Continuation with Our Young Metaphysician: Concept, Metaphor, and Tigers

If we keep in mind I am referring only to poetic metaphor, we should see it is the opposite of a concept. A concept results from a process of abstraction from messy sense data. It removes all that confusion to create a few defining principles. The removal of that messiness of sense data gives a clean principled concept reduced to to a few defining characteristics that fit all entities in the category. That clean and orderly definition can almost give one a sense that the reductive concept is the reality. Maybe reality exists in an immaterial realm of perfection. In fact, maybe it is god thinking this perfection, while we’re stuck in this fallen and sinful world of confused senses.

Let’s think of a tiger. It’s yellow with stripes, growls, and lives in specific areas of the world. It’s a clean concept abstracted from a confusion of sense data from actual tigers encountered in the world. The concept we have doesn’t accurately picture any one tiger we could meet – all tigers will differ from the concept to a degree. A Siberian Tiger differs from a Bengal Tiger, individual Siberians differ from each other. And what counts as a tiger? Saber Tooth Tigers are very different from today’s tigers. And what of their progenitors? Physical reality is mucky and confused, so let’s ascend to the dry aerie of concept.

Tyger Tyger, burning bright,

WTF? The spelling of tiger, already archaic and a bit strange when Blake wrote it, throws us off kilter at the very first word. Something odd here. And nowhere in most of our concepts of tiger is the animal aflame. From the first, this image cracks our concept and forces us back to the sense data.

There are many interpretations of this image, some of them partially correct and even in conflict with others equally partially correct. But none can exhaust the meaning. Its oddity is what attracts and holds our attention, but we can never quite resolve the strangeness. The mystery behind the image.

In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?

In the eyes of the tyger we stare into a terrifying, proud, aggressive, and awesomely beautiful aspect of Being itself, met in our gaze. The Being whose essence presents itself as this tyger. And in that tyger, we stare at our own essence derived from this Being. Beyond mere definition. Subject/object metaphysics dissolved as we sense that nature is not separate from us, but rather we are as integral a part as that tyger. Nature is not separated from us as an external object, but rather we are the same stuff: we burn with that same fire. The same fire at the center of the stars from which we came.

Not only can we never exhaust the meaning of that image, but that image doesn’t exhaust Being itself. Blake also gives us its counterpart. Who made the little lamb?

For He calls Himself a Lamb.
He is meek, and He is mild,
He became a little child.

A later poet will update from a different aspect as he speaks of “Some infinitely gentle and infinitely suffering thing”. Another unfathomable aspect of Being, even stranger along side the tyger; equally essential. Nor do those two inexhaustible images exhaust Being.

The metaphor has its counterpart in music and art. In the greatest works of Beethoven, we have the delicate run in the treble, gentle and at play. Below growls the tyger in the bass, suddenly shifting the foundation; discord threatening the structure above. Organization, play, and dissolution; eternally.

This is where we meet truth: in the thrall of physical experience, even more immediate and non-reductive in music than in the metaphor. To do so, we first surrender our pretense to truth as deduction from ideas, or as objective analysis, and accept a wholly different type of understanding. In the metaphor we take part in the event. We come to see an aspect of the essence of Being. We see it within ourselves, and we sense who we are, what the world is, and our place in it. Worth infinitely more than all the definitions in the dictionary, theories of spacetime, or musing of angels dancing on pins.

We learn to seek the holy right here, around and within us, without the sere inventions of god or the immaterial.

Answer to a Young Metaphysician

This is a reply to a Twitter conversation, too lengthy to post there, concerning the need to overcome and unlearn metaphysics.

https://twitter.com/ansaz14/status/1532620713907068930?s=21&t=90dF_arTzdDAJ_H4g4KREg

The most difficult part of learning is unlearning – a necessity few of us rise to. We invest our identities, years of work, family and heritage in beliefs assumed prior to our ability to question. Unlearning means surrender of all we have and casting ourselves into the risk of the unknown. The vertigo of Nietzsche’s Madman as we struggle to reorient ourselves.

But if we fail to unlearn? We burrow in the dark caves of metaphysics, hiding from the sun and uncounted stars right above us. We persist in the worst treachery metaphysics imposes on us: We try to tell the universe what it is rather than listen to the universe as it unveils itself in song, poetry, and art. What we invent is such a degradation of the awesome mystery of this physical reality of which we are part. We dream in the familiar grays of our dark shelter, hiding from the swirl and blare of colors above. We mince our words, measure our world in pints, throttle the exuberance of life with the morbid machine of ideals and deduction.

In such a state we speak falsely. We tell an arational universe it is governed by reason and causality, much to its initial amusement but later to its disgust as it turns away from us. In our refusal to unlearn we forfeit our birthright of connection to the mystery. In so doing, our lives become meaningless as we invent substitute fictions.

Sometimes, a ray of light sneaks past the threshold of our darkness:

“Fundamental reality has not proven itself to be beyond cognition or beyond logos. Counter-Intuitive places the the limit to our intuition, but we don’t use our intuition isolation. Intuition is not a closed system.”

You are half right, but in that shining half outside the gray shadow is the promise and the danger. If by cognition we mean objective representation and reason, then fundamental reality is undeniably beyond our cognition, and it is futile to deny it. The universe will never conform to our preference. Instead it laughs and dances away. But logos?

But we can’t speak of logos until we have done serious unlearning. Until we rehydrate the word beyond its current sere condition. Until we replant it into the fertile ground where it once thrived.

But then we have to first relearn “ground”. Not it’s desiccate hulk as an idea serving as premise. No, ground as that dirt under our feet from which the truth grows – in all its threatening fecundity, organic odor, its muck. Its wonder.

So how do we resuscitate logos? First by understanding its opposite. You ask if CERN fails to adequately define quanta? I can’t answer that until we throw away “definition” – another metaphysical error. Instead I say that physics must necessarily fail to tell us anything beyond measure and relation of objects. Quantum, wave, field, energy: all are mere metaphors for what we cannot grasp objectively – reality on the other side of the divide of wave collapse. Fundamental reality defies space, time, and causality, but we can’t represent without those categories, so we resort to temporal-spatial metaphor. And metaphors, when taken literally, will always lead to error and block off the deeper truth.

Having discarded definition, are we any closer to logos? Yes, if we accept that words are not for defining but rather for exploring as organic beings themselves. Manifold, physical in sound, always becoming, emanating from the ground below us. That is logos: the revelation of the deeper truth which defies your reason and a priori ideas; ironically the same limitation you denounce in science. But to hear its poetry, we first must recognize its music is physical. It manifests itself right in front of us and dares us to follow. Physicality announces its vibrancy. It reveals the essence that science cannot observe in even its most sensitive devices. But here is the most important bit of unlearning of all: Essence is a derivative of Being, and being authentically means physical manifestation. Before metaphysics, including Christianity – that early Medieval European metaphysical invention, logos was the the unity of Being and the physical. Essence is at the heart of what is presented to us from the ground of Being. We lost our souls when we allowed metaphysical thought to displace essence to an imaginary metaphysical plain, subject to all our desecrations.

Which leads us to the final question: Intention. Might we perceive intention in the universe? Maybe. I suspect so. But if we look for that intention in an imaginary plane instead of right underneath us, right in front of us, in range or our hearing, we will forever remain ignorant. Why would intention need to spring from anything other than essence of Being right here, right now, in the presence of our entanglement?

Response to Tim O’Neill As Regards A Twitter Conversation concerning the Oppressive Influence of the Church in the Middle Ages

I recently commented on a Twitter thread on my concern over rising Christian Nationalism, and pointed out that the time that the Church ruled Europe was the darkest period of Western History. That thread is found here:

The thread’s originator pointed to the article linked below which he believed refuted the claim of Church oppression and terror:

That took me to a unique blog by a person named Tim O’Neill, who seems to pass himself off on Twitter as a historian, although in the Q&A section of his blog he admits he is not. The title of the blog, “History for Atheists”, is curious as the target audience appears to be Christians looking for support in their online arguments. O’Neill’s brand appeal is as an atheist who is a bit embarrassed by other atheists and busies himself with correcting their historical ignorance. He often carries on about claims from atheists that he is really a theist posing as an atheist – probably more than he should. I want to be clear that for me the question of whether he is an atheist targeting a theist market or a theist in disguise makes no difference at all. I wish only to focus on the quality of his arguments and manner of presentation.

After reading the above article on that blog, I responded on the Twitter thread that O’Neill was not a credible source and made another reading suggestion, which I will comment on at the end. This brought Mr. O’Neill into the thread where he demonstrated remarkable bluster but little, if any substance – a characteristic I found to permeate the blog article. After a pointless exchange I said I would write a more considered explanation of why O’Neil is not a credible source. What follows is that explanation.

We can judge a great deal of Mr. O’Neill’s substance and intellectual honesty from just the opening paragraph:

The concept of “the Dark Ages” is central to several key elements in New Atheist Bad History.  One of the primary myths most beloved by many New Atheists is the one whereby Christianity violently suppressed ancient Greco-Roman learning, destroyed an ancient intellectual culture based on pure reason and retarded a nascent scientific and technological revolution, thus plunging Europe into a one thousand year “dark age” which was only relieved by the glorious dawn of “the Renaissance”.  Like most New Atheist Bad History, it’s a commonly held and popularly believed set of ideas that has its origin in polemicists of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries but which has been rejected by more recent historians.  But its New Atheist adherents don’t like to hear that last part and get very agitated when they do.

This paragraphs portends the key defects we find throughout O’Neill’s presentation: Bluster, overstatement, strawmanning, and insult. To start, he insinuates that the idea of an oppressive Church rule during the medieval era is wrong by association with New Atheism and their “bad history”. Very few familiar with my thinking would ascribe the reductionism of New Atheism to me, but I would also hold that Church Rule was oppressive, corrupt, and retarded the growth of intellectual progress. In other words, he starts with poisoning the well and bluster.

O’Neill then claims the support of authority by appealing to “more recent historians”, which he opposes to “polemicists of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries”. This is the worst sort of appeal to authority. He implies there is a consensus among recent historians where no such consensus exists. Nor were most eighteenth and nineteenth century historians polemicists. In fact, polemicists are more likely to found in the revisionist, often Roman Catholic, commentators, who work today to cleanse the reputation of the Church. The most that we can say is what he claims as consensus remains a matter of dispute among historians, but that more accurate depiction would deflect his thrust.

Even more telling is the way he framed the alleged atheist error.

The first element of his characterization of the atheist “myth” is the claim that Christianity violently suppressed ancient Greco-Roman learning. While there were things the Church violently suppressed, I know of no serious claim it was Greco-Roman learning. To the contrary, Christianity was constructed on the framework of Greek metaphysics, with the Neo-Platonism of Augustine and the Aristotelian metaphysics of Aquinas and the Scholastics. If anything, the early church took the narrative of a primitive Near East religion and created a uniquely European metaphysical structure. There is no biblical correlate to the elaborate cosmological constructions and deductive arguments – these are European features.

The second element is claiming the atheist position to be that Christianity destroyed an ancient intellectual culture based on “pure reason”. First, it would be interesting to know what O’Neill meant by “pure” reason. It sounds impressive, with echoes of Kant which the naive might credit with erudition, but it is a term with a specific meaning that in no way applies to this context. But that is a mere quibble next to the important matter of blurring a more nuanced issue. I know of no serious atheist who denies the use of deductive Aristotelian logic; especially among the hyper-rational Scholastics. O’Neill obscures, or perhaps is ignorant of, the real matter at hand – the metaphysical basis of such logic, where proofs are deduced from metaphysical ideas. This is in stark contrast to the later scientific method, which removed the metaphysical premises in favor of induction from empirical observations – a critical adjustment that apologists yet today bemoan.

The serious atheist claim is usually not that Christianity destroyed a culture of reason, but rather that it imposed certain metaphysical assumptions as starting premises to arrive at deductions that accord with Christian dogma. Any logical deductions that offended such dogma, no matter the validity, were quickly condemned. Even clerics found themselves on the wrong side of the auto de fe when logic defied obligatory beliefs.

The third element of O’Neil’ls framing is that atheists claim the Church retarded a nascent scientific and technological revolution. O’Neil relies on a somewhat revisionist account of the Middle Ages as the foundation for modern science encouraged by the Church. It wasn’t. There was a degree of scientific inquiry of a sort, but what was at the time called Natural Philosophy wasn’t quite what we would recognize as science. It was more metaphysically derived and included alchemy and magic, for example. Some early empirical attempts were indeed accepted by the Church if they could be interpreted as proclaiming the glory of god and his creation. Of course, any scientific inquiry that contradicted Church dogma was quickly condemned, and at times with grievous consequence.

O’Neill’s support for his demonstration that the Church nurtured science and formed the foundation for its further development was a book by James Hannam: God’s Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Groundwork of Modern Science, and an approving comment by Edward Grant. My intention is not demean Hannam – he is a legitimate scholar who advocates well for his position, but his position has supporters and detractors among historians. Edward Grant was a historian of much greater renown whose main scholarly thesis was that the Middle Ages did lay the groundwork of modern science, so we would expect to see his approval. But again, that is one school of thought and not received truth. In fact there is no received truth in history, which is an endless series of re-interpretation of past events and facts, partly out of ideology; partly out of the need to introduce novelty.

I believe the preponderance of evidence demonstrates that, on the whole, the Church oppressed science as it did freedom of thought in general. Through oppressive threat and more than occasional torture and burnings at the stake, few dared to voice findings or opinions in contradiction to Church dogma. The Church jealously guarded its authority at all costs. Countless lesser-known scholars and clergy, as well as the less educated, experienced the terror of the Church, but the more respected were not immune. Galileo was accused of heresy in the Inquisition for advocating the Copernican idea of a sun-centered system and sentenced to life imprisonment.

Those like O’Neill can try to minimize the number of occurrences or try to tangle us into minutia such as no published boundaries for permissible scientific inquiry, but that misses the point as badly as the attempts of some to minimize the number of deaths in the Inquisitions. The point is the terror and oppression such occurrences spread regardless of frequency. The threat demonstrated by such occurrences worked contrary to the claim of Christianity nurturing scientific progress.

Science as we know it did not exist until the relaxing of the Church’s grip in the seventeenth century. It was not the sudden rebirth of reason, as O’Neill tries to have us say, but the removal of metaphysical speculation and ideas from science; i.e. the institution of empiricism and inductive reasoning – not possible under Church rule.

In the Twitter thread that initiated this response, I suggested to the originator that he read Johan Huizinga’s The Waning of the Middle Ages as an introduction to credible historical works, not because it presented the absolute truth about that time, but because it offered a much more nuanced and holistic rendering. Unlike those such as O’Neill, who can obscure the terror by reducing things to numbers and facts, Huizinga introduced an immersive approach into the culture itself though exploration of the art, philosophy, and other texts of that time. It supplanted the cold numbers and disembodied facts with the atmosphere. We could sense what it was like at that time. From that we can interpret as we see fit. I do not mean to imply that Huizinga was the last word on the subject. In fact I suggested to the originator that he read as much of the primary sources as he could as well as different perspectives of respected historians. There is no other way to come to grips with the past.

There are no easy or final historical answers, and most assuredly there is no internet site that can furnish the ultimate truth of the past.

I didn’t find it worth my time to belabor this response with a detailed critique of every point O’Neil attempts in the essay, but he is, of course, invited to expand or otherwise respond below in the comments; or discuss with me on my YouTube channel.

Part 2 of Conversation with Simon Egopart on Metaphysical Idealism

This is Simon Egopart’s response to my last comment and again my latest response:

First of all, thanks for your constructive and respectful attitude. It clearly is not your intent to score cheap points or to ridicule, and I appreciate that.

Obviously I agree with the statement that there is a stark difference between dream and waking experience. Our waking reality is much more stable then our dream reality and seems bound to “fixed” laws of physics. I also agree with the statement that this difference stems from different inputs and with the statement that energy originates outside of “our” consciousness. However, the fact that the inputs are “different”, by no means justifies the conclusion that they are “different in nature”. It could be that the inputs are identical in nature, but merely coming from a different source. What we perceive as closing our eyes and falling asleep, could be the manifestation of a process that causes our manifestation mechanism to be temporarily isolated from the universal consciousness that we perceive as our waking reality, thus making room for a private dreamworld, that, being fed only by thoughts of an individual mind, is more flexible and mutable.

I’m glad that you freely admit that science has hit a brick wall when it comes to explaining quantum mechanics. You basically accept defeat and conclude that energy is just too weird for our understanding. There are formulas that predict behavior, but what we observe seems impossible. Waves and particles are so very different in nature, have such different properties, that it’s simply unconceivable that the same “thing” can manifest as a wave ór as particle, based on the method of observation. The wave particle paradox is just one example, but scientific investigation based on physicalism has encountered paradoxes everywhere it looked. Time after time, seemingly impossible things were discovered, and each time, in order to maintain their physicalist belief system, scientists had to come up with more absurd concepts to explain their observations. Quarks have “flavors” these days, reality 11 dimensions and don’t get me started on the Higgs-boson. That’s the problem with physicalism: it results in a model of reality that just doesn’t make sense.

I was surprised to read the following lines: “For me that isn’t a problem, but rather the call to exploration. It cannot be scientifically explained, but its nature can be explored in experience.” Well, I could not agree more! So let’s explore! Let’s dig in ourselves. Let’s have lucid dreams and sleep with the most beautiful girl we can imagine. Let’s knock on a hard wall in a lucid dream, and wonder how in earth it is possible that our mind creates such a hyper-realistic tangible experience, out of thoughts. Let’s fly past the stars, talk to our own subconsciousness and wake up in tears of joy. Let’s explore our mind, get impressed by the sheer depth of it, and let’s see if we can connect to the greater consciousness that idealism postulates. Spoiler alert: we can. If indeed we are conscious beings that exist within a greater consciousness, then there must be a connection between ourselves and that greater consciousness. And even though our senses and rational mind were only built to interact with our observed and often harsh reality, it is entirely possible that other information might travel over our “connection with greater consciousness”. And even though we might not be able to process that information with our rational minds, it is still possible that we can “feel” it. These feelings could result in a deeper intuitive understanding of reality, that can only be conveyed through the usage of metaphors.

Well, history is full of such experiences. Countless people everywhere in space time have had spiritual experiences. Physicalists have to reduce spiritual experiences to physical events, there’s no room for anything else in their world view, but this forces them to completely ignore the testimonials of people that had spiritual experiences, who state that the experience feels “more real” than anything else they ever experienced. They speak of gnosis, a homecoming, a loss of illusions, and often drastically change their lives as a result. A single spiritual experience can be so powerful that it results in a total turnover of someone’s lifestyle. This simply cannot be explained by physicalism. It is my personal believe that even hardcore physicalists are just one spiritual experience away from idealism. So there is hope 😉

The problem of physicalism is nót that it can’t explain everything. I completely agree with you that ultimate truth is out of reach of our rational mind, just like a gut bacteria can’t conceive the concept “man”. But the fact that we can’t understand ultimate truth, does not mean that we can’t improve our understanding of how energy works. We do not perceive ultimate truth, but we dó perceive energy. Physicalism has hit a brick wall, but I believe there’s a way forward if science reassesses its assumptions about the nature of energy. We can’t reach ultimate truth, but can get way past where we are now. If energy is thát weird, why is it so impossible to consider the option that it is mental in nature? To me it seems like a small step from where you are already, especially since because of that small step, suddenly our whole reality and all scientific observations make sense.

Seen through the lens of idealism, many things become possible and many tools become available. Positive things ánd also scary things. But I do believe there is a good aand safe way forward: science. Science has to be opened up, so that at least theoretically, it becomes possible to do experiments under circumstances that are compatible with idealism. This was the main point of my previous post and actually you didn’t really cover this part in your reply. So let me ask you directly: “Do you believe that the current frame of evidence is fair for someone like Masaru Emoto? Suppose he was right, would it be possible for him to prove it, under the current circumstances? And if not, isn’t that a major problem?

Conversation with the Belgian Author Simon Egopart on Idealism as Cosmic Consciousness

This is the initiation of a conversation between Simon Egopart and me on the idea of Cosmic Consciousness and Idealism, which began as a conversation about the metaphysics of Bernardo Kastrup. I will post here the opening of the conversation written by Mr. Egopart, and will respond in the comment section.

Mr. Egopart’ s writings can be found here: https://simonegopart.be/

Simon Egopart writes:

Cogito ergo sum. We have a mind that allows us to experience things, and clearly there is something to experience. It seems there is mind and there is “something”. To science, today, both remain a mystery. 

In the 20th century, science has discovered that “the something” consists of energy. We interact with energy and, as a result, build an image of a world inside our minds. Science was able to discover a number of properties of energy, and invented formulas that allow us to predict the behavior of energy. But science can only speculate about the origin of energy or about why energy behaves the way that it does. Science doesn’t have any idea about what energy really is and based on the discoveries of the last 100 years, it seems more and more likely that the answer to those questions, will forever remain out of perception’s reach. The same goes up for mind. So far, science is stuck on the hard problem of consciousness, and can only speculate on how our mental experience of reality is generated. 

For centuries now, science has been trying to improve its understanding, by extending what our senses can observe. Science tries to dig deeper into “the something” we experience. However, we can take a different approach by focusing on the second component that is involved in our experience: mind. Is there something in our mind that can explain how energy could make us experience a physical reality? 

There most certainly is! There is a perfect candidate, a gem hidden in plain sight. We dream! A dreamdoor may feel hard while dreaming, but it is not an object. It is a thought. Something in our mind, I will call it the “manifestation-mechanism” from now on, is able to make a mental reality, feel like a physical reality. The manifestation-mechanism is so powerful that only minds that are trained in the art of lucid dreaming, can distinguish the dreamworld from waking reality. The dreamworld consists solely of thoughts, but the manifestation-mechanism presents the dreamer an extremely convincing experience of a physical reality.  

Because we dream, we are certain that the manifestation-mechanism exists. And that reduces the question about the nature of our reality to the following very simple question: Is that manifestation-mechanism only active when we dream, or also when we are awake? In that aspect it is noteworthy that scientists have discovered that dreaming about something makes our brain fire in the same pattern as performing the activity in the real world. It looks like something similar is going. 

If we simply assume that the energy of our reality is mental in nature, instead of physical, than our experience of reality becomes completely understandable. The quantum collapse is no longer mysterious. When observed, a mental energy wave feeds the manifestation-mechanism which results in the experience of observing a “solid” particle. The hard problem of consciousness also dissolves. Even dark energy, lightspeed and relativity are no longer weird. All paradoxes that science is confronted with, become understandable and the only thing we have to do for that, is assume that energy mental in nature. So let’s apply Ockham’s razor! 

The purpose of these lines it not to convince that reality is mental in nature. I only want to convey that the idea that energy is mental in nature, is a valid hypothesis on the nature of our reality, and that it is by no means absurd to investigate it.  

Since any reasonable person should agree that science is our best method for investigation, the concept of a mental reality should be investigated scientifically. Unfortunately, today this is NOT possible. Science was hijacked by materialism and in order to protect their precious belief system, materialists have rigged the way scientific research is conducted. They did so, by broadly adopting a frame of evidence that by its very nature, only “works” if reality is indeed physical in nature. 

This is clearly demonstrated by the case of the infamous Masaru Emoto. Whether or not his discoveries are valid, is not even relevant for our reasoning. Emoto claimed that human consciousness could affect the molecular structure of water. To materialists this idea is absurd. To idealists is it entirely possible, because water and consciousness are both manifestations of the same mental energy. However, if Emoto would be right, if indeed the molecular structure of water can be affected by human consciousness, then how could he ever reproduce his results under circumstances set by materialists? If materialists are involved in the experiment, the water of the experiment would be subject to both the consciousness of team Emoto ánd the consciousness of team Matter. And since materialists do not believe the molecular structure of water can be affected by human consciousness and so, their consciousness would interfere with the results of the experiment. The only way to avoid such interference would be to isolate the experiment from opposing consciousness, and currently the only way known to us to do this, is to make sure this opposing consciousness is not involved at all. But in this case the results of the investigation would not be accepted by materialists. This is a deadlock situation and a problem that should be deeply troubling to well-meaning scientists. 

The requirement that a “non-believer” should be able to produce the same experimental results as a “believer”, makes perfect sense in a physical reality, but it is completely absurd in a mental reality. If you want to investigate a specific hypothesis, you have to be able to work under conditions that are compatible with the hypothesis. If science has adopted a methodology that only allows to investigate some hypothesis and not others, it de facto is no longer scientific, but religious. 

In order to fix this we have to increase our understanding of how energy works, but I’ll hold onto my thoughts on that for now. If you think all of the above is rubbish, if you can easily refute it, there is no need for me to continue.

Common Sense and Idealism: A Response to Scott Roberts

This is a response to an essay by Scott Roberts on Bernardo Kastrup’s site:

https://www.bernardokastrup.com/2017/07/idealism-vs-common-sense.html

It is the result of a conversation taking place on this thread:

https://metakastrup.org/viewtopic.php?f=5&t=618&p=13627#p13627

I found your essay extremely interesting. I also am drawn to thinking about how the experience of the world has changed over the millennia, which we do primarily through the words used, poetry, and art. By looking at the confusion accumulated over time in the meaning of “common sense”, I propose a different framework from yours which reveals a different picture.

The meanings of “sense” and “common” have completely changed over time in the Western World beginning with the Pre-Socratics, and I believe in a way that helps to illuminate the changes in how we experience the world.

Aesthetikos is the Ancient Greek work for the senses, which carried a different meaning for the Pre-Socratics, such as Homer, Heraclitus, and Pythagoras, than later for the Socratics. More than we can now imagine, these Greeks lived esthetically, and truth was experienced as such. Heraclitus felt the tactile passage of time in a world of perpetual becoming; Pythagoras felt ultimate truth in music, and Homer produced a world of the senses, where song, Eros, and whispers of physically manifested gods directed the course of events. Logos was the poetic apprehension of the physical powers of the world, and it is fitting that we know this world primarily from the poetry of Homer.

There are some important points to note about this time. “Physis” had not yet broken down into Physics and Metpahysics, but was the all-encompassing non-reductive world of experience. Logos had not yet been reduced to logic, but was non-reductive poetic speech. There is no separation of mental from physical, and no notion of Idea. There simply was the experience of the senses thought poetically and musically. Esthetics was not yet reduced to The Beautiful, but was the entire truth in all its beauty and brutality.

The gods were also of this world. It was Dionysus who played the prime role for Pythagoras, whose ecstatic dance was the physical presence of Dionysus playing himself out through man. For Pythagoras, music was pure sensation through which we had unmediated access to ultimate truth. For Homer, we see in your given example Athena effecting her presence through her sensible inspiration of Achilles. As music was for Pythagoras, Logos was for Homer, and in this example we see Logos as the unmediated experience of the fundamental physical power of Athena, which he in turn relays to us through his poetic logos.

From the above, I would take exception to your claim that these Pre-Socratic Greeks were naive Idealists. This would not be possible until Socrates. Homer’s gods were physical, not transcendent, beings of elemental power, living atop Mt. Olympus. Dionysus was a physical power inherent in music and wine. There simply was no idea of mentality apart from physicality. There was no notion yet of “common sense”, but simply a shared esthetic “being in the world”.

With Socrates we first begin the physical/mental duality with the splitting of physis into physics and metaphysics, thereby exerting a power over our experience of the world unequaled even by our splitting of the atom. Ultimate truth was removed from our presence, rendered beyond the senses, and now imagined as pure Idea – non-physical mentality. With this began the confusion over “sense” which continues through today.

The first mention of “koine aesthesis” “common sense” I know of comes from Aristotle, who used it in a very different way from today. He introduced it still in the original meaning of sense as pertaining to the five senses, and proposed an additional sense common to all five which combined them into one perception, as opposed to the later meaning of common as the everyday understanding within a culture. But, already in Aristotle we see the disconnection of knowledge from pure sensation, with a mediation between thought and sensation a first step in the transition from sensation to sensible as a rational trait. “Koine aisthesis” would be transmitted in its Latin form “sensus communis” through the Medieval Scholastics to the Enlightenment, when it completes its transformation into the opposite of its origin: the ability commonly shared of acting reasonably.

It is in the fog of this confusion that we attempt to reconnect to our origins of Western thought, but I see a far distant beacon calling to a third option to the two you present. If we take the Pre-Socratics as inherently non-reductive physicalists rather than naive Idealists, we can perhaps find our way home to the esthetic experience of reality – the original grounding that we lost through metaphysics.

Just as we cannot unsplit the atom, we cannot unsplit “physis” – our technological world is built on the pragmatics of that split. But we can adjust our attitude toward it and seek a more authentic grounding of truth beyond objectification, not the “beyond” of metaphysical invention, but through esthetic exploration in this physical world as it reveals itself.

Script to Video: Beranardo Kastrup pt 2: The Metaphysics

This is a follow up to my last video, which was a wide-ranging look at Bernardo Kastrup’s interview by Craig Reed. This time I focus tightly on Kastrup’s metaphysics as described in Kastrup’s interview on the Adrian Sinclair Show, titled How to Think About Consciousness, linked to below:

The picture that emerges is a flight of fancy springing from obsolete subject/object metaphysics.

I organized this into the following sections:

Consciousness

Metaphysics

Schopenhauer

Metaphysical Idealism

Epistemology

Meaning

Afterlife

Context

Consciousness

1:09

We see confusion in Kastrup’s very first sentence:

“Consciousness is the field in which everything happens.

Whatever happens outside the field of consciousness might as well not exist because it is never experienced.”

In that same sentence he first declares that everything that exists happens in the field of consciousness then refers to all the things that exist outside consciousness and dismisses them because they are never experienced. That would seem to negate the claim that consciousness is elemental if there are things outside it, even if they might as well not exist. It is also a curious suggestion that everything outside our experience is of no importance. One might be tempted to excuse this contradiction as an example of misspeaking off the cuff, but the confusion turns out to carry through his entire metaphysics.

Cut

This is Kastrup’s central assertion: that consciousness is not emergent from nature but rather it is the ontological primitive from which all else emerges. We will examine this assertion when we analyze his metaphysics, along with the difficulty in general of ever determining any ontological primitive and the history of prior attempts

Cut

Here he states that quantum fields are the elemental level of the universe. It would be safer to say that it is the most elemental level we yet know, as most physicists do. From that safe ground, however, he makes the metaphysical leap to the claim that these fields, when unified, are one conscious field.

Quantum field itself is a metaphor for something we cannot conceptualize. We think of it as waves across a field, but both are spatial and temporal concepts through which we try to grasp a reality prior to space, time and causality, and therefore outside our conceptual apparatus. Lacking all epistemological humility, however, he defines what cannot even be grasped. He repeats that error in his attempt to define consciousness, which nobody understands, not even Kastrup. Over the next sections we will look carefully at how he attempts to justify this leap.

II. Metaphysics

6:23

Kastrup never actually gives the definition of the Greek word “Meta”, but describes metaphysics as what precedes or underlies physics. This is a common but misleading definition among those who engage in Analytic Philosophy, and doesn’t quite get at the meaning. In Greek, meta means beyond, with the connotation of transcendence. Metaphysics was an invention of 6th century BCE Greek philosophy and marks the end of Greek Pre-Socratic thought. It is the invention of a transcendent immaterial realm of ideas imagined to explain the mysteries apparent in the physical world. Since the time of Francis Bacon, its importance steadily waned. With the scientific method, Bacon sought to exclude metaphysical explanation of the world, which had predominated throughout the Scholastic Medieval period, through empirical evaluation of observable phenomena. Up through the 19th Century, academic subjects were continuously moved from the purview of metaphysics to scientific empiricism.

By the 20th Century, metaphysics had been resoundingly denounced by the most important thinkers such as Wittgenstein, Heidegger, Quine, and Rorty, and seen as the single cause of 2500 years of error in Western thought. Heidegger demonstrated how metaphysics barred our relationship to Being by reducing the physical world to superficial representation and removing Being to an inaccessible immaterial realm, thereby uprooting us from the ground of authenticity.

Wittgenstein used the double meaning of “Unsinn” as nonsense and not available to the senses to dismiss metaphysics and declared the only role left to philosophy after millennia of metaphysical error was therapeutic: Philosophy had done nothing but create illusory problems, and our role is now to to untangle the knots of confusion.

Both of these thinkers saw mystery as the greatest part of existence and beyond our comprehension – at least rationally, embedded in the physical universe. This mystery, not being transcendent, is not characterized by inability to sense or at least detect, but by our inability to grasp it through our modes of understanding evolved for survival, not truth. These thinkers demanded silence before what we cannot know as the only honest intellectual position. In other words, Kastrup relapses into the error of metaphysical fancy where he should remain silent. He returns the essence of nature itself (or Being) back to the imaginary realm of metaphysics – the origin of our present uprootedness.

I also want to focus on his claim that “physics is the way that nature presents itself to us”. He conflates physics as a branch of study with the physical world existing more fully beyond our reductive representations to limit physicality in a way that allows him to redefine the world outside our objectification as immaterial, and later as consciousness. This sleight of hand is his central move, repeated throughout his presentations.

His comment that physics cannot tell us what our representations are in themselves, but only how objects are measured and related, is certainly true and a commonplace understanding. Heidegger gives the best demonstration of how technological thought is really an outgrowth of metaphysics, which removes essence from the knowable world. But Kastrup then goes directly to a claim that there are correct methods of metaphysics that can give us best guesses about essence. What he betrays here is that both physics and metaphysics are reductionist acts, which we will see him explicitly acknowledge later. But that reductionism is what forever closes off any knowledge of essence, or world-in-itself. What physics reduces to physical properties, metaphysics reduces to uprooted empty concepts, both forever inadequate to describe the indescribable. If elemental reality exists outside space, time, and causality, and our concepts cannot exist without being rooted in space, time, and causality, then anything we propose as the essence of world-in-itself, or ontological primitive, will necessarily be wrong. Reducing the unknowable world to consciousness is as foolish as reducing it to atoms.

III. Schopenhauer

13.21

This is a bad interpretation of Schopenhauer. Schopenhauer’s Will was a blind, mindless, and irrational force. It was the thing-in-itself which we could never know other than through immediate experience of our own consciousness. But Schopenhauer was careful to acknowledge the term Will as a misleading reduction, applicable only to the occasion of labeling the world-in-itself from the human perspective out of our nature as willing beings. A bird would experience it as flight. No word or concept we could devise would be able to exhaust the reality of the world-in-itself. We could just as easily call it the prime force which we experience as Will willing itself blindly, unconsciously, and without purpose. Conscious states such as desires and fears only appear in the phenomenal world, and Kastrup’s mistaken notion of these as innate elements of the world-in-itself is merely an anthropomorphic projection onto the non-reducible Will. A blind, mindless, and aimless force would indeed be a poor base upon which to build an idea of cosmic consciousness.

Cut

He repeats his mistaken notion of conscious states and gives an inadequate explanation of why Schopenhauer used the term Will. I have just give one reason, which Schopenhauer explicitly presented in The World as Will and Representation, but there is another deeper explanation.

Will, Der Wille in German and a deeply Germanic word and notion, is a central, or at times even the central concept, over the history of German philosophy. Schopenhauer can be seen mostly as an extension of Kant, but with one seminal alteration: the turning of Kant’s idea of Will on its head, and in doing so, taking a decisive step toward the elimination of Metaphysics in German thought, which was completed by Nietzsche.

Kant used Will as the thing-in-itself to describe the Idealist notion of Pure Reason. Kant’s project was to rescue objective knowledge from Hume’s skepticism while at the same time preserving a bit of Idealism in order to justify his belief in god and free will – a mediation between empiricism and Idealism. Kant’s Copernican Revolution was to demonstrate that we live in a world of representation conditioned by our subjective senses of space and time, and ordered through the categories of understanding into a coherent phenomenal world understood through the principle of sufficient reason. This was our phenomenal world but not the thing in itself, which existed outside space, time, and our categories of understanding – and therefore forever unknowable to us. He ultimately justifies empirical knowledge by equating Will with god, and retains the Rationalist notion that God inserts this Idea of Reason into our consciousness, and thereby validates our phenomenal understanding; but only as far as this reason operates on sense data. Reason applied beyond sense data led to metaphysical transcendental illusion.

As we have already seen, Schopenhauer’s revolution was to remove Will from the Idealist notion of reason and relocate it to physical reality – the irrational primal force of what we represent as nature. It is still unknowable in itself through objectification, but sensible through our own will. The noumenal is no longer pure immaterial mind of god, but brute physical force. Kastrup’s attempt to claim consciousness in Schopenhauer’s Will is therefore a misunderstanding of Schopenhauer’s thought.

Cut

Another example of the confusion of Kastrup’s metaphysics. Representation and what Kastrup calls “metacognition” only exist in the rational phenomenal world constructed through human subjectivity, of which Will knows nothing. This is man’s constructed world, which Schopenhauer goes on to see as the mechanism through which we can escape the brute horror of Will – a denial of the fundamental truth and instinct. Again, this could not possibly serve as the foundation of cosmic mind.

I’ll let Kastrup have the last word on this:

Cut

IV. Metaphysical Idealism

21:01

This is where the underlying metaphysical illusion of material/immaterial I described at the beginning will be revealed as a continuous thread through Kastrup’s metaphysics.

Having earlier stipulated the Kantian dichotomy of phenomenal representational world and noumenal world as it exists in itself outside our representations, Kastrup now elides into the claim that only our representational world is physical and assigns immateriality to the world-in-itself. We see this when he says it’s hard to use the word physical because it has nothing to do with what our intuition tells. This is a non-compelling assertion where the only thing we can truly say is that it lies outside our ability to conceptualize. From the Kantian/Schopenhauerian perspective, size, shape, position, and speed only exist as representations, and in a sense are less real than the world in itself. The only fitting dichotomy, therefore, is not ontological but epistemological: What we can conceive and what lies outside our ability to conceive. Any attempt to define the noumenal would only lead to what Kant terms transcendental illusion. Kastrup later tries to bolster his redefinition of reality outside conceptualization as nonphysical through a distortion of the Leggett Inequalities. Anthony Leggett demonstrated that non-locality and realism cannot coexist, which was pivotal because John Bell had earlier demonstrated beyond doubt that entanglement was real and thereby proved that the quantum realm was nonlocal. Leggett proved beyond that that realism was also precluded at the quantum level. Kastrup twists that to mean physicality was precluded, but we need to understand that Realism in physics has a special meaning which Leggett employed: “the notion that physical systems possess complete sets of definite values for various parameters prior to, and independent of, measurement”.

Quantum reality is physical as energy, but systems with sets of definite parameter values only emerge after entanglement with our observations. Kastrup once again tries to conflate quantum states with the non-physical.

Without any transition, he then jumps to a completely different frame of reference: quantum measurement. As opposed to objects as subjective representations, things are now physically actualized through observation. He never acknowledges the contradiction, or perhaps he never even realizes it, but as we will see later, this will prove a serious problem when he addresses Relationalism and asserts consciousness as the ontological primitive.

He also gives a false simplification of the measurement question. His limiting the trigger of wave collapse to conscious observation might actually just be our limited knowledge since any wave collapse we can know is necessarily an artifact of our conscious entanglement. We can know nothing outside that condition. Perhaps entanglement also occurs outside of consciousness, and our conscious observation is just one instance of entanglement. Quantum mind theory suggests a more intriguing possibility: the moment of entanglement creates our consciousness as the first step in a process of reduction. We first entangle with those potential events within quantum foam that are possible within our universe and not with those with no possibility of realization – the first reduction. Of those possible events in superposition, our consciousness further reduces our perception as wave collapse into what we conceive as eigenstate. Through our evolved categories of understanding and senses of time and space, we further reduce received sense data to our world of representation – the only world we can know objectively. This leaves us incapable of determining anything like ultimate reality, ontological primitive, or the nature of anything outside our representations. All attempts to do so are repetitions of the error of metaphysics. We can meaningfully explore the possibility of mind emerging from quantum events. We cannot meaningfully attribute mind to anything prior to our perceived physicality.

He proceeds to his central tenet:

Cut

Kastrup’s followers have well learned to repeat the mantra that while not everything is conscious, everything is within consciousness. Having declared the world in itself as not physical through mere redefinition of the physical, he offers the false choice of material/immaterial, or physical/non-physical. He furthers this metaphysical error by projecting the representational understanding of “consciousness” onto the unknowable elemental physical reality beyond definition.

If we were to stay within what we can actually perceive through experience, it would be far more sound to assert that consciousness emerges from life, and not that life is a representation of consciousness.

Finally, his assertion that everything exists within consciousness causes another problem: if consciousness causes the wave collapse, then quantum states could not possibly exist.

He then moves on to Relational Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics.

Cut

This stems from his misreading of Carlo Rovelli’s Relationalist interpretation of quantum reality, which is truly great work. Rovelli is not only a brilliant physicist but probably the closest thing we have to a philosopher of any importance today.

Rovelli starts with the waves of quantum fields as the most elementary level of the universe that we know, or perhaps can know. The universe at bottom is an unimaginably complex interplay of these fields from which emerges spinfoam as purely chaotic quantum events constantly creating and destroying particles. To understand Relationalism further, we need to introduce Rovelli’s notions of perspective, blurring, and ignorance.

It is possible to perceive order as minute subsystems within the chaotic foam as interplay between a small sample of events. This appears to us as a system with increasing entropy which gives rise to our experience of time. To do this, it is necessary to blur the great vastness of existence, or else the appearance of order is lost back to the sea of foam floating atop the quantum field waves. This is the blurring which closes off the vast rest of existence. From this, Rovelli announces time as ignorance – an extreme reduction of reality – literally, an ignoring of vast reality. With awareness of the greater universe, time and order disappear.

Now we come to the.critical part relative to Kastrup’s comment: perspective. Time and causation only emerge relative to a myopic perspective arbitrarily perceiving a system with increasing entropy. This is the creation of a world. He illustrates this with the example of a deck of cards in his discussion of Boltzmann. A brand new deck might be considered in a low entropy state as it is neatly organized into suits by number value. However, from the perspective of black and red it is at a higher level of entropy, from the perspective of number and face cards, even more so, and so on. The degree of increased entropy after shuffling will depend on the original arbitrary perspective, each implying different worlds with different times.

When Kastrup complains of a paradox because the events must be in relation to something else he misses Rovelli’s central point that we individually supply the missing ingredient through the perspective of our individual consciousness blurring the universe lying beyond the perceived subsystem. There is no role or need for a cosmic consciousness, only individual perspectives that create worlds.

In Rovelli’s words in “The Order of Time”:

“On closer inspection, in fact, even the things that are most “thinglike” are nothing more than long events. The hardest stone, in the light of what we have learned from chemistry, from physics, from mineralogy, from geology, from psychology, is in reality a complex vibration of quantum fields, a momentary interaction of forces, a process that for a brief moment manages to keep its shape, to hold itself in equilibrium before disintegrating again into dust, a brief chapter in the history of interactions between the elements of the planet, a trace of Neolithic humanity, a weapon used by a gang of kids, an example in a book about time, a metaphor for an ontology, a part of a segmentation of the world that depends more on how our bodies are structured to perceive than on the object of perception—and, gradually, an intricate knot in that cosmic game of mirrors that constitutes reality. The world is not so much made of stones as of fleeting sounds, or of waves moving through the sea.” (pp.98-99)

With that the entire of question of material/immaterial becomes nonsensical. Call the vibrations of the quantum fields whatever you want, but they display nothing of consciousness and from them emerges only the chaos of spinfoam. Rovelli simply calls them forces. Each of us from our own perspective supplies the rest.

Cut

This is really a clever analogy, although hardly original. Kastrup notes the similarity between superposition, with all possibilities yet to be decided, and conscious decisions where that same situation pertains, and concludes from analogy a universal mind. Of course, we could equally argue that consciousness is but one emergent instance of superposition, therefore: emergent quantum mind.

This analogy was done much better in the early 20th century by Alfred North Whitehead. Whitehead was a mathematician and philosopher and one of the founders of Anglo-American Analytic philosophy; and like all the founders other than Russell, went on to renounce that project. In Whitehead’s case it was his encounter with quantum mechanics that awakened him from the poverty of reductionism. In the elemental reality of waves he saw time as central to existence. In the wave a particle had a defined past and a present in superposition where the future is decided. He saw consciousness as this same wave where the body is the past analogous to the particle’s actualized trail, and the mind in superposition deciding among the possibilities toward the future. From this he developed a pantheism where consciousness pervaded the universe deciding at every point. Although limited by a naive notion of time at the quantum level, he transformed a mechanistic view of reality composed of discrete components into an eternal fluid process – a wave founded in universal consciousness – a major step forward from the reductionism and classification characteristic of analytic philosophy.

Cut

Here he’s referring to Alan Watts’ musing that the cosmic consciousness got bored and decided to forget the world was its invention in order to make it more interesting for itself. What I find interesting is that Kastrup didn’t outright ridicule the notion, but instead either is drawn to it himself or is playing to the sort of people who are drawn to it. He ultimately rejects it on the basis that there is no evidence for it and it appears to be just an anthropomorphic projection of an experiential state. Yet he doesn’t realize the exact same can be said of universal consciousness, which also can be seen as an experiential state and an act of anthropomorphism. In the same vein, do we have any reason to believe that the universe has an experiential state that has evolved within us?

Epistemology

40:41

In earlier instances Kastrup has talked about the arational and chaotic basis of existence, which our dashboard of perception had not evolved to understand. Here, however he uses the rational reductionist method within this dash board to attempt to explain this ultimate arational state anyway. This is the essence of metaphysics and the reason it was abandoned last century among serious thinkers. As he acknowledges, this is a reduction, and here he has reduced a chaotic, arational, and incomprehensible reality to the anthropomorphic projection of consciousness. He then tries to argue on the basis of parsimony that if consciousness is the ontological primitive then those who reject that reduction have the burden to show why there are so many individual instances of this primitive instead of just one .

This is both sloppy thinking and mere sophistry. Unless he gives a compelling case for consciousness as the primitive, which is impossible, we are under no obligation to explain in terms of the primitive, and instead could answer that consciousness is an adaptation found to varying degrees within living organism and no more in need of explanation than the individual instances of vertebrae.

But there is also the problem of parsimony as a basis for decisions in a world characterized by chaos and arationality. Parsimony in this case would be a sure indication of the error of reductionism in such a world. In fact, appeal to parsimony is merely an artifact of Scholastic Metaphysics that assumed a rational god created a rational world – a notion with no place in the modern world.

Cut

Contradicting his claim that consciousness is universal primitive and can’t be explained as many individuated instances, he now explains human consciousness as a product of evolutionary adaptation. As such, it needs no further metaphysical projection. He acknowledges the impossibility of knowing the ultimate truth, if there is any such thing, of the universe, which he will then go on to contradict once more to posit his metaphysical speculation of universal consciousness as that impossible explanation.

I want to emphasize the point on which he is correct: that our cognitive processes did not adapt to know cosmic truth and are ridiculously inadequate to do so. I talked earlier about the impossibility for us to imagine anything without time, space, and causality, yet we know these do not exist at the most elemental level of existence we know of, That means nothing other than we have nothing meaningful to say about this state of existence from a scientific standpoint, and any attempt to define this mystery is an error of reduction. Again, this the reason no meaningful interpretation beyond the Copenhagen interpretation has ever been offered, nor ever will. It is a world we literally cannot imagine or grasp.

Within the human scale of intelligence, there are a few individuals who perceive and conceptualize in ways beyond the abilities of the average person, and to the rest of humanity they appear to be formidable geniuses with preternatural understanding of reality. But on the cosmic scale there is scant difference between the exceptional and the ordinary. None of us can imagine the world of which quantum mechanics hints. Even worse, we can only detect existence within the electro-magnetic field and extrapolate from the gravitational field. We experience only 5% of what makes up the universe, and label the unknowable 95% dark energy and dark matter. Again, those labels tell us nothing because we wouldn’t know what to say about them.

Our ability to understand fundamental reality would be the same as trying to understand the workings of the human body through study limited to a toenail. We only fool ourselves, or perhaps more importantly, we fool others when we claim to know any ontological primitive. Kastrup is no exception and we should view his claim of cosmic consciousness with the skepticism appropriate to somebody trying to sell us something of questionable value..

Cut

Human intelligence evolved to make predictions through reduction. Similar to Rovelli’s concept of blurring, we ignore almost all reality to focus on what immediately concerns survival and we make predictions by imputing causality. This tells us little about the truth of what surrounds us, but has succeeded to enhance our survivability. It is a purely pragmatic sketch of the world, and technology is the outgrowth of this objective reduction. It is the font of the pragmatist definition of truth as “whatever works”. As Whitehead showed us, it is abandoning the present for the future. The deeper introspection of the world from which we attempt to know meaning, the nature of the world, and our place in it comes from a more primordial esthetic experience of the world in the present. As humans, we dwell in both worlds. Sadly, subject/object metaphysics has grown to an outsized domination, closing off authentic esthetic experience of the present and replacing it with reductive speculation – the 2500 year error of metaphysics. Kastrup continues that error.

Cut

He continues his confused contradiction of unknowable ultimate realty and the ability of reductionism to explain it. While we do understand closed systems from a mechanical standpoint, reductionism tells us nothing beyond the superficial appearance and pragmatic usefulness. As Wigner’s Epistemological Law of Empiricism and Rovelli’s Relationalism both demonstrate, all descriptions of a closed system are severely limited by time, space, and chosen events, and have no reason to accord with each other. The contradictions of relativity and quantum mechanics are examples of this, and there is no reason to believe there is any sort of underlying unity that will harmonize these two systems. It seems any grand unification theory would be a mere beckoning illusion of the mind.

The most important point here, however, is his repeated metaphysical leap equating quantum fields, which themselves are only metaphors, to consciousness – an over-defining of the undefinable. The repetition of metaphysical error.

Cut

Meaning

51:52

Meaning is the central troubling question for humanity in this age. Descartes’ dualism depicted a meaningless mechanistic physical universe and an immaterial metaphysical soul from which all meaning sprang. Kastrup’s central error stems from the continuation of this material/immaterial dualism. The Enlightenment began the path of destruction of metaphysics, moving an increasing number of issues from metaphysics to the natural sciences, and with that the annihilation of the notion of god. It did not, however, offer anything to replace our loss of meaning and connection to the universe. Instead we became isolated and ungrounded individuals lost in a world reduced to objects of scientific analysis. Our souls dried as husks under the relentless glare of reductionism. That was the horror of Nietzsche’s madman as he announced the death of god.

Since then, we have failed to find the more authentic grounding of our nature as humanity and its source and connection to the universe and are still sickened by the Madman’s continuing vertigo. Of course, this enabled all sorts of charlatans peddling simplistic and false answers to a desperate people.

I agree with much of what Kastrup has to say here. There is meaning grounded in what Schopenhauer called Will, and our relation to Will can show us that meaning. But it is a very difficult process, and we should avoid simplistic answers such as universal consciousness or god. Schopenhauer certainly did. For Schopenhauer, Will had no consciousness. It was blind and mindless volition, much as takes place in our cerebellum, where the volition to live unconsciously regulates our metabolism and organ functions. Humanity in this notion is a late manifestation of Will to experience itself, as the cerebral cortex is to the cerebellum. We are a late feature of Will and our meaning is to experience and know existence. I’ll return to this notion and expand it at the end of the video.

Afterlife

55:54

Another example of a simplistic fiction to sooth the anxiety of our mortality, but a hopelessly confused one. Kastrup has consistently described this universal consciousness as blind instinct with no ability to metacognize. That is what we would be rejoining, in effect going from a superior consciousness to blind instinct once again. It is yet to be explained how this blind instinct could then recognize us as conscious alters as we rejoin. In short, this is utter nonsense.

Context

5I 7:29

The movement in the West away from metaphysics, including religion, was the desire to part from the rule of ignorance. That requires an arduous struggle to reground ourselves, which we have so far failed to achieve. In the gap, religion and gurus have enriched themselves by preying on the vertigo and anxiety. Metaphysics persists in the academic philosophy industry as the output of mediocre minds dependent on unread journals to maintain their employment.

Rather than fraudulent palliatives, we need the courage to recapture the present. That means returning to esthetic thought held to tightly in the moment of experience. It is the only possible path to meaning, and our imperative. Our purpose is to experience Being and allow its poetry too speak through us; its music to sing and dance through us. In the process the world regains the wonderful – the fullness of Being at last returning from its metaphysical exile to this very physical world through esthetic knowledge.

World Too Brightly Lit

In a world too brightly lit we loose the depth of night.
In a world without soil we loose our soul.
In a world absent deep deep harmony we become flat.

In this world of meandering consciousness many cry out for meaning.
Meaning is what they can least afford and mean instead comfort, assurance.
The bedtime story of divine purpose, afterlife, purity. Meaning is not found in illusion.

Meaning is there to be found for sure, but not in the daylight or the manic lit night.
Meaning is in the mystery, the dark passageways of midnight, clouds’ drift under the night sky.
It is in the dark and beautiful corners of those we love.

Meaning is never sweet. When it isn’t jaggedly dissonant, it is at best bittersweet.
In that is the mystery. Not many can embrace meaning uncloaked.
It is never defined or definable, it beckons but is never caught. Only fleetingly felt.

All beauty is our sense of the mystery, always felt with nostalgia.
Yearning for what is lost and what will be lost.
There is no meaning or beauty until we firmly grasp our mortality.

And there is only one honorable moment of death:
Not fear, not hope, but a tear for all the beauty forever lost.

Script for YouTube Video: Response to Bernardo Kastrup Interview by Craig Reed

Bernardo Kastrup is garnering attention with his revival of Metaphysical Idealism, especially among some Christian thinkers, and several of whom have appeared in conversation on this channel. This attention is partially due to surprise: Metaphysical Idealism has been out of favor for quite some time and bucks a major trend in philosophy since the late 19th Century – the abandonment of Metaphysics, proclaimed by both Wittgenstein and Heidegger among many others. Then out of nowhere, Kastrup gives us a 21st Century update grounded in modern physics and neuroscience.

I agree with much of Kastrup’s diagnosis of the spiritual malaise and the poverty of a world interpreted within the constraints of objective reductionism. I also agree with his description of the representational nature of our perceived world, seemingly drawn from Kant via Schopenhauer and its modern neuroscientific update from practitioners such as Donald Hoffman. In the end, though, I still have to reject his relapse into metaphysics and the implications of his metaphysical leap.

Craig Reed, an interesting Christian thinker in his own right and a recent guest on this channel, interviewed Kastrup in a two and a half hour livestream on his channel, to which I have linked below. Again, while I don’t share Craig’s metaphysical speculations, including any sort of theism, we do overlap to a surprising degree on how we interpret the world. His might be the most interesting of the interviews I’ve seen of Kastrup as Craig got him to clarify his theist beliefs inherent in his metaphysics. By the way, Craig, The Doors of Perception comes from a poem by the unfathomably great poet, William Blake, in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. He was a metaphysical Christian whose insights align well with yours. You will deeply appreciate him.

In this video I will comment on the Kastrup interview via about 19 minutes of cuts winnowed down from the two and a half hour conversation which I think present the essence of Kastrup’s thought. I have broken this into three sections: Argument, Religion, and Metaphor.

ARGUMENT

In the video, Kastrup advances two separate arguments for Metaphysical Idealism: Argument from Physics; and Argument from Psychedelics. He prefaces the the first of these, the argument from physics, with a brief explanation of his concept:

3:15-4:47

He starts out with a framework familiar to anyone with knowledge of 20th century thought, especially that of Martin Heidegger and his distinction of ontic and ontological. Objective scientific reductionism is a superficial description of measure and relationship of objects that describes how something works but in the process closes off what things actually are. It creates a groundless existence that brought us to the point where we have forgotten what it is to have an authentic relation with the world in itself. The difference is Heidegger resists all metaphysical speculation and refers to this authentic ground of reality as Being – an implicitly physical metaphor meaning the physical world as it is. This is in keeping with his contention (as well as Wittgenstein’s) that metaphysical speculation is the great error running through the last 2500 years of Western thought. For both, Mystery (das Mystische) shrouds the true ground, but also calls to us. Our task was to experience this mystery, express poetically what was revealed, or in Wittgenstein’s case, merely point to it, and remain silent about what remains hidden. Kastrup, in contrast, makes the metaphysical leap of claiming the ground of reality is a transpersonal mind. Kastrup transforms the problem of inauthenticity stemming from epistemological reduction of Being into materialism vs. Idealism. By defining the objective world of representation as material, by definition the world beyond representation – the World-in-itself becomes immaterial mind. We’ll return to that transformation later in the discussion.

He then presents the first of his arguments – the argument from physics:

2:21

His claim is that materialism, which he equates with physicalism, is refuted by entanglement in that mere observation should not change the properties of physical entities, but since it does he concludes that mind is more elemental than the physical entities. This makes some assumptions that are perhaps not warranted. The first of these is that entanglement requires consciousness, rather than consciousness might be just one occurrence of entanglement. We cannot determine that because any entanglement we can know necessarily involves consciousness as we entangle with the measurement apparatus and thus the entire entangled system. Any entanglement we can know of necessarily involves our consciousness, but we can know nothing of entanglement beyond that.

The second is the assumption that consciousness is not itself physical, perhaps as a wave or quantum function. We are beginning to see inquiry into quantum mind by persons as serious as Roger Penrose. It very well could turn out that physicality is primary and consciousness a result of entangling with a subsystem.

The third assumption is that entities have properties. A serious counter to that would be Carlo Rovelli’s Relational Interpretation in that everything we know is a perceived mini-system of relationships co-responsible for any emergent perceived properties. There are no innate properties, but rather everything is relationship.

Next is the argument from Psychedelics. I’ll interject comments at several point during this argument

12:06-12:34

I could not agree more. This points to the poverty and superficiality of analytic philosophy, which is really just one branch of objective reductionism and forgetfulness of Being. I experienced LSD once as a teenager and psilocybin twice as an adult, and I find Kastrup’s description interesting and accurate. Without a psychedelic experience we cannot really appreciate how arbitrary, thin, and reductive our everyday experience is. He goes on to describe how our habitual patterns dissolve, our perception widens and logic falls away as we appreciate the a-rational nature of reality. We literally transcend our constructed sense of self and reconnect to something far more powerful and mysterious, and one which does, as Kastrup says, lead to increased empathy, understanding, and tolerance, and I would dare add love. I take these as valuable clues to the nature of Being and humanity, and perhaps the guide that directs our refinement of the moral sense.

13:55-15:00

From this description of the experience he proceeds to tell us how he deduces transcendent mind.

15:10-21:00

In responding to someone convinced he had literally travelled to the Pleiades, Kastrup states he knows he didn’t actually go anywhere because he knows that he was laying on his bed with his eyes closed. This appears to me as an appeal to physicality to establish reality from hallucination, and tends to undermine his reduction of everything to mind. If there were not the physicality of his body and bed, there would be no distinction between the two experiences, Yet he concludes: “If a psychedelic trip is eminently and unquestionably mental, can feel much much more real than this right now…If that was mental and it felt more real than this, then this is mental too.”

I wouldn’t deny that the trip is a mental experience, but he had already distinguished between a mental hallucination and a mental experience of the physical by appeal to physicality. I would describe the illusion of spacemen from the Pleiades as merely the awareness of neural connections unconstrained by the Default Mode Network, which is a very different process from sensed experience. “Filters not completely taken away, but compromised.” Put another way, the real issue at play is reductive experience versus non-reductive experience rather material representation versus immaterial mind. A non-hallucinatory experience is a conscious connection to a real event received through the sense, but we can reduce it through the mediation of objectification or we can more fully become conscious of the experience through esthetic means – art or poetry for example. But when authentic, is is something revealed through the senses grounded in the physical. Psychedelics depress our objectification. He is right that we get a taste of the thing in itself, but that is a more immediate nonreductive experience of this thing. The further step of concluding it is experience of a mind is a metaphorical interpretation of that experience. And itself reductive.

He then turns to neuroscience to support his argument from psychedelics:

10:14

This almost seems like he is trying to separate mind from brain in a return to duality, rather than brain being the objectification of mind. If brain were our objectification we would expect it to mirror the activity of the mind, much like his metaphor of tears objectifying sadness.

There is a false assumption that materiality should increase brain activity. There is a fair degree of research that indeed shows some reduction of brain activity, but that reduction appears to center on the Default Mode Network, which acts like the filter he describes. It regulates what enters our consciousness by filtering connections according to patterns, expectations, and preconceptions. The reduction of the DMN results in what some call “entropic brain”. Having a congenitally slightly depressed DMN myself, I have first hand experience of entropic brain. This entropic experience is not really increased excitement, but the failure to order existing random neural connections. It is nothing like “the brain going to sleep”, but more like a napping DMN.

Religion

For me, the most interesting aspect of Craig’s interview was getting Kastrup to clarify his theism and call for religion. Somewhat incongruously, he starts off by equating mind at large with Schopenhauer’s concept of Will.

25:23-25:36

Schopenhauer adopted most of Kant’s representational epistemology, only changing the categories from Kant’s 12 to the one category of Causality. His one important innovation was reversing Kant’s metaphysical idea of Will as Pure Reason and God into the elemental force of all physical reality. It was an important step along the way for the two dominant philosophical trends of the 19th and 20th centuries: Eradication of metaphysics and ascendency of esthetic thought over rational objectification. Nietzsche was later to make much of this, which in turn Heidegger refined in the 20th Century.

For Schopenhauer, and later Nietzsche, Will is the thing-in-itself, but disconnected from Reason, which was purely subjectively mental. It is arational and the most powerful and elemental force. It is described by Robert Wicks in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy as:

“frightening and pandemonic: he maintains that the world as it is in itself (again, sometimes adding “for us”) is an endless striving and blind impulse with no end in view, devoid of knowledge, lawless, absolutely free, entirely self-determining and almighty.”

(N.B: It could be Wicks to whom Kastrup refers later in the interview as the leading Schopenhauer scholar who Kastrup believes in actuality understands nothing about Schopenhauer. I’ll just say that in my own careful study of Schopenhauer I find Wicks’ quote above to be accurate.)

Schopenhauer thus turns the worldview upside down, and reality is physical, threatening, and randomly determined by an irrepressible force acting solely out of its own nature. Metaphysics is now merely a subjective idea, and along with that, any notion of a rational god.

We will see later that Kastrup indeed accepts the indeterminate nature of the world in itself acting simply out of its own nature, but projects onto this a mind as god. We should note that this is an important contradiction to Schopenhauer’s Will as physical and mindless striving from its own nature. In effect, Kastrup seeks to reinstate the very metaphysics that Schopenhauer had played a role in overturning.

Craig then leads Kastrup to explicitly equate mind at large to god:

28:27-30:00

Kastrup, I think rightly, sees the waning of religion as connected to the spiritual poverty that characterizes our existence since Nietzsche. But I believe he fails to consider the cause of that waning. The Enlightenment exposed the errors and unreliability of Christianity and thereby spread doubt. It resulted in a rejection of religion and an embrace of objective representational truth, which without a replacement disconnected humanity from an experience of world in itself. Nietzsche deeply appreciated this crisis as the Madman in Aphorism 125 of the Gay Science bemoans the ensuing vertigo overtaking the uprooted world and asks who will be strong enough to find a more authentic and true ground of morality and truth?

Heidegger further develops this time of vertigo as destitution, taken from a line from Friedrich Hölderlin’s Elegie Brot und Wein: und wozu Dichter in dürftiger Zeit? What are poets for in destitute time? The are for bringing forth the revelations of Being. Authentic reconnection of the world in itself through esthetic experience. Until then, we continue in our uprooted state. Or as Heidegger put it, paraphrasing from Hölderlins poem: We come to late for the gods, and too early for Being, whose just begun poem is man. We’ll return to this later in the video.

Kastrup then characterizes true religion as a form of very deep philosophy. If it were presented as such, I could admit some value, but it claims absolute truth upon which your life and afterlife depend. Dogma ends any philosophical inquiry.

I see two elements of religion that I think Kastrup naively fails to take into account: fear and ecstasy. He focuses solely on the ecstatic element, which is a search for and reverence of the holy. We see this in Craig’s example of the Cologne Cathedral, in which I personally have experienced the awe of the mystery of Being. That mystery is at the core of all search for authenticity, be it as mystical aspects of religion, or the arts as esthetic connection to Being. The interpretations of that experience are what differ, but not what is experienced – as Kastrup himself later attests.

Fear, however, is the other element of religion, and arose prehistorically out of man’s feeling of impotence in the face of overwhelming and deadly forces of nature. The response was to project gods who could be appeased for protection. This appeasement required worship and obeisance, and those who failed to do so endangered the entire community. As the ecstatic element was mystery of the holy, the element of fear centers on the Law. It is out of fear that dogma emerges, and from its law emerges intolerance and cruelty.

Kastrup praises the fervor of the Muslim while dismissing the jihadist. In religion, the two are inseparable and inform each other. Much better that we move forward and not relapse into what we have already for urgent reason rejected.

Kastrup then gives an Idealist interpretation of sadness:

34:13-35:21

There are other possible interpretations. Sadness could also be thought of as a part of the essence of Will in the Schopenhauerian sense that we experience esthetically. Or as the opposite of Will as our experience of denying Will, as Nietzsche’s Zarathustra saw it. It need not be a thought that is being represented. Being in itself has no weight or measure, which exist only in objective representation, but that doesn’t mean that it is mental. Quantum Field Theory suggests simply waves of differing oscillations. Again, I see Kastrup making a non-compelling metaphysical leap. It also seems at odds with his earlier example of brain versus mind in psychedelic experience, where he portrays a disconnection between the overly-rich experience of mind with the depressed brain. In that case the brain would be the opposite of the objectification of the mental reality.

We will end this section on Religion with the inevitable suggestion of life after death:

36:38-37:32

“In life we observe the world, in death we become the world. We interact with the world through direct acquaintance.”

What is the “we” at that point? If we lose our individuated experiences, and the metaphors and narratives that bind them together, what remains? Losing dissociation would mean our annihilation. We could not directly interact with mind at large because we would simply be absorbed bits of mind.

In the end, all metaphysical speculation is metaphor, and all metaphors eventually break down.

Metaphor

38:23-40:58

While I would disagree on when literal meaning became privileged over metaphor, Kastrup is here bringing up a crucial point. Metaphor is elemental to understanding and prior to literal meaning. I would go further and say it necessarily persists as elemental, even if not acknowledged. Science, and especially physics since Newton, has proudly claimed to speak and conceive in the language of mathematics. Yet it always reverts to metaphor. This is what underlies Thomas Kuhn’s concept of paradigm, and as he demonstrated, they always break down at some point and require a paradigm shift – i.e. new metaphor.

Scientific metaphor and poetic (or philosophical) metaphor differ in direction and intent. Science uses a common word to simplify the understanding of something that is either complicated, or even transcendent. It is essentially reductive. We talk of electron clouds or genetic code, although no such actual cloud or code exists, to create a concept of something beyond the conceivable. Poetic metaphor, on the other hand, uses common words to point toward and presence that which cannot be directly grasped. It is essentially transcendent. Think of the last verse of Bob Dylan’s All Along the Watchtower, where the growl of the wildcat, the two approaching riders, and the howling wind, with their profound associations, give a chilling experience of an undefinable approaching apocalypse.

But transcending what? Confined within a metaphysical framework, transcendence is supposed to transport us from the physical world to an immaterial world. The genius of late 19th and early 20th century thought, however, from more authentic thinkers clarifies transcendence to be removing Kastrup’s “dashboard”; i.e. transcending reductionist objectification to nonreductively, and in an unmediated way, experience Being itself. This is the re-establishment of the primacy of esthetic thought – an overturning of Enlightenment rational objectivism. And even more remotely, returning Being to A is A – the restoration of logos.

The true transcendence turns out to be, ironically, the overcoming of metaphysics itself. All metaphysics is reductive and all reductionism is metaphysical. As Heidegger explained in “The Question of Technology”, metaphysics began when logos became logic. When A is A became A=A, which obliterated Being inherent in the physical thing and exported it to an imaginary Ideal realm; leaving us with an empty equivalency in our perceived world.

This underlies the control which Kastrup deplores. Metaphysics has turned the world of mystery to one of practical objectification: the world interpreted technologically.

45:11-45:56

I would slightly disagree with my friend Craig here and say that it is the authentic way of interpreting reality. He and I have discussed similar experiences as musicians of letting the waves play through us . Heidegger talks of poetry as Being speaking through man, This is the birthing of transcendent metaphor or music. But we need not equate it with religion, despite its essential action of revelation, grounding, and inspiring awe and reverence.

46:30-46:50

But Western religion shares the same metaphysics as technology, and will from here on appear false. My suggestion is to recognize the correctness but incompleteness of technological interpretation while reconnecting non-metaphysically to world in itself with our innate capacity for esthetic knowledge. As Friedrich Hölderlin wrote:

Voll Verdienst, doch dichterisch wohnet der Mensch auf dieser Erde.

47:58-48:39

That is exactly right, and in fact pointing is the metaphor Wittgenstein used when he renounced analytic philosophy. Rejecting all metaphysics and endlessly meaningless discussion of the finger, he argued the only legitimate role left to philosophy was to point at things presented to us by the mystery. All dogmatic beliefs and systems are speaking where we cannot. He and Heidegger both saw that as a desecration of the holiness or mystery of Being, which we are not equipped to grasp. Talk of gods, or metaphysical systems is to desecrate through reductive dogmatism. Our only authentic path forward is to observe, experience, and point through transcendent metaphor. We are responsible for not allowing our limited concepts to reduce, distort, or obscure this mystery, but rather hold tight to the experience itself.

He adds: “But that something else is also experiential in nature.” If experience is experience of something else, and we are experiencing elementary experiential mind, what is that mind experiencing? Again, all metaphors ultimately break down, and it is imperative we guard against dogma – religious, metaphysical, systematic, and scientific. All we can do is point.

The evolutionary drive, which science reduces to the metaphor of genetic code, is the most powerful and mysterious force in our world. It is literally immortal as it finds ways to overcome every obstacle to life. More than a code, it is life itself and our access to the essence of Being. It is a force with intention, although not necessarily conscious. That it has an unyielding intention to further its existence is self evident. The question is: what else might it intend? That is the mystery and question of Being. We interpret it differently, but when I listen to Being, I hear an overwhelming physical force and speak from sensual physicality. Sympathetic vibrations. I have no need to speak of mind because I hear no such thing when I hearken hard to the revelation and add nothing of my own. Perhaps within life there is an intention toward Being evolving its ability to experience itself. And we are its just begun poem.

William Lane Craig and Kant’s First Antinomy: The Evasiveness of the Apologist

There are those who will criticize the tone of my writing here as inappropriate to addressing a work of scholarship, to whom I point out I am not confronting a work of scholarship. Others may complain that I am not properly respecting an important work of philosophy, to whom I respond that I am not responding to a any sort of philosophy at all. Moreover, as a simple semi-literate biker I am unconstrained by the timid conventions of the academy.

In the guise of serious writing, Craig is rather addressing a naive audience whose credulity he exploits to sell Christianity. What he presents is no more than base apologetics, dressed up in guise of philosophy, and aimed at believers in search of reinforcement and those mediocrities traipsing the backwaters and swamps of Philosophy of Religion while searching for the ghosts of dead ideas amidst fever-inducing mosquitos.

Immanuel Kant’s First Antinomy in Book 2 of the Critique of Pure Reason has long been the bête noire of apologists, who have yet to honestly confront it. Typically, the apologist evades the topic entirely, distorts it beyond recognition, or attempts to facilely dismiss Kant himself.

In the Book: The Kalam Cosmological Argument, which he claims includes his serious academic response to the First Antinomy, Craig resorts to all three but never gets around to addressing the point of the Antinomies itself. We will examine where Craig purports to address the First Antinomy in the penultimate chapter: “First Premise: Everything that Begins to Exist has a Cause of its Existence”. Craig includes an entry in the Appendix that claims to address this Antinomy further, but for reasons explained below, we need not consider it.

Kant’s First Antinomy

Toward the end of the Enlightenment, Kant published The Critique of Pure Reason — one of the greatest events in Philosophy and the seminal epistemological work for modern philosophy. No matter one’s opinion of Kant’s argument, it is impossible to join in the discourse of philosophy without an honest confrontation of this great work, the purpose of which was to rescue objective knowledge of the world from Hume’s skepticism by finding a middle way between Skepticism and Rationalism. The result was what Kant called his “Copernican Revolution” in which we know the external world by creating representations from crude sense data through innate a priori categories of understanding under the direction of pure reason, which are drawn in the imagination via the innate and purely subjective sensations of space and time. While Reason is deduced transcendentally and ultimately linked to Will (his nod to Rationalism), its legitimate purpose is limited to creating a coherent understanding of the manifold of sense data impinging upon our consciousness. In keeping with Enlightenment Empiricism, true objective knowledge is only possible by applying reason to the sense data, but in his revolution, Kant demonstrates this knowledge to be subjective constructions from sense data that do give us reliable information about the objective world, but can never tell us anything of things-in-themselves as they exist outside our subjective conditions of thought as space, time, and the categories of understanding. As long as we remain within the the sensible world, our objective understanding is reliable. Once we transgress the boundary of sense data, however, we merely create transcendental illusion — a groundless metaphysical world of empty speculation where we have illegitimately imposed our conditions of objective thought on the unimaginable noumenal realm.

In the second half of the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant demonstrates the problems created by Transcendental Illusion which result from empty metaphysical speculation. In doing so, he presents four antinomies, which consist of contradictory thesis and antithesis to a metaphysical question, each of which is equally plausible – and each of which results from an error in reason itself and our subjective limitations. On the side of the thesis, we have reason relentlessly pushing thought to totality. Reason is pure will to unify and knows no bounds, but continues to push for order and resolution of conflict beyond what we can know through they senses. The competing error of the antithesis is to assume that objective knowledge necessarily extends beyond the objective world. For that reason it would be wrong to dogmatically support either side of the argument since both are illusions spun off by an empty metaphysical question.

The first of the four Antinomies concerns the question of whether the universe is finite or infinite, which goes directly to the premise in the Cosmological Argument that everything that exists has a cause of its existence. The thesis of the antinomy is that an infinite regress is impossible, therefore there must be an initial unconditioned cause that began the universe. This is a metaphysical illusion stemming from reason’s pure will toward totality, i.e. it must bring everything under one unifying perception, which requires a beginning. The antithesis is that since all we know is causation rather than initial creation, that can be all that exists. We cannot possibly experience anything but a chain of conditioned events because we are limited to objective knowledge. In Kant’s term, the continuous synthesis of conditioned objects, which would negate any beginning.

Our limited experience tells us that the universe is infinite without first cause. Our Cosmological Ideas from reason tell us that beyond experience there must be a first cause. Both are illusions, however; the former caused by the inviolable limitation of objective experience, and the latter from the error caused by the unconditioned nature of the ideas of reason themselves.

This error is compounded in both cases with the imposition of our purely subjective senses of space and time onto the noumenal realm, to which space and time do not apply, rendering the question itself nonsensical.

Craig’s approach is to largely ignore the underlying metaphysical problem at the core of the antinomies, and instead attempts to strengthen the thesis and undermine the antithesis rather than, as Kant cautioned, refrain from dogma on either side of an illusory problem. To the extent he does recognize the underlying metaphysical problem demonstrated in the First Antinomy, rather than confront it head on, Craig attempts to obliquely undermine it through appeal to the authority of two very obscure Christian academics. We will trace this attempt in his penultimate chapter:

First Premise: Everything that exists has a cause of its existence.

Craig begins with a suggestion that this premise can indeed be defended:

“Although we have declined an elaborate defense of the proposition that everything that exists has a cause of its existence, two possible lines of support might be elucidated.

The argument from empirical facts: The causal proposition could be defended as an empirical generalization from the widest sampling of experience. The empirical evidence in support of the proposition is absolutely overwhelming, so much so that Humean empiricists could demand no stronger evidence in any synthetic statement. To reject the causal proposition is therefore completely arbitrary. Although this argument from empirical facts is not apt to impress philosophers, it is nevertheless undoubtedly true that the reason we —and they—accept this principle in our everyday lives is precisely for this very reason, because it is repeatedly confirmed in our experience…” (p.145)

There are two serious flaws in this suggestion. The first is he gives no justification for attributing objective knowledge to a noumenal realm (the creation of the universe, the cause of which lies outside the observable universe). The second is that within the observable universe no first cause of creation has ever been observed, only the chained synthesis of conditioned objects.

Thus his empirical argument fails. Throwing Hume into the mix only obfuscates his failure to ground causation as anything outside our objective representations. No matter how many examples of synthesis in time, the conclusion of causality remains a matter of habit based on the assumption that nature never changes. So no, it would not convince Hume that causality is ontologically real.

The admission that his argument is not apt to impress philosophers reveals his real intended audience: naive believers looking for reinforcement of faith; and his method: appeal to naive common sense of the sort Kant showed to be illusory. This book is no serious piece of scholarship or philosophy, but mere pandering and salesmanship.

He then moves to his second possible line of support:

“The argument from the a priori category of causality: Hackett formulates a neo-Kantian epistemology and defends the validity of the causal principle as the expression of the operation of a mental a priori category of causality which the mind brings to experience. Kant had argued that knowledge is a synthesis of two factors: the sense data of experience and the a priori categorical structure of the mind. The categories are primitive forms of thought which the mind must possess in order to make logical judgements without which intelligible experience would be impossible. Kant attempted to compile a list of these categories by correlating a category with each of the types of logical judgement; the category associated with the hypothetical judgment type is the category of causality. Kant argued that these categories are not simply psychological dispositions in which we think, but that they are objectively valid mental structures which the mind brings a priori to experience. For without them no object of knowledge could be thought; if the mind does not come to experience with the a priori forms of thought, thought could never arise. Therefore, the categories must be objectively real. Kant made two crucial limitations on the operation of the categories: (1) the categories have no application beyond the realm of sense data, and (2) the categories furnish knowledge of appearances only, but not of the things in themselves.” (pp.145-146)

Here Craig introduces the first of two obscure Christian academics, Stewart C Hackett, whose conclusions he goes on to cite without argument. He takes these from Hackett’s The Resurrection of Theism: Prolegomena to Christian Apology, a book of apologetics, not philosophy; i.e. proselytizing, not dispassionate analysis. In relating Hackett, Craig presents his own distortion of Kant. His claim that the category of causality leads to objectively valid knowledge is literally true, but takes full advantage of the naïveté of his audience to create the impression that it is thus true in itself. Most of his readers would lack the sophistication to understand “objectively valid” within Kant’s limited meaning. Keep in mind that the categories are the very conditions of thought through which we create representations and order out of sense data. That creates the objective world, which we know as a coherent constructed representation of reality, although this reality in itself is manifold and beyond our objective determination. But for Kant, causality, like all categories, does not actually exist noumenally and can tell us nothing about the world in itself or anything prior to our observable universe. Therefore, causality is objectively true but with no real ontology outside our subjective ordering of sense data. His conclusion of “Therefore, the categories must be objectively real” really says nothing at all other than they are our conditions of thought objectively observed introspectively, with no reason to ground them in the physical reality of things-in-themselves.

Craig does end that paragraph by singling out Kant’s two issues that undermine Craig’s premise (no applicability beyond sense data, and knowledge of appearances only), but only to slide into a facile denial. He goes on to rely further on Hackett’s unargued but suspiciously convenient assertions:

“Hackett makes three critical alterations in Kant’s formulation of a categorical epistemology. First, the number of the categories must be reduced. It is universally recognized that Kant’s tables of categories and logical judgment types are highly artificial; accordingly, Hackett eliminates the categories totality and limitation and equates the category of existence to that of substance. The remaining categories he regards as validly derived.

Second, the remaining categories have application beyond the realm of sense data.” (P.146)

Merely on the assertion of an obscure apologist, Craig declares Kant’s inconvenient underlying arguments to simply be artificial and invalid — one more example of facilely dismissing Kant’s Antinomy instead of facing it head-on. There is no justification for the claim that categories must be reduced, just the desire to do so to maintain his premise. Second, there is no “universal” recognition that the categories are highly artificial. To the contrary, they were carefully derived from first enumerating the possible forms of judgment. He starts with Aristotles four categories of quantity, quality, relation, and modality, and derives three categories of judgement under each of these for 12 systematic categories of the understanding. Anybody who has studied Kant’s lengthy and methodical deduction of these categories in Book 1 of The Critique knows how ridiculous this statement is, and can see it as nothing more than a weak excuse to remove the obstacle Kant poses. Again, one can disagree with Kant’s schemata if one has a plausible counterargument, but never honestly dismiss it as arbitrary. Having claimed to remove the offending categories of totality and limitation (the very categories defining this particular antinomy), he goes on to proclaim that the remaining categories are not limited to sense data, therefore we can simply restore empty metaphysical claims.

Craig then resorts to the following tired canard of self-refutation, mindlessly repeated by apologists whenever scientific thought confounds their claims:

“Kant’s position is self-refuting: for if the categories are restricted in operation to the realm of sense data alone, then no knowledge of the categories themselves would be possible, since they are categorized by the very absence of sense data…” (p.146)

This is another outright distortion of Kant’s methodology. The whole point of critiquing Pure Reason is that, as our innate a priori conditions of thought itself, they are the only things that can be directly studied absent external information by objectifying our conditions of thought through introspection. That being said, it still is drawn out in the sensibilities of time and space in order to become intelligible to us. For example, we draw all synthetic propositions in time sequentially, and all analytic proposition in space, such as geometry. It is simply the objectification of our innate cognitive ability.

He follows with this:

“Third, the categories do furnish knowledge of things in themselves. For either things in themselves exist or they do not. If they do not, we are reduced to solipsism. Besides the obvious problems of solipsism, the crucial point is this: since the categories do apply to the phenomena and these are all that exist, it follows that the categories do give a knowledge of reality in itself. But suppose things in themselves do exist;…then it becomes impossible to deny that the categories provide knowledge of things in themselves. For at least the categories of reality and causality must apply to them (since they cause the phenomena which we apprehend), unless one is willing to relapse into solipsism. Thus, to assert ‘no knowledge of the noumena is possible’ is self-refuting since it itself purports be an an item of knowledge about the noumena, This means, concludes Hackett, that the categories are both forms of thought and forms of things — thought and reality are structured homogeneously.” (pp.146-147)

Once again Craig egregiously distorts Kant’s argument to claim a homogenous relation between thought and reality. Here he blurs the boundary between our reception of sense data and the thing-in-itself by insisting that since the thing-in-itself “causes” the sense data it must exist and include causation. First, to cite Kant from another occasion, existence is not a predicate. The point is we have no predicate for the thing-in itself, and assuming its existence therefore provides no information to us leading to knowledge. Second, that what we perceive as energy impinging our senses in no way indicates causality outside our innate categories. Craig is merely projecting our category of causality on something he knows nothing about. How our senses acquire data is only known form the workings on our side of the boundary. To say the things-in-themselves cause it is again a transcendental illusion intended to plug the gap of unobtainable knowledge.

He then summarizes Hackett’s argument and moves on to his other obscure Christian commentator, Bella Milmed:

“The argument, which is basically Kant’s, is not that without the categories we could not experience sensation much as an animal does, but that self-conscious thought could not arise unless the human mind were structured so that it could.

Since the categories are objective features of both thought and reality and since causality is one of these categories, causal relation must hold in the real world, and the causal principle would be a synthetic a priori proposition, It is a priori because it is universal and necessary, being a precondition of thought itself. But it is synthetic because the concept of an event does not entail the concept of being caused. Hackett’s attempt to thus found the causal principle on an a priori mental category merits further investigation outside the scope of this book; for as Bella Milmed observes, although much of Kant’s work is obsolete,

‘…surely most if not all of his categories are still recognizable as relevant to the interpretation of the empirical world; and the increased flexibility of logic means that it should be easier to find logical foundations for such categories, avoiding those of Kant’s derivation that appear strained. Moreover, some of the most important of his derivations, e.g., those of substance and causality, do not appear strained at all.’ (pp.147-148)

He begins with more sleight of hand through the inexact use of the term “reality”. Kant indeed claims that without the categories we could not construct a coherent representation of the world, and in fact we can conceive of the world in no other way. This constitutes objective reality. That does not imply that the world we represent has any knowable reality outside our objective representation, but merely that within that objective realm our thoughts can be seen as knowledge. There is no basis at all for Craig’s implication that it has any validity for things-in-themselves. Craig again resorts to obfuscation and distortion, and adds facile dismissal by claiming Kant obsolete — an odd objection from a man who makes a living peddling an obsolete primitive worldview and long abandoned Medieval metaphysics.

And now we move to Craig’s conclusion:

These two arguments suggest possible ways of defending the principle that everything that begins to exist has a cause of its existence. But probably most people do not really need convincing. In summary, we have concluded that (1) it is intuitively obvious that anything that begins to exist, especially the entire universe, must have a cause of its existence; (2) Hume’s attempt to show the universe could have sprung uncaused out of nothing fails to show this to be a real possibility, and (3) the causal principle could be more elaborately defended in two ways. Therefore, we conclude our first premises: everything that begins to exist has a cause of its existence.

It would be hard to imagine a weaker or less satisfying conclusion. His great and vaunted confrontation with Kant comes down to the meek suggestion that we may discover possible ways of defending his key premise that everything that exists has a cause to its existence, based on the non-arguments of two obscure theists, and that no proof is necessary since his premise is intuitively obvious. That apologists just might come up with a way to defend the claim does not quite make for a compelling premise, and non-compelling premises prove nothing. He utterly failed to address Kant’s demonstration that the “intuitively obvious” in this case is transcendental illusion. (P.148)

Craig does include an appendix: “The Kalam Cosmological Argument and the Thesis of Kant’s First Antinomy.” While on first glance it would seem relevant for critique here, it adds nothing further. You might remember that the thesis of that antinomy was that the world had a finite beginning. Once again, Craig fails to address Kant’s intent in presenting the antinomies, and dogmatically attempts to further argue for that thesis and undermine the antithesis, thereby continuing his habit of evading the real issue at play.

Modern Aspects

Philosophical

Since Francis Bacon, philosophy has traced a trajectory of reducing the metaphysical by gradually moving subjects of inquiry from the metaphysical to the empirical. Since Kant, a second prominent trajectory appeared limiting the validity of reason itself and elevating esthetic knowledge. In short, the Enlightenment announced an age in rejection of Medieval Scholastic Metaphysics, which proved a mortal wound to religion. Western Christianity is essentially a creation of Scholastic Metaphysics, and relies to this day on its arguments and constructed worldview. The ascending secular world, however, moved on.

The two great thinkers of the 20th Century, Ludwig Wittgenstein and Martin Heidegger, went on to reject their philosophical roots: Wittgenstein admitting the failure of propositional logic and Analytic Philosophy to explain reality, and Heidegger rejecting the inherent metaphysical residue of Phenomenology. Both declared philosophy to have reached an inglorious end and abandoned the 2500 year enterprise as a metaphysical and linguistic error. While certain mediocre denizens of publication-demanding academic departments yet ply this obsolete trade, serious thought has move onward. Wittgenstein claimed the only legitimate activity left to the thinker is to undo the tangled errors and illusions of our philosophical history by, as he put it, helping the flies back out of the bottles. Heidegger, on the other hand, urged an esthetic/poetic engagement with Being itself as we encounter it firmly with the discipline to refrain from flights of metaphysical fancy and hearkening faithfully to the mystery of Being itself.

Both great men used the term “das Mystische” to describe the lure of deeper reality, and most importantly, warned us not to speak what cannot be spoken. That means: know the limits of what reason can understand and be ever-vigilant against slipping into metaphysical fancy.

Science

The most astounding aspect of modern understanding of our world is that we still have no satisfying interpretation of quantum mechanics, and the likelihood of having one appears increasingly remote. The only fully honest interpretation is no interpretation at all: The Copenhagen Interpretation. Neils Bohr took Kant extremely seriously and refused to speculate on any description of the world that QM seemed to imply as mere empty metaphysical speculation of the noumenal realm. Since John Bell’s experiments in the early 60’s, it is confirmed that the subjective conditions of thought — time, space, and causality — do not pertain to the most fundamental level of reality and any attempt to interpret that realm inevitably leads to metaphysical fancy, such as Multiworld theory. Einstein’s theory of relativity showed the non-existence of anything resembling one universal time, and the equation of modern Loop Quantum Gravity does not even contain the variable “T”. As the preeminent physicist of Quantum Gravity and time, Carlo Rovelli, reminds us in The Order of Time: “The laws of elementary physics do not speak of “causes” but only of “regularities”…” (p169). He does speak of causality as a useful notion at higher emergent levels coupled with our consciousness, but not as an elemental property of nature in its own existence, and certainly not something we could posit at a quantum event such as the creation of a universe. And as for questions of eternity and infinite regression, he tells us that “time is ignorance”. It is only through remaining ignorant of the vast reality other than the focus on one small quantum system – a small eddy in a vast ocean – that our own perspective creates the impression of time.

Rovelli then encapsulates our latest understanding of the universe and our place in it:

“On closer inspection, in fact, even the things that are most “thinglike” are nothing more than long events. The hardest stone, in the light of what we have learned from chemistry, from physics, from mineralogy, from geology, from psychology, is in reality a complex vibration of quantum fields, a momentary interaction of forces, a process that for a brief moment manages to keep its shape, to hold itself in equilibrium before disintegrating again into dust, a brief chapter in the history of interactions between the elements of the planet, a trace of Neolithic humanity, a weapon used by a gang of kids, an example in a book about time, a metaphor for an ontology, a part of a segmentation of the world that depends more on how our bodies are structured to perceive than on the object of perception—and, gradually, an intricate knot in that cosmic game of mirrors that constitutes reality. The world is not so much made of stones as of fleeting sounds, or of waves moving through the sea.” (pp.98-99)

The most elemental reality of our universe is one of interacting quantum waves and spinfoam. Medieval notions of substance and accidents, things, material, causality, universal time are illusions no longer taken seriously by serious thinkers. As Kant glimpsed long ago, fundamental reality is not imaginable because we are bound by our categories and sensibilities of time and space. Modern physics has taken us to that very edge beyond which we can make no further representations. Any talk of finite/infinite, substance, uncaused cause, infinite regress, or presentism is empty prattle. Any system or order is fleeting and dependent on perspective. Any rational understanding is approximate, arbitrary, and severely limited in time, space, and chosen events. Talk of the beginning of existence is mere nonsense.

All that remains is our esthetic sense of mystery. Nietzsche’s Madman panicked as the realization of god’s death overwhelmed him and the world in vertigo. He knew full well that for hundreds of years there would be those dark souls attending the corpse of their god in caves; many more overcome with nausea as they succumb to their imbalance, and a few brave enough to reorient themselves toward an embrace of that mystery, free from the myths and dry monotonous dreams of empty men.

References

William Lane Craig, The Kalam Cosmological Argument, The MacMillan Press Limited, London, 1979

Carlo Rovelli, The Order of Time, Riverhead Books, 2018

Script for YouTube Video: Critique of Winger and Stratton Video on Free Will

Hello. I’m Jeffrey Williams. Welcome to another installment of Too Late for the Gods.

Today we will look at a video on the apologist Mike Winger’s channel, which is linked below, titled: How Free Will Conflicts with Atheism, which is a presentation of an argument set forth by his guest, a Dr. Tim Stratton.

The intent of Stratton’s argument is to demonstrate that humans have free will, that this free will can only be explained by way of the supernatural, and therefore free will proves the existence of god, and specifically the Christian God.

The Winger video is long, repetitious, and rambling, but we can get a sufficient understanding of the argument by focusing on two shorter sections. At the beginning, Stratton gives a somewhat meandering outline of the assumptions and elements of his argument, so we will begin there as an overview. He then moves on to a detailed presentation of his argument, which we will more closely examine.

Here is his introductory statement, which I will pause a few times to comment:

Cut 1

He starts with the constrained dichotomy of naturalism vs. supernaturalism, with naturalism defined as only those things that science can test and discover. It is a bifurcation fallacy in that it omits other non-metaphysical and non-supernatural approaches, such as the Heideggerian questioning of Being and non-reductive physicalism which accepts that physical reality cannot be completely known through scientific method due to our epistemological limits. In doing so he obscures the real question at hand: the conflicting views of a deterministically causal universe vs. indeterminacy. If the universe is causally deterministic, then there could be no free will. Indeterminacy, on the other hand, frees us from determinism at the most fundamental level allowing for the possibility of free will. At its core, free will is not a question of substances, souls, or the supernatural, but merely the degrees of freedom inherent in the universe and the quantum nature of the mind. Through this move Stratton replaces indeterminacy with supernaturalism to set up the false dichotomy of material nature vs. an immaterial soul. From the assumption that free will cannot be explained within physical nature he argues that free will has a supernatural origin which proves the existence of god, and specifically, the Christian god.

In doing so he claims that if naturalism is true then everything is causally determined by “physics and chemistry”, seemingly unaware that chemistry is in fact a branch of physics. I may seem to be needlessly picky here, but it is an early indication of much more serious naivety to come.

From this blurred misrepresentation of the core issue of determinism vs. indeterminacy he moves to the claim that if nature forces upon us a false belief we have no way under naturalism to reach a better belief. Perhaps, however I see no reason why nature experienced from another perspective might not produce more accuracy, but this misses the real point. It might still be that deterministic causality is true and our inability to discern truth is just the consequence we have to accept. His dismissal of this possibility as crazy is not a criticism to be taken seriously.

But that leaves another problem in his presentation. It isn’t clear why having a true belief is necessarily connected to free will. He seems to imply that our ability to reason is itself an act of free will and that reason fully explains our choosing what to believe and decision making. His confusion of epistemology with practical choice will become more problematic as we examine his argument in detail.

He next addresses the problem of truth by merely claiming we can have true beliefs. This evades two very difficult issues. The first is that it would also be possible to have true beliefs forced on us through determinacy. More importantly, this is an early example of his confusion of what we can know with what we can choose that carries throughout his argument.

Instead of pondering those more fundamental issues, he resorts to the old and tired claim of self-refutation of science. How could naturalism claim there are no true beliefs if that claim is itself a claim of a true belief. First, it isn’t accurate to say naturalism precludes true belief, which I will explain in detail later on. For the question of free will, this is an irrelevant question anyway, but his real goal is to discredit naturalism to insert a god of the gaps solution. He intends to reduce the refutation of free will to naturalism and then discredit naturalism with its supposed inability to claim true belief. The self-refutation claim, however, is simply wrong. It is possible for a rational system to notice its inability to adequately describe observations that defy reason, such as quantum nonlocality and superposition, or the fundamental contradictions among Newtonian physics, Relativity, and Quantum Mechanics. But this false claim of self-refutation is almost a reflex among apologists to evade addressing the problems involved.

He moves from false premises to the false conclusion that since you can reach true beliefs you are capable of beliefs that are not deterministically derived, and therefore a free thinker. And since that isn’t possible within mere nature, we have a supernatural element of free will derived from a supernatural soul.

He then pretends to address the conflation of naturalist with atheist:

Cut2

Here he merely preserves his concealment of the false choice of naturalism vs. the supernatural by claiming that there are a few atheists who believe in the supernatural, concealing the large number of atheist physicists and philosophers who would fall under non-reductive physicalist: that is, those who reject both the notion of anything beyond physical reality and the notion that reality can be fully understood within science, not because of anything supernatural, but due to our limited cognitive structure.

Winger then moves to blur the picture even more:

Cut 3

He claims that naturalists derive their views from the presupposition that there is no god. The inverse is actually the case: they reject god because of their view of a deterministic universe, ascendant since Bacon, which removes the explanatory need for god. In other words, as the gaps narrow, god loses explanatory power.

Stratton now completes his sleight of hand:

Cut 4

He states that when he says “atheist”, he means naturalist, thus allowing himself to slide into the false appearance that free will implies the supernatural god. His actual argument, however, centers on a question that can only be understood as determinism vs. indeterminacy, and the only correct term in his argument would be “naturalist”, not atheist. In short, he is confusing the term, or equivocating.

Now let’s turn to his formal argument:

He starts with a preliminary argument to set up a premise to the main argument:

Cut 5

First, I need to point out that anybody who thinks they have resolved the question of free will either doesn’t really understand the question, as I suspect is the case here, or is simply lying. And not only is this not one of the most powerful arguments, metaphysical or otherwise, I’ve ever seen. It isn’t even a good argument.

Premise one assumes that rational inference is the mode of free will as the ability to choose. This is a highly questionable assumption that has been increasingly refuted the past couple centuries. We could, in fact, view rational decision-making as the opposite of freedom. Reason works mechanistically. A syllogism is a sort of machine that dictates a conclusion, thus eliminating choice. If we submit ourselves to reason we surrender our free will to the dictates of this machine. Again, I’m not arguing we don’t have free will – we might. But it would never be demonstrated as our ability to reason. It was in fact the Enlightenment promotion of reason applied to sense data as the true path to knowledge that brought about the view of a causally deterministic universe to begin with.

Premise 2 suffers from vagueness intended to cover up some confusion. That we as humans have an innate capacity for reason in no way implies that reason necessarily affirms knowledge claims, if by affirming knowledge claims Stratton means demonstration of a true correspondence between the thought and reality. Later he will make clear that is his meaning, which again is a naive assumption. I’ll expand on this later in the video.

The point here is his claim that these premises prove his conclusion of libertarian freedom simply is not valid. Reason is neither a simple matter of free choice, nor is it necessarily applicable to fundamental reality.

He then moves on to his main argument, where he intends to demonstrate that free will is supernatural and that the god of the Bible is the best explanation for its existence.

Cut6

As should be obvious, this argument rests on the prior preliminary argument which argued that the ability to reason necessarily proved libertarian freedom. Without that conclusion, there is no force to his argument, but that isn’t the only problem. His additional premises are also naive and unpersuasive. As he went on to state in the video, the argument is structurally sound in that it follows the rules for a valid syllogism, but equally important are the truth of the premises in order for the argument to be sound. We will now follow his defense of these premises one at a time:

Cut 7

It is true that naturalism precludes an immaterial soul, but if he had succeeded in refuting naturalism, that would in no way support the existence of a soul. We have alternate possibilities, as I stated earlier that could explain consciousness within physical reality. In the 21st Century, it is well established that the fundamental state of nature defies rational explanation and deterministic causality – a realization that will undermine his argument and add one more example of his naivety earlier foreshadowed by his “physics and chemistry”. He simply has no grasp of physics, which underlies the whole deterministic vs. indeterminacy issue at the base of the question of free will.

He repeats this same error in Premise 2:

Cut 8

He adds needless and obfuscatory confusion by modifying soul with immaterial. Again, a basic knowledge of physics might have been useful here. First, at the fundamental level of reality there is no material, only energy. In fact what we perceive as matter is really just an incredibly complex interplay of quantum fields, one of which must be the Higgs field. In reality, the universe itself is immaterial, but physical as wave energy.

This is where quantum reality comes into play. Some leading physicists and neuroscientists, such as Penrose and Hameroff, are engaged in a serious exploration of Quantum Mind Theory, which is the first plausible fully physical explanation of consciousness. It eliminates the misleading metaphysical supposition of substances and suggests the possibility of free will. It starts from the fact that we are quantum beings entangled in a quantum universe. Being such, our entanglement could be the first step of consciousness, and operating at the indeterminate quantum level, escapes the problem of determinacy, thus enabling free will. While this theory is in its infancy, it has the advantage of not relying on unknowable metaphysical assertions.

The important point is his assertion that without an immaterial soul we cannot have free will is groundless and contradicted by quantum physics. Quantum entanglement could fill the gap which will eliminate immaterial soul as an explanation.

And in premise 3 we find that Stratton is equally unaware of contemporary neuroscience. This will be an extended clip of his presentation because this premise really centers on the crux of the matter:

Cut 9

He seems to assume that our choices and decisions are either conscious internal acts if we have free will and thus driven by our own agency, or externally driven. Neuroscientific evidence suggests neither scenario. It is with this premise that the most important issues arise.

Much modern research stems from the experiments of Benjamin Libet in the 1980’s where he used external electrodes to measure the time between brain activity and the moment the subject became aware of making a decision to move a finger. The result showed about a half of a second lag between the brain activity and the perceived conscious decision. The experiment was criticized on several fronts, most importantly the lack of timing accuracy provided by external electrodes and little understanding of what took place in that half of a second. These experiments, however, were greatly refined with the advent of fMRI, which not only gave immediate results, but mapped the parts of the brain involved. The lag between decision and consciousness of making a decision has persisted in the refined experiments, and some recent experiments have even shown the apparent ability to predict a subject’s decision before the subject is aware of his choice and acts.

Some have seen this as evidence of determinism, but the question is not so easily resolved. What does become apparent is that Stratton’s simplistic concept of free will does not correspond with the actual processes. What we find is that most decision making is pre-conscious and emergent from many factors. The simplistic dichotomy of external causation vs. individual agency is false, and as is usually the case with metaphysical issues that never resolve, it asks the wrong questions. Purely internal causation can also be deterministic. It turns out there is actually a continuum of action, stretching from neural reflex to sophisticated analysis that involves more involvement of the cerebral cortex, but all of the actions have a preconscious component. If we put aside the question of external determination to focus on internal agency, we still see nothing like a purely logical decision process or one even under conscious control. Rather, we preconsciously undergo a confluence and conflict of emotions and desires, including libido, conscience, empathy, etc through which some process not yet understood, an action results. Only after the decision is made do we become conscious of the decision, if we can even call it that, and experience the illusion of choice at that moment. But really the decision existed before it entered the conscious mind. In everyday life we feel our way through the world, which we sometimes later rationalize to justify. But reason is not the way we primarily respond.

This is not a new insight, as philosophers as divergent as Hume and Burke theorized this a couple centuries ago.

This does not answer the question of free will, a question that depends on whether the mind is quantum, and a rethinking of what free will would even be. Again, that question rests on whether determinacy or indeterminacy hold sway. But it resolutely precludes the assumption of premise 3 that we rationally infer and rationally affirm knowledge claims in decision making. Scientific reasoning and future planning are further along the spectrum toward cerebral cortex involvement, but are not the usual mode of decision-making and are still largely influenced preconsciously. Everyday decisions, including moral judgments, are much further toward the preconscious workings of conflicting sensibilities and less cerebral determination.

In the video, Winger and Stratton derisively dismiss the possibility of free will being an illusion, but the preponderance of scientific study suggests it is. They have often carelessly dismissed the suggestion that their experience is an illusion. Certainly the earth doesn’t orbit the sun since I can’t feel it move under my feet and I obviously see the night sky move. It turns out that very basic certainties, such as space, time, and causality are to a great extent illusory. Simple derisive dismissal is only a sign of ignorance.

Stratton then takes a turn toward justification for our beliefs, which is a bit removed from the question of free will. It is really a continuation of his confusion in premise 3 between an epistemological question of inferring truth and the practical question of decision making:

Cut 10

Here Stratton fails in making any point at all. He claims the view that reason produces illusion is self-evidently false, ignoring the large body of contemporary neuroscience and epistemology that suggests it just might illusory, or at best an extreme reduction. Stratton and Winger merely repeat here the same error they made when justifying free will as self-evident. They once again resort to the tired and false argument that if we claim science based on reason is an illusion, then there is no justification for naturalist claims, while also again tacitly conflating atheism with naturalism. Of course, it just could turn out to be illusion.

He then goes into a confused examination of the epistemology involved and makes an unfortunate inclusion of Plantinga’s redefinition of properly basic beliefs, which only further blurs the picture:

Cut 11

Here he comes perilously close to the fallacy of appeal to authority by exaggerating the status of epistemologists, first by claiming them “professional”, whatever that might mean, and then simultaneously misstating the principles of some epistemologists and presenting the field as if unified through widespread agreement.

To clarify a bit, there is a school of epistemology called Foundationalist Epistemology, against which Plantinga argued because its foundation ruled out any possibility to prove the existence of god. The intention was to avoid infinite regress in justifying assumptions by positing conditions under which an assumption can be presumed basic and true, It in fact did have three criteria of which at least one must be satisfied to become a properly basic belief – and they were definitely not as Stratton claimed “justified”, “true”, and “belief”.

The three criterion are actually

1. Evident to the senses

2. A priori axiomatic (1+1=2)

3. Incorrigible

In other words, to be a properly basic belief it must be observable or a condition of thought itself. This had the effect, unfortunate for theists, of eliminating all purely metaphysical assertions of being, such as god. Plantinga attempted to weaken these conditions through his insistence of including traditional beliefs and personal testimony. I mention this only because Stratton will only confuse this issue further with his introduction of Plantinga’s reformed epistemology. I should also add that foundationalism is far from the only, or even dominant view in epistemology.

Cut 12

This is a distortion of the epistemology in a couple ways. First, the comparison of properly basic belief is to contingent belief, not knowledge. Knowledge stems both from observation, i.e. primary basic belief, and arguments contingent on these beliefs. They do not come into conflict, and Stratton set up a false contradiction. Second, as we have already seen, it is very debatable that knowledge can be grounded in reason, and much of contemporary philosophy grounds knowledge instead in experience. Foundational Epistemology, for example, grounds it in observed events (experience) or our a priori conditions of experience.

He next alludes to Plantinga’s Evolutionary argument against naturalism:

Cut 12

Here he centers on the unsound argument that if evolution was guided by survival rather than truth, then naturalism lacks the tools to know that. First, that in no way supports his claim that reason did evolve to find truth. Second, the aim of reason to be other than truth in fact can be demonstrated through experience, such as awareness of where reason breaks down in the face of recalcitrant experienced reality, and observance of the mechanism of reason within neuroscience. Anil Sith and Donald Hoffman, among other leading philosophers and neuroscientists, show how reason reduces incomprehensibly complex reality to grossly simplified icons which we could then manipulate. Rather than Plantinga’s claim that a true grasp of reality through reason would aid our survival, it becomes apparent that the complexity would overwhelm and freeze us into inaction. Hoffman compares this to icons on a computer graphic interface, only through which the incomprehensible stream of 1’s and 0’s becomes usable, but are not in themselves anything real. As our forbears evolved reason while fighting for survival on the savanna, they were able to manipulate their environment to escape predators and catch prey through simplifying the world down to only those representations which were necessary to plan and act. True grasp of nature was not the purpose, but mere practicality. But this also does not imply the understanding is completely false, or it would have had no adaptive value. The point is it reduces and approximates the environment for practical purposes, not revelation of underlying truth. It should come as no surprise that rational systems of understanding always break down when more complexity is introduced, as we see in both relativity and quantum physics.Science itself is an outgrowth of this gross simplification into icons as shown in its current struggle to explain complexity beyond our grasp.

Now it’s Wingers turn to make an invalid point:

Cut 13

He he merely attempts to affirm the Plantinga/Stratton argument through empty assertion: that the claimed jump from reason aimed at reproduction was then somehow stretched to forming rational philosophical beliefs is too big a leap to make. Once the idea that the earth orbited the sun because it’s evident I can’t feel the earth move under my feet and I can see the sun move across the sky was also too big of a leap. But in the end, the evidence supports those stretches and Winger’s facile dismissal only exposes his own shallow grasp of the issue.

And this brings us finally to Stratton’s last premise that humans do possess the ability to infer and affirm knowledge:

Cut 14

Again, it is another repetition of the false argument that we are not able to recognize the limitation of reason from within reason. In fact, science never claims reason is totally false – it does have approximate correspondence to reality, but only as a gross simplification within limited parameters for practical purpose. It’s also necessary to point out that the only impetus to his claim would be to discredit naturalism, not to establish free will. To bring us back to the central point I made at the beginning, the question of free will is not one of naturalism vs. theism or the supernatural, but total causal determinism vs. some degree of indeterminacy. The issue of naturalism is a red herring which, and, despite his earlier disclaimer, he is using it to imply that free will disproves atheism. Of course it does no such thing.

Stratton next takes us on a journey back to high school math class to give us an analogy that actually undermines the point he tries to sell us:

Cut 15

This is where Stratton’s confusion of knowledge with free practical reason, that is epistemology with decision making, will becomes a serious problem. First of all, this analogy focuses on what constitutes knowledge, not on what enables free will, although he will try to fudge that gap later. More importantly, it doesn’t even support his claim of “knowledge of reality”.

If we compare students 2 and 3 we will see their actions and knowledge were not essentially different as concerns reality. Student 2 received his information for the correct answer from an external source. It didn’t tell him the reality of the correct answer or the world at large – the answer could have been wrong. The point here is his action was externally derived from his internal inclination to trust the source. But what about student 3? Her decision to choose C was also externally derived, presumably by the words of her teacher and math textbook, and internally from her inclination to trust those sources. Her working of the problem was only a more intricate performance of the same type as student 2. As for knowledge of reality, what if this class was on Euclidean geometry which posits that parallel lines can never meet? Did it tell her anything true of the world? We know that if we expand the frame of reference to the scale of relativity, then parallel lines will necessarily meet and her externally derived answer does not tell us about reality. It is based on too small a frame of reference as assumed in the narrow band of reality described by Newtonian physics, within which reason evolved and to which it adapted. To come closer to reality we would need Riemannian geometry.

In both 2 and 3 no free will is demonstrated, but rather two examples of decisions caused by external forces, neither of them having anything to do with “knowledge of reality”.

As Stratton clearly stated at the beginning, his argument is structurally correct but unsound if the premises are false. As I have shown, the premises are naively false, relieving us of the burden of examining his unsupported conclusions.

Again, I have not tried to disprove free will. On the contrary, I lean toward the view that quantum mind theory, along with a rethinking of what free would be, just might establish free will. Rather, I have shown that the typical theist attempt to establish god on the basis of free will fails due to false premises based on obsolete medieval metaphysical assumptions, and are not to be taken seriously.

I necessarily reduced a long, rambling, and repetitious video to these few clips which I feel sufficed to fairly present their argument. If either Winger or Stratton disagree, I would welcome them to come on to discuss and make their case – This invitation also extends to any other competent respondent.

Response to Jack Shawhan on my critique of Analytic Philosophy

When you say I’m eschewing all analytical philosophy over the sake of criticism of one school and proposing the truth has at last been found, it almost sounds like you’re constructing a metanarrative of which you might be oversimplifying my critique. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist). If nothing else, I would like to dispel some misconceptions in your reply.

I don’t base my critique of analytical philosophy on one school, and certainly not just on Wittgenstein. Heidegger and Nietzsche are much greater influences on me than Wittgenstein, but the flea in the jar metaphor was too perfect for this particular situation. I should also point out that my undergraduate and graduate studies were in a staunchly analytic department built by Carnap at the University of Chicago, so I come to this with more than a little familiarity with the subject.

I have no answer to your question of why you ought not continue with analytic philosophy, which is a question only you could answer. And in fact, I’d be very interested to hear why you think you should. I can answer why I don’t and why I think it is of no value.

From the time of Pythagoras and Thales, philosophy has been primarily focused on the nature of existence and man’s place within it. I think Heidegger, Nietzsche, and others have it exactly right when they trace the fatal error of Western philosophy to Socrates, who set us off on a metaphysical quest that obliterated Being itself. It was the rational reduction of A is A to A=A that was this first disastrous misstep. Before Socrates, the “is” was far more than a mere copula, but rather the most active of all verbs. It intimated its all-encompassing mode of being as we experience it in this physical world. A=A obliterated the singular being of A, making it a rational concept identical to all other A’s, and in doing so wrenched our thinking from the physical at hand to metaphysical reductions leading to mere metaphysical constructions. In short, it wrenched Being from the world and displaced it into a purely imaginary metaphysical realm. Another way to put it, which is more directly relevant here, is that it reduced Logos to logic. And it is this logic that led us to a two millennia history of error.

There are two major trends in thought over the past 250 years or so that bring us to where we are now:

1. The reduction of metaphysics through expansion of science.

2. Beginning with Romanticism, the overturning of the privileged position of the rational mode of knowledge to the esthetic mode.

Nietzsche describes our current situation in Section 125 of The Gay Science when the madman announces the death of god and expresses the terror that brings upon us. We are left in a vertigo and unsure how to regain our equilibrium. It was Enlightenment Reason as the culmination of the scientific age that killed god, but it was reason that also blew us off course and leaves us stranded and unable to navigate further.

And in the next few decades this was made palpable through the discoveries of physics. Einstein showed that space and time were not the stable platform we had assumed, but weird, counterintuitive and relative to frame of reference – the first step toward a world not describable through a unitary rational explanation. Quantum Mechanics was the next step, too radical for even Einstein to accept, which revealed that fundamental reality defies deterministic causation, space, time, and the identity principle. In other words, we can predict probabilities of quantum events through Schrödinger’s equation, but it implies an irrational and  incomprehesnible universe. Despite Einstein’s protests, John Bell proved conclusively in the 1960’s that quantum mechanics was true and the world really does defy rational description. This discovery was paralleled in the works of the mathematical physicists Poincare and Wigner, who each showed that any rational systematic explanation of the universe was at best approximate, provisional, and tightly bounded by limited space, time, and chosen events. (Should anyone be interested, I have written fairly extensively on this topic, some of which is available at http://www.toolateforthegods.com )

This all was another aspect of Nietzsche’s vertigo. It was apparent that reason did not describe the universe as it is, but only gave the appearance of order at the cost of radical reduction of the underlying manifold reality, and necessarily led to error through the irreality of rational concepts and propositions.

The 20th century revealed two contradictory approaches to this overwhelming vertigo, each represented by the two great thinkers of that century. Wittgenstein  accepted the “mystical” nature of fundamental reality and concluded that we must be silent before it because it is beyond the reach of language. The only thing we can do is end philosophy, return language to its proper playground, and pretty much let the world take care of itself. And to help it along, let’s do our part in regaining equilibrium by dissolving all the artificial problems and controversies caused by the long linguistic error of philosophy by helping the flies out of the bottles.

Heidegger took the opposite approach. By turning to the esthetic mode of knowledge inherent in poetic language, he overcame metaphysics by turning our inquiry solely on the physical world and our place in it through its esthetic knowledge. In a sense, a return to Heraclitus, Thales, and Pythagoras. Philosophy was over, and our only way out of the vertigo is to poetically inquire into what is authentic in Being itself and let that form the ground of our thinking.

It is important to note that neither approach claimed to have solved the problems. Wittgenstein saw the problem of philosophy as unsolvable, and Heidegger saw us at such a primitive stage that we hadn’t yet even discovered the right questions. Similar to yesterday’s example of the debate over the definition of atheism concealing the more appropriate first step of thinking the nature of the holy itself.

Let’s return to the proper focus of philosophy: the nature of the universe and man’s place in it. The reason philosophy draws to this is the very same reason the best physicists do also: that is where the mystery is. Mystery is primarily an esthetic response, which through embarrassment, science has often attempted to sublimate through mathematical expression. But it is the mystery that draws us. Wittgenstein said to remain silent before it because we could never say anything sensible or true about it. Scientists tried and failed to reduce it the quantifications of A=A, which floundered with the failure of logical positivism and the indeterminacy of the world. Heidegger embraced the mystery and sought it through poetry, much as Nietzsche did through music.

At this point, the universe has revealed itself as elemental quantum fields, at core: resonance. Everything we encounter, including ourselves, are part of this incomprehensibly complex symphony of elemental waves, not reduceable to computation or propositional logic. And it is at this limit of our ability to grasp reality that the important thinking takes place today. Physicists and philosophers blend into one grasping, awe-struck experience and inquiry.

Accordingly, I ignore analytic philosophy because, at best it is a harmless parlor game no more meaningful than a crossword puzzle, and at worst it conceals the path to truth through the error of imposing propositional logic and its attendant reductions on a world that defies it at every turn, and overburdening those kindly souls helping the flies escape.

Instead, I go where the music and fun takes place: at the edge of the mystery. Incorporating Nietzsche’s joyful light dance with Heidegger’s search for the holy.

Script to YouTube Video: Critique of Richard Swinburne’s Argument for God

This is the script for my YouTube video: Critique of Richard Swinburne’s Argument for God.

Today’s video might seem a little dry, as we will necessarily rummage through the desiccate ashes and bones of medieval metaphysics which form Richard Swinburne’s thinking. I think it’s worth the effort, however, because it gives us a realistic measure of the quality of modern theistic philosophy. Many apologists admit, when pressed, that Plantinga is disappointing and William Lain Craig is a dishonest rhetorician, but Swinburne! Now there’s our real philosopher!

In 2016, Swinburne contributed to the Philosophy Society Lecture Series at the University of Edinburgh where he gave a full exposition of his argument for the existence of god. The video of this talk, which is linked to below, gives us a perfect means to critically examine this argument.

Swinburne considers himself a natural theologian. That is: he claims to employ the scientific method of induction from observed phenomena to arrive at the most probable explanation for these phenomena. His inductive method builds upon cumulative probabilities of succeeding phenomena to arrive at the most probable.

I’ll ask your forgiveness for starting with a necessarily lengthy clip of his setup of his explanation because it is important to our understanding the rhetorical trick that this will enable:

Cut 1

In setting up his argument he presupposes two critical factors, the first of which we see here as the presupposition of a personal rather than inanimate (or scientific) explanation. In describing these two types of explanatory hypothesis he implies the only essential difference between them is that personal substances have conscious intent where inanimate substances have essential but unconscious liability toward an action. Since his hypothesis is the existence of god supported by observation, he would necessarily need to show that intent is the best explanation of observed phenomena, thus his is a personal explanatory hypothesis. Of course, if he fails at some point to justify this claim of intent, he is then merely concluding god through prior supposition of god. Accordingly, he will later attempt to prove conscious intent through the claim of intelligent design, an argument that itself presupposes intent, as we will see, and thus fails to escape circular reasoning.

He then proposes four criteria for determining the truth of an explanatory hypothesis:

Cut 2

1. We must have observed many phenomena which it quite probable would occur and no phenomena which it quite probable would not have occurred.

This is just saying that any explanation would have to be compatible with observed phenomena.

2. It must be far less probable that a phenomenon would occur in the normal course of things if the hypothesis is false.

As you will see when we get to his actual argument, he runs into to trouble with this criterion because he resorts to wild claims about probability that we can’t possibly know. We will also see the problems of the fallacy of argument from rarity, and that metaphysical conjecture can be made to fit any set of observations because it isn’t constrained by reality.

3. The hypothesis must be simple, that is it must postulate the existence and operation of few substances and few kinds of substances with a few easily describable properties behaving in mathematically simple kinds of ways.

I said earlier that Swinburne had two critical presuppositions, the first being a personal explanation. This supposition of simplicity is that second and where we will see Swinburne get into real trouble. We need to spend some time on this criterion because his entire argument rests completely on this single claim, which he emphasis at multiple times in his presentation. If this claim remains unjustified, his entire argument collapses. In fact, his entire philosophical approach in general rests on the claim to simplicity, as he wrote in 1997 in Simplicity as Evidence for Truth:

I seek…to show that—other things being equal—the simplest hypothesis proposed as an explanation of phenomena is more likely to be the true one than is any other available hypothesis, that its predictions are more likely to be true than those of any other available hypothesis, and that it is an ultimate a priori epistemic principle that simplicity is evidence for truth (Swinburne 1997, p. 1).

  • Swinburne, R., 1997, Simplicity as Evidence for Truth, Milwaukee: Marquette University Press.

But is the simplest hypothesis really more probable to be true? Is it really an a priori epistemic principle, or an anachronistic Christian claim? The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy discusses this and then quotes the analytic philosopher, J.J.C.

For these reasons, few philosophers today are content to rest with a theological justification of simplicity principles. Yet there is no doubting the influence such justifications have had on past and present attitudes to simplicity. As Smart (1994) writes:

There is a tendency…for us to take simplicity…as a guide to metaphysical truth. Perhaps this tendency derives from earlier theological notions: we expect God to have created a beautiful universe (Smart 1984, p. 121).

  • Smart, J.J.C., 1984, “Ockham’s Razor,” in Principles of Philosophical Reasoning, ed. Fetzer, 118–28.

This traces the general acceptance of this principle of simplicity back to early Christian philosophers and theologians, who derived this principle from the idea that the Christian god is innately rational and thus created a rationally understandable simple universe.

In fact, Swinburne will go on to ground simplicity in the nature of god in this argument, but what are we to do if observation confirms a universe that isn’t simple or beautifully unified?

The problem grows more acute when the hypothesis posits a purely metaphysical being, such as god. The theist can claim any powers and attributes necessary to build a just-so explanation of phenomena because he is not constrained by reality. We could never test god to see if he exists or if he has these claimed qualities customed tailored to fit the phenomena. But in the end, our understanding of phenomena improves over time, leaving the theist’s god explaining a world wrongly portrayed. And that is another of Swinburne’s downfalls.

But focused solely on the applicability of the simplicity principle, we can look back to the controversy over a geocentric universe versus a heliocentric universe. Both Ptolemy and Copernicus devised rational systematic explanations that accurately predicted the appearance of the night sky. Some Christians came to grudgingly accept Copernicus over time on the basis that his explanation was simpler as the mathematical calculations needed to explain simpler planetary movements. But in reality, Ptolemy certainly had the simpler explanation with one focal point around which the entire cosmos orbits, whereas we now know that there are innumerable suns with orbiting planets. Many orbital focal points instead of one. The much more complicated system of many orbital focal points proved to be true.

In the late 19th Century atomic theory was thought to be the simple and fundamental explanation that correctly predicted chemical reactions, with atoms seen as the smallest indivisible elements of the universe. A few decades later Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg upended that simple notion with quantum mechanics, which showed not only a highly complicated subatomic structure, but events that defied time, space, and causality. It was criticized for some time on the bases that it was too complicated and irrational to be true, as with Einstein’s famous comment that god does not play dice with the universe. He, along with Podolsky and Rosen, wrote a paper claiming the Copenhagen Interpretation must be incomplete because nature exists as a unification of simple natural laws. It is often said that Einstein was the last physicist who could honestly claim a simple rational universe. In the 1960’s, John Bell proved conclusively that Quantum Mechanics is true despite its irrational defiance of time, space and deterministic causality. Nevertheless, there still are some physicists chasing the dream of a grand unification theory, but the more we learn the dimmer that hope becomes. Poincare, Wigner, and Gödel have demonstrated that fundamental reality is noncomputable, rendering the applicability of mathematics approximate, and rational systems provisional and tightly bounded by time, space, and chosen events. The universe inexorably rebels against any attempt to describe it in terms of any one theory or set of calculations. Newtonian physics failed to describe events at the macro level while quantum mechanics cannot account for gravity central to the general theory of relativity.

Decades later, Hawking retorted that god not only plays dice with the universe, he sometimes even hides the dice.

But if the universe is irrational at its most fundamental level, the antiquated Christian claim of simplicity is invalid and any argument solely resting on that claim will founder.

4. Must fit within our knowledge of how the world works in wider field (our background evidence)

This simply means that the hypothesis must conform to other knowledge outside the scope of the proposed hypothesis. Again, this is a dubious criterion in that what we have shown above guarantees contradictory hypothesis, such as general relativity and quantum theory, because of the limitation in space, time and chosen events producing only approximate, limited, and provisional explanations. It also becomes moot, in that Swinburne claims it unnecessary to demonstrate given the infinite scope of his claimed god leaving no wider field.

We can now examine his actual argument. He presents four phenomena which he believes are best explained by a personal god:

1. The existence of a physical universe

2. From its conformity to simple natural laws

3. That such laws lead to human and animal bodies

4. And from those bodies to bodies of reasoning humans who choose between good and evil.

Cut 3

His method is now to subject each of these four phenomena to the four criterion he proposed above. We will look at his argument now one step at a time:

Cut 4

Personal argument: God is one person with intent, omnipotent and omniscient capable of any rational act, that is without logical contradiction

This is a curious argument. First of all, we need to ask why an omnipotent being would be constrained by logic. If he is capable of creating anything at all, he certainly would be able to create a livable world unconstrained by logic. And when he goes on to further explain that the logical design of nature enables man to understand this world, he necessarily limits the omniscience of god to that of mere mortals. But there is a deeper problem. As quantum physics, as well as Wigner, Poincare, and Gödel demonstrated, the world itself is not rational, implying that nature’s powers exceed god’s, as his power is limited to rational acts.

Cut 5

Without irrational desires but driven by reason alone, therefore perfectly free

This is another odd claim which goes back to the Christian notion that senses are sinful and reason is pure. He seems to have adopted Kant’s notion of Transcendental Reason as the key to free will as it allows us to override the worldly urges of the senses. But are urges and emotions not also good? What about the emotion of awe when we experience the sublime? Is love not stronger than pale reason? And if god created the world according to his rational intention, how did emotions get here to begin with? It would seem to me that a better explanation is that esthetic experience allows us to perceive the deeper mystery of reality that reason conceals. There is profound knowledge to be gained esthetically in great works of art, literature and music. This would be a mode of knowledge available to man, but not to a purely rational god. Here again, the experience of man entails more ability than the claimed omnipotent god.

Cut 6

Everlasting as eternal within time

He binds god to the flow of time because he can’t make sense of imagining it any other way. This again is hugely problematic in that not all of physical reality exists in time. Contemporary physics is homing in on the observation that time is emergent from the vibratory clock of mass. This implies there is no time in a universe at the time of inflation, i.e. the big bang or for some time after when the universe has cooled enough for particles to form, and in particular, to interact with the Higgs field. All mass emerges from such interaction with the Higgs field. That would imply that time would also not pertain and the lowest quantum field level. Likewise, when the universe has reached the point of expansion where all mass is too distant to interact, it entirely would return to the state of cold timelessness. In addition, we know from relativity that there is no universal or cosmic flow of time, but an infinite number of local times. What Swinburne proposes here is nonsense based on Medieval ignorance. But once again, we see physical reality with greater power than a supposedly omniscient god because it is free from a temporal flow in which Swinburne’s god is bound.

Cuts 7

Here he tries to demonstrate that one omnipotent and omniscient god is the simplest personal explanation. Critically absent, however, is the comparison to an inanimate explanation of the cosmos. If we were to ignore the contradictions and false assumption of simplicity inherent in his exposition and simply take it on its own terms, his principle of simplicity would lead him to this problem: His explanation of the physical world explained by an immaterial god outside of our world requires two substances: the observable inanimate and the unobservable person of god. By the way, in other writing Swinburne tries to defend the dual substance claim of Cartesian Duality. An inanimate explanation derived solely from power and liability would not only go far in resolving the aforementioned conflicts but be simpler by containing only one substance.

He goes on to other claims that seem counter to his notion of omnipotence, such as god’s inability to effect past events, which appears possible in the physical world through wave collapse of light received from billions of years ago. But quibbling over these issues is probably unnecessary at this point and would distract us from his fatal problem stemming from his simplicity principle. In fact, he leaves this obvious problem unspoken and instead turns to the issues of probability to show there must be intention in the creation of the universe.

He gives a lengthy exposition of criterion 1 – that an omniscient god would want to create only good, and goes through a sequence of things that ends with man as a conscious substance with free will. It is in his exposition of criterion 2 that he pivots to his problematic claims of probabilities.

Cut 8

Criterion 2 If no god it is immensely improbable that these four phenomena would occur

Increasing improbabilities building up Fine tuning.

                For particles to just happen after the big bang,

                That they would behave in the ways of relativity and quantum theory

                That the universe should have given rise to human bodies

                Consciousness totally improbable without a creator (impossible)

He, of course, is using the all-too-familiar intelligent design argument from fine tuning. This argument has been thoroughly debunked from two different directions, but theists continue to employ it anyway. I had a go round with William Lain Craig on this topic when he attempted to rebut an article I wrote on fine tuning with his usual strawmanning, false assertion of facts, and personal insult. When I critiqued his attempted refutation he stopped responding.

The first refutation of intelligent design focuses on theist claims of probabilities. Here, Swinburne moves through his four chosen phenomena claiming increasing and compounding improbability at each step and concluding with consciousness being total improbable, which is to say impossible, through chance. The problem here is there is no possible way to determine any of these probabilities, although theists have claimed to do so.

Physicists themselves disagree about the probabilities of the development of our constants. It all comes down to the degrees of freedom imbedded in the cosmos, which nobody can know for sure. Some, such as Einstein, argue that the universe is totally deterministic, i.e. with zero degrees of freedom, and therefore its evolution, including conscious humans, was 100% certain. Others, such as Penrose, calculate infinite degrees of freedom, rendering our universe incalculably improbable. What theists fail to mention, however, is that Penrose also claims that there are infinite rebirths of universes that make all permutations inevitable, including our own. The truth is that we can have no real knowledge of the probabilities because we cannot know the physical state before the initial inflation of our universe. All we know is that our physical laws developed only after inflation, leaving us with no information about the prior physical state. This fact also undermines theists attempts to misuse Bayesian Analysis to calculate the improbability of our human existence because Bayesian Analysis requires things to be compared to share common laws and data sets. The pre-inflation state of reality would impact the degrees of freedom in our universe. Since we cannot know the physical state prior to inflation, there can be no legitimate use of Bayesian Analysis.

The second line of refutation focuses on the illusion created by the Anthropic Principle. The Anthropic Principle merely states that we perceive this particular, and maybe improbable universe, because this is a universe that allows our possibility. The illusion of intelligent design can only arise if we start off with the supposition of intent – as Swinburne does with his personal explanatory hypothesis. Such assumption creates a bias toward intent as illustrated in the lottery analogy. In a given lottery where some number held by a contestant will be drawn, we can imagine several million ticket holders. The chances of any one of them is too improbable to reasonably consider, according to the logic of adherents to Intelligent Design. Yet somebody has to win. Looked at from the perspective of a winner with bankrupting medical bills, children to feed, and no job, this can easily appear to be a gift from heaven. What else could possibly explain the answer to their prayers since every minute movement of the numbered balls had to be exactly right, with no deviation at all, to result in this one impossibly improbable winner. But that is simply looking through the wrong end of the telescope. Somebody had to win, which means that improbability does not preclude any one winner, no matter how great that improbability. Likewise, we are here and conscious, no matter how improbable, because that is just how the numbered balls tumbled this time. No further explanation is necessary, and once again, the inanimate explanation is not only true, but simpler than Swinburne’s explanation if we were to grant that criterion.

The important point is that, once again Swinburne has to assume a personal creator with intent in order to conclude a personal creator with intent.

Multiverse:

He then goes on at length about multiverse theory. I should qhickly add that multiverse is not the only theory posed by physicists, but he focuses only this. He tries to counter the increasing probabilities of our conditions by various hypothesis of physics by pushing his assumption of intent all the way back to god at the beginning creating a multiverse that eventually leads to us. Again, this contradicts his simplicity theory, which is already strained in all the excess creation in our known universe, where we account for only the tiniest speck of existence. But now he throws in the infinite complications of infinite universes, all just to arrive at us. He also seems to imply there are no observed reasons in this universe to postulate a multiverse. Many theists believe that multiverse theory came about to counter Intelligent Design. The case is just the opposite: multiverse theory stems directly from the calculations of string theory, which while speculative, do have a basis in observed particle events. Theists’ renewed attention to Intelligent Design came after multiverse theory existed.

Cut 9

Now let’s look at his summation of the first three criteria one at a time:

Cut 10

Moderately probable they would occur if there is a god.

If we assume he means god as rational, good, omniscient, omnipotent,, and temporarily bound, it would be surprising that he would create a world fundamentally irrational and complex, with humans and the inanimate universe possessing powers god himself doesn’t have, such as the ability to emote, to think irrationally, possibly to change the past, and for the universe to not be temporarily bound.

And certainly not occur if there is not a god.

This claim is arrived at through the misapplication of probabilities and in denial of evidence of physical explanations. His presupposition of personal god conceals the possibilities for physical explanation of consciousness, for example, for which quantum mind theory is beginning to develop possible explanations, and the originating inflation of our universe as a mere alteration of physical state, for which various plausible explanations based on physical observations have been shown to be possible.

A simple hypothesis and simpler than otherwise could be constructed.

We have shown that simplicity is not a valid criterion, and even if it were there is more complexity in a dual substance explanation than in a single substance inanimate explanation.

I conclude that Swinburne’s argument is based on an obsolete Medieval Christian notion of a rational god who created an orderly world; a notion which is contradicted by our observations of the universe itself. It uses circular reasoning by assuming this medieval notion of god to reach the conclusion of god through misuse of probability; and is filled with many contradictions of the principle of simplicity even if we were to grant his claim of a rational and orderly universe.

I would welcome anyone onto this channel for a discussion who thinks I have unfairly portrayed Swinburne’s argument or have failed to refute it.

My Appearance on The Tall Friendly Atheist Dad Podcast

Damien was kind enough to invite me (The Short Curmudgeonly Atheist Dad) to his podcast where we discussed an array of different things. I especially especially enjoyed the last quarter of the interview where we talked about philosophy and apologists. Please give it a listen as well as Damien’s other excellent podcasts.

20 Questions (Episode 2) – w/Jeffrey Williams (@jswillims21) by The Tall Friendly Atheist Dad Podcast • A podcast on Anchor

Reply to Eckels on What Distinguishes Heidegger From Sartre’s Existentialism

I write here with the single purpose of separating Heidegger from Sartre’s Existentialism, and in the contrast giving Heidegger a clearer representation. I do not write with the intent of persuading you to accept Heidegger’s thought, which is in fact contrary to Sartre. We each have our own path to follow.

This began with your question concerning a common occurrence among scholars of placing Heidegger in the chain of Existentialism. The reason for that is the general laziness among scholars along with their widespread inability to grasp Heidegger’s thought. Few academic scholars have read anything of Heidegger other than Being and Time, and even that has been poorly grasped. More importantly, that work gives no significant insight into Heidegger’s thinking. It was written at a premature time in Heidegger’s intellectual development solely for the purpose of securing for himself a teaching position. Once he received the appointment, he immediately stopped working on it, and it remained barely 1/3 completed. In later life he referred to it as the mistake of writing too soon. (A misstep he shared with many great thinkers, including Kant, Hume, and Wittgenstein.) This book, however, was what prompted Sartre to write Being and Nothingness, which he saw as an extension of Heidegger’s presentation in Being and Time. Scholars, knowing nothing of Heidegger beyond Being and Time and far too often misunderstanding even that, have often made the superficial judgment that Heidegger was therefore a significant founder of Existentialism. This is false for two reasons:

1. As I will discuss below, Sartre misunderstood Heidegger’s use of two key ideas at the heart of Being and Time; Being and authenticity. Sartre’s understanding of those terms determined his construction of Existentialism and, in so doing, drove it in a way contrary to Heidegger’s thought.

2. Sartre began and remained within the confines of phenomenology, which Heidegger rejected as he began his authentic works after his famous Turn.

Being and Time remains solidly within Husserl’s phenomenology. It is Heidegger’s use of Husserl’s academic terms and concepts that makes this work somewhat accessible to scholars, and the absence of which in Heidegger’s later writing that leaves them rudderless. As phenomenology inquires into the subjective working of sense data as phenomenological representations of an outer world, it necessarily retains the subject/object metaphysics that Heidegger rejected. It is this failure to dissolve the subject/object relationship that caused Heidegger to move in a radically different direction. Sartre, however, wrote Being and Nothingness in 1943, before Heidegger’s Turn fully came to light, and clearly saw Husserl and Heidegger as his proximate influences, although I would argue that his true influence was Kierkegaard. But that’s a discussion for another time.

As Sartre remained within the conceptual framework of phenomenology, he inquired from the perspective of man’s subjective consciousness and his relationship to Other, which is the outside world, particularly other consciousnesses. That implies what we know and what we intend are subjective constructions. In maintaining his focus purely on subjective consciousness, he turns Being as “thing-in-itself” inward. No longer denoting the external world outside our representation, it here refers to the facticity of our own being: the facts of our past that we can no longer directly experience or change. This he calls en-soi. Opposed to that is our consciousness of present and future possibility, which he calls pour-soit. In a surprising echo of Kant, it is man’s ability to transcend facticity in order to exercise free will. A negation of the material thingness of the situation and inner reality, much like Kant’s negation of the senses and therefore the objective causal world, in order to transcend to the externally uncaused freedom. Man thereby constructs his own authenticity by choosing his values and intentions and then choosing to act accordingly. As a phenomenologist, he places the grounding of authenticity in man’s consciousness. This lack of external ground, however, poses an insurmountable problem for Sartre. He later makes the ad hoc claim that goodness towards the welfare of other individuals and the community in general are the guiding ideals for authenticity in order to maintain his claim that an “authentic Nazi” is a contradiction of terms. But his guiding principles have no basis other than edict, leaving the Nazi to just as rightly claim his authenticity is guided by his own en-soi constructs which Sartre has no valid means to question.

In addition, Sartre also describes the encounter of Others as pour-autrui, which is an awareness of Other consciousness, but falls short of a being-with in consciousness. Rather a distancing wariness along with calculation always define these encounters out of the ever-present possibility of shame and conflict. An objectifying of our Being as we in turn objectify the other.

What underlies all this and will define his contrast to Heidegger is his claim that, in the absence of a god, existence precedes essence as essence is man’s own construction as he travels through life. Therefore, authenticity is staying true to one’s constructed essence. As we will see, Heidegger, also without positing a god or anything outside the physical world, will come to the opposite conclusion.

But of course, as somewhat of an adherent to Sartre’s Existentialism you already know what stands above, so let’s turn our attention to Heidegger and his thinking of the two crucial terms – Being and authenticity. As both Sartre and Heidegger held the view that reason falls short in explaining an absurd (or simply non-rational) universe, we will be able to see how their different interpretations lead to very different paths toward esthetics as crucial to understanding.

Heidegger directly ascends, not from phenomenology, but Nietzsche’s project of rethinking all values and truths from firmly within the physical world. This entailed two key features that Heidegger put at the center of his own thought: the elimination of all metaphysics and an awareness of the futility of reason to discover the profound truth of the abyss, which then turns our attention instead to esthetic knowledge. For Heidegger, poetic thought became what music was for Nietzsche. Most importantly, both Nietzsche and Heidegger saw this not as human construction, but Wille or Sein singing or speaking through man. Contra Sartre, conscious construction can only lead to inauthenticity and conceal truth. Zarathustra spontaneously sings Das Trunkene Lied as Dionysus animates him. For Heidegger, Hölderlin allows Being to animate and speak through him as it reveals itself in authentic experience.

Accordingly, Heidegger’s Being is physical reality, but one that simultaneously entails all essence. All beings, including human Dasein, are in their truest nature participating elements of this manifold of Being, from which they derive their own essence. Heidegger’s project is to eliminate metaphysical conjecture, and instead repose all fundamental questions to Being itself. It’s important to clearly understand what Heidegger rejected as metaphysics. It isn’t just the non-physical-non-sensible world of scholastic conjecture, but most importantly for today, the objectification of the world which dominates today as technology. It started with the transformation of pre-Socratic thought into Socratic metaphysics, and began its devastating error through the transformation of A is A to A=A. For the pre-Socratics, the ‘is” is no mere copula but the most active verb which preserves the unique essence of every thing present, rather than a mere object that loses it identity through representational identification with others. This metaphysical subject/object split in experience resolutely closes off self-revelation of Being and its mystery and allure, diminishing our consciousness to a flattened and attenuated regard of the world.

It’s important to note that Heidegger did not mean that science and technology were false. They effectively calculate relationships, measurements, and causality. To the extent they did this, they displayed what he called “correctness”. In fact, their great success in doing so propelled its acceptance to the point where the common understanding accepts it as the totality of world. But this metaphysical objectification could never tell us the underlying “truth” inherent in Being. It could tell us how something works, but could never tell us what something is.

Being for Heidegger is a physical primordial reality in which all essence inheres, and authenticity is thinking, building, and dwelling within this authenticity. It is not Sartre’s subjective construction, nor is it a purely external force. As Dasein, man is a special part of Sein, and Sein exists in man in a special way. Dasein is man’s existence as conscious awareness and experience of his place in the world. But not merely for the benefit of man, but as an integral part of Being with the humbling purpose of providing the ability of Being to experience itself. In man’s most authentic relation to Being, Being reveals parts of its mystery poetically as it speaks through man:

“We are too late for the gods, and to soon for Being, whose begun poem is man.”

The deepest mystery and lure of the cosmos is Being’s call to us. Its impatient urge to experience itself through us. This is what animates all true artists as well as scientists.  This is our deepest calling.

Both Sartre and Heidegger saw the primacy of esthetics over reason, but differently. For Sartre, novels were the means to activate and play on the emotions of the Other as a pragmatic spur for the Other to act authentically. For Heidegger, as shown above, it is something infinitely more profound which entails the dissolution of subject/object consciousness for something entirely holistic. It is the sympathetic vibration of man and Being which grounds man in the physical and sensible truth of existence. Necessarily, it is a wholly esthetic experience that plays on moods, but not in the humanly constructed manner of Sartre. Heidegger talks about the central role of mood in this revelatory experience, but only in the German does the meaning come through. The word for mood in German is Stimmung, which literally means voicings. In exactly the way music has voicings, our inner being is like the resonant strings of a piano or harp which have the capacity to vibrate along with the primal vibrations of Being. Poetry is a presencing of this, but it is also something we can all feel in daily life.

Heidegger uses Georg Trakl’s poem “A Winter Evening” to presence this authenticity in everyday life, where one crosses the threshold that dissolves Sartre’s pour-soi and pour-autrui into an authentic Being with in which the holy that inheres in Being is present.

A winter evening

When the snow falls ’gainst the panes,

long the evening bell is ringing,

many find a well-laid table

and their matters well arranged.

Many a man who roams about

finds the gate on murky pathways.

Golden blooms the tree of mercy

from the cool sap of the earth.

Wanderer, step in, be still;

Pain has petrified the threshold.

There are – chaste in radiance gleaming –

on the table bread and wine.

Ein Winterabend

Wenn der Schnee ans Fenster fällt,

Lang die Abendglocke läutet,

Vielen ist der Tisch bereitet

Und das Haus ist wohlbestellt.

Mancher auf der Wanderschaft

Kommt ans Tor auf dunklen Pfaden.

Golden blüht der Baum der Gnaden

Aus der Erde kühlem Saft.

Wanderer tritt still herein;

Schmerz versteinerte die Schwelle.

Da erglänzt in reiner Helle

Auf dem Tische Brot und Wein.

The threshold is here the dissolution of the ordered and well laid common understanding granting entrance to the holy, which is grounded in the nurturing and nourishing earth. I think of it as the entrance to a holy family gathering where mit-bestimmung (congeniality, but far more profound and playing on the above Stimmung) is the mode of being as Being itself makes itself felt.

I included the YouTube video so one can experience the musical Stimmung of the poem directly.

In sharp contrast to Sartre, Heidegger was a man in search of the holy revealed in Being, but without a god. Everything inheres in the physicality of Being itself, and there one finds the mystery that moves our own voicings, and that is the holy. He saw us as in a dark and desolate time where we finally gave up the illusion of the gods, but are trapped in the Gestell of technology and blind to the authentic. Further, without a proper relationship to and thinking of Being, all our constructions are hollow and self-defeating. Most importantly, he saw all of our politics and attempts to define morality as hopeless and will remain so until we have a proper grounding in Being itself. As he said often, we don’t even yet know the questions to ask.

I happily admit my own path begins with Heidegger, this path leading me to the very edge of what physics can know, and delighting in poetically inquiring into that deeper mystery of what physics can never venture. There is a crisis in physics as it crashed at supercollider speed into the wall of concealment, where our best minds, trapped in temporal, spatial, and causal modes of understanding decay into nothingness. The collision emits broken particles of mathematic expressions, which if we listen closely, radiate the most profound music. Rather than metaphysically deduce from a priori ideas conveyed in precise numerical formulae, I’d rather dance with the photons on their journey along the pilot waves.