Return of the Robot Zombie Slaves

Part of an ongoing discussion with a collection of molecules:

I said, “Under the materialistic model, there is no necessary reason to assume the universe is something human beings can understand. It may be the case that it is, but it may not be.”

You said, “Do humans in fact understand the universe? We have a bunch of useful tricks, certainly. …It may be that humans, in fact, can’t understand the universe, but can find some nice tricks that enable us to kill our enemies and get lots of bananas.”

Stripped of the condescending metaphor likening all human accomplishments to banana-getting, your statement in support of the materialistic model seems to confirm that what I said about the materialist model. The fact that the planets move according to a few, simple, elegant and beautiful laws is, for example, to the materialist, a lucky coincidence, or a mystery.

I said, “All you are doing here is invoking the Magic Darwin Fairies again: you assert that finding a correct model of the universe has some survival value.”

You said that by ‘understand’ you mean finding a useful trick. You then say “Finding useful tricks is, by construction, useful!”

Deducing the motions of the stars and planets according to the Ptolemaic or Newtonian model is useful, but Newtonian’s PRINCIPIA is not an genetically inherited trait. There is no immediate practical application to the knowledge of the procession of Mercury brought about by Einstein’s relativity: nevertheless I understand it, hence the word understand means, in common parlance, something other than utility. Hence, your assertions fail on two counts: (1) Not everything understood is useful (2) not everything useful is a trait favored by natural selection.

You say, “Yes, if you deny that the universe contains objective truth! But material objects genuinely do behave with regularity; there is an objective truth about them to be discovered. Thus a model such as ‘A is A’ is useful because it is true.”

I deny that materialism can give a coherent account of where truth exists in the universe, or why men just so happen to know it, or even whether men can know it.

My reasoning goes this way: 1. Materialism asserts that all things are matter; 2. matter is measurable magnitudes in extension, and can be expressed in terms of mass and length, duration, candlepower, temperature, etc.; 3. meaning has neither measurable magnitude nor extension, and cannot be expressed in terms of mass and length, duration, candlepower, temperature, etc.; 4. therefore if materialism is true, there is no meaning in reality. 5. “Meaning” includes signs, ideas, statements, representations, and everything that symbolizes a referent. 6. Only signs and ideas can have the following relation between symbol and referent: true or false, insightful or misleading, valid or invalid. 7. Therefore if materialism is true, there are no symbols and no ideas in the universe, and hence no truth. Materialism does not imply that all thoughts are false–materialism implies that thoughts do not exist at all, because no symbols of any kind exist. The theory of Materialism, if true, proves that all theories (including the theory of materialism) are meaningless, neither true nor false. Which is a self-contradiction.

(And I think your example is misplaced. “A is A” is the principle is self-identity in formal logic, it is not the principle that material objects behave with “regularity”. Regularity in turn is a category of thought, that is, a symbolic relation, such as cause and effect, between discrete events. A is A is an abstract description of the process of logic, having no utility outside of philosophical discussions. It neither overcomes enemies nor gets bananas.)

“Observe that your Platonic separation of matter and thought has a problem…That is, when I decide to throw a rock, my arm moves and the rock is thrown; but since thought cannot move matter, you require a miracle to explain the concordance.”

Sorry, is this comment directed at me? I am not sure if I have a Platonic separation of thought and matter. I have been saying that thought and matter are two dimensions of one reality, related to each other as the meaning of a letter is related to the shape and color of the ink-shape that represents or stands for or manifests it.

Or, if you like, the relation of mind to matter is the relation of form to matter. An “ice cube” both has the substance of frozen water and the shape of the cube, and this is neither a coincidence nor a miracle. To me, talking about discovering the content or meaning of thought “inside” the matter that represents thought is like talking about finding shape of the ice cube in the temperature and fluid properties of the water: it cannot be done.

Your assertion that thoughts cannot move muscles seems to be an arbitrary assertion. I would say that the fact that thoughts can move matter is a primary datum: I experience it when I type these letters here.

Your assertion is also a something of a straw man, since I did not say that it takes a coincidence, much less a miracle, to coordinate the material causes of matter and the material causes of thought: I said that thoughts cannot be described at all in terms of material causes.

As best I can guess, the basic difference between our positions is that you are looking at it as an “either-or” and I am looking at it as a “both-and”. The basic difference is not that you are a determinist and I am an indeterminist. The basic difference is that you think determinism and indeterminism are mutually exclusive and I do not. To you the question is “mind or matter?” and you chose matter. I think determinism and indeterminism are mutually necessary and interdependent. One cannot be imagined without the other. To me the answer is “mind and matter.”

As I have said before, this conversation will never move past the point of the both of us endlessly restating our positions and talking past each other until and unless we address more fundamental metaphysical issues, such as ontology and epistemology. What is the nature of existence as such? How do we know existence exists? Such questions may seem far fetched from our topic, if not aetherial, but failing to address them will fail to move the conversation past this point.

“I suggest, however, that the materialist problem is much more amenable to investigation, since it asserts a strong connection between matter and thought, and we know how to affect matter. Thus, we may one day learn how consciousness arises from matter, in the sense of being able to explain that such-and-such a configuration of atoms has a consciousness of this kind, and if you move them like so it is angry, and if you twist that one it becomes a Ghibelline, and so on. Your insubstantial spirits offer no such possibility.”

Forgive me, but since there is nothing outside of love potions in fairy stories which allowed a person could be turned from a Guelph into a Ghibelline merely by twitching matter one way or the other, rather than by convincing a him to support the Emperor as opposed to the Pope, I would suggest that the fact that your model allows for the possibility is its most obvious drawback.

I also suggest your chain of reasoning is backward. You reason that 1. The content and meaning of thoughts can be reduced to a material cause; 2. Therefore changing the matter can not only disarrange or damage thoughts, changing matter can alter the content or meaning of thoughts; 3. Therefore man can one day be reduced to subhuman robot slaves by the National Institute for Coordinated Experiments, and the humanity of man be abolished.

Indeed, humanity is already abolished and just not aware of it yet, because humanity never existed, since we all already merely meat machines and always have been, robot slaves brain-programmed by blind nature rather than by the N.I.C.E.

My reasoning is that 1. the National Institute for Coordinated Experiments are characters in a fairy tale; 2. Because changing matter cannot alter the content or meaning of thoughts, it can only (through intoxication) damage or disarrange them; 3. Because the content and meaning of thoughts cannot be reduced to material causes, even hypothetically.

If we were a robot slave programmed by blind nature we could not become aware of that idea nor of any other ideas since neither ideas nor awareness would exist, nor, if they existed, would they have any meaning.