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November 16, 2007



Dennett discusses "free floating rationales" - dynamics that are fundamental truths of the Universe whether of not anything instantiates them. The wheel in locomotion provides and example. For a very great amount of time, there were almost no wheels, but it's clear that any entity able to bring about wheel-based locomotion would find it to great advantage.

In fact, I think ethics fall into the same category. Even before there were humans, there were ethics, even though there was no instantiated creatures to whom they applied. We humans have the great good fortune of being able (sometimes) to recognize these free-floating forms, representing them to ourselves (and in an attenuated form, to computers) for use in imagining instantiations to create.

Nathan Smith

Hehe. Yes, one of the most fascinating and amusing things about Dennett is his Platonism, the way he develops the concept of "Design Space." He doesn't even realize that he is refuting his own materialism in the process. Plato's Theory of Forms has its problems, to be sure, but Dennett's materialism-cum-Design Space makes Plato's notions seem admirably consistent by comparison.


I'm not sure to what form of materialism Nathan regards Dennet as subscribing, but he has described himself as a cognitive "realist" who regards things like centers of gravity as being more than representational projection. Though many describe his ideas as being eliminitivist, he does not believe consciousness is an illusion. I get my own quasi-ontological distinction between logical and physical (instantiated) entities from him. If one wants to call me (and Dennett) a dualist because of that, then so be it, but I think that does some violence to the term.

Nathan Smith

But Nato, how can there be purely logical entities? Where do they exist? Isn't everything supposed to be made of protons, neutrons, electrons, and other fundamental particles? Isn't that the whole point? Where do these logical entities live? Do they float in the void like ghosts? And how can our minds make contact with them? What kind of entities can our minds be, that they are able to perceive non-physical entities? How could such entities have come into being, and why do they also seem to have a physical aspect and make things happen in the physical world, even as they communicate with the realm of ideas? Isn't there a great mystery here?


I suppose there's a sort of mystery. How is it that A always equals A in a particular time and in a particular respect? How is it that 1+1 always equals 2? Ultimately all such questions grind to a halt because axioms are by definition intractable.

It doesn't seem that logic has a temporal dimension - a single logical system exists, will always exist and always has existed, or nothing makes sense. It is literally nonsensical to posit a time or a place without logic, because neither has a definition without logic. Tom would, I think, say that instantiations are almost certain to merely be a certain special kind of logic that merely appear differently to us. I don't know about this but it doesn't seem implausible to me. What I will say is that it's literally inconceivable for an entity to exist without attendant logic of its existence.

I would also say that computers, which instantiate very limited but very clear subsets of the universal logic, have the capability to represent to themselves some portion of that logic. Is this "veridical" representation? I suppose that's debatable, but I will say that if we accept that as a case of perceiving logic, then we can at least plausibly extend the case to ourselves. Of course, that would imply that we have no hope of perceiving the ultimate logic in full or directly, but I think that would surprise no one.


Incidentally, if we have a soul, then there's a logic to it as well. Of course, *my* claim would be that we do have a soul - but it is a logical entity instantiated by our matter. Is this the same as classical dualism? Apparently not, since computer code and memory registers (and novels, and so on) are also essentially logical in nature (i.e. it doesn't matter what executes the code or what stores the data, as long as it faithfully reflects the internal logic of the entity being instantiated) yet no one seems to think materialism cannot cope with these.

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