PHILOSOPHY AGAINST THE MACHINE, #4–Seven Arguments Against the Mechanistic Worldview.

By Robert Hanna

“Der Mensch als Industriepalast/The Human as Industrial Palace,” by Fritz Kahn (1926)



#3: Paranoia, Brain-Science, and BS.

#2: L. Ron Dennett and The New Scientology.

#1: Series Introduction, & Four Ways To (Begin To) Re-Humanize Humanity.


Seven Arguments Against the Mechanistic Worldview

I. According to the mechanistic worldview,

everything whatsoever in the world, including all human activity, is fully and ultimately explicable by mechanical principles alone (including principles of computability and/or mathematical physics, including chemistry, and biology insofar as it’s reducible to physics and chemistry).

In turn, and more specifically, the mechanistic worldview consists in the conjunction of three somewhat distinct but logically nested theses:

(i) formal mechanism, applied to mathematics, logic, truth, and knowledge more generally = computability/recursive function theory, including decidability,[i]

(ii) natural mechanism, applied to the material or physical world, which says that there is a reversible time/block world, universal computability of fundamental quantities from fixed material facts about the past, and deterministic or indeterministic (probabilistic, statistical) laws of nature, especially including the Conservation Laws,[ii] and

(iii) scientific naturalism, applied to everything in the world, including all human activity, which includes formal and natural mechanism, scientism (i.e., the valorization of the formal and/or natural sciences and their methods), empiricism, and materialist/physicalist metaphysics (i.e., everything in the world is either identical to or necessarily dependent–aka “supervenient”–on fundamentally physical contingent facts).[iii]

II. Correspondingly, here are seven arguments against the mechanistic worldview.

1. From “the logocentric predicament.”

The logocentric predicament says that in order to explain or justify logic, (a minimal, core, classical) logic must be presupposed and used, but every explanation whatsoever presupposes and uses (a minimal, core, classical) logic,[iv] including all mechanistic explanation, hence (a minimal, core, classical) logic cannot itself be mechanically explained.

2. From the incompleteness of mathematics and mathematical logic.

Kurt Gödel proved in 1931 that there are some uncomputable/undecidable, unprovable true sentences in Peano arithmetic plus Principia-Mathematica style formal logic, and that truth-determination and consistency in any logico-mathematical system rich enough to include Peano arithmetic and Principia-style logic must occur outside that logico-mathematical system itself, yet by hypothesis these sentences are indeed true, and also we can know them to be true (say, by mathematical intuition), hence (i) truth-determination and consistency in any logico-mathematical system rich enough to include Peano plus Principia-style formal logic cannot be mechanized, and (ii) our mathematico-logical knowledge cannot be mechanized.[v]

3. From the incompleteness of mathematical physics.

(i) Mathematical physics presupposes mathematics and mathematical logic, so because mathematics and mathematical logic are formally incomplete by Gödel’s theorems, then so is mathematical physics, and therefore formal truth and knowledge in mathematical physics cannot be mechanized.

(ii) Quantum uncertainty and indeterminacy show that certain micro-physical events cannot be predicted by the Standard Models of cosmology and particle physics (for example, which way a single particle will go in the Two-Slit Experiment, etc.), yet many essentially analogous macro-physical events involving human free agency can be reliably predicted by the agents themselves, so mathematical physics as per the Standard Models is empirically incomplete, and therefore not only formal truth and knowledge, but also empirical truth and knowledge, in mathematical physics cannot be mechanized.[vi]

4. From the irreducibility of biology to physics.

Living organisms cannot be fully explained according to the physical laws and principles governing naturally mechanistic systems.[vii]

5. From consciousness (i.e., subjective or “lived” experience) and objective or “directed” experience (aka “intentionality”).

The specific characters (or qualities) of human consciousness and directed experience can vary independently of any and all physical facts and properties, including functional facts and properties, therefore metaphysical materialism or physicalism is false: see, for example, (i) the Chinese Room argument (someone inside a room who successfully manipulates Chinese inputs and outputs, thereby passing the Turing test, can consciously realize that they don’t understand Chinese), (ii) the Zombie Argument (there are conceivably possible physical counterparts of a conscious animal without consciousness), and above all, (iii) the Necker Cube Argument from multistable perception of, e.g., the Necker Cube (there are conceivably possible distinct mirror-reflected/enantiomorphic perceptual aspect-counterparts that can be paired with the same physical states, and physical causation alone fails to determine precisely which mirror-reflected aspect of the Necker Cube will be paired with that same physical state).[viii]

6. From intrinsic motivation.

Machines can’t be intrinsically motivated to choose or do X, only extrinsically caused or programmed for bringing about X, yet we can freely choose or do many different kinds of things for their own sake,[ix] hence our intrinsic motivation cannot be mechanized.

7. From transcendent motivation.

Machines can’t choose or do X for the sake of the highest good, only extrinsically caused or programmed for bringing about X, yet we can freely choose and do many different kinds of things precisely because they’re neither egoistic or self-interested (private utility) nor (merely) beneficial for everyone else (public utility),[x] hence our transcendent motivation cannot be mechanized: for example, we can choose or do things for purely moral reasons, purely artistic reasons, purely intellectual reasons, purely passionate reasons, purely spiritual reasons, etc.

III. Therefore, WE ARE NOT MACHINES![xi]


[i] See A. Turing, “On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem,” Proceedings of the London Mathematical Society, series 2, 42 (1936): 230–265, with corrections in 43 (1937): 644–546; and G. Boolos and R. Jeffrey, Computability and Logic (3rd edn., Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1989), ch. 3.

[ii] See, e.g., R. Hanna, Deep Freedom and Real Persons: A Study in Metaphysics (THE RATIONAL HUMAN CONDITION, Vol. 2) (New York: Nova Science, 2018), ch. 2, also available online in preview, HERE.

[iii] See, e.g., See W. Sellars, “Philosophy and the Scientific Image of Man,” in W. Sellars, Science, Perception, and Reality (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1963), pp. 1–40; and W. Sellars, “Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind,” in Sellars, Science, Perception, and Reality, pp. 127–196, at p. 173: “science is the measure of all things.”

[iv] See, e.g., R. Hanna, Rationality and Logic (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2006), ch. 3, also available online in preview, HERE; and R. Hanna, Cognition, Content, and the A Priori: A Study in the Philosophy of Mind and Knowledge (THE RATIONAL HUMAN CONDITION, Vol. 5) (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2015), ch. 5, also available online in preview, HERE.

[v] See, e.g., R. Hanna, “GÖDEL-INCOMPLETENESS AND FORMAL PIETY: A Lecture in Aphoristic Style For Philosophers Who Aren’t Professional Logicians or Mathematicians” (October 2020 version), available online, HERE.

[vi] See, e.g., R. Hanna, “The Incompleteness of Physics and Natural Piety” (October 2020 version), available online HERE.

[vii] See, e.g., J.S. Torday, W.B. Miller Jr, and R. Hanna, “Singularity, Life, and Mind: New Wave Organicism,” in J.S. Torday and W.B. Miller, The Singularity of Nature (Cambridge: Royal Chemistry Society, 2020), ch. 20.

[viii] See, e.g., R. Hanna and M. Maiese, Embodied Minds in Action (Oxford: OUP, 2009), ch. 6, also available online in preview, HERE; and Hanna, Cognition, Content, and the A Priori, pp. 94–97.

[ix] See, e.g., Hanna, Deep Freedom and Real Persons, chs. 3–5.

[x] Ibid.

[xi] See, e.g., R. Hanna, “WE ARE NOT MACHINES! Neo-Organicist Politics For The New Apocalypse” (September 2020 version), available online HERE.


Mr Nemo, W, X, Y, & Z, Monday 9 November 2020

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Mr Nemo

Mr Nemo

Formerly Captain Nemo. A not-so-very-angry, but still unemployed, full-time philosopher-nobody.