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Letters

Letters

Ways of Intuition • The Edge of Science • Golden Words • Tallis and the Word • Books and the Word • Boxing Clever • An Angry Buddhist Writes • Dile-A-Dragon

Ways of Intuition

DEAR EDITOR: A recent stay in hospital was made almost enjoyable by my taking a copy of Issue 74 in with me. I hadn’t seen it before and now feel I need to become a subscriber, and to comment.

One of the strands of Joel Marks’ ‘Moral Moments’ depends upon his use of the word ‘intuition’. I don’t think this word, as he uses it, has only one meaning.

First of all he states that “an intuition is not a proof. A person can have an intuition that something terrible is about to happen to them, but then nothing does.” (1). Later in the article Marks states that “…our intuitions would completely break down. That is another reason why intuitions cannot be be relied upon for knowledge: they can contradict one another.” (2). Later still: “Insofar as I can rank my own intuitions, my feeling is that teleportation such as I have described is impossible.” (3).

His first use of the word is perhaps our commonest use in ordinary language. Here it means a feeling, sometimes a feeling of certainty, which does not need to be logically or empirically grounded for us to feel it is true. Although such feelings can be very powerful, Marks is right to say “an intuition is not a proof.” (Of course, some people want to say their intuitions are the basis of knowledge, but let’s not go there today.)

In case (2), where Marks says that “our intuitions would completely break down” I am not sure what he means. As adults, and indeed as children, we build up beliefs about the world on the basis of personal experience, which sometimes lead to generalised beliefs. (A good example of this how this may sometimes cause problems was the eighteenth century excitement about the ‘living contradiction’ discovered when Europeans first saw a black swan.) This could be similar to Marks’ use of the word here. Of course some adults then go on to explore philosophy, scientific method and logical argument as other ways of acquiring perhaps wider knowledge. The expression “intuitions breaking down” could be a description of what sometimes happens when our previous experience – and generalisations made based upon them – are contradicted by new knowledge.

As to “ranking my own intuitions” (3). I wonder what Marks thinks he is describing? Do intuitions of Type 1 rank higher than those that may be Type 2? What objective criteria could be used in this exercise? Plato had a decent stab at ranking knowledge and opinion.Maybe this is lurking in the background here?

I don’t think these points necessarily invalidate Marks’ key points, but I suppose I am a little obsessive about meanings, especially when trying to communicate difficult concepts.

The letter from Dyana Rodriguez ends with an interesting sentence: “Isn’t [transcendent possibility] a definition of God?” I suppose this is really a pithy rhetorical question. If it were a real question, then the answer would be “not really” or more accurately “not necessarily.” I often feel on visiting small chapels and great cathedrals what Phillip Larkin’s poem ‘Church Going’ expresses: some sense of what Tallis referred to as ‘transcendent possibilities’, but I don’t have to conclude anything about God. One may feel connected with the past; one may feel a loss of religion even. And sometimes it’s possible to feel quite full of emotion (out of myself, ‘transcendent’, even) without necessarily agreeing withMs Rodriguez’ conclusion. I’m afraid it doesn’t have the force she seems to want it to have. It does not necessarily follow that one is in any sense experiencing God.

In ‘Analytic Versus Continental Philosophy’, Kile Jones presents an overview of the major trends and rifts inWestern philosophy over the past several centuries. It is a clear and useful summary. What a pity about the last paragraph, presented as if it were a conclusion or rounding-off of the preceding thoughts. It isn’t. About philosophy and philanthropy he says, “they both have a role to fill and to harmonise them is the greatest of goals…”Where did this come from? I don’t think every philosopher would agree with this statement (Hobbes,Marx, Nietzsche, to name but a few).

As to the origins of thoughts behind the next sentence, one need look no further than Plato: “The balance between love and knowledge, the knowing and the doing of the good, is the philosopher’s ideal state…” No, it isn’t.Well, only if you so define all philosophers as Platonists.What about the rest of us? These sentiments are worthy and ‘nice’, but I object to the implication that I must subscribe to themor not be a philosopher.

ROBERT NICHOLLS, CREDITON, DEVON


The Edge of Science

DEAR EDITOR: I enjoyed Ian Kidd’s article ‘Feyerabend and the Monster ‘Science’ ’ in Issue 74, as it brings up the logical fallacies that science has committed in the name of universal truth by being narrow-minded. I think Feyerabend was very observant in comparing theories with scientific dogmatism. Religion made the same mistake, by not allowing different views to be explored.

However I would like to point out a few dangers in his radical approach to science. Feyerabend claimed that scientists should ignore philosophical guidelines in order to progress. I fear that if this were to happen science would become an even bigger monster than the one that he’s warning us about.Without guidelines, and taking everything as relative there is the possibility of science following the dogma of ‘Might is Right.’ I think it’s vital that science should not ignore it’s philosophical (particularly epistemological) guidelines as they offer steps in dealing with dealing with knowledge.

My view is that there is no perfect theory or guideline when it comes to any branch of knowledge. My proposal is to observe and to question whether a given theory will allow science to progress or not.

Another way of thinking is to take the metaphor of science as the human body, and a theory being a food or substance that will do the body good or harm, and that science should absorb the nutritious variety. Science also needs more than one type of food for balance to be maintained, otherwise it suffers malnutrition due to the deficiency of a certain item, or toxicity due to excess intake of another substance. It is also important to know when it’s the right time to let go of a theory. As the human body requires disposal of its waste products, and old cells die to make space for new ones, science should do likewise.

ALAN ROLLE, LEATHERHEAD, SURREY


DEAR EDITOR: I was delighted with the way in which Issue 74 drew together ethics and epistemology. For example Russell Berg’s straight-faced prescription of fifteen of the tricks of what Kuhn calls the ‘normal scientist’ was followed immediately by I.J. Kidd’s lovely tribute to Feyerabend.

Feyerabend’s criterion for assessing theories by their human consequences coloured my reaction to Kile Jones’ brilliantly concise summary of the divide in 20th century philosophy. Jones’ conclusion that Analytic Philosophy should “realise that philosophy is not without a history” while Continental Philosophy “might need to realise… that epistemology is crucial” is spot on. But it is odd that someone with such a comprehensive knowledge of both the history of ideas and theology is unaware of the newer (and older!) dialectic which has arisen to oppose both faces of the coin of the global default academy, and which is set to bring ethics and epistemology into sharp focus, as we come at last to admit that we cannot for an instant tear ourselves away from responsibility for the contemporary crisis of our species. I refer to the rigorous discipline of engaged ethical reasoning which has at last begun to penetrate some of the philosophy, history, social science and even engineering communities of some U.K. universities. This 21st century turn of ideas has been labeled variously ‘radical logic’,’dialectical universalism’ and ‘strong methodological pluralism’. It is a way of thinking which really does provide what Jones calls “a hope for progress with humility, which will aid humanity not only epistemically but also ethically”. It may well be that only such a thoroughgoing change of minds can do justice to the urgency of the paradigm shift required for philosophy to survive at all.

BRIAN COPSEY, LEYTON, LONDON.


Golden Words

DEAR EDITOR: I found Stephen Anderson’s ‘The Golden Rule: Not So Golden Anymore’ (Issue 74) thought-provoking and persuasive.Maybe we should think of the Golden Rule in its negative form as the ‘least common denominator’ of many ethical codes, or as a bare-minimum requirement of morality, rather than the highest universal moral principle. Analogously, ‘stop at red lights’ is one of the first rules of good driving, but it is by no means all that is required to get a driver’s license. Rabbi Hillel said that the meaning of the Torah (the Golden Rule) could be stated by a person while standing on one foot: “The rest is commentary.” But it’s the commentary that’s the philosophically- interesting and challenging part, and it can best be contemplated with both feet on the ground, or to change the metaphor, both hands on the wheel.

CAROL NICHOLSON, TRENTON, NJ


DEAR EDITOR: Stephen Anderson in Issue 74 wrote about something he appears to know quite a bit about but fails to understand. Anderson’s disparagement of the Golden Rule bespeaks more about his ethics than his credentials as a philosopher.

The Golden Rule is called a rule for a reason. It is not a moral law. It is not something that may be applied dogmatically the same way with the same intensity at every opportunity. Stephen, in arguing that the Golden Rule can be skirted, avoided or phrased in different ways with differing results, is confirming that the Golden Rule is a moral rule.

This relates to the problem of evil. If evil did not exist, the need for a Golden Rule would not exist. God could have made mankind good in the way the planets revolve in their orbits and chemicals always obey the same laws. That might make us obedient, even good, but it would not make us moral any more than the forces of electromagnetism are moral. A moral being is moral because he or she has a choice to not be so and yet chooses to do the right thing. This begs the question as to what is the right thing to do. The Golden Rule says that we should treat others, as we would wish to be treated. This obviously does not spell out exactly what it is we are to do. Indeed it forces us to think about how we are treated and how we could be treated better, and it forces us to consider the issue of reciprocity. In other words, it forces us to think morally.

As Stephen says, the Golden Rule does have its negative and positive versions, and they do have different implications. Yet the results are the same if the intent of the person is the same. Morality is about our heart. Stephen is right when he suggests that the negative version allows us to ignore the plight of others. Many do, but the immoral person will ignore any and all calls to pity however phrased. If he or she is legally obliged to help the less fortunate, they will, but as said this does not make them moral, or what they do moral behavior.

The moral hypocrite will obey the letter of the rule but not the spirit. The truly moral person will, as Stephen mentions, turn the Golden Rule into a Platinum Rule and go the extra mile, not to fulfill the law but to respond to their conscience.When next you hear the Golden Rule listen to its moral plea.

ROBERT BURK, BY EMAIL


Tallis and the Word

DEAR EDITOR: In Issue 74 Raymond Tallis explores the idea of reference. I would like to suggest a solution to the conundrum of how words connect to the world by saying, maybe they never do. If modern science is correct, then each of us really inhabits a sophisticated simulation of the world, constructed from data collected from the senses and then generated by the brain – a highly accurate ‘vision’ of reality. From this simulation we arrive at concepts of certain things, such as people, objects or even categories, and learn to associated certain sounds and symbols with those concepts.We can then apply these words to aspects of the simulation we perceive, which is very similar to other peoples’ accurate simulations. At no point in this process is it possible for us to apply anything directly to the world, or receive anything directly from it. All words are only applied to our individual concepts generated from our own individual simulations of the world, including our simu-lations of those who teach us the words, and of the words they teach us too. These simulations, and therefore concepts, are sufficiently similar that language works the vast majority of the time.

JUSTIN HOLME, LONDON


DEAR EDITOR: In Issue 73 Raymond Tallis claims that people scaring children into believing in God is not a good reason for the rest of us to become atheists, because if there really is a God they’d be doing children a favor by scaring them. However, the tendentious terrorism that coerces children into believing things that are false is one of the very best reasons to be an atheist. This is because delusions are like lies, in that both embolden extensions of what is not true.When someone tells a lie they often must tell more lies to cover the first. In the same way, when children are manipulated into delusional thinking, they will inevitably come up with more delusions to cover the originals.

Here’s an example that threatens humanity: millions of children who have been terrified by pontificators about Armageddon have grown up to believe a nuclear war in theMiddle East will spur the second coming of Christ. (I’ve read from various sources that 40% of Americans believe in this nuclear apocalypse.) Sorry to disagree with you Prof. Tallis, but to me this shows how exigent it is for the survival of humanity that religious cults stop coercing children into believing in ghosts and gods.

Are there any times when terrifying someone into a belief is justified? How about when the terror is based on reality, not myth? In the documentary Scared Straight, a group of teenage thugs are taken to a prison where inmates scare them half to death – a form of extreme behavior modification designed to steer them away from criminal activities. Then there are those horrific photos of rotting flesh I see on my wife’s cigarette packs, depicting the outcome for many smokers. Why does she continue to smoke, despite the photographic terrorism of mouth cancer and black lungs? One reason she won’t quit – I kid you not – is because she knows for certain she’ll ascend straight to Heaven when she dies! (What does it matter what happens here on Earth? It matters to me and her children!)

This example, of how a smoker believes she can smoke to her heart’s discontent because of her Heavenly delusion, also shows how healthy terrorism based on the reality of statistical significance (warnings on cigarette packs) can be nullified by unhealthy terrorism (drink this blood and go to Heaven).

JEFF HARMSEN, NEWMARKET, ONT.


Books and the Word

DEAR EDITOR: I am really enjoying reading your excellent magazine, and have found it superbly stimulating. However, I must take issue with the review in Issue 74 by John Loftus.Why do you ask someone to review a book against which they have no intention of giving a fair perspective? Mr Loftus is incapable of being reasonable when he is totally against a Christian view in the first place.

To interact with one point: both Loftus and the author of the book reviewed reckon that the idea that Jesus may have simply been mistaken about his divinity is enough to finish off Lewis’ robust argument that Jesus is mad, bad or God.

I don’t believe Loftus has comprehended this argument at all. Someone saying they were God in Jesus’ time on Earth, even as a mistake, would have been taken for a madman for even entertaining the thought, never mind asserting it.

Why not find a reviewer who may not agree with the book or at least can be sober about it, rather than Mr Loftus, who started with his bias and finished with it, without entertaining a reasonable thought anywhere along the way?

No-one can be forced to believe anything (perhaps Dawkins should take note) but to suggest that any view should be eradicated (‘let us hear no more about these arguments’) is sinister in intent.

Your magazine is excellent – please don’t ruin it with the ridiculous.

PAUL D. L. JOHNSON, WHITSTABLE


Boxing Clever

DEAR EDITOR: In Issue 74, Robert Howell created a very clever analogy with his choosing between opaque and translucent boxes filled by his totally infallible ‘Predictor’, the analogy being that the Predictor is God and the opaque box is everlasting life, while the translucent box is a finite life of pleasure followed by damnation. The pertinent point in both scenarios is that the Predictor/ God, already knows the result independently of the individual subject’s free will. Yet the subject has to make a choice, which is almost the definition of free will. The Calvinist’s behaviour is premised on the assumption that he has been chosen for Heaven by divine predestination. That’s where this argument falls down. His ‘free will’ has no effect on this, and thus neither has his behaviour. In other words, he has no facility for making a choice if the choice has already been made for him – by God, even; and what mortal can override God?

So the argument is both a cognitive and logical contradiction. How can the Calvinist use free will when he doesn’t have it? But all the premises upon which the Calvinist makes his decision are shaky, to say the least: there is a God; there are an allotted number of souls allowed in Heaven; God has decided in advance who those souls are; the Calvinist is one of the chosen because he lives an unblemished life. Separately, they are all disputable and unknowable; together they are improbable in the extreme.

I have a problem with anyone who lives this life with a view that the next life, of which they have no knowledge, is more important than the one life they actually know about and can affect.

PAUL P. MEALING, MELBOURNE


DEAR EDITOR: Cross-referencing Robert Howell’s discussion on Calvinistic reasons for piety in Issue 74 with John Lent’s discussion on comics and philosophy in Issue 73, I would like to offer yet another reason for piety by quoting BillWatterson’s comic strip Calvin and Hobbes: “The real fun of living wisely is that you get to be smug about it!”

ANDERS VON HEIJNE, STOCKHOLM


An Angry Buddhist Writes

DEAR EDITOR: I am astonished at Robert H. Powsner’s comments in Issue 73 which criticises my letter in Issue 70 on the work of Daniel Dennett. I cannot see their relevance to my assertions at all. It therefore might be possible that I was not clear, although I always try to be as precise as possible; for without precision and conceptual coherence philosophy goes nowhere except into confusion.

Mr Powsner says that ‘mind’ and ‘matter’ are not opposites. However I am using the term ‘opposite’ to mean ‘sharing no common features’. This is clear from the context; it is quite obvious that I am using this term to stand in for the phrase I repeatedly use concerning the categories of ‘matter’ and ‘mind’, ‘completely foreign’, which implies no common qualities. This aspect of the definition of these concepts was well known to all philosophers since Descartes. Furthermore, this conception of the nature of the concepts of ‘mind’ and ‘matter’ is clearly shared by Dennett himself, as will be obvious by looking at the section ‘Why Dualism is Forlorn’ in Consciousness Explained, and his discussion of Locke’s assertion of the primacy of mind in Darwin’s Dangerous Idea. Even the researcher and philosopher whom Mr Powsner cites with approval, Stuart A. Kauffman, refers to the Descartes’ dualism of res cogitans and res extensa as being a central hub of the discourse of Western philosophy (see Kauffman’s essay ‘Five Problems in the Philosophy of Mind’). Surely it should have been obvious that I was using the term ‘opposite’ in the context of this basic dualism.

Mr Powsner asserts that my position is that ‘material reality has mind’. However, if you read my letter with moderate attention you will find what I actually say, in italics, is that consciousness is the ontologically primary aspect of reality. This is in no way equivalent to saying that ‘material reality has mind’ – a formulation which suggests that the former possesses the latter in some manner. I would have thought that the assertion that consciousness is ontologically primary would instead clearly indicate that matter, or the appearance of matter, which is the Buddhist formulation, must emerge from a deeper level of primary consciousness. This is a position asserted by all of the founding quantum physicists apart from Einstein: Planck, Heisenberg, Schrödinger, Pauli, Bohr etc. and then later David Bohm and currently becoming increasingly clear through the work of Henry Stapp. The recent book by Rosenblum and Kuttner – Quantum Enigma: Physics Encounters Consciousness clearly indicates that Stapp’s assertion that the notion of ‘classical matter’ is no longer viable is now unavoidable and that consciousness must be an ontological constituent of reality. Therefore, contrary toMr Powsner’s assertion that quantum physics does not indicate the idea-like nature of reality, according to many, perhaps most significant quantum physicists today, quantum physics does indicate that it is: see Henry Stapp’s Mindful Universe for instance. Also look at the work of John Wheeler, Erich Joos, Dieter Zeh, Anton Zeilinger, Paul Davies, even Roger Penrose, plus many others. I myself have spent ten years researching these issues for my book Dancing in Emptiness: Reality Revealed at the Interface of Quantum Physics and Buddhist Philosophy so I do know what I am talking about. Mr Powsner can also visit my website quantumbuddhism. com, where some more technical essays can be found. He is welcome to try and take them apart philosophically.

Mr Powsner says that “Buddhism is not a recognized scientific discipline.” I fail to see the relevance of this as I am discussing philosophy. Issues of quantum interpretation are clearly philosophical in nature because it concerns the nature of ultimate reality, which was always the primary concern ofWestern metaphysics before the craven retreat into linguistic philosophical self-abuse. It was also the primary concern of the astonishinglyprecise analyses of Buddhist philosophers. However, anyone not familiar with the extraordinary scope and depth of Buddhist philosophy is hardly in a position to make any pronouncement upon the relevance of it.

Finally, in his essay, Kauffman states that “the mind is a quantum… system in the brain.” In other words, he conceives of mind ‘emerging’ from the stuff of the brain. The point I was making in my original letter is that if ‘matter’ is defined to have no common qualities with ‘mind’ – and Kauffman does explicitly use Cartesian definitions – then as simple logic it is impossible for mind to emerge from a mindless material lump, the brain. To repeat what Chandrakirti said, “If something can arise from something other than itself, then deep darkness could arise from tongues of flame.” And it is simple logic; if we allowed new elements to be added at whim to only one side within mathematical equations, then anything could be proved.Why should it be any different in philosophy? Therefore the stuff of the brain must have at least a fundamental aspect or quality of consciousness inherent within it. Stuart Hameroff refers to this as ‘proto-consciousness’. A conclusion rapidly gaining ground within quantum theory is that the stuff of the quantum realm is epiontic, which means that it has an inherent quality of awareness, and is therefore fundamentally of the nature of consciousness, not Cartesian matter as distinctly defined.

GRAHAM SMETHAM, BY EMAIL


DEAR EDITOR:In his Issue 73 letter regarding Daniel Dennett’s ongoing quest to explain away consciousness, Robert H. Powsner concludes, “Whether emergence has created something beyond replicability or even scientific comprehension is another matter.” I was relieved that he conceded so much. The theories of emergent consciousness do not provide a grand materialist explanation for consciousness (listen to Professor Daniel Robinson’s lectures, ‘Consciousness and Its Implications’). It should also be repeated that, whereas they are descriptive, such ‘proofs’ as those offered by Dennett and Kauffman in no way establish causality.

JAMES WILLIAMS, ELIZABETHCITY, NC


Dile-A-Dragon

DEAR EDITOR: In the article ‘The Dragon’ in Issue 72, the suggestion that the dragon meme somehow started with dinosaur bones or snakes should be dismissed, because crocodiles are obviously the source. The dragon’s scales and four legs match the crocodiles scales and four legs. The dragon’s long jaws and long tail match the crocodile’s long jaws and long tail. The position of the dragon’s nose and eyes match that of the crocodile’s nose and eyes.Most importantly of all, the dragon’s ferocity almost matches that of the crocodile. Crocodiles are still the largest and most ruthless man-eater – not man-killer, but man-eater.

The distribution of dragon images in Asia, Africa and the Americas matches that of the crocodile or alligator. They were never a myth. People who lived near the Nile, in Southern China and in South East Asia, were terrified of them. People who live in Florida, Papua New Guinea and Northern Australia still are.

There are tales of dragons with several heads. You only have to watch a nature program of wildebeests crossing a crocodile-infested river to make a monster of the muddy river, with so many bloodthirsty heads snapping at the terrified victims. If you need more convincing, imagine a gang of crocodiles coming towards you. You won’t notice the scales or the bodies, only the jaws. If you escape, you’re not going to talk about the number of legs, you’re going to talk about the number of jaws. You wouldn’t even remember if they had wings. They came so fast – yes, maybe they did.

ERIC DOLDISSEN, AUSTRALIA

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