18 October 2014

Does Santa Claus exist?

I remember once when I was in a fairly heated debate with a Christian apologist, and when I made some comment regarding evidence, he retorted that I needed justify my belief in "evidentialism". It was one of those moments where my first thought was "are you f**king kidding me", even though I knew my response needed to be somewhat more measured. You'd never walk into a courtroom and declare that evidence need not be taken seriously until the prosecution establishes the validity of evidentialism or some kind of verificationism. And, as someone once said, if you told a Christian their spouse was having an affair, they'd certainly expect you to present some evidence; but tell them that God became his own father through a virgin birth and sacrificed himself to himself to save humans from his own punishment, and they seem to require no evidence at all.

Looking back on my debates with various apologists, a persistent source of frustration was that any conversation about evidence inevitably went down the rabbit hole of convoluted and obscure epistemological frameworks and their justification, like whether "testimony" can be considered a "properly basic belief" (it can't). There's a vast gulf between the way academic theologians (and the wannabes) think about everyday concepts and the way they think about God.

There's a book that illustrates how deeply convoluted this kind of thinking can be, and it's called Does Santa Exist? by Eric Kaplan. Think it's an open and shut case? Well, it's not — at least not from a philosophical point of view. Answering the question in any manner requires us to have some assumptions about epistemology and ontology, and we quickly find that arriving at what might seem like an intuitive answer is more complicated than it may first appear.

Whenever an apologist type rattles off the obscure philosophical justifications for their beliefs, I like to remind them that a simple litmus test is to simply substitute any other arbitrary belief for their religious one, then attempt to justify it using the same framework. Think a complex, philosophically nuanced case for the existence of Santa cannot be constructed from virtually identical epistemological frameworks as those used to 'prove' the existence of God? It can, and Kaplan — though the book isn't about God — gives us some clues as to why.

Kaplan makes use of some pretty clever marketing, with a choose-your-own-adventure style series of YouTube videos. So what do you think? Does Santa exist?

p.s. — Remember my last post? This is me not blogging. 

12 October 2014

I'm blogging again, but...

My comrade in blog, Bud Uzoras, has closed the door on his fabulous blog Dead Logic. I highly recommended keeping it bookmarked and just perusing the archives from time to time.

Bud hits on a note that resonates with me, though, when he says,
I've reached the point in which Dead-Logic is no longer what it once was for me. Like I said, I haven't figured out everything or answered all the questions, but I've laid the foundation upon which I now stand. This blog was my means of building that foundation.
When I started The A-Unicornist, it was just a way for me to organize my thoughts and work through difficult issues. Writing has always helped me in that way. It's grown to have its own little audience, and after five years, over 1000 posts and close to a million hits, I'm proud of how far it's come. But it's just not as important to me as it once was.

I almost got the urge to write recently when I read a piece by William Lane Craig in which he claimed that without God and eternal life, our life here is meaningless. I mean, believers (well... the more intellectually engaged ones) eat that stuff up, and I'd have a field day tearing it several new buttholes. But I just couldn't bring myself to care enough to spend the time writing the post.

I've spent who-knows-how-many hours debating believers on this blog and others, and it's just an endless morass. And while I see the value in healthy debate, it wears out its welcome fairly quickly as egos flair. I just don't have the interest in engaging in these discussions anymore. I'm an atheist. I'm about to marry the love of my life. I have a great house, fabulous kids (that is, a cat and a puppy), an amazingly fun and rewarding job, and spare time to play on my gaming PC and practice guitar. I'm living a charmed life, and I just don't care enough about what other people believe to continually open well-trodden discussions.

I'm not closing down The A-Unicornist. I was talking about it with Vanessa, and she said it right: "You may need it again". And indeed I may. I actually really enjoy talking about religion and philosophy. But there are only so many times we can tread the same ground, and I'd just rather spend my leisure time doing things I think are more fun than arguing with religious people.

I've actually been working more on my PC gaming blog, PC Gaming Are Yes! (named such for no particular reason). I love gaming, I love building PCs, and I love laughing at the console minions with their feeble PS4s and XBox Ones with my overclocked, graphics-crushing uber-rig. Plus it's Fall, which means lots of new games are coming out. Years ago I wrote for a video game webzine called GameCritics.com, and I really do miss writing about games. PC Gaming Are Yes! may never have much of an audience, but I don't care. It's still fun to write.

But oh yeah, The A-Unicornist. It's going into hibernation. I mean, it's already been that way for a bit, but now it's like, f'real. I don't know when, or even if, I'll fire it back up. I'm sure in time, like Vanessa said, I'll need it again. But for now, even though I'm not closing the door, I'm walking through it and letting the blog rest for a while. Thanks for reading and especially for commenting, and until next time... enjoy the archives.

06 October 2014

Gay marriage expands to 30 states, conservative religious assholes react with indignant anger

This isn't a news blog, so I'll just celebrate the Supreme Court's dismissal of gay marriage bans and the first same-sex marriage license in my hometown of Tulsa, OK, with this beautiful ad from Cheerios:

And you know you've won a big victory when conservatives who masquerade their bigotry as religious piety make statements like this one, issued by Oklahoma governor Mary Fallin:
"The people of Oklahoma have the right to determine how marriage is defined.  In 2004, Oklahomans exercised that right, voting by a margin of 3-1 to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

"The will of the people has now been overridden by unelected federal justices, accountable to no one.  That is both undemocratic and a violation of states' rights.  Rather than allowing states to make their own policies that reflect the values and views of their residents, federal judges have inserted themselves into a state issue to pursue their own agendas.

"Today's decision has been cast by the media as a victory for gay rights.  What has been ignored, however, is the right of Oklahomans and Americans in every state, to write their own laws and govern themselves as they see fit.  Those rights have once again been trampled by an arrogant, out-of-control federal government that wants to substitute Oklahoma values with Washington, D.C. values."

And of course, there's this old classic:

30 September 2014

Our laws are based on the Ten Commandments

A religious conservative acquaintance of mine actually used this line on me today. Here's the actual quote, from a Facebook post in which I mentioned the deconversion of Rev Rob Ripley, the pastor of the largest Protestant church in Canada:

This is standard religious conservative boilerplate, and it always warrants a facepalm. The following things are not actually illegal to do:

1. Worship gods other than Yahweh
2. Make/worship idols
3. Say "Jesus fucking Christ"
4. Totally forget about the Sabbath
5. Treat your parents like crap
6. Lie (unless you're in court)
7. Cheat on your spouse
8. Want things you don't have

Basically the only commandments that are actual modern laws are our provisions against stealing and killing, both of which are necessary for any human society to function. To paraphrase Christopher Hitchens, if the Israelites thought murder, theft and perjury were permissible, they wouldn't have lasted long enough to make it to Mt Sinai. 

Also, I have to laugh at the Lee Strobel reference. One of my favorite blog posts here at The A-Unicornist (unfortunately it can't go in the forthcoming anthology, for formatting reasons) is my three-part review of the movie based on his book, The Case for Christ:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

20 September 2014

My grandmother died today

I last saw my grandmother in 2012. She was quite frail, spending some 16 hours a day sleeping and generally unable to even sit upright for long periods of time. While I was there she remarked to my aunt, "I don't know why the Lord hasn't taken me yet". When I got home I wrote a post about dignity in dying, entitled I wish my grandmother could die. Soon after, she was admitted to a nursing home, where she died last night at the age of 93. While I'm saddened that she's gone, I'm really just relieved that she's no longer suffering. And while she will certainly be missed, she lived a very long and happy life, and that much at least is something worth celebrating.

I was thinking again about the issue of dignity in death, after having heard about what my grandmother was going through. She'd recently had surgery after a pair of nurses broke her femur while they were turning her, and that's on top of the staff having found broken vertebrae when she was admitted to the home. She had to use a bedpan, and could not even sit upright for long periods of time without great fatigue and pain.

If most of us could see our last days coming, I'm confident that the overwhelming majority of us would choose to die on our own terms rather than to become dependent and bedridden. It's one of many reasons why I support assisted suicide — because we deserve the choice to die with dignity, without having nurses wipe our backsides for us and lift us into wheelchairs so we can eat. I don't want to speculate as to whether my grandmother would have chosen that, but I wish she could have at least had the choice.

My grandmother was also at peace with her end. When you live to be 93, it's safe to say that you will outlive many, if not all, of your peers. She had been a widow for nearly 30 years and watched many of her neighbors and friends pass away. Not everyone reaches the end of their lives with such grace, but my grandmother, knowing her body was failing her, had for some time accepted that her end was approaching and seemed prepared. But it was not to be – she lived on for several years more, her body continually growing weaker.

I imagine it must be greatly frustrating to lose your independence, to have to be lifted, bathed, wiped, and even turned in bed. But I imagine there's also guilt, because no one wants to be a burden to their families. Caring for an elderly person can be very stressful, and can exacerbate divides between siblings or forge new ones — all while 24-hour care, medication, tests and surgeries pile up medical expenses. I know my grandmother would not have wanted that could she have chosen.

My mother drove to Wisconsin to see my grandmother in August, when she turned 93. Frankly, I was glad I wasn't able to go. My grandmother was a vibrant, witty, opinionated, charming and loving woman, and that's how I want to remember her. The real tragedy is that in our culture that has an almost paralyzing fear of death, she had to spend her last days as a shadow of the woman she truly was. I wish the end could have come sooner, and spared her the suffering and indignity. I wish she could have chosen when to say goodbye. And I hope that if I'm fortunate to live a similarly long and charmed life, our culture will have evolved enough to allow me to spare my loved ones the pain of watching me wither away.

It should go without saying on atheist blog, but I hold no hope of seeing her again in some charmed hereafter, and that causes me no discomfort. I'm grateful to have known her and to have so many fond memories. I only wish she could have met Vanessa, or at least seen our engagement photos. I know it would have made her happy to see her grandson so hopelessly in love.

17 September 2014

Introducing... yours truly

I haven't had much time to write lately, and probably won't be able to do so for a little while — I'm getting married in just over six weeks, work is busy, there's a new puppy in the house... yeah. And as I'm prone to become periodically, I'm just burned out a bit and lacking inspiration for the topics I generally explore on this blog, and have even thought about closing the curtain on it. I think that'd be hasty, though — I'm sure my head will be clearer when I get back from the honeymoon.

Anyway, I wanted to do something different. You all know me as 'Mike D' or 'that guy who blogs at The A-Unicornist'. But I'm a pretty regular guy with a pretty regular life, and I thought I'd give you a peek into who I really am.

First of all, in case you missed it in the contact info, my last name is Doolittle. I work as a personal trainer, which I've been doing for ten years. I love it. I'm my own boss, make my own hours (to an extent, of course), and I'm fortunate to train some really dedicated, hard-working clients — some of whom have really turned their lives around. It's a fun, rewarding career and I'm really lucky to be where I am professionally.

Also, as I mentioned of course, I'm getting married. I met my fiance Vanessa at my previous personal training job. She came in for a one-off session on biomechanics, as she'd been doing some group classes and having some back pain in some of the exercises. We had chemistry right away, but I didn't figure I'd ever see her again. Later, I started doing a "stretch class" for free on Fridays, which she made a habit of attending. I wanted to ask her out, but didn't want to make the leap because she was a paying client. So naturally, when she came in one session and said it was her last day, I was pretty happy. The classes had a mediocre reception, but I had kept doing them because it was a chance to see her. Once we started dating she revealed that she kept coming to the classes because she'd have a chance to see me.

So here we are, a couple of years later, and we're getting hitched! We did our engagement photos recently, but in the absence of those hi-res and professional photos, here's one of us wearing goofy hats:

We live in a quiet neighborhood in Tulsa, where we have two 'kids' — one is my cat Alexi (named after the guitarist Alexi Laiho)....

 .....(and yes, that's what he does most of the time)... And our new addition to the family, a puppy we rescued and named Zelda:

We think she's a mix of Australian Shepherd, Blue Heeler, and Great Pyrenees. Aside from minor puppy-related annoyances (peeing in the wrong spot, gnawing on everything, and being super hyper 99% of the time), she's fantastic. She's very smart and well-behaved, and she and Alexi are good buddies already.

When I'm not writing, I'm usually playing guitar or gaming on my totally swanky console-crushing gaming PC. I do love to write though, and not just about religion. I spent nearly a decade as a writer for the gaming webzine GameCritics, and I've toyed with reviving my game-related writing with a blog I started last year called PC Gaming Are Yes!, which is called that for no reason whatsoever.  I also have an old blog called Moon Waffles (a Simpsons reference) and one related to my music interests called Demonic Art. But while I love to write, I'm terrible about writing. I think I've just lucked out to have a small but engaged readership here at The A-Unicornist, because truthfully I'd probably dedicate more time to one of my other blogs were it not for the fact that I really do enjoy the debates and discussions here.

Musically, I'm a pretty die-hard metalhead. My current obsession is the new album Titan from Septicflesh, but in general I listen to stuff like Opeth, Children of Bodom, Behemoth, Fleshgod Apocalypse, Dimmu Borgir, Scar Symmetry, and lots of instrumental stuff — Animals As Leaders, Paul Wardingham, Jeff Loomis, Andy James... lots of guitar wizardry, toward which I aspire as a player (but have a ways to go!). Here's a track off the new Septicflesh album to give you an idea of how beautifully dark and abrasive I like my music:

I'm also a major sci-fi nerd. On Netflix and Amazon Prime I pretty much just hop from one sci-fi show to another, which are mainly background noise while I practice guitar. I've watched every episode of every Star Trek series, BSG, Warehouse 13, Eureka, and lots of others. I'm currently binge-watching Stargate SG-1.

Oh, and I love to cook. Vanessa and I are both foodies. We eat at trendy restaurants not because we're hipsters, but because we just love trying new food. We cook often, and often cook together. 

So, that's me. This blog is fun, but my atheism is a microscopic part of who I am. Most of the time, I'm too busy enjoying life to worry about people like this:

But then, every once in a while, I feel like this:

And that's why this blog will probably be around for a long time to come, even if life gets in the way now and then.

05 September 2014

Thoughts on fidelity

Taking a much needed break from conversations about metaphysics, there's another topic on my brain of late as my wedding fast approaches: fidelity. And before you ask, no, I've never been even remotely unfaithful to my fiance; she's truly the love of my life.

But marriage is not something I want to do more than once. It's a commitment I hope will last us both a lifetime. And let's get real — monogamy takes a lot of work. I can speak with some experience on the matter because while I've personally never cheated on a girlfriend, I have been the 'other man' in a relationship before. I have first-hand understanding of what makes a marriage break, and how infidelity happens.

If there's any great lesson I learned from that relationship (which lasted roughly a year), it's that the worst mistake we can possibly make is to say to ourselves "I would never cheat. I love my spouse/partner too much. Cheating is something only dishonest people do, and I'm a good person". The reality, not unlike the Stanford prison experiment showed, is that you will do things that may seem unthinkable given the right set of circumstances. One of my clients spent most of his career in law as a public defender for murderers facing the death penalty, and I asked him once how many of his clients were bona fide psychopaths. His answer? Almost none. The vast majority, he said, are people who would never imagine themselves being capable of murder but, through a complex web of extraordinary circumstances, did something they thought they could never do. Going into my marriage, I think it's extremely important for me to acknowledge this fact rather than draw sharp lines between "moral Mike" and "those people", those unsavory people who have affairs. We're all human beings, and all capable doing things that at one time may have seemed unthinkable.

During the course of the aforementioned relationship, I read an interview with the woman (I forget her name) with whom the politician John Edwards had his career-ending affair. (Side note: odd that Edwards faced the end of his career by cheating on his cancer-stricken wife, while Newt Gingrich did the exact same thing and campaigned on "family values" in 2012). I remember reading the comments online and being struck at how much she was vilified, as though Edwards wasn't equally complicit. But in any case, she made an interesting comment — when asked what it felt like having broken Edwards' marriage, she said that affairs don't break marriages; the break happens before the affair.

And from my experience, I think she is right. The woman with whom I had a relationship described her marriage as cold, distant, and chronically lacking intimacy. They had sex only a few times a year, what some psychologists see fit to classify as a "sexless marriage". He prioritized his friends over her, spending nearly every night of the week with his buddies while she sat at home by herself. (Side note: there's nothing to have prevented her from kicking up her own social engagement, but nonetheless when you're married, your spouse comes before your friends.)

It got worse. When they were together, they had difficulty with even basic connections. She once told me, a few months into our relationship, that she had asked him to just look her in the eyes and tell her he loved her; he couldn't do it without awkwardly laughing. She felt that she had tried, to her wits end, to work things out with him. Eventually, she said, she just felt defeated. She resigned herself to an unhappy marriage, which is a pretty awful place to be.

I don't mean to say that I think this makes her infidelity okay; in my view, she should have had the courage to be honest with him about how deeply unhappy she was, and end the marriage if necessary rather than stringing each other along in a cold and distant relationship. But from her perspective, it was more complicated; she was very close to his family, and was afraid of the social repercussions of leaving him. Making matters worse, she'd been unfaithful for some time (I wasn't the first, and probably won't be the last) but felt she could never tell him because of how deeply it would hurt him. The thought of seeing him broken terrified her. Again, this doesn't say the infidelity was okay; it says that these types of situations are not the black and white scenarios we would imagine them to be and, pushed to extremes, we will do things that we wouldn't ordinarily think ourselves capable of. The early days of her marriage were as lovestruck and idyllic as any.

It's in our genes to need emotional and physical intimacy; when we enter into a marriage or even just a committed monogamous relationship, we are accepting responsibility for fulfilling that need for our partner. When one partner does not do their job, the other partner is likely to find that intimacy elsewhere. It doesn't matter if you're religious or not, or how good or faithful a person you think you are; we're all capable of cheating.

So, what can we do? I learned from that relationship that like the affair itself, the disconnect in a marriage comes slowly, in small steps. It starts with a lack of daily intimacy, those little small reminders that your spouse is the most important person in your life. Every day, Vanessa and I make it a priority to have some time together and to tell each other "I love you". We regularly text each other and/or write notes to each just saying simple things like "I miss you" or "Thinking of you". We've done our best to make appreciation and intimacy behaviors, not just ideals. We set aside time for each other in which we can communicate openly such as taking walks in the evening, going on a date once a week, and just setting aside "us" time even if it's only for a 30 minutes in an otherwise overwhelmingly busy day. We have rules like "no cell phones at the dinner table" to make sure we're focused on each other. I view her wholly as my equal, and we always make important decisions together — as a 'team'.

My goal, then, isn't to avoid infidelity by being steadfastly committed to an ideal, but to do my best to ensure that neither Vanessa nor I ever find ourselves in the kinds of circumstances that would make infidelity tempting by prioritizing the intimacy of our own relationship. I can't say "I would never cheat", because I know that's not a realistic expectation of human behavior; instead I have to say, "I never want to cheat". I don't want to lose the trust, love, and friendship of this amazing woman. When people say that marriage is a lot of work, that's what I think they're most referring to — the small things, those daily gestures of love and appreciation that keep us close through thick and thin.

03 September 2014

What is reductionism, anyway?

From the response on the last couple of posts, I get the sense that some of the theists who dispute my position haven't spent much time thinking about the alternative to their metaphysically-loaded point of view: reductionism.

Case in point, here's commenter 'Jayman' sarcastically characterizing reductionism:
A water molecule can be reduced to hydrogen and oxygen. Hydrogen and oxygen are both flammable. Clearly water is also flammable as it is nothing but hydrogen and oxygen.
I'll get to that in a moment, but first I'm going to summarize my objections to both the essentialist positions being put forth, and 'metaphysics' in general.
  • On parsimony, there is no reason to assume that 'essences', 'natures', etc., exist. The physical description of an object (whether person, animal, tool, or natural object) fully accounts for what that thing is. It is an amalgam of physical components, and there's nothing demonstrably absent or insufficient about that material description. Obviously this is the meat and potatoes of reductionism, so more on this below.
  • Supposedly 'metaphysical properties' like essences and natures are not only descriptively superfluous, but they raise more questions than they answer:
    • What are they composed of?
    • By what mechanism do they interact with physical reality?
    • If they do not exist spatiotemporally, then in what sense do they exist, and how can and do they interact with the spatiotemporal universe?
    • What laws govern their structure and behavior? 
    • What method of inquiry could provide falsifiable answers to these questions, demonstrating them true in lieu of alternative hypotheses?
  • "Metaphysics" as an intellectual discipline is ambiguously and equivocally defined.
    • What metaphysics are, exactly, is not universally or even generally agreed upon [1]
    • What constitutes a metaphysical problem is not unambiguously established, and has changed significantly over the centuries
    • Even if a small number of 'metaphysicians' can agree on what constitutes a metaphysical problem, there is no unambigously established methodology for weeding out erroneous hypotheses and establishing the veracity of a proposition.
    • The language and assumptions of metaphysics have been largely abandoned by scientists, which should not be the case if metaphysics represent some deeper, more fundamental reality under which scientific inquiry is subsumed.
That's all pretty much retreaded from many an earlier post, but there you have it. The question now is whether reductionism really does provide a complete, unambiguous description of reality without the necessity of assuming that some non-empirical reality underlies all material things. So let's return to Jayman's comment:
A water molecule can be reduced to hydrogen and oxygen. Hydrogen and oxygen are both flammable. Clearly water is also flammable as it is nothing but hydrogen and oxygen.
Of course, water is neither hydrogen nor oxygen, but two hydrogen atoms bonded with one oxygen atom. This chemical bond causes new properties to emerge. Reductionism does not claim that composite objects are identical to their components or that they are the sum of their components, but that the state of an object is defined by the state of its components. Water has different properties than just hydrogen or just oxygen, because it is not just hydrogen or just oxygen. Physicist Brian Greene discusses this view in his book The Hidden Reality:
I believe that a physical system is completely determined by the arrangement of its particles. Tell me how the particles making up the earth, the sun, the galaxy, and everything else are arranged, and you’ve fully articulated reality. This reductionist view is common among physicists, but there are certainly people who think otherwise. Especially when it comes to life, some believe that an essential nonphysical aspect (spirit, soul, life force, chi, and so on) is required to animate the physical. Although I remain open to this possibility, I’ve never encountered any evidence to support it. The position that makes the most sense to me is that one’s physical and mental characteristics are nothing but a manifestation of how the particles in one’s body are arranged. Specify the particle arrangement and you’ve specified everything.
The philosopher Alex Rosenberg, in a talk with John Dupree, asks us to think of an elephant. Let's imagine we can know the exact wave function for every subatomic particle composing the elephant. Now imagine there is, anywhere else in the universe, another identical arrangement of wave functions. Is there any coherent sense in which the second elephant is not identical to the first? For any macroscopic property of the second elephant to be different, so too the arrangement of its constituents would have to be different. 

Greene hits the nail on the head in mentioning that much of the objection to the reductionist comes from what I think is wishful thinking — that humans have eternal souls that animate our bodies and rise off the brain in death. Sam Harris has artfully argued the incoherency of the latter proposition, while YouTuber 'QualiaSoup' has a great pair of videos concisely showing the incoherency of the former, and I believe the conceptual ambiguity of 'souls' is reason enough to dismiss it. But essentialists and other proponents of a 'metaphysical reality' are also concerned with abstractions; indeed Aristotle himself was greatly concerned with the implications of Platonic Realism [2]. Are they 'non-physical objects'? Where and how do they exist? What about mathematics? Are numbers non-physical objects? And what the hell is a non-physical 'object', anyway?

Science, though, has given us a means to understand what abstractions actually are. And before I get to that, it bears emphasizing that science has a clear advantage over 'metaphysical' methods of inquiry in that it has a universally agreed-upon method of inquiry. While it's true that the limits of science is a question of longstanding philosophical dispute, there is little if any disagreement over the fact that science is centered on a well-defined methodology that allows competing explanatory hypotheses to be tested and erroneous ones to be identified and discarded. So at the very least, science has a structured way of examining abstractions, even if the answers are not immediately obvious or forthcoming.

Science has lifted the veil, and we now know what abstractions are: they are neural structures in the brain. Cognitive linguist George Lakoff elaborates in Philosophy of the Flesh:
Our most important abstract concepts, from love to causation to morality, are conceptualized via multiple complex metaphors. Such metaphors are an essential part of those concepts, and without them the concepts are skeletal and bereft of nearly all conceptual and inferential structure.
Each complex metaphor is in turn built up out of primary metaphors, and each primary metaphor is embodied in three ways: (1) It is embodied through bodily experience in the world, which pairs sensorimotor experience with subjective experience. (2) The source-domain logic arises from the inferential structure of the sensorimotor system. And (3) it is instantiated neurally in the synaptic weights associated with neural connections.
In addition, our system of primary and complex metaphors is part of the cognitive unconscious, and most of the time we have no direct access to it or control over its use.
Lakoff, with Rafael Nunez, takes a similar approach in Where Mathematics Comes From:
1. Human beings can have no access to a transcendent Platonic mathematics, if it exists. A belief in Platonic mathematics is therefore a matter of faith, much like religious faith. There can be no scientific evidence for or against the existence of a Platonic mathematics.
2. The only mathematics that human beings know or can know is, therefore, a mind-based mathematics, limited and structured by human brains and minds. The only scientific account of the nature of mathematics is therefore an account, via cognitive science, of human mind- based mathematics. Mathematical idea analysis pr ovides such an account.
3. Mathematical idea analysis shows that human mind-based mathematics uses conceptual metaphors as part of the mathematics itself.
4. Therefore human mathematics cannot be a par t of a transcendent Platonic mathematics, if such exists.
There's obviously much to unpack here that's beyond the scope of a short blog post, but the point is this: scientific inquiry has allowed us to understand what abstractions are, how they are structured in the physical brain, how they are formed, and how we think about them. At no point is any assumption of the existence of some Platonic reality, or some deeper 'metaphysical reality', required for us to have this understanding; reductionism gets the job done with parsimony fully intact: conceptual metaphors and abstractions are emergent properties of the physical brain. They do not 'rise off the brain' or 'emerge from the brain'; they are neural structures within the brain.

When I'm pressed to consider an anti-reductionist point of few, I have to ask myself a few questions:
  • What is missing from the reductionist point of view?
  • If something is missing does an anti-reductionist point of view fill in those blanks?
  • Does the anti-reductionist position have to make dubious assumptions in order to fill in those blanks?
Occam's Razor, the principle of parsimony, states that we should not multiply assumptions beyond necessity, and it's my view that the only way to entertain any sort of anti-reductionist view is to toss parsimony out the window. As detailed above, propositions that purport to explain the universe by positing a more fundamental reality underlying the physical universe raise far more questions than they could possibly answer, and those same questions are already adequately answered on a reductionist point of view. An object is defined by the state of it components, and that includes our brains, our thoughts, our bodies, and everything in the universe. There is simply nothing left to deconstruct.

01 September 2014

Bruce Gerencser disappeared again

So, there's that.

I've always thought Bruce was a really nice guy and an insightful writer, and I don't pretend to have the full scoop on his health problems or personal and familial issues, but I just know that as someone following his writing this is pretty disappointing. He'll blog for a while, get plenty of great content up, then disappear. It's happened enough times that it can safely be called a pattern, and I'm not sure why. Bruce, my friend, I wish you the best.