The Raving Theist

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Law-Abiding Pigs

September 11, 2006 | 17 Comments

“Past performance does not guarantee future results” is a disclaimer familiar to every investor. David Hume, in his discussion of induction in An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, extended the principle to the workings of the entire universe:

[A]ll inferences from experience suppose, as their foundation, that the future will resemble the past, and that similar powers will be conjoined with similar sensible qualities. If there be any suspicion that the course of nature may change, and that the past may be no rule for the future. all experience becomes useless, and can give rise to no inference or conclusion. It is impossible, therefore, that any arguments from experience can prove this resemblance of the past to the future, since all these arguments are founded on the supposition of that resemblance. Let the course of things be allowed hitherto ever so regular; that alone, without some new argument or inference, proves not that, for the future, it will continue so. In vain do you pretend to have learned the nature of bodies from your past experience. Their secret nature, and consequently all their effects and influence, may change, without any change in their sensible qualities.

In fact, Hume did not seriously doubt what all science assumes: that the same causes will always have the same effects, effects reducible to fixed mathematical formulae. His point was merely that we come to that conclusion through observation rather than reason, and that no a priori principle of logic compels the physical laws to remain as they always have. We could certainly imagine a world in which water feeds fire rather than quenches it; in which hydrogen and oxygen combine to form gold; in which a billiard ball bounced back after striking another rather than propelling it forward; or in which the outcomes in each of these situations was in constant flux. But what we see is rigid, predictable uniformity. So much so that we always ascribe differences in outcomes to differences in the original situations or intervening causes, not to changes in (or disappearance of) the governing laws.

Austin Cline’s defense of induction in the cloned pig scenario, discussed here, followed this reasoning. Cline impliedly rejected the notion that different pig personalities could result if the clones and their environments were truly the same, positing that something about the pigs or their experiences must have differed. He particularly objected to the expedient of attributing the differences to the workings of the pigs’ distinct but immaterial minds.

The immaterial mind hypothesis is functionally equivalent to one suggesting that each animal was controlled by a different underlying physical law. But even if we accept that the same law must control each pig, we are still confronted with the problem that the law, even if not conscious, is as immaterial as the hypothetical mind. And the fact that the law operates so uniformly from pig to pig — a result which as noted is not compelled by logic — seems militant more in favor of some sort of consciousness than against it.

Comments

17 Responses to “Law-Abiding Pigs”

  1. choobus
    September 11th, 2006 @ 10:06 pm

    Usually this sort of disjointed and contradictory “reasoning” is meant to pprove that jeebus is love or some other asinine statement, but in this case it just proves that RA is officially a fucking nut job. What a tragic demise: This is like bill gates being forced to take a job at comp usa (and coming on really strong about how important it is to get the the extended warranty). Pitiful.

  2. The No God Boy
    September 11th, 2006 @ 10:41 pm

    Maybe he will sell us the domain name.

    There is no god.

    D

  3. Godthorn
    September 11th, 2006 @ 11:04 pm

    In a somewhat frivolous sense, we can imagine a world in which water feeds fire and in which HOH is gold–though I suspect that the more chemistry one knows, the less easily one can achieve the fantasy.

    And I think one should not assume any sort of legislation or predetermination behind natural “law.” That term is a convenience of expression and signifies no reality. The “law” is indeed “immaterial”–in the sense of being nonexistent.

  4. Ricardus
    September 12th, 2006 @ 12:04 am

    You may be right, Godthorn, but ironically, if it weren’t for generations of early scientists who were convinced the universe was governed by laws ordained by a Creator, the scientific revolution might have been centuries later in coming (if it were ever to come at all).

  5. Marcus
    September 12th, 2006 @ 12:16 am

    The immaterial mind hypothesis is functionally equivalent to one suggesting that each animal was controlled by a different underlying physical law.

    Because both allow two physically identical things to be different?

    But even if we accept that the same law must control each pig, we are still confronted with the problem that the law, even if not conscious, is as immaterial as the hypothetical mind.

    Law is immaterial, ok. Well, law is abstract, yes. It is a general description of nature, divorced from a specific example. It’s a linguistic device I guess. Or are we talking about the law itself, which exists independently of our describing it? So the question is, how can there be such a law? I guess the alternative is that there wouldn’t be. So that would mean that we lived under complete randomness, right? Well, perhaps that’s just not possible. So perhaps there has to be order of one sort or another. Or else there has to not be. Or else, it could be either way.

    I don’t really know, but I guess at this point I don’t know what it has to do with an immaterial mind. Is the argument, “If immaterialness exists, then the mind must be immaterial”? Or “If immaterialness exists, then the mind can be immaterial”? Are we saying that the mind is an abstract general description, or that it’s an ordering principle independent of specific matter? Well, maybe the ordering principles aren’t independent of matter. Maybe they’re just a consequence of it, necessary so that it can exist.

    I think the immaterial mind is supposed to exist in a different way than an immaterial law though. The mind is supposed to exist in almost a pseudo-material sort of way, but on some sort of different plane or something, isn’t it? It’s not totally abstract, as I understand it. A mind isn’t just a rule; it’s a thing. So how do you get there?

    And the fact that the law operates so uniformly from pig to pig – a result which as noted is not compelled by logic — seems militant more in favor of some sort of consciousness than against it.

    Why is that?

    I think we’re assuming the same law, because all experience seems consistent with a uniform law, and we haven’t seen any evidence pointing against it. The idea of different laws for different things — which can’t be reconciled under some greater law — creates a much bigger question about why we have laws in the first place. Then the laws aren’t necessary, they’re just sort of random, it would seem, which would really make a mess out of everything.

    In any case, I think a uniform law suggests that our minds are a product of our biology, in accordance with everything pointing in that direction. I don’t really see the problem though. It seems that biology gives us consciousness and the ability to understand and control ourselves. If biology creates a consciousness with a great deal of control over itself, what’s wrong with that? Why try to pretend its somehow entirely independent, when a lot of things seem to suggest pretty incontrovertibly that it’s not?

  6. Kafkaesquí
    September 12th, 2006 @ 7:21 am

    Ricardus said:
    “[I]f it weren’t for generations of early scientists who were convinced the universe was governed by laws ordained by a Creator, the scientific revolution might have been centuries later in coming (if it were ever to come at all).”

    Ah yes, those 1200 or so years that were the Early (a.k.a. Dark) and Middle Ages in Europe and parts of Asia were certainly ones of serious and productive scientific pre-investigation. Quite surprising it actually took so long for us to pop out a Darwin, all things considered.

  7. JUST_ANOTHER_PRIMATE
    September 12th, 2006 @ 7:38 am

    History tells me that just like yesterday – my bank account will not have a million dollars in it.

    The workings of our financial systems also tell me that tomorrow my bank account will not have a million dollars in it. History does help me make sensible predictions.

    My belief that maybe there is a finance fairy out there that will deposit a million dollars in that damned paltry bank account of mine is simply ridiculous.

    ———————————————————————————-
    RA’s thinking seems to border on new age metaphysical mumbo jumbo. Pick up a new age book some time: like one from John Edwards or Sylvia Browne (oh my!). They conjure up the wildest ideas and speak of them as fact.

  8. Severalspeciesof
    September 12th, 2006 @ 8:35 am

    “The immaterial mind hypothesis is functionally equivalent to one suggesting that each animal was controlled by a different underlying physical law.”

    I’m not sure how you can come to that conclusion. If one posits that each animal was controlled by a different physical law, by sheer definition, it can no longer be considered immaterial since physical laws describe material existence.

    And Choobus, your description is dead on perfect.

  9. Thorngod
    September 12th, 2006 @ 9:37 am

    Words are tyrannical. There are many people, some intelligent, who actually believe that the heart thinks. I have tested a few likely subjects to confirm this. All their lives they have heard such phrases as “The heart has reasons….” and “As a man thinketh in his heart….” and have accepted those figures as fact.

    When I referred to natural “laws” as nonexistent, I meant that such laws are not external principles somehow imposed upon categories of existants. Things act and react as they do according to their particular physical composition. A particular entity will necessarily exhibit the same qualities and susceptabilities as others of its kind, and we refer to each of these uniformities as a “law.” The term then acquires an apparent but unjustified substantiality.

  10. "Q" the Enchanter
    September 12th, 2006 @ 12:29 pm

    “the law, even if not conscious, is as immaterial as the hypothetical mind”

    Too much faith in grammar on the one hand, not enough on the other.

  11. "Q" the Enchanter
    September 12th, 2006 @ 12:29 pm

    “the law, even if not conscious, is as immaterial as the hypothetical mind”

    Too much faith in grammar on the one hand, not enough on the other.

  12. "Q" the Enchanter
    September 12th, 2006 @ 12:29 pm

    “the law, even if not conscious, is as immaterial as the hypothetical mind”

    Too much faith in grammar on the one hand, not enough on the other.

  13. Kamikaze189
    September 12th, 2006 @ 4:33 pm

    Their experiences, unless totally and absolutely controlled, were not the same.

  14. Marcus
    September 12th, 2006 @ 4:48 pm

    Austin Cline’s defense of induction in the cloned pig scenario, discussed here, followed this reasoning. Cline impliedly rejected the notion that different pig personalities could result if the clones and their environments were truly the same, positing that something about the pigs or their experiences must have differed. He particularly objected to the expedient of attributing the differences to the workings of the pigs’ distinct but immaterial minds.

    Did he really argue that, incidentally? I think his argument was more simply that it’s ridiculous to posit an immaterial mind to explain that, when there are obviously so many physical explanations. And since we already have proof that the mind is very very much linked to the physical brain, and since we don’t have any evidence of anything more than that, why point to an illusory example supposedly showing an immaterial mind which doesn’t actually show that at all?

    It’s not like he said the pigs prove we don’t have an immaterial mind. They just don’t prove anything. It’s like relying on a rhyme to prove your argument.

  15. hagiograph
    September 12th, 2006 @ 5:50 pm

    The supposition that cloned brains = parallel “minds” is interesting, but ignores the blatant fact that a brain is capable of gathering in input from an almost infinite set of stimuli. Like firing a billion bullets at two blocks of cheese, it is unlikely that both pieces of cheese will end up with the exact same hole pattern.

    Just like molecules in a gas, the way a brain develops based on stimuli available to it is merely a statistical process. The fact that subtle differences in how the brain ultimately functions (how the pig acts) is not necessarily a linear function of how the brain took in the data only makes it seem MORE like there must be some ineffible “otherness” or “mind”. But in reality there likely isn’t any such thing.

  16. Ricardus
    September 13th, 2006 @ 12:09 am

    Kafkaesqui:

    I hope you’re not dating the dawn of the scientific revolution with Darwin. Furthermore, you’re not going to find too many academic historians who still buy into the whole “Dark Ages” spiel. Be that as it may, though, even dating the onset of the Middle Ages to coincide with the sack of Rome, ca. 400 AD, your figure of 1200 years for the “Early” Middle Ages puts a terminus at 1600, which is almost a half millennium past the birth of the High Middle Ages, during which the philosophical foundation for the scientific method starts to take shape. Heck, by that time we’ve arrived at Bacon’s Novum Organum and the monumental achievement of Kepler, who was as pious a Lutheran in his pursuit of science as Bach was in music.

  17. Kafkaesquí
    September 13th, 2006 @ 4:18 am

    “I hope you’re not dating the dawn of the scientific revolution with Darwin.”

    This Internet method of convo in which anything not said is assumed the actual intention is quite odd. I must love it, as I continue to have problems composing long droning paragraphs with numerous declarations that by referencing Darwin I did not mean to infer your great-grandfather was a monkey, or that we should all take a nice trip to the Galapagos, and so on. I referenced Darwin because he is, you know, a well known scientist — who just happened to be required to take that extra step of turning away from a religion and its dogma when it came to investigating an underlying ‘law’ of nature. Sorry I was so abstruse on this point.

    Reread my comment and you’ll find I collocate two ages: Dark*, and Middle (with full count of High, Middle and Low). So let’s assume my year count was as close as can be expected without checking a well-footnoted timeline first. In any case, the issue is not one of time calculation but your point that proper religious fervor is overdue for a slap on the back when it comes to modern science.

    *I’m less spieler and more bloviator.

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