Sunday, August 04, 2013

Philosophical reductionism

It's probably time I left problems in analytical philosophy alone.  Such problems are a real brain-strain and my last academic publications on such topics were in my '20s.  I am now 70.  Yet what time has eroded perhaps time has also replaced.  Maybe more knowledge has replaced less-keen reasoning.  So I am going to say a few words about an old philosophical problem in the manifestly absurd belief that I have a solution to it.

There is a good and up to date account of the problem here.  As science has progressed, it has become clear that a lot of what we do can be explained in terms of atoms and molecules in our brains interacting.  We seem to be just protein machines entirely at the mercy of influences within ourselves and influences acting on us from outside.  We have no freewill. All our decisions are mechanistically foreordained.

But that seems wrong.  We certainly feel that we have choices and make decisions.  And that is the problem of philosophical reductionism.

In both philosophy and psychology (I have an academic background in both) reductionism has long been debated, with passionate committment common on either side.  A complication is that theism/atheism seems to get dragged into it.  Christians triumphantly declare that their beliefs correspond to reality whereas what the mechanists say is clearly absurd.  And that does burn up the mechanists, who are generally atheists.  Do we need a "soul" to make the explanation of human behaviour complete?

The reference given above stresses that point.  The mechanists feel that if they let go of their reductionistic explanations, they will be in danger from religion  -- a most feared and abhorred  fate.

I am actually, I think, going to make it easier for them.  I am the most utter atheist you have ever met (like Carnap, I don't even believe that the word "God" is meaningful) but I am also profoundly grateful for the lessons I learned from Christianity in my youth.  I was a very fundamentalist Christian in my teens but my readings in philosophy converted me to atheism when I was about 19.  Unlike most who have undergone such a conversion, however, I still have the warmest memories of my time as a Christian and have a very high regard for Christianity.

So there is a sense in which I straddle both camps and I can therefore think about the issues without fear of what I might conclude.

And I can give my conclusion in a single sentence:  Mechanists mistake how we work for what we are.

To illustrate:  I may be looking close-up at a bit of canvas and see with utter clarity that it is made up of a series of coloured dots with no rhyme or reason evident in their placement.  That is the sort of thing that the mechanists quite accurately see.  But I cam also take a few steps back and look at the canvas as a whole.  And what I see then is a French pointillist painting worth millions of dollars.  Both views are of course accurate within their own context.  The painting is BOTH of the things seen about it.

So what comes of all those atoms and molecules swimming about in our brains is both a literal reality and an EMERGENT reality.  Our  brain activity CONSTRUCTS something real and important.  That, by and large, is what brains do.  And that construction is both wonderful and of supreme importance.  God doesn't come into it.  We just need to accept that the whole can be more than the sum of its parts.  And it is the existence and interactions of those higher order constructs that injects the indeterminacy into our behaviour.  What is contructed will vary slightly between people and that generates debate and uncertainty.  It is the EXPLANATION of our world that is important, not the atoms and molecules that enable patterns in our world to be seen and used.  We really are more than what makes us work.  Concentration on our internal machinery is  useful for some things but for most everyday purposes it is silly and fruitless.

The concept of emergent properties is a hoary one in philosophy  so one could ask why it is not widely seen as an answer to the  problems of reductionism.  For many (but not all) the answer to that question would seem to be a matter of ideology.  Leftists in particular (and most philosophers are Leftist) find reductionism  an important prop for their rejection of everything in the world about them.  And declaring that we are just a collection of molecules does seem a good rationale for their gospel that "There is no such thing as right and wrong".  How can there be if we are simply the product of chemical reactions?

The hilarious thing about that nihilistic account of morality, however, is that nobody believes it.  Just listen to Leftists talk about apartheid, George Bush, Israel or racism and you will hear the moral language coming thick and fast.  Racism is wrong even though there is no such thing as right and wrong!  I pointed out long ago how attached to moral judgments Leftists are, despite their philosophy.  Reason is wasted on such people.

I hasten to reiterate that reductionism is not of itself a folly. I have after all done a bit of it myself. It has its place in understanding how we work but how we work gives rise to a much bigger story.


Fox Versus the Islam-Boosting 'Mainstream'

They may find it scandalous for someone to say so, but our secular liberal media are playing favorites with religion. They have a spoiled child, Islam. Journalists see Islam as a bullied, minority faith for brown people. Draw a cartoon of Mohammed with dynamite on his head, and you are the worst kind of trouble-making hater.

But write a book declaring that Jesus isn't God? That's not picking a fight or making trouble. That actually delights media elitists. They see America as too identified with Christian-nation "intolerance," a bond that needs to be broken.

Look no further than Lauren Green's interview with Muslim author Reza Aslan, who wrote a book titled "Zealot," which wildly claims that Jesus wasn't God, and (scriptural evidence be damned) Jesus never said or thought that he was.

Green's first question? "This is an interesting book. Now, I want to clarify: You are a Muslim, so why did you write a book about the founder of Christianity?"

That's hardly a ridiculous question. It is actually the necessary first question. I have written a book charging that the liberal press stole the 2012 election. Were I to appear on CNN, would it not be correct to establish from the start that I am a conservative?

But liberals sniffed "bigotry" in Green's open-ended question (which she asked several times and couldn't get a straight answer). They sensed she was saying Aslan and Muslims should somehow be banned from writing about Christianity.

In responding to Green's question, Aslan arrogantly lectured Green like she was a little girl, dismissing her question as impudent. He claimed, "I am an expert with a Ph.D. in the history of religions. ... To be clear, I want to emphasize one more time, I am a historian. I am a Ph.D. in the history of religions."

That is emphatically false. The Ph.D. was in sociology, something entirely different. He also has a master of arts in fiction. That qualification seems more appropriate here. In an interview on NPR's "Weekend Edition," Aslan had another "cringe worthy" moment that even NPR felt pressed to correct on its website: "Our guest incorrectly says the first Gospel, the Gospel of Mark, contains no statement of messianic identity from Jesus. In fact, in Mark 14:62, Jesus responds affirmatively when asked if he is the Son of God."

NPR didn't say "inadvertently." Not "mistakenly." The word they chose — "incorrectly" — speaks volumes. Aslan was pushing a falsehood.

Reverse this media phenomenon: What if it were a Muslim who converted to Christianity claiming Mohammed wasn't a prophet? For starters, no one in today's press would ever give him the time of day; or if they did, the first question would certainly be Lauren Green's question: Aren't you biased?

The adjectives piled up to describe this interview filled a thesaurus of trash talk. MSNBC midday host Alex Wagner made a list of liberal blog babble: "It's been called absolutely demented, cringe worthy, excruciating, breathtakingly incurious, a complete car crash, the most embarrassing interview Fox News has ever done."

As she interviewed Aslan, Wagner boasted "Fox has revealed two biases; anti-Muslim and also anti-fact." Fact-challenged Aslan announced his interview was a "jump the shark" moment marking the decline and fall of Fox News.  Soon, MSNBC will be number one?

A professor named Jeffrey Scholes exemplified perfectly the liberal superiority dance against "Christian privilege" on the blog Religion Dispatches

"Many of us want to see the scholar vs. the dilettante; the open-minded vs. the close-minded; the objective vs. the subjective; the facts vs. values." These people actually believe liberalism is objective, and liberals deal in facts, unlike conservatives. He continued: "More to the point, the interview presents us with a real shot at projection: We finally get the chance to stick it to Fox News, especially as it shows itself to be less than 'Fair and Balanced.'"

No one mocking Fox and Green gave them any credit for extending an interview to Aslan in the first place. And no one acknowledged the sad fact that Green is the only religion correspondent at a national TV news network. The boob-tube "news" crews don't darken church doors and feel no need to have any expertise in any religion's sacred texts or theology.

But Aslan can be hailed on every liberal outlet, with hosts shamelessly aiming to "juice" his book sales, as MSNBC's Wagner put it. "Please do read the book," she pleaded. In an interview on "The Daily Show," substitute host John Oliver was over the top: "I loved this book," he said in the first minute. At interview's end, he repeated: "I absolutely love this book! You gotta get it. ... The fantastic Reza Aslan!"

This might be obvious, since mocking the divinity of Jesus Christ from Jon Stewart to "South Park" is the daily bread of Comedy Central. And mocking Mohammed is banned.



The Great Defunding Obamacare Debate


Congress is going on vacation in August and the President will be taking another one in Martha's Vineyard where the very rich and the extremely rich pass a summer's day. When both return they will have until September 30 to pass a continuing resolution; the way the government has been funded for many years.

On the table will be the need to raise the debt ceiling to allow the U.S. to borrow enough money to pay off the largest debt in U.S. history. In his first term, Obama borrowed more than all preceding Presidents combined. His "stimulus" package didn't work and neither has anything else that might pass for an economic policy. The nation has been stuck in a rut of very low, inadequate growth for five years during which Obama spent the first four blaming George W. Bush and the last year blaming the Republicans.

Looming ahead to further exacerbate the nation's economic decline is the implementation of Obamacare. Nobody seems to like it much. Major unions have written Obama, telling him to "fix" it and hardly a day goes by that we don't learn some new horrid thing about it. Nearly half the states refused to set up the insurance exchanges it requires. By nearly everyone's assessment, it is unworkable.

How bad is Obamacare? As far back as 2009 the Democrats in Congress tried to get themselves and their staffs exempted from it.

There is a debate raging among Republicans over whether to defund Obamacare as a way of avoiding its full implementation and driving a stake through its heart until it can be repealed. The White House is, as usual, lying to the public, saying this would "shut down" the government. It would not. The only services that would be affected would be those deemed "non-essential."

Rep. John Boehner, the Speaker of the House, has maintained that repeal of Obamacare is the only solution. It is not the only answer. Defunding its implementation has been an option since it was signed into law. Boehner (R-OH) has been sharply criticized for not putting this option before the House. Now there's a momentum growing in both the House and Senate to defund Obamacare.

"Republicans in the Senate and Republicans in the House need to stand on this issue, need to refuse to budge," says Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), "because we will be complicit in Obamacare...if we provide funding for the administration to do that." Defunding would be a victory for the Tea Party movement that was instrumental in electing Senators Ted Cruz (R-Cruz), Marco Rubio (R-FL), and others.

Leading the effort to defund Obamacare, the Heritage Foundation reports that it is closing in on securing enough co-sponsors of the Defunding Obamacare Act of 2013 to achieve "critical mass in the House", but notes that "the Washington Establishment is more interested in striking a deal with President Obama on immigration, taxes, and spending than fighting to defund Obamacare."

The House, which has passed any number of bills to repeal Obamacare at this point, controls the "purse strings" because all laws involving spending can only be initiated there. The bills, however, never go farther than the House.

Obama knows that the last thing Republicans on Capitol Hill want is to be blamed for causing the government to "shut down." Political pundits recall that when it happened in 1995 everyone blamed then-Speaker Newt Gingrich and the GOP, but what they don't remember is that, in 1996, the party picked up seats in the Senate and continued its control of the House. That could be a 2014 scenario, but these are different times with different players involved.

The problem the Republican Party has, in addition to a whole bunch of very squishy members in Congress, is a media that will defend Obama and Obamacare by framing the situation as one of intransigence and a blind desire to punish the President who bested them in 2012 by getting reelected.

The bigger problem, however, is Obamacare.

In my opinion, the Republicans in the House will likely not vote to defund it because they are looking ahead to the 2014 midterm elections. It is easier to fuss about the debt ceiling, get a few spending cuts, and use Obamacare as an issue to secure political control of Congress next year. Only then would the GOP be in a position to repeal Obamacare. To politicians on Capitol Hill, it is a less scary scenario. I would never bet on the courage of politicians.

One possible outcome for Obamacare would be something comparable to the fate of Prohibition, the national ban on the sale, production, and transportation of alcohol that was the law of the land from 1920 to 1933. It was enacted by the 18th Amendment and repealed by the 21st due to its unpopularity. It too was unworkable.

The only thing we know for sure about Obamacare is that it will ruin the best healthcare system in the world and it will end up killing people.



For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH,  POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC,  AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated) and Coral reef compendium. (Updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten.

List of backup or "mirror" sites here or  here -- for when blogspot is "down" or failing to  update.  Email me  here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here (Academic) or  here (Pictorial) or  here  (Personal)


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