Philosophy of the Arts

God - religie

Killing our Species by Science. Eliminative Materialism as a Pseudo Science

The central claim

Yesterday, I explained an argument to my class, and one of the students stared at me in disbelieve. Then, after taking my explanation into consideration, he smiled—some sort of smile of defeat.
Eliminative Materialism claims that that smile is all and only physiology—muscle contractions and neurophysiology.
In a sense, that is indisputably true, but in what sense? And is it saying much about why the student smiles and what the smile means (to him, or me)?

… is in the Configurational Mode

There is only one viable way to be Eliminative Materialist, and that is in the Configurational Mode of Comprehension. (My thesis, but Mink’s terms). We might imagine a post-human future where strong computers “survey” all the “details”, and “describe” the smile exhaustively, thus providing the whole configuration. The major problem with such a configurative survey is that its truth requires the survey to be total.
[I have to put all these terms in quotation marks, as they willl all, in that far future, have changed their present meanings into something inconceivable at present. Which will be the relevant details? What will surveying amount to? And what will describing consist in?]

But what does it amount to?

Of course, such an ultimate description may not involve use of the words “smile”, “defeat”, “response”, “consideration”, “explanation”, etc.—lest Eliminative Materialism would fail its claim of eliminating reference to meaning.
How would this description start, though? Surely, it may not base its beginnings on a description like the one I provided above? That would beg the question. Eliminative Materialism would lose all its acclaimed explanatory powers.

How would it start?

Assuming, for the sake of the argument, that these issues of semantics are successfully avoided—where would the description then start? With which physiological event? Birth? Conception? Any other particular moment? Sunrise at January 8th, 2008? The starting point would have to be legitimated without having recourse to any of the terms used in the description above.
Assuming we allow the eliminativist to start at some moment that we decide upon, for our obvious reasons, but without telling the eliminativist about those reasons—and, similarly, with regard to the moment where her description may stop; What would make the Eliminative Materialist’s description count as a reductionist description of the smile described above?
[What if our student was actually reminded of a certain situation where he himself triumfed over his dominant father, 18 years ago? And his smile concerned the entrance of his mother in that particular situation?].
An Eliminative Materialist scientist might claim he could discover such discrepancies, but how would he come to know what they entail? Surely he would have to reintroduce the semantics he claims to be able to eliminate.

No theoretical description of agency

As a corollary, Eliminative Materialism can never be in a theoretical mode, applying laws, predicting responses. It can, at best, provide us with that Leibnizian God’s eye point of view that is in the Configurational mode, meaning that it will at best provide us with a temporal slice of reality (without any semantic structuring)—correction: not a slice: all of time.
Lastly, supposing that this point of view will indeed ever be reached, what good would it do people in everyday circumstances—apart from providing it with a shadow world consisting of primary qualities alone. We could not relate to Eliminative Materialism’s conclusions and would be asked to obey them without being able to critically assess them.
[Embedded in the heart of modern democracy is a counterdemocratic movement.]

A world without objects or events

In all, Eliminative Materialism should ask itself which of the resultant data found a description like the one I provided above. Perhaps, in that far away future such questions are evaporated and inapplicable—we will have turned into non-logical, non-semantic, nonmoral, non-rational fleshy machines. Presently, no human can wittingly desire such a future that lacks love and hate, meaning and value, without objects or events even.

As to prediction

Can one predict a person’s next action on the basis of the processes identified within his neurophysiology? Could there be laws of agential consequences that go beyond the apparent existence of processes within this one particular person? Why did not all students in my class respond with a similar smile (why not: the same smile)?
Eliminative Materialism probably retorts by claiming the interference of other as lawlike processes—but shouldn’t such unfalsifiable claims remind us of other pseudo-sciences like astrology?

Consequences and Conclusions

From this, one might derive a moral argument against a certain type of scientific progress (which goes by the name of Eliminative Materialism).
Also, why would Eliminative Materialism’s description be restricted to what goes on in our nervous system? Surely, data from without should enter the picture as well. But again: which?
A Configurational narrative approach (Mink) is viable, tenable, and adequate to social “texts” (Ricoeur’s term), but Eliminative Materialism is neither.

Mink, Louis O. 1969. “History and Fiction as Modes of Comprehension.” New Literary History 1:541–58.
Ricoeur, Paul. 1973. “The Model of the Text: Meaningful Action Considered as a Text.” New Literary History 5:91–117.

>> The Language Game of Expression

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