Perhaps the most embarrassing part about all of this—and there is much embarrassing in silly insults aimed at one’s opposition being thrown around at a blog named “Overcoming Bias”—is that epiphenomenalists know the arguments, know quite well the apparent absurdity of the position, and have responses, and none of these seem to show up in all this discussion. For example, here. Alas, rather what we have here seems to be a gleeful variant of Ludditism: “Look at those fancy philosophers with their logic and their rationality and their big words! What a bunch of assholes!” Presuming one’s opposition is stupid does not strike me as a reliable or respectable means of converging on the truth.
One gets the feeling that Overcoming Bias is to bias as O’Reilly’s No Spin Zone is to spin.
Seeing something substantial addressed, as opposed to a secondhand reading, would be useful in that it would 1. move the discussion forward, and 2. show some evidence that the poster has actually taken the time to read the opposition and consider its best arguments.
It’s easy enough to see where Eliezer is going with this, but the foundation being laid isn’t terribly strong.
The dualist case is built for the possibility that—in this particular instance—scientific reductionism will fail. So to argue that reduction often works in other fields or changes the way we look at the world, etc. is perfectly valid, but totally redundant. Chalmers, for example, admits that right off the bat, with gusto. Not only does he accept that some things can be reductively explained, he argues that nearly everything—effectively everything but consciousness—can be reductively explained. The argument is that consciousness is different, not that experimental discoveries can’t have counterintuitive results.
So this is just so much straw, so far as I can see. It also continues the undercurrent of philosophy = bad and physics = good, which I assume exists because certain philosophical implications aren’t welcome here. I think this is rather distasteful, but I know I’m in the minority.
The “whole experiments may be surprising” knife cuts both ways. Sure, we’ll be surprised when seemingly irreducible phenomena turn out to be reductively explainable, should experiment show that. But we’ll also be surprised when seemingly reducible phenomena turn out to be irreducible, should experiment show that. Nothing in this post persuades in either direction.
The only real lesson is “consider the possibility that you might be wrong” which, while good advice, applies to both sides.
After all, it may well be that Eliezer’s inability to imagine that the dualist case is correct is just a reproduction of “an invisible assumption built into how his parietal cortex [i]s modeling space. [Hi]s imaginings [a]re evidence only about his imagination—grist for cognitive science, not physics.” Etc.
In other news, Nobel Prize Winner Daniel Kahneman has published the result of some recent experiments in behavioral economics, which suggest—quite surprisingly!--the most effective means to overcome one’s innate biases is by identifying those you disagree with and subjecting them to unrelenting ridicule. The neutralizing effects of this technique were found to be most successful when performed in groups consisting entirely of like-minded individuals (though occasional insertion of one naysayer to prove the foil might have helpful effects). Of the several tested modes of ridicule, the most effective were shown to be: 1. asserting one’s opponents are just too dumb to understand an argument; 2. insisting hard questions faced by one’s own position are the result of defects in opponents’ cognitive machinery and not really questions at all (Kahneman admits this may be a subset of method 1); and 3. finding the silliest members of the opposition and training most of one’s rhetorical firepower there. Also, try suggesting the Virgin Mary was a slut.
The heat analogy to consciousness is nothing new.
Chalmers explains and responds here.
I was addressing the entire thread, not you specifically.
This is vintage Platonic idealism, no? Not to criticize, just to clarify.
Does Richard have some pull with Chalmers I don’t know about?
Incidentally, Richard is presenting here—well—much of Chalmers’ arguments in The Conscious Mind. A good book.
Quite right. I figured Robin was talking about anti-reductionists generally, but I suppose he could have been referring to Keats and friends. To be clear, in my commentary I was referring to the former, and I presumed Robin was as well.
Robin’s fear was that they’re not reading OB.
I’m bothered by the tactic of explaining a groups’ qualms by postulating they don’t really understand the material. It’s just a shade shy of “Anti-reductionists are dumb.”
It seems to me the introspective evidence is greater for choices spurred on by our desires, than our desires themselves. That is to say, I can’t choose which ice cream flavors I like either—but I can choose when I eat ice cream.
Of course, that could be reducible to atoms—at least it’s conceivable—the behavioral aspects at least, if not the qualia.
As to free will, the first paper that comes to mind is David Hodgson’s A Plain Person’s Free Will.
I have not researched the issue in any great depth, but I’m sure there’s plenty out there worth reading—and a true libertarian account of free will hardly seems impossible, though it may be implausible.
Here’s a list from David Chalmers’s online collection of mind papers.
Thank you. That’s a weak argument though. Eliezer could assert that the technology to beat the CAPTCHAs exists and is understood—it’s just too expensive for spammers to afford.
You reveal your agreement when you use CAPTCHAs to keep out spammers and those CAPTCHAs work.
I’d appreciate if you explained what you mean here (starting with defining CAPTCHAs, a term I don’t know).
I agree that what you attack is a common anti-reductionist argument, but—as you admit—not a particularly mysterian one (except so far as the part of belief being addressed is the conscious aspect of belief). So changing your terms in the original post fixes the problem.
My complaint about you being off-topic was premature, and I apologize for it.
In my experience, mysterians merely object to reductionism applied to consciousness. Characterizing them as being opposed to reductive explanation of rainbows seems to misrepresent them. Of course, I may not know the contours of the group as well as Eliezer does.
Nowadays, this blog seems less a forum for discussing bias than an arena for Eliezer to propound his materialist take on the world and criticize its naysayers. Nothing wrong with that, but posts are touching less and less on the blog title.
Apparently I left a tag open. The first paragraph is yours, whereas the second is my question.
How does one determine the appropriate burden of proof?
And “Thou art God” comes from Stranger in a Strange Land.
I normally only read Robin’s posts, but if watching Eliezer get so thoroughly told (Go Barkley!) can be assured to happen again with some frequency, I may have to change my policy.