Removing the Head, or Destroying the Brain: Preface

I should warn you ahead of time, this is going to be something of a series.

You may wish to familiarize yourself with David Chalmers, some of his online works, and the theses he supports.

I don’t wish to put the onus on him alone, but I will be using him as an example of gross error in the field of philosophy, and why I hold that field in such contempt.

Details to follow.

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11 Responses to “Removing the Head, or Destroying the Brain: Preface”

  1. I greatly offended someone by speaking ill of Chalmers recently.

  2. Goodness, that person is a fool.

    Remind me to discuss the difference between qualifications and credentials, someday.

  3. Oh good, so you choose a notoriously bad argument from a bad philosopher in order to rationalize why you hold the entire field of philosophy in contempt? I readily admit that philosophy – like any other academic field (psychology most certainly included) – is mostly garbage, and you have to sort the good from the bad. If your acquaintance with contemporary philosophy only extends as far as David Chalmers’ zombie fantasies then I guess I can’t fault you for having a poor impression of philosophy; however, you should know better than to pass judgment on an entire academic field on the basis of such a scarcity of data.

    If you want a more favorable impression of contemporary philosophy, I recommend the following works:

    Donald Davidson — _Inquiries into Truth and Interpretation_ (you have to start with the essay “Truth and Meaning”)

    Alva Noe — _Action in Perception_

    Bas van Fraassen — _The Scientific Image_

    Also, anything by Jerry Fodor.

    If you read these philosophers and still hold the field in contempt, then I will concede that your judgment is at least not based in ignorance.

    • Oh good, so you choose a notoriously bad argument from a bad philosopher in order to rationalize why you hold the entire field of philosophy in contempt?

      You don’t understand the criticism I’m making. If the field of chemistry included both modern scientists and medieval alchemists, and the scientists hadn’t accomplished or discovered anything in decades… well, why wouldn’t we consider that powerful evidence that the field as a whole was pointless?

      The issue isn’t whether there’s some good bits in philosophy, the issue is that the minimum standards are abysmally low, and it’s the minimum standards that define the field.

  4. The problem is that you conclude that philosophy has made no progress based on cherry-picked evidence — indeed, you are content with criticizing a single very controversial thesis by a single controversial philosopher. I think it’s fair to say that this fails to establish your conclusion. That’s why I suggested you read some more philosophy before you make up your mind. You also need to realize that “progress” in philosophy is often negative — it’s wrongheaded to judge philosophy as a cumulative science on par with chemistry because it is *not* a science and doesn’t try to be (actually, science is not strictly speaking “cumulative” either: rather, old models are replaced by new and improved ones — e.g. the general theory of relativity does not build on Newton’s theory of gravity, but rather replaces it).

    As for your second point: it’s obvious that the standards will be somewhat fuzzier and more subjective in a field like philosophy than in chemistry — and consequently, some philosophy that is ultimately bad will become famous — but so what? Your assertion that “it’s the minimum standards that define the field” is nothing more than your personal opinion, and I fail to see the basis for it. As I said earlier, it’s a fact that the large majority of work done in *any* field will be junk anyway — including most of the stuff published in respected journals.

    • The problem is that you conclude that philosophy has made no progress based on cherry-picked evidence

      No, I conclude that philosophy has contributed nothing to our understanding by noting the great howling void where the evidence of its productiveness would be expected to be if it existed.

      I can pick even relatively obscure branches of science and quickly think of important knowledge that’s been gained, mistaken ideas that have been abolished, and effective new techniques for interacting with the world have been discovered within the bounds of that field.

      What has philosophy actually taught us? What possibilities and ideas has it excluded? What has it demonstrated to be true? Zip, nada, zilch, nihil.

      As for your second point: it’s obvious that the standards will be somewhat fuzzier and more subjective in a field like philosophy than in chemistry

      Wrong, wrong, completely wrong. The standards in mathematics are far more rigorous and stringent than in chemistry. Mathematics is (at least partly) what philosophy has usually claimed itself to be. The fact that philosophy’s standards are far looser than chemistry’s elegantly demonstrates that it’s not what math actually is.

  5. First, as I said before, a lot of philosophy is not concerned with expanding our knowledge of the world in a positive way, so judging the whole field as if it’s trying to be a constructive science is unfair and misguided.

    Nevertheless, I can think of several examples where philosophy – especially the philosophy of language – has contributed positively to our understanding of the world. For instance, Grice’s cooperative principle and his accompanying hypothesis of conversational implicature has helped people design theories that range from explaining why identity statements can be informative to why some jokes are funny and others are stale.

    Another example: from the obvious observations that language is learnable and that people can, nevertheless, understand potentially infinitely many different sentences, Donald Davidson hypothesized that language had to function recursively from a finite basic vocabulary, and thereby launched the fruitful research project of trying to create algorithms that could decompose arbitrary sentences down to their atomic parts and vice versa (if successful, this would clearly be useful for AI research).

    Perhaps most famously, the great philosopher Noam Chomsky, noting that young children learn their native language at an amazing pace despite an extreme scarcity of data, hypothesized that there has to be an elaborate innate language faculty and, moreover, that all languages must share a universal grammar. This launched a research paradigm that revolutionized linguistics.

    Jerry Fodor, taking Chomsky’s cue, argued that there is not only a language faculty, but that the brain is in general modular, consisting of several specialized faculties. This has been the predominant working hypothesis in cognitive science ever since.

    But even if you disregard the contributions of *philosophers* to our positive understanding of the world, you nevertheless cannot deny the importance of philosophy itself. A lot of the greatest scientists were also great philosophers, and their scientific contributions were motivated by philosophical insights. This was, for instance, the case with Einstein when he postulated that the physical laws are the same in all inertial reference frames and moreover that the speed of light is constant in all reference frames. Einstein, by his own account, formulated these postulates primarily as a result of philosophical thought experiments.

    Also, in the famous article where he introduced what has since become known as “Turing machines,” Turing argued, on purely philosophical grounds, that his machines could in principle imitate the computing done on any other machine. This philosophical thesis – known as the Church-Turing thesis – is now taken more or less for granted in theoretical computer science. Turing, of course, also came up with the idea of the “Turing test” for AI.

    The contemporary philosopher David Buller has the following motto (adapted from Kant): philosophy without science is empty; science without philosophy is blind. Indeed, without philosophical paradigms grounding research, science becomes nothing but meaningless data collection and systematization — unfortunately this seems to be the case with a lot of research that’s being done in psychology these days, for instance. On the other hand, it is also certainly true that most philosophical speculation is worthless unless it is informed by empirical data.

    • First, as I said before, a lot of philosophy is not concerned with expanding our knowledge of the world in a positive way

      I agree completely. That’s why I have no respect for it. If I wanted literary criticism, I’d go to literary criticism – not the discipline that proclaims that it’s founded on the “love of wisdom”.

      For instance, Grice’s cooperative principle and his accompanying hypothesis of conversational implicature has helped people design theories

      That’s not helpful. Selecting between theories, that’s a horse of another color.

      Also, in the famous article where he introduced what has since become known as “Turing machines,” Turing argued, on purely philosophical grounds, that his machines could in principle imitate the computing done on any other machine.

      No, he demonstrated mathematically that his machines could perform any calculation of a certain class, and then asserted that no real-world examples beyond that class existed. To date, none have been found.

      And Turing wasn’t a ‘philosopher’ in an academic sense. He is a prime example of someone performing actual philosophy and contributing more than thousands of so-called philosophers.

  6. A funny example of nonsensical “continental” philosophy here. ‘Can we now derive proofs about divine freedom using the symbol “A=”? ‘

    • People don’t hate the Jews because they’re envious of their tribal survival. They hate the Jews because some Jewish pundits have a vastly hyperinflated sense of their cultural importance / significance (among other reasons).

      I mean, c’mon, if you go about calling yourselves “The Chosen People of God” and holding yourselves to a complex and arbitrary set of standards which you secretly look down on others for not duplicating, you’re gonna make enemies.

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