2021 in Review

Like most people (I assume) I can’t believe that 2021 is almost over. This year has really flown by and I am feeling very burnt out. I feel like I am getting less and less done and yet at the same time being more and more overwhelmed by what I do manage to get done.

Because of class cancelations (don’t get me started on how CUNY has handled the pandemic!) I was only able to teach 10 classes this year and I have to admit that it was nice not teaching as much as I usually do (I average around 13-14 a year and last year I did 17!!!). I am looking forward to 2022 and being able to teach the Neuroscience and Philosophy of Consciousness course with Tony Ro at the Graduate Center (in Spring in person!) and possibly even a class on David Chalmers’ book Reality+ (in Fall), though I am not sure if that will go through or not (I hope it does!)…but I have to get through my three classes in the short 6 week winter session first (starting in January)!

I also had a lot of fun with Consciousness Live! in season 4, doing 18 conversations! This was less than I planned and less than I did in 2020. Even so I did start to find it a bit overwhelming towards the end and I felt like I was underprepared for some of these conversations. I didn’t even get to schedule all of the people that agreed to come on and talk to me! If there is a season 5 I think I need to do fewer and prepare more. Aiming for one a week is just too much with my teaching load. We’ll see what I can do once I come back in January and start missing talking to cool people about consciousness 🙂

I wrote only one blog posts and tried another short story but my mostly I have been using Philosophy Sucks! (the name of my blog) for Consciousness Live! podcasting.

Part of the reason for the lite blogging is that I tried putting more time into my YouTube channel posting some videos of my recent attempts to re-learn how to skateboard, some ‘philosophical reactions‘ and other cringey things…it turns out this is a lot of work! I was experimenting with one or two of these kinds of videos per week in November and I think that if I do more of this kind of content in 2022 that I need to limit it and do fewer. I don’t think there is any way I could keep that up when my teaching schedule returns to ‘normal’.

I had two co-authored publications come out

I have another co-authored piece in the pipeline and I am hoping that makes it out someday. It’s funny because all of my recent publications have been co-authored and I actually heard through the grapevine that maybe I should publish more single authored stuff (philosophy is weird about giving credit in co-authoring situations) and I do have some recent talks that I gave which could be written up and some other projects as well but lately I have been finding it really hard to produce anything that I think is any good. Part of the reason for that is that I teach a lot, and had my first child in 2015 (the year of my last single authored piece and the year I got tenure coincidently). But the other part of the reason is a bit more complicated.

I used to jump at every publication opportunity I got because I needed to get tenure and then when I sort of thought I had done enough to get tenure I thought maybe someday I could get a job where I could teach less and have more time for all of these other projects I am constantly starting and getting overwhelmed by (like the New York Consciousness Collective and the Qualia Fest, the Online Consciousness Conference, and all of the other stuff I do as the Director of CONSC -the Center for the ONline Study of Consciousness 😉 but if I had my way I probably would have chosen not to publish them or to wait longer. Writing philosophy and enduring the publication process takes a level of self-confidence that is hard to sustain…but I did recently pull of my first feeble and smith grinds on a (small) quarter pipe and that helps a bit 🙂

See you in 2022!

Brown on Philosophy of Religion

I have been thinking about the philosophy of religion lately and I noticed that I don’t really have my posts on this organized. So here are some of the things I have written on this topic. I am pretty much a layman in this area and have not published any of this stuff except as blog posts. I might put things differently here and there but overall I think these still hold up!

The Problem of Evil

  • Freedom and Evil
    • Back in 2006 a student in a class where discussed the problem of evil asked me if I would participate in a debate they organized with John Rankin on the question “If God exists, then why is there evil?’ the linked post was my opening remarks and re-reading it I can see I was blissful unaware of Plantinga’s work…I was also still a graduate student. I have never seen what the flaw in this argument is supposed to be.
  • Transworld Depravity and the New Logical Problem of Evil
    • final thoughts on Plantinga’s Free Will defense
  • A Short Argument that there is no God
    • my attempt to side-step the Plantinga-style free will defense against the logical problem of evil
  • Transworld Saints
    • Plantinga’s defense seems to assume that God doesn’t have power to create creaturely essences that always freely choose the good (but why couldn’t He choose to actualize the essences whose ‘counter-factuals of freedom’ had no moral evil: transworld saints)

Omniscience

  • God Vs. The Delayed Choice Quantum Computer
    • I argue that if God is omniscient then there must be an aspect of physical reality that He doesn’t know. This post has generated a lot of controversy and accusations that I don’t understand quantum mechanics but the more I do understand it the more this argument seems to hold up!
  • What God Doesn’t Know
    • I try to generate a Liar’s Paradox type sentence about God’s knowledge (right before I found out someone else did this already)
  • The Logical Problem of Omniscience
    • Can God know what He will do and still be free?

Morality

  • The Immorality of God
    • God cannot have morally significant free will without failing to be the source of morality
  • Reason and the Nature of Obligation
    • an exploration of the question about obligation and motivating reasons in Modern Philosophy. This is where I discovered the distinction between justifying reasons and motivating reasons that helped shape the ideas in my dissertation (on metaethics)
  • Why Must We Worship God?
    • Is it rational for a perfect being to care whether I worship Them or not? I argue that it is not
  • Invoking God doesn’t save Descartes from Skepticism
    • Using Job as a comparison I argue that Descartes doesn’t have a good reason to think that Gos isn’t a deceiver

  • Self-Selecting for Rationality
    • Can we have been self-selecting for rationality this whole time?
  • The Immorality of God

    I have been talking about my views on religion and God lately because I was recently invited to be a guest on a couple of podcasts but I have written about these things extensively over the last 10 years or so here and I have been thinking about these issues for my entire life.

    One thing that has come up a few times is the immorality of God as traditionally portrayed. I have argued that we have a lot of reason to believe that God as traditionally described acts immorally and that is usually met with puzzlement. How could God act immorally?

    Let us take a concrete example. Let us think about the Fall. A very traditional story has it that the evils of this world, from pain and suffering right down to the just plain old day to day grind, from toruture and murder to natural disasters, all of it we are told, traces back to punishment for Original Sin. It was for this ‘crime’ that humans were expelled from the Garden of Eden. Was it moral for God to punish us for that? Only if He had some morally compelling reason to do so. In fact given that we are considering an omniscient being He would have known what Adam and Eve would do, right? So the very creation of life comes with it, the story goes, the risk of evil entering the world (through free will). So let us look at the problem of evil a bit.

    When I think about the problem of evil I think about why it is that a perfect being would allow suffering -of any kind. I pretty much think that the fact that when I stub my toe there is so much pain is already enough by itself to bring up this question but of course there is a lot more suffering in the universe than my clumsy throbbing toe. Theists typically say that evil is the result of free will, original sin if you trace it all the way back to the Garden of Eden. But why couldn’t God have made a world where Adam and Eve always freely chose to do what is right? (by the way I am not convinced it was wrong for them to eat the apple but let’s leave that aside) “Well, if that were the case they wouldn’t really be free” is what I usually hear back.

    But to be free requires only that I have options and can freely choose between them. Why would God allow lying, murder, theft ect. to be possible at all? Why isn’t the world set up so that murder is like jumping to the moon. We just can’t do it and we don’t think it matter much that we can’t do it. We can still be free even if we can’t jump to the moon so why couldn’t we be free and not able to murder? More to the point, why couldn’t humans have been made so that Original Sin was like jumping to the moon? The typical answer is that if we are to have really morally valuable free will -morally significant free will as some call it- then we must be able to choose to do evil. If I have three options, the line of thought goes, and two of them are moral and the their immoral, and if I can’t choose the immoral action then I am not free to choose that action and I am not to be praised for doing what is right. The moral value, so they say, of my choosing to do good depends on my being able to freely choose to evil.

    I find that whole idea rather strange but either way you feel about that today I started to wonder how serious are we supposed to take this link between free will and choosing wrongly? Does God have free will? It certainly seems part of the traditional theistic account that God is perfectly free and -freely- chose to create us. Ok, but does God have The Real Valuable Kind of Free Will? If not then why couldn’t we have been made to be like Him in that respect? If God has a kind of free will that allows him to be free but unable to be morally bad then, He should have made us that way. If He does have morally valuable free will, then He should be able to act immorally. Thus if God is truly free then He has to be able to act immorally.

    But if one is a Theist then one must accept (or should be inclined to accept) that morality is a function of God’s nature and so to be able to act immorally God would have to act contrary to His nature, which seems like a contradiction.

    Some might see this result as fine. God is supremely rational (one might think) and so cannot create contradictions or make a highest natural number, etc. That is not a limit on His power, so the line goes, but rather a result of His nature. So if God’s nature is moral perfection then how could He act contrary to it? He can be free but unable to act immorally for the same reason He can be all-powerful (and supremely rational) and not be able to create contradictions: He cannot act contrary to His nature.

    But then God doesn’t have the same kind of free will that we have. And His isn’t morally significant.

    In fact if you follow this all the way out our ability to act immorally is a very puzzling feature on their world view. God has given us free will and made us in such a way that we can choose to act immorally without acting contrary to our nature. We are told that this is more valuable than being made in such a way that we always freely choose the good.

    But if this is the case isn’t this a way in which we are morally superior to God? I can be confronted with something immoral (on their world view) and have as live possibilities choosing to do it or not to do it. But God when presented with such an opportunity does not have that option. Compare Adam and Eve in the Garden. If God made it so that Original Sin was contrary to their nature then they would not be free with respect to the choice they make not to do it. God, if His nature is the source of morality, when freely choosing to punish Adam and Eve is not free to withhold punishment (assuming that it was morally correct to punish Adam and Eve, something which has not been established).

    So we can do something that God cannot so, we can freely choose to do the moral thing because it is the moral thing. That is, we can choose to do the moral thing because we recognize that it is moral and that is what guides our action (on their world view where I have this kind of free will). God cannot do this on their world view. God cannot, on the basis of understanding the morality of the option, freely choose to do it. He must do it because He cannot act contrary to His nature. And this is not something that such a being is worthy of praise for doing.

    The conclusion of all of this is that if God exists and is the ultimate standard of morality then God can never live up to that standard -God cannot be a moral agent. It is impossible for God to truly act morally. This is not like the case of rationality where I can do something God can’t (be irrational). This is a case where what I can do is better than what God can do. According to them humans are capable of freely choosing to act in such a way as to be in accordance with God’s nature and that is something that their God cannot do (although an interesting vie would be one where God does will to be in accordance with His nature (which he could choose not to do) and thus wills consistency, etc…does anyone hold this view?).

    I can sum all of this up in the following argument:

    1. If God’s nature is the ultimate standard of morality then He will not have morally significant free will
    2. If God does not have morally significant free will then He cannot act morally
    3. If God’s nature is the ultimate standard of morality He cannot act morally (from 1 and 2)

    Suppose God can act immorally but chooses not to. That is morally superior to a God who can only act in accordance with His nature but this requires that either God act contrary to his nature (a contradiction) or that God is not the source of morality.

    Has anyone addressed these issues anywhere? I am familiar with the traditional debate about God’s freedom from Leibniz but don’t know of any discussions about God’s freedom being morally significant.

    The Argument for Simulation via Traditional A Posterori Arguments for God’s Existence

    I had a fun and interesting discussion with Canadian Catholic on his Global Skeptics podcast the other day. In the course of our discussion something clicked that has been loosely kicking around in the back of my mind. I have previously suggested that the argument from design is an argument for simulation and that the problem of evil is made much worse when thinking about why humans aren’t photosynthetic. I now think there is a general argument here.

    1. The traditional A Posteriori arguments (Cosmological, Teleological, etc) point, if one accepts their conclusions, to a creator but *not* to what kind of creator
    2. The traditional theistic God (all-powerful, all-knowing, and morally perfect) is one candidate for being the Creator
    3. The Simulators are another candidate
    4. The traditional arguments do not distinguish between (2) and (3)
    5. The problem of evil (evidential) suggests that 2 is not the creator [especially the version emphasizing photosynthesis]
    6. Therefore, the traditional arguments for God’s existence provide better support for the simulation hypothesis than they do for the traditional God of Theism

    What do you think? I could formalize it up a bit but I think I kind of like it!

    Cevin Soling Live!

    Join me for a discussion with Cevin Soling, a filmmaker, philosopher, musician, music producer, and artist, as we discuss his defense of solipsism -the metaphysical view that there is only one mind and that mind is Cevin Soling

    Season Four of Consciousness Live! Continues

    It has been a very busy spring and I have been having a great time discussing all things consciousness, having already done 13 discussions! Because of various reasons I will only be able to do two discussions a month over the summer. Below is the schedule through September.

    I also have people who have agreed to be guests but haven’t scheduled a date. Check back here for updates! Or follow me on twitter!

    I also have ideas for season five but let’s leave that for another day!