Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Pit of Because and Sophistry

This post extends the last one by reading a ridiculous post recently made by Jim Eshelman over at the Fruitcake Factory (aka The Temple of Thelema Forums,; read the specific post here) The purpose will be to demonstrate the severe logical problems with his argument and to show how his post is an example of the dangers that the Book of the Law warns us against.

Read on for more.

Eshelman begins by praising the nonsense written by the kid I mentioned in the last post. He then claims that he “aspire[s] to write as worthy a post.” Mission accomplished, I say. Let’s go to the tape:

OBSERVATION: Physical science has shown (and broadly accepts) that matter, at its most subtle level, adapts to the preconceptions of observation: observation cannot occur without altering the thing observed, and the observed behaviors adapt to the preconceptions of the experiment. (Uncertainty principle + observer effect, etc.)

OBSERVATION: Consciousness experimenters (which, in this case, might include anyone who sits and witnesses his or her own thoughts for 15-30 minutes) routinely witness that the mind adapts to the preconceptions of observation: observation of the mind by the mind cannot occur without altering the mind observed, and the observed behaviors of the mind adapt to the preconceptions of the experiment.

CONCLUSION: At least in terms of the categories of behaviors described, there is no discernible difference between the ways that matter (at the quantum level) behaves in response to consciousness and the way that consciousness behaves in response to consciousness.

 This stunningly disingenuous piece of nonsense attempts to argue that because matter is altered (in one sense) by observation and that because consciousness is altered (in a different sense) by a different kind of observation, there is some equivalence between them.

The argument takes a superficial resemblance between two phenomena and asserts equivalence on that basis.
Now indeed physics seems to suggest that, on the quantum level, the acts of observing and measuring particles physically change them because observing and measuring are physical actions, part of the same physical system as the observed particles. For example, at the very least, to observe something I have to shine a light on it, and the photons of the light cause changes on the quantum level. But there’s no reason to suspect that anything mystical is going on, as if particles know they’re being watched and react accordingly.

When we talk about thought changing upon observation, we’re talking about something entirely different. Thought patterns change when we observe them because awareness of thought – which is itself a thought – calms the stream of thoughts. In other words, consistently introducing a particular kind of thought (i.e. awareness) into the typical stream of thought transforms that stream. It would also be transformative of thought to make myself think of broccoli every ten minutes.
Thus, when we examine Eshelman’s premises, we see that there are two entirely different things under discussion. That they both can be summed up with the words “observation changes it!” simply means that we can put the same label on very different things.

It in no way implies that matter and consciousness “behave the same way” or that there’s any kind of equivalence between them.

Then we get this other piece of sophistry that begins:

OBSERVATION: Something we call matter exists. Something we call consciousness exists. Different theories treat their relationship differently. Specifically,
Materialism's perspective: Consciousness is one particular phenomenon of matter.
Monism's perspective: Matter is one particular expression of consciousness.
(NOTE: For this discussion, I include anything identifiable by physical science under the heading "matter." - I use the words "spirit" and "consciousness" interchangeably.)

PREMISES: There is a root substance of which everything in the universe is ultimately composed. We don't know what this is, but we have clues about it. I will call it XYZ.

QUESTION: Is XYZ (1) spirit, (2) matter, (3) neither spirit nor matter, or (4) both spirit and matter?

Materialism's perspective is that consciousness is one particular phenomenon of matter. If we look at things (observe) from this perspective, and considering the observations with which I began, then we would conclude that XYZ must be matter, and that one of its phenomena (consciousness) in turn causes the behaviors of XYZ (matter) to adapt to its patterning ("preconceptions").

Monism's perspective is that matter is one particular expression of consciousness. If we look at things (observe) from this perspective, and considering the observations with which I began, then we would conclude that XYZ must be spirit, and that one of its forms, matter, adapts to the patterning ("expectations") of XYZ.

I’ll simply point out that Eshelman is – as usual – incorrectly describing materialism as a belief and not (as it actually is) the lack of belief in any worlds other than the physical one.

That’s not really important to the point I’m about to make. Here’s his loopy argument based on the above:

OBSERVATION: In the above discussion, there is no change in the consequences, but there is a change in perspective introduced by the original perspective. In one case, XYZ produces a phenomenon that, in turn, modifies the behavior of XYZ. In the other case, XYZ modifies the behavior of XYZ.

CONCLUSION: There is no functional difference in the two models.

CONCLUSION: There is no demonstrable difference between the results if we say XYZ is spirit, or if we say XYZ is matter. The observations are equally described by starting with either label. The behaviors are the same (or only indiscernibly different) regardless of the label.

CONCLUSION: There is no functional or demonstrable difference between the materialist and monist perspectives in terms of the cited observations. There is only individual preference.

FINAL CONCLUSION: Unless we postulate that there is a third substance that is neither spirit nor matter, then we must conclude that XYZ is both spirit and matter.

To illustrate what’s wrong with this argument, let’s use a roughly parallel example:

OBSERVATION: Objects fall to the ground.
OBSERVATION: This phenomenon is either caused by a physical force (“gravity”) or it’s caused by magical invisible incorporeal pixies that pull objects to the ground.

OBSERVATION: There is no demonstrable difference between the results if we say the phenomenon is caused by a physical force or if the phenomenon is caused by pixies. The behaviour is the same regardless of the label.
CONCLUSION: There is no functional or demonstrable difference between believing in gravity or believing in pixies in terms of the cited observations. There is only individual preference.

FINAL CONCLUSION: Unless, we postulate that there is some third cause, we must conclude that objects falling to the ground are caused both by a physical force and by pixies.

The problem – which should be abundantly clear now – is that just because one can propose an unfalsifiable explanation doesn’t mean that the explanation is just as likely to be true as any other explanation or one that we should accept. We would, at the least, need some compelling reason to accept it.
As it is now, all of our investigations into the world reveal that objects *seem* to fall because of a physical force, just as all of our investigations into the world reveal that consciousness *seems* to be dependent upon physical brains. We can invent all sorts of alternate stories that cannot be falsified, but that in no way means that all of the stories are equivalent, equally likely to be true, or simply a matter of preference.

The edge always goes to the side with evidence. We know that there’s a physical world. All of the experiments suggest that consciousness is dependent upon physical brains. Nothing suggests that there are any consciousnesses without brains floating around.
The simple fact of the matter is that we’re not in the midst of a fog in which any and all explanations are equally likely.

Worse, when Eshelman was called out on his faulty conclusions, he had this to say:

They are excellent conclusions, given the premises and the laws of logic. I believe you are saying that you don't agree with these as facts. That's irrelevant to the exercise.

 In other words, he admits he’s just interested in constructing a valid logical syllogism and not in constructing a valid and sound syllogism.

It’s child’s play to construct a valid syllogism, just as it’s child’s play to tell an internally-consistent story. That various religions provide internally-consistent explanation for the origins of the universe tells us nothing about whether these internally-consistent explanations are true, and that someone can concoct internally consistent syllogisms tells us nothing about whether those syllogisms are true or not.
Of course, the peanut gallery of the Fruitcake Factory ate up Eshelman’s post, and one can safely conclude that they didn’t notice the glaring problems with the argument. Indeed, Eshelman’s post probably seems fairly convincing to someone who a) doesn’t spend too much time thinking about it critically, b) already wants to believe that consciousness and matter are equivalent, and c) isn’t familiar with the kind of deception routinely practiced by religious arguments like that one.

But from the perspective of Thelema, this sort of blindness to an objective evaluation of reality is poison. The Book of the Law tells us,“Now a curse upon Because and his kin!” (AL II, 28),  “Also reason is a lie; for there is a factor infinite & unknown; & all their words are skew-wise” (AL II, 32), and “There is great danger in me; for who doth not understand these runes shall make a great miss. He shall fall down into the pit called Because, and there he shall perish with the dogs of Reason.” (AL II, 27)
Often, Thelemites misread these verses to claim that they denounce reason as a tool for evaluating reality (or evaluating aspects of their experience – like “mystical experience” – that they use special pleading to separate out from other kinds of experience). In point of fact, however, these verses are instructing Thelemites to use reason to be on guard against the ways that reason leads us astray, leads us away from our True Wills. And reason can lead us astray both when we sweep it under the rug and mislabel it as “experiential knowledge” or when we explicitly employ it and do so ineptly, as Eshelman does in that post.

Eshelman’s post, with its disastrous syllogisms, is an example of ways that religiously-motivated Thelemites ineptly reason their way to conclusions. Without a sharp critical-thinking faculty and an ability to detect and deflect bullshit arguments like these, a Thelemite is in danger on two fronts:
First, it sets a bad precedent by allowing the mind to accept a claim for poor reasons. A mind that has been trained to do this is likely to repeat this mistake in the future, again and again.

Second, it encourages other mistakes that may follow from the initial, poorly-reasoned conclusion. Evaluations are not made in a vacuum. Every conclusion may become the premise of another logical operation at some point in the future. A Thelemite who reasons his way into believing that “all is consciousness” may well be led to some very misguided conclusions about the True Will and may very well end up chasing some imaginary pipedream instead of attending to the Will here and now in the present.
One of the most fundamental teachings of Thelema, after all, is that consciousness enables our experience, but it also carries with it the potential to lead us astray, to divert us from the course of our True Will. The True Will isn’t found in the contents of our consciousness. The Khabs is in the Khu, in the sense of being covered, wrapped, and veiled by consciousness. Looking into the contents of the consciousness is looking precisely in the wrong direction.

Someone who thinks that “consciousness is all” is liable to be misled, to chase after an idea instead of following the Will.
Or, to put it another way, “He shall fall down into the pit called Because, and there he shall perish with the dogs of Reason.”

1 comment:

  1. I don't know where people get there ideas about "consciousness" but it seems to come from new age nonsense, like some mixture of psuedo-hindu and Bishop Berkley. Into the mix a horrible misunderstading of Quantum Physics. Crowley states his views on consciousness in a few places allow me to paraphrase. "Conscious in an excreation of the mind" and from the theorums in MTP "Certainly the activity of distant galaxies has some subtle effect in the arising of thought, but we do not yet fully understand how it rises from brain matter". So here is making the claim that likely thought and awareness are properties of matter. His quip about distant galaxies is not some mystical or non-local quantum notion, only that all matter has some subtle effect through mechanical causation on other matter. In this "intitated account of ceremonial magick" where he addresses the Goetia, reddeming it for materialist science, he asserts that the Hindu metaphysic is essencially better understood through Fichta. That is the third eye, is really the subconscious mind or the brains map of perceptual phenomona. Crowley himself tended towards a materialism perspective, and only shied away from it because the science of his day allowed him to keep his skepticism, he had prejudices based on his emotional desire to believe his "revelations" like liber AL, were authentic, and his conservativism was based on preserving social order on a foundation of spiritual law.