Allan Bloom on Firing Line

I’ve waited a long time for this. The first 5 minutes is on YouTube. I’ll look and see if I can find the whole thing.

You can buy the DVD of the program for $10 here.

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109 Responses to Allan Bloom on Firing Line

  1. Michael Heath says:

    I grew up Republican while never possessing the religious-conservative mind-set that now dominates the movement in the U.S. I read Closing in my early-thirties, just after completing the counter-experience of the wholly red-state environment where I was raised (where it was rare to even have Democratic candidates running for office and still remains uncommon). That counter was graduating from Michigan State U. and grad school at San Jose State U. through Apple Computer’s program in the Bay Area where I’d resided for three years. A startlingly broader paradigm than described in my youth prior to those educative and workforce experiences.

    For me “Closing” was the first strong signal I received and considered in my then political awakening that America’s emerging form of conservatism couldn’t make arguments except by complete dependence on rhetorical and logical fallacies while avoiding reality – a condition which is now completely pervasive though not so back then except for mostly social conservatives who yielded less power back then. Rather than depending on empirical studies to make his arguments, Mr. Bloom’s highly selective observations dominated.

    While I still admire and subscribe to the principals and policies of pre-“Closing” Republicans who were not strongly conservative: Gerald Ford, Richard Nixon, Michigan’s 12-year governor Bill Milliken, and even many of Reagan’s policies; “Closing” served as a bellwether to me that the movement was losing its intellectual base and descending into the type of anti-elitist/anti-intellectualism the “moral majority” promoted where liberalism was a strawman and reality be damned – only fantastical desires and narrative counted. I think what happened was conservatism as a political movement purged itself of varying mind-sets and settled on one – the type of thinking that keeps religious fundamentalism vibrant in a culture with the exception of neo-cons who defectively deluded themselves into believing they could control the sheep social conservatism creates. In fact I would argue conservatism isn’t so much about political positions anymore as it is a promotion of right-wing authoritarianism as described by Altemeyer; Bloom was part of the second or third waves that justified this emerging trend which I believe opened the door for reality deniers like we see now from nearly all Republican politicians who rely on aesthetically attractive talking points, or as Palin calls them, “uncommon common sense”, rather than depending on the lessons of history and the findings of scientists and economists.

    So for this reader, Bloom’s book actually began to convince me that America’s version of conservatism was quickly becoming an ungovernable political ideology. I think the results since Bloom’s book validates that where the only surprise for me is that rather than awakening to this fact and reforming itself like we see from the Tories in the U.K., the U.S.’s conservatives have become increasingly deluded to the point only what their tribal leaders say is relevant to reality, actual reality is a liberal-foisted hoax.

  2. Michael Heath says:

    The beginning of Mr. Van Dyke’s link amply validates my point about how Bloom’s argument in Closing creates a dishonest strawman of liberal education where Claremont dishonestly asserts, “It brought into public view the scandal of the universities, which openly teach that there is no principled difference between good and evil.”

  3. tom van dyke says:

    Do treat yourself to reading the rest, Mr. Heath. Bloom is half-right and half-wrong. Your own essay illustrates where he is right.

  4. D.A. Ridgely says:

    Is it the “public view” or the “scandal” part that’s dishonest, because it certainly is in the university that I learned that there is no principled difference between good and evil.

  5. Michael Heath says:

    DAR:

    it certainly is in the university that I learned that there is no principled difference between good and evil.

    I went to Michigan State during the time Mr. Bloom was writing his book. I never encountered any classes where such a framing was even introduced, let alone argued and promoted.

    I continue to read academic literature pertaining mostly to economics, science, history, and the Constitution, including Ivy League generated publications. I do not perceive any such notion. I do perceive a heavy promotion enlightenment principles that argue for the general welfare, self-determination, protection of human rights, maximizing well-being and minimizing suffering – including for non-humans. So again, I do not perceive such an absurd argument.

    I’m currently reading Sam Harris’ latest book arguing that what is moral can be objectively understood by science and therefore science can provide prescriptions for what is objectively moral and what is not objectively moral, provisionally held as all scientific explanations. Harris also argues that science is also best prepared to provide descriptive and prescriptive explanations for what is moral and immoral or . He is presenting a full argument, i.e. confronting and attempting to overcome arguments of currently dominating arguments. The two would be that morality is discerned through holy dogma, another is that morality can only be understood through the prism of culture and is therefore relative.

    These two approaches to morality are not mutually exclusive, i.e., Christian reconstructionist dogma arguing we should kill gay people and Muslim dogma we do the same as well as remove the clitoris of young females. Most other cultures would find both practices abhorrent, the “in group” argues these practices are moral by referencing holy dogma, the relativist would argue they’re also moral within that culture. Harris claims that we can empirically understand that both result in a loss of well-being of both the individual victims and the group’s over-all well-being and is therefore objectively immoral where the confidence in our findings are very high. Dr. Harris also goes onto make a similar argument when it comes to considering the use of corporal punishment on children – science has empirically revealed it leads to a loss of well-being and therefore Harris also argues such a practice is objectively immoral.

    Perhaps Dr. Harris is presenting a defectively narrow framework of all the possible arguments regarding morality. However both my observations and his list of competing arguments do not include any such strawman argument as what Mr. Bloom argues or Claremont describes. From my perspective if it exists in this reality, it is exceedingly rare and sheltered from most of us.

  6. D.A. Ridgely says:

    Ah, well, of course, it all depends on what one means by “principled.”

  7. James K says:

    And, of course, what principles one is using ;)

  8. tom van dyke says:

    Sam Harris, with his unconcern and purposeful lack of engagement with the classics, is guilty of the classicist Bloom’s core charge, that philosophical fads have taken the place of genuine philosophy.

    http://scienceblogs.com/tfk/2010/05/those_who_do_not_study_euthyph.php

    Ironically, Harris shares Bloom’s disdain for modern philosophical fads:

    critics fault me for not engaging more directly with the academic literature on moral philosophy. There are two reasons why I haven’t done this: First, while I have read a fair amount of this literature, I did not arrive at my position on the relationship between human values and the rest of human knowledge by reading the work of moral philosophers; I came to it by considering the logical implications of our making continued progress in the sciences of mind. Second, I am convinced that every appearance of terms like “metaethics,” “deontology,” “noncognitivism,” “anti-realism,” “emotivism,” and the like, directly increases the amount of boredom in the universe. My goal, both in speaking at conferences like TED and in writing my book, is to start a conversation that a wider audience can engage with and find helpful.

    Unfortunately, like most moderns, or per Mr. Heath, let’s call them “non-conservatives,” Harris believes he’s smarter than all those who have ever lived, and sets about reinventing the wheel.

    Badly.

    http://scienceblogs.com/tfk/2010/05/those_who_do_not_study_euthyph.php

  9. James Hanley says:

    Sam Harris, with his unconcern and purposeful lack of engagement with the classics, is guilty of the classicist Bloom’s core charge, that philosophical fads have taken the place of genuine philosophy.

    Jesus, this is just like Heidegger’s worship of long-dead composers.

  10. Michael Heath says:

    Mr. Van Dyke,

    Have you read The Moral Landscape?

  11. tom van dyke says:

    Mr. Heath, does it have something to do with Allan Bloom?

    At the moment, the question is whether Harris has read Euthyphro.

    There is a substantive point here per Bloom about just which minds are “closed,” although I do appreciate you having shared your psychological autobiography and your feelings about “conservatism.”

    As to James Hanley’s invocation of long-dead composers, there was no composer who followed who did not learn from Mozart, either directly or indirectly.

  12. Heidegger says:

    Tom, nice words about Herr Mozart—also nice to know someone else around here loves Wolfgang and his music is as alive, vital, compelling, and interesting as the day it was written. That’s the point I was trying to communicate to Mr. Hanley. Unfortunately, he’s one tough political science nut to crack and it seems he’s so intractably entrenched in that political science box, it just may be impossible for him to see and and experience anything outside of that prism. They will always be nothing but, “long dead composers”.

  13. D.A. Ridgely says:

    If they’ve been dead all that long, I’m pretty sure they’ve decomposed.

  14. tom van dyke says:

    Oh, Herr Heidegger, I don’t even like Mozart that much. I just wanted to acknowledge the debt. Beethoven didn’t even write his first symphony until age 40, having spent most of his younger years sorting through that savant Wolfgang Amadeus.

    Upon immediate further review of my previous, I wished I had written Bach.

    It completely points to Bloom’s point. It was Bach who figured out how to tune the damn keyboard. All that followed in western music, including jazz and the modern guitar, hinged upon that. And Bach, even his exhibition piece for his tuning, The Well-Tempered Klavier, is still quite listenable.

    And Mr. Heath, it’s not as if classicists are “closed” to modern innovation or sentimentally stuck in their provinciality and chauvinism for the familiar and traditional. Bloom himself was well aware, via his mentor Strauss, of the Muslim polymath al-Farabi, who was not only an estimable philosopher, but a physician and the “inventor” of the Arab/Middle Eastern tone scale that survives to this day. Farabi makes daVinci look like a dilettante, with his couple of paintings and helicopters that cannot fly.

    It’s not that Sam Harris is wrong [modern brain science might prove Aristotle, Aquinas, Hume, Reid and/or Calvin more right than wrong], it’s that Harris is so vulgar about it, as if he’s thought of something that hasn’t been thought upon before the earth was gifted with his presence. This is what Bloom argued about the closing of the American mind.

    If Sam Harris can invent a tone scale that man likes as much as Bach’s or Farabi’s, OK, he’s got my attention.

    [Did that weave the threads sufficiently?]

    But mostly, I was most interested in you and James Hanley confronting—instead of me—Bloom, Thomas West, and DAR’s apparent agreement with them that “it certainly is in the university that I learned that there is no principled difference between good and evil.”

    The topic of “the academy” has been a mainstay of our ongoing discussions hereabouts, and you and Dr. Hanley are quite enthusiastic apologists for it and its honesty and wisdom. I was actually looking forward to taking this go-round off, not that I mind playing resident punching bag, as long as I’m permitted to hit back.

    I happen to agree with Bloom and West on this point, and I do not drag DAR in with “us.” But that was your original objection, Michael, and I think it bears most closely to Jon’s original post on Allan Bloom, and his “The Closing of the American Mind.”

    I’m not closed to Sam Harris, but he has the 2500-yr-old Euthyphro argument to conquer first, as do you.

  15. Heidegger says:

    Well, Herr van Beethoven, err, I mean, Herr van Dyke, (are you, by chance, related to Beethoven?) Bach would have been the better choice to use as a focal point, a bottomless well of inspiration, that all the composers that followed him used—and they—Beethoven, Mozart, Wagner, Brahms, Mendelsohn, Schubert–utterly worshipped him–he really laid the groundwork for harmony and counterpoint which will be for all eternity the foundation for Western classical music. And the “well-tempered” system of tuning in all 24 keys is probably the greatest thing to come from a human mind–probably next the Einstein’s E=mc2. It really is that important. And all this “Bloom” talk–I thought everyone was talking about “Harold” Bloom! Don’t underestimate Leonardo–his sketchings of human anatomy are nothing short of miraculous. Back later to respond to your very interesting post–thanks.

  16. James Hanley says:

    TvD,

    I wasn’t implying that one shouldn’t read the classics, but since everything is based on them, it’s actually not hard to be fairly well read in political philosophy without directly reading them.

    I’ve never actually read Darwin’s On the Origin of Species (been stuck in chapter 1 for a long long time), but nevertheless I understand the theory better than he did.

    But as someone who has read the classics, from pre-Socratics through early modern, plus Marx, Rawls, Nozick, and, lord help me but it was required, Gramsci, I think I can fairly say that an undue insistence on “mastering” them before speaking about philosophy amounts to no more than an ideological trump card.

  17. Michael Heath says:

    James Hanley:

    I think I can fairly say that an undue insistence on “mastering” them before speaking about philosophy amounts to no more than an ideological trump card.

    Sam Harris received a B.A. in philosophy from Stanford U.

  18. James Hanley says:

    Michael,

    I think that would suffice.

  19. tom van dyke says:

    Oh, and I had so hoped that y’all would engage DAR instead on the substantive bone of contention of Mr. Heath’s first salvo, ““it certainly is in the university that I learned that there is no principled difference between good and evil,” since it bears directly on the topic of the OP, Allan Bloom.

    Mr. Heath, I resist letting this turn into the customary exchange of sophistries like “trump card,” which is an abandonment of principled discussion. Although I take you at your word that you read Bloom, you have written nothing that bears on his argument. [Neither is Bloom particularly relevant to your attack on “conservatism.” He was his own thing.]

    Mr. Hanley, I haven’t been at the “academy” for awhile, but I can speak only of an exchange I had with a philosophy prof who said he never read Aquinas because he’d “heard” that Thomas had been “disproven.” This is what Bloom is talking about.

    As for “mastery,” I paid Mr. Heath the courtesy of looking up Harris, and it was an atheist, Joshua Rosenau, who found Harris risible, defeated by the Euthyphro argument out of the box. Others [mainly atheists, since he is of their general stripe] found Harris laughable as well, some sort of miscegenation of Aristotle and Bentham, under the impression he had thought of something “new.”

    Such refutations are easy to find. Just google “Sam Harris” and “asinine.”

  20. Chris says:

    Yeah, Harris is a hack, period. Still, I doubt that the best route to take against his pop philosophical musings on morality is Plate. You’d probably do better with any number of 20th century thinkers.

    Also, re: Tom’s take on DAR’s comment, why wouldn’t universities teach such ideas?

  21. Heidegger says:

    Well, let’s see now. In this corner you’ve got Dr. Mengele, and in this corner, you’ve got Dr. Albert Schweitzer. Gees, no principled difference between good and evil here. Or anywhere, right? Moral relativists are simply revolting human beings. Strapping retarded children behind the wheel of bombed-laced vehicles to kill American soldiers–hey, whats the big deal? In “principle”, morally there’s no difference between the actions of either side. Only in academia, only in academia….Allahu Akbur! And there ain’t no virgins waiting to greet your sorry, pathetic asses, either.

  22. Heidegger says:

    Just to make sure, the comment, “And there ain’t no virgins waiting to greet your sorry, pathetic asses, either.” is directed toward the terrorists not the OBW folks.

    For an update, the latest acts of terrorism committed by members of the religion of peace is, 16363. For just this week, the toll stands: Jihad attacks: 46; Dead bodies: 322; critically injured: 687. Okay everyone, let’s all gather around together and sing, “Kum bay ya, my Lord, kum bay ya”–maybe the terrorists will stop hating us!

  23. D.A. Ridgely says:

    I haven’t read Harris’ book, so there’s that. Reading a quick review, however, I suspect my reaction is similar to that of a physicist reading about someone who has invented a perpetual motion machine by denying entropy, inertia, etc. are relevant factors. Yeah, right.

  24. Michael Heath says:

    DAR:

    I haven’t read Harris’ book, so there’s that. Reading a quick review, however, I suspect my reaction is similar to that of a physicist reading about someone who has invented a perpetual motion machine by denying entropy, inertia, etc. are relevant factors. Yeah, right.

    All the reviews I’ve encountered critical of Harris’ book which admittedly have only been a handful, avoids the fact he primarily relies on empirical finding after empirical finding. Instead those critiques ultimately pose their argument as wishing science didn’t find obvious answers to morality (e.g., results of corporal punishment on the development of children) weren’t true because they’re comfortable with mere arguments they support preconceived dogma, faith, and belief rather than dealing with the empirical results science is discovering that makes such discernments of morality relatively though not always easy.

    I think there’s an argument to be made against his point of view, in fact Dr. Harris continues to either take them on or make them himself (and not strawmen). To characterize his argument as a fantasy (perpetual motion machine) when in fact he’s making the exact opposite argument, that morality can be discerned empirically, is to define his argument as the very opposite of that which he argues. In fact his argument reveals that previous notions were the ‘perpetual motion machines’.

    Since I’m still reading the book, I’ll withhold judgment on the quality of his conclusions. I do admit bias towards his position primarily because I shared it in a shallow way prior to considering his argument.

  25. Jon Rowe says:

    The thing which interests me with Harris — a few years back some conventional religious types angry at his screeds against him found that he had flirtations with Eastern religions. Harris really didn’t deny this and noted something on how skeptical Western minded folks (the very kind who would criticize Deepack Chopra’s “woo woo” stuff) could still find insights into Eastern ways of thinking.

  26. Jim51 says:

    “…during the time Mr. Bloom was writing his book. I never encountered any classes where such a framing was even introduced, let alone argued and promoted”

    I would second this. I am, perhaps to a fault, steeped in those ‘academies.’ At various times between 1969 and 1985, I attended San Francisco State, San Francisco Consevatory, Princeton, Boston University, and Connecticut Wesleyan. I never encountered the paradigm “that there is no principled difference between good and evil.”

    I can’t claim that noone ever suggested such a thing in ‘genuine’ philosophy classes but had it been prevalent I would think I would have at least come across it. Do I smell smoke from a strawman burning?

    Jim51

  27. Chris says:

    Jim, Bloom’s scholarship in that book is notoriously bad. That’s why an argument between Bloom and Harris, also a notoriously bad scholar (just read his writings on terrorism), is sort of pointless.

  28. Michael Heath says:

    Chris:

    Yeah, Harris is a hack, period. […] Harris, also a notoriously bad scholar (just read his writings on terrorism)

    Oh well, I’m convinced. Do you have a cite falsifying his position?

    I read about five to six science books every year and believe I have a good grip on scientific methodology and when its avoided or subverted. I am not encountering a “hack” or “bad scholarship”. In fact he’s presenting empirical findings and then making arguments that do not extend far at all beyond that evidence, but instead is arguing in light of those cited findings.

    Is Moral Landscape made entirely of peer-reviewed findings? No and that misses the point of the book, which essentially argues we should do research in this area with the specific intention of determining how certain behaviors affect well-being.

  29. D.A. Ridgely says:

    *shrug* As I said previously, all I know is what several reviewers noted. Here’s a Harris quote from one such review:

    Many of my critics fault me for not engaging more directly with the academic literature on moral philosophy. There are two reasons why I haven’t done this: First, while I have read a fair amount of this literature, I did not arrive at my position on the relationship between human values and the rest of human knowledge by reading the work of moral philosophers; I came to it by considering the logical implications of our making continued progress in the sciences of the mind. Second, I am convinced that every appearance of terms like “metaethics,” “deontology,” “noncognitivism,” “antirealism,” “emotivism,” etc., directly increases the amount of boredom in the universe. My goal . . . in writing this book is to start a conversation that a wider audience can engage with and find helpful. Few things would make this goal harder to achieve than for me to speak and write like an academic philosopher. Of course, some discussion of philosophy will be unavoidable, but my approach is to generally make an end run around many of the views and conceptual distinctions that make academic discussions of human values so inaccessible. While this is guaranteed to annoy a few people, the professional philosophers I’ve consulted seem to understand and support what I am doing.

    There’s just so much facially silly if not outright confessionally ignorant, lazy and dishonest in that paragraph that I’d hardly know where to begin. Which is why I likened the book’s thesis to the perpetual motion machine. The latter is fantasy, after all, only for someone who misunderstands or intentionally ignores physics, and pretty damned elementary physics at that.

    Sorry, but it all sounds like “impress the rubes” hand waving, to me.

  30. Michael Heath says:

    DAR – I think you make an excellent and convincing point if Harris decided to rely on his own sophistry or some other flawed approach. But that is not what is being done in Moral Landscape. The book doesn’t intend to stop any conservations but instead to amplify a new element from a discipline I respect highly and one we all should – science. Amplifying that element in our discussions of morality should start more conversations and provide a dose of reality many of us who are science fanboys think is much needed in some conservations regarding morality.

    Sorry for thread-jacking this post Jon Rowe given it was dedicated to Bloom’s book.

  31. D.A. Ridgely says:

    I respect science. I respect it so much I have made it a point to understand its limits as well as its uses.

    I’m not trying to stop whatever conversations Harris is trying to have, either. But neither do I wish to participate in them further any more than I would participate in a “how I squared the circle” conversation or a “new evidence the Earth is flat” conversation or a “crystal pyramids cure cancer” conversation.

    As such, this is my very last comment on the subject.

  32. Chris says:

    Michael, if you want to see Harris’ hackness in action, watch the Beyond Belief forum in which he engages Atran on terrorism. When Atran gives him data, Harris dismissed it, because it didn’t fit with his conclusion.

    And by the way, as a scientist, I find it odd to consider science a single discipline (or really, to consider it any one thing at all — what is science?), and at the same time, I find Harris’ work to be severely lacking in scientific discipline.

  33. Michael Heath says:

    DAR:

    I respect science. I respect it so much I have made it a point to understand its limits as well as its uses.

    I’m not trying to stop whatever conversations Harris is trying to have, either. But neither do I wish to participate in them further any more than I would participate in a “how I squared the circle” conversation or a “new evidence the Earth is flat” conversation or a “crystal pyramids cure cancer” conversation.

    I don’t perceive any such arguments in Harris’ book which remotely relate to such types of flawed thinking. In addition his other two books actually argue against that which you subscribe to him.

  34. Michael Enquist says:

    As a materialist, that is, one who acknowledges the fact that everything is made of matter, and that all human actions, thoughts, and feelings are the result of interactions of matter and energy, why shouldn’t I believe that my actions, thoughts and feelings that I label “moral” have a materialistic basis?

    If my moral actions, thoughts and feelings are materialistic, then they can be investigated using the same tool we use to investigate the rest of the material universe: Science.

    Why is that so hard to understand?

  35. D.A. Ridgely says:

    Because it’s wrong.

  36. ppnl says:

    Michael Enquist,

    If my moral actions, thoughts and feelings are materialistic, then they can be investigated using the same tool we use to investigate the rest of the material universe: Science.

    Why is that so hard to understand?

    I don’t think even the most hard core moralist would deny a role for logic and reason. The question is how restrictive can it be?

    For example designing an automobile is an inherently materialistic process yet different people may come up with very different designs. Science can inform us of the consequences of different design choices but it cannot dictate how we should value the different consequences such as cost, fuel efficiency or performance. Science is not restrictive enough to dictate a “best” design. Similarly science may inform us of the consequences of different moral choices (but with far greater difficulty and uncertainty) but it cannot tell us which set of trade offs we should prefer. In the end it boils down to an individual value judgment.

    Another thing I distrust is the landscape analogy. In evolution the “selective landscape” is a concept that I think has been vastly overused and over simplifies evolutionary arguments. Any such selective landscape would have a vast number of dimensions with multidimensional holes and pitfalls. It would also be horribly self referential in that the shape of this part of the landscape would depend on the shape of some other part of the landscape. Because of this complexity the landscape analogy has very treacherous pedagogical value and very little analytical value.

    Now I have not read his book but it is possible that Harris has understood all of this. If so it isn’t clear that he has said anything new. If not he has a long book that totally misses the point. I would have to read it to find out which.

  37. ppnl says:

    D.A. Ridgely,

    This just for you:

    This series stared two of the finest philosophers of the twentieth century.

  38. Michael Enquist says:

    D.A.R.,

    I thought you quit this page ;)

    ppnl,

    “In the end it boils down to an individual value judgment.” How we make individual value judgements will be figured out by science, unless they come from some magic la-la land that science can never reach.

  39. Heidegger says:

    Michael Enquist,

    “As a materialist, that is, one who acknowledges the fact that everything is made of matter, and that all human actions, thoughts, and feelings are the result of interactions of matter and energy…”

    “Fact??” Besides yourself, who “acknowledges” this version of reality? What specific interactions of matter and energy occur to give birth to actions, thoughts, and feelings? There are more than a hundred trillion neuronal connections in the human brain, which is more than every known star in the universe. How precisely do axons, dendrites and the synaptic transmission they generate, produce consciousness in this exceedingly congested electrical neural highway? So let’s say God drops a hundred billion separate neurons in your lap, would you feel competent enough to put it all together to to generate one single thought? And don’t forget, one single neuron can have up to 10,000 synaptic connections. I’ve always thought it quite fanciful when materialists dismiss the consciousness conundrum with a flippant, “it’s all in the brain” answer as if that explains anything, much less, everything. In the meantime, better get a ticket to Stockholm–you’re soon, very soon, going to be copping a Nobel for finally figuring out God’s greatest mystery, the human brain.

    By the way, how in the world would one go about “investigating” a neural basis for morality? And what possible “tools” exist that would be up to such a seemingly insurmountable task?

  40. ppnl says:

    Michael Enquist,

    Well figuring out why some people make certain value judgments does not tell us anything about which is best. And anyway self awareness simply makes the thing self referential and unpredictable again.

    Consider an analogy. Say you developed a computer program that could predict the stock market over the next year. What effect would the existence of that program have on the stock market? The very system you are trying to predict eats information about its future.

    Not that I’m arguing against self awareness. Its just that at the bottom level your choices always are grounded as an unreduced value judgment.

  41. ppnl says:

    Heidegger,

    I think a discussion of strong AI with you would be an exercise in pain and frustration given the way you make arguments against your interest as if they were in your favor.

    If actions, thoughts and feelings are some kind of supernatural gift from God then a hundred billion neurons seems an awful waste of materialistic mechanism. Pointing to the vastness of that network of materialistic mechanism seems a poor way to argue that it isn’t responsible for actions, thoughts and feelings.

  42. Heidegger says:

    You completly misunderstand my comments. I’m not saying or suggesting any such thing. Mr. Enquist stated that that, “all human actions, thoughts, and feelings are the result of interactions of matter and energy…”

    How is that so? Is that also your belief? If so, please explain what specifically occurs, what interactions occur between matter and energy that result in actions, thoughts, and feelings. And who said anything about this being a supernatural act of God?

  43. Chris says:

    I don’t think even Harris is arguing that knowing some or all (right now we know very little) about how we make moral judgments will tell us how we should make moral judgments. I know some have used recent findings about the intuitive nature of moral judgment to argue for a virtue ethics over consequentialism, but even this rather broad, metaethical argument is easy to shoot down by pointing out that the easiest route is not necessarily the most moral route. A stronger argument like the one you seem to be attributing to Harris (incorrectly I think) is impossible to sustain for similar and myriad other reasons, regardless of your metaphysics. And obviously, moral realism itself his hardly testable using the methods of natural science.

  44. ppnl says:

    Heidegger,

    Why did you chop off the head of his quote? In full:

    As a materialist, that is, one who acknowledges the fact that everything is made of matter,…

    He is a materialist. This is his position by definition. It is at least as defensible as any other philosophical position. But this is beside the point.

    I don’t know if there is a rational alternative to materialism. But this is also beside the point.

    I don’t know how or even if neural connections in the brain create consciousness. I don’t know how or even if the Higgs particle gives the electron mass. I know both questions are being looked in to and yes there is probably a trip to Stockholm for the people who figure these things out. And this is also beside the point.

    I only made the simple observation that comments about the vast complexity of the brain has no part in an argument against materialism.

  45. Heidegger says:

    ppnl says: “I only made the simple observation that comments about the vast complexity of the brain has no part in an argument against materialism”…

    Huh?? The materialist is asserting that everything that exists is “matter”. And, the dirty little secret is, matter is not made of matter. There is no such thing as an independent objective reality divorced from observation. Mass and energy at every moment assume the existence of each other. To make such a claim that everything is is ultimately “matter” is to completely ignore the most fundamental aspects of quantum mechanics. In the immortal words of Bohr, “An independent reality, in the ordinary physical sense, can neither be ascribed to the phenomena nor to the agencies of observation.” And to use the unfathomable vastness of the human brain to illustrate this reality only serves as a perfect example that “materialism” is nothing but bunk. Dead on arrival. The complexity of the brain reduces materialism to the school of thought that man never landed on the moon. It’s garbage science.

  46. ppnl says:

    …matter is not made of matter.

    Yeah, good luck with that and sorry I bothered you.

  47. James Hanley says:

    Heidegger:

    There is no such thing as an independent objective reality divorced from observation

    Yeah, that’s what all my post-modernist friends in grad school argued. Funny to hear it coming from a conservative this time.

    TvD:

    Mr. Hanley, I haven’t been at the “academy” for awhile, but I can speak only of an exchange I had with a philosophy prof who said he never read Aquinas because he’d “heard” that Thomas had been “disproven.” This is what Bloom is talking about.

    Good grief. Do you have any understanding of the logical fallacy you’ve committed here?

  48. tom van dyke says:

    Boring, James. Take it up with Bloom or DAR.

    I just read somewhere tauting this as an effective overview of the human brain-as-computer thing from one side. The area is not of great interest to me, but I thought I’d pass it along.

    http://users.ecs.soton.ac.uk/harnad/Papers/Py104/searle.comp.html

  49. Heidegger says:

    James, great to hear from you! Are you back in the Great Lake State? Do you agree that quantum physics destroys materialism? An interesting post for you—should a society protect their artists and keep them out of harms way during war? Thinking of Wittgenstein’s brother whom Ravel composed a left-handed concerto for. I know it smacks of elitism at its worst, but somehow think it can also be a very noble gesture by a society that love its artists. Sorry—too many questions especially if you’re still on the road–like Kerouac….sort of. I think he ended up in Tangiers shooting heroin with Burroughs at some point of his life.

  50. Michael Heath says:

    ppnl:

    Now I have not read his book but it is possible that Harris has understood all of this.

    He does. As I stated previously, he doesn’t take on strawman versions of arguments against his point nor is he avoiding good arguments. He’s instead taking them head-on.

  51. Michael Heath says:

    ppnl:

    Well figuring out why some people make certain value judgments does not tell us anything about which is best.

    We have the ability to measure well-being on many matters, both individually and collectively by various sets. We also already do it all the time.

  52. Heidegger says:

    JamesH–make that Great Lakes State….and also, Tangier. I have a terrible habit of just typing a comment and pressing the submit button without ever rereading it. Sometimes I just cringe with the misspellings and poor grammar not to mention, occasionally, some very odd logic applied to the subject at hand. The problem with editing and rewriting is, for me at least, much of the initial “feeling” can get lost and diluted. And this is, more or less, just an informal conversation, don’t you think?

  53. Heidegger says:

    ppnl, for the life of me, I don’t understand what the hangup is regarding this discussion. You’re the science guy–how could you possibly put yourself in the “materialist” camp? Next thing you’re going to tell me is you’re in the Kool-aid drinking cult that believes in man-made global warming! (just kidding).

    A few thoughts to chew on:

    “I believe that the existence of the classical ‘path’ can be pregnantly formulated as follows: The ‘path’ comes into existence only when we observe it.”
    Werner Heisenberg

    “Planck’s discovery of the elementary quantum of action … revealed a feature of wholeness inherent in atomic physics, going far beyond the ancient idea of the limited divisibility of matter.” Niels Bohr

    We

  54. ppnl says:

    Tom Van Dyke,

    Put the Searle down and step slooooly back…..

    That stuff will rot your brain dude. I have seen it happen. It isn’t pretty.

  55. tom van dyke says:

    Thx, ppnl. Forgive me if I take your dismissal of Searle as an endorsement.

    I didn’t know he was part of this culture war per Bloom. The more vociferously they try to bury him, the more I’m tempted to praise him.

    http://www.ditext.com/searle/searle1.html

  56. mcmillan says:

    My knowledge of QM is pretty much just enough to model the chemical properties I’m interested in, but my understanding is the wave function collapse that was being described by Heisenberg in your first quote can be caused by any kind of interaction. So it’s not giving consciousness some special power that might be implied by use of the word “observe”. I suppose you could argue that the only reason we know that non-conscious things can cause collapse is by watching them, thereby introducing consciousness, but the basic theory doesn’t seem to require that.

    For the second quote I could probably use a bit more context, as well as a better description of what you think it’s saying. But it sounds a little like a description of how things don’t necessarily have a single defined position, which is actually one of the weird and cool quantum effects that my own research relies on. However matter still has specific properties that we can measure. At best it says the distinction between objects is mostly a matter of defining a cutoff for low probability to be essentially zero. In our day to day lives the uncertainty is confined to a small enough region that it’s pretty much irrelevant, it only becomes important for things that are occurring at very small scales. An example from my own work, I’ve seen an effect due to a proton hopping from one part of a protein to another part, but moving the proton by the length of a carbon bond seems to be too far for transfer to occur since it gets rids of the effect.

  57. Chris says:

    Tom, Searle had a written debate with Derrida on language. That hardly makes him part of the culture wars.

    By the way, what he thinks makes consciousness different from other physical things is something biological (this is also where computationalism, at least in the form of strong AI or functionalism, is wrong for Searle). So, he’s not going to get you and your ilk going very far.

    Oh, and the computer metaphor has been an incredibly successful scientific paradigm.

  58. tom van dyke says:

    Read the second link on Searle, Chris. It’s certainly culture war per Bloom, and the left was, typically, howling mad.

    As for the first link, I didn’t take sides, so the “of your ilk” wasn’t necessary. But clearly there’s something here that upsets you, although I suspect it’s more psychological than philosophical. Good day.

  59. ppnl says:

    Well I think Searle rejected traditional materialism and also dualism. He advocated a kind of physicalism that seems indistinguishable from normal materialism except in how it deals with consciousness. Kinda smells like dualism to me. And what is the objectively observable difference between materialism and his physicalism? There does not seem to be one. That is after all the whole point of the Turing test.

    A supernatural dualist may believe in an immortal soul and however right or wrong he is it can at least be internally consistent. Searle is just incoherent from the start.

  60. ppnl says:

    Heidegger,

    ppnl, for the life of me, I don’t understand what the hangup is regarding this discussion. You’re the science guy–how could you possibly put yourself in the “materialist” camp?

    Yeah, like science types are usually unrepentant dualists…

    “I believe that the existence of the classical ‘path’ can be pregnantly formulated as follows: The ‘path’ comes into existence only when we observe it.”
    -Werner Heisenberg

    Not a problem for materialists. In quantum field theory the “material” is not the particles but the particle fields. The individual point like particles we “see” are just a consequence of how those fields interact. It turns out that in any situation in which the particles are not being watched the fields are not interacting in a way to create the particles and their paths.

    Asking where the particle is when nobody is watching is like asking where your shadow is when you turn out the light. (And by someone watching I don’t mean a conscious observer. A rock can be an observer for example. Anything that thermodynamically connects the path of the particle to the rest of the universe.)

  61. D.A. Ridgely says:

    Arguments about ontology are cute.

  62. tom van dyke says:

    ppnl, I appreciate that you seem to have actually read the first Searle essay. That you disagree is just fine. It’s not of interest to me at this point in my life; I forwarded it without comment for those like you who find it in the area of your interest.

    The one thing that I learned from the philosophy prof of my acquaintance whom I mentioned previously was his forwarding an essay about philosophy as bloodsport.

    Some guy gave a presentation, they gave him hell, and afterward, they came up to him saying they were just “fronting” for their own academic and “professional philosopher’s” POV. After all, they each had a “brand,” a POV they were known for. They said they found the presentation interesting and thought-provoking, off the record.

    And so, here we are.

    Y’know, even Plato’s “Socratic dialogues” ain’t socratic atall. Plato’s Socrates has all the answers, and is just setting up his interlocutors. It’s not a joint inquiry atall, not kicking it with a couple beers or some flagons of wine.

    For the record, I find the new research into the mind and brain as interesting as Sam Harris does. But no matter the results, I think they only return to nature vs. nurture, or the Scottish Common Sense Enlightenment’s belief in an innate moral sense, or Hume’s postulation that reason only serves as a weapon for man’s passions. the rationalization thing.

    I’m no adherent of Hume, but the more I hang around here, the more I’ve been thinking he was right about that. And bizarrely, John Calvin would agree.

    This puts this Thomist in a very weird place. On the other hand, if and when man ever finds his better angels via reason, that would be Thomas. And neither I nor Thomas would be surprised to see it turn up on a brainwave analysis. Natural law theory actually depends on it.

    And BTW, ppnl and Chris, Thomas is non-dualistic. I grew up in the Roman Catholic tradition and always thought that man is bifurcated, body and soul, body and spirit, body and whatever-is-transcendent. 12 yrs of Catholic school, plus Catholic college.

    Turns out that not what Thomas Aquinas says atall. That’s some Protestant or Manichean thing. Man is man, no more, no less.

    Mebbe he’s right, mebbe we’re all part of the cosmic consciousness. Mebbe both, mebbe neither. But the bloodsport thing just gets in the way. That’s what “All I know is that I don’t know means.” Philosophy is not bloodsport. That would be stupid because as that great philosopher Jim Morrison noted, no one here gets out alive.

  63. ppnl says:

    D.A. Ridgely,

    Arguments about ontology are cute.

    Yes they are. They are also probably wrong. But that’s ok I don’t choose ontology according to some philosophical commitment to what truth is. I choose ontology for its descriptive power.

    For example some ideas from string theory and quantum gravity suggest that the three dimensional nature of the universe is an illusion. The three dimensional universe we see is a holographic projection of information inscribed on a two dimensional boundary.

    Is this true? Don’t have a clue. It is however useful for thinking about things like the black hole information paradox. If you have a better way to describe black hole entropy I’m all ears. Until then we can both laugh at the cute cartoons we draw to try to understand stuff.

  64. Heidegger says:

    Ah, the Turing test! I forgot about this. Yes, yes, yes,—this is the nail in the coffin for artificial intelligence zealots—-insofar as fooling humans that what they’re communicating with is a real, live human being. They’ve failed miserably. Not even close. It was fun to read the dialogues between man and machine. And to think Marvin Minsky was going to solve the riddles of the universe by creating a godlike machine capable of answering whether or not God exists. Ha! These machines can’t even tell a joke–or at least appreciate one. Brute force Deep Blue was a cosmic cheater—Kasparov would have destroyed him if allowed to play on an even playing field. Have to leave now ppnl–thanks for the reply–the particle/wave reality is a reality that exists deep, deep in the microcosmic level of existence. Without question, though, God is not a materialist. If he was, he’d have to be an atheist.

  65. Heidegger says:

    Are Hindu and Buddhist notions about the illusion of reality as something separate from everything else the same as quantum reality?

  66. Michael Enquist says:

    The interesting thing is I agree with ppnl and Michael Heath more than I agree with where I thought I was going to go with my own comments.

  67. Michael Enquist says:

    “Any sufficiently analyzed magic is indistinguishable from science!”

  68. Chris says:

    Tom, my point about your “ilk” is that, while Searle is a realist, he’s also a physicalist, though not a reductionist (his views of language are also very Wittgensteinian, via Austin). In short, he’s exactly the sort of philosopher who doesn’t read Aquinas, perhaps not because he thinks Aquinas has been refuted, but because he thinks he doesn’t need Aquinas, and who’s typical of the 20th century turn towards secularism and scientific realism. He hasn’t written extensively on ethics, but what he has written about has largely been of the sort of neo-positivist bent that you’d find in most analytic philosophers, building his ethics on naturalism and his philosophy of language (and social reality). He’s not a “postmodernist,” to be sure, and it’s not surprising that as an analytic philosopher he would find a great deal to agree with in the sorts of things that Bloom and other critics of the humanities (read: literature and cultural studies departments) write. Of course, this belies both those critics’ and your larger point, because folks like Searle have dominated American philosophy (and science, and for the most part, social science, excluding perhaps some anthropology) departments for the better part of a century. If Searle is on the right side of the culture war, then so are the vast majority of the folks in the university, because he’s pretty representative.

    To quote one of Searle’s intellectual heroes, “about what one can not speak, one must remain silent.” I often wish, Tom, that you’d read more Wittgenstein, or at least #7.

    By the way, while I think the Chinese Room argument, the argument for which he is most famous, is wrong (I’m with Dennett when he calls it sophistry in his BBS response), I think Searle is a serious philosopher, one of the most influential within the philosophy of mind, and also an important figure in the philosophy of language of the last 40 years, and I think it’s silly to simply dismiss him. His writings are, for the most part, interesting, insightful, and one can learn a great deal from them, even if one disagrees. I say this as someone who works in the same broad field as Searle, who has published in phil of mind (from, it should be noted, a computationlist, though not a strong AI perspective, because for the most part, no one holds that view anymore), and who has taught Searle’s work on occassion. Also, lest the culture warrior in you be offended, I don’t cite Dennett approvingly because of his recent writings on religion. I’ve been citing that BBS response for about 15 years now, which means since long before Dennett threw his hat into the new atheism arena, and I don’t particularly like Dennett’s philosophy or his writings on religion.

  69. Chris says:

    Oh, and Aquinas was most certainly a mind-body dualist. What nonsense have you been reading that suggests that Aquinas didnt’ think the soul was separable from the body? It’s true that Aquinas thought that the soul was a different thing without the body (that is, our identity as a person is soul and body, so that when we die, we have a different identity), but he did think the soul was separate from the body (and that it was non-physical), so that’s not monism, that’s just a theologically strange peripatetic dualism.

  70. Heidegger says:

    Mr. McMillan–great that you have joined this conversation! I think your field of expertise is evolutionary biology(?). A while ago we had a conversation about opposable thumbs and while common among primates, it was my contention that humans’ opposable thumbs are so far, far, far and away superior to that of other primates that it was probably the main reason we evolved in such a different direction.

    You know that great quantum physicist, Yogi Berra, oddly enough seems to have gotten it right if I understand QM correctly. His line, “when you get to the fork in the road, take it.” Isn’t that precisely what actually happens at the quantum level of molecular activity? That particle and wave exist almost simultaneously and cannot be positively identified as either. Of course, one of the main tenets of physics is that no two things can occupy the same space at any moment in the entire universe. Where does this fit in with quantum reality? Have to run now–good to hear from you and thanks for the reply.

    p.s. Yikes! We haven’t even begun to get into “Schrödinger’s cat”. Wonder what Yogi has to say about that!

  71. Heidegger says:

    Can we invite Schopenhauer into this conversation?

    “The one-highest Godhead
    Subsisting in each being
    And living when they perish–
    Who this has seen, is seeing.
    For he who has that highest God in all things found
    That man will of himself upon himself inflict no wound.”

    Schopenhauer

  72. D.A. Ridgely says:

    I wasn’t going to jump back into these murky waters, but Chris’s mostly correct comments prompt a few quibbles.

    As between Searle and Dennett, I find myself almost always leaning in Searle’s direction. If the infamous Chinese Room doesn’t prove what it is supposed to be intended by Searle to have proved — and it probably doesn’t; what philosophical argument is, after all, bullet proof? — let it be said that I think Searle is on the money in his criticism of Dennett’s infelicitously (read: fraudulently) titled Consciousness Explained. (By the way, I once toyed with writing a paper posing the question whether and to what extent Searle versus Dennett is or can be characterized as Austin versus Ryle, redux.) But these are just philosophical disagreements. On with the quibbles.

    Austin said he wasn’t all that influenced by Wittgenstein and I think we should take him at his word. It was doubtlessly hard to be an Oxford philosopher in a generation where the lion’s share, nay, the entire jungle’s share of attention was focused on Cambridge. Still, if Searle has been influenced by Wittgenstein (and he obviously has), I don’t think it’s quite correct to say Searle’s philosophy of language is Wittgensteinian via Austin so much as that it is or was Austinian modified by Wittgenstein. As I said, a quibble.

    Also, yes, Searle is representative of the non-postmodern 20th century scholar; but while that’s true of most 20th century philosophers, the PoMo crowd is concentrated by far more heavily in English and foreign language departments, anthropology and sociology departments and, of course, anything trivial and politicized enough to end in “Studies.” Besides, most scholars are probably noncombatants in the culture wars, anyway. Squeaky wheels and all that, you know?

    I can think of few things I would advise against more strongly than most of our readers picking up a copy of the Tractatus. And while I stand guilty of having quoted its philosophically famous conclusion, I can at least offer the excuse that I studied Wittgenstein in graduate school.

    Which is really why — Chris, who has done his homework, aside — I snarked about ontology discussions. Philosophers have those arguments because that’s what philosophers do, Gawd help them. But even when Mr. Hanley tries to explain why he insists he is a materialist, I genuinely find myself wondering what the hell you people are talking about and, more importantly, why? Do the atheists and secularists among you really think that epistemological naturalism or metaphysical materialism (as opposed to what? idealism? dualism?) protects you against the religious crowd like garlic against vampires? Do you theists really think you need to insist upon dualism or idealism or whatever in your squabbles with godless humanist atheists, lest God will reprove you on Judgment Day for heretical metaphysics?

    More years ago than I care to remember, I was discussing philosophy with a small circle of undergraduates when, more or less out of the blue, an attractive young lady announced, “I am a Thomist.” Now, I later came to understand that what she was really trying to articulate was her belief that the Roman Catholic Church’s teachings were, because divinely inspired, the truth. She probably even had read a smattering of Aquinas, as far as that goes.

    But what she certainly had not done as a sophomore in college was study the classical Greek philosophers, and not only Plato and Aristotle (whom one could fairly say Aquinas often merely copied from, only replacing “nature” with “God”) but also the neo-Platonists who had previously dominated Christian theological circles. And even if she had, she certainly hadn’t studied the history of philosophy after Aquinas, hadn’t grappled with modern philosophy as it found fault with Thomism, with the classical empiricists as they critiqued rationalism or Kant’s attempted reconciliation of the two or that dreadful sink hole of Hegelian idealism out of which Marxism, phenomenology and analytic philosophy emerged. She was unaware of the rise and fall of logical positivism, of the near cult like explosion of first generation Wittgenstein scholarship, of American classical and post-classical pragmatism and of how in varying ways all of these schools of thought both built upon even as they challenged the foundations of the philosophical works that had come before them. Including Thomism.

    She did not, you understand, have a philosophical position or opinion. She had non-philosophical beliefs on the basis of which she believed she should adhere to this philosophical position or that. But her claim, removed from the context I described above, wasn’t so much (in fact, wasn’t at all) the conclusion of philosophical deliberation as the assertion that Thomism must be “true” on non-philosophical grounds. Which is more or less what is going on here in these, um, cute arguments about ontology.

    (For the record, she has long since abandoned Thomism, but she still harbors a number of philosophically peculiar notions. I married her anyway.)

  73. Heidegger says:

    DAR—

    Okay, what do you think would be the greatest metaphorical philosophical steel cage match of all time? Kant vs. Schopenhauer? Jesus vs. Hitchens? Dandies, both. Jesus would win, on points, though, as long as Chris wasn’t the referee. Hitch would have to tap out when Jesus declares, “My kingdom is not of this world!”

  74. D.A. Ridgely says:

    You know, Heidegger, it is becoming increasingly difficult to read your comments without hearing calliope music in the background.

  75. Heidegger says:

    HA!! Here I am, serenading the lovely, buxom, sirens.

  76. Chris says:

    DAR, I think I’ve mentioned this before, because it really is one of my favorite quotes ever, but Thomas Nagel once described Dennett as “Gilbert Ryle meets Scientific American.” It’s funny because it’s true. Anyway, just to be clear, I would tend to side with Searle as well, except on the Chinese Room argument, because I think it is sophistry: it doesn’t prove what it intends to prove because it doesn’t even argue what it intends to argue. It’s just hand-waving in a particularly memorable way. That said, I don’t think consciousness is reducible to behavior (that is, I don’t think heterphenomenology does what Dennett thinks it does), or to physical processes (I’m not a reductionist, period), and I think qualia or something like them present important and largely unsolved problems. That’s not to say that I ultimately buy Searle’s own view of consciousness, simply that if forced to choose between him and Dennett, I’d choose Searle, because I think he’s right more often than Dennett.

    Also, I’ve been listening to Searle’s philosophy of language course (which is available online here), and if anyone’s interested in the subject, I recommend checking it out. If you’ve taken a course on the subject before, you may find Searle’s to be a bit limited, as he has a perspective and he’s teaching from it, by which I mean a large portion of what he discusses is Searle’s philosophy of language, but even so, it’s interesting to hear him explain it and related work (Grice, Austin, Russell, etc.).

    On your broader point, I’m generally in agreement. I’m not fond of people espousing positions without doing the necessary footwork to know, at the very least, what the hell that position entails, if not what the major counter-positions are, as well as the arguments for and against them. This has been my major criticism of the “new atheists.” They’ve all adopted a controversial position, which ranges from a sort of vulgar Ayerian-positivism to outright scientism (of the “science is the only route to knowledge” variety), and go around saying things like, “Science and religion are incompatible” without any real idea of what science, religion, and “incompatible” might mean in this context, to say nothing of their complete ignorance (often willful) of the epistemological and metaphysical responsibilities this position, if it is at all a meaningful one, would place on their shoulders. Still, I don’t have a problem with people who don’t really have the time or resources to do their homework adopting philosophical positions at least for cocktail party conversation and generally getting through the day. It’s only when they start writing books, or posts on widely read, otherwise scholarly/academic blogs (where they might be seen as authorities), that I have a problem with it.

    And finally, another marriage born of vulgar Thomism! If I had a dime for ever one of those I’d heard about…

  77. Chris says:

    Heidegger, sometimes you outdo yourselves in ways that are impossible to foresee.

    By the way, why would it be Kant vs. Schopenhauer?

  78. ppnl says:

    The problem with Searle is that he accepts that a computer can pass a Turing test but claims that it is only a simulation and is not really conscious. But how do we tell the difference? He attributes consciousness to some strange substance or process with the causal power (what the heck is a “causal power”?) to produce it. But how do we recognize it? How do we even recognize its absence? For example maybe a computational process is exactly Searle’s mysterious process.

    Searle:

    Perhaps other physical and chemical processes could produce exactly these effects; perhaps, for example, Martians also have intentionality but their brains are made of different stuff. That is an empirical question, rather like the question whether photosynthesis can be done by something with a chemistry different from that of chlorophyll.

    But again how can we tell? Do we do a seance on a chemical reaction? Comparing it to photosynthesis is precious but merely point to the vacuity of his position. Photosynthesis takes in substances and transforms them into other substances. It is defined by what it does and recognized by watching it do it. What is intentionality and how do you recognize it? If you had a candidate process that you suspected was responsible for intentionality what test would you run on it? He calls it an empirical question on the one hand and removes any chance of an empirical grasp on the problem on the other hand.

    Searle tells us that martians may be conscious despite being made of a different stuff. Ok but then they also might not be. They might not be despite developing an industrial civilization more advanced than ours. Say we develop a mind-o-meter that registers the presence of intentionality and it tells us that martians do not have minds. Can we kill them and take their stuff? After all we know they don’t actually feel pain no matter how much they scream as we burn them. Their apparent love for their children and horror at seeing them slaughtered is only an imitation, a grotesque parody of the real thing caused by the fact that evolution chose the wrong substance or process to build their brains.

    I do not know how to handle the the problem of qualia and am not at all sure Dennet has the correct answer. But Dennet is at least internally consistent. Searle? Jesus Christ….

  79. tom van dyke says:

    Thank you for what became a productive and enlightening discussion, gentlemen.

    As a matter of housekeeping, Searle does refine Bloom’s argument, and condemns the partisanship of the academic establishment, where there are good guys and bad guys, “our side” and “theirs.”

    http://www.ditext.com/searle/searle1.html

    And Thomas is not a dualist.

    “because it is one and the same man who is conscious both that he understands and that he senses. But one cannot sense without a body, and therefore the body must be some part of man.” (Summa Theologiae Ia 76, 1).

    Again, thank you. I trouble you with my presence and stir the pot for selfish reasons–I learn things here.

  80. Chris says:

    ppnl, there’s nothing inconsistent or incoherent about that position. All Searle is arguing is that consciousness, by its very nature, is the product of a system rather than individual components. That’s why a simple program can only simulate it: without the system in which the representations are given some kind of meaning, or experience, there is nothing more than the mere representation. He expresses it much better every time he leaves the Chinese Room out of it, because the Chinese Room has an interpreter in it, just not a very good one. But the basic point is hardly inconsistent, much less incoherent, and would in no way rule out answering that empirical question.

  81. Chris says:

    Tom,

    “because it is one and the same man who is conscious both that he understands and that he senses. But one cannot sense without a body, and therefore the body must be some part of man.”

    This does not make him a non-dualist (much less a monist). As I said, he believes that the soul-body combo is an individual, however, the soul is separable from the individual, that is, from the soul-body combo, and it is only the soul that is eternal, even if after the separation it is not the same individual, because the soul only functions in this world as part of the combo. This is dualism. I’m not sure how it could be more clear.

  82. tom van dyke says:

    Fine, Chris. It’s just terms. Terms are not concepts. We agree on the concept, that’s the important thing, I would think.

  83. Chris says:

    His dualism isn’t really distinguishable from Descartes, who, it should be noted, also believed that the body did all of the sensing and moving. Sensing and moving are just mechanical processes for Descartes. Yet Descartes is the dualist. And it’s not surprising that Descartes’ mind-body dualism would look like Aquinas’ mind-body dualism, since Descartes was a student of the Scholastics.

  84. tom van dyke says:

    Ok, I see where you’re going with this, Chris. I was referring generally to the nature of man;

    http://www.aquinasonline.com/Topics/soul.html

    and you’re working in your area of expertise, the science of mind. However,
    Aquinas still is not Descartes, who is easily “disproven.”

    http://www.newdualism.org/papers/D.Oderberg/HylemorphicDualism2.htm

    This has not been an area of interest to me, so I can’t hold up my end, especially with an expert such as yourself. But I shall read up. Thank you.

  85. James Hanley says:

    I point out TvD’s logical fallacy, and his response is a non-sequiter. Maybe it’s because I’ve just finished flying for twenty hours, but I think this just illustrates once again what a complete fraud our loyal SoCal conservative commenter is.

    For christ’s sake, TvD plays at being a philosopher yet he fails repeatedly to comprehend the most basic concepts of logical thinking and analysis. He wants to pretend that he’s superior to just about every academic philosopher out there, but he makes inferences about the academy from a single case. I actually know some academic philosophers, and not one of them operates at the amateurish level of our own local fraud.

    Quit running from your errors and mistakes, van Dyke. In short, grow up.

  86. tom van dyke says:

    James, you avoid Bloom, Tom West, Searle, and of course as soon as you got some pushback, DAR; indeed you avoid all substance and relevance, and that’s hard to do.

    Adding anecdotal support to Bloom’s argument isn’t a fallacy of any kind, James.

    I used to credit you with at least being a competent sophist, but I was wrong.

  87. Heidegger says:

    Welcome back, Mr. James! I’m puzzled–why the constant, endless vitriol directed toward TvD? He seems like a great guy, very well read, articulate, good-natured, funny–there must be some history there. I always assumed I was at the top of your, “most despised” list–now it looks as though TvD is going to give me a run for my money. Clearly though, by a good margin, I believe I still have the edge.

    By the way, you didn’t point out TvD’s logical fallacy at all. Your statement was, “Do you have any understanding of the logical fallacy you’ve committed here?” That was it—no further detail at all about what the actual fallacy was.

  88. Heidegger says:

    Tom—Mr. Hanley, in his last post, characterized you as, “our loyal SoCal conservative…” Do you teach at USC? Could it be a battle of institutions–Adrian vs. USC? For the most part, USC is a very conservative school so I’d put my money on that as being the cause of his frequent hostile remarks.

  89. tom van dyke says:

    Mr. Heidegger, I’m not an academic atall. And though I appreciate your judicious words on my behalf, James’ reappearance ensures that this thread is no longer worthwhile, at least for me. See ya around.

  90. Heidegger says:

    Tom, say it ain’t so! You’re leaving me in this lion’s den? It certainly seems other folks here enjoy your discourse–maybe James is just experiencing a particularly bad case of jet lag and is mistaking you for someone else like, maybe, Krauthammer or Hannity.

  91. ppnl says:

    Chris,

    All Searle is arguing is that consciousness, by its very nature, is the product of a system rather than individual components.

    And a computer is not a product of a system rather than individual components? I don’t understand.

    That’s why a simple program can only simulate it…

    Snarky commint: How about a complex program?

    Less snarkily I think the gratuitous use of the word “simple” here betrays a psychological predisposition (Not just in you. In all of us.) to discount the possibility that anything that is understandable can be responsible for consciousness. The result is that an explanation of consciousness will recede before us as if we were chasing a rainbow. Even if we develop a “simple” program that can pass the Turing test it “obviously” isn’t conscious.

    …without the system in which the representations are given some kind of meaning, or experience, there is nothing more than the mere representation.

    Epistemological question: How do… no, how CAN you know? If a “simple” program can pass a Turing test on what empirical basis can you deny that it is conscious? Sure you can say that according to some theory it isn’t conscious but how do you test that theory empirically?

    Ontological question: What is this “meaning” stuff that You speak of? How do I measure it? What units is it measured in? Can I order a meaning-o-meter from radioshack? Does it come with the context calibrator?

    Before 1950 or so the field of information theory was a waste land because there was no precise definition of information. Claude Shannon developed a precise definition of information that every digital device in the modern world is based on. But the interesting thing is that he did this by purging any concept of “meaning” from his definition of information. “Meaning” was a metaphysical swamp that had the whole field stuck in the mud.

    Now you are allowed to believe that there is some definition of “meaning” that will make it a measurable property of a system and in fact Shannon never claimed that there was no such definition. What you cannot do is simply assume it as obvious while refusing to provide that precise definition or even defend the assumption. The work and the genius would be in working out the definition not in simply assuming it.

    He expresses it much better every time he leaves the Chinese Room out of it, because the Chinese Room has an interpreter in it, just not a very good one. But the basic point is hardly inconsistent, much less incoherent, and would in no way rule out answering that empirical question.

    The Chinese room makes his error obvious but it is the same error he makes everywhere. Unless he can show how his idea can be tested empirically he does not even have a coherent theory to criticize.

    What test could even in principle prove him right?

  92. Chris says:

    ppnl, you’re playing fast and loose with terminology here. There are terms for computational complexity that have more to them than informational complexity, and simple is a pretty well defined term. What’s more, we’re dealing with intentionality (which we can use instead of meaning), and as Shannon himself admits (in the first paragraph or so of the original paper, if I remember correctly), information theoretic information and the information contained in things like language and mental representation, that is, intentional informaiton, are different things entirely. Shannon doesn’t intend to, and can’t, model intention. And since Searle is pretty clear that’s what he’s talking about, I think we can at least start there.

    So, simple isn’t meant in a “psychological” sense, but a formal one, and software is not a system for our purposes. A system, in this case, is a body, a “mind,” and an environment, or hardware, software, and a world in which they’re situated, and this is what Searle, and many others, argue are required for consciousness. And there are good reasons for this, that Searle describes in much of his work, and that you’ll also find in many other philosophers of mind, phenomenologists, neural network folks, dynamic systems folks, etc.

    And this complexity doesn’t make consciousness mysterious in an impenenetrable way. Consciousness is mysterious, because it’s not like other physical phenomena in that we can’t access it from a third person perspective, but it’s not impenetrably so. It may even be possible to produce artificial conscious agents, though when Searle wrote that paper 30 years ago, in response to a particular type of AI (“strong AI”), the sorts of intelligent agents that might be capable of consciousness were only beginning to be conceived (Robert Brooks, for example, had only strated publishing a year before). Now we have distributed agents, network robotics, artificial life, and other situated, embodied agents that are designed specifically to get at these issues. They may turn out not to be the right route, but they at least make it clear that there are other routes.

    ppnl, first off, complexity, system, program, etc., have clearly defined meanings in this context (e.g.). The complexity of a program, at least as far as we can conceive of them at this point (and there are clearly defined meanings to this sort of thing) is nothing like biological complexity. What’s more, for our purposes, a program is not a system. It’s not inconceivable that artificial intelligence could constitute a system of the sort that Searle requires, but it wouldn’t be just a program. It would look more like the distributed computing, artificial life (situated, embodied agents), network robotics, etc., which were explicitly designed to overcome the problems with traditional artificial intelligence, namely that they weren’t embodied, situated, adaptive, emergent, and so on. It wouldn’t be just the software, which is what strong AI was all about.

    Now, information theoretic information and the sort of information that is contained in, say, language or mental representations are clearly different (something Shannon admits in that first paper, right there at the beginning if I remember correctly), so we’re clearly dealing with different things. Meaning, in this context, is of course something to do with intention, which is the very problem we (or Searle) started with, of course. Information theory doesn’t deal with intention. And the complexity is more than simple informational complexity.

    Complexity doesn’t have to make consciousness mysterious. It is pretty mysterious, but that’s largely a product of our current ignorance, not of something inherently different about consciousness. At least, Searle would say this (or something like it), even if he would admit that it is something inherently different (as would many philosophers of mind) from other physical phenomena, because it is only accessible by the conscious agent.

    But it’s not just complexity, it really is the system. What Searle, or phenomenologists, neural network folks, etc., argue is that it is the embodied, situated nature of a

  93. Heidegger says:

    Chris, that’s very impressive. Astoundingly impressive.
    Personally, I’m currently on the verge of a breakdown–Bell’s Theorem has reduced/expanded the entire structure of the universe so that two particles can behave identically, simultaneously at opposite ends of the universe! If you have a free moment, I’d love to hear your take on this subject–Bell’s Theorem. Does Bell throw Einstein under the proverbial bus(this reality necessarily means particles travel faster than the speed of light) or is this just an a logical extension of Einstein’s space-time? Lost in space…HELP!!

  94. James Hanley says:

    TvD–You think Searle is relevant to my argument about your logical fallacy?

    Heidegger–If you can’t figure out the logical fallacy of making inferences from a single (dubious) case, then you need to engage in some study of logic. I’m not interested in being your remedial education teacher.

  95. Michael Heath says:

    Ed Brayton posted
    on Jon’s blog post here at his site.

    I added the following comment at Ed’s posting after perusing the book; the following is supportive of my first comment at Ed’s post which resembles my first comment in this thread.

    I was skimming Closing some more and Bloom dishonestly frames an observation to insinuate that all contemporary (in his youth, mid-1940s) social scientists taught Marx but not Adam Smith or Locke. He uses one of his undergrad classes to paint a picture of all social scientists. (1)

    This is especially ironic since U. of Chicago where he attended is home to ‘freshwater economists’ who tend to be the right of ‘saltwater economists’. IIRC correctly this parsing was non-existent when Bloom attended as an undergrad but it was certainly true during the mid-80s when he wrote his book attempting to criticize the modern state of education.

    My experience with Karl Marx and Adam Smith at MSU and [now engaging with others at ScienceBlogs and other venues] was [and is] analogous to how biology classes teach Jean-Baptiste Lamarck and Charles Darwin. They don’t teach any of their stuff as viable models since their respective disciplines have moved well past all of them; they instead provide some historical perspective so students better appreciate the history of the discipline and the contributions by its founders where Lamarck and Marx’s theories were reported to have failed miserably while Darwin and Smith’s eventually succeeded, the latter only with the rise of the regulatory state with a social safety net. [brackets added in this post only – MH]

    Also note that once again Bloom relates a personal observation as representative of an entire population, only this time he projects that same defective observation forward 40 years.

    1) Page 208 of the 1st edition paperback (First Touchstone Edition).

  96. James Hanley says:

    Also note that once again Bloom relates a personal observation as representative of an entire population, only this time he projects that same defective observation forward 40 years

    Other than the projecting forward 40 years part, that’s precisely what TvD did.

  97. Heidegger says:

    Professor Hanley–the check’s in the mail, that is, your reimbursement for being my teacher/guru. However, personally, I’d be much more interested in studying anti-logic. Or would it be called, “non-logic”? Hey, if there is such a thing as anti-matter why not anti-logic? My, my, just think of the rewards such a subject could bestow…not to brag, but I might even a leg up on this particular discipline. And please, I beg of you, check out Bell’s Theorem–your world will change forever!

  98. Heidegger says:

    Almost forgot. When reading any of my comments, this MUST be the proper background music! Enjoy, all.

  99. Jon Rowe says:

    For Carnival music I prefer Life is a Carnival:

  100. James Hanley says:

    Heidegger,

    I think you missed the part where I said I’m not interested in being your teacher.

  101. Heidegger says:

    Jon,
    Ha, another Band fan! They’re or I should say, were, a great band.
    Did you ever see, The Last Waltz? If you haven’t definitely see it–think you’d really enjoy it–very, very good performances by many musicians–certainly the best rock film I’ve ever seen–Neil Young is just fabulous. And Spinal Tap is the funniest rock film I’ve ever seen. Calling it a “rock” film though doesn’t really do it justice since it’s a blisteringly funny parody of rock bands/culture/pretensions. They’re performance in a mall has to be the funniest scene in the history of movies!

    Jon, the best of luck to you in your new journey. Unfortunately, I’m too much of a cynical, doubting Thomas to embrace these kinds of things. I once did have a deep obsession with Buddhism–Zen Buddhism, actually. To to the point that I was all set to join (which I did) a monastery in California–a real zealot, to be sure. Well, things didn’t go too well. As a matter of fact, they kicked me out after only five days–and I was already to stay for a whole year. They said I lacked the discipline and was too disruptive. Looking back, it was probably just as well–the most valuable lesson I learned was that I would be bored with bliss. Thoroughly. My personality is much too flighty to be able to wholeheartedly give myself over to something I’m so deeply skeptical about. Of course, that wasn’t the end of my “monastic” life. Next stop was a Trappist monastery. A very beautiful one, located in Colorado, not too far from Aspen. Pretty much the same story, although I didn’t get kicked out. Lesson learned: I get bored much too easily with prolonged periods of “inwardness”. Speaking of which, the idea of reincarnation seems like a god-awful nightmare. One lifetime of being this person is more than enough! In any case, Godspeed your voyage.

  102. Jon Rowe says:

    H: Yes, I’ve seen The Last Waltz many many times. I heard Neil Young was so coked up that they had to “color in” the film to remove it from his lips. But that might be an urban myth. Robbie R. seemed prophetic: The road is a goddamned impossible way of life (Rick and Richard RIP).

  103. Jon Rowe says:

    H: I wonder, during that time, did you regularly meditate?

  104. Heidegger says:

    Jon, a Neil Young story for you.

    When I was living in Boston, I developed maniacal obsession with an instrument called a glass harmonica. (Yes, another obsession–seem to bounce from one to another) As luck would have it, one of the two manufacturers in the world that make this instrument was located a few miles from Boston. Gerhard Finkenbeiner was his name–he mysteriously disappeared when I went to his store–still don’t know what happened to him. In any case, so I enter the showcase room and who’s in there trying out glass harmonicas–none other than Neil Young! I almost dropped–he couldn’t have been a nicer guy. We had a nice talk about music (guess what–he LOVES Bach) and other things. He put up with all my questions, requests, silliness-I prodded, begged, “please, please, Mr. Young, just sing seven words for me”–he said, what are they?—I told him, and in the incredible distinctive voice of his, out comes, “There is a town in North Ontario”. Could not believe I was hearing this. Just love that song-“Helpless”. Like I said, he’s a really great guy. As it turned out, the reason he was checking out glass harmonicas was because he has a special needs son who happened to be quite fascinated with the instrument. So, that’s my Neil Young story.

    On another note, did you know that none other than Ben Franklin invented this instrument? He called it a “Glass Armonica”—is there anything in this world our greatest Founder could not do? A very interesting history to this instrument–at one time it was even banned for causing “madness”…

    Here’s some Mozart for you–just don’t go MAD!

  105. ppnl says:

    Chris,

    ppnl, you’re playing fast and loose with terminology here.

    I am? My whole point is that you (Or searle) are playing fast and loose with terminology.

    There are terms for computational complexity that have more to them than informational complexity, …

    Yes there are. There is for example Kolmogorov complexity that is related to one of Shannon’s information definition. There is complexity from chaos theory which deals with predictability. Chaitin (co-discoverer of Kolmogorov complexity) claims this should be renamed simplicity. There is computation class complexity that deals with the time and memory requirements of different algorithm. You don’t talk about complexity without making clear what exactly you are talking about.

    What’s more, we’re dealing with intentionality (which we can use instead of meaning),…

    And as I pointed out you have no definition here. We have no meaning-o-meter or intentionality-o-meter if you prefer.

    …and simple is a pretty well defined term.

    No. No it isn’t. I assumed that you were just using the colloquial meaning. If you intended something more precise you need to say what. You are playing fast and loose with a term that has no useful definition.

    …and as Shannon himself admits (in the first paragraph or so of the original paper, if I remember correctly), information theoretic information and the information contained in things like language and mental representation, that is, intentional informaiton, are different things entirely. Shannon doesn’t intend to, and can’t, model intention. And since Searle is pretty clear that’s what he’s talking about, I think we can at least start there.

    And this is exactly the point I made. Shannon did not deal with meaning or intentionality because they are not well defined. You (and Searle) continue to use them as if they were. They are not well defined and they may never have precise definitions in the way information does. Or maybe they will but the work is in developing that definition not in simply assuming that there must be one.

    It’s not inconceivable that artificial intelligence could constitute a system of the sort that Searle requires, but it wouldn’t be just a program. It would look more like the distributed computing, artificial life (situated, embodied agents), network robotics, etc., which were explicitly designed to overcome the problems with traditional artificial intelligence, namely that they weren’t embodied, situated, adaptive, emergent, and so on.

    And this just seems confused to me. You have thrown out four more undefined terms and ended with an “…and so on.” which promises more. I have no clue why a program can’t be all of these things. I cannot help but think you just have a very narrow understanding of what a program is.

  106. Chris says:

    Ppnl, by complexity, I mean computation, neural, and biological (I have, by the way, published on Kolmogorov complexity in the context of comparison). By intentionality, I mean the concept, in use since Brentano, that means roughly “directedness.” As a central concept in philosophy of mind, it is much debated, but it is certainly not meaningless. Intentionality is, I’ll admit, another problem for reductionists, but that doesn’t mean reductionists can simply dismiss it, and it certainly doesn’t rule out scientific/philosophical explanations of consciousness, or make it somehow mysterious. By situated, embodied, distributed, extended, dynamic systems, etc., I mean the concepts as they’re commonly used in the phil of mind, cognition (and perception and sensorimotor), robotics, and A.I./A.L.literatures. These refer to classes of paradigms, models, and agents that are more (or perhaps less) than representations + syntax. Representations plus syntax, or discrete information states and the rules that operate over them, is of course exactly what classic (including strong) A.I., Searle, and in the context, I mean by a program. With the possible exception of dynamic systems theories (of cognition, at least, if not perception), there is little that is mysterious about any of this, and what is mysterious is so because of our current ignorance, not because the concepts are inherently so.

    Your central claim, which is patently false, is that when Searle says that a program, that is representations + syntax, cannot produce but can only simulate consciousness, he’s merely making consciousness mysterious or unexplainable. If the only way to explain consciousness were through such models, then you would be right. But of course, there are other ways, and one of the things that researchers who, I promise you, know a hell of a lot more about this than you do, have realized over the last 30 years (that is, since Searle published the Chinese Room paper), is that consciousness doesn’t arise in a (computational) vacuum. That is, it arises in the interaction between goal-directed agents and the environment. This, in a particularly sloppy way back then, is essentially what Searle was saying. And there is no way that a strong A.I. program can reproduce that. Embodied, situated agents, which are just programs, might to the point of producing consciousness or something like it, and Searle admits this in later works. But programs, of the type I’ve been describing, are not complex systems by definition. They can be computationally complex, but that’s not going to cut it.

  107. ppnl says:

    Sorry Chris but I cannot see that you have done anything but toss out buzz words. You claim they are well defined but I can’t even tell if you know what a formal definition is. Information is so solidly defined that I can buy it by the gigabyte. It connects to concepts from physics like entropy. Until you can give a definition of intentionality with mathematical equations that allow me to see it as a physical property of a system I will continue to claim that it is not defined. I mean really “…by complexity, I mean computation, neural, and biological …” is totally useless to me.

    In any case I think this blog is being abandoned so I think we should wrap it up here.

  108. Chris says:

    ppnl, first, these aren’t buzz words, but as James is fond of saying, I’m not here to educate you. If you want to do a little research, I’d be happy to point you to references, but since I have a pretty good idea where you’re coming from, I think that’d be a waste of both of our time.

    On that point, now we see where you’re coming from (which I anticipated in my last comment). You’re a hard-core, vulgar physicalist. However, that’s a problem here: intentionality is not a physical property (intentions have truth values, physical properties do not have truth values). It is not reducible to physical properties. This, of course, is part of Searle’s point, but it’s also the point of a whole hell of a lot of other philosophers. You may not like it, because of your metaphysical commitments, but not sharing your philosophically naïve metaphysical commitments does not make something nonsensical or incoherent or mysterious… at least not to anyone but you and those who share your philosophically naïve metaphysical commitments (that is, vulgar physicalism and scientism).

    Also, I know damn well what information theoretic information is. And we’re not talking about (only) information-theoretic information. In fact, the whole friggin’ point is that a system that is just information-theoretic information (which representation + syntax programs are) isn’t enough. Since you want to keep harping on information theoretic information, or want something like it, it’s quite clear that the point has gone completely over your head, likely as a result of the fact that your philosophical commitments.

    And that will be my last word on the issue on this blog. Adios.

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