Monday, July 29, 2013

Throw the book at him

After enjoying Alex Rosenberg’s interview in 3 a.m. magazine last week, I thought it might be interesting to read his book, The Atheist’s Guide to Reality. And so it was, but not in a good way.

The first half isn’t bad. Rosenberg gets through physics and biology pretty well, making some nice points about the second law of thermodynamics and the directionality of time. His notion of “nice nihilism,” that human “core” morality plus correct facts about the world give you all the ethics you need … well, I’ve heard worse ideas.

But when Rosenberg gets to consciousness, he tries to explain it away, and steps on a rake instead. Thoughts aren’t about anything, he argues strenuously, and as proof, he adduces what I think may be the dumbest premise in the history of contemporary philosophy: 
“Introspection certainly produces the illusion of aboutness. But it’s got to be an illusion, since nothing physical can be about anything.” (my italics)
Anyone who writes a book – a physical object – should think very hard before penning those last six words.*

*If this seems too glib, see this review. Alternatively, read up on computer science. How anyone, this far into the computer revolution, could think that we haven’t learned quite a lot about how to physically encode information (information = patterns that are about something) is beyond me. Hint: Aboutness does not require consciousness.

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