What Is It Like To Be A Batshit Crazy On Teleology And Darwin
    By Sascha Vongehr | March 21st 2013 03:57 AM | 14 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
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    Dr. Sascha Vongehr [风洒沙] studied phil/math/chem/phys in Germany, obtained a BSc in theoretical physics (electro-mag) & MSc (stringtheory)...

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    Thomas Nagel wrote one lucky paper back almost half a century ago, titled “What Is it Like to Be a Bat?”.  That title went down so well, he has basically made a living from this alone ever since.  Recently, he went fully down the path trodden by many a noble prize winner: Pseudoscience!  I did also not believe this initially, but do read outtakes (e.g. here) from his 2012 book “Mind and Cosmos” if you don’t believe me:  It is not academic sophistry that reformulates “causality” to give meaning to “teleology”, but Thomas indeed, don’t fall from your chair now, advances arguments from incredulity and plain ignorance; likely got too cozy around the “intelligent design” (ID) crowd he explicitly recommends since 2008 at least.  I will make comments that go against the usual treatments you can find easily elsewhere, where the usual suspects predictably burn Nagel because he dared to touch their caricature of Darwinism while Antidarwinism that dominates progressive science outreach is never touched.  I will critique “teleology” without falling for an angry-new-atheist type Darwinism – let me quote my worst from below so knee-jerk pseudo-skeptics can move on right away:

    The quantum universe has no time dependence and no wave function collapse is necessary for measurement events to emerge via relative decoherence … fundamentally, nothing is ever selected and thus Darwinism as natural selection in some box-lever-pulley mechanistic vulgar-atheist nightmare is strictly wrong!


    With that out of the way, punters know that I support ID entering the curriculum (I do), so let’s go on with the few confused souls still left reading:


    1)  Postmodernists are derided as anti-science.  Whatever people do not understand and thus claim about the analysis of science as a language-game and social construct, one aspect should be clear:  Jacques Derrida would have never fallen to the level of Nagel (who officially counts as more of a philosopher of science, for crying out loud) and creationists, namely founding a critic of Darwinism on basic misunderstandings around biochemistry and probability.  An analysis of such depth that certain parallels between primitive perspectives and science can be expressed in valid ways is a very different animal from holding a primitive perspective!  No young-earth creationists sport ‘I heart Derrida’ bumper stickers, but many less criticized “philosophers” and scientists are favorites among such simpletons.  Dear defenders of science: get your priorities straight! Postmodernism isn’t the problem; naivety is, the type of naivety that postmodern thinkers keep pointing out.

     Thomas Nagel teaching Ethics


    2) As you could have predicted, “philosophers” defend Nagel, of course, inflating BS instead of shooting it down is how they make a living.  They agree, Thomas should not have written those facepalm inducing sections lacking highschool science, but still, his invoking teleology supposedly has merit (see for example here on the Prospect Magazine blog).  Positivism has implicitly destroyed “teleology” 100 years ago, but socially selected “philosophers” are precisely those who do not grasp it, because Wittgenstein’s ‘what we cannot talk about we must go over in silence’ is incompatible with publish-or-perish.


    3)  I truly had it with the Hilarious Putnams; I decline to take them seriously just because they are famous!  Life is too short for nonsense!  I am done with submitting to PC suck-up-professionalism, being forced to quote big names who inflated sophistry and whose intellectual spawn rejects meaningful contributions anyway, regardless how much you water it down to relate to the “relevant literature” (F’ you feeling-all-important editors from “philosophy of science” journals; before pretending to be able to “read between” the lines, learn to read what is written on the lines, then start grasping why “philosophy” is not taken seriously anymore!).  There is nobody in academic “philosophy” or anywhere else prominently visible, who can be cited without immediately distancing oneself; else an enlightened audience may well suspect you support nonsense.  The homogenization through selection mechanisms is so efficient, insight is systematically ignored and suffocated under the sheer volume of mere re-re-re-interpretations.  The serious thinker must go it alone and accept to be excluded as a crackpot on the fringe.  It is that or supply yet another upper-class windbag.


    Hilarious Putnam


    4)  “Teleology” of the anti-scientific Nagel/creationist type is nonsense.  Academic journals may survive on pretending that a knife-fight with guns is conceivable.  What allegedly has been shown to fail by mediocre writers of the Popper kind is urgently necessary positivism:  Shootouts are simply not called “knife battles”, so get your damn language in order.


    Let’s say we figured it all out, and thus found how logic requires mathematical structures which allow and imply a perspective from the inside that feels like observing.  Let’s say that the consistency of it includes that in a physicalist version, much like inevitably finding an inter-subjective “reality out there”, intelligent beings in some futures do make computers to then simulate all phenomenally possible states of minds in virtual realities, and assume that we describe satisfactorily how in all fundamentally meaningful descriptions, there is no difference between those simulated situations and “the real thing out there” (in fact, quantum physics already arrived at that simulation and creation are indistinguishable in QM computing, so at least this Leibnizian/Lewisian‘craziness’ can finally be put in fashionably sciency terms).

    Would this imply or be “teleology” and the proof of god and that he is self-created with us being part of the divine?  To my mind, it would just be a quirk of logic like the shape of the Mandelbrot set.


    “Teleology” is the concept of a mechanistic causality which is not reasons ‘pushing constraints together’ so to produce certain outcomes (constraints which are thus ‘already there’ via their effects).  Instead, teleological cause ‘pulls it together’ to fit a shape that kind of ‘sucks from the future’, a future which however does not yet “exist” (which to reasonable minds is language which indicates that something cannot have any effects).  Of course, if we work hard, we can define suitably so that some of this is rendered meaningful in the context of ad hoc language.  However, to those who prefer powerful terminology consistent with good science, “time” is based on causality.  Time is not an arrow though a four dimensional box where people with an engineering mindset ask “Oh I wonder why stuff doesn’t flow the other way? Time’s direction summarizes causal order and has no further meta-time to flow at all!  So, even with circularity in a wider causal network, causality defines the local past-to-future order and thus direction.  Teleology is nonsense, because past-to-future is nothing but different words expressing causal order.  A holistic global constrain through consistency of the overall story is no longer about dynamical causes, and it is thus not valid to claim “seeeee, teleology after all”.  No, once you have circularly correlated descriptions, there is no longer a globally valid absolute “future”.  For example, if I am the exact same as that what will be simulated in “the future”, the “future” is right now, because I am now.


    5)  The fundamental description, by definition, is comprehensively including all possible alternatives equivalently, and although this is not due to quantum physics but self-evident tautology [TMR], in scientistic fashionable terms we may write that “the quantum universe has no time dependence and no wave function collapse is necessary for measurement events to emerge via relative decoherence” or some such potentially wrong statement.  Whatever, fundamentally, nothing is ever selected and thus Darwinism as natural selection in some box-lever-pulley mechanistic vulgar-atheist nightmare is strictly wrong!


    Even if we should confirm ID, for example hints about our existence being simulated by technology that we find ourselves trying to develop, which is conceivable, this does not imply that evolution is wrong.  Assuming naïve realism needs evolution, of course, but evolution should not require a realism that has been proven false.  Evolution belongs to the causal order in empirical records, one that is found precisely because of some overall consistency that we are not yet able to satisfactorily describe.


    That global constraints from self-consistency of the whole do correlate past and future in more fundamental descriptions is obvious but not “teleology”!  We usually find a history compatible with a physical causal account about that the past “actually happened”, rather than being merely a 'just so story' that grounds our meaningful understanding of the empirical record (in terms of them being our memories) somewhat plausibly.  The fundamental question is about how empirical records may be described as constrained to be like this in the light of (relative to) the “this is my memory” perspective.


    excellent rant

    keep it up


    Gerhard Adam
    Good article.  Much to absorb.
    Mundus vult decipi
    I'm trying to understand your conception of time and this is what I seem to be taking away from what you have said above.

    1) The past refers to a set of past histories that the present observing state is compatible with.
    2) The future refers to a set of future possibilities that the present observing state is compatible with in the causal order.
    3) The direction of time is merely the fact that consistent causal orders should be ordered in such a way. The notion of me starting as an old man and turning into a baby does not fit the concepts as we define them so they would not be consistent with possible observing states.
    4) Therefore the observer will only (or most of the time?) observe histories and futures consistent with the present state. So in such a case what we observe as time is just the consistency of possible records in the past and future direction?

    I feel that I am possibly lost and am trying to at least understand time without starting a regress (I've been re-reading some of your old articles). This probably is not what you mean but it will help me at least head in the right direction.

    Therefore the observer will only (or most of the time?) observe histories and futures consistent with the present state.
    "most of the time" is a pun unintended? ;-)
    I am not sure I understand your question. What do you mean "observe histories and futures"? Making sense of empirical data in terms of causality makes sense, but how do I ever observe futures? All I ever have is my present.
    Yeah, you've answered my question and the misunderstanding is due to the way I phrased things haha.

    Imagine the first sentence of your article scrambled and presented in a form of words put in a random order. This may like something like this:

    A titled back Nagel lucky one Thomas Be Like paper century What ago, almost Is half a “it to wrote Bat?”.

    All the words are there, but the sentence doesn't make any sense.
    In order for you to have a coherent experience you need an information presented in a manner that allows for such a coherence. Hence, the rules of the language.
    The same principle applies to all your perceptions. Hence, the rules set for of the game of making sense of your experiences of so called reality.
    The seeming "craziness" of quantum physics start making sense only if you you stop insisting on some "reality" existing independently of your experience of it. But… this is not some Copenhagen Interpretation.
    Try to imagine that the principle of space and time is not the law of physics but the principle of decoding or processing information. Same goes for the principle of causality, determination and continuity.
    These are all the principles of processing/decoding information in order to create a coherent experience.
    The same way the words in the sentence have to follow their own sets of rules, so you can make sense of the sentence, there are all "rules" that guide the way you perceive and makes sense of all the bits of information -- putting them in coherent sequences.
    In this scenario, the space-time construct is not some objectively existing reality, but a mere "mental" phenomenon - the way the information is being delivered or rather decoded in order to create a coherent experience. Therefore while, as you pointed out, all you ever have is your present, you can still process in that present information pertaining to "other parallel realities", which all exist in so called present, independent of any time, but seems to belong to your past, or… in some cases to your future.
    By the way, our ability to access that "future" information should not even be the subject of discussion, but the subject of serious scientific investigation. Simply… just because that's what quantum physics clearly allows for.

    So, to sum it up, the whole phenomenon of past-present-future is just the way of creating your individual coherent experience.
    There are many documented cases of mental disorders or brain injuries, which clearly point to the fact that what we call the reality is a mental construct -- subject to falling apart and not making sense at all, like the words placed in the random order. I suggest reading the personal account of a neuroscientist, Jill Bolte-Taylor documented in her book "My Stroke of Insight". While her left hemisphere was disabled by the stroke, she saw, with her own eyes, and with an absolute conscious clarity the so called reality as a continuous field of energy, with no individual objects and nothing solid in it.

    I think you do Putnam an injustice. Surely his point is not that brains in a vat are impossible but that brains in a vat cannot think about the outside world - because they have no experience of it and therefore nothing they think can be grounded in external reality. So all their thoughts about the world outside must be a form of words seemingly alluding to the real world but actually referring to nothing at all. Now you may or may not agree with this idea of grounding one's factoids in experience of reality, but Putnam is making a rather subtle and arguably idiosyncratic point about the meaning of "thinking about something". The stuff about brains in a vat not being able to know that they are living in a simulation was a well-established cliche before Putnam used it to illustrate these ideas. The big question is therefore whether you *can* think about something of which you have precisely no experience and this is where Putnam is probably at his most shaky in asserting that it is impossible. This question could be usefully combined with Wittgenstein's dictum ...

    Or am I crediting Putnam with too much ? :)
    "brains in a vat cannot think about the outside world"
    Then why do you talk about stuff you cannot think about?  And why, if he means it differently, does he not write it differently?  I tell you why: because if he had, it would have been obvious that the good parts are old and have been said long before in much better ways, and the rest is wrong.
    I had it with this shitty attitude about that famous pricks can spew nonsense, and other mediocre suckers defending it via that it was all meant in profound ways that mortals cannot understand.  Nobody not already connected inside that system is allowed to write crap and then go "I did not mean it that way".  Nobody else is even allowed to say anything meaningful if it does not suck sufficiently dick so that the actual meaning is hidden.  This is but playing a social game; another way to make money and fame and feel special while participating in suppressing truth.
    The idea has certainly come under a lot of criticism. However, as far as I know, he was trying to establish a coherent theory of meaning based on the rather simple principle that you cannot talk about something you have no experience of. A theory of meaning is, I feel sure, an important prerequisite for a postmodern analysis of scientific theory - lest we speak not merely of that which we cannot know but of that which we cannot mean.
    By talking this way, you have been suckered in, into supporting their strategy of taking the discourse hostage.  There are possibly plenty of people who tried "to establish a coherent theory of meaning ..." that makes more sense than the Putnam shit, where a brain in a vat tells the outside world that there is no brain in a vat that could talk to the outside world and if you criticize it, then you did not get his definition of "outside world" or whatever.  The problem?  All the ones who did not write stupid shit but took Wittgenstein's core lesson more seriously did not write enough shit, so they failed publish-or-perish.  Academic philosophy is not philosophy at all anymore, it is the suppression of philosophy like it has never been before.  And it must be this way, because society integrates further, this is plain evolution, and the philosophy of the individual is too anti-social.
    I am familiar enough with your abrasive style not to be offended by being told "you have been suckered in", indeed it is a laughable accusation given that I have little interest in windbags playing verbal games for a living.  However, I seriously doubt that the "strategy" is a deliberate conspiracy, indeed you say "this is plain evolution". So why rant against it? All is not lost - the more of a closed-shop academia becomes the more opportunity there is for a counter-culture of rationality to emerge. Perhaps your "suicide" is going to turn out to be more of a fresh start on the other side? :)
    the Putnam shit, where a brain in a vat tells the outside world that there is no brain in a vat that could talk to the outside world
    That's a straw-man. Putnam does not say that there is no BIV that could talk to the outside world. In Putnam's scenario the brains are not just floating in vats, they also live in a simulated reality and are not able to talk to or observe the outside world. Putnam himself, however, does observe the world and can think about what he sees so is not a BIV in the required sense. 
    the brains ... live in a simulated reality and are not able to talk to or observe the outside world. Putnam himself, however, does observe the world and can think about what he sees so is not a BIV in the required sense.
    Oh, and Putnam just happens to know that he happens to live in the real world. But oh no, Putnam is so profound and meant to say something deep about the meaning of "reality".  Except: he did not!  Or if that is what he tried, he failed!  Look: You both seem to not understand the BIV/simulation problematics.  We are "BIV/simulations" anyway except for if you define "BIV/simulation" etc. in ways that presuppose your claim about it not being so.  There I said it, in one line what you may now claim Putnam was all about, if you have been suckered in that far.  People who have something interesting to say don't write endless journal articles to say something obvious, then ending up saying something obviously wrong.
    Enough! I hold no brief for Putnam, I just don't see the point in ridiculing him if the best you can come up with is a strawman and name-laming ad hominems.
    They do not offer more than straw - this is the aspect where you have been suckered in, which is the gist of my article, namely that I refuse to pretend that there is more than confusing terminology on top of not understanding a problem.  I am not going to collaborate in this idiocy of pretending that such low-level stuff, like "multiple realizability", is worth discussing just because a guy is famous (there must be something more to it).  Teens come up with such; they just don't dress it up in sophistry.  I like to instead discuss people who make sense, but where do you find those if all one ever may talk about is people who are mainly good at claiming credit. Solving a Hilbert problem - ha ha ha.