It's the Same Old DeWrong, with a Different Beat Since Reason's Been Gone

It is always fascinating when one can detect an irrational obsession in an otherwise smart person. I have no doubt Brad DeLong is smart. But when it comes to any questioning of reductionist materialist dogma, DeLong just loses it. For instance, in "responding" to Steve Landsburg, he starts his post off as follows:

"Someone who claims to be a 'friend' makes me aware that others are joining Alvin Plantzinga and Gene Callahan on the side of Thomas Nagel's creationists..." (Is 'friend' perhaps in quotes here because DeLong has no friends and knows this person must be making the claim up? Hahaha, just kidding, Brad, I'm sure you have at least one friend!)

Here, we have hit upon the Paretain "residue" that drives DeLong's irrational rants: he hates creationists. Now, Nagel is not a creationist, I am not a creationist, and Landsburg is not a creationist, but DeLong is afraid, very, very afraid, that some creationists might like some of the things we say! So what we say must be stamped out at all cost, even at the cost of spouting nonsense, making up arguments and putting them in one's opponents mouth, and random name-calling with no regard to when the name applies and when it doesn't.

And now look at the title of his post: "THE QUESTION IS WHETHER OUR MINDS ARE TOO POWERFUL TO BE THE RESULT OF PURELY DARWINIAN PROCESSES." Yeah, why all caps? I don't know. But who has made any claim about the "power" of our minds? Nagel? No. Me? No. Landsburg? No. DeLong has simply invented this out of whole cloth! The real issue, as far as I understand Nagel, and certainly as I would put it, is "Why should evolution, understood in purely Darwinian terms, have spawned organisms that are conscious and can reason, instead of just spawning automatons that can survive without thought?" I am not saying that this question is not answerable by strict Darwinians (perhaps it is, perhaps it isn't); no, I am just saying that DeLong has totally missed the point: it is not a question of "power," but quite the opposite: if, as you reductionists insist, mere mechanisms thoughtlessly implementing algorithms can evolve so as to continually enhance their own survival, what the heck is the evolutionary point of making them all worried and neurotic by developing consciousness in them? Now, Darwinists may or may not be able to give an adequate answer to that question; that is not what I wish to discuss here. No, my point is that DeLong has not even engaged with the real question at all.

Nagel (as I understand his argument from reviews, not having read the book) is claiming that, while Darwinian evolution may account quite well for a lot of what we find in life, it is incomplete. Well, isn't that exactly what the scientific attitude towards all of our scientific theories is supposed to be? They are all provisional, and all will be supplanted by better theories one day? (For the record, I regard Darwin's theory as one of the giant achievements of science. In fact, with my daughter, who appears to be very adept at biological reasoning, I often present her with little challenges: "Emma, think about this trait: how would you account for it in terms of evolution?" She typically then uses her knowledge of evolution and her reason to devise a very adept answer.)

So who is being "unscientific" here: Nagel, who acknowledges the genuine achievements of this theory but notes it leaves some things unexplained, or the "evolutiomentalists," who dogmatically insist that, "No, if you doubt the total and complete explanatory power of this theory for even a moment, you must be cast out as a heretic"?

Finally, look at the rubbish DeLong launches at Landsburg: because in the case of a neutron star, it is not true that "The ratio π of the circumference of a circle to its radius is such that 6.29 > 2π > 6.28," therefore Landsburg has "self pwned."

Oh my. How about this, DeWrong: "The closer any real space comes to being Euclidean, the more closely will the equation given above be accurate for relating the circumference of a circle in that space to its radius."

The above certainly seems to be a statement about reality. Does DeLong really want to deny it?


  1. Just to play a bit of the devil's advocate, the wording 'the closer any real space comes...' hints to me of a bit of hedging -- that possibly no 'real space' ever actually is truly Euclidean. Anyway, I don't know that much physics, but that would seem the only reason to word things this way.

    But if no 'real space' is truly Euclidean, only idealized spaces which exist hypothetically in our minds, then does Euclidean geometry tell us about 'reality,' or only about our idealizations which approximate reality?

    Anyway, I don't really like materialism and all that, but it seems to me this debate is more centered around what constitutes reality than anything else. If reality is what is 'actual,' then I think DeLong has some (little) bit of a case -- our minds can only operate on idealizations (abstractions), not on the concrete itself, so in that sense, our minds do not have 'direct access to reality.' This is a point you have made many, many times in the form of rejecting 'ideology.' The abstractions we form about reality are not reality itself and cannot reflect it exactly.

    But if you're going to include the abstract as also real, and not use the word 'real' as interchangeable with 'concrete' (as the phrase 'real space' would suggest), well then I don't see the point in an argument. Of course our minds have access to abstractions. I don't think that anyone would argue that. It seems to me the reason he's invoking neutron stars is that he's trying to show that mathematical idealizations are not precisely reality by pointing to an 'exception' -- just as with your good rules-of-thumb making really bad absolute rules. He could have used a lot more mundane examples than that (all he would have had to do was ask Steve to show him a single real triangle, or circle, or line, or whatever) but anyway, if that's what all the fuss is about, then I don't really see how these are different things. You have made almost exactly the same point in the past.

    If he modified his claim to 'our minds cannot give us direct access to *concrete* reality,' or some such, properly hedged, etc., then would you object?

    1. "If he modified his claim to 'our minds cannot give us direct access to *concrete* reality,' or some such, properly hedged, etc., then would you object?"

      Absolutely. Concrete reality just IS the world of experience. Ideologies are abstractions from concrete experience. We do not think only in abstractions: the taste of the chicken I just ate was NOT an abstraction: that was concrete. Of course, once I use words to describe concrete reality then yes, I have already begun to abstract from it.


Popular posts from this blog

Central Planning Works!

Fiat Currency