On the Off Chance you Missed It

David Chalmers and one of his graduate students have launched MindPapers: A Bibliography in the Philosophy of Mind and the Science of Consciousness. This is a truly amazing resource as it includes all kinds of on-line papers! It is also searchable and has many other ‘capabilities’…I just hope it doesn’t one day take over the internet and steal my credit card info!!! 🙂

I think by far the best part is Part 7: Philosophy of Cognitive Science, section 3: Philosophy of Neuroscience, sub-section f: Philosophy of Neuroscience, Misc. ;^)

Flamming LIPS!

So I just got back from the Long Island Philosophical Society meeting, where I presented Language, Thought, Logic, and Existence (the virtual version is here if you missed it, which considering that there was 10 people there, you probably did) it was early but I had a good time…in the afternoon I commented on a paper by Glan Statile called ‘Mind, Matter, and Religious Experience’ which argued that materialism about the mind was empirically false as shown by the near death experience of Pam Reynolds.

I argued that there was no evidence that she had had any experience during the one hour time that she was actually brainsead and that the details of her experience suggest that she had experience before and after the time she was literally dead. During the discussion I was asked if she was brain dead for the whole seven hours and had had some experience would I be convinced that materialism was false. I said that I thought I would and he said that I had conceeded too much.

So suppose that Pam had no electrical activity in her brain at time T1 and that later when she is awake she is able to recount details from T1 that she would only be able to know if she had experienced the events she described at T1. Glen was arguing that this would be empirical evidence that materialism was false, and I had been agreeing with this premise. But the suggestion was, why wouldn’t this instead be evidence that there was some other (physical) property of the brain, which we weren’t monitoring and which was responsible for generating experience. So, maybe electricity is just an accidental feature of the brain, and something else is responsible for generating experience (maybe spin, or whatever). So, if materialism is an empirical hypothesis, how could it ever be falsified?

I also had a very interesting discussion with Jonathan Adler about my claim that most moral truths are analytic, but I plan a seperate post for that.

Why Astrology Works

It seems to me that in broad outline there is some truth to astrology. Certainly not in the ability to predict the future or anything like that, but there seems to me to be something to the general personality traits that each sign of the zodiac is assigned. For instance, Libra’s are said to be indecisive and tend to get along with Sagittarius etc…I am usually mocked for saying things like this, but I think that, inductively, these generalizations hold up (minus the ceteris paribus clauses…). So then the question is why do they? It seems to me that one can give an argument along the following lines. We know that the moon affects the tides and other rhythmic properties of liquids here on Earth. We also know that the moon has a profound affect on the mood and general state of mind that people are in (hence our word ‘lunacy’). It is no surprise then that other heavenly bodies should have an affect on the general functional properties of the brain. The alignment of the stars can be seen as an indirect way of measuring the net gravitational effects of the nearby heavenly bodies on the functional properties of the brain, and so on general personality traits (mostly due to the chemistry of the brain.)

An Argument Against The Argument from Religious Experience

In the comments on an earlier post I voiced the beginnings of an argument against religious experience as a legitimate source of knowledge about God. The basic idea behind the argument is that the idea that God would selectively reveal Himself is incompatible with his being a perfectly moral Being. Here is how I put it then,

It seems to me that if there really were a God he would make it clearer…the Old testament seems to have it right…He is constantly involved in teh affairs of His people…True, he reveals himself only to a select few, but everyone can see that he is acting in the world (e.g. the plauges in Egypt are witnessed by many, many people). But this doesn’t happen any more…furthermore why would a God who loved me not reveal Himself to me? The existence of God is clearly one of the most important questions that Mankind has ever pondered…doesn’t it seem immoral of Him to reveal the Truth to you but not to me?

[I mean, s]uppose that I love you and that I know everything about you. Also suppose that one of your deepest desire is to know whether I am alive or not. You don’t think that that would give me some reason for letting you know that I am alive? Now imagine an infinitely loving being. What possible reason could that being have for staying hidden? I claim none. So if God selectively reveals himself then He acts immorally

Enigman recently pointed me to a recent post at Siris which is from the autobiography of a 19th Century Saint who seems to voice similar concerns as I do. Here is teh brief passage;

I often asked myself why God had preferences, why all souls did not receive an equal measure of grace. I was filled with wonder when I saw extraordinary favours showered on great sinners like St. Paul, St. Augustine, St. Mary Magdalen, and many others, whom He forced, so to speak, to receive His grace….

Our Lord has deigned to explain this mystery to me. He showed me the book of nature, and I understood that every flower created by Him is beautiful, that the brilliance of the rose and the whiteness of the lily do not lessen the perfume of the violet or the sweet simplicity of the daisy. I understood that if all the lowly flowers wished to be roses, nature would lose its springtide beauty, and the fields would no longer be enamelled with lovely hues. And so it is in the world of souls, Our Lord’s living garden. He has been pleased to create great Saints who may be compared to the lily and the rose, but He has also created lesser ones, who must be content to be daisies or simple violets flowering at His Feet, and whose mission it is to gladden His Divine Eyes when He deigns to look down on them. And the more gladly they do His Will the greater is their perfection.

I can’t seem to tell if he is here addressing the same issue as I am or not. The talk about the roses and daiseys makes me think that it has something to do with some of us not being as blessed as others, but then again maybe it is the case that His revealing Himself is a blessing and so he really is addressing the same issue as I am. At anyrate, his answer doesn’t seem that convincing. His argument seems to be that a world in which God revealed Himself to everyone would be a world that was in some sense not as good as a world where he only selectively revealed Himself…but how could that be?