What to Fear

Global Annual Top Causes of Death (millions):

Grouped:

  1. Cardiovascular diseases: 17.5
  2. Malignant neoplasms (i.e. cancer): 8.2
  3. Infectious and parasitic diseases: 6.4
  4. Unintentional Injuries: 3.7
  5. Respiratory diseases: 4
  6. Respiratory infections: 3
  7. Neonatal conditions: 2.4
  8. Digestive diseases: 2.2
  9. Intentional Injuries: 1.4
  10. Diabetes Mellitus: 1.4

Specific:

  1. Ischaemic Heart Disease: 7.3
  2. Stroke: 6.6
  3. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: 3.1
  4. Lower respiratory infections: 3
  5. Trachea, bronchus, lung cancers: 1.6
  6. HIV/AIDS: 1.5
  7. Diarrhoeal diseases: 1.4
  8. Diabetes mellitus: 1.4
  9. Road injury: 1.2
  10. Hypertensive heart disease: 1.1

Global Population: 7.4 billion
Global Annual Births: 141 million
Global Annual Deaths: 56 million

Fantasies

Imagined or real, one day soft, another hard; fantasies, easier to imagine, better to create, are something we can design that we can always look forward to. The imagined kind never need to die. They could even drive the real kind when it inevitably sputters.

Non-Religious Mind-Body Dualism, Free Will, and Anti-Materialism

Caplan and Huemer, modern philosophical heroes.

As Michael Huemer has pointed out, it is logically impossible to deduce any mental statement from any non-mental statement.[6] Just as Hume said that we can never deduce any “ought” statement from any “is” statement, or just as we will never deduce anything about geometry from non-geometrical statements, so too will we never deduce mental facts from physical ones. Even if we knew everything about the physical world of molecules, forces, spins, etc., we would not be able to predict the most trivial mental fact unless we smuggled a mental premise into the argument.

The mind is caused by the brain, but the mind and the brain are two separate entities. The mind is a mental entity, and the brain is a physical one. You cannot have a mind without a brain, but nevertheless they are not one and the same thing. Both exist and are fully real; but they are different things.

1. It could just be a brute fact that when you get a working brain a mind appears, and these two causally interact. Just as we don’t need a transcendental deduction to conclude that gravity exists, neither do we need to describe the mechanism of mind-brain causation before we can conclude that it is real.

2. Anyway, there is a sort of necessity between the interaction of the mind and the brain. As Searle suggests, it might be a prima facie necessary truth that when a guy gets his hand stuck in a punch-press, he has to be in pain.

3. Just because we don’t (and maybe can’t) understand how the mind and brain interact doesn’t mean that they don’t.

My dualism does not say that there are two realms [a la Descartes]. It says that there is one realm which contains two rather different types of things: mental things and physical things. If two very different types of physical things can interact (e.g., color and temperature), why couldn’t two very different types of existents interact (e.g., mental and physical)?

What is the evidence for my view? The best evidence is simply observation of our own minds. When I introspect… I observe thoughts, beliefs, pains, and so on. They are really there. Morever, they are not floating randomly around, like Hume thought. Rather they are all predicates of one and the same thing; they are bound together, unified. But this thing to which they belong can also be observed by introspection; and like the thoughts, beliefs, and pains, it lacks all of the essential features of the physical: spatiality, mass, etc. It is not simply that I don’t see what its mass is; I see positively that it has none. And this entity of which individual mental states are predicated is the mind. If you doubt that there is a mental entity inside of you, please look again. Not only is there a mental entity “inside” me; but I essentially am that mental entity — it is one and the same thing that I speak of when I speak of my “self.” The bottom line is this: My view should not be hard to accept, because intuitively this is what we all think. Only after people learn some philosophy do they begin to doubt this.

Dualism is, moreover, falsifiable: it would be false if (a) There were no mental things, or (b) If a third type of thing, say angels or God, existed.

On my view, it is just a brute fact that the mind can causally affect the brain and the brain can causally affect the mind. Mind-to-brain causation need not be reduced to something else; it is fully real…
the mind really causes changes in the brain, and this fact is irreducible to any other causal relationship.

“But how does it work?” Yet as the last section showed, Searle himself admits that there are many brute facts in the world, such as gravity, which we accept as real even though we have no explanation of how they work; and even if we cannot see the mechanism, it still might be there. This demand for an explanation of “how” before we will accept the “what”, made by Searle and materialists alike, is confused. Normally, the “what” is what we know for sure, while the “how” is accepted only tentatively, only so long as its predictions match up with our observations. Observations trump explanations; if an observation is inconsistent with an explanation, it is the explanation that must go, not the observations.

Imagine that we get an explanation of any observation. At this point, it is still open to us to request a deeper explanation, an explanation of the explanation. And if we find that, we can look for an explanation of the explanation of the explanation — and so on. But eventually we must come down to the brute fact: This is the way that it works, and there is no additional reason. In the end we bottom out in brute facts, facts for which we have no further explanation. Does this show that all of our observations are invalid? I doubt it; what I think it shows is that we do not always require an explanation in
order to have knowledge. In many cases we do; but if something is a brute fact, such that no further explanation is possible, then it isn’t necessary either. Explanations have but limited utility; they are useful so long as we deal with facts for which a further explanation exists. But when we reach the brute facts, explanation is neither possible nor necessary.

It may very well be that the causal interaction of the mind and the brain is one of these brute facts. Since no one has come up with a remotely plausible scientific theory about their interaction, and since it is logically impossible to deduce a mental statement from a non-mental statement, the mind-brain interaction is a likely candidate. This doesn’t mean that I am sure that no explanation is possible; maybe one day someone will show that this “brute fact” is not a brute fact at all, but one capable of a simple explanation. The point is that we don’t need to wait for this explanation before we can accept my view. We can gather all of the needed evidence for that if we merely turn inwards and observe.

Now it should be stressed that one could easily be a dualist and a determinist at the same time; one could say that every mental event was necessitated by prior mental events, so that they are deterministic even though they are not physical. However, the reality of free will is a central feature of my theory of the mind. Let me first explain its content and then give the most convincing arguments in its favor.

My view is that the mind is causally dependent on the brain. All that this means is that minds don’t float around by themselves; they aren’t ghosts in the machine; they are simply another development of evolution, not visitors from another dimension. But that is the limit of the causal dependence; once the mind exists, it can both be influenced by and influence the brain (and thereby the rest of the
body). One basic feature of this mind is that it has freedom. This does not mean the freedom to do anything — for example, I don’t think that my memory, emotions, or intelligence do what I want automatically. But I do at least have freedom over my beliefs, the course of my thoughts, my effort, and some bodily movements.

Now I suspect that if a neurophysiologist were looking at my brain while I made free choices, he would observe changes. This is no problem for my view, because correlations between mental and physical states is precisely what interactionism requires. Nor would it be an objection to my view that the doctor might inject me with a drug that makes me hallucinate helplessly; for brain-mind causation is real, too. All that my view says is that the mind can cause things to happen in the brain, and at least in some cases there was more than one thing that my mind really could have done.

How is this possible? As I explained in the previous sections, we don’t need an explanation of, say, free will before we can accept its reality. From the fact that it is real, it follows that it is possible. The pressing question, then, is this: Is free will real? I have five arguments to this effect.

First, there is the simple fact of observation. I observe that I choose freely, at least sometimes; and if you introspect, you will see it too. There is no reason to assume that these observations are illusory, any more than there is reason to assume that vision or hearing is illusory. I frequently hear scientists declare that real science (as opposed to bogus Aristotelian science) rests on observation; that is, they take the observed facts as a given, and work from there. The insistence that free will does not exist has more in common with the worst a priori scholasticism than with modern science. The latter demanded that the facts fit the theory, while the essence of science is supposed to be that we make our theories fit the observed facts. I would like to see a single argument for rejecting introspective evidence in favor of the other senses, because any argument against the validity of introspection might be applied, ipso facto, to sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell.

In order for any argument to work, it is necessary that the initial plausibility of its premises have greater initial plausibility than those of any other argument. Since no premise has greater initial plausibility than “This is a hand,” said Moore, it is in principle impossible for that claim to be overturned. I think that the same is true of the existence of free will. Nothing has greater initial plausibility than the premise “I have free will”; no scientific or philosophical argument will ever have greater initial plausibility. So how is it even coherent to argue against free will?

Try the following thought experiment. Our brilliant neurophysiologists come up with an equation that they claim will predict all of our behavior. The equation is so good that it even incorporates our reaction to the equation, our reaction to knowing that it incorporates our reaction, and so on indefinitely. Suppose that the equation says that the next thing that you will do is raise your arm. Do you seriously believe that you couldn’t falsify this prediction by failing to raise your arm? But if you can falsify any prediction about your arm, and if the prediction is derived perfectly from a comprehensive knowledge of your body’s constituent micro-particles, then your mind must be free.

Fifth, let me answer the “argument from illusion” that Searle alludes to. On this view, we appear to be free, but aren’t. Science has shown that freedom is an illusion, along with sunsets and the apparent solidity of tables. We now accept that the sun does not set and that “solid” objects are mainly empty space. Why not accept that free will is equally illusory?

The answer, I think, is that the scientific explanation of sunsets and tables does not contradict our observations of sunsets and tables. Once we hear the scientific explanation, we learn that the explanation is perfectly compatible with our common-sense observations; indeed, our common-sense observations follow with necessity from the scientific explanation. It is easy to see how the sunsets that we observe are consistent with a heliocentric model of the solar system; it is equally easy to see how the observation of solidity is consistent with the presence of empty space. The macro and the micro explanations fit together. They cohere. But how could the observation of free will ever be compatible with determinism? Our other examples of scientific debunking of naive folk beliefs wound up reconciling the views of the vulgar and the wise, as Aristotle might say. But there is no way to reconcile the observation of free will with the theory of determinism because they are mutually exclusive. Until the critics of free will come up with a single example in the history of science of a situation in which observations inconsistent with our theory led to the rejection of the observations rather than the theory, I will be unable take this line of argument seriously.

Searle and the materialists both seem to think that science=”nothing but atoms and the void.” Yet they err; they confuse a particular conclusion of science with the essence of science. The true essence of science is the use of observation and reason to objectively understand the world. If what we know about the mental contradicts the findings of “science”, then our science must be revised. If we observe mental states, apparently inexplicable by atomic theory, then we discover that either atomic theory has its limitations or we are misinterpreting our science. We cast no doubt on the existence of mental states; for any argument for doubting our observations of our mental states would ipso facto be an argument to doubt the observations that confirmed atomic theory. Searle is correct that our culture suffers from deeply-rooted prejudices about the mind; but these prejudices do not come from Descartes, whatever his errors. The chief prejudices come from people who assume that everything about the mind must either be illusory or consistent with theories derived from the study of inanimate matter. “Dogma” is a harsh term, but an appropriate one for such belief-systems. For what is the essence of dogmatism but the acceptance of a belief in the absence of or in contradiction to one’s immediate observations? Materialism is not science; it is a dogmatic perversion of science that blindly demands that the mental be just like the physical when it plainly isn’t… Materialists refuse to look at something even more evident than moving mountains — their own minds.

Unlike materialists and Searle, dualists trust their own observations of the mind more than theories developed to explain completely different phenomena. As a dualist, I am happy to open up my theory to empirical falsification, unlike a priori theories such as those of materialists and Searle. Dualism, as I said, would be false if (a) There were no mental states, or (b) There were yet another type of existent, like angels or God. If these conditionals empirically fail (and I think they do), then dualism is true. Like all good scientific (and philosophical) theories, dualism is internally consistent, intuitive, and, above all else, consistent with our observations.

http://econfaculty.gmu.edu/bcaplan/Searle

Free Will

In this book, I explain why the scientific experiments that are most often claimed to prove that there’s no free will in fact leave the existence of free will wide open.

I regard this as good news. Here’s one reason I do. There’s evidence that lowering people’s confidence in the existence of free will increases bad behavior. In one study (Vohs and Schooler 2008), people who read passages in which scientists deny that free will exists are more likely to cheat on a subsequent task.

In another experiment (Baumeister et al. 2009), college students presented with a series of sentences denying the existence of free will proceeded to behave more aggressively than a control group: they served larger amounts of spicy salsa to people who said they dislike spicy food, despite being told these people had to eat everything on their plates.

Free, Alfred Mele, http://www.amazon.com/Free-Science-Hasnt-Disproved-Will/dp/0199371628

Ugly

When I’ve dreamed about which I’d choose, fixing my facial deformities or magically growing legs, I’ve always chosen my face. My ugly face probably only stops me from working as a male model or fronting the 6 pm news. There’s no impact to how I eat, talk, smell, or hear.

Having no legs means it’s much harder to get around and by any objective measure of what would be better — real legs or a fixed face — real legs should be a no-brainer. Should be.

Anytime I’ve been asked, though, and whenever I’ve thought about it myself, I’ve always opted for a fixed face. There’s a part of me that knows what the answer should be to that question, and hates me for not being able to reach it. I’d like to choose to fix my legs. I’d like to say I’d make that choice because I’m entirely at peace with who I am now, happy that the horrid, bumpy, uneven, unequal, disquieting, disfigured, disturbing face has made me who I am. And if I’m happy with who I am, I should be happy with the things that got me to where I am today. I should be happy with the decision I made more than half a lifetime ago not to let the wonderful doctors finish their remaking of me.

So, ask me the question sometime in the future and maybe I’ll give you a different answer.

But if I do, I might just be lying to you.

And, to myself.

Ugly, My Memoir, Robert Hoge, http://www.amazon.com/Ugly-My-Memoir-Robert-Hoge-ebook/dp/B00GU2RTFG

The book is mostly very pedestrian and boring, but still fascinating.

A Journey Around My Room

What a wonderful little book. Some choice quotes:

There’s no more attractive pleasure, in my view, than following one’s ideas wherever they lead, as the hunter pursues his game, without even trying to keep to any set route.

A bed witnesses our birth and death; it is the unvarying theatre in which the human race acts out, successively, its captivating dramas, laughable farces, and dreadful tragedies. It is a cradle bedecked with flowers; it is the throne of love; it is a sepulchre.

Her flaming cheeks, her coral lips, her gleaming teeth, her alabaster neck, set against a background of verdure, struck every eye.

I’ve had a few friends, several mistresses, a host of love affairs, even more acquaintances; and now I don’t mean a thing to any of those people, who have even forgotten my name. How many protestations of affection they uttered, how many favours they offered! I could always count on their fortunes – they said – on an eternal friendship, without reservation! My dear Rosine [dog], who has never offered me any favours, in fact does me the greatest favour that can be shown to humanity: she loved me once, and she still loves me today.

The death of a sensitive man who expires in the midst of his heartbroken friends, and that of a butterfly killed off by the chill morning air in the calyx of a flower, mark two similar epochs in the course of nature. Man is nothing but a phantom, a shadow, a vapour that vanishes into thin air.

Fly shepherdess, urge on your flock, hide away in the wildest and remotest caverns: there is no rest on this melancholy earth.

The soul, today flooded with dark ideas and tragic images, finds causes of sadness everywhere – just as a corrupted stomach converts the healthiest foods into poisons.

What an intense, melancholy pleasure [my heart] feels when my eyes run over the lines traced by someone who is no longer alive. Here is his handwriting, it was his heart that guided his hand, and this letter is all I have left of him!

When the spacious and triple gates of hell suddenly opened wide before him, and the deep pit of nothingness and night appeared at his feet in all its horror, – he surveyed with an intrepid eye the dark domain of chaos; and without a moment’s hesitation, spreading his vast wings, which could have covered a whole army, he flung himself into the abyss.

And since the nature of men is such that happiness does not seem made for them, since friend unwittingly offends friend, and even lovers cannot live without quarrelling – in short, since from Lycurgus to our own days all legislators have failed in their efforts to make men happy – I will at least have the consolation of having made a dog happy.

Although I am continually striving to forget my sorrows and to chase them from my thoughts, it sometimes happens, when I am not sufficiently on my guard, that they suddenly all come flooding into my memory at the same time, as if the sluice gates had been opened for them. On these occasions, I have no option but to abandon myself to the torrent sweeping me away, and my ideas then become so gloomy, and all the objects around me seem so dismal, that I usually end up laughing at my own folly; as a result, the very intensity of the malady produces its own remedy.

Man, the ephemeral spectator of an eternal spectacle, raises for an instant his eyes to the heavens, and then closes them again for ever; but, during this fleeting instant that is granted him, from every point of the sky and from the very furthest bourns of the universe, a consoling ray of light sets out from every world, and falls onto his eyes, announcing to him that there is a relationship between that immensity and himself, and that he is an associate of eternity.

I maintain (even though my feeling may be regarded as paradoxical) that the light and brilliant wit of conversation is not even necessary in the most long-lasting love affair, if it has really sprung from the heart; and despite everything that those who have only ever half loved may say of the long intervals that intense feelings of love and friendship leave between them, the day always goes by quickly when you spent it with your beloved, and silence is as full of interest as any discussion.

O time! Dread deity! It is not your cruel scythe that fills me with terror; I fear only your hideous children, Indifference and Forgetfulness, who turn there-quarters of our lifespan into a long death.

All that remains in the depths of my heart are regrets and empty memories; a melancholy brew, on which my life continues to swim, just as a vessel smashed by the tempest continues to float for a while on the stormy sea! Until, as the water slowly seeps in through the broken planks, the unhappy vessel disappears, swallowed up by the abyss; the waves sweep over it, the tempest calms down, and the sea swallow skims over the solitary and tranquil plain of the ocean.

So – I will die one day? I will die? I – the person speaking, the person able to feel and touch myself – I might die? I find it rather difficult to believe: after all, others die, and there’s nothing more natural than that: you see it happen every day: you see them passing away, you get used to it; but for you to die, you yourself – you in person! Well, that’s a bit too much.

I think we should allow ourselves to laugh, or at least to smile, each time that an innocent opportunity to do so presents itself.

A Journey Around My Room, Xavier de Maistre, http://smile.amazon.com/Journey-Around-Room-Hesperus-Classics/dp/1843910993/

First, Do No Harm

When it comes to political issues, we usually should not fight for what we believe in. Fighting for something, as I understand the term, involves fighting against someone. If one’s goal faces no (human) opposition, then one might be described as working for a cause (for instance, working to reduce tuberculosis, working to feed the poor) but not fighting for it. Thus, one normally fights for a cause only when what one is promoting is controversial. And most of the time, those who promote controversial causes do not actually know whether what they are promoting is correct, however much they may think they know… they are fighting in order to¬† have the experience of fighting for a noble cause, rather than truly seeking the ideals they believe themselves to be seeking.

Fighting for a cause has significant costs. Typically, one expends a great deal of time and energy, while simultaneously imposing costs on others, particularly those who oppose one’s own political position. This time and energy is very likely to be wasted, since neither side knows the answer to the issue over which they contend. In many cases, the effort is expended in bringing about a policy that turns out to be harmful or unjust. It would be better to spend one’s time and energy on aims that one knows to be good.

In Praise of Passivity, Michael Huemer, 2012, http://studiahumana.com/pliki/wydania/In%20Praise%20of%20Passivity.pdf

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