Language & Determinism

Thursday, October 18, AD 2012

I have been obsessively reading articles on neuroscience, determinism and free will lately. Much of what I read is fascinating, but it is what I haven’t read that I find even more interesting. As I type these words, I am making, with each word, what I would call a choice. Some choices are easier than others, obviously, if I want my post to follow the basic rules of spelling and grammar that currently govern the English language.

I am doing something more than that, however. I am also assuming that what I write will be read by people who can also make choices. If I am merely disseminating information, there won’t be a choice I am imploring you to make. If I am attempting to convince you that one position regarding a controversial topic – free will vs. determinism, perhaps – is correct and the other is false, I am certainly acting as if you have a really-existing capacity of choosing. You will take the information I supply, sufficiently reflect on its implications for your value system, and decide it is worth acting upon or at least considering. That is the hope, at least.

It is a hope that is undeniably present in virtually every appeal for determinism I have read. Here is one of the more blatant offenders:

 We have or are capable of two sorts of attitude, and thus we may respond to determinism with dismay or intransigence. But we can also attempt to respond in another way. We can attempt to change our feelings. We can see what we must give up, and what we can keep, and the value of what we can keep. This can be called the response of affirmation.

Really? We may? We can? How? How might we do that? What faculty enables me to do these things? I call it free will. If free will is something other than this faculty, I don’t know what free will is.

Here is another example, this time of an author spelling out the implication of determinism:

What we should discard is the idea of punishment as retribution, which rests on the false notion that people can choose to do wrong.

I scratch my head in awe and wonder that someone who just insisted that free will is an illusion and choice a myth can make appeals to reason, to an imagined faculty of choosing. In many of the articles I read, the determinists are always described as “rational” or even “hyper-rational”, they’re so rational that they are bursting and oozing with rationality from every pore and orifice.

And yet there is no rational form of communication that can convey their most fundamental premises and beliefs. Advanced human communication, verbal and nonverbal alike, presupposes the capacity to choose. Articles by determinists are filled with moral exhortations for positive action, for changes of heart and attitude, for compassion towards the poor sinners who couldn’t have chosen not to sin.  These are not the grunts and groans of mindless animals, but the deliberately and freely chosen words of conscious beings who would like to see people behave and think differently than they currently do.

There is something deeply wrong with a worldview that must continually acknowledge that its premises sound absurd from the standpoint of human experience  but are justified by “the science.” Free will isn’t the false idea here. It is physicalism. Free will is how we describe what occurs millions of times in the life of millions of human beings every day. Physicalism is how presumptuous opposition to anything even resembling the supernatural or religious ought to be described. But who will have the courage to challenge physicalism instead of merely defending the constantly experienced reality of free will?



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3 Responses to Language & Determinism

  • Agreed, excellent post. It has always amused me how arguments like this get couched in the very language that defeats their underlying premises.

  • It was the atheist philosopher and mathematician, Bertrand Russell, who pointed out that determinism is an “empty” concept: it is incapable of distinguishing between any conceivable sequence of events and any other. No test can be devised to distinguished a series of events that is inevitable from one that is not, just as no test can be devised to distinguish an irresistible impulse from one that is merely unresisted.

    As for the supposed “scientific” proof of determinism, Miss Anscombe was able to dismiss it in a paragraph – “The naturalistic hypothesis is that causal laws could be discovered which could be successfully applied to all human behaviour, including thought. If such laws were discovered, they would not show that a man’s reasons were not his reasons; for a man who is explaining his reasons is not giving a causal account at all. “Causes,” in the scientific sense in which this word is used when we speak of causal laws, is to be explained in terms of observed regularities: but the declaration of one’s reasons or motives is not founded on observation of regularities. ‘Reasons’ and ‘motives’ are what is elicited from someone whom we ask to explain himself”

How I Chose To Argue For Free Will

Monday, September 17, AD 2012

Hello TAC, it is good to be posting again after a prolonged illness that left me unable to do anything but make half-conscious Facebook updates. I have been following the news, and for the sake of our collective sanity, I am going to refrain from extended commentary on foreign affairs. Instead I wanted to share with you an interesting discussion I had recently with some rather confident, cocky atheists on the question of free will.

It had begun as a debate on the so-called “problem of evil.” They think we have a problem with evil; maybe some Christians do, but I don’t. But I do think atheists – by which I mean Western, science-worshiping, philosophical materialists – have a problem with evil. Namely, how do materialists who reject free will (either explicitly or implicitly, depending on how well they’ve thought it out) even speak of such a thing as “evil”? Assuming we are speaking of human acts, and not things like bad weather, to describe an act as “evil” or malicious or malevolent or something similar assumes and implies that it was freely chosen. No one speaks of a lion’s decision to tear apart a zebra for sustenance as an “evil” act. What mindless animals do has no moral significance whatsoever. What people do has significance solely on the assumption that we can choose otherwise. In other words, free will. Without the assumption of free will, morality utterly collapses into a meaningless rubbish heap.

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7 Responses to How I Chose To Argue For Free Will

  • It is worth pointing out that determinism is an “empty” concept. It is incapable of distinguishing any conceivable sequence of events from any other and so adds nothing to a description of them. Put another way, what test can be used to distinguish an irresistible impulse from one that is merely unresisted?

    An hypothesis that cannot possibly be falsified is “not even wrong,” but meaningless.

  • I am sorry you were Il, Bonchamps. I pray that you are now restored to full good health. As for the tactic that you employed against your atheist detractor as described in your post, I say bravo.

  • Thank you for the post Bonchamps.
    Freewill is the medium used to love God, or distance oneself from Him. He Loves perfectly.
    We have a distorted love, however time and the practice of virtue, allows us to partake in refining our imperfect love. Thank God for freewill.

  • In my experience, materialists are not living lives totally disconnected from their beliefs. They are like those who claim they hold Christian beliefs yet hold back some area of their lives, such as a fond sin, an unforgivable hurt, or a small piece of autonomy.
    What materialists usually hang onto are generally profound things. They hang on to a deep desire for meaning in life, to a sense of good and evil, and to an acknowledgement that they are moral agents; that they have free will.
    I appreciate the frustration of dealing with people who are not totally conscious of their real worldview, whether they claim to be Christian or materialist. In the materialist camp, only the nihilists have completely thought thru their worldviews. I don’t know if Dawkins puts himself in that camp, but I put him there. He has written that asking what the meaning of life is, is itself a meaningless question.
    In dealing with these people I urge acting in love and praying for the quidance of the Holy Spirit. Finding that non-materialist nugget they are holding on to may be the key to their salvation, just as that last piece of our lives we’ve withheld from Christ is the key to our damnation.

  • I read somewhere that Fulton Sheen (I think) had the argument that atheists obviously do believe in God because they spend too much time worrying & thinking about Him. If I don’t believe in zombies & don’t think they exist, I can get on with my days quite nicely without having to shout from the rooftops or put up billboards or force others to not celebrate them. I can easily just say, “I don’t believe in zombies,” and live & let live. There’s no bullying involved in my hoping that everyone else would give up the idea that zombies do exist. I don’t need to start the Humans Against Zombies Club & hope that everyone will see my way. I don’t need to hurl insults at those who believe in zombies.

  • MaryAnne…nice point of view. Thanks. I know I’ll use this next week…if you don’t mind. Non-believer acquaintance…Phil.

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Moral Choice and Probability

Wednesday, April 7, AD 2010

As part of the ongoing discussion about sin, free will and structures of sin, I’d like to take the risk of tossing out a question which has fascinated me for some years. After all, I don’t think I’ve been called a heretic in a good thirty minutes, so I might as well be adventurous.

Question: Does free will mean that it is possible for someone to be sinless throughout his life?

It seems to me that the answer is that in a certain theoretical sense: Yes. But in any practical or probable sense: Absolutely no.

Free will means that in any given moral situation, we are capable of doing the right thing. We could choose rightly, or wrongly. However, in practical reality, we are often far more disposed to do wrong than to do right. We are also often unclear or deceived as to what the right thing to do is. And we are faced with moral choices constantly, many of which we react to instinctually, without really thinking. (And in this regard, our fallen instincts are often selfish and otherwise sinful.)

So it seems to me that while theoretically in every single moral choice situation it is possible for a person to do the right thing — from a point of view of probability it is so improbably as to be virtually indistinguishable from impossible for someone to actually remain sinless through his own will.

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9 Responses to Moral Choice and Probability

  • Your post is in agreement with many Church Fathers. I believe it was St. John Chrysostom who said that “is it possible for a man (aside from being marked with Original Sin) to be sinless, however I have never met nor know of any man who is, in fact, free from conscious sin. Furthermore, it is possible that God could create a man (just as he did for Mary) without even Original Sin, for some holy purpose of His, but who this would be, or if such a person has or ever will exist, is beyond my knowledge, but I’m of the opinion that this will never happen in the entirety of human history.”

  • DC, just to be sure I’m not misinterpreting your last line there, you’re not asking if someone could hypothetically avoid sin for an entire lifetime purely out of his own free will and with no divine assistance, i.e., grace, correct? If that is your question, I can’t even imagine that being remotely possible, unless we were to deny the effects of concupiscence on our mortal conscience. But if you mean that one could hypothetically avoid all sin with the help of divine grace, then yes, I’d have to agree w/ many theologians and Church Fathers much smarter than I by responding that it’s remotely possible, but infinitesimally likely. 🙂

  • Kevin,

    I’m a bit perplexed as to how to answer your question. I think I’d say that my position would be that it is true either way, but that it’s even more unlikely without God’s grace.

    But then, it depends what you mean by with God’s grace. After all, God is the Good, and so in some sense whenever we know what the good is to do the good, we are recognizing God.

    But leaving that aside, I guess I’d do the math like this: If we are free, it is possible in every case to do the right thing. However, it’s often hard to know what the right thing is, and it’s also often hard to resist temptation. Both of these are even harder (sometimes very much harder) without the graces of baptism and the sacramental life of the Church.

    So I guess I’d say, it’s approaching the limit of impossibility either way, but it’s approaching it a lot more without grace.

    That said, I would believe steadfastly that this would never actually happen without an incredible act of God on the level of his preservation of Our Lady from sin.

    What fascinates me about it is thus the sum of possibilities adding up to an impossibility.

  • As I noted in Joe’s thread, the general theological consensus has long been that without grace, sin is inevitable; while we reject the Protestant conception of the total depravity of human nature, we do hold that we are sufficiently deformed by original sin and concupiscence that without grace, sin is inevitable.

    And as I noted with Joe’s post, I’m not sure if this is agreement or not with Darwin’s… I imagine that further conversation will tease this out more.

  • Chris,

    That’s the thing that’s mystifying me a bit. I would 100% agree that in realistic terms sin is inevitable for the soul deformed by original sin. (Indeed, I’d say it’s virtually inevitable for the baptized soul in a state of grace, given the stretch of time of a lifetime.)

    I guess my hold up is a probabilistic one, in that it seems to me that if we have free will, there is in every opportunity to sin (even for the unbaptized soul lacking God’s grace) a finite (though perhaps very small) chance of the person doing the right thing. And if in ever choice there is a finite chance of acting rightly, there must be some level of probability (though arguably so low as to approach the limit of impossibility) that someone in this state could avoid sin every time.

    And yet, when looking at the person rather than the choices, it seems clear to me that no person (excepting obviously Christ who was God and the Virgin Mary who was preserved from original sin and was also of heroic virtue personally) is ever going to actually avoid sin every time.

    It strikes me as logically possible (though very, very improbable), yet personally — as in, looked at in terms of the personal, human experience — impossible (not even very, very improbable, but impossible).

    Is that sufficiently confusing?

  • Some pious traditions hold that a few saints (in addition to Our Lady) lived their lives without ever committing mortal sin, at least. St. John the Baptist and St. Joseph spring to mind, and I believe it’s held that they committed no venial sins even.

    But I’m not sure probability is the best approach to this question. After all, most moral quandaries are not binary choices between right and wrong; often there are multiple goods held in balance, and some choices are better or worse, more or less virtuous, more or less sinful.

    We have several obstacles: first, our finitude, in that we do not know fully what the best good is in every concrete situation; second, original sin, which further damages our ability to know and will the good; third, the additional damage of the sins of the world, which add temptation and distort the goods we could and should pursue; and finally, any single personal sin adds to the damage of original sin, and makes good moral choices more difficult to make in the future.

  • Robert, to your first ‘graph, the question isn’t whether or not avoiding sin is possible, but whether or not avoiding sin *without grace* is possible… St. John the Baptist was certainly graced when he was in the womb of his mother; we don’t have explicit proof that St. Joseph was similarly graced, but it seems only likely.

  • You might want to come at the question from the angle of the age of reason, and capacity for judgement. Do we say that an infant commits sin? A retarded person? Someone sleeping, or drunk?

    Technically, an unborn child violates the fourth and fifth commandments when it kicks its mother. Striking a parent is grave matter. But it doesn’t in any meaningful way constitute a sin. We generally say that someone under the age of seven lacks the ability to make moral decisions, but anyone who’s been around a young child knows that they act with some amount of knowledge and consent.

  • I didn’t really flesh out that comment. Reading it now, it comes off as incoherent. I just wanted to put some of the ideas out there that someone else could take up.

Archbishop Niederauer Instructs Nancy Pelosi on Free Will, Conscience and Moral Choice

Sunday, January 17, AD 2010

A few weeks ago I had posted my thoughts on Nancy Pelosi’s scadalous Newsweek interview, in which she chalked up her disagreements with the Bishops on Catholic moral teaching as a “difference of opinion.” At the time I had expressed my curiosity (and honest frustration) as to when her local bishop, George H. Niederauer, would be moved to respond.

He has, and I am thankful for it:

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7 Responses to Archbishop Niederauer Instructs Nancy Pelosi on Free Will, Conscience and Moral Choice

  • From the many times this professed Catholic has stated her views and had conversations with her Bishop as stated by her, when will she be asked to refrain and adhere to the tenets of the Church as she contiunes to embrassed the Church by her public statements and actions. She has been instructed enough. Is is time the Bishop ask her to refrain from the Eurchrist or leave the Church until she conforms to its teachings.

  • I wish this response could be published in Newsweek, or some place people would get to read it.

  • Enough! Without the use of Excommunication, the Bishops have become toothless watchdogs. The discussion devolves into opinion, with no authority to resolve or end it.

  • Unfortunately, I rather doubt that excommunication would mean much to Pelosi et al… her protestations to the contrary, she seems to have little taste for authentic Catholicism.

  • If your child was doing terrible things, drugs, stealing, etc. and you told him to stop and he refused and you did not give him/her a consequence, that would indicate to the child that what he’s doing is no big deal and so he would go right on doing it. Pelosi and other ‘Catholic’ pro-abortion politicians thumb their noses at the Bishops constantly and the Bishops still permit them to receive the Eucharist…this emboldens Pelosi and her colleagues to tell others that they are right and the Bishops just have another ‘opinion’ especially when the Bishops themselves do not agree with each other…

  • To be fair, this is the first I have heard of the Bp. making a clear public statement directed right at Pelosi. Perhaps this is the first step towards more concrete action should the public reprimand prove unfruitful.

  • I heard Nancy Pelosi speaking last night about her favorite word. I suspect you’ve heard or possibly seen the video, but in case you haven’t, you can find it at youtube and you particularly want to hear the question from one of the reporters in the audience. Ms. Pelosi basically said that “The Word” is her favorite ‘word’ and then went on to say and The Word was made flesh and dwelt amongst us. The question was when did Jesus first come into the world made flesh; at the Annunciation, conception or at The Birth of Our Lord. Ms. Pelosi’s response was she would rather talk about that in church where we all bow our heads at these words, although she just talked about it from a podium in from of a roomful (at least with the exception of one) of secularists and had no problem with that. My point is that she’s making a mockery of the Catholic faith. If you haven’t seen the video, try to locate it. I believe the true Catholic Church is very strong and faithful. Its those that are pretending to be Catholic and using Her for political gain or otherwise that gives the Church the appearance of being split. We’re not. It’s as though we’ve been infiltrated by nonbelievers whose sole purpose is to create discension within the Catholic Church, to do nothing but harm the Church. History does have a tendency to repeat itself and I believe this has happened in the past. It will take great fortitude but I believe we can overcome this obstacle if we recognize it and act.

Are You Listening Madame Speaker?

Friday, January 15, AD 2010

Archbishop George H. Niederauer of San Francisco addressed on January 13, 2010 a free will defense of abortion by Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House:

In a recent interview with Eleanor Clift in Newsweek magazine (Dec. 21, 2009), House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was asked about her disagreements with the United States Catholic bishops concerning Church teaching. Speaker Pelosi replied, in part: “I practically mourn this difference of opinion because I feel what I was raised to believe is consistent with what I profess, and that we are all endowed with a free will and a responsibility to answer for our actions. And that women should have the opportunity to exercise their free will.”

Embodied in that statement are some fundamental misconceptions about Catholic teaching on human freedom. These misconceptions are widespread both within the Catholic community and beyond. For this reason I believe it is important for me as Archbishop of San Francisco to make clear what the Catholic Church teaches about free will, conscience, and moral choice.

Catholic teaching on free will recognizes that God has given men and women the capacity to choose good or evil in their lives. The bishops at the Second Vatican Council declared that the human person, endowed with freedom, is “an outstanding manifestation of the divine image.” (Gaudium et Spes, No. 17) As the parable of the Grand Inquisitor in Dostoevsky’s novel, The Brothers Karamazov, makes so beautifully clear, God did not want humanity to be mere automatons, but to have the dignity of freedom, even recognizing that with that freedom comes the cost of many evil choices.

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5 Responses to Are You Listening Madame Speaker?

  • So what next? Nice statement and all, but what hapens, in the highly probable event that this goes in one Pelosi’s ear and out the other (there being nothing in between to catch it)? What will he do when she comes back with some form of I politely disagree but must follow my own reason and conscience which tells me campaign fund– I mean, a women’s right to choose, is an inviolable right necessary for her dignity?

  • To answer the question posed by the title of this post: No.

  • What a great statement by the bishop! And thanks for posting it in its entirety, Donald.

  • Thank you Pinky!

  • Even though Speaker Pelosi may not take the archbishops instruction, this is a positive sign that many bishops in America are finally defending life in a public manner in the correct circumstances.

    Especially from this archbishop who is breaking the stereotype of a “personally orthodox” but “episcopally lax” mold a la Archbishop Wuerl of Washington DC.

Why is Cardinal George Silent about Abortion in the Current Health Care Bill?

Monday, January 4, AD 2010

When Cardinal George requested that pro-life Republicans vote for the Stupak amendment to the health care bill, he was shaming conservative American legislators that they need to stand up for what they claim in public.  Cardinal George discounted reasonable Republican objections  that this was just a ploy by Nancy Pelosi to get pro-life Democrats on board knowing full well that all pro-life language would be stripped in the joint chambers conference committee.

Was Cardinal George this naive to fall for this parliamentary trick?  Can we assume he isn’t this naive?

No, Cardinal George is not this naive because why would the Vatican choose him to lead a diocese?  The Vatican certainly takes its time to make wise and knowledgeable decisions don’t they?  The Holy Spirit guides them in their work, granted that this is done primarily through the teachings of the Church.  Though we can be reasonable enough knowing that the Vatican wouldn’t choose someone who is incompetent to be a shepherd to his flock.

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29 Responses to Why is Cardinal George Silent about Abortion in the Current Health Care Bill?

  • Well, this is no excuse for the Cardinal — but the Republicans who thought about not voting for Stupak were acting on a consequentialist impulse. For all they knew, Pelosi could have had the votes and by their miscalculation, a bill with Capps language could have left the chamber when it could have gone differently.

    You don’t vote “present” and leave the unborn undefended on the presumption that such a provision would be stripped from the final bill. That’s consequentialism. You vote for the provision because it is the morally right thing to do regardless of the circumstances. I agree with the Cardinal because the GOP was behaving according to a moral theory (one that they tend to follow a lot in my view) that is deeply flawed.

    The fact that the Cardinal has not used his position to make statements toward members of the opposite party is open and free for criticism.

    I just don’t think the Republican objections were reasonable — it was a strategy to fight the health care legislation by any means, to the point of compromising basic ethics.

  • Moreover the writer you cite — whose views obviously differ from my own — far from just being partisan in his presenation, which I have no qualms with per se, but it is obviously clear he has not done his homework.

    Last I checked, the USCCB has not endorsed the final passage of the health care reform legislation. Actually, the opposite is true.

  • But I do believe the GOP was right to vote against it. The Dems simply didn’t have the votes to begin with. They went against their better judgment, but got out-foxed by Cardinal George.

  • Eric,

    I know the opposite is true, but why the silence on behalf of Cardinal George?

    What will the USCCB do if the bill passes with abortion being funded by the federal government? Will they oppose that one particular premise yet hail the rest of the bill as “good” for America? Splitting the difference, but compromising their moral authority and hence cause a scandal to the whole Church?

  • Well, I will maintain my civil disagreement. I think such a position incorrectly applies natural law norms. In fact, the angered response of pro-life organizations at the news of the GOP helping a pro-life measure sink was quite appropriate.

    The Democrats did not appear to have the votes, sure. But what if for some reason they did? And we did not forsee it? Who forsaw even after the legislation passed in the House that it would survive the Senate hurdle?

    I agree entirely with Represenative Pitts who after the legislation passed, together with pro-life House Democrats and Republicans, reiterated you do not play politics with human life. The unborn should not be subjected to some consequentialist political gamble to stop legislation that one opposes. You vote for the unborn and do everything within the restraints of the moral law to stop bad legislation. I think to act otherwise amounts to moral compromise.

  • Thanks for being civil!


  • I have no idea. I’m not speaking in favor of Cardinal George. I am sometimes disheartened because I believe Republicans get a “pass” from pro-life Catholics often because of their opposition to abortion. So, I sometimes see such a thing as “finally.” On the other hand, when it stops for the other side that is problematic — we cannot have a double-standard, which is the very thing I oppose. So I am not defending the Cardinal in that regard — only in his initial criticism.

    The USCCB will surely speak out against the bill. I think they would actively in the Midterm elections advocate that Catholics be conscious of candidates’ position on that issue.

    If anything, the USCCB — if happy with the other provisions in the legislation — would only want the abortion language changed. In other words, roll back the abortion funding only.

  • wow, excellent post. Very revealing..and sad at the same time. If our Catholic leaders don’t stand up for the unborn, who will?

  • Eric,

    I’m with you on that.

    Though the USCCB has criticized the current bill in the Senate, so they deserve that recognition.

    I’m waiting to see the final outcome and see how they respond.

  • Chicago political blogger Tom Roeser has long asserted that the Archdiocese of Chicago is for all practical purposes a subsidiary of the Cook County Democratic Party (which he refers to as “The Squid”). Perhaps that would explain why Cardinal George saves his criticism for Republicans?

    Roeser is a very conservative Catholic (politically and liturgically) and I don’t always agree with everything he says, but he may be onto something here. Here is a recent post by him on this topic:

    I note that the two staunchly pro-life auxiliary bishops he names as having voted in the Republican primary are the two most often mentioned as prospective candidates for just about every episcopal vacancy that has come up in the last few years….

  • Eric,

    I agree that one can never vote for the creation or increase of abortion funding. Moral prohibitions bind, as the latin says, semper et pro semper. But must one always vote against such funding, if one can absent oneself from voting at all? Moral exhortations don’t bind the way prohibitions do. You can never steal, but you can refrain from making a contribution to the poor at times. You can never contracept, but you don’t have to be trying to get pregnant at every moment.

    You raise an important point, and I think it’s worth discussing.

  • Strategically, the Republicans should have voted against the amendmendment. However, the bill passing without the amendment would have placed them in an ethical dilemma and I can see whey they voted for it.

    My outrage is at Pelosi and the top Democrats for using the abortion issue as a bargaining tool to pass healthcare legislation. The bishops should be more outspoken about this point.

  • I don’t see the problem. The bishops opposed the House’s expansion of abortion, and the pro-life congressmen voted against it (actually, voted in favor of the Stupak Amendment which blocked it). The bishops again opposed it in the Senate, and were unsuccessful. When the final bill comes to Congress, if it increases abortion, the bishops (and, I hope, a sufficient number of congressmen) will oppose it.

    It’s not the bishops’ duty to anticipate political maneuvers. Indeed, if the bishops denounced the Stupak Amendment on the suspicion that it would be dropped in conference, that would only weaken their voices. They’ve been clear: nay on abortion coverage.

  • Where is it written that the bishops’ consciences must be represented by the USCCB? If every bishop wrote to the representatives and senators from his district and spoke to the people of his diocese, that would certainly have more effect than the words of the [arch]bishop of Chicago. As Abp. Chaput put it neatly “bishops should not be speaking to politicians. They should be speaking to their flock and the flock speaking to the politicians”.

    Cardinal George is not a sort of American pope.

    The problem, I suppose, is that our bishops have lost much of their credibility with the sheep because of the cover-ups in the sex scandals.

    As far as morality goes, it is the personal effort that counts with Our Lord, not indirect government roles. [“I gave at the office”]. Such problems are best solved locally and one by one.

  • Gabriel,

    I am pointing out he hypocrisy of Cardinal George’s actions, or non-actions.

    I don’t have any respect, nor do I recognize the legitimacy of the USCCB.

    I agree though that if the bishops would act more like ‘bishops’ rather than being someone’s friend or a Democratic Party groupie, they would gain the trust and respect of the laity and this country would be in a much better shape than it is now.

  • Lest anyone forget the USCCB sent out flyers to parishes across the country urging parishioners to oppose any healthcare plan that included abortion coverage.

    As Eric and other posters have also pointed out, the Bishops have been adamant about Stupak being included in the bill; this is as far as they have gone, and, frankly, is about as far as they can (and probably should) go, politically speaking. Questions about the intricacies of actual healthcare policy (will a public option work or not, etc.) are not “do or die” moral questions like abortion and euthanasia, but fall to the expertise of individual politicians to decide. It is best for the USCCB to remain nuetral on such matters while insisting that the allowance of any moral evil in the bill (abortions, etc.) impels a legislator to vote against it – which is exactly what they’ve been doing!

    Where is their any proof that Cardinal George is either for or against the House healthcare bill as passed? This article has nothing but speculation – where are the words of C. George himself that imply he supports the Pelosi bill? Did he ask parishioners to unconditionally support a bill that included the Stupak amendment? No. He merely asked that the lives of babies and their mothers take priority over political victories – hence the strong support for Stupak. Eric, Pinky, and Rep. Pitts are right. To vote “no” on Stupak as an amendment is to vote against the unborn – it’s placing a potential political victory ahead of the lives of the unborn.

    I have personally congratulated many people in the Chicago Archdiocese who worked with the Cardinal on this and I asked them to forward my accolades and gratitude to him. I find his actions to be heroic, not cowardly – partisan shill C. George is not, and this article is at best misinformed, at worst a calumny.

  • Andy K.,

    It’s interesting that you accuse me of speculation.

    I made a concerted effort to only report the facts, withholding my opinion.

    He was vociferous in demanding pro-life Republicans vote for the health care amendment, though he is dead silent when it gets revised in the Senate.

    And yes, you are correct, Cardinal George has been conspicuously silent about the bill.

    My speculations are reserved for the commbox. And I will only say he has continued to do nothing at all.

    And having the USCCB send out flyers is not the role of a bishop, ie, hide behind a bureaucratic organization.

    Where are our shepherds?

    Where is our Saint Ambrose?

  • Tito’s final question reminds me that we need to be *praying* for courageous bishops. Frankly, I think that’s the most effective avenue available to the vast majority of us.

  • Chris B.,

    I wish I could have said that.

    You’re right, lets pray for our bishops.

  • I’m with Eric and the Stupakites on this one. It’s hard to say what the result of trying to play it strategically would have been, but gutting the bill of a clearly-worded rejection of abortion would have been a recognized defeat for life.

  • These so-called health care bills are so horrible and anti-Christian and anti-American that abortion is not the only reason to oppose and destroy them. Since abortion is an intrinsically evil act it must be opposed no matter what political ploys are being used.

    To be in favor of these monstrosities is to discount the massive evil perpetrated by every government that has ever entered into this arena. It is foolish to think the National (oh, how I wish it were actually federal and respected subsidiarity) government we are burdened with will be any less evil.

    Cardinal George needs our prayers and it is prudential for us to ask our own bishop to condemn these bills with the politicians he shepherds. Cardinal George is one bishop he is not he bishop of the USA. The USCCB is useless organization.

  • I’m sorry, but this post is ridiculous.

    I don’t have any respect, nor do I recognize the legitimacy of the USCCB.

    OK? So? Good thing for Holy Church that Tito Edwards or Ryan Haber (me), despite all we know, aren’t heads over the Catholic Church.

    The simple fact is, as Eric pointed out, that to vote “present” on the Stupak Amendment would be a reprehensible parliamentarism worthy of our esteemed president. A rep can vote YES on Stupak and then NO on the final bill. That’s no problem, and no contradiction.

    Why hasn’t Cardinal George spoken out? I don’t know? I don’t have a bat phone to his office. Why does American Catholic seem to be so much more concerned with him than with some other bishop? What’s their deal? What has Cardinal George ever done to aid or abet abortionists? Where’s benefit of the doubt? Where’s Christian charity in interpreting others’ actions?

    Where’s a sense of deference to the men that GOD, not men, has ordained to lead his flock?

    Good grief. I’m gettin’ pretty tired of everybody knowing just how the Catholic Church should be shepherded. It’s really easy to do somebody else’s job. How armchair quarterbacks actually think they are actually helping anybody is entirely beyond me.

  • Ryan,

    Thanks for your charitable comment concerning my post.

    I have no deference to Cardinal George because he is not my shepherd, Cardinal DiNardo and Pope Benedict are my shepherds, but I do have deference to him as a leader of the flock. I hope he understands what his actions look like when he speaks out. He seems more as a vibrant supporter of health care as an ardent Democrat rather than a Catholic concerned for the well being of his flock.

    Plus Cardinal George spoke up, the only one of all the bishops that said anything to cajole the GOP to vote for the Stupak amendment.

    God bless you my brother in Christ,


  • withouthaving seen,

    I guess avoiding parlimentarianism is good if the Supak language stays in the final version. The way the bill is being dealt with now I wouldn’t be so sure. And who’s to say that legislation down the road won’t put it in.

    As far as shepharding is concerned, teaching moral principles is properly the role of the bishops, applying it to the world is the proper domain of the laity. I think some criticism of the USCCB and, possibly, Cardinal George is warranted.

  • Lol, Tito, it doesn’t matter if he were the bishop of Timbuktu, he’d still be successor to an apostle and worthy of the respect of the likes me and you!

    I know that Cardinal George, much like the Church in general, gets trashed by all sides. That, in my opinion, wins him the benefit of the doubt from me.

    To clarify, when I wrote “this post is ridiculous,” I did not mean your comment in particular, Tito, but rather the initial article and the whole thread of follow-ups.

    Stupak and a number of others are threatening to kill the bill altogether if they can, rather than let it pass with abortion funding. Remember, reconciliation and closed-door meetings aren’t the final step. The suits on the hill still have to vote again and both houses have to pass it, and I see no reason why it will be a perfunctory vote in the House of Reps, where the Democrat coalition is shaky, to put it mildly.


    The USSCB might very well need criticism, as might H.E. Francis Card. George. I know far less about their affairs than they do, and if I knew as much, I still would have a hard time seeing how Christ has ordained me to criticize his ordained ministers.

    Ryan Haber
    Kensington, Maryland

  • Ryan,

    Thanks for the clarification 🙂

    I was careful to point out what Cardinal George did in the post without offering an opinion.

    I placed my opinion only in the commbox because I still don’t know where Cardinal George’s heart is. Is it with the Democratic Party or is it in the Bride of Christ?

  • withouthavingseen,

    Criticize in a constructive way as the non-ordained Catherine of Sienna did the Avignon pope. Truth is truth. The laity has a better sense of the secular order. If there is a problem that the laity discerns in the prudential judgments of the clergy as relates to the secular order, they are within their licit Catholic rights to criticize those prudential judgments of clergy.

  • Thank you for this good commentary. I have been contemplating some of these questions, too. I have written to my Bishop and the USCCB, but there is only silence. Our Parish has sent out a FAX to all the Bishops with our concerns of the health care reform. To my knowledge, only one Bishop responded to the Fax. I have pondered why there is only a handful of bishops who have spoken on the the Church’s teachings of subsidiarity in regards to the health care bill and government take-over. The Stupak Amendment is not 100% pro-life and there is more than abortions which is very troubling in the House and the Senate health care bills. Should not the Bishops be concerned with all the life issues in the health care reform i.e. abortions, euthanasia, cloning, embryonic stem cell research, rationing, sterilization, teen clinics run by planned parenthood, contraceptions, cloning, or any injustice? Certainly, health care can be improved, but it does not require a government take over with individual mandates and loss of freedoms. Any health care reform should do no harm before doing any good. With all the haste, bribery and lack of transparency, I would certainly think this 2000 page plus health care reform is to be avoided. September 2009 I went to a town-hall meeting and my Congressman said this was not about health care but about government take-over and control. I believe he is right.

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The Promises of Artificial Intelligence

Friday, January 16, AD 2009

Most of us are familiar with some concept of artificial intelligence, be it Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation, C-3PO and R2D2 from Star Wars, HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey, Skynet from The Terminator, or Joshua from War Games, to name a few popular examples. We’ve long been introduced to the notion of the struggle to determine if artificial intelligence constitutes life whether these beings, which we have created, deserve rights. We’ve also come across the notion of whether we need to restrict these beings so that they cannot turn and extinguish human life (think Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics, and movies like The Terminator and The Matrix, where the artificial intelligence has turned on humankind). Yet we very rarely hear the debate as to whether such artificial intelligence can ever be a reality. In fact, and partially due to the promises made in the 50’s and 60’s, many people think that super-intelligent machines are destined to occur any day now.

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15 Responses to The Promises of Artificial Intelligence

  • The books of Father Stanley Jaki pretty well cover the topic.

  • “Did you know that we cannot truly generate random numbers on a computer?”

    Ryan! It warms my heart to see this post and that statement. I was just having a conversation with my wife the other day about this very thing. (I think we’d just watched an episode of Battlestar Galactica and the whole Cylon thing sparked it.) I was telling her about my grad school class in math modeling and operations research, and how random number generators always need algorithms with seeds. My take on the whole problem is the same as yours. If the cosmos is just colliding atoms without supernature, how do we escape determinism? Just how sohpisticated would a computer have to be to mimic a human mind and be self-aware? What is “understanding” and “meaning” in such a universe???

    Sometimes I just don’t get materialists…

  • In your introduction you state that we rarely debate whether AI is actually possible. Actually I think that there is way too much time spent on this question. All the available evidence indicates that the universe is Turing computable. If anyone can prove, or even find any evidence at all that there was a part of the universe (such as the human mind) that was not Turing computable that would be a huge revolution in physics bigger than anything since Newton.

    And that’s the problem with any contention that AI is not possible. A scientific demonstration that AI is not possible would amount to such new physics as I just mentioned above. Without a scientific demonstration you are left with saying that you could have something which passes every test you can devise for intelligence and yet you do not regard as being intelligent (likewise concious etc.). This has the standard solipsistic problems. So unless this is the possibility you are considering then the idea that AI is impossible (rather than just very very difficult) is mere wishful speculation and will remain so until some actual evidence is presented.

    I should also point out that Turing computation isn’t the only possible determinist framework for physical theories. But for you to be right would really imply that some form of hypercomputation is at work within the human brain/mind. Hypercomputation is a research interest of mine and take it from me there is no evidence that my research is physically relevant (let alone relevant to the philosophy of mine)!

  • “This has the standard solipsistic problems. So unless this is the possibility you are considering then the idea that AI is impossible (rather than just very very difficult) is mere wishful speculation and will remain so until some actual evidence is presented”.

    This is asking to prove a negative. If AI is possible, it is AI that must be demonstrated. Among the great problems [as usual] is that of defining intelligence. I take it to be the ability to make connections [inter legere] without having to install the connections in the machine. In a phrase, can the machine make its own connections.

  • It isn’t asking you to prove a negative because there are examples of evidence that would make the contention that AI is impossible more plausible:

    1) Finding a problem class which can be solved by minds (reliably) which is not Turing soluble. An example would be the Turing halting problem and another the word problem.

    Technically you’d need to show that the minds can do this without significant external input to rule out nature containing the necessary information but this is a logical subtlety.

    2) You could find new laws of physics that are not Turing computable (or Turing computable with some random noise added).

    If the laws of physics, relevant to the functioning of the human brain/mind, are Turing computable and we reject a solipsistic position then artificial intelligence is possible (or at least as possible as normal intelligence!). Now in order to contend that it is not, one would have to show that there are laws of physics that are relevant to the human brain/mind which are not Turing computable. A solipsistic position wouldn’t help because then you could not demonstrate that other people were intelligent.

    As I said before demostrating either (1) or (2) would qualify you for a nobel prize. This doesn’t mean you can’t! But it does make me doubtful.

    Furthermore the argument I am trying to make is for the possibility of AI in principle. Thus it is not necessary for me to exhibit an AI to prove my point. I doubt anyone will do that for at least another decade or two.

    Incidentally I meant “the philosophy of mind” in my original comment.

  • “Did you know that we cannot truly generate random numbers on a computer?”

    This is not quite correct. As far as we know, nuclear decay is non-deterministic and has been, and can be used in random number generators. Other sources of (as far as we know) truly random or random-enough numbers exist, including taking photographs of incoming cosmic rays, the time and type of user input and so on. This is not limited to seeding the generator, but, for example, the UNIX device /dev/random will force anything reading bits from it to wait until it has got enough entropy before continuing.

    But anyway, you don’t provide anything to tie together free will and self-awareness on the one hand, and intelligence on the other. You equate free will with nondeterminism – very dubious since it gets the “free” bit right but what happens to the will? A computer program which uses true randomness in combination with algorithmic rules does not have free will. Self-awareness is apparently something more than just “having information about oneself” (more generally, I presume you think that awareness is more than possessing information) since computers are already aware in this sense of their internal environments such as their temperature, and are easily made aware of other things.

    But even so, you don’t set up any implications between lack of these qualities and lack of intelligence. The Chinese Room thought experiment is interesting but hardly settling!

  • I will insert my admittedly uneducated, and largely intuitive perspective on this.

    If AI is possible, it would not look like human intelligence, making it a questionable possibility. Take for example this discussion, it demonstrates considerable intelligence among other capabilities in both interlocutors…. AI may be able calculate amazing scientific possibilities, but when it comes to non-material ideas there is no comparison between man and animal, nor do I think that there could be a reasonable comparison between man and machine.

    As a common person, in order to accept true intelligence in a machine it would have to be capable of developing abstract, non-material, and original ideas.

    God Bless,

    ps. the computer’s self-awareness (as in it’s temperature) is not really the computer’s but the programmer’s awareness, encoded in the system in order to respond to a future event.

  • Response to Matt: My inuitions and yours differ here so I’m not prepared to accept an argument based just on your intuitions.

    I think the problem with your argument lies in the very dubious assumption that people have an unbounded capacity for abstract reasoning and for creating novel ideas (in the absence of significant environmental input). Sure we have some capability but your argument needs that capacitiy to be unlimited. Given what we know about the human brain/mind this would be a very speculative assumption.

    Artificial intelligence programs may well have limits to their ability to engage in abstract reasoning, create new ideas or understand concepts but the issue is whether its possible in principle to produce a program which has about the same level of limitation that humans have.

    In summary in order to show that AIs could not be intelligent (at the same level that humans are) you must not only show that artificial intelligence will be limited but you must also show that human intelligence is not likewise limited. But the same reasoning (based on the halting problem) that shows that AIs will have certain limits can be applied to humans if the laws of physics that are relevant to the brain/mind are Turing computable.

  • Well, thanks all for the interesting comments. I’ll try to address some things that caught my eye as demanding a response.

    This is not quite correct. As far as we know, nuclear decay is non-deterministic and has been, and can be used in random number generators. Other sources of (as far as we know) truly random or random-enough numbers exist, including taking photographs of incoming cosmic rays, the time and type of user input and so on. This is not limited to seeding the generator, but, for example, the UNIX device /dev/random will force anything reading bits from it to wait until it has got enough entropy before continuing.

    You then misread what I was meaning. For the first half of your response, you’re talking about seeding the generator or otherwise taking in random input to help produce numbers at random. I’m saying that no algorithm can, of itself, produce random numbers because the whole notion is contradictory. We cannot use deterministic means to produce random effects. As for taking in input to produce random effects, that does very well in practice, but does not alter my point. I’d also warn about paying too much attention to entropy in the matter of randomness, as the two are not necessarily correlated. Indeed, I can produce (with enough time) from an algorithm that takes in no input, a sequence with maximal entropy for any string length. Our standard compression algorithms increase the entropy of files by removing redundancy.

    Self-awareness is apparently something more than just “having information about oneself” (more generally, I presume you think that awareness is more than possessing information) since computers are already aware in this sense of their internal environments such as their temperature, and are easily made aware of other things.

    Self-awareness is the understanding of the concept “I” as distinct from “you” or “it”. Thus having data on processor temperature, failure status of devices, what devices are present, and whatnot does not constitute to self-awareness. Have data on “my” processor and “my” devices and whatnot is closer.

    You equate free will with nondeterminism – very dubious since it gets the “free” bit right but what happens to the will?

    As I feel nondeterminism is a component of free will (not necessarily the whole shebang), and we cannot compute nondeterministically, I felt the case sufficiently made there, though. You do have my back against the wall with:

    But anyway, you don’t provide anything to tie together free will and self-awareness on the one hand, and intelligence on the other.

    Tying these together is hard to do, and my attempt basically went like this: Suppose intelligence does not depend on free will. Then intelligence is deterministic (denying truly random in nature) and thus equivalent to a giant lookup table. Since I deny that intelligence is simply a lookup table (asserted by appeal to appeal), intelligence must depend on free will. This argument is full of gaps, so if anyone else would like to take a stab at it, I’d love to see what others can say!

    Thanks, C. Le Sueur!

    All the available evidence indicates that the universe is Turing computable.

    I have a hard time with that one. I think you’ll need to clarify “universe” in this discourse, because my universe contains abstract concepts that are not computable in any paradigm. And then I would appeal to the seemingly truly random events in nature, mainly those posed by quantum mechanics–particle decay, Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, superposition of states of particles, and so on–and ask how you justify the computability of such phenomena. Do you hold to hidden variable theory?

    But for you to be right would really imply that some form of hypercomputation is at work within the human brain/mind.

    Assuming that intelligence, thought, etc are actually phenomena of computation, I would maybe concede that this statement is essentially correct. However, I’m not a student of mind/brain interaction, save on the theological side, so I can’t really add more to this argument than what I’ve said in my post. Theologically speaking, thought, self-awareness, and intelligence in general are manifestations of our spiritual souls, which in themselves have no parts, which to me denies that there is any computation (hyper or otherwise) going on in us. But I doubt that’s a satisfactory answer to your charge (indeed, I think I’m just copping out…).

    2) You could find new laws of physics that are not Turing computable (or Turing computable with some random noise added).

    There’s something about this statement I just don’t like, and I’m not sure I can put a finger on it. What specifically do you mean by laws being computable? I can think of a couple possible meanings of this–the effects of the laws can be simulated, or the laws are derived algorithmically from a set of axioms–but you’ll need to clarify.

    Now, I don’t mean any insult, but you do brandish “Turing computable” around like a magic sword, and I’m tempted to quote Inigo Montoya: “You keep use that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” You said hypercomputation is a research area you’re interested in, but also spoke of being in philosophy of mind, so I need to ask. What is your field?

    I agree, though, that just about any “test” we can devise to prove or disprove intelligence runs the risk of being an argument for solipsism.

    Thanks, Barnaby! I hope we’ll hear more from you.

    ps. the computer’s self-awareness (as in it’s temperature) is not really the computer’s but the programmer’s awareness, encoded in the system in order to respond to a future event.

    Matt, this touches on exactly the problem I have with even producing good evolutionary algorithms, much less artificial intelligence. Programmers set up the environment, and so the whole process is completely determined from square one, even if we have a hard time seeing all the ramifications. (After all, there are only a finite number of chess games, at least once we include the 50 moves without a capture draw, but that finite number is so big that we could never examine every single game.) From a practical standpoint, I’d then argue that in order to produce A.I., we have to be able to fully understand our own intelligence, and that’s still a work in progress.

    Thanks, Matt!

  • Barnaby,

    i guess if you put enough artificial constraints then it’s impossible to prove ANYTHING is impossible.

    We know that man’s capacity to “engage in abstract reasoning, create new ideas or understand concepts” is not limitless, because that would make us God. But you’ve yet to show that AI is capable of ANY original thought let alone limitless.

    It seems to me that AI could achieve the level of intelligence of the highest animals short of humans, and with massive computational power, but that is distinct from human thought.

    Just curious, are you a materialist? It seems that you’re treating man as just a higher animal, rather than possessing an eternal soul.

    If you are arguing from a purely materialist perspective then it would be impossible to demonstrate the impossibility of AI achieving human intelligence.

    ps. snootiness aside, do you REALLY believe intuitively that AI could ever participate in such a discussion?

  • Careful, Matt. I don’t think Barnaby is being snooty. Rather, I have a suspicion (and I hope he’ll either confirm or deny this) that he’s in a particular field like philosophy, rather than theology or computer science. I say this–and I’m not being mean-spirited, Barnaby, I promise!–because he seems to have appropriated the term “Turing computable” and is twisting it slightly to fit his field. Now, all fields do that to some extent (A.I. itself borrows heavily from psychology, and in ways that make psychologist flinch), so I’m not in any way calling him down for it. (If you want an example of something gets grossly pulled out of context, just think of Godel’s Incompleteness Theorems!) With a little more clarification, we should know exactly where each of us stands, and hey, we might have even more insightful dialogue!

  • Barnaby,

    I meant no offense by the “snootiness”, but a little sarcasm, and for that I apologize. I guess I was just trying to reject the idea that intuitive ideas ought to be rejected out of hand, or are not worth discussing. It’s my understanding that Einstein developed the special theory of relativity triggered by an intuition that it was the case.

    I think Ryan has very effectively placed a lot more intellectual rigor into the points I was trying to make.


  • Response to Matt:

    No offense taken. I’m arguing that if AI is impossible then that would imply a revolution in physics. And I am concluding that until further evidence emerges we should assume that AI is possible.

    “..AI capable of ANY original thought..”. I would argue that you have not shown that people are capable of any original thought either by the exceedingly stringent definition you appear to be using. I am arguing that by any reasonable definition if people can reach a certain level of intelligence then that level can be reached by a suitably programmed, and powerful enough, computer.

    I don’t think the term materialist is very well defined so I wouldn’t call myself one. I do think that the laws of physics are Turing computable where they are relevant to the human brain/mind.

    I think there is a much bigger difference between today’s computers and ‘higher’ animals than between ‘higher’ animals and people. But never the less I really am convinced that artificial intelligence is possible! Furthermore my intuition that AI is possible is as strong as my intuition that other people think and feel. I am fascinated by the fact that others lack this intuition or have an opposing one. I try not to be over reliant on my intuitions, however, even when they are this strong.

    “If you are arguing from a purely materialist perspective then it would be impossible to demonstrate the impossibility of AI achieving human intelligence.”

    This is only true if you think the idea that the universe involves hypercomputation is not compatible with being a materialist. Do you assume a materialist must believe the universe has a finite number of laws of physics? Because if not then a materialist could in principle reject the possibility of AI (realised by faster computers of the type we have today rather than hypercomputers).

    Response to Ryan:

    “You’ll have to clarify universe in this dialogue”.

    I normally use the definition: “Causally connected region” and for ‘our universe’ I use “The unique, and smallest, causally connected region including myself”. I do not try to separate the universe up into domains such as material and spiritual.

    “Do you hold to hidden variable theory?”

    I meant to add the caveat: OR Turing computable with some random noise added. In any case I understand Feynman proved that the predictions of quantum mechanics can be computably calculated which I think is enough for the purposes of my argument.

    “What is your field?”

    I am a mathematician working within set theory on hypercomputation. If I have misused the term Turing computable it is through carelessness not a lack of understanding. Never the less I think that at worst I have failed to specify what I meant rigorously enough. I didn’t say at any point that I work in the philosophy of mind (I don’t). I just mentioned the area.

    “What specifically do you mean by laws being computable?”

    I mean that the predictions of those laws can be calculated (with initial conditions as input) by a Turing computer. Richard Feynman proved that quantum mechanics is computable in this sense. Strictly speaking the same is only true of general relativity under the assumption of a space time like the one we observe in our universe (but this is enough).

    “Intelligence, thought, etc. are actually phenomena…”

    Hmmm, I didn’t really mean to say this. I really ought to have said: But for you to be right would really imply that the physics relevant to the mind is not just a combination of Turing computation and randomness. This doesn’t really effect my argument though.

    Now that was a very long response! I’ve enjoyed this discussion and regret I may not have the time to continue it (I have my research to write up).

  • Barnaby,

    The philosophy of materialism holds that the only thing that can be truly proven to exist is matter, and is considered a form of physicalism. Fundamentally, all things are composed of material and all phenomena (including consciousness) are the result of material interactions; therefore, matter is the only substance.

    What I am saying is that we believe that there is more to man than the sum of his biological parts. Our thought processes extend beyond the material world to the non-material world. We possess an immortal soul which gives us this ability, which a purely material creature or construct could not. I suggest that this capacity is a critical component of human intelligence.


  • Barnaby,

    Hey, thanks for clearing things up! Forgive my misconceptions. And now I’m curious. Can you pare down in a few sentences (they can be incredibly technical and terse, I don’t mind) what you’re looking into as far as hypercomputation? I admit, the extent of my knowledge of hypercomputation is limited to things like letting a Turing machine compute for infinitely long (which then removes concerns of computable reals among other things). Or do you have a paper you’d point me at? So… Any thoughts on the P v NP problem? Equal? Separate? Independent?

    “The unique, and smallest, causally connected region including myself”.

    As I note, I just have to laugh. This is so a mathematician’s answer! And I can say that, ‘cuz I ar one, too.

    In any case I understand Feynman proved that the predictions of quantum mechanics can be computably calculated which I think is enough for the purposes of my argument.,

    If you’re simply talking about the predictions being computable in that sense, then I suppose I don’t have too much to quibble about (other than maybe asking whether we’re talking completely computable, or probabilistically computable…). I certainly haven’t researched any into the computability of the laws physics in that regard, but then, your answer suggests you were stating a much weaker proposal than I originally thought.

    If I have misused the term Turing computable it is through carelessness not a lack of understanding. Never the less I think that at worst I have failed to specify what I meant rigorously enough.

    Well, now knowing that you’re mathematician working within the realm of hypercomputation, it now makes perfect sense why you’re fairly strident at saying “Turing computable”. In my field (resource bounded measure and dimension), all the notions of computability we work with are polynomial-time equivalent, so we tend to just say “computable”. I definitely retract my flippant Montoya comment.

    Hmmm, I didn’t really mean to say this. I really ought to have said: But for you to be right would really imply that the physics relevant to the mind is not just a combination of Turing computation and randomness. This doesn’t really effect my argument though.

    Well, this comes down to fundamental views of mind/brain interaction. If we suppose that all human thought, intelligence, and whatnot is determined by physical laws, if there’s nothing more than the brain at work, that’s one thing. If there’s a spiritual soul, which we can’t prove or disprove mathematically, but which is a doctrinal statement of the Catholic Church, then there’s more at play than are touched by physical laws. That’s the only point I was trying to make.

    Thanks again, Barnaby! Now, I should probably hit my research, as well.