View unanswered posts | View active topics It is currently July 31st, 2014, 8:22 am



Reply to topic  [ 16 posts ] 
 Dining at the Nothing Buttery 
Author Message

Joined: September 1st, 2007, 3:48 pm
Posts: 445
Location: Glasgow
I've been puzzling over a cluster or family of arguments that go back ( as far as I can tell) to C S Lewis and G K Chesterton, and seem to be enjoying a new life on the internet. What they have in common is the phrase nothing but or its near-synonyms merely, only and just.

According to the Nothing Buttery Argument ( NBA), if we are nothing but physical bodies ( or chemicals or atoms or subatomic particles or the like) we cannot do such things as thinking or reasoning or feeling, since these things cannot be done by physical bodies, chemicals or the like: but we do, so there must be something radically wrong with the notion that we are nothing but physical bodies.

I've already said a few disobliging things on this board about the fallacy of composition that seems to underlie some of these arguments, and I stand by them. But there's a bit more to it than that. The NBA skates over a distinction between what can and what cannot intelligibly be said. It makes as much sense, for example, to say My body is suntanned as to say I am suntanned. But it makes no sense at all to say My body thinks that capital punishment is unjustifiable. And it makes even less sense to say it of my constituent chemicals or atoms.

And that, it seems to me, is the fallacy at the root of the NBA. It isn't that bodies, chemicals, atoms or subatomic particles aren't quite up to the task of thinking or reasoning or feeling, but rather that there is no sense to the assertion that they might be up to it.

Thoughts, anyone?

_________________
What we can't say, we can't say and we can't whistle it either. — Frank Ramsey


June 21st, 2011, 2:26 am
Profile
User avatar

Joined: July 30th, 2010, 11:36 pm
Posts: 4365
Location: "mysterious east" grinstead
maybe the problem is that "nothing but" can and should mean that there is nothing about a human being which cannot be linked in some way to physical entities like atoms: for instance, there is no immortal soul or intangible spirit, which if it did exist, would presumably be noncorporeal. This idea has, in the reductionist NBA, paradoxically and illegitimately been extended to allow only level of discourse, the most physically basic one.


June 21st, 2011, 9:06 am
Profile

Joined: July 4th, 2008, 5:02 pm
Posts: 3014
My counter to all nothing-buttery goes like this; Take water. Science says :wink: it's nothing but hydrogen and oxygen. But if you put a lit match to either hydrogen or oxygen, the match doesn't just fizzle out with a brief hiss, does it? Water does something to the lit match that neither hydrogen nor oxygen can do! So the idea that water is nothing but hydrogen and oxygen is obviously wrong, innit? :laughter:


June 21st, 2011, 12:27 pm
Profile
User avatar

Joined: January 20th, 2011, 2:45 pm
Posts: 174
Location: Wilds of Herefordshire
Of course, a computer is nothing but a tangle of odd-looking bits and cannot possibly calculate anything.

This Nothing Buttery Argument fails because our brains are running some very complex software. One can argue all day about whether that software is part of the body, but one thing is very clear: if our software is running on the hardware of the brain, it ceases to exist when the brain dies.

_________________
A man without religion is like a fish without a bicycle.


June 21st, 2011, 12:50 pm
Profile
User avatar

Joined: March 13th, 2011, 12:36 pm
Posts: 2346
Location: Between the New Forest and Cranborne Chase
thundril wrote:
My counter to all nothing-buttery goes like this; Take water. Science says :wink: it's nothing but hydrogen and oxygen.


Even simpler: Hydrogen and oxygen are invisible. Therefore water is invisible.

_________________
Steve

The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool. (Richard Feynman)


June 21st, 2011, 1:17 pm
Profile WWW
User avatar

Joined: May 17th, 2010, 9:15 pm
Posts: 14284
Location: Gloucester
Don't use salt either, made from a nasty metal that combusts in contact with water and a strong poison!

_________________
"You can't depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus." Mark Twain


June 21st, 2011, 1:33 pm
Profile WWW

Joined: July 4th, 2008, 5:02 pm
Posts: 3014
In fact, there's nothing but electrons and quarks in the entire Universe! So when we think we think, it's actually nothing but the Universe thinking about itself.
(Couldn't resist a bit of hippy flippy there. Glastonbury was only last weekend!)


June 29th, 2011, 2:13 pm
Profile
User avatar

Joined: May 17th, 2010, 9:15 pm
Posts: 14284
Location: Gloucester
"quark" always sounds like a duck with a sore throat to me :)

_________________
"You can't depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus." Mark Twain


June 29th, 2011, 4:19 pm
Profile WWW
User avatar

Joined: July 3rd, 2007, 10:26 pm
Posts: 15183
But what about Ba-2Na?

_________________
Alan Henness

"We're all in this together, but some are more in it than others."
— Me, with apologies to Napoleon


June 29th, 2011, 4:25 pm
Profile WWW
User avatar

Joined: May 17th, 2010, 9:15 pm
Posts: 14284
Location: Gloucester
Yup, big problems there

_________________
"You can't depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus." Mark Twain


June 29th, 2011, 4:54 pm
Profile WWW

Joined: November 10th, 2010, 8:25 pm
Posts: 184
For me, this is very similar to the discussions about whether anyone is ultimately responsible for what he does. In both cases, there is one level comprised of atoms and molecules and quantum states, and another level that is the living human being, also known as an emergent entity. And just as we can think, we can make decisions.

So it's simple. If you view the fellow next to you as a colony of trillions of cells, each a complex machine that not only does what is necessary to keep itself alive but also cooperates in many cases with other cells for the good of the colony, then we can't think (because all those little brain machines are just doing their jobs) and we aren't responsible for what we do (because all those little brain machines are just doing their jobs); in fact, we aren't really people, we are complex machines.

On the other hand, if you view the fellow next to you as a person, a human being, with a personality and needs and capabilities, then he obviously can think, and he obviously can make decisions. Whether his decisions would be predictable given enough computer power, whether or not his decisions were strictly due to preceding conditions, whether or not thinking and ultimate free will are illusions, it doesn't matter - except as an intellectual exercise. Of course we think; of course we can make decisions that seem free to us.

Incidentally, evolution has programmed us to see the fellows next to us as human beings. So from the standpoint of our cells and atomic structure, we can't think and we don't have free will; from the standpoint of the human community, we can and we do, and we are forced to deal with those machines as if they were people.


July 6th, 2011, 10:45 pm
Profile
User avatar

Joined: July 30th, 2010, 11:36 pm
Posts: 4365
Location: "mysterious east" grinstead
Wilson wrote:
Incidentally, evolution has programmed us to see the fellows next to us as human beings. So from the standpoint of our cells and atomic structure, we can't think and we don't have free will; from the standpoint of the human community, we can and we do, and we are forced to deal with those machines as if they were people.

but as we know that we can think (whatever our cells think!) we know we can choose, surely


July 7th, 2011, 10:39 am
Profile
User avatar

Joined: May 17th, 2010, 9:15 pm
Posts: 14284
Location: Gloucester
animist wrote:
Wilson wrote:
Incidentally, evolution has programmed us to see the fellows next to us as human beings. So from the standpoint of our cells and atomic structure, we can't think and we don't have free will; from the standpoint of the human community, we can and we do, and we are forced to deal with those machines as if they were people.

but as we know that we can think (whatever our cells think!) we know we can choose, surely
Ah, but is your genetic and environmental programming determining your choices? Is it really YOU that makes the choice or is it your experience? Are you nothing more than the gestalt sum on your experiences? Or am I asking all of those unanswerable questions that I normally keep well clear of and just blathering?

Image

_________________
"You can't depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus." Mark Twain


July 7th, 2011, 11:28 am
Profile WWW
User avatar

Joined: July 30th, 2010, 11:36 pm
Posts: 4365
Location: "mysterious east" grinstead
Dave B wrote:
animist wrote:
Wilson wrote:
Incidentally, evolution has programmed us to see the fellows next to us as human beings. So from the standpoint of our cells and atomic structure, we can't think and we don't have free will; from the standpoint of the human community, we can and we do, and we are forced to deal with those machines as if they were people.

but as we know that we can think (whatever our cells think!) we know we can choose, surely
Ah, but is your genetic and environmental programming determining your choices? Is it really YOU that makes the choice or is it your experience? Are you nothing more than the gestalt sum on your experiences? Or am I asking all of those unanswerable questions that I normally keep well clear of and just blathering?

Image

yes you are, and that is what we have been chewing over for months in the Free Will thread! Surely I just AM my genes and experience, so what does it matter?


July 7th, 2011, 3:25 pm
Profile
User avatar

Joined: May 17th, 2010, 9:15 pm
Posts: 14284
Location: Gloucester
animist wrote:
Dave B wrote:
]Ah, but is your genetic and environmental programming determining your choices? Is it really YOU that makes the choice or is it your experience? Are you nothing more than the gestalt sum on your experiences? Or am I asking all of those unanswerable questions that I normally keep well clear of and just blathering?

Image

yes you are, and that is what we have been chewing over for months in the Free Will thread! Surely I just AM my genes and experience, so what does it matter?
I came to a similar conclusion as yourself, I am programmed to act in certain ways given certain stimuli and these things are as much me as my height being just about the a mean of my parents', my "family nose" and other physical attributes. That some of the non-physical (except in terms of genes of course) attributes could be modified by more effort than, unusually, makes the attempt worthwhile is a decision I came to years ago when I pondered the difference between mastering new habits and disposing of the old. Mastering the new is the easier path and, if lucky, offers a means to supplant, or perhaps only cover, the old. Though I find that some things are extremely resistant to change and, as one ages, the old do tend to creep back out of the corner to which they were displaced - never lost.

_________________
"You can't depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus." Mark Twain


July 7th, 2011, 4:50 pm
Profile WWW

Joined: September 1st, 2007, 3:48 pm
Posts: 445
Location: Glasgow
animist wrote:
Surely I just AM my genes and experience, so what does it matter?


Steady on, man! :D
As Steven Pinker splendidly remarked, If my genes don't like it, they can go jump in the lake!

_________________
What we can't say, we can't say and we can't whistle it either. — Frank Ramsey


July 8th, 2011, 1:05 am
Profile
Display posts from previous:  Sort by  
Reply to topic   [ 16 posts ] 

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 2 guests


You cannot post new topics in this forum
You cannot reply to topics in this forum
You cannot edit your posts in this forum
You cannot delete your posts in this forum
You cannot post attachments in this forum

Search for:
Jump to:  
Powered by phpBB® Forum Software © phpBB Group
Designed by ST Software for PTF.