The Skeptical Methodologist

Software, Rants and Management

Illusions all the way down

One of the fun games Materialists like to play is that we all don’t actually exist, we’re just all convinced we do.  This is an easy game to play if you’re into solipsism, and it makes sense too.  See, the rest of us are really just ‘philosophical zombies’ or robots who believe we exist, and will ardently tell you so.  It’s really only YOU who exists, who has a mind and is conscious.  Radical materialism can take this one step further and proclaim that really, even YOU don’t have a mind, you’re just so thoroughly convinced you do that you tell everyone else that.

Oh, and all that subjective experience you have?  Just go ahead and ignore that.  It’s all an illusion.

There’s two problems with this.  One is an overly pseudo-skeptical view of subjective experience.  That is to say, some Materialists demand that we have objective evidence for everything before it is to be believed.  That you claim to have a mind is not objective enough – they want to measure you’re mind in some other way.  In other words, they don’t trust you.  What a human being says is tantamount to noise when it comes to the scientific explanation of what a human being is – which seems pretty absurd when you think about it.  I’m not saying that a person claiming they have a mind is proof they have a mind, but I am going to claim that it’s pretty strong evidence in light of the fact that we have no real evidence to the contrary.  Sure, we look at brain scans, and we can never ‘see’ the mind as a physical thing – we can’t look at a scan and point and say ‘oh there’s the mind, right next to the occipital lobe!”  But an absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.  We have, in other words, no physical evidence of a mind, therefore, if we had to end the conversation there, we’d have to relegate this debate to metaphysics and let the philosophers deal with it.  But, lucky for us, we DO have some non-physical evidence.  A whole bunch of people will outright claim to you they have a mind, in fact, they will claim to you that they are conscious right now, talking to you!

That’s a lot of evidence that at least, something is going on here.  Maybe we don’t have minds, but to just dismiss them because we can’t see the ‘mind atom’ or the ‘mind lobe’ is pretty silly considering the only reason we were looking for such a thing is because we’re all so damned convinced we have one.  This is where the second major problem comes in for the materialist line of thinking – the answer to this, this question of “How can a lack of physical evidence trump so much subjective evidence?” turns Occam’s razor on it’s head.  You see, the Materialists say, “We’re all just under the illusion we have a mind.”

I say it turns Occam’s razor on its head not as a final strike against the argument, after all, there are quite a few things that don’t necessarily fit Occam’s razor that – basically – the theory that explains a phenomenon with the fewest number of ‘free variables’ tends to be the right one.  But usually defying Occam’s Razor is a sign something fishy is going on.  After all, given the evidence that 6 billion humans claim they have this thing called a ‘mind’, and really a complete lack of counter-evidence, one would think that – while the mind might not be a spiritual or other-worldly entity like many would like to believe – there is at least something to this story.  It seems, in fact, much more complex of a solution to the problem to claim that really, there is no such thing as mind, and we’re all just under some gigantic illusion our brain plays on us.

But really, the death blow to this ‘we’re under an illusion’ argument is the fact that it contradicts itself.  “The mind is just an illusion.” Is the statement.  What is an illusion?  An illusion, I’d say, is a case where subjective experience does not match objective reality.  But in that definition of illusion, we’re already assuming subjective experience.  So to claim subjective experience itself is an illusion makes no sense.  In other words, for there to be an illusion, there has to be an observer to be ‘illuded’.  But what then does it mean to say that the observer him or herself is the illusion?  “Oh no, you’re not going to trick me this easily,” the Materialist might reply, “It’s illusions all the way down!”

The worst part is, like I said, most of this reasoning is only sound in the context of solipsism.  But the materialist goes one step further – he not only tells you that you’re entire subjective experience is an ‘illusion’, but actively believes that his own subjective experience doesn’t exist either.  Which probably puts him in a bind since he can’t even believe that he’s telling you that you can’t believe what he’s telling you since neither of you exist!

April 20, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized |

1 Comment »

  1. Cogito Ergo Sum

    Comment by Rene | July 12, 2008 | Reply


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