Bottoms Up! (a break from the basic science)

One thing about which scientists, skeptics, philosophers and mystics can agree, is that science cannot explain the existence of a consciousness without anatomy.

Those abstract thinkers on the right (the philosophers and mystics) believe this demonstrates a limitation of science. After all, they have defined the attributes of a disembodied mind and science doesn’t explain it to their satisfaction. The roll their eyes in condescension and accuse skeptics and scientists of that dreaded paragon of concrete thinking, reductionism. After all, it’s intuitively obvious that human minds are very special in a way that cannot be defined by the observed anatomy.

It’s time for skeptics and scientists to stop granting the machinations of philosophers and mystics, preferred status.

The issue is not skeptical reductionism. It is, as it has always been, a problem of philosophical overreach and imagined assumptions, matched with an a priori respect afforded such. Science cannot demonstrate the mystical properties of mind for the simple reason, that these are made up constructs to begin with. Philosophers and mystics must demonstrate a sound basis for these claims (other than word games or intuition) or we should just ignore them. Science is not reductionism it is coherent modeling. Starting from basic reproducible observations of reality, science helps to build models of reality that fit the observable universe with greater and greater precision and accuracy. That these models cannot provide any support for the existence of a soul for example is less a problem with the model and more a problem with the philosophy. Philosophers can debate nonexistent realms until the end of time since they seem more concerned with sounding convincing or defending their intuition than with being right about the true nature of existence.

Coherent modeling is superior to philosophy in this regard for a simple reason; modeling builds a ground up view of existence while philosophy starts from the top down and as such is largely based upon a foundation of intuition. A ground up model is always superior because this method is most easily consistent with Occam’s Razor. When building from the ground up you reach a point when observed reality is well approximated by the model. This end point may not be intuitive but it will be the simplest explanation of the observed facts. (Often it isn’t intuitive, but intuition is highly over rated in science.) At this point, a scientist can be fairly comfortable that the model reflects objective reality. The simplest explanation is reached in this manner. Based upon details of observed reality, a coherent model is essentially complete once these details have been accounted for. There is no need to account for any missing parts based upon intuition or baseless assumptions.

The top down philosopher however has the added burden of accounting for their initial suppositions. Starting from a series of assumptions that may well have no basis in reality, the philosopher has to account for the disparity between coherent models of reality and their hypothesis. The result? The philosopher declares victory since science has revealed a gap between their assumptions and demonstrable reality. They announce that this proves the existence of something beyond science! No it doesn't. It's far, far more likely to prove that the assumptions of the philosopher were groundless in the first place. That such gaps are the arbitrary creations of the philosopher seems to be of little consequence. Rare seems to be the philosopher who concedes that their intuition is faulty. No, it must be a problem with the scientific method which is not good enough to detect the transcendent parts of reality that only they can intuit. Despite the abysmal track record of intuitive thinking to successfully describe objective reality, philosophers cling to it as a badge of honor. Which, I suppose is why they continue to debate Aquinas while the rest of the word has moved forward 7 centuries.

If science supports a view that the evolutionary development of our senses as a means to successfully navigate objective reality in concert with the growth in our brain’s complexity led to the perceptions we now embody with mystical powers, rather than the other way around (a view which depends upon the existence of abstract consciousness, a thing never seen to exist), then that’s just the way it is. It may be fun to imagine that this were not so, but it’s high time we stopped treating this as anything beyond speculative fiction.

Any philosophy that depends upon the existence of a mind without an underlying structure, is guilty of such a top down bias. No objective evidence exists in support of such minds. This is the mother of all gods of the gaps. It’s based upon the error of assigning far too much credence to our intuition about such things instead of what we actually observe in nature. The bottom up approach to neuroscience is resulting in coherent models of the human mind that fit real observations. If philosophers of the mind want to be taken seriously, then let them first prove that a disembodied mind can in fact exist outside of their intuition. If not, science needs to stop apologizing for the fact that the special nature of humans that we all love so much exists now, where it always has, only in philosophy texts.


Big Mark 243 said...

This was deep! What I wish is that I had the skills necessary to communicate with the same kind of precision about the superiority of coherent models ... perhaps I should strength my eclectic method and get to work on it, eh?

Michael Lockridge said...

Does God shave with Occam's Razor?

Harvey said...


Does one "Eric" deserve any responsibility for the inspiration to write this post? If not, it certainly represents the ongoing irritation that many of us have felt in response to his (endless) lessons in Philosophy!

Pliny-the-in-Between said...

Big Mark, eclectic methods sound like something I would like ;)

Mike - I don't think so that's why he's always got a long beard in all those frescos...

Harvey - not specifically. I think he just illustrates the rampant tendency of philosophers to assume they have the high (horse) ground. They come up with some elaborate assumptions with little or no coherent basis and then insist that skeptics prove them wrong. We should turn it around. If you are going to make claims then we should insist on evidence other than word play, unsound logic or intuition.

Michael Lockridge said...

I wonder if Big Mark's Eclectic Method is at all similar to my Serendipity Scholarship? We may have a new school of thought being born here. Or maybe an old school of thought being reborn.

As long as we can sell a lot of bumper stickers and T-shirts I don't suppose it matters all that much.

Pliny-the-in-Between said...

T shirts are always good!

Saint Brian the Godless said...

All granted, but still the ground of all being can be data/mind and not matter/energy/space/time. No deity required. Then all 'structure' is structure within the vast program, so sure, no mind without such structure can exist *within the program* *running* on the *database,* but this says nothing about the database/mind on which everything, including all minds, is 'written'*

Saint Brian the Godless said...

Here's a thought:

If when man first examined a lodestone, and noted that it attracted other objects over distance with no visible means, he called it 'magic...'

And if in later years our science examined that 'magic' and noted and described rules for it's existence and propagation, created maths to describe it's 'field' and equations to describe it's actions, and a neat name for it (magnetism) at what point exactly did it stop being magic? As in, couldn't it still be 'magic' only a magic that we've named, described the rules for, and are familiar with now as something else? I mean, we describe a magnetic field, but do we actually know the reason why it exists? Sure, electrical currents create them, but isn't electricity another kind of 'magic' that we've named?

Some say there is no magic. Perhaps that's because we've named it all. Or at least, most of it.

What's my point? Describing the magic and learning it's rules, doesn't explain WHY THERE ARE SUCH RULES, why some matter and energy has attendant properties that do not change... so perhaps it's because it's magic. Because it's how we've decided that it acts, so that's how it acts. Or even how it, as consciousness itself, "prefers" to act.

Dunno... just theorizin' here.

Saint Brian the Godless said...

One point of my last post about magic...

We think all unusual things are magic, till we describe them and name them as not-magic.

And yet, we still have no idea as to the WHY of these things. Why do particles have magnetic fields? Well, the pat answer is they couldn't exist without them, but then, why do they exist? What an odd thing to just have 'out there' in reality, comprising reality even. Fields of invisible force, virtual particles, quantum entanglement... so many really unbelievable things that suddenly became believable after we described them and their 'rules.'

Why do they have rules? Teleological question? Perhaps, but only because it has no answer, not because there is no 'why.' For all we know, there is a 'why' but we can't see it yet. Perhaps they have rules because we looked to find them and seeking rules, were not disappointed.

The idea of 'all reality being data- or consciousness-based rather than actually being based in matter, energy, space, and time, is surely magical-sounding. Magical thinking, even.

So was magnetism at one time.

So I continue to observe. Too early to draw conclusions yet.

Saint Brian the Godless said...

Pliny, is it teleological to ask *why* positive charges attract negative charges and are repelled by other positive charges?

Do we know why that is? Other than 'because positive attracts negative and is repelled by positive?'

Other than my mom's answer to all hard questions? "Because it just does!?"

Saint Brian the Godless said...

I posted this to my own blog comments, but I want to discuss it here as well:


There's another hypothesis going around among scientists nowadays. I've mentioned it before. It's not scoffed at, either. It's fairly mainstream.

The idea is, that we're all in reality two-dimensional patterns on some kind of vast singularity. Oh, and not the same kind of singularity that we already know about, the kind surrounding black holes. Something bigger than that. So we two-dimensional patterns are projected holographically, giving us all the illusion of multi-dimensionality when we're (all of reality) actually flatter than a pancake.

So this is seriously considered? But not a vast database? Hey, how is that really DIFFERENT from a vast database?

So pliny, would that singularity that some physicists postulate reality exists upon in 2-d format, violate your 'no mind without structure' rule?

Food for thought, no?

Saint Brian the Godless said...

Pliny, flaky article/blog here, but it cites some notable people... anything to it, do you think, or easily dismissed? It sounds like some of my ideas.


GearHedEd said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
GearHedEd said...

Brian said,

"Describing the magic and learning its rules, doesn't explain WHY THERE ARE SUCH RULES..."

That is the question that metaphysics attempts to answer.

Saint Brian the Godless said...

Science can't answer the 'why' of why magnetism exists, why positive is attracted to negative and is repelled by another positive? As in, what causes it to exert force over distance, and the nature of that force, why is has effect?

Oh. I thought it could.

Isn't that still a scientific question, though? Even if there is no answer yet, I mean?

Saint Brian the Godless said...

In fact, considering all of the four forces, why do they exert force in the first place? Why do those four forces exist?

This is metaphysics? But the large hadron collider is trying to find the higgs boson to answer that very question about one of them, gravity...

Saint Brian the Godless said...

Something, probably obvious, just occurred to me...

Since energy and matter are two different forms of the same thing, it's no wonder that when we examine the smallest particles, they exist in a state of duality, somewhere between the two. Wave form is energy, particle form is matter.

Saint Brian the Godless said...

Ir is that wrong and naive?