March 22, 2005

New heroes and allies

I think that any philosophy done in abstentia of science is bull shit--you might as well be picking your ass.

That is not to say that philosophy is the hand maiden of the sciences as was suggested by AJ Ayer. Rather philosophy and science are continuous. Though it seems that you can get a lot further in science ignoring philosophy than I think you can in philosophy ignoring science, I don't think that scientists should ignore philosophy. There is an important role for philosophy to try to understand the results of science, to figure out how to fit those results into our way of thinking and the way we live our lives, and to watch out for the fallacious conclusions that scientists sometimes draw from their work. In essence, one of the jobs of philosophy is to pursue the questions that arise from science which scientists seems so ill-equipped to answer--what does it all mean? But the notion that we can really figure out stuff about the world--even the world inside--sitting in our arm chairs is just preposterous. If there was ever any great use for arm chair commandos, it has long been exhausted. But all that means is that we have to regularly get off our fat arses and leave the philosopher's study, read up on the empirical discoveries of the sciences, and then we can return to our arm chairs to reflect upon that which has been discovered. There should be a continuous dialogue between the sciences and philosophy and the two should interact in a formative way. Science should help direct philosophy and philosophy should in turn help direct science.

I was very pleased to attend the lecture by Michael Silberstien at the BU Phil of Science colloquium called "Resisting Neo-Scholasticism with Explanatory and Ontological Pluralism in Mind." He said basically the same thing that I have claimed above (except perhaps his target was limited to "main stream philosophy of mind"). While I am concerned that somewhere in the talk he might have advocated ontological pluralism, I was very impressed with his overall philosophic opinions as well as his approach to doing philosophy--at least as exhibited in this talk. He described himself as a "crazy holist" a label which I like to claim for myself. I pretty much agreed with everything he said (that I understood). It is very cool to encounter a kindred spirit. I would like to share his talk with any interested parties and so have upload an audio recording of it to my website. I don't know about the legality of making and distributing such recordings so do me a favor and don't tell anyone. But if you want to hear a good lecture on Mind, Science and Reductionism, give it a listen.

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To reduce, or not to reduce. That's a stupid question!

I spent yesterday at BU listening to 5 talks on various issues on the relation between philosophy of mind and philosophy of science. While the issue of reductionism came up throughout the day, the three of the five talks were particularly enlightening. The first was by Stephen Horst called "Beyond Reduction: What can philosophy of mind learn from (recent) philosophy of science?" The second was by Michael Silberstein (see my next post for some puppy like slobbering about this guy) titled "Resisting Neo-Scholasticism with Explanatory and Ontological Pluralism in Mind." The third was by William Bechtel titled "Reducing Psychology While Maintaining its autonomy via mechanistic explanations."

The subject of reductionism has always been a bit puzzling to me. It seems to make many people uncomfortable and I can't imagine why. *Of course* everything reduces to physics! Isn't it obvious? (Perhaps the years I spent trying to become a physicist have prejudiced my judgment?) But since yesterday I have seen the light. It isn't that reductionism is false. It is that the discussions of reductionism is a confused mess and it turns out that until now I didn't know what the hell was going on. And I am now very excited to have something to say about the problem.

Reductionism is false--at least a particular brand of reductionism. Reductionism conceived as a language game where we try to translate the vocabulary of a higher science to that of a lower science is not only false, it is just plain stupid! For example, while I think biology reduces to chemistry, I think it is completely absurd to think that we can translate all of the scientific vocabulary of biology into the vocabulary of atoms, compounds and reactions. Even if you take a sub-discipline of biology like molecular biology that is extremely chemically driven, I still think it is hopeless to try to do this kind of reduction. The macroscopic features and phenomena that we are interested are different in kind of those that are the focus of the microstructure. The vocabulary just can't translate. I think this could be demonstrated by considering any fairly simple example and trying to imagine what it would have to look like talking about the macrostructure by only referring to stuff at the microstructure. Does that look like a good translation? I don't think so.

But this language game is not how I have always understood reductionism. I thought reductionism is just the idea that everything that is going on in the macrostructure is caused by/is explained by/supervenes upon the microstructure. And that just seems obviously true to me. I thought the reduction of chemistry to physics just means that all chemical reactions, atomic structures, molecular structures, etc. are explained by how the sub atomic particles interact, and the various forces and laws that govern the world of the small. That is why in a general chemistry class you spend time talking about the electron orbitals and the electromagnetic attractions of ions. What drives chemical phenomena is the physics of particles and atoms. The structure of molecules depends on the subatomic physics of the constituent parts. The same story will go all the way up so that all the phenomena in the natural world supervenes upon that which is going on in the behavior of the tiny parts of the world. It is in this sense that I think everything reduces to physics. But what that doesn't mean is that we can do fluid dynamics just by considering the behavior of the subatomic particles that make up the molecules of the fluid.

I think this somehow relates to the following problem (I think this came from the Mind class)--water is wet. Find me the wet H20 molecules. The molecules themselves are not wet. Wetness is a macroscopic property of a bunch of water molecules that hang out together.

And this leads me to another issue that came up yesterday--ontological pluralism. The first speaker, Steven Horst seemed to have been advocating some sort of ontological pluralism. I think the second speaker, Michael Silberstein might have also been advocating this, but I am not sure. He seemed more focused on the idea of explanatory pluralism which I whole-heartedly endorse. As I understood it, they took the "failure of reductionism" to give them reason to posit entities at the macro-level that are not reducible to entities at the micro-level. And I find this highly objectionable. Just because our vocabulary doesn't reduce doesn't mean the stuff that we are talking about doesn't. What I take ontological pluralism to mean is that the water in the Kinko's mug on my desk has an ontological existence that is distinct from the individual H20 and slummerville sludge molecules that make up the water.

So here is what I think about reductionism. Everything that exists is made up of little subatomic stuff that is governed by the laws of physics. In this sense everything reduces to physics. But even if we had godish-minds that could get over the epistemological accounting problem of measuring and calculating all the little tiny pieces, by hypothesis, we still would only be talking about what happens to individual particles and not their macrostructures. Macrostructures are a higher level of abstraction. And so the vocabulary cannot be reduced. But the further step to taking the things that our irreducible vocabulary refer to as having distinct ontological existence just doesn't make sense to me. The Bechtel talk which focused on reductionism as mechanistic explanations of how the microstructure gives rise to the macrostructure is correct.

So I want to ask this question to those of you who are uncomfortable with reductionism: Do you dislike the claim that the macroscopic phenomena can be explained by the going ons of the microstructure? If you are still uncomfortable with this conception of reductionism, why? What is missing from this physicalist picture?

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March 12, 2005

What the Free Will Problem is About

In the effort to increase chatter on this blog, I will continue talking to myself. For a change of pace, this time I will be talking in a widely speculative and impressionistic fashion that is only dimly supported by facts.

The folks at The Garden of Forking Paths ask, "What is the Free Will Problem About?":

Unsurprisingly, the default choices were all surrounding whether something called "Libertarian Free Will" exists (my non-philosophers friends should note: this is a metaphysical idea; it has nothing directly to do with Libertarian Party politics). I'm no scholar of the free will problem, but I doubt anyone could give a satisfactory definition of "Libertarian Free Will," which, as I will argue, is part of the problem. The expression does, however, undoubtedly signify a cluster of vaguely related ideas about locating the ultimate origination and responsibility for an agent's actions within its Deep Self--i.e., the idea that each time I act freely it is a metaphysical fact that I--in a sense that needs to be spelled out--am the definitive causal source of my actions and the only thing that is morally responsible for them.

This notion of Libertarian Free Will is supposed to be incompatible with determinism because if every event, in including any of my actions, is preceded by a set of events in the past that can serve--in conjunction with the laws of nature--as a sufficient cause of my action, then I cannot be the ultimate originator of these actions. Because I cannot be the ultimate originator of these actions, the Incompatibilist picture says that I cannot be ultimately responsible for them. The Hard Determinist infers from this either that I am not ultimately responsible for these actions or that I have no free will. The Libertarian infers from this that determinism is false. The Compatibilist tries to tweak our understanding of the facts so that I am still perfectly responsible, despite lacking ultimate origination.

The entirety of the free will "problem" is, in my opinion, a result of the fact that this notion of ultimate origination and the picture of the Deep Self that lies behind it are deeply confused and artifacts of the way our culture has tried to construct notions of political and moral autonomy.

The free will problem should not be a question about deep metaphysical facts such as, "am I the ultimate causal source and locus of responsibility for my actions and self?" The free will problem should rather be a set of normative questions followed by a corresponding set of practical questions. The set of normative questions would be something like this: "how should I go about taking responsibility for this self?--how should I go about justifying my actions to myself and to others and to the world?--how should I go about endorsing my desires and their fruits in action?--what should the structure of my will be?--what are the desires I should desire to have?" The set of corresponding practical questions would simply be questions about what set of social institutions, laws, and moral duties best describes a program for implementing the answers to these normative questions.

This shift in perspective would make the free will problem a branch of normative and practical ethics, which is fine by me. The result is simply classic extistentialism, filtered through Harry Frankfurt's notion of a hierarchical will from "Freedom of the Will and the Concept of a Person" and some thoughts of Charles Taylor's in "Responsibility for Self" (Professor Dennett also seems to have something like this in mind towards the end of Freedom Evolves, so too do Professor White in his essays that touch on free will and Richard Moran at Harvard in Authority and Estrangement: An Essay on Self-Knowledge).

People are often unsatisfied by a focus on the normative and practical questions because they seem to leave out important factual issues that are necessary for free will. For example, we want to be assured that our selves are actually sources of causal creativity in the world--that is, we want to know that our choices make a difference and that the future is really a place of open possibilities, such that our choices decide between these possibilities and our actions serve to realize the results of our choices. We also want to be assured that we are in at least some sense the originators of our actions--that is, that we are the locus of doings in the world rather than just happenings. Determinism seems to threaten this picture of the self by reducing us to moving points in space through which wider causal stories flow, rather than allowing us to be the productive sources of these causal stories. It seems that, if these gloomy facts about the world are true because of determinsm, then the normative and practical questions raised above cannot even get off the ground: we are left with an empty phenomenology of free will that does not touch down in the reality of the world.

Now, as has been pointed out by naturalistic approaches to the free will problem (especially by Professor Dennett in Ch. 3 of FE, "Thinking About Determinism"), what we are imagining here about the threat that determinism poses to the self's causal creativity is simply contrary to fact. The parts of our brain that instantiate the decision-making faculties of our minds are of such a complexity that our actions are inherently not-maximally-predictable to cognizers in the outside world and even to ourselves prior to the formation of an intention-in-action (this is especially true of the gut-wrenching decisions made under uncertainty and emotional ambivalence, which seem to stir up something like chaos in the brain).

When we imagine a Laplacean God taking in the spectacle of our choices and smiling at our naivete, we are probably not imagining something coherent. It is still a very open question as to how to interpret Libet's experiments on the brain--i.e., an open question as to what kind of information about our decisions the observable spikes in Readiness Potential encode. Any Laplacean God--**who cannot read my thoughts**--is going to have to picture my actions as events under a certain description: if the dimensionality of the description is too low, then the Laplacean God runs into amplified quantum indeterminism; if the dimensionality is too high, then the Laplacean God runs into the fact that I eat Cheerios on Monday and Corn Flakes on Tuesday, despite the fact that the decisions are caused by the same equally foul mood each morning (i.e., a mood which keeps me from taking the time to cook some eggs). Some Libertarians, such as Robert Kane, are willing to grant all of this, but they then say that Libertarian Free Will demands not only in-principle epistemic unpredictability, but also in-fact metaphysical indeterminism. I say that a difference that can make no difference to us makes no difference: if we can't count whether the number of stars in the universe is odd or even because of deep physical limitations in our cognitive faculties that could never be remedied by technological advance, then there is simply no fact of the matter as to whether there is an odd or even number of stars in the universe (I get this example from Professor White).

Now, what this inherent unpredictability does not get us is "Ultimate Responsibility," because we are still being situated within a network of wider causal forces, all of which impact our decisions, and some of which we cannot even plausibly be held metaphysically responsible for (even if we must normatively take responsibility for them). What inherent unpredictability does get us, however, is individuality and openness to the future. The plasticity of the brain is such that I cannot be seriously taken as a 'robot' in the colloquial sense of a being that is inexorably implementing the program that nature has designed for its life. There is no such program, because at each instant my mental program is being rewritten in objectively undpredictable fashion, partly as a consequence of the decisions I make. Moreover, if the future is inherently unpredictable, then the fatalistic itch cannot get scratched (and some interesting metaphysical issues in the logic of tensed statements open up).

However, the flip side of all this is that "who I am" is not something that "I am . . ."--in any deep metaphysical sense--". . . responsible for," but it is something that "I must take responsibility for." The key practical question of free will becomes: how do I build self I am willing to take responsibility for? Here, the 'I' can be taken somewhat loosely, because in giving up Ultimate Responsibility, I am no longer as concerned with issues of autonomy: I can use the social and physical world as active tools in order to get the self I want. The issue becomes less one of personal power than "the experience of freedom," which is something like one's picture of the world under a certain value-laden description being realized.

The main challenge that remains to this picture of free will becomes dealing with the sci-fi extremes: is being a brain in a vat that is pumped with pleasant sensations a kind of self worth wanting, if all that matters is getting the "experience" of having one's values realized (Nozick's question in the "Experience Machine" thought-experiment from Anarchy, State, and Utopia)? Clearly, what we want is for the world to be a certain way as well. I have no response to this dilemma, other than to say that the normative question of free will is not just a question about what kind of self I should want to take responsibility for, but also what kind of society and world I should want to create.


March 9, 2005

Externalism About Content: Nail Meet Coffin?

[Note: the tone and content of this post have to do with my firm conviction that, given the mediocre stakes involved in philosophical debate (narcissistic enterntainment, the possibility of getting tenure, understanding the meaning of life), it should be conducted like a battle between improvising rap MCs, bloggers, or members of the British Parliament. The post that follows was originally posted to Blackboard for my Metaphysics class. Since I am currently trying to develop a viable internalism about content that meets Kripke, Putnam, and Burge's objections, I would appreciate any and all comments.. For more on the connections between blogging and rapping, see the work of my acquaintance and comic genius, Josh Levin, here:]

Quote: "The upshot of these reflections is that the patient's [ed., the like-an-arthritis-virgin's] mental contents differ while his physical and nonintentional [sic] mental histories, considered in isolation from their social context, remain the same."--Burge (end of IIa)

Burge's claim for the non-individualism of the mental can be understood in two ways. The first way of understanding it makes it true, but uninteresting. The second way of understanding it makes it deep and interesting, but it is also false.

The first, uninteresting way of understanding Burge's claim is via the idea that the content of the beliefs that can be ascribed to rational beings is causally dependent on the particular society and physical environment they are placed in. This is true because most, if not all, of our reasoning about the world depends upon the manipulation of linguistic or other symbols, and ensuring the correct use of those symbols is dependent on getting feedback from our social and physical environment. We have to know how to apply our terms to the world, as well as how to use them in inferences, and the only way to learn how to do that is to make conjectures about (i) what other people use these symbols to do and (ii) what the world is like.

Say, for example, that you are Aristotle, and you believe that the substantial form, the metaphysical essence, of all water is such that it ensures that any and all samples of water--one of the four basic elements of the universe--will be nourishing to animals. The essence of water dictates, by necessity, the kinds of efficient causal interaction it can figure in.

So, taking a sample of heavy water and feeding it to his owl, Minerva, Aristotle is shocked to find that it dies. Minerva, we assume, is not very comforted by Aristotle's protestation that water is "by its real definition" nourishing and life-sustaining.

In order to forget his grief, Aristotle buries Minverva in the river Lethe. As a result of this cathartic experience (which, incidentally, he uses up to come up with his theory of the emotional effects of experiencing ritual suffering in stage drama), Aristotle decides to revise his concept of water--that is, feedback from his external environment (i.e., the de facto discovery of heavy water) has caused a change to the content of his internal beliefs , a change that he and others would ascribe to him. Even if he does not , or even cannot, articulate this change in concepts, we know that his reactions to possible water samples in the future will be different.

Aristotle almost decides to revise his concept of metaphysical essences that constitute and individuate natural kinds as well, but because he is famous for this doctrine (it got him tenure at the Lyceum) he decides to conclude his career, like most philosophers, by upholding a quirky, retrograde idea that none of the young , upstart Turks at the skeptical Academy take seriously.

Burge's strong, interesting, and false claim is not that Aristotle's beliefs are caused by interaction with his external environment and society, but that, even if we kept all those causal interactions constant and simply transported Aristotle to a new society, then being in that new society will be enough, by itself, to metaphysically constitute his beliefs in a new way, even if nothing is different about Aristotle on the inside (nothing is different about his ability to use the beliefs in his head to reason about the world and communicate with others in his society) .

Let's take Burge at his word.

We put Aristotle in a tele-transporter and beam him up to Professor Koslicki's Metaphysics class, 3/8/2005. We shall put aside any philosophical quibbling over whether this would still be the same Aristotle. The questions we are interested in are not about personal identity, at least not directly about personal identity.

We stipulate that everything about Aristotle on the inside, the individualism of his mental, is the same. He is liable to make the same inferences and communicate the same beliefs (begging the question for a second), as well as respond to his environment in the same way (AT LEAST GIVEN THE SAME INPUT). He is like Burge's like-an-arthritis-virgin, simply a molecule for molecule duplicate of an original person who is transplanted into a new society.

Of course, the one change we have to make is that Aristotle now speaks modern English, but we will simply stipulate that all his concepts, including the malformed ones, translate perfectly into English with no loss to the kind of reasoning Aristotle can engage in (and no change to the physical constitution of his brain, behavioral propensities, etc.).

Burge's strong, false claim about the non-individualism of the mental amounts to the claim that, even though Aristotle would behave exactly the same in this new environment (e.g., he would irrelevantly weep the same crocodile tears for Minvera every time he sees a sample of ordinary H20), we would ascribe different beliefs to him, because we as a society assign a different extension to terms like 'water.'

Our knowledge of water in modern America, or at least our intention as a society to refer to a different set of objects by using 'water,' is enough to change the constitution of Aristotle's beliefs on Burge's picture.

Let's put aside for the moment the technical issues in the philosophy of language that motivate Burge's discussion. These are issues about how best to understand the logical form of propositional attitudes. For example, there is the issue of how the truth-value of a sentence like 'I believe that X' behaves as we substitute different co-extensional descriptions for 'X,' as well the issue of what kind of inferences 'I believe that X' licenses (e.g., it does not license the inference that 'X' is true).

Putting aside these technical issues, the main point we have to make is simply that there is no good reason to believe Burge's premise that Aristotle is the same, "on the inside," when transplanted to his new society. The reason is that the beliefs we hold on the inside are not just static entities--that is, something like sentences one holds true inside the "belief box" within one's head at any given time. This simply cannot be the case. The number of sentences we are liable to affirm at any given moment is probably infinite (eg., "I believe that 1 is a number, "I believe that 2 is a number". . . ), but there is only a finite storage capacity in our brains. Beliefs are instead something like dynamic potentials within a person's mind---the potential to make some intellectual judgment or other, whether via a private mental or public speech act--in response to new input from one's physical and social environment.

The persistent beliefs that we ascribe to others and to ourselves are much more coarse-grained and informationally ambiguous than the individual judgments that manifest these beliefs at any given time. So, while it is true (in the uninteresting sense described above), that the beliefs ascribed to Aristotle in his new environment are different, this is simply because a belief is defined by its potentialities. Aristotle's beliefs encode different potential judgments in his new environment because the input he is liable to get--especially from all of the sophisticated scientist types questioning his biology, chemistry, and physics (that's you, Ang!)-- will be different.

Now, why do these claims I am making not amount to an agreement with Burge? If a change in society or physical environment automatically equals a change in beliefs, then I should be agreeing with him. Yes, but this is an agreement only under the uninteresting understanding of 'externalism' described already. The essential issue regarding the "metaphysics of belief / mental content" is decidedly different in my picture than Burge's. The difference Aristotle's society makes to the content of his beliefs is still a difference within Aristotle (i.e., methodological solipsism is preserved). Aristotle is still the authority for deciding the content of each of his own beliefs (even if he cannot articulate the content of these beliefs well, his behavior will usually show us what he actually believes. That is the sense in which he is the authority on the content of his beliefs).

Burge's claim that nothing within the like-an-arthritis-virgin changes after he is transplanted into a new society is simply not true. In the original social context, the like-an-arthritis-virgin was somewhat clueless. In the new society, he is still clueless, but so is everyone else. Within each respective social context, his beliefs manifest the potential to produce different acts of intellectual judgment, simply because the difference in societies dictates that he will be responding to different input. For example,

Social Encounter A :
Question asked: "Why are you rubbing your thigh?"
Judgment given: "Because I've got arthritis."
Response: "I think you do not know what you are talking about."

Social Encounter B (once transplanted):
Question asked: "I see you are rubbing your thigh, how long have you had arthritis?"
Judgment given: "Two weeks."
Response: "Yeah, if you think that's rough, my wife has had arthritis in her belly for nine months."

Burge's false premise comes from the philosophical canard that understanding the metaphysics of belief is best pursued by taking individuals through various counterfactual scenarios and then asking questions like,

"What beliefs would we, as outsiders looking in, ascribe to this individual (eg., Aristotle), given what we know about how the society in question intends to use its terms in order to refer to certain objects in the world?"

The better question is,

"How do this individual's beliefs get manifested via the judgments he is liable to give in response to questions from his society and causal interaction with his environment?"

This second question preserves methodological solipsism. It is also seems like a much more useful question for philosophical psychology than Burge's.


March 6, 2005

The Bishop and Me

So I think there is a mind independent noumenal world out there, but we are each isolated in our own private phenomenal worlds. I believe that the noumenal world is an Nth Dimensional static object with nothing like time, change or motion. It is one thing and not differentiated into individual things like tables and chairs. We, and everything that exist subsist within the noumena--we are part of it, and everything in our phenomenal worlds supervene upon the noumena. Our subjective experiences--the phenomena--are grounded in this external reality and it is that objectivity that makes it possible for us to communicate. Though our individual phenomenal worlds are isolated, the phenomenal worlds of the individuals within a community are sufficiently similar that we are able to communicate with one another. The process of assimilating our native culture is the process by which our phenomenal worlds are shaped and so people within a community share experiences (in the sense that they have very similar experiences).

But if we are forever locked away from the noumena, why think that it even exits? My answer is precisely the description above. We need some external, mind independent reality to ground our shared experience and for the development of things like language. Because the noumena is external and independent it can explain the extreme similarity between your phenomenal world and mine. The fact that we are isolated from the noumena explains why our phenomenal worlds differ. We each literally live in separate worlds, but the closer we are in culture, personality, and past experience, the more similar our phenomenal worlds are. We have each encountered people who see things pretty much the same as we do, as well as people whose thoughts and perceptions are so foreign that we think they must be from another planet. Though the noumena provides a grounding and some stability, it is so different from that which we perceive and conceptualize that it does very little in the way of providing interpretation and the noumena can be experienced in an extraordinarily diverse variety of ways.

I see science as a sort of search algorithm trying to get closer and closer to the noumena by trying to find the most general and objective characterization of our phenomena. Though I think it is impossible in principle that we ever access the noumena, we can use scientific inquiry to try to strip away the rich and varying textures we project upon it until we find the most fundamental features of our phenomenal worlds, features shared by all perceptual minds. And this is as close to the noumena as we can get.

There is a third world in my picture and that is what I would like to call the interface world (I get the term from Stephen White's "interface diagram" in the Humean argument for skepticism). The interface world is the one of common sense realism. I would like to say that of the noumenal, phenomenal, and interface worlds, only the interface world is not real. The noumenal world is the external objective reality of the noumena and it is real in what I think is the most common understanding of that term (though it is inaccessible). The phenomenal world is also real, though I have yet to figure out what I mean by that. It exist within the noumena and supervenes upon it. It depends on the noumena for its existence in an asymmetric relationship as the noumena does not depend on phenomena for its existence.

By contrast, the interface world has things like tables and chairs, and they are all mind independent objects. It is the world that most people believe in. It is the world of planets that go on circling the sun long after all minds that perceive their existence and motion have passed through the sands of time. It is the product of us projecting our phenomenal ordering of the noumena outside of our minds. It takes its independence from the noumena but retains all of the phenomenal character we infuse it with. But as the noumena is not in itself differentiated into objects and has no time or motion, it cannot be this interface world. And as the phenomenal world thoroughly depends upon our cognitive operations for its existence, it is not the interface. And so the interface world is error. It does not exist. It is the utter and complete fallacy of common sense.

Now, what is this noumena, and what justifies my believing in it? Aaron Hoitink was pressing me on this issue after my talk on Friday. My answer to these question is above, but he pointed out that the god hypothesis is just as compatible with all the facts I appeal to in my abductive arguments. Doesn't it bother me that my answer is no better than the god answer? Do I have any reason to prefer my answer to George Berkeley's idealism? Couldn't this all just be thoughts in the mind of god?

I have given this a great deal of thought and decided that it doesn't matter in the least. Since we are locked away from the noumena, there is very little we can say of its nature. But the principle I would like to try to invoke is that we should say of it as little of the noumena as is necessary such that it can fulfill the grounding role I want it to play in my metaphysics. And this has some interesting consequences, I should think.

I have always thought of the noumena as material, but different from the way we ordinarily conceive of matter, for we think in terms of particles and their motions in time. But in the timeless character of the noumena these particles are but frayed strings in the fabric of the universe, woven together in a variety of complex patterns which we project our concepts onto in the process of object generation. What do we mean by 'material'? The more I think on it, the emptier the concept becomes. One name I am certain I have not heard mentioned in the two years I have been at Tufts is Baruch Spinoza. When I studied him as an undergraduate I was very moved by his many great insights. He denied that there were two substances--mind and matter; thinking and extended. There is but one substance--god--and everything is unified together. All that exits is god and what we call mind and what we call matter are just aspects of god conceived through two distinct attributes. God has an infinite number of attributes through which it could be conceived, but mind and matter are the two accessible to us.

Now Spinoza is deep and my recollection and understanding is shallow, but the more I think on these matters, the more I see it as parallel to my own metaphysics. Is the picture I have attributed Spinoza substantially different from my own view?

Berkeley's idealism eliminated the material substance leaving us only with thinking substance--phenomena. All that exists are thoughts in the mind of god. But god's mind is external to and independent of us. Is this characterization substantially different from my own characterization of the noumenal/phenomenal world distinction? Our minds are within the mind of god--within the noumena. The mind of god is external and independent, as is my noumena. What difference is there between the Bishop's idealism and my own metaphysics? I ask again, what do we even mean by 'material' and what does that add to our metaphysical picture?

So does it bother me that my argument for my metaphysics is completely compatible with it all being god? No, for I do not see two hypotheses. I see two sets of completely compatible and translatable labels for the same thing. The Bishop may be know for saying "to be is to be perceived" but if you take this to mean the world disappears when you close your eyes, you are mistaken, for the all seeing perceptive eye of god is ever present. Kinda takes the bite out, doesn't it? My noumena and Bishop Berkeley's "mind of god" seem pretty damn similar to me.

So perhaps you might find this bothersome because you find god bothersome. This is certainly understandable because god has been a pain in all our asses of late. But let us be cautious with what we mean by god. Remember that the noumena is in principle inaccessible. Calling the noumena god does not make it any more accessible, nor does it change it in the slightest as best as I can tell. Remember my tack on Ockham's Razor when it comes to the noumena. Let us not attribute anything more to it than is necessary for the explanations in which we employ it. What do you find troublesome about god? Is it that He is omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent, etc, etc. Is it that He loves you and watches over you? Is it that He has a mind like ours? Is it that He favors the Israelites and smites thine enemy? I will just say that each of these characterizations adds to the concept of god, more than is necessary for the explanation. And to substantiate such attributions, one must give independent arguments. Following my principle one must find elements of the phenomenal world that need or suggest these attributes in the noumena to justify making the attribution.

And that is why I am not worried. I would like to thank Aaron for pressing me on my metaphysics, for the challenge and the thinking have forced me to greatly advance my development and understanding of the view I wish to advocate.

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