I mention this not to discuss the show’s existential philosophy (that’ll come up later :-), but rather the philosophy of existence (what “is” is :-). In particular, I want to suggest that the issues Alan and I have been murkily wrestling with in his Deep Thoughts and my Ontologically Correct have been similarly overtaken by events, and rendered moot. Specifically, I am arguing that:
I realize that’s a lot to prove, but I’m going to give it a shot. [Read more] for my inquest into the mutual deaths of the Rosencrantz of Naturalism and the Guildenstern of Mysticism.
I also want to point out that “This Ain’t Easy.” We really are trying to answer some of the deep questions of the millenia, and language is a very imperfect tool (though still better than all the others 🙂 for doing so. One of Aristotle’s great achievements, I’m told, is that he managed to elucidate all the different sense of “to be”, since before that philosophers couldn’t even agree about “nothing!” So, I appreciate Alan’s patience as we work through layers of mutual misunderstanding, since in many cases these are to due to actual confusion in our mental models, not just limitations in our language.
Let me start with Alan’s definition:
my tentative position is still naturalism, that conciousness and behavior and choice (or the illusion thereof) are all manifestations of purely physical processes. Positing a separate spiritual existence to explain them does make things easier, but it strikes me as being very much a sort of “God of the gaps” explanation when we attribute to something “unnatural” anything we cannot (yet) explain.
All well and good, but what exactly qualifies as a “physical process” — I’m not a historian, but I hope Alan will allow me to indulge in a parable that may be wrong in details, but captures the essential trends.
In the 18th and 19th century, it was “obvious” what was physical. Classical physics implicitly assumed that:
In other words, there was no room for God, free will, or spiritual phenomena. In reaction to this, mysticism asserted that:
Of course these are both gross simplifications, and would not fairly characterize all players on either side. However, I do think these fundamental ontological differences captured the heart of the tension between them at that time, as well as their enduring enmity.
But, a funny thing happened on the way to the 21st century: naturalism won the battle, but lost the war. Yes, methodological naturalism has crushed spiritualism as a means of explaining reality. But in so doing, it has also crushed many of the assumptions our naturalistic forefathers took as gospel. In the new, post-Einsteinian physics:
I’m sure Alan would be quick to point out that this is still essentially naturalism, and I would not disagree. But the larger point is that the main objections that mysticists (in my view) had to naturalism have disappeared. In the new “quantum naturalism”, concepts like “consciousness” and “choice” are not merely conceivable, but (at least potentially) well-defined.
In particular, I would argue that there is no measurable nor philosophical difference between thinking of the mind as a “coherent quantum state emerging from the complexity of neural interconnects” versus “the interaction of soul and matter.” In particular, once you grant the existence of such a quantum field in the brain, who is to say that it is not entangled with other fields, which may or may not be directly coupled to the material universe we directly perceive with our senses?
Thus, I am perfectly willing to accept “quantum naturalism” as a valid conceptual model for our mutual understanding of reality. However, I assert that I am still free to define my relevant spiritual concepts — God, angels, etc. — in similar terms, as quantum fields (or potentially sub-quantum fields) which interact with the field of consciousness, and thus valid ontological concepts in our universe.
You might argue — and probably would — that such “fields” are very different than the “spirits” which inhabit a mystical universe. But if so, how? The usual answer is that fields have no “sentience“, while spirits do. But, that begs the question, “What is sentience?” If you can assign sentience to a human field, why can I not assign one to a non-human field?
Thus, by conceding the point about naturalism (suitably modified), I have replaced it with a deeper — but hopefully clearer — mystery of sentience. As I see it, you [Alan] can assert:
Of course, there are other variations on these, but hopefully this gets you pointed in the right direction.
My usual understanding of naturalism is that it concedes that:
which corresponds to point (b), or — using our earlier definition of divinity — what I would call “economic Deism.”
Would you agree, Alan? Or are you at least more meaningfully confused? 🙂