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Location: UFOUpDatesList.Com > 2007 > Mar > Mar 21

Re: Defending The Indefensible - Shough

From: Martin Shough <parcellular.nul>
Date: Tue, 20 Mar 2007 21:57:24 -0000
Fwd Date: Wed, 21 Mar 2007 09:27:40 -0400
Subject: Re: Defending The Indefensible - Shough


>From: Cathy Reason <CathyM.nul>
>To: <ufoupdates.nul>
>Date: Mon, 19 Mar 2007 15:35:15 -0000
>Subject: Re: Defending The Indefensible

>>From: Martin Shough <parcellular.nul>
>>To: <ufoupdates.nul>
>>Date: Thu, 15 Mar 2007 14:57:58 -0000
>>Subject: Re: Defending The Indefensible

>>>From: Mike Good <boneheadart.nul>
>>>Date: Wed, 14 Mar 2007 10:05:55 -0700 (PDT)
>>>To: UFO UpDates - Toronto <ufoupdates.nul>
>>>Subject: Re: Defending The Indefensible [was: UFO Photos The Future]

><snip>

>>And science does not take "a literal view of a material
>>universe". This harks back to an archaic philosophical
>>distinction between materialism and spiritualism, arising from
>>a classical Newtonian notion of matter as inert stuff.

Hi Cathy

Nice to hear from you again. We must complete our last
discussion some time . I'll try and keep this brief I think.

>I'm afraid I find this a rather narrow, and historically not
>very accurate, way of defining materialism.

Well I was sketching a historical context rather than intending
to "define materialism" there. However I stand by the statement
(which I think I made very explicitly elsewhere in another
passage) that its meaning derives from its anitithesis to
spiritualism (the philosophical doctrine that reality is partly
immaterial and therefore spiritual; more generally, the belief
in incorporeal entities and forces) and culturally related
movements such as vitalism, and that it owed its form to 17th C
conceptions of mechanically interacting matter.

>My Penguin dictionary of philosophy defines materialism as:-
>"the theory that matter alone exists. It immediately implies a
>denial of the existence of minds, spirits, divine beings, etc,
>in so far as these are taken to be non-material."

Quite so, which is essentially what I've said. But this is the
obsolete context. You're complaining below about the prevalence
of materialist presumptions: Well here's an example, but _not_
from physics of course (because the notion that "matter alone
exists" is, and has been ever since Newton, physical nonsense),
and the result is the potential for confusion and hilarious
circularity in the last phrase - "in so far as these are taken
to be non-material" - when you assume that physical = material.

But there is no faintest necessity in physics to deny mind, for
example. It is entirely a phenomenal point of view. Of course
mind exists as a useful classification of something given in our
experience, even if it presently escapes clear interpretation.
It has been brought into the heart of physical theory in various
ways, if not in ways that have commanded complete agreement, and
not because mind is being concretised or mechanised any more
than because physics is being abstracted. The entities of
physics are not the concrete or mechanical ones that
spiritualists dislike(d).

More and more physics seems to be about relationships of flows
of information. (There is a thriving digital subculture which
sees the ultimate physical models as just computational
algorithms.) What status and function does mind have in the
information loops? I certainly don't know. It is a fascinating
problem. But ironically it's only an interpretation of mind in
terms of the "archaic distinction" between matter and spirit
that denies that mind can be part of the loop, that denies
science the right to model it, and then complains because
science won't recognise it.

>What is at issue here is the question of physical completeness,
>not whether matter is "inert".

Not my issue

>I think you are right that, in
>the aftermath of QM and Relativity, it no longer makes sense to
>talk about "matter" as the universal constituent of anything.

OK

>But the doctrine of physical completeness - which is actually
>what most people today mean by materialism -

"most people today" yes, because _today_ materialism has
acquired different connotations from those of yesterday (when it
had a clearly defined meaning as the obverse of spiritualism)
and this is precisely because the scope of the idea of "physical
completeness" has expanded like a floodtide and washed across
archaic category boundaries to submerge both of those ancient
islands - but for small hilltops, where tiny remnant populations
of archaists gaze balefully at one another across the rising
water.

>survives under the
>name of "physicalism". The same dictionary defines this as
>follows:-

>"The view that everything is constituted of the entities taken
>to be basic by the physical sciences... This is the modern
>version of materialism."

But physical science defines as physical any entity that is
basic to its model of the world. It is perfectly capable of
considering not just "observers" but mind in general or human
consciousness in particular to be essential to that model. A
great deal of interpretation of QM has revolved around such
issues. Personally I suspect that the persistent difficulty of
these points of view is exactly because they are too much a
historical product of the obsolete dualism and that the
physicality of mind in the world will not be understood until
yet another completely new framework of possibililities is
stumbled on. In other words I think mentalism or spiritualism is
as crude and primitive as its evil twin materialism. Obviously
we can't know ahead of time what this framework is, though we
can have suspicions. But it will be calculable in some sense,
predictive in some sense, and economically integrative, and it
will still be physics, call it whatever you want.

Physical entities don't have to be "material" unless you
_define_ materiality as physicality. That's up to you but is
just verbally redundant. Matter in the old sense of materialism
does not exist in physics any more. What physics cares about is
being able to predictively model systems and measure outcomes,
it doesn't "matter" (ha!) in what kind of phase space those
systems can be constructed. It is no longer even required that
either predictions or measurements be definitely attached to any
precise object or location in spacetime.

>So first, it's clearly not true that materialism is "archaic".

I said "archaic philosophical distinction" of materialism from
spiritualism. I didn't say that there was no type of thought
today that had any historical connection with materialism.

>The question is whether it makes any sense. I think one can
>argue a good case that physicalism is simply nineteenth-century
>materialism with a few changes of name, in which "matter" is
>replaced by "the entities taken to be basic by the physical
>sciences" as the placeholder for some sort of metaphysical
>"stuff" out of which everything in the unverse is supposed to
>be made.

If you think that transition from 17th-19th C "matter" to those
21st C "entities" can be made as simple as a few changes of name
then I'm doubtful about the possibility of further fruitful
discussion.

>To the extent we regard the entities of physical science
>as mathematical abstractions, this is evidently rather daft -
>how are conscious living beings supposed to be made up entirely
>out of mathematical abstractions?

Your odd subtext is that it would be possible for unconscious
dead beings or objects to be so made up. Well look, there has to
be _some_ substrate, whether your preferred route of abstraction
tends towards the cybernetic or the astral. But the answer to
your question is that I don't have an answer to Wigner's
question about the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics.
And the great thing is that science tells me it's perfectly OK
not to have an answer. I don't have to do penance or cast runes
or believe in anything just for the "fun" of it. I have some
optimism that, if we all let it, science has a chance of
answering in due time.

>But the philosophical significance of QM and Relativity is
>precisely that the entities of modern physical theory can no
>longer be interpreted as measures of some sort of metaphysical
>"stuff" - or that if they could, no-one knows how to do it.

This is not right. Metaphysical stuff is by definition exactly
what physics could not _want_ in it, and it defines in its own
terms what is physical by means that have only historical
connections with materialist philosophy. QM is full of physical
"stuff" that already _looks_ metaphysical to materialists but
why should it want to import what by definition it could not
deal with? What it may need, though, is some _different_
physical stuff. It will have to find/invent what it needs.

That no-one knows how to reconstruct QM is correct, but that it
will need to be reconstructed is an increasingly widely held
view in connection with the stubborn issue of gravitation and it
is possible to speculate that this might allow reinterpretation
of the old issues surrounding determinism/indetermisnism and the
status of so-called hidden variables.

But if the fact that no-one knows all the answers now is
unacceptable, then I guess the vandals must be right. It's the
End. Science has Failed. Turn out the lights and leave the
hordes to sack it. This is the implication of the views you are
defending.

>Given this situation, it seems to me we have three alternatives.
>One is to stick to pure operationalism - eg, the Copenhagen
>interpretation. The second is to throw out materialism. But the
>third is simply to hold on to materialism regardless and just
>ignore the philosophical implications of the last hundred
>years.

Do you think it possible that there might be an alternative you
haven't thought of? For example, to worry less about bookish
definitions - or rather, not to project that worry onto the
activities of physics - and just carry on doing and thinking
science until someone understands how to re-categorise things in
a way that resolves apparent conflicts between present
interpretative options on a new level?

>Mr Good and Mr Dickenson appear to be saying that, in practice,
>most physicists are adopting the third approach - I think they
>are probably right. And I can say for sure that, even if this
>is not the case in physics, it is definitely the case in other
>disciplines such as neuroscience and consciousness studies.

I can believe that it is the case in neuoroscience and
consciousness studies. Personally, I can imagine it remaining
the case in these areas, paradoxically, very much longer than in
theoretical physics itself because I think they have an enormous
poverty of hypotheses compared with the huge, rich and strange
and expanding world of concepts and tools that is modern
physics. They will always be waiting for scraps from the table.
Left to themselves they will remain in the role of doing
perpetual "normal science" (to the extent that consciousness
studies is science at all) when it comes to understanding the
profound mystery at the heart of them.

The quiet majority of physics workers as you say probably also
ignore most of the frontline philosophical and interpretative
ambiguities and just do their "normal science" jobs in industry
or academe; this is exactly what I said. But they are the body
of a phoenix that every so often burns itself to ash in a
revolutionary fervour and wakes up with new feathers (sorry for
my purple metaphors today - must be the wearther!)

My personal view is that most people don't actually think about
it in 'ism' terms at all, exactly because they are not inclined
to be philosophers, not of a deeply speculative turn of mind,
just well-educated, competent practicioners of their specialisms
who try to make modest advances that people in other fields
rarely care much about except for lucky accidents when some
result escapes from a backwater of materials science into the
big time because it happens to be relevant to superconductivity
or whatever But isms, schmisms, what does it matter to them?
Just make the experiment and write the paper. And why not? Not
everyone can be at the frontiers of profound problems as a pure
theoretical physicist, which has been described as one of the
most difficult of all human activitites; and only a few of those
can be lucky and clever enough to be in at the birth of a new
paradigm of thought. But you, and some others, seem to find some
cause for opprobrium in this fact. I don't. Neither I think does
any person with a sensible and pragmatic view of what science is
and how it works. But I've been boring on this elsewhere.

>And as for your point about Young Turks and Old Professors, I
>think it's worth noting the Old Professors are now considered to
>be people like Schrodinger, Wigner and, especially, Neils Bohr -
>people who were only too well aware of the philosophical
>implications of modern physics, and were not afraid of facing up
>to them. By contrast the Young Turks, it seems to me, are now
>peddling a distinctly dusty, old-fashioned version of
>deterministic local realism. It's difficult for me to see what
>could possibly be motivating this other than an esthetic
>commitment to the sort of nineteenth-century materialism which,
>you confidently tell us, has long since been dispensed with (by
>all the best people, at any rate).

What motivates it is the search for something that works. Yes it
is possible to discern a subtle change in mood, the feeling that
maybe those arguments that ruled out deterministic underpinnings
for all time should be revisited. You evidently dislike this
rather much for personal emotional reasons - "peddling" "old
fashioned" "distinctly dusty". I wouldn't myself want to
proscribe any attempt to make theories that work. If they don't,
they don't. I think they might. But you are free to make any
alternative suggestion you wish.


Martin



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