Reply on Religion and Marxism: 2

Doyle Saylor djsaylor at
Sun Jan 7 11:41:29 MST 2001

Greetings Comrades,
    Mervyn Hertwig replies to me about the philosophical issues of deciding
between idealism and materialism and some of the science he feels relevant
about making that decision.

No I didn't. I asked whether you know what 'quantum connectedness' *is*
(i.e. in particular whether it is 'material' or 'ideal'). You didn't

What difference does that make with regard to human thinking processes for
which you are saying one cannot choose between idealism (a priori reasoning)
and materialism?  The connectedness (I assume you mean some version of
string theory if you are thinking in the conventions of the physics or
perhaps you are thinking of Roger Penrose?) of quantum theory has little to
do directly with whether or not idealism or materialism matter in
philosophical terms.  I am a materialist, and therefore would always
distinguish something as about materialism.  I find it more appropriate to
consider the properties of the neural networks and how they work over
properties of quantum events that have little directly to do with normal
practical human endeavors.

Basically my understanding of quantum level events is the unpredictability
of the states we might want to quanticize (hence the properties of numbers
required or a kind of mathematics that would explicate the properties of the
quantum level of matter which is very different from ordinary experience).
That the standard mathematics we have to investigate those areas have
profound difficulties with the physical processes we know happen (see the
Feynman diagrams as an example of progress in such physics).  We need new
tools for the brainwork in that area.  So?  How does that give us insight
about brainwork?  That really is your point about idealism and materialism,
how do we understand brainwork, not how does the quantum level of physical
phenomenon work or how that refutes certain assumptions about brainwork.  I
don't know what is being talked about with regard to these issues,

If you said 'nature', including human species and social nature, I could
agree with you.

I don't get how you can say nature and not say material?  I would gather you
mean to avoid implying that materialism is not an idealism by that
distinction, and possibly you mean also that human and social levels of
material existence aren't like physics.   These sort of careful ways of
using words may suit your views upon how to do brainwork.  This is related
to your statements about dogmatism and atheism.  But it reflects an
assumption about how to do brainwork which cannot choose between ways of
understanding how to do brainwork.  This causes a great deal of difficulty
in the sciences in the sense of confusion about objectivist versus
materialist views of how the brain works.  A good example of which is the
on-going arguments in linguistics and biology about innateness (both
Chomskyan views of grammar, and the Evolutionary theories of genetic control
of behavior).

In response to my general remarks on dogmatism,

It has various meanings. I meant by it what Sid did: asserting a
contentious opinion arrogantly and chauvinistically.

It has little or no value to say someone is arrogant and chauvinist with
regard to how the mind works.  I am fond of the words of course, and love to
call someone arrogant, but at the same time what exactly am I really saying?
I can't tell from your comment what sets apart a "contentious" opinion.  You
appear to have a theory of social intercourse that says arrogance and
chauvinism impede brainwork.  Hence non-dogmatic atheism works for you.  And
basically your theory says if one does not decide between theories of ideals
and theories of material that is the acceptable way to frame real brainwork.
Since these sorts of debates are central to the current level of cognitive
science and that the objectivist arguments have significant problems with
regard to understanding the brain I need to hear a great deal more depth
from you about what you think in order to take on your views.

Bhaskar's own theory of mind, to which I subscribe, is that it is a sui
generis real emergent power of matter. The later Bhaskar now says in
effect that 'matter' is at bottom 'ideal' (which I don't accept, except
as a hypothesis). I admit I don't know a lot about the brain (nor did
Marx!), though I know enough to know that the scientific work being done
in that area is interesting and important. But I don't see that that
disqualifies me from understanding what a dogma is.

Dogma is a way of describing some peoples behavior without much direct
reference to how the brain works.  In the current cognitive science
vernacular to use the descriptor of dogmatism amounts to a folk psychology
of the brain.  While in a seat of the pants way it is typical for many
people to say that a given person strikes them as dogmatic I wonder if they
could tell me why someone like Kuhn, or Popper, or Feyerabend would theorize
in the sciences a "dominant paradigm" which seems to have many of the same
kinds of properties in cognition as does dogma.  Hence what really divides
dogmatism from simple cognition itself?  I mean by that does Mervyn attack
cognition processes that are necessary?  Hence what is the efficacy of the
charge in regard to practical social intercourse?  And therefore whether
writing crusading atheism is a problem because it is dogmatic?

Dogma arose in the Catholic Church as a way to assert Church Doctrine, and
is most certainly a function of how that feudal Church collected (and
understood) brainwork. It is not possible from that origin in Church
doctrines, or in our times the seat of the pants judgement most people make,
to understand in terms of real cognition what is happening when someone
dogmatizes.  I find it very compelling to raise what a person means by the
term "dogmatism" when someone uses dogmatism in political discussions.  If
one looks at Feyerabends theses in Paul Churchlands book, "The Engine of
Reason, the Seat of the Soul", about incommensurate differences, Churchland
and others are pointing at the typical neural network properties of arriving
at a stable state, and how that might account for incommensurate
differences.  The Positivists I cite above (Feyerabend saw himself as
influenced by Popper, but considered himself an anarchist) are trying to
understand not so much the phenomenon of dogmatism as why "intelligent"
people will react negatively (with hostility in a very belligerent manner)
to challenges to a common model in science.

I repeat: I am not an idealist, I am agnostic about that. I have no
objection to atheism asserting itself hypothetically, only to its doing
so dogmatically.

Most brainwork is about being stabile and clear about some area of thought.
The purpose of a common point of view is the capacity to do work together
which is the purpose of the Positivists looking at the "dominant paradigm".
That a social network is critical to a system of brainwork in the social
interconnectedness of the work process.  Again you and I have a difficulty
arising here about your use of the word dogmatism.  You have a theory that
brainwork is about not deciding one way or the other (assuming an agnostic
stance) in regard to atheism and idealism.  The point being, I assume you
mean, is that if someone says definitely they are an atheist (not
hypothetically) you think they are a dogmatist, but if they say "in theory"
I am an atheist then that is ok.  The word dogmatist is otherwise undefined,
but I assume you keep the unpleasant social behaviors we associate with
dogmatism along for the ride.  However there is no way here for me to
understand what distinguishes anyone who takes a definite stand from a
dogmatist.  I would expect then for you to make a valid claim about the
meaning of dogmatism in order to clarify what exactly distinguishes kinds of
atheism that is hypothetical, and dogmatic?  And is there any other kind

In some sense above you are trying to avoid predetermining assumptions about
the nature of thought.  On the other hand you make it clear that embodiment
of the mind is not possible to decide.  That is the conflict between
objectivist (a priori reasoning) philosophy and materialist views cannot be
resolved in favor of materialist understanding of the brain.  That means
literally we cannot fully materialize thought processes in how the brain
works.  I am prepared in a serious way to take this argument on.  Please if
you are serious start this process.
Doyle Saylor

resources I frequently use in such discussions;
Philosophy in the Flesh, Goerge Lakoff and Mark Johnson, Basic Books, 1999,

The Mind Within the Net, Manfred Spitzer, MIT Press, 1999,

Connectionism, Concepts, and Folk Psychology, Andy Clark, and Peter
Millican, Oxford University Press, 1996,

Neuroscience and Connectionist Theory, Mark A. Gluck, and David E.
Rumelhart, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1990

Where Mathematics Comes From, How the Embodied Mind Brings Mathematics into
Being, George Lakoff, Rafeal E. Nunez, Basic Books, 2000

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