We’ll begin with a story, in (large) part inspired by Professor Markosian. At the beginning of our class on Wednesday we were presented with the following argument known as “The Argument from Conceivability.”
The Argument from Conceivability
(1) I can conceive of existing without my body.
(2) If (1), then it is possible for me to exist without my body.
(3) If it is possible for me to exist without my body, then I am not identical to my body.
(4) If I am not identical to my body, then Materialism is false.
(5) Materialism is false.
What I failed to explain clearly was however explained perfectly by the professor. He argued that proposition 1 of the argument is flawed. We cannot conceive existing without our bodies, we just think we can. He used the following example which he dubbed “The Lois Lane Argument”. If you don’t know even vaguely who the following characters are…shame on you!
The Lois Lane Argument
(1) Lois can conceive of Superman existing without Clark Kent.
(2) If (1), then it is possible for Superman to exist without Clark Kent.
(3) If it is possible for Superman to exist without Clark Kent, then Superman is not identical to Clark Kent.
(4) If Superman is not identical to Clark Kent, then the Superman = Clark Kent theory is false.
(5) The Superman = Clark Kent theory is false.
He followed this with a story which I’ll attempt to recreate. Say the Lois decided she in fact wanted to believe that both Clark Kent and Superman are different people, she would verify this belief with the following (somewhat morbid) idea. We are at the funeral of Clark Kent, he has been cremated and is most certainly gone. At this funeral Lois stands beside Superman looking at the Urn of Clark Kent.
In this example she is not accomplishing the first proposition. She is not conceiving Superman existing without Clark Kent, they are one in the same, as she creates the thought she is placing Superman (who is Clark Kent) into the thought mistakenly assuming that he is a separate being. At least one person in the class argued that they could easily think of them as two different beings, which is true (they being the student) but I feel I know why.
We know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Superman and Clark Kent are a single entity. As Bill of Kill Bill said “Peter Parker was just Peter Parker before the Spider bit him. But Superman, he was always Superman, even beneath the guise of Clark Kent he is still Superman.” We know that they are the same entity and thusly with this information we can manipulate the scenario to create a situation where in fact they are different individuals.
Lois however does not know. When she creates the scenario she is placing her Superman (who is Clark Kent) into the funeral looking at an Urn of himself. She is creating a paradox without even knowing that she has created a paradox. It is the fact that we know they are one in the same that gives us the power to separate them. Otherwise we cannot earnestly conceive it.
Now what bothers me is the abuse of the concept of conceiving. You can indeed lie to yourself unknowingly, if you are adopted and do not know it you can earnestly believe that when you think of your biological father fighting (while using the image of your Adopted father) that it is the correct image when in fact the information you are using is false. Likewise for a while some fast food places primarily used a clay mineral for their shakes (which is why they didn’t call them milk shakes) you can imagine yourself drinking one of these and mistakenly believing it is primarily a dairy product where in fact it is a mineral based solution (the clay held its shape at room temperature much longer than a diary medium). We create illusions in our own fantasies because the information we are using is incorrect from the beginning.
To clarify I have a strong belief that I will lay upon you all. I feel that ALL knowledge is either the product of your outside world or the product of previous information gathered from your outside world. Everything you know is manufactured from either outside stimulus or the stored information of previous outside stimulus. Likewise information carried over in your genes was stored there from your parents who either gathered there information from the outside world or from their parents genes caring it over and continuing on. It’s a constant pattern and is the entire reason we advance with our understanding of the world. We are literally building our understanding of the universe on top of previous understandings that we have about the universe. I think if you take a moment to think about it it’s pretty easy to see where I come to that bold conclusion. A Biologist can explain the transfer of base information across DNA far far far better than I can so ask them to clarify and not me.
I am reminded of a story, that either I made up or heard from someone (I can’t tell these days too many stories), regardless of its source it still works pretty well. There is a man who walks upon the beach and see’s the corpse of a horse very near the dismembered horn of a narwhale. So close in fact that it looks as if the horn itself has fallen off of the very horse that lies there dead. The horse itself is in beautiful condition and seems to have fallen from (the conception) of heaven itself. This man happens to be a wonderful artist and goes home to draw what he felt had died upon that beach. He has know previous knowledge of narwhales, and thusly a magnificent new creature is born.
Painting by: Andy Mack
This man has indeed to the best of his abilities conceived of a horse with a horn using information he perceives to be true. He saw a fallen horse very near the horn that had no apparent source other than the horse. However he indeed wrong about what he is imagining. The imaginative figure is not ‘wrong’ just like there are no honest stupid questions, but in relation to reality it is indeed wrong. He thinks what he is imagining is what he saw dead upon that beach, he is entirely correct in thinking what he believes is true, he is however wrong in the fact that it is true. Much like Lois is wrong in believing that figure she is projecting in her thoughts is a figure that is separate of Superman. We however know that in both these situations what the reality is, thusly we can actually create a conception that is real.
I may or may not have confused more people than I helped with that last example but at the very least I got to show a picture of a unicorn. So on with the discussion.
There is one thing that is generally missing from conceived notions that are unintentional fallacies and that is specificity. Now forgive me if I use the word incorrectly but I feel that people will understand my meaning regardless (vernacular is amazing in that incorrectly using a word can still convey the same message as using the correct word for the message). I believe on surface glance that I can create images of amazingly vivid quality, in fact in my mind I can see dragons battling humans in this epic war with flames and death and maybe cheesecake. However once I attempt to get specifics, to look at that image and really scrutinize it, I find pieces fading. When I attempt to really honestly see that dragon’s face it starts to become a blur. Pieces fall off to accommodate more acuity. I believe this in part is the issue many people overlook when they think they can conceive something.
Which leads us back to the original example. The idea is that someone can tell you a story about leaving your body, going to heaven, seeing the pearly gates, and meeting the gate keeper. If you can ‘perceive’ this then it is obviously possible, because we cannot perceive the impossible (by definition I’m sure). The idea being that if it is possible then Materialism cannot exist because Materialism says strictly that it is in no way possible.
However in this situation you are not perceiving heaven, nor are you perceiving the experience of life after death. You are perceiving (I’ll start saying imagining cause its a quicker word for typing) a single concept of such. You are looking at an idea, not an actual thing. We can say that we can imagine an unstoppable force and an immovable object in the same existence, however in actuality these two things must be mutually exclusive. Because the results of their contact is incomprehensible…or more simply…unimaginable. However if we remain as vague as we possible can we can give the illusion of imagining. Which is a popular tactic in the metaphysics course I’m taking.
It is the moment that you lose that specificity, that you have left the realm of true perception, and entered an illusionary sense of certainty. Now that we have reached this point I’ll quickly recap.
I feel that all knowledge is based off either information gathered from the outside world, or previous information that was gathered from the outside world. This can be abstracted to include nitpicky things like two pieces of information previously gathered against one another but in the end it requires the outside world (you don’t create something from nothing). Secondly I feel that you can conceive something that you feel is what you are conceiving but it actually isn’t, which falls back upon the previous statement of the source of knowledge. Thirdly the introduction of ambiguity or vagueness (pick your favorite word) can create a false sense of certainty that leads to flimsy logic (or rather illogic).
We enter now the next part of my experience. Today we began talking about another metaphysical philosophy called “Interactionism”. It quite simple goes as follows (information provided by Professor Markosian).
Interactionism: (i) People are composite objects. (ii) Each living person is composed of two parts: a mind and a body. (iii) The mind and body of a single person typically enter into two-way causal interaction.
It’s essentially dualism with a new clause slapped on the end like trucker mud flaps. What it basically says is that we are a symbiosis of two entities, the physical self and the non-physical self. These two things interact in a causal two-way relationship. Essentially the mind communicates non-physically with your physical body and your body communicates physically with your non-physical brain (for some of you that last sentence just blew your brain into chunks for the rest let me continue to the argument). In the book the question is asked how on earth does a non-physical thing interact with a physical object. By the very natural laws that hold our universe together (well..they do something…haha) you can in no situation have a physical thing interact with a non physical object. It is an instance that is unimaginable, if you take a rather ambiguous look at it and merely allow it to happen it looks imaginable, but once again you are not actually imagining what you think you are (go back to Lois and maybe get a drink if you need a break).
The Professor provided an equally persuasive argument in the direction of the body interacting with the mind that I feel will be a productive piece of information.
The No Interaction Argument
(1) Causal interaction between minds and bodies is inconceivable.
(2) If (1), then causal interaction between minds and bodies does not occur.
(3) If causal interaction between minds and bodies does not occur, then Interactionism is false.
(4) Interactionism is false.
Following this we had two major arguments, both were inherently flawed, the latter of which leads us back to the very first (I’d hope) sentence you read when you came to this particular thread: the topic header. The first argument was this. The brain (or mind) and the body interact in a fashion like Casper the friendly ghost, because as we all know he’s a good source of scientific information. Casper can will himself to be visible (a physical trait), can will himself to touch physical things (such as a Pepsi can), can will himself to no longer be visible or tangible (non physical traits), and he can even create mixtures of the two where part of him is intangible and part is tangible. The idea being that you can imagine your brain communicating with your mind/body and it makes perfect sense.
I however think this returns us back to the Lois Lane situation. We are not in the situation of the outside entity, in the case of Lane and Kent we are outside observers looking in upon a concrete world with concrete limitations (as in there is no case where Kent is not Superman, as far as I know Superman is essentially the same guy in all the infinite DC universes even. He’s relatively consistent consistent compared to his comrades). We beyond a shadow of a doubt know what is true and false in the world of Superman, because we have direct access to the entities that created it: Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. Because of this we know beyond a shadow of a doubt (if one is to assume that neither of them are habitual liars) what is true and false in that universe and it is that concrete knowledge of that world that allows us to earnestly conceive of alterations to it. Unlike Lois who is naive to the unity of Kent and Superman, we know that they are the same entity, and thusly we can earnestly separate them. We have the chunks of outside information necessary to correctly fabricate the new possibility in our mind.
Going back to Casper, we are in a position to posit that in Casper’s universe under all the known rules of that universe the intangible can communicate with the tangible. Keeping in mind that at no point does this information in any way negate our own reality or our own natural laws. Because that communication in no way breaks into our world, as I assume not one of the billions of people in the known history of humanity has ever had a real discussion with Casper over a Pepsi.
The second argument actually upset me a bit. It was given by a classmate who felt that there is no reason to believe that an object must be physical to touch physical things or nonphysical to touch nonphysical things. There was no reasoning given, no example (although I think you know where I’m going with this) of a situation where this occurs, just a blatantly ambiguous statement. As I said before one can mistakenly assume they have overcome a problem by thinking of it ambiguously.
This to me is a Pandora’s box of epic proportions which earnestly left me asking another student why she was even in college in the first place (for reasons outlined soon). If we are willing to accept something merely because we can what point is there to knowledge? It would appear to me if you are willing to posit that such reasoning is sound you are essentially accepting the following.
The God Problem (Version 2.0 now :P)
1. If God Exists all things are possible.
2. Natural law cannot exist if all things are possible.
3. If (2), Nature (The outside world) does not exist.
4. If (3), We know nothing about the external world.
5. if (4), We know nothing.
6. We Know Nothing.
If we exist is in a reality that does not exist (which is possible by proposition 1), then we can learn absolutely nothing (proposition 4), if that is the case then why go to college? Because if you can answer all of the questions in life with “God did it” then haven’t you already completed the equation? This is much like my unicorn story before, I don’t know if I heard it in a dream or from another person but.
“Anything that explains everything explains absolutely nothing.”
If in fact God does exist, and if in fact this breaks ground to the idea that anything is possible (like Casper), it would appear to me that we place ourselves back into the original problem of the course. The problem of Skepticism.
The Brain In a Vat Hypothesis (BIVH): I am just a brain in a vat being fooled by alien scientists.
In Logical Form:
The Brain in a Vat Argument
(1) I don’t know that BIVH is false.
(2) If (1), then I don’t know anything about the external world.
(3) I don’t know anything about the external world.
It essentially places us in a universal Lois Lane situation, we believe that we understand the things around us because of the knowledge we believe to be true. However it is incorrect because the information we are using (information from our outside world) is from the very beginning a fallacy. We believe in any instance that the information we are using (even the information you are using at this moment to dispute my case) is real but in fact it is all an illusion.
It just seems to me that you could have no case where God (or at the very least minds/souls) can exist in the natural world and interact with this natural world without completely negating the natural laws that hold the natural world together. It’s completely sane to say that Casper can sip a Pepsi within the universe he was created in, however I strongly question the legitimacy of thinking that Casper could (or does) reach into the our universe and sip Pepsi with us. You can’t have your cake and eat it to. (In the sense that once you eat it you no longer have it) I feel that too many people use ambiguity to accomplish that task. I hope that I wasn’t ambiguous, anyone who needs clarifications can leave a comment and I will clarify the problem :).