About Simon

Bio

War Studies postgrad at King's College London. Degree is in terrorism and insurgency. Thesis is on the use of assassination by the Israeli government during the Aqsa Intifada as a means of counterterrorism. Blog: saidsimon.wordpress.com

Languages

English, Hebrew

Areas of Expertise

terrorism, Insurgency/Counterinsurgency, Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Islamism, Political Theory

Comments & conversations

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Simon Pratt
Posted over 3 years ago
Why should presuppose that the cause of religious experience must be natural?
I'm very gratified to hear that what I said has been of some interest to you. One of my favourite books discussing consciousness, personhood, and the mind is 'I am a Strange Loop'. Once a friend asked me what I think it means to be conscious, to be a person, and to have a mind. I answered that I think that we tell a story about ourselves to ourselves. It's a story about what has happened to us, what we've done, and what we want. A narrative has a necessary temporal component: it requires a sequence of events. I later discovered 'higher order theory' and felt really good about myself ;)
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Simon Pratt
Posted over 3 years ago
Why should presuppose that the cause of religious experience must be natural?
A further point: the origin of the universe seems to be one of those incredibly difficult problems into which physicists have been able to gain some possible insight only through the use of a scientific method which is predicated upon hard materialism. If you are able to show through logic that certain cosmological theories suggest that there must be a non-material part of reality, you have shown that those theories are incompatible with the methods that produced them. Rather than revealing some important aspect of reality, you've simply revealed an error in the science. Of course, I haven't encountered many logicians or philosophers of physics who think that the Kalam Cosmological Argument is valid.
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Simon Pratt
Posted over 3 years ago
Why should presuppose that the cause of religious experience must be natural?
So let me address some of the points you've raised. '[T]he cause of the universe must be an unembodied mind.' The problem here is with the notion of an 'unembodied mind'. As far as I have been able to tell, the best explorations of what a 'mind' is absolutely require embodiment. They specify that the mind is something that either comprises or is made possible by the function of the brain, and the processes therein. As such they lie within the domain of the philosophy of consciousness, cognitive science, psychology, and neurology. I recognise that we can often identify properties of a mind - an appearance of reflection, intentionality, and agency - but I have no idea how those properties could exist outside of the substrate and process - the meat and motion of the brain - which appear to produce them. I recognise that you could now introduce an argument that the mind is a product of the soul or some other form of mind-body dualism, but such an argument is so unsupportable from a scientific standpoint that the honest thing to do would be to renounce all appeals to science in other premises of your arguments. I also think there is a tautology lurking here, in which you claim that disembodied minds are possible because of the existence of disembodied minds. '2) A timeless cause, if it were impersonal, would produce a timeless effect. The fact that we see that the effect began though, when the cause must be timeless, means the cause must have the ability to bring the effect about or not--making it personal. ' Since as I have already stated, the idea of a mind outside of a cognitive processing unit such as a brain makes no sense to me, nor I would wager to most expert thinkers on minds, by positing a personal causer you are offering no escape from the problem of causal regress. There is no way in which a mind can escape the need for a cause, nor have agency beyond the physical conditions that produce it.
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Simon Pratt
Posted over 3 years ago
Why should presuppose that the cause of religious experience must be natural?
RH, If I understand you correctly, you're arguing in favour of epistemic humility. That is, you're arguing that we shouldn't be quick to dismiss claims about the world because we have only a tiny, flimsy, and very recent ability to detect anything beyond our own eyes, or explain those things we do see before our faces, for that matter. This is an important thing to remember, for sure. But at the same time, I still think we can speak with a sort of provisional certainty about many of our recent discoveries in physics or biology. We have developed, in the short time that something recognisable as the scientific method has been around, the ability to so perfectly predict the behaviour of subatomic particles that our maths couldn't really get that much more precise. We've developed the ability to selectively activate and deactivate specific genes. In short, while we should remember our limitations, I think we can still have some justified confidence in the rigours and strengths of the scientific method, and thus we can - provisionally, with the door always open to have our minds changed - reject claims which seem contrary to our most-sound seeming understandings of people and minds. And as Paul stated earlier, some claims appear internally self-contradictory, and if there is one thing of which we can all be certain, it is the basic rules of logic: it is impossible for P and not-P to both be the case.
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Simon Pratt
Posted over 3 years ago
Why should presuppose that the cause of religious experience must be natural?
Scientific theories should be plausible. There exist plausible explanations for the feeling of 'self-transcendence' that many people describe as part of their religious experiences which rely on existing understandings of human psychology, neurology, and physiology. They are plausible precisely because they are broadly and deeply supported by our current understandings of what sort of things comprise reality and what sort of interactions between those things are possible. On the other hand, the notion of a 'realm beyond the physical' seems to make no sense given our current understandings of physics and metaphysics. I haven't even seen a methodical and comprehensive definition of what such a realm would look like, let alone a plausible explanation for how and when that realm connects to ours. Therefore I think I'm justified in quickly dismissing claims that a supernatural reality exists, at least provisionally.
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Simon Pratt
Posted over 3 years ago
If we could define democracy in a way that is as close to "true" for all of humanity, what would this mean for this world?
In considering what you propose, I can imagine that your task will only be accomplished once the entire world converges on a singular set of norms regarding freedom, political participation, and the role of governing institutions. Until then, even were we to create a definition for democracy comprising words that everyone would accept, the meaning of those words would, of course, be interpreted widely by different people.. In other words, a necessary precondition of a real universal definition for democracy is a universal definition of free will and of social good. As a counterfactual this is so remote in possibility as to be a waste of time as a guide for normative political theory, though I'm sure as sociological or historical investigation, your research would be fascinating.
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Simon Pratt
Posted about 4 years ago
Do you believe we have true freewill?
Morality is the discussion of good and bad applied to human interaction. If human interaction is not in any way the product of free choices but rather is determined like any natural phenomenon, it becomes irrelevant to assess choices for their virtue. How can a cloud be immoral?
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Simon Pratt
Posted about 4 years ago
Do you believe we have true freewill?
Free will is not merely the invention of religion, but a necessary presumption for moral philosophy, The only way a discussion of what people should do becomes possible is by assuming that what people will do is not yet set.
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Simon Pratt
Posted about 4 years ago
Do you believe we have true freewill?
My feeling is that whether or not I recognise that ultimately my choices are not voluntary, the vast complexity of my mind is such that for all intents and purposes I should act as though I do choose. That in itself is the result of a work ethic others have inculcated in me, though, and possibly the simple fact that fatalism is evolutionarily untenable. If we accept that a person's behaviour is the result of the information available to them, then it follows that we should not concern ourselves with morally judging individuals but rather with morally judging behvaviours. If we hope to reduce the prevalence of a 'bad' behaviour, then we should identify what information is likely to move a person to this behaviour and what information is likely to move a person to eschew this behaviour, then minimise the social presence former while maximising the latter. Ethics becomes a strategic enterprise, whereby we calculate how best to engineer society according to our moral norms.