Chomsky meets Dennett

Had an interesting thread on Twitter to day with Simon Jacobson. which ended with this exchange:

Don’t often read Chomsky since I’m never quite sure of his agenda anymore, but given the good-faith recommendation I dived straight into this one. Very interesting. Below my gutting / summarising Chomsky’s words with my annotation – check / indented.

Chomsky says …

Thought & language are creative processes.

Although remembered as a philosopher, Descartes was primarily a scientist working in the “mechanical” Galilean orthodoxy of his day.

“But [Descartes] discovered phenomena that appeared to escape the reach of mechanical science. Primary among them, for Descartes, was the creative aspect of language use, a capacity unique to humans that cannot be duplicated by machines and does not exist among animals, which in fact were a variety of machines, in his conception.”

“Appeared” to escape mechanical science. Sure. Probably true then but not now – the idea of a “machine” moving, transforming, copying and creating stuff is much more generic than a literally “mechanical” device. Universal Turing Machine, Universal Constructor, etc. Use of language is manipulation of information, information which may be physically / mechanically embodied (in fact must be possible to be so) but which is independent of that embodiment. The idea of a “machine” has evolved since Galileo and Descartes even if the mechanical machine meme lingers in our minds.

Descartes invented res-cogitansalongsideres-extensa.

Descartes, and Newton after him, had difficulty reconciling the “occult” interaction between these two and indeed between different res-extensa “at a distance”.

Contrary to popular conception of the ghost in the machine, it was res-extensa that Newton exorcised as unintelligible. Locke and Hume agreed.

The fundamentals of nature remained in obscurity – an absurdity conveniently ignored by Newtonian mechanics. “The goals of scientific inquiry were implicitly restricted: from the kind of conceivability that was a criterion for true understanding in early modern science from Galileo through Newton and beyond.”

(aka “Galileo’s Error” – in fact in the 21st C many a new pan-psychist might say the res-cogitans IS the more fundamental reality.)

“[Locke] wrote that just as God added to matter such inconceivable properties as gravitational attraction, he might also have “superadded” to matter the capacity of thought.” Until the late 20th C “decade of the brain” the absurdities remained ignored by all but historians.

[Physics > Chemistry > DNA > Evolution]

‘The “new mysterianism” [of Owen Flanagan]  is compared today with the “old mysterianism,” Cartesian dualism, its fate typically misunderstood. To repeat, Cartesian dualism was a perfectly respectable scientific doctrine, disproven by Newton, who exorcised the machine, leaving the ghost intact, contrary to what is commonly believed. The “new mysterianism,” I believe, is misnamed. It should be called “truism”’ Most of science continues to ignore this reality.
Sorta … (except “machine” has evolved, see above.)

Deutsch as an example of modern science still seeing only limitless progress continuing its current trajectory (ignoring reality).

Ha. Deutsch is of course one of those pushing the idea of a machine back to its information-theoretic universal-constructor fundamentals.

Honesty should lead us to concede.

My position (and Dennett’s) is that this whole mind-body dichotomy – (and the ongoing ignorance that it’s the body, the physical/material aspect, that is the least intelligible) – is best resolved by recognising their common foundation in information and computation. Persisting with “we have made no progress resolving this mystery” is to cling to outdated conceptions of science predating its new epistemological ontology. “It’s all still a mystery” isn’t much of a metaphysics, or indeed much of a critique of anyone else’s 🙂

Good read. Chomsky is clear in his thinking and writing. I just think Dennett, Deutsch and many more (EES / IIT) are much more advanced than Chomsky’s considerations here.

“TERF War” Culmination?

Reaction to the recent bullying of philosopher Kathleen Stock at Sussex Uni has maybe brought this awful “war” to a head? A “TERF War” as a symptom of wider culture wars, cancel culture and woke identity politics in general.

As someone with no direct skin in the games of Feminism and LGBplus rights it has always been a question of would-be rational (progressive) discourse being disfigured by ideology vs freedom of expression as a human right (for short) and the fact that what we (really) mean by free speech is incredibly complex and problematic. (How long have you got? – no amount of “rules” can avoid being gamed by those acting in bad faith, so good faith respect for the point of having rules is infinitely more important than the objective detail of any rules.)

In the “TERF War” my instinct is and always has been to defend the women (and lesbians and gays and minors) on the receiving end of the ideological bigotry, the lack of care and the downright targeted threats and violence. (Ref – dozens of my posts here and hundreds if not thousands on social media). The woke word-salad beyond women and LGB has become convenient cover – in  many cases probably ignorant cover – for misunderstanding the care and good faith aspect of freedoms. Simply adding the crass “be nice” rule cannot fix this.)

Several things happened in the last two days whilst the Sussex Uni management and the UCU traded public statements “condemning recent events” (a euphemism for  each side’s take on the bullying of Kathleen Stock).

One, a statement of solidarity from philosophy academia in support for the defence of basic freedoms, independent of any specifics of Stock’s beliefs or statements or even the topic in contention – “Trans”. (The original list here.) Significant not for the numbers – though it is now growing fast – but for the sheer range of philosophical and political positions of the many signatories.

Two, a piece by Matthew d’Ancona in Tortoise, being quoted by many:

“Why do all conversations always end up being about trans?”

“If you think this [TERF War] is being fought on a level-playing field, you haven’t been paying attention.”

“The truth is the trans debate is unavoidable because it is really a crossroads, and one that leads in all directions in our culture: to freedom, censorship, identity, truth, scientific reality and Orwell’s “secret doctrine”.

And more generally:

“Defeating this cult is the intellectual and political calling of our age.”
– Denis Kavanagh

“The ‘TERF wars’ are only marginally about trans issues.”
– Mark Hammond

Trans-gender rights being “used as an excuse” in a Letter to The Times from the “trans community”. Something has changed with wider recognition of what this “war” is really about, with what is at stake. In my own recurring words:

“What passes for rational public discourse,
our very rationality as individuals, is at stake.”

—– —–

[Hat tips to many feminist, gay/lesbian and trans friends on social media. @Katoi @Jebadoo2 and many more. And acknowledgement to @Glinner who took the first hit in the early days of this “war”.]

And hot off the press – maybe Stonewall’s disgraceful role in this whole debacle is about to become clear:

Matthew Segall

Matthew Segall (Footnotes2Plato) is a fellow traveller with whom I’ve crossed social-media tracks over several years and he’s not one of those respondents to Philip Goff in this month’s JCS Panpsychism Special, where I’ve been collecting copies of all the freely available pre-print articles.

An intriguing few are not available, below, but I thought I’d use the opportunity to pin down a touch point with Segall since one of the respondents is Christof Koch.

Christoph Koch comes out as a panpsychist? (2012)

That JCS Special?

Goff’s original outline is here.

The Oct 21 JCS Vol28 (9-10) is now here.

Missing Goff Links include:

Christof Koch – ‘Reflections of a Natural Scientist on Panpsychism’

Keith Frankish – ‘Galileo’s Real Problem’

Alyssa Ney – ‘Panpsychism and the Limits of Physical Science’

Joanna Leidenhag – ‘Why a Panpsychist Should Adopt Theism’

Sarah Lane Ritchie – ‘Panpsychism,  Flourishing and Psychedelics’

All the others appear to be available as preprints or blogs.


Quantum Theory is not Up to the Job

One of many interviews with Chiara Marletto in connection with her book on Constructor Theory (“The Science of Can and Can’t” which I started but didn’t finish yet), this one by Sean Carroll, who I consider to be one of the more grounded theoretical physicists and science communicators.

Particularly interesting because as well as (obviously) trying to get to details of Constructor Theory and Marletto’s Counterfactual take on fundamental physics, he chooses to start from the angle of why would a young physicist embark on a new topic that overturns the whole of the most widely accepted aspects of modern physics? Isn’t that over-ambitious? Surely most critics and interlocutors must come at her with questions of – Where’s the problem? If it ain’t broke what are you trying to fix? – rather than taking any details of her (and Deutsch’s) alternative theory seriously.

Unabashed, Marletto is pretty clear – in paraphrase:

It will prove to be the case that “Quantum Theory is not up to the job” of describing all of nature.

As conceived by its originators “Quantum Theory was only ever a work in progress” never intended to describe everything.

Information-theoretic aspects of Quantum Theory will turn out to be fundamentally true

Philosophically, I’m already wedded to information-theoretic fundamentals, so I’m obviously willing her every success.

As someone old enough to be her granddad, I’m also glad such a young researcher has taken up the challenge.

[Beyond that it’s a very good interview by Carroll. Marletto responds to most of them with yes, that’s a good / fair / relevant question. Could learn a fair bit about Constructor Theory from the interview.]

Misogyny 0.5

Misogyny is actually the title of my latest long-read draft of #GoodFences / #SomethingRottenInTheStateOfPolitics prompted specifically by the recent Afghan / Taliban debacle after a long series of “TERF War” examples.

This isn’t it.

Today’s prompting is the sentencing of Sarah Everard’s killer. Particularly serious from the point of view that if a woman, anyone, can’t trust a genuinely identifiable policeman in an everyday context who can we/she trust. The police and policemen have a lot to answer for here and quite rightly Cressida Dick is being challenged on this.

And it is the trust aspect that is the important feature. Several takes on the “blamelessness” or otherwise of the victim (in the sentencing statement) and on precautions women can and should take to reduce risk and avoid becoming victims. But the focus must be on the males that represent the potential threat – and social / institutional arrangements to minimise this perceived threat, to increase the trust – not on the actions of females (and minors)  as victims – aka “victim blaming”.

This has come up several times previously in the TERF War context, with many on the Self-ID (M>F) Trans Ideology activist side of that war, holding that women (and gays and minors) resisting the access of such “Trans” are somehow tarring all Trans with the threat of that ideology and the threat of violence. The fact is most violent attacks on females come from males, even if the number of actual offenders is statistically small amongst men and genuine (more than Self-ID) trans, and that young males are in fact more likely to experience direct physical violent attacks.

It’s a threat that females feel when exposed to males in confining / controlling contexts and it is for males to reduce any perceived as well as any actual threat. Those that scientistically quote the stats of how few males / trans are in fact a threat and that females should somehow “get over it”, completely miss the point. We males (cis or trans) need to care about how females feel.

[Hat tip to Jess Phillips for reminding us all.]


Tom Chivers take here. [Hat tip Timandra Harkness.]

[And a great tweet I’ve mislaid … along the lines that setting limits along the lines of a group identity is not the same as giving a job rejection to each member of the group. Banning all men from female spaces is not condemning every member of the group “men”. #GoodFences.]


Welcome Back to the Fray, Alice

Yesterday, Alice Dreger who (literally) wrote the book on “gender” issues, took a break from her local journalism-publishing day-job to post a thread. Earlier, I’d tagged her into a thread where Helen Joyce had quoted her in her own article. More on that later, but first Alice’s thread:

True to form, Alice’s “hopeful” focus is on care & respect for the individual and on therapeutic support & interventions for them. Would that more people approached the topic this way. However, in terms of the current “TERF Wars” there are some additional points to note, which are also addressed thoroughly in her book.

Firstly the topic here is autogynephilia but not necessarily other dysphoria or intersex conditions. Secondly, and more important here, is the politics. In her book, the bad actors are involved in personally motivated actions against the academic careers (and worse) of other individuals and institutions.

In terms of her thread, Self-ID is indeed the best starting point for all issues of identity politics, so we “honour everyone’s gender self-identification“. But the key is in the final tweet “consensual” and “at peace“. Definitely not at war.

It is absolutely central that the original “Self-ID” basis, and responses to it, are genuine, not deluded and in good faith. Hence Alice’s focus, and that of any competent GIDS clinic, on the well-being of the individual. However, once those individual freedoms and needs are cast as a “rights” in a public social context, beyond the privacy of consensual sex (#TooMuchInformation) the uglier ideological and opportunist motivations arise in the  war-like politics of identity.

The therapeutic, individual-care aspects absolutely must be considered distinct from the public politics, and these political aspects then need to recognise more issues. We may not be able to “choose what turns us on” – but that does evolve and develop with exposure and experience. The private-public balance must consider appropriateness and safeguarding in what could and should be considered consensual, the rights and well-being of others beyond the individual subject. Where rights conflict, every bit as much care is needed to resolve.


Relevant reading:

    • Book – Galileo’s Middle Finger – Alice Dreger
    • Book – Trans, Where Ideology Meets Reality – Helen Joyce
    • Article – The Truth about Autogynephilia – Helen Joyce
    • Book – The Man Who Would Be Queen – Michael Bailey


Good Faith vs Bad Faith?

Strawson’s Silliness

Confused myself a couple of times over Galen Strawson, but had pigeon-holed him as one of the bad guys, contrarian for the sake of it, even though he takes an enlightened view on panpsyschic possibilities which I’d failed to notice for a while. One of the “random bookmarks” I’d left dangling recently was to his “Consciousness Deniers”.

I see now why I had discarded Strawson – I’d considered his consciousness deniers take on Dan Dennett back here in real-time in 2018.

The Denial of Dennett’s Consciousness
Dishonest disagreement – Galen Strawman.

Looking at it now with a potentially panpsychic perspective, as I’ve pointed out to many a panpsychist, Dennett is in fact a pan-proto-psychist anyway.

So the bookmark moves on to Strawson giving the (also 2018) Isiah Berlin lecture at Wolfson College, after his “Silliness” essay (hat tip Mark Hammond – that “Great Silliness” is the NY Review piece I’d bookmarked above) – he’s a perpetual provocation – says Wolfson’s Hermione Lee …

One Hundred Years of Consciousness
– A Long Training in Absurdity

And yes … it is the same agenda – the deniers.
The deniers deny that they are deniers – and Dennett is one of his targets.

All dots joined-up now!

[Schopenhauer and Wm James come out on top, which is good. Denial of consciousness is absurd – obviously, trivially – but rather than be a pompous smart-arse, name-dropping his opinions of everyone else, Strawson really needs to engage in good faith dialogue with the living.]

Bogdanov – Catching-Up with Paul Mason

Mentioned in the recent Bogdanov post having missed the references in Paul Mason’s PostCapitalism, which was a little embarrassing given how thoroughly and positively I’d read and reviewed it.

So, this afternoon, I re-read all the Bogdanov references in PostCapitalism.

Strangely I did recognise all of it. The thought experiment of the “Martian” Marxism in Bogdanov’s Red Star where real-time (& perfect) information are brought to the project is pretty central, as is his divergence from Lenin. I even mentioned the perfect-real-time information fallacy in one of my reviews, but then there is a great deal of Marxist history in Mason’s book, which wasn’t my main focus.

What I missed the significance of was Bogdanov as the first “systems thinker”. And I missed the fixed-objective (top-down) vs evolving-relational (peer-to-peer) model aspect of the Lenin-Bogdanov disagreement, even though I also picked-up on the move away from objective-materialism in my reviews. Funny how the mind works.

It wasn’t until I saw the fundamental-physical / metaphysical aspect of the relational-evolution model in Rovelli’s Helgoland, that I made the connection with Bodganov by name. When an expressly Marxist economics journalist writes about the history of Marxism under Lenin – whatever – but when a public-intellectual fundamental-physicist does so – the cognitive dissonance smacks you between the eyes.  Again, as I said in both reviews, so much of the same material I’d already come to from first principles synthesis of other sources. Nevertheless, intriguing.