Jerry Fodor, Charles Darwin and Natural Selection

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Over at ScienceBlog:

I would like to invite discussion on my paper, On Fodor on Darwin On Evolution, which is a critique of Jerry Fodor’s Hugues Leblanc Lectures at UQAM on “What Darwin Got Wrong“….

Jerry Fodor argues that Darwin was wrong about “natural selection” because (1) it is only a tautology rather than a scientific law that can support counterfactuals (“If X had happened, Y would have happened”) and because (2) only minds can select. Hence Darwin’s analogy with “artificial selection” by animal breeders was misleading and evolutionary explanation is nothing but post-hoc historical narrative. I argue that Darwin was right on all counts. Until Darwin’s “tautology,” it had been believed that either (a) God had created all organisms as they are, or (b) organisms had always been as they are. Darwin revealed instead that (c) organisms have heritable traits that evolved across time through random variation, with survival and reproduction in (changing) environments determining (mindlessly) which variants were successfully transmitted to the next generation. This not only provided the (true) alternative (c), but also the methodology for investigating which traits had been adaptive, how and why; it also led to the discovery of the genetic mechanism of the encoding, variation and evolution of heritable traits….

No comments on the post yet, so GNXP readers should check out the paper.

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67 Comments

  1. Enough with Fodor, what does his granny think?

  2. I would never claim competence in analytic philosophy, but with that said this Fodor paper doesn’t seem too good to me – I was disappointed because when I read a little of his stuff many years ago it seemed smart and straightforward. It probably was, but I can’t be sure, since I was kind of young and dumb back then. Anyway this paper doesn’t strike me as well written. 
     
    To me this is clearly a philosophy paper – for scientists who think analytic philosophy is pointless, I would say “well, nothin to see here.” In other words his “disagreement with adaptionism” is purely philosophical; this is not something biologists would take seriously as part of the debate over selection and drift. It has nothing to do with that whatsoever. 
     
    The point he tries to make rests on the belief in natural kinds other than quarks. Wikipedia says the existence of natural kinds, and/or what natural kinds there are, are controversial questions in the field.  
     
    Within reductionist naturalism-materialism, I’m pretty sure I don’t believe there are natural kinds other than quarks. From this standpoint, what Fodor has to say is trivial – as best as I can tell even he would agree with that much. But of course, he does believe in natural kinds other than quarks.

  3. Hold the phone, yo. I’ve just fully realized – this is one o’ them crypto bio-worldview-ideology things, ain’ it. Blimey, not again! I spent time posting on the Coyne-Judson imbroglio threads without even realizing the subtext until months later. Will I ever learn my lesson?

  4. I haven’t read all the papers mentioned, but some time ago I did a post on the old ‘natural selection is a tautology’ nonsense: 
     
    http://www.gnxp.com/blog/2005/11/is-natural-selection-tautology.php

  5. Tautologies rule!

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  7. Fodor’s problem, as he’s been hammering at since the early 90s with his initial skepticism regarding the assignment of proper function to any trait, is essentially with the concept of a cause. For Fodor, unless a claim can ‘support’ a counterfactual experiment (either in thought or in actuality), then it’s not a genuine causal claim at all–hence the idea that it’s tautological. 
     
    But this is a bizarre notion of what it takes for a claim to be either causal or empirically significant. Although this is part of the point that Harnad is making, he doesn’t seem to make it strongly enough. Fodor isn’t just mistaken about what Darwin’s revolution was about, he’s mistaken about what conditions must obtain for a claim to be significant or causal. And, I’m sorry to say for those with no formal exposure to philosophy, a lot of this backs up into his odd (but philosophically common) claims that unless very outre counterfactuals can be ruled out, we can’t know things with any determinacy. (See the Twin Earth problems for this kind of confusion on steroids.) It’s really just Cartesianism in another guise, but what’s the surprise there? 
     
    If we relax our conditions on when a determinate causal claim can be made, just as we recognize that cause can be probabilistic and kinds can be statistical, the whole problem dissolves and with it most of Fodor’s and Chomsky’s worries and a massive amount of philosophy we could well do without.

  8. Words are the totality of logic, and so are very important, but there’s a niggling sort of semanticism that contributes nothing and resolves nothing. 
     
    Objecting to evolution on the grounds that “only minds can select” is precisely that kind of obfuscatory nonsense. If I pour sand through a strainer, it separates large grains from small. Fodor’s used definition of ‘select’ would exclude this result as an example of selection, yet it is obvious that Darwin’s usage would permit it. As there is nothing about the general meaning of ‘select’ that requires a mind, why should Fodor be permitted to found his argument on his non-standard definition? 
     
    There’s nothing of interest here, except the question of why we should discuss such attention-seeking “intellectuals” instead of whipping them through the streets.

  9. > If we relax our conditions on when a determinate causal claim can be made, just as we recognize that cause can be probabilistic and kinds can be statistical, the whole problem dissolves 
     
    Exactly. Those attitudes belong integrally to science’s unwritten constitution. Science has always appealed to parsimony and never claimed inerrant truth.

  10. Fodor seems to base part of his critique of NS on the objection that the theory makes no specific predictions. I’m not sure this is even true, e.g. we can be pretty confident that if a new antibiotic is introduced, bacteria will evolve resistance to it. But even if it is true, it is not a problem unique to natural selection. Some impeccably ‘scientific’ theories make no specific predictions: e.g. the first law of thermodynamics states that energy is conserved, but it does not tell us what form that energy will take. If we observe that, prima facie, the energy of a system has declined, the law tells us that we must keep looking for the ‘missing’ energy. We accept the law as well-founded because (a) it is beautiful, (b) the ‘missing’ energy has usually been accounted for eventually; and (c) it has been fruitful in helping us understand nature. All of which is also true of NS.

  11. Yeah, I’d love to hear him explain to some tuberculosis or Staph aureus researchers that “selection for” is a fiction.  
     
    I think you could say that natural selection predicts there will be lots of complementary protein pairs like Duffy and its HIV ligand. 
     
    I’m sure Fodor will be conscientious enough to follow up next year with a paper showing that plate tectonics and other sociopolitically bland theories are also “wrong” for the same reasons.

  12. Objections marshaled above reek of bogosity to anyone who can hack Fodor’s logic. The point of the exercise is to show that mental attitudes and dispositions are individuated more finely than any conceivable compositions of bodily functions. If the distinctions that folk psychology attributes to minds have stronger identity criteria than any categories supported by, or capable of emerging from, natural selection, either mental functions could not have been naturally selected, or folk psychology has no basis in reality. Fodor’s critics such as Daniel Dennett opt for the latter conclusion. They are the same people who dismiss ascriptions of mental states and qualia as illusions. Their approach to psychology does not, and cannot, have any currency beyond the circle jerk of nominalistic omphaloskepsis. Jerry Fodor has been having a good time making this point over and over.

  13. MZ, 
    Your post could be considered jargonish. With the right audience, a little argot can be efficient. I doubt yours is much understood here.  
     
    Can you put just two sentences – your second and third – into english? Or do they contain concepts which will remain beyond my ken until I complete 20 years of chastity and meditation? What passages in the paper support them?  
     
    Have you noticed that Fodor’s footnote 15 cites journalist Adam Gopnik, writing in The New Yorker, as an example of “the evolutionary psychology literature?” I’m just sayin’. Gopnik isn’t even in error, really. He’s just using a shorthand. (Natural selection does act, in effect just like a breeder. Only it selects for the ability to reproduce in the wild, rather than for the various traits desired and selected for by breeders.) The note prior is also preposterous and disingenuous, since everyone knows Steven Pinker doesn’t believe the mind was literally designed. 
     
    As I have said, Fodor’s point on adaptionism is trivial. There are no universal and absolute laws of selection. Reconstructing “selection for XYZ” in some organism in the past is indeed a “historical narrative” as Fodor suggests. It is not qualitatively different than figuring out why Napoleon lost at Waterloo, whether the Chicxulub meteor killed the dinosaurs and how, or what the latitude of Australia was the year 500 million BC. Who denies this?  
     
    One can also do controlled or uncontrolled prospective experiments with natural selection, but of course this doesn’t prove with absolute certainty what happened in the past of man or any other species. 
     
    Would you really call it unscientific to conclude that Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the cause of tuberculosis, became resistant to antibacterials because of the use of those antibacterials in human medicine? Here are your data. The bacterium apparently lives only in humans. No resistant strains were noted when the effective antibacterials were first used in man. Several years later, resistant strains existed. This is just not as complicated as explaining who won at Waterloo.  
     
    As for his point against evo psych in particular – that different intentional attitudes can drive the same acts – it’s nothing special. I’ve already thought about it lots of times, and I’d be sort of surprised if it hasn’t been written about somewhere. It is certainly important, but it doesn’t sink evo psych. You have to distinguish between the intentionality and the act. Indeed, when two rather different, or even completely different intentionalities promote the same fitness-enhancing act, I’d bet it sometimes happens that both of them become common.  
     
    But sometimes it’s obvious that a certain act and a certain intentionality are highly likely to be in a more or less one-to-one relationship.

  14. >Objections marshaled above reek of bogosity to anyone who can hack FodorÂ’s logic. 
     
    But how do we hack Michael Zeleny’s comment? 
     
    Taking it literally, the assertion that ‘mental attitudes and dispositions are individuated more finely than any conceivable compositions of bodily functions’ would imply that there are more actual or possible mental states than there are possible permutations of neuron states (which are surely ‘conceivable compositions of bodily functions’). Since the number of the latter must be at least 2^1,000,000 (1 million neurons being either active or inactive), this is transparent nonsense. Or bogosity?

  15. The most informative take on Fodor v. adaptationalism was anticipated by Ramsey’s remark regarding Wittgenstein: “what we can’t say we can’t say, and we can’t whistle it either.” The sheer number of any conceivable compositions of bodily functions is quite beside the point to the undisputed observation that all identity criteria that apply to bodily functions are too coarsely grained to discriminate between mental states. Accordingly, if evolutionary psychology is explanatory, mental states are illusory, and vice versa.

  16. MZ, no one would ever claim that every distinguishable mental state exists because it has been selected. Also, that idea is not found in Fodor’s paper. It must be the product of your own genius? 
     
    > the undisputed observation that all identity criteria that apply to bodily functions are too coarsely grained to discriminate between mental states 
     
    Sounds like nonsense. How do you quantify these two values.

  17. >The sheer number of any conceivable compositions of bodily functions is quite beside the point to the undisputed observation that all identity criteria that apply to bodily functions are too coarsely grained to discriminate between mental states. 
     
    If this claim is something other than mere gibberish, which I doubt, I certainly would dispute it, so it is not ‘undisputed’. Whatever one may think about the ‘identity of indiscernibles’ in general (hey, I can use philosophical jargon too!), mental states are surely identical if they are indiscernible, and the number of discernible mental states is finite and therefore countable. 
     
    MZ would have done better to challenge my numbers, which are probably too small. The number of ‘pixels’ necessary to represent the visual field alone is probably over 1 million, so there are more than 2^1,000,000 possible states of the visual field. If we add the other sensory modalities, and the ‘inner’ sensations, we might need as many as (say) 20,000,000 bits of information to represent the entire mental state of a human at a given moment. But this is hardly a problem, as the brain has over a billion neurons. All possible mental states can therefore each be paired with a unique brain state. If MZ wants to dispute this he had better explain more clearly what he means by ‘identity criteria’.  
     
    I should add, for the record, that I do not necessarily believe in mind-brain identity, and I once argued at length against it. But I do believe that every mental state is associated with (and can therefore be identified by) a brain state that is in principle describable in physical terms. Indeed, I am surprised if any reputable modern philosopher of any school disputes this.

  18. I doubt that science can ever penetrate qualia, but I hope people keep trying til the end of time if it suits them. 
     
    Eliezer Yudkowsky disagrees with what Chalmers has said about this. He insists there’s no difference in kind between qualia and other once-”insurmountable” challenges faced by science, such as explaining life. Therefore, qualia will probably wind up getting explained too. 
     
    Well, to me it’s quite possible that it was precisely qualia in humans (and in dogs if they have it) that, at bottom, once made life seem so inexplicable in the first place. And qualia remains unexplained. Although I realize it was once suspected that organisms were made of totally different substances than other matter, I wonder if it wasn’t, at bottom, qualia that lead people to think in such a way. Rather than, say, their being led that way by a belief that objects made of inanimate matter could not possibly carry out self-replication.

  19. Fodor gives a thorough explanation of intensionality in his paper. Any misunderstanding in its regard betokens reading incomprehension. That said, consider Willard Quine’s favorite example of intensional distinctions refining extensional equivalencies is as follows: the property of being a cordate, a creature with a heart, is intuitively not identical to the property of being a renate, a creature with kidneys; and yet as a matter of physiological fact, all cordates are renate. The apparent counterexample of a man attached to a dialysis machine is dismissible as a man with missing kidneys. This dismissal suggests that Quine’s example might generalize to a logical truth: if blood has its real definition as the fluid that circulates through the organism to deliver oxygen and nutrients to its organs and evacuate its waste materials toward the excretory channels, the compresence of hearts and kidneys in normal animal bodies follows analytically from the real definitions of these organs. Correlatively, the possibility of a creature with a heart and no kidneys, or vice versa, may amount to a logical falsehood that is not a contradiction.  
     
    Be it as it may, human minds are demonstrably and undisputably capable of distinguishing between the property of being a cordate and the property of being a renate. But any process of natural selection leading to the capacity to conceive of a cordate coincides with a process of natural selection leading to the capacity to conceive of a renate, at least as a matter of brute physiological fact, and possibly as a matter of logical equivalence. This capacity for making distinctions ungrounded in physical nature, along with its kindred capacities for distinguishing e.g. between a set containing all even prime numbers and a set containing all positive square roots of four, demonstrate the absurdity of the principal assumptions of evolutionary psychology.

  20. No, the ability to do number theory or conceive of renates or arcane mathematical constructs has not been selected for. Such abilities are spandrels of more general reasoning abilities of various kinds. I don’t know how we can be conscious or be able to reason generally. No one does.

  21. No, the ability to do number theory or conceive of renates or arcane mathematical constructs has not been selected for. Such abilities are spandrels of more general reasoning abilities of various kinds. 
     
    Is it a definite fact that these mental capablities are extant in all hunter-gatherer populations? Are we certain, for example, that there are full-blooded (not that that’s easy to define necessarily) San who can do number theory or conceive of renates or arcane mathematical constructs (with of course the requisite education)? I have no idea – and it’s not the easiest thing to google – so I’m just asking. How sure are we that these skills did come out of the hunter-gatherer toolkit?

  22. William James has argued that rationally unwarranted will to believe in a given doctrine can conjure into existence otherwise unavailable evidence in its support. Short of being presented with such evidence, I am not interested in discussing the doctrine that “every mental state is associated with (and can therefore be identified by) a brain state that is in principle describable in physical terms”. As far as I am concerned, its evidentiary basis is like unto that of metempsychosis or transsubstantiation. As for the litany that abilities to delineate and sustain intensional distinctions are “spandrels of more general reasoning abilities of various kinds”, it is specifically refuted by the counterexamples brought up in Fodor’s paper. The main thrust of its argument is that no ability evolved through natural selection can discriminate between extensionally concurrent scenarios. Since everyday reasoning essentially depends on such discrimination, it could not have evolved in response to any kind of stimulus.

  23. MZ, 
    Wow, you are really skeptical! I usually just sort of “believe whatever,” kind of half at random. ;) 
     
    You are asking way too much. No theory has ever told how we can reason or be aware. Chalmers has his doubts, I think, that science ever can. There’s no accepted quantum theory of gravity, either. Science goes on, does not claim completeness or finality, and does wonder why these things haven’t been accomplished – but mainly as part of its effort to eventually in fact accomplish them. Serious qualms about the actual “ultimate” meaning per se of the failure to accomplish them thus far, belong to philosophy, and simply don’t impact the truth or falsity qua science of theories in natural science. 
     
    What proof is there, whether through philosophy or through science, that an answer to these questions about awareness even exists? None. 
     
    ziel, 
    It may well be that not everyone can do number theory, but that doesn’t mean it’s ever been selected.

  24. I’m not sure that MZ’s arguments have much to do with Fodor, at least in the two articles he links to. These seem to me just standard recycling of Gould and Lewontin on ‘adaptationism’. I would have taken Fodor for a closet Creationist, if he were not a self-declared atheist, which would be an unusual combination.  
     
    PS: Advice to MZ: don’t use so many fancy long words. It’s not big, and it’s not clever.

  25. either mental functions could not have been naturally selected, or folk psychology has no basis in reality. Would you care to guess which option anyone who’s studied psychology would pick? 
     
    Whenever you find yourself at a fork between any hypothesis and “folk knowledge about X is wrong”, it’s probably a safe bet to presume that the folk knowledge is wrong.

  26. Therefore, qualia will probably wind up getting explained too. Eric Johnson: there is no need to “explain” something that has yet to be demonstrated. 
     
    Qualia, by virtue of their definition, cannot be shown to be demonstrated. They don’t exist. The only “insurmountable” obstacle that needs to be overcome here is the inability of some people to grasp that “qualia” is a nonsense category, logically self-refuting. They don’t exist. There is no need to explain them. What is needed is sufficiently clear thinking on the part of qualia advocates.

  27. Readers unable to hack fancy long words are well advised to revisit Dick and Jane. Everyone else is welcome to consult the SEP entries linked in the following explanation. 
     
    Like everything else, mental states are identical if they are indiscernible. But if content externalism is true, mental content does not supervene upon neurophysiological properties. Under this scenario, two thinkers can differ in the contents of their mental states without differing in any neurophysical respect, depending on their external circumstances. Whereas in a universe unbounded as to his potential objects of thought, there is no end to the relevant variety of any thinker’s external circumstances. Futher, if zombies are possible, mental content cannot supervene on physical properties. In other words, the jury is out as to the finitude of the number of discernible mental states.

  28. Qualia, by virtue of their nature, needn’t be shown to be demonstrated. Their existence is immediately warranted by individual experience, and their demonstration requires no more than a cordial invitation to attend to this experience. The standard of demonstration that calls for direct ostension open to all comers leaves out not only all abstract demonstranda such as numbers and sets, but also any and all concrete objects and events uncircumscribed by purportedly undemonstrable abstractions such as propositions and concepts.

  29. If folk psychology has no basis in reality, it is “nicht einmal falsch” (© 1955 Wolfgang Pauli). In other words, it makes no sense to talk in its terms. In particular, it makes no sense to study any brand of psychology.

  30. a cordial invitation to attend to this experience 
     
    Ah yes, how mannerly you really are. Well sir I agree with you. Caledonian passes the Turing test with distinction, but if he’s truly having no conscious experiences at all, there’s not much we can do about that until after the Singularity.  
     
    No true Caledonian would do such a thing as flatly call qualia a misbegotten fallacy, and expect to be found convincing. After all, anyone can claim the same about any controversial abstract concept or point of view. It remains to actually say why qualia is self-contradictory, or how it is that we should tell misbegotten ideas from sound ones. 
     
    In other words, it makes no sense to talk in its terms. In particular, it makes no sense to study any brand of psychology. 
     
    Very good – you’ve treated me to a “kwatz.” The snake bites its tail; il n’y a pas de hors-texte.  
     
    I realize he’d be pretty hard to sell to a jury, but the likable miscreant “Man” is the star witness in this universe, by default. No one else on the docket at all, in fact. Can a solitaire make fine repairs on his glasses, if he’s legally blind without them on? Only as a Narcissus leaning out over the troubled face of post-lapsarian waters. Should he throw them away? 
     
    fancy long words 
     
    The wages of jargonism is death, Grasshopper. That is, you will simply not be read. You may think the reason for that fact cannot be determined because of multiple co-extensional descriptions, but I will know what happened. 
     
    Guess what, biology and philosophy papers that “muddy their waters to make them look deep” will have even less chance of long-term influence than they had otherwise. Even those written hastily will fare much better than those written obscurely just to make it look like something so hard that “you” could never have thought of it. 
     
    Jargon certainly has its place in communication, but it’s mostly used for status signaling. (Go read Robin Hanson.) Though it may intimidate the many quite efficiently, its effect on the enlightened ones is not exactly beguiling. 
     
    Actually, most jargon in the proper sense is not all that terrible. It’s even worse to write unnatural, overcompressed, underdetermined sentences clanging with latinates. I used to be a major offender myself. 
     
    Try actually reading it. When you find yourself dreaming about killer bees, hot babes, and other lurid topics, while the rest of your mind still traces the words vacuously like something that would have to study before a Turing test, you’re reading bad writing.

  31. Caledonian had a series of posts on qualia, I’m surprised he didn’t link to any.

  32. For the record, I do believe in qualia, and I have argued that they are not sufficiently recognised by the current scientific world-view: see here 
     
    http://www.gnxp.com/MT2/archives/001848.html 
     
    I do not suggest that qualia can be ‘explained’ by natural selection, any more than, say, electric charge can. But given the existence of qualia, natural selection can help explain the pattern of qualia observed, such as the fact that biologically harmful events are often associated with pain. 
     
    On reflection, it was impolite of me to comment on MZ’s style. Le style c’est l’homme meme. As it happens, I could ‘hack’ all of MZ’s long words except ‘omphaloskepsis’, which I had to look up. It is a philosophical joke, like chimaeras bombinating in the void.

  33. (added comment) 
     
    I also posted on the mind/body problem here 
    http://www.gnxp.com/MT2/archives/001888.html 
     
    and here 
    http://www.gnxp.com/MT2/archives/001919.html

  34. Under this scenario, two thinkers can differ in the contents of their mental states without differing in any neurophysical respect That scenario is logically indefensible. Two informational structures that are physically identical in the relevant properties contain the same information. Two identical books tell the same story. Two identical CDs contain the same music. Two identical brains are of one mind. 
    such as the fact that biologically harmful events are often associated with pain. Ah, but there are no qualia there. Paramecia will swim away from higher concentrations of a toxin and towards lower – the result of a simple mechanical linkage between their sensory organs and their cilia. All minds are the same, merely with greater levels of complexity. 
     
    If you can grasp why it doesn’t matter that the images projected onto our retinas are “upside down”, you can grasp why ‘qualia’ is not a meaningful category.

  35. Futher, if zombies are possible, You mean ‘p-zombies’, sir. 
    If folk psychology has no basis in reality, it is “nicht einmal falsch” (© 1955 Wolfgang Pauli). In other words, it makes no sense to talk in its terms. In particular, it makes no sense to study any brand of psychology.Invalid argument. Folk physics doesn’t even describe our everyday experience properly, much less the arcana. But that’s no reason to conclude that it’s pointless to study any kind of physics, as Pauli would have told you. 
     
    Folk psychology is simply wrong, in the same way that the folk concept that people on the other side of the world must cling to the ground to keep from falling into the sky is wrong.

  36. Caledonian, 
    I agree that content externalism is weird; it seems puzzling that anyone subscribes to it. 
     
    No one can deny that microbes sense things and then alter their behavior in response, using “molecular brains.” This can be analyzed with perfect clarity, and with perfect reduction to the electrostatic forces that make molecular bio work. No doubt, you agree. But I suspect microbes have no experiences. I cannot say. 
     
    I read your five qualia essays with comments. Worthwhile essays, but I tend to agree with Thom and Jake much more than with you.  
     
    I think Mary’s Room is pretty pointless. I feel it’s obviously begging the question about the nature of mind and awareness. The anti-physicalist interpretation of it is particularly unconvincing.  
     
    I am totally unconvinced by your argument against the ineffable. I’m not surprised that most people have such experiences yet can never communicate about them clearly. If I meditate and try to describe my meditation to you, it won’t be a very effective description. I’ve seen people try to describe such things, and I’ve tried myself, at great length.  
     
    But it’s better that I proceed to your attempt to assess your experiences for qualia: 
     
    “I quickly found that every attempt I made to describe my experiences upon detecting a stimulus was only a set of references to other experiences. I could describe them in terms of similitudes with motion and speed, temperature, pressure, color, odor and taste. But when I tried to describe those things, all I could do was refer to other, seemingly elemental experiences.” 
     
    I’ll bet you can’t analyze smells, like the smell of cloves, to elemental experiences? Vision, I think, is quite analyzable. Regardless, it would be better to proceed to more abstract stuff. How about pain, or nausea, or elation at learning good news? Would you simply call them elemental?  
     
    I know you like certain narrative art. But a great deal of the value of some narrative art simply comes from explicit or implicit propositions it contains. This part is not ineffable. What about music, though? Surely you aren’t indifferent to it? (I’m sure some people are, but probably few indeed.) What about the experience of hearing it, not the sound but the part that’s more emotion than perception.  
     
    Would you perhaps say it’s just pleasure? To me that rings totally false, but it’s very hard to argue about.  
     
    I think it was Thom who commented that he couldn’t be dissuaded that he experienced qualia of redness; he could more easily be dissuaded of anything else. This seems like the crux to me. I’ll elaborate. 
     
    Do you think it meaningful at all for me to consider what I can and cannot be dissuaded of under counterfactual conditions? I’m not 100% sure such things are meaningful, but I’ll assume they are for the moment. If a supernatural being appeared and started performing all kinds of miracles, not only with his materials but also with materials selected at random from the environment by me, what should I think of it? I’m sure I would fairly soon consider it possible that the laws of science were not absolute, and that they were quite possibly created or controlled at least in part by supernatural beings like this one. Alternatively, I might have a physicalist hypothesis, that this being was an entity from another planet who had superior scientific knowledge allowing the performance of what seemed like miracles. (Quite possibly, though, he still can’t solve the mind-body problem any more than I can!) 
     
    I would also consider it possible I was experiencing a false reality, perhaps permanently, due to mental illness or whatever. This possibility doesn’t seem falsifiable, so it’s always an option.  
     
    Anyway, like Thom I find redness and the emotions of music, in other words my private experience of awareness, to be more immediate than anything. More immediate than all beliefs – all feelings/conclusions that perceived objects are real or that there is any order whatsoever in any of my perceptions or thoughts. More immediate than any oddities or inconsistencies in the definition of qualia. If a very clear such inconsistency were to become manifest in my mind, I would say, “wow, that’s some really weird thing, like Russel’s set theory paradox or Goedel’s theorem.” Yet I would still find it impossible to think I was not actually experiencing anything. 
     
    I am not certain I am not a “brain in a vat.” Relatedly, I’ve had over a dozen lucid dreams, as they are termed. There are techniques for inducing them, if the idea intrigues you. Anyway, the experience of suddenly recognizing that you have been experiencing a false dream reality for “minutes” or “hours,” is for me absolutely stunning. In fact, I’ll confess I feel deeply moved when it happens, almost like I would weep from pure revelation. Why not, since after all I would of course be deeply moved by the equivalent experience in this world if it ever happened: if, that is, while walking on some street I suddenly recalled that there is another world in which I live and have been dreaming this one for apparent “decades.” 
     
    Still, the dream experiences from just before becoming lucid, which I falsely believed were as real as this world, were certainly experiences complete with ineffable qualities. 
     
    In short I can imagine being dissuaded of literally any proposition other than the proposition that I am aware. Which, of course, is pretty much the Cartesian beginning – but for me, no propositions follow from it.

  37. Jargon certainly has its place in communication, but it’s mostly used for status signaling. (Go read Robin Hanson.) Though it may intimidate the many quite efficiently, its effect on the enlightened ones is not exactly beguiling. 
     
    I am reminded of my favorite passage by Bruce Jay Friedman. It comes from his short story entitled “Detroit Abe”, a tale of Irwin Abrahamowitz, a lonely, frightened, divorced, and otherwise put upon professor teaching irony to a group of students in a heavily ethnic division of a city university. When this schnook happens to proffer face-saving advice to a young black pimp going by the name of Smooth, they end up getting acquainted and having drinks, capped by the following exchange:”Incidentally,” said Smooth, leaning out of the window, “did you notice how I didn’t offer to send over the girl, even though you did me a big turn?” 
    “Yes, frankly, I noticed that.”  
    “Another thing. I have a whole pile of money in here with me. Did you wonder why I let you spring for the drinks?” 
    “That crossed my mind, too.”  
    “Well, let me ask you a question,” said Smooth, his brows furrowed in thought.  
    “Go right ahead.”  
    “Is that what you mean by irony?”Actually, most jargon in the proper sense is not all that terrible. It’s even worse to write unnatural, overcompressed, underdetermined sentences clanging with latinates. I used to be a major offender myself. 
     
    Clanging latinates are the death of philosophy, to be sure. But as Aristotle famously put it near the outset of Nicomachean Ethics, λέγοιτο δ᾽ ἂν ἱκανῶς, εἰ κατὰ τὴν ὑποκειμένην ὕλην διασαφηθείη: τὸ γὰρ ἀκριβὲς οὐχ ὁμοίως ἐν ἅπασι τοῖς λόγοις ἐπιζητητέον, ὥσπερ οὐδ᾽ ἐν τοῖς δημιουργουμένοις. Sometimes you just have to try harder. Good dictionaries are your friends.

  38. Two informational structures that are physically identical in the relevant properties contain the same information. 
     
    Donald Davidson pointed out that the only known success at real definition occurs in Plato’s Theaetetus at 147c: clay is earth plus water. Unless and and until comparable success has been achieved in the real definition of mental content, observations concerning “informational structures” will remain inconsequential to its investigations. 
     
    Folk physics doesn’t even describe our everyday experience properly, much less the arcana. But that’s no reason to conclude that it’s pointless to study any kind of physics, as Pauli would have told you. 
     
    I am not sure what makes for “folk physics”, let alone at which point it departs from our everyday experience. My bringing up the real basis of folk psychology is another way of affirming the reality of mental content and first-person experiences, with their constituents and components such as propositions and concepts, senses and denotations, properties and relations, truth and falsehood, in the former instance. Advocates of eliminativism that aims or claims to reduce these constituents and components to events that take place in the brain, owe their interlocutors a clear understanding of what would count as belief in, or assent to, the truth of their theories. Absent such an understanding, further discussion of eliminativist agenda makes no sense by elimination ex hypothesi.

  39. I am totally unconvinced by your argument against the ineffable. I’m not surprised that most people have such experiences yet can never communicate about them clearly. Ah, but that’s not what I’m railing against. For the experiences to be ineffable, they must be utterly incommunicable by their very nature, not just because you or I or any given person is not capable of communicating it. Just because I can’t solve a problem does not mean it is insoluble in any general sense. Just because I can’t understand a thing doesn’t mean it’s incomprehensible – just incomprehensible to me
    How about pain, or nausea, or elation at learning good news? Would you simply call them elemental? Pain is, what pain does. Are paramecia fleeing down a toxin gradient experiencing pain? What about a dog who steps on a piece of glass? ‘Pain’ is only meaningful in terms of a response to stimuli – not necessarily a casually-observable response, but a response nevertheless. It’s defined by the combination of aversion with the activation of self-preservation reactions. 
    This part is not ineffable. What about music, though? Surely you aren’t indifferent to it? (I’m sure some people are, but probably few indeed.) What about the experience of hearing it, not the sound but the part that’s more emotion than perception. The emotion is generated by me. There’s nothing ineffable about that. The means by which this occurs are exceedingly complex and not part of my conscious awareness. But there’s nothing fundamentally different between my emotional reaction to a sequence of assonant and dissonant harmonies of vibrations in air and the paramecia heading towards the chemical signatures of food and away from the chemical signatures of toxins. 
    If a supernatural being appeared There’s already a logical failure in your scenario. Review Kiri-kin-tha’s First Law of Metaphysics. 
    I would also consider it possible I was experiencing a false reality, perhaps permanently, due to mental illness or whatever I guarantee you that you’re experiencing a false reality. You can’t not experience a false reality.

  40. My bringing up the real basis of folk psychology is another way of affirming the reality of mental content and first-person experiences That is precisely what is not the case. One does not affirm reality, one asserts principles, and those principles are not correct. 
    Donald Davidson pointed out that the only known success at real definition occurs in Plato’s Theaetetus at 147c Ah, what a relief. For a while there I thought you were serious.

  41. One does not affirm reality, one asserts principles, and those principles are not correct. 
     
    The reality of pain and pleasure affirms itself on each occasion of poking your eye or picking your nose, just as the reality of logic affirms itself on each application of rules to premisses. In both instances recursive reduction to ungrounded principles leads to a vicious regress.

  42. “such as the fact that biologically harmful events are often associated with pain.” 
     
    Ah, but there are no qualia there. Paramecia will swim away from higher concentrations of a toxin and towards lower – the result of a simple mechanical linkage between their sensory organs and their cilia. All minds are the same, merely with greater levels of complexity.
     
     
    As I said in one of my posts, the best way to refute this kind of assertion is in the same way that Dr Johnson refuted Berkeley. Except it isn’t a stone that you kick.  
     
    As someone else (Bertrand Russell?) once said, some doctrines are so absurd that only a very clever person would believe them.

  43. There’s already a logical failure in your scenario. Review Kiri-kin-tha’s First Law of Metaphysics. 
     
    Well yes. That’s why I paused to ask whether you considered so called “metaphysically possible” counterfactuals to be meaningful, and expressed doubts of my own. I had the same intuition, waveringly, when I first read Putnam’s “twin earth” stuff. We’re not alone, since the wiki article on the latter says “some philosophers believe that all such science-fiction thought experiments should be viewed with suspicion.”  
     
    Well, I doubt we are going to convince each other of much, but it’s been real. Heck, at least you’re not a pro-qualia emergentist – for whatever reason, they’re the ones who really get my goat!

  44. Philosophers and bookish people generally tend to live a life dominated by words, and even to forget that it is the essential function of words to have a connection of one sort or another with facts, which are in general non-linguistic. Some modern philosophers have gone so far as to say that words should never be confronted with facts but should live in a pure, autonomous world where they are compared only with other words. When you say, ‘the cat is a carnivorous animal’, you do not mean that actual cats eat actual meat, but only that in zoology books the cat is classified among carnivora. These authors tell us that the attempt to confront language with fact is ‘metaphysics’ and is on this ground to be condemned. This is one of those views which are so absurd that only very learned men could possibly adopt them. What makes it peculiarly absurd is its blindness to the position of language in the world of fact. Language consists of sensible phenomena just as much as eating or walking, and if we can know nothing about facts we cannot know what other people say or even what we are saying ourselves. 
    –Bertrand Russell, My Philosophical Development, Chapter 13: “Language”, Simon & Schuster, 1959

  45. David I read your above-linked essays. Ever wonder why many animals are beautiful/pleasurable to man, and some are neutral or ugly? 
     
    I can understand why there are objective similarities in the sounds of animal threats – hissing, shrieking, scraping – and why they are alarming/aversive to man. If you are some animal, taxa infrequently encountered by you, and not under strong selection to understand your threats in particular, will understand you much better if you conform to the “lingua franca.” Thus convergent evolution favors hissing, and geese sound a lot like snakes. 
     
    Beauty is harder to explain. Deleterious mutation theory a la Miller predicts that many (but why not all?) taxa should show informationally complex patterns easily messed up by deleterious mutations. But it doesn’t predict that the patterns should be found beautiful by man, or generally across taxa. I suppose it could be like stotting, a cross-taxon honest signal of vitality, but I don’t think this idea works too well. If you are a beautiful human and a lion is stalking you and can tell you are beautiful (because beauty has some consistent math/logic across taxa), it might help. The lion perceives your genetic quality and is less eager to attack. But when you yourself stalk prey in turn, the prey is even cagier because you can’t cover your beauty. 
     
    Most North American birds have vocalizations that sound sort of “OK,” or kinda nice. But our Wood Thrush sounds intoxicating (see link). I always wonder why. Some of our /Catharus/ thrushes sound even more rarefied, especially Hermit and Veery.  
     
    http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Wood_Thrush/sounds 
     
    http://www.math.sunysb.edu/~tony/birds/thrushes.html 
     
    Your riddle of so many flowers smelling good to man is interesting. Are there perhaps enough nectarivore-fructivores to “tie” the scent/taste of flowers to that of fruits? I’m thinking birds, bats, butterflies, wasps. I couldn’t google anything on hummingbirds eating fruit, but there are birds and butterflies that go for both. I know bats eat both but I’m not sure any single bat taxon does. Anyway, if man cues on the same fruit scents that birds and insects do, that might explain the good smell of most flowers.

  46. Again, no respondent to date has shown a capacity to hack Jerry Fodor?s logic. Briefly, selection for a phenotypic trait can distinguish between coextensive traits in one of two ways: if it is governed by a law or if it is directed by a mind. Neither of these alternatives are available to a Darwinist. Harnad has tried to talk his way around the former horn of this dilemma: There’s no need to speak of anything as fancy as a “law.” It is enough to point out the simple (but true, and richly predictive and productive) regularity (eventually discovered to be embodied in the genome) that there is variance in heritable traits and that those (heritable) traits that enhance reproductive success tend to increase their frequency in the next generation, relative to (heritable) traits that diminish it. That’s really all there is to it.This is a non-response, in so far as by Fodor’s hypothesis, we are dealing with a case of selection for coextensive phenotypic traits, upon which any heritable variance and enhancement of reproductive success would bear in equal measure. That’s really all that needs to be said about it.

  47. Neither of these alternatives are available to a Darwinist. 
     
    WHO THE FUCK USES THE WORD ‘DARWINIST’? (aside from richard dawkins and creationists)

  48. RTFM

  49. As I said in one of my posts, the best way to refute this kind of assertion is in the same way that Dr Johnson refuted Berkeley. Except it isn’t a stone that you kick.Except that the stone-kicking didn’t refuse Berkeley. And neither side in that argument was correct, because neither understood what they were saying, much less what the other was. 
     
    There is no “special quality of experience”. Not with the color blue, not with pain, not with pleasure. Again, if you can grasp why the orientation of the retinal image is irrelevant to how we can see more-or-less successfully, you have the necessary structures to grasp why qualia do not exist. 
     
    Having the necessary motivation is another matter. 
     
    razib, may I suggest you avoid responding to Mr. Zeleny? Nothing productive can come of such interaction. DFTT.

  50. Anyway, if man cues on the same fruit scents that birds and insects do, that might explain the good smell of most flowers. Most flowers have no particular scent to humans beyond a sort of vegetable odor which is often not noticeable unless they’re crushed. 
     
    Rather a lot have unpleasant odors. 
     
    And keep in mind that there are substances which humans find pleasant that most animals abhor. Many herbs’ aromatics repel insects and most mammals, which is probably why we evolved to find them pleasant.

  51. You have a point about flowers. When I think of nice smelling ones I mainly come up with domestics and ferals, which aren’t fair to have in the sample since their smell might have promoted our domesticating them in the first place. It’s not like I know every wild bush, herb, and tree in America but I know a large number. 
     
    > if you can grasp why the orientation of the retinal image is irrelevant to how we can see more-or-less successfully, you have the necessary structures to grasp why qualia do not exist. 
     
    While addressing a concrete example is probably wise, your essay scarcely explains why you hold this.  
     
    Because humans can function wearing inversion goggles? I don’t see the connection there. 
     
    Because the image “in itself” turns out not to have a quale of upside-downness that “survives” our brains’ interpretation of the information? I hardly find that odd. 
     
    Because people eventually lose the quale of upside-downness after wearing the goggles for a long time? You don’t mention this, but I have heard it claimed by a dude I used to know. I can’t vouch for it.

  52. There is really no point in arguing with someone who maintains that qualia do not exist. To anyone who maintains this position (and its corollary that sensations of pain have no causal role, since they do not exist) I can only recommend the following experimental protocol: 
     
    a) take a heavy hammer in your right hand 
     
    b) hit your left thumb with the hammer, hard 
     
    c) keep repeating the process, at intervals of 5 seconds, until convinced that qualia exist. 
     
    Perhaps Caledonian could try this out and let us know the result.

  53. To anyone who maintains this position (and its corollary that sensations of pain have no causal role, since they do not exist) The kindest thing I can say at this point is that you appear to be arguing for a pop-cultural understanding of ‘qualia’ that is very different from the actual, formal, concept. 
     
    I’m not arguing that sensations do not exist and have no causal role. I’m arguing that there are no mysterious properties of those sensations that are not someone incommunicable and that somehow represent an explanatory gap which science doesn’t know how to cross. 
     
    The formal definition of qualia does require that they not exist. That definition is stupid.

  54. Because humans can function wearing inversion goggles? I don’t see the connection there. Frogs cannot properly function given an equivalent alteration of their visual input, because their motor responses are directly triggered by the signal. Their nervous systems cannot adapt to re-connect a visual stimulus with the motor triggers for a particular direction. That is very important to recognize. 
    Because the image “in itself” turns out not to have a quale of upside-downness that “survives” our brains’ interpretation of the information? No. But please note that the retinal signal “in itself” does not have an “upside-down” property. 
    Because people eventually lose the quale of upside-downness after wearing the goggles for a long time? You don’t mention this, but I have heard it claimed by a dude I used to know. I can’t vouch for it. There’s no quale. There’s just a signal. Properties of the signal trigger responses of the nervous system, and those responses determine output both of subsystems and the system as a whole. 
     
    Infants do not possess the requisite correlations between their senses, their intentions, and their muscular controls. They just flail. They have to *learn*, through trial-and-error and feedback, how to associate visual signals and how to co-ordinate muscular reactions appropriately. 
     
    Those relationships do not require anything approaching even the popular understanding of qualia, which has nothing to do with the formal definition. There is no sense of “leftness”. If the relationship between the visual signal and muscular response is suddenly changed (as happens when the goggles are worn), our brains change the links between muscular control and vision through a process of trial-and-error and feedback until a signal from *this* part of the retina results in directed movement to the correct region of space. 
     
    Our sense of “leftness”, like our sense of color, is just a grouping of pointer variables that refer back to different excitation states of brain regions. The exact nature of the excitation is irrelevant. The pointer variables have no properties other than referring back to those states, which is why people who have particular kinds of damage to their visual processing centers can no longer imagine or even remember color. There is no special “experience” of different colors to be remembered, or communicated.

  55. I’m not arguing that sensations do not exist and have no causal role. 
     
    Well, now I really am confused, as I thought that was precisely what you were arguing. 
     
    The formal definition of qualia does require that they not exist. That definition is stupid. 
     
    Whose formal definition? A definition which requires the non-existence of its definiendum would indeed be stupid. Perhaps you could give me a reference. (Not to your own works.)

  56. I’m arguing that there are no mysterious properties of those sensations that are not someone incommunicable and that somehow represent an explanatory gap which science doesn’t know how to cross. 
     
    Which is of no relevance whatsoever to Fodor’s argument being discussed here.

  57. To the bulk of my criticisms of Fodor’s argument, you didn’t respond at all. Then after a brief pause, you unshamefacedly strutted through the center of the lek. I admire your unsentimental audacity, but the millions of slender, ingenious, fertile young beauties engrossed in this comment thread worldwide will never be hoodwinked by such a simplistic tactic.  
     
    You studiously avoid, in particular, saying whether streptomycin-resistant tubercle bacilli were selected for resistance to streptomycin. In other words, is Fodor’s argument of any relevance whatsoever to actual science?  
     
    I’ll provide a precis, as you did, which does you credit since it makes a mistaken position more refutable. Only one phenotype is selected by natural, social, or sexual selection: proliferation. Proliferation that’s above the population mean. No other intensional discription of this extension looks good to parsimony. Parsimony and pragmatic, revisable models characterize science; claims of ultimate truth don’t. 
     
    The theory of natural selection is not a “tautology.” More precisely, there is no such theory; the theory is evolution by natural selection. Evolution happens because the max-proliferation phenotype is not always the same. 
     
    Conclusions about selective events in a given taxon’s past have nothing to do with proper “laws” and are no different epistemologically from reconstructing the past in any other discipline, including plate tectonics or questions about events at Waterloo. Figuring out what the latitude of Australia was 700 million years ago is not qualitatively different from figuring out why Napoleon lost at Waterloo, it’s merely easier.

  58. To the bulk of my criticisms of Fodor’s argument, you didn’t respond at all.  
     
    I am not interested in addressing anyone’s but Fodor’s notion of what makes for his argument, given the availability of its summary by Fodor. 
     
    You studiously avoid, in particular, saying whether streptomycin-resistant tubercle bacilli were selected for resistance to streptomycin. In other words, is Fodor’s argument of any relevance whatsoever to actual science?  
     
    Under the hitherto undisputed analysis, “selected for” is an intensional predicate, whose application can be warranted by invoking laws of selection, or intentional intervention therein. Since neither alternative obtains in the instant matter, the answer is “no”. As for the relevance to actual science, it might turn on the classification of evolutionary models of language, behavior, and cognition. 
     
    Parsimony and pragmatic, revisable models characterize science; claims of ultimate truth don’t. 
     
    This account of science leaves out every discipline amenable to formal analysis. There goes theoretical physics, structural and generative linguistics, and every other field supported by mathematics. Here is an excellent starting point for understanding why the razor should not be applied undiscriminately. 
     
    Figuring out what the latitude of Australia was 700 million years ago is not qualitatively different from figuring out why Napoleon lost at Waterloo, it’s merely easier. 
     
    This is an open question.

  59. I am not interested in addressing anyone’s but Fodor’s notion of what makes for his argument, given the availability of its summary by Fodor. 
     
    My (main) problem with Fodor’s argument is that Fodor’s conception of ‘Darwinism’ is a straw man conjured out of his own prejudices. Let me illustrate this with a single concrete example. Fodor says the following: 
     
    The usual way to understand cases where a process distinguishes between coextensive traits is to claim that the process is INTENSIONAL. 
    This is what Darwin does; he introduces the intensional context ‘select for…’. By stipulation, one but not the other of two coextensive traits can be selected for in an evolutionary process.
     
     
    This passage attributes to Darwin a specific form of argument and wording, but Fodor does not justify this attribution by any quotation or citation from Darwin’s works. Now, I think I know Darwin’s works quite well, but I do not recognise this form of argument, and still less the specific wording ‘select for…’, in the sense of natural selection ‘selecting for’ a trait. I am not going to read through all of Darwin’s works looking for it, but anyone can search the works of Darwin online. I have just done this for the search terms ‘select for’, ‘selected for’, and ‘selection for’. Various search results came up, but none of them seem to have the required sense. Darwin does, on at least one occasion, refer to domesticated animals being ‘selected for’ a particular trait, but Fodor himself accepts that this usage is legitimate in the case of artificial selection. So far as natural selection is concerned, the argument seems to be an invention of Fodor, and I do not see much point in debating it. The building up and knocking down of straw men is a favourite occupation of philosophers, but I am happy to leave them to it.

  60. It’s important to realize that fitness is not some abstraction; it is simply proliferation or reproduction. Evolution by natural selection is actually a law; that is, it should hold for all nomologically possible situations. The law is simply that for any lineage of self-replicating objects, which inherits traits but constantly has new variation introduced (mutation), the lineage will evolve over time (assuming it survives). That’s because the objects are not all alike; thanks to mutation they have heritable differences, and some individual objects will be more proliferative than others, due to these heritable differences. 
     
    I’m not sure Fodor would necessarily disagree with that, though it does clash with what he says about “tautology.” 
     
    At any rate, that is a matter of evolution by natural selection as a principle. Fodor is more concerned with “selection for” in specific cases. While I did read his precis, I’m going to quite the manuscript: 
     
    “Laws can support counterfactuals.16 Arguably, that?s what makes laws different from mere true 
    empirical generalizations.” 
     
    A few lines further, he says implicitly that laws “determine outcomes” in situations “that are merely counterfactual, so long as they are nomologically possible.” 
     
    Again, evolution by natural selection meets these criteria. It holds for all nomologically possible objects under its scope (ie those that are self-replicating, have inheritance and mutation, etc). “Selection for” does NOT meet these criteria; it is in Fodor’s words a “mere true empirical generalization.” This is my key point. I think most scientists would say this is trivially true. Fodor again: 
     
    I?m inclined to think that explanations of phenotypes in terms of their selection histories generally aren?t nomological and that they don?t claim or even aspire to be. What they are is precisely what they seem on the face of them; 
    they?re historical explanations. Very roughly, historical explanations offer not covering laws but plausible narratives; narratives which (purport to) articulate the causal chain of events leading to the event that is the explanandum.
     
     
    Again, as I’ve been saying for days, this is quite true. More: 
     
    Likewise, I suppose that when a t1 creature competes with a t2 creature, some laws or other must govern the causal interactions between them. The question, however, is whether they are laws about competitions; or, indeed, whether they are even laws of biology. I don?t imagine Darwin would be pleased if it turned out that, thought there is indeed an explanation of the mutability of species, it exploits not the concepts of competition, selection and the like, but in (as it might be) the vocabulary of quantum 
    mechanics.35
     
     
    Sounds fine. I think the only laws at work there are the laws of physics, and the overall law of evolution by natural selection. There are “tendencies,” but not laws, about what phenotypes prevail under certain conditions. In species where it is often the case that multiple males mate with the same female, the two males’ sperms compete to reach eggs – and high sperm competition in a species usually means large testes and large ejaculates with many sperm cells. But I’m quite certain there are some nomologically possible conditions where this won’t hold true, because other factors can also influence testis size. 
     
    So, I absolutely agree that the selection of streptomycin resistant bacteria for resistance to streptomycin is a historical narrative or a mere empirically true fact. It is not a law, just a fact. I don’t see why this is a problem at all – do you, MZ, have any insight into this? 
     
    If you don’t accept that they were selected for streptomycin resistance, which for all I can tell Fodor does, you are going to have problems. Malaria is developing resistance to artemether right now. Why would we study it or take action to avert the spread of resistance, if we can’t conclude that the medical use of artemether is causing the resistance? You are potentially headed for some pretty weird conclusions on that front. 
     
    ———————————- 
     
    Here are some unrelated and not too important notes on earlier points: 
     
    >> Figuring out what the latitude of Australia was 700 million years ago is not qualitatively different from figuring out why Napoleon lost at Waterloo, it’s merely easier. 
     
    > This is an open question. 
     
    I perceive that you don’t want to discuss it, but I’d be interested to know what principles or paradoxes apply in your opinion. Probably I was wrong about there being no serious differences: most of our data on Waterloo comes to us via minds, or still worse involves claims about them, which is not true for tectonic plate history. And minds, of course, portend a mess. 
     
    I’m not sure, but you may have misinterpreted my use of “parsimony.” I certainly wasn’t arguing that math is a “needless entity” sensu Occam and so should not be used in scientific models. Math models are as good as verbal ones. By parsimony I simply meant that vast numbers (probably an infinity) of implausible models are rejected in doing science, even though they can’t be disproven.

  61. Whose formal definition? A definition which requires the non-existence of its definiendum would indeed be stupid. Perhaps you could give me a reference. (Not to your own works.)Okay.qualia are: 
     
    1. ineffable; that is, they cannot be communicated, or apprehended by any other means than direct experience. 
    2. intrinsic; that is, they are non-relational properties, which do not change depending on the experience’s relation to other things. 
    3. private; that is, all interpersonal comparisons of qualia are systematically impossible. 
    4. directly or immediately apprehensible in consciousness; that is, to experience a quale is to know one experiences a quale, and to know all there is to know about that quale. The necessary non-existence of qualia proceeds directly from those asserted properties.

  62. Caledonian:  
     
    I note that you use a definition of qualia from Wikipedia. As the ‘discussion page’ shows, this definition has been much fought over and amended. But let us take it as it stands. 
     
    I would quibble with some of the details of the definition. Notably, point 3 assumes the non-existence of telepathy, which is at best a contingent fact and not a logical necessity. 
     
    But even taking the definition as it stands, I don’t agree that the ‘necessary non-existence of qualia proceeds directly from these asserted properties’. If it did, the rest of the Wiki entry could be greatly shortened! I dare say you have ‘proved’ your point somewhere in your own posts, but I am not going to follow you down that rabbit hole.

  63. So, I absolutely agree that the selection of streptomycin resistant bacteria for resistance to streptomycin is a historical narrative or a mere empirically true fact. It is not a law, just a fact. I don’t see why this is a problem at all – do you, MZ, have any insight into this? 
     
    Refer to the beginning of Fodor’s paper. Its main concern is with rebutting the central claim of Evolutionary Psychology, “that heritable properties of psychological phenotypes are typically adaptations; which is to say that they are typically explained by their histories of selection”. Given the difficulties of ascribing intentional states like believing, desiring, and acting, to streptomycin resistant bacteria, you might want to look for examples higher up the phylogenetic ladder, involving a kind of creature to which such ascriptions are more plausible. 
     
    I perceive that you don’t want to discuss it, but I’d be interested to know what principles or paradoxes apply in your opinion. Probably I was wrong about there being no serious differences: most of our data on Waterloo comes to us via minds, or still worse involves claims about them, which is not true for tectonic plate history. And minds, of course, portend a mess. 
     
    Figuring out what the latitude of Australia was 700 million years ago is a matter of backtracking efficient causes that may be qualitatively different from backtracking final causes responsible for Napoleon’s loss at Waterloo. Even if final causes can be explained in terms of efficient causation, e.g. along the lines of Evolutionary Psychology, or in accordance with some computational model of mind, the material requirements of the requisite reckoning may exceed the physical bounds of our universe. It may also turn out that the computational capacities of human minds cannot suffice to model its own functioning, in keeping with Penrose’s arguments. It may even be the case that human agency is essentially libertarian, violating the principle of sufficient reason in each instance of choosing. We just don’t know how to rule out any of these scenarios. 
     
    I’m not sure, but you may have misinterpreted my use of “parsimony.” I certainly wasn’t arguing that math is a “needless entity” sensu Occam and so should not be used in scientific models. Math models are as good as verbal ones. By parsimony I simply meant that vast numbers (probably an infinity) of implausible models are rejected in doing science, even though they can’t be disproven. 
     
    Ontological commitment of theories is well understood and accounted for as stemming from their grammar. In this regard, a theory of mind committed to recognizing intentional states like believing, desiring, and acting is well nigh guaranteed to be less parsimonious than nominalistic alternatives. It is well understood that mathematics cannot be pursued nominalistically, as witness the programmatic failure of Goodman and Quine. In this regard, Alonzo Church submitted a crucial consideration:To those who object to the introduction of abstract entities at all I would say that I believe that there are more important criteria by which a theory should be judged. The extreme demand for a simple prohibition of abstract entities under all circumstances perhaps arises from a desire to maintain the connection between theory and observation. But the preference of (say) seeing over understanding as a method of observation seems to me to be capricious. For just as an opaque body may be seen, so a concept may be understood or grasped. And the parallel between the two cases is indeed rather close. In both cases the observation is not direct but through intermediaries — light, lens of eye or optical instrument, and retina in the case of the visible body, linguistic expressions in the case of the concept. And in both cases there are or may be tenable theories according to which the entity in question, opaque body or concept, is not assumed, but only those things which would be otherwise called its effects.Getting back to Fodor’s principal concern, the main challenge is to account for the mechanisms of understanding as typically explicable by their histories of selection. If his analysis of intensionality is correct, it cannot be done. More trenchantly, if mathematical models are essential for understanding natural selection, this understanding could not have been selected for naturally.

  64. I note that you use a definition of qualia from Wikipedia. Wrong. I use a definition that a Wikipedia article alludes to.Notably, point 3 assumes the non-existence of telepathy, which is at best a contingent fact and not a logical necessity. Wrong. I don’t agree that the ‘necessary non-existence of qualia proceeds directly from these asserted properties’. If it did, the rest of the Wiki entry could be greatly shortened! I dare say you have ‘proved’ your point somewhere in your own posts, but I am not going to follow you down that rabbit hole. Then you have nothing to offer to this conversation.

  65. “I note that you use a definition of qualia from Wikipedia.” 
     
    Wrong. I use a definition that a Wikipedia article alludes to.
     
     
    You yourself give a link to Wikipedia. The Wiki article itself claims that the four points derive from Daniel Dennett, but gives no citation, and does not state that the points are taken verbatim from Dennett. Nor, given the nature of Wikipedia, would I be willing to take it on trust that it accurately represents Dennett’s views. I think I am therefore entitled to decribe it as ‘a definition of qualia from Wikipedia’. I would be willing to add ‘and attributed to Dennett’. 
     
    “Notably, point 3 assumes the non-existence of telepathy, which is at best a contingent fact and not a logical necessity.” 
     
    Wrong.
     
     
    Point 3 of the ‘definition’ states that qualia are “private; that is, all interpersonal comparisons of qualia are systematically impossible.”  
     
    If telepathy existed, then ‘interpersonal comparisons’ of ‘subjective’ sensations might be possible: I might, for example, quite literally ‘feel your pain’. Do you disagree with this? Or do you disagree that telepathy is logically possible?  
     
    Then you have nothing to offer to this conversation. 
     
    I do not call it a conversation when you simply keep asserting that you are right and I am wrong, without giving anything that I can recognise as an argument. I have, in fact, looked at your own posts, but I see nothing that remotely justifies your claim that the existence of qualia (as defined in the Wiki article, and attributed to Dennett!) is logically impossible. There seems to be a lot of muddle about the criterion of ‘ineffability’. In one sense qualia may be ‘ineffable’, but that doesn’t mean we can’t say anything at all about them. For example, doctors have developed a refined vocabulary for discussing pain, which appears to be useful for diagnostic purposes. Or suppose I put a piece of burning rubber under my nose. I experience a ‘private’ sensation which I describe as the smell of burning rubber. You can do the same. We cannot be certain that our smells of burning rubber are subjectively the same, but we can talk about them, and probably agree on a large number of statements about them, for example that the smell of burning rubber is different from the scent of a rose, and less pleasant. If qualia did not exist, we could not talk about them, but we can, so they do.

  66. To return to the original topic: 
     
    Any regularity, no matter how transitory or temporary, can exert a selection pressure. The regularity can be the result of purely random behavior on the part of the environment. Physical laws and conscious intent are not required for selection to take place, nor for adaptation to occur. 
     
    This is obvious with only a little thought. We shouldn’t need to write papers rebutting “philosophers” who assert otherwise. razib’s efforts may be worthy, but they’re giving Fodor far more attention than he deserves.

  67. Any regularity, no matter how transitory or temporary, can exert a selection pressure. The regularity can be the result of purely random behavior on the part of the environment. Physical laws and conscious intent are not required for selection to take place, nor for adaptation to occur. 
     
    Fodor says nothing that contradicts any of the foregoing. What he points out is that selection for a phenotypic trait can distinguish between coextensive traits, only if it is governed by a law or directed by a mind.

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