Friday 28 September 2012

Synchronicity and pattern recognition


Common assertion: Meaningful coincidences are meaningless, non-causal, because humans are built to recognize patterns. We are pattern-recognizing animals. It is just like seeing faces in the fire: we evolved to see faces and so we see them all over the place.


Question: But what is a pattern?

Answer: A pattern is a form, an arrangement of stuff.


Bigger question: How do we recognize form?

Answer: Because we have that form within us. We are indeed pattern-recognizers, because we are form recognizers and because we have form: we are form- if we were not then we could not perceive pattern or form.

But: how could an animal evolve to recognize form from the infinite variation and boundless stimuli of the world? How could natural selection ever find the form by random search among the possibilities from matching an unbounded possible number of forms with the undifferentiated mass of nature when not perceived via form?

Conclusion: There must be a finite number of forms, and they must be preinstalled both in reality and in creatures - or else nothing could ever happen (no analysis could ever get started). This is a necessity - the only debate is over where forms come from: whether these forms just are,  or whether they were created.


Reformulation of common assertion: Meaningful coincidences are meaningless - because they are not causally connected. Or, because synchronicity is not connected by identifiable sequences of causes, then it cannot be meaningful.

Comment: Hey, wait a minute! Are you saying that events are meaningless unless their causal connectivity is unknown? That a pattern is not a pattern unless we know all the causes of that pattern? Do you live by this metaphysical assumption? No - I thought not.


Further comment: And are you saying that when the causes are known then the pattern is meaningful? Because that is false: a sequence of known causes does not make a pattern, but just itself. 'A causes B causes C causes D' is not a pattern - it is just what happened. Nothing to suggest that that precise sequence of causes makes a pattern; it was just contingent history.

A conclusion: if causal sequences are the only reality - then there can be no pattern. The structure of linear sequential causality denies, makes impossible, the reality of pattern recognition

...including the reality of that pattern we call linear sequential causality.

This is a self-refuting metaphysic: necessarily invalid.


Looping back: Man is a pattern recognizing animal, reality is patterned. But (banal truism coming-up) Man is not infallible and may fail to perceive patterns and may falsely identify patterns.

The proper question is whether this specific instance of synchronicity is real. Who needs to be convinced? And what is the baseline: are all instances to be denied absent conclusive evidence of their massive improbability; or to be accepted absent evidence that they are false positives?

On what grounds do we choose between these? On whose authority?


Or maybe there is discrimination preinstalled along with the pattern precognition: not infallible of course, but good enough - if  we take notice of its promptings.

But do we take notice of its promptings? Do we not, are we not trained to (actually brainwashed to), ignore the promptings of our pattern discriminating faculty?


The importance of this matter: In a nutshell, atheism.

Modern people adopt a self-refuting metaphysic (the unique validity of linear causal reasoning) which they then believe has proved itself by observation of reality. A consequence is that all instance of synchronicity are known, a priori, without discussion, to be random coincidences, a product of the human pattern making tendency.

These same people - who define in advance that all instances of pattern are illusory, then claim that there is no evidence for the reality of God (I mean, God in a generic sense); despite that thousands of years of previous humans found such evidence all about them.

And, due to their aversion from metaphysics, their extreme distractability and short attention span, they may be trapped - they trap themselves - by this incoherent logic.


e.g. Bertrand Russel: "Not enough evidence God. Not enough evidence!"


Maxim: Good philosophy probably cannot convert a soul; but bad philosophy can damn one.



FHL said...

post 1 of 2

Heh, your maxim sounds suspiciously like the idea I put forward in a comment on the Orthosphere:

In which I say: "Christian philosophy, all by its lonesome self, could never convince someone that humans are sinners in need of redemption. But it can be used [to] demolish bad philosophy that says humans don’t need redemption."

But then again, I myself stole that idea from St. Clement of Alexandria...

But claiming that atheists are inconsistent with their assertions of when patterns are actually significant or random, c'mon man- I'm noticing a pattern developing here, one in which you read minds...

Here an excerpt from a paper I wrote for an Epistemology class back in 2009:

"With such a strong view on reality, it seems then rather odd that Hume would go directly against his own arguments. He does this, however, in the same book. Within the chapter titled 'Of Miracles,' found in the Enquiry, Hume seems to abandon all that he has argued for in the beginning of the book in favor of supporting his view against what he views as 'miracles.'

He brings up the issue by defining a miracle as a 'transgression of a law of nature.' He then explains that the testimony of a person that claim to have witnessed something happen that we never witnessed before is unreliable. It is unlikely, he states, that anyone claiming such things would be correct if the world had never seen such an event throughout its recorded history. This is enough to cause confusion, as anyone who had taken the Enquiry seriously up to this point would have doubted (or at least became convinced that Hume doubted) the very existence of natural laws. Hume had spent all of the book explaining how we couldn't be sure of even established 'beliefs' such as the sun rising every morning, yet now he goes back and says that our past encounters are good enough to believe that they will.

Hume finds himself in a very ironic situation: if he was successful in the arguments presented within the first part of the Enquiry then the second part loses its validity, as it requires you to abandon the issues resolved within the first part. If he indeed was correct in disproving causation as a force we have knowledge of, then he also disproves any knowledge we claim to have to natural laws, as those are the result of causation. If we don't have knowledge of natural laws, how can we recognize a claim of a natural law being broken? However, Hume does, in a very odd way, disprove miracles. He does this by disproving all of our beliefs in a stable future. For Hume, the future is unknown and anything can happen because we have no evidence of causation, and if anything can happen, we can never say that something is extraordinary.

As for Germaine Cousin, she was canonized as a Catholic saint in the nineteenth century. Over four hundred miracles had been reported to that date, and thirty letters from bishops and archbishops all over France were sent to the Catholic pope in an attempt to gain her beautification. On May 7th, 1854, Pius IX proclaimed her to be a saint. This was due to her extraordinary story, but to anyone reading David Hume, Germaine Cousin’s story may seem the most ordinary of events, as ordinary as the sun not rising tomorrow morning."

FHL said...

post 2 of 2

This paper was titled "A Most Ordinary Miracle" and I was 22 years old when I wrote it.

Ever since I've read Augustine, I've always been surprised at the similarity of ideas between Christians. I mean, you're an older white man in England, and I'm a 25 year-old Egyptian-American across the Atlantic in Texas, yet our thoughts on synchronicity might be as well considered as an example of synchronicity on its own.

Like I said, reading St. Augustine was when I became aware of this; I kept thinking to myself: "Here is an ancient person from a foreign culture- so how on earth does he know what I think? I don't know how- but somehow he knows!"

And so I became convinced the Christian position wasn't just random chance or cultural phenomena, but a real transcendent truth concerning reality that all people could see if they looked for it.

Bruce Charlton said...

@FHL - Thanks.

I hope you realize that I am trying *not* to be original, when it comes to Christianity - mostly just trying out various 'new' ways of re-expressing traditional views.

wrt Hume - I would say you demolished him.

Which ought not to be so easy if he really was the greatest ever British philosopher, as is the conventional wisdom in these islands since (say) AJ Ayer's Language, Truth and Logic.

I have never gotten around to reading Hume (aside from the odd paragraph) for this reason - that everything I saw written about his views (and I've read quite a lot of this) seemed to suggest he was childishly wrong about everything substantive.

I had Hume down, therefore, as what I have come to term a 'clever silly' admired by others of that ilk - and I see no reason to revise this - except I would now extend it to pretty much the whole Western tradition of philosophy in the past 1000 years: just so many fly bottles. (Fly bottles that had me trapped for an inordinate length of time... - not least the originator of the Fly Bottle metaphor himself, Wittgenstein).

josh said...

What Bruce says about knowing form because we have this form in our intellect goes back to Aristotle. Truth seems to be truth.

As to the finite amount of forms, this is IMHO, obviously true. I had a thought recently while reading the Catechism. It is said that only God can create something ex nihilo. With respect to prime matter and the most important universal forms this is obviously true. But, don't human beings have the ability, in a very limited way, to create new forms ex nihilo? E.g, isn't there really such a thing as "car-ness" or "airplane-ness" that stems from the human, not directly from the divine intellect. Of course, this is very limited; we can not create a new shape or primary color, or an alternative form of goodness, but is this perhaps an example of how we are created in the image of God?

I'm new to this, is this something Christians believe?

The Crow said...

It gets worse.
More and more people are becoming unable to learn anything, or even consider it, unless they already know it.
Proof is demanded.
For every word one utters.
Seems to me people could previously have a conversation without having to back up every word with some external, official proof.
Such is atheism.
Common ground becomes quicksand.

CorkyAgain said...

If Donald W. Livingston is correct (and if I understand him correctly), the usual reading of Hume is naively mistaken.

Livingston interprets Hume as a profoundly *conservative* thinker whose skeptical writing was aimed at undermining the confident rationalism of the Enlightenment.

In other words, what Hume is doing is something like a reductio ad absurdum of the premises commonly used by Enlightenment thinkers.

The famous concluding passage about the backgammon table shows that he didn't really believe any of that stuff himself.

Kant certainly understood Hume's point, and woke from his "dogmatic slumbers" in order to craft a transcendental idealism which he hoped would justify the Enlightenment's claim to rationality.

(But of course, all he did was exacerbate the subjectivist tendencies of modernism.)

CorkyAgain said...

Here's a link to an article in which Livingston summarizes his interpretation of Hume:

For the full exposition of his reading of Hume, see his book "Philosophical Melancholy and Delirium".

Bruce Charlton said...

@Corky - Hume may well be 'conservative' (especially by comparison with nowadays!) but he is not reactionary, and was regarded by contemporaries as an atheist (or all but).

Also as a dangerous subversive, such that (despite being regarded as brilliant) he was excluded from the Professorship of philosophy at Edinburgh University and a solid, morally-sound nonentity was preferred.

So, I don't think that revisionism of this sort carries much weight.

CorkyAgain said...

Well, I don't think even Livingston would argue that Hume was a "throne and altar" conservative. His Hume is more of a Burkean.

Anyway, my main point in replying was to suggest that perhaps we shouldn't take Hume's epistemology at face value, but instead try to see it as a response to the philosophical context in which he was writing.

Sylvie D. Rousseau said...

Miracles and Catholic saints:
The process of recognizing a saint is only about the heroicity of virtues. The two miracles needed (one for beatification, the other for canonization) are a sign of approval from heaven that the saints were heroic in virtue and that their example is beneficial for the faithful. Miracles during life are considered like any other facts and must be consonant with heroicity of virtue, whether there are none (St. Therese of Lisieux) or hundreds (St. Martin of Porres).

Sylvie D. Rousseau said...

Aristotle refuted the ideal world of forms of his master Plato. There is no separate form, or essence, or nature, that exists apart from the actual thing. Forms, essences, natures, exist as universals in thought only, so that we can recognize the common characters of things of the same nature even if they all have fairly different appearances (cars and planes, men and horses).

Separate, immaterial forms do exist in the immaterial world as actual things, however: they are called angels.