Reg Prescott

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Reg Prescott last won the day on October 5

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  1. Perfection in Nature and Frank Sinatra

    If you go back to my first three or so posts on page 1, you'll get it. I'm suggesting that special creation implying perfection in nature may lead to paradox. ("gazelles evading predators that cannot be evaded", etc.) And if God is as helpless in the face of paradox as the rest of us, then He would have had to (hypothetically speaking) introduce imperfection in nature. If that's the case -- and I'm not arguing it is the case -- then the theory of special creation is not, contra the remarks in the OP quote, unable to explain imperfection in nature.
  2. Perfection in Nature and Frank Sinatra

    I know he's not. When he speaks of the workings of natural selection, he uses the word perfect in a relative sense (e.g. "more perfect"). When he alludes to the rival theory of special creation, on the other hand, he speaks of "absolute perfection" and cognates. Now, he clearly does not subscribe the the latter theory himself, but his writing makes it clear, I think, that either he himself believes, or it was commonly believed by others at the time, or both, that special creation implies absolute perfection. You'll see that I wrote back in my first post on page 2: "He uses "perfect" in both a relative (e.g. "more perfect") and an absolute sense ("absolute perfection"). (To which swansont replied: "You have provided no evidence of the latter. Just your assertion." The evidence is staring you in the face in black and white.) The point is turning out to be far more elusive than I'd imagined.
  3. Perfection in Nature and Frank Sinatra

    Here's the quote again from Origin: "As natural selection acts by competition, it adapts the inhabitants of each country only in relation to the degree of perfection of their associates; so that we need feel no surprise at the inhabitants of any one country, although on the ordinary view supposed to have been specially created and adapted for that country, being beaten and supplanted by the naturalised productions from another land. Nor ought we to marvel if all the contrivances in nature be not, as far as we can judge, absolutely perfect; and if some of them be abhorrent to our ideas of fitness. We need not marvel at the sting of the bee causing the bee's own death; at drones being produced in such vast numbers for one single act, and being then slaughtered by their sterile sisters; at the astonishing waste of pollen by our fir-trees; at the instinctive hatred of the queen bee for her own fertile daughters; at ichneumonidae feeding within the live bodies of caterpillars; and at other such cases. The wonder indeed is, on the theory of natural selection, that more cases of the want of absolute perfection have not been observed." (pages 417 - 418) So you're suggesting that when Darwin says "absolutely perfect" and "absolute perfection" he's using the term in a relative sense?
  4. Perfection in Nature and Frank Sinatra

    Hi again, Eise, Something else for you to ponder, haha! On page 1, just above that pic of the handsome rhino, you explained your thoughts on how a concept or a term -- I'll just say concept from now on to cover both -- such as "unicorn" (or "aardvark" or whatever) succeeds or fails to refer. Let me quote again: So, you offer us two definitions/descriptions that we might associate with the concept "unicorn": (i) a horse like creature with a silvery skin, and one long white, spirally formed horn that lies its head in the lap of a virgin, and (ii) an animal with one horn on its head Under (i) the description is not satisfied, thus the concept fails to refer; under the latter description reference is successful -- but it refers to rhinos and other single-horned beasts. Now, they do say one person's modus ponens is another person's modus tollens: what one person regards as a great discovery, another person regards as an absurd result. You seem to be endorsing -- perhaps not entirely seriously, though you did say "See, here's my unicorn" -- the former: that given description (ii) we have made the astonishing discovery that the concept "unicorn" refers to rhinos. I'd be inclined to adopt the latter position myself: the result that "unicorn" refers to rhinos constitutes a reductio ad absurdum of your theory of reference. When one's theory of reference yields the result that the concept "unicorn" refers to rhinoceroses, narwhals, and other horned critters that I can't think of, then your theory of reference may be due for an overhaul. Trivia time, folks. If you define "tail" to mean "leg", how many legs does an aardvark have?
  5. You're right that the presence of water (or twater) in the brain ushers in an unwanted complication, as others have pointed out. It's not catastrophic to the argument, though, as you suggest. If complications raised by water bother you, just choose another natural substance that is not found in the brain. If there is no such substance, then just stipulate that there is. Hey, if it's your thought experiment you can stipulate anything you like. The purpose of thought experiments is to bring to light conceptual issues. The guy who objects to Einstein's "riding on a light beam" thought experiment on the grounds "Hey! You'd fall off!" is, I would suggest, kinda missing the point.
  6. Perfection in Nature and Frank Sinatra

    I think this is obviously right, but not particularly relevant. What Darwin thought about natural selection is voluminously documented and needs no further elaboration here. The point of this thread, rather, has been to focus on what he thought about the traditional rival of evolutionary theories: special creation. Imagine we could travel back to 1859 or thereabouts and pose the following question to him: "Mr Darwin, we all know you don't believe the theory of special creation is true. But if it were true, what might we expect to see in nature: perfection or imperfection?" In the first page of the thread I've been suggesting -- though not insisting -- that Darwin would opt for the former (and thus paradox). And repeated allusions to special creation and absolute perfection in his own writings suggest precisely this. Why would he be mentioning perfection at all if it was not believed (by himself or others) that this is implied by the creation hypothesis? Surely not. I don't think there's any doubt that Darwin was weighing the merits of his own theory against those of its traditional rival: special creation. Even in the quoted passage, he does exactly that. E.g. "[...] although on the ordinary view supposed to have been specially created and adapted for that country [...]" Then I think either you're mistaken or else your usage is non-standard. On standard usage, an empty concept is one which has no referent or extension. I quote from "Concepts and Cognitive Science" by Laurence and Margolis: "These considerations are all the more vivid if we consider the large stock of empty concepts that we possess, concepts such as UNICORN and ELF. All of these concepts are correlated with the same thing, namely, nothing." This is not to say, of course, that empty concepts are meaningless. We all can, and we all do, speak of elves, unicorns, Santa Claus, and honest politicians without any breakdown in understanding. It's just that such concepts do not (as far as we can tell) refer to anything in reality. I disagree that your sentence "makes no sense", moreover, the sentence seems prima facie to be quite true. If you have any doubts, just ask your friends: "Hey guys! Unicorns do not exist: true or false?" It is indeed a puzzle, though, how we can say of that which does not exist that it does not exist. This is the problem of "negative existentials" -- a big deal in the philosophy of language! Read more here: Finally... To repeat what I said before, you, qua scientific realist, want to say something like the following: "Though it's true that there have been many theories of atoms, from Dalton through Rutherford and Bohr, and many others, and it's true that Dalton and the others had some false beliefs about atoms -- they misdescribed atoms to a greater or lesser degree -- it is nonetheless true that these were all progressively better theories about the same type of entity. Dalton (or whoever we want to start with) latched onto something real in nature, and continuity of reference has been sustained through all subsequent theories of atoms". But you cannot say this given the purely descriptivist theory of reference that you sketch on page 1 (in the post with that handsome rhino pic). If you want to say the above, you'll need a new theory of reference. Supposing you're at a party and some dude mentions the name "Einstein". You ask him who he's talking about. He replies: "You know, Einstein. The famous German scientist who discovered penicillin and led the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt". On your own account of reference we are compelled to the conclusion that, inasmuch as the description associated with the name is (presumably) not satisfied by any real person, the aforementioned dude's use of the name "Einstein" fails to refer. He's talking about no one. Now suppose Dalton is at the same party and mutters something about atoms. You ask him what he's talking about. He replies: "You know, atoms. These little particles that are indivisible and ...". Once again, on your own account, we must conclude that Dalton's term "atom" fails to refer. He's talking about nothing. Or, if by some fluke, there is something in nature that corresponds to his description, it's certainly not what 21st century scientists call "atoms". If your own theory of reference is correct, there is no continuity of reference from Dalton, through his successors, to the present day. So your options are: (i) Concede the above (ii) Get a new theory of reference that allows you to say what you want to say about reference continuity (iii) Join the French foreign legion
  7. The most famous attempt in philosophy to refute the the brain-in-a-vat scenario was proposed by Hilary Putnam. Putnam's argument is based on semantic externalism; the somewhat counterintuitive, though currently dominant, position nowadays, I hazard, that meanings are not (entirely) in the head. In other words, if you think you are infallible about what you mean -- "I know what I mean, dammit!" -- think again. The externalist school of thought was later extended to cover all mental/psychological (I'll use the terms interchangeably hereafter) states with "intentionality" such as beliefs, desires, hopes, etc. That is to say, and taking the example of beliefs, that the content of our beliefs is not entirely determined by what's between your ears; the environment plays a role, too. Put another way, two brains might be exact physical duplicates, yet not be identical mentally. Same brain, different minds. (To be more precise than "same brain" we should say: two tokens of the same brain type) Putnam illustrates his externalism by way of a celebrated "Twin Earth" thought experiment. Read all about it here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twin_Earth_thought_experiment So, let's suppose you, Empleat, have a molecular doppelgänger on Twin Earth. He's also called Empleat, but we'll call him Twempleat for clarity. And when we say "water", they do too (we'll call their word "twater"), but our word refers to H20, while theirs refers to XYZ. Now, on Putnam's account, when you entertain the thought (i.e., belief), or utter the statement, "Water quenches thirst", Twempleat does so too, but the propositions expressed by the statements are different. The proposition Empleat expresses by the statement/thought, "Water quenches thirst" is "H2O quenches thirst ". The proposition Twempleat expresses by the statement/thought, "Water quenches thirst" is "XYZ quenches thirst". Your brains are (type) identical; your thoughts are not. Your thought (belief) is about water (H20); his is about twater (XYZ). Putnam uses the same kind of reasoning to argue that an envatted brain would be psychologically distinguished from an identical brain properly embodied, as I assume yours is. If you buy into the externalist school of thought -- and not everyone does -- then I think Putnam does indeed prove that your thought (belief) "We are all brains in vats" is distinct from your twin envatted brain's thought "We are all brains in vats" -- though, of course, this difference could never be discovered by probing around in your respective grey matter. They are, after all, physically identical, by hypothesis. The difference lies, as with the Twin Earth scenario, in your causal relationships with the environment. In the jargon of the externalists, your thoughts would have the same narrow content, but different wide content. Putnam goes further, though, in claiming you can know you are not a brain in a vat. This was your concern in the OP. Whether or not he succeeds in this remains unclear. Seems to me he does not. https://www.iep.utm.edu/brainvat/
  8. Perfection in Nature and Frank Sinatra

    @ Phi for All Is it necessary to ask what the consequences would be if a member who not only knew little or nothing about physics, moreover was openly hostile to the discipline, entered a thread in the Physics area of the site in order to propagate ignorance and spite? Why, then, is it allowed in the Philosophy section of the site? Eise seems fairly knowledgeable in philosophy and I've been enjoying our exchange. The other "contributors", however, as far as I can discern, know as much philosophy as I know about Hilbert spaces, i.e., diddly-squat. You did say above, "ignorance is antithetical to our purpose", did you not?
  9. Perfection in Nature and Frank Sinatra

    It would be tedious, and from previous experience, futile, to go through swansont's entire post and correct all the errors. For purposes of illustration I'll do this only for the first point; the rest follow a similar pattern. Here's what was said: (Last post on page 1) Swansont quotes Darwin: "Natural selection tends only to make each organic being as perfect as, or slightly more perfect than, the other inhabitants of the same country with which it has to struggle for existence." To which swansont remarks (same post) : "The phrase "more perfect" is inconsistent with the notion that he's talking about some "absolute perfection". " [my bold emphasis] I reply (third post on page 2): "I don't think so. On the grounds (i) Darwin says "tends to", not "invariably". The statement, as it stands, is quite consistent with natural selection sometimes producing absolute perfection." To which swansont adds another nonsensical reply (his most recent post). So, the dispute, basically, rests on whether two statements are mutually consistent (i.e. generate no contradiction) or not. First, by way of analogy -- because I fear swansont's errors are being overlooked by other posters, and myself regarded as a bs artist -- consider the following statement: (i) hens tend to lay eggs that are around 5 cms long and (ii) hens sometimes lay eggs that are 3 cms long (iii) hens sometimes lay eggs that are 7 cms long (iv) hens sometimes lay eggs the size of Jupiter Is (i) consistent with (ii) and (iii)? Clearly yes. How about (iv)? The answer, once again, is "yes" -- no contradiction is generated. Now, we all know, as a matter of fact, that hens do not lay eggs the size of Jupiter. This is besides the point. The question is: are the two statements consistent? The answer -- to repeat -- is "yes". With this is mind, consider again the following two statements: (v) Natural selection tends only to make each organic being as perfect as, or slightly more perfect than, the other inhabitants of the same country with which it has to struggle for existence and (vi) Natural selection sometimes produces absolute perfection Forget all about what in fact natural selection does or does not do. Forget also all about what Darwin may or may not have believed natural selection does or does not do. This is irrelevant. The only relevant question right now is whether or not (v) and (vi) are consistent. I say yes; swansont says no. As for you, Phi, and your accusation of my "not supporting my arguments", the last time we crossed swords was in this thread: In your first post (page 1), you make some typical derogatory and condescending remarks about my argument(s). By the time we reach your third post (also page 1) you tell us my argument is not an argument at all! If that's not a contradiction I'll eat my Sinatra fedora. After that, you simply disappear, making no attempt whatsoever to support your claim that I considered dubious (see OP). Readers will notice my own posts to Phi typically contain phrases such as "with no disrespect intended to any of our members" and "I have to respectfully disagree". Phi's own posts to myself, on the other hand, are replete with slights such as "there must be something hindering your critical thinking", "your fixation on mistakes", "obtuse", and "preaching". The people may judge for themselves. I mean, let the lynching begin. Twas ever thus. Edit P.S. "Also, if you're planning to NOT respond to select participating members [...]" -- Phi for All The members I assume you refer to (Strange, Beecee, Studiot) have been repeatedly abusive, filling my threads with irrelevancies, inanities and provocation. A moderator I spoke with was quite unsympathetic; reporting offensive posts had no effect. So now I simply ignore them. Is that ok?
  10. Perfection in Nature and Frank Sinatra

    I quote the following from the "Biases and Content Control" thread: Sorry to say swansont, but that's exactly what you've done since I've known you, and it's exactly what you're doing now. In my previous thread on "Challenging Science" I abandoned all hope of impartial, rational discussion when you dismissed Max Born's expert testimony on the role of dogma in science on grounds of "fallacy of appeal to authority". After I refuted this, the flaccid, must-win-the-debate response from yourself was (roughly), "Well, he might be an authority on science, but he's not an authority on dogma". When heights of silliness such as these are attained, it's time to call it a day, and focus on those members willing to play by the rules. I look forward to Eise's response.
  11. Perfection in Nature and Frank Sinatra

    @ Eise I'm not sure where you stand on the scientific realism vs antirealism debate, or whether you take a stance at all. I would like to point out, though, that the kind of descriptivist theory of term/concept reference that you sketched for us has potentially catastrophic consequences for the scientific realist. Here's what you said again (previous page): So, on your account, if anything out there in nature satisfies the description "a horse like creature with a silvery skin, and one long white, spirally formed horn that lies its head in the lap of a virgin" then we can say that the term (or concept) "unicorn" refers. We have "latched onto" something real in nature. Conversely, if the description is not satisfied, then we say that the term "unicorn" fails to refer. It's an empty term/concept. It's a term/concept about nothing. We have failed to latch onto anything real. (And, of course, the same applies, mutatis mutandis, for the alternative description you offered: "an animal with one horn on its head"). Now, here's (roughly) what the scientific realist would like to say, and I'll take atoms as our example: "Though it's true that there have been many theories of atoms, from Dalton through Rutherford and Bohr, and many others, and it's true that Dalton and the others had some false beliefs about atoms -- they misdescribed atoms to a greater or lesser degree -- it is nonetheless true that these were all progressively better theories about the same type of entity. Dalton (or whoever we want to start with) latched onto something real in nature, and continuity of reference has been sustained through all subsequent theories of atoms". Now, given your own descriptivist theory of reference, the realist cannot say this. The description that Dalton and others offered of atoms -- the properties they attributed to atoms -- to a greater or lesser degree, are no longer countenanced by present day science. And as with your unicorn example, if the description is not satisfied, then we are forced to say that the term "(Dalton's) atom" fails to refer. It's an empty term/concept. Dalton and his successors failed to latch onto anything real. Rather than continuity of reference and a succession of better and better theories about the same thing, we have a succession of theories about nothing, with the possible exception of the current one. And it's the end of the world.
  12. Perfection in Nature and Frank Sinatra

    I don't think so. On the grounds (i) Darwin says "tends to", not "invariably". The statement, as it stands, is quite consistent with natural selection sometimes producing absolute perfection, in fact seems to logically imply precisely this. "Tends to" implies there are exceptions. And (ii) Ignoring the "tends to" qualification, Darwin's statement is perfectly consistent with: "Natural selection only makes each organic being as perfect as, or slightly more perfect than, the other inhabitants of the same country with which it has to struggle for existence -- unlike special creation which would produce absolute perfection". Quite so. It's like trying to sing better than Frank Sinatra. A fool's errand. It's not possible. Darwin, I concede, is not being as clear as he might have. He uses "perfect" in both a relative (e.g. "more perfect") and an absolute sense ("absolute perfection"). Again, this does not follow. On the grounds (i) Darwin says "nor do we always meet [absolute perfection]" which logically entails that we sometimes meet it, and suggests -- though does not entail -- that this is the norm rather than the exception, i.e., to paraphrase "We usually meet this, but not always". (Note here that Darwin's "Natural selection will not produce absolute perfection" contradicts his earlier remark that it tends not to do so.) (ii) "as far as we can judge" represents an epistemic disclaimer; he lacks the means to identify absolute perfection. Thus, everything in nature may be absolutely perfect, for all he knows. Likewise for nothing in nature being absolutely perfect. Now, my thesis may indeed be false. It is, however, by no means "flat-out denied" by anything just said.
  13. Perfection in Nature and Frank Sinatra

    Hi again, Unfortunately, Elliott Sober is no more specific about context than quoted in the OP. After reading through the final chapter of Origin, though, the following passage is quite telling: "As natural selection acts by competition, it adapts the inhabitants of each country only in relation to the degree of perfection of their associates; so that we need feel no surprise at the inhabitants of any one country, although on the ordinary view supposed to have been specially created and adapted for that country, being beaten and supplanted by the naturalised productions from another land. Nor ought we to marvel if all the contrivances in nature be not, as far as we can judge, absolutely perfect; and if some of them be abhorrent to our ideas of fitness. We need not marvel at the sting of the bee causing the bee's own death; at drones being produced in such vast numbers for one single act, and being then slaughtered by their sterile sisters; at the astonishing waste of pollen by our fir-trees; at the instinctive hatred of the queen bee for her own fertile daughters; at ichneumonidae feeding within the live bodies of caterpillars; and at other such cases. The wonder indeed is, on the theory of natural selection, that more cases of the want of absolute perfection have not been observed." (pages 417 - 418) http://www.f.waseda.jp/sidoli/Darwin_Origin_Of_Species.pdf Now, this passage seems to make clear that Darwin was not contrasting the imperfections found in nature (as would be expected from natural selection) against a better, albeit imperfect, design -- as you suggested -- that we might expect if special creation were true. Rather, he's contrasting imperfection with absolute perfection. Compare with this remark from your second last post: "But if you apply it to the effectivity of animal bodies it makes perfect sense: they could have [been] designed better". Darwin appears to be saying they could not only have been designed better, but perfectly. I'd agree with all of this, Eise, except the suggestion that the concept of a 4-angled triangle is "meaningless". It's not particularly relevant to our argument, though the concept seems perfectly meaningful to me. We can understand it, right? (Compare with the concept FERLUD GERCILP) If something is meaningless surely we would not be able to understand it. It's just that the concept of a 4-angled triangle is not only uninstantiated (like the concept UNICORN), but cannot be instantiated. As you rightly note, it fails to refer. Frege would say, though, it has a sense (and thus meaningful), but no referent. Ah, now we're straying a wee bit off topic. This stuff fascinates me, though. What you're assuming here is that reference is determined by the satisfaction of a description (a la Russell and Frege). Kripke and Putnam, as you probably know, offer an alternative theory of reference, applicable to at least proper names and so-called natural kind terms, under which reference is secured via a causal chain, as opposed to the unique satisfaction of a description. On this alternative view, reference of the concept UNICORN (which presumably has no extension or referent) or FRANK SINATRA (which presumably does, or did, have a referent) is secured through the user being causally connected in the right way to the referent. For example, Joe Sixpack might not be able to offer but the vaguest description of Richard Feynman, say, ("Er, he's a famous scientist or something"), a description that does not uniquely single Prof Feynman out, though on the Kripke/Putnam account, successful reference can nonetheless be achieved. It seems counterintuitive to say that just coz poor ole Joe is unable to uniquely identify Richard Feynman, he cannot refer to him. And for reasons such as this, classical descriptivist theories of reference are pretty much moribund.
  14. Perfection in Nature and Frank Sinatra

    @ Eise I'd like to retract the following statement from my previous post: "The concepts are clearly not empty." I was talking crap.
  15. Perfection in Nature and Frank Sinatra

    Hi again, Quite the opposite! The argument is based on the idea that "such things as perfect gazelles and lions" does not make any sense, by which I mean the co-existence of perfect gazelles and perfect lions leads to paradox of the spear-shield type. The concepts are clearly not empty. You just tokened them. As did I. What we can say, instead, is that the concepts do not refer (cf. the concept of a unicorn: we all have the concept, but the concept suffers from "reference failure"). Sigh! This always happens. For the record, for the zillionth time LOL, I'm not religious. I don't believe in God. The argument has nothing whatsoever to do with undermining evolution. It's purely conceptual in nature, and its thrust -- assuming it is sound -- lies in refuting the claim that special creation, if true, would fail, contra Darwin, to explain imperfection in nature.