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X-Phi
March 4, 2009 11:25 PM   Subscribe

Philosophy’s great experiment. "Philosophers used to combine conceptual reflections with practical experiment. The trendiest new branch of the discipline, known as x-phi, wants to return to those days. Some philosophers don’t like it." [Via]
posted by homunculus (45 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
when devout Catholics are given electric shocks while looking at a picture of the Virgin Mary they feel less pain than atheists do when administered the same unpleasant treatment.

This kind of information will come in handy when the "mind-camps" are established.
posted by ornate insect at 11:36 PM on March 4, 2009


Previously.
posted by homunculus at 11:46 PM on March 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's a fascinating direction. We mustn't overestimate the questions it can answer, but on the other hand the paradigm methodology which takes the writer's hunches as its data has its limits, too.
posted by grobstein at 11:57 PM on March 4, 2009


(Can you tell us what recommends this batch of links over the last one you posted?)
posted by grobstein at 11:57 PM on March 4, 2009


I don't really understand how you can empirically test most philosophical concepts. Most of these experiments sound like they really belong to a different field. For example, the experiment where they shocked catholics clearly belongs to psychology, not philosophy.
posted by Mitrovarr at 12:17 AM on March 5, 2009


On the one hand, I think philosophy should use whatever tools it has available. On the other hand, the examples used in the article were underwhelming. So people use the emotional parts of their brain to decide whether to shove someone onto train tracks, as opposed to the logical part. What do you get from that? It still doesn't tell you what's morally right and what isn't. You'd have to argue that one type of reasoning is either superior or inferior. I tend to favor logical thinking and try to keep anything irrational at bay, but when we're talking about something like morals, it seems weird to say that perhaps our feelings shouldn't matter.

At least in this case, the brain scans don't seem to have contributed much. Well, at least not to philosophy. Like Mitrovarr notes, it seems to contribute to fields other than philosophy, and maybe the findings are generally interesting, but it's not like they prove anything. I don't see how a brain scan can be proof of anything except that people think certain things, which has nothing to do with whether the things they think are right or better than anything else. Maybe I've missed the point, or someone has better examples?

On a side note: What if you do a brain scan about whether emotionally-driven reasoning is inferior, and people agree... but it turns out the impetus to say it's inferior is emotionally-driven?
posted by Nattie at 12:33 AM on March 5, 2009


It's interesting to me how at one point Philosophy pretty much just meant inquiry- both contemplative and practical. Philosophers both sat around thinking about the world and went around doing things like measuring the earth and (possibly but probably not) building solar death rays. Then, as certain branches became more complex and bodies of actual knowledge began to form, the various fields split off, becoming, say, Alchemy, and then we hit the Enlightenment and we start to get things like Chemistry, and Philosophy has come to more or less mean the bits that aren't rooted in practical research.

What I found alternatingly fascinating and frustrating in undergrad was the discovery that there are an awful lot of philosophers- metaphysics types, mostly- who really, really, really aren't comfortable with this trend and who keep after things like (to give what appears to me to be the most egregious example) philosophy of mind. It's one thing entirely to speculate on, say, the nature of the mind when it's 1650 and the practical side of things hasn't happened yet. But when it's 2005 and neuroscientists are slowly figuring out what does what, it seems to me like it's time for philosophy to step back, spread its hands, and stop trying to to do the same work that the scientists are doing without all the nasty poking around inside of heads.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:37 AM on March 5, 2009


I don't really understand how you can empirically test most philosophical concepts.

With advances in technology, you could conceivably record every stimulus a person's nervous system receives over the course of their life, as well as all the neural traffic of their brain and then the output signals resulting from that.

If, after crunching that data, and factoring in genetics, environment, and status at the start of the experiment there were no observed cases of deviation from expected input->output mappings over the course of the subject's life - AND you repeated this experiment on many individuals - you'd probably find yourself having proven hard determinism.

I wouldn't dare to hazard a guess about proving philosophies outside my own, though.
posted by Ryvar at 12:37 AM on March 5, 2009


Here's my nutshell understanding, to be replaced when someone better informed wakes up: a dominant strain in recent philosophy is "conceptual analysis," which is where a philosophy says: "I am writing about the concept X. I have the intuition that X has the following properties. That makes X look like this related concept, Y. But on the other hand I have a strong feeling that they are different. In this paper I will investigate what the difference might be. Etc." Somewhat uncharitably, the philosopher is investigating a psychological form, the concept X, in experiments with an N=1 -- just himself. Real experiments can improve on this by going beyond the philosopher's (or the philosophical community's) intuitions about the concept. For example, if you are trying to analyze the properties of knowledge as a human universal, you might want to know how a broader sample of humans think of knowledge -- especially if your next best methodology is just to look at how a narrow sample of humans think of knowledge.

(Another example: arguments in ethics are usually based at some level on what we feel to be right and wrong. Isn't it better to have a more accurate view of what people feel is right and wrong -- and how they feel it, how it develops, and so on?)

If this pans out, though, it might have the effect of capturing some of these problems away from philosophers, putting them in the hands of psychologists (shudder?). This is seemingly a natural progression. The scope of philosophy has narrowed significantly over the course of Western history, as firmer methodologies arise to answer its questions: the pre-Socratics were shooting the shit about what we now think of as physics and chemistry, for example. Someone is famous for the thesis that philosophy is the study of the questions that we don't yet really know how to answer -- unfortunately, I've forgotten who that person is. But it may be that much of conceptual analysis, normative ethics, etc., is soon to pass into the world of questions that we kinda do know how to answer. Good news for human knowledge; maybe bittersweet for philosophers.
posted by grobstein at 12:39 AM on March 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


Oh dear, I didn't preview, and now my attempt at answering mitrovarr's question is a little buried. Well, that's what I was doing, is all, answering mitrovarr's question. hth
posted by grobstein at 12:41 AM on March 5, 2009


But when it's 2005 and neuroscientists are slowly figuring out what does what, it seems to me like it's time for philosophy to step back, spread its hands, and stop trying to to do the same work that the scientists are doing without all the nasty poking around inside of heads.

Getting the philosophical community to accept biological determinism of thought is about as likely to happen as getting the physics community to give up causality. These things are so deeply embedded in Western thought that they're functionally a priori beliefs for those raised into it.
posted by Ryvar at 12:46 AM on March 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


PG, re the philosophy of mind: I sensed in that accursed afterlife thread that we disagree on this, but I didn't want to go into it. Actually, it's almost 4am where I am, so I still don't really want to go into it. Let me just say that I think there are pretty big areas of philosophy of mind that (so far) the neuroscientists don't know what to do with. Do you really think all the writing in this area is bad? I'm especially curious if you've read the Nagel article on bats, because it's fairly convincing to me, and seems incompatible with your position here and in that thread.
posted by grobstein at 12:46 AM on March 5, 2009


Grobstein: bad link. Also, what specific parts of philosophy of mind do you think neuroscientists don't know what to do with (feel free to reply tomorrow, of course).
posted by Ryvar at 12:50 AM on March 5, 2009


Fuck, sorry. Nagel article on bats (top result; it's pretty short).
posted by grobstein at 12:51 AM on March 5, 2009


NOOOOOOOOOOO. Ehem, now I will just link to a PDF: Nagel article on bats.
posted by grobstein at 12:52 AM on March 5, 2009


I wonder if part of the reason this is underwhelming to me is that I've always found the argument that the philosopher sort of has the feeling that something is one way or another isn't very strong on its own. If it's the only argument given then I don't know that it'd be taken seriously anyway, and if other arguments are given, it seems the idea will stand or fall on those, not the gut feeling. So I guess I wonder why the neurology even needs to enter the picture to say, "You'd better have a better argument than that." Of course they'd better have a better argument than that.

But maybe the intent isn't to prove anything? I guess it can be a quick way to eliminate certain poorly thought-out arguments: "here, look at the tests, people don't actually think the way you do." It just seems an overly pricey way to go about it, and it seems odd to need the permission of neurological tests to do so.
posted by Nattie at 12:53 AM on March 5, 2009


At its core, this is about experimental design, which can require tremendous creativity. To produce newsworthy results at the same time is superhuman.
posted by StickyCarpet at 1:13 AM on March 5, 2009


grobstein, to me it seems like the issue is that the science is still at an early state, but there is very definitely science going on. That there are areas of study that they don't understand looks to me to be more about the youth of neuroscience as a discipline, together with the incredible complexity of the field, rather than a failing of neuroscience as a discipline.

...I'm not sure that makes the sense I think it makes.
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:16 AM on March 5, 2009


I guess there are two impulses here: first a metaphilosophical suspicion of intuition, and second philosophers engaging with the scientists more. Some issues really need interdisciplinary cooperation, like understanding mind, language, art, the nature of substance, and philosophers want to see their insights implemented in practice. All too often I think scientists get snippy about philosophers poking their nose into 'their field'. But frankly, scientists have often failed to clarify what they are talking about.

Please remember that having a coherent conception of whatever it is you are investigating is the best way to ensure that your experiments aren't wasting time, money and monkey brains. There is so much progress you can make with the available evidence and just reasoning about it in depth.

But at the same time I think philosophers also realize that doing experiments can aid in the process of forming a clear conception. This is just a development of basic empiricism.
posted by leibniz at 1:34 AM on March 5, 2009


(feel free to reply tomorrow, of course).

What is this tomorrow shit?
posted by telstar at 1:42 AM on March 5, 2009


What is this is shit.
posted by TwelveTwo at 1:52 AM on March 5, 2009


Also, unless I am completely misunderstanding Nagel, I think he's assuming his conclusion. His central claim is that qualia do not have an objective existence and that experience does not correlate with any event or evidence in the brain. This, of course, is begging the question; while he can talk about experience and describe it, he does not offer any science to support his claim. It's a modified god-of-the-gaps argument.
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:08 AM on March 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


I just love to learn about "the trendiest new branch" of philosophy. I often feel that my own philosophy isn't trendy enough.

What if pigs have wings? Birds have wings. Birds poop on my windshield. My windshield protects me from rain. Rain makes mud. Pigs like mud. Mud tastes good when served with pig wings. All our base are belong to us. The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy brown dog. Therefore... the only beef I have with pork is that turkeys call it chicken.
posted by twoleftfeet at 2:46 AM on March 5, 2009


Philosophy backed up by experiment and meticulous data acquisition isn't philosophy - it's behavioral psychology and/or sociology. Most philosophy that doesn't deal directly with logic or epistemology has always been about making an untestable hypothesis about human behavior based entirely on anecdotal evidence... and getting away with it by labeling itself philosophy. That phase of philosophy is rapidly drawing to a close as neuroscience and statistical research are answering some "eternal questions" in the here and now.

Philosophy itself won't be going away, just shedding itself of some tedious bullshit to focus more clearly on questions that will never be answered in the lab - Hume's wrecking ball, for one, and ethical absolutes for another. Closer to hard math than further.
posted by Slap*Happy at 2:52 AM on March 5, 2009 [3 favorites]


Aren't all the sciences rooted in experimental philosophy? It's not that experimentation is antithetical or new for philosophy, just that it's already branched into so many sciences that all the claimable areas are covered.
posted by BrotherCaine at 3:40 AM on March 5, 2009


I agree with Mitrovarr, but although these experiments are not strictly philosophy, they can provide useful food for thought. Nahmias, for example, found that people are more inclined to absolve subjects from responsibility when they believe their bad behaviour was caused by neurological illness, than when they believe it was caused by psychological illness. This doesn't tell you anything directly about the basic issue of free will in itself, but it does tell you something about why people think as they do, and that can be useful in disentangling arguments and spotting errors.

I think the hostility to x-phi on the other hand springs from an understandable feeling that if you think experiments can provide the answers in philosophy, you probably haven't understood the questions.

I think philosophers tend to feel a bit isolated; the minority of people who can actually follow the game are aware that 90% of people don't even know what it is, and more worrying, there's a signficant group among the 10% who are interested in the subject yet who unbeknown to themselves do not actually get it at all. There must be a feeling in some quarters that the whole idea of philosophical experiments risks opening the door to these confused but numerous people, and ultimately allowing the subject to be polluted or even erased by a torrent of utter nonsense from well-meaning morons.
posted by Phanx at 4:19 AM on March 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


when devout Catholics are given electric shocks while looking at a picture of the Virgin Mary they feel less pain than atheists do when administered the same unpleasant treatment.

If you say the same thing a different way it makes a lot more sense:

When atheists are given electric shocks AND forced to look at Catholic icons they are more uncomfortable than when devout Catholics are given those same shocks and shown the same icons.
posted by DU at 4:31 AM on March 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


Phil became science and now phil finally beginning to look for niche and so using what it had become.
posted by Postroad at 4:42 AM on March 5, 2009


We demand rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty!
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 5:05 AM on March 5, 2009 [4 favorites]


There are plenty metaphysical questions that cannot yet be framed in a scientific way, or cannot be resolved by experimentation, so there is even still plenty of room for work in metaphysics. Admittedly, I think the best approach to this work will be through a logical framework -- but scientists tend to have such a poor understanding of rigorous logic that it's still best to leave these questions to (good) philosophers. However, it is inexcusable for anyone professionally studying metaphysics not to have a strong understanding of contemporary developments in physics.


I think philosophers tend to feel a bit isolated; the minority of people who can actually follow the game are aware that 90% of people don't even know what it is, and more worrying, there's a signficant group among the 10% who are interested in the subject yet who unbeknown to themselves do not actually get it at all. There must be a feeling in some quarters that the whole idea of philosophical experiments risks opening the door to these confused but numerous people, and ultimately allowing the subject to be polluted or even erased by a torrent of utter nonsense from well-meaning morons.

Philosophers have always felt this way. If you look at the correspondence of any of the greats, from Wittgenstein to Kant on back through history, they always imagined themselves to be surrounded by clever idiots who didn't really "get it." They were often right.


Phil became science and now phil finally beginning to look for niche and so using what it had become.

I almost understand what you are saying. Setting grammar aside, what I don't understand is why that's a bad thing. Use the right tools for the job, and all that.
posted by voltairemodern at 5:15 AM on March 5, 2009


"Getting the philosophical community to accept biological determinism of thought is about as likely to happen as getting the physics community to give up causality."

You are kidding right? Almost every philosopher I know (and I know quite a few) accepts determinism with nary a quibble.

The real problem with experimental philosophy is that they are so lame that they actually call their work "X-Phi."

That's not a branch of philosophy it's a Marvel Comics title.
posted by oddman at 5:53 AM on March 5, 2009 [3 favorites]


I find it interesting that the main complaint against this stuff seems to be "Well, it's not philosophy."

Sure enough, when folks in Cog Sci departments do research that's essentially "experimental philosophy of mind," nobody seems to get upset. Basically everyone in theoretical linguistics could be described as doing "experimental philosophy of language," but that's uncontroversial too.

I dunno. I think this is interesting work. If I were a philosopher, I'd probably care a whole lot about who was doing it, and in which department, and with whose research money. But as a non-philosopher, I don't much care what you call it or which department sponsors it — I'm just glad somebody's doing it.
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:27 AM on March 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


It is interesting to me that one of the philosophical critiques of religion's retreat from explanation of natural phenomena is that God is a God of the Gaps. God, once responsible for disease and lightning, now has a bit more time on His hands. It's even more interesting to me that philosophy is a science of the gaps.

Originally, "science" as it was done was philosophy, even to the point where they called it "natural philosophy." Then the scientific method came along and merely thinking about things fell before the advantage of trying to prove experimentally the thoughts you had. Physics, chemistry, astronomy, biology: all once the province of the philosopher. Well, you've still got psychology, right? Now physics has provided inquiring minds with the ability to examine the biology of humans, at the level of the nervous system, and we call it "neuroscience." Philosophy must retreat once again.

I like that they're adding experiments to their toolkit. Otherwise, I ask the question, do we really need philosophy to become the process of making long arguments about unprovable things and only unprovable things? If so, let's just Glass Bead Game this puppy right now, because a few thousand years of devoted thought with nothing settled other than "we are not in agreement" does not qualify as endeavor so much as entertainment.

Netbros isn't here, so I'll throw in a very old joke, which I will doubtlessly mangle:

The chair of the physics department has a budget meeting with the new head of the University, who asks him how much he'll need for the next year.

"10.4 million," says the chair.

"10.4 million seems like quite a lot," remarks the University president.

The chair goes on to explain that they'll need another Betatron, that they have various other equipment purchases and consumable supplies.

"It's too bad you don't have consumable supplies and that only," says the University president. "The math department gets by on paper, pencils, erasers, and trash cans, and the philosophy department can make do with just the first two."
posted by adipocere at 7:28 AM on March 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


Getting the philosophical community to accept biological determinism of thought is about as likely to happen as getting the physics community to give up causality.

At least among professional philosophers, that just isn't the case. Libertarianism (not the political sort, the metaphysical sort) or "agent causality" - the idea that human choices are somehow free of/outside/evade/etc. the causal constraints of being a thing with a physical body - is a fringe view at best. Van Inwagen and Kane are probably the only two philosophers of note who defend a version of it. Van Inwagen is effectively taking it as a matter of faith, and when I talked to Kane about this two years ago, it was clear he was badly confused about certain aspects of neuroscience. Philosophers wrestle with the implications of quantum indeterminism, but only in ways that parallel work in other fields, i.e. as the weirdest freakin' problem ever in itself, and a formality when you move beyond the quantum level.

As for cranks holding forth on barstools, who knows?
posted by el_lupino at 7:50 AM on March 5, 2009


Though I should have added, in the murky area between philosophy of religion and theology, the fringe sometimes becomes the norm in small circles of philosophers.
posted by el_lupino at 7:51 AM on March 5, 2009


Oh, cripes, philosophy. Nearly every philosopher or philosophy major I've known who wasn't majoring in anything else was a little off their rocker.

WRT philosophy of mind, philosophy is losing its stranglehold, thankfully, and giving more ground to us in neuroscience daily.

And I'd like to see fundies get shocked while being forced to look at a picture of Richard Dawkins. That would be schadenfreude.
posted by kldickson at 8:14 AM on March 5, 2009


Philosophers and scientists are engaged in a shared pursuit of the truth, it's just that philosophy addresses areas where you need methods other than empirical experimentation.

Hostility is quite out of place. It's as though geologists suddenly took against astronomers.

- Telescopes are shit! Nobody ever found out anything provable about the world by looking through a telescope! Now we've got new astronomers who are happy to study minerals here on earth - isn't that a lot better than your stupid telescopes?

- Yes, studying minerals is fine and it might help illuminate some bits of astronomy. But it isn't actually astronomy, you know.

- Ha! Well I for one am glad that those loony astronomers are finally bringing non-telescopic reality into their subject. Every day we gain ground on you!! You think you're so fucking superior, but you're going to look pretty stupid when all the problems that matter are solved by geologists.

posted by Phanx at 8:56 AM on March 5, 2009 [4 favorites]


I took a class on philosophical problems in psychology with Joshua Knobe (who jokingly told us we could call him "Obi-Wan" due to the strange spelling of his last name), and he truly is a great thinker. He's honestly excited about conducting and teaching philosophy, and it would have been difficult not to be infected by his optimism and curiosity.

I'm all for bridging the gap between psychology and philosophy, and it's thrilling to see that philosophers are starting to conduct straight up experiments again. It is, however, annoying when my psych department receives an email about the "exciting new methodological breakthroughs of experimental philosophy," because, well, we've been doing that for over 200 years.

As a social neuroscientist though, I'm stoked about working elbow to elbow with philosophers.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 9:02 AM on March 5, 2009


The scope of philosophy has narrowed significantly over the course of Western history, as firmer methodologies arise to answer its questions: the pre-Socratics were shooting the shit about what we now think of as physics and chemistry, for example. Someone is famous for the thesis that philosophy is the study of the questions that we don't yet really know how to answer -- unfortunately, I've forgotten who that person is. But it may be that much of conceptual analysis, normative ethics, etc., is soon to pass into the world of questions that we kinda do know how to answer.

I think you're exactly right about how the scope of philosophy tends to narrow as we get firmer knowledge of certain fields. Many people have pointed out that as we gain such knowledge, we simply stop calling it philosophy and call it science.

But it'd be too facile to conclude that sooner or later we're going to do the same for ethics. (I'm not saying you've lept to this conclusion -- you've hedged your statement.) With science, you can look back at, say, ancient philosophers with theories that roughly hint at atoms, etc., and say, "Gee, what an interesting early grasp toward the truth, but now of course it's been superseded by our superior knowledge founded on experimentation, advanced technology, etc."

It's hard to even imagine what would have to happen for something analogous to happen with ethics. How would you do an experiment to find out whether, say, it's permissible to tell a benevolent lie, or cause harm through a mere omission, or any number of classic ethical problems? The article describes experiments to determine whether people's views are more driven by "reason" or "emotion" (are those even so clear and distinct?), but that doesn't get to the fundamental questions of (1) what the right answers are, and, more importantly (2) why those are the right answers (utiliarian? Kantian? etc.).
posted by Jaltcoh at 10:09 AM on March 5, 2009


Also, unless I am completely misunderstanding Nagel, I think he's assuming his conclusion. His central claim is that qualia do not have an objective existence and that experience does not correlate with any event or evidence in the brain. This, of course, is begging the question; while he can talk about experience and describe it, he does not offer any science to support his claim.

I'm sorry, but I think you are misunderstanding Nagel. He's not "assuming his conclusions." He makes arguments for them. Whether those arguments are convincing or not is an open question, but it's one to be grappled with and taken seriously, not just dismissed out of hand.

He doesn't believe that "qualia do not have an objective existence." He wrote a brilliant book (The View from Nowhere) on the interplay and multiple meanings of "subjective" and "objective," and I think he has a very nuanced view of how things going on in our mind can be both subjective and objective (I'm probably butchering his actual views, but again, he wrote a whole book on the topic and I recommend reading it if you want to get a non-simplistic account of where he stands on these questions).

I find it hard to believe Nagel thinks that "experience does not correlate with any event or evidence in the brain."

I wrote this blog post on Nagel's views on the mind-body distinction based on the aforementioned The View from Nowhere if you want a taste of it. I think that post should make it clear that his view isn't nearly as implausible as simply saying that mental states have no correlation with brain states.

It's a modified god-of-the-gaps argument.

It's not a god of the gaps argument. He's not saying we don't understand something, thus it must be X, where X is some specific unobserved thing. He's saying (in the bats essay and The View from Nowhere) that we don't fully understand it yet and need to study it more before leaping to a materialist/physicalist conclusion, as contemporary philosophers tend to do. That's the opposite of the "god of the gaps."
posted by Jaltcoh at 10:27 AM on March 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's always amusing when people say that Science has answered all questions that Philosophy used to be concerned with--it's like "once Bacon invented the scientific method you can safely burn all other philosophy books because that's the only one we need and we call it science now so fuck off." Philosophy and science are both rational practices concerned with different subjects. Human knowledge is all one, a lens everyone can't shine on the same stuff at the same time. Neuroscience isn't concerned with what underpins it, nor can it be, nor can a biologist care about free-will. Play your position folks.

And as far as experiments go, I've been doing these for years!
posted by Potomac Avenue at 1:37 PM on March 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


the idea that human choices are somehow free of/outside/evade/etc. the causal constraints of being a thing with a physical body - is a fringe view at best.

I wonder if I might try to unknot this as best I can, since it strikes me as containing a number of potentially misleading suppositions and false binaries.

We might separate three potential positions:

a) there is no such thing as spontaneity, free will, ultimate self-agency, or genuine rational choice: the impression one has of making choices as one goes about one's business is a convenient fiction or illusion, since every "choice" exists as, or can be reduced to, a kind of point in a causal, neuro-physical nexus. Closely associated with such a reductive view would be hardline behaviorism, etc.

b) there is such a thing as spontaneity, free will, ultimate self-agency, or genuine rational choice: the impression one has of making choices as one goes about one's business is substantiated by its own phenomenological self-evidence, i.e. that our very ability to frame the question indicates that our choices are in some sense emergent from, but not reducible to, the causal, neuro-physical nexus. Closely associated with such a view would be, perhaps, the ghost of Cartesian dualism, etc.

c) what we call spontaneity, free will, or rational choice is not "ultimate" self-agency, but "practical" self-agency. That is, we have a degree of freedom in the sense that choices are not all merely illusory, but that we tend to underestimate the fundamental ways in which those choices are welded to the causal neuro-physical nexus. Freedom is here an emergent property that, while not being wholly metaphysically separate from the causal-neuro-physical nexus, is neither wholly bound to it.

This last choice of the three might be called a "many layers" thesis, as it moves beyond reduction as the sole paradigm of empirical science. Science is not, as so many philosophers of mind primarily view it, first and foremost a reductive enterprise. Rather, it arranges and develops its areas of inquiry according to certain overlapping onto-physical domains.

What I am arguing against here is conceiving of science (in the broadest sense of that term) as reflecting an outdated, 19th century hierarchy of knowledge--in which all questions ultimately reduce to physics.
posted by ornate insect at 1:57 PM on March 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


ABSTRACTS FROM PHILOSOPHY REVIEW LETTERS B

Racing the Tortiose: Zeno vs. Experimental Data

This paper outlines a series of 100-metre races held under scientific conditions between a young, virile sprinter and a tortoise. The results provide some empyrical evidence for the falsity of Zeno's famous hypothesis.

A River Runs Through It: Challenging Heraclitus' Assumptions

Experiments in the field involved asking volunteers to step into the River Thames at a certain location in Barnes, and then to repeat their excursion two days later. The results establish that Heraclitus' principle of exclusion with regard to stepping into the same river twice may not hold for all observers.

Pascal at the Casino: Probability and Faith

In order to test Pascalian wager theory, a poker game was held under strict laboratory rules with four experienced players and God. Results demonstrate that in 67% of relevant hands, the maximal strategy with regard to believing/not believing in God is to try to bluff your way out, at least until the flop. This paper argues that even if God is on high, Aces are higher.
posted by the quidnunc kid at 2:39 PM on March 5, 2009 [10 favorites]


He's saying [...] that we don't fully understand it yet and need to study it more before leaping to a materialist/physicalist conclusion, as contemporary philosophers tend to do. That's the opposite of the "god of the gaps."

This is like finding a new forest and saying "Until we explore the whole forest, it very well might have unicorns in it". The problem is that we've never found unicorns anywhere, so to rationally bring up unicorns as a possible denizen of any location is absurd. Give me a reason to ever expect unicorns and I'll take it seriously. It's entirely god of the gaps - the only place that you can propose non-materialist phenomena are the gaps because we've ruled out every other location. If there were a qualia-based theory of relativity competing with Einstein's equations, it'd be a completely different story.

(In this case, unicorns = phenomena not explained by an empirical materialism-based theory).
posted by 0xFCAF at 3:03 PM on March 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


non-materialist phenomena

Certain philosophers, like Searle if I understand him correctly, are not arguing that qualia is non-materialist in basis. They are arguing that mental states are not ontologically reducible in a one-to-one way to brain states. A lot of the theories out there (functionalism, epiphenomenalism, etc) are not non-physicalist.
posted by ornate insect at 3:24 PM on March 5, 2009


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