Sunday, April 26, 2015

Night Of Philosophy

Last Friday night I went to an event called "Night of Philosophy". It took place at the French Embassy here in New York and the Ukrainian Institute of America. The idea is interesting: 12 straight hours of half hour presentations giving by many world-renowned philosophers on a variety of topics from logic, to existence, to religion, to god and science. Entry was for free. Oh yeah, and there was a bar. Given how all this stuff is right up my alley, I went straight after work.

Although it was 80 degrees last weekend, this weekend it was 40 degrees. Other than having to wait about 35 minutes in the cold with ferocious winds, the event was very unexpected treat. I missed David Albert's presentation on the arrow of time, but I did get to see presentations from many philosophers I've taken an interest in, including Massimo Pigliucci, Alex Rosenberg, and Tim Maudlin.

Alex Rosenberg gave a speech in defense of scientism and included a PowerPoint slide with his "answers" to the biggest perplexing philosophical questions:

Is there a God? No.
What is the nature of reality? What physics says it is.
What is the purpose of the universe? There is none.
What is the meaning of life? Ditto.
Is there a soul? Is it immortal? Are you kidding?
Is there free will? Not a chance.
What is the difference between right and wrong, good and bad? Nothing beyond the emotions mother nature selected us for having.
Does human history ave any lessons for the future? Few and fewer, if it ever had any.

Rosenberg is one of scientism and eliminative materialism's loudest defenders, but they are both controversial, even among naturalists. After his lecture, I asked Rosenberg if eliminative materialism is the natural and logical outcome of a naturalistic ontology and without hesitation he answered "Yes."

I unfortunately didn't get the chance to follow up in much detail because he had to leave for the next presentation to begin. But the question and his answer still remains. Is Rosenberg correct? The view Rosenberg holds on eliminative materialism is the minority view among naturalists (and philosophers in general.) This view is that there are no real intentional states and there is no distinction between the moral questions of right and wrong. In other words, intentional mental states, morality and moral values are an illusion. Nihilism rules the day.

I agree there is no god, there is no purpose of the universe, or objective meaning of life, no soul or free will, and I can get on-board for the most part that the nature of reality is best described by what physics says it is. But, where I disagree is on the moral nihilism and the denial of intentionality or subjective mental states. I've given my views on morality on plenty posts (see here) so I won't go into detail now. On intentionality and consciousness I take a more epiphenominal view where either reductionism or emergentism are true. I think intentional brain states are the result of certain physical states of the brain but unlike Rosenberg, I think the consciousness of it is real. I'm not going to go into detail here why I think this but suffice it to say that I'd agree more with someone like Massimo Pigliucci on consciousness and intentionality, that they are real things that ultimately come from physical brains.

And finally, Rosenberg's style of scientistic naturalism is also a popular target by theistic apologists who enjoy showing how pointless and nihilistic his view of the world is, and then they try and say that atheism and this kind of nihilism are the same - which is the view Rosenberg holds to. I don't think they are and in some ways I feel the need to criticize Rosenberg's views to distance them from my own views on naturalism and make sure that his views remain at most a minority view.

I may write some more about this and and the other presentations from the event in the future. I managed to record some of his speech and I may have that uploaded to YouTube and link it here in time. Meanwhile here are some more pics from Rosenberg's presentation:

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