Comment by Richard4 on Pretending to be Wise · 2009-02-19T23:52:00.000Z · LW · GW

"propounding neutrality is just as attackable as propounding any particular side."

Indeed. (I hope Robin is reading.)

Comment by Richard4 on Normal Ending: Last Tears (6/8) · 2009-02-04T20:29:38.000Z · LW · GW

If we sufficiently value episodes of aesthetic appreciation (in general, not only when done by us), etc., then the "compromise" could be a net positive, even from the perspective of our current values.

(But perhaps the point is that our values are in fact not so agent-neutral.)

Comment by Richard4 on Free to Optimize · 2009-01-02T05:56:03.000Z · LW · GW

Seconding Peter -- the post should say "one boxing", right?

Comment by Richard4 on Is That Your True Rejection? · 2008-12-06T19:17:41.000Z · LW · GW

Eliezer - 'I would be willing to get a PhD thesis if it went by the old rules and the old meaning of "Prove you can make an original, significant contribution to human knowledge and that you've mastered an existing field", rather than, "This credential shows you have spent X number of years in a building."'

British and Australasian universities don't require any coursework for their PhDs, just the thesis. If you think your work is good enough, write to Alan Hajek at ANU and see if he'd be willing to give it a look.

Comment by Richard4 on The Complete Idiot's Guide to Ad Hominem · 2008-11-26T01:49:57.000Z · LW · GW

Hmm, reminds me of a post I wrote two years earlier.

Incidentally, I think one of Bond's "real life examples" exposes an important ambiguity:

A: "I can even handle misplaced apostrophes every now and then. Not excessive amounts of them, [...]" B: "Perhaps double-check your grammar before you write a grammar rant that refers to 'amounts of apostrophes'." C: " ...the ad hominem nature of [B's reply] takes the sanctimonious angle that any who criticize must be without stain."

Bond writes, "B's reply was not ad hominem. It was not a counter-argument to A, but an attempt to point out what B saw as A's hypocrisy."

But actually it is ad hominem, i.e. directed 'to the person', though not (of course) an ad hominem fallacy in the usual sense. See: Ad hominem tu quoque.

Comment by Richard4 on Inner Goodness · 2008-10-24T02:45:10.000Z · LW · GW

Aristotle, anyone?

Comment by Richard4 on No License To Be Human · 2008-08-21T21:19:52.000Z · LW · GW

"asking how is it that the word 'right' came to refer to rightness is like asking why 'green' means green"

Yeah, that's not exactly what I meant. As I see it there are two stages: there's the question how the symbols 'right' (or 'green') get attached to the concept that they do, and then there's the more interesting question of how this broad sense of the term determines -- in combination with the actual facts -- what the term actually refers to, i.e. what property the concept denotes. So I should have asked how it is that our sense of the concept 'right', as we hold it in our minds, determines what external property is ultimately denoted by the term. (Compare how the concept 'water' ultimately denotes the property of being H2O.) It is this step of Eliezer's account, I think, which looks to some to be suspiciously relativistic, and in conflict with the sense of the term as they understand it. Maybe he's picking out the right property (hard to tell when he's said so little about it, as you say). But the meta-properties, the concept, the procedure by which what we have in mind picks out a particular thing in the word, that just seems all wrong.

Comment by Richard4 on No License To Be Human · 2008-08-21T18:17:28.000Z · LW · GW

Larry, no, the mix-up is yours. I didn't say anything about morality, I was talking about the word 'right', and the meta-semantic question how it is that this word refers to rightness (some particular combination of terminal values) rather than, say, p-rightness.

Comment by Richard4 on No License To Be Human · 2008-08-21T17:25:33.000Z · LW · GW

Some of these (e.g. Roko's) concerns might be clarified in terms of the distinctions between sense, reference, and reference-fixing descriptions. I take it Eliezer wants to use 'right' as a rigid designator to denote some particular set of terminal values, but others have pointed out that this reference fact is fixed by means of a seemingly 'relative' procedure (namely, whatever terminal values he himself happens to hold, on some appropriate [if somewhat mysterious] idealization). There is also some concern that this doesn't match the plain meaning or sense of the term 'right', as everyone else understands it.

Comment by Richard4 on No License To Be Human · 2008-08-21T00:56:21.000Z · LW · GW

"I can only plead that when I look over my flawed mind and see a core of useful reasoning, that I am really right, even though a completely broken mind might mistakenly perceive a core of useful truth."

"humans have received a moral gift, which Pebblesorters lack, in that we started out interested in things like happiness instead of just prime pebble heaps. Now this is not actually a case of someone reaching in from outside with a gift-wrapped box... it is only when you look out from within the perspective of morality, that it seems like a great blessing that there are humans around"

Quick question: do you intend the latter deflationary remarks to apply to your 'epistemic gift' too? That is, would you emphasize that your methods of reasoning are merely considered to be a gift from within your own perspective, and there's not any further sense to the notion of 'good priors' or a 'broken mind' or 'useful reasoning' beyond the brute fact that you happen to use these words to refer to these particular epistemic norms? Or do you think there's an important difference between the kind of (moral vs. epistemic) 'mistakes' made respectively by the Pebblesorters and the anti-Inductors?

Comment by Richard4 on Abstracted Idealized Dynamics · 2008-08-12T17:08:17.000Z · LW · GW

jsalvati - "I think the difference is that in a world where one of them is miscalculating, that person can be shown that they are miscalculating and will then calculate correctly."

This still won't do, due to path-dependence and such. Suppose Bob could be corrected in any number of ways, and each will cause him to adopt a different conclusion -- and one that he will then persist in holding no matter what other arguments you give him. Which conclusion is the true value for our original morality_Bob? There can presumably be no fact of the matter, on Eliezer's account. And if this sort of underdetermination is very common (which I imagine it is), then there's probably no facts at all about what any of our "moralities" are. There may always be some schedule of information that would bring us to make radically different moral judgments.

Also worrying is the implication that it's impossible to be stubbornly wrong. Once you become impervious to argument in your adoption of inconsistent moral beliefs, well, those contradictions are now apparently part of your true morality, which you're computing just fine.(?)

Comment by Richard4 on Abstracted Idealized Dynamics · 2008-08-12T04:58:41.000Z · LW · GW

Psy-Kosh - "Well... the computation your brain is, under the hood, performing when you're trying to figure out things about "what should I do?""

That just pushes my question back a step. Don't the physical facts underdetermine what computation ('abstracted idealized dynamic') my brain might be interpreted as performing? It all depends how you abstract and idealize it, after all. Unless, that is, we think there's some brute (irreducible) facts about which are the right idealizations...

Comment by Richard4 on Abstracted Idealized Dynamics · 2008-08-12T04:48:57.000Z · LW · GW

HA - "what resources do you recommend I look into to find people taking a more rigorous approach to understanding the phenomenon of human morality"

If you're interested in the empirical phenomenon, I'm the wrong person to ask. (Maybe start with the SEP on moral psychology?) But on a philosophical level I'd recommend Peter Railton for a sophisticated naturalistic metaethic (that I respect a lot while not entirely agreeing with). He has a recent bloggingheads diavlog, but you can't go past his classic article 'Moral Realism' [here if you have jstor access].

Comment by Richard4 on Abstracted Idealized Dynamics · 2008-08-12T01:46:24.000Z · LW · GW

Eliezer - that's all well and good, but what in the world do you think determines which computation or 'abstract idealized dynamic' a mortal human is actually referring to? Won't this be radically underdetermined?

You suggest that "Bob and Sally could be talking about different things when they talk about Enamuh". What's the difference between a world where they're talking about different things vs. a world where they are talking about the same thing but one of them is 'miscalculating'? What facts (about their dispositions and such) would determine which of the two explanations holds, on your view?

Comment by Richard4 on Moral Error and Moral Disagreement · 2008-08-11T18:46:32.000Z · LW · GW

Carl - "If you're going to define 'fully reasonable' to mean sharing your moral axioms, so that a superintelligent pencil maximizer with superhuman understanding of human ethics and philosophy is not a 'reasonable agent,' doesn't this just shift the problem a level? Your morality_objectivenorms is only common to all agents with full reasonableness_RichardChappell, and you don't seem to have any compelling reason for the latter (somewhat gerrymandered) account of reasonableness save that it's yours/your culture's/your species.'"

I don't mean to define 'fully reasonable' at all (though it is meant to be minimally ad hoc or gerrymandered). I take this normative notion as a conceptual primitive, and then hypothesize that it entails a certain set of moral norms. They're probably not even my norms (in any way Eliezer could accommodate), since I'm presumably not fully reasonable myself. But they're what I'm trying to aim for, even if I don't always grasp them correctly.

This may sound mysterious and troublingly ungrounded to you. Yet you use terms like 'superintelligent' and 'superhuman understanding', which are no less normative than my 'reasonable'. I think that reasonableness is a component of intelligence and (certainly) understanding, so I don't see how these terms could properly apply to a pencil maximizer. Maybe you simply mean that it is a pencil maximizer that is instrumentally rational and perfectly proficient at Bayesian updating. But that's not to say it's intelligent. It might, for example, be a counterinductivist (didn't someone mention anti-Occamists up-thread?), with completely wacky priors. I take it as a datum that this is simply unreasonable -- there are other norms, besides conditionalization and instrumental rationality, which govern 'intelligent' or good thinking.

So I say there are brute, unanalysable facts about what's reasonable. The buck's gotta stop somewhere. I don't see that any alternative theory does better than this one.

Comment by Richard4 on Moral Error and Moral Disagreement · 2008-08-11T03:32:24.000Z · LW · GW

"Perhaps Richard means that we could suppose that abortion is indeed prohibited by morality_Bob..."

That's right. (I didn't mean to suggest that there's never any disputing what someone's moral commitments are; just that this wasn't supposed to be in dispute in the particular case I was imagining.) I take it that Sally and Bob could disagree even so, and not merely be talking past each other, even if one or both of them was impervious to rational argument. It is at least a significant cost of your theory that it denies this datum. (It doesn't have to be 'irrefutable' to nonetheless be a hefty bullet to bite!)

I like your account of everyday moral disagreement, but would take it a step further: it is no mere accident that your Sally and Bob expect to be able to persuade the other. Rather, it is essential to the concept of morality that it involves shared standards common to all fully reasonable agents.

It's worth emphasizing, though, that humans are not fully reasonable. Some are even irrevocably unreasonable, incapable of rationally updating (some of) their beliefs. So while, I claim, we all aspire to the morality_Objective norms, I doubt there's any empirically specifiable procedure that could ensure our explicit affirmation of those norms (let alone their unfolded implications). Bob may stubbornly insist that abortion is wrong, and this may conflict with other claims he makes, but there's simply no way (short of brain surgery) to shake him from his illogic. What then? I say he's mistaken, even though he can't be brought to recognize this himself. It's not clear to me whether you can say this, since I'm not sure exactly what your 'extrapolation' procedure for defining morality_Bob is. But if it's based on any simple empirical facts about what Bob would believe if we told him various facts and arguments, then it doesn't look like you'll be able to correct for the moral errors that result from sheer irrationality, or imperviousness to argument.

Could you say a little more about exactly which empirical facts serve to define morality_Bob?

Comment by Richard4 on Inseparably Right; or, Joy in the Merely Good · 2008-08-10T01:33:14.000Z · LW · GW

Larry, not that the particular example is essential to my point, but you're clearly not familiar with the strongest pro-life arguments.

Comment by Richard4 on Inseparably Right; or, Joy in the Merely Good · 2008-08-10T00:57:24.000Z · LW · GW

"My notion of goodness may be slightly different to yours - how can we have a sensible conversation where you insist on using the word "morality" to refer to morality_Eliezer2008?"

This is an important objection, which I think establishes the inadequacy of Eliezer's analysis. It's a datum (which any adequate metaethical theory must account for) that there can be substantive moral disagreement. When Bob says "Abortion is wrong", and Sally says, "No it isn't", they are disagreeing with each other.

I don't see how Eliezer can accommodate this. On his account, what Bob asserted is true iff abortion is prohibited by the morality_Bob norms. How can Sally disagree? There's no disputing (we may suppose) that abortion is indeed prohibited by morality_Bob. On the other hand, it would be changing the subject for Sally to say "Abortion is right" in her own vernacular, where this merely means that abortion is permitted by the morality_Sally norms. (Bob wasn't talking about morality_Sally, so their two claims are - on Eliezer's account - quite compatible.)

Since there is moral disagreement, whatever Eliezer purports to be analysing here, it is not morality.

[For more detail, see 'Is Normativity Just Semantics?]

Comment by Richard4 on No Logical Positivist I · 2008-08-04T01:58:02.000Z · LW · GW

I've an old post - 'Verification and Base Facts' - which shows how a non-verificationist can still capture much of what was most compelling in verificationism.

Comment by Richard4 on Setting Up Metaethics · 2008-07-28T20:29:36.000Z · LW · GW

I second Unknown. It's worth noting that trolls like Caledonian also deter other (more reasonable) voices from joining the conversation, so it's not at all clear that his contributions promote dissent on net. (And I think it is clear that they don't promote reasonable dissent.)

Comment by Richard4 on Setting Up Metaethics · 2008-07-28T05:46:00.000Z · LW · GW

Doug S. - see here for one objection to Fyfe's view.

Comment by Richard4 on The Fear of Common Knowledge · 2008-07-09T16:44:58.000Z · LW · GW

Incidentally, the lesson I take from Nagel's paper is that it's not really "common knowledge" that's the problem, so much as the act of raising such common knowledge to public salience. (We may still refrain from publicly acknowledging even facts we're privately quite certain that everyone else is also privately certain of, and so on.)

Comment by Richard4 on The Fear of Common Knowledge · 2008-07-09T16:40:22.000Z · LW · GW

See also Nagel's 'Concealment and Exposure':

"Admittedly nonacknowledgment can sometimes also serve the purpose of deceiving those, like children or outsiders, who do not know the conventions. But its main purpose is usually not to deceive, but to manage the distinction between foreground and background, between what invites attention and a collective response and what remains individual and may be ignored. The possibility of combining civilized interpersonal relations with a relatively free inner life depends on this division.

No, the real work is done by leaving unacknowledged things that are known, even if only in general terms, on all sides. The more effective are the conventions controlling acknowledgment, the more easily we can handle our knowledge of what others do not express, and their knowledge of what we do not express. One of the remarkable effects of a smoothly fitting public surface is that it protects one from the sense of exposure without having to be in any way dishonest or deceptive, just as clothing does not conceal the fact that one is naked underneath. The mere sense that the gaze of others, and their explicit reactions, are conventionally discouraged from penetrating this surface, in spite of their unstated awareness of much that lies beneath it, allows a sense of freedom to lead one's inner life as if it were invisible, even though it is not. It is enough that it is firmly excluded from direct public view, and that only what one puts out into the public domain is a legitimate object of explicit response from others."

For example:

"At the same party C and D meet. D is a candidate for a job in C's department, and C is transfixed by D's beautiful breasts. They exchange judicious opinions about a recent publication by someone else. Consider the alternative:

C: Groan....

D: Take your eyes off me, you dandruff-covered creep; how such a drooling incompetent can have got tenure, let alone become a department chair, is beyond me.

The trouble with the alternatives is that they lead to a dead end, because they demand engagement on terrain where common ground is unavailable without great effort, and only conflict will result. If C expresses his admiration of D's breasts, C and D have to deal with it as a common problem or feature of the situation, and their social relation must proceed in its light. If on the other hand it is just something that C feels and that D knows, from long experience and subtle signs, that he feels, then it can simply be left out of the basis of their joint activity of conversation, even while it operates separately in the background for each of them as a factor in their private thoughts."

Comment by Richard4 on Moral Complexities · 2008-07-04T18:01:42.000Z · LW · GW

Poke - "most 'moral' differences between countries, for example, are actually economic differences"

I'd state that slightly differently: not that moral differences just are economic differences (they could conceivably come apart, after all), but rather, moral progress is typically caused by economic progress (or, even more likely, they are mutually reinforcing). In other words: you can believe in the possibility of moral progress, i.e. of changes that are morally better rather than worse, without buying into any particular explanatory story about why this came to be.

(Compare: "Most 'height' differences between generations... are actually nutritional differences." The fact that we now eat better doesn't undo the fact that we are now taller than our grandparents' generation. It explains it.)

Comment by Richard4 on Moral Complexities · 2008-07-04T17:21:08.000Z · LW · GW

Jess - "shouldn't we all just grab a textbook on introductory moral philosophy?"

That would seem ideal. I'd recommend James Rachels' The Elements of Moral Philosophy for a very engaging and easy-to-read introductory text. Though I take it Eliezer is here more interested in meta-ethics than first-order moral inquiry. As always, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is a good place to start (then follow up Gibbard and Railton, especially, in the bibliography).

On the other hand, one shouldn't let the perfect be the enemy of good discussion. Better to reinvent the wheel than to go without entirely!

Comment by Richard4 on Moral Complexities · 2008-07-04T15:57:29.000Z · LW · GW

"moral progress, in my view, consists of better reasoning to make our morality more and more consistent"

Right, so morality is not our [actual, presently existing] "set of evolved norms" at all, but rather the [hypothetical, idealized] end-point of this process of rational refinement.

Comment by Richard4 on Moral Complexities · 2008-07-04T15:06:19.000Z · LW · GW

Try replacing every instance of 'morality' with 'logic' (or 'epistemic normativity' more broadly). Sure, you could create a mind (of sorts) that evaluated these things differently -- that thought hypocrisy was a virtue, and that contradictions warranted belief -- but that's just to say that you can create an irrational mind.

Comment by Richard4 on No Universally Compelling Arguments · 2008-06-26T15:13:19.000Z · LW · GW

I'm puzzled by Eliezer's claim that anybody ever thought there were "universally compelling arguments", that would convince every mind whatsoever. Who in the world (not made of straw) does not believe that irrational minds are possible? (We come across them every day.) Surely the not-transparently-ridiculous position in the vicinity he criticizes is instead that there are arguments which would be compelling to any sufficiently rational mind.

Comment by Richard4 on Zombies: The Movie · 2008-04-25T17:19:02.000Z · LW · GW

"Richard has credentials. I have competency."

Funny. Again, just out of curiosity, what is your basis for thinking yourself philosophically competent? A self-gratifying intuition, perhaps? (Credentialing by acknowledged experts, though an imperfect guide, is at least some protection against quackery.) I haven't even seen you make an argument, let alone a good one; all you do is make unsupported assertions and attempt to ridicule people who know more than you do. You appear to suffer delusions about your own abilities and the extent of your understanding. (As you say, "the inability... to perceive the wrongness with their arguments is generally insurmountable" -- what puzzles me is why this doesn't make you more humble about your own intuited greatness, given that nobody else is nearly so impressed.)

Now, you change the subject by shifting the burden to others, asking them to list the accomplishments of academic philosophy. (It's beyond dispute that our understanding of thousands of philosophical problems has advanced significantly in the past century -- just browse through any entry of the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, or my own dozen favourite 'Examples of Solved Philosophy' -- though of course philosophical progress does not readily translate into technological progress the way that progress in other disciplines can.)

The question HA is raising (and that I can readily confirm) is that you do not seem to know what you are talking about. From what I can tell, you are completely ignorant of the field of philosophy and the work that goes on in it; so there is no reason for anyone to take seriously the unargued denunciations you offer from on high. You don't even know what it is that you're denouncing. You are to philosophy what young earth creationists are to biology.

Of course, if you offer a reasoned argument then others may consider it on its merits. (Even a stopped clock is right twice a day, and all that.) But you lack the authority to make mere assertions and expect anyone to take your ignorant pontificating seriously. That's all.

Comment by Richard4 on Identity Isn't In Specific Atoms · 2008-04-22T00:08:54.000Z · LW · GW

I've a new post - 'Non-causal Talk' - which points out some problems with Eliezer's assumption that our words refer to whatever causes us to utter them.

Comment by Richard4 on Identity Isn't In Specific Atoms · 2008-04-19T20:23:47.000Z · LW · GW

I actually agree with the reductionist view about personal identity, though of course for very different reasons from Eliezer. (I think that identity-swapping is strictly inconceivable. There is no difference there in what the world is like, in stark contrast to the zombie or BIV case where we can understand the (albeit undetectable) difference in how things are.)

Comment by Richard4 on Zombie Responses · 2008-04-09T00:11:55.000Z · LW · GW

P.S. I've a new post explaining How To Imagine Zombies without variable question worries.

Comment by Richard4 on Zombie Responses · 2008-04-07T15:34:46.000Z · LW · GW

Eliezer - I also think the talk of 'internal narrative' is potentially misleading, since it brings to mind the auditory qualia or phenomenal feel of your thoughts, when really (I take it) you just want to talk about the underlying neural processing.

I won't address the rest (it can't be an empirical question what's logically possible, etc.), other than to agree that we have some very deep-rooted disagreements here.

One final point bears noting though: my own fondness for the combination of zombies and epiphenomenalism may have inadvertently misled you about the state of the debate more generally. The two positions can come apart. So note that your arguments against epiphenomenalism are not necessarily arguments against the conceivability/possibility of zombies. (The latter view does not entail the former.) See Chalmers' paper on Consciousness and its place in nature [pdf] -- esp. the discussion of 'type-D' and 'type-F' views -- for more background.

Comment by Richard4 on Zombie Responses · 2008-04-05T17:46:18.000Z · LW · GW

Eliezer - your argument is logically invalid. (5) does not follow from (3) and (4) as stated. Note that the epiphenomenalist has a theory of reference/mental content according to which my thoughts about consciousness are partly constituted by the phenomenal properties themselves. That is, the qualia are part of "that-which-makes-me-think-I-have inward awareness". Otherwise, I wouldn't be having thoughts about consciousness at all. (Zombies don't. They merely have brain states, which are not 'about' anything.) So I can grant that 'consciousness' refers to (part of) "that-which-makes-me-think-I-have" it, without it following that the object of reference (viz. phenomenal properties) are also present in the zombie world.

You can save the logical validity of the argument by tidying up (4), so that you instead assert that 'consciousness' must refer to the cause of my verbalization, or perhaps of the underlying brain state -- build in some limitation to ensure that it's some feature shared by any physical duplicate of myself. But then it's a false premise, or at least question-begging -- no epiphenomenalist is going to find it remotely plausible. And since we can offer a perfectly consistent alternative theory of reference, we are not committed to any logical inconsistency after all.

Jed Harris - you're just reiterating old-fashioned radical skepticism. I might be deceived by an evil demon, or be a Brain in a Vat, or be deceived by alternative bridging laws into having the exact same experiences even if the physical world were very different from how I take it to be. Bleh. It's a fun puzzle to think about, but it's not a serious problem. Any adequate epistemological theory will explain how it's possible for us to have knowledge despite the logical possibility of such scenarios.

Hal - our qualia are determined by physical states (+ the bridging laws), so no, we wouldn't "feel chagrin" etc. (You seem to be assuming some kind of intuitive substance-dualist picture, where the soul does its thinking independently of its physical substrate. That's not property dualism.)

Caledonian - why do you keep asking questions I've already answered? Once again, just follow my above link.

P.S. There seems to be a lot of confusion around about the targets of epistemic assessment, and what "rational brains" would conclude about the relative likelihood that they're zombies, etc. I think this rests on some pretty fundamental philosophical errors, so will write up a new post on my blog explaining why.

Comment by Richard4 on Zombies! Zombies? · 2008-04-04T18:10:34.000Z · LW · GW

Cyan - think of the million monkeys at typewriters eventually outputting a replica of Chalmers' book. The monkeys obviously haven't given an argument. There's just an item there that you are capable of projecting a meaningful interpretation onto. But the meaning obviously comes from you, not the monkeys.

Credulous - I'm not entirely sure what you're asking. I think an agent could still have qualia without believing that this is so on a theoretical level. (Dennett springs to mind!) But I guess if you tinkered with the internal computational processes enough, you might eventually succeed in ridding the agent of [the neural underpinnings of] phenomenal representations (e.g. of pain) altogether. It would then behave very differently.

PK - Yep, you're so very special that you're the only discussant in this conversation who's made entirely of straw!

Comment by Richard4 on Zombies! Zombies? · 2008-04-04T15:37:54.000Z · LW · GW

Eliezer - thanks for this post, it's certainly an improvement on some of the previous ones. A quick bibliographical note: Chalmers' website offers his latest papers, and so is a much better source than google books. A terminological note (to avoid unnecessary confusion): what you call 'conceivable', others of us would merely call "apparently conceivable". That is, you view would be characterized as a form of Type-A materialism, the view that zombies are not even (genuinely) conceivable, let alone metaphysically possible. On to the substantive points:

(1) You haven't, so far as I can tell, identified any logical contradiction in the description of the zombie world. You've just pointed out that it's kind of strange. But there are many bizarre possible worlds out there. That's no reason to posit an implicit contradiction. So it's still completely mysterious to me what this alleged contradiction is supposed to be.

(2) It's misleading to say it's "miraculous" (on the property dualist view) that our qualia line up so neatly with the physical world. There's a natural law which guarantees this, after all. So it's no more miraculous than any other logically contingent nomic necessity (e.g. the constants in our physical laws). That is, it's "miraculous" in the same sense that it's "miraculous" that our universe is fit to support life. Atheists and other opponents of fine-tuning arguments are not usually so troubled by this kind of alleged 'miracle'. Just because things logically could have been different, doesn't mean that they easily could have been different. Natural laws are pretty safe and dependable things. They are primitive facts, not explained by anything else, but that doesn't make them chancy.

(3) I'd also dispute the following characterization: "talk about consciousness... arises from a malfunction (drawing of logically unwarranted conclusions) in the causally closed cognitive system that types philosophy papers."

No, typing the letters 'c-o-n-s-c-i-o-u-s-n-e-s-s' arises from a causally closed cognitive system. Whether these letters actually mean anything (and so constitute a contentful conclusion that may or may not follow from other contentful premises) arguably depends on whether the agent is conscious. (Utterances express beliefs, and beliefs are partly constituted by the phenomenal properties instantiated by their neural underpinnings.) That is, Zombie (or 'Outer') Chalmers doesn't actually conclude anything, because his utterances are meaningless. A fortiori, he doesn't conclude anything unwarrantedly. He's just making noises; these are no more susceptible to epistemic assessment than the chirps of a bird. (You can predict the zombie's behaviour by adopting the Dennettian pretense of the 'intentional stance', i.e. interpreting the zombie as if it really had beliefs and desires. But that's mere pretense.)

(4) I'm all for 'reflective coherence' (at least if that means what I think it means). I don't see how it counts against this view, unless you illicitly assume a causal theory of knowledge (which I obviously don't).

P.S. Note that while I'm a fan of epiphenomenalism myself, Chalmers doesn't actually commit to the view. See his response to Perry for more detail. (It also addresses many of the other points you raise in this post.)

Comment by Richard4 on Brain Breakthrough! It's Made of Neurons! · 2008-04-03T00:17:58.000Z · LW · GW

Caledonian, you may wish to reconsider who's failing to listen to whom. Epiphenomenalists are well aware that phenomenal consciousness, as they understand it, plays no causal role in the world. This is indeed obvious. What's not obvious is that it's a fatal "flaw" in their view. You have a "strong conviction" that it is. Good for you. You still haven't said anything that's news to those you disagree with. Repeating common knowledge in a triumphant tone does not constitute an argument.

"the very smartest people have a hard time finding people capable of seeing through the arguments they make..."

Eh? You forget that top academics get positions in top departments, and so spend much of their time conversing with the other very smartest people around.

Comment by Richard4 on Heat vs. Motion · 2008-04-01T22:39:22.000Z · LW · GW

[tangent] Hi Brandon, you may find my post on The Problem of Other Minds to be of interest -- note that the usual justification is to argue inductively from analogy (others are externally similar to ourselves, so most likely have similar inner lives).

I think you're right that the diverse experience hypothesis (my red is your yellow, etc.) is 'illogical', at least in the weak sense of ad hoc or less than perfectly coherent/reasonable. It is logically possible, mind you -- there's no reason the would couldn't have turned out that way, if the laws of nature had been different. But we are generally justified in believing that reality is governed by systematic laws. That is, a variation of Ockham's Razor will prevent us from positing unnecessary arbitrary distinctions.

So you're right that the diverse experience view is 'baseless'. But note that it can't be for the reason that it is "purely metaphysical with no implications for reality". For the same could be said of the reasonable (and presumably true) view that in fact we both experience the same colour qualia when looking at a tomato. That too is a 'metaphysical' view with no scientific implications. But it's also plainly reasonable. So, not all 'metaphysical' views are on a par. [/tangent]

Comment by Richard4 on Heat vs. Motion · 2008-04-01T21:23:17.000Z · LW · GW

Yes, this is old hat. See also my post on Misusing Kripke/Putnam, which explicitly explains why the analogy to 'water = H2O' (and similar a posteriori identities, like heat = molecular motion) is no help to the physicalist here.

Comment by Richard4 on Angry Atoms · 2008-03-31T15:01:03.000Z · LW · GW

Michael - unless I've misunderstood, athmwiji's view sounds like good old-fashioned metaphysical idealism. It's an interesting view, and deserves serious attention, but I don't believe it myself because I think there could be a world (e.g. the zombie world) containing only physical stuff, without any need for "ideas" or phenomenal stuff. The idealist thus faces the same challenge as the materialist (just in the opposite direction): show me the contradiction in my description of the zombie world.

P.S. I use 'scientism' very precisely, to those who hold the indefensible assumption that empirical inquiry is the only form of inquiry (and associated verificationist claims, e.g. that only scientific discourse is coherent or meaningful). There was plenty of this sentiment expressed in the previous thread. (A couple of commenters even expressed their inability to distinguish between philosophy and religion, which is of course the primary symptom of scientism.) I suspect that this is one of the most common forms of bias among the scientifically educated but philosophically ignorant population. It would be interesting to see it (seriously) discussed here sometime.

Comment by Richard4 on Hand vs. Fingers · 2008-03-30T21:53:26.000Z · LW · GW

"Please explain what it means for something to be genuinely conceivable, as opposed to just being conceivable to some particular person."

Conceivable on ideal rational reflection, i.e. without logical error, implicit contradiction, or conceptual ignorance (e.g. failing to realize that hand just means fingers etc.)

"I'm not sure how I'm supposed to react to this paragraph, frankly."

You're supposed to show that my premise is false. We have good reasons for thinking that there are no Martians in my nose. But is there any such reason to think that the zombie scenario is incoherent? Show us the contradiction...

Comment by Richard4 on Hand vs. Fingers · 2008-03-30T20:59:26.000Z · LW · GW

Eliezer - all your last comment says is that if I'm suffering from a misunderstanding, then my conclusions won't follow. Well, duh. (See also my response to Robin above.) This doesn't advance the dialectic one iota, unless you can also support the antecedent claim.

Note that my fundamental premise is not, "I think the zombie world is coherently conceivable." Nothing of interest follows from the fact that I have an opinion, since the opinion might be baseless (as you've repeatedly pointed out). Instead, my basic premise is that the zombie world is coherently conceivable (i.e. without the sort of finger-hand misunderstanding that might make a scenario seem conceivable when in fact it's incoherent). You haven't said a word that bears on the truth of this premise. All you've said is that ignorance might lead one to believe it even if it were false. But that is no reason to think that it is false.

Poke - there's no "fallacy" involved in inferring that philosophy isn't nonsense from the fact that the denial of this claim is self-defeating. Proof by contradiction is a straightforwardly valid inference. Now, I might grant you that one doesn't need to reason well to communicate. But philosophy = reasoning, so one does need to philosophize to reason well.

Caledonian - I addressed all that in my linked posts (see esp. 'Why do you think you're conscious?'). Please read my arguments before accusing me of incoherence.

Tiiba - the dispute is whether it's logically coherent to have a world physically identical to ours but lacking consciousness, or whether the physical facts strictly entail the phenomenal facts.

Dan - We have different projects; I'm not trying to "fix the counterintuitiveness of consciousness." I'm interested in whether it is in principle susceptible to physical reduction. (We can answer these sorts of questions by understanding alone. I don't need to do science in order to appreciate the conditional that if physical investigation reveals particles that play such-and-such a role, then objects such as hands will be reducible to said arrangements of particles. There is no coherently conceivable 'hand-zombie' world, analogous to the phenomenal-zombie world, that is identical to ours in all matters of fundamental physics, but somehow lacking in hands.)

Incidentally, I agree that the human brain is capable of amazing computational feats. There are many aspects of its physical functioning that I don't yet understand, though I'm confident future science will make further progress here. None of that is relevant to the present discussion.

Paul: Sure, most fundamental questions - in philosophy and physics alike - do not speak to the practical concerns of folk living everyday lives. (I think this says more about the boringness of the folk than of the fundamental questions, but your tastes may differ...)

Comment by Richard4 on Hand vs. Fingers · 2008-03-30T18:00:54.000Z · LW · GW

Caledonian - the addition of p-consciousness has no physical consequences. To infer that it has "absolutely no consequences of any kind" is obviously question-begging against those of us who hold that there are non-physical facts (e.g. what it is like, subjectively, to be in such-and-such a physical state). The zombie world is appreciably different from ours in these other respects.

Incidentally, the principle you depend upon is self-defeating. Consider:

(Scientism): A claim is coherent only if it has scientific implications.

What are the scientific implications of this principle? What empirical test would show whether Scientism is true or false? It is incoherent by its own lights.

Comment by Richard4 on Hand vs. Fingers · 2008-03-30T16:23:51.000Z · LW · GW

Robin - 'I'm always amazed at what philosophers think they can see merely by "understanding the terms." Such analysis may well tell us a lot about what we often assume, but I am skeptical that it can tell us as much as philosophers think about what is actually possible vs. only apparently possible.'

What kind of possibility are you talking about? Philosophers will grant that reason/understanding alone can't tell us what's physically possible. That's the domain of science. But logical possibility is simply defined as what can be coherently understood, i.e. without implicit self-contradiction, so I'm not sure how your objection could possibly work here. Unless, perhaps, you meant to express skepticism that philosophers really understand the terms they claim to understand? (If it turns out that all our claims are really based on misunderstandings, then they wouldn't even establish logical possibility. But that's precisely because we -- like Eliezer's imagined nutcase philosopher who doesn't understand that hands are logically reducible to fingers etc. -- would be lacking the prerequisite understanding to justify our conclusions.)

Dan - I don't know what "emergent property" or "complex system" are supposed to mean, but Unknown got "bridging law" just right. Granted, it's one thing to assert there's a bridging law, and another to actually provide one. Eliezer grants the same point with regards to reductions. The difference between our views is that he thinks the reduction is logically necessary; that there is no sense to be made of the idea of a 'zombie' world physically identical to ours but lacking consciousness. I think that's plainly false. There's nothing incoherent about the idea of zombies. So the admitted link between the physical and phenomenal facts is merely contingent (taking the form of a natural law, rather than a reductive analysis).

P.S. You've been reading too many straw men. I certainly don't think "there's a soul floating around communing with the brain". Follow the links in my earlier comment.

Comment by Richard4 on Hand vs. Fingers · 2008-03-30T05:16:36.000Z · LW · GW

Eliezer - "Your inability to imagine something is just a computational fact about what your brain can or can't imagine."

Who ever suggested otherwise? Again, see the 'epistemology' section of my 'Arguing with Eliezer: Part I'. What I take as evidence is not "I have an intuition that P", but simply P itself. You might undermine my argument from P to Q by showing some flaw in the thought process that led me to the premise P, but I don't see that you've done this yet (as opposed to merely explaining why you might expect me to have such a belief). Merely pointing out that thoughts occur in my head certainly isn't telling me anything I didn't already know!

"And you can imagine philosophers who criticize 'eliminative fingerists'..."

Of course, it's logically impossible to have the fingers and all without a hand. All that we mean by 'hand' is the collection of fingers + palm, etc. There's no sense to be made of the idea of the finger world which lacks the appropriate bridging laws to give rise to hands. Merely understanding the terms suffices to make this clear.

On the other hand, (we have every reason to believe that) it's logically possible to have neurons fire without this being accompanied by any phenomenal consciousness. We certainly don't just mean a certain kind of physical or behavioural/functional role by our term 'consciousness'. And we can easily make sense of how the world would be different if it lacked the natural laws that give rise to consciousness. Conceptually competent philosophers can understand the so-called "zombie world" just fine.

So there's simply no analogy here. Needless to say, the mere fact that you can "imagine" stupid philosophers is not any sort of counterargument to the actual philosophers you pretend to respond to. I mean, I can imagine a world where you actually engage with opposing arguments rather than merely mocking them; alas, my imagining does not make it so...

Comment by Richard4 on New York OB Meetup (ad-hoc) on Monday, Mar 24, @6pm · 2008-03-25T21:09:37.000Z · LW · GW

Hi Eliezer - it was great meeting you on Sunday. I've tried to summarize and clarify some of our main philosophical disagreements, here.

[I originally posted this to a thread that has since been deleted. So I thought I should re-post, in case you missed it.]

Comment by Richard4 on The Quotation is not the Referent · 2008-03-13T15:02:55.000Z · LW · GW

Yes, like John O, I think this post misdiagnoses the problem.

John and Mary have beliefs about the evening star, not 'the evening star'. Their beliefs are about the world, not about the words. Neither of them believes that 'the evening star' is the god Venus. Who ever thought that the god Venus was a string of three words!?

Further -- though more contentiously -- we might even deny that Mary has any beliefs about the evening star (that very thing, i.e. the planet). She takes the world to be a certain way, such that a god Venus appears in the evening sky, etc. But given that our term 'the evening star' actually denotes a planet, perhaps we misdescribe Mary's belief by employing this term. She might attempt to use the term herself in describing her belief, but this is because she doesn't really know what it means, so she doesn't realize that linguistic error is causing her to misdescribe her belief contents.

For further explanation, see: Belief Content and Linguistic Error.

Comment by Richard4 on A Priori · 2007-10-11T03:38:32.000Z · LW · GW

Nick T. - yes, I accept the causal closure of the physical. (And thus epiphenomenalism. I discuss the epistemic consequences in my post 'Why do you think you're conscious?')

On the broader issue - to expand on my response to James above - see my post on the explanatory power of dualism.

Comment by Richard4 on A Priori · 2007-10-11T03:18:20.000Z · LW · GW

Sorry, my second sentence to NH is unclear. The psychological fact could be taken as a kind of indirect evidence, as noted in my postscript. But it is not what I take my evidence to be, when I am reasoning according to a #1-style argument. We could say the evidence of my thought [vehicle] is not the evidence in my thought [content].

Comment by Richard4 on A Priori · 2007-10-11T03:10:20.000Z · LW · GW

g - there's no possible world that's physically identical to ours but where the Boeing's don't fly. There is a possible world that's physically identical to ours that lacks consciousness. That's the difference. It shows that physics suffices for flight but not fully-fledged mentality. (N.B. the interesting case here is not minds without brains, but brains without minds.)

Nick Hay - Thanks for bringing this back to the key issue. In fact I do not "consider having successfully determined a conclusion from pure thought evidence that that thought is correct". I take my evidence to be something beyond myself: whatever premises guided my reasoning, not the mere psychological fact of my concluding as I did. (This is why I brought up the content/vehicle distinction in my original comment.) Granted, reasoning presupposes that one's thought processes are reliable, and a subjectively convincing line of thought may be undermined by showing that the thinker was rationally incapacitated at the time (due to a deceptive drug, say). But presuppositions are not premises.

Compare: (1) P, therefore Q (2) If I were to think about it, I would conclude that Q. Therefore Q.

These are different arguments! If I come to believe Q via #2, my evidence is the (hypothetical) brain process you talk about. But in the first case, my evidence is simply P, and not any fact about me at all.

P.S. Nobody denies that a priori justifiable claims may also be justified empirically, say by the testimony of a reliable thinker, or by observing a reliable brain or other computational engine. But it's a different kind of justification. And of course the mere fact that there is a second argument for a conclusion does nothing to show that the first one was flawed.