resurrecting ancient mysticism, or making crap up, like ‘consciousness is the foundation of all being’.

  45. Mike,

    Is the ‘aim’ some sort of singularity? Say like ‘the big crunch’, the collapse of a universe? Or maybe the expansion and high entropy end of a dispersing universe? I don’t see that merely declaring that some inevitable ‘aim’ is anything more than an equivocation on the term ‘aim’ being the end on a deterministic process – just like naturalistic non-teleological universe. What’s the difference? Again I’m reminded of Humpty Dumpty’s habit of making words mean what he wants them to mean. There seems to be nothing in this supposed teleology that amounts to anything other than an anthropomorphic assignment of ‘purpose’ to natural phenomena that have no purpose. Remove the intent of a mind (still using the presupposition that anything at all can have purpose) and we are doing no more than labelling a deterministic process as teleological with no justification.

    How do rocks act to ends if they cannot choose goals? What determines the end if the rocks don’t such that the process is teleological? What’s the difference between an end and a goal? Equivocation.

    Adding God to instil a mind is of course just more of the same – imagining familiar concepts, throwing them together as if something tangible is being proposed. A unicorn is a horse with a horn. Superman is a humanoid from another planet that acquires powers here on earth. A god is some supr entity with some intent for us. On this basis where is the distinction between theology, philosophy, fantasy?

    And again, the association of human goals with purpose presupposes we are not deterministic natural processes simply ticking along. Our conscious goals could be a rationalisation after the fact. This non-teleological perspective is consistent with all science, while there is no evidence that shows there is any specific purpose to anything. It’s not just Aristotle’s teleological universe that’s in question but teleology itself.

    When humans like Aristotle came up with these ideas they were scratching around with their imaginations, but with no serious means of building models the way cosmologists and physicist do now, or any means of testing them if they had. They don’t stand up to any scrutiny other being a self-contained story.

  46. Try this:

    It starts out as life after death but really does get into consciousness metaphysics and the distinction between fantasy flaky beliefs and evidence based working beliefs.

  47. Re Dennis Sceviour 9th May
    “Does the universe have any other purpose than to be a universe? “

    The short answer to this is I believe, no!
    The universe as a whole knows nothing of purpose, or anything else for that matter.
    The the word purpose is purely a human construct which allows us to talk about our lives. The evolutionary process has as a survival factor, generated, the concept of purpose, that is to say something to live for, something to explain our actions. The universe as a whole which includes the living and non-living is a massive system of continuous inter-reactions the basis of which appears to be insensate attractions and repulsions of matter.
    You may ask how do I know all that. My answer is I do not know, other than it seems to be an argument to, the best explanation. To expand on this point would be a large undertaking, necessitating much research and revision, which I do not have time for, and would not be appropriate to reproduce here

  48. From what little I gather, it seems Aristotle’s four causes were (or at least usefully thought of) as four types of answer to ‘why’ questions. Aristotle didn’t claim that all ‘happenings’ had a cause, never mind claim that all ‘happenings’ had a final cause. He believed, it seems, in coincidences – i.e. cases where there just was no ‘why’ answer to be had. But where answers to ‘why’ questions about things and events in the natural world were there to be had it seems he thought they could only be had by referring to some of the four causes, and it seems, where there was a ‘final cause’ explanation, that form of explanation had some form of supremacy (thought it wouldn’t exhaust all explanation).

    It does seem rather hard to conceive of rocks as having final causes. They aren’t like clocks which one can say have the final cause of telling the time nor are they like eyes which I can at least understand the temptation to say they have the final cause of seeing. Initially it does seem to me as if one would have to invoke a God to talk of rocks as having final causes. Perhaps those, like myself, who are not well acquainted with Aristotle’s writings and those of his interpretative scholars may be failing to ‘get’ what Aristotle meant by final causes. Perhaps we are conflating volitional purpose with final causes despite Aristotle’s apparent insistence that the latter doesn’t need the former.

    I suppose someone who was broadly Aristotelian might have the option of saying that rocks, properly understood, are things whose ‘whyness’ is fully given by referring to efficient, material and formal causes – that there is no final cause to them. I believe that was Aristotle’s position regarding rain and eclipses of the moon for example. Why Aristotle would have thought rocks would have final causes I don’t know. To be honest, though I’d normally quite happily bow to Mike’s philosophical expertise on subjects I’m not well versed in, I’m not entirely convinced he’s right in suggesting Aristotle thought rocks ‘act to ends’ at all. In any event it seems a claim worth investigating.

  49. “I suppose someone who was broadly Aristotelian might have the option of saying that rocks, properly understood, are things whose ‘whyness’ is fully given by referring to efficient, material and formal causes – that there is no final cause to them.”

    Yes, once you move onto the rocks it gets absurder and absurder. Schopenhauer, believed rocks existed because they had the will to exist.

    There is only one way out of the tortuous tautologies of teleology.

  50. Dennis Sceviour

    Re: posted by Don Bird May 10, 2014 at 1:02 pm
    “You may ask how do I know all that.”

    No. That would be a testing question not necessary at this point. I share most of your observations. However, where is the “evolutionary process has as a survival factor” to be found outside of the thin surface of the planet earth? There is neither microscopic nor astronomical information to support this. As I recall, the main difference we have in the definition of evolution is a theory of adaptation versus a theory of survival.

  51. JMRC

    Well I think it’s pretty obvious that Aristotle extended teleological explanations further than most modern naturalists would go along with – he saw ‘purpose’ in areas where we would nowadays typically think in Darwinian terms. But most (if not all) of Aristotle’s ‘final cause’ ascriptions concerned things like teeth not things like rocks.

    I’m not saying Mike is wrong to think Aristotle saw final causes in things like rocks but I think there’s fair reason – in the absence of a scholarly understanding of Aristotle’s doctrines which I don’t think has been displayed by any of the commentators here – to doubt he held to the view that there was a final cause concerning things like rocks.

    In the absence of reference to actual textual evidence – something nobody has attempted – the principle of charity seems to suggest we should be cautious about ascribing the view to Aristotle that rocks are susceptible to final cause explanations.

    As for Schopenhauer, there is a lot of misunderstanding concerning his use of the term ‘will’. He was explicit about the fact that it didn’t mean ‘will’ in the ordinary ‘agent’ sense but he invited confusion by his terminology and one can’t easily re-describe what he says in terms of ‘energy’ or some such given how he saw ‘the will’ as so ’morally’ repugnant.

    Again, I think we have a situation where folk have some familiarity with things a philosopher said but no obvious sign that there has been a serious effort to understand or charitably interpret their thought (which isn’t of course, to say that Schopenhauer or Aristotle wasn’t wrong-headed in some very important respects however charitable one might be about the things they said).

  52. Jim Houston,

    I don’t think the term the will absolutely originates with Schopenhauer. I think it has its’ origins with early 19th century German writers. His take on it was definitely his take on it. But whatever it is, it reaches its’ apotheosis in Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will; the 1934 Nazi Party Congress in Nuremberg. Does it mean anything at all, or is it just an idea that seemed coherent – and allowed all kinds of extrapolation.

  53. Vina,

    “The mechanistic, materialistic view of reality may be losing ground based on the new physics. That a chance-based purposeless universe view is both ancient and modern shows there has been little progress in settling the question so far.”

    No, Vina. The orthodox current scientific view is that the universe is the product of pure chance. A random fluctuation of nothing. And as strange as it sounds, nothing is so nothing, that its’ dimensions are indefinite, therefore it can fluctuate and produce universes.

    There are other views, but they are considered to be unorthodox, and any hypotheses that necessitate divine beings, or supernatural forces, are not considered to be science.

    “The universe having worked out on its own would be, to quote: the equivalent of a Rolls Royce being the end product from a whirlwind in a junkyard.”

    Vina, the Rolls Royce spontaneously assembling itself in a whirlwind, that argument is specifically used by the proponents of intelligent design. The argument goes; look at the complexity of the frog’s eye. For it happen by random chance, would be like a Rolls Royce assembling itself in a whirlwind in a junkyard. THEREFORE, the only plausible explanation is that some omnipotent supernatural being designed the frogs eye. Usually delivered in a smug tone, only achievable by the most confident and annoying idiots.

    Yes, the frogs eye is complicated, but who the hell designed the supernatural being who designed the frog’s eye.

    Who created the creator?

    Who purposed the purposor?

    Who meant the first meaning?

    In our world we have Rolls Royces. In a manner of speaking they did assemble themselves as if there was a whirlwind in a junkyard. It just took 13.5 billions years for the spirit of ecstasy to be seated on the bonnet, and the first Rolls Royce could leave the garage.

  54. Re:-JMRC May 12

    It has never occurred to me that I had a Will, although I have read Schopenhauer, I’m a bit rusty on him now. No matter how much I examine my psyche nothing seems to come up which I could call Will such is not the case with thought, feelings, emotions, desires. I can only think that Will can be something like an overwhelming desire that a certain state of affairs may ensue, and the determination some how, to bring about that state of affairs by my own agency. When I go to the gym I have targets which I endeavour to achieve and I suppose without the right mental attitude such targets appear to be not attainable. Some might say he has will power, but to me certain things I know are achievable with some effort, but I do know my limits and with all the so-called will in the world, I would not commit myself to go beyond such limits.
    Nietzsche described the Will to Power as striving to reach the highest possible position in life. I cannot recollect if he gave instructions as to what exactly what you have to do here or how you would know that you had reach the highest possible position in life. Overall I think that Will is a vague term which is difficult to pin down mentally, and most likely neurologically,

  55. s. wallerstein

    Nietzsche is not a systematic thinker and thus, the will to power has 3 different uses in his works.

    1. A basic generally unconscious psychic drive, similar to Freud’s libido, which can be sublimated or repressed. This should not be confused with the conscious “will” of “will-power”, although will power is a manifestation of the will to power. This is the most common use.

    2. A basic life energy found in all forms of life, including plants.

    3. A basic energy form underlying all reality, much like Schopenhauer’s Will. Nietzsche, as you know, read Schopenhauer and was very influenced by him in his youth. This last formulation of the will to power is mostly found in the book, Will to Power, which is a selection from Nietzsche’s notebooks made by his sister and does not necessarily reflect ideas which Nietzsche planned to publish.
    It may be found here and there in Nietzsche’s later published works: I’m not sure.

    Anyway, the first or principle use of the will to power is used as a psychological, not metaphysical explanation. The higher man, according to Nietzsche, affirms his will to power by creating values: Nietzsche’s usual examples of value-creating higher men are Goethe, Beethoven and Nietzsche himself.

    The will to power varies from person to person in terms of intensity. Turned inward, it leads to feelings of guilt and sickness. The higher man, by affirming his will to power, is healthy. Christianity, by turning the will to power inward and making people feel guilty, is unhealthy.

    Is the will to power a plausible psychological explanation?

    It does seem that the urge to dominate, to compete, to affirm oneself is strong in most human beings, even those who claim to be humble and self-effacing. Why am I bothering to write this explanation when I have “better” things to do this morning? Quite possible to affirm my self-identification as a reader of Nietzsche as well as to inform others about him. My early morning trip to the bank, navigating crowded city streets, reaffirms my impression that domination and power are essential elements in human psychology.

  56. Don Bird,

    “Overall I think that Will is a vague term which is difficult to pin down mentally, and most likely neurologically”

    Whatever it meant (if it really ever meant anything) in the German sense, did not really translate into other languages.

    Goebbels, on the question of what is national socialism. His answer; national socialism is the will of the Fuhrer.

    Nietzsche’s sister was a fascist. This is before the Italians coined the term – but the proto-fascism that would evolve to become the Third Reich, was well under way in 19th century Germany. As she had control over his estate, when he was incapacitated and after he died, it’s believed she interpolated his writings with the fascistic interpretation of the will. Which I think might boil down to; don’t think, just trust your beer gut.

    Freud isn’t quite sui generis – he’s a product of 19th century German culture.

  57. s. wallerstein


    I’ve never seen any evidence that Nietzsche’s sister Elizabeth, who was, as you point out, a proto-fascist, German nationalist and anti-semite (unlike her brother), forged anything and claimed it was from her brother.

    What she did was cherry pick Nietzsche’s notebooks (which contained writings that he may not have intended to publish and may not have considered to be his own best work) for statements which supported her own proto-fascist ideology.

    As I said above, she then published those selections from her brother’s notebooks in a book called “The Will to Power”, which for many years was erroneously considered to be Nietzsche’s chief work.

    Elizabeth’s understanding of her brother’s writings was so limited that she hired Rudolph Steiner, the founder of the esoteric Anthroposophic cult, to tutor her in reading Nietzsche’s work.

  58. JMRC

    The term ‘Will’ is, perhaps regrettably, the name Schopenhauer gave to the mindless, aimless ‘thing-in-itself’ that he took to be the metaphysical ‘substratum’ of all that there is in the world of representation, including rocks. Very roughly it takes the place of Kant’s ‘things-in-themselves’ (Schopenhauer denied plurality of it).

    It is really quite misleading to say Schopenhauer believed ‘rocks existed because they had the will to exist.’ Schopenhauer certainly didn’t hold to anything like a natural reading of that claim.

    His view on ‘the will’ (lowercase) as something that relates to living beings was in a sense that there was no such thing but he did talk, again perhaps unfortunately, in terms of ‘willing’ and ‘the will’. Unlike other thinkers he didn’t think there was some ‘willing’ to make a bodily movement x, followed by bodily movement y. The ‘willing’ was just the experience of making bodily movement y ‘from the inside’ (something, obviously, he didn’t think rocks enjoyed).

    The relation this ‘willing’ has to the Will in Schopenhauer is that he thought that ‘somehow’ our experience of the former gave us some small insight into the nature of the latter. He didn’t think we could directly apprehend the world as it is in itself – all we ever encounter is representation – but it did seem to him that this experience of ‘willing’ gave some clue about the nature of the world as it is in itself. And thus it seems he thought the thing-in-itself ‘strives’ in some way though it ‘strives’ to no purpose or end as if a blind impulse.

    Other German thinkers (Fichte) had, I gather, termed what they thought to be in some way fundamental about the world as ‘Will’. But Schopenhauer’s conception was very different in all but name (though they shared the not uncommon supposition that introspection might reveal something about the nature of ‘ultimate’ reality).

    I should think I’ve already gone well beyond the clearly limited levels of my competence in talking about the philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer and, indeed, well beyond the level of your interest in the same.

    What it seems may be of more interest to you than the metaphysical speculations of 19th century German philosophers is the rather more ‘sensational’ connections one can draw between such thinkers and Nazism.

    It’s well known that Nietzsche was linked by some (especially those hostile to his atheism) with Nazism who did indeed misappropriate some of the things he said (and of course Nietzsche was influenced by Schopenhauer).

    What’s probably less well known that some alleged Schopenhauer directly influenced Hitler (who, unlike Mussolini, showed no sign of ever having read Nietzsche). Hitler did quote (out of context) a line from Schopenhauer about the Jews in ‘Mein Kampf’ – something about them being ‘masters of lies’ as I recall. Schopenhauer, though very much opposed to cruelty against the Jews, had some biting things to say about Judaism and some suppose his remarks in this regard directly influenced the anti-semitism of both Wagner and Hitler.

    There’s even a story about Hitler claiming to have carried Schopenhauer’s works about with him on the Western Front.

    Make of it what you will.

  59. s. wallerstein,

    “What she did was cherry pick Nietzsche’s notebooks (which contained writings that he may not have intended to publish and may not have considered to be his own best work) for statements which supported her own proto-fascist ideology.”

    Yes. But this is probably one of the things that is at the core of fascism. It cherry picks and assembles the characters and narratives it wants. So the assembled Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, etc, of German fascism are unrecognisable from the reality. They’re claimed for aesthetic purposes – but they’re not the true intellectual or cultural basis for fascism. Everything is twisted to fit the psychosis. Adorno is correct in that fascist propaganda is psychoanalysis in reverse.

    Blaming Nietzsche and Schopenhauer for the NAZIS is like blaming America’s founding fathers, Jesus Christ and king James, for the American Tea Party.

    Schopenhauer’s anti-Semitism is unremarkable as an influence on German fascism, as the anti-Semitism of any individual in 19th century Germany is unremarkable, given that it would only be remarkable if they were not anti-Semitic. Even Marx was ant-Semitic.

    There is more that may be inaccessible to us; in that you may need to be genuinely crazy to understand fascism, or at least ‘get it’ on some visceral level – the fascist will is probably the giddy anxiety of a psychotic.

  60. ‘Blaming Nietzsche and Schopenhauer for the NAZIS is like blaming America’s founding fathers, Jesus Christ and king James, for the American Tea Party.’

    Absolutely, though in the hands of those who are fair-minded and have some actual understanding of what certain philosophers said and why, an interesting question can be made of what influence certain thinkers had on events and what, if any, culpability or credit such thinkers might have for certain bad or good ones.

    What is at the core of fascism is an interesting question – anti-Semitism as such doesn’t seem ‘essential’ to it, though one could hardly say the same of ‘National Socialism’.

    Whether Marx and indeed Schopenhauer count as ‘anti-Semites’ seems up for discussion but I don’t know that the answer in either case is so obvious that it merits bald assertion rather than argument.

  61. I come late to this discussion, but seem to find no development of self organizing systems and no integration with the Big Bang. I am copying below a section of my upcoming book: Back Stories for a Hopeful Post Modern Future. It explores some likely consequences from the eruption of the singularity of the Big Bang.

    In Christianity, and in some Eastern philosophies, there is an argument over the nature of Ultimate Reality/Divinity/Brahman. Does the Ultimate have attributes? Is it good, just, and compassionate, or not. Most modern day Western Christians would say, “Of course, God is good, just, and compassionate.”
    There is a strain of Christian theology, however, called negative theology, which holds that if we give God attributes, we put limits on God and put him on our level and that of any object we describe. It was for this reason that St. Basil and his fellow bishops in 4th century Cappadocia said that they believed in God, but they did not believe that God exists. In other words, “the Creator transcends even existence. The essence of God is completely unknowable; mankind can only know God through His energies” (http://www.theandros.com/cappavision.html).
    In the Eastern Orthodox tradition, a real distinction between the essence (ousia) and the energies (energeia) of God is a central principle. It is dogma in the Eastern Orthodox church by the Hesychast councils¬” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Essence%E2%80%93Energies_distinction).
    Parallel to this Christian negative theology is Advaita (non-dualism) Vedanta as propounded in the eighth century by Adi Shankara. In this philosophy, the Absolute has no name or form or attributes. It is Nirguna (without attributes) Brahman. Daoism holds a similar view as revealed in the statement: “The Dao that can be described is not the Dao.” In negative theology, Advaita Vedanta, and Daoism, God, Nirguna Brahman, and the Dao are absolute singularities.
    The Universe of the Big Bang bears remarkable similarities to the God of negative theology and to Nirguna Brahman and the Dao. It, too, is an ultimate reality. It, too, is a singularity. The universe before the Big Bang was an absolute singularity. It did not exist in space and time because it had nothing to relate to; and space and time are created by relations between things. Nothing could be said about it. After the Big Bang, multitudes of chaotic energies were released to fend their way in an uncharted world. The universe we inhabit is still finding its way, especially in intellectual and cultural arenas.
    And yet, in a fundamental way the universe is still a singularity. As a whole, it has nothing to relate to because, by definition, it is everything. And we, at the atomic and sub nuclear level are of the very same stuff as everything in the universe. We are one with the universe as a singularity.
    How does our Big Bang singularity relate to the singularities of negative theology, Nirguna Brahmin, and the Dao? The principal difference lies in the relation to time. The Eastern singularities are eternal and timeless. For Adviata Vedanta, we are simply names and forms (“maya”) draped over non-dual reality. In the final analysis there are not two things; there is only non-duality. We do not relate to Nirguna Brahman with prayers or expect rewards and miracles. In Vedanta, we are one with the Absolute. Our glory is to live in awareness of that unity.

    Our singularity is dynamic. Ever since the Big Bang, the world has been evolving cosmologically, chemically, biologically, psychologically, and sociologically. In all of this evolution, our singularity has been expressing itself in its manifestations and in the “flesh” of the universe (Merleau-Ponty). It is also true that the world does not achieve consciousness except through us and our language. There is a vague, unexpressed meaning in the world that is never known until we express it. Our singularity is one of Becoming and it seems to yearn to become conscious. In cosmic process, God power is ours to use. We can work miracles by tapping that power.
    Our personal involvement in the Becoming is sometimes enlightened by the verbal expressions and exemplary lives of persons in similar situations to our own. To a large extent, however, our understanding of what is going on is recorded in our bodily unconscious, where it and similar experiences of Becoming can sometimes be accessed through deeper reflection. So, we experience our share of the Becoming in our personal lives. We also contribute our share into its overall evolution.
    Becoming equips all of its energies and entities to freely explore their possibilities. These innumerable experiments, big and little, express the nature of Becoming. Every achievement in the universe, every obstacle faced and overcome is Becoming being real in space and time. Every insight we have, every emotion we feel, and our every relationship is Becoming being real in our world.
    As we are one with this Becoming, our job in life is to become all that we can be. The power of the universe is ours to use. We can work miracles by tapping that power. Most of what we accomplish and are is done in relationships with others. It is likely that at death we will be individual voices in a chorus of expansion and harmony.

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  64. Are Religions & Science in Conflict?

    Recently I came across an essay written by a physicist—Lawrence M. Krauss in New Yorker:-Sept 8th 2015— and thought it necessary to set the record straight. I shall, therefore present the rebuttal/correction and justifications thereof, point by point, for the broader understanding of the people.

    Science is presented by Krauss as a cultural heritage. That may very well be true for his targeted audience (westerners), but for other this notion would not necessarily augur much acceptance. For Muslims, for example, it is not as much of cultural heritage as it is religious assist. In Qura’an, there are references in several verses; either to the events of creation or to the processes thereof. Science, back then not being at the advanced level of today, therefore provides processual details for enhanced clarity in understanding of those verses. The point being that Science is not in conflict with religion (Islam) at all.

    He callously drew a comparison between kim Davis (lady who refused to issue marriage license to a gay couple) and a hypothetical jihadi; who wants to behead infidel and apostate, and a Muslim Clerk who might refuse to let unmarried couple enter the court house or refuse to give a marriage license to unveiled woman.

    The choice of term “Callous behavior” is of significance here because his premise of science being in conflict with religions (without distinction) is flawed, so are his hypothetical comparisons drawn.

    It is of utmost importance to know the circumstances and injunctions—requisite— under which such actions could be carried out. A jihadi for example has never beheaded anyone in any country regardless. He could be an ordinary killer— should he happen to be a Muslim would sure habitually be labeled Jihadi orTerrorist.

    Beheading is carried out only by states for State awarded sentences—like in Saudi Arabia or under Islamic State. Similarly a Muslim court-clerk cannot refuse an unmarried couple entry into the court or refuse a marriage license to an unveiled woman. Because, Islamic laws would not, by default or automatically, become applicable in a foreign non Islamic state. That is why one would never hear or see such ridiculous actions by a Muslims in USA.

    All states, whether modern secular or theological states such as Saudi Arabia or even Afghanistan do, legislate and enact laws against certain unsavory, detestable, corrupt actions and not ideas, for simple reason; that Ideas could be concealed for indefinite period of time while actions may not.

    “No idea or belief should be illegal; conversely, no idea should be so sacred that it legally justifies actions that would otherwise be illegal” Mr. Krauss in this sentence most probably, obliquely and discreetly, is trying to disregard or discard the religious sacrilege while protecting the controversial idea of LGBT. Surprisingly at one hand he is championing for the militated talks about the (incorrectly perceived) conflicting postures of, religions and science, While on the other, he is being ambiguous and discreet about (correctly perceived) conflicting postures of religions and LGBT. Is he not sacralizing the Atheistic Militancy here?

    Per his assertion—In science the word “sacred” may be classed as “profane” for making a certain point but knowledge, when looked at in totality, is sacred any way.

    “No ideas, religious or otherwise, get a free pass. The notion: that some idea or concept is beyond question or attack is anathema to the entire scientific undertaking. This commitment to open questioning is deeply tied to the fact that science is an atheistic enterprise”

    “Because science holds that no idea is sacred, it’s inevitable that it draws people away from religion” (Here he is pasting his opinion to science’s face, without any substantiation or logical reasoning)

    According to Mr. Krauss, Rand Paul is standing by Kim Davis’s belief. would it, therefore be wrong to infer that Mr. Krauss, per his assertion above, is standing with LGBTs and hence sexual relations, may be established on the same footing, disregarding the religiously established sanctimonious relationships, such as mother, sister and daughter etc ?

    “The more we learn about the workings of the universe, the more purposeless it seems”

    Would it not be, to anyone’s amazement that, if gaining more knowledge of the working of the universe is mere delving into more purposelessness then, why the heck world is still wasting its time and resources on such an absurdity? Should not Mr. Krauss then, probably be working on a barber shop or flipping Burgers?

    “Even so, to avoid offense, they sometimes misleadingly imply that today’s discoveries exist in easy harmony with preëxisting religious doctrines, or remain silent rather than pointing out contradictions between science and religious doctrine. When they do so, they are being condescending at best and hypocritical at worst”

    “Whenever scientific claims are presented as unquestionable, they undermine science. Similarly, when religious actions or claims about sanctity can be made with impunity in our society, we undermine the very basis of modern secular democracy”

    “Five hundred years of science have liberated humanity from the shackles of enforced ignorance. We should celebrate this openly and enthusiastically, regardless of whom it may offend”

    “If that is what causes someone to be called a militant atheist, then no scientist should be ashamed of the label”

    These passages simply reflect on Mr. Krauss’s cursory knowledge of the scriptures. That is exactly the hallmark of “Religiophobe Avowed Atheist”

    Mr. Krauss has condemned tolerance of religious sensibilities while suggesting all laws and ideas should be treated at par. Is it not Hypocricy? He also took the controversial cases of Abortion and LGBTs out of the religious ambit, declaring them to be purely social issues. Mr. Krauss here is victim of same fallacy which a religious scholar often also is. He thinks that being religious scholar has given him the control of the entire universe and can do and decide on any and all matters with impunity.

    Islam does allow intellectual and meaningful debate and discussion on almost all matters but without an element of denigration and disrespect.

    Mr. Krauss, it is understood that science is a creation and evolutionary whereas religious scriptures represent finality (regardless of acceptance or rejection by some) Observation in quantum physics causes fixity of location, and even change of course, which not only assigns such observed particles a distinction of status as compared to others but also alludes to the existence of an intelligent being Hence science is Divine and not Secular/Atheistic. So is the case with religious scriptural words (laws), evoking acceptance and reverence due to their fixity/finality. The moment concept of creation is accepted everything becomes (Ordained/Divine) non secular. Hence, the universe in its nature, including science, contrary to your characterization is Divine.

    1) Science without religion is lame. Religion without Science is blind…. Einstein

    2) The one who combines Sufism and Science will indeed acquire the truth….Imam Malik

    3) I think men of science as well as other men need to learn from Christ, and I think Christians whose minds are scientific are bound to study science that their view of Glory of God may be as extensive as their being is capable of……James Clerk Maxwell

  65. Shakir Muntaz,

    “Would it not be, to anyone’s amazement that, if gaining more knowledge of the working of the universe is mere delving into more purposelessness then, why the heck world is still wasting its time and resources on such an absurdity?”

    Because it helps stop the laws of the land being based on superstition, charlatanism, and delusions.

    There’s also the side benefits of science. It has healed the sick, made barren wastelands bloom, dispelled fear, ignorance and hunger.

    You don’t need science to tear down religion. It does it itself. What kind of creator gives you a foreskin, and then demands you remove it, or face going to Gehenna. What kind of lunatic would make such a demand. Even give me a half decent theological explanation.

    What does Islam offer? A life of suffering and struggle, then if you’ve been good, you get to go to Jenna, for an eternity of pleasure; you get a new wife (or you can have the old earthly one, but it’s up to you.) You get a brick of silver and brick of gold, and a transparent house. If you’ve been bad in your earthly life, you go to Gehenna, which sounds like the place Catholic school boys used to be told they’d go if they masturbated. But here there is a dichotomy with Catholicism. The schools of Islam, even the extreme schools, tend to consider masturbation Makruh, over the hellfire begetting Haram.

    And Shakir, let me tell you something about scholars of religion. I bet I could fit all the world’s scholars of religion in a medium sized hotel function room, with lots of empty chairs to spare.

  66. “An individual respective very location is the present and the rest all the locations are of the deep of the past” In this way; Ultimate reality of Philosophy is wonder of creation: See at https://shahidurrahmansikder.wordpress.com/2010/01/01/11/ See also “Ultimate reality of Philosophy of science” https://books.google.com.bd/books/about/Philosophy_Of_Science.html?id=czUjWnpAnUQC&redir_esc=y

  67. Noorism philosophy , relates the true structure of universe with the all emerging questions about universe. Though Noorism claims to predict so many solutions to our approach about universe , but , as a matter of fact , there are certain inquiries about universe that relate its status with respect to Almighty Himself. In these cases one has to be careful while discussing .The biggest mystery is not the exact nature of universe , but the ”ETERNAL ,ENDLESS POWERS OF ALMIGHTY ”…….Noorism starts with the prediction of ”COMBINED NOORISMIC FIELD—CNF space time ” as the most primary structure of space.

  68. I’m new here. I’m a beginner philosopher I guess is how to put it.

    If we all know that the world is “fucked” why will it continue to be so probably until it’s to late to make a difference? Are we as species entertaining ourselves into a possible extinction? Can we reverse 5000 years of bad habits?

  69. Extinction is always a possibility; but bad habits can be changed.

  70. Nota Fragmentada (#11) – Outlandish - pingback on October 12, 2016 at 11:42 pm

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