John C. Wright (johncwright) wrote,
John C. Wright

Instead of debating, let me rearrange your brain atoms

The conversation with randallsquared is a bit awkward to have in a live journal format, because comments and answers get scatter across several threads. Let me try to draw the conversation back to the central point.

"I do, in fact, argue that "consciousness is an aggregate property of elements that are unconscious." It may be that this will turn out not to be the case, somehow, but the example of so many things which were assumed to be caused directly by consciousness which turned out to be explainable by reference only to material entities suggests to me that consciousness itself will be similarly explainable."

Here is the crux of the matter. One water molecule is not wet, but it does have van der Waals forces that can be measured. If I add together water molecules in sufficient number, those van der Waals forces cause a certain behavior of the water molecules which we call "fluid". The wetness of water is due to the adhesion of the individual properties of the molecules: there is no gap, no jump, no mystery. The way water behaves on a macroscopic scale is a direct property and one that can be deduced from the microscopic properties.

Likewise, one man cannot be a crowd or have a crowd-density. When he is with fifty men in a fifty-square-foot space, he is in a crowd, and a property that the crowd has, crowd-density, can be measured: one per square foot.

One thing we can measure that takes place in time and spacea van der Waals force defines or describes another thing we can measure that takes place in time and spacewetness. Both the viscosity of a fluid and its surface tension and its melting and boiling points are open to measurement.

One the other hand, no amount of adding together horizontal magnitudes can create even one inch of vertical magnitude. This is because a horizontal line has no height, none at all, so putting more and more horizontal lines end to end will not create a vertical line.

The example is more egregious if we are talking about two measurements that have nothing to do with each other: a Euclidean figure does not have mass. The abstract idea of a Square does not have weight. It exists purely as an abstract concept in the realm of ideas. It is perceived in our brains but obviously it is not physically somewhere inside our brains.

It can be proved that "Squares" do not exist in our brains by the simple expedient: shoot a mathematician so his brain stops working. Do Squares now have seven sides rather than four? Is a square constructed on the diagonal of a given square no longer twice the area? (Since this is somewhat of a violent experiment, perhaps we can conduct it only in hypothesis.)

Get a mathematician drunk, or perform brain surgery on him, of hook him up t the evil computers of the Matrix so that all his sense impressions are false. Do Squares now have seven sides rather than four? Can any true statement about a Square be made into a false statement by any possible change to the brain of a man? If your answer is 'no' then the reality of the Sqaure is independent of the matter in the brain, in the same way that the eyeball is independent of the light.

So then: no addition of any physical property can affect the idea of the Square. Imagining a bigger or a smaller square will not create mass. Doubling or tripling the sides of the square will not create volume. A square is a plain figure and does not have volume. Nothing can be done to analyze the idea of a square into making it have volume.

Now, if I read Euclid aloud, the pressure waves with carry the sound of my voice has volume. If I am speaking a language you know, my words also have meaning. If I draw an image of a square on a paper, or in the sand with a stick, the paper has volume and the sand has volume, but the idea of the square does not have volume. If you can somehow identify which brain-atoms in my brain are active when and while I am thinking of the square, those brain atoms have volume, but they are not square brain atoms, and the idea of the square still does not have volume.

Surely you can make the distinction between the word and the thing the word represents? Surely you can make the distinction between the thought and the thing the thought represents?

Do you see the difference between the two examples? Water is wet but one water molecule is not wet; nevertheless the water molecule has properties such that the behavior of molecules in the aggregate includes the fluid behavior we call wetness. The one leads to the other. The have the same nature. 'Wetness' is in fact simply one way of describing how water molecules adhere to each other with van der Waals forces.

One the other hand, with Square and volume, the one does not lead to the other. They do not have the same nature. With Square and mass, the natures are even more remote.

Let us draw the examples back to the topic: you say that conscious meaning, (things like true and false, valid and invalid, essential and accidental, pretty and ugly, fair and unfair) are not meanings at all but measurements, and that they have mass, length, velocity, volume, vector, charge. You say that statements are true when they have a certain behavior of atoms of a certain mass and position, and false when they have a different behavior of atoms of a certain mass and position. You say, despite that it has never been done, that meaning-values can be reduced to measurements.

I say the two do not have the same nature, and that they are therefore incommensurate.

One assumption I am making that has not been aired is this: I take it as an axiom that whatever cannot be spoken of cannot be said. Whether it is an objective fact or a limitation of the category of rational thought does not matter for all practical purposes. If it is impossible to act or to think or to speak without making the assumption that, for example, true is different from false, or free will different from cause-and-effect, then discussions of the matter are futile. If you and I and the elfs in Elfland and the Martians from Mars all are forced by the nature of consciousness or the nature of speech or by the nature of reality to assume that true is different from false, then no philosophy can be seriously contemplated which fails to make that assumption. Philosophies who say otherwise are mere word-games, impractical and meaningless.

Well, one such inescapable metaphysical assumption is the difference between conceptual meaning and meaningless measurement. "A is A" is a necessarily true statement. It is not a five pound statement. It has truth value but no weight or volume. "The cannon ball is a five-pounder" is a true statement when and only when I am pointing to a cannot ball that happens to weigh five pounds. The cannon ball has weight and volume but no truth value. A cannon ball is an orb of metal, hard and factual: it cannot tell a false or be illogical. A statement can be illogical, but it cannot weigh fives pounds.

Whether there is in reality two different worlds, a world of facts and a world of ideas, is moot. Facts are facts and ideas are ideas representing facts. An idea can be false if it fails to represent the fact it intends to represent. An idea can be illogical if it does not follow the rules that allows ideas to represent facts. Ideas can represent facts because they are not facts. On the other hand, a fact in not a representation of a fact; a fact is a fact.

The fact is that we rational beings cannot categorize reality, or even think at all, without tacitly or openly using two different ways of speaking about things. When we speak about ideas and statements and human actions, we speak about intentions and final causes, true and false, logical and illogical. When we speak about physical objects, we never speak of intentions or final causes (except as metaphor) but we speak about mass, extension, energy, volume, or about concepts that ultimately can be reduced to those concepts.

The assertion that all awareness, value judgments, ideas, concepts, and abstractions can be ultimately reduced to some description of mass, length, and dimension is pure metaphysical mysticism. It is mysticism in that it is knowledge that does not come from empirical observation; it is a set of words with no meaning, or, if you prefer, that expresses in inexpressible meaning beyond human comprehension, like the assertion that God is three persons in one nature. It is metaphysical in that it says something about the nature of all reality everywhere, not merely a local statement of contingent fact.

Ironically, the opposite is perfectly logical: all statements of physical reality can be reduced to statements about concepts. "Matter" is a concept based on our sense impressions, and sense impressions are concepts of which our minds are aware. One cannot reduce the concept of 'truth' to a set of measurements about the position and motion of atoms because any statement about those measurements has to tacitly assume the existence of the category of truth to begin with. The statement, "The Billiard Ball is Black" tacitly but logically implies "It is true that the Billiard Ball is Black."

So while it is possible for the conceptual way of talking to embrace the physical way of talking and swallow it, it is not possible for the physical way of talking to embrace the conceptual way of talking and swallow it.

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