Sorry if I misread your thinking. I wonder if we actually disagree about something, or if we just have different ways of saying the same thing but are just interested in different parts of it. I'm thinking its the latter. So I don't want to sound confrontational since I think I agree with the basics of what you are thinking, but I don't want to put words in your mouth either.
I think there is a difference between the concepts that exist only in human minds and the actual physical parts of the universe which exist independently of human beings.
Well, human minds are nothing more than patterns of networked charged ions, although cognitive science doesn't have to care what the wetware is. The great brilliance of Turing was to come up with a theory that allowed the study of patterns of thought (which matured into computer science) that could become uncoupled from the underlying physics manifesting it in the real world (within certain boundaries). So in that sense, there are two independent sciences, the physical sciences and the computational cognitive sciences. This is how I read your "I think there is a difference", but anyway I think that's the right way to think about it.
I don't see meaning and value in the universe -- it is just a bundle of atoms moving about in certain patterns -- which means that for me there is no question requiring an answer
First, is it just me, or does this quote seem to contradict the spirit of the first thing I quoted from you? If there is a difference between the rules explaining "meaning in people's head" and "meaning as it might exist as part of fundamental physics", then it just means that it's a question you can usefully ask under one domain (cognitive science/phenomenology, where it does seem to exist) and not usefully in the other (where it doesn't exist). If this is what you mean, then I can agree, and then maybe you are just saying the questions that you really care about are in the "physics" box and not the "cog sci" box, when I care about what's in both boxes, which is a difference in preference. But I don't see it as any special problem to asking the question at all, as long as one keeps one's boxes straight.
If it helps, substitute "meaning" with "our experience of meaning", and then you have a different question from "what is the ultimate meaning of life" maybe, but still a live one it seems to me, and the one I'm interested in.
I don't have any reason to think the sun has conscious experience so I don't care about what it's favorite color is either. But I do think that normal humans can and do understand/experience certain values of life all the time -- that a good life is better than a miserable life, etc -- even if they might disagree on the details, which just makes the puzzle of value more interesting. This by itself seems to demand some kind of explanation.
I still feel like I'm misrepresenting my thinking. To the extent I think the "answer" to this kind of "puzzle" is a final "meaning of everything", it is far from something like some new particle you can find in the universe. It's more like a theory of computational semantics/neuroeconomics that explains how humans (brains) experience value and meaning in the world, something you could use to model/predict human experience of value and the meaning (from "what ice cream do I buy?" to important "spiritual" or existential decisions like "who do I marry?" or "what is life worth to me?", it should all fit into the same thoery) in the same way General Relativity could let you model/predict particles moving in a gravitational field. A lot of religious people probably won't recognize it as relevant to their concerns, but they should be able to if they were being honest with themselves and their experience.
I'm not saying everyone should care about such a theory; maybe some people would be horrified to have such a theory; others just won't care. I just say that *I* care about it. But I also tend to think that when a lot of people talk about religious or spiritual values, they are actually talking in terms of such a theory, probably without realizing it. But if they really cared about these values, they *should* care about how such a theory turns out (again, whether they ever realize it or not). That's why I keep feeling like these kinds of debates are missing an opportunity to get at what's really going on at the heart of their own debate.
Anyway, again, I don't think I'm actually disagreeing with anything you are saying, though. Just seems like a difference in what questions interest us.
Edited by demagogue, 10 February 2007 - 09:25 AM.