20141119

Critique of TSW Part 24b The Mind-Brain Muddle

Blog 20141119

Bill gets mired in the skeptic-dogmatist muddle and tries to figure out the difference between information and knowledge.

I am ever so grateful to Bill Westmiller, whose comments are marked "BW: ". The quotes marked TSW are from "The Scientific Worldview" and my comments are marked "[GB: ".

The Mind-Brain Muddle (Part 2 of 7)

TSW:  "The skeptics have learned correctly that there is no a priori  ... but that doesn't mean that knowledge is therefore impossible. The dogmatists ... err in denying the necessity and tentativeness of the assumptions ..."

BW: You've bundled a lot of ideas into a dualistic "muddle", making it less clear. Skeptics believe that all knowledge is presumptive and therefore false. Dogmatists believe that knowledge is self-evident and therefore true.

[GB: I thought that the quoted statement summed it up nicely. You saw it as a “muddle,” because, as an indeterminist who believes in finity, you would have liked the universe to present us with black and white answers. This is never possible in a universe guided by the Second Assumption of Science, causality (All effects have an infinite number of material causes). That is why all our measurements have a plus or minus. We can never discover a single effect that has a finite number of causes.

If you consider yourself a skeptic, then your addition of the words “and therefore false” betrays your demand for a finite universe that you can never have. No one can perform science (or anything else) without first presuming and without accepting less than perfection in the result. You will never be able to determine a finite set of causes that would satisfy your demand for “truth.” You will always have to accept something less. Too bad, that is the way the universe is.

If you consider yourself a dogmatist, then you will have to at least admit that “some” knowledge is not self-evident and indeed might not be true. The only way we can determine what is true, is by interacting with the external world. The “truth” that we discover is nonetheless conditional. It is never rigid, finite, and as wonderfully perfect as the skeptic might demand and the dogmatist proclaim.]

TSW:  "It is only common sense that, on the average, those individuals and groups who did know survived longer than those who did not. If power is the ability to act, and if survival requires acting, then the knowledge of how to act to survive is indeed evolutionary."

BW: Yes and no. Knowledge of means to survival is critical and knowledge itself evolves, but individuals don't evolve in the Darwinian sense. For a species or other biologic group, it isn't sufficient to merely survive, but also to procreate. Of course, a person with the genetic capacity to acquire and use knowledge is more likely to survive and procreate. But, her knowledge doesn't get transferred to her offspring, as Lamarck would insist. The only thing that gets transferred is the *potential* of the brain structure that facilitates the acquisition or application of knowledge. It is true that the wise procreators will nurture that potential and motivate the acquisition of knowledge in their children. But, it isn't the knowledge per-se that is inherited, so the wise act itself is not biologically "evolutionary".

[GB: You still don’t get it. Every action in the infinite universe is evolutionary. Your statement that “individuals don't evolve in the Darwinian sense” might be true “in the Darwinian sense,” but it is not true in the sense portrayed by univironmental determinism. Existence for even one more microsecond is evolutionary. That is why I submit that neo-Darwinism definitely is not the mechanism of evolution, as proclaimed by the over-specialized in biology. Procreation, for instance, involves much more than just genes. Aunts, uncles, grandparents, and soldiers are part of procreation. All acts are evolutionary. That is why knowledge is so important for survival.]

TSW:  "... the first step ... is to assume for a moment that knowledge is matter and that knowing is the motion of that matter."

BW: Seems upside-down to me. Knowledge is the condition of knowing some fact. The fact is more proximate to the "things" (matter) that exists in reality, while knowledge is more proximate to the mental effort of storage and retrieval (motion). However, both the condition and the known are a *result* (effect) of the learning *process* (cause) which modifies the brain. To have knowledge is to have the ability to retrieve learned facts. To know is to acquire valid facts from reality and abstract them for storage in the brain. So, they are two different processes, not different aspects of the same thing.

[GB: Again, I stand by the quote. Knowledge is not the condition of knowing some fact. Knowledge is information stored in the brain. Thus, to have knowledge is not the ability to retrieve learned facts. The ability to retrieve has little to do with what is to be retrieved. You should know that from your study of the computer you use every day. Your hard drive contains information, which amounts to a kind of “knowledge” for the computer. Retrieving that information is a process that has little to do with the information contained therein. Thus, many of us know a lot of stuff, but we get poorer at retrieving it as we age. The smartest person stores a lot of information quickly and retrieves it quickly. What is so hard about that?]

TSW:  "From the deterministic viewpoint, information is matter outside the biological microcosm, while knowledge is matter inside the biological microcosm."

BW: This proposition doesn't follow from the knowledge=matter and knowing=motion premise stated earlier. Obviously, both relate to information, but information is not simply facts about matter; it is also facts about motion. Certainly, we can have information about matter and motion "inside" our biological construct, just as much as outside it. To speak of knowledge as being only "inside" our brain makes no sense. There can be knowledge in books or computers (external, material objects), learned by others from reality, which facilitate retrieval and learning by the reader. Piling one dualism on top of another doesn't clarify or inform, it just rattles the brain.

[GB: I stand by the definitions above. Of course, both knowledge and information concern both matter and motion. Sorry, but the stuff in books is information, not knowledge. Sorry that your brain has been rattled by knowledge and information.]

TSW: "From the neomechanistic viewpoint, information, like all other things or processes, is either matter or the motion of matter. Clearly, information is matter."

BW: Self-contradictory. If information is "like all other ... processes", then it is matter in motion. Saying that information is only matter discards the most important things to know: how the matter is uniquely configured as a distinct "thing" and how it moves or changes in response to other "things". Information isn't a material object; it is an observed fact, acquired from reality and expressed in human abstracts, that can be stored in our brains and communicated to others.

[GB: Not contradictory at all. Information is not motion. Even when we observe motion, we are forced to objectify it. By doing so, we are forced to consider motion (e.g., time) as a thing. You had to do it yourself when you wrote about “the most important things (my italics) to know” and “how the matter is uniquely configured as a distinct "thing".” The representations of these “things” we consider information can only be stored in the brain as “things” even though the process involving the storing involves motion. I have no idea what you mean by: “Information isn't a material object; it is an observed fact, acquired from reality and expressed in human abstracts, that can be stored in our brains and communicated to others.” The universe consists only of matter in motion. It seems that you are trying to come up with something other than matter in motion, which you then consider to be the mysterious “fact” or the “human abstracts,” which nonetheless can be “stored in our brains” like the matter it really is.]    

TSW:  "... the brain, being matter, can only store knowledge in a finite form. The brain is forced to abstract from the infinite detail of the natural object."

BW: Yes and no. The brain is not merely matter: a dead brain stores nothing. The human is a processing device, with specific capabilities, such as abstraction (which may not exist in non-sapient brains). However, the human brain per-se (as an organic device) isn't "forced" to abstract; it can evade abstracting information from nature by simply ignoring it. Nevertheless, it is true that any "device" is finite, so acquiring and storing information is always a selective process. No entity - including God - can possibly know everything there is to know about the universe: brains aren't infinite and can't "contain" the universe.

[GB: Sorry, but the brain is merely matter; it cannot be any “thing” (xyz, remember?) else. So it is like a computer, which is definitely a thing and can only store finite quantities of data. I stand by the quote, just as you did when you recognized that brains, like computers must abstract in order to process information because there is an infinite amount of information to abstract from. Thus, “non-sapient brains,” like all brains, must abstract in order operate at all.]

TSW:  "Any writer knows that it takes a lot more energy to think up words and type them than to type gibberish."

BW: I think the average human consumes 20% of its energy in brain processing. Sometimes, I think that writers consume 80% of their energy thinking about the next word in a coherent sentence.

TSW:  "... because information gathering and processing is a human activity, this gives, in [the indeterminist's] view, a mystical, supernatural quality to humans, too."

BW: I'm not sure that's an "indeterminist" view, just a mystical view of cause and effect: whatever the mystic can't explain is caused by something "unseen" and therefore "supernatural". Note my prior comments on "breath=spirit".

TSW:  Deutsch: "knowledge is a physical process, or rather a particular configuration of physical processes... information can be defined as a patterned distribution, or a patterned relationship between events."

"Appealing as this may be to the conjurors of matterless motion, it brings with it obvious problems. For instance, it would forbid our everyday treatment of information as matter."

BW: I agree with Deutsch, but I don't think he's advocating "matterless motion" at all, since a process is just a particular kind of directed motion of matter. It seems to me that abstraction is essentially pattern recognition, which is a capacity of the human brain. For example: observing that balls "fall" and bricks "fall" suggests a pattern of motion that is abstracted as a process called "gravity". (BTW: I disagree with Deutsch's devotion to "models" of human behavior.)

[GB: My specific objection to Deutsch was his implication that there could be “a particular configuration of physical processes.” Processes are motions and motions do not have configurations, only matter does. Clear thinking always requires distinctions between matter and motion, guided by the Fourth Assumption of Science, inseparability (Just as there is no motion without matter, so there is no matter without motion). This is difficult, and like so many others, Deutsch fell into the trap set by separability. Any patterns we observe are patterns produced by matter, not by motion.]

TSW:  "Facts, like all other things, must be viewed in context ..."

BW: Agreed. This is almost an endorsement of my sense of facts as "unmitigated truths". An assertion about reality can be considered *absolutely true* in the absence of contrary evidence. Humans *need* that kind of certainty in order to make any progress in comprehending nature. Absent that kind of rational certainty, we would be perpetually disputing the question of whether existence exists.

[GB: Sorry, but we don’t need no certainty. We can (and do) make assumptions instead. Per the First Assumption of Science, materialism (The universe displays only two basic phenomena: matter and the motion of matter), we assume existence. Similarly, per the Second Assumption of Science, causality (All effects have an infinite number of material causes), we assume that there is no free will—that there are material causes for our every action.] 

Next: The Mind-Brain Muddle (Part 3 of 7)

cotsw 051


4 comments:

Bligh said...

GB ….inseparability(Just as there is no motion without matter, so there is no matter without motion). This is difficult, and like so many others, Deutsch fell into the trap set by separability. Any patterns we observe are patterns produced by matter, not by motion.]
This must be confusing to any new readers. Even if they understand the assumption, you then go on to say patterns are produced by matter, not motion. You cannot separate something that is always fundamentally one and the same thing. IF you could freeze motion and IF matter would still remain, which is impossible since motion causes matter in the first place, but, if that were to happen, then yes the pattern would be there.
Matter and motion are one and the same. Motion, to us, is abstracted change of position or state. It is matter/motion at a later time. There is only the now, so abstracted changes are confused by us as “motion.”
So, there are two types of motion. 1) the one that makes matter and 2) the additional motion that is present as the changing state of the universe. The latter one is only an abstraction by our minds, from our memories primarily when looking back and by our reasoning when looking forward. Most of this, of course, based upon experience.
Bligh

Bligh said...

BW: Agreed. This is almost an endorsement of my sense of facts as "unmitigated truths". An assertion about reality can be considered *absolutely true* in the absence of contrary evidence. Humans *need* that kind of certainty in order to make any progress in comprehending nature. Absent that kind of rational certainty, we would be perpetually disputing the question of whether existence exists.

[GB: Sorry, but we don’t need no certainty. We can (and do) make assumptions instead. Per the First Assumption of Science, materialism (The universe displays only two basic phenomena: matter and the motion of matter), we assume existence. Similarly, per the Second Assumption of Science, causality (All effects have an infinite number of material causes), we assume that there is no free will—that there are material causes for our every action.]

“Mitigate” as less severe or to alleviate? So, facts are not altered to lessen their effects? Facts to me are like theories in that they are results or conclusions of the process of hypothesis, further observation, testing, gathering of evidence and then concluded to be true. Facts are justified, but not falsified. To make these less severe or alleviated does not fit, but facts as unfalsified truths. Hmmm. Maybe better?
Where would we be without the certainty of knowing “something” exists. So, humans do need that. I agree with BW about that. Other than something existing though, almost everything else is an assumption, isn’t it? An abstraction? Not to be too picky but the universe doesn’t display anything. It is observed by sentient and not so sentient beings.
Bligh

Glenn Borchardt said...

Sorry Bligh, but motion and matter are definitely not identical. Motion does not produce matter. The running of a dog does not produce a dog.

Glenn Borchardt said...

Bligh:

You wrote: "Where would we be without the certainty of knowing “something” exists."

We would be in the same place as we would be if we assumed that "something" exists.

When Bill says "unmitigated," he implies that he knows the unvarnished, perfect, complete truth about something. My point is that, in an infinite universe, that sort of perfection is impossible as well as antithetical to the possibility of a universe. Without the infinite number of imperfections we would not even be here.

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