Monday, January 29, 2007

The Concept of Mind and the Infinite Regression

In The Concept of Mind, Gilbert Ryle admits to having been taken in by the body-mind dualism which permeates Western philosophy, and claims that the idea of Mind as an independent entity, inhabiting and governing the body, should be rejected as a redundant piece of literalism carried over from the era before the biological sciences became established. The proper function of Mind-body language, he suggests, is to describe how higher organisms such as humans demonstrate resourcefulness, strategy, the ability to abstract and hypothesize and so on from the evidences of their behaviour.

He attacks the idea of 17th and 18th century thinkers (such as Descartes and La Mettrie) that nature is a complex machine, and that human nature is a smaller machine with a "ghost" in it to account for intelligence, spontaneity and other such human qualities. While mental vocabulary plays an important role in describing and explaining human behavior, neither are humans analogous to machines nor do philosophers need a "hidden" principle to explain their super-mechanical capacities.

Ryle asserted that the workings of the mind are not distinct from the actions of the body. They are one and the same. Mental vocabulary is, he insists, merely a different manner of describing action. He also claimed that the nature of a person's motives are defined by that person's dispositions to act in certain situations. There are no overt feelings, pains, or twinges of vanity. There is instead a set of actions and feelings that are subsumed under a general behavior-trend or propensity to act, which we term "vanity."

Novelists, historians and journalists, Ryle points out, have no trouble in ascribing motives, moral values and individuality to people's actions. It is only when philosophers try to attribute these qualities to a separate realm of mind or soul that the problem arises. Ryle also created the classic argument against cognitivist theories of explanation, Ryle's Regress.

This argument concludes that such theories are essentially meaningless as they do not explain what they purport to explain. Ryle was concerned with what he called the intellectualist legend (also known as the "dogma of the ghost in the machine," the "Two-Lives Legend," the "Two-Worlds Story," or the "Double-Life Legend") which requires intelligent acts to be the product of the conscious application of mental rules.

A fine summation of the position which Ryle is combating is the famous statement by Emerson that, "The ancestor of every action is a thought." In sharp contrast to such assertions, which rule out any other possible parentage to actions by the use of the word "every," Ryle argued that the intellectualist legend results in an infinite regress of thought:
According to the legend, whenever an agent does anything intelligently, his act is preceded and steered by another internal act of considering a regulative proposition appropriate to his practical problem. [...] Must we then say that for the hero's reflections how to act to be intelligent he must first reflect how best to reflect how to act? The endlessness of this implied regress shows that the application of the criterion of appropriateness does not entail the occurrence of a process of considering this criterion.
The crucial objection to the intellectualist legend is this. The consideration of propositions is itself an operation the execution of which can be more or less intelligent, less or more stupid. But if, for any operation to be intelligently executed, a prior theoretical operation had first to be performed and performed intelligently, it would be a logical impossibility for anyone ever to break into the circle.

Variants of Ryle's regress are commonly aimed at cognitivist theories. For instance, in order to explain the behavior of rats, Edward Tolman suggested that the rats were constructing a "cognitive map" that helped them locate reinforcers, and he used intentional terms (e.g., expectancies, purposes, meanings) to describe their behavior. This led to a famous attack on Tolman's work by Guthrie who pointed out that if one was implying that every action must be preceded by a cognitive 'action' (a 'thought' or 'schema' or 'script' or whatever), then what 'causes' this act? Clearly it must be preceded by another cognitive action, which must in turn be preceded by another and so on, in an infinite regress.

As a further example, we may take note of the following statement from The Concept of Mind:

"The main object of this chapter is to show that there are many activities which directly display qualities of mind, yet are neither themselves intellectual operations nor yet effects of intellectual operations. Intelligent practice is not a step-child of theory. On the contrary theorizing is one practice amongst others and is itself intelligently or stupidly conducted."

In light of Ryle's critique, we may translate the statement by Emerson (still very much in common currency) into, "The ancestor of every action is an action." (This is so, since Ryle notes that, "theorizing is one practice amongst others.") With some verbal substitution, we may translate the Emerson quote further into, "The ancestor of every behavior is a behavior," (the latter of which, according to the intellectualist legend, would require yet another behavior to preface it as its ancestor, and we have entered an infinite regress).

Ryle's regress is a critique of cognitivism arising from the Behaviorist tradition. Near the end of The Concept of Mind, Ryle states

The Behaviorists’ methodological program has been of revolutionary importance to the program of psychology. But more, it has been one of the main sources of the philosophical suspicion that the two-worlds story is a myth.

Ryle's brand of logical behaviorism is not to be confused with the radical behaviorism of B.F. Skinner, or the methodological behaviorism of John B. Watson. Alex Byrne noted that "Ryle was indeed, as he reportedly said, 'only one arm and one leg a behaviorist'."

Cognitive scientists have Ryle's regress as a potential problem with their theories. A desideratum for those is a principled account of how the (potentially) infinite regress that emerges can be stopped.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Richard Wagner: Revolution in Music

Why is Wagner's significance as a composer so unique? Wagner is the creator of a new art form, and the center of a new cult. The gigantic quality of his myth-making, and its function as a substitute religion, represented an entirely new artistic experience. There was a cult about his person, and the devotion to him was already impressive during his lifetime.

Nietzsche was the sharpest observer of Wagner. Nietzsche and Wagner represent a wave of late romantic irrationalism in Europe, from the lat 1870s onward. Nietzsche was intoxicated by Wagner. Nietzsche's greatest experience was a recovery, he says. Wagner was merely one of his sicknesses, we are told. When Nietzsche says that Wagner is harmful, but he adds that for others he is indispensable. Others may be able to get along without Wagner, but the philosopher is not free to do without him.

Nietzsche also realized that Wagner would seduce the Germans. I quote, "Above all: German youths understand him. The two words 'infinite' and 'meaning' were sufficient. They induced a state of unconquerable well-being among men." It was not with his music that Wagner conquered. It was with the idea. It was the enigmatic character of his art, his playing "hide-and-seek behind a hundred symbols", his polychromy of the ideal that leads and lures these youths to Wagner. It's "Wagner's genius for shaping clouds, his whirling, hurling and twirling through the air--He's everywhere and nowhere." These are the very same means by which "Hegel formerly seduced and lured them."

On one interpretation, this marks the beginning a catastrophe which ends with millions of corpses and the smoking ruins of German cities. There has never been a composer like Wagner, both unique and perhaps 'disastrous'. Historians of philosophy and translators who interpret Nietzsche positively, like the great Robert Solomon and Walter Kaufman, argue that the connection with Nazi Germany is moot. Nazis of course disagree.

I am listening now to "Music for the Sigfried Iddle" which Wagner's birthday present for his wife, Cosoma, in 1850. It's one of the finest expressions of love ever.

Interpreting Wagner positively in a political sense is difficult. Wagner wrote that one of his patrons has remained loyal to his interests. His way of repaying his patron was to suppress the story and write a very anti-Semitic pamphlet, "The Jews in Music". His anti-Semitism became a prominent feature of his worldview and later endeared his arts to Hitler and the Nazis. It belongs to that current of economic anti-Semitism which was a reaction to the explosion of Jewish wealth in Europe. Nietzsche's views regarding Jews had more to do with the rise of Christian morality, and by extension, perhaps this is the best way to interpret Wagner's views too.

Wagner had originally been a radical and a liberal, favorable to Jewish emancipation, which he later repented.

"According to the present constitution of this world, the Jew in truth is already more than emancipated. He rules, and will rule so long as money remains the power before which all our doings and dealing lose their force. That the historical adversity of the Jews and the rapacious rawness of Christian-German potencies have brought this power within the hands of Israel's sons. This needs no argument of ours to prove. That the impossibility of carrying further any natural, any necessary and truly beauteous thing upon the basis of that stage, where at the evolution of our art has now arrived, and without a total alienation of that basis."

According to Wagner, the Jew (always in the abstract), corrupts art by turning it into a market for art commodities. The theme, repeated ad nauseam, reflects the romantic distaste for the fact that even the genius has to sell tickets. Wagner's radical anti-capitalism was directed towards the Jews and the key figure was Nathan Meyer Rothschild and his brothers. The Jew corrupted art and culture by money. The Jew corrupted pure speech. Jews are unable to speak German properly. The German verb for "mumble" is how it is defined in politically correct dictionaries. But the original sense meant 'to speak like a Jew', or to sound like Yiddish.

Wagner commented freely on the way the Jew corrupts German culture with his writings. The Jew speaks German as an alien as a "creaking, squeaking, buzzing snuffle. Add there too an employment of words in a sense quite foreign to our nation's tongue in an arbitrary twisting of the structure of our phrases, and this mode of speaking acquires at once the character of an entirely jumbled blabber." So Wagner hears Jewish talk and his attention is on how he is speaking, but not what is being said.

Wagner was one of the first prophets of modern antisemitism. His art rejected reason, free markets, private property, capitalism, commerce, and social mobility. And for all that, the Jews were emblematic. Wagner opposed the modern world by transforming the Romantic enthusiasms for simple peasants and rural life into the cult of the folk, the pure people. The folk were the pure source of culture. And Wagner indulged in this Romantic glorification of the folk, just as the Nazis later did. "The true poet... gains his stimulus from nothing but a faithful, loving contemplation of instinctive life of that life which only greets his sight among the folk." The Jew is not able to reach the essence of the folk, but it is debatable whether Wagner can reach this essence either.

What is the relation between great art and artists who are evil in the eyes of many historians? Some say Wagner was a monster of ingratitude, hypocrisy and deceit, but also a genius. His art expresses racist ideas and cannot be separated from it. Can we enjoy it? How far can Wagner be blamed for what others did with his art? How far can Nietzsche be blamed for what others did with his philosophy?

Wagner threw himself into the revolutions in the 1840s and supported the revolution against the King, his employer. After the revolutions failed, he fled to Switzerland, where he conceived his greatest idea: the new musical drama, the "complete work of art." It combined and transcended the forms of theatric and operatic art, and he used music to express dialogue. He invented what became to be known as the leitmotif, or "leading theme", which sets a musical theme to certain events in the opera. The result is that the audience understands the ideas and motivations when the characters are not singing or speaking. They walk up and down the stage, whilst the music is playing, and you understand what they are thinking. In other words he invented a myth, a whole mythology, drawing freely from Nordic and Greek myths.

The plot of The Ring of the Nibelung, begins with three Rhine maidens. A dwarf--a symbol of the Jew--tries to seduce the maidens until the Sun breaks through and displays the Rhine-gold in the water below. Whoever will renounce love can forge a ring from the gold, which confers power over the universe. The dwarf steals it, and this is representative of the capitalist Jews using gold to destroy German culture.

Wagner made The Ring of Nibelung into a stage festival for three straight days. It was understood that one would go to Concert house and undergo a kind of religious experience. The work itself goes on for 16 hours. It was composed of four acts. Wagner won the patronage of the Romantic King of Bavaria, who built Wagner his own temple. Pilgrims, later, were expected to travel there in a religious state of mind.

George Bernard Shaw, an enthusiastic Wagnerian, saw Wagner as a socialist and anti-capitalist. The founders of German democracy saw Wagner as the prophet of a kind of new German anti-capitalism, because the German lower classes had no art of their own. They said that the lower classes should listen to Wagner for its anti-capitalism.

Wagner is a religion. There are people who travel miles to hear Wagner's music today, wherever it is played. Wherever The Ring plays along any of the cities along the East Coast of the US, many travel to hear it. They hear it over and over, and when they come out of the opera house they feel purified in some way. This is a cultural artifact that has not been seen before. What Wagner represents is a crisis in religion caused by industrialization, the crisis caused by emergence of the mass society for the first time, the tremendous spread of alienation, and the incapacity of the churches to deal with this new kind of paganism.

It's from this point on that the search for a new religion becomes so intense. If you think about the flags, and the ceremony, and the potency of the Nazi image in the 1930s, what is it but a continuation of the Wagnerian cult of the superman. What Nazism represents is another search for a new religion which will replace failing religions of the past. All the things Wagner was doing with his revolution in music. The Nazis took the ideas of Wagner and Nietzsche and encapsulated them into a revisionist version of the German spirit, the new German, the new European, replacing revolutions in music and revolutions in the human spirit with a radical ideology of force, of paternalism, and of revolutions in science and ethnic purity.

The Case of Wagner troubled Nietzsche and should trouble us too. Wagner created a work so gigantic that it was intended to replace the old religions and purify us from the corruptions of industrial and commercial society. It is not impossible to separate Nazi ideology from the Wagnerian music, even though wherever one hears it, it is accompanied a cultic gathering. Modern Wagnerians are ostensibly not Nazis, at least not necessarily so. Perhaps in a thousand years if you hear Wagner alone you wouldn't conjure up the images on the Nazi party. But until then his work may still be very troublesome politically, but intriguingly so.

The Dualisms of Ghost in the Shell

In Ghost in the Shell, the word ghost is colloquial slang for an individual's consciousness. In the manga's futuristic society, science has redefined the ghost as the thing that differentiates a human being from a biological robot. Regardless of how much biological material is replaced with electronic or mechanical substitutes, as long as an individual retains their ghost, they retain their humanity and individuality.

The concept of the ghost was borrowed by Masamune Shirow from an essay on structuralism, "The Ghost in the Machine" by Arthur Koestler. The title The Ghost in the Machine itself was originally used by a Gilbert Ryle to mock the paradox of conventional Cartesoam dualism and dualism in general. Koestler, like Ryle, denies Cartesian dualism and locates the origin of human mind in the physical condition of the brain. He argues that the human brain has grown and built upon earlier, more primitive brain structures, the "ghost in the machine", which at times overpower higher logical functions, and are responsible for hate, anger and other such destructive impulses. Shirow denies dualism similarly in his work, but defines the "ghost" more broadly, not only as a physical trait, but as a phase or phenomenon that appears in a system at a certain level of complexity. The brain itself is only part of the whole neural network; if, for example, an organ is removed from a body, the autonomic nerve of the organ and consequently its "ghost" will vanish unless the stimulus of the existence of the organ is perfectly re-produced by a mechanical substitution (this isn't necessarily true, think of pain in phantom limbs). This can be compared, by analogy, to a person with innate hearing disability being unable to understand the concept of "hearing" unless taught.

Ghost-dubbing, or duplicating a ghost, is an impossibility in the Ghost in the Shell universe. When performed, as a cheap AI substitute in Innocence and earlier in the manga, the original wears off.

In Ghost in the Shell, Kusanagi completely reproduces the stimulus of all of her organs in order to maintain her "ghost". If a technical error arises during the transfer of a "ghost" from one body to another, the transfer normally results in failure, since the "ghost" tends to deteriorate due to either the difference of system at the material level or the deficiency of the transferring protocol. The Puppet Master manages not to deteriorate its "ghost" when merging with Kusanagi because his system is the body of information itself, thereby avoiding a deterioration due to the deficiency at material level.

The Greeks had a similar paradox, called the Ship of Theseus. Hegel's concept of Geist may also be related.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Leo Strauss vs Nietzsche

Strauss and Nietzsche share striking similarities. Both are political conservatives of an aristocratic bent. Both Strauss and Nietzsche share the same view of truth. Nietzsche says truth is "a word for the will to power." Third, both recognize that this insight is dangerous and detrimental to human existence, which requires illusion and myth, the "noble lie." If the "truth" were to be known, that existence is meaningless and without ground, the result would be universal nihilism. Fourth, Strauss's conception of the philosopher is modeled after Nietzsche's conception of the Superman. He is the creator of necessary truths that

"ensure the survival of the herd in a condition of peace and tranquility. The Philosopher, like the Superman, fashions opinions, attitudes, and sensibilities of the vulgar; he or she creates the consumption for the herd. They are noble liars who don't decieve themselves; they know their truths to be fabrications with no correspondence to reality. This latter activity is the 'political' aspect of philosophy; it is political philosophy"

Nietzsche as an Exoteric Philosopher

Nietzsche's teaching is an exoteric one: that is, a teaching that is the opposite of esoteric, a teaching that is made publicly available to those to whom it was meant for. But because of the men with unattentive ears (who are under the spell of the philosopher-priests--Leo Strauss?) that teaching is forced to remain esoteric, and will be so until the time is right, until the "moment" has been prepared. Then and only then will Zarathustra, the Redeemer of Humanity, begin his descent, his "down-going."

Completeness of Physics and Anomalous Monism

The completeness of physics refers, not to the confidence that all the problems of physics will be solved or that it will be able to explain everything coming under the heading of the "really real". But it's the view that nothing in the domain of the really real falls outside of the domain of the really physical. Reality is not composed to two radically different kinds of stuff. But of one kind only, and that is physical stuff. This is the view that physics is complete.

Metaphysically speaking this position is called ontological monism. There is but one kind of furniture in the universe. For the ontological dualist there are two kinds. For the ontological dualist to be correct, physics would be incomplete in that the laws and principles of physics would leave unaccounted for this other immaterial, nonphysical aspect of the really existant.

The ontological monist doesn't need to forbid the use of mentalistic terms or concepts. These can be kept for folk psychology. Long after we discover that lightning is an electrical discharge, we speak of lightning as we still do. To use the phrase advanced by Donald Davidson, we may well have to settle for an "anomalous monism", that is, a recognition of the validity of ontological monism, but also the recognition of that our mentalistic terms and jargon will never be reduced to physical events and processes. Still, that there are social and discursive justifications for using a certain set of terms does not establish an ontological justification for assuming the reality of what such terms refer to. There may be good folk psychological reasons for referring to Lady Luck, but this is distinct from the question of whether either exists.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Anomalous Monism, Donald Davidson's Argument

"Anomalous Monism" is a philosophical thesis thesis about the mind-body relationship. It was first proposed by Donald Davidson in his 1970 paper Mental events. The theory is twofold and states that mental events are identical with physical events (this is physicalism, a form of materialism) and that the mental is anomalous, i.e. under their mental descriptions these mental events are not regulated by strict physical laws. Hence, Davidson proposes an identity theory of mind without the reductive bridge laws associated with the type-identity theory. Since the publication of his paper, Davidson has refined his thesis and both critics and supporters of anomalous monism have come up with their own characterizations of the thesis, many of which appear to differ from Davidson's.

Considering views about the relation between the mental and the physical as distinguished first by whether or not mental entities are identical with physical entities, and second by whether or not there are strict psychophysical laws, we arrive at a fourfold classification: (1) nomological monism, which says there are strict correlating laws, and that the correlated entities are identical (which is often called materialism); (2) nomological dualism (interactionism, parallelism, epiphenomenalism ); (3) anomalous dualism, which holds there are no laws correlating the mental and the physical, and the substances are discrete (Descarte's dualism); and (4) anomalous monism, which allows only one class of entities, but denies the possibility of definitional and nomological reduction. Davidson's claim was that anomalous monism is the answer to the mind-body problem.

Since every mental event is some physical event or other, the idea is that someone's thinking at a certain time, for example, that snow is white, is a certain pattern of neural firing in their brain at that time, an event which can be characterized as both a thinking that snow is white (a type of mental event) and a pattern of neural firing (a type of physical event). There is just one event that can be characterized both in mental terms and in physical terms. If mental events are physical events, they can at least in principle be explained and predicted, like all physical events, on the basis of laws of physical science. However, according to anomalous monism, events cannot be so explained or predicted as described in mental terms (such as "thinking", "desiring" etc), but only as described in physical terms: this is the distinctive feature of the thesis as a brand of physical monism.

Davidson makes what even his opponents have called an "ingenuous" argument for his version of non-reductive physicalism. The argument relies on the following three intuitively compelling principles:

  1. The principle of causal interaction: there exist both mental-to-physical as well as physical-to-mental causal interactions.
  2. The principle of the nomological character of causality: all events are causally related through strict laws.
  3. The principle of the anomalism of the mental: there are no psycho-physical laws which relate the mental and the physical as just that, mental and physical.

Mind-Body Dualisms and Monisms

Mind-body dualism can exist as substance dualism which claims that the mind and the body are composed of a distinct substance, and as property dualism which claims that there may not be a distinction in substance, but that mental and physical properties are still categorically distinct, and not reducible to each other. This type of dualism is sometimes referred to as "mind and body" and stands in contrast to philosophical monism, which views mind and matter as being ultimately the same kind of thing.

Monism is further defined according to three kinds:

  1. Idealism, phenomenalism, or mentalistic monism which holds that only mind is real.
  2. Neutral monism, which holds that both the mental and the physical can be reduced to some sort of third substance, or energy.
  3. Physicalism or materialism, which holds that only the physical is real, and that the mental can be reduced to the physical.

Dualist Solutions to the "Mind-Body Problem"

Dualism begins with the claim that mental phenomena are, in some respects, non-physical. One of the earliest known formulations of mind-body dualism existed in the eastern Sankhya and Yoga schools of Hindu philosophy (c. 650 BCE) which divided the world into purusha (mind/spirit) and prakti (material substance). Specifically, the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali presents an analytical approach to the nature of mind. In the Western philosophical tradition, we first encounter similar ideas with the writings of Plato and Aristotle, who maintained, for different reasons, that man's "intelligence" (a faculty of the mind or soul) could not be identified with, or explained in terms of, his physical body. However, the best-known version of dualism is due to Descartes, and holds that the mind is a non-physical substance. Descartes was the first to clearly identify the mind with consciousness and self-awareness and to distinguish this from the brain, which was the seat of intelligence. Hence, he was the first to formulate the mind-body problem in the form in which it still exists today.

The main argument in favour of dualism is simply that it appeals to the common-sense intuition of the vast majority of non-philosophically-trained people. If asked what the mind is, the average person will usually respond by identifying it with their self, their personality, their soul, or some other such entity, and they will almost certainly deny that the mind simply is the brain or vice-versa, finding the idea that there is just one ontological entity at play to be too mechanistic or simply unintelligible. The majority of modern philosophers of mind reject dualism, suggesting that these intuitions, like many others, are probably misleading. We should use our critical faculties, as well as empirical evidence from the sciences, to examine these assumptions and determine if there is any real basis to them.

Another very important, more modern, argument in favor of dualism is the idea that the mental and the physical seem to have quite different and perhaps irreconcilable properties. Mental events have a certain subjective quality to them, whereas physical events obviously do not. For example, what does a burned finger feel like? What does blue sky look like? What does nice music sound like? Philosophers of mind call the subjective aspects of mental events qualia (or raw feels). There is something that it is like to feel pain, to see a familiar shade of blue, and so on; there are qualia involved in these mental events. And the claim is that qualia seem particularly difficult to reduce to anything physical.

Interactionist dualism, or simply interactionism, is the particular form of dualism first espoused by Descartes in the Meditations. In the 20th century, its major defenders have been Popper and John Carew Eccles. It is the view that mental states, such as beliefs and desires, causally interact with physical states. Descartes' famous argument for this position can be summarized as follows: Seth has a clear and distinct idea of his mind as a thinking thing which has no spatial extension (i.e., it cannot be measured in terms of length, weight, height, and so on) and he also has a clear and distinct idea of his body as something that is spatially extended, subject to quantification and not able to think. It follows that mind and body are not identical because they have radically different properties, according to Descartes.

At the same time, however, it is clear that Seth's mental states (desires, beliefs, etc.) have causal effects on his body and vice-versa: a child touches a hot stove (physical event) which causes pain (mental event) and makes him yell (physical event) which provokes a sense of fear and protectiveness in the mother (mental event) and so on.

Descartes' argument obviously depends on the crucial premise that what Seth believes to be "clear and distinct" ideas in his mind are necessarily true. Most modern philosophers doubt the validity of such an assumption, since it has been shown in modern times by Freud (a third-person psychologically-trained observer can understand a person's unconscious motivations better than he does), by Duhem (a third-person philosopher of science can know a person's methods of discovery better than he does), by Malinowski (an anthropologist can know a person's customs and habits better than he does), and by theorists of perception (experiments can make one see things that are not there and scientists can describe a person's perceptions better than he can), that such an idea of privileged and perfect access to one's own ideas is dubious at best.

Other important forms of dualism which arose as reactions to, or attempts to salvage, the Cartesian version are:

1) Psycho-physical parallelism, or simply parallelism, is the view that mind and body, while having distinct ontological statuses, do not causally influence one another, but run along parallel paths (mind events causally interact with mind events and brain events causally interact with brain events) and only seem to influence each other. This view was most prominently defended by Leibniz. Although Leibniz was actually an ontological monist who believed that only one fundamental substance, monads, exists in the universe and everything else is reducible to it, he nonetheless maintained that there was an important distinction between "the mental" and "the physical" in terms of causation. He held that God had arranged things in advance so that minds and bodies would be in harmony with each other. This is known as the doctrine of pre-established harmony.

2) Occidentalism is the view espoused by Nochilas Malebranche which asserts that all supposedly causal relations between physical events or between physical and mental events are not really causal at all. While body and mind are still different substances on this view, causes (whether mental or physical) are related to their effects by an act of God's intervention on each specific occasion.

3) Epiphenomenalism is a doctrine first formulated by T.H. Huxley. Fundamentally, it consists in the view that mental phenomena are causally inefficacious. Physical events can cause other physical events and physical events can cause mental events, but mental events cannot cause anything, since they are just causally inert by-products (i.e. epiphenomena) of the physical world. The view has been defended most strongly in recent times by Frank Jackson.

4) Property dualism asserts that when matter is organized in the appropriate way (i.e. in the way that living human bodies are organized), mental properties emerge. Hence, it is a sub-branch of emergent materialism. These emergent properties have an independent ontological status and cannot be reduced to, or explained in terms of, the physical substrate from which they emerge. This position is espoused by David Chalmers and has undergone something of a renaissance in recent years.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Give Me That Online Religion

How will we do religion twenty, a hundred years from now? Will buildings still be important? Or, perhaps, will there be e-religion that people practice at home, just as they e-shop rather than going to the mall? It's already here. I've been working on a short video about religion in Second Life, an online user-created-content space.

We ought to look seriously at how online religion has gotten its start in what humans will surely look back on as the most primitive days of the internet. There are more than a million sites of diverse religious affiliation, drawing believers as well as those simply curious. Perhaps this is just the new way of distributing tracts, but online religion is the most pretentious development for the future of religion to come out of the twentieth century and could become the dominant form of religious experience in the next century.

Those familiar with basic traditional religions will find that they have moved onto the Web without much change; perhaps the literal Bible, apocalyptic ones are over-represented, just as they are on TV. There are others in this book that any reader will find strange. Some sites are direct offshoots of IRL (In Real Life) religious practice, like online prayer chains and chat rooms where people can go for a more-or-less directed Sunday school. The site of EvilPeople, Inc., invites people to click on a button in order to sell their souls. (A soul was recently put up for sale on e-Bay.) There are memorials to many dead people; there are 8,000 one scholar named Brasher has counted devoted to Princess Diana alone. There are strange and comic religious sites, including the surrealistic site of the Church of the Subgenius ("The World Ends Tomorrow and You May Die!") or the subversively comic realism of the Landover Baptist Church ("Where the Worthy Worship and the Unsaved Are Not Welcome.")

But much of the religion on the web is suffused with over-the-top humor. There are "Celebrity Altars," devoted to some sort of worship of someone famous, and she gives extensive quotes from the site "Dudes of the Keanic Circle," devoted to finding, among other things, the esoteric meanings of the films of Keanu Reeves. Keanu as Christ-figure is very weird, and so is another site that holds Keanu as the Antichrist, confusingly enough. The Transhumanists are interested in the typical religious goal of eternal life, but intend to do so by uploading their brains onto the `net (undoubtedly Windows is merely withholding this software until their legal problems are worked out). There are many strange and intriguing religions on the net. There are some not so strange, as the cyber-seder, and the woman who was drawn to convert to Judaism because of it.

I am an advocate of watching with curiosity the way religion branches in cyberspace, and its development in the face of commercialization. It's true that those who grow up on the web may find the agrarian and pastoral images of inherited religion less credible than they find futuristic fiction.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Nietzche's Politics

He actually does have a politics. He refutes equality famously. And he also refutes capitalism, which is quite different from his refutation of God. Which is that, if there were gods, how could he bear not to be one. And yet, when all of Nietzsche's insights are documented, this is not of course where Nietzsche makes his most interesting and original contributions. His few comments on capitalism, in the end, reflect contemporary neoromantic criticisms. Egalitarians should engage Nietzsche's critique of equality, which is very strong. But capitalists should also pay attention to his critique of capitalism, which is quite weak.

But we can't read Nietzsche without an agenda. Our reasons for reading Nietzsche are ours. The text becomes an object which seems to speak for itself but which inevitably is read with an interest that produces the meaning for which the text is a vehicle. The interpretation becomes, to paraphrase Nietzsche's comments about Western philosophers, a confession masquerading as truth. "Objectivity" in Nietzsche's terms, demands an admission of interest--honesty, especially with respect to oneself. The methodological sin committed by so many hubristic readers is in failing to admit their agenda. But Nietzsche is not open to any and all interpretations.

Every political philosophy includes generic propositions about the human condition, epistemology, principles of judgment and recommendations for social or political change. With Nietzsche there is a lot of space between these gaps. Nietzsche's politics depend not just on the other pieces of his philosophy but also on a number of assumptions that are either dogmatically asserted or obsolete or both. For example, Nietzsche's view that there is nothing to be done with "the herd" but make them useful for the strong depends on his assumption that biological evolution is Lamarckian in form--acquired characteristics become inherited. This assumption closes off the possibility that the "herd" behavior might, say, reflect the leveling qualities of economic domination. It also closes off the possibility that Nietzsche's critique of the herd is at least in part a self-critique--a critique of the resentment against existence with which all of us struggle, and which Zarathustra himself struggles.

If we take Nietzsche's Lamarckianism seriously, we close off the more interesting implications of his critique, such as the desirability of a pathos of distance within. Remove indefensible assumptions like these, and Nietzsche's philosophy becomes productive of new political insights and possibilities.

Nietzsche's political philosophy poses a great challenge to democrats. But democrats who read him hardly take his concern with "rank, domination, and nobility" seriously. Nietzsche's primary objection to these "democratic" commitments is to their leveling qualities. This is not a unique complaint: aristocrats and conservatives have always taken democrats to task seeking to level downward. Marx chastised other socialists for their leveling conceptions of equality, emphasizing that the point of economic redistribution was to cultivate the unique potentials of individuals. An equal distribution would not accomplish this goal because the needs of individuals are not equal.

Mill cast equality as a removal of conventional barriers in order that individuals might cultivate their naturally varied potentials. Tocqueville and Emerson paid detailed attention to the strengths and dangers of democratic character and culture. Emma Goldman and George Bernard Shaw seized upon Nietzsche's conception of nobility to articulate their respective anarchist and socialist views of equality. Followers of Dewey and Arendt treat the notion of equality, not as something that "levels". They show how that has very little meaning.

Nietzsche's view is that democracy and nobility of character is unbridgeable. He does explicitly argue this. One finds counsel against a narcissism that levels the other--and hence, an ethos of attentiveness to the uniqueness of the other. Sometimes one finds the pathos of distance transformed into an antagonistic conception of equality. Nietzsche sometimes attends to the power relations that would enable a strong equality. The idea of equality remains only an idea unless the power relations are adjusted to realize it. The point, of course, is that there is no one conception of equality in Nietzsche, and this is another instance in which there are multiple political insights in his texts.