Are we not men? 1

December 2nd, 2013 in clues. Tags: , , , , , ,

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The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms “faith” in the dignity and worth of the human person and declares all humans are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Is this true, or is it just a legal fiction?

Modern science and humanity

The UN believes (and most people would agree, I think) that human beings possess a number of important attributes, including:

  • consciousness (our sense of self)
  • free will
  • rationality
  • a sense that some things are truly right or wrong

However modern neuroscience cannot find a basis for most of them. Consciousness and free will are considered to be illusions by many scientists and philosophers, and ethics are considered to be products of natural selection without intrinsic truth.

You, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules.”

Francis Crick

Science vs Experience

So which is true? Is the ‘reductionist’ and naturalistic scientific account correct, and our experience as human selves is just an illusion of evolution? Or is our experience, from the inside, more perceptive than science, from the outside?

It makes a difference

Naturalism

If we accept the naturalistic science account, we will have to learn to live with these uncomfortable truths – that we ourselves, and our ability to choose, are illusions, and there is no solid basis for our rationality and morals and our worth as human beings.

This may eventually lead to a loss of human rights and inhumane treatment of people, and may be very difficult to live out day-to-day. We will need to find new ways to reinforce behaviours necessary for peaceful societies.

However strongly scientists and philosphers argue for this view, I have difficulty believing that voters and law-makers will ever adopt it.

Something more than naturalism

If we are unwilling to reduce human beings to “robots made of meat”, we will have to find another explanation for these four human attributes.

Naturalistic science cannot satisfactorily explain what we experience, but arguments have been developed that God is the most reasonable explanation of all four. The arguments are based on the idea that we can explain events either by a preceding cause, or by a personal choice, and since science cannot explain these attributes, they must have arisen by personal choice – by a creator God.

Philosophers have also tried to find a non-material but naturalist explanation, but they seem to require belief that these attributes are genuine without explaining how that could occur without God.

The choice is stark

No-one can prove whether these four human attributes are as real as we exerience them, or are evolutionary illusions. But the belief we adopt will have significant effects on how we live.

And no-one can prove whether God created us with these attributes or they arose some other way, but the arguments for God seem strong to me.

Read more

I have examined the arguments in greater details in What is human?

Notes:

1. No sexism is intended – women are included just as much as men. This is in fact a double quote, from The Island of Doctor Moreau by HG Wells, and also from the title of the first album by Devo.

Photo Credit: zokete via Compfight cc

6 Comments

  1. I think science is A OK with consciousness and rationality.

    Free will independent of causality is a non starter. I sympathise that you can’t live with the idea that you are just a very complicated self programming biological robot but reality wasn’t created for your edification and delight.

    You will have to explain what you mean by “a sense that some things are truly right or wrong”. I could assume what you mean but I don’t want to misrepresent you.

  2. I think science is A OK with consciousness and rationality.

    Hi Gordon, thanks for continuing to visit and comment.

    What do you base this statement on? Here’s a few quotes that suggest otherwise:

    Francis Crick: “There is no easy way of explaining consciousness in terms of known science”
    Susan Blackmore: “objects in the physical world and subjective experience of them seem to be two radically different things: so how can one give rise to the other? No-one has an answer to this question”
    Steven Pinker: “The Hard Problem is explaining how subjective experience arises from neural computation. The problem is hard because no one knows what a solution might look like or even whether it is a genuine scientific problem in the first place … No one knows what to do with the Hard Problem”
    Jerry Fodor: “Nobody has the slightest idea how anything material could be conscious.”
    Rishard Dawkins (referring to subjective consciousness): “We don’t know. We don’t understand it.”

    There are plenty more I could quote. Can you reference where scientists have explained consciousness?

    I sympathise that you can’t live with the idea that you are just a very complicated self programming biological robot but reality wasn’t created for your edification and delight.

    I wonder why you say this. I am aware of the issue and I am living with it, same as you. How would you feel if I said to you: I sympathise that you can’t live with the idea that God exists but reality wasn’t created for your edification and delight.?

    Let’s just say that I disagree about free will, just as you disagree about God.

    You will have to explain what you mean by “a sense that some things are truly right or wrong”

    I am talking about objective morality (really true like 1 + 1 = 2 is true), though not provable.

    Thanks.

  3. re consciousness: I don’t say that scientists understand consciousness but that they are perfectly happy that it is part of the real world in the same way that they are perfectly happy that free will independent of causality is not part of the real world.

    To show that they accept consciousness completely you can google details of many studies. You won’t find any scientific studies that start with the assumption that free will exists.

    You say you are living with the scientific finding that free will is an illusion but you don’t accept the scientific findings.

    You can claim that a God exists but I will reserve judgement until I see an explicit definition and sufficient scientific evidence.

    As for objective morality, Most scientists reject relativism, (at least the idea that all moral codes of conduct extant are equivalent and can’t be judged outside their own values). That doesn’t mean however that they accept either divine command theory or natural law.

    Only a minority accept my position that morality gets its objectivity from its evolutionary source and purpose.

  4. Hi Gordon, I think we are more in agreement than you think.

    I don’t say that scientists understand consciousness but that they are perfectly happy that it is part of the real world in the same way that they are perfectly happy that free will independent of causality is not part of the real world

    I agree. The scientists can’t explain consciousness, but they believe (hope?) it is part of the real world nevertheless.

    Likewise they cannot explain freewill, in fact they think we don’t have it, even though they and you and I continue to live as if choice is real.

    So this is a disconnect between science and our common human experience.

    Most scientists reject relativism, (at least the idea that all moral codes of conduct extant are equivalent and can’t be judged outside their own values). That doesn’t mean however that they accept either divine command theory or natural law.

    Same again. As human beings they reject relativism because it leads to pernicious conclusions, but they cannot explain that scientifically – evolution alone can only explain relativistic ethics. Again the disconnect.

    Did you read the link to my discussion of the Moving Naturalism Forwards workshop, which showed what a number of the world’s top scientists and philosophers think?

    But hopefully you understand what this post was getting at – that science is giving results that contrast to our human experience and how we naturally live. Something has to give.

  5. @unkleE

    The scientists can’t explain consciousness, but they believe (hope?) it is part of the real world nevertheless.

    Scientists are in no way ambivalent about the existence of consciousness. Just like many other attributes of human biology, consciousness is a work in progress when it comes to a full understanding.

    Likewise they cannot explain freewill, in fact they think we don’t have it, even though they and you and I continue to live as if choice is real.

    So this is a disconnect between science and our common human experience.

    Scientists don’t “think we don’t have it”, they are as sure about it as anything else in science which they have investigated.

    I suggest you speak for yourself. I have been a determinist for as long as I can remember and I find no difficulty with the concept.

    Human beings have had many other misunderstandings about the nature of reality. Free will is not the first and undoubtedly won’t be the last. We used to think the world was flat because that was what our experience told us. And when we realised it was a sphere we thought we could see the sun moving round it.

    Einstein was a confirmed determinist. It is said that it gave him a certain sangfroid when dealing with his fellow man.

    You might ponder that if everybody was convinced that traditional free will did not exist their would be far less hatred in the world. You would have less reason to hate someone for doing something which, at the point at which he acted, you were convinced he could have done nothing else.

    Determinism leads you to look at your fellow man’s failings in a more sympathetic light:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S4BYOJ1tc-k

    Same again. As human beings they reject relativism because it leads to pernicious conclusions, but they cannot explain that scientifically – evolution alone can only explain relativistic ethics. Again the disconnect.

    They certainly reject relativism as I described it. But many of them are quite happy that there is no “one size fits all” moral code of conduct and indeed the evolutionary view would confirm that that is the case.

    Societies face different existential threats and require different levels and types of co-operation to overcome them. Thus you get “horses for courses” morality in practical situations. It’s one of the things that makes mankind so dominant. It’s one of our flexibilities.

    I haven’t read Sam Harris’ book “The Moral Landscape” although I have a copy. There has been some criticism of it amongst scientists and philosophers. But, not only do I think he’s right that science can make a significant contribution to ideas about morality but I think science and technology have already caused the most significant improvement to morality that has ever occurred in practical moral decision making at least in first world countries.

    Did you read the link to my discussion of the Moving Naturalism Forwards workshop

    I actually watched all the videos of the workshop sometime in the past. I would have done better to read a decent synopsis of the proceedings in a much shorter time.

    You are perhaps under a misapprehension. Methodological Naturalism is not quite the same a materialism. Methodological Naturalism will encompass anything which investigation may demonstrate exists.

    Also, all forms of compatibilism accept that the human brain is subject to causation and that traditional free will is a non-starter.

  6. Scientists are in no way ambivalent about the existence of consciousness. Just like many other attributes of human biology, consciousness is a work in progress when it comes to a full understanding.

    Agreed. They know from experience that it exists, but they have no scientific explanation.

    Scientists don’t “think we don’t have it”, they are as sure about it as anything else in science which they have investigated. …. I have been a determinist for as long as I can remember and I find no difficulty with the concept.

    Same again. Naturalistic neuroscience can find no way for freewill to exist, yet we all inadvertently live at times as if we have freewill.

    Even you, in these discussions we have been having:

    In this discussion, you twice said “You should note …” implying some moral or intellectual obligation to make a certain choice. And then you said: “That’s no excuse for inventing unfalsifiable explanations ….” as if I had a choice.

    In this present discussion you talk a lot about morality. But the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy discusses morality in terms of “normative behaviour” (i.e. behaviour we think people should aspire to, implying they have a choice) and a “code of conduct” (same again). Morality only has meaning if it compares “ought” with “is” – otherwise it is just description of behaviour.

    Then in this discussion you speak of “the evolutionary purpose of a common moral code of conduct within a group is to promote co-operation between group members”, with promote having the meaning of recommending to someone hoping they will make that choice. Then later you said “I should have said”, but if your actions were determined, you had no choice and “should” doesn’t apply. Then finally you said: “I accept that in practice we make moral choices on different criteria” which a determinist surely cannot say logically.

    Now perhaps you will say that (i) compatibilists use the word “choice” in different and thoroughly deterministic ways, that (ii) morality doesn’t imply we could and should have chosen differently and that (iii) you may have been a little careless in your choice of words, but I will simply say that all this illustrates what is common among human beings – we cannot help but act as if we have free will and ethics are really true because that is how we experience life, just as we experience consciousness. Our logic and our science tell some of us one thing, but most of us experience another.

    In the end you accept the science and reject human experience (IMO) because you give greater weight to your naturalistic assumptions than to human experience. I think that is sad and dehumanising. Some christians reject the science because of their assumptions. But I am free to accept both the science and human experience because I don’t make naturalistic assumptions, and I think that is the position most open to all the evidence.

    That all being so, I think there is little point in our proceeding further in this discussion, as our respective assumptions make it impossible we will agree on this. Do you agree on that?

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