Comments on “No meaning from the Big Bang”

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Reminds me of Daniel Dennett

Kenny 2021-11-21

I’d think you’re at least somewhat aware of Dennett. He’s my favorite living (academic) philosopher!

I remember his book “Darwin’s Dangerous Idea” covering a lot of ground in this and other recent and related posts by you, e.g. ‘meaning’ being ‘just another’ product of evolution.

Dennett and meaning

David Chapman 2021-11-21

Thank you, yes! He recently recommended this new book about that, which I’m intending to at least skim before writing about the evolution of meaning.

Dennett's recommendation

Kenny 2021-11-22

That book looks interesting! I look forward to your comments about it after you’ve had a chance to at least skim it.

I can’t (currently) imagine it contains any big new insights. I’d expect that what Dennett calls ‘the intentional stance’ does most of the ‘heavy lifting’. But then (accurately) predicting new insights is kind of paradoxically impossible anyways. (If you could predict an insight, you’d probably already ‘have’ it!)

I really like the idea of ‘meaning’ being made of molecules – and not just in the abstract, but specific (hypothetical) discrete parts, systems, modules, chunks, and dizzying levels of new systems.

I think computer programmers have at least a hint of that kind of dizzying ‘meaning-making’. Nowadays, there really is a pretty vast gulf between physical interactions with computer hardware and the physical computations being performed in the ‘processors’. One aspect of the gulf is that a lot (most? almost all?) hardware now contains their own pretty powerful processors! But even just thinking about, in detail, the layers and layers of software in almost any program can be awesome/terrifying.

One ‘trick’ Dennett uses that I really like is that he spells out (at least in outline) the specifics of some otherwise very abstract notion. One of his criticisms of Searle’s Chinese Room that I really like is that the argument doesn’t concretely and precisely imagine what it describes, e.g. how big the ‘room’ would be, how long it would take for the person/automaton in the room to reply to ‘messages’ – according to the rules of the argument’s own metaphor. It’s much harder NOT to attribute ‘understanding’ (of ‘meaning’) to the ‘rules’ by which the person/automaton in the room operates once we have even an inkling of how Vast it really would be!

Similarly, I find it pretty easy to feel the intuitiveness of ‘meaning from matter’ after following all of the steps, even in outline, of ‘the best’ understandings of each of those steps, and particularly because we have only hints of the ‘depth’ of some stretches of those steps too. I think that makes it much easier to feel how bits of ‘proto-meaning’ could ‘add up to’ something like ‘real meaning’.

And you’ve covered a bunch of those steps yourself – so maybe I’m discounting how easy all of this is to understand. You’ve already helped me understand a lot of it! (Thanks!)

Nihilism and scientific method

SusanC 2021-11-30

An alternative take: Our modern society heavily relies on the methods of science to tell us what is true. But many of the meanings we would like to have are just the wrong type of thing to be amenable to empirical investigation using scientific methods.

Telling people that the only meanings they are allowed to have are ones that can be experimentally verified leaves … a gap.

Further: the possibility that there might exist sentient beings elsewhere in the galaxy that don’t share our meanings is not a practical problem. That other members of the same society don’t share meanings, and there is no available means to resolve the conflict … that sounds more like a practical problem.


David Chapman 2021-11-30

These are both excellent points! I’m planning to cover the first in “No objective meaning”; the second is discussed somewhat in “No cosmic meaning.”

"Our society" – seems like projection to me

Kenny 2021-11-30

I find it strange when people use the rhetorical trope/cliche of declaring that ‘society’ is telling/saying/stating anything in particular.

And, in my experience, one of the most common types of statement that ‘society tells me’ (and others) is that society is telling us some bad thing. I always find that a peculiar phenomena! Are the people making these statements aware that (many) others make similar ones and thus, it’s inherently somewhat contradictory?

Not only am I not aware of a way in which ‘society’ is “Telling people that the only meanings they are allowed to have are ones that can be experimentally verified”, I personally often find ‘society’ (i.e. people) saying exactly the opposite.

And maybe I’ve been reading David here too long, but even the idea of “other members of the same society don’t share meanings, and there is no available means to resolve the conflict” being something that is reasonable to complain about or lament seems very sinister to me. Maybe that impulse is related to a desire for Eternalism [David’s term]? I’m not sure in what way it would be reasonable for all members of a ‘society’ to share meanings – that reads horrifying to me; totalitarian even.

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