Sunday, March 30, 2008

Liberal Fascism - Getting to the Root of the Matter

The Roots of Liberal Fascism – the sickly off-shoots of healthy LiberalismI finally finished reading Liberal Fascism, and enjoyed it, with some caveats, but before getting into a useful review of it, I think I need to go back to the source of the ‘arguments’ against it, and the ideas which underlay them and modern leftism and its more extreme expression in Fascism.

Liberalism, in the Modern sense, the Enlightenment sense, is something new on the stage of governing – not so much in the form it takes, there is little truly new that Plato and Aristotle didn’t describe 2,500 years ago, but their mainsprings are different now with Liberalism – whether clean or corrupted - and all points in between, through it, both Liberty and Tyranny have taken on a new character and power.

Prior to Descartes, Hume, Rousseau and Kant, we of course had many variants of despotism –but we didn’t have that ingredient so necessary to the corruption of Liberalism and the growth of Progressivism & Fascism, until after Hume. Prior to modernity, the differing modes of government were essentially variations in the exercise of power – but Liberalism brought something new to government – that of power exercised not for powers sake alone, not even for maintaining order… or tradition, but for Good (even if it requires doing Evil).

How this pertains to Hume, is that because of his peculiar manner of making his observations, he observed what he did not see and succeeded in convincing others that his myopic perspective was in fact the whole vista of what was there to be seen. In his blindness was sown the seeds of not seeing what was clearly there to be seen with two good eyes - but necessarily missed with a single microscope. He not only convinced others that what he didn’t see, was there to be seen by all, but that in order to claim to see, you had to shut one eye and refuse to see the full picture. The philosophic equivalent of zooming in on a picture of Marilyn Monroe so that only the pixels are visible, and claiming that to be conclusive proof not only that she was not beautiful, but that beauty itself is an illusion. What he didn’t see, was Causality, which means nothing less than our connection to reality – no causation, no connection to reality, no principles, no Good, no Beauty, no Truth.

It’s a biggee to miss out on.

Hume’s errors, or rather the further errors which his errors ensured, made possible the rejection of Truths Self Evident, made pointless a pursuit of Happiness, and cast as baseless and imaginary, the Rights of citizens to their lives or their Property. The Sun which had risen with the Renaissance, broken through the gloomy sky of tyranny and ignorance in that period between Locke and the Founders Generation, was noticeably dimmed from his words and nearly blotted out by those who followed them up afterwards.

Normally I tend to give Hume and Descartes a pass on their errors, but recently rereading Hume reminded me that he is where we find the first tangible expression of the coming storms of intellectual destruction. Like Descartes, whose errors are most responsible for spawning the modern madness, I think Hume made his errors innocently, misdirected by erring perspective and flawed premises, but his errors, together with Descartes’, made the deliberate constructions of Rousseau and Kant possible – and torrential rivers of blood have flowed from those words, proving in fact that the pen is far mightier, and far more destructive, than any sword.

What is Causality and Where is it?The essence of Hume is to be found in his relatively short “Essay Concerning Human Understanding”, the core of his essay, and source of his blinded vision, is his attack on the idea of our being able to grasp causality, and his use of Necessary and Contingent truths (its interesting to see how Kant later intensified and recast their usage) to help accomplish that.

Hume asked “What IS Causality, and Where is It?”As with many things, asking a question in the wrong way, as Hume did, almost ensures an error filled response. Before getting into the Modernist view, lets take a look at what the older dead white guys said about it first.

Zeno (490 – 435 B.C.) was a master of asking questions inappropriately, causing your mind to seize up in exasperation. I’ve noted the ‘Achilles vs Tortoise’ paradox before, which says crossing the gap is impossible, because it always involves halving the distance, but halving the distance means never crossing the whole… but another of his paradox’s, related to that and causality, but via motion, is the Arrow Paradox, in it Zenoasks us to imagine an arrow in flight. He then asks us to divide up time into a series of indivisible nows or moments. At any given moment if we look at the arrow it has an exact location so it is not moving. Yet movement has to happen in the present; it can't be that there's no movement in the present yet movement in the past or future. So throughout all time, the arrow is at rest. Thus motion cannot happen.”

This is precisely the type of error Hume made, expecting more or different data than is appropriate for the nature of the subject. Now, a full explanation of the facts of the paradox, how to measure motion, required Calculus, which meant having to wait 2,000 years for Newton… but not being quite that patient, Aristotle answered it’s more fundamental philosophical flaw, and rejected its being worthy of any further attention – and he was correct in doing so. He focused on the obvious mis-applied question “for time is not composed of indivisible 'nows', no more than is any other magnitude.”Time is whole and complete, for our convenience, we mark off lengths of it into years, days, hours, etc, but Time isn’t made up of such assembled units, and trying to ask of it such criteria, loads the error in up front. Zeno assumes that position, movement and time are all actually divisible into physically compartmentalized points or ‘moments’, and that movement consists of pushing causality into the future. Also, it assumes what we now recognize to be incompatible variables, in position and movement, in the sense that an exact determination of either one of them leaves the other completely undetermined (“um… hello Heisenberg? Ancient Greece calling…”). It’s attempting an equivocation, mixing apples and oranges, just because they are round fruit, and then trying to apply citrus queries upon the apple, and apple criteria on the citrus, then blames you or the trees for the resulting error. Blech.

Aristotle approached the issue of causality with four perspectives: Material, Formal, Efficient and Final; and if you look closely at Aristotle’s, he isn’t so much looking for Causality, as if it were a thing to be found, but describing it as a process to be observed and identified. There is little similarity between the two approaches; the word he used doesn’t even mean quite what we do by causality, their meaning leaning more towards responsibility than cause. But there’s a larger reason why Aristotle doesn’t approach causality as we do, he wasn’t misled into justifying reality against error. He didn’t buy into the modernist schism between us and reality, he saw that IT is and he was able to know it. He didn’t chase an ever receding bread crumb trail of infinitesimal arbitrary “what if?’s” into infinity… he chose to stay with reality. There is a huge difference involved between these two premises, and it forms the root of what separated Classical Liberalism from modern Leftism.

Lets compare the two, here’s the bullet points of Aristotle’s classic example of Causality in describing the creation of a bronze statue:
The material cause: “that out of which”, e.g., the bronze of a statue.
The formal cause: “the form”, “the account of what-it-is-to-be”, e.g., the shape of a statue.
The efficient cause: “the primary source of the change or rest”, e.g., the artisan, the art of bronze-casting the statue, the man who gives advice, the father of the child.
The final cause: “the end, that for the sake of which a thing is done”, e.g., health is the end of walking, losing weight, purging, drugs, and surgical tools.

Aristotle is identifying four phases of the creation of the statue, to answer the why-question of causality. (True, Aristotle sometimes let that 4th cause run away with him, ‘a ball falls in order to find its natural place closer to the earth’, etc, but we need to realize that ol’ Ari’ didn’t have Newton, or even Galileo’s shoulders to stand upon… it is they who stand upon his… it can be read as an attempt to grasp at deeper identifications which his instrument-less, calculus-less world was not privy to.)

Hume takes a very different approach, and seeks after something essentially different than Aristotle did. Here’s Hume’s classic example of two billiard balls, where he attempts to describe the first impressions a person might have, who has never before seen two billiard balls collide – he takes out his magnifying glass and seeks after a knowledge-thing, whole and innate, to spring forth on its own into his eyes (for all his protestations against a priori knowledge, his every doubt seems to assume it) :
…so must we also esteem the supposed tie or connexion between
the cause and effect, which binds them together, and renders it impossible that
any other effect could result from the operation of that cause. When I see, for
instance, a Billiard-ball moving in a straight line towards another; even
suppose motion in the second ball should by accident be suggested to me, as the
result of their contact or impulse; may I not conceive, that a hundred different
events might as well follow from that cause? May not both these balls remain at
absolute rest? May not the first ball return in a straight line, or leap off
from the second in any line or direction? All these suppositions are consistent
and conceivable. Why then should we give the preference to one, which is no more
consistent or conceivable than the rest? All our reasonings a priori will never
be able to show us any foundation for this preference.

In a word, then, every effect is a distinct event from its cause. It could not, therefore, be discovered in the cause, and the first invention or conception of it, a priori, must be entirely arbitrary. And even after it is suggested, the conjunction of it with the cause must appear equally arbitrary; since there are always many other effects, which, to reason, must seem fully as consistent and natural. In vain, therefore, should we pretend to determine any single event, or infer any cause or effect, without the assistance of observation and experience.[emphasis mine]
Notice the supposition of a Human uncontaminated by knowledge, coming into contact with experience; whereas Aristotle approaches it from the viewpoint of a knowledgeable human seeking to have his knowledge being deepened.

For Hume, reality exists to us only on the level of appearances, and those exist as mosaics, not paintings, disconnected and unrelated except by arbitrary placement (now that’s telling). Where Aristotle seeks to identify and integrate, to conceptualize, Hume specifically seeks to find, disintegrate and perceptualize. An Aristotelian finds that causality becomes apparent, natural, sensible, as their understanding of the balls identities deepen (‘from the rigid nature of the billiard ball, force transmits through the one ball into the other, rather than being absorbed, as would a tomatoe’). But Hume doesn’t seek to understand the nature of the billiard balls, but only that their apparent, immediate, in the moment visible, behavior doesn’t convey it all at once which is taken to mean that we can’t ever access it, he seeks only to analyze… find… something as if he’s looking to peel back a layer of the random and chaotic occurrences of reality and find a hidden and duly labeled packet which if squeezed open, causality will pop out!

Skeptics similarly seek value and quality in this way, always as separate and isolated items, contingent, not necessary, NEVER as an integrated whole[This is extremely important when it comes to their conception of policy and rights]. Hume defines causality as that which causes the one ball to spin off; but then asks something like, where is it? Where is causality? I see one ball hit another, I see one spin off, I see velocity and action, but I don’t see causality, do you? No, it is a surmise, a fabrication of your own mind, an understandable conclusion for a person to make, but it is a description, an explanation of events after the fact, a story we tell ourselves to explain it, little different than that of the sun being a chariot Apollo pulls across the sky, and no more valid. Hume, failing to find causality, declares it invalid.

In Hume’s words, Quantities and Movement exist, but what he calls Qualities – characteristics, properties, identity - on the other hand, are an illusion and a fabrication. This is core and critical to all of the ideas and movements which have followed ever since. It is central to the rejection of, and attack upon principles, and the fracturing of Liberalism into Classical Liberalism and all of the flavors of leftism in progressivism, Marxism, fascism, etc.

How do you go about seeing what they don’t see?
From the opening of Aristotle’s Physics:

When the objects of an inquiry, in any department, have principles, conditions, or elements, it is through acquaintance with these that knowledge, that is to say scientific knowledge, is attained. For we do not think that we know a thing until we are acquainted with its primary conditions or first principles, and have carried our analysis as far as its simplest elements.
Plainly therefore in the science of Nature, as in other branches of study, our
first task will be to try to determine what relates to its principles.

Now what is to us plain and obvious at first is rather confused masses, the elements
and principles of which become known to us later by analysis. Thus we must
advance from generalities to particulars; for it is a whole that is best known
to sense-perception, and a generality is a kind of whole, comprehending many
things within it, like parts.

How alien an approach, in relation to modernity – Aristotle analyzes for the purposes of synthesizing, integrating, Hume analyzes for the purpose of further disintegration, behaving, like Zeno, as if his separated, analyzed slices actually exist as separated slices, and through the further interposition of Descartes, Hume and Kant, we’ve allowed ourselves to become intellectually unsighted.

Skeptics behave as if they are standing outside reality observing appearances only and then they, Hume, claims to see no causation, to see no mind. They gasp “Trickery! Deceit!”at how the thing perceived somehow gets into the mind of its own, and is lodged there separate, different and unrelated to that which is perceived.
But this universal and primary opinion of all men is soon destroyed by the slightest philosophy, which teaches us, that nothing can ever be present to the mind but an image or perception, and that the senses are only the inlets, through which these images are conveyed, without being able to produce any immediate intercourse between the mind and the object.
They see no connection between perception and the thing perceived. Well, HOW did that perception get into the mind(This is the door to Kant’s playground – don’t get left there unattended)? The answer of course, is that it gets there through the process of the senses sensing it, it, that thing which exists, and which we sense. The Senses are the conduit by which the mind perceives reality, and the act of perceiving it, is what you, your consciousness does. But Hume dismisses that notion.
“It is a question of fact, whether the perceptions of the senses be produced by external objects, resembling them: how shall this question be determined? By experience surely; as all other questions of a like nature. But here experience is, and must be entirely silent. The mind has never anything present to it but the perceptions, and cannot possibly reach any experience of their connexion with objects. The supposition of such a connexion is, therefore, without any foundation in reasoning.” [emphasis mine]
Note the bizarre idea that there is some sort of nefarious switcheroo taking place between the starting point of perception - out there… somewhere… disconnected from us, where a snapshot or facsimile of the object is taken, and while in the possession of the biological U.S. Mail of the senses, it is tampered with, altered – maybe even substituted with a completely different image, before finally reaching our home – its packaging banged and torn, where it is finally pushed through the mail slot and into your mind. Now that’s doubt.

Why would you think that? Is there some basis for it, or is it just an arbitrary fear and assertion? Is there some discrepancy you’ve noticed between reality and what you perceive to be reality? How? How did you notice it, unless by means of your senses? If so, we can correct for it, if not, then such concerns are arbitrary and deserve no further consideration whatsoever. You don’t argue with someone asserting that maybe gremlins on mars are responsible for making leftists believe these things – you just dismiss it out of hand.

Hume says clearly and explicitly, that we have no way, no way, of reliably forming principles and determining causality, physically or normatively (that’s morally for those of you in Rio Linda). Keep in mind, that Hume’s point isn’t ‘Be careful you don’t get misled by your assumptions, always check to see that experience bears them out’ – that is not his message, neither is it that scientists must be careful that their premises are based in fact.


By what argument can it be proved, that the perceptions of the mind must be caused by external objects, entirely different from them, though resembling them (if that be possible) and could not arise either from the energy of the mind itself, or from the suggestion of some invisible and unknown spirit, or from some other cause still more unknown to us? It is acknowledged, that, in fact, many of these perceptions arise not from anything external, as in dreams, madness, and other diseases.
And morally,

The sceptical objections to moral evidence, or to the reasonings concerning matter of fact, are either popular or philosophical. The popular objections are derived from the natural weakness of human understanding; …. The great subverter of Pyrrhonism [skepticism] or the excessive principles of scepticism is action, and employment, and the occupations of common life. These principles may flourish and triumph in the schools; where it is, indeed, difficult, if not impossible, to refute them. But as soon as they leave the shade, and by the presence of the real objects, which actuate our passions and sentiments, are put in opposition to the more powerful principles of our nature, they vanish like smoke, and leave the most determined sceptic in the same condition as other mortals.

The sceptic, therefor,… while he justly insists, that all our evidence for any matter of fact, which lies beyond the testimony of sense or memory, is derived entirely from the relation of cause and effect; that we have no other idea of this relation than that of two objects, which have been frequently conjoined together; that we have no argument to convince us, that objects, which have, in our experience, been frequently conjoined, will likewise, in other instances, be conjoined in the same manner; and that nothing leads us to this inference but custom or a certain instinct of our nature; which it is indeed difficult to resist, but which, like other instincts, may be fallacious and deceitful. While the sceptic insists upon these topics, he shows his force, or rather, indeed, his own and our weakness; and seems, for the time at least, to destroy all assurance and conviction. These arguments might be displayed at greater length, if any durable good or benefit to society could ever be expected to result from them.

For here is the chief and most confounding objection to excessive scepticism, that no durable good can ever result from it; while it remains in its full force and vigour. We need only ask such a sceptic, What his meaning is? And what he proposes by all these curious researches? He is immediately at a loss, and knows not what to answer.
In the end, Hume grasps that his ideas don’t deepen knowledge, but destroy it, though he doesn’t grasp his error. To his credit, he doesn’t attempt to fabricate cover for his errors (as did Kant), but says ‘there’s something wrong here, but I don’t see it, and so I’ll just go right on believing it’. The root of his error, is the very thing that he seeks after, or rather, the way in which he seeks after it. Is causality a process, or a thing? A predictable result based upon the Identity of the actors involved within a context, or is it something, a thing, which is to be sought and found, or rejected for not being found, or as Kant would later do, prop it up with a false front and label it “Found – but Off Limits – No visitors please”? His problem is similar to trying to find ‘Motion’, you don’t find it, but describe and track it – to seek an actual existent called motion will bar you from being able to describe it at all, like one of Zeno’s old paradoxes.

But not seeing their error, or rather than admit their motive error, the skeptics response is to kill the messenger by attacking the senses – we can only know a faked and deliberately misleading representation of reality:”You think your senses show you reality? Whose reality? A bee doesn’t see the same reality as you do!”

Which is true.

Is it possible that we don't receive All of the data? Well, of course, as infra-red and ultra-violet prove, but does that reduce the validity of what we do receive & perceive? Hell no. How did we come to learn about ultra-violet? Are we sometimes wrong? Of course. There is a fear of error, present in both the Humian and Cartesian branches of thought, that always results in denial of Free Will. A fear and desire to either deny the possibility of error, through determinism, or deny the possibility of being correct, with skepticism, either way it seeks to escape the responsibility inherent in Free Will for your judgment and actions.

How do we become aware of our being wrong, except through having the ability to be Right? To perceive the Truth of the matter? While a bee doesn’t see the same reality that I do, the bee will never realize that, whereas we, by seeing more of reality than mere appearances, by seeing the deeper integrated nature of reality via our conceptual minds, are able to determine that we do see things differently than the bee does, and even are able to determine to what degree we differ, and approximate the reality that the bee does see. That is only possible because we do perceive a reliable grasp of reality through our perceptions. We see things, within the range of our senses, as they in fact Are.

We are not blind because we can see, we are not conscious-less because we are conscious of what we perceive. Because we are able to see into and conceptually understand reality, not just the surface, we needn’t look for causes as if they were stains upon a blue dress, we see the causes in the identity of the things themselves, no less so with the structures of billiard balls, than in the character of presidents.

The more we learn about what we perceive, the more we understand about causality, the only way two billiard balls will behave as Hume supposes, striking and stopping, is if they are not billiard balls, or else have something unusual present in their context, such as one being glued to the table, and perhaps both fitted with powerful interior magnets. That doesn’t affect causality, only expectations and lack of understanding their identity, and the surrounding context. Our expectations are of the fact that they are billiard balls and so will behave As billiard balls, and if not, not; but that is our expectations of their being a certain identity – expectation, not causality. And errors and illusions, so far from disproving our senses, the fact that we can be wrong, proves our ability to be Right! It proves our ability to perceive reality, discover error, and correct our conceptions.

In short, from identity, we derive principle. For Hume, from the proximity of disparate events, they propose explanations – not from identity and principle, but supposeds and effects.

What was the Causality of that?
As Hume states, following in his own flavor from Descartes, if there is no quantity, and no number, there is nothing to discuss, quality being out. Well, sorry Hume, but it is by way of the Qualities which your mind most certainly grasped, by which you are able to understand and utter the words quantities and number - without Quality – conceptual abstractions, there can be no concept of ‘number’ at all, and no quantities to be numbered. The very word number is a Quality, Quantities is a quality, to lack the ability to unite Quantity with the Qualities of the thing being quantified, is to experience madness.

Hume likes to make bones about the fact that he doesn’t fall for Descartes Cogito… but he’s really only the flip side of the same counterfeit coin. Where Descartes says “I think therefore I am”, Hume says “I think, therefore I can’t know” – each view separates consciousness from reality, and ensures the instability of all conceptual structures built upon them. Following from Descartes, if the Mind comes first (or after, as with Hume), there is either no cause – or no way to perceive it, no preconditions for it, either way you are separated from IT, that dreaded Reality, and so from that perspective it is not unreasonable to assume that other things just happen, uncaused and causeless, objects and actions for our minds to perceive and endlessly why about it, and so on….

Hume says we never perceive causes, only events and sequences and only infer causes - no, the events and sequences are only descriptions of the causes in action - in the case of the colliding billiard balls, the interaction of the properties of matter and force. He should perhaps have read Zeno’s paradox’s more closely – they demonstrate clearly what world would result from such thoughts, track stars who can’t catch tortoises, arrows which shot from a bow and never move – these are perfect illustrations of skeptical thought – that the world doesn’t behave that way, should be something of a wake up call to Hume and modernity! Sadly, modernity only continues to slap the snooze button.


Adam, though his rational faculties be supposed, at the very first, entirely perfect, could not have inferred from the fluidity and transparency of water that it would suffocate him, or from the light and warmth of fire that it would consume him. No object ever discovers, by the qualities which appear to the senses, either the causes which produced it, or the effects which will arise from it; nor can our reason, unassisted by experience, ever draw any inference concerning real existence and matter of fact.
Hume’s problem here is that he takes this to mean that no past experience can be used to predict present or future experiences, because he see’s these all as being isolated events. In the skeptics world, experience doesn’t add to your knowledge store, because that’s conceptual, not real, just imagination, it doesn’t increase your understanding of an objects identity, experience only applies NOW, and the very word ‘Objects’ smacks of ‘Quality’ to them, it is abstracted, they see only this, and this… and this… never these.


It is universally allowed by modern enquirers, that all the sensible qualities of objects, such as hard, soft, hot, cold, white, black, &c. are merely secondary, and exist not in the objects themselves, but are perceptions of the mind, without any external archetype or model, which they represent. If this be allowed, with regard to secondary qualities, it must also follow, with regard to the supposed primary qualities of extension and solidity; nor can the latter be any more entitled to that denomination than the former. The idea of extension is entirely acquired from the senses of sight and feeling; and if all the qualities, perceived by the senses, be in the mind, not in the object, the same conclusion must reach the idea of extension, which is wholly dependent on the sensible ideas or the ideas of secondary qualities. Nothing can save us from this conclusion, but the asserting, that the ideas of those primary qualities are attained by Abstraction, an opinion, which, if we examine it accurately, we shall find to be unintelligible, and even absurd. An extension, that is neither tangible nor visible, cannot possibly be conceived: and a tangible or visible extension, which is neither hard nor soft, black nor white, is equally beyond the reach of human conception. Let any man try to conceive a triangle in general, which is neither Isosceles nor Scalenum, nor has any particular length or proportion of sides; and he will soon perceive the absurdity of all the scholastic notions with regard to abstraction and general ideas.[1]
Here, Hume comes perilously close to describing what in computer programming is called a Class “…An extension, that is neither tangible nor visible, cannot possibly be conceived…” somewhat difficult perhaps, but hardly impossible – you only need to imagine a definition of properties and methods(actions, abilities) without the presence of those characteristics – or as Ayn Rand presciently (without benefit of any computer knowledge) described a Concept (in part) as “A concept is a mental integration of two or more units possessing the same distinguishing characteristic(s), with their particular measurements omitted". A square has four sides, that is the concept, the class, what squares are made from, but which itself never becomes an object, you don’t actually have a square until you instantiate it with the measurements for the sides. And remember, we are abstracting from reality!

Perhaps he lacked a coalescing metaphor to give order to his thoughts, to illuminate them – think Newton’s apple plopping down upon his head. Hume might have benefited from computers. Or Mr. Hume might have benefited from the experience of having children, had he, he might have discovered that babies discover that things fall – by experience. Spoons, forks, plates, you can see the baby learning that not only this and this and this fall to the ground… but that things fall! Not just “repetitious occurrence, habit” but knowledge of the objects in question. Babies, unlike skeptics, have no problem abstracting from particulars to generalities. They also recognize when an identity isn’t what they expected it to be - while they are busy dropping their tableware, hand them a helium balloon and watch their amazement as it floats away!

Wow! That's different from the other things!

They – babies – we - learn from and through experience with reality, they correct their errors through continued experience with and in, reality. They don’t Not See That! They don’t throw out their new found fascination with causality, they incorporate and amend it from all things fall, to some things fall, based on the identity of the thing involved. And they relentlessly examine the characteristics of objects, bit by bit - no one is suddenly aware of water or anything else - but when the situation occurs of something new being introduced, notice the fascination with the new object that a baby, and even adults (perhaps even skeptics) demonstrate - everything must be examined, weighed, tasted, banged, dropped, tossed, rolled - this is the process of discovering as much about that objects characteristics - it's Qualities - its Identity, as is possible to discover. From these examinations of particular things, higher concepts are abstracted, principles are discovered about reality by abstracting from experiences. This being done, we can more and more reliably observe the identity of objects and infer principles for them, and infer causality from their interactions, in this case, that most things fall – depending on the nature of the thing in consideration, and they aren’t invalidated by the billiard balls being glued to the table.

What’s the problem? “I Think, therefore I…” What? Of What? About What? Welcome to the world
The problem is that the skeptics of mind or spirit, both see themselves as outside of the universe, outside of their selves, as observers or hitchhikers on reality and mind, eagerly examining the dashboard for some proof of consciousness and reality. What they don't get is that they are of reality too, and the very process of perceiving reality, that which they think they are observing and seeing the absence of consciousness, is in fact the very consciousness they are unconscious of! That action of observing, of perceiving, is in fact the consciousness that they are unconscious of!

Reality exists, it exists as something, and that which perceives it, is Consciousness. You don't, as a conscious creature, observe something happening by examining outside reports of actions, you are part of the process of perceiving - the arguments of skeptics are like a hose hunting for what brings the water to the nozzle, and not finding it, declaring it doesn't exist.

It is You! You damn bonehead, Hume! When you ask where is consciousness, you've just demonstrated that you've not only found it, but ARE it!

When you see two billiard balls collide and look for the causality of one of them spinning away, you've just seen it! True, from appearances alone, you don’t know much about it, but it’s a start - the properties and structure, the quality of the material items, their nature IS the causality you are seeking after! And our grasp of it is deepened by our minds ability to conceive what we perceive into conceptual structures – these structures do not separate us from reality, but connect us to it, and our conceptual understanding does not separate us from that which our senses perceive, but more deeply enhance the integration of our minds with reality. These are not separate and distinct objects and modules from the visual image of the billiard ball, and attempting to describe them in that way, is the folly of over analyzing an item to the point of forgetting that you are analyzing, artificially demarking portions of a whole for the purposes of examination, and then taking those artificially separated items as being actually separate from the whole. They aren't, it isn't and neither are we.

In Ayn Rand’s words:

Causality
The law of causality is the law of identity applied to action. All actions are caused by entities. The nature of an action is caused and determined by the nature of the entities that act; a thing cannot act in contradiction to its nature … The law of identity does not permit you to have your cake and eat it, too. The law of causality does not permit you to eat your cake before you have it.
So What?This is at root, the trouble with modernity. Descartes, innocently perhaps, began the separation of thought that has resulted in hundreds of millions of deaths. By reviving the Cogito, 'Cogito ergo sum', 'I think, therefore I am', he created an intellectual disposition that saw the world as being separate, and ancillary, to ourselves. Thought came first, doubt came prior to that, and the world only exists as we come to perceive it to exist and is only real and significant where we can’t doubt it. This is the result of, and results in, ultimately the disintegration of thought – its dis-integration - and its separation from reality.

But 'I think, therefore I am' or ‘I think, therefore I can’t know’ is not the way it works, and it is very easy not to grasp that, and very easy to miss the mischief it impregnates into your mind - the crack which results in the shattering of all that is known to you.

It is important perhaps to first see what both the Cogito, and the skeptic, does not say, what they refute. It does not say 'It is, and in grasping that, I am aware that I AM.'

Do you see the difference? It is such an important one.

To say 'I think, therefore I am' is to say that you, your awareness of yourself, the thoughts you have, the ideas which form them, the words you use - somehow those preceded and are more substantial than the world out there; that only that which is, to use their terms, necessarily True are valid, and what depends upon that outside reality, is merely contingently true. It is necessarily true that a triangle have three sides - you can't imagine it otherwise. It is only contingently true that ice floats, after all, you can easily imagine it sinking - right? This mis-perspective unavoidably places the whimsy of your imagination, as being over and above in importance, of that which actually IS Real! Hume substitutes expectations based upon appearances for Identity and causality.

You can not think, at least not is such an abstract manner, without words, and you cannot acquire words without experiencing reality, that which the words apply to. And unless you are the very first, you must receive your language from exterior reality, and through all of the process of experiencing reality which the infant transitions towards adulthood, you acquire the ability to grasp reality with your mind, and to think. Then, and only then, can you 'Think' and say "I AM", but only after having come into contact with reality, only after through a long process of abstracting from concretes into ever deepening hierarchical structures of thought, do you attain the conceptual wherewithal of abstract thought.

From appearances we extend our concepts higher and deeper, and better grasp identity. Our child with his objects first sees that this, and this and this, falls, and he rises up to Objects fall. Then the helium balloon alters it to some objects fall, but balloons don’t. Then if you give him a breath balloon as well as a helium balloon, he will see that there is something different about the one… let the ‘air’ out of both, and they both fall, blow them up with breath and they both fall. Fill one up with helium, and that one will rise, and he then sees that some things, if you put them into others, makes them rise. He might continue, breathe in the helium, and now his voice sounds like a chipmunk, and conclude that helium makes all things rise, even voices. Now that is a partial truth, the seed of errors, a separation from reality, but more identification, more understanding of helium and larnyx’s will correct him, and his grasp of reality will be strengthened.

The process of continually abstracting, ever higher, leads to the most awesome power - for good or ill - of philosophizing. Half truths lead to full errors, and if separated at a fundamental level, will ensure error upon error, a separation from reality, and as history has shown, it is not unlikely that untold death and destruction may follow.

And finally, regarding the idea that we could possibly conceive of abstractions without images in our minds, such as the class of definitions absent measurements as with that of thinking of triangles as being three sided figures without measured sides, Hume says:
[1] This argument is drawn from Dr. Berkeley; and indeed most of the writings of that very ingenious author form the best lessons of scepticism, which are to be found either among the ancient or modern philosophers, Bayle not excepted. He professes, however, in his title-page (and undoubtedly with great truth) to have composed his book against the sceptics as well as against the atheists and free-thinkers. But that all his arguments, though otherwise intended, are, in reality, merely sceptical, appears from this, that they admit of no answer and produce no conviction. Their only effect is to cause that momentary amazement and irresolution and confusion, which is the result of scepticism.
Hume is, in the final analysis, anti-conceptual, keeping in mind that the concept of concepts at that time, were grasped only dimly by the Idealists such as Berkeley and Descartes (Dr. Samuel Johnson gave such ideas as idealism (that nothing really exists but the Forms, Ideas, the impressions of which our consciousness mistakes for reality - really just the flipside of skepticism), their due regard by kicking a heavy stone and stating "I refute it thus!"). And while I’m certainly not endorsing the idealism of Berkeley, but just as Hume chastises him for being a cloaked skeptic, I say the same about the idealism of Kant. What Kant brought to the equation, was not merely saying that we don’t really know what we think we do, but that we cannot know reality itself, except through an intermediary realm created from the consciousness of the collective culture. It isn’t really real, unless most people see it too. ‘a million Frenchmen can’t be wrong’, ‘66% of Americans don’t believe Iraq is going well’. That, due to Kant, is not just taken as popular comments from random people, it is assumed by those with their heads buried in the clouds, to actually mean something, to affect reality! To which the proper response, is as Cheney made to Martha Raddatz, ‘So?’.


Martha Raddatz, chief White House correspondent for ABC News, sat down with Mr. Cheney in Oman, the subject turned to the deep unpopularity of the Iraq war:
Raddatz: Two-third of Americans say it’s not worth fighting.
Cheney: So?
Raddatz: So? You don’t care what the American people think?
Cheney: No. I think you cannot be blown off course by the fluctuations in the public opinion polls. There has, in fact, been fundamental change and transformation and improvement for the better. That’s a huge accomplishment.
The network has posted video of the exchange online
What she might have answered, what was behind her reaction and which I’m constantly poked with by modernist lefties is “but you are confusing the Necessary with Contingent, because people can’t imagine it otherwise, it must be so – facts to the contrary...." which is what she did say by saying “Don’t you care what the American people think?” Implying that because the people see it as being unavoidable, as being necessarily true, like a circle being round and not straight, then it MUST be true!

Now, you might think that a bit of a stretch, why is it important, and how does one possibly follow from the other? Well, take a look at her reaction, her shock isn’t just “Oh, that’s interesting, I thought so too, where do you think we are wrong?” Her shock comes from her being impressed over what large numbers of people believe and think to be true, in her mind that gives weight to the argument, to her way of thinking; those numbers are in and of themselves a compelling factor… which is a very Kantian notion – when in fact, politics aside, it is completely irrelevant to whether or not the war is worth fighting, or in other similar usages, whether or not global warming is caused by man made actions, the worthiness of Gov’t run healthcare, etc.

One of the results of buying into Necessary vs Contingent Truths, is the blurring between what is metaphysically given – ice is made up of water frozen below a particular temperature, and that freezing affects its molecular structure in such a way as to make it float atop unfrozen water - and that of happenstance and human choice, such as ice being a block of ice, or being carved into the figure of a woman; and using the malleability of the later to weaken our grasp of the immutability of the former. It is used, particularly by professors, and politicians, to confuse people into thinking that they have no way of knowing whether or not a billiard ball struck by the cue ball will zoom into the corner pocket, or roll back towards you, or whether or not gov’t interference in the economy will destroy the economy and deprive you of freedom and liberty – or produce utopia this time because we are nicer and better. That is the trajectory of the destruction of causality through the fraud of Necessary vs Contingent Truths.

From an old post of mine, but Would you trust a liar who told you he was going to lie to you? - pt 5:

One way Kant attempts to throw trees into your face, is with his extensive use of “necessary" and "contingent" statements or truths. The classic example of "2+2 equals Four is a necessary truth", and that there can not be round squares - because we cannot imagine (hear Descartes echoing through here?) it otherwise. Their purpose is to trick you into looking so closely at the particulars, that you miss the sleight of hand removal of the wider context within which they both reside - all issues of the molecular structure of water and your experiences of life here on earth, in reality, are removed from your consideration by the Kantian 3 card monty player who says "But Ice sinking in water, is merely a contingent truth, because we can easily imagine ice sinking to the bottom of a glass of water."[do you hear the echo of Hume there?], as he whisks reality, unseen and out of your attention, off of the table without your even relaizing it.

It is as if they are stymied by anything deeper than the perceptual level concept. Circles & Squares are too two dimensionally defined by their appearance for even them to deny. But anything whose conceptual depth is deeper than those 2 dimensions, and their conceptual grasp is strained, their mental gripping power too weak (Hume suffered from the same lack of conceptual gripping power 'Principle'? Too darn heavey) like an Ostrich, they seem to think “If I can’t see it’s properties, it must not be important”.

What that actually means, is that they've divorced their thoughts from having any connection to the real world. They've lost the understanding that reality IS. Things are. Squares are 4 sided objects where each side is of equal length - in that the length of the sides are all properties of a square, in the same way as the properties of Ice are just as integral to it. Just as they like to rip the meaning out of a word, while cherry picking it's desirable connotations to be used regardless of it's actual meaning - they do the same thing when having you imagine Ice as having the "look" of Ice, maybe being cold also, but then scrapping away all the other properties of ice such as being lighter than water. Ice is Ice - it is defined by all of its properties, you can’t separate its buoyancy from its temperature, its essential properties are reflective of what it IS, you cannot pick and choose them.

Whenever you hear them talking about whether something "could be true or false in some other universe", you should reject it outright as the worst of hypothetical garbage designed to divorce truth from that which makes it true, divorcing mind from body, thought from reality. Whenever you hear them start “Imagine a universe where…” they are not only going to play “lets pretend”, but then try to convince you that their conclusions formulated in their pretend world should take precedence over yours, and then even that their pretend world is more real than the real real one we live in. It is the source of all of their 'errors', and their disappointment in, and neurotic rejection of Life, and which can be seen in their art, literature and failed lives.

Just imagine the world of Zeno’s paradoxes, of runners unable to pass tortoises or even to ever cross the room, of arrows shot from bows that stand frozen motionless in mid air, that is the world that would result from the Cartesian, Humian, Rousseauian, Kantian way of thought and just as the world does not look that way, their thought cannot function in this world as they like to pretend it will – it can, will, and does, disintegrate the minds of those who hold it, and it does destroy the world. When you are presented with it, recognize it and dismiss it out of hand. Look deep into your mind, find that point in your philosophy where Hume and Kant snuck in their Necessary vs Contingent gimmicks, and rip them out wholesale. Find the portions of your thought, your ideals, which weave into it, remove them and repair the damage - do that, and you may begin to regain your depth perception - the blinded may yet learn to see.

Where to go from here
I’ll take a step back here, to gain some perspective on this, with a look at what Milton said in his Areopagitica, said:

For Books are not absolutely dead things, but doe contain a potencie of life in them to be as active as that soule was whose progeny they are; nay they do preserve as in a violl the purest efficacie and extraction of that living intellect that bred them. I know they are as lively, and as vigorously productive, as those fabulous Dragons teeth; and being sown up and down, may chance to spring up armed men. And yet on the other hand, unlesse warinesse be us'd, as good almost kill a Man as kill a good Book; who kills a Man kills a reasonable creature, Gods Image; but hee who destroyes a good Booke, kills reason it selfe, kills the Image of God, as it were in the eye. Many a man lives a burden to the Earth; but a good Booke is the pretious life-blood of a master spirit, imbalm'd and treasur'd up on purpose to a life beyond life. 'Tis true, no age can restore a life, whereof perhaps there is no great losse; and revolutions of ages do not oft recover the losse of a rejected truth, for the want of which whole Nations fare the worse.
There is perhaps more than a series of posts to be mined from just that portion of one of Milton’s paragraphs, but for our present purposes, let me limit carrying just these points forward:

Ideas present in books carry forward in the lives of those who grasp them
As with the teeth Cadmus flung behind him, the ideas you least understand, and allow to go unanswered, may sprout armies borne of your ignorance and dedicated to your destruction
Ages may pass in darkness for the loss of a Truth, whether forgotten, lost, or rejected, and entire nations, and in our time, the entire world, may suffer horribly from their lack
With the Cogito, “I think therefore I am” – Descartes presented raw supernaturalism recast in scientific terms, and its being absorbed into the popular philosophy spawned:

The noble savage – Rousseau’s ideas of social man, that free will is illusion, and of the necessity and ability of the state to mold society into utopia
There is no basis in reality for what we know – Hume and quantification and the illusion of Reason
We can not know reality as it is – Kant’s ‘contribution’ with which he brought about the destruction of the Enlightenment and trust in capital ‘R’ Reason, replacing it with little ‘r’ rationalistic reasoning
These ideas have removed from public awareness, the understanding – however peripherally grasped – that Reality IS our method of dealing with reality and eachother, and that reality IS knowable, and that knowledge of reality is our source of power and wealth, that

Man is ennobled by a civilization based upon Reason and the protection of Individual Rights
Virtues are the practice of Reason respecting Reality
We rely upon reality; derive our lives and understanding from it, and Truth and Beauty and Goodness flows from reasoned insight into it.
The rationalistic views of Descartes, the skeptical views of Hume were flipsides of the same coin of separating us from the world, Kant merely took the coin of their realm and melted and recast it into an idealistic nugget of pyrrhonist pyrite, the fools gold of modernity.

It is that view which is the basis of the modern ‘scientfismic’ point of view, not a proper scientific point of view, but the preconceived notion that things are inherently unrelated, that no principles guide them, that what we call principles, are only that with which we construct sketches upon the random distribution of stars in order to form satisfying constellations, and which we color in some meaning to suit our context.

And that leads us into a discussion of Liberal Fascism… next post.
Hume would have it as::

"Morals and criticism are not so properly objects of the understanding as of taste and sentiment. Beauty, whether moral or natural, is felt, more properly than perceived. Or if we reason concerning it, and endeavour to fix its standard, we regard a new fact, to wit, the general tastes of mankind, or some such fact, which may be the object of reasoning and enquiry.

When we run over libraries, persuaded of these principles[meaning skepticism], what havoc must we make? If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion."

As Milton pointed out, the answer isn’t to burn or ban Hume’s books, but to read them, and to read Aristotle, Plato, and Cicero, Locke and the Founders. Modernity has done something far worse than ban or burn either, instead they pass off the pronouncements of Descartes, Hume, Rousseau and Kant as if plain fact, never in need of reference or explanation, and even worse, they ignore and overlook Aristotle, Cicero, even Plato nowadays. They’ve removed the arguments and truths from the reality of modern intellectual life, and we are all far poorer for it, as Milton said

but hee who destroyes a good Booke, kills reason it selfe, kills the Image of God, as it were in the eye. Many a man lives a burden to the Earth; but a good Booke is the pretious life-blood of a master spirit, imbalm'd and treasur'd up on purpose to a life beyond life. 'Tis true, no age can restore a life, whereof perhaps there is no great losse; and revolutions of ages do not oft recover the losse of a rejected truth, for the want of which whole Nations fare the worse.

Truer words….

19 comments:

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

"Hume asked “What IS Causality, and Where is It?”As with many things, asking a question in the wrong way, as Hume did, almost ensures an error filled response."

Good point, Van!
Yes, asking the wrong questions and pursuing them results in the wrong answers.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Hi Van-
This is a brilliant essay, and it will take me some time to absorb it all.
I'm learnin' a lot in the process of the history of liberal fascism.
Thanks!

Van said...

Thanks Ben... it did end up being more than a mouthfull, so chew slowly, and of course, let me know if you find any bits of bone or other such that don't seem to belong.

;-)

lance said...

What a pile of colossal arrogance. To think that you could attack Hume just make me laugh. Wow.

Van said...

lance said "To think that you could attack Hume just make me laugh. Wow."

Heh, anything I can do to help the grammatically challenged college student laugh, is ok by me.

BTW, have you actually read Hume, or are you just in the habit of revering names you are told are important? Being a college student, where you are supposed to be learning and examining ideas, you might want to actually read and understand what all of declarations of "Why not make basic health care a right? How about everyone being able to afford to go to college? (I know those are crazy ideas Lance and how could we possibly implement them.) " and of course “America, what is it good for?” rest upon, and Hume is right at the bottom of such facile benevolence.

Careful though, actually studying the roots of all you believe might just jeopardize are you know.

BTW, nice hair.

Van said...

sigh. He who lives by the grammar sword, dies by the grammar sword.

lance said...

Van, I am sorry that my hair, glorious, hair makes you jealous. But do not hate what you can't have. It is most unbecoming. I do apologize for my typo. I will make sure to grammar check all my posts in the near future. To answer you somewhat long winded question and it appears that you are unable to be anything but long winded. I have read Hume. I was just amazed that you would take him on in such a weak manner. As far as health care as a basic right? I feel that if we are going to live in a society, that we claim everyone has an equal opportunity to make something of themselves, then an aspect of that should be the ability to get some form of reasonable health care. Now it is true I do not know how to pay for this. I may be naive in thinking it is even possible. I am willing to admit that. I think that may be where we differ. I think government and society in general should be there to help us all live a better life. My path to get there just differs from yours. Does that make my thought any less valid?

Van said...

Lance said "Van, I am sorry that my hair, glorious, hair makes you jealous. But do not hate what you can't have. It is most unbecoming."

Lol... (um...you're not serious are you? Been there, done that, out grew it, no problem with it - just a bit of well intentioned recreational slamming).

"I do apologize for my typo. I will make sure to grammar check all my posts in the near future."

You did notice that I promptly followed yours with my own error, right(BTW, you missed one in this post too)?

"I have read Hume. I was just amazed that you would take him on in such a weak manner."

I've read him several times over the years, and I do think that is the core of his error - I'd be more interested in hearing where I've gone wrong, than your noting how long my wind is - stuck as I am with the full unedited gusts, you wouldn't believe how long they all start out as.

"I think government and society in general should be there to help us all live a better life."

And that is the core of the disagreement - and what it amounts to, your thinking that you can start from the top down, taking a perfectly decent sentiment, and without understanding all of the ramifications, thinking that you can push it down into reality.

Frustrating as it may be, it won't work, no matter how we might try to jigger the system, it will cause unintended and ill consequences.

Gov't can only make it possible for people to attempt to pursue happiness in a lawful setting, secure in their Rights; and though that may seem like such a little, it is such a rare and magnificent LOT - all we have today is because of some semblance of that being unleashed in the 18th century.

Take another look through history, all of it, with the exception of a few brief flares, is the history of power being exerted from the top down - it stifles and smothers, no matter the good intentions of the powerful who are doing the pushing.

All the well intentioned efforts to save these peoples jobs, bolster that counties currency, ensure a 'living wage' for the folks, provide .... they've all been tried before, they've all backfired in ways no one foresaw, because it inevitably makes decisions for people without regard for the realities that those on the ground would otherwise take into account in a free market. They disrupt information, will cause bad decisions, shortages, inefficiencies, poor quality, poor moral, job loss and higher prices - and in extreme cases, death and destruction.

If you're interested in reading someone who is not long winded, and who answered these very same issues 150 years ago, try reading Frederich Bastiat, one of the last worthwhile Frenchmen, The Law might be an appropriate place to start, since it deals directly with the issue of trying to use the law to bring about fair and good intentions, and why it must and will cause their opposites.

"My path to get there just differs from yours. Does that make my thought any less valid?"
If you consider that this is an issue that is open different preferences, statism vs liberty, with desirable results on either end? Yes, that would make your thought less valid. Reality doesn't bargain, and it damn sure doesn't care about anyone’s intentions or feelings, it just is.

Bacon's "Nature to be commanded, must be obeyed" is unyieldingly true. Nature, Reality isn't going to conform to your desires, you can argue with it all you want, and reality will go happily along rolling right over you and your fine sensibilities, unconcerned with your neglect of it.

Ok, I'll let the winds loose now... after one last comment... whether or not I make my case well, reality remains the same, and it will destroy those who wish to operate on the theory that they can take 2+2 and get 5... these are important issues, they are worth looking beyond what would be nice to do, and into what is proper to do, and why.

Van said...

Sheesh. If brevity is the soul of wit...

lance said...

*blink,blink* I have no response. *blink, blink* When in Rome.

Van said...

Ah. Well, that is breif... so I guess you can claim the soul of wit.

But without the body, it's just a ghost.

Boo.

Ray Ingles said...

Van, this does seem to be the heart of our disagreement, such as it is. I've said before that I think we're in 'violent agreement' in some areas, and reading this I think I see some of them.

I can see why you disagree with your presentation of Hume here. I haven't read Hume in the original, so I have to assume you've presented his thoughts correctly and in context here, but either way the kind of thinking you present is, well, certainly not unknown. But I think you're a bit hair-trigger in identifying it in other people.

Going back to here, where I wrote that "I accept causality, if only because - logic again - rejecting it is logically self-defeating," that's not the same as Hume's case here, though I can see where you could easily hop to that conclusion.

For example, here: Note the bizarre idea that there is some sort of nefarious switcheroo taking place between the starting point of perception - out there… somewhere… disconnected from us, where a snapshot or facsimile of the object is taken, and while in the possession of the biological U.S. Mail of the senses, it is tampered with, altered..."

The notion of the "brain in a box", being fed an artificial reality. (The sole virtue of the 'Matrix' movies may have been giving people a shorthand to refer to the idea.) It really is impossible to refute. There's no mathematical or logical reason it couldn't be done, and even from a technical standpoint we can see that it could eventually be feasible.

Of course, since there's no possible way to disprove it, it's veridically worthless. You're right to dismiss it as a worry, absent evidence for it.

But that's not the same thing as "We see things, within the range of our senses, as they in fact Are." You're familiar with lossy codecs, I presume, and I further assume you watched that Dennett video you pointed me to, which illustrated how little of the outside world our senses actually capture.

Then a whole lot of postprocessing goes into our perception - look at Lowell's "martian canals". I don't think he was delusional. Rather, his desires, working near the limit of resolution of his instruments, led to him actually seeing canals.

But just because we don't "see things as they in fact Are" doesn't mean we have to leap directly to the opposite conclusion that we can't know anything about reality. We do get sensory inputs, they're coming from somewhere, so we analyze them carefully and construct theories to account for that data - like your example with babies. (I've got four kids, I'm quite familiar with the process.)

Occam's Razor is important here. There are literally an infinite number of possible theories to account for what we perceive (including the 'brain in a vat' theories). There are an infinite number of theories consistent with any set of data you can come up with, such that you can't disprove any of them. So how do you pick? Since they are all equivalent, you pick the simplest. Occam's Razor, all by itself, shaves off the 'brain in a vat' theories.

(Science offers a few other useful rules of thumb - after Occam's done trimming, take the set of remaining theories, and pick the ones with the most predictive power. Then, go test those predictions; try to disprove them, which helps to fight against our tendency to shape our perceptions unconsciously.)

But even after that, there will still be an infinity of possible theories that account equally well for what you've seen so far. You'll stick with the current best-fit, simplest theory, and it may be very well-tested and confirmed by experience, but you do need to keep in mind that that's not the same thing as it being True. (I hate using Capital Letters to denote words used with a Special Meaning; if the lowercase word doesn't fit, find another word that actually does Fit.)

So when I wrote that "We can't be sure in an 'Absolute' sense that the sun will rise in the East tomorrow, but as a practical matter I'd be willing to bet my and my family's lives on it," that's what I meant. Not 'radical skepticism', but humble recognition of our limitations.

Perhaps an illustration might help. Back at the Catholic high school I attended, there was a religion teacher I really enjoyed and who really taught well. I was not ultimately convinced by his cases for God(s), but I definitely was compelled to think. One day he brought out a little educational tool called the "Reality Box". A shoebox with cutouts on three orthogonal sides, covered by white paper; on the opposite sides were wires. Hooking up a battery to the wires would power a light that cast a shadow onto the paper opposite.

The first shadow we saw was a rectangle. He had us guess as to the shape of what was inside the box. Almost everyone drew a rectangular block. Then we cast light on it from an orthogonal direction, lengthwise, and we saw a circular shadow.

Huh, that wasn't expected. Most people at this point guessed there was a cylinder in there; a rectangular shadow from one side, a circle from another. He had us speculate what kind of shadow we'd see in the third direction. Most drew another rectangle.

What we saw, however, was an elongated triangle. Nobody had expected that. He had us speculate again as to what was in the box.

Some theorized a 'shaved cylinder', sort of wedge-shaped. Others thought it might be flat, 2d-shapes arranged perpendicularly. Others supposed that there wasn't anything in the box, the shapes were painted on the inside of the paper.

He was able to map some of those guesses to philosophical positions (painted paper = "the world is an illusion", etc.) Some people wanted to open up the box - and he noted that that would be equivalent to supernatural revelation.

But he never did open the box. To this day I don't know for sure what was in there. I have my theories, of course, and how I'd bet if my life depended on it, but that's not the same as being Absolutely sure.

Van said...

Ray, I've actually got a post directed to these arguments coming up in the next day or two, so I'll leave the more in depth replies to that. But for the moment....

"The notion of the "brain in a box", being fed an artificial reality...There's no mathematical or logical reason it couldn't be done, and even from a technical standpoint we can see that it could eventually be feasible."

And even if done, would do nothing whatsoever to invalidate causality or free will. It would still require a mad scientist, or machine, to create the box for the 'brain in the box' and would still involve consciousness responding to events, dependent upon reality. Reality, identity and consciousness can't be avoided through real or imagined experiments no matter how outlandish .

"...you watched that Dennett video you pointed me to" sadly, yes, I did " which illustrated how little of the outside world our senses actually capture."

How much or how little of the outside world our senses capture is utterly irrelevant to whether or not the senses convey an accurate image of the world to our consciousness. Accuracy doesn't require absolute comprehensiveness. Even if it we received pixilated images (which our vision might appear as compared to an Eagles)... or if our vision were blurred by cataract, it would make no difference in the issue whatsoever, neither are anything from a mouse to an eagle any less or more 'in touch' with reality by virtue or their lesser or heightened senses. Next post.

"Occam's Razor is important here. There are literally an infinite number of possible theories to account for what we perceive (including the 'brain in a vat' theories). "

Occam's Razor. That's amusing. A determinist (soft or hard) who believes that various theories of murkily defined and imagined neural algorithms and statistical calculations are somehow more likely to explain that 'we' and our 'free will' are illusions of the brain as opposed to the simply and direct evidence of your own direct experience of consciousness.

"We can't be sure in an 'Absolute' sense that the sun will rise in the East tomorrow...Perhaps an illustration might help..."

No, not so much. It doesn't seem to me that your guesses about the contents of a boxed show 'n tell demo, compare in any way to the certainty we can and do have based upon the reliability of principles of Physics, and the Philosophical principles they derive from. Philosophic certainty, btw, is not in any way dependent or invalidated by chance occurance. Because some unknown equivalent of Vogon's could come through the solar system tonight and blast it away to make room for a hyperspatial express route and causing no sunrise tomorrow, doesn't affect any issues of causality or certainty.

More soon.

Ray Ingles said...

Van - A few points you might want to address in your upcoming post.

First off, I didn't say that the "brain in a box" invalidated causality or free will. We haven't gotten anywhere near 'free will' yet. Your post here is over 9,000 words - I'm not going to address it all in one comment!

You're a fan of much of Aristotle's thinking, but that doesn't mean you accept his views on slavery or women. Similarly, I'm trying to explain what I take from Hume's thoughts, and what I don't. Since you assume that I take it all, and at face value, it's not surprising that you jump ahead willy-nilly to your favorite counterpoints... but how about we try to start at the beginning and take things step by step?

The 'Matrix scenario' doesn't invalidate consciousness, and doesn't invalidate free will, and doesn't invalidate reality. (Nor did I ever say it did.) What it does illustrate is that we have no a priori way to be sure that our sense data has any direct, (or even 'not misleading') relationship to reality.

Or, in other words, we can't be Absolutely sure about the reality we learn from sense data. In contrast, we can be Absolutely sure - in the sense of "doubt about it is exactly zero, not 'within epsilon of zero'" - about logical truths like mathematics and so forth.

When I talk about the canonical case of the 'sun not rising in the East', that is the sense in which I am referring. I mean that all we have to work with the outside world is our models of that outside world, built from inference and abstraction based on sense data. Those models are necessarily incomplete and can only account for what we've seen so far. If we run into something new, we may find out that our models are fundamentally wrong in some way. Like a baby finding a balloon that floats up, or Michelson & Morley not finding the ether.

You make a good case that Hume went wrong at that point, or at least took the idea too far. But Aristotle took his 'causes' too far, too, as you say. That doesn't mean the idea is totally pointless.

Occam's Razor. That's amusing. A determinist (soft or hard) who believes that various theories of murkily defined and imagined neural algorithms and statistical calculations are somehow more likely to explain that 'we' and our 'free will' are illusions of the brain as opposed to the simply and direct evidence of your own direct experience of consciousness.

Again with the "illusions of the brain" stuff. You say elsewhere that "Whether or not 'You' exist, is the most self-evident issue there is..." (which, BTW, is what I take that Descartes was trying to express with 'cogito ergo sum').

And you're right. I have direct evidence of consciousness existing, since I am conscious. I can be even more certain of that (Absolutely certain) than I am that the sun rose this morning.

Orbital mechanics explains the sunrise - how it happens, why the sun popped over the horizon exactly there and not some other place - it doesn't explain it away. Dennett et. al. are trying to explain consciousness, not explain it away.

Since you're fond of inserting words into my statements so they say what you want them to say, or even just entirely rephrasing them bypass all that messy dealing with what I actually say - this whole 'illusion' bit being a prime case in point - allow me to 'flesh out' your dismissal of Dennett et. al.

"various theories of murkily defined and imagined neural algorithms and statistical calculations" attempt to "explain... 'we' and our 'free will'" in terms of brain function - physics, biology, etc. But, since brains can't possibly do that, therefore all any such theory really does is claim that they "are illusions".

Note the (usually unspoken by you) extra postulate there, that 'brains can't possibly do that'. It may be true, or false, but I don't recall you ever arguing for it (unless we count 'argument by vigorous assertion' :-> ). If it's correct, you might be right about Dennett et. al. But the whole point of their work is to try to determine if it's right or not.

Now, I have a counter-question for you - what's your theory of consciousness, exactly? (How does it work? What's it 'made of'? If it's only attached to a brain, and not produced by a brain's activity, what does it look like when we take away the brain?)

Van said...

Ray said "First off, I didn't say that the "brain in a box" invalidated causality or free will. We haven't gotten anywhere near 'free will' yet."

Ooh... tough night? You sound even crankier than me.

Sorry Ray, I don't have full access to my email here, but some time back you made a similar comment (I think we exchanged “Duh's” in that one... I could be wrong, I'll look later) "Van, this does seem to be the heart of our disagreement, such as it is." regarding Free Will, and since you made no discernable statement here about what that 'heart' was, I foolishly assumed that you were referring to the same... especially since that is key to what this post IS about, Existence, Identity, Consciousness and the role of Free Will in gaining knowledge. Scroll back for me, read the first 7 paragraphs of your first comment. If you don't see why I thought you were talking about what I was, then ... forget about it.

"I can see why you disagree with your presentation of Hume here."

Grammar, Typo or snark?

"I haven't read Hume in the original, so I have to assume you've presented his thoughts correctly and in context here"
I have read him, and re-read his “Essay Concerning Human Understanding” before writing this post.

"... but either way the kind of thinking you present is, well, certainly not unknown."

What does that mean?

"But I think you're a bit hair-trigger in identifying it in other people."

If you haven't read Hume, don't know what he said, and therefore don't understand what he said, meant, or the implications of it - how the hell would you know? Rather a good illustration of your approach though.

"The 'Matrix scenario' doesn't invalidate consciousness, and doesn't invalidate free will, and doesn't invalidate reality. (Nor did I ever say it did.) What it does illustrate is that we have no a priori way to be sure that our sense data has any direct, (or even 'not misleading') relationship to reality."

Are you familiar with the proper response to an arbitrary assertion? Hint: Admitting it as part of, or justification for your argument, isn't it. The correct response is to dismiss it out of hand. Why? Because otherwise you end up making foolish statements such as this,
"Or, in other words, we can't be Absolutely sure about the reality we learn from sense data."

""Whether or not 'You' exist, is the most self-evident issue there is..." (which, BTW, is what I take that Descartes was trying to express with 'cogito ergo sum')."

In other words, you don't have a clue about what Descartes said. You want to know what Descartes said? Here, you said it already, "Or, in other words, we can't be Absolutely sure about the reality we learn from sense data. In contrast, we can be Absolutely sure - in the sense of "doubt about it is exactly zero, not 'within epsilon of zero'" - about logical truths like mathematics and so forth." You actually think you can learn 'logical truths' without reliable experience or knowledge of reality... You may not have read them, but you've learned Descartes and Hume quite well, I suppose through wackademic osmosis.

"You're a fan of much of Aristotle's thinking, but that doesn't mean you accept his views on slavery or women."

Aristotle’s views on slavery and women weren't fundamental to his philosophy, but a misapplication of those fundamentals, and his fundamentals are what made exposing his errors possible. The issues I've raised about Hume, were absolutely central and fundamental to his philosophy, and when you attempt to pick and choose through pieces derived from it, you accept and build from those fundamentals.
"Similarly, I'm trying to explain what I take from Hume's thoughts, and what I don't."

Why you're trying to take anything from Hume, having not read him, I'm afraid I don't quite grasp.

"Since you assume that I take it all, and at face value, it's not surprising that you jump ahead willy-nilly to your favorite counterpoints... but how about we try to start at the beginning and take things step by step?"

You're trying to explain what you take from Hume’s thoughts, and what you don't, without having read Hume... and I 'jump ahead willy-nilly'? Lol.

"Dennett et. al. are trying to explain consciousness, not explain it away."

You are naive Ray.

"Since you're fond of inserting words into my statements so they say what you want them to say, or even just entirely rephrasing them bypass all that messy dealing with what I actually say"

I do not insert words into your statements, or misrepresent them as actual quotes. I do rephrase the obvious implicaitons of your statements, which is what you actually, and usually unknowingly, said.

"allow me to 'flesh out' your dismissal of Dennett et. al."

No.

"But the whole point of their work is to try to determine if it's right or not."

B.S.

"Now, I have a counter-question for you - what's your theory of consciousness, exactly? (How does it work? What's it 'made of'? If it's only attached to a brain, and not produced by a brain's activity, what does it look like when we take away the brain?)"

What it is, is our faculty of awareness. As to the rest, finish you strained peas first.

:->

Ray Ingles said...

Grammar, Typo or snark?

Snark, of course. My whole point was that I was taking your presentation at face value, whether or not it accurately summed up Hume. Reread what I wrote with that in mind. I also noted that, whether or not you were right about Hume, there certainly are people who think the way you described. I didn't think that was particularly challenging.

If you haven't read Hume, don't know what he said, and therefore don't understand what he said, meant, or the implications of it - how the hell would you know?

Um, gee, because I was - as previously noted - taking what you said at face value... and I know I disagree with that.

You actually think you can learn 'logical truths' without reliable experience or knowledge of reality...

Nobody's ever directly experienced hyperbolic space, but Lobachevsky came up with the math for it anyway. Nobody had any notion that complex numbers would be so useful for electrical engineering (or anything else) until close to a century after they'd been explored. Mathematics has a long history of completely 'impractical' research that later turns up a use. The fact that such topics were considered useless means, ipso facto, that they were divorced from any known connection to reality.

You may not have read them, but you've learned Descartes and Hume quite well, I suppose through wackademic osmosis.

For the purposes of this discussion, I don't have to work from them. I already said I'm happy to accept that you've presented them fairly. Have you not?

I do rephrase the obvious implicaitons of your statements

Which is what I did. Or do you not think that a brain can't possibly be conscious?

Van said...

"Snark, of course."

Yeah, that's what I was afraid of. If you have to explain a snark, it wasn't very snarky.

"Um, gee, because I was - as previously noted - taking what you said at face value... and I know I disagree with that."

Your dancing Ray, and it's not very pretty.

"Mathematics has a long history of completely 'impractical' research that later turns up a use. The fact that such topics were considered useless means, ipso facto, that they were divorced from any known connection to reality."

No Ray, they weren't. If there's anything that is not divorced from reality, it is Mathematics. It is one of our most basic and direct conceptual connections to reality, through the vital concepts of Identity and Quantity. Not a single one of the ideas you mentioned, would be possible, if they weren't derived from a direct chain of accurate perceptions elevated into concepts, and elevated further into such theories as you mentioned.

What mathematicians do, or attempt to do with their theories, or the tendency of many to try to use deductive methods where they are inappropriate in such ways their ideas can drift into floating abstractions, but Mathematics itself is a clear example of our ability to directly and accurately perceive and know Reality as it is, and abstract from that direct experience into the conceptual realm.


"I don't have to work from them"

(Careful... you'll lose your deterministic merit badges)

Ray Ingles said...

If you have to explain a snark, it wasn't very snarky.

I'm just not fundamentally mean. It's not a skill I've much interest in developing. :->

Not a single one of the ideas you mentioned, would be possible, if they weren't derived from a direct chain of accurate perceptions elevated into concepts, and elevated further into such theories as you mentioned.

Where, exactly, did people perceive the square root of minus one? I'd like one for my desk...

Oh, and BTW: Have you presented Hume and Descartes fairly? Do you think brains themselves are capable of consciousness? (I wouldn't think it'd take you more than two syllables, total, to answer those questions...)

Careful... you'll lose your deterministic merit badges

Never had any. You may wish to take off your determinist-colored glasses. :->

Van said...

"I'm just not fundamentally mean. It's not a skill I've much interest in developing."

And I do believe that, which makes continuing a probably lost cause, worth while.

"Where, exactly, did people perceive the square root of minus one? I'd like one for my desk..."

I hope it's not really that difficult to imagine... it began with the realization that these (holds up three fingers) rocks somehow have something in common with these (holds up three fingers) spears... and with the realization of the abstraction of 'Quantity', sometime after followed the abstraction of 'Number' and particular numbers, and numbers that could extend beyond matching quantities to your fingers and toes. A some point came the idea of a visual transliteration of 'square' numbers, 'halves' and progressed into addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. Following that progression, led into negative 'numbers', square roots, hypotenuse's, incommensurate ... etc, etc, etc.

No matter how abstract or impressive the formula, proof, theorem or whathaveyou, it is all traceable back, and utterly dependent upon, the very concrete ideas of quantity and the abstraction of a 'number' standing for a particular quantity of some entity being quantified.

"Do you think brains themselves are capable of consciousness?"

Heh... do scrambled Fosters dripping bat string hanging folder hide frumious Bandersnatch? I ask you.

"Oh, and BTW: Have you presented Hume and Descartes fairly? "

Fairly? Hell no! Accurately Hell Yes. I'm writing about Hume's ideas, ideas that bear a large amount of responsibility for the state of the modern world and the deaths of the millions of people attributable to the development of those ideas along the wayside from then to now.

Hume the person, if I were writing about him, about the Person, I'd have many good things to say, even sympathize with (you should read about his acquaintance with Rousseau, and as he gradually realizes this guy's frickin' Glenn Close 'Fatal Attraction' level nutzo!). He wrote some very interesting history as well. He had many very interesting observations and things to say. But his core ideas, those which survived the temporal erosion of all the rest he had to say, have been unmitigated disasters. Similarly with Descartes. The guy was fascinating, a soldier, an undeniably original mathematical genius, philosopher, teacher... I would have been thrilled to know him. But likewise as with Hume, his ideas which have survived and spread into and curdled all of modern philosophy, have been responsible for quantities of carnage which something like Hitler couldn't even imagine to aspire to.

I have no interest in being fair to them, only accurate.

"You may wish to take off your determinist-colored glasses"

Ray, as with Hume and Descartes, it's not you, but your ideas, and despite the otherwise innocuous positions you have, at their core, even though inconsistently, Hume, Descartes, Rousseau and Kant are still breathing air, and I'd like very much to throttle them through your choice to let them breath no more.

And so we continue.

;-)