What's your rebuttal of my argument for God from the human mind?

Steve Grand

Steve Grand, Life? Don't talk to me about life...

Mise à jour il y a 68w · L'auteur dispose de réponses 68 et de vues de réponses 65k

It’s nice to see a sophisticated and carefully considered argument! I think the biggest problem with it from a logical perspective is just that it suffers from ‘slippage’. The conclusions don’t assez follow from the premises, and the premises are not assez true. After a few steps this accumulates to leave the conclusion pretty much meaningless, rather like a case of Chinese whispers. This is a common problem in philosophy, imho, which is why we invented science. Words are very slippery things and it’s easy to use the same word in two different ways without noticing it.

But I’d like to discuss what seems to me an underlying misapprehension (albeit a totally understandable one - I’m the one who’s out on a limb here!) Other people have already mentioned emergence and this is the key, but I think it’s not commonly understood that une multitude de compléments in the universe, including the universe itself, is emergent. The physical/non-physical distinction you rely on so heavily, really isn’t what it appears to be.

Perhaps the clearest example of this is chemistry. Chlorine and gold, to pick elements at random, are very different things, with very different properties. They seem almost to have nothing in common. And yet they’re exactly the même things: they’re both collections of protons and neutrons, usually ‘surrounded’ by electrons. Gold may seem remarkably and uniquely golden, but it doesn’t contain any special ‘goldness’. It contains nothing that chlorine doesn’t also contain.

Les uniquement. difference between the two is in their arrangement. The precise number of protons, combined with the geometry of space and a few other so-called ‘physical’ factors, makes one into a yellowish metal and the other into an acrid gas. (It’s worth noting that even yellowness is not a standalone fact - it just describes how gold interacts with light - again it’s a relation amoureuse).

One place where science frequently fails us is in terms of arrangements and hence relationships. Physics, specifically, was originally somewhat founded on a belief in aggregation; the idea that what matters is how much of something there is, not precisely how it is arranged. Many of the biggest early strides in physics depended very successfully on this notion (e.g. that an entire planet can often be treated as a single point, or that you don’t need to know where every molecule is headed in order to predict the pressure of a gas) and this has DEEPLY colored many people’s thinking.

Chemistry deals with arrangements—with form—as I mentioned above, although more often at the molecular level than the atomic, but usually it deals with this in a comparatively circumscribed and deducible way. Biology is tout about arrangements. Most living things are made from combinations of cells, just as elements are made from combinations of elementary particles. More accurately, a living thing is a network of reactions. Minds, as you point out, are a property of certain arrangements of neurons and neurochemicals. It’s the specific arrangement that matters - disrupt it and a brain ceases to exhibit a mind, no matter how many neurons it contains.

But the early successes in Physics have somewhat hidden from us the bigger truth: It’s turtles all the way down. Just as people are arrangements of cells, cells are arrangements of complex organic compounds, organic compounds are arrangements of a handful of elements and elements are arrangements of a handful of so-called particles. And there’s no reason to stop there. Never mind quarks, even the fundamental Propriétés of the universe, like time and force and space, can be understood in terms of the interactions between yet simpler entities arranged or distorted in characteristic ways.

The ‘solidity’ of these entities decreases in tous les deux directions as we move away from what to us seems like the middle ground. Electrons are not really little lumps, but field effects, which have a lot in common with things like waves and interference patterns. They’re not solid - it’s more that their influence on other electrons and the like increases very rapidly as you move towards their ‘center’, to the extent that they feel like you’ve hit a wall (imagine diving into perfectly soft water from a great height!)

Equally, in the other direction things get less ‘physical’ and ‘solid’ too, as we move above the atomic level. A mind is a thing, but it’s not really located anywhere in space and not even in some senses in time. It doesn’t have a size or a mass. But it’s absolument no different from a lump of lead in a deep and very meaningful sense. The only difference is that lumps of lead interact with lumps of other atoms, while minds to some extent only interact with other minds. The material world is just a région in this hierarchy of forms, in which words like ‘solid’ and ‘massive’ have some significance. Sadness is a property of mind in much the same way that mass is a property of atoms. Poverty is likewise a property of societies - arrangements of minds.

The universe is fundamentally made from forme, of which substance is just one ‘level of being’ among many. But intuition tells us it’s the other way round - that solid, heavy ‘stuff’ is somehow real and the organization of things is somehow wishy-washy and less real.

Intuition is totally wrong.

So there are a lot of misleading errors to be made if an argument begins from the premise that physical matter is distinct from and fundamentally different from something like a mind. Minds are made of exactly the same non-stuff as atoms are. Everything is arrangements. Every chose is an interaction. Every property is a relationship.

This is really hard to get our heads around, because from the moment we were born, matter seems to ‘matter’ in a way that seems different from being told off, or falling in love. But this is really just an accident of the levels of being from which we as thinking entities emerge. Material and immaterial are really the same thing - all material is immaterial.

I think if you can really get to grips with this idea, a lot of your premises will start to feel rather less solid too. It doesn’t preclude something that some people might like to call ‘God’, but what it does imply is that this God would be a L'augmentation level of organization - a produit of the universe, not its instigator. When we look up at the stars and feel like we’re looking into the mind of God, we perhaps are, in a meaningful sense, but it’s absolutely not the sense in which most people have historically used the term. Intuition is totally wrong.

This is a rambling explanation, sorry. But it’s a vraiment hard thing to grasp and hence a really hard thing to explain. I wrote a book about life and computers that barely scratched the surface. I just offer it to you as something to let soak in.

Jason Whyte

Jason Whyte, Long-term non-believer

Répondu il y a 68w · L'auteur dispose de réponses 4.3k et de vues de réponses 5.6m

You assert P2 and P3 without evidence. Until you can demonstrate that they are true, your argument has no relevance to the real world, however well-constructed it is.

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I suggest you read Antonio Damasio's Self Comes To Mind, which is a reasonably accessible account of our best understanding of how different brain structures contribute to the emergence of consciousness. It's not as easy a read as it could be - Damasio is fond of making up his own jargon, so you have to learn a lot of new terms to understand it - but it makes a pretty compelling case for how consciousness emerges from a sufficiently sophisticated self-regulation system. One of the most powerful points Damasio makes is that consciousness is not unitary, despite our naive perception that it is. He uses a number of patient studies to show how specific aspects of human consciousness can be degraded by damage to specific brain regions, and extends that to make the point that human consciousness is almost certainly not unique. Animal consciousness lacks some of the complexity of human consciousness, but there is a clear progression of conscious function as brain complexity increases.

The point here being that your argument makes the same error that a lot of philosophy does: it ignores the science. Philosophical argument nearly always begins from intuitive statements that the author hopes we will accept as self-evidently correct. In areas where we have done enough science, what the evidence regularly tells us is that our intuitive view is wrong. In fact, psychology even goes so far as to tell us that we have inbuilt biases that predispose us to make intuitive leaps that see patterns and connections where there aren't any.

What the science of mind has been telling us for three decades - at first tentatively but with increasing confidence as more and more evidence accumulates - is that human minds (and all other minds, for that matter) are emergent properties of hugely complex algorithms instantiated in hugely complicated biological information processing machines.

The evidence is that minds are immaterial in the sense that they are the result of information processing but they are no more supernatural than the programs running on your smartphone.

What the evidence does not show is any need for gods or any other supernatural involvement.

So however good your argument is in its own internal logic, it doesn't account for the factual evidence and is therefore irrelevant.

Justice Långvall

Justice Långvall, I'm an atheist, yes. Quite possibly a theological noncognitivist, but still.

Répondu il y a 68w · L'auteur dispose de réponses 4.2k et de vues de réponses 575.8k

OK, first of all let me just object to one thing. In "P7" you say that minds must have emotions and morality. That is absolutely not true. Our emotions come from things like hormones, and they control our motivation, control the direction we think. Removing emotions doesn't remove the mind. We only have emotions because they're useful to our continued survival/existence.

And morality is just one feature that comes from us being social creatures. Had we not been at all social, then we might not have ever considered morality.
Another example would be where you have brain damage that makes someone unable to think in certain ways, or about certain things, but their mind is still there. Not beign able to tell yourself apart form the environment, for example, or not beign able to think abotu the future. All of these thigns are specific processes in the brain that can be "lost" due to do damage.
We could easily speculate that there could have been many other ways we could have been able to think, it's just that we never evolved those capabilities, and we can't iamgine how it would be to think in away we can't currently think.

So you need to think more about what a "mind" really is, and how it's a collection of separate capabilities, and not "complete".
We can remove parts of the mind by removing parts of the brain.

You talk about "human minds", but I'm not sure that makes sense, strictly speaking. We are humans because we are born of human parents, and so we can be individually different under this definition/classification. Our minds are also individually different, but they aren't born of "parent minds", so how do you classify a human mind? What exactly makes a human mind different from a chimpanzee mind, for example? I have no idea, do you? I mean, we are smarter than they are, evidently, but even if you had an IQ of 25, you'd still have a "human mind", right?

A mind is an emergent property of the brain. In this sense, it is exactly like a computer program, which is an emergent property of specific circuitry.
Everything you're saying about "minds" can be said about computer programs. They do not follow physical laws, they can be blind yet still contains an understanding of matter, and so on. Computer programs are also "immaterial".
I seriously see no fundamental difference between a mind and a computer program, in this context.

You then say: "Since human minds do not follow physical laws or can be described as physical things, natural explanations with them cannot be achieved."

...but do you realize, then, that you're saying there is no natural explanation for computer programs?
Later on you also say that "matter is mindless", but it's equally true that circuitry is software-less, yet a computer can still have software.

Then you say: "A supernatural cause unconstrained by physical laws can be considered."

We already knew this could be "considered". No matter what laws you claim about nature, one could always imagine that somethign could stand above those laws. It's an unfalsifiable idea. "Supernatural" is not something that is defined by what it is, but only by what it is not. It's anything we can imagine that isn't natural - even though I do not believe this concept makes any sense at all.

Then you say: "This supernatural cause [...]"
Does it even make sense to talk about "causes" outside of the natural? Within our unvierse, the "natural", there is cause and effect. Why would "the supernatural" have "causes" and "effects"? I see no justification for this.

Then you say: "C3: From P7-P9 that supernatural cause must be mental because the human mind has the power to concieve matter but can only effect them within the constraints of physical laws. "

No, you have never defined what a "mental cause" is. You have never explained/argued how a cause can be "mental". In fact, you have never explained what a "supernatural cause" is, you've only used that term as a way to avoid having to follow rules. That's why people invoke that word, "supernatural", so that they can eat the cookie and still have it.
Before you talk about "supernatural", excplain what it is and show that is actually does exist, or even that it makes any kind of sense, rather than just being something you invoke to avoid having to make sense.

Anway, ity's stillt eh same thign with software. A computer runs software, which in itself doesnt' have to follow physical laws, but the software may control a physical robot which produces physical effects constrained by the laws of natural.
It doesn't mean that the software, or the "cause of" the software, is somehow "supernatural".

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Then you say: "The supernatural cause being immaterial and mental and unconstrained by physical laws can concieve matter and its laws into existence as human minds do with fiction."

No, we have no reason to think that matter could come into existence by thinking it...! That definitely violates natural law.
When we imagine fiction, then we conceptually produce fiction, but the fiction isn't "real", it doesn't actually exist, it is only conceptual. It'd be a completely different thing if you could produce actual, physical things by thinking it.
That'd be "magic".

Dale Thomas (トーマス デール)

Dale Thomas (トーマス デール), Die-hard agnostic atheist

Répondu il y a 66w · L'auteur dispose de réponses 6.2k et de vues de réponses 20.9m

Other answers here have done a great job showing the problem with your logic and premises. Statements like “Matter is fundamentally mindless,” is like saying water molecules are fundamentally ‘wetnessless.’ It is devoid of any actual meaning and is circularly relying on votre definition that minds are things not made of matter.

I want to explain why we don’t need to bend over backwards to explain the unexplainable by positing a new unexplainable.

This is an image created by a simulation of interacting chemicals:

What's your rebuttal of my argument for God from the human mind?

This is another one generated by exactement the same equations, just with slightly different parameters:

What's your rebuttal of my argument for God from the human mind?

The simulation is a type of Reaction-Diffusion system. These systems don’t just make static images, they are dynamical processes. Here is a video showing some of the behaviours with different parameters:

And you can play around with one in realtime ici . The equations governing these simulations are very simple. This particular one is called the Gray-Scott modèle:

What's your rebuttal of my argument for God from the human mind?

Simple, non?

Every ‘pixel’ in these simulation only knows about its neighbouring 4 pixels. Yet the spots and stripes and waves are large scale structures, covering many dozens or even hundreds of pixels. How is it that the simplistic dumb pixels, with such a limited range of information sharing, can possibly coordinate to make coherent dynamical structures orders of magnitude larger than themselves?

The answer, as others have stated, is Émergence. The mind is another example of emergent behaviour. Looking at an individual neurone and how it behaves cannot possibly give you insights into the human mind, just as it is impossible to predict spots or stripes just from looking at a single pixel with a couple of simple differential equations.

“Gesticulating at the brain is not enough. Show me which brain (and neural) activity is logic or awareness etc. as defined.”

As Glyn Williams says, human thought and logic is not encoded in the brain, it emerges as a result of the functioning of the brain’s hardware. A very important distinction. There are no neurones to which we can point and say “Aha! The concept of a syllogism!”

There is nothing mystical or magical about emergence. No need to make up supernatural fantasies to explain it. It is just highly complex systems interacting, resulting in behaviour that is more then the sum of its parts.

Brigitte Mathiak

Brigitte Mathiak

Répondu il y a 68w · L'auteur dispose de réponses 540 et de vues de réponses 485.2k

Just for arguments sake. I grant you mind. I grant you God as followed from your argumentation. I am generous today.

How does it follow that this entity you call “God” does have any of the other attributes that are normally associated with the word? You have already tied him down by making him immaterial, so your next struggle would be to show that something immaterial can influence something material. Or you can leave it at that and I will just shrug my shoulders. (So you have invented a word for a thing which might exist, but has no bearing on anything I am interested in. \golfclap)

The great weakness of theism, from a philosophical point of view, is not the existence or non-existence of a hypothetical First Pusher in the Aristotelian sense. I can always argue that the First Pusher is at the very least a social construct or an emergent property or an emergent property of the human condition or a useful model (as in does infinity exist? who knows? but math is much more elegant with it, so let’s just use it) and thereby does have some kind of existence.

It is the weird jump from there to Revelation. How did that happen? Why were there so many? Which is the right one? Why is never anything revealed that is falsifiable and hitherto unknown (as one would expect in a revelation going by the meaning of the word)? Something that is so ordinary that it happens in over 1 million scientific articles every year! (Which is only a fraction of the papers published. I do know that scientists aren’t infallible. I am one. )

You see, I don’t even need to rebut your argument and can stay a happy atheist ��

Albert Fonda

Albert Fonda, former Consultant (1965-2007)

Répondu il y a 68w · L'auteur dispose de réponses 200 et de vues de réponses 146.2k

The rebuttals in this thread are worth remembering for use elsewhere. I especially like Langval’s point, ‘No matter what laws you claim about nature, one could always imagine that something could stand above those laws. It's an unfalsifiable idea. "Supernatural" is not something that is defined by what it is, but only by what it is not. It's anything we can imagine that isn't natural ... Within our unvierse, the "natural", there is cause and effect. Why would "the supernatural" have "causes" and "effects"? ’

And Veaux, on “emergent property”: “the ability to run a program is an emergent property of a computer, just as sharpness is an emergent property of a knife. No immaterial spiritual stuff necessary. Change the physical arrangement of atoms and the emergent property goes away.” Great analogy. I have long said that what “emerges” is only the observer’s awareness: for the knife, how sharp is sharp?

But in the case of homeostasis (biological closed-loop control), the “emergence” may be (practically) instantaneous, namely when the connection is made to close the loop, so that the negative feedback signal takes control. This does not entail “emergence” as a property; it is only a performance characteristic — information — which enters the observer’s awareness.

Nor is it “top-down causation;” it is top-down (informational) control of bottom-up (physical) causation. I see this misunderstanding often in the philosophical literature. The emergence in “top-down causation” is only that of the observer’s awareness of the (complex, closed-loop) process.

Scott Kiskaddon

Scott Kiskaddon, Math Student

Répondu il y a 68w · L'auteur dispose de réponses 614 et de vues de réponses 465.4k

Wow! This is pretty long for a quora question. Your answer would be just excellent if only your aim weren’t so high. I mean, there are too many holes here, not least of which is your starting set of assumptions. You do realize that professional philosophers have been attacking loin narrower questions with only doux success, right? A perfect example would be: What is Quality? That is how do we distinguish something that is of high quality versus low quality? We seem to have no criteria for it, but in general most humans can recognize the difference. So what is it? This question is complètement explored in the book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Pirsig. A freakin livre. He laid out his argument so thoroughly, it just makes the head spin. And that isn’t even considered all that nous as far as a philosophical treatise is concerned.

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I actually enjoy Simulacra and Simulation. That is actually a very small book, but the concepts are so difficult to wrap my head around, that even a page will blow your mind. This book actually attacks concepts that most tout of us can agree upon: that we are surrounded by illusions that are so convincing, we believe them to be real and eventually they take on a reality of their own, replacing présenter reality in our minds.

Another one could be the Rights of Man. Locke. This one doesn’t hurt my brain as much because it’s so commonly accepted now, but back when it was written? People had the same reaction to this as I do to Simulacra and Simulation. One page would’ve blown their minds. Another good read.

Now I read the first set of assumptions you’ve posted to this enormous question. And I laugh at how short they fall from the mark. This could not possibly be considered an argument that comes close to a single philosophical treatise in human history. Not even close.

I sympathize with you more than most of these answerers though. I appreciate that you are at least trying to make it look professional. My advice is to narrow your scope to that of a laser. Don’t try to answer this question in a professional setting, because you will be laughed off the stage.

I will simply state that we all don’t hold the same set of assumptions as you do. I read your set of posits and laugh to myself, because I hold not a single one of them myself. In fact, your entire argument is a set of, literally, TEN assumptions. Why on earth would I personally hold those assumptions?

You wrote about some objections:

  • The mind is physical, it is brain activity: Then show that that awareness, morality, logic, emotions being aspects of the mind are physical things or processes. Gesticulating at the brain is not enough. Show me which brain (and neural) activity is logic or awareness etc. as defined.
    • There is more evidence that the mind is tied directly to activity of our neurons then evidence that the mind is not. One of my degrees is actually in psychology. We have studied the hell out of the brain. While we don’t know much about the brain and mind, we do know one thing. If you damage the brain, you completely alter who that person is and what they can mentally do. It’s a much more accurate hypothesis to say that our mind is direct reflection of our brain.
    • We also know that certain areas of our brain are generally responsible for certain facets of mental activity. That’s why teenagers tend to do brash things prior to their early twenties: their prefrontal cortex, which controls impulses, is nowhere near fully developed.
  • The mind is an illusion: One wonders how you know illusions exist. Computers which simulate minds cannot distinguish betweeen the two.
    • The mind absolutely is an illusion. That’s pretty firmly established in modern philosophy. Check out Simulacra and Simulation.
  • Matter has mind (panpsychism Deepak Chopra style): That would mean subatomic matter and matter can choose to se comporter differently? What's the evidence they do? They don't meditate, philosophise, moralize etc. The moment they do physical reality is in trouble since they cannot then act the same repeatedly and predictably and thus coherently. That said, being an idealist I agree with lot of what Chopra says especially where it criticizes physicalist reductions in science. What I strongly disagree with, is his suggestion consciousness is quantum phenomena, and his suggestion that stuff like atoms etc have consciousness in them.
    • This one is a bit of an older argument compared with S&S, but if you read Goedel, Escher, Bach by Hofstader, you will find a pretty cool argument in favor of that. His basic idea is this: any sufficiently complex system that refers back to itself can be considered intelligent. He thinks that a brain is the most obvious one, but that it’s possible for computers to be defined as intelligent as well when they eventually become complex enough. It’s a good book, though I personally disagree with his premises. Really complicated.
    • In fact, one could argue Hofstader’s point of view and throw several of your premises out of the window right there. We are nearing the point where Artificial Intelligence will have to be considered, well, sentient. Though, of course, we’re far off, we are steadily approaching. Then where would your argument stand?

Ryan Davidson

Ryan Davidson, Programmeur web et geek scientifique

Répondu il y a 68w · L'auteur dispose de réponses 5k et de vues de réponses 2.8m

Other answers have addressed other parts of your argument I’ll just stick to addressing;

“P9: Human minds do not follow physical laws: human minds don't behave like matter does, human minds cannot be described strictly in terms of brain activities. Human brains follow physical laws and physical things affect the mind through them.“

  1. There are no physical laws that minds are known to violate.
  2. It’s true that emergent properties of self-modifying systems can’t be described in a deterministic fashion. If you’d qualified your statement in that manner, it would have been valid.
  3. It’s true that we currently can’t describe the activity of a brain in terms of its material processes. This is basically an appeal to ignorance.
  4. It’s true that a different set of concepts can be useful in describing more complex relationships. Microbiology and geology are often and more easily described using terms that are different than those terms used by physicists. This does not mean that microbiological and geological processes violate the laws of physics.

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