Saturday, July 06, 2019

Collective hallucination

I recently had an impromptu debate on Facebook about idealism. This seems to be an academic fad in some chic Christian circles. Here's my side of the exchange:

Take people who are horribly burned in a fire. They die after days in indescribable pain. According to idealism, they suffer just as if they were burned in a fire even though there wasn't a real fire to burn real flesh and real nerves. They suffer the unbearable effects of a chemical reaction even though that's an illusion. There was no chemical cause and effect. How is that not utterly gratuitous? Indeed, malevolent?

"Besides that, why should whether the suffering is gratuitous, malevolent, etc. depend on whether the the physical is reducible to the mental or not?"

On a nonidealist view, natural evils are (generally) a necessary but unintended consequence of natural processes. There's a value in a world of physical cause and effect. The same fire that's useful for warmth, illumination, and cooking may also burn living flesh. But the fire doesn't aim to burn living flesh. The fire is unintelligent. 

In idealism, by contrast, the relation between fire and burning alive is arbitrary. The victim suffers as if there's a chemical reaction that burns protoplasm, but there's no natural or intrinsic reason for that result. There's is no chemical reaction, there is no protoplasm in contact with the chemical composition of fire. So it lacks the justification of a natural law theodicy. I'm not saying that's an adequate theodicy all by itself. But there's a fundamental moral difference between the two positions. 

Yes, Leibniz has a theodicy, but I'm not discussing the problem of evil in general. Rather, I'm drawing attention to how natural evil poses a special problem for idealism, over and above the standard objection. Idealism aggravates the problem of natural evil.

That depends on how the idealist fills out the nature of interaction between agents. Can I stab a mental agent with a mental knife, causing the same pain as if it was a metal knife, as if the victim had nerves that transmit pain impulses to the brain?

That's a deceptive comparison. Given idealism, naturally the "world" resembles what's in the mind of a dreamer since *everything* is mental, whether individually or collectively. Whether in the mind of a particular percipient or "outside" his particular mind–in the minds of other percipients. But that's not the comparative frame of reference when we contrast idealism to dualism or physicalism. So your observation obfuscates the difference rather than clarifying the analysis. Regarding the basis of attribute-agreement, I'll discuss that separately.

Just between you, me, and the NSA, I'm God. You better make sure my coffee supply doesn't run out because, if I fall asleep, you will instantly cease to exist.

I'm a solipsist. That's more parsimonious than Leibnizian idealism. Sorry to break it to you, but you're just a figment of my imagination. Talking to you is like a dreamer talking to a dream character. Disguised interior monologue. Up until now I was humoring you with the illusion that you have a mind of your own, but now you know the truth.

Funny how you've gone from "For the life of me, I can't see why an orthodox Christian would want to affirm Cartesian dualism" to the radically heterodox position of Leibnizian idealism, which renders illusory the totality of sacred history, from creation, the Fall, the calling of Abraham, the binding of Isaac, and the Exodus, to the Incarnation, crucifixion, Resurrection, and return of Christ. Not of that really happened. It's a simulation in the Matrix of Leibnizian idealism.

"So, what idealism of Leibniz' variety says is not that reality is imaginary, but, rather, that substances per se are immaterial, that they are fundamentally mental, and that things like space and matter are phenomenally supervenient."

i) In idealism, there's no distinction between mental and imaginary. Universal panpsychism. 

ii) "phenomenally supervenient"

Weasel words. Either everything is mental or else you simply relocate a dualism between mental and non-mental epiphenomena. 

"The difference between your ontology and mine may just be that yours is less parsimonious."

As you probably know, parsimony can either be ontological or theoretical. Even if idealism is more ontologically parsimonious than dualism, that doesn't make it more theoretically parsimonious. To the contrary, you must posit a universal, indetectable illusion or delusion, whereby we perceive a world in which, at all scales, things seem to be composed of functional parts with causal powers, but the reality is nothing like that. Idealism doesn't require that. The God of idealism could project a world, like a collective dream, in which there's a common setting, but it's manifestly just a stage set for finite agents. There's no mistaking that for machinery which actually does anything.

"Yeah, I can't make much sense of your latest contributions here. The doctrine of the resurrection of Christ, for instance, is insensitive to what metaphysical account one has adopted of Physics. It would be silly, for instance, to argue that a shift from Newtonian physics to today's physics, replete with all these quantum mysteries and challenges to old-school materialism, really put into question the truth of the doctrine of the bodily resurrection of Christ."

The doctrine of the Resurrection isn't based on a scientific analysis of matter, but on a prescientic/pretheoretical understanding of death, solidity (at a gross level, relative to human interaction). A contrast between dreams, imagination, ghosts, and mind-independent realities, hardness, solid bodies. 

No one reading the Bible, not the original audience, not any reader from the least to the most sophisticated, would have any clue that the narrative descriptions should be filtered through an idealistic interpretive grid. 

"Indeed, I don't understand what it could mean to call reality itself a simulation just in case all substances turn out to be immaterial. If you can make any sense of that (I mean, at all), then I would encourage you to do so."

Due to the radical hiatus between appearance and reality entailed by idealism. 

"Just out of curiosity, if you've heard philosophers like W.L. Craig play with the argument for God's existence from metaphysical puzzles like the measuring problem in quantum physics. I would like to know whether you think they're playing with heterodox ideas merely by endorsing such arguments. It doesn't seem to me to be heterodox, and I think what we have learnt about quantum mechanics should lead us to suspect something like panpsychism. Certainly, at least, what we have learnt about the nature of matter thanks to quantum physics has significantly changed our view of its ontology. Has quantum physics put into question historical facts about the exodus, or Abraham, or the binding of Isaac? It doesn't seem like it to me."

i) Craig may be unwittingly inconsistent in that regard.

ii) As you presumably know, there are multiple divergent interpretations of quantum mechanics. You seem to be assuming something like Wigner's interpretation and/or the Copenhagen interpretation. But there are other interpretations like the many-worlds hypothesis that don't have idealistic connotations.

iii) It's counterproductive for you to appeal to particle physics to corroborate idealism when, according to idealism, subatomic phenomena are illusory. You're straddling two divergent paradigms. 

iv) Scripture situates Bible history in a place. Likewise, it describes interactions like Abraham drawing a knife to sacrifice Isaac. But according to idealism, Isaac was never in danger from a knife. There was no knife that could slit his throat or stop his heart. There was no physical knife. He doesn't have a heart that pumps blood or lungs that oxygenate blood. These are just appearances. Just thoughts. If you peel away the appearance, there's nothing that underlies and corresponds to the appearance. 

"What are the necessary and sufficient conditions for the ontology of matter to be compatible with the great truths of the Christian faith?"

What does it mean to you to say Jesus died? On idealism, what died? What is death? What does it mean to come alive (again)? 

"In fact, it looks to me like quantum physics has vindicated Leibniz in some surprising ways. For instance, Leibniz maintained that we would never find a truly atomic quantity of matter because he argued, on rationalist/conceptual grounds, that matter could always be subdivided, even if physical limitations happened to prevent us from subdividing beyond a certain amount."

Why assume that matter must always be divisible? What if "hardness" or "solidity" reduces to energy fields at lower scales of magnitude? 

Solidity is relative. My body isn't solid in relation to x-rays, but lead is solid in relation to x-rays. Water isn't normally solid in relation to my body, unless I dive into water from 1000 feet above. So solidity or hardness is a comparative principle. But that's very different from idealism. 

"Given the strangeness of matter as we've scientifically uncovered it, would it really seem to you to be contrary to the Christian faith if it turned out that matter supervened upon immaterial substances?"

You keep using the "supervene" rubric, but as I already said, either you think reality is mental through-and-through or else you post a dualism. 

"Note that, on such a view, matter (space, time, etc.) may be the way they are in virtue of real relations which hold between immaterial substances, along with real properties held by those substances, and so reality can have the structure it does independently of what any cluster of minds like our own may think of it."

So is reality ultimately a divine mental projection, like a collective dream where God is the dreamer as we are conscious dream characters? 

"Furthermore, it is entirely possible, on idealism, to meaningfully distinguish what is imaginary from what is real. It is entirely possible to imagine, for instance, that we live in a Matrix-like construct with a real world undergirding the simulation, even if our metaphysical story about what that real world looks like is told entirely with reference to immaterial substances (or, at least, without reference to 'material' substances, whatever that's supposed to mean)."

What's the purpose of appearances that systematically tell a story that's contrary to the real story? Why do we seem to have bodies with all these intricate functional systems that in reality are part of an elaborate, seamless contrivance? 

"Finally, Leibniz' monadology cannot really be argued to be more ontologically or metaphysically parsimonious (given the infinitude upon infinitudes of monads - quick note, I do not follow Leibniz quite this far). However, it does appear to me to be more theoretically parsimonious, especially if God is part of the picture."

While intuition has a role to play in worldview construction, there's a crucial element of observation and discovery to find out what the world is like.

"With the exception of ghosts (which, I'm inclined to think, is a pseudo-concept - a category of things of which we have no clear coherent idea at all)"

There's empirical evidence for ghosts, but that's an argument for another day. 

"From this angle, I hope you can see why Idealism does not suggest that the external world around us isn't real; that it is, instead, merely an appearance. Rather, it just gives an analysis of the appearance in terms of a metaphysical framework on which, at bottom, all the genuine substances are immaterial, and the phenomenal world results from their perceptions of each other (their properties, their relations, etc.)."

i) Idealism is a euphemism for mass hallucination. I hallucinate the existence of an external world. I hallucinate that I have a body. I hallucinate sensations in my hallucinatory body. 

A surgeon hallucinates the internal anatomy of the patient. He hallucinates that the organs perform vital functions. He hallucinates the scalpel. He hallucinates the O.R. He hallucinates the hospital. 

A physicist hallucinates natural forces and natural processes that cause things to happen. 

ii) Indeed, this is a collective, coordinated hallucination. Either humans minds are programmed to share the same hallucinations or else God beams the same hallucinations into their individual minds.

iii) It's a global hallucination because the appearances don't correspond to reality. There are no organs and body parts corresponding, even approximately, to what we perceive. 

Why would God orchestrate this colossal indetectable ruse? It's not like an optical illusion which is an incidental result of natural processes. How is the Leibnizian Deity different from the Cartesian Demon? 

"You asked what it could mean to die (or, indeed, for Jesus to have died) on idealism. On Leibnizian idealism, it means the disintegration of a cluster of monads which made it possible not to exist, but to exist in a way where you can have physical interactions with the rest of reality. When you die, what happens, roughly speaking, is that the monads which collectively constituted your body fail to perceive each other, and you them, in such a way that you can interact coherently with the physical world (where, of course, the physical world is the phenomenally richest level of analysis of the world available)."

God could not, indeed did not, expect Bible readers to translate common sense concepts of physicality and death into clusters of psychic monads. 

"You also asked why I would assume that matter is always divisible, but then you suggested that matter might reduce to something which isn't extended, like a wave. A wave, to my mind, isn't an extended body at all."

i) Isn't that the fallacy of composition/division? Why assume that bigger extended objects must be comprised of smaller extended parts, all the way down, ad infinitum? Why can't extended objects be comprised of unextended constituents which in combination, above a critical threshold, yield extended objects? 

ii) Why do we need to know the hyperfine structure of matter to know that babies originate by a man impregnating a woman, then the fertilized ovum undergoes an observable process of gestation? Why can't we know the truth of something at a higher scale even if we don't know the lowermost scale? 

Why can't I know that hitting the 8-ball with my cue causes the 8-ball to strike another ball–even if we remain in the dark regarding the ultimate constitution of the subatomic realm?

i) If you think everything is mental, then it's not a physical knife even though it appears to be a physical knife. And there's nothing knife-like in reality that corresponds to the impression. So, yes, that's definitional of a hallucination. Naturally idealists avoid that terminology because it exposes how radically skeptical their position is. 

ii) And you're not tracking the argument. I didn't appeal to common sense beliefs regarding the fundamental metaphysical nature of physical objects. Rather, I appealed to common senses beliefs on the level at which we experience and interact with physical objects. Modern physics doesn't invalidate that fact that steel is harder in relation to a human body while water is softer in relation to a human body. Common sense beliefs regarding solidity in relation to the density of our own bodies.

iii) And I didn't confine my observations to matter, but also to the nature of death. 

iv) Furthermore, you repeat Tyler's mistake by appealing to modern physics, but as I already explained, modern physics presumes a world of mindless natural forces and processes that actually cause things to happen. But if idealism/panpsychism is true, that's not the case. 

You tell me: given idealism, what is the function of the heart, lungs, liver, &c.? 

You're using a Pickwickian (re-)definition of "physical". In metaphysical idealism, is the knife a mental entity or not?

i) What you said is consistent with what I said because you translate words and concepts into your idealist glossary. I don't take issue with the accuracy of your exposition. 

ii) Idealists are at liberty to provide stipulative definitions of "physical," "real", "death," "solid," "hard," "soft," &c. What they are not at liberty to do is to impose their subversive, revisionary definitions on dualists and physicalists. 

To take a comparison, Erik Wielenberg is free to classify his position as moral realism. If, however, I judge his argument for secular moral realism to be a failure, I'm not going to classify his position as moral realism. 

Likewise, transgender advocates can redefine "man" and "woman," but I reserve the right not to knuckle under to their propagandistic usage. 

By the same token, you can't force a dualist to grant the way you dissolve conceptual polarities and realign his usage to comport with your preferred usage. 

iii) In addition, it sabotages comparative analysis when idealists (mis-)appropriate standard terminology, then redefine it. Understanding and assessing different positions requires us to draw points of contrast. When, however, idealists use the same terminology but with a radically different sense, that robs us of the vocabulary necessary to compare and contrast idealism with the competition. 

iv) Finally, it's an act of intellectual cowardice for idealists to camouflage the radical implications of their position under the same language as opposing positions. If you don't mean the same thing by the same terms, you should use different terminology. Adopting the same terminology, and demanding that others submit to your terminology, betrays a failure of nerve. A refusal to face up to the ramifications of your own position.

"In the same way, idealists, and me, and most philosophers agree that our ordinary beliefs do not commit us to anything very substantial about the metaphysical nature of tables....Now, maybe all the philosophers are just 'intellectual cowards' trying to prevaricate or whatever."

Cute, but that misrepresents what I said. Was the misrepresentation intentional–for polemical gain? 

I didn't say or suggest that idealists are intellectual coward because they agree with most philosophers that common sense beliefs lack ontological commitment. Rather, I objected to how idealists co-opt discriminating terminology, co-opt the language of the other side, to exclaim, "Hey, idealists believe in matter, solid objects, the external world, &c., too! We just have a different interpretation of what that means."

That said, you also take the position that common sense beliefs about other minds lack ontological commitment? 

Christian orthodoxy requires that certain descriptions of the world be true and other descriptions be false. For instance, the Virgin Birth presumes that human beings (or at least their bodies) normally originate by a man impregnating a woman. What sets the Virgin Birth (or virginal conception) apart is that God supernaturally bypassed that process. But according to idealism, no human being (or body) originates through that process. The physical cause-and-effect transaction is illusory. 

Ordinary common sense beliefs are often coarse-grained rather than fine-grained, but they do involve a basic point of contrast which idealism erases. There's no problem with defining a table as "molecules arranged table-wise" because that preserves the difference between a table on the level at which we encounter and interact with the world and a table as a sheerly mental construct. 

For you and others to act as though doctrines of the Incarnation, death and resurrection of Christ, not to mention Bible history in general, are metaphysically neutral so that it makes no difference to orthodox orthodox theology or orthodox Christology in particular what the world is like, is theologically naive, indifferent, or heretical. 

I also notice that you and others consistently duck the question of why the idealist God instigates this massive illusion. Idealism doesn't require that. If you were starting from scratch, developing idealism on paper without reference to our mundane experience, the world we perceive is not the kind of world idealism predicts for. Rather, idealists are stuck with the world we experience, and have to explain that as best they can, even though there's no expectation that this how the world would appear to us if idealism is true. 

Defenders of idealism act as though Christian doctrine and Bible history are all surface with no metaphysical depth or ontological commitment so that you could just as well transplant Christian doctrine and Bible history to Buddhist metaphysics with no transvaulation in their theological significance.

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