"All Men by Nature Desire to Know" --Aristotle
This groundbreaking treatise challenges the philosophies of Kant, Hume, Plato, Descartes, and Ayn Rand, and disrupts the status quo of conventional wisdom on the methods and limits of human knowledge. The book describes how to use the scientific method to answer philosophical questions, explains why science achieves knowledge, shows that the mind and the brain are identical while presenting a new theory of consciousness, proves that God does not exist and that humans have free will, and untangles Objectivist epistemology. This book demonstrates how a philosophy based on empirical experience and essential reasoning can solve the problem of induction and learn the truth about objective reality.
The treatise presents a new philosophy that explores epistemology, the philosophy of science, and the philosophy of mind, through two new, unique philosophical ideas: the philosophical scientific method, and pure empirical essential reasoning.
A must-read for students of philosophy and for people who want to learn more about knowledge and reason.
Chapter One: Introduction
Aristotle once said “all men by nature desire to know.” This book is for readers who desire knowledge, specifically that understanding of reality which comes only from philosophy. This book presents two new ideas that have never previously been presented in the history of philosophy. These two new ideas are, first, the philosophical scientific method, and second, pure empirical essential reasoning. This Introduction will offer a summary of the problems that this book seeks to solve, while the rest of the book contains depth and detail in evolving the ideas into a comprehensive theory that solves these problems.
Before I define these questions, I want to briefly touch upon the areas of philosophy that they involve. There are three: first, epistemology, which is the study of knowledge and its methods and limits, second, the philosophy of science, which seeks to explain the justification for science and the limits of science as knowledge, and third, the philosophy of mind, which seeks to discover what is the mind and how the mind relates to reality.
These three areas are quite broad. But if you read this book in its entirety, you will find that I provide a brand new, complete, systematic theory which explains how knowledge works and what are its limits, how science works and why it is knowledge, and what is the mind and its relation to reality. If I am right, this is a really important book, on a par with Kant or Plato or Aristotle or Ayn Rand in the scope and magnitude of what it seeks to achieve within the realm of philosophy. If I am wrong, my philosophy is, at least, an interesting point of view to debate, one which should be added to the chorus of viewpoints in the history of philosophy. Whether I am right or wrong is for you to decide, hopefully after you have read my work and thought about it.
So let me get right to my summary of what sorts of problems this book seeks to solve. Does the external world exist? Does physical matter exist outside of our minds? Does reality exist objectively? How can we know the answers to those questions or prove that our answers are true? What is truth? What is knowledge? What is the scientific method, and can it be used to answer these questions? What is the being of things, and what is the essence of a thing? Can we make a valid inference from the being of one thing to the beings of all things, in a way that is necessary and universal, for example, to infer "All X are Y" from one specific X being Y? Is there a principle that justifies induction? How does reasoning work, and is it based on perception? What does it mean to be objective or subjective? What is sensory experience, and what is consciousness? What is the mind? Does the mind see the external world, or does it merely interact with intuitions and subjective experiences?
This book will explore experimental philosophy, physicalism, mind-brain identity theory, science vs. atheism, empiricism, essentialism, and the scientific method, as well as the scope and limits of knowledge, the definition of truth, and the meaning of objectivity, in order to answer these questions. My analysis is always in the context of epistemology, the philosophy of science, and the philosophy of mind. My methodology is, ultimately, simple, in the sense that my arguments generally follow this pattern: I will ask you to observe something in your own experience, I will then argue that this observation leads to a certain conclusion as a matter of reason and rational deduction, and then, once you admit that you have seen these experiences too, and that my arguments make sense, you must then at that point accept my conclusion as rational, since it was based upon your own experiences, which you observed with your own mind, and upon inferences which make sense in the context of those experiences. The experiences I will draw upon are as simple as you observing yourself choosing what to eat from a menu of food in order to study free will, slicing open an apple and looking at its red color and tasting it to observe how perception works, or tossing a pebble into the air to study the details of ontological being by observing what it is about the rock that makes it be a thing that is flying through the air. The results, however, might be nothing less than a complete understanding of how the human mind is situated in reality and how reason and perception can achieve knowledge. Of course, to go from an apple to universal truth is no simple task, so you must forgive me for the long size of this book. I think you will enjoy reading it, as every page contains interesting thoughts.
The structure of my book is as follows. In Part One, I present a collection of essays which propound the theory of the philosophical scientific method. In Part Two-A, I provide a short essay which summarizes pure empirical essential reasoning, in the context of contrasting my philosophy with Objectivist epistemology. In Part Two-B I publish a longer book which offers the complete line of reasoning justifying pure empirical essential reasoning as a means of knowledge. At the end of this book I give some speculative ideas which are worth considering, and then in the conclusion I explain the meaning of the title of this book, and the metaphor of the apple of knowledge.
Won’t you come and join me on this great intellectual journey of philosophy?
Part One: The Philosophical Scientific Method
Chapter Two: The Philosophical Scientific Method
As a threshold matter, we must define what we mean by “the scientific method.” The scientific method, as a method for using the analysis of empirical data in order to confirm or refute a hypothesis, asks one question: “does the world actually look precisely the way that we would expect if our theory was correct?” It the answer is “yes,” then we can continue to develop our theory. But if the answer is “no,” then we must concede that our theory was incorrect and has been refuted by reality, and we must abandon our theory and move on to a new hypothesis. The scientific method as used by research scientists is based around controlled experiments to collect data which their theory can conform to or be refuted by, and their theories are typically based on physics, chemistry or biology. But the theory of the philosophical scientific method asserts that the scientific method can be applied to philosophy, and can be used with any theory or idea, in the realm of philosophy or in any other field, such as economics or history.
Any theory or idea can be supported or contradicted by an observation or experience of physical reality. In order to perform a philosophical scientific experiment, only three things are necessary: (1) the theory or idea to test, (2) the set of expectations that we would expect to see if our theory was true, based upon our thinking about expectations that takes place prior to our experience, and (3) the experience of reality or the observations of physical reality and objects in the world. Once we have these three elements, we can evaluate whether (3) our experience matched (2) our expectations. If they did, then (1) the theory is supported. If they did not, the theory is disproved. It is often said in university philosophy classes that the difference between science and philosophy is that scientific theories can be experimentally tested and philosophical theories cannot. I argue that this idea is untrue, and that the scientific method is not limited to science. The scientific method, reduced to the simple template of checking ideas by experimental verification against observable reality as seen by empirical perception, can also be used as a template for everyday thinking, and it can be applied to all philosophical ideas, or to any other type of idea.
By applying the scientific method to philosophical analysis, philosophers can discard and reject theories which do not conform to the results of their observations and experiences of the physical world, which would be a vast improvement over the philosophical method which currently prevails in most university philosophy departments, where academic professors get lost in a dream world of abstract theory that never gets verified against experience. By taking a philosophical approach to understanding the scientific method, science can move beyond its role as merely the producer of technological gadgets, and science can re-conceptualize itself as a system for achieving certain, absolute, provable knowledge of objective physical reality, capable of answering deep questions about the human experience, and as a body of ideas that can solve most of the problems in our quest to understand the world in which we live.
Note that in order for the scientific method to be accurate, we cannot make post-hoc rationalizations, which can also be called after-the-fact justifications, i.e. rationalizations that take place after the experiment has been conducted, to try to make our experience conform to what we wanted to believe. We must not make tortured justifications to squeeze our experience into what we expected to see. The scientific method, as applied to philosophy (and to natural science also) does not work in the absence of intellectual honesty in evaluating whether or not reality conforms to our beliefs, regardless of our emotions and feelings or political biases regarding what we desire to be proven true or false. Ideally, the set of expectations is decided prior to the experiment taking place, because if we form our expectations after the observations of data have already been made then we tend to shape our expectations to achieve the confirmation or refutation that we desire, i.e. this leaves us more vulnerable to confirmation bias. If the experience must be analyzed after the observation has already taken place, as will often happen due to practical necessity, then we must seek to reason what our expectations would have been “before the experiment,” in order to do our best to avoid “after the experiment” post hoc rationalization.
Sometimes, different interpretations of the same data are plausible. When this happens, you must look to reality and use new experiments to determine which interpretation is true. This can be done by an experiment which will distinguish between the two interpretations on the basis of the difference between them and what difference it makes whether one or the other is true. Or one can look at reality more closely and in greater detail, with new data, to see which theory is true. One theory will be confirmed by the empirical data and all others will be refuted, if scientific experiments are run properly and thoroughly, because it is something existing in external reality which causes experiments to confirm or deny an idea, because the data and observations have as their source something in reality, and this thing in objective reality which the experiment explores will cause the results of the experiment to show whatever it is that it shows. So the scientific method, if applied correctly, will result in one’s theory matching what exists in reality, which is how I define what it means for a theory to be “true.”
I am not the first philosopher to argue for a philosophical scientific method. One thinks of, for example, Karl Popper’s falsification theory, or A.J. Ayer’s verification theory, as attempts to introduce an empirical scientific method into philosophy. My theory of the philosophical scientific method is new and unique, for several reasons, two of which I mention here.
First, in addition to asserting that a scientific hypothesis can be disproved and falsified by the scientific method, if the observations contradict the hypothesis, I argue that a scientific (or philosophical) theory can be proven true by the scientific method, if the experiment yields observations which are precisely what one would expect if the theory was correct. Thus, experience and experimental observation are capable of proving a hypothesis false, and they are equally capable of proving a theory to be true, and thereby establishing a belief that can properly be called knowledge according to the scientific method. Other philosophers of science, such as Popper, have stated that the difference between a scientific theory and a non-scientific idea is that a scientific theory can always be refuted by new evidence or data in the future, whereas a non-scientific idea cannot be disproved. If Popper were right, then science could never achieve knowledge, because every scientific belief would always be in danger of being refuted in the future. In contrast to Popper’s falsification theory, the philosophical scientific method can prove that a scientific theory is true and correct, in which case it will never be refuted by new data in the future, by means of conducting an experiment where experience matches precisely what we would expect if the hypothesis were true. Science can confirm a hypothesis as well as refute a hypothesis.
For example, suppose that I am at home, and I hear a noise at the front door of my house. This noise makes me guess that a visitor is at the front door. I now have a hypothesis in mind, namely, that someone is at the door. I will then go to my front window and look out. If I do not see anyone, then my hypothesis was falsified, disproven, and refuted. But if I see that someone is there, then my theory was proven and confirmed. Whether the hypothesis was proved or disproved, it was tested in the same way, via empirical experience and observation. If both proof and refutation are based on experience, then proof that a theory is true should be understood to constitute knowledge, as known by the scientific method, to precisely the same extent that disproof and refutation can constitute knowledge. To say that science is based on guesses which can always be refuted in the future by new data does not reflect what actually happens in scientific analysis. When I see the person at my front door I know that someone is there, and the fact that a visitor is at the door was so clearly confirmed by visual observation, i.e. I am looking at the person there, that it could not reasonably be refuted by a method that claims to rely on experience for knowledge. The scientific method achieves knowledge to the same extent whether the hypothesis is confirmed or disproved, because either the positive proof or the negative refutation, a belief that either the thing is or is not, is based on whether you see a person at the front door.
Secondly, prior philosophies of science distinguished between ideas that admit of scientific experimentation and those which do not. Such theories claimed that religion, and, perhaps, philosophy, literature, etc., do not admit of experimental testing, whereas hard sciences, such as chemistry and physics or, perhaps, social sciences like economics and history, can articulate theories which can be proved or disproved by experience and data. Some pro-science philosophers have said that only the falsifiable, disprovable areas of thought can be called knowledge, and the areas where theories cannot be tested and disproved are unimportant or outside the scope of science and reason. Some people think that in math and science there are “right” and “wrong” answers demonstrable by proof and deduction, whereas in philosophy, the arts, and the humanities (and to some extent, the social sciences) no demonstration of right and wrong can exist, and every inference is open to debate and discussion and interpretation. This might be argued as a justification for the scientific method being inapplicable to philosophy and religion. If this were conceded, then it would also follow that religion can protect itself from the philosophical scientific method by claiming that religious ideas are not the sort of ideas that can be proved or disproved by observation and experience.
My argument is new and different, because I argue that in literally every area of human thought, including philosophy, literature, or religion, an intelligent and enterprising person can design experiments which will articulate a theory and then collect observations of experience which would either conform to or contradict the expectations entailed in the theory. I argue that right and wrong answers can be proven true or false, in every area of human thought, including philosophy and the arts and humanities. It follows from my claim that religious ideas, as well as philosophical ideas, can all be put to the test of experience and experimentation. In the upcoming sections of this book, I will show what it would look like to design an experiment to test the hypothesis that God exists, to test the theory that humans have free will, to test the idea that the mind and the brain are identical, and other philosophical scientific experiments.
Some thinkers believe that some issues are abstract theory with no basis in practical reality, such that they cannot be proved or disproved by means of experiments and empirical observation. For example, the theory that seventeen angels can dance on the head of a pin, or the theory that the Kantian distinction between the transcendental vs. the transcendent vs. the immanent is accurate, are thought to be untestable, because nothing in empirical observation will show its truth one way or the other. Philosophers of science like Popper and Ayer, as well as Pragmatists like William James, might have thought such theories to be meaningless, and neither true nor false. I argue that these ideas do make a difference, and something is at stake in them, such that experience can confirm or refute them.
Generally, what is at stake in the idea that seventeen angels can dance on the head of a pin, is that religion is true and God exists. If you can prove on the basis of scientific reasoning that God does not exist (and I will show later how this is possible) then you prove that zero angels can dance on the head of a pin. What is at stake in the idea of the Kantian distinction is the truth or falsehood of the entire Kantian philosophy. Later I will show what is at stake in Kantianism, and particularly in the section on Objectivism vs. Subjectivism I will show that the idea that the world revolves around the mind can be tested by an experiment to establish whether perception and subjective belief can constitute reality on the basis of whether the mind can change or control our experiences of reality. If empirical experience refutes Kant, then the philosophical scientific method proves that the Kantian distinction of transcendent vs. transcendental is false.
If someone proposes a theory which is mere abstract theory detached from any basis in practical reality, then what is at stake in its truth or falsity is whether human thinking should focus on and believe in impractical useless ideas, or whether reason is a practical tool for engaging and interacting with reality. The difference it makes is how we as humans should go about thinking about reality. If reason and thought are practical, and this is proven by experience and observation, then each and every abstract impractical imaginary daydream that could be asserted is proved to be false. I argue that every theory which can be articulated, and every idea that has ever been debated, can be put to the test of experience and experiment, if someone actually wants to invest the thinking necessary to design an accurate experiment. Something will always be at stake, although some deep thought may be necessary to identify what is at stake and what difference it makes.
Chapter Three: Experimental Philosophy and External Contradictions
In this section I would like to introduce two related concepts: (1) experimental philosophy, and (2) external contradictions.
Many philosophers claim to want to introduce the “scientific method” into philosophy. Hume said this. So did Kant. But philosophers have been notoriously lazy in terms of actually using science in philosophy. The scientific method begins with a belief, theory, assumption, premise, hypothesis or postulate, and then looks at experience, usually in the form of empirical data from tests and experiments, and science asks: “was our experience exactly what we would have expected it to be if our theory was correct?” If not, throw out the theory and try a new one. If the evidence supports the hypothesis, then it is confirmed.
What would experimental philosophy look like? Let me offer two short oversimplified examples, both of which will be explored in detail later, in order to give you an introductory taste of my theory. First, if Kantian subjectivism is true and the mind creates the experience of space and time, then you could jump out a window and your mind could alter your experience of reality so that your experience of space would look like you were flying. As you fall out the window, your mind would constitute your experience of reality by imposing categories onto your experience, therefore your mind could create the experience of flying. If the world revolves around the mind, then we would expect the mind to have the power to control the world. If our observations contradict this, then Kant is disproven. Second, if Hume’s skepticism were true, we could not know that the Sun will rise tomorrow morning. If you possess knowledge that the Sun will rise tomorrow, and this knowledge is confirmed, then it can’t have been true that you did not know anything. But Hume believes that we could not know for certain that the Sun will rise tomorrow.
A related concept involving the use of empirical data in philosophy is external contradiction. Every great philosopher claims to have a “coherent” philosophy, that is, one which is internally consistent and has no internal contradictions. The only problem with these claims is that it is incredibly easy to think up a theory which is internally consistent. Hume’s philosophy is. So is Kant’s. So is Ayn Rand’s, and so are the theories of most other great thinkers. Perhaps the only example I can think of a famous theory with an internal contradiction is Christianity, namely that God is omnipotent and loving but evil exists and God permits evil to exist, or that God is the only power in the universe but the Devil is also powerful, or that Christ is both human and divine.
Instead of seeking internal coherence, the far more difficult, but more important, task of a theory is to not have external contradictions, in other words, not to conflict with what our experiences teach us. For an example let me use Rand. As one Objectivist wrote in a reply to an article of mine, the idea that “emotions are robots programmed by a person” is internally consistent with Rand’s philosophy. Indeed, Rand seems to have believed that her followers Nathaniel Branden and Barbara Branden could program their emotions like robots, to make Nathaniel Branden love Rand and to make Barbara love Nathaniel, because Rand (as she asserted) was Nathaniel Branden’s “highest value” and therefore he could program his emotions of romantic passion to conform to the value judgments of his logic and abstract reasoning. Yes, this seems crazy, but no idea in Rand’s philosophy actually contradicts this position. Therefore the Randian theory of love lacks any internal contradiction, so it is coherent.
But, even lacking internal contradiction, Rand’s theory of love had an external contradiction. Experience proved that emotions are not robots and that love comes from preference and personality and “chemistry” and falling in love as well as from logical evaluations of compatibility and sharing abstract ethical values. As described in Barbara Branden’s book “The Passion of Ayn Rand,” the application of Rand’s theory of love led to sexual dysfunction and irrationality, climaxing in the Branden-Rand sex affair explosion which destroyed Rand’s movement in the 1960’s. That series of events disproved Rand’s “emotions are robots programmed by logic” hypothesis. If Rand had been paying attention and had applied the philosophical scientific method to her philosophizing, then she would have noticed that experience refuted her theory of romantic love. History indicates that Rand clung to her theory even after the Branden fiasco, instead of rejecting it when she faced the external contradiction. That was not a scientific attitude for her to have. If being scientific is a desirable trait, then we must challenge, and be ready to discard, any belief which is exposed as having an external contradiction.
Chapter Four: Life Experiments
The scientific method applied to human existence can take the form of “life experiments,” in which you use the scientific method to test basic ideas, like whether honesty is good or bad, or whether God exists, or which career you should pursue. In a life experiment, you choose a theory to test, which is the hypothesis, you then define what you would expect to see if the theory was true, and you then live your life as if it was true, and apply and use it in your life, for a period of time. During this time you carefully observe and record your observations, and at the conclusion of the period of time, you evaluate your notes and determine whether the theory is confirmed or disproved by your observations. I recommend one month as the ideal time period for a life experiment, although as little as one day might yield useful observations.
History has examples of famous life experiments, such as in Benjamin Franklin’s “Autobiography,” where Franklin tested his ethical beliefs, and in Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden,” where Thoreau tested the naturalist approach to human existence. I myself can mention two life experiments that I have run. Both of these examples may seem eccentric or extremist, but this is only because most people are not used to the intellectual honesty of testing an abstract idea and taking seriously the task of seeing what it would look like if applied in practical reality. First, I tried to test whether prayers and wishes and casting magic spells can have a beneficial impact of helping you to get what you want. I found that they cannot. Second, I experimented with whether it is possible for the human brain to make all decisions consciously and for the conscious mind to manage the subconscious mind in every detail. I learned that it is not possible, because the human brain was designed for the subconscious mind to handle most mundane matters automatically, while the consciousness thinks about the big picture of the person’s life and pays attention to the most important behaviors.
For life experiments, it is necessary for me to explain why if a hypothesis is true then it will be useful and beneficial and improve your life, such that if a theory causes suffering and agony then this indicates that it is false, and if applying a theory to your life makes you happy and helps your life then this shows that it is true. My theory disputes the Pragmatist idea that truth and usefulness are identical, or that an idea is true because it is useful. In contrast, I argue that an idea will tend to be useful because it is true. The explanation for why this happens comes from what I call the ethical theory of “pursuance.” For thousands of years, philosophy and ethics have struggled to figure out how to go from “is” to “ought,” in other words, how to translate our knowledge of what reality is and what things exist, into a set of beliefs about what we should do and what is right and wrong. Pursuance solves this problem, and also shows why a belief in the truth will almost always tend to improve a person’s life. Pursuance means that the objectively right thing to do is to treat things in reality as what they are, and not to treat them as something different from what they really are. In other words, ethical behavior is behavior that is pursuant to objective reality.
For example, say that you have a hammer on your left and a pillow on your right. Say also that you need to hammer nails into wood to build a table, and after that you plan on taking a nap. You could hammer the nails with the hammer or the pillow, and you could sleep with your head resting on the hammer or on the pillow. The objectively right behavior is the one that is pursuant to objective reality. Thus, the objectively right thing to do, under an objective ethics, is to hammer the nails using the hammer, because the hammer is made of metal and is hard and is in a good shape for your hand to grip and swing to use for hammering nails. And the right thing to do is to sleep with your head resting on the pillow, because the pillow is full of feathers and soft and a good shape to go under your head. In contrast, it would be wrong under objective ethics to sleep on a hammer or hit nails with a pillow, because of what things are in objective reality.
You should hammer the nails into the table using the hammer, and you should sleep with your head on the pillow. These are both objective facts, but they are also “should” statements of ethics. Right and wrong can be translated into good and evil. If you are a carpenter, and you need to build tables in order to survive, and you need a good night’s sleep for your body to stay healthy, then pursuance as an ethics can distinguish between right and wrong as good vs. evil because they will make you either happy or miserable. The good and right choice will treat reality as it is, which enables you to build tables using the hammer. By being a successful carpenter you can make money, support your wife and children, and be happy. The evil and wrong choice would result in failing to build tables and sleeping with your head on a hard uncomfortable hammer, which will make you suffer in misery and die.
Note that the qualities of the hammer and the pillow which make the difference are absolute, objective, physical characteristics, as known by perception and reason observing the physical world, which I consider to be one of the hallmarks of science. Thus, pursuance is a scientific ethics, which derives right and wrong from what does or doesn’t exist. Philosophy professors have argued that the fact that a hammer is useful for hammering nails is a subjective quality that comes from human intent, not from objective reality. They assert that the ability to hammer nails exists for humans, not in the hammer in itself. This is incorrect, since the qualities and properties that make the hammer useful for hammering nails, e.g. the shape of the handle and the hardness of the metal of the hammer head, are all objective physical properties as known by scientific empirical observation.
This example of the hammer and pillow captures the general principle that a person’s life is almost always benefited by applying the truth, at least if we assume that a person’s happiness comes from survival and success in achieving one’s tasks and goals. In general it is good if a person treats reality as what it is, and not as what it is not. The few conceivable examples, like a criminal aiming at gun at our head and threatening to shoot us unless we loudly declare that hammers are softer than pillows, are uncommon enough to be worth ignoring. If we accept the ethics of pursuance as the basis of objective right and wrong, then we can extend the pursuance argument to the scientific method. If you test an idea in your behavior during your life experiment and it works, then it is probably true, and if it causes pain and harm then it is probably false. What works vs. what doesn’t work won’t tell you why the theory is true or false, but reasoning based on your observations, as combined with research and reading about the subject matter or discussing it with other people, should give you enough clues for you to figure out what it was about the hypothesis that was true or false.
Every opportunity to learn from experience can be structured as a life experiment. You identify the idea to test, define your expectations, and then experience reality and collect observations. Your theory will be either confirmed or contradicted. For example, you could test drive a Toyota and a Ford and see which one conforms to your expectation that a good car will corner well and have good traction. You could test the idea that the right amount of time to boil pasta is ten minutes by trying it and then tasting the pasta. You could experiment with the idea that your talents suit you for a career as an accountant by interning at a tax accountant’s office and then evaluating feedback from your employer as to whether you did a good job. Or you could read the first thirty pages of “The Hobbit” in order to test out the theory that your reading all of Tolkien’s epics would be a fun and enjoyable way to spend time. In all of these examples, the practical application of the philosophical scientific method means that you believe what is confirmed and you abandon those beliefs that were refuted. If you had thought that you would really love the Toyota and hate the Ford, but you do the two test drives and you actually like the Ford and find the Toyota annoying, then the philosophical scientific method would tell you to buy the Ford.
Unfortunately, sometimes the window of opportunity to verify an idea will be narrow and difficult, because simulations will lack the realism of a situation when it really happens. For example, the only good way to confirm that your friend is a true friend will be to have a crisis and see whether your friend is there for you or not, and a true crisis cannot really be modeled in simulations before the fact, although perhaps a previous minor problem or test drill will approximate it enough to model what would happen in a crisis. However, from the experience of a crisis, you will be able to verify from empirical experience which of your friends are good friends and which are not. Similarly, dating a person for three years might be sufficient to evaluate whether you are in love, but is it perhaps true that only the real experience of being married for several decades could confirm or refute the belief that your partner is the right person to spend the rest of your life with. In a sense, the rising rate of divorce since 1950 may be a sign of culture catching up to empirical philosophy.
It is useful to draw a distinction between “a posteriori” knowledge and “a priori” knowledge. This distinction was made famous by Kant but has been used by many philosophers throughout the history of philosophy. “A posteriori” knowledge is knowledge that comes from experience. Literally it is a Latin phrase meaning that it “comes after” experience. “A priori” knowledge comes “from before” experience, meaning that it is knowledge from intuition that the mind imposes onto the world. As each of these examples indicates, true knowledge can come only from experience a posteriori. Before-the-fact a priori guesses and intuitions have no basis for being trustworthy as knowledge of reality. Contrary to the beliefs of mainstream philosophy, which hold that a posteriori knowledge is impossible, the philosophical scientific method as deployed in life experiments is a means of achieving a posteriori knowledge.
Chapter Five: Objectivism vs. Subjectivism in Epistemology
First I will define what I mean by objectivism and subjectivism, and then I will explain how to run a philosophical scientific experiment in order to discover which is true. Let me begin by noting that my use of the term “Objectivism” for epistemology has a completely different meaning from the term as used in political philosophy to denote the libertarian capitalism of Ayn Rand. By objectivism I mean the belief that reality exists objectively, i.e. that a physical external world exists, and also that reality consists of objects which possess identity and can be studied by reason. By subjectivism I mean the belief that reality is subjective, which means that the human mind creates and controls reality, that mind exists but objective physical material does not, reality consists of subjects not objects, and the world is constituted by beliefs, feelings, and wishful thinking. Subjectivism in its most extreme forms becomes solipsism, panpsychism, or social construct theory, and I group these theories together as all being based on the claim that reality is either totally or mostly subjective.
To test a hypothesis, as a first step we must identify what we would expect if the theory were true, and then as a second step we must journey into the realm of experience and see if what we observe either conforms to or contradicts our expectations. If objectivism were true then we would expect to interact with reality by going out into the objective external world and physically engaging the objects that we find there. If subjectivism were true then we would expect to interact with reality by altering the subject, not the objects, i.e. by changing how we perceive something or what we believe about something in order to control it. Wishes, faith, willpower, and perhaps also magic spells, would be the tools to succeed.
Having defined the expectations, we can now set the parameters for an experiment. For example, one could test the ideas by placing a mug of coffee on a kitchen counter, and then trying to move the coffee from the counter to the kitchen table. If you must do this by physically moving the object, then this proves that objectivism is true. If you can move the mug to the table subjectively by believing that it is on the kitchen table or by your mind causing it to move or by changing your perception so that you see it as being on the table, then your mind controlled or constituted your experience, and subjectivism would be supported. Run the experiment and see for yourself what you observe.
It is worth noting that some things exist, for example a phobia or fear, where the problem would be solved by altering your beliefs, feelings, or mind. This could be interpreted as evidence in support of subjectivism. However, this example is not inconsistent with objectivism, to the extent that you must force your feelings to conform to and obey objective reality. For example, if you are afraid of squirrels then you must make your subjective feeling match the objective fact that squirrels are not dangerous. If subjectivism were true then we would expect the belief that squirrels are scary to cause squirrels to become monsters, because only the inside of the mind would exist and no external reality would exist outside the mind of the person with the phobia, so the fear would be real and true, and no outside reality would exist which could contradict or disprove the ideas within our minds.
Subjectivism asserts that our experience of reality is subjective. Objectivism says that the reality that we see is objective, and no difference exists between the external world and the world as we experience it. For example, suppose that I hold an apple in my hand. To say that the thing in my hand is my mind’s representation of the apple adds nothing useful or beneficial to the analysis, because a representation or idea, concept, or perception in my mind is merely my subjective experience, which cannot be studied by science. In contrast, to say that this thing is the apple itself in external reality adds a lot to the analysis, because we can see that the apple is a fruit with seeds that can be planted or eaten, etc. If biology and botany study apples, and not a world of mind or spirit, then in order for science to be possible we must say that this apple is a thing in itself. Also, if the apple is in my mind then I can’t be right or wrong about it in a way that I can demonstrate to other people. But if this apple exists in objective reality then statements about the apple can be true or false, and I can demonstrate the truth to other people by pointing to the apple and showing it to them and pointing out what it is about the apple that makes the statement true or false. For example, I can prove to you that this is a seedless apple by slicing it open and showing it to you. The apple would be the same for everyone and you and I could talk about the same apple. And empirical experience would provide knowledge of the apple. (This issue will be revisited in depth in Part Two, in the section on Adler and the Objectivity Proviso.)
I will conclude by explaining that objectivism is an epistemology which justifies science while subjectivism is an epistemology that justifies religion. Objectivism is based on the external world of objective reality, while subjectivism, in its various manifestations, is based on subjective perception, interpretation, belief, thought, faith, or language, or the structure of the mind as it experiences reality and pure reason, or relativism and inter-subjectivity. If existence exists objectively then science is our tool of controlling and coping with reality, because science is the method which looks at the external world and finds ways to control objects derived from an analysis of objects and experience. If existence is subjective then religion would be the proper tool for controlling reality and getting what we want, via our belief and faith and wishful thinking or our minds imposing our desires onto reality. If subjectivism were true then we could make problems go away by redefining our words so that we could no longer talk about the problem, because our language as a tool of thought would constitute reality, or we could make our minds impose our desires onto our experience in the act of constituting reality, or we could cause the existence of God by having faith in Him and believing in Him. The objectivism vs. subjectivism debate is not mere abstract theory and theoretical philosophy. It has a clear and obvious practical impact on how we live our lives as human beings and how we seek to interact with reality.
Chapter Six: The Mind as Brain vs. Soul Experiment
Is the mind a brain or a soul? The philosophical scientific method proves that the mind is the brain, because our experience is precisely what we would expect if the mind was the brain. How do we know that the mind is the brain? Let me point out the six main areas of our experiences which prove that the mind is the brain:
1. Brain damage. Science has learned, from over 100 years of experience, that brain damage to a specific section of the brain corresponds to a failure in a specific function of the mind. The following data is taken from Wikipedia. Damage to the hippocampus, which is a part of the brain, can cause memory loss, which in its mild form becomes Alzheimer’s disease and in its most extreme form becomes anterograde amnesia, which is a total inability of the mind to form new memories. In the brain disease called prosopagnosia, brain damage to the fusiform gyrus can cause the mind to cease to recognize people’s faces, so a person can see the face of a loved one and not know who they are, and be unable to remember faces. In left hemianopsia, damage to the right occipital lobe causes the person to be unable to see things in the left side of their field of vision while still seeing objects to their right. In the condition known as topographical disorientation, lesions to the posterior hippocampal gyrus and anterior lingual gyrus cause the person to be unable to mentally map their environment or to navigate locations by means of landmarks. In the developmental disorder known as Autism, a delay in the physical development of the brain of a child causes the afflicted teen or adult to have difficulty speaking and evaluating social situations, and in its most extreme form the person may be totally unable to speak. Vision, memory, speaking, and thinking are generally thought of as aspects of the mind, so the evidence shows that parts of the brain correspond to parts of the mind. This strongly suggests that the mind is the human brain.
Going slightly beyond the findings of research on brain damage, science has also studied brain activity while a person performs certain behaviors and learned that activity in specific regions of the brain corresponds to certain cognitive actions typically regarded as parts of the mind. For example, vision is done by the occipital lobe. Memory is done by the hippocampus. Making decisions is done by the amygdala. Processing language and choosing words for one’s speech is done by Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area. Emotional reactions like fear and anger are done by the limbic system. And inhibiting emotions and imposing restraint and reason onto impulses is done by the prefrontal cortex. In each of these cases the alignment between function and brain region is not perfect, and many different parts of the brain all contribute to the end result. But the data is precisely what we would expect to see if the mind is the brain.
2. Drug effects and psychiatric medications. Drugs such as alcohol and marijuana have a specific effect upon the mind. Thinking and reasoning, which some philosophers see as the highest aspects of the spiritual being of the soul, are affected by such drugs. These drugs are physical substances which alter the brain, with alcohol acting as a downer and marijuana affecting neurotransmitters like dopamine. The drug called ecstasy, which alters mood and makes people happy, works by increasing serotonin in the brain. Joy and other emotions are generally regarded as existing in the mind, but the physical substances of drugs can alter them, which suggests that emotions have a physical existence in the brain. And, aside from recreational drugs, there are medical drugs such as antipsychotics used to treat schizophrenia. Such psychiatric medications are drugs which can make the difference between sanity and insanity for a mental health patient. But thinking sane or insane thoughts seems to be an attribute of the mind. This is what we would expect if the mind is the brain. If the mind were a soul then we would not expect drugs to alter or control it.
3. Sleep and Hunger. If the mind was a disembodied soul then we would expect it to remain awake while the brain sleeps. We would expect the mind not to be controlled by bodily urges such as hunger, etc. People can’t think clearly while sleepy. People get irritable while hungry. And they make decisions which should be governed by reason and logic, such as what food to buy, differently based on whether their body is hungry.
4. Space and Time. In rejection of the Cartesian notion of dualism, that the mind is a res cogitans which does not exist in space and time, in contrast to the res extensa which exist physically in space and time, i.e. that mind and body are two different substances, I will note that thinking a thought takes time, e.g. it might take you five minutes to think up your list of food to buy for a grocery list, and thinking often exists in a way that is spatially tied to the mind being in a specific place, e.g. your thinking about which can of soup to buy situates your mind physically in the location of the soup aisle at the grocery store. If thought were based on a disembodied nonphysical soul then we would expect thought to look like speculation regarding how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, whereas thought, as we experience it in our own lives, looks like practical thinking to engage physical reality in space and time, like thinking about how to save money on food when your brain and body are physically located in a grocery store.
5. Sensations. A person’s primary means of interacting with reality is through sensory perception, such as sight, hearing, smell, etc., and if the seat of the mind was a “soul” then we would expect our minds to possess supernatural means of knowledge that would give us mystical insight into reality. No such thing is evident in our typical understanding of human behavior or human thinking. If the soul theory was true and the brain theory was not, then the physical senses would be an illusion or distraction, and we would not expect that we must rely on them to live. For example, we would not need our eyes and the vision parts of the brain to drive a car, and we could instead navigate roads while driving a car by mystical insight. Nor would we require the tongue’s taste and the nose’s smell and the brain’s regions processing taste and smell to eat a sandwich and know whether the food we eat is good or bad. Our experiences as human beings clearly contradict the soul theory expectations, i.e. what we would honestly expect to see if the mind were a soul and not a brain.
6. Memory, Learning, and Childhood. If the mind were the soul then we would expect to have clear memories of our past lives or of where we were prior to being born into a human body. I have no such memories, and you must ask yourself whether you do. Also, if mind is soul then we would not expect to need to teach things to children, because knowledge would come from the soul. If the mind is the soul, and the soul attaches to the body at conception, then a baby would have a mind like an adult. If language and math are known by the soul, and they do not have their origin in physical reality, then we would not expect to need to teach them to children. On the other hand, if the mind is the brain, then we would expect the development of the brain to parallel increases in knowledge and the stages of education as the body grows from a young child to a teen, which is what we can see happening in real children. Plato attempted to counter this observation by arguing that when we learn something we are really remembering what our soul already knew. But, if the soul has this knowledge of what is taught already in its memory, then the honest expectations that we would expect to see in observable reality would be that we would have some sort of access to this memory, so we could know things without learning them, and we would expect children to already possess a foundational knowledge of math, language, science, etc., before it is taught to them. Yet what really happens is that math in its entirety must be learned, from addition and subtraction through multiplication tables all the way up to calculus.
One counterargument against me is people’s anecdotes of out of body experiences and spiritual experiences. But this sort of anecdote is adequately explained by hallucinations, wishful thinking and self-delusion, combined with the brain’s strong social desire in seeking acceptance from the socially dominant religious groups in which many people want to participate.
Chapter Seven: The Free Will Experiment
As another example of showing that the philosophical scientific method can achieve scientific answers for philosophical questions, I will here explain how to design an experiment that tests whether free will or determinism is correct, as shown by empirical experience. The first step is to define the expectations that we would expect if one or the other were true, and the second step is to look at experience and observe reality to see which theory is confirmed and which is refuted. If humans did not have free will then we would not expect to have to make choices, or you would expect your choices and decisions to be illusions which have no effect. For this experiment, go to a restaurant and look at the menu and then experience what happens between the time when you look at the menu and the time when you begin eating your food. What you will observe is that you had to make a choice about what food to order. You looked at the options in the menu, thought about it, made a decision, and then placed the order which you had chosen. This choice was meaningful and had an effect. For example, if you choose to order a salad then you will eat a salad, and if you don’t choose to order a salad then you will not get a salad. Because it had a real, visible result, it was not an illusion.
So we have shown by means of the philosophical scientific method that people make choices. The determinist reply to this argument for free will might be that one’s choices are controlled by the factors that one considers in making the choice. For example, one’s craving for a salad forced one to choose to eat a salad. But experience refutes this, in a number of ways. First, behavior does not happen automatically, and choices are made as a result of thinking and choosing, as we can see via introspective observation if we examine our mind while we are making a choice, e.g. while we are choosing what to eat at a restaurant. The set of items, prices, and tastes on the menu, combined with our appetite and cravings, does not define one or the other decision. For example, if the chicken sandwich is cheap but the garden salad tastes good but you have recently had a craving for a baked potato, then this set of factors does not produce one determined result automatically. Instead we must make the choice between the sandwich or the salad or the potato, and, although we consider factors, we are capable of choosing one or the other, so the factors do not control or determine the choice and the behavior is not automatic.
Generally, if pleasure and pain controlled human decisions then we would not expect people to enlist in the army to fight for ideals, nor would we expect anyone to ever choose difficult or unpleasant behaviors. If the brain were controlled by DNA and genetic impulses then we would expect the genetic drive to procreate to render monogamy and marriage impossible and to force everyone to behave with sexual promiscuity. And if the mind did not play any role in making choices then we would expect to react to stimuli immediately, by instinct, like an animal does, whereas what we observe is that humans think before making a choice.
The argument from ethics also proves that humans have free will. If humans did not have free will then we would not need ethics and values to guide our choices, so the fact that ethics is useful and necessary proves that humans have free will. My argument here is not the Pragmatist argument that a belief is true because it is useful. Rather, my argument is that a belief will tend to be useful because it is true, so the usefulness of an idea strongly suggests that the idea is true, although utility and truth are not identical. On this basis, the human need for ethics is strong evidence that we possess free will.
The philosophical scientific method shows that humans have free will, but we still need to explain why we have free will, and how free will works. The philosopher Laplace offered an argument in support of determinism, that because only bodies in motion exist, if you know all the physical properties of every object in reality then you can predict what the future will look like with perfect accuracy, hence no room for free will exists in the Universe. Here I will offer a new argument, the “omniscient computer model” argument in favor of free will, which is the equal but opposite of the Laplace argument.
This argument is a thought experiment: imagine that humans build a computer that knows everything, including the existence of every subatomic particle and every vector of motion in the universe. If this omniscience computer were to model the universe and predict the future, say 10 years in the future, then, if everything is predetermined, and the model knows everything, then the model would be perfectly accurate. But, to extend the experiment further, if the humans who run the computer look at the model and see what will happen in 10 years and they don’t like what the future will be, for example if the model shows that a viral plague will break out in 10 years and kill everyone, then they could act to change the future, by analyzing the virus and creating a vaccine, and then the future would be different and the model would be no longer correct. The computer model could not have included what the humans would do after seeing the model’s predictions, since that would then lead to a second model which would include the first model and the human response to the first model, and the human computer operators could respond to the second model, such as by seeing that their vaccine failed and developing a second vaccine, and then a third computer model would follow, and a fourth, and so on, and a model accounting for the human ability to choose futures from among alternatives known in the present reduces to infinity and absurdity.
Thus, if humans have the ability to predict the future, then they can choose among different alternative futures, and then total physical determinism reduces to a contradiction, which proves that humans have free will. Laplace said that if the future can be predicted then humans lack free will, but I say that if humans can predict the future then we can choose among competing alternative futures. Note that this is a philosophical argument, which could be expanded and improved by a scientific argument once science unlocks the puzzle of how the brain works and how awareness of the future and the brain’s choices between alternatives exists in human brains.
Let me conclude by noting that my theory of free will extends only to the claim that a human being can make a choice which is meaningful and non-illusory and which has an effect in practical reality. I do not believe in the radical free will of Sartre and Szasz, which claims that a person is totally responsible for every action that they do even if something biological in the brain, such as mental illness, drugs, or some other controlling factor, interfered with their ability to make a choice. In a different section I offered proof that the mind is identical with the brain. In a properly functioning brain, i.e. in normal situations, ethical responsibility attaches to having made a choice, such that we deserve reward or punishment for good or bad choices. But if a biological problem in the brain prevents a freely made choice then no ethical responsibility can attach because no choice was actually made. Something similar would be true if external factors interfered with the freedom to choose, e.g. if a criminal points a gun at you and forces you to do something then you would not be morally responsible, although you might be partly to blame depending on the details of the situation.
Much has been made in philosophy recently of the theory that free will and determinism are compatible. They are not compatible in the sense that the claim that “humans have free will” clearly contradicts the claim that “human behavior is determined,” and a contradiction is not coherent or plausible. But they are compatible in the sense that a complete understanding of human choice understands that the mind’s choices can influence the brain, and also the brain’s biology can influence choices. This could be called top-down causation vs. bottom-up causation. Compatibility extends to the observation that DNA and the brain’s neurons define the range of one’s natural talents and abilities, but decisions and choices then actualize one’s potential, such as by working hard and being disciplined vs. being lazy and self-indulgent. For example, you might have some natural talent as a piano player. But you will only become a really good pianist by practicing for an hour each day for several years. Every day you must make a choice whether to practice piano for an hour, and this choice is an exercise of free will which results in you improving and becoming a good piano player.
Chapter Eight: The God Experiment
Countless thinkers, philosophers, and scientists have struggled with the question of reason vs. faith. Here I will argue that it is possible, and, if we really want to do this, it is fairly easy, to design an experiment which will specify precisely what we would expect to see in reality if our religion were true, and then observe existence for a period of time, and evaluate whether or not our experiences confirmed or refuted our religious beliefs.
The great challenge in designing a “God experiment” is the human brain’s ability to invent post-hoc rationalizations, i.e. after the fact justifications, to justify our doubt-inducing experiences and protect our sacred beliefs from empirical refutation. Two popular post-hoc rationalizations relate to religion. The first post-hoc rationalization addresses the belief in magic, and the second relates to belief in the existence of God. If magic were real, we would expect to see magic and to be able to do magic and make things happen by casting magic spells. When we don’t see magic as the engine that drives human life, and instead we see technology like cars, computers and televisions, this shows that magic isn’t real and science is real. But the post-hoc rationalization that reconciles the data with the belief in magic is “magic is real, but we can’t see it, we can’t experience it in physical reality, because it isn’t physical, it is spiritual, or because our human brain is too weak and fallible and is unable to see the world of spirit where magic exists.”
Let us be intellectually honest and recognize that, if we define a set of expectations before the fact, and we wanted to test whether the hypothesis that “magic is real” is true or not, we would expect to see magic, and we would expect to see that magic has a real, powerful, visible role to play in the world in which we ourselves exist and live our lives. We would also expect to be able to cast magic spells to accomplish real, specific tasks, and we would expect our magical powers to be successful. If we do not see what we would honestly expect to see, then the scientific method refutes the existence of magic, and reason shows that magic does not exist, and can only be believed by means of irrational faith.
Similarly, if we were to list our before the fact expectations about the existence of God, as understood by the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim religions, we would expect to hear God’s voice speaking to us in a manner as real and audible as the voices of other people when they talk to us, we would expect to have conversations with God, we would expect God to answer our prayers, and we would expect to see the hand of God in the world and see God controlling everything, and to see God’s miracles every day, and all over the place. The stories in the Bible are full of Biblical figures actually hearing God’s voice and seeing God’s actions and experiencing miracles. If the stories in the Torah or New Testament were factually correct then we would have every reason to expect to see in today’s world the very same things that are described in those stories from two thousand years ago. We would also expect all our achievements, and all human achievements, to come from God. And we would expect atheist science to be completely powerless to do or accomplish anything without God’s powers, at least to the extent that science disputes religion. For example, we would expect the theory of creationism to be a great and very useful explanation, and we would expect the theory of Darwinian evolution to be foolish and useless.
In sharp contrast to the God expectations, what we experience is the visible, perceivable, physical world, and what we experience is best explained by the scientific interpretation which explains everything in the physical world by reference to physical causes. Science is suggested by everything we see and hear, from the theory of air waves explaining sounds we hear, to the theory of light explaining our eyes and what we see, to science developing every useful and beneficial technology we use every day, from computers to cars to refrigerators to televisions to mobile devices and smart phones. The theory of gravity explains how the Earth formed and why we stand on the ground, and the theory of evolution and natural selection explains the existence of the various species on Earth and has been useful for the progress of human biology and genetics. The scientific understanding of the world, confirmed by our experiences as experienced prior to our mind imposing an interpretation that we want to believe in, leaves no room for God. We see science causing everything, and we do not see God causing anything. If God were the omnipotent power in the world, we would expect to see God’s hand and to see miracles every day and all over the place, and we do not. If God existed and was all-powerful as the prophets claimed, then the signs of God’s existence would be not only visible, but also quite obvious and unmistakable. We would expect to see the people who believe in science frustrated in failure, not raised in the triumph of the power of technology to enable humans to do things and prosper.
Did you see a miracle today? And yesterday? And the day before, and in most of the experiences you have? I predict that your answer, if you are honest, is no. Did you use electricity recently? And did you do what you were trying to do using your electrical device successfully? If you did, then your experience supports science and refutes God. Instead of seeing God everywhere, we see science and technology every day and everywhere we look. The only way to reconcile our experience with the belief in God is through the post-hoc rationalizations and after-the-fact justifications described above, but post-hoc rationalization is intellectually dishonest, it is manipulation of the scientific method designed to save the ideas that we want to believe in from being refuted by the evidence that we ourselves have seen when we observed the world.
I do not want to tie the proof of science to the existence of evil, but, also, if God existed and a loving all-powerful God mapped out our lives for us then we would not expect to suffer, and to suffer from and be controlled by physical wants such as hunger and thirst. We would expect our faith to empower us to get our prayers answered such that when you make a wish it comes true. And we would expect the evidence to confirm that God created man, and we would not expect fossils and paleontological evidence that evolution created humans.
The idea that it is selfish and petty to expect God to answer all our prayers and grant all our wishes, and we should believe in God even if we don’t always hear His voice and He doesn’t always answer our prayers, is after-the-fact justification to explain away the fact that we don’t experience a God who hears our prayers and answers them. An honest thought, defining expectations based only on the theory of God and the Bible and prior to knowing what we will or won’t experience when we run our experiment, would expect God to answer all, or most, of the prayers of the true believers, and to grant the wishes of those who have faith. We would expect God to speak to us regularly as he did to the characters in the Bible, and to regularly make visible, perceivable interventions in our lives like sending plagues to Egypt or handing stone tablets to Moses or removing the body of Christ up to Heaven. The idea that we should believe not for any rational reason, but because of irrational blind faith without any expectation that our prayers will ever be answered, is, as I see it, an admission and confession that the scientific method and the God experiment are capable of proving that God does not exist.
The application of the philosophical scientific method to the question of proof that God does not exist provides the perfect example of what it looks like when we empirically test an idea that is really false but which many people want to be true and wish they could believe. In this situation, people will employ certain standard techniques and tactics to seek to escape from reason and reality. We can picture this as a philosophical game of chess played between an atheist and a theologian, where the chess match plays out as a series of moves in the philosophy game. The atheist designs the philosophical scientific experiment and concludes from the data that the hypothesis was disproved because the observations of experience did not match the expectations. The theologian then makes four counter moves to claim that God was not disproved.
First, the theologian argues that the facts and data really did match the scientific expectations, e.g. by telling an anecdotal story of a near-death experience where someone claims to have gone to Heaven and seen God, or another story where someone says they witnessed a miracle where a terminally sick person was healed by magic. I call this factual manipulation. The atheist replies that he has not had any such occurrences of miracles or magic within his own personal experience, and the stories which assert that miracles exist usually end up being proven to be a hoax or the narrative of a crazy person, so the atheist would rather trust his own observations than doubt his reasoning by having faith in what other people say. Here the theologian uses his knight to take the atheist’s pawn and the atheist then captures the knight.
Second, the theologian says that the expectations of the God experiment were incorrect because if God existed we would not really expect him to answer our prayers and we would not expect to see miracles and science would still exist. The argument for this is something irrational and nonsensical such as God is invisible and we cannot know or understand what his hand in our affairs would look like so we would not see plain and obvious evidence of him in our lives despite his supposed omnipotence and all-importance, and we should simply ignore the fact that science is a complete and adequate explanation for everything in the Universe which does not involve God. I call this intellectual dishonesty and post-hoc rationalization. The atheist’s counter move is to cling to his intellectual honesty as the guiding star of his thinking and to be honest and sincere in defining what he would expect to see in reality if a specific idea or theory were objectively correct and truthful. Here the theologian attacks with his bishop but the atheist moves his rook and captures the bishop.
Third, the theologian argues that God can’t be disproved because religion and belief is of such a nature as to be excluded from the realm of reason and proof. The idea holds that science is one sphere, where reason and logic prevail, and religion is an entirely different sphere, where faith and irrational nonsensical beliefs cannot be disproved or refuted no matter how badly they are contradicted by cold evidence. I call this the exclusion assertion. The atheist replies by asking what it is about religious ideas that would make them special and of a nature such that reasoning from observation and experience would not apply to them, other than the fact that they can be disproved by rational experiments and their advocates want desperately to believe in them. Failing to find a persuasive answer from the theologian as to why the existence of God cannot be proved or disproved, the atheist would be unmoved by this thrust. Here the theologian makes a mistake and the atheist pins his opponent’s queen against the king and then captures the queen.
Fourth, when the first three methods of engaging the philosophical method on its own terms have failed, the theological falls back on a sheer emotional assault against the atheist, screaming that reasoning is cold, cruel, and heartless, and human life would be empty without God’s love. I call this the pragmatic psychological approach. The atheist, being a decent and upright sort of person, gets confused and says that the two of them were just having a friendly and honest debate, where no insults or ad hominem attacks had been used, and he doesn’t understand why the theologian has gotten so angry. The atheist may be slightly shaken up, but he does not alter his beliefs because of emotional manipulation and psychological pressure. Here the theologian sends his two rooks after the atheist’s king, but the king steps to the side and the attack is blocked when the rooks are captured by the atheist’s queen.
The analysis of the moves in the philosophy game is interesting as an illustration of the philosophical scientific method and the techniques used against it. But it is also worth noting that despite all of the moves the chess match ends in stalemate, because at the end of the game of chess neither the atheist nor the theologian has changed his mind. The theologian will never be persuaded because he has a closed mind and he has chosen not to listen to reason, so reasoned arguments have no effect on him. What is really at stake in the game of chess is whether the atheist will change his mind. The atheist has an open mind and he does listen to reason, so religion’s pseudo-scientific arguments could shake his convictions. The philosophical scientific method offers the ideas that enable the atheist to know that his conclusion is correct that God does not exist despite the theologian’s techniques used against him.
God is a good example of the moves in the philosophy game, but the same techniques will be used whenever someone tries to persuade you of something which is factually not true but which they want you to believe. For example, say that a used car salesman tries to sell you a car. You see that the bumper and front passenger door are dented, which shows you that the car probably was in an accident previously. The dealer tells you that the car was never in an accident, and shows you a vehicle history report showing that it was never in an accident. This is factual manipulation. The dealer tells you that the bumper and door look that way because the car was designed in a way which makes it look odd, not because it had a crash. That is intellectual dishonestly. He tells you that you are not an expert on cars so you are not qualified to evaluate what a car looks like to determine its condition. That is the assertion that you are excluded from knowledge. And he tries high pressure sales tactics and seeks to coerce you into buying by being aggressive and bullying you. That is psychological pressure. As I said, God and the used car are merely examples of the pattern which tends to happen whenever desire conflicts with fact.
Let me conclude this section by identifying what I am not discussing here. I am not discussing the social need for religion or the psychological need for religion. Religion historically has played a beneficial role in the life of local communities, as a way to meet one’s neighbors and socially bond with them. Religion also plays a role in human psychological functioning, especially by making a person feel like they have some control over their situation through prayer when they are really in a situation of total helplessness. It is beyond the scope of this book to discuss whether alternative substitutes could ever be devised for religion as it performs these jobs, or if religion is necessary for human existence. But we have no need to answer such questions. Here I discuss only whether the statement “God exists” is true or false. The God experiment proves that the truth is that God does not exist. Any tangential corollary matters speak only of practical details regarding whether the idea of God helps people, whereas my concern is with the objective truth.
Chapter Nine: The Philosophical Scientific Method as a Critique of Philosophy
One will not always be able to first design an experiment and then run an experiment. Sometimes, especially in the social sciences and the humanities but also occasionally in the hard sciences, one will be faced with a body of observations and/or empirical data which already exists, and one will need to analyze the observations or data to evaluate what theory is true or false. The challenge here, with post-observational analysis, is achieving an honest analysis free from after-the-fact justifications which make the data conform to the conclusion that is desired by the thinker, especially if the thinker’s desires are contradicted by what the data actually shows. We will always face some danger of after-the-fact justification in post-observational analysis, because we know how the data turned out, which makes it much easier to force the data to conform to our desired outcome. But nothing makes intellectual honesty impossible in this situation. Our theory will always entail an embodiment or manifestation in reality, so the observations and/or the data will either contain some evidence that proves our theory, or it will contain evidence that disproves our theory, and an honest thinker will usually be able to tell the difference.
An example of post-observational scientific analysis follows. The set of data which I examine is the history of philosophy. My overall hypothesis is that the philosophical scientific method explains a lot about philosophy because philosophy is characterized by the driving motive of the war between science and religion. The religious philosophers have sought to use philosophy to protect religion by arguing that religious ideas are immune to testing via philosophical scientific experimentation, and, generally, by transforming philosophy from a practical skill grounded in empirical reality into mere abstract theory detached from any basis in practical reality, or by corrupting empiricism and the philosophy of science so that it is incapable of refuting religion. If this theory is correct, then we would expect the data to show that most of the popular philosophies are designed, in some way, either openly or secretly, to protect religion from science, or to neuter science and limit it as a general tool for understanding reality and achieving knowledge of truth. What follows is my analysis showing that the data is what we would have honestly expected it to be if we had run a controlled experiment to test the hypothesis.
Chapter Ten: The Philosophy of Science
Many famous philosophers have sought to take the approach and methods of science and translate science into philosophy to create a truly scientific philosophy. These thinkers include Hume, Kant, Wittgenstein, and the experimental philosophers. In addition to the famous philosophers who tried to bring science to philosophy, a thinker also exists who tried to bring philosophy into science to achieve a philosophical understanding of science, namely, Kuhn. I argue that each attempt failed, and some or all of these attempts were thinly veiled disguises for a desire to drag the philosophy of science down a path that would not conflict with religion, for the reasons offered below.
Hume seemed to think that scientific theories are always capable of being disproved by new empirical evidence and that skepticism was the scientific attitude. Hume was a noted atheist who criticized religion, but he equated religion with knowledge as such, and argued that if faith is refuted then all knowledge becomes impossible and every belief should be doubted. He ignored the fact that science, when theories have been proven and experimentally verified, seeks to provide us some degree of knowledge. We can know that the Sun will come up tomorrow, because of the scientific postulates of astronomy, which science has empirically verified. In contrast to science, Hume claimed we cannot know that the Sun will rise tomorrow. Hume’s rejection of faith was rational, but his rejection of knowledge based on analysis of the physical world was irrational. Hume was an atheist and an outspoken opponent of religion, but to the extent that he undermined science as knowledge, if science is the alternative to religion then Hume helped religion.
Kant argued that science can achieve certainty and universality only because the mind imposes scientific laws upon the subjective experience of reality. His basic argument was that subjectivism is the justification for scientific knowledge, because the mind imposes the laws of science onto experience in the act of creating what we experience. Scientific laws have no exceptions because everything that is experienced is constituted by the mind. This is, of course, completely backwards. The scientific attitude is that the mind revolves around the physical world. Kant’s view that the physical world revolves around the mind is a religious idea because its real world practical application leads inevitably to the conclusion that faith and belief can alter reality, although the real meaning of Kant’s philosophy is obscured by the many layers of complexity which he wrapped around his ideas. Kant’s actual purpose was to protect religion from the rise of science. Science achieves knowledge that hydrogen and oxygen can combine to form water, for example, from an examination of the molecules and atoms, which are things in themselves in physical reality. The scientific mind learns from reality, it does not impose its subjective beliefs onto sensory experience.
Wittgenstein, particularly in his early “Tractatus” period, sought to apply the principles of mathematics into philosophy, specifically in the form of formal symbolic logic, with the assistance of (the author’s namesake) Bertrand Russell and Frege. My favorite argument against symbolic formal logic applies a theory called the Chinese Room, originally developed by Searle in his paper “Minds, Brains, and Programs.” Searle’s Chinese Room thought experiment was designed as an attack against the theory that computers can think or that it would be possible to design a computer program indistinguishable from a human mind, and by extension it was a refutation of the computer program “functionalist” theory in the philosophy of mind. But I use it as a refutation of symbolic formal logic and the idea that logic is the way that people should think. My use of the Chinese Room is natural given that logic and computer programs are quite similar.
Searle’s argument is that if someone in a room is given Chinese words and a computer software program to process them then he could put together Chinese sentences and the sentences would be correct according to the rules of the language. Chinese words would enter the room, he would process the words, and he would hand back Chinese sentences that would leave the room. But if he doesn't speak Chinese then he will have no idea what any of it means, despite having formed sentences that are correct Chinese and which could look like a conversation to a Chinese speaker outside the room. My argument is that logic and Chinese are identical to the extent that they are criticized by the Chinese Room argument. Symbolic formal logic can reach conclusions by processing symbols according to a set of rules, but if you don’t know what the symbols mean, if you don’t know what the logical notation symbols refer to in reality, i.e. the objective physical objects in reality to which the symbols refer, then logic is merely a meaningless computer program devoid of actual meanings relevant to human experience.
Logic, as the Analytic philosophers such as Wittgenstein posit it, has no theory of induction. It is also worth noting that logic has no theory of truth despite being based on logical symbols being T or F. Indeed, because logical symbols are not based on reference to objects in reality known from induction, it is inherently impossible for logic to achieve knowledge of truth and falsity, because in general a word or sentence is true if the thing that it refers to exists, and it is false if the thing that it refers to does not exist. If P and Q are mere symbols divorced from reference to reality then they can never be true or false. Logic can assume that a symbol is true or false by defining it as such and then calculate what logically follows from a combination of symbols, but it cannot ever actually know that something is true or false because it cannot justify in the first instance that P is true and Q is false. Wittgenstein famously stated that logic could not prove the truth of the statement “a rhinoceros is not in the room,” even if one looks around the room and does not see a rhinoceros anywhere, although logic can convert that statement into a symbol and process it using logic. In his later “Philosophical Investigations” period, Wittgenstein said that science does not actually have a principle of induction, and we say that science is true merely as a matter of convenience or popular sentiment. Science, as understood by Wittgenstein and his Analytic heirs, is not something that we would be entitled to call knowledge, at least not knowledge justified by a rigorous intelligent theory of science as having a reasoned basis for belief.
Many Analytic philosophers argue that the philosophical equivalent of scientific experiments, in which theories are experimentally verified using empirical data, is thought experiments, in which a person “tests” a theory by analyzing whether the theory matches the person’s “intuitions,” which are “teased out” by thinking about the thought experiment. This theory of thought experiments which equates mental intuitions with empirical data has been widely accepted in academic philosophy. This theory has been taken to its most extreme form by the movement known as “experimental philosophy,” which seeks to introduce an element of empirical observation into the thought experiment by going out into public and asking groups of people how they feel about a philosopher’s proposed thought experiment. The obvious flaw in the methodology of thought experiments as science is that, whereas empirical data comes from objective physical reality, intuitions come from internal subjective feelings, and therefore a thought experiment is nothing like a real scientific experiment. Analytic thought experiments share the Kantian fault, at least in general.
However, a carefully constructed thought experiment based on what is actually physically possible might make a useful or interesting point. We can distinguish good thought experiments from bad thought experiments based on realism. Let me give you three examples of bad thought experiments. For example, a bad, unrealistic thought experiment asks what would happen and who the person would become if one person’s memories are removed and transplanted into a brain in someone else’s body. Another asks who the person would become if one person steps into a magical machine and two people come out. And a third wonders what the word “water” would refer to if a so-called Twin Earth existed where there was a substance that looked like water and behaved like water and was referred to by the name “water” but had a chemical composition different from H2O. These are all real examples of famous thought experiments. The brain transplant thought experiment was expressed by Bernard Williams. The machine where one person goes in and two people step out, possibly due to a malfunction in a Star Trek teleportation device, was developed by Derek Parfit. And the Twin Earth thought experiment was a famous idea of Hilary Putnam. It did not bother any of these philosophers, and it does not bother philosophy professors in general, that these thought experiments have no relation to physical reality or scientific possibility and they draw conclusions from sheer imagination.
Unrealistic thought experiments accomplish nothing because the scenario which they pose is not physically possible and what would happen in reality if it were physically possible depends upon the details of how it actually works and what made it physically possible. If one person enters a machine and two people come out, we need to know what happened inside that machine to identify which of the two people is the same as the person who went in. Similarly, if a brain transplant happened, how was it physically possible? How precisely did the old brain and the new body interact? Unrealistic thought experiments are ghostly disembodied thinking with no connection to physical reality. Having debates about ghosts and goblins is a pointless waste of time. And if, for example, one reasons from a thought experiment involving a ghost to the conclusion that consciousness does not physically exist, then the use of thought experiments with premises that are not grounded in physical reality and scientific possibility might actively lead one to irrational beliefs.
Let me give more detailed examples of this principle using the three bad thought experiments that I listed above. If the mind is the brain, as I have argued in this book, then mental continuity and physical continuity are identical, and for a person to be the same person over a period of time consists of both his brain being the same and his mind being the same. Talking about moving one person’s memories into another person’s brain confuses the analysis of what is a mind by pretending that a person’s memories could exist in another person’s brain, which is not physically possible. We have no need to decide whether a person’s identity comes from his memories or from his brain because a brain, when functioning properly as a mind, will always record the person’s memories onto that brain’s memory.
Likewise, saying that one person goes into the broken Star Trek machine and two people come out blinds us to what happens inside the machine. Whether one or both of the new people is the same as the old one who stepped into the machine would depend on how those two people were created from the one who entered the machine. And again, we do not need to answer this question because it has no relation to physical reality as it really exists. Brain transplants or body cloning, if they really existed, would be scientific questions of fact which we would need to observe and study in order to learn how they worked, and imagination and intuition cannot tell us anything about them. To discuss Twin Earth, if a substance looks like water and behaves like water and exists on an Earth-like planet and played the role in the evolution of life on that planet which water played on real Earth, then how is it possible for such a substance to exist and yet to not be the chemical H2O? Where in chemistry is there such a substance? If a thought experiment seeks to show that the word “water” could mean something other than water on the basis of the idea that water could be something other than water then the premise of the logic is flawed because water is water. Water behaves as it does because water is H2O, so the thought experiment is nonsense.
For an example of a good thought experiment, my application of Searle’s Chinese Room thought experiment as a critique of symbolic formal logic is a proper, rational thought experiment, because it considers logic in the way that real people use it in physical reality, or, at least, in the way that it really can exist, and in the way that logicians and philosophers of language say that it should really be used. A good thought experiment using an example from political philosophy might say “suppose that X earns $10 an hour, and A earns $50 an hour, what follows? Is that fair? Then also assume that X and A are both employed as widget-makers and X builds 10 widgets each day and A builds 50 widgets each day. How does that alter your understanding of whether it is fair?”
Because these thought experiments are physically possible, my realistic scenarios tease out aspects of reality in a way that makes it easier for people to analyze reality, and in doing so the thought experiments show a truth that is useful for real people in the physical world. A thought experiment is also useful if it corresponds to or reduces to something that is physically possible. For example, the omniscient computer model thought experiment presented in the section on free will is not physically possible, but it corresponds to the ability to predict the future which actually exists in real human minds. If I had to categorize the two approaches to thought experiments, I would contrast the philosophical establishment’s Analytic Unreality with my Analytic Realism.
But generally, thought experiments should not be viewed as an adequate substitute for philosophical scientific experiments. A scientific experiment goes out into the real world and observes data and experiences. Scientific experiments are not based on intuitions and feelings. The truly scientific approach to philosophy is to take philosophical ideas and actually design real scientific experiments to try to test their truth or falsehood. I call this approach “experimental philosophy.” For example, if you think that sensory experience revolves around the mind, and subjectivism and solipsism are true, i.e. perception creates reality and the world is made of your own mind, then you should test your belief. Pick up a piece of warm metal, like the handle of a pan heated on a stove, and see whether your mind can impose a phenomena, the experience of the feeling of ice, upon the noumena, the thing in itself which you are holding in your hand. If the iron feels hot to you and your mind could not control it, this scientifically proves, or at least lends credence and support to the idea, that sensory experience comes from objective physical reality, and not from your mind. On the other hand, if your mind can make you experience a feeling of ice, then your mind is creating your sensory experiences. The Kantian might reply that the structure of the mind could not be controlled by a desire to feel ice, but when we speak of “the mind,” we generally mean something that can be influenced by our feelings, desires, thoughts, and beliefs.
Kuhn in his book “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” sought to explain the history of science, and specifically the history which consists of “paradigm shifts,” i.e. periods of time when science undergoes rapid evolution and mutation, where old ideas once widely believed become widely discredited, and brand new ideas emerge and achieve leadership in the world of scientific theory. The best examples are Newtonian physics being replaced by Einstein’s Relativity Theory, or the theory of atoms as the building blocks of the universe being replaced by the theory of subatomic particles, although the Copernican Revolution replacing Ptolemaic astronomy is another good example. Kuhn argued that the old paradigm collapses into self-contradiction and the new paradigm emerges from the rubble of the older paradigm’s contradictions and failures, but our choice of which paradigm to embrace is based simply upon what new scientists want to believe. Kuhn squarely rejected the idea that a paradigm shift represents a step of objective absolute progress on the path towards achieving knowledge of truth, because Kuhn did not believe that something exists which can be called “the truth” or “objective reality.” Instead he thought that only paradigms exist, and that no paradigm can claim to be the objective absolute truth any more than any other paradigm. Thus, Kuhn’s belief, although couched in the language of science, is merely philosophical subjectivism and relativism.
Let me offer a different interpretation of paradigm shifts. One thing exists, which we can call “physical objective reality”, which all scientists study, and all human beings observe when their senses experience perceptions of the physical world. Theories which match objective reality are true, and theories which do not conform to objective reality are false. Thus, a paradigm which is false can be replaced by a paradigm that is closer to the truth, and when a less true paradigm is replaced by a truer paradigm, this represents actual progress on the path towards science one day achieving perfect knowledge of reality. If reality exists, then one set of theories exist which perfectly describe reality, and the goal of science is to make progress on the steps of scientific theoretical development, and to go step by step until we reach a theory that perfectly describes reality. The best metaphor to explain this is steps on a staircase: none of the steps are the same thing as the door at the top of the stairs, but each step brings you closer to the door. The door exists and will be reached via climbing up the staircase step by step, because the stairs have a specific finite number of steps, so once you have ascended all the stairs you will reach the door.
The Earth really does revolve around the Sun, so Copernican astronomy is not merely a new system which arose out of the self-contradictions of Ptolemaic astronomy and which has truth only in relation to other paradigms, instead, it is the truth. If, in objective reality, space can bend, and time is relative, and subatomic particles actually form the building blocks of atoms, then the Relativity paradigm shift and the subatomic particle paradigm shift brought us closer to understanding the universe as it really exists. It is wrong to say that Newtonian physics and Relativity physics are relatively better or worse than each other but that they cannot be evaluated as true or false in absolute terms relative to “the Truth”. If Relativity theory is true, and Newtonian physics is not true, or if Newtonian physics was merely a small part of a bigger picture which also includes Relativity physics and might one day include new theories also, then the paradigm shift brings us closer to the truth in absolute terms of progress towards the end goal of science, which is knowledge of reality.
I theorize that three “holy grails of science” exist, which are the end goals of science. For physics, the Holy Grail is the so-called unified field theory, which would explain and justify every physics equation. For chemistry, the Holy Grail is an explanation of why atoms behave as they do based on the numbers of protons, neutrons and electrons which they contain. For biology, the Holy Grail is how and why DNA defines traits. Once science achieves the Holy Grails, it will know literally everything, and nothing new will be left to learn, and no future evolutions or changes will be possible. Everything about the Universe can be deduced analytically from the unified field theory, and similarly the Holy Grails of biology and chemistry will provide knowledge of every detail of each truth about how life works and how objects exist. Progress will stop, having achieved its desired target, once we climb the stairs and reach the door.
And if we achieve the Holy Grails, then our technological application of this science would enable us to achieve an evolution in our level of civilization. We would use our knowledge of how DNA works to design genes for us to live forever and be super-smart and super-strong. We would use our knowledge of physics to design means of space travel so that we could colonize foreign star systems. If science were to achieve advanced progress, then we could use new chemical reactions to create clean cheap plentiful energy, and genetically engineer food sources to solve world hunger. We would be able to cure every illness and disability, as for example with stem cell research and genetic engineering. This would lift every human being in the world, including the masses of poor, into a standard of living better than the billionaires enjoy right now, such as by creating robotic butlers to serve people and do all manual labor for us. As other thinkers have also said, at some point science and science fiction will be indistinguishable. Science does not move in a circle with one paradigm collapsing into another in an endless rotation that does not move in any direction. Instead scientific progress moves in one straight line, towards the Holy Grails.
Other philosophers of science have offered famous theories, such as W.V.O. Quine, and Karl Popper. I discuss Popper at length elsewhere in this book, and I will give one brief thought on Quine here. To the extent that he posited science as a holistic web of theory which touches empirical reality only at its outer edges, and asserted that objects are merely a useful way to think and do not exist as such in objective reality, Quine is merely a scientific Relativist, with his web being basically the same as Kuhn’s paradigm. This becomes clear in Quine’s “Speaking of Objects,” where he says that the concept of objects comes not from objective reality but merely from cultural modes of thinking and speaking which could be different for a different culture or language.
The ideas at the center of Quine’s web of science would never be tested by experiments and therefore Quine’s science would actually be unscientific. For example, if Quine had not focused on culture and language and had instead observed whether the contents of his experience of reality were things or non-things then his theory of objects would have been different and scientific, since humans generally observe objects in our experiences. The apple you eat for breakfast is an object that you observe in experience, and this confirms that objects exist in reality. Quine’s Relativist theory of science as a web is refuted by the same type of argument which disproves Kuhn’s Relativism. Merely saying that as a matter of desire one wants one’s philosophy to be based on empirical science, which Quine said, is not the same thing as actually offering specific detailed theories and showing that each idea is in fact verified by experience and empirical data and objective reality, which is what I did in my presentation of the philosophical scientific method.