Irony Meter Broken. Again.

I was commenting at CSA the other day, when Tige Gibson responded to commenters who mentioned the problem of induction:

Shady thinkers who pat themselves and each other on the back drive away people who would be interested in more interesting contributions. Some of us might faintly hope that these people actually learn something, but when even a pointed statement (I mean how can I be the first one to point out solipsism) doesn’t wake them up to their own error, there is little hope of this conversation becoming elevated. Solipsism is a concept that is not merely absurd because of its own definition, but because it justifies inserting absolutely anything in place of reality, since you have purposely sabotaged your ability to know anything with any certainty.

How do insecure fundamentalists reply when their dogmas are questioned? Why, I think it’s safe to say they often respond exactly like Tige Gibson and John W. Loftus: some combination of misconstruing the argument, insulting their interlocutor, and acting as if they’ve been attacked. This is beside my point.

I’m interested in Gibson’s remark that solipsism justifies inserting absolutely anything in place of reality. I couldn’t help but think of Carl Sagan in Demon-Haunted World:

Consider this claim: as I walk along, time -as measured by my wristwatch or my ageing process -slows down. Also, I shrink in the direction of motion. Also, I get more massive. Who has ever witnessed such a thing? It’s easy to dismiss it out of hand. Here’s another: matter and antimatter are all the time, throughout the universe, being created from nothing. Here’s a third: once in a very great while, your car will spontaneously ooze through the brick wall of your garage and be found the next morning on the street. They’re all absurd! But the first is a statement of special relativity, and the other two are consequences of quantum mechanics (vacuum fluctuations and barrier tunneling, they’re called). Like it or not, that’s the way the world is. If you insist it’s ridiculous, you’ll be forever closed to some of the major findings on the rules that govern the Universe.

Sagan went on to note:

The average waiting time per stochastic ooze is much longer than the age of the Universe since the Big Bang. But, however improbable, in principle it might happen tomorrow.

Ian Pearson said that in two decades, one could converse with strawberry yogurt, and my question is this: if I’m a solipsist inserting absolutely anything in place of reality simply because I believe in God, what does that make Sagan and Pearson?

9 Comments

  1. dguller says:

    >> Ian Pearson said that in two decades, one could converse with strawberry yogurt, and my question is this: if I’m a solipsist inserting absolutely anything in place of reality simply because I believe in God, what does that make Sagan and Pearson?
    The problem with solipsism is that is undermines everything that we do know and can know, and is based on nothing more than a what-if philosophical fairy tale. There is no possibility of verifying its claim, because if true, it undermines any possibility of verification at all. That is why once one introduces solipsism as a genuine possibility, then one can introduce anything at all, because all epistemic standards are gone.

    The bizarre phenomena that Sagan was describing with respect to relativity and quantum mechanics do not undermine our very capacity to know anything, but are actually derived from hard-won scientific struggles that have been empirically verified. They are weird and counter-intuitive, but they are not an all-corroding acid that degrades the very possibility of knowledge. In fact, they are triumphs of knowledge.

  2. bossmanham says:

    Actually, quantum tunneling doesn’t show random coming into being ex nihilo at all. That’s simply equivocation of the worst kind. Also, it assumes that the indeterministic interpretations of qm is true, which is far from certain. However, I get Sagan’s point.

  3. cl says:

    The bizarre phenomena that Sagan was describing with respect to relativity and quantum mechanics do not undermine our very capacity to know anything, but are actually derived from hard-won scientific struggles that have been empirically verified.

    That’s exactly my point. In a similar vein, neither does believing in a God that created the physical universe undermine our very capacity to know anything.

  4. dguller says:

    cl:

    >> That’s exactly my point. In a similar vein, neither does believing in a God that created the physical universe undermine our very capacity to know anything.

    Agreed. It was an awful analogy.

  5. cl says:

    More to the point of our actual discussion, raising questions related to the problem of induction does not undermine our very capacity to know anything.

    dguller,

    Did you mean that Tige Gibson’s solipsism retort was awful? I ask because, I’m the only one who’s made an analogy here.

    bossmanham,

    Also, it assumes that the indeterministic interpretations of qm is true, which is far from certain.

    Yes, I agree. It is not beyond debate that Bohr’s infatuation with Hindu metaphysics have–to some degree–contaminated our understanding of QM. I can’t help but wonder the extent to which Hindu metaphysics influenced his conclusions. If nothing else, it’s an interesting question with potentially huge ramifications.

  6. woodchuck64 says:

    Rufus was a joy to read in that thread, wow. I’m not sure that I’m ready to believe faith in induction is on the same epistemological grounds as faith in God, but he really explained that clearly and elegantly. Worth reading twice.

  7. Rufus says:

    cl,
    I’m still not sure how that debate went from “Philosophers have had a hard time justifying the principle of induction, so we all ought to exercise a little epistemic humility” to “if you don’t agree with our world, you’re a solipsist.” It was a complete non-sequitur, especially since they all conceded the point regarding induction.

    We all have our little circles of reasoning… the solipsist, the Cartesian, the Kantian, the metaphysical naturalist, the Christian. It’s just inescapable. The question is: to what extent is your circle vicious – to what extent is our circle too “narrow”.

    G.K. Chesterton says it best:

    “If you argue with a madman, it is extremely probable that you will get the worst for it; for in many ways his mind moves all the quicker for not being delayed by the things that go with good judgment. He is not hampered by a sense of humor or charity, or by the dumb certainties of experience. . . . Indeed, the common phrase for insanity is in this respect a misleading one. The madman is not the man who has lost his reason. . . if a man says that he is the rightful King of England, it is no complete answer to say that the existing authorities call him mad; for if he were King of England that might be the wisest thing for the existing authority to do. Or if a man says that he is Jesus Christ, it is no answer to tell him that the world denies his divinity; for the world denied Christ’s. . . his mind moves in a perfect but narrow circle. A small circle is quite as infinite as a large circle; but, though it is quite as infinite, it is not so large. In the same way the insane explanation is quite as complete as the sane one, but it is not so large. . . . ‘So you are the Creator and Redeemer of the world: but what a small world it must be! What a little heaven you must inhabit, with angels no bigger than butterflies! How sad it must be to be God; and an inadequate God! Is there really no life fuller and no love more marvelous than yours? . . . How much happier you would be, how much more of you there would be, if the hammer of a higher God could smash your small cosmos, scattering the stars like spangles, and leave you in the open, free like other men to look up as well as down!’ . . . Curing a madman is not arguing with a philosopher; it is casting out a devil” (Orthodoxy; Excerpt from P. Kreeft. 2003. Socratic Logic. 9).

    So my point is that I think metaphysical naturalism is a narrow circle. There is not much to say in way of argumentation. If they are willing to bite the bullet on all of the untoward consequences I point out, then that’s the end of the conversation.

    Best,

    “Rufus”

  8. dguller says:

    cl:

    >> Did you mean that Tige Gibson’s solipsism retort was awful? I ask because, I’m the only one who’s made an analogy here.

    Yes, the retort. Sorry, I thought he made an analogy.

  9. Rufus says:

    woodchuck64,

    Thanks, I appreciate it.

    I’m not really certain of that position myself (to be perfectly honest). It was more of an open invitation to explain how alternative world-views, like metaphysical naturalism, are on better epistemological grounds without begging the question.

    One option that was not really discussed is that the best epistemology is the most parsimonious. I would grant this as a kind of hammer to shatter more convoluted systems of theism. However, if the metaphysical naturalist were to appeal to the principle of parsimony, they would have to 1) make the case through non-inductive reasons (i.e. not because Ockham’s razor has been proved useful in the past) and 2) make the case that the entities they posit are just those necessary and jointly sufficient to account for all phenomena in reality (a heavy burden to bear).

    It is this latter point that, if made, might prove difficult for a theistic response. If natural phenomena can account for everything, then adding God would be an unnecessary addition. However, I believe that there are certain phenomena which metaphysical naturalism struggles to account for, e.g. the individuated knower, intrinsic moral values, and freedom of the will just to name a few off the top of my head. I admit that one could bite the bullet and deny the individuated knower, intrinsic moral values, freedom etc. Many do that quite readily. However, I think one could then try to counter with arguments that such a system is self-defeating in that it descends into an inescapable radical skepticism. Any pragmatic pretense is simply a window-dressing to avoid the deeper problems lurking within that particular circle of thought.

    There are a lot of arguments that I have not spelled out here. For instance, that given metaphysical naturalism there cannot be an individuated knower is a controversial claim. I am not certain that my arguments when the day on that. Someday I will lay the argument out more formally so that I can invite critique.

    Best,

    “Rufus”

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