Mind: flavors of monism/dualism | INFJ Forum

Mind: flavors of monism/dualism

Discussion in 'Philosophy and Religion' started by charlatan, Jun 19, 2019.

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  1. charlatan

    charlatan Permanent Fixture

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    @Ren suggested we continue this topic, and I'm happy to.

    The impetus was just that I wanted to clarify a thread of my thinking on neutral monism/dualism. The thing is by now, whatever the former meant historically, there are various variants on this sort of view.

    Traditionally, I think the idea was to consider if the world may be neutral between the physical and the mental/qualia/what have you. My emphasis, on the other hand, is on neutrality between the mathematical and the qualitative.

    The usual motive for a neutral monist view would be that dualism runs into all the usual problems, yet there's still a strong sense that the 'usual' methods of physical science aren't sufficient to explain phenomenal consciousness.
    As a note, one could consider some varieties of neutral monism as a sort of physicalism, i.e. a nontraditional one where physical as far as we currently understand is distinguished from the true nature of the physical.
    This sort of view would suggest that as we currently understand it, the physical seems to be unable to explain qualia, but that could change. (This could include views which place qualia at the rock bottom of the physical/ panpsychism).


    Anyway, my main emphasis in the views on mind has come to be that it seems I can't really properly distinguish the physical from the purely mathematical, sans mention of some nonmathematical properties, and the properties of the physical world that we can frame entirely without reference to qualia seem to be completely mathematical.
    I think I'd be much more convinced of the tenability of orthodox physicalisms if they could make a good case to me how I could make such a distinction (or propose to accept that there is no difference, and that the physical really isn't anything but a mathematical structure).
     
    #1 charlatan, Jun 19, 2019
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  2. Ren

    Ren Pin's android and co-founder of Stoic Café

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    Hi charlie, I'm glad you decided to create this thread. Often, the way you formulate your position is so fluidly led by Ne (at least that's my view of it) that I'm not always certain I get the essence of it completely, but anyway we can clear things up as we go along if need be. For now, I will just react to some of the content you've posted.

    I'm struck by this view of yours according to which it's not possible to properly distinguish the physical from the purely mathematical. I'd like to get a better sense of how you arrived at this position, which on the surface seems quite radical. Here is how I would envisage an objection to this argument. If we reason in terms of an ontology of objects:

    1) A physical object is a concrete object
    2) Therefore a physical object is in spacetime
    3) A mathematical object is an abstract object
    4) Therefore a mathematical object is outside spacetime
    5) What is in spacetime cannot be equivalent to what is outside spacetime
    6) Therefore a physical object cannot be equivalent to a mathematical object.

    It seems to me that it's okay to say that a physical object has some mathematical properties, without having to conclude that this makes the physical object mathematical. An object that is in spacetime can have abstract properties without being itself abstract. So how exactly do you arrive at the view that the physical and mathematical can't be distinguished? It seems plausible that an object in spacetime may be conceived without reference to qualia.
     
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    charlatan

    charlatan Permanent Fixture

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    @Ren -- of course physical properties are supposed to be concrete, and if they are concrete, they cannot be equivalent to abstract objects. But the question is what even gives us the sense they are concrete. (there are some who take seriously the idea that there actually is nothing concrete about the physical world...they are in the minority, but what I'm suggesting is, if forced to choose between the take-consciousness-seriously and it's-nothing-really-to-explain positions, if I were to go with the latter, the main problem I run into is I'd think the minority position of a nonconcrete physical world becomes suddenly very appealing/even maybe the most natural.)

    What gives us the sense physical objects aren't abstract? I'd claim that's at least apparently that you can't just discover physical things by pure logic (which you can with mathematics), but you need to make observations about them -- common sensically through sense data. That's what gives us the sense the physical world is concrete, as far as I can tell -- that the lab equipment, tables, and chairs must be experienced (but notice we're bringing qualia in here into our conceptualization of the physical!), not merely described through mathematical equations.

    What I'm saying is I'm open to as much revision as one wishes on the common sensical notion of sense data, qualia, or what have you, but without something to take its place (whether we leave the notion as is or propose a much more sophisticated version), the language of the laws of physics is purely mathematical, and I am not sure why we would distinguish the activity of discovering truths of pure mathematics from that of discovering laws of physics. The touch and taste and so on we associate with the physical world seems the first a priori clue we have that it is concrete. Without experience, how do I take seriously the hypothesis that it is concrete?
     
    #3 charlatan, Jun 20, 2019
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    charlatan

    charlatan Permanent Fixture

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    Also, if you think about it, @Ren, what I'm proposing here isn't so different from the move an illusionist about consciousness makes -- they say sure it SEEMS there's this property of experientiality, but that's just an illusion. I'm just saying if I'm going to say I can just use the conceptualization of physical objects that completely does not reference our experiences, that conceptualization is entirely mathematical, so I'm led to an illusionism about concreteness.


    Of course I agree with all that. But if you can't given an account of what is non-abstract about the object, we have no reason to suppose it isn't abstract (being in spacetime is nice, but what makes us think spacetime isn't just a mathematical structure if there's no non-abstract, non-mathematical description we can give of it)... If my sense that I can touch, feel, etc the physical in a way that isn't reducible entirely to a mathematical description is actually an illusion, what remains of my sense the physical is concrete?

    Maybe something superior to replace the notion of qualia with something theoretically more accurate, but that would require replacing the concept, not eliminating it without a successor.... right now, at this very present time, all I've got are accounts of sense observations and accounts of mathematical models of the objects those observations seem to refer to! Strip the former away (by which I mean recast them entirely in mathematical terms and claim that description is complete), and only mathematical descriptions remain -- without anything I can think of to make me think they refer to non-mathematical objects!
     
    #4 charlatan, Jun 20, 2019
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  5. Ifur

    Ifur Community Member

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    While this seems to be a longer dialogue, the use of "mathematical", "spacetime", there may be an omissions of -logical as something that implies a structure that lends itself to the sequential, where pheneomenological, transcendental and epistemically would be less conflicting and indicte better exactly what kind of structures we are talking about as it relate to expression, perception; in and by language.

    You are enganged in transcendental arguments If I'm not mistaken.

    So, transcendenceology for the offering of epistemical simulacra of a phenomenologial adequate framing of a qualia?
     
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  6. Ifur

    Ifur Community Member

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    Had to go to plato.stanford.edu to quickly look into what I felt was missing in terminology, and found this rather cool argument:

     
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    charlatan

    charlatan Permanent Fixture

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    It's worth noting that, on a lot of the modern view of physics, time is quite an abstract thing (not an abstract object, necessarily, but closer than our experience would suggest) -- e.g. you get the sense in Einstein's framework that it's just another coordinate on a mathematical structure (also, even the arrow/directionality is often presented as emergent, to do with entropy at the macroscopic level, with the ultimate equations being reversible), not this thing with a tangible 'flow' -- to the extent the latter is there, it tends to arise from our experience, not from the most rigorous physics theory.


    It is further worth noting that orthodox physicalism tends to be the sort that suggests we could be in a simulation for millions of years without realizing it -- that somehow, a mathematical replica of our present world would be presumably very very hard to distinguish from an 'actual' world.

    Once one entertains the simulation argument, I think entertaining we have little reason to strongly refute that the world is abstract is a pretty reasonable next step.
    In fact, the fact that many orthodox physicalists would view the simulation argument as serious is already strong support to me that the conclusion I'm suggesting from orthodox physicalism's basic starting premises isn't all that radical!
     
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  8. Ren

    Ren Pin's android and co-founder of Stoic Café

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    @charlatan – I have a lot of things to say, but I'm still trying to arrange them into a coherent argument.

    Just one question comes to mind in the meantime: supposing physical objects are really mathematical objects, how do you account for the fact that most concrete objects are (seemingly) finite?

    How do you account for organic life, and more generally organisms, in purely mathematical terms?
     
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    charlatan

    charlatan Permanent Fixture

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    I don't believe the physical world is purely mathematical -- but I'm outlining that under a super-orthodox physicalist view (that I also tend to not adopt) that essentially says the laws of physics are a complete description of the universe with no mention of concrete experience, in entirely mathematical terms, I would question the very intuition that the physical world is concrete as well. Yes, our physical world has a very particular mathematical structure, and yes it tends to have particular mathematical properties (strong finiteness conditions). So yes, it is very weird that there is literally nothing but mathematics to it --- and that is a main reason I'd resist the conclusion of my argument. But the point would then be that completely orthodox physicalism falls and fails to account for the concreteness of the world.

    I also think people in the orthodox physicalist school almost already reach my conclusion -- many suggest we could build a simulated world more or less as our own, namely that ultimately we can rationally conceive that the mathematical pattern of our world is enough to replicate how it appears to us.

    But in orthodox physicalist terms, organisms are basically made of particles, and particles and their interrelations have a description in a fully mathematical language at this point. Anything you say "I kicked the ball" could be given a reductive account in terms of the equations of physics, in principle --- if you resist that, you are already resisting orthodox physialism.

    (Based on your question, I'm just a bit afraid if my real position is being lost in all the Ne :) so I encourage you to ask me as much as you need to get the gist.)
     
    #9 charlatan, Jun 20, 2019
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  10. Ren

    Ren Pin's android and co-founder of Stoic Café

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    @charlatan I know that you don't personally adopt this position, but I'm speaking as if you were just because it's easier for the sake of the exchange. Whether or not you yourself commit to this orthodox physicalist view is more or less irrelevant here, isn't it? Consider my case, for example: I personally reject the very ontology of objects that I am using here as a source of potential objections to the view that physical objects are ultimately just mathematical objects. But it's still interesting to imagine what the objections to such a view could be if one were to embrace e.g. an ontology of objects.

    I'm assuming that you reject the Quinean view about the identity conditions of objects? Because on this view, abstract objects (arguably) lack proper identity conditions and are therefore much less eligible ontological candidates than concrete objects. Another interesting perspective to bring in here is the question of individuation. Committing to the physical = mathematical view seems to demand that one considers that objects are individuated by their properties only. I believe some arguments could be offered as a counter to that position. It seems to me that concreteness itself is a more credible candidate for individuation. Does not the "purely mathematical view" entail that all objects must be universals, thereby eliminating particularity completely?

    You might remember this, but I am very cautious about the concept of experiential property. What does it mean exactly? A subatomic particle is supposed to be just as concrete as the lamp that lights my room, but can they just be said to share the property of experientiality? — If there is a way to articulate what makes an object concrete as opposed to abstract, I do not believe that it relies on the notion of experientiality as a property. Qualia themselves seem always to implicitly rely on their being experienced by a subject, consciousness-endowed or otherwise. Though perhaps it might be possible to conceive of experience as a relation, which would still be arguably abstract/mathematical. However, this would appear to be a relation between particulars, i.e. concrete objects. It could not have been that I experience a particular lamp. Doesn't the purely mathematical view of objects entail that every object and relation must be the case necessarily? How does it handle modality?

    The modality of possible worlds is a pretty potent tool to account for possibility. But in a purely mathematical world, I struggle to see how possibility is to even be conceived as distinguished from actuality.
     
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    charlatan

    charlatan Permanent Fixture

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    I think it is very relevant, still in the following sense: my argument is not that an abstract world is tenable (whether or not I think that is another story) -- it's rather that we seem to be led to no real reason to suppose the world is concrete if our description of it is purely mathematical.

    If anything, if you have arguments against an abstract world, they'd just support that orthodox physicalism has problems, if you think orthodox physicalism really doesn't tell us a substantial account of the concreteness of the world.

    (I'm clarifying this because I notice your points mainly were about questioning the tenability of an abstract world -- the point of my argument is actually more to challenge orthodox physicalism.)




    (BTW, I'll need to clarify this, but I thought Quine is famous for adopting the indispensability thesis, which says abstract objects exist because mathematical objects are indispensable to science. That is, it seems like he still bit the bullet and allowed abstract objects to be ontological candidates?)

    That's all fine -- remember I'm not committed to there being such a thing as experience or qualia ultimately...much less to some particular account of them. The idea of qualia, experience, experiential property, whatever it is you may want may need revision. All I'm saying is some theory of what's going on with what we at least commonsensically recognize as qualia that doesn't just eliminate it in favor of a purely mathematical description seems to be important.
    I'd suggest not worrying about the specific language I use -- e.g. 'experiential property' -- I'm being very loose with what experience is, because it's very orthogonal to the present point.

    That is, right now, very naively, without much metaphysical commitment, all that suggests to me that a table/chair are concrete is that I can feel/experience them. If you recast my touch/phenomenal experience of them entirely in terms of equations of physics, you have done away with anything that makes me suppose they are concrete.

    What this does is put me in the 'qualia/experience' need lots of explanation/we need to do serious metaphysics about them more likely than not camp.
    That is a line that divides philosophers of mind (obviously people like Chalmers are in the same camp, and the Dennetts of the world are in the opposite one).

    This isn't crucial necessarily to my points as you probably know, but for interest, I think there's no problem in a mathematical world of making sense of the actual. It would still be a fact in a mathematical world (where all objects exist necessarily/in all possible worlds) that in some possible worlds, other non-mathematical objects would exist.
    That would still distinguish the existing actual world from other possible worlds -- that is, even if everything that does exist in our world exists in every possible world, there are some things that don't exist in our world that could have existed.
     
    #11 charlatan, Jun 21, 2019
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    charlatan

    charlatan Permanent Fixture

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    BTW, it just occurred to me, even if you don't think mathematical objects actually exist, you could reframe my point as "if you give a purely mathematical description of the physical, you have not described anything whatsoever that could exist"
     
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  13. Cornerstone

    Cornerstone Well-known member

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    One becomes two, two becomes three, and out of the third comes the one as the fourth
     
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    charlatan

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    Ooooh, @Ren --- I have been ploughing for Quine's views that you referenced, and you may find this interesting from plato.stanford.edu:

    This suggests Quine's objections regarding well-defined identity criteria apply to some sorts of abstract objects but crucially not to the kinds belonging to mathematical foundations -- sets (and certainly not to the mathematics that describes physics, because after all, it is on that indispensability that he seems to postulate the existence of SOME abstract objects in the first place!)

    Rather, it looks like he quite would've sympathized with my idea that orthodox physicalism leads to flirting with an ontology of abstract objects or something not so far from that flavor.

    The thing I'm trying to bring out is the price paid by orthodox physicalism. I think depending on one's intuitions, this price is either too high or not. Full disclosure, this leads me in the direction of considering more ambitious metaphysics than the meat-and-potatoes orthodox physicalist typically does.
     
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  15. Pin

    Pin "Magnificent Bastard" / Ren's Counterpart

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    charlatan

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    Probably a small point to add is this: the article I quoted said Quine (who is a good example of orthodox physicalist) ultimately entertained an abstract ontology and abandoned it more or less just because it departs from our 'ordinary' views.

    That is where I get off the train -- to me, once you adopt orthodox physicalism, you've already essentially done away with any semblance of common sense/'ordinary'.... by eliminating qualia or severely deflating the task of explaining it. Just looking at what you've got left, I'd say we don't really have a good reason to think the world is non-abstract. Maybe it is, and maybe it isn't, but it is (as far as we know -- i.e. for our epistemic situation) indistinguishable.
     
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  17. Ren

    Ren Pin's android and co-founder of Stoic Café

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    @charlatan (and others interested):

    I’ve been traveling with only my phone to access the internet so although I’m reading lots of stuff, it’s more trouble to type long messages. So I decided to make a voice recording with a few observations / insights based on where the discussion is going:

    https://vocaroo.com/i/s1RaAzDOkUh8

    Sorry it’s a bit long!
     
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  18. Ifur

    Ifur Community Member

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    While some subatomic particles have proven to be point-like, whether they have a physical size rather than a field is not entirely clear.
    There is something about this thing with energy=mass, and you talk about this a concrete rather than real.
    Also, time isn't actually a physical thing either, and relates to movement and space.
    Time is to energy in space-time as fields are to mass, where we hve an energy and mass equivalence.

    Also, to aid with qualia from my point of view as having studied and worked with AI.

    Within the usualy definition and thought experiment of qualia that deals with the difference between information and knowledge, and the expereince of information (in /data/ sense, that also applies to sensical knowledge).
    One can extend the thought experiment by saying that two people enjoying the same view or scenery are experiencing the same qualia, but may not be conscious about it in the same way or even share mental states.

    Qualia as a propert of consciousness, rahter than an epistemic quality is a bit unclear here.
     
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    charlatan

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    Hey @Ren -- the voice idea works great! I think right off the bat, I think the clarification due is that you're probably getting close to my view, but there is one thing you're under the impression I'm saying which I'm not, which might address your questions: I don't hold that the concrete things are precisely the things we can experience. You mention subatomic particles as a counterpoint, which I'd actually readily agree is a counterexample (maybe there is some vastly expanded version of experience that applies to it, but right now I'm talking of experience defined as we know it -- the feeling of tasting warm bread, tomatoes, etc... something we clearly have no analogue we know of in the subatomic).

    My claim is not that, in the absence of qualia, there would not be concrete things (the best example for me is imagine a world with JUST subatomic activity with no macro events e.g. rocks and lions...it seems reasonable that our qualitative feels don't extend to tell us directly about the subatomic, and we need to infer them from theorizing).
    Rather, it is that in absence of qualia, as far as we would know at present, we would not suspect there are concrete things -- sure, the collection of concrete things may extend beyond what our naive interpretation of the qualia would suggest (which is what modern physics does -- it postulates many entities that aren't 'experienced').

    You mention the point that experience could extend beyond qualia -- the key here is I'm perfectly happy with ultimately replacing qualia with some other property, call it concreteness-experiencing, or concreteness-knowing, or what have you, which lets us get in contact with the concreteness of the world. It may be much more general than qualia....maybe we won't even call it 'qualia' or 'experience' but something else.
    I mention this point because maybe you want to agree that there needs to be something to acquaint us concretely with the world, but you'd be hesitant to say our present naive classical 'qualia' (feeling tomatoes, tasting strawberries) is the only way that can happen -- and I agree! But as of now, that's the only acquaintance we have -- the classical kind -- suggesting that it deserves explanation and maybe even generalization (to ways of 'experiencing' (or just knowing concretely) other things like the subatomic).
    The key is as a capturing of our current epistemic situation, I'd say beyond the fact that I can touch and feel beds, lab equipment, apples....even though I can't do that with the subatomic.... there is little I can think of that would even make me postulate that there are concrete things. When I try to model the world that my qualitative experiences suggest is out there to me, I learn that the mathematics that models it is very particular. In absence of something like qualitative experience, I have no reason to suspect the mathematics is modeling something that is not-fully-mathematical.

    What all this means is merely that eventually, we want to take explaining qualia seriously, even if it is to replace it with something much more general (in fact, neutral monism definitely offers scope to do that -- it hardly is wed to ultimately keeping to our 'classical' notion of qualia). This is exactly what orthodox physicalism doesn't do -- what IS spacetime, but for an abstract mathematical structure, if there isn't something we can say that suggests to us it is concrete?


    Your 'third point' has the same exact reply -- yes, just because we model something in terms of mathematics, that doesn't mean that is all there is to it. But all I'm saying is there has to be something which suggests to us that there is more -- and when you cashed that out, even you used the word 'experience' -- yes, our experience of the spatiality of the world and the flow of time is what suggests to us there is something more. In orthodox physicalism, often the goal is to just recast the way we describe the spatiality and temporality in mathematical terms, and then say there is nothing further to explain about our experience of spatiality.
    Indeed, this is why orthodox physicalists often dismiss the need to explain what is going on with qualia --- even if that means to postulate some vastly more sophisticated concept that replaces qualia.

    Note that, even if there isn't anything but a mathematical description that we can give to the world, there may be more to the physical world than mathematics, but remember, my argument is about what is conceivable/what is true as far as we know. If you truly can say everything there is to say about the physical world using a mathematical conceptualization, then as far as we know, there is no need to postulate more than an abstract ontology.


    This isn't crucial to the discussion, but just to give a flavor, I would have to suspect that the concreteness of the world does go beyond what our qualia tell us, a-la things like subatomic particles. Perhaps there is some 'extension' for the notion of experience which would tell us what it is to know a subatomic particle more concretely. Right now, we seem to have a purely mathematical acquaintance with the subatomic, suggesting there is more to the subatomic that we don't understand.

    I think orthodox physicalism seems 'sick' to me, in the sense of mathematizing away a lot that seems to need explanation....
     
    #19 charlatan, Jun 28, 2019
    Last edited: Jun 28, 2019
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  20. OP
    charlatan

    charlatan Permanent Fixture

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    Anyway, that was fun :)

    I feel so far like I can agree with everything I can tell you mention, and perhaps when the exact structure of my view comes out, you might find it's very compatible with yours.
    I feel like the thing to be emphasized is just how general the conclusion is -- it's just saying qualia deserve explanation and that our present methods of describing the brain are not sufficient, at pains of accepting the very real conceivability of an abstract ontology.

    The type of person who is anti-my-conclusion would typically be someone not in favor of ambitious metaphysics, and goes for a sober meat-and-potatoes view. I may be mistaken, but you really don't strike me as that type haha.
    Broadly, I can imagine two very different ways someone would deny my type of argument: either take issue with the conclusion or the justification (these really are different, in that some may -- like Quine seems to -- accept the conceivability of an abstract ontology for our world, but not feel bothered enough about it to abandon orthodox physicalism -- this seems Quine's road). You definitely don't strike me as someone who would take strong issue with the conclusion. As for the justification, that remains to be seen -- I feel like so far, I'm not able to see any clear point of divergence at least. The idea behind my view is pretty standard to neutral monism takes: proponents do often enough accuse people of over-mathematicizing the physical.

    The very specific way I cash out such a criticism (this objection that we're heading to an abstract ontology) is what is unique to my point over what I've encountered, but I so far feel it hits what bothers me best.
     
    #20 charlatan, Jun 28, 2019
    Last edited: Jun 29, 2019
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