Rational Rebirth

This is a guest post by Eric Steinhart.

Kurt Gödel (1906-1978) was an Austrian-American logician and mathematician.  He is best known for his incompleteness theorems and his work in axiomatic set theory.  However,  he also produced some deeply interesting philosophical arguments.  Some of these are found in his unpublished papers and letters.  One of these is an argument for life after death (for rebirth) given in a letter written in 1961 to his mother, Marianne Gödel:

In your last letter you pose the weighty question whether I believe we shall see each other again [in a hereafter].  About that I can only say the following: If the world is rationally organized and has a sense, then that must be so.  For what sense would it make to bring forth a being (man) who has such a wide range of possibilities of individual development and of relations to others and then allow him to achieve not one in a thousand of those?  That would be much as if someone laid the foundation for a house with the greatest trouble and expense and then let everything go to ruin again.  But do we have reason to assume that the world is rationally organized?  I think so.  For the world is not at all chaotic and capricious, but rather, as science shows, the greatest regularity and order prevails in all things; [and] order is but a form of rationality.  (1961: 429-431)

How is another life to be imagined?  About that there are of course only conjectures.  But it is interesting that modern science is the very thing that provides support for them.  For it shows that this world of ours, with all the stars and planets that are in it, had a beginning and, in all probability, will have an end.   But why then should there be only this one world?  And since we one day found ourselves in this world, without knowing how [we got here] and whither [we are going], the same thing can be repeated in the same way in another [world] too.  (1961: 429-431)

The paragraphs from Gödel’s letter contain an argument.  This is Gödel’s Argument for Rebirth.  One way to analyze it looks like this: (1) Nature produces humans; that is, nature produces us.  (2) If nature produces us but does not allow us to realize all our potentials, then nature is not rational.  (3) From 1 and 2 it follows that, if nature does not allow us to realize all our potentials, then nature is not rational.  (4) However, science shows that nature is rational.  (5) Therefore, nature allows us to realize all our potentials.  (6) We do not realize all our potentials in our earthly lives.  (7) Either we have future lives in which we will realize all our potentials or we do not.  (8)  If we do not have future lives in which we will realize our potentials, then nature does not allow us to realize all our potentials.  (9) However, nature does allow us to to realize all our potentials.  (10)  Therefore we have future lives in which we will realize all our potentials.  (11) While it is not likely that these future lives will appear in this universe, it is possible that there will be other universes after this universe ends.  (12) If this possibility is not actualized,  then nature does not allow us to realize all our potentials and is not rational.  (13) But nature is rational and does allow us to realize all our potentials.  (14)  Consequently, we will have lives in other universes and through those lives we will realize all our potentials.  This is clearly an argument for rebirth, since other future versions of our lives must appear in those future universes.

The mathematician Hao Wang was a close friend of Gödel.  Wang reports that Gödel was interested in the construction of a “rational religion” (1987; 2) and characterized Gödel’s philosophy as rationalistic optimism (1987: 218).  Assuming that reason is not self-negative, the most rational way for anything to actualize its potentialities is also the most optimistic way.  Granted this optimistic premise, your future lives will realize all your positive potentials.  The most optimistic way can be spelled out by two rules.  These two rules define an iterative algorithm (so that any process directed by these rules is an example of algorithmic iteration).   The two rules are as follows:

  • The Initial Rule states that you have an initial life.  Your initial life is just your present earthly life.  Your initial life runs biologically from conception to death.  It exists in your initial society in your initial ecosystem in your initial universe.
  • The Sucessor Rule states that for every one of your lives, for every way to improve that life, you have a better successor life that is improved in that way.  Starting with your initial life, the successor rule defines an endlessly ramified tree of ever better lives.  Every successor life exists in a better successor society, ecosystem, and universe.

These two rules define an endlessly ramified tree of lives.  The lives in the tree are stratified into ranks, and the tree contains as many ranks as natural numbers.  The zeroth rank contains your present life; the first rank contains all the future versions of your present life; each next rank contains all future better versions of all the lives in the previous rank.  For every natural number n, there is an n-th rank of lives.  These ranks can be extended to the infinite using a Limit Rule; but that’s too technical for discussion here.

These rules define the theory of rational rebirth.  The theory of rational rebirth follows from the logic of creation and evolution by rational selection.  Rational rebirth is driven by natural creative power (it is driven by natura naturans, expressed through the dynamic interaction of objective will and objective reason).  Rational rebirth exemplifies the concept of rebirth in Theraveda Buddhism. There is no personal identity that binds all your lives together.  On the contrary, all these lives are counterparts in the sense defined by David Lewis (1968, 1986: ch. 4).  The theory of rational rebirth does not involve any immaterial thinking substance that travels from universe to universe – it involves no Cartesian minds.  To use some old-fashioned jargon, it is not transmigration, it is palingenesis.  Of course, if the soul is the form of the body, then each of your lives can be an instance of your soul; all your lives can realized and run the same body-program.  There are no memories of past lives; you cannot remember your past nor anticipate your future.  So what’s the point?  The point is that nature will realize all your positive potentialities.  Your nature will be fully actualized.  Nature contains the fullness of your person.

Rational rebirth is linked by resemblance to the Wheel of the Year.  On the one hand, rational rebirth is an instance of algorithmic iteration; the two rules for rational rebirth define a cyclical pattern of action that generates your tree of lives.  On the other hand, the Wheel of the Year is abstracted from the cyclical patterns of life and death in earthly nature.  Bringing these two hands together, the Wheel of the Year can symbolize rational rebirth.  The cyclical pattern of rational rebirth is the Great Wheel.  One way to fill out the symbolism is to use the spring equinox to symbolize birth and the fall equinox to symbolize death.  The light half of the year (from the spring to fall equinoxes) represents life; the dark half of the year represents the time between lives.  During this time, there is no persistent self that exists.  The self is merely an abstract pattern (the form of the body) that is carried by the Great Wheel, from lifetime to lifetime, from universe to universe.

Since rational rebirth does not involve any theistic deities, it is entirely consistent with atheism.  The Great Wheel is driven by natural creative power (natura naturans).  And while natural creative power is divine, it is not a theistic deity.  An atheistic nature-religion can include rational rebirth as its doctrine of life after death.  The Pew Religious Landscape Survey states that 18% of atheists believe in life after death; those atheists are free to adopt rational rebirth.  Since rational rebirth does not conflict with science, and since it does not involve any super-natural entities, it is also entirely consistent with scientific naturalism.  Rational rebirth is probably not consistent with strong forms of positivism.  And skeptics will say that there is not enough evidence for it.  However, atheism is distinct from skepticism and positivism.  While positivists and skeptics may be forbidden to do speculative metaphysics, atheists are free to do as much speculative metaphysics as they want (so long, of course, as it does not involve any theistic deities).

The Pew Religious Landscape Survey states that earthly reincarnation is affirmed by 24% of Americans.  Anybody who believes in earthly reincarnation can be offered rational rebirth as a more reasonable alternative.  (And to say that it is more reasonable does not imply that it is true.)  The mythos of earthly reincarnation points to the logos of rational rebirth.  If you are dealing with somebody who believes in earthly reincarnation, you may want to try to dialectically lead them to the more reasonable theory of rational rebirth.  You might win a friend and avoid making an enemy.   Atheistic or rational Wiccans can affirm rational rebirth instead of earthly reincarnation.  And if such Wiccans are willing to see the god and goddess as merely symbols for objective will and reason, then they can see the interplay between the god and goddess as symbolism for the Great Wheel.  Rational rebirth captures the Wiccan idea that the purpose of reincarnation is self-perfection, that is, the actualization of all the positive potentialities of the soul, over many lifetimes.

The Pew Religious Landscape Survey states that 10% of atheists pray at least weekly; those atheists are free to pray to the Great Wheel.  The Great Wheel is not a god or goddess; it is not a theistic deity at all; nor is it even a deity of any kind.  It is merely an abstract cyclical pattern, an iterative algorithm.  The content of an atheistic prayer to the Great Wheel might simply express the desire that it will carry your pattern forward, so that you will be reborn.  Facing the greif of separation by death, two parting lovers might express their love in the prayer that the Great Wheel will carry them on together forever, that they will love again.  As a response to an existential crisis, such atheistic prayers may be comforting.  There is absolutely no reason why atheists should be denied such comfort.  And any atheistic world-view which hopes to gain mainstream acceptance and to serve as a meaningful way of life for many people will have to provide such comfort.  An atheistic nature-religion would thus be part of a positive and life-affirming atheism.

Closely related posts on the soul and multiple lives:

Reincarnation

 The Soul is the Form of the Body

From Aristotle through Buddhism to Nietzsche

The Eternal Return of the Same

Links to some (but not all) of the other posts in this broader series on Wicca and atheism are below:

Atheism and Wicca

The Wiccan Deity

The Wiccan Deity: An Initial Philosophical Analysis

The Wiccan Deity: Related Concepts in Philosophy

On Atheistic Religion

Nine Theses on Wicca and Atheism

Atheistic Holidays

Criticizing Wicca: Energy

Atheism and Beauty

Do Atheists Worship Truth?

Some Naturalistic Ontology

Criticizing Wicca: Levels

Atheism and the Sacred: Natural Creative Power

Atheist Ceremonies: De-Baptism and the Cosmic Walk

Atheism and Possibility

The Impossible God of Paul Tillich

Atheism and the Sacred: Being-Itself

Pure Objective Reason

Criticizing Wicca: Rationality

The God and the Goddess

Wicca and the Problem of Evil

The Wiccan God and Goddess: Reality and Mythology

Criticizing Wicca: God and Goddess

Wiccan Theology and Sexual Equality

Revelation versus Manifestation

Creation Stories

The Logic of Creation

Evolution by Rational Selection

Two Arguments for Evolution by Rational Selection

The Wheel of the Year

Criticizing Wicca: The Wheel of the Year

The Atheist Wheel of the Year

References

Gödel, K. (1961) Letter to Marianne Gödel, 23 July 1961.  In S. Feferman et al. (Eds.) (2003) Collected Works: Volume IV: Correspondence, A-G (Mathematics).  New York: Oxford University Press, 429-431.

Lewis, D. (1968) Counterpart theory and quantified modal logic.  Journal of Philosophy 65, 113-126.

Lewis, D. (1986) On the Plurality of Worlds.  Cambridge, MA: Blackwell.

Wang, H. (1987) Reflections on Kurt Gödel.  Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • Belial

    Godel’s argument resounds with the much debunked argument from ontology.

    I’m also still concerned that the author views logic constructs as a legitimate description of real things(tm). Unfortunately, models are models and real isn’t real unless it’s testable.

    • http://www.ericsteinhart.com Eric Steinhart

      Do you have any arguments for those claims or are you just stating your faith?

    • Belial

      I’m not sure what you think I’m claiming but in fairness I’ll “state my faith.”

      Independent reality exists.
      When stating this belief in person, I usually offer to throw (think judo, I can actually throw people) folks who purport to not believe this with me. I then define reality as what happens when you hit the ground. I generally enjoy being thrown so don’t mind too much when the throwee gets up and returns the favor.

      Empiricism (scientific method) is the only way to understand reality.
      By “only” I mean other methods don’t have the same track record of success. “Success” means you get something that achieves a goal. I’ve been in several positions to manage 5-15 people at a time for various tasks. Turns out that I can guess who will do well at certain tasks about 50% of the time. The other half the time, I need to give a person an opportunity to try and then score the result. People surprise me, i.e. I can’t think my way to a correct knowing with out running a test.

      Occam’s razor is a remarkably good heuristic.
      I do know that the more complicated my guesses or the longer that they take to explain, the more likely it is that I’ve made a mistake. Worse, I will be blind to most of mistakes until someone else points it out or until reality intervenes and makes it painfully obvious there is an error.

      I also believe in living my life, letting others live theirs and trying to be more compassionate. Supernatural does not exist. Explaining that is beyond the scope of this reply, however. I’m sure I’m leaving off a few corollaries and consequences as well as eliding the impact of ideas.

      I was surprised to find this when I went to the intertubes for a nice short version of the argument from ontology:
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G%C3%B6del%27s_ontological_proof.

      It also looks like Godel was a goddist.

    • http://infinitegames.tumblr.com infinity

      Empiricism (scientific method) is the only way to understand reality.
      By “only” I mean other methods don’t have the same track record of success. “Success” means you get something that achieves a goal

      So mathematics fits…where, exactly, in your world-view? I think mathematicians have a pretty good track record of success in understanding (at least one part of) reality. And without mathematical understanding of reality, where would most of empirical science be? And logic, through which philosophy (the area of thinking which *developed empiricism*) is developed is, what, unsuccessful?

  • bertilak

    “(4) However, science shows that nature is rational” is incorrect. Actually, scientists assume that nature may be understood as rational. Science cannot be said to prove what it posits as its working assumption.

    (2) “nature produces …” and “nature does not allow …” attribute agency to nature. This uses the word ‘nature’ as if it described a person such as a god. This is unwarranted. This is smuggling ‘God’ into the argument under wraps.

    Since these 2 premises are invalid, the version presented here of Godel’s Argument for Rebirth collapses due to incoherence.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      “(4) However, science shows that nature is rational” is incorrect. Actually, scientists assume that nature may be understood as rational. Science cannot be said to prove what it posits as its working assumption.

      No, scientists do not merely assume that nature may be understood rationally, they successfully understand it rationally, which vindicates the initial hypothesis that the world can be understood rationally. What else would be proof that nature could be understood rationally besides the fact that it manifestly is understood irrationally. Or do you mean to say you understand it irrationally? When you say that “Science cannot be said to prove” is that you being rational or irrational? Are you talking about reality or not about reality?

      (2) “nature produces …” and “nature does not allow …” attribute agency to nature. This uses the word ‘nature’ as if it described a person such as a god. This is unwarranted. This is smuggling ‘God’ into the argument under wraps.

      No, that’s producing and allowing are not here used in personal senses at all.

    • bertilak

      I think it is mere tautology to say that scientists understand nature rationally. Really, one can only say that scientists understand rationally that part of nature which they understand by means of reason. But scientists do not understand all of nature. To state that the not-understood parts of nature can be understood rationally is only a working assumption or a statement of faith. It is not a fact which can be used as a basis for argument.

      Also, even if it is non-personal to say that “nature … does not allow us to realize all our potentials” what are these ‘potential’ thingies? How can you know what a person’s potential is, other than by fantasy or wishful thinking? Keats, Mozart, or Schubert might have had the potential to produce more great works of art, but they didn’t because they died. What is the point of imagining contrafactual deeds of people who did not do them? I don’t think the notion of a person’s ‘potential’ has any content other than expressing yearning for more.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      You seem to be conflating epistemological questions with ontological questions. If you talk about what nature is like, then you are assuming that it is in some particular way and not in some particular alternative way. Whether or not we can describe it is irrelevant. No one is saying we can have an omniscient grasp of nature. All that is being discussed is the implications of talking about “nature” at all. Reality has a nature. You are assuming that as much as Godel or Eric or I am. That nature to be a nature must have some kind of ordering according to which it is that nature and not some other nature. That is, it must be rational. It must not violate the law of non-contradiction. If it were to be both what it is and what it is not at the same time and in the same way, then it would not be a nature. It would not intelligibly be. It seems necessary that the law of non-contradiction and similar rational laws are ontologically necessary and not only psychologically necessary for humans.

    • http://www.russellturpin.com/ Russell

      That nature to be a nature must have some kind of ordering according to which it is that nature and not some other nature. That is, it must be rational. It must not violate the law of non-contradiction.

      That is the kind of meta-physics to which rational people object. Logical axioms say nothing about nature, other than the nature of (certain) languages. They describe the language we use in discussing things. Nature doesn’t obey the law of non-contradiction. Predicate calculus, or set-theory, or some subsets of English, obey the law of non-contradiction. (At least, assuming set-theory is consistent.)

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Nature doesn’t obey the law of non-contradiction.

      I see. And since it does not obey the law of non-contradiction, it also does obey it. And rational people understand this?

    • http://www.russellturpin.com/ Russell

      BTW, there are logics that relax the law of non-contradiction in various ways. The ones I recall tried to limit the inference impact of contradictions that were present. You would be hard-pressed to identify any axiom that is present in all logics. So, the interesting question for anyone who thinks that such axioms are about nature rather than language is to identify which axioms pertain to nature. Which logic is nature’s logic?

    • http://www.russellturpin.com/ Russell

      And since it does not obey the law of non-contradiction, it also does obey it. And rational people understand this?

      Let me phrase that better: the law of non-contradiction is an axiom of logic or language. Trees, fish, stars, and clouds are not linguistic. Talking about whether a cloud follows the axiom of non-contradiction makes as much sense as whether an idea is green. You’re fooling yourself with language. Some part of speech can contain contradictory claims, and thus violate the law of non-contradiction. So it makes sense to say that Bill contradicts himself, or that some paper contradicts itself. It doesn’t make sense to say that a cloud contradicts itself, because a cloud isn’t asserting anything.

  • Randomfactor

    Seems to me the whole thing falls apart when you start assuming that nature/the universe is “rational.”

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      What would it be for nature not to be rational? He is not here saying that nature is rational in the sense of conscious, but that it is a rational ordering where, for example, A=/=~A. Is there some way in which nature can do irrational things like have A=~A?

    • Nick

      A man gets into an argument with his brother, and hits him. We happen to know that he exhibits the poor impulse control and a mercurial temperament. We know, also, that the interaction of their personalities tends to exacerbate conflict rather than defuse it.

      That is to say: we can understand, rationally, why this man might have hit his brother. That understanding in no way implies that the man is acting rationally. In attributing “reason” to the universe, I believe you’re equivocating. We might be able to understand the universe through application of reason, but that in no way implies that “reason” is a property exhibited by the universe.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Not equivocating at all. And not anthropomorphizing at all. There is a difference between our acts of reasoning and rationality. There can be rational explanations about why we reason badly. There are norms of reasoning which lead us to say someone is more or less “rational”. When we say someone is reasoning well or being rational we are implying they are meeting a standard of rationality. There are rational truths which strike us as absolutely necessary or as impossible, etc. There are rational relationships that no rational being could intelligibly deny.

      These truths seem to be fundamental truths about nature, i.e., the nature and essence of all things. In this way, the universe is itself rational. I want to say “a rational kind of thing” but that’s misleading—all kinds of things are rational kinds of things—that’s the nature of things! You cannot think of an irrational kind of being. You can think of beings that behave in ways that are bad for their purposes and in that sense “irrational” but you cannot think of irrational beings in the sense of squared circles or beings which are both A and ~A or possible and impossible, etc.

      None of this is to say that nature is conscious (except through its manifestation in conscious beings of course) but that it is rational. Reality has a rational nature. It is inconceivable how we could think of an irrational nature. And if we posited one, to be consistent we would have to deny having any knowledge since all our knowledge is rational.

    • bertilak

      “It is inconceivable how we could think of an irrational nature.”

      I quite agree, but that is a fact about limitations on our thinking. It is not a fact about nature. If nature is irrational, we can’t think about it, except for the tiny subset which we have already thought about rationally. Boo hoo!

      The assertion that nature is rational is a statement of faith, not something which can be known analytically.

    • Nick

      Very well, I’ll accept that my previous point originated from an issue of semantics, and operate under your definition of rationality, as regards the universe.

      However, could we not say that the statement, “If nature produces us but does not allow us to realize all our potentials, then nature is not rational.” might be more accurately rephrased as; “If nature produces us but does not allow us to realize all our potentials, then nature does not meet a standard of rationality that we’ve applied to it.”?

      After all, if we’re being scrupulous about not anthropomorphizing the universe, should we not make that distinction? Given what we know about our cognitive and evolutionary development, and the nature of our minds to model reality and extrapolate based on our experience, it makes sense that our imaginings and aspirations greatly exceed the scope of our potential experience. To say that the universe wouldn’t let us, as individuals, expire until we’ve experienced the totality of our imaginings smacks of the same arrogance and wishful thinking for which we castigate theists.

      And besides, isn’t the idea or reincarnation, in some form or another, predicated upon the same shoddy presumptions we’ve debunked as a part of theistic claims thousands of times over? I.E., souls, immaterial realities, mind/body dualism, and so forth? I fail to see how any of this is “consistent with atheism” except in the most superficial sense of it not involving deities. Consistent with dictionary atheism, perhaps, but certainly not with rigorous skepticism or philosophical naturalism.

    • bertilak

      Actually, nature is irrational.

      Proof: Schrödinger’s cat is both alive and not-alive.

      A=~A

      QED.

      Of course I am being flippant.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Right. Can you make the case without being flippant though?

    • bertilak

      Daniel:

      You want me, a part of nature, to demonstrate rationally that nature is irrational? No, sorry, my paradoxatron is broken and the spare parts will not arrive until next week.

      Nevertheless, let me sketch out my intuition here to see if somebody can take it further. The task of declaring nature rational seems to be too big for humankind.

      It is like finding an algorithm for solving Turing’s Halting Problem. How can one ever be sure one has understood all of nature? Even if someday we think we understand all of nature, and rationally, how can we finite beings ever be sure we have not missed something?

      If this is correct, any assertion by a human that nature is rational is only a statement of faith. Even if scientists keep understanding more and more of nature rationally for centuries to come, the belief that nature as a whole ‘is rational’ still remains only a useful heuristic.

    • Belial

      If nature comported with your defn. of rational; we’d never need to do experiments. A better word is that nature functions.

      and because i have trouble keeping myself in order:

      “The point is that nature will realize all your positive potentialities. Your nature will be fully actualized. Nature contains the fullness of your person.”

      I actually heard in my head an evil scientist laugh between the 2nd and 3rd sentences.

      Substantively, this entire post is useless speculation. We have no way of testing this hypotheses. Wishing (philosophizing?) it to be true doesn’t make it so. My person is as full as the limits of a single life and reality (the real one not the philosophical one) allow.

  • Randomfactor

    That’s kind of what I mean–I think he’s mixing two definitions here. I don’t have a background in philosophy, but I don’t see where a “rational nature” has any obligation to allow humans–or anyone else–to realize ALL potentials. A ball at the top of a hill can realize any of a large number of potentials–paths down that hill–but why expect that all of them HAVE to come to pass?

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      I don’t think it’s a matter of obligation to humans in specific. But what puzzles me also is how there would be certain ends that it would be rationally necessary for reality to realize. There is a macro-teleology here that I don’t find intuitive at first read.

  • http://www.ericsteinhart.com Eric Steinhart

    Nature is rational exactly insofar as it is mathematically comprehensible; which is to say, exactly insofar as it is self-consistent. And mathematics, of course, includes the mathematics of chance. The argument from the success of mathematics in science to the rationality of nature is the best inductive argument there is, since it takes the entire history of scientific success as its evidence.

    • SAWells

      Regular, not rational. But nice try.

    • http://marniemaclean.com Marnie

      Nature is rational exactly insofar as it is mathematically comprehensible; which is to say, exactly insofar as it is self-consistent.

      I think that definition ends up working against your point. By that standard, my car is “rational” as it can be explained mathematically.

    • http://www.ericsteinhart.com Eric Steinhart

      Your car is material; matter is rational; therefore, your car is rational. Once again, note that “rational” is not being used in the psychological sense of “being able to reason”.

    • http://marniemaclean.com Marnie

      If you are describing ‘nature’ as something immaterial then it is no longer explained mathematically.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Things’ mathematical orders are themselves “immaterial”, or, more properly I would say “intelligible” parts of material things.

      It’s not two things “matter and the immaterial”. It’s one thing, taken under two different modes of abstraction, one material and the other rationally intelligible.

    • http://marniemaclean.com Marnie

      @Daniel,

      I think I grasp what you are saying but I still think that in order to accept the premise of this post you must anthropomorphize nature. If nature is simply the word to describe the functioning of the universe, it is not logical to assume that it would “allow” anything, say the least, ” (5) [allow] us to realize all our potentials”.

      To be rational in the sense that something could “allow” or even have a concept of our potential is to imbue it with some capacity for reason. There may be an entity that we think of as nature, that has a capacity for reason, but it is not currently supported by findings using the scientific method (item 4). Either way, I don’t think this argument stands as logically sound as it asserts as true, claims that are not agreed to be true.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Marnie, I’m not necessarily buying the argument either, actually. But not because of anthropomorphism. The sense of “allow” here is strictly impersonal, like “what the laws of gravity allow” or “what algorithm x allows”. The point is that if the universe is really rational, there would be certain consequences, i.e., it would not permit certain things (like squared circles) and must permit others. It does this impersonally. What I share others’ squeamishness about is the inference that if nature is run on a rational algorithm it must realize every possible actuality. I don’t understand the leap from a rational universe to the necessity for a maximally realized universe. It goes back to the principle of plenitude. (See the posts The Logic of Creation and On Evolution by Rational Selection.) I asked Eric for a defense of the principle of plenitude. He replied that it depended on the a priori implications of the principle of sufficient reason, though I’m still unclear how. Then he gave two empirical arguments but then he quickly distanced himself from them and said were only hypothetical arguments in the comments and that one of their premises was only accepting a theist belief in order to undermine it. So, these are where my troubles with his account presently lay. That and the notion of teleological or ethical principles being somehow logically determinative of reality rather than merely descriptive or normative.

    • SAWells

      Bullshit, Eric, you put Godel’s argument using this step: “(2) If nature produces us but does not allow us to realize all our potentials, then nature is not rational.” This is senseless if you’re not using rational in the sense of reason; you are left claiming that no comprehensible, regular process can lead to your death before you’ve done everything you want to, which is obviously nothing but wishful thinking.

      You have mistaken “It’s not fair, Mummy” for an argument. It’s astonishing how the fear of death can cripple the intellect.

    • bertilak

      Eric:

      Thank you for making my point better than I did!

      I agree that the opinion that nature is regular and may be understood by reason is an induction, and quite a successful one. It is not a deduction. It is not legitimate to use it for further deductions unless prefixed by ‘if’.

      In other words, past results do not guarantee future performance, as Hume and investment advisors say.

    • http://www.ericsteinhart.com Eric Steinhart

      All science is inductive. And I’m happy to claim nothing further.

  • http://marniemaclean.com Marnie

    What definition of “ration” is being used here.

    The dictionary defines it as follows:
    http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/rational

    ra·tion·al   [rash-uh-nl, rash-nl] Show IPA
    adjective
    1. agreeable to reason; reasonable; sensible: a rational plan for economic development.
    2. having or exercising reason, sound judgment, or good sense: a calm and rational negotiator.
    3. being in or characterized by full possession of one’s reason; sane; lucid: The patient appeared perfectly rational.
    4. endowed with the faculty of reason: rational beings.
    5. of, pertaining to, or constituting reasoning powers: the rational faculty.

    I don’t think any of these definitions can be used for this:

    (4) However, science shows that nature is rational.

    Something behaving in a way that we can understand, rationally, is not the same as something being rational, just as finding something adorable doesn’t make it capable of adoring you back.

    • http://www.ericsteinhart.com Eric Steinhart

      Yeah, I’m a little past using the dictionary.

    • http://www.ericsteinhart.com Eric Steinhart

      Sorry, that may have come off as combative – my intent is to say that I don’t rely on dictionaries, which include only the most entrenched cultural assumptions about meanings. And the entries you mention are intended to apply only to people, so they aren’t relevant to the discussion. Look upwards in the comments for my point about math.

  • SAWells

    Nature doesn’t behave rationally, it behaves _regularly_. It is our understanding of those regularities that is rational.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      SAWells, can the impossible happen? If something is impossible is that an irregularity which is ruled out by nature? Or is there nothing which is impossible?

    • SAWells

      Nature displays regularities (for example that energy and momentum are conserved and entrop is paraconserved). You’re not going to see anything happening that violates those regularities.

      The problem is that Eric, and who knows how many other people, describe this regularity as “rational”, and then equivocate by using rational to mean “makes sense”.

      Consider the blind cave fish. It lives in permanent darkness and never needs its eyes. Yet it still grows eyes. This is rationally comprehensible as a result of evolution (the fish descends from ancestors who had vision, and inherits the trait of making eyes). But it is utterly irrational from the point of view of “rational behaviour”; no rational creator would give a blind animal, in permanent darkness, eyes! Ergo Godel’s complaint, that a rational nature shouldn’t kill him off prematurely, has no basis, because nature is not “rational” in the sense needed to make the complaint sensible.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      I am not disagreeing with you that the notion that nature must flow out in a teleologically logical way is insufficiently supported and outright counter-intuitive, and possibly that it would be contrary to the spirit of empirical restraint to posit it.

      My question is whether the impossible can happen. Can you say that the impossible cannot happen? That’s not the same as saying that the regularities we observe cannot change. Who knows, maybe any particular regularity can change. But if something is impossible, not just not the regular but impossible, can it happen?

    • SAWells

      You are asking me whether what cannot possibly happen, can happen?

      Seriously?

      If “impossible” means “not possible” than the impossible cannot possibly happen. I don’t know why you would ask me for reassurance on that point.

      If you have some other meaning for “impossible” then fleeble bazorple nooblarg.

      Of course, if you think the laws of nature could change at any moment, then you can’t know what is impossible anyway, but that gets filed under “problem of induction” and we ignore it.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      You are asking me whether what cannot possibly happen, can happen?

      Seriously?

      If “impossible” means “not possible” than the impossible cannot possibly happen. I don’t know why you would ask me for reassurance on that point.

      Because apparently you know something not empirical. You accept a metaphysical truth as absolute. You don’t think it’s merely an arbitrary posit. So, if all we know is empirical regularities can you point me to the scientific study which proved that impossible things cannot happen in principle.

      There is no such scientific study but you accept this as an a priori truth that it is absurd to question.

      Eric’s accounts are similarly attempts to figure out logically necessary a priori relationships. You can challenge them (I do when I have the chance) on metaphysical grounds but dismissing all metaphysical truths a priori when you clearly have unshaken belief in at least one of them is irrational.

  • http://www.ericsteinhart.com Eric Steinhart

    @Nick

    And besides, isn’t the idea or reincarnation, in some form or another, predicated upon the same shoddy presumptions we’ve debunked as a part of theistic claims thousands of times over? I.E., souls, immaterial realities, mind/body dualism, and so forth?

    How are any of those things theistic? None of the things you mentioned depend on the existence of any gods. And rebirth doesn’t involve immaterial thinking substances; on the contrary, it is entirely materialistic. If it does involve souls, then it involves only the Aristotelian notion that the soul is the form of the body, which is consistent with naturalism.

    I fail to see how any of this is “consistent with atheism” except in the most superficial sense of it not involving deities. Consistent with dictionary atheism, perhaps, but certainly not with rigorous skepticism or philosophical naturalism.

    Right: atheism means “not involving deities”. And that’s all it means. Still, a rigorous skepticism would remain neutral about rational rebirth, since it contradicts nothing in science. And, if they exist, other universes are natural objects, so philosophical naturalism has no objections. Positivism opposes rational rebirth; but I’m not a positivist.

    It’s fascinating to me that you expand theism to include so much that has nothing to do with the existence of gods. Why? Why do you allow theism to claim so much conceptual territory?

    • Belial

      Eric, I don’t think you get to dismiss the conventional usage of words (in the reply to Marnie) and then also being ultra-narrow on the definition of atheism when responding to Nick. You’re not the final arbiter on meaning.

      Souls, group rituals, reincarnation, and the host of immaterial suppositions you’re positing, non-provable in the real world stuff, are the window dressing of deities. Theism is as theism does (c.f. a rabbi).

      Splitting religion from belief in the supernatural gets you something akin to performance art at best and a weird, self serving cult at worst. (c.f. burning man (az) and Scientology sans Xenu).

      Real world experiments in religious design have already happened. They have all suffer from various amounts of delusion and have the same harm that are particularized in the blog posts on FTB every single day.

      Since Daniel was kind enough to reply in another thread about the point of this mess, I’ll mention a counter suggestion. Give up on this pro-religion tirade. It cannot lead to an increase in the greater good. Take up instead advocacy for Arete. It’s has the benefit of being alliterative and you could do the non-Plato version to make it interesting philosophically.

      I imagine you’d get much less blow back in the comments as well. Suggesting people work to be better people as individuals than this pipe dream of all of a non-theistic religion.

      Since I’m getting ranty, I think I’ll rationally decide to stop replying. Sawells is a better writer and you’ve yet to effectively deal with his points.

      I don’t think I’ll stop reading. As art, you’re really amazing in much the same way as visiting a hindu temple or the 60′s psychedelia Beatle’s cartoon (yellow submarine?).

    • http://www.ericsteinhart.com Eric Steinhart

      I’ve been explicit about my use of the term “atheism” (and “atheist”) from the very start, and I’ve repeated it many times: atheism = the denial of theistic deities.

      And no, I won’t grant you that theism includes anything besides theistic deities. If you want to confuse theism with positivism, or with some sort of narrow naturalism, that’s your confusion, and it is confusion indeed. They are not equivalent philosophical positions.

      As for words, well, “naturalism” and “atheism” and “positivism” are all distinct words, denoting distinct concepts.

      As Dan and others have written, your assumption that theism is equivalent to religion merely shows what an intense grip theism has on your mind.

      Theists say: there’s no religion besides worship of the Abrahamic God. And you agree.

      Sorry, I don’t agree with either you or the theists on that.

    • Nick

      Perhaps you misread me. I wasn’t saying that “souls, immaterial realities, mind/body dualism”, etc., were necessarily theistic. I was saying that they’d been invoked by theists in attempts to explain their theology. I wasn’t ceding conceptual territory, so much as indicating territories in which those particular battles had already been won.

      And I think we may disagree about what rigorous skepticism would indicate in cases with no material evidence. To invoke an old standby, bigfoot may well exist, but we ought to “remain neutral” only inasmuch as our default disbelief in an un-evidenced claim ought to remain provisional. Moreover, I’m not convinced that this description of rebirth “contradicts nothing in science,” for several reasons.

      First, as I and others in these comments have pointed out, the use of “rational” in Godel’s argument appears to conflate two definitions of the word. There’s rational in the sense that Daniel used, in addressing one of my previous comments, that reality does not violate the law of noncontradiction, and cannot therefore be irrational. There’s also rational as I believe it’s employed by Godel, in the sense of behaving in a manner consistent with expectations. Hence my objection:

      “However, could we not say that the statement, “If nature produces us but does not allow us to realize all our potentials, then nature is not rational.” might be more accurately rephrased as; “If nature produces us but does not allow us to realize all our potentials, then nature does not meet a standard of rationality that we’ve applied to it.”?”

      Or the more acerbic one from SAWells:

      “Bullshit, Eric, you put Godel’s argument using this step: “(2) If nature produces us but does not allow us to realize all our potentials, then nature is not rational.” This is senseless if you’re not using rational in the sense of reason; you are left claiming that no comprehensible, regular process can lead to your death before you’ve done everything you want to, which is obviously nothing but wishful thinking.”

      Moreover, I don’t think we’re justified in supposing that a material reincarnation “contradicts nothing in science.” For one thing, there’s been no mechanism proposed; only a conclusion drawn from arguable premises. As in the bigfoot example, rigorous skepticism indicates a provisional rejection of un-evidenced phenomena. And indeed, from neuroscience and studies of cognitive development, we understand that everything that could conclusively be said to be “us” is a product of our physiology and environment. These are things that, so far as we know, do not survive death, and certainly would not be replicated upon some putative rebirth. How, then, would the aspirations of the meta-individual survive the process that we understand as death? By what mechanism? How could this second, third, or nth life be said, in any sense, to be “us”?

      In short, as others have said, I’m having trouble seeing rebirth in the sense discussed as anything other than wishful thinking, and I’m certainly not prepared to label it “rational.”

    • http://www.ericsteinhart.com Eric Steinhart

      Suppose (though I doubt it would ever happen) that science proved the existence of immaterial thinking substances — real Cartesian mind/body dualism is really true.

      Would that prove the existence of God?

      No.

      It would have nothing to do with God.

      Nor do any of the arguments against God have anything to do with souls etc.

      These are all separate topics.

    • Nick

      I’m fairly certain I explained why I invoked theism in my earlier comment, and answered your question as to why I “allow[ed it] to claim so much conceptual territory.” (Hint: I didn’t.)

      But yes, by all means, let’s continue to quibble over what is contained under the aegis of “theism” while the substantive objections to “rational rebirth” raised all throughout these comments remain unaddressed.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Let me say this, for Nick’s case, Eric. Just as you are providing an outline of a religion that you are suggesting would be the shrewdest line of thought for atheists to have because it would form what you think is a powerful metaphysical and practical alternative to theistic beliefs and practices, Nick seems to be saying that atheists have a greater edge over theists in beliefs and practices if they are more rigorously restrained in their metaphysical posits. Where they would lose for being able to give comprehensive metaphysical accounts, they would gain for keeping a level of epistemological purity. Saying that our religion and metaphysics is better than theists’ wouldn’t be as morally and logically persuasive a tactic as saying our epistemology is more scrupulously tethered to evidence than yours.

    • http://www.ericsteinhart.com Eric Steinhart

      Good point, and I have no idea how the sociology would work out. But people do persistently ask metaphysical questions, and my complaint is that theism provides them with lousy answers. That, in fact, is my main complaint against theism. So, as long as people ask metaphysical questions, some answer will be necessary (and the answer “our universe is all that exists” is itself just as speculative as any other answer).

    • http://marniemaclean.com Marnie

      To Eric’s last point:

      So, as long as people ask metaphysical questions, some answer will be necessary (and the answer “our universe is all that exists” is itself just as speculative as any other answer).

      I don’t think that’s the answer I would give. I would say we only have “evidence” for the universe we can perceive (though perhaps M theory will disprove that). And I would argue that any speculation about something we cannot perceive/test/observe/whatever is as invalid as any other speculation.

    • SAWells

      Eric, you are incorrect to say “a rational skepticism would remain neutral about rational rebirth”. Rational skepticism subjects all propositions about the nature of the world – not just theistic propositions – to some simple yet surprisingly demanding questions; in particular “Is there any positive reason to suppose this is true” and “If it were not true, how would you know?” Rational skepticism is not by default neutral, it is by default skeptical.

      Let me reiterate my counterexample to your description of nature as rational. Consider the blind cave fish. It lives in permanent darkness and never needs its eyes. Yet it still grows eyes. This is rationally comprehensible as a result of evolution (the fish descends from ancestors who had vision, and inherits the trait of making eyes). But it is utterly irrational from the point of view of “rational behaviour”; no rational creator would give a blind animal, in permanent darkness, eyes! Ergo Godel’s complaint, that a rational nature shouldn’t kill him off prematurely, has no basis, because nature is not “rational” in the sense needed to make the complaint sensible.

  • http://www.ericsteinhart.com Eric Steinhart

    @Russell -

    I’m not sure what you mean when you say there are logics that “relax the law of non-contradiction”.

    Dialethism allows there to be true contradictions (e.g. the Liar Paradox “This sentence is false”). But the really important thing is the inference rules, which dialetheism does not change (it isn’t a new type of logic). Thus adding dialethism to standard calculi results in what is called “explosion”: every proposition becomes true because (given material implication), a true contradiction entails every proposition.

    Paraconsistent logic introduces various tools for limiting dialethic explosions or for partitioning the mutually inconsistent parts of a set of propositions.

    I don’t really see how these logics change the issue of nature being rational. If nature is paraconsistent, well then, that’s the rationality of nature — it’s still logic. But those logics have no application in the natural sciences, as far as I know.

    • http://www.russellturpin.com/ Russell

      Eric Steinhart writes:

      If nature is paraconsistent, well then, that’s the rationality of nature — it’s still logic. But those logics have no application in the natural sciences, as far as I know.

      I was thinking of paraconsistent logics.

      Here’s the real objection: How would you possibly decide whether nature is paraconsistent, set theoretical, modal, or any other quality of logic? What experiment could I perform — or even gedanken that I could work through — that would tell me that nature was any of these things? I know what those things mean only with respect to formal systems, where they are precisely defined, and with respect to less formal speech, where we have some intuition in how they carry over and some of whose qualities logics are meant to capture. I have no idea at all what it would mean for nature to have such qualities. It makes no more sense to me to talk about nature “obeying the law of non-contradiction” than it does to talk about an idea being green, a fish being abelian, or a number having a large amount of reserve buoyancy.

      The reason I pointed to paraconsistent logics is that many people who fall into the mistake of thinking that there is something deep or important in nature somehow obeying the laws of logic are under the mis-impression that there are axioms that are the laws of logic. Logicians are fond of creating all sorts of logics for various purposes. There are logics where assertions are valued by a number between 0 and 1 rather than by False or True, to model probabilistic inference. There are quantum logics. There’s the lambda-calculus, which is tremendously useful despite its terseness. The moment one recognizes that there is no one logic, but many and varied logics, the question of nature “obeying” logic calls for the response: which logic, exactly, is the one that nature obeys? And when someone attempts to figure that out, I hope they pretty quickly realize that logics and their properties have to do with how we communicate, and say nothing about the nature of nature. (Other than that it includes communicative beings.)

    • http://www.ericsteinhart.com Eric Steinhart

      The claim that nature is rational is justified by an inductive argument from the success of mathematics in science. As an inductively justified claim, it could turn out to be false.

    • http://www.russellturpin.com/ Russell

      Eric Steinhart:

      The claim that nature is rational is justified by an inductive argument from the success of mathematics in science.

      Why is that success a statement about the rationality of nature, rather than about the expressiveness of mathematics? However things were, assuming rational beings to observe, don’t you think they would end up using some kind of math to describe their observations?

  • Amavra

    I hadn’t read this argument specifically (that I am aware of) but the ideas similar have been floating in my head. I don’t have any sort of claim to make, but it is certainly interesting to think about, even if it doesn’t change anything about my life in any practical way. I have some weird ideas about consciousness anyhow, not quite formulated in a comprehensible way. I think it is good to point out that a person can engage in these kinds of thoughts without positing a god and while working within the confines of rationalism. There may not be positive evidence for it, but there isn’t a positive contradiction for it either. YMMV, but I think it is fun to think about if for no other reason than it stretches the imagination a bit.

  • http://www.ericsteinhart.com Eric Steinhart

    @Marnie — All speculations are invalid? Well, that’s a purely speculative claim, and, thus, it’s invalid.

    • http://marniemaclean.com Marnie

      @Eric, but that’s not what I said, right? I said that any speculation without some sort of evidence or ability to test is equally invalid. That is, if I speculate that we are all the dream of a mathematician alien elephant-like being who maintains mathematical consistency at all times in all things that happen, I can come up with a story that is internally consistent but it’s still not validated by any evidence. If you come up with a theory that we are actually a computer program being run to simulate different possible outcomes for evolution, you can also come up with an internally consistent explanation that is not validated by any evidence.

      Both of those theories are equally invalid. Neither has more or less evidence in support of it because neither theory can be tested.

    • http://www.ericsteinhart.com Eric Steinhart

      any speculation without some sort of evidence or ability to test is equally invalid.

      And that’s a speculation without any evidence or ability to be tested; therefore, it’s invalid.

    • http://marniemaclean.com Marnie

      And that’s a speculation without any evidence or ability to be tested; therefore, it’s invalid.

      Ok, so how would you validate a claim that cannot be observed or tested in any way?

    • http://www.ericsteinhart.com Eric Steinhart

      By considering the arguments on all sides. For any given position, there can be lots of arguments for and lots of arguments against; the arguments need to be compared with each other. And the different positions, along with their arguments, also need to be compared. And very few arguments are black-or-white, most are shades of gray. So it’s a tough process of adding up all the pros and cons, and keeping good spreadsheets!

    • http://marniemaclean.com Marnie

      @Eric
      That’s great so go ahead and weigh whether elephant-like alien mathematician dream is more valid than computer program. Presume that both are completely un-testable, unverifiable and both result in a universe that functions exactly as we observe it to be.

  • http://www.ericsteinhart.com Eric Steinhart

    @Marnie – Well, you’re being a little tough, I think, on elephant-like alien mathematicians. Some of them are quite nice! And, more seriously, there are lots of principles of simplicity and so on that come to bear pretty quickly to rule out lots of speculative hypotheses. Plus, at least so far, there are no arguments at all for your dear elephant-like mathematician. (On the other hand, lots of people have given some pretty strong arguments that we’re living in a computer simulation.)

    One of the ways to argue for a speculative hypothesis is to construct it from well-established principles, or by analogy with or as a generalization of well-established scientific or mathematical theories. Thus evolution by rational selection is supported by lots of well-established principles,and it is a generalization of scientific evolutionary theories. None of that makes it true; but it’s got plenty of good support.

    • http://marniemaclean.com Marnie

      I think there’s a lot of value in exploring ideas. If nothing else, we have these nifty little brains that give us the power to speculate and dream up any number of ideas. Ultimately, though, I see them as mental yoga but not much good for explaining or understand the universe in a more literal sense.

      Whether there are gods or goddesses, computer simulations or Nigel the mathematician elephant-esque being, the universe that we can perceive, has stuck to some pretty hard and fast rules, whenever we’ve been able to put things to the test. So I embrace mental gymnastics as a beautiful way to keep myself thinking creatively, but I’m not going to settle for accepting a theory of the universe that cannot be tested or verified. I’d much rather say “I don’t know, but there doesn’t appear to be anything supernatural involved” than say “I can’t prove it, but I think Nigel wants me to sacrifice a hamster to keep away his nightmares.”

    • SAWells

      “Thus evolution by rational selection is supported by lots of well-established principles,and it is a generalization of scientific evolutionary theories.”

      You have not established this. Specifically, scientific evolutionary theories apply to imperfect self-replicators specifically. You have not established that the universe is an imperfect self-replicator. If you generalise “evolutionary” to include things like e.g. “stellar evolution” then we’re talking about a description of a process with a predictable course, occurring in this universe, and again this isn’t a category which your suggestion fits into.

    • bertilak

      Eric, where may one learn more about ‘evolution by rational selection’? I don’t find a WikiPedia page for it (hint, hint).

  • SAWells

    I see that Eric refuses to engage with the blind cave fish. Do try to keep up, Eric!

    Daniel, the threading system has limited my ability to reply to you above, so let me continue here. You seem to have confused yourself while trying to gotcha me. You asked me whether impossible things can happen. I pointed out that tautologically, that which cannot happen (the impossible) cannot happen. You have then gone sideways into the question of how we can know what is or is not possible, empirically. That is a different question. Even if “the impossible” is an empty set, it is still true by definition that the impossible is not possible. Don’t shift between analytic and empirical claims mid-argument.

    You are also continuing to use Eric’s accusation that I “hate all metaphysics” or “dismiss all metaphysical truths a priori”. This is not the case. I have been attacking Eric’s metaphysical arguments for being inconsistent, vacuous, and/or provably wrong, but that is an objection to Eric’s metaphysics specifically, not to the concept of metaphysics in general. Just because you guys filed me under “anti-metaphysical nominalist scientistic positivist” at an early stage in the discussion doesn’t mean I actually am one. It is rather as if Eric were persistently getting his sums wrong and then dismissing all criticism as being motivated by hatred of arithmetic.

    • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/ Verbose Stoic

      I’ll take on your poor little blind fish, because it’s a very good example of the kind of argument where it’s really hard to see how it relates to Eric’s actual argument.

      So the first thing to note about this is that no where in the argument do you mention potential, which is what Godel and Eric’s argument is about. Therefore, if you are opposing the argument, it cannot be based on an argument that it is not rational if we have potentials that we cannot fulfill. So the argument, it seems, is that nature is not, in fact, rational or, rather, not rational in the right way to make their argument. The problem with that is figuring out what way that is. You give the game away by saying this: “But it is utterly irrational from the point of view of “rational behaviour”; no rational creator would give a blind animal, in permanent darkness, eyes! “. So you are using “rational” in the sense of “rational with respect to intentionality or intentional design”
      , but there is no reason to think that either Godel or Eric mean it that way. Eric can correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems that his reference to mathematical reason was a direct claim that he meant rationally comprehensible, not intentionally comprehensible.

      Thus, it’s clear that your argument depends on holding a view of a rational intentional agent and then arguing that the world does not indicate such an agent. However, Eric has not accepted that that is the sort of rational that justifies the premise that it would be irrational if our potentials were not achieved. Now, one can argue — and some have — that the intentional rationality is the only one that can justify a claim that our potentials must be realized. But until Eric concedes that that is the sort of rationality he means, your poor little fishie argument is more of a strawman than an actual argument, as it transforms the argument into something that you can handle with a standard counter about there not being a designer.

      Now, there are reasons to doubt that in order for nature to be rationally comprehensible it must be the case that all our potentials must be realized, and therefore that we must have a rational rebirth. I think that premise is quite undersupported, and it’s pretty much the key argument. But that means that you have to start with that premise, and not leap ahead to the supposed end before seeing if Eric is going to follow you there. And note that the argument here, in my opinion, will be conceptual, not empirical. If you give an argument of a potential that does not seem to be realized in the world all that will mean is that Eric will have to consider it to be something realized in another universe. So the question is: conceptually, is it the case that if you had a potential that was unrealized that it would be irrational? I think not, but that’s one of the key arguments, at least.

    • SAWells

      “…there are reasons to doubt that in order for nature to be rationally comprehensible it must be the case that all our potentials must be realized…”

      Nature is, at least to some extent, rationally comprehensible, and we do die with potentials unrealised. Why argue that X must be true when X is false?

    • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/ Verbose Stoic

      See, this is exactly the problem. You responded to my big comment with one teeny-tiny comment that I had, in fact, already addressed:

      “If you give an argument of a potential that does not seem to be realized in the world all that will mean is that Eric will have to consider it to be something realized in another universe.”

      To expand, find a case where you think that there’s an unrealized potential and if the conceptual argument is right that you can’t rationally have such a potential and you accept that nature is rationally comprehensible then all that means is that there must be a mechanism that you do not yet know that allows for those potentials to be realized. You cannot refute the conceptual argument by providing that sort of counter-example since the conceptual argument would frame how we approach the problem.

      And that’s all you got out of my argument about your poor little blind fish? Are you conceding, then, everything else I said?

    • SAWells

      No, it’s just that your argument about potentiality is a red herring. Returning to the original point, Godel’s complaint was this: “For what sense would it make to bring forth a being (man) who has such a wide range of possibilities of individual development and of relations to others and then allow him to achieve not one in a thousand of those? That would be much as if someone laid the foundation for a house with the greatest trouble and expense and then let everything go to ruin again.”

      The cave fish illustrates that nature routinely does things at least as senseless as that. Makes eyes, lets them go unused.

      Ergo, the whole thing about unrealised potentials is just a distraction.

      I think you knew that.

    • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/ Verbose Stoic

      So … you use a very literal interpretation of Godel — including taking his analogy very, very literally — to argue that the whole potentiality thing is a red herring and a distraction DESPITE the fact that in Eric’s interpretation the irrationality of having unsatisfied potentials is the whole point, and it isn’t clear that he actually needs anything from that analogy to make the point work? While never stopping to ask if that sort of senselessness really works for this because, as you and others have pointed out, given how evolution works it IS rationally understandable why your poor little fishie has eyes, which presumably is something that Eric will DENY about having unsatisfied potentials?

      Sorry, the red herring is still yours. You need to engage Eric to find out why we should believe that it is so completely rationally incomprehensible for those potentials to go unrealized, and attack those reasons specifically. You are not doing so. You jumped to “This is equally irrational” without ever bothering to see in what sense Eric was claiming that it was irrational, which again sets you up for the old strawman that you insist on defending where you judge it in terms of intentional rationality despite the fact that Eric, at least, doesn’t seem to be arguing that.

  • SAWells

    Verbose Stoic, I have made my argument and am quite content to let it stand. Others may understand it better than you.

    • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/ Verbose Stoic

      “Verbose Stoic, I have made my argument and am quite content to let it stand. ”

      And yet, it is wrong.

    • SAWells

      Whatever. If you believe “If nature produces us but does not allow us to realize all our potentials, then nature is not rational” is valid… you’re unreachable. Nature builds eyes for fish that never see. You can’t see the analogy? Your problem.

    • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/ Verbose Stoic

      “If you believe “If nature produces us but does not allow us to realize all our potentials, then nature is not rational” is valid… you’re unreachable.”

      You seem to have a short memory, since I said this:

      “I think that premise is quite undersupported, and it’s pretty much the key argument.”

      So no, I don’t. I just don’t think that your analogy actually works, and it doesn’t work because it doesn’t address his argument. You are doing precisely what I said you do before: you judge on the basis of how counter-intuitive it seems to you, which is about the only way you can claim that those situations are directly comparable without ever having to ask for Eric’s argument for why not having potentials realized is irrational. And thus, you are still wrong; your analogy does not apply without you doing a lot more work than you have. And it is not a matter of not understanding your analogy, but of, in fact, understanding it and disagreeing with it.

    • SAWells

      VS, you keep talking about “Eric’s argument” as if it were distinct from “Godel’s argument”, bu I am quoting from a paragraph in which Eric says this:

      “The paragraphs from Gödel’s letter contain an argument. This is Gödel’s Argument for Rebirth. One way to analyze it looks like this: (1) Nature produces humans; that is, nature produces us. (2) If nature produces us but does not allow us to realize all our potentials, then nature is not rational….”

      I.e. this is explicitly Godel’s argument we are dealing with, Godel’s explanation of “not rational” applies, and nature is clearly “not rational” in that sense.

      It’s not my fault that Godel, or Eric, did not construct a better argument.


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