Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Determinism, Metaphysics, and Me, Myself, and I

I wonder if it is precisely this "internal experience," this "consciousness [of] certain existing relationships," that most naturalists fear?

Daniel Dennett
is a leading author and teacher of scientific naturalism, a form that denies the existence of the soul and of free will. "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." TED.com

Mr. Dennett is an interesting figure because he does not argue that man is not by nature deterministic, but he certainly gives it new meaning, and his ideas appear alongside the names of others who may--or may not, there are so many of them--see the nature of man as more fatalistic (see below.) Some may even see us as less deterministic than Dennett; I couldn't begin to list the view of all the other people he appears beside if I had a year to do it. Which books, which lectures, which interviews did those others write or give in which their idea of man's determinism is defined?

These naturalists allow their names to appear together specifically because they deny anything supernatural. In one place alone appear the names of Susan Blackmore, Paul Bloom, Paul Broks, Daniel Dennett, Sheldon Drobny, Owen Flanagan, Ursula Goodenough, Joseph Hilbe, Nicholas Humphrey, Brian Leiter, Thomas Metzinger, Tamler Sommers, John Symons, and on another page of that site another list of other names. Surely, there is disagreement among them, somewhere, as described below in a website co-founded by Dennett.

The field of scientific naturalism leaves the door open to so many who "do not think alike on many action issues, and beyond the other principles [listed] below, it is not the movement’s desire to press for conformity." [emphasis added] The Brights

This lack of conformity is the reason that this Academy Blogger holds as a principle that free will and the soul exist, not as supernatural entities, but as a collection of Man's physiological actions which he then identifies as having a common "thread." This thread is a "unit" which is a "bridge between metaphysics and epistemology [and are] viewed by a consciousness in certain existing relationships." [emphasis in the original] Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology; Ayn Rand

Thus, man is able to naturalistically use his conscious powers to identify common elements between certain relationships of emotion and intellect, relationships which theists attribute to the supernatural, but which a metaphysical naturalist identifies as merely part of the process of the life of a man. He groups together these things into a relationship which he gives the name "soul."

Scientific naturalists refuse to identify these relationships as having the name "soul" because it is so tied through history with the theist notion of supernaturalism. But that is the theist's mistake; the scientific naturalist's mistake is in not recognizing the correct title of the relationship while denying the origins given to it by theists.

Properly identifying those relationships as "internal experience," someone mockingly wrote: "Pity us poor rational dualists. We have internal experience and yet no beliefs about God or Afterlife. We have more to lose. What I wonder: Are you absolutist non-dualists pretending not to have experience in order to soften the terror of your own deaths?"

I wonder if it is precisely this "internal experience," this "consciousness [of] certain existing relationships," that most naturalists fear?

Perhaps the "absolutist non-dualist" ideas he was considering were these:

  • "More and more, biology and neuroscience show that the brain and body do everything that the soul was supposed to do."[1]
  • "If you don’t believe in anything supernatural – gods, ghosts, immaterial souls and spirits – then you subscribe to naturalism, the idea that nature is all there is."[2]
  • "...there’s no evidence for immaterial souls..."[3]
  • "This means to see ourselves as completely physical, embodied, caused creatures, linked to the world in each and every respect, without souls..."
  • And: " The death of God up there is now followed by death of the “little god” in here: the soul..."
  • And: "...in dropping the soul and free will we get rid of the fictional supernatural agency that blocks true explanations of phenomena. This gives us power."[4]

The last bullet quote in [4] demonstrates how getting rid of the word "soul" itself somehow gives scientific naturalists their "power" to explain everything by physiology. But notice that while the author of all those quotations refuses to admit to a "non-material" soul, he is referring to something about "internal experience," identified as metaphysical. Metaphysics by definition is not material, so the author is denying the soul as "internal experiences" to which we give the metaphysical name "soul," even while metaphysical naturalism keeps supernaturalism out of it. To say something is "metaphysical" is not to say it is supernatural.

The author of those quotes, Tom Clark, runs a pair of websites devoted to debunking the metaphysics of the soul and of free will. Daniel Dennett's name appears on Clark's sites, alongside those many other names who may or may not agree with either Clark or Dennett, who here appear to be disagreeing each with the other.

Last week, I wrote, "...because the brain is specifically an animal organ, a determinist would think that his thoughts are actions caused by specific psychical or physical conditions." This is what Clark would have us believe.

And, in fact, this view is true, if you do not figure fatalism into the mix. "Fatalism is the view that we are powerless to do anything other than what we actually do." Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy Clark would have us believe in this powerlessness. The argument runs that if you could go back in time and all other things remained the same, would a man have the free (libertarian) will to do differently than he did the first time? To answer no is fatalism, because it denies the ability to do something other than what one did do. To say "given that all other things remain the same," is to say "of course he could do nothing differently; nothing has changed." That is a not a fair test of free will, to change nothing, yet expect that free will would do something different anyway. Change one thing, then ask if free will would act differently, or if it would choose the same.
The difference between the determinism of scientific naturalism and the non-determinism of metaphysical naturalism is in this case metaphysics. The determinist has us believing that the brain is nothing but "conditioning," nothing but physiological actions of the "sensory cortex [ ] activated [ ] using corticocortical and corticothalamic fibers." Bernard J. Baars and Katherine McGovern

Such determinists do not deny that we have choices. In an interview in Reason magazine online, Daniel Dennett, appearing to contradict much of what his fellow authors say, said this:

"Determinism is the idea that what you do depends. What happens depends on what you do, what you do depends on what you know, what you know depends on what you're caused to know, and so forth -- but still, what you do matters. There's a big difference between that and fatalism. Fatalism is determinism with you left out."

Thank goodness someone sees the metaphysical relationships that determine the existence of "me, myself, and I." The way scientific naturalism is headed, someone, someday, is going to declare that those entities are also supernatural, and therefore do not exist.

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