The A Priori Case for the Paranormal? [Resources]

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My using "a priori" here means before even looking at any evidence [from parapsychology], one can make a case for the paranormal.

Off the top of my head a few things I think are worth covering:

- Irreducibility of Consciousness, which then includes the impossibility of "physical" matter to store memories.

- Ways in which Mind is different from Matter

- Ways in which studying Matter seems to run into potential cases of Mind (Fine Tuning, certain QM interpretations)

- The lack of any clear model for Causation.

- The varied -isms, including Theism, that can be argued for as live possibilities which would accommodate paranormal claims.

Will post some things for all of these, though admittedly it's not that likely to be new stuff. Just figured it might be useful to collect it all in one thread.

[Note that Sci prefers for any discussion of anything he posts in this thread, and for meta discussion about this thread itself, to occur in The A Priori Case for the Paranormal? [companion discussion thread]. Posts to this thread that better belong in that thread are subject to being moved there. Several such posts that preexisted this note have, according to Sci's wishes, been moved there. --This note added by Laird with Sci's endorsement on 2024-07-19]
'Historically, we may regard materialism as a system of dogma set up to combat orthodox dogma...Accordingly we find that, as ancient orthodoxies disintegrate, materialism more and more gives way to scepticism.'

- Bertrand Russell


(This post was last modified: 2024-07-19, 08:05 PM by Sciborg_S_Patel. Edited 3 times in total. Edit Reason: Added a note about the companion thread )
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First post regarding the immateriality of Consciousess

Probably the most famous entry would be the Hard Problem of Consciousness by David Chalmers. I linked the IEP entry as I think it provides a pretty good introduction to the problem.

However, I'd also note that the consideration of the divide between the physical and mental can go back, even to the Ancient Grecian atomist/materialist Democritus:

Quote:Intellect: “Color is by convention, sweet by convention, bitter by convention; in truth there are but atoms and the void.”

Senses: “Wretched mind, from us you are taking the evidence by which you would overthrow us? Your victory is your own fall.”

As Democritus noted, the evidence for the supposed atoms must come by way of the senses that are part of the consciousness supposedly generated by the atoms.

The neuroscientist Smythies makes a similar observation when he asks, "How can the brain be in the head when the head is in the brain?"

Even atheist author of Why I am Not a Christian Bertrand Russell noted the divide when he said, "It is obvious that a man who can see, knows things that a blind man cannot know; but a blind man can know the whole of physics."

There are varied other examples of this "Hard Problem" divide between Mind and Matter being known in some fashion long before Chalmer's birth but I think it's worth expanding on the "Hard" aspects of Mind.

At least based on his original conception Chalmers seems to think there are in fact Easy Problems, relating to information process. However it's worth noting EJ Lowe's There are No Easy Problems of Consciousness.

Quote:This paper challenges David Chalmers’ proposed division of the problems of consciousness into the ‘easy’ ones and the ‘hard’ one, the former allegedly being susceptible to explanation in terms of computational or neural mechanisms and the latter supposedly turning on the fact that experiential ‘qualia’ resist any sort of functional definition. Such a division, it is argued, rests upon a misrepresention of the nature of human cognition and experience and their intimate interrelationship, thereby neglecting a vitally important insight of Kant. From a Kantian perspective, our capacity for conceptual thought is so inextricably bound up with our capacity for phenomenal consciousness that it is an illusion to imagine that there are any ‘easy’ problems of consciousness, resolvable within the computational or neural paradigms.

Also see Fodor's Trinity, which notes that there are at least three Hard Problems:

Quote:[S]ome of the most pervasive properties of minds seem so mysterious as to raise the Kantian-sounding question how a materialistic psychology is even possible. Lots of mental states are conscious, lots of mental states are intentional, and lots of mental processes are rational, and the question does rather suggest itself how anything that is material could be any of these.

Will get more into these divides in the next post...
'Historically, we may regard materialism as a system of dogma set up to combat orthodox dogma...Accordingly we find that, as ancient orthodoxies disintegrate, materialism more and more gives way to scepticism.'

- Bertrand Russell


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(2024-07-09, 01:14 AM)Sciborg_S_Patel Wrote: Also see Fodor's Trinity, which notes that there are at least three Hard Problems:

Quote: [S]ome of the most pervasive properties of minds seem so mysterious as to raise the Kantian-sounding question how a materialistic psychology is even possible. Lots of mental states are conscious, lots of mental states are intentional, and lots of mental processes are rational, and the question does rather suggest itself how anything that is material could be any of these.

Will get more into these divides in the next post...

So I'd divide these into Subjective Awareness, Thoughts about Reality, and application [of Reason].

I think the previous post gave an intro to the Hard Problem of Subjectivity, but I would include the Empirical Case Against Materialism along with my prior links as something beyond an introduction but still IMO mostly graspable without too much diving into the weeds of technical philosophical terminology.

So next up is Intentionality, aka The Aboutness of Thoughts. Starting with the IEP entry

Quote:If I think about a piano, something in my thought picks out a piano. If I talk about cigars, something in my speech refers to cigars. This feature of thoughts and words, whereby they pick out, refer to, or are about things, is intentionality. In a word, intentionality is aboutness.

Quote:The major role played by intentionality in affairs of the mind led Brentano (1884) to regard intentionality as “the mark of the mental”; a necessary and sufficient condition for mentality. But some non-mental phenomena seem to display intentionality too—pictures, signposts, and words, for example. Nevertheless, the intentionality of these phenomena seems to be derived from the intentionality of the mind that produces them. A sound is only a word if it has been conferred with meaning by the intentions of a speaker or perhaps a community of speakers; while a painting, however abstract, seems only to have a subject matter insofar as its painter intends it to. Whether or not all mental phenomena are intentional, then, it certainly seems to be the case that all intentional phenomena are mental in origin.

Some more introductory videos:






To show that it's not just proponents who see this issue Raymond Tallis, a (retired) neuroscientist atheist who rejects Materialism but doesn't accept Survival, actually centers Intentionality as a non-physical aspect of Mind in his essay What Neuroscience Cannot Tell Us about Ourselves:

Quote:...Consider your awareness of a glass sitting on a table near you. Light reflects from the glass, enters your eyes, and triggers activity in your visual pathways. The standard neuroscientific account says that your perception of the glass is the result of, or just is, this neural activity. There is a chain of causes and effects connecting the glass with the neural activity in your brain that is entirely compatible with, as in Dennett’s words, “the same physical principles, laws, and raw materials that suffice” to explain everything else in the material universe.

Unfortunately for neuroscientism, the inward causal path explains how the light gets into your brain but not how it results in a gaze that looks out. The inward causal path does not deliver your awareness of the glass as an item explicitly separate from you — as over there with respect to yourself, who is over here. This aspect of consciousness is known as intentionality (which is not to be confused with intentions). Intentionality designates the way that we are conscious of something, and that the contents of our consciousness are thus about something; and, in the case of human consciousness, that we are conscious of it as something other than ourselves. But there is nothing in the activity of the visual cortex, consisting of nerve impulses that are no more than material events in a material object, which could make that activity be about the things that you see. In other words, in intentionality we have something fundamental about consciousness that is left unexplained by the neurological account.

This claim refers to fully developed intentionality and not the kind of putative proto-intentionality that may be ascribed to non-human sentient creatures. Intentionality is utterly mysterious from a material standpoint...

Another argument that says Thoughts About Things isn't compatible with Materialism/Physicalism comes from the Physicalist Alex Rosenberg:

Quote:We see why the Paris neurons can’t be about Paris the way that red octagons are about stopping. It’s because that way lies a regress that will prevent us from ever understanding what we wanted to figure out in the first place: how one chunk of stuff—the Paris neurons—can be about another chunk of stuff—Paris. We started out trying to figure out how the Paris neurons could be about Paris, and our tentative answer is that they are about Paris because some other part of the brain—the neural interpreter—is both about the Paris neurons and about Paris. We set out to explain how one set of neurons is about something out there in the world. We find ourselves adopting the theory that it’s because another set of neurons is about the first bunch of neurons and about the thing in the world, too.

This won’t do. What we need to get off the regress is some set of neurons that is about some stuff outside the brain without being interpreted—by anyone or anything else (including any other part of the brain)—as being about that stuff outside the brain. What we need is a clump of matter, in this case the Paris neurons, that by the very arrangement of its synapses points at, indicates, singles out, picks out, identifies (and here we just start piling up more and more synonyms for “being about”) another clump of matter outside the brain. But there is no such physical stuff.

Physics has ruled out the existence of clumps of matter of the required sort. There are just fermions and bosons and combinations of them. None of that stuff is just, all by itself, about any other stuff. There is nothing in the whole universe—including, of course, all the neurons in your brain—that just by its nature or composition can do this job of being about some other clump of matter. So, when consciousness assures us that we have thoughts about stuff, it has to be wrong. The brain nonconsciously stores information in thoughts. But the thoughts are not about stuff. Therefore, consciousness cannot retrieve thoughts about stuff. There are none to retrieve. So it can’t have thoughts about stuff either.

Rosenberg, Alex. The Atheist's Guide to Reality: Enjoying Life without Illusions (pp. 178-179). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.

Thus Rosenberg thinks we have to choose between accepting we have thoughts or Physicalism being true.

I agree, but rather than deny Cogito Ergo Sum I chose the IMO more rational conclusion that Physicalism is false.
'Historically, we may regard materialism as a system of dogma set up to combat orthodox dogma...Accordingly we find that, as ancient orthodoxies disintegrate, materialism more and more gives way to scepticism.'

- Bertrand Russell


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Quote:So I'd divide these into Subjective Awareness, Thoughts about Reality, and application [of Reason].

So having covered Subjectivity and Intentionality (Aboutness of Thought), we're now at the examination of our Rationality (the application of Reason).

This last aspect of three highlighted by Fodor is intertwined with the other two. To apply reason we need thoughts about whatever we're reasoning about, and the rational course of action is a type of subjective quale...but one that ties into the Universals of Logic and Mathematics.

In James Ross's Immaterial Aspects of Thought he notes:

Quote:There is a larger and bolder project of epistemology naturalized, namely, to explain human thought in terms available to physical science, particularly the aspects of thought that carry truth values, and have formal features, like validity or mathematical form. That project seems to have hit a stone wall, a difficulty so grave that philosophers dismiss the underlying argument, or adopt a cavalier certainty that our judgments only simulate certain pure forms and never are real cases of, e.g., conjunction, modus ponens, adding, or genuine validity.

The difficulty is that, in principle, such truth-carrying thoughts cannot be wholly physical (though they might have a physical medium),3 because they have features that no physical thing or process can have at all.

The paper is excellent, and worth a read (along with a companion paper by Feser), but the summary provided by Rocket Philosophy is a good starting place to get the gist of what he's saying.                                      

Quote:When you add 2 and 2 to get 4, you really are adding and not performing some other exotic mathematical function. Or conversely, if you are performing some exotic function (such as the one the alien machine might be performing), then you really are performing that function and not addition. If we are not really performing the mathematical and logical functions we think we are, then everything we think we know goes out the window. Our reasoning abilities

In fact, this premise cannot be coherently denied, because if you are denying it then you are reasoning in the form of an argument, but whatever function you are reasoning with may not actually be the function you think it is.

This supports Ross's other premise: formal thought is determinate. Because if it isn't, then everything we think we know, science, math, everything, is gone.

Physical things, OTOH, are indeterminate. This isn't about indeterminacy like the kind we see in QM, but rather any physical thing can stand for anything else. You could hold a salt shaker and say, "imagine this is a pepper shaker", or take the written word cat and say for the purposes of a game it means "dog".

And for the case of applying a mathematical function or logical syllogism, your mental state is not about any other function or syllogism. Another good example of this (IIRC in the comments) in the world of application is a program that subtracts certain number combinations when you press the + button. Whether this is a bug or a deliberate prank is something you have to ask the programmer whose mind conceived of the program, the physical instantiation of a Turing Machine offers no answers.

A different way of looking at the issue is an argument often attributed to CS Lewis, but also made by Popper. The causal chain of the physical determines successive events. If the mind is reducible to matter, then all thought is determined by physical causal chains...but this would mean one's reasoning is not ultimately dependent on the semantic logical chains.

But then how could any reasoning really claim to be rational?

A longer summary of Popper's argument can be found on Feser's blog:

Quote:1. Materialism holds that thinking consists of nothing more than the transition from one material process in the brain to another in accordance with causal laws (whether these transitions are conceived of in terms of the processing of symbols according to the rules of an algorithm à la computationalism, or on some other model).

2. Material processes have their causal efficacy, including their ability to generate other material processes, only by virtue of their physical properties (i.e. those described by physical science), and not by virtue of any meaning or semantic content that might be associated with them.  (For example, punching the symbols “1,” “+,” “1,” and “=” into a calculator will generate the further symbol “2” whether or not we associate the standard arithmetical meanings with these symbols or instead assign to them some eccentric meanings, because the electronic properties of the calculator alone are what determine what symbols get displayed.  Similarly, neural processes that are in fact associated with the thought that all men are mortal and the thought that Socrates is a man would still generate the neural process that is in fact associated with the thought that Socrates is mortal even if these neural processes had all been associated with some other meanings instead, because the neurophysiological properties of the processes alone are what determine which further processes get generated.)

3. But one thought can serve as a rational justification of another thought only by virtue of the meaning or semantic content of the thoughts.  (For example, it is only because we associate the symbols “1,” “+,” “1,” “=,” and “2” with the standard meanings that “1 + 1 = 2” expresses an arithmetical truth.  Similarly, it is only because “All men are mortal,” “Socrates is a man,” and “Socrates is mortal” have the meanings they do that the first two sentences logically entail the third, and only when the neural processes in question are associated with the corresponding thoughts that the first two provide a rational justification for believing the third.)

4. So if materialism is true, then there is nothing about our thought processes that can make one thought a rational justification of another; for their physical and causal relations alone, and not their semantic and logical relations, determine which thought follows which.

5. So if materialism is true, none of our thoughts ever is rationally justified.

6. But this includes the thoughts of materialists themselves.

7. So if materialism is true, then it cannot be rationally justified; the theory undermines itself.

The upshot of this argument is that instantiating causal relations, of whatever sort, does not by itself amount to instantiating logical relations; and this is precisely what Popper is getting at in the passage above when he says that “brain mechanisms” or “computer mechanisms” may “differ physically as little as you may specify, yet this difference may be so amplified that the one may operate according to the standards of logic, but not the other.” 

Next up is the Immateriality of Memory.
'Historically, we may regard materialism as a system of dogma set up to combat orthodox dogma...Accordingly we find that, as ancient orthodoxies disintegrate, materialism more and more gives way to scepticism.'

- Bertrand Russell


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(2024-07-15, 09:50 PM)Sciborg_S_Patel Wrote: Next up is the Immateriality of Memory.

There's a dedicated thread related to this, so I'll share some relevant stuff by the atheist retired-neuroscientist Tallis (who rejects Survival), Braude (who last I checked grudgingly accepted Survival), and Sheldrake discussing memory with neuroscientist Alex Gómez-Marín.

First Tallis, from A Smile At Waterloo Station:

Quote:Let us return to that smile. It is supposed to be ‘stored’ in the changed state of excitability of a neural circuit resulting from my exposure to it. The state of the circuit is ‘a present propensity to react’, and when it does react, the memory is ‘activated’. That is to say, the memory is a present state of part of my nervous system: a physical state of a physical entity, namely my brain. This state has somehow to be about, or refer to, the smile. Yet it is difficult to understand how physical activity can be ‘about’ something other than itself. We encounter this difficulty in the case of the perception of something even actually present. The perceptual state is about the thing perceived. Outside of the brains of sentient beings, no other physical event has this ‘aboutness’. But understanding this aboutness presents an even greater challenge in the case of physical states that are supposed to correspond to memories: the states have to be about something that is no longer present – that no longer even exists. What’s more, memory in us humans is explicitly memory: it is not simply past experience acting upon us by reverberating in the present. That remembered smile is located by me in the past – indeed, in a past world, which, as John McCrone has put it, is, “a living network of understanding rather than a dormant warehouse of facts.”

Making present something that is past as something past, that is to say, absent, hardly looks like a job that a piece of matter could perform, even a complex electrochemical process in a piece of matter such as a brain. But we need to specify more clearly why not. Material objects are what they are, not what they have been, any more than they are what they will be. Thus a changed synaptic connexion is its present state; it is not also the causes of its present state. Nor is the connection ‘about’ that which caused its changed state or its increased propensity to fire in response to cues. Even less is it about those causes located at a temporal distance from its present state. A paper published in Science last year by Itzhak Fried claiming to solve the problem of memory actually underlines this point. The author found that the same neurons were active in the same way when an individual remembered a scene (actually from The Simpsons) as when they watched it.

So how did people ever imagine that a ‘cerebral deposit’ (to use Henri Bergson’s sardonic phrase) could be about that which caused its altered state? Isn’t it because they smuggled consciousness into their idea of the relationship between the altered synapse and that which caused the alteration, so that they could then imagine that the one could be ‘about’ the other? Once you allow that, then the present state of anything can be a sign of the past events that brought about its present state, and the past can be present. For example, a broken cup can signify to me (a conscious being when I last checked) the unfortunate event that resulted in its unhappy state.

Of course, smuggling in consciousness like this is inadmissible, because the synapses are supposed to supply the consciousness that reaches back in time to the causes of the synapses’ present states...

Then Braude, from Memory without a Trace :

Quote:So why is the concept of a memory trace fundamentally nonsensical? Let’s begin with an analogy drawn from John Heil’s outstanding critique of trace theory.4 Suppose I invite many guests to a party, and suppose I want to remember all the people who attended. Accordingly, I ask each guest to leave behind something (a trace) by which I can remember them. Let’s suppose each guest leaves behind a tennis ball. Clearly, I can’t use the balls to accomplish the task of remembering my party guests. For my strategy to work, the guests must deposit something reliably and specifically linked to them, and the balls obviously aren’t differentiated and unambiguous enough to establish a link only with the person who left it.
 
So perhaps it would help if each guest signed his or her own tennis ball or perhaps left a photo of himself or herself stuck to the ball. Unfortunately, this threatens an endless regress of strategies for remembering who attended my party. Nothing reliably (much less uniquely and unambiguously) links the signature or photo to the guest who attended. A guest could mischievously have signed someone else’s name or left behind a photo of another person. Or maybe the signature was illegible (most are), or perhaps the only photo available was of the person twenty-five years earlier (e.g., when he still had hair, or when he had a beard, wore eyeglasses, and was photographed outdoors, out of focus, and in a thick fog), or when he was dressed in a Hallo-ween costume or some other disguise.
 
But now it looks like I need to remember in order to remember. A tennis ball isn’t specific enough to establish the required link to the person who left it. What the situation requires is an unambiguous representational calling card, and the tennis ball clearly doesn’t do the job. So we supposed that something else might make the tennis ball a more specific link—a signature or a photo. That is, we tried to employ a secondary memory mechanism (trace) so that I could remember what the original trace (the tennis ball) was a trace of. But the signature and photo are equally inadequate. They, too, can’t be linked unambiguously to a specific individual. Of course, if I could simply remember who wrote the signature or left behind the photo, then it’s not clear why I even needed the original tennis balls. If no memory mechanism is needed to make the connection from photo to photo donor or from illegible signature to its author, then we’ve conceded that remembering can occur without corresponding traces, and then no trace was needed in the first place to explain how I remember who attended my party. So in order to avoid that fatal concession, it looks like yet another memory mechanism will be required for me to remember who left behind (say) the illegible or phony signature or the fuzzy photo. And off we go on a regress of memory processeses. It seems that no matter what my party guests leave behind, nothing can be linked only to the guest who left it. We’ll always need something else, some other mechanism, for making the connection between the thing left behind and the individual who left it.

And finally Sheldrake & Gómez-Marín :




Now that we've covered the immateriality of Subjectivity, Aboutness of Thoughts, Reason, and Memory we'll turn to looking at the supposed "physical".
'Historically, we may regard materialism as a system of dogma set up to combat orthodox dogma...Accordingly we find that, as ancient orthodoxies disintegrate, materialism more and more gives way to scepticism.'

- Bertrand Russell


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(2024-07-17, 06:34 PM)Sciborg_S_Patel Wrote: Now that we've covered the immateriality of Subjectivity, Aboutness of Thoughts, Reason, and Memory we'll turn to looking at the supposed "physical".

Starting off with a quote by the physicist Lee Smolin in his book Time Reborn:

Quote:We don't know what a rock really is, or an atom, or an electron. We can only observe how they interact with other things and thereby describe their relational properties.

Perhaps everything has external and internal aspects. The external properties are those that science can capture and describe - through interactions, in terms of relationships. The internal aspect is the intrinsic essence, it is the reality that is not expressible in the language of interactions and relations.

And another by Brian Whitworth, taken from Quantum Realism, Chapter 1: The physical world as a virtual reality :

Quote:The equations, tests and applications work but the theory makes no physical sense, e.g. in Feynman’s sum over histories an electron travels all possible paths between two points at once – but how can one electron do that? Theories usually increase understanding but in physics they seem to take it away. For example, wave-particle duality lets waves become particles, but this denies what waves and particles are. Given a choice between meaning and mathematics, physics long ago chose the latter. As a result, quantum theory still isn’t taught in high schools, because who can teach what makes no sense? Modern physics is a mathematical feast with no semantic substance, a hollow science built on impressive equations about quantum states that everyone agrees don’t exist!

Finishing off this introductory post is the article by Hedda Hassel Mørch,  Is Matter Conscious?: Why the central problem in neuroscience is mirrored in physics:

Quote:...But perhaps consciousness is not uniquely troublesome. Going back to Gottfried Leibniz and Immanuel Kant, philosophers of science have struggled with a lesser known, but equally hard, problem of matter. What is physical matter in and of itself, behind the mathematical structure described by physics? This problem, too, seems to lie beyond the traditional methods of science, because all we can observe is what matter does, not what it is in itself—the “software” of the universe but not its ultimate “hardware.” On the surface, these problems seem entirely separate. But a closer look reveals that they might be deeply connected...

Next up I'll try and tie the question of matter into the supposed "laws" of nature.
'Historically, we may regard materialism as a system of dogma set up to combat orthodox dogma...Accordingly we find that, as ancient orthodoxies disintegrate, materialism more and more gives way to scepticism.'

- Bertrand Russell


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