Strange Loops Journal Archive: November 2003

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Railing Against Poor BonJour Again
November 17, 2003

A new piece is up in the philosophy section called Saving Physicalism From The Martians. Lawrence BonJour (who I've criticized in another paper on the site) tries to adapt Frank Jackson's famous "knowledge argument" against physicalism (the idea that everything in the world is physical) into a stronger version. I make use of an elegant argument from Max Deutsch defending the idea of subjective physical facts, which seems to get around BonJour's argument (and Jackson's original).

I'm still not sure how this one turns out though. I love what Deutsch does, and I think in a way it seems very right. There are subjective facts (that I am in pain, which is either true or false) for sure, but can our subjective experiences be boiled down to the wetware processes of the brain? That, I think, is the key question for physicalism, and while my intuition is in that direction (insofar as it seems a better explanation than a na´ve dualism which says that the mental is separate in a way that our minds can exist separate from our bodies), I'm not sure I can give a good argument in that direction right now. However, if it is the case that the mental can in some way be boiled down to the physical (that is, our minds are just our brains on another level, another angle, another layer of experience), then I think that is precisely what I mean by physicalism when I think about it. In which case, the mental could still presumably be off-limits to science and objectivity (that is, be subjective) and yet still be physical. This is where I think the subjective physical fact idea is right on. But of course, the hard part is showing that the mental can supervene on the physical in the right way. That's where I find Douglas Hofstadter's work (he's the guy who I borrowed the term "strange loops" from) useful, but there's still a long way to go.

But while physicalism may remain an open question even to me (holding it intuitively), it does seem that there is a big, gaping hole in which to escape from arguments of the BonJour/Jackson sort. They are presupposing an idea of the physical which is very narrow and I don't think properly encompasses the sort of possibility I am looking at when I think of physicalism. If they want to declare their version of physicalism (na´ve physicalism, we might call it) dead, they can go right ahead, but it does not really affect the larger metaphysical issue.

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Site Update
November 15, 2003 top
I've added a number of new articles to the politics and science sections of the main site. Most of it is just material from the blog archives with some updating. Basically, doing content-heavy entries on the blog was taking away from the main site's content, and not many people are interested in cruising the old archives of a blog, so from now on I'll be transferring the longer, better entries to permanent articles on the main site as they are moved from the front blog page to the archive. The archive will still be useful for cruising links and shorter commentaries, but this way I can better preserve some of the longer musings and make them easier to find.

The new entries so far are: Euphemisms and Power Over Thought, Conveying Authority by Watching, Revolution, Employment for Profit's Sake, The Iraq War, and Overcrowded Prisons and the Drug War in the politics section; and A Transhumanist Luddite and Love, Aggression and Sex in the science section. Those who have read the blog regularly for the last year will probably have seen most of this material, but if not, this might be easier than browsing the long archives.

Also, I went through and checked and updated the links throughout the main site, and I updated the quotes section, including a new group of quotes on technology and transhumanism.

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