Ramone on Knowing God

Riffing off Eliezer on consciousness, here is (my alter-ego) Ramone on spirituality: 

We are souls who know we are spiritual.  Since we can conceive of mere non-soul "animals," physical bodies without spirit, spirituality must be a non-physical "something more."  (Until someone proves this is not logically possible, we assume it is.)  We call this something more "God", or at least a part of God.  So our full selves, which we call a "soul", contains both a God-part and an animal-part.

We know God is real and that we are not animals.  Skeptics ask: how do we know?  Our God-part, being God and spirit, can directly see God and that it is spiritual.  What could be simpler?  But skeptics persist; they correctly note that it may well be that the spiritual, or God, part of our soul has no causal influence on the body, or animal, part of our soul.  If so, they wonder, how could our animal-parts know about God?  Their mistake is to think that animals "know" anything – clearly only souls know anything.  We obviously use words like "know" and "think" to refer only to high noble things, not base lowly things; there is only a superficial analogy between signal processing in animal bodies and the what spiritual souls know or think.   

But base skeptics persist with their base analogy, asking how our animal parts can process signals to see they are part of a soul with a spiritual part?  After all, skeptics sneer, if spirits have no causal influence on bodies, and if in some alternate evil universe our bodies were in fact not parts of souls but lone animals, would not those bodies process the same signals the same way?  If so, would they not then incorrectly "think", with their animal pseudo-thoughts, that they were part of a soul?  Yes, such imagined abominations could have abominable pseudo-thoughts, but since in our actual universe we actually are spiritual souls, why is it so strange that we actually think that we are what we in fact are?

To belabor the obvious, Ramone’s God argument is intended to mirror Chalmer’s qualia argument.  Accept both or neither, or show the difference.  (FYI, Chalmers and I exchanged about twenty emails last fall.)

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  • Paul Gowder

    I think Ramone goes off the train in the first sentence. The kind of knowledge that we have of our having first-person conscious experience is wildly different from the kind of knowledge that we might have of having some weird property of being “spiritual.”

  • Brandon Reinhart

    Why do arguments of this form always assume that consciousness and “spirit” is an on/off switch? “We” have it. “Animals” do not. What if there is a spectrum of consciousness and subjective perception? Why is being able to say “I have a soul” a requirement for having a soul? Also: why equate self-awareness with spirituality “having a soul?” Can’t animals be, conceivably, self-aware but incapable of the complex thought processes that lead to that awareness being expressed in some structured way?

  • Caledonian

    The weaknesses of that argument are legion – using such poorly-defined words as ‘soul’ and ‘spiritual’, assuming that ‘animal souls’ can’t know, declaring that ‘knowledge’ must have certain properties without establishing that, asserting that the behavior of one thing is necessarily unlike that of another without providing the properties of the two for comparison, and so on.

    If I make a lot of assumptions about what the various terms are intended to convey, so that the argument expresses something instead of being an incoherent mess of words, then there is indeed an underlying similarity between it and Chalmers’ claims. The basic error is the same:

    The I-that-is-speaking is physical, and in its claims about consciousness, it rules out the possibility that physical things can observe or interact with consciousness. So by what means are its statements justified?

    “Everything I say is a lie.” If I speak that phrase, what can we conclude about my statements? The paradox is well-known: the statement is neither true nor false, and if I make the claim seriously, then I’m very confused in my mind, because it doesn’t actually mean anything.

  • Zombie

    On Chalmers’ view, wherein the ‘psychophysical laws’ are contingent, it seems that across possible worlds *most* brains like ours will be zombies or at least have ‘associated’ qualia that don’t ‘match’ the information processing in the brain. So sophisticated brains proceeding according to ordinary standards of rationality should zombie-conclude that they probably are not conscious (as they don’t have access to any non-material qualia), despite their zombie-perceptions of being conscious (shared by both zombie and non-zombie brains). Yet Chalmers thinks that in our actual world the psychophysical laws lead to conscious experience mirroring the information processing in the brain. So, upon hearing the argument, shouldn’t Chalmers’ brain zombie-conclude that it is probably a zombie brain, and ‘phenomenal Chalmers’ consciously think the same?

  • http://philosophyetc.net Richard

    Robin – I have no idea what you mean by ‘spirit’, or what “knowledge” we are supposed to be granting here. On the other hand I trust that everyone knows what I mean by ‘phenomenal consciousness’, and that they assign high credence to the premise that they do, indeed, know that they are conscious. So the analogy seems a non-starter.

    Brandon – sure, I’m pretty confident that (many) animals are also phenomenally conscious (they may feel pain, etc., even if lacking any concept of the self).

  • Goplat

    Ah, nothing like a good straw-man.

    Robin, why do you want to ban people from purchasing health care, and how do you reconcile this view with your anarcho-capitalist ideology?

  • http://hanson.gmu.edu Robin Hanson

    Richard and Paul, random people on the street are far more likely think they understand the question “Are humans (sometimes) spiritual?” than “Do humans have phenomenal consciousness?” They are probably also more likely to understand the question “Can you imagine a non-spiritual person?” than “Can you imagine a person without phenomenal consciousness?” Maybe you need to get out more.

  • http://philosophyetc.net Richard

    Robin, that’s no response! The babble that comes out of the mouths of “random people on the street” has no philosophical relevance. (There’s an implicit quantifier restriction behind my ‘everyone’ — I mean everyone who’s engaged in sufficient reflection to actually understand the question and its implications.)

    [Aside: most people use ‘spiritual’ to mean ‘religious’, don’t they? You mean ‘possessing a spirit/soul’.]

    Anyway, I’ve pointed out the obvious disanalogy: we know we’re conscious, we don’t know that we have souls. Or do you mean to deny that we know that we’re conscious? It seems that’s what you’re committed to, if you actually think it’s a good analogy.

  • http://hanson.gmu.edu Robin Hanson

    Richard, I’m serious with the analogy. We humans are in fact both spiritual and conscious, and most people can as easily imagine creatures that are just like us except that they are not spiritual, as can imagine creatures that are just like us except that they are unconscious. I personally cannot imagine such things.

  • Savage

    “Richard, I’m serious with the analogy. We humans are in fact both spiritual and conscious, and most people can as easily imagine creatures that are just like us except that they are not spiritual, as can imagine creatures that are just like us except that they are unconscious. I personally cannot imagine such things. ”

    Seems like there is a personal trade-off involved between consciousness and spirit

  • poke

    I think you and Eliezer underestimate the distance between yourselves and Richard and (perhaps) Chalmer’s. Richard believes we have “direct access” (i.e., cannot be wrong about) “phenomenal consciousness,” a property that is defined in such a way that it cannot be physically reduced (it’s “feeling”; i.e., what’s left when you remove effect), and his entire argument is premised on this.

    He also believes phenomenal consciousness is the source of meaning: if we deny that we have phenomenal consciousness we can no longer make assertions or enter into debate with him. We’re reduced to yapping dogs. There isn’t an available avenue for disagreement with Richard’s position that Richard would be able to accept given his premises.

  • Caledonian

    He also believes phenomenal consciousness is the source of meaning: if we deny that we have phenomenal consciousness we can no longer make assertions

    I concur. The implications are… curious. The whole ‘zombie’ idea is predicated on the notion that entities without ‘consciousness’ could behave in precisely the way manner as entities with the property. So a statement that Richard would claim to be meaningless looks precisely the same as one that is meaningful.

    Clearly, context is relevant in evaluation – but he goes much, much farther than that.

    Richard, what evidence do you have that Chalmers is p-conscious and has genuine beliefs? Couldn’t he be a p-zombie and make claims that appear identical but aren’t genuine and so aren’t valid arguments?

  • http://philosophyetc.net Richard

    Poke – “if we deny that we have phenomenal consciousness we can no longer make assertions or enter into debate with him

    No, zombies can’t make meaningful assertions, but mere wannabe-zombies still can ;-). Anyway, I’d be just as happy to debate with a zombie, so long as I could project meaning on to his utterances so as to turn them into good arguments. So that’s not an issue.

    Caledonian – this was discussed in the other thread. What evidence do you have that you’re not a Brain in a Vat, hallucinating your entire life, or otherwise deceived (e.g. by an Evil Demon)? One can’t appeal to (empirical) evidence to dismiss these subjectively indistinguishable skeptical scenarios. They may be dismissed all the same. (Parsimony, in your case.)

  • Caledonian

    What evidence do you have that you’re not a Brain in a Vat, hallucinating your entire life, or otherwise deceived (e.g. by an Evil Demon)?

    As far as I am concerned, those scenarios are precisely the same.

    If all I know are the inputs and outputs, I don’t know whether a chip contains an AND gate or an input-and-output-negated OR gate. There is no difference between those two conditions within the restrictions placed on my knowledge. If those conditions were removed, there are logical differences that would manifest as different observations.

    You have explicitly defined ‘zombies’ to not be able to offer different observations under any circumstances. They are equivalent to non-zombies.

    No, zombies can’t make meaningful assertions, but mere wannabe-zombies still can

    I take it that you are denying the possibility that we are zombies, and are instead “mere wannabe-zombies”. Why is that?

  • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com TGGP

    Goplat, Hanson never claimed to be an anarcho-capitalist, or even a libertarian. He said he wants to cut health care spending in half, which is not quite the same thing as banning it.

  • http://joshuar.tumblr.com Joshua Rothhaas

    This argument doesn’t address the issue of self awareness as a possible evolutionary advantage. Awareness of self allows for greater empathy which allows for the greatest team work. Without claws, and with a big really squishy brain that is pretty easy to smash, we are at at a huge disadvantage when not working in groups. But with this empathy and ability to rationalize our and other peoples existence we have been able to become the dominant species (tools and agriculture help too, but ravens use tools, ants farm, and dogs work in teams, so it just our ability to maximize these non-physical advantage that is our advantage). Also note, that as societies progress, there is also generally progress towards a recognition of other people as more human and even greater empathy.

    eg. 10,000 years ago, if another human wasn’t in your family, they where sub-human
    2000 years ago if they weren’t a member of your town they where sub-human
    up until recently (and still for some) if they weren’t apart of your nation they where sub-human

    I am not sure I am even making sense. And this isn’t the strongest argument, but overall I’d like to see the idea of our consciousness as an evolutionary advantage addressed (because there seems no denying it is at least an advantage – coming from god or mutation)

  • http://philosophyetc.net Richard

    Zombie asked – “shouldn’t Chalmers’ brain zombie-conclude that it is probably a zombie brain, and ‘phenomenal Chalmers’ consciously think the same?

    I’ve responded in a new post: Zombie Rationality. (Also relevant to Eliezer’s earlier response.)

    Joshua – you’re conflating phenomenal consciousness with access consciousness. Even zombies have the latter.

    Caledonian – Wow. I don’t think we have enough common ground to make further discussion fruitful. I’m happy to let others judge for themselves who’s got the crazier view here 😉

  • Caledonian

    No. Conclusions are drawn by people, not brains.

    But p-zombies draw conclusions, and they’re not “people”, they’re just brains.

    Oh, wait – you’ve redefined ‘conclusion’ to refer to something that requires p-consciousness, didn’t you. So p-zombies don’t draw real and genuine conclusions, they reach states that look precisely like conclusions, but are different in some ineffable way.

    How do you go about determining whether the people you meet are p-conscious? Or is that just one of the countless assumptions you sweep under your mental rug?

  • poke

    Richard – That’s very sporting of you! Here’s a question for you that I think would be illuminating: What do you think would be a good argument against the coherence of the zombie world hypothesis? Can you conceive of one at all?

  • http://geniusnz.blogspot.com GNZ

    I wonder if one cna do it the other way –
    imagine a being that had qualia but where there was ‘nothing’ that took on that qualia. Imagine a whole set of qualia just being thrown into a hole and being destroyed rather like how one might imagine a low intelligent animal feeling pain but not in the sense that matters or a sense that had continuality of soul.

    Then you can try to use zombie logic to extrapolate that out to a soul argument.

  • Miriam

    I have a saying that I express at times: “The only difference between man and animal is the form that houses the spirit”.

    Each spirit has an energy fingerprint unique to itself, manifesting in body in order to realize life, with a mind in which to experience it. In life, each spirit experiences the game of life by the limitation of the host body. The lack of fingers and thumbs, and upward bi-pedal motion, restricts many animals from evolving the ability to create, construct, manufacture. Also, each animal according to each evolutionary stage of his brain’s ability to learn and adapt. Each human, animal, organic matter, inorganic matter, and all physical forms are composed of vibrations of energy in different frequencies aligning to this physical dimension. Each form has a specific vibration aligning to its particular form and this physical dimension. Each spirit also has a static vibration barcode unique to self which can transcend all dimensions and can bring the essense of self awareness of life to form.

    Man was made in the image of God….and so is everything else in existence. So God brought forward all that is from the image of its own vision, relinquishing boredom for a quest in a game of life.

    All that is are parts of the consciousness of God. God experiencing life through its many forms of creations. God giving each of his parts/spirit amnesia (free choice) in order to learn and experience a game of life.

    We are all the collective consciousness of the one.

    The above are my views.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/Psy-Kosh/ Psy-Kosh

    Miriam: How is it you’ve come to those views? Why do you believe that?

    For that matter, what do you mean, precisely, by an “energy fingerprint”? (For that matter, when you say “energy”, are you talking about the same sort of thing a physicist things of when they use the word, or are you using the word in a different way?)

    What do you mean by “vibrations of energy”? How do different frequencies “align one to a physical dimension”? (heck, what does that even mean?) (I don’t mean to ask for a crude “imagine tuning a radio” analogy, I’m also asking for what’s “under” the analogy, what’s actually meant)

    What, precisely, is a “static vibration barcode”, and how is it that such a thing can “transcend all dimensions” (What do you mean by that, anyways?) and how does that cause “essence of self awareness of life” to form?

    Let’s start with those questions for now.