Sunday, October 05, 2014

Russian dolls

The aim of science is to reduce our understanding of the physical world to an objective, third-person description. Of course, this collides with the "hard problem of consciousness":

However, let's bracket the hard problem of consciousness and grant, for the sake of argument, that physicalism is true. In that event, what is an atheist? An atheist is a thing. A machine. Physical parts. 

If physicalism is true, then human beings have no first-person dimension. Humans are just surfaces. No soul. No inner self. No imago Dei. 

Humans are like Russian dolls. A nested set of dolls. Open one doll and there's a smaller doll inside. Each doll is just another external object. Another surface. 

I once watched an autopsy in TV. Not a simulated, CSI type of autopsy, but the real thing. Dissecting a human corpse. Cutting open the chest cavity. Flipping the ribs on either side like French doors. Removing vital organs. Sawing the skull open. Removing the brain. It's kind of gross to watch.

From a physicalist standpoint, that's all we are. Just body parts. That's your mother. Body parts spread over the stainless steel dissection table. 

Surfaces within surfaces within surfaces. Peeling away an outside layer exposes an inside layer. But the exposed layer becomes a new outside layer, like a Russian doll. Inside a larger doll but outside a smaller doll. 

You can go down scales of magnitude. The brain composed of neurons. Neurons composed of proteins and amino acids. Molecules composed of atoms. Atoms composed of subatomic particles. 

It's surfaces all the way down. One can keep going down without ever finding you. Where are you

When one opens the last Russian doll, what's inside? Nothing. Empty space. You aren't there. 

Yet atheists don't act like things. Atheists don't play the part physicalism assigns to them. For instance, atheists often wax indignant at Christians. But if physicalism is true, it's just one surface moralizing about another surface. Like a disagreement between two different chess computers. 

Atheists never come to terms with atheism because it's ultimately just an idea. They can be atheists for as long as atheism remains a safe, distant abstraction. 

In practice, they never assume the viewpoint their creeds requires, because it's so unnatural. In fact, it's impossible to assume the viewpoint their creed requires. 

(In desperation, a few atheists resort to dualism or platonic realism. But that's a stopgap measure.)

1 comment:

  1. On atheism there's no "ghost in the machine". There's just the machine. The purposeless, meaningless gene-replication machine.