Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Memes, Free Will, Strong Naturalism, and Toilet Paper

[NOTE: This is the article I deleted yesterday. I got up at 2:30 a.m. to rewrite it.]

Last week (8.21.08) I used a quote from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (SEP), which in part read that various contemporary philosophers "interpret ‘naturalism’ differently," that "philosophers with relatively weak naturalist commitments are inclined to understand ‘naturalism’ in a unrestrictive way..." http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/naturalism/index.html#note-1

To prevent this Academy blog from being misunderstood, I found it necessary to post in the left-hand sidebar column the "strong" definition of "Naturalism" to which this Academy holds itself. It's author wrote a great many things which I'm certain would be arguable in this blog; as well as a strong definition of "Naturalism," this Academy holds a "strong" position on the philosophy of Objectivism, using quotes Objectivists where they support the Naturalist convictions argued here. Mr. Fuller can not be said to be Objectivist, but I cannot deny that his definition of Naturalism is my own. I can place Objectivism into Fuller's definition like a hand in a custom-made glove.

As to what is "weak" Naturalism, it often not only strays from the conviction that "natural grounds" are objectively definable and that in the area of human behavior "man's will" is as much a law of nature as are the firings of neurons and the possibility that some behavioral traits are genetic. How else to explain the lives of twins, separated at birth, who without knowledge of the other's existence, has managed to put together a life where even his choice of clothes is similar, not to mention the type of house in which he lives and the model of car he drives?

But this Academy recognizes that such things are not the things in a person's life that are metaphysically important. Siblings often have divergent world views while dressing alike; they often diverge from their parents' religion yet continue to maintain similar views on other things of importance. This is where the free will of the individual comes into play. Clothes and cars are not of metaphysically important where a person cares more for his own character and integrity, more for his ethics and world view, than for the aesthetics of his everyday choices.

SEP says, "There may be as much philosophical controversy about how to distinguish naturalism from non-naturalism as there is about which view is correct." And quite often it appears that statements or even entire theories put forth and defended by those who call themselves Naturalists seem, to other peoples' opinions, to be not only inclined to weaker definitions, but in an "unrestrictive way" appear to be completely un-Naturalistic.

Daniel Dennett and Susan Blackmore are big targets for this Academy to be disagreeing with, but certain ideas cannot be allowed to go unchallenged, even by someone such as myself who has basically zero scientific background compared the people who's ideas need challenging. Such is the case with Dennett and Blackmore's defence of "memes."

Blackmore "has a degree in psychology and physiology from Oxford University (1973) and a PhD in parapsychology from the University of Surrey (1980). Her research interests include memes, evolutionary theory, consciousness, and meditation; [ ] no longer works on the paranormal; [ ] writes a blog for the Guardian newspaper," and appears on television. "She is author of over sixty academic articles, about forty book contributions, and many book reviews. Her books include Beyond the Body (1982), [ ] Test Your Psychic Powers (with Adam Hart-Davis, 1997), and The Meme Machine (1999). Her latest book is Conversations on Consciousness [was] due out in the USA in January 2006." http://www.susanblackmore.co.uk/

Richard Dawkins coined the term meme to describe "a unit of culture." More specifically, it describes what causes that "unit" to exist. The definition of a "unit" of culture seems to be found in the definition of meme.

Calling herself a "memeticist," Blackmore's ideas are characterized by the PBS station WGBH : "[C]ulture is carried forward by memes, [which are] units of ideas, habits, skills, stories, customs, and beliefs that are passed from one person to another by imitation or teaching. Memes are, in effect, units of information that are self-replicating and changeable, just as genes are." [italics added] http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/evolution/library/07/2/l_072_05.html

Objectively one must ask how something that is learned from another person through example or words can be "self-replicating just as genes are." Speaking of the comparison in the way genes and memes change, Blackwell says: "Our ideas, catch phrases, beliefs, games, and creations also evolve. Think of the differences between Ice Age cave art and modern painting, the chants and songs of centuries-ago people and the crooning of Britney Spears, the stone axe and the atomic bomb. Is there something gene-like that carries culture?" [ibid]

"Evolutionary Epistemology is a naturalistic approach [whereby] trial and error learning and the evolution of scientific theories are construed as selection processes," states the SEP, under the general description of memes. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/epistemology-evolutionary/ "[Richard] Dawkins observed," says the SEP, "that [ ] biological evolution is differential reproduction. [ ] If culture was to evolve, on this view, there had to be cultural 'replicators', or entities whose differential replication in culture constituted the cultural evolutionary process. [Memes] were characterized as informational entities which infect our brains, 'leaping from head to head' via what we ordinarily call imitation. Common examples include infectious tunes, and religious ideologies."

Princeton online describes culture as "the tastes in art and manners that are favored by a social group" and "acculturation: all the knowledge and values shared by a society." http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&rls=GZEZ,GZEZ:2008-32,GZEZ:en-GB&pwst=1&defl=en&q=define:culture&sa=X&oi=glossary_definition&ct=title Values and knowledge are metaphysical components of the concepts held by a person. Those which are held in common among many in a society are merely that: common, and are hardly "infections leaping from head to head."

By most accounts, Naturalism does not support the idea of human free will. "A major problem with theories of free will is that arbitrary choices are simply random. If the will is fundamentally a randomizer, it is not clear how will is different from some kind of mathematical function. [ ] And if it is not different, then there would seem to be no reason not to assimilate "will" to naturalistic theories about indeterminacy and randomness in physical systems. Free will, consequently, would provide no basis for denying a materialistic and naturalistic interpretation of the self. " Kelley L. Ross, Ph.D.

But a Naturalistic interpretation of the self ought to include the idea that some "infectious tunes," for example, are actually repulsed by the minds of some people, for the very same reasons that create the values on which a person's character and integrity are grounded: the epistemic logic that gave those values their grounding. Why is it that some persons despise the music of Johann Strauss? of Elvis? of the entire Romantic school of concertos and symphonies?

Could it be they despise such music on the basis that the metaphysical values contained within those forms are anti-thetical to the live one has chosen to live? Naturalism in art is considered a backlash to the "idealism" of Romanticism. If one can choose to create a backlash to something one despises, what causes the despisement, what causes a desire or a need for a backlash, and what causes the precise form of the backlash? Such causes are decided by the values one has chosen, and values are based on the validations of one's epistemology.

If Naturalism in literature is the form of backlash to Romanticism accepted and used by most people who despise Romanticism, is it because of some of biological entity of consciousness called a "meme," or is it because once the wheel has been invented, it is not necessary to re-invent it? And if someone can create a new form of literature, for whatever reason, whether out of idealism or out of hatred for one or another form of idealism, is that not the definition of free will?

Why is it that I am expected by secular science to accept "that man's ethical values, compulsions, activities, and restraints can be justified on natural grounds," [Fuller] while at the same time I am expected to dismiss any idea of free will as against natural grounds? Is it because Naturalism "as encompassing sensationalism, materialism, determinism and reductionism" [David Ray Griffin] are "backlashes" against the theist defenses of free will?

Are the deterministic-minded scientists so afraid of giving in to theists' beliefs in free will that they are willing to go to any length to state a hypothesis that might give credence to the denial of free will?

It does not seem possible that a belief in free will could be construed as a belief in the supernatural. If Aristotle could formulate the concept of "qua," an objective standard applicable to any entity of life based on the nature of that particular entity where its "qua" was not necessarily applicable to any other entity of life--for example the difference in the nature of a deer and a hippopotamus--then is it not justifiable to believe that standards, not memes, are the basis of commonly held concepts among men?

If "weak," or non-existent Naturalism strays from the conviction that "natural grounds" in empirical reality are objective in nature, strays from comprehending "man's will" as a law of nature of "Man qua Man," then it strays from a rational difference of opinion about the nature of the "supernatural."

"Free will is a concept in traditional philosophy used to refer to the belief that human behavior is not absolutely determined by external causes," says The Skeptics Dictionary. http://www.skepdic.com/freewill.html "Traditionally, those who deny the existence of free will look to fate, supernatural powers, or material causes as the determinants of human behavior."

Invoking "supernatural powers" means that even in the realm of theists, there are "weak" and "strong" principles at work. Naturalists who deny free will can claim their denial is justified because strong theists justify free will based on supernaturalism, that of the existence of God or a Creator. "Free will advocates [ ] believe that while everything else in the universe may be the inevitable consequence of external forces, human behavior is unique and is determined by the agent, not by God or the stars or the laws of nature."

Now, this is where things begin to bog down and get messy. Christians have always argued for free will based on the theory that God granted it to us. The Skeptics Dictionary says the opposite. Deists, who deny any organized religion is legitimate, base their strict devotion to God precisely because they say it was God who gave Man Reason, and that from Reason necessarily comes free will.

Most Naturalists claim free will does not exist because their epistemic qualifiers for its existence are different than those of theists. Yet in other science you may read this: "Free will is probably located in the pre-frontal cortex, and we may even be able to narrow it down to the ventromedial pre-frontal cortex." --Stephen Pinker, How the Mind Works

According to Pinker's homepage at Harvard University his short bio goes this way: "Steven Pinker is Harvard College Professor and Johnstone Family Professor in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University. Until 2003, he taught in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT. He conducts research on language and cognition, writes for publications such as the New York Times, Time, and Slate, and is the author of seven books, including The Language Instinct, How the Mind Works, Words and Rules, The Blank Slate, and most recently, The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature."

Cognitive science is the area of expertise for Daniel Dennett. He seems, on a first reading, to disagree with Pinker. Dennett "is a student of neuroscience, linguistics, artificial intelligence, computer science, and psychology." http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/bios/dennett.html "Philosopher and scientist Dan Dennett argues that human consciousness and free will are the result of physical processes and are not what we traditionally think they are." http://www.ted.com/index.php/speakers/dan_dennett.html

I repeat, this is where things bog down and get messy. Perhaps Dennett does not disagree with which part of the brain free will is found in, but he denies that it has to do with epistemic considerations or metaphysical choices. "He argues that the brain’s computational circuitry fools us into thinking we know more than we do, and that what we call consciousness — isn’t." [ibid]

"The first problem that really grabbed me was the question of how on Earth a brain can learn. I thought there's got to be some way that neurons can try things out by trial and error and in effect get punished for getting it wrong and encouraged for getting it right." http://www.pbs.org/saf/1103/features/dennett.htm

The metaphysics of this Academy would maintain that while trial and error are necessary given that Man is not supernatural and omniscient, the "reward for getting it right" is the rational recognition that a syllogism of deductive logic was valid and thus memorable. In other words, in an effort of trial and error, the mind goes through equations of language, such as "If I stick my finger in a flame, my finger will burn." Man knows this from trial and error, and it is rationally evident, as well as physically, painfully evident.

The mind is limited in the number of deductive "equations" it can make. The number is 256, including variations known as "moods and figures." Out of these 256, only fifteen are valid. This means the mind has only 15 chances to "get it right," while it has 241 chances to "get it wrong." Is this not the "some way" that Dennett says was "the first problem that really grabbed him"?

Now, I'm certain that Dennett, an expert logician, went beyond this explanation to look for the neurological explanations for what happens in the brain during these 15 valid moments and these 241 invalid moments.

But what is revealing here is when he says that rational recognitions of logical validity "are just simple switches and springs and so forth. [ ] It takes on just the tiniest bit of mentality. It does something that we think of as requiring a mind."

So here is a Naturalist, a revered scientist in his many fields, who does not deny the existence of free will, but attributes it to "switches and springs" which "take on just the tiniest bit of mentality," in an act "that we think of as requiring a mind."

Well, doesn't it require a mind? Not the kind of rational mind a man of his stature and education would be expected to recognize.

This tiny bit of mentality is "what I call the intentional stance. Think of something as simple as a mousetrap. It's set up, it's open, it's waiting. Well, there's one little thing it can do. It can snap. And it may snap at the right sort of thing, it may snap at the wrong sort of thing."

So free will is the "snapping" of "mousetraps" in the "tiniest bit of mentality" that isn't really what we think of a mind, and the fact that it snaps at the wrong sorts of things means Dennett, this cognitive scientist, is not recognizing that when the mousetrap "snaps" it does so in an act of epistemological validation or invalidation of the syllogism that makes the whole mousetrap work in the first place.

I'm not willing to buy into any of it. Yes, I do not deny that the mind works neurologically but I stand with the "philosophers who maintain that the most important aspects of consciousness — intentionality and subjective quality," http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/bios/dennett.html are matters of value judgments made by people who have validated enough syllogistic mousetraps to be able to rationally choose which mousetrap to spring and when to spring it.

I do not deny that if memes exist they are things that get trapped in our minds as "units of culture," but I deny that they are "infections" that cause us to do such mindless and purposeless things as to fold our toilet paper in squares. http://kingsofsimulcast.blogspot.com/2008/02/toilet-paper-meme.html Anyone who folds TP in squares is not infected with the idea, but perhaps for no reason whatever that could be identified, chose to fold it. ""A major problem with theories of free will is that arbitrary choices are simply random." [Kelly]

So it would seem that memeticists such as Blackwell and Dennett and others cannot bring themselves to the simple idea that free will is often arbitrary and random, and that acts of free will such folding one's TP may have no "infectious" content but is a decidedly human and silly thing to do.

I cannot hold a strong position on Naturalism, and at the same time deny that the free will of humans exists; nor accept that its existence is based on the supernatural grace of God; nor deny that its existence is based on the justified natural grounds that consciousness can arise from atomistic and tychistic events tied to the nature of the brain itself.

(Tychism: A term derived from the Greek, tyche, fortune, chance, and employed by Charles Sanders Peirce (1839-1914) to express any theory which regards chance as an objective reality, operative in the cosmos. Also the hypothesis that evolution occurs owing to fortuitous variations.) http://www.ditext.com/runes/t.html

Chance is an objective reality, and to deny that consciousness and free will are natural, not supernatural; or to accept it as supernatural, from a Creator rather than as existents of objective reality based on natural law, is to deny that Naturalism is objective, making it impossible to deny that some of its claims are not defences against theist arguments that free will can only come from God.

"The philosophical goal of pursuing knowledge about the truth of naturalism contributes to bringing the philosopher to an epistemic state where a cultural consequence is that the person desires and [ ] endeavors to bring about a certain state of culture, in this case, a mainly secularized academia. [T]he most important philosophical aspect of pursuing this cultural goal in a philosophically governed way is producing better arguments (to put matters in a simplified way) than the theist, which requires an openness to a fair-minded evaluation of good arguments for theism." [italics added] Quentin Smith http://www.philoonline.org/library/smith_4_2.htm

It is obvious that aguments of "infections" and "mousetraps" and "tiny bits of mentality" and the reasons people around the world fold their TP into squares, and that "the brain’s computational circuitry fools us into thinking we know more than we do, and that what we call consciousness — isn’t," are not better arguments than the Deist who claims a devout belief in God because only Reason can bestow Reason.

It is also obvious that the arguments of Naturalism are becoming so fragmented and convoluted in some cases, that the Creationist have a good chance of relegating Naturalism to the dust bin, if only because the Creationists sound so much more rational than some of our best known secularists.

And I thought Naturalism was about rationality, whereas theism was about the acceptance of faith, the most powerful abnegator of reason in the arsenal of logic--or illogic.

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