What Is Substance Dualism?

I stopped caring about these video about 4 seconds into it. But for some reason, a lot of you love this kind of philosophical discussion… and it’s QualiaSoup so it must be awesome. Have at it:

If anyone can explain those videos to me as if I were a five-year-old, I would love to know what the hell he’s talking about.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • jose

    Substance dualists resort to mysterious woo to explain physical phenomena. Monists don’t. There you have your summary.

    • bobby

      Mysterious woo. Nice box. Trouble is, boxes have limits. Is it really so hard to posit that there could be “something” which human conciousness can’t comprehend due to that “thing” being outside of it? I don’t think so. No need to give it names like god or allah, any label that can be applied misses the mark simply because “it” is outside of consciousness.

      • Indorri

        No, it isn’t hard to posit. That’s the issue. It isn’t hard to posit a great deal of things, some of them absurd. That does not give us any insight into its validity.

      • Cascadiaj

        Problem is it’s not a box scientists generally feel the need to step outside. Things we can objectively /empirically observe have physical traits and origins. As yet, things once thought to fall outside this realm have ben found increasingly replicable within it. The problem of mind is, perhaps, an illusion stemming from gaps in our ability to observe and analyze physical phenomena beyond our current technological advancements and individual imaginations. There is not yet adequate reason to think properties not yet replicable by physics are somehow necessarily supernatural or Metaphysical. Even good woo now often links ideas of telepathy or an enduring fragment of identity to energy [physical substance]

      • http://v1car.wordpress.com/ The Vicar

        Okay, then, give an example of a non-physical substance which actually has any sort of observable influence on the material world.

        Until you do — and woo-merchants have been trying to come up with a good example ever since Newton, and have so far always failed — “non-physical substance” is just another code term, like “reiki”, “spiritualism”, or “god”, for “I really don’t know science”.

      • Sindigo

        Posit away but with no evidence to back up such a concept whatsoever such fantastical thinking will remain just that; fantasy.

        • bobby

          You’ve completely missed the point.

          • Sindigo

            Thanks for that. Most useful. Care to explain your point then?

      • Coyotenose

        Jose said “mysterious woo to explain physical phenomena”. Those last two words have meaning. Anything that affects the universe is physics, and thus by definition cannot be “outside”. We invent ways to detect things we can’t sense all the time. Anything that does not affect the universe is irrelevant, and discussing it is at best not much more than masturbatory musings.

        • Foster

          “Anything that affects the universe is physics.” Not so.  Physics gives us predictive power by positing laws that are repeatable, but if a dead body refused to decompose, for example, despite the laws of Physics demanding that it should, that’s not a “masturbatory musing.”  It’s an observable exception to natural law, i.e. a miracle, but we can’t repeat it.  In short, you’re begging the question in favor of materialism.

          • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/FDGYHBEWVNGUG763L5X4TON3JQ Nazani14

            What a singularly poor example.  Many apparently non-decomposing bodies have been examined, and in every case, the reason for their preservation has been found to be physical.

            • Foster

              I don’t believe that holds with St. Bernadette Soubirous or any of the others on the page below.  Anyone can view them and see that this is not what any unaided dead people look like, nor were their contemporaries preserved this way.  I’d be interested in seeing debunkings of any of these 10 examples you can produce:   http://listverse.com/2007/08/21/top-10-incorrupt-corpses/   If Hemant would like to take me one step closer to atheism, he should do a post explaining their preservation in a convincing way.

              • Drakk

                 In Foster’s mind, of course, the most parsimonious explanation is MAGIC PEOPLE IN THE SKY, and not, y’know, lack of oxygen, or wax masks, or anything we know that is physically capable of halting decomposition.

                No, it’t gotta be the magic dudes, nothing else will do it.

          • Deven Kale

             Very much so. Everything that affects anything within the universe has always been as a result of physical properties. Any time something has happened which seems to go counter to known physical laws and processes has always been shown to actually be the result of an unknown or misunderstood process and has only given us a better understanding of those physical laws and processes.

            Oh right, you’re Foster. I forgot I’m trying to ignore you for my own sanity. I hope somebody else is willing to take on whatever response you make here too, because I can’t.

            • Foster

              Check out the link I shared with Nazani14.  Also, several of these were examined by medical doctors and confirmed:  http://listverse.com/2008/07/14/top-10-astonishing-miracles/   The Catholic Church goes through a very rigorous process when either confirming sainthood or a miracle.  Oh right, you’re Kale, and I don’t give a fork or spoon whether you respond or not.

          • Indorri

            If a body refused to decompose, that would mean our model is faulty. The Universe is as it is: the concept of “exceptions to natural laws” is a confusion of our models with reality.

      • jose

        By all means posit away. Just don’t expect science to back you up.

  • A3Kr0n

    I lasted until the explanation, which was a little longer than 5 seconds, but still…
    I’ll stick through it eventually.
    The philosophical discussion-type video I really like is “3.4.1(2) Atheism: Objections to Evidentialism” by Evid3nc3. It’s got weird music and everything.

  • Matthew

    It’s the dualism concluded by Descartes in his meditations (Cartesian Dualism). The idea is thus: He knows that his mind exists (his “Cogito”). He knows, through a series of arguments, that the material world exists. However, the material world is extended, and divisible, whereas the mind, he thinks, is un-extended and indivisible.

    Extensions here, refers specifically to the perception of 3 dimensional space. He perceives that his body (and all material things) take up space, and exist. His mind, he recognizes, does not take up any physical space.

    He has what he calls a “clear and distinct perception” of both his mind and his body. According to Descartes, anything of which one can have a clear and distinct perception, God can create. 

    The simple idea is this: Because of his clear and distinct perception of his mind, and his body, he concludes that both exist. But their fundamental properties are completely different. The mind has no extension, and cannot be divided, unlike matter. He concludes that they are constructed of different substance. 

    The arguments against it are fairly clear. However, this was the first real attempt to philosophically attempt to bridge the gap between the theology of the soul and knowledge of the material world. 

    He later postulated that god interacts with the mind through the pineal gland, (why there? who knows), although that creates all sorts of issues dealing with causal closure, and mind substance (is the causal relationship two ways? or one way?, what about the “mind” changing due to physical damage to the brain? ie Phineas Gage?).

    Descartes argument wasn’t wholly refuted until Gilbert Ryle “Concept of the Mind” in 1953. Ryle’s book is where the “Ghost in the machine” concept comes from.

  • http://goddoesnt.blogspot.com/ James A. Lindsay

    It seems that these are old notions that need to be updated. Substance dualists indicate that there are two kinds of “fundamental substance,” what we might call “real stuff” and “soul stuff.” They do all kinds of wonky thing with “soul stuff.”

    It seems more modern to point out that what they essentially identify as “soul stuff” can be more neatly summarized as “abstract.” Just like the concept of “three” is abstract, and we’ll never find pure “three” in nature but the abstraction is so useful in describing common (real) phenomena (like “hey, there’s three horns on that triceratops Jesus is riding!” or, more real, “I have three bananas”) that it has this feeling of being “real” too.

    Obviously this is a topic that has had a huge amount of attention given to it over the millennia–forms, ideals, etc., being expressions of abstractions on reality. Substance dualists just get all bent around the notion that these abstract concepts have some kind of substantial realness, usually in some alternate “nonphysical” realm (the realm of ideals?).

    QualiaSoup is ripping their silliness to shreds here. It’s beautiful.

    • James A. Lindsay

      Addendum: if you’ve ever maddened yourself by reading Plantinga or Swinburne, this should make you very, very happy.  They’re masters of the theistic gobbledegook that wastes so much smart-people time, including their own.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_6OE7LEYELE4MZTVXGZUSVTBFUI julie

    I don’t have much patience for philosophy. I mean, I see its value and use, but the study of it always seems to go way too in-depth with things that don’t really need that much explaining.

    I especially hate when people adopt a particular philosophy. It’s like they just decided that this is how the world definitely works and this is how they’re going to interpret things from now on.
    I dunno…I just don’t get the interest in it. I just feel like asking, Well, is it true or not? Let’s cut to the chase.

    • Foster

      Everyone adopts a philosophy. Some of us just don’t realize it or call it by that name.

      • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/FDGYHBEWVNGUG763L5X4TON3JQ Nazani14

        I disagree.  Sure, most of us have personality tendencies to act or react in certain ways, but calling that a philosophy is grossly overstating the case.  

        • Foster

          Do you believe that all people should be treated equally?  Congratulations, you have a philosophy.  Not personality traits, but beliefs about the principles (moral in this case) that govern the world.

      • ortcutt

        This use of the term “philosophy” has nothing to do with philosophy as an academic discipline. 

    • http://v1car.wordpress.com/ The Vicar

      Mind you, examining your basic assumptions in detail can have some terrific consequences — when mathematicians did it circa 1900 (although one could argue that it started earlier), they started a chain reaction which led to all kinds of radical changes in set theory, plus a much better understanding of what constitutes a proof.

      Still, I have to agree with you that philosophers tend to over-talk things. And at the same time, most philosophers proceed without rigid definitions, which is absolutely fatal — it’s how the more ridiculous bits of modern philosophy came about.

      It’s absolutely fine for a philosopher to redefine an existing word to have a technical philosophical meaning. Say, for example, you could say that in your paper (or book, or discussion, or whatever) you are going to claim that something is “mammalian” if it does not require a specific set of conditions to apply, and “reptilian” if they only apply under certain conditions. That’s fine, if a bit silly. The problem arises if you draw a bunch of conclusions about things which are “mammalian” and “reptilian” and then start to claim you have proved anything at all about actual mammals and reptiles in the ordinary senses of the word. (This is why it is better to use neologisms when creating new meanings, but since Greek and Latin went out of educational fashion, philosophers no longer have the ability to do so in a way which sounds impressive.)

      Or sometimes they will simply jump between existing meanings of a single word without any sort of justification for doing so. So they might (to give an artificially exaggerated example) say that someone is elliptical because they speak haltingly, and then decide that the person must be shaped like Humpty Dumpty.

      Modern philosophers do this a lot. I think some of them do it knowingly and smugly, just to see how far they can get away with it, but most of them seem to be unaware that they are doing it at all. And in the end it leads to mushy-headedness, where no word really means anything and where Alan Sokol comes in.

      • ortcutt

         I don’t know who these “modern philosophers” are that you are talking about.  No philosopher would redefine “mammalian” or “reptilian”.  The zoologists have the privilege of defining those terms.  What philosophers often try to do is refine not-yet-scientific intuitive, everyday concept or replace it if necessary, so that it might be studied by science. 

        Furthermore, philosophy wasn’t the target of Alan Sokal’s paper.  His target was science studies, cultural studies, postmodernism, etc….  None of those things have anything to do with philosophy, as least in the English-speaking world.  Most philosophers cheered on Sokal enthusiastically. 

        • http://v1car.wordpress.com/ The Vicar

          The example wasn’t meant to be something actually in use, just a demonstration of the general way things get screwed up.

          Care to give an example of a “not yet scientific intuitive, everyday concept” which a modern philosopher — let’s say the work was done in the 1950s or later — has actually done?

          As for your comments on Sokol: trotting out the “no true Scotsman” defense, even in disguise, means nothing.

          • ortcutt

            “Mind” or “mental state”, “Agency”, “Justification”, “meaning”, “intention”, etc… are all general terms that have been made clearer by refining them, often by drawing finer distinctions.  The point isn’t to deal with terms though.  The point is to find out what the world is like.  We just want our terms to not get in the way of that.  We have cognitive science today in order to study what those things are in a empirical and theoretically adequate way.

            As for Sokal, I made no “no true scotsman” argument.  The point was just that you seem to have misunderstood the nature of his critique and the target of it.  The editors of Social Text aren’t philosophers, and are largely disdainful of philosophy.   Philosophy, at least in the United States and other English-speaking countries, shouldn’t be confused science studies and cultural studies.

            • http://v1car.wordpress.com/ The Vicar

              You are weaseling out of answering my questions. I’m going to give you one last chance, with some direct, numbered points for you to answer. So far, you’ve done a lot of hand-waving without replying directly to anything I have said:

              1. You have contended that philosophy pursues “not-yet-scientific, intuitive, everyday concept[s]” and produces valuable work which scientists can then follow up on. Name some which have arisen in the last six decades. If you can’t, then your definition of “philosophy” is just useless thumb-twiddling.

              2. You have said that people who Alan Sokol targeted, who work in the fields of “science studies, cultural studies, postmodernism, etc.” are not philosophers, but “real” philosophers cheered on Sokol (which, incidentally, I didn’t see at the time, although I confess that the reactions of soi-disant “philosophers” rank up there with rusty bottle caps for holding my attention, so I could easily have missed it; obviously you have some references in mind, and your argument would be a lot stronger if you would share them). In other words: you were saying that people who discus philosophy in some particular category of thought are “no true Scotsmen”; this despite the fact that the people who work in these fields use philosophical terms and work on problems which have been the subjects of philosophers since the times of Socrates. Explain why we should not consider these fields philosophy when they deal with philosophical issues and use philosophical terms.

              3. For that matter, elsewhere in this comments section, you have said that “[m]ost philosophers agree with you on the point that thinking isn’t enough to find out what the world is like”. Do you mean that “most philosophers would admit that if a philosophical argument has a real-world consequence which is not true, then that philosophical argument is wrong”? If so, explain why we should bother continuing to have philosophy taught in schools instead of steering people into the physical sciences.

              Of course, theology is arguably a subcategory of philosophy, depending on whose dictionary you’re applying, which immediately means philosophy is necessarily partially false right from the start, and at least some philosophers are muddled thinkers with a poor grasp of reality. This explains an awful lot.

  • http://www.theaunicornist.com Mike D

    I think this is important stuff for atheists to brush up on. Christians often want to engage us in scientific and/or philosophical discussions, so I think it’s worthwhile to be prepared (which, unfortunately, means reading their arguments, too).

    • http://wordsideasandthings.blogspot.com/ Garren

      Agreed. “Substance dualism” is a fancy term, but it’s also a *background assumption* held by most Christians and Muslims today. Labeling assumptions helps us talk about them and, ultimately, challenge them.

      • Sindigo

        I’ve always considered that to be one of the great uses of Philosophy. Its study gives us labels for what are in essence shortcuts to describe positions and concepts.

        • bobby

          A box by any other name is still a box.

          • Sindigo

            What have you got against boxes? They’re very useful objects.

  • Evertoniancalvinist

    This is a very good topic. Descartes is one philosopher who understood it’s importance. How do we know we exist? Can the atheist know he or she exists? Well, if you can’t be absolutely certain about anything, (and you can’t in an atheistic universe) then you can’t be certain about your own existence. This is why you hear some of your comrades talking about a possible Matrix reality. On my opinion, this reduces your worldview to absurdity. The Christian knows he can exist because our reasoning and knowledge are grounded in God who ha revealed Himself to us in His creation and His word.

    • Deven Kale

       In other words, basically, “We’re able to know this because Gawd has revealed it to us in a way that we can be certain.” More presuppositionalism. Another disciple of Sye Tenbrugencate, I presume? Point ignored, moving on.

      • amycas

         A troll actually. Xe makes the same argument in every thread regardless of the topic at hand. Hemant could do a post about kitten pictures and evertonian would come in here asking why we should care about kitten pictures because as atheists we can have no meaning to life and we can’t ever know if anything is real.

    • Indorri

      You’re reifying again. The methodology of the monist outlook is predictivist. The uncertainty inherent in this view is not a weakness because there is no definition of Really, Truly True™ as per presuppositional philosophy. It’s the same poor logic as present in substance dualism in which “self” is somehow a discrete entity.

      • Gus Snarp

        I like how you think Evertonian is something other than just a troll spouting the exact same argument cribbed off some apologetics site over and over again and is actually capable of comprehending your argument.

        • Indorri

          Well I’m hoping he’ll respond with something novel. Also, Calvinism is fun to tear apart given how degenerate it is.

    • Foster

      Unfortunately, I’m with the infidels responding in thinking your argument doesn’t add up.  None of us can be absolutely certain of anything, at least in the Cartesian sense, being built upon purely deductive logic, because we enter the world with no premises.  (“I think, therefore I am,” assumes that there is an “I” with no deductive basis to do so, so Descartes’ attempt to supply a starting premise fails.)  Inference is always required, whether I believe in the Lord God Almighty, or if I believe in an eternal multiverse governed solely by the eternal metaphysical laws of physics.  But maybe I’m assuming too much and you’re not considering “absolute certainty” as Cartesian certainty.  Tell me, what kind of justification is necessary in general for the “absolute certainty” you are talking about that theists can supposedly have, but atheists cannot?  In my view, overwhelming probability is the closest we can come to certainty even about God, at least in the deductive sense. In the face of beings like ourselves with conscious experience that do not appear to belong in a universe entirely composed of matter along with the continued miraculous survival of the Church in its apostolic form (i.e. led by bishops, believing the same core teachings as the ancient Christians), and reliable reports of modern-day miracles, I conclude that Christianity is true.  So is your “absolute certainty” based upon natural reason, or purely upon an act of faith without any basis in reason?

      • Evertonian Calvinist

        Foster… you said “None of us can be absolutely certain of anything…..”  Foster, are you CERTAIN about this statement?  JK But is kind of self refuting to argue for the lack of absolute certainity by making absolute knowledge claims.  However, I won’t run around in circles with you on that.  I’ll try to answer your question directly.  Q. “So is your “absolute certainty” based upon natural reason, or purely upon an act of faith without any basis in reason?”  My Answer= It is based on revelation.  God has revealed himself in creation, his son and his word.  And the bible says everyone on this blog knows this. Rom.1

        • Indorri

          “But is kind of self refuting to argue for the lack of absolute certainity by making absolute knowledge claims.”

          Straw man again. You’ve really been busting out the Calvinist fallacies lately.

          Uncertainty is a methodological postulate, not a knowledge claim. Don’t rely so much on epistemology as a means for gaining knowledge.

        • Indorri

          To try steer this in a saner direction, upon what criteria do you evaluate anything to be true?

        • Foster

          You may be joking, but you do make a good point about our natural assumption that our reasoning apparatus is sound.  Being a Calvinist, though, with a belief in our total depravity of mind, body and soul, I would think that you would be the first to question the results of your reason.  Even the absolute nature of reason is subject to question, as our reasoning power might not always be sufficient to tackle reality:  “This statement is false.”  is neither a true nor false statement, despite the law of non-contradiction suggesting it should be either one or the other, since nothing can be both true and false at the same time.  Even the transcendent nature of our reason can be questioned despite the overwhelming evidence of its absoluteness.  It only takes one counterexample to burst an absolute claim (by your standard of absolute knowledge claims anyway).  Anyway, thanks for answering the question directly.  Two thoughts. 1.  It occurs to me that (based only on a plain reading of scripture) you could be overreaching the applicability Paul intended.  Romans 1:18 suggests that Paul is speaking only about those who intentionally “suppress the truth,” while Rom. 1:23 further suggests he is only talking about truth-suppressers who are literally idol-worshippers, neither of which most atheists here would seem to be.  If they are mistaken, they appear honestly mistaken.  I grant that the intervening verses lead us to the conclusion that key aspects of God’s being can be understood by a perfectly rational person, but how can we expect everyone to be perfectly rational, especially considering the following. 2. If your interpretation of scripture is correct and Paul is talking about every human being that ever lived (which he’s obviously not, since many children and mental retarded persons cannot think rationally anyway) but if Paul is talking about most adult human beings that reach a certain threshold of rationality (rather than only to those he explicitly refers to in the verse you cite), why should you have to appeal to scripture to make your point?  Shouldn’t you be able to make it purely based on natural reason rather than an appeal to the scriptures?  The atheistic model of the universe does not seem to me to account well for conscious experience (just shrugging it off as an “emergent property” when it’s completely of a different nature than material matter, not explained by or necessarily following from the physical facts), or human conscience, or weird historical events like the Papacy’s continued survival despite the much earlier destruction of every other monarchy on earth, or modern-day miracles, but materialism does account for the ordinary doings of “the created world” Paul talks about if we’re willing to posit eternal metaphysical laws.  Or to put it another way, an appeal to scripture seems like an ineffective apologetic technique to use on those who do not accept the authority of scripture. As St. Peter says, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”  “Scripture says so,” doesn’t seem very reasonable to me unless there are underlying premises for your belief in the authority of scripture.  Are there?

          • Evertoniancalvinist

            Foster… I’ll try and answer the last part of your post: Everyone starts somewhere. Everyone comes to the table with presuppositions. No one is neutral. My argument is that unless you start with the God of the bible, you can’t account for existence, knowledge, laws of logic, the scientific method, morality etc etc. The atheist engages in all these things, but given their worldview, they cannot account for these things. I don’t argue for a “probable” god. God is certain because He said so. If you deny His claim of certainty, then you are left with a worldview that can’t make sense of life as we know it.

            • Foster

              Saying “God is certain because He said so.” suggests you adhere to “The Bible says it. I believe it. That settles it.” which doesn’t strike me as a rational argument on its own for belief, or satisfying what Peter recommended (1 Pt. 3:15).  Is this an oversimplification of your position?

      • Coyotenose

         What gives the appearance that the universe is not entirely composed of matter?

        The RCC surviving is proof of Yahweh? Several religions have survived longer. Several documented ones *predate* Judaism, which is kind of odd if your particular god created everyone.

        Evidence of modern-day miracles needed, please. Time and again, for centuries, they’ve been shown to be mistakes or hoaxes. They have NEVER been independently verified. Incidentally, miracles make no sense. Believers don’t require them, so if they occurred, they’d be arbitrary and so capricious as to be actually cruel. They’d be God’s way of saying that everyone who doesn’t get one isn’t good enough.

        • Bkmiller

          Isn’t the fact that Christianity has shattered into thousands of conflicting sects prove that the “survival” of the “Mother Church” is not so absolute.  Much of the Christian world does not follow the RCC in any way and in fact considers It heretical.

          Plus, the RCC did not arise in the immediate (mythical) aftermath of Jesus anyway.  It was cobbled together by politicians and used for the same old human power games as every religion has. 

          • Foster

            One of the things that drove me to Catholicism from one of the literally thousands of Protestant traditions was the realization that it was quite miraculous that the organization had survived, taught doctrine consistently from both scripture and  the earliest record we have of Christian teaching outside of scripture, the Didache, and at every time in Christian history, including today, commanded a vastly greater following than any breakaway sect.  There was a *historical* aftermath of the (by modern scholarly consensus) historical Jesus, whether or not we agree on what it was.  And that aftermath involved a succession from the apostolic writers of the letters of the new testament to new leaders who were persecuted severely for their beliefs and were tortured maimed and executed for their beliefs for hundreds of years after Christ but before Christianity was an accepted religion.  So please spare me your “cobbled together as a political tool” line as the earliest documented Catholic Christians were obviously not materially benefitting from their religion.  “Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.”  -Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, c. 107 C.E., martyred by being eaten by lions in the Roman Coliseum, self-proclaimed student of John the disciple of Jesus

        • Foster

          Forgive the copy-paste, but your miracles question is the same as that asked by another atheist friend in the comments:  “Check out the link I shared with Nazani14.  Also, several of these were examined by medical doctors and confirmed:  http://listverse.com/2008/07/1…   The Catholic Church goes through a very rigorous process when either confirming sainthood or a miracle.”  Several of these *were* independently verified by physicians (contrary to what you said), and incorruptible bodies can be verified by anyone (that’s not what natural dead bodies do).  I’d be interested in seeing debunkings of these miracles, as I really am just interested in the truth where miracles happening or not happening are concerned.  Now regarding your “God’s way of saying…” comment, I disagree, in that while ordinary people can trust what is handed down by tradition, it certainly fuels one’s faith and makes apologetics easier with people like yourself when you can point to events  that have no probable natural explanation.  Anyone who desires can view the incorrupt bodies of saints, and anyone who wants to can read about the inexplicably agreeing testimony of many people upon being questioned about what they saw (thinking of Zeitoun and Fatima here).  Now I agree that if God damned people to hell simply for happening to be born in an isolated part of the world and not having evidence or witness of Jesus, miracles and all that, it would be capricious, but the Church has from very early on maintained that there is hope for these “righteous pagans” as well, which I’ve defended elsewhere in other comments here, so if God provides evidence for atheists and theists alike to examine of His favor on holy people, I see that as generous, not capricious. 

      • Brian Macker

        Semantics requires a context, and I find it hilarious when philosophers try to find deeper meaning by shedding the context that give words their meaning. The word “I” does not assume the existence of the person who utters it so it is not the source of a tautology. In fact, the statement “I am” is currently false as applied to Descartes. He currently does not exist. We understand what the word I means without assuming the existence of any particular I.

        There are implicit unuttered words in these statements that perhaps should be uttered to prevent confusion. It’s not clear to me that these philosophers under stand that. “I think” has an implicit present tense so the more precise statement might be “I think now so I exist now”

        • Foster

          “The word “I” does not assume the existence of the person who utters it…”  Really?

    • http://profiles.google.com/robertbos Rob Bos

      > How do we know we exist?

      Descartes’ point was, assume nothing. Go back to the very basics. How do we know we exist? Well, who’s asking?  There’s your answer. Clearly, whatever else is true, we exist. The anthropic principle is a powerful starting position. We exist, therefore there exists a context in which existence is possible.

      > atheistic universe

      Begging the question. Inadmissable.

      > [Matrix reality] reduces your worldview to absurdity.

      The fact of our existence says that there exists some context in which we live. If that happens to be brain-in-a-box, or virtual machine on a hardware substrate, then so be it. Life could be a simulation. It doesn’t make a whole lot of practical difference. Whether you smash your hand in a simulation or in a physical universe, it still hurts. :)

  • Evertoniancalvinist

    Why can’t I comment?

    • bobby

      Substance dualism.

      • Evertoniancalvinist

        Sorry for posting twice. Dis not do it on purpose. O didn’t think my first post went thru because the “Friendly Atheist” blocked me the other day. I guess some of you think I’m a troll. But seriously, is it not good to hear a Christian perspective on these issues? I think you guys should hear what I say and tear it down and expose the errors. It can only strengthen your position if it is right. Don’t just blow past this topic of knowledge and how we know what we know. This is crucial and is the foundation for all preceeding thoughts about life.

        • Coyotenose

           You continually change Internet identities, you strawman the philosophies of others, and you conveniently forget counterarguments whenever there’s a new thread so you can repeat your strawmen. Whine all you want, but those are troll tactics, Troll. You are the sum of the specific reasons we now expect Creationists to be dishonest.

        • Reginald Selkirk

          I think you guys should hear what I say and tear it down and expose the errors.

          Suppose we did that, but you kept coming back, spouting the same nonsense as though it hadn’t been refuted over and over. What should we do then?

        • Gus Snarp

          But you’re a broken record. You just keep repeating the same damn thing over and over. Move on. Come up with something different. We get it it, you think it’s absurd to think that there’s even the possibility that we’re living in a matrix, what you seem to fail to grasp is that there’s nothing about the fact that some people believe in gods and write books about them that changes anything about the Universe or what we can know about it.

          Change topics or change blogs, you’re wasting pixels.

    • amycas

       You just did. Twice actually.

  • E.C.

    This is a very good topic. Descartes was on to something when he was questioning the very foundation of his existence. How do we know we exist? In a universe where absolute knowledge is something that is impossible, how does the atheist say for certain that he or she exists? Well, I don’t think the atheist can know for certain. That’s why you guys sometimes talk about the “Matrix reality” as if that was a possible option. However, that’s usually not something you tell somebody on the first date… “can you pass the bread, and by the way we might be dreaming all this and hooked up to a grid”. In my humble opinion, this kind of thinking reduces your guy’s worldview to absurdity. The God of the universe grounds our reasoning and knowledge. We have a foundation for knowing we exist with absolute certainty.

    • amycas

       and now a third time…

    • Msironen

      The thing is, the “Matrix reality” isn’t absurd. Your confidence that you literally cannot be mistaken is. You claim that 

      “The God of the universe grounds our reasoning and knowledge.”

      Now, I admit this could be true; however remote the chance. You, on the other hand, claim it’s true basically by the virtue of YOU somehow (by assuming you’re not wrong, I suspect) not being able to wrong on this issue. 

      What’s ironic that you could just be in a “Matrix reality” thinking that to yourself, which in itself shows that you could in fact be mistaken. Unless of course you care to present some evidence why it is (logically, not just with current technology) impossible to construct a “Matrix reality” wherein it would be impossible to fool people into thinking just that.

      Like most presuppositionalists, you seem to have a lot of trouble understanding why people don’t take your particular brand of “If I’m not mistaken, I cannot be mistaken, therefore I’m not mistaken” epistemology seriously. All I can do is  recommend you look into this subject beyond what you’ve read from presup apologist websites.

      • Msironen

        Apologies for feeding the troll btw, but I wanted to get that out.

        • Foster

          You bring up an interesting (if unrelated to the philosophy of substance) question:  what is it that makes a troll, and how does he differ from a legitimate dissenter?  As wikipedia defines trolls, for example, (  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Troll_(Internet)  ) I don’t believe E.C. meets the requirements of a troll.  His comments are on topic, don’t seem to be intentionally inflammatory (aside perhaps from  honest slips in logic).  Is he a troll simply by being a theist on an atheist blog?  I hope that’s not the case, because that would mean what you want is a relatively homogeneous echo-chamber of comments only from people who share your views on the existence of God.  What makes E.C. a troll?  Do you view me as a troll too (see surrounding comments)?  Can any theist commenting on an atheist blog not be a troll?

    • Coyotenose

       “The God of the universe grounds our reasoning and knowledge.” —> “Something I assume to be true based on just-so stories created or cribbed by Bronze Age sheepherders who couldn’t get the value of Pi right and who thought that working on Saturday was grounds for execution grounds my reasoning and knowledge.”

      Your opinion is many things. “Humble” is not among those things.

    • Gus Snarp

      The trolls around here really are of the lowest quality.

    • Brian Macker

      If I was the product of a simulation then I’d still exist as a being inside a simulation. I know I exist because here I am. Any attempt for an individual to argue against their own existence shows a complete failure to understand what the word exists means. Many a philosopher has intellectually painted themselves into a corner, and the idea of absolute knowledge is one of those corners. Knowing that one exists doesn’t require absolute knowledge in order for one to be absolutely certainly is true. One need only have relative knowledge of what the word exists means to be absolutely certain that one exists. The word exists has a limited and human relative meaning. It’s meaning is not based on the perspective of some omniscient (and imaginary) being.

  • http://v1car.wordpress.com/ The Vicar

    Oh, and if you want to read a terrific, if roundabout, argument against dualism as an explanation for human consciousness, I strongly recommend Adam Lee’s excellent essay A Ghost in the Machine. The summary: given what we know of how the brain and the body work, there is no longer any way for a non-material soul to be involved in human behavior. (Which knocks the legs out from under any concept of judgement: if your soul has no influence over what you do then it cannot be blamed or praised for your actions. If you souls exist at all, then one to hell would be similar to sending a murderer’s toenail clipping to jail.)

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    Please forgive me, I sometimes feel like a bumpkin around philosophically sophisticated people.  I’ve just never found mere arguments for the existence of something to be very persuasive.  I find that bumping into things has much more of an impact on me. I got up in the dark last night to go to the bathroom, and I thought the bathroom door was open. Although I was pretty sleepy, I had what I thought was a persuasive argument that I’d left it open, and that there was no reason to assume that any other influence had closed the door so…BONK!

    Collido ergo sum.  I bump into stuff, therefore I am. The stuff is too. Damn! That hurt. It really left an impression.

    • Deven Kale

       “I bump into stuff, therefore I am.”

      I don’t know when, where, or how, but I am so going to use that someday! If you don’t mind, of course. It’s just full of awesome.

      • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

        Sure, I don’t mind. Just be careful bumping into stuff. If you bump too hard, you will be no more. 

        • Starlite

          This was an awesome reply and response to a reply that completely made my day. I too, MUST use this in my daily activities. 

    • ortcutt

       Most philosophers agree with you on the point that thinking isn’t enough to find out what the world is like. 

  • Haydenmuhl

    Here is the like-I’m-five version.

    What is the mind made of?

    A dualist would say that the mind is made of a non-physical substance, and thus the mind is separate from the body.

    A materialist would say that is a malformed question. The mind is not made of anything. The mind is an emergent phenomenon and a property of the brain.

    • Earl G.

      To sum up for the like-I’m-three crowd:
      Dualists are stupid.

  • Mark Smith

     Asking for it to be explained to you as though you were a five-year-old is what “sophisticated theologians” are counting on. Then they can pat you on the head whilst complaining that you’re not treating their arguments with enough respect. Cue people like QualiaSoup who are willing to engage with the likes of Plantinga and Swinburne. The theists should have nowhere to hide their silliness.

  • Brian Macker

    There is no such thing as ghosts or souls, Timmy.

  • Sailor

    “If anyone can explain those videos to me as if I were a five-year-old, I would love to know what the hell he’s talking about ”
    Answer:
    Big men sometimes get their brains tied in knots by thinking too much. Nothing useful comes of it.

    I have recently taken a couple of courses given by philosophy professors on things like consciousness” and “ethics” They just rumble on and on like this for hours. They are quite good at instigating sleep if one is having a problem getting to that state in a less painful way.

  • Earl G.

    Dualism is all about churning out non-answers to a non-question.  There is no befuddling thing to explain, yet dualists make up fantastical explanations anyway.  

    I’d rather keep things simple.  Is there evidence for it?  No?  Then we’re done.

  • http://religiouscomics.net/ Jeff P

    Substance Dualism was a necessary philosophical stance in order to do science in a theocracy (which was the political order of the day back in the infancy of science). The scientists got to study physical matter and the theologians got to have domain over the other part (the soul).

    The problem is that relatively simple experiments could prove that “the mind” degraded along with the degradation of the physical brain. See how your mind degrades after do-it-yourself brain surgery with a hand-held power-drill. Death is an even more severe injury to the brain and it goes to figure that the mind/soul completely stops or goes out of existence as the brain decomposes after death. In the modern world, there is absolutely no reason to continue to embrace dualism except for those clinging to the hope of life after death.

  • Anon

    Question: What is the attribute which we can say constitutes life?

    Consider this, two genetically identical bacteria are placed in two identical spaces. Into both spaces the same amount of heat energy is added.

    Into one space, the heat kills the bacteria. In the other space, the heat is applied for a prolonged period of time, but lower, and so, does not kill the bacteria.

    The only change was the input of energy, nothing else. If E=mc2, then they should be the same. BUT, there is a difference between the two, that which we call life. Does this not suggest a dualism, not between the tradition mind/matter but between life/matter?

    Life is the ability to convert energy into matter and vice versa. It is not purely material but something else. A stone is purely material, but it cannot act on the world in the same way that something which is alive can. There is a qualitative difference between the two.

    My body is material, yes, but “I” am a quality that my body alone, does not posess. I am my body, and when I die, I die, but my body will merely change, It will have a quality of NOT life, whereas I will no longer exist at all. I will not be whilst my body will still be. Therefore, we cannot be the same thing.

    • Deven Kale

      The rate of input makes a very large difference. If the bacteria is only able to tolerate a certain amount of energy at any one time, an amount of energy greater than that which it’s able to process/tolerate at once will overload the systems within that bacterial cell and kill it, because it’s not designed to withstand that amount of energy. A smaller amount of the same energy, within an identical bacterial cells ability to process/tolerate, given at one time will not kill the cell regardless of the length of time it’s applied. This is basic biology.

      You’re also wrong in saying consciousness is something immaterial. Look up the term “emergent property” sometime and you may come to a better understanding of what consciousness actually is. Personally, I can’t wait until the day somebody creates a synthetic brain which develops it’s own consciousness, because that will finally put this ridiculous argument to rest as well. Rest assured, that day will surely come. I daresay it will be within my own lifetime, and very likely yours as well.

      • Anon

        I don’t think dualism is especially ridiculous, it’s just an idea, for discussion.

        Let’s say we do create two purely synthetic consciousnesses, identical in everyway, that can say, “I am”. If we introduce them to each other and ask, “Are you the same being?” they will surely answer, “No.” The physical material structure of their thought apparatus/brain will be entirely identical up to that point, yet they are not occupying the same space, therefore they will state (correctly) that they are different.

        Consciousness is the gateway between the material and the abstract. The most simple abstract thought is “I am.” If a material being can conceive of this thought, it can be said to be conscious. It can take an abstract i.e. immaterial notion, and ground it in the material world. “I am here. I am not there.”

        Higher levels of abstraction can be accessed by more complex thinking material beings. Ideas about numbers, morality, love, art etc. are not grounded in any material thing. They exist externally to us. When a new abstract thought has been conceived of by a consciousness, let’s say for example, the idea of currency, where has this new thought come from? Currency hadn’t always existed but someone came up with it, and applied it in the material world. If it did exist before, where?

        The question is: Was the new abstract thought created or discovered?

        If it was created, how does the brain create abstract ideas which cannot be perceived by our sense organs in the material world. How do we conceive of notions which do not materially exist? If we create the ideas in our brains, does this mean they don’t exist before they are thought of? If no-one thinks it, does it no longer exist? If we do create something entirely new, which didn’t exist before, are we not violating laws of physics?

        If it was discovered, this implies with our conscious minds we can access an abstract dimension which exists independently of this material world.

        • Deven Kale

          The question is: Was the new abstract thought created or discovered?

          That’s a very good question, which has been debated for decades, if not centuries. The root of it, to me, is whether or not the person being asked follows the same ideas of C.S. Lewis in that all things, even abstract ones, exist in some real form in either this universe or some other.

          If the person follows that philosophy, then of course those ideas were discovered, rather than created. If they don’t follow that idea (such as myself) then they would most likely believe they are created. This, however, does not violate the laws of physics because that only involves creating new things such as creating something like an atom from nothing (which is what I believe you’re talking about anyway).

          Manipulating existing matter in a new way is simply acting on an idea, which is little more than a certain chemical reaction/state within the brain. It’s still within the laws of physics to say that a highly specific chemical state within ones brain may only occur in one out of billions of people.

          Your example of money wasn’t even something people created deliberately anyway. My understanding of the history of money is that It started off as people trading bank receipts instead of dealing in precious metals, which wasn’t always easy to carry around. Over time those receipts turned into something more and, in order to prevent fraud, became what we now consider money.

          Everything else that we use these days are very similar in that they’re simply the result of a series of small modifications of things that we already have. They are definitely not a violation of the laws of physics, and they certainly aren’t evidence of some other existence outside of our known universe.

          • Nordog6561

            I just stumbled on this, so haven’t really had time to catch up with the conversation.

            But I though it interesting to note that Plato held that all new knowledge was really just a type of remembering, while Aristotle disagreed and held that new knowledge was in fact new and based on sensory experience. Of passing sensory stimuli turning into knowledge he used the analogy of an army in retreat until one soldier stopped and stood firm inspiring others to do the same.

            I guess the point here is that the question, and disagreements over the answer, have been around for millenia.


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