Rationally speaking, is a presentation of New York City skeptics dedicated to promoting critical thinking, skeptical inquiry and science education. For more information, please visit us at NYC Skeptic's Doug. Welcome to, rationally speaking, the podcast, where we explore the borderlands between reason and nonsense, I am your host, Masimo on YouTube. And with me, as always, is my co-host, Julia Gillard. Julia, what are we going to talk about today?
Mazama today we've got a very meaty episode for our listeners. The topic is a whole cluster of related philosophical positions. So we've dubbed this episode ISM's episode.
And the the philosophical positions we're going to talk about include naturalism, scientism, dualism, supernaturalism and physicalism.
And I know that's kind of a thing.
And a couple more probably.
And the connection between all of these in these philosophical positions is that they all tackle the question of to what degree science can really explain all of the important and interesting questions about the world that we care about.
And so we're going to talk about question how science bears on questions of free will and ethics and aesthetics, because accepting a number of these philosophical positions, which which many people and many scientists do, means that we have to often give up the notion that we that there is an answer to many of the questions that we care about.
So we're going to talk about to what extent that's actually true.
Right. So it is in some sense about the relationship between science and science and philosophy at a very fundamental level. Was that a Freudian slip?
No, I'm telling your colleagues yes.
But at a very fundamental level, that is one of the things that that is that we're going to talk about. But also, these are very different. Some of the things we're going to talk about today are different or related and interdependent ways to think about the foundations of reality, where by that term, I don't mean what most people normally think about that is, you know, is the universe made of quarks or or strings at the bottom?
That is what most people normally think of by now. When I talk about when I talk to my mother and ask her, you know, what do you think of the foundation or the ideal if she goes for strings because she likes them?
Yeah, exactly how the strings vibrate. Yeah, OK.
So that is not it. We're not talking about it in that sense because clearly the answer to that kind of question, if in fact that question can be answered, that that the answer is clearly scientific, it's empirical know it's either that the world is either made of quarks at the bottom or it's made of strings or it's made of whatever else is going to be thinking about the next, for example, whatever it is. But it is an empirical question.
Whether it's answerable or not, of course, depends on the availability of the proper instruments or somebody's thinking about the property or brain power. Right. And all that sort of stuff. Yeah, but at bottom is empirical question, which means that it's really fundamentally scientific.
The isms that we're going to be talking about today, on the other hand, are really philosophical positions or metaphysical positions, really.
Now, I happen to believe and a lot of philosophers today do as well, that metaphysics cannot be done without physics.
There is no better metaphysics, better be informed by science. It also better be informed by epistemology. That is, when you're making a metaphysical claim, you should be able to answer the question, well, how do you know that that is the way what kind of argument that you're making? That that is the thing. But as we'll see, I think during our discussion, a lot of these things actually cannot be settled empirically. There can be. These are of course, it could be informed by the available science.
I mean, there is some science that can tell us especially fundamental physics, that can tell us a few things about these values isms, but really doesn't settle the matter. Any fact, in some sense, the answer to the questions you were asking earlier, such as, you know, free will and consciousness and all that sort of stuff?
Yeah, synesthetic and ethics and what is valuable inherently and what is the purpose of things?
And all of that stuff in part depends actually on your philosophical position, some of which may or may not be addressable by science in any way. So I don't know. Well, let's get started with one of these things.
So let me just make this clear. Get this clear, Masimo. So this episode is about why scientists should take philosophers more seriously, right? Is that I'm not getting that correctly.
I think the entire podcast is better, but I never signed anything to that effect. No, fortunately, you didn't say anything at all. In fact, when we say this thing.
OK, so let's take, for instance, with determinism, which is which is actually you didn't mention in the initial list, but it is one of the things that is really fundamental to this discussion.
So that determinism by determinism in philosophy, I'm talking about causal determinism.
There is the idea that that the fundamentals of physics determine everything else in the universe.
If the term determinism is true, you know, having this conversation we're having now today was in fact determined to happen at the beginning of the Big Bang, because if the laws of physics are actually deterministic, if everything had to happen exactly, has there been follow causal causality, determined way, one thing after another, then, you know, the fact that we're here tonight having this discussion rather than having a beer at the bar around the corner, was in fact determined from the beginning of the Big Bang.
How does quantum randomness factor into that?
Well, I don't think anyone denies that that's a real thing.
Yes or no? Yes or no? Yeah, that's right. I was surprised to when I did research for this episode. So as it turns out, the obvious answer as to let's go back for a second here, David. Determinism was the heyday of determinism in both physics and philosophy was during the 17th and 18th centuries. Newton comes to mind. So this is back when people that the top minds thought the universe could essentially be modeled as a bunch of billiard balls bumping into each other.
So if we knew the initial positions and and velocities of the billiard balls, we could calculate the entire path of the correct that was famously referred to as the collision deman after not named after lipless, because apparently was the mathematician, the French mathematician who made first is the sort of thought experiment. He said, well, if there were Deman powerful enough that he could actually calculate all of the movements of all of the atoms in the universe, that demon will be able to predict everything that has happened.
It will ever happen.
And the story now, as you correctly pointed out a minute ago, however, then came quantum theory. And the standard interpretation, or at least one of the standard interpretations of quantum mechanics, is that quantum mechanical events are referred to as, in fact, fundamentally random, not random in the sense that we don't have enough information to figure out how they work, but really, truly irreducibly random.
If that's not that we don't know what the answer to, you know, what the outcome of a certain process is. It's that there is no answer to what the outcome is. Correct.
So that fundamental if that fundamental indeterminism or that fundamental randomness is true, then determinism is wrong. End of story. Now you would think, OK, so matter settled. And here we have a perfect example of how science can actually resolve a philosophical question.
Right? I mean, that's so interesting. Yeah. Except that doesn't work and it doesn't work for the following reasons. First of all, I discovered by reading a really interesting article on causal determinism in the Stanford Encyclopedia philosophy just recently, we will we will put the link to the article on the on the website. But it was authored by Carl Hoefer.
And the article in question points out, first of all, that actually under certain conditions, even Newtonian mechanics is amenable to in deterministic answers, although you really have to look very hard for it. Now, don't ask me how that works. You have to read the leading my question.
How does that work go on? That's right. But apparently, as it turns out, even a classic physics physical theory such as Newtonian mechanics actually is open, does leave a little bit of an opening to determinism. But that's not what surprised me. What surprised me most is what came later in the article, which are two things. First of all, that the other major theory that replaced Newtonian mechanics, the general theory of relativity, also is amenable to indeterminism.
That is contrary to what I taught when I learned about general relativity in college.
I usually think of it as a deterministic, deterministic theory. And in fact, under most circumstances it is.
But there are certain situations in general relativity, for instance, the occurrence of so-called naked singularities. They're naked not because they don't need clothes, but because they don't appear inside a event horizon.
In other words, they're not black holes now naked. Nobody knows where the negative regularities is exist. But if they do exist, as it turns out, the solutions to the general relativity equations that describe naked singularities turn out to be deterministic.
OK, so now we got two physical theories that apparently are mechanistic, deterministic, but as it turns out, they may not be under unusual circumstances. But the real shock, I think, comes later that they are, as it turns out, a couple of interpretations of quantum mechanics that are perfectly deterministic. Now, I talked to a couple of physicists about this and said, well, wait a minute, I never heard of this thing or I thought that this was gone, that this was Einstein's dream and it was now possible and all that sort of stuff.
But as it turns out, Shankara, for instance, via a series of exchanges on Google Plus, confirmed to me that, yes, there are in fact, in deterministic interpretations of quantum mechanics.
OK, so what resolves? The question of whether the deterministic interpretations are right or the nondeterministic interpretation right, or does this just come down to differing ways of describing the same thing? Because, well, that's my intuition here.
Well, my understanding is that actually done is now possible. The two theories cannot refer to the same fundamental reality. I mean, the fundamental reality is that it is deterministic. You know, physical events either are deterministic, certainly, or not.
But the problem is that there are at least two interpretations of quantum mechanics, one being the classic Kopenhagen school, which is in deterministic, the other one that was proposed by David Bomb in 1952, which is in fact deterministic.
And the problem is that they are mathematically equivalent. They can explain exactly the same phenomena, which means that at least at the moment, nobody can figure out an empirical way to discriminate between the two.
Now, are you saying that all of the all of the material in the universe. Like, if we had two universes and they were identical in every physical detail down to the fermions and bosons, everything.
Right, but that it would be possible for one of them to for the for one interpretation to be right for one universe and the other interpretation to be right for the universe.
Oh, that I don't know. That's a good question. And I don't know that that would get us into sort of multiverse or multiple, multiple universes. That's a good question. I don't know whether that is because or not.
I'm only bringing up the two equivalent physically equivalent universes just to figure out if this is actually if the question you're asking about interpretation is really a question about about how the world is structured and how it works, or if it's just a question about how what the most natural way to explain it to ourselves is.
It is about it is about the first. It's about. OK, so that's right.
It's about physically identical universes could not have different interpretations, different correct interpretations associated with them.
Right. Not unless the laws of physics were different, by the way, remember. Right. Exactly. Than they are.
Well, they couldn't be made of the same exact constituents that behave in exactly the same way. And yet the laws are different meaning than in one case, you have a deterministic situation. The other one you have any deterministic one.
That's the part of the problem. The let's let's let's fix our ideas on one universe, because that's complicated enough.
It's just a manner of speaking right. Right now.
So so here's the question now that we got ourselves into is, first of all, that there are different theories that physicist physicists have proposed over the last several hundred years that can be that alternate between being deterministic or indeterminacy deterministic. Some of them are largely deterministic, but they could make room for some indeterminism. Some of them are fundamentally in deterministic, but we don't know which one is right, which makes the point that we really don't know whether the universe is deterministic or not because physics keeps changing its mind about if it is the very fact that we have two alternative and mathematically equivalent interpretations of the same empirical data in terms of quantum mechanics, one of which is deterministic.
And it's not, it seems to me tells you right there that the answer to that question right at the moment at least, is what the hell knows.
But there is a more disconcerting thing, which is one can say, well, but, you know, the next theory is going to settle it right. The next whatever. The next thing is going to come up and do the string theory, quantum leap theory, whatever you want to do it, it's going to settle it. But of course, one could then look at the history of physics and say, well, that's optimistic.
So far, we've kept alternating between, you know, deterministic and nondeterministic models of the universe. So who the heck is going to say that the next one is going to be the right one?
Well, let me just clarify here. I don't think the question we were discussing was ever is science going to eventually be able to explain everything? It's I thought the question was, are there some questions that that science could never are just unanswerable by science that have to be settled? No.
Using other systems of thinking that there could be one of them. And certainly determinism currently is one of them. That is, you hear a lot of talk in skeptic and in these circles these days about how, you know, the world is deterministic. Therefore, you don't have free will. Therefore, consciousness doesn't exist. You don't think about anything. You think you think about anything, but in fact, you can't.
And all that sort of stuff, um, that is all based in part at least. Actually, there are several assumptions that go into that kind of thing or claims.
But one of those claims is determinism, and we don't know whether it's true or not.
So it's my first point was simply to sort of, um, insight to consciousness about these kinds of things, because people might say that, oh, yeah, of course, that the universe is the music or if they heard about quantum mechanics and of course, it's in deterministic. And it turns out the answer is, of course, we don't know at the moment.
OK, so that's the first. The first is right now there is one that is very, very closely related to it, and that's reductionism.
Reductionism is a position that essentially says that, look, the way you want to understand how the universe works is to go to the smallest possible component, to the bottom level of reality.
So it's quarks all the way down or it's strings all the way down or whatever, whatever your preferred, hold all the way down, its elephants all the way down.
So we're just going to the people.
You talk about that. Yes. OK, now, nobody really thinks that the really the bottom of the reality is elephants.
But the point is. So the term sorry reductionism is this idea that, you know, it looks like there are complex beings out there, but ultimately they're made of all the same stuff. And therefore, if you want to understand reality at the basic level, you've got to go to the. To that bottom level, so, yes, we're here made of billions of of cells and molecules and so on, but they're all really quirks and really all you need is at the bottom, at least in principle, quantum mechanics.
And you're done and there's nothing else.
Yeah, I like that description.
I would add I would qualify it a little bit to say that the the objects and phenomena that we're used to talking about and studying are just a higher level of description.
So they don't they don't sort of exist separately from the quarks that make them up. Right. That's not saying they don't exist. It's just saying that it's you know, there are different levels of description that can all help us think about the same set of quarks right now.
That is true. If there's a couple of qualifiers there, it's true if in fact, there are no no, there's no such thing as a true emergent property. So an emergent property is a property that a system displays. There is not simply the sum or a simple combination of the properties, of the elements of that system. The classic example, there's many, actually, but the classic example is water. Once you have water, structure is H2O.
As to either atoms of hydrogen and oxygen combined in a certain way, the resultant of that combination has certain physical properties such as freezing at that particular temperature or having a density, a particular density at a particular temperature and so on and so forth that the individual components don't have.
Nor you can. Nor is it true that you can derive those properties of water by averaging out or simply somehow combining in some simple way the properties of the individual components. So that's an emergent property.
Does that violate the reductionist view of the world, as we described it? We don't know. And the question the answer to that question in the case of water, probably much better. Probably not. But there are more complex emergent properties. Obviously, some people think that consciousness is an emergent property, for instance. But let's stick to water for a minute because it's easier to understand.
So. Nobody doubts, I don't think at least that water does have emergent properties in that sense that I just described, OK?
I mean, it's it's true that the you know, the boiling point of water, it's not easily it's not fat at all. Derivable from the boiling point of hydrogen and oxygen taken separately or combined in a two to one ratio or something like that. It's in the property. It depends on the property of the actual molecule.
Right now, the question is, is that, however, an epistemic statement or an ontological statement, meaning is it that we cannot derive the properties of water from looking at hydrogen and oxygen because we don't have enough information, we can't figure it out, but it's there. Here comes back less demand that if this demon were to come into a laboratory of physics will say, oh, yeah, of course, you can derive the emergent properties of water. Here's how you do it.
So is it in that case, if we can't do it, it's just a matter of epistemic limit. Right now, at least there is no quantum mechanical theory of water, although interestingly, people have actually tried to come up with partial ones.
Or is it a logical claim, meaning that no, no, no, the the emergent properties of water are truly emergent. They cannot be reduced to the properties of the individual components.
So what do you mean by reducing a property, the new laws of physics that emerge that that come into effect only when certain materials or certain certain objects become complex enough to have certain properties?
Yeah, I know it sounds strange, but there is really nothing illogical, or particularly that since since water isn't actually an example of this.
You were saying water is probably not know what I was saying. It is. And it is an example of emergent property. The properties of water are measured not imagine properties.
I am not sure that it's the best example because as I said, people have actually tried to come up with a quantum mechanical model, which is a Pendry extremely complicated that can that can predict the emergent properties of water starting from the constituent atoms, from the quantum mechanical level.
Basically, if you're proposing a different kind of emergent property where a new level of physics suddenly takes effect, when you have like I supposing and I'm saying there you are, you are trying to describe.
Yes. People a postulated that that in fact the laws of physics are not there. No, there are fundamental laws of physics, but then there layer the laws of physics are layered and that laws of physics are actually descriptors of how matters, behaves and matter behaves in a certain way, at a fundamental level, and then behaves in different ways, at more complex levels.
I mean, those levels are not reducible that I mean, so we may not have any evidence to suggest that that is in fact the case in our universe. But even if it were the case, I don't see how that would be a violation of reductionism.
I mean, reductionism, as I thought we were describing it, was just that there are there may be different levels of description.
You know, you could describe a table or you could say it's a collection of pieces of wood, or you could say that the you know, it's a collection of atoms or, you know, quarks and so on and so forth. You can keep going down to more and more fundamental building blocks of of reality. But wait, let me finish.
Yeah, but but the the table and the wood and and everything are descriptions there that make it easier for our brains to understand what's going on.
They don't exist in a separate sense from the quirks that make them like that introduction. It says.
Right, right. And so but the merger doesn't work.
So even if there were like, say, you have, you know, five atoms and they obey certain laws of physics, but once you had a sixth atom, all of a sudden there's a new law of physics that causes them to behave in different ways. How does that violate the the claim of reductionism, that everything is really made up of quarks no matter how we prefer to describe things?
Well, because the criminal reductionism is not just that everything is made out of quirks that nobody disagrees about, that it's actually some philosophers do.
I'd be surprised. I have I have talked to very reputable philosophers who insist that the table exists.
It's not just that the table is made of quarks, that the table exists is a separate thing than the collection of quarks shaped like a table.
Yeah, I'm not sure that that well, I don't know who these philosophers are gone unmentioned. So but let me let me go back to the initial point, which was determinism. The claim of determinism is stronger than the one you're making. Determinism or reductionism. Sorry.
OK, this is what I that's what I said. It's like having a stew of isms that we're trying to treat all in one. If it's true.
It's not only that, but they're actually as I said, they're connected to the claim of reductionism is not just that everything is made of quarks, as I said, except for apparently those philosophers, friend of yours.
Pretty much everybody agrees.
It's that all you need to to know is. In order to understand how everything works is the fundamental level of physical causality, it emergent, just on the other hand. So here's another ism that we're going to be talking about today, the emergent ism. And if you subscribe to Emergent and you say, no, no, no, wait a minute, those emergent properties are not just emergent in the sense that we don't have enough information to reduce them to the basic properties of matter.
They're really not reducible, period.
They really are the manifestation of laws of physics that that that only work at a different level.
And and they are complementary and not contradictory to the fundamental laws, but they cannot be derived from the fundamental laws.
OK, so that I don't know, that seems like something that's at least possible, even if it doesn't necessarily seem to be true in our universe.
Well, how would you what would you say? That it's not true. Do you have any examples?
Anything you can now reduce right now at the basic laws of physics would seem like it could count as an example, right?
Like like water. At the moment, there's no there isn't quite a quantum mechanical explanation of the properties of water. Now, you could say, but that's going to come up next year. Fine. And so if that one comes out next year, that that turns out to be reducible.
An explanation of the laws. That's right. And example predicts a quantum mechanical. What you need is a quantum mechanical prediction. It is a bottom level prediction or explanation of the macroscopic level.
Qualities of water for those qualities would be things like how it flows or how the density of a particular temperature or the boiling point.
And you're saying that that we we couldn't make accurate predictions at the moment?
We can't. That's that's an empirical fact.
OK, so at the moment, since we can using only quantum mechanics, right?
Yes. So at the moment, therefore, our situation is compatible with both the idea of determinism, which says, you know, the Germans would say, well, just wait and see, and then eventually we'll be able to do it. And with the emergent issue says, no, it doesn't matter how long you're going to wait, you will not be able to do it because you actually do need to take into account laws that that that come into play at these higher level of complexity.
Now, here's the tricky part about this, that on the one hand, you can you can list all of the successes of determinism, which are many, especially in fundamental physics, of course, and can say, see, we've been successful so far.
So what makes you think that we're not going to eventually, or at least in principle, be able to explain the whole shebang just in terms of fundamental laws of physics? But the but the emergent is could point to exactly the same sequence and say, yeah, but you actually solved only the parts that are very simple. And in fact, we have theoretical reasons in principle reasons to think that you will not be able to calculate everything in the universe, the status of everything in the universe based on first principles.
You know, this is related to the incomplete incompleteness theorem. Just can't do it.
And so it seems like it's another of those situations where it almost doesn't matter what the political evidence is. You could look at the same exact phenomenon and say, yep, it's emergent because we haven't reduced it yet, or it's emergent because it's going to stay that way.
Well, those does seem like different predictions about what will turn out to have been the case. Those don't seem like different philosophical positions to me.
Their philosophical positions, insofar as they they postulated two different kinds of laws of physics underlying reality as well.
But as you were just saying, we we don't yet have enough information to know whether there are laws of physics that kick in as soon as there's like a certain a certain sufficiently complex collection of quarks.
But we don't know that they don't either. And we don't. But that's I mean, that's a question that science hasn't settled yet.
So it may never be able to because it might.
But that's that's not a philosophical position that I mean, are you saying that some people claim that science will never be able to answer the question of whether there are physical laws that kick in at sufficient levels of complexity?
People say that correct. And in fact, as I said, they probably are right, because incompleteness theorems do show that you will never be able, in fact, to not to create a model, a complete model of say something like the universe that is not going to make certain assumptions and certain is going to help himself itself to to things that cannot be actually be verified or computed within the model. So we know we're going to, as a matter of practicality, impossible.
As I said, as a matter of principle, we know we're not going to be able to ever produce the so-called theory of everything in the real sense of that word, in the sense of a theory that you can actually plug into a computer and say, yep, here it is. It's produced, it's predicting that Masimo and Drooler going to have this conversation right now as we speak. We're never going to be able to do that, probably as a matter of principle, but certainly as a matter of practice, which means that.
The emergent disposition is always a viable option or that they determine, depending how you want to look at it, the determines position is never fully confirmed.
Which is why I'm agnostic about that. You notice that so far we talked a lot about laws of nature. What do you think is a law of nature anyway? I'm curious because this debate there, too, about what is a law in nature. Clearly, it's not a law in the center.
But I think we agree that it is not a law in the sense that there was a law giver. Meaning a god, well, might these things in motion? My understanding is that we use the word laws of nature to describe relations that that have always held and that seem like they will continue to always hold universally under certain conditions.
Yeah, right now, the question, however, is from a again, from a fundamental ontological perspective.
So from a point of view of how things really are in the universe, one could ask the following question, well, is the universe the way it is because of the laws of nature?
Which is the way you usually love the nature of part of the way the universe is? Well, no, no, no. I mean the current structure of the universe, for instance, the fact that the universe is of a certain size and its and the matter behaves in a certain way and so on and so forth.
Is that the result of the laws of nature, which is the way usually you see it presented in at least elementary physics or the the other is the other way around, which is laws in nature that are simply descriptors of raw facts. The universe is the way the universe is, and we are able to to make certain generalizations, certain certain abstractions. And we call those the laws of nature, not the laws of nature the result of the way.
This is a question of do the laws of nature cause what happens or are the laws of nature just useful descriptions that help us understand predict what happened exactly? I don't know.
Those seem like different ways of describing the same thing.
And so I kind of want to say that, well, that causality is just a useful concept that helps us predict what happens. And I would sort of say the same thing, I think, for the laws of nature.
OK, sure. There's like actually that those two worlds you're describing, one in which the laws of nature cause what happens in one in which they're just descriptions of what happens there. I'm not sure that there's really a difference between those two worlds.
Well, plenty of philosophers and scientist do think that there is a difference. In fact, there is a fundamental difference there, because, again, the the idea is that in one case, the causality goes one way.
There are the laws and then things happen as a result of those laws.
Now, of course, that, you know, that leaves completely unanswered the question where the hell that the laws come from? But that's.
Yeah, and what would you say causes what happens in in the universe where the laws don't cause what happens?
I'm not sure what the what the question is. Well, we're we're comparing two hypothetical versions of how the universe might work, one in which the laws of nature caused what happens. Right.
And the second universe in which things happened, not because of the laws of nature. Right.
And we just use the laws as a useful description of what happens.
So in that second universe, I'm asking what causes what happens in the universe?
Oh, yeah, that's a good question. But that is the same. That's really not that different. This is asking the question, what causes the loss?
I mean, either way, my way of trying to suggest that these are just sort of different descriptions of what's going on there, not because of theological from an ideological perspective, is very different.
If you say that the laws of nature exist.
So that I think of whether they exist or not is just a question of what we want and how we want to define existing.
Well, that may be, but even however you define existence, those two situations are actually different, theologically, logically distinct.
It's either one in one it causes B in the other one, B causes A..
They are logically distinct. But but logic is just a set of concepts that we've come up with to help us describe things and and explain things. So. So the fact that they're different doesn't mean that the two universes are actually different. It just means that we're describing them differently now.
That's right. The universe is the two universes in question would behave exactly the same way. Absolutely. Yes. Which is behaving exactly the same way.
And yet you think that there could be a difference between them? Correct. Because the difference between them, it's not just how we're describing them.
That's right. It's the difference is what causes what. Which way the goes on into the area of causality goes. And by the way, since we're talking about causality, of course in all of this, we have helped ourselves to which most people would do in our place to the concept of causality. That one is another hornet's nest, you know.
Yes. Physicists and biologists, scientists in general talk about causality all the time. But as it turns out, we really don't seem to have a particularly good grasp of what we mean by causality. And in fact, at least according to one interpretation of quantum mechanics, it because the whole concept causality breaks down at the quantum level, that these things are happening without a cause, as counterintuitively that can be.
I mean, this is all a pretty hairy field.
My my working understanding of what's going on here is that the causality, when we see the causality breaks down in certain extreme conditions are certain, you know, extreme scales. It just means that this concept of causality that feels so intuitive to us doesn't really apply to what's going on at those low scales, which which is what suggests which is one of the reasons that I take the position that causality is just a concept that we use to describe things as opposed to some sort of right.
I might agree with you and but in fact, I put the laws of nature in the same category, which is why I mean, there is a difference between those two situations we're talking about earlier.
There is both laws in nature. I take the position that both laws of nature and causality are conceptual categories that human minds invent to help making sense or organize or whatever.
It is reality as we as we understand that is there is no such a thing out there as the laws of nature or causality and both.
I think I can help clarify that last point. When you say that there is no such a thing out there as the laws of nature or causality, you're saying that if.
The laws of nature, if there are two universes that were identical, except that the laws of nature existed out there in one universe and didn't in the other, they would still just be identical, which means that it's a meaningless distinction.
That's right now. But that does bring us to yet another ism, naturalism.
OK, this might have to be our last as a matter have to be, but but it is related to the other ones in the following sense. That is, you know, when when you ask what is out there, most of us certainly I assume both you and I answered that, well, whatever it's out there, it's physical and it's natural. And those are two, again, up to two additional ISM's physicalism. Everything else there is physical and and naturalism.
Everything out there is natural. There is there is no supernatural out there right now.
Those are also our positions that I think are eminently sensible, of course.
But they are they do run into trouble at some level. For instance, let's talk about physicalism first, actually.
So it depends on what one means by physical.
When you just introduce another ism. I said naturalism. I know the less I know, I'm trying to get my way around two instead of one. Thought I wouldn't notice. Yeah, you were paying attention tonight. Gun. OK, so physicalism is this idea that everything is made of matter or matter energy. We're not going to make that distinction at this point. The matter energy, we're talking about it as one thing.
It's that if there are two universes that are physically identical, then they are identical. Exactly. Because there is nothing else out there. There is no not no non-physical thing.
True. But then you have to explain the on the logical state as again, there is the status of the existence of other things that in some sense one can reasonably make an argument exist. And yet they're not physical, such as, of course, every single mathematical objects.
Those concepts, I think the things that we've defined, I don't I don't think that poses any kind of problem for them being these weird things that are in the universe but not made of matter of energy.
Well, it does, because in some sense, I don't want to go into the into the Platonist discussions of mathematics and which makes two of us. Yeah. But although we probably shouldn't ask a philosopher or a mathematician to come and talk about about it, but actually there is a good number of philosophers and interestingly mathematicians who actually would disagree with you or think that is that they would say that mathematics doesn't invent things. They discovered it, discovers it.
Yeah. Well, let's take that away, whoever that possibility, just for the sake of argument.
So if you are a if you take that position about mathematical objects, that is, you think that mathematicians really discovered things, then clearly those things are not.
Nobody is claiming that those things are physical theorems have some location in space time.
Although interestingly, when I was walking down here before in the podcast, I passed by what is soon going to be the new Museum of Mathematics, which is on Madison Square Park.
Oh, yeah, I'm really looking forward to that. Yes.
I want to I want to see the original number four, which I'm sure it's going to be or it's going to be a to use it.
So anyway. No, no, no mathematical validity certainly goes that way. Right.
But in some sense, they claim those kinds of objects are actually have some kind of existence, that it's not physical and yet it's not it's not arbitrary. It's not the stuff they just make up. I agree.
It's not arbitrary, conditional on a certain set of starting parameters and definitions. Right. But yes, anyway, so that's physicalism.
And then there is finally we go back to the one that that you wanted me to hold to, which was naturalism. Now, naturalism is this idea that the world is natural. There's no supernatural stuff. The physical laws of physics are natural and there is no miracles, nothing like that.
Now, the interesting distinction there is between naturalism as a methodological position and naturalism as a philosophical position. All right.
So methodological naturalism is a essentially epistemological position. It says, look, I'm a scientist. The way I understand the world, the way I work toward understanding world is by assuming that everything that I study has is the result of natural processes. I don't know whether there is a supernatural out there. It just doesn't enter into it. It doesn't help me understand how the world works. Therefore, I keep it out. So it's an a logical position. It doesn't make any claims about the existence or nonexistence of the supernatural, just as it doesn't it doesn't help.
A philosophical naturalist, of course, is somebody who goes a step beyond that and makes an ideological claim, a claim about existence, or in this particular case, a claim about nonexistence. That is a philosophical naturalism. But who says, you know, the supernatural just doesn't exist, period? That it's and it's important to understand a. That it is that those two positions are distinct, the the logical one and the philosophical one, because too often we hear these these idea that, well, if you're a scientist, you have to be an atheist, or if you're not an atheist and you are a scientist, then you see something wrong with your mind because clearly you're confused.
Well, you're not because you could be a methodological naturalist.
Sorry. For the purposes of this discussion, how are you defining supernatural?
Oh, let's see. I actually have a definition of the supernatural right here. This one is from a classic paper that I highly recommend on methodological naturalism and philosophical naturalism, clarifying the connection by Barbara Forest. It appeared in Phyll back in 2000. And Barbara gives a distinct definition of supernatural supernaturalism, by which I mean belief in a transcendent, non-natural dimension of reality inhabited by a transcendent, non-natural, did transcendent what transcend in space and time, presumably, and non-natural in what sense?
In the sense that the being in question is not bound by the laws of nature.
However, you want to think about the laws of nature and the reason that I think the concept of the supernatural is just just logically incoherent is that if there were something that were not bound by the laws of nature, I would interpret that as we are wrong about what the laws of nature are, not that there's something outside of the laws of nature.
Well, you know, on Mondays and Fridays, I think the same way I'm sympathetic.
I find this very difficult to think about. And I've I've sort of gone back and forth on what I think the concepts now during weekends are tend to be acknowledged.
But I'm more troubled.
So let me let me give you one way to think about it. So let's some philosophers have and physicists even have proposed the possibility, which is nothing other than a possibility, that reality, as we understand it, is actually a simulation in somebody else's computer.
Now, of course, that idea has been around for a long time. You know, George Berkeley thought of, you know, the idealist and impetuses, the interestingly and idealist philosopher. He was a contemporary Viom. He thought that that was true, except that there wasn't a computer simulation. It was the mind of God that brought up the whole thing.
Now, it certainly doesn't doesn't seem to be implying any logical contradiction, the idea that, yes, we are, in fact, the result of somebody else's computer program. Right.
Well, now what I'm saying is, if that is true, then what we think of as the laws of nature or reality, as we understanding all that in a very interesting sense, wouldn't really exist and there would be entirely arbitrary. And certainly there wouldn't be or very likely there wouldn't be the same laws of nature that are bounding the creator or the computer programmer.
So in that sense, I can actually make sense of the idea of a transcendental, transcendental being outside of space and time.
It's a big computer programmer out there who drew the, you know, the code for the program. And the code works in a completely different way that has absolutely nothing to do with the laws of nature as they are. Where the computer programmer lives, whatever the hell that is. Well, then I guess we'd have to start like space and time then would refer to space and time, like at one level, and then there would be outside outer space and time.
I'm not sure that I'd be willing to say we're wrong about the laws of nature existing, just that they don't they don't apply like that.
There's other things they don't apply to, you know. Yeah, exactly. And a very important sense, I think, in a very interesting sense. There wouldn't be laws of nature because this guy would just could presumably write the code in a completely different way and arbitrarily write the way we buy computer programs or video games. Right. I mean, would you would you think that Super Mario is bound by the laws of physics?
What do you mean?
That doesn't really make much sense. OK, it's bound by the arbitrary decisions of a computer programmer.
I just got a great idea. Can we do an episode on the simulation hypothesis? Sure.
Both both Boik. Whether there's any reason to believe it and what it would mean we were wrong about if it were true, if we can find somebody or some interesting angle on issue of why not?
Well, I think our our listeners deserve a prize if they managed to follow all of our conversation today.
But I hope they found it as interesting as I did nonetheless. Before we move on to the rationally speaking techs, I would like to remind all of our listeners about the upcoming fourth Northeast Conference on Science and Skepticism, which will be held on April 21st and 22nd here in Manhattan.
New York masonite will both be there recording an episode of the rationally speaking podcast, as well as a wonderful lineup of other speakers and panelists and performers. So we hope to see you there. Go to NextG. That's an easy ASPHAUG to buy tickets now before they sell out. And now we'll move on to the rationally speaking PEX. Welcome back. Every episode, Julie and I pick a couple of our favorite books, movies, websites or whatever tickles our rational fancy.
Let's start as you wrote with Julius Big.
Thanks, Masimo. My pick is a book called The Robots Rebellion Finding Meaning in the Age of Darwin.
This is by an author. I know a great title, right?
It's a book by an author who I cited a few episodes ago, actually, for a pick. His name is Keats Danovitch.
And the other book was called Rationality and the Reflective Mind. He's a great professor, writes a lot about rationality and and naturalism, which is why I'm bringing it up for this episode.
So the idea of the book, the robots are us are people. So it's about how we are.
It's expanding on the idea that we are just replicating machines for our genes. And what does that what does that knowledge really accepting that knowledge? What does that tell us about how we what our goals should be and how we should think about our lives and our place in the world, that sort of thing?
And and in particular, I liked it because it really gets you it really focuses your attention on questioning which of your goals are serving yourself and which of your goals are serving your genes, because it's easy to complete the two if you're not thinking consciously about it.
And it appealed to me because I take great pleasure in confounding my genes interests like I have a very antagonistic relationship with my genes.
So anything that does because, you know, there they're such users. Right.
But I know like I hate, for example, but once I can be a can no longer be of use to my genes by reproducing them, they no longer care about keeping me alive and healthy, you know.
Of course you do. You do realize that that attitude itself defeats the whole idea of of the of the extreme version, at least of the selfish gene model. What do you mean?
It's how how do you how do you get these abilities of trumping your genes?
How do I get what? My genes certainly didn't plan for me to have it. I got it sort of as a byproduct of other things that it was building into me for its own purposes, as I just I like I take pleasure in, you know.
So, for example, the existence of birth control gives me great delight because it's essentially like, you know, our genes are dangling the enjoyment of sex as this carrot in front of us. So that will run, you know, fast on the treadmill or whatever. That's equivalent to making babies, which is what our genes want us to do.
But we threw out our innovation and cleverness, have figured out a way to grab the carrot without actually having to run on the treadmill. I think that's delightful.
Anyway, I think it is true that the real question is, of course, how do we are we able to to do that? How about how did that happen? Yeah, because, you know, from the point of view of natural selection, that's a very inefficient way of doing things.
Why, why, why allow organisms to get that kind of independence from genes?
Well, I mean, genes aren't brilliant, you know. No, but natural selection usually gets things done pretty, pretty nicely. So it's it seems like you're pointing out a major failure of natural selection that allows all that kind of latitude for an organism to actually be that much free of its own genes. Yeah, I guess so.
Yeah. Yeah, OK. Well, as it turns out, my pick also is about Darwin, although from a very different perspective. This is a book by Elizabeth Sober, who is one of the most prominent philosophers of biology alive today. And his new book, published by Prometheus is called Did Darwin Wrote The Origin Backwords philosophical essays on Darwin's theory. And it is a collection of essays, but it's a particularly coherent collection of essays. And so all the essays actually are strung together with a logical, logical series.
And the title comes from the idea that there are two fundamental concepts that underlie Darwin's theory of natural selection and the idea of common descent. Now, in the book, Darwin talks about natural selection first and then he gets to come on this later. And one of the things that Stober argues is that from an evidential perspective, you should be doing exactly the other way around. You should establish first the reality of common descent, because then it's common descent as a background condition that allows you to test hypotheses about natural selection.
Does he is there any reason he's pointing this out other than just like he's interested in the logical structure of the Darwinian the original Darwinian theory and now how then it evolved later into the modern theory of evolution? So he starts out by pointing out by don't know, he's not saying that Darwin was wrong in doing what he did. He's just pointing out that from a from a logical evidentiary perspective, things are actually go the other way around. And if you put it if you if you think of it that way, it turns out that the two ideas are not two independent pillars of Darwin.
In theory, one is completely dependent on the other. One, it's not logically, but it's empirically dependent on the OK, that actually seems like a relatively meaningful point to make.
When you first described it, I thought he was basically saying, like there was equivalent saying to someone, you know, your essay would flow better if you just like the paragraph.
I read a book on that. If you're going to edit past writers like pick up cunt or something like he needed a good editor, your time could be used better. Anyway. Now, it's not just an attempt to edit, OK, to give editorial suggestions post-mortem.
It's good. All right. It's interesting, actually. All right. We're all out of time. So this concludes another episode of rationally speaking. Join us next time for more explorations on the borderlands between reason and nonsense.
The rationally speaking podcast is presented by New York City skeptics for program notes, links, and to get involved in an online conversation about this and other episodes, please visit rationally speaking podcast Dog. This podcast is produced by Benny Pollack and recorded in the heart of Greenwich Village, New York. Our theme, Truth by Todd Rundgren, is used by permission. Thank you for listening.