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The Essence of Insanity

Ramblings of a lunatic

Meditations 3 - On The Irrelevance of Philosophy

I used to spend a significant part of my day arguing online with other people about the merits of various schools of philosophy.

Over time, however, a question kept surfacing in my thoughts: just why does any of this matter? Why do I care if reality is fundamentally material or immaterial (idealism v materialism)? Why do I care if mind is separate from matter (dualism v monism)? Why does any of this matter?

Of course this matters, you exclaim. Is it not important to know whether reality is fundamentally material?

But then, I came across the concept of Bayesian rationality. The fundamental axiom for my thinking can be stated as such: that which cannot be statistically proven does not concern me.

And so I realised that all the time I spent on metaphysics was in vain.

Metaphysics, by definition, deals with that which is beyond physics. As soon as something can be proven using statistical science, it leaves the realm of metaphysics and enters the realm of real, actual, physics.

Simply said: as long as a theory within the realm of metaphysics, there is no point in arguing for it. We may one day determine a method of testing the link between consciousness and information processing; until such a day arrives, the debate over the mind-body problem will remain within the realm of philosophy and not science.

Theories make verifiable predictions. This is the fundamental axiom of Bayesian rationality. If my theory T predicts outcome A, and ┬ČA (not A) occurs, then my confidence in T diminished proportional to my pre-existing confidence (if I wasn’t sure of the theory in the first place, then my confidence diminishes much less than if I was absolutely sure that T is correct and A would happen).

The debate between idealism and materialism predicts the same outcome, namely that absolutely nothing would change. Apples will still fall from trees and light will still travel at c; there exists no observation that can increase or decrease my confidence in the theory.

What I have realised is that it doesn’t matter if the world is fundamentally material or immaterial, or even if these concepts are valid at all. Clocks will still tick, computers will still run – the world continues with no difference. The knowledge that idealism or materialism is true holds no predictive power – that is to say – you can make a decision based on the knowledge that one of the theories is true.

The same hold for the mind-body problem. Assuming that the theory of Dualism, as advocated by Descartes, is correct, what predictions can it make? How will the world be different if it is true, compared to if some sort of physicalism is true? A world where dualism or another where some form of monism is true is no behaviourally different: that is to say, we cannot observe anything different.

Ever since this realisation, philosophy has lost much of its appeal. I simply no longer care when somebody makes an impassioned plea for one school of thought or another – it doesn’t matter who is right – it is simply irrelevant.