Thursday, November 29, 2012

Scepticism and causeless events

Suppose that there is no First Cause. Then there can be uncaused events—the coming into existence of the universe is an example, for instance. Now consider the Ultimate Sceptical Hypothesis (USH): you are a nonmaterial being that is the only thing that ever exists; you came into existence the previous moment for no cause at all; and there is no cause of your having the presnet occurrent mental states you now have; and you have just these occurrent mental states and no other states.

Compare, now, USH to what its main nonsceptical alternative is if there is no First Cause. That main alternative will be SN: scientific naturalism, with the initial state of the universe being a brute, unexplained fact. USH is simpler than SN. It is simpler on the crude criterion of entity counting: USH has only one entity, you, while SN has many atoms, galaxies, houses, geckos, etc. However, if we count only unexplained entities, as I suggested in a previous post, USH has only you and your present occurrent mental states (which there aren't many of!), while PN has the universe and its initial state, so maybe we have a tie. But PN is much more descriptively complex: it includes a number of laws of nature with various constants, for instance, as well as a high-energy extremely low entropy initial state. While you just have whatever occurrent mental states you now have—which is not much at all (how much of a thought can you think in an instant). So USH seems to be preferable to PN on grounds of parsimony.

Thus, rejecting a First Cause leads to scepticism.

This is, of course, a variant of a Rob Koons argument.

9 comments:

ozero91 said...

This kinda reminds me of a paper I'm reading right now, perhaps you've also read it?

CG Weaver's "What could be caused must actually be caused"

He mentions the BCCF and Brouwer Analogy.

B.L.T. said...

I had a thought similar to this. If something can occur without explanation. Can experiences I have occur without explanation? Would this give me reason to doubt my experience of the external world?

Alexander R Pruss said...

I suppose people who have a causal account of consciousness will be unmoved.

vexingquestions said...

But even if consciousness is caused, wouldn't some sort of Boltzmann brain, or brain-in-a-vat scenario be more parsimonious than scientific naturalism? I suppose it would depend upon the kind of universe necessary for there to be brains in vats. But it is at least intuitively possible for such a world to be simpler.

-Daniel

Alexander R Pruss said...

That sounds right, though it isn't as radical a sceptical hyptohesis anymore.

March Hare said...

You would also have to take into account in the instant creation of a mind in this state that it includes the appearance of being in a universe that has laws (and what those laws are, if you know them) which bears all the hallmarks of having been around a long time and progressing to its current state through knowable processes such as erosion, supernovas, evolution etc.

I would suggest that the instantaneous appearance of such a mind would stand shoulder to shoulder with the improbability of alternatives. If you're of the incredulous mindset rather than sceptical...

ozero91 said...

This seems like Last Thursdayism in its simplest form. One cause-less entity vs. many cause-less entities.

Alexander R Pruss said...

March Hare:

Since we're looking at a very short-lived mental state in USH, there really is very little detail there of that appearance, because at any given time, you can only think about only a little bit of detail. Probably, much of the time, all you have is a vague and not very complex thought like "There is lots of stuff that looks old." And it is no harder for that thought to come into existence ex nihilo than for the universe to do that.

Dagmara Lizlovs said...

Reminds me of a spiritual crisis I had when I was 13. It was Christmas Eve in 1974, and I was in church. I was up in the curch balcony waiting for the moment when I was to perform the flute solo that evening. As I thought about dedicating the performance to God, it suddenly out of nowhere hit me that there might not be be a God, and that I was dedicating my performance to nothing out there. It really bothered me, because this had never happenend to me before. As I write this I still can see the scene inside the church that night. I sat there struggling with this. Is there really a God out there or is there nothing. I remember thinking how the world was made up of atoms, but what made up the atoms? Well electrons, nutrons, positrons. Where did the electrons, nutrons, positrons come from? And thinking along these lines I worked my way back to a First Cause and that the First Cause had to be God. That for me was a major spiritual change that would set the tone for all the years from that point on (although for some of those years I was a Deist, but did not see myslef as a Christian, and I went through an agnostic/aethist period from the time I was about 36 until I was 42).