# Part of an Imagined Dialogue with a Materialist

Socrates: Does one atom feel or think?
Hylos: No.
S: Does a collection of two atoms feel or think?
H: No.
S: Does a collection of three, shaped into a triangle?
H: Not that I know of.
S: Does a collection of billions, arranged into two intertwining helices?
H: No.
S: Does a collection of 10^27 atoms arranged into the shape of a human being, with all the attendant organs and movements thereof?
H: Absolutely.
S: Can you tell me why?

Feel free to continue this dialogue as you please.

does one point have the property of distance?

no.

do two points have the property of distance?

yes.

Yes. Implicit in the concept of a point is the concept of location, and the concept of location requires the concept of distance. If “point” means anything at all, it means location with respect to some reference location.

Not necessarily. They could be in different universes or different mathematical spaces. Certainly they do not “have the property of distance” (whatever that means) any more than one point does.

My point is, the concept of distance is implicit in both cases. It does not arise merely by the addition of a point, but is implicit in the idea of a point to begin with. Similarly our own experiences of “feeling” and “thinking” don’t arise merely from the organization of matter into our body-shape, but are implicit in the concept of a human being to begin with.
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But a point doesn’t exist. A point has no dimensions. A line has one dimension, a surface two and a cube has three. But in what way does something without dimensions exist?

Yet a line is an infinite series of points? Something is wrong someplace.

“Dimension” is a more sophisticated mathematical/geometrical concept than you give it credit for. A point doesn’t “lack” dimension. It has dimension, but its dimension is zero. By contrast, the idea of “justice” lacks dimension, and fails to have dimension zero or any other dimension.

I just don’t think that the material of this world, conforming as it does to simple mathematical habits, could merely by virtue of those habits produce what we see in a human being. Something else has to be at work here.

Erm, doesn’t the existence of a point, imply there’s somewhere for this point to exist…? And this point-supporting frame of existence must have more dimensions than this point. Unless I suppose you’re just imagining an abstact point in your head - but then again, you’d need a 3D head to do the imagining with.

A point may not have the property of distance, but it requires it to exist.

[size=75][Doh - just repeating what someone else said][/size]

I could play the part of the materialist in your discussion, since I see some flaws in your argument. Furthermore, the materialist argument for the functioning of intelligence is quite convincing to me.

Suppose I instead rephrased the argument:

Me: Yep. Because a watch’s function is not dependent on a single atom, it’s functioning emerges from the behaviour of the arrangement of atoms that make up a watch. It would make no sense to talk about “watch atoms”, or “car atoms” or “jet engine atoms” because each of these mechanism’s behavior does not arise from homogenously distributed fundamental properties of the constituent parts. It instead arises from the behavior of the parts with respect to each other in the system.

So why wouldn’t the same possibly hold true for intelligence. Why speak of “atoms” of intelligence, when intelligence is clearly a highly complicated process composed of sub processes and sub-sub processes and so on? Such a complicated process would not, and could not be the work of single atoms or homogenous fundamental properties of any sort.

MRM, I’ll continue off your new dialogue. This could be a very interesting way to construct philosophical dialogues. Two conversators write, re-write, and continue the dialogue according to their own points of view until something which is felt to be fair to both parties is reached.

Socrates: Does one atom keep time?
Hylos: No.
S: Does a collection of two atoms keep time?
H: No.
S: Does a collection of three, shaped into a triangle?
H: Not that I know of.
S: Does a collection of billions, arranged into a spring?
H: No.
S: Does a collection of 10^26 atoms arranged into gears and springs, with all the attendant mechanisms and movements of a clock?
H: Absolutely.
S: What does it mean to keep time?
H: A clock is said to keep time in the sense that people use the clock to order the events of the day – one wakes up at 8 AM, the sun reaches its zenith at 12 PM, and so forth. We associate the clock’s state with the state of the world around us and thereby create a succession of clock-state/world-state associations which we call “time”.
S: This is an admirable answer, Hylos, and I see no flaw in it. Now suppose that this collection of atoms and movements we call a “clock” existed in the world, but there were no people in the world. Could the watch then be said to keep time?
H: I suppose not, since I have described the clock as an assistant to the human process of clock-state/world-state association.
S: So a clock by itself does not keep time, for a clock by itself has no time to keep (time being a human invention).
H: Yes. It needs a human being to recognize it as keeping time.
S: Might one similarly speak of human intelligence in this way? Perhaps human intelligence is nothing more than a complex hierarchy of behaviors. Further, the behaviors are nothing more than collections of movements of material. In this way, might we speak of human intelligence as nothing more than a hierarchical collection of collections of movements?
H: Yes, that is exactly my point. Given enough complexity, enough hierarchy, enough collections, enough movements, human intelligence arises.
S: But once again – to speak of intelligence in this way would require a human being observing another human being, observing these behaviors and collections of movements?
H: Yes, I suppose, just as in the case of time and the clock.
S: Now suppose again that there is only one human and no humans to observe him. Can this human be said to be intelligent?
H: Yes, he still can.
S: But we have said that intelligence, like time, requires an observer to call it intelligence. So he cannot be said to be intelligent because there is no observer.
H: No Socrates, this case is different than the case of time. A clock cannot observe itself. A human being can.
S: Yes Hylos, I overlooked this in my initial estimation. But what is it that the lone human being observes? What do you by yourself observe of yourself? Merely a collection of movements?
H: Yes, I suppose all my self-observations could be spoken of as observations of matter and motion.
S: For example, you observation of the color green? Say, in a leaf? In what sense is this matter or motion?

…Here the dialogue leaves off once again, to the pleasure of my fellow forumites. Rewrite and add what you please, but give explanations for substantial revisions. Oh, and this should probably go in the philosophy forum right? Should we get it moved?

What I’m trying to get at here is the difference between intelligence as a complex collection of observed behaviors and intelligence as an inner experience. External behaviors versus internal psychological states. It might be that what others see of you is perfectly well explained by a mathematical system describing your behavior over time. But that doesn’t mean they know what you feel and think inside – but you know, and you feel that that is more than just a collection of materials governed by mathematics. Well at least I feel that.

I disagree about time being a human invention. Time is necessary to describe nature. Events occur at a certain location in time, just as much as they occur at a certain location in space. Time must be used to index when these events happen, the rate at which they happen, ect.

So even in a universe with no people to observe things, planets would still rotate at a certain rate, and have a certain position based on time, just as the watch hands would. The universe is dynamic, and describing change requires reference to time at least in terms of rates, if not history as well. Motion is a rate of change (with respect to what? Rates always have something which they vary with respect to). Ditto for acceleration. Change must be in respect to something.

(I’m not sure how the ancient Greeks would have viewed light and color. We know today that the color of an object is determined by the type of light it reflects. We then percieve the color based on the light acting on our eyes. Our rods and cones translate light within certain frequency ranges into nerve signals which travel to the brain via the optic nerve)

What evidence do you have for these dogmatic assertions?

Time is perhaps not a “human invention” in the sense that people consciously went about inventing the concept; it’s more of a human way of perceiving things. People instinctively organize their sensations (including their memories) into a sequence which they call “time”. This is the minimalist definition of time; to say that time is anything more than this is mere assertion. Similarly with space, motion, change, and other such basic concepts. They are at the very least human ways of organizing sense data, and claims of their being more are to my knowledge entirely unsupported by evidence. For all evidence is perceived through human eyes and can therefore not be used to say what happens when human eyes do not perceive.

How do you know?

How do you know? How can you say that color is any more than a particular sensation you have?

I expect your response to my questions of “how do you know?” might go something like this. Suppose I look at a planet through a telescope, note its position, and wait a few days. Based on Kepler’s laws I can predict where I will now see that same planet. Kepler’s laws tell me how the planet traveled while I wasn’t looking at it, therefore I know what the planet was doing when I wasn’t looking at it.

This is wrong. You don’t know. All you know is that Kepler’s laws allowed you to predict where you would see the planet. And in general science only tells us predictions about how we will see the world. It tells us nothing about the way the world “is”. And what does it even mean for the world to be if there’s no one to observe it? Whatever it might mean, it can have no relevance for us because what we can’t observe or feel or sense in any way does not affect us. So it is pointless to say that things are when you are not looking at them and merely confuses you, such that you think you know more than you really know.

Science predicts for me when and where I will see green. It does not tell me that green is matter or motion or anything at all.

These assertions aren’t dogmatic - there are reasons to believe them and evidence to back them up. Suppose I want to describe velocity to you. It is defined (mathematically) as a change in distance with respect to (what?). A change in distance with respect to another distance would be a slope or gradient of some sort. A change in distance with respect to color would be a topography, such as on a false color map. A change in distance with respect to an angle would be a trigonometry function of some sort. Velocity exists, however. (Is this not basic enough?) Our name for what the change exists in terms of is time. In fact, a lot of variation exists with respect to the same parameter. How do we know it’s the same parameter? Because when we relate the differential equations dX/dm = K*dY/dn, we can rewrite them as dX/dY = K. That’s how we know dm = dn (=dt a calculus element of time). So time is just our name for something observed, not a construct, like driving laws or currency.

I suppose this is possible. I usually take things like space, time, and motion at face value. But supposing we go completely general, and say that a system can be described in terms of parameters and those parameters’ rates of change, there are a certain minimum number of parameters required to describe the system. A system has a certain number of degrees of freedom. You can come up with completely different parameters to describe the system, but it still needs the bare minimum number.

For example, a 3D object can’t be described with only two parameters. It’s surface may be able to be described by only two (provided you have a function to guide those parameters). But, you must always have three independent parameters to describe the entire 3D set of points. It could be 3 distances (such as in cartesian, or other skewed systems), two distances and an angle (polar coord), a distance and two angles (sph coords), ect. But always 3.

So, can I say the following?

{parameters that describe reality according to human senses of distance, time, ect} = [Tranformation Tensor] * {parameters that describe reality in some other way}

dimensions(human system) = dimensions(other system)
determinant([Transformation Tensor]) not= 0

So if your way of organizing the universe doesn’t use time explicitly, my sense of time should at least be found inside the definitions of some of your parameters.

(Of course, an Ancient Greek probably wouldn’t think of systems or equations in these terms at all. Socrates might quite realistically have won the debate at this point. )

Now we’re getting into a debate about whether reality objectively exists. I suppose that if you don’t accept the existence of objective reality, you also won’t accept any attempt to prove objective reality (the very concept of “evidence” presupposes objective reality). However where could you possibly proceed to under the assumption that it does not? Discussion, understanding, and relating to each other all presuppose something to discuss, something to understand, and some set of relations by which to relate.

Well, I can’t claim this as absolutely proven. It is, however, backed up by all our experience. (An extrodinarily weighty inductive association, if not a tautological proof). If the planets keep ending up where we’re predicting that they will, doesn’t it make sense to assume that they are there all the time, orbiting according to the laws derived when we were looking, even when we’re not?

Maybe it doesn’t logically prove (as a tautology or something) that the world is this way. However, isn’t it a pretty good assumption that it’s behaving as it does, even when we’re not looking?
A ball placed under a box is still there when the box is raised. (This, in fact, is an interesting experiment in infant psychology. After a certain extremely early age, the babies grow quite upset at seeing the ball disappear after being placed under the box. We know instinctually that this is not the way the world works.)

Someone had to start making positive assertions anyway. If Socrates were debating Socrates, all you would get would be questions fired back and forh.

I’m not sure what a “pretty good assumption” would mean philosophically, but I can tell you this. It’s not only an unproveable assumption that the world behaves a certain way when we’re not watching; it’s also a (philosophically) unnecessary assumption. Practically it useful for us to habitually think that the world acts a certain way when we’re not watching, or else we could not generate predictions and make decisions. But even in this sense it need not be an “assumption” which is held without possibility of change, but simply a habit of thinking which we keep because it feels good to do so.

The notion that the world acts in a certain way when we’re not watching is an unnecessary and unproveable “assumption” but a useful “habit of thinking”. In fact it is quite possible to live life without any dogmatically held assumptions; one simply replaces them with consistently held habits of thinking. That way we get all the practical benefits of the assumption without the nasty aftertaste of thinking we know what we do not in fact know.

So how does this relate to the question of whether human beings’ feelings and thoughts are just complex, predictable physical processes?

One who understands the reasoning above will realize that imagining feelings and thoughts this way is nothing more than a habit of thinking, and in no way unchallengable knowledge. Compare that to your knowledge of your sensations themselves. For example, green. If you sense the color green, you do not sense anything related to motion or waves or the other things that science says have to do with the process of perceiving green. This sensation of green is entirely different from the scientific construct of “green light” by which we predict when we will have the sensation of green. It is also different from the electrical nerve signal by which science predicts we will have the sensation, and it is also different from the neuron network which some unphilosophical people say is identical with consciousness, feeling, and thinking.

One way to see this is by the fact that the sensation itself is not an object of scientific study, but of prediction. One studies green light and neural networks and optic nerves for the sake of predicting when a person will have the sensation of green. But the sensation of green itself is not at all studied. It can’t be; it’s just “the sensation of green”. There’s no way to articulate it or break it down. In fact, we can’t even communicate the sensation of green to one another; we can only say “that light is green” by which we mean “if you look at that thing, I think it likely that you will have the same sensation that I had.”

We cannot study or communicate sensations of green in the way that we can study and communicate those things by which we predict sensations of green. For this reason alone I think it clear that the sensation and that by which we predict the sensation are very different, and cannot be identified as the materialist would like.

If aporia is going to deny objectivity, then there’s not really any point in having a conversation about this or anything else, since it wouldn’t be bound by any degree of rationality or logic. It would just be a pointless, never-ending back-and-forth.

Having said that, I will go ahead and add that the point that multiple components operating in a certain pattern can and do often yield emergent properties that are not a property of any one component, or a property of those components in a different configuration. That is fairly obvious and simple.

Not sure where you are going. If we cannot know anything at all then why bother discussing something? We may be wrong.

Aporia,

I really like your new avatar. A lot.

Dunamis

MRM.,

I disagree about time being a human invention. Time is necessary to describe nature.

I completely agree with this kind of reasoning. In its tradition I will also state that hammers are not a human invention. Hammers are necessary to hammer nails and break rocks.

Dunamis

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i disagree the colour green just is. and the colour green came from nature not us. if we see the colour green then it is because we can detect it. all sensations come the without not within. cause>effect>affect.

I’m not denying objectivity; I don’t even know what objectivity means. But I bet you don’t either.

I just realized that I was making this big point about the color green and my avatar is this big green thing. Speaking of which, how do you feel about this passage in particular:

We can predict what we must do to see green. We can even talk about our predictive models. But we can’t talk about the sensation green. There’s nothing to say. For this reason alone predictive-model-green and sensation-green seem to be very different things. I can’t understand why they should have any way of relating to each other and yet they do. That there is a predictive model of green at all is utterly mysterious and surprising to me. How can one explain it except by the action of a designer who joined the human mind to its world?