Critique of TSW Part 27c The Myth of Exceptionalism

Blog 20150311 

Bill confuses mystics with determinists and claims that univironmental determinism denies 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 Myth of Exceptionalism (Part 3 of 4)

TSW:  "Only an indeterminist could see humanity as part of nature and not part at the same time."

BW: Of course human beings are a part of nature. Only mystics believe that the "spirits" of humans are "above" nature, thanks to a grant by God. I don't think it's useful or informative to use the term "indeterminist" to describe every view with which you disagree. Mystics are, in a sense, *absolute determinists* who believe with certainty in their teleologic or scatologic future.

[GB: You certainly have a different view of indeterminists and mystics. By my definition, indeterminists are those who use the assumptions in opposition to “The Ten Assumptions of Science”. I do not know of anyone who thinks that mystics are determinists (material causes for all effects), absolute, or otherwise. As you should know by now certainty is the indeterministic opposite of uncertainty.]

TSW:  "The solipsist’s or fatalist’s tendency to lean back and 'let nature take its course because it is all determined by the univironment anyway' is also determined by matter in motion."

BW: If you reject free will (as I've described it previously), then your form of determinism is fatalistic: there can be no knowledge, no ethics, no choice of behaviors. I think you have it wrong, but the way you've framed the question, "Univironmental Determinism" is pervasively fatalistic.

[GB: Remember that there are two major errors one can make in philosophy: solipsism and fatalism. Univironmental determinism eschews both of those. Solipsism is the belief that you control what happens to you and fatalism is the belief that the environment controls what happens to you. The scientific truth is that what happens to you is the result of your interactions with the environment. Even fatalism still allows for “knowledge, ethics, and choice of behaviors”, while solipsism allows for nothing at all. You will find that univironmental analysis will help you understand how the universe works. I am sorry that you hoped for something else, but the law of gravity and all the other physical laws have the last say. Your free will assumption will never change that. You are probably right that we are just part of the green scum on the planet Earth. Too bad. I think I now will have another glass of wine…]  

TSW:  Engels: "determinism ... tries to dispose of chance by denying it altogether. According to this conception only simple, direct necessity prevails in nature ... an irrevocable concatenation of cause and effect."

BW: Egads. I'm actually agreeing with a few observations by Engels. Certainly, I will burn in libertarian hell. ;-)

He is correct that determinism precludes chance, which is merely an admission that we don't know the causes, but have detected a probability. And, he is correct that there is an "irrevocable concatenation" of cause and effect. His error is in assuming that all causes *must* conform with the Laws of Nature. I've made the case that there is a unique cause of human actions (not mere chance) that can be pure fantasy. See my prior Notes on Ethics and Free Will.

[GB: I do not think you got his meaning correctly. Engels was an indeterminist opposed to the “irrevocable concatenation of cause and effect”. He apparently thought that without free will, there could be no revolution. Glad to see that we agree with him that determinism completely rules out chance per our assumption of uncertainty. Unfortunately, like you, Engels did not assume “that all causes *must* conform with the Laws of Nature”. On the other hand, it was nice that he refrained from making up stuff. I hope you realize that fantasy also is dependent on chemistry and physics. That is why our dreams at night so often have images from our experiences during the day. BTW: If you are sincere about defending the free will idea, I understand that, to be at the frontier, you now need to invoke quantum mechanics. Like religion, the intellectual space left over continues to shrink. After adopting the Copenhagen interpretation, you might then be able to disagree with Engels after all.]

TSW:  "... because every effect has an infinite number of causes ..."

BW: I've disputed this proposition to exhaustion in prior commentary. To summarize: a) there can be no cause for proximate events beyond our light sphere, which may be moving toward infinity, but is always finite; b) information radiates, subject to the inverse square law, which means that remote factors that affect any event are (to humans) inconsequential; c) asserting that the causes of any specific event are infinite is a denial of the possibility of human knowledge; and d) the proposition that causes are infinite is the exact inverse of Aquinas' proposition that all causes diminish to a single cause: God. Both propositions are false.

[GB: At least you are consistent. Finite Particle Theory (FPT), which you adhere to, would force one to rely on the inverse square law to satisfy the requirements of the Second Assumption of Science, causality (All effects have an infinite number of material causes). Of course, FPT is a contradiction of causality as well as the Third Assumption of Science, uncertainty (It is impossible to know everything about anything, but it is possible to know more about anything), which certainly is not a “denial of the possibility of human knowledge”.

Your problem with regard to infinity is common to many, so I will present some addition explanation. There are all kinds of infinities (e.g., an infinite number of even numbers and an infinite number of odd numbers, etc.). Nonetheless, there are only two main types: micro and macro. That is why I state the Eighth Assumption of Science, infinity as this: The universe is infinite, both in the microcosmic and macrocosmic directions. As you have noted, without the micro version of infinity, infinite causality would make no sense. On the contrary, micro infinity does not force us to seek causes far afield, for they are right here all the time. Remember that “empty space,” like “solid matter,” is an idealization. The impossibility of perfectly empty space also makes non-existence impossible. With the intervening space between microcosms being filled with still more microcosms per interconnection, we have the assumed infinity of causes (microcosms in motion) right here at home. That is why every measurement we can make has a plus or minus per uncertainty. That is why we can never make perfect predictions.

BTW: I love your pointing out the association between the indeterministic assumption of finity and Aquinas' single cause god assumption.]

TSW:  "The theological conception emphasizes the 'pre' in predestination, thus implying a subjective, conscious intent. The scientific conception emphasizes the 'destination' in predestination, thus implying an objective nature."

BW: You've paired a set of two conditions, illogically. An observation may be either subjective or objective, relative or absolute. A subjective claim is one that is necessarily relative to the subject's frame of reference. An objective claim is one that can be verified by multiple subjects, with unique frames of reference, as an absolute (or at least unmitigated) truth. That's not a contradiction, nor a problem, just a matter of validating (by evidence and logic) the merits of the claim.

[GB: Sorry, but I see nothing wrong with analyzing individual parts of a particular word. The quote stands as written. You are correct in implying that “predestination” is an oxymoron. This involves the difference between actions that may happen and actions that have already happened. With an infinite number of causes for any effect, we can never be 100% positive that a particular predicted effect will actually occur. Thus, we may predict that we will see the Sun tomorrow, but that may not occur if some unexpected clouds get in the way.]   

BW: The problem is that you've "married" that distinction with "conscious intent", which is entirely different. Only a small portion of reality (vertebrates) is conscious and even a smaller portion (humans) act with the intent of achieving an objective. The error of mystics is to assume that all events are "intended" ... by some supernatural being. But, nature has no intent: it can only do what it must do, irrespective of any consequential effects.

[GB: Gee, Bill, I wish you would stop denigrating vertebrates. I know a lot of them have “the intent of achieving an objective”. Without those objectives, no nests would be built. Remember that the difference between mystics and us determinists revolves around whether any particular objective is supernatural or natural. You are right that nature has no intent. It just is.]

BW: So, I don't think the contrary proposition of "unconscious intent" is properly paired with "objective" claims, which are all conscious. I think you're trying to deny the existence of conscious intent in human acts, because that would imply free will. To my mind, you're trying to fabricate a dichotomy by denying reality.

[GB: You can call any act “conscious” or “unconscious”. But what we generally think of as “conscious” behavior is that which involves an obvious thought process. Those motions within the brain and nervous system of whatever microcosm have nothing to do with free will. The reality is that the electrical operations of the mind are so complicated that some folks tend to hypothesize supernatural reasons for their occurrence.]

Next: The Myth of Exceptionalism Part 4 of 4

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