Monday 9 October 2017

Metaphysical denialism - Daniel C Dennett and 'Skyhooks'

Let us understand that a skyhook is a "mind-first" force or power or process, an exception to the principle that all design, and apparent design, is ultimately the result of mindless, motiveless mechanicity. A crane, in contrast, is a subprocess or special feature of a design process that can be demonstrated to permit the local speeding up of the basic, slow process of natural selection, and that can be demonstrated to be itself the predictable (or retrospectively explicable) product of the basic process.

From Darwin's Dangerous Idea by Daniel C Dennett, 1995, The full argument can be read on pages 73-84.

Dennett's Skyhook argument/ joke is famous and popular among 'Skeptic'/ atheists - the sort of person who finds it endlessly amusing to refer to Christianity as a cult of the Flying Spaghetti Monster - as a put-down of religion.

However, if you review the argument and reflect on it, what it amounts to is a denial that metaphysical assumptions are necessary. That metaphysical assumptions are skyhooks, hence nonsense.

By calling them skyhooks, metaphysical assumptions of any and all kinds are being mocked as imaginary, arbitrary, impossible. incoherent, ridiculous.

By contrast, natural selection is put forward as a theory without metaphysical assumptions - here terned a 'crane': that is a theory that builds entirely from the evidentially-known ie. from science. A crane is therefore, is asserted not to be based on any metaphysical assumptions at all.

'Cranes' are an example of metaphysical denialism.

The assertion is made that there exists a 'crane' mechanism for progressive change that does not require any metaphysical assumptions; and - unlike a 'skyhook' a crane is real and actually works...

Whether Dennett truly believes that natural selection in particular, and science in general, are (somehow?) not built-upon metaphysical assumptions is unclear to me.

But I don't think Dennett really cares whether his argument is true; because his motivations are quite obviously, and gleefully, destructive of Christianity in particular and religion in general. To club them to death, any false argument is welcome.

In reality - Dennet must be ignorant, dishonest or evil - or some combination thereof. And Dennett's self-styled skeptik/ atheist fanboys likewise.

If we want to name-call metaphysical assumptions 'skyhooks', then everybody and all theories and all ideologies are necessarily hanging-from skyhooks all of the time - the difference is that some religious people recognise and acknowledge their assumptions, while atheists Never Do.


Seijio Arakawa said...

Of course, Dennett explicitly states a metaphysical principle in just so many words -- "the principle that all design, and apparent design, is ultimately the result of mindless, motiveless mechanicity".

The idea that you can get from mindless, motiveless mechanicity to 'apparent design' with cranes is being tested quite thoroughly nowadays with the mess of resources and hype being put into 'machine learning' topics (e.g. cars that drive themselves, automated medical diagnosis, and suchlike), which assume that you can get 'intentional' behaviour by gathering enough data and shaking it in a blender using statistical methods. The limitations and difficulties that these lines of research run into would be very instructive if they weren't being ignored.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Ara - Indeed. It is significant that the long history of intractable failures of 'artificial intelligence' are being ignored, rather than transcended.

I think I know why - because humans will be used to 'work-around' the failures of AI - that that will progress the totalitarian agenda.

For example, if/ when self-drivng cars are deployed, they will require that all other road users drive aound their maching limitations - therefore indirectly regulating all human drivers.

The same happens with algorithmic diagnosis etc in medicine (and 'evidence-based' practice, protocols etc) - the net effect is to organise doctors concepts and practices, health services, and social organisation around simple machine algorithms - as a focus of control systems.

In sum, AI in practice is an extension of bureaucracy (it is the effect on Men that is primary - Not the claimed effect on The World): more steps towards the universal system of surveillance, monitoring, control that the dominant modern (as Steiner would call them Ahrimanic) demons clearly have as their prime strategy.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Ara - I should add that Darwin's Dangerous Idea is worth reading - as the most lucid and forceful account of the metaphysics of Natural Selection and its consequences (i.e. the concept of Universal Acid) - in this respect probably better than anything by Richard Dawkins. He sets out clearly what happens when evolution is made the centre of understanding - but regards it as 'a good thing'!

Dennett's most famous book (?) Consciousness Explained is, however, worthless - being deeply confused, hence confusing (I read it twice to check!). The book's substantial reputation in some quarters is significant.