RE: Dualism and the DA

From: Jonathan Colvin <>
Date: Thu, 16 Jun 2005 23:47:41 -0700

Russell Standish wrote:
>> >> Well, actually I'd say the fist *is* identical to the hand.
>> >At least,
>> >> my fist seems to be identical to my hand.
>> >>
>> >Even when the hand is open????
>> Define "fist". You don't seem to be talking about a "thing",
>but some
>> sort of Platonic form. That's an expressly dualist position.
>According to the Oxford Concise dictionary:
> fist: a clenched hand, esp. as used in boxing
>> >> Another example. You cannot say that a
>> >> >smile is separate from someone's mouth. Yet a smile is not
>> >identical
>> >> >to the mouth.
>> >>
>> >> Depends whether you are a Platonist (dualist) about smiles.
>> >I'd say a
>> >> smiling mouth *is* identical to a mouth.
>> >>
>> >
>> >Even when the mouth is turned down???
>> As above. Is it your position that you are the same sort of
>thing as a
>> smile? That's a dualist position. I'd say I'm the same sort of thing
>> as a mouth.
>??? You're being incoherent. How can you be the same sort of
>thing as a smile or a mouth? What do you mean?

A mouth is a "thing". A smile is not. If I define myself as "the body that
calls itself Jonathan Colvin", that is the same sort of thing as a mouth (a
material object). A smile is a different category entirely. But we are
getting side-tracked here.

>> But your response above is ambiguous. I'm not sure if you
>are agreeing
>> that our appropriate reference class is *not* all humans, but
>> disagreeing as to whether email is important, or disagreeing
>with the
>> entire statement above (in which case presumably you think our
>> appropriate refererence class for the purposes of the DA is "all
>> humans"). Can you be more specific about what you disagree with?
>The reference class is all conscious beings. Since we know of
>no other conscious beings, then this is often taken to be "all
>humans". The case of extra terrestrial intelligences certainly
>complicates the DA, however DA-like arguments would also imply
>that humans dominate to class of conscious beings. This
>conclusion is not empirically contradicted, but if it ever
>were, the DA would be refuted.

Absent a good definition for "conscious", this reference class seems
unjustifiable. Could I have been a chimpanzee? If not, why not? Could I have
been an infant who died at the age of 5? And why pick on "conscious" as the
reference class. Why couldn't I have been a tree?

>Constraining the reference to class to subsets of conscious
>beings immediately leads to contradictions - eg why am I not a
>Chinese, instead of Australian - Chinese outnumber Australians
>by a factor of 50 (mind you a factor of 50 is not really
>enough to base anthropic arguments, but one could easily finesse this).

Indeed. This is a further indication that there are problems with the DA.
>> >> The only way to rescue the DA is to assume that I *could
>have had*
>> >> a different birth rank; in other words, that I could have been
>> >> someone other than "me" (me as in "my body"). If the body I'm
>> >occupying is contingent (ie.
>> >> I could have been in any human body, and am in this one by pure
>> >> chance), then the DA is rescued.
>> >
>> >Yes.
>> Ok, at least we agree on that. Let's go from there.
>> >
>> >> This seems to require a dualistic account of identity.
>> >
>> >Why? Explain this particular jump of logic please? I'm not being
>> >stubborn here, I seriously do not understand how you draw this
>> >conclusion.
>> Read the above again (to which I assume you agree, since you replied
>> "yes".) Note particularly the phrase "If the body I'm occupying is
>> contingent". How can I "occupy" a body without a dualistic
>account of identity? How could "I"
>> have been in a different body, unless "I" am somehow
>separate from my
>> body (ie. Dualism)?
>I have just finished Daniel Dennett's book "Consciousness
>Explained", and gives rather good account of how this is
>possible. As our minds develop, first prelingually, and then
>as language gains hold, our self, the "I" you refer to,
>develops out of a web of thoughts, words, introspection
>constrained by the phylogeny of the body, and also by the
>environment in which my self "awakened" (or bootstrapped as it were).
>Since this must happen in all bodies with the requisite
>structure (ie humans, and possibly som non-humans), it can
>easily be otherwise. It can easily be contingent.
>Yet Daniel Dennett is expressly non-dualist. I'm sure he'd be
>most interested if you were to label him as a dualist.

This is simply an account of how we gain a sense of self. I don't see the
relevance to this discussion. I sincerely doubt that Dennett would find the
question "Why I am I me and not someone else?" meaningful in any way. How
could *your* self have awakened or been bootstrapped in someone else's body?
Dennett expressly *denies* that we "occupy" our minds.

>> You are dodging the question. Assuming for a second that lions and
>> trees are both conscious, you still haven't answered the question as
>> to how a tree could be a lion, without dualism of some sort.
>I think I have given several examples of such answers. And
>above I gave yet another answer, this time from Daniel Dennett.

With respect, I don't see that you've anything of the sort.

>> It is a question that *assumes* dualism. The only way those can be
>> different questions is if "I" is not identical with "Russell
>Of course "I" am not identical with "Russell Standish". The
>latter is simply a name. I could walk into deed office and
>change it tomorrow. I don't believe that changes "me", though.
>As I have said many times, nonidentity of coincident things is
>not a definition of dualism!
>> >> Switch the question. Why aren't you me (Jonathan Colvin)? I'm
>> >> conscious (feels like I am, anyway).
>> >This one is also easy to answer also. I'm just as likely to
>have been
>> >born you as born me. But I have to have been born someone.
>I just so
>> >happened to have been born me. This is called "symmetry breaking".
>> Again, you are *assuming* dualism in your statement. How could you
>> possibly have been me? If you *had* been me, what would the
>> be in the universe?

>I am assuming no such thing! Unless you insist on an
>absolutely trivial definition of dualism that noone else agrees with!

I don't think it is trivial at all. I think it is key. And you didn't answer
the question. If you had been me, how would the universe be any different?
And if the universe isn't different under that circumstance, how does it
make sense to say "I might have been you"?

In the process of writing this email, I did some googling, and it seems my
objection has been independantly discovered (some time ago). See

In particular, I note the following section, which seems to mirror my
argument rather precisely:

"It seems hard to rationalize this state space and prior outside a religious
image where souls wait for God to choose their bodies.
This last objection may sound trite, but I think it may be the key. The
universe doesn't know or care whether we are intelligent or conscious, and I
think we risk a hopeless conceptual muddle if we try to describe the state
of the universe directly in terms of abstract features humans now care
about. If we are going to extend our state desciptions to say where we sit
in the universe (and it's not clear to me that we should) it seems best to
construct a state space based on the relevant physical states involved, to
use priors based on natural physical distributions over such states, and
only then to notice features of interest to humans."

I've looked for rebuttals of Hanson, and haven't found any. Nick references
him, but comments only that Hanson also seems to be comitted to the SIA (not
sure why he thinks this).

Jonathan Colvin
Received on Fri Jun 17 2005 - 02:50:37 PDT

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