Talk:Supernatural

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Made a substantial copy edit while preserving the tone of the original. (Assuming that we want to preserve the tone.) --Bobbing up and down 06:36, 10 September 2007 (CDT)

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[edit] Examples don't fit definition

The article says:

Supernatural refers to phenomena that are "beyond" the natural world. It is a distinctly anti-materialist idea.

It often refers to... well, hmm. What could possibly not be natural? Perhaps ghosts, angels, gods, and Zombies. Probably Uri Geller, too.

Amusingly, these entities don't fit the definition immediately above. You define "supernatural" as being "beyond the natural world." But the religions describe angels as speaking with humans, and gods as either breeding with humans or causing miracles in the natural world -- all events within the natural world. And zombies? Zombies are just dead humans that have been raised to life (sort of). None of the examples are "beyond the natural world" in any meaningful sense of the phrase. How about a redefinition of "supernatural" that includes the examples? Ungtss 17:30, 1 November 2008 (EDT)

You're insane, right? ħumanUser talk:Human 01:10, 2 November 2008 (EST)
Um, you define supernatural as being "things beyond the natural world" and then list a bunch of things that (as described) interact with the natural world. If you want supernatural to mean "imaginary" that's one thing. But I don't think you want it to. What do you mean by "supernatural," and how come none of the listed items meet the definition of supernatural? Ungtss 05:45, 2 November 2008 (EST)

[edit] Richard Carrier's definition

Philosopher at work! Richard Carrier defines supernatural as:

Therefore, "supernaturalism" means that at least some mental things cannot be reduced to nonmental things.

The blog post goes into some detail supporting this idea. I read it and went "aha, that's it!" I found it on this LessWrong post.

Note it ties into one of the fundamental streams of New Age culture and alternative medicine: vitalism in everything.

Other commenters on the LW post note: "Mind as an irreducible simple is basic to all religions." I think this also nails it nicely.

Anyone disagree? So what would we do with this post? - David Gerard (talk) 14:27, 10 January 2011 (UTC)

This seems to me to fit in with the 'beyond nature' definition, or should that now be 'beyond nonmental'. Should we amend that section accordingly?
Furthermore Carrier splits the supernatural from the paranormal. This, along with the non absoluteness (ugly term) of his definition, removes a lot of the problems with our first section. I'm just not smart enough to do the re-write. Jack Hughes (talk) 15:28, 10 January 2011 (UTC)

David, I'm not sure I agree. Carrier's definition of "supernatural" is really a definition of non-materialism, i.e. dualism and idealism. Dualists claim that mind (or at least some aspects thereof) is not reducible to matter; idealists agree, and add that matter is wholly reducible to mind. Whereas to me, discussion of supernaturalism seems to assume a prescriptive idea of the laws of nature, as things that could possibly be violated. Whereas, a purely descriptive concept of the laws of nature leaves no room for a supernatural, since any supposed "violations" are just evidence that the laws were not what we thought they were, and hence not violations at all. Myself, I am an idealist, but I believe the laws of nature are purely descriptive, and hence (by definition) cannot be violated. So I am a supernaturalist in Carrier's sense, but I don't think I actually am one, and think his definition is mistaken. Zack Martin HolyMaratreanSigil.png 10:33, 2 June 2011 (UTC)


I find Richard Carrier's definition very worthy of inclusion. I tried to add it in, but two other people deleted it immediately. Perhaps my writing was bad? I can't tell because no clear reason was given. I'll try writing a better version, and maybe add it later, though I'll check back here first.--Brianpansky (talk) 01:38, 3 April 2014 (UTC)

I just added a much shorter version. The actual problem is that this article is really badly written. That first definition needs cleansing fire - David Gerard (talk) 09:35, 3 April 2014 (UTC)
I guess I forgot to thank you for the concise addition you made. I've now also cut out a lot of stuff that seemed unnecessary, and I think it makes the article an easier read. Brianpansky (talk) 05:34, 28 August 2014 (UTC)

@Bob. Yes, irreducible mind is very woo ish. You know why? Because woo people believe in the supernatural. Shocker! Who would have thought that Carrier's definition of "supernatural" would be what people who believe in the supernatural actually believe?? How is this possible? /sarcasm

But it's not just what woo people believe. Aren't you aware that most religious people believe substance dualism to be true? Well, Carrier just described that belief as well.

Of course, to be fair, if you didn't understand all of this from the article, maybe I need to update the article to describe it better. Brianpansky (talk) 22:20, 28 August 2014 (UTC)

[edit] Cleaning up the article

The article was kind of rambling, and the thoughts presented didn't really look coherent. So I tried to correct this. Someone called Spud undid my edit, claiming I had reduced the article to a dictionary definition. Spud's argument is invalid, because dictionaries do not criticize definitions, which the article did at the time. However it was dry, which is probably approximately what Spud meant. We need a balance here, and I hope my most recent edit is a good step in that direction. Brianpansky (talk) 19:45, 28 August 2014 (UTC)

Reading the article as it stands it looks like nothing could be supernatural. But there are people who believe in ghosts and who believe they are supernatural. I don't believe in ghosts but I regard belief in ghosts to represent a belief in the supernatural. So I think there is something missing here.--Bob"I think you'll find it's more complicated than that." 20:53, 28 August 2014 (UTC)
Also I find the Carrier stuff incomprehensible. ""mind" as a fundamental substance of the universe" Sounds like woo to me.--Bob"I think you'll find it's more complicated than that." 20:58, 28 August 2014 (UTC)
YMMV. I thought it defined "woo" nicely - David Gerard (talk) 22:38, 28 August 2014 (UTC)
Dude, Bob...this section is about cleanup. You are off topic here. And maybe you should read the link to Carrier's article, you do sound very confused. Run along now, and take any further off topic complaints to a different section. Brianpansky (talk) 22:16, 28 August 2014 (UTC)
Dude Brianpansky. Pointing out that that version of the article did not really define Supernatural is so about cleaning it up. And so is identifying incomprehensible quotes. Think about it. --Bob"I think you'll find it's more complicated than that." 12:51, 29 August 2014 (UTC)
Good point. I just immediately thought "anything about Carrier's definition should go in the Carrier's definition section!1!". Sorry about that. Anyways, maybe that part could be fixed by including how it relates to notions about souls, Substance Dualism, etc? Brianpansky (talk) 19:02, 29 August 2014 (UTC)
Frankly I don't think the Carrier quote should even be in the article or at least not as a separate section. This is what "X" thinks about the Supernatural? No doubt we could find multiple definitions from other people. Why is this - rather incomprehensible - one significant? Also plese don't refer me to the original article for explanation, if it can't be summarised in a comprehensible way within the context of the article that is another reason it shouldn't be there.--Bob"I think you'll find it's more complicated than that." 19:59, 29 August 2014 (UTC)
I found it entirely comprehensible and put it in because I thought it hit the nail on the head. You appear to be complaining that you are hard of reading - David Gerard (talk) 21:06, 29 August 2014 (UTC)
It is a terrible definition. First, I don't see what it has to do with things that are generally considered supernatural like ghosts or magic. Second, it is extremely muddled philosophically. I am not entirely sure what he means by "reduce." If he is referring to reductionist physicalism, then this essentially lumps every other position in philosophy of mind under the umbrella of "supernatural," which is absurd. By this standard, even Bertrand Russell, as a neutral monist, was a "supernaturalist." And, again, what do arcane debates in philosophy of mind have to do with ghosts and witches? Nebuchadnezzar (talk) 21:28, 29 August 2014 (UTC)
I'm with David. Carrier is on point. Yes, Bob, I'm going to add a better description. It seems that Nebuchadnezzar might not have actually read Carrier's article. He literally talks about magic and ghosts. As for the "it's just one person's definition" we already have people who think it is exactly how the term is used. I would be in favor of looking around for how other people (both believers and skeptics) use the term as well. Brianpansky (talk) 05:00, 30 August 2014 (UTC)
I am writing about this word salad which is presently on the wiki:
  • Richard Carrier defines "supernatural" as meaning that at least some mental things cannot be reduced to nonmental things: "mind" as a fundamental substance of the universe (along with quarks and leptons). He believes this to be a useful working definition for philosophers that captures the conventional meaning sufficiently.
(1) "Supernatural" pretty obviously refers to gods, witches daemons or whatever. (2)"Mind" is simply the working of "brain" it has no separate existence and is certainly not a "fundamental substance of the universe" (3) This is nowhere near the "conventional meaning".
The question is not whether this point is explained well in some guy's blog - the issue is whether is is well expressed here on the wiki.--Bob"I think you'll find it's more complicated than that." 09:15, 30 August 2014 (UTC)
Carrier crapped in the porridge and lost me with "flashlights, arc welders, glowsticks, volcanic magmas, and so on" as examples of "fire burning under water." He might as well be talking about the aqueous fire in an opal, which is totally equivalent to combustion, am I right?
He spends a lot of time with various sorts of argument from Hogwarts, or argumentum a verrucas porcorum, using examples from science fiction, with convenient Wikipedia links, to illustrate his claims about what supernatural phenomena look like to the casual observer.
He seems to have conflated the supernatural with volition and other mental activity. That's where the malarkey about "irreducible mind" comes in... Well, yes, perhaps that's one way supernatural events could come about, but to me it looks like an assumption based on skimpy evidence, or none at all.
Too bad there isn't a Ministry of Magic to vet and certify philosophers, so the rest of us could tell who provides useful food for thought (stercorem pro cerebro habes) and who is bullshitting. Sprocket J Cogswell (talk) 14:42, 30 August 2014 (UTC)

────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────OK, I read the article and it doesn't really answer the points I made above. When Harry Potter unlocks a door with a spell, the spell itself doesn't "know" anything. It is not ascribed any mental states. And it still suffers from the problem of sweeping up naturalistic but non-physicalist theories of mind into the supernatural category. Nebuchadnezzar (talk) 16:08, 30 August 2014 (UTC)

Bob, I agree this needs to be well explained in the wiki, and currently isn't. Also, you said "Mind" is simply the working of "brain" it has no separate existence and is certainly not a "fundamental substance of the universe"
[Edit, maybe in that quote you are still criticizing the vagueness of our wiki article here. So you can ignore this paragraph where I do not interpret the quote from you that way.] I'm not sure why you felt the need to actually say this. I think you are missing the point. Do you think Carrier believes that mind is a fundamental substance of the universe? He doesn't. Neither do I. Rather this is the hypothesis that supernaturalists seem to believe.
As for Nebuchadnezzar, (aside from still needing to read the article, try searching for mentions of "Harry Potter"), the theories you bring up are probably important for us to consider here. But tentatively (from my attempts so far to learn about them) I suspect your objection wouldn't stand, and those theories look deeply confused. Brianpansky (talk) 03:04, 31 August 2014 (UTC)
@Brianpansky. If you wanted to write that that what he felt to be pseudoscience then it was was outstandingly badly written. Look at the quote in italics above. It is: Richard Carrier defines "supernatural" as meaning that at least some mental things cannot be reduced to nonmental things: "mind" as a fundamental substance of the universe (along with quarks and leptons).
But now you state "Do you think Carrier believes that mind is a fundamental substance of the universe? He doesn't."
I may be a little bit "slow in reading" here but I'm still trying to reconcile this.--Bob"I think you'll find it's more complicated than that." 11:12, 31 August 2014 (UTC)

────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────One problem with Carrier's "work" is that he uses too many examples from the type of fiction that is meant to be thrilling or at least entertaining. Writing in 2007, he may have been unaware of Stephenie Meyer's award-winning children's stories; at least we are spared his views on them. Tales told to captivate a supportive flock, such as Mme. Blavatsky's, more accurately characterize supernatural beliefs as they are found in the wild. An exploratory definition of the supernatural that misses mentioning folk belief systems such as vodoun or santeria is lightweight stuff.

Reading between the lines, it seems Carrier is too eager to assume that "mechanism" means something like a hollow planet full of clockwork. The mechanism of a vaccine doesn't need anything like that, any more than it needs to be "aware" of how to find its target. If one wanted a love potion, I'd suggest researching major histocompatibility complex and sexual selection[wp], and how to aim that process at a single individual. No need for the potion to include nanobots, or to "know" what it was brewed to accomplish. Talk about "indistinguishable from magic..." Sprocket J Cogswell (talk) 12:28, 31 August 2014 (UTC)

Ah well. I suppose I'd better read the thing as trying to understand it via the apparently bastardised version provided in our article by Brianpansky seems to be impossible.--Bob"I think you'll find it's more complicated than that." 12:54, 31 August 2014 (UTC)
Good luck with that, Bob. I've been over it superficially a couple of times without much joy. If you notice (or anyone else notices) where Carrier implies our own minds are supernatural or not, kindly point it out. Sprocket J Cogswell (talk) 13:12, 31 August 2014 (UTC)
My God! It goes on and on and on! But, Sprocket, I don't think he says minds are supernatural. It seems to me that the only thing he is using a vast amount of words to say is: "If any "supernatural" thing actually existed and could be tested and demonstrated then it wouldn't be "supernatural"."
It that is the case then, then, well - duh?--Bob"I think you'll find it's more complicated than that." 13:26, 31 August 2014 (UTC)
And now look at the "improvement"!
  • " Mind as fundamental entity: Richard Carrier defines "supernatural" as the category of some kind of "mind stuff" (and it's causal effects) that cannot be reduced to nonmental things: "mind" as a fundamental substance of the universe (along with quarks and leptons). Or, rather than quarks and leptons, perhaps it would be more apt to compare this stuff to the stuff of a similarly pseudoscientific view of the universe, Alchemy. Carrier believes this to be a useful working definition for philosophers that captures the conventional meaning sufficiently."
While Carrier's original stuff was heavy going Brianpansky's weird bastardisation achieves the incredible feat of making it even less comprehensible.--Bob"I think you'll find it's more complicated than that." 14:56, 31 August 2014 (UTC)
The pace here is going faster than I can easily respond to. A few things, Bob says "then it was was outstandingly badly written" and indeed I have repeatedly said the description needed to be improved. As for your interpretation that Carrier is saying that If any "supernatural" thing actually existed and could be tested and demonstrated then it wouldn't be "supernatural" this is not a correct interpretation. Rather, though the evidence we have points towards only natural, fundamentally non-mental stuff existing, if there was a supernatural thing, we could in theory investigate it and conclude that it was indeed irreducibly mental.
My apologies if my edits made it even less comprehensible.
Sprocket, the mechanism of a vaccine is natural on Carrier's definitions. ALL known and confirmed forms of causation fit Carrier's definition of natural.
As for whether Carrier thinks our minds are supernatural or not, he is an advocate of Naturalism. This is obvious in his book Sense and Goodness Without God, as well as his website where you can find more writings about Naturalism. — Unsigned, by: Brianpansky / talk / contribs
I'm still not seeing it. The spells in Harry Potter are not ascribed minds that "know" anything. On the phil of mind matter, I'm not saying that something like neutral monism is correct, I'm saying that using Carrier's definition forces us to label it "supernatural," which it isn't. I'm sure Russell would be surprised to learn that he was a supernaturalist. Nebuchadnezzar (talk) 03:17, 1 September 2014 (UTC)
Harry Potter wands are depicted in the books as being possessed by such minds. From the Harry Potter wiki, "A wand is a quasi-sentient magical instrument through which a witch or wizard channels her or his magical powers to centralize the effects for more complex results". In Carrier's article, he speculates that it might be the universe in Harry Potter which has the mind (maybe he didn't read the Harry Potter books, or remember that part like I did). Either way.
I'll start a discussion section for exploring whether neutral monism poses a problem or whatever.
Fair enough. I am apparently not well-read enough in Harry Potter studies. But there are plenty of other mythologies where magic is not ascribed mental properties.Nebuchadnezzar (talk) 03:33, 1 September 2014 (UTC)

────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────Of course a vaccine works by natural means. I mentioned it because its mechanism does not involve a planet full of machinery, nor does it involve nanomachines in a saline solution, which Carrier proposes as a possible love potion. Going on in a similar but tangential vein, there are various ways to shield a person from the white man's bullets. The ones involving many layers of kevlar fabric or certain thicknesses of steel are famously more effective than the supernatural efforts of the witch doctor. Enough about that.

Taking examples from the Harry Potter universe, or worse, from a wiki-exegesis of it, is about as useful and interesting as using Atlas Shrugged for a manual while forging domestic policy. I don't think I will be reading any more of Carrier's stuff. Early in the linked article, I was reminded of the Marx brothers' "tuttsi fruttsi ice cream" scene in A Day at the Races where Chico sells Groucho book after book, each one necessary for understanding the previous one. Again with the examples from entertaining fiction, sorry. I will leave you guys to talk amongst yourselves about how defining the supernatural in terms of mind does or doesn't say mind is natural. Sprocket J Cogswell (talk) 14:16, 1 September 2014 (UTC)

I still have no idea what point Sprocket was trying to make, or what problem they see with Carrier or his position. Oh well. Brianpansky (talk) 05:31, 2 September 2014 (UTC)
Carrier writes much and says little. His examples taken from modern Western popular fiction are a distraction, with little bearing on how the supernatural is viewed by those who take it seriously. With that, his notion of the supernatural looks like a straw man. As for his position, can you articulate a synopsis of it in five hundred simple direct words or less? Under two hundred would be better. By "simple" I mean to exclude philosophical terms of art, and by "direct," I mean that using "q.v." is cheating. Sprocket J Cogswell (talk) 10:52, 2 September 2014 (UTC)

[edit] Repeated destruction of my edits

Repeatedly people simply undo everything I edit on that page, and do not provide explanation. I may be a bit new here, but this is just confusing.

Please help, this is getting mighty frustrating. Am I doing something wrong, are they also doing something wrong...just, ugh.

I wrote that above message in the forums, and I even further mentioned that I had indeed been using this talk page, and the people deleting my work have not been. And my forum post was also deleted, go figure, by Miekal, one of the people who deleted my stuff in this article. They left me a frustrating note: "theres a talk page for this article, use it" haha, very funny after I just said that I did use it. And also when the people deleting my edits aren't using this talk page. So what good will using this talk page do me? I'm really frustrated. I have been looking over guidelines etc, but I can't find anything. Brianpansky (talk) 22:45, 28 August 2014 (UTC)

Miekal being an unhelpful dick has been a topic of discussion in the Saloon Bar before - David Gerard (talk) 22:47, 28 August 2014 (UTC)
Actually i was going to give a reason, but thanks. love ya too.
As for the edits, things like "pagan gods and virgin births aren't supernatural because they, in the myths, "happended" doesn't make for good skepticism, imo.--Miekal 22:49, 28 August 2014 (UTC)
Miekal, may I inquire as to whether you realize that the passage you are criticizing is actually one that I saw problems with as well? That was one of the reasons I edited the page. To change it. Since you undid that edit, you made the passage that you claim not to like part of the article again. Brianpansky (talk) 22:55, 28 August 2014 (UTC)
Waait, what? ... Well then, i apparentaly confused which dif was whos when i was looking at that... nevermind, actually, im an idiot.--Miekal 22:57, 28 August 2014 (UTC)
Ah, a mix up. That happens. Brianpansky (talk) 23:03, 28 August 2014 (UTC)
Sorry again--Miekal 23:05, 28 August 2014 (UTC)

────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────There may be hope after all. Let's assume Brian is making a good-faith effort to improve a rubbishly written article on a difficult subject. Bafflegab indeed. Still, a gentle hint @Brian: you won't win the hearts and minds of the mob with pokes at an established member who is far from clueless.

From where I sit, the article reeks of greedy reductionism or some such, and could stand some serious renovation. Dry definition is tedious, and speculative taxonomy is worse. Finding missional things to say will not be easy. Where to, now? Sprocket J Cogswell (talk) 23:13, 28 August 2014 (UTC)

[edit] Neutral Monism

TOW has a nice chart.

It was proposed that neutral monism doesn't fit somehow with Carrier's definition of "supernatural" as "irreducible mental" stuff. That can be discussed in this section.

I'm not familiar with it, but it proposes that both "matter" and "mind" are just different arrangements of a "neutral stuff" that is neither mind nor matter. On the surface, this seems natural, not supernatural (I'm using Carrier's terminology) because it claims to reduce "mind" to something that is not mind.

Though I also get the impression that they may just be reducing some mental things to other mental things. I'm also suspicious that they are not using the term "matter" in a way I would understand.

But alas, I don't have a lot of time right now to read about it. Here is the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on the subject. Hopefully some of us will have time to check this out, and sometime I'll also go to Richard Carrier's forums to ask him about the subject.

The mental is not irreducible in this scheme, but it is not reducible to physical substance. Rather, both the mental and physical are reducible to the neutral entities.
Another counterexample would be a David Chalmers-style property dualism, which asserts that the mental and physical are both fundamental, and neither are reducible to each other. Nebuchadnezzar (talk) 04:37, 1 September 2014 (UTC)
Perhaps for now it would help if you described why you think these pose a problem (or whatever). You say "If he is referring to reductionist physicalism, then this essentially lumps every other position in philosophy of mind under the umbrella of "supernatural," which is absurd" but I fail to see what is absurd about it. Brianpansky (talk) 05:10, 1 September 2014 (UTC)
Er, because equating everything that's not reductionist physicalism to supernaturalism is not true? Ideas like neutral monism and property dualism were conceived of as naturalistic theories of mind. I don't know how else to explain it. Perhaps Carrier is not defining it that way and would allow non-reductionist physicalism in too, but it is hard to tell because he doesn't get into what he means by "reduce." His position is not well-articulated. Nebuchadnezzar (talk) 05:22, 1 September 2014 (UTC)

[edit] Starting again

As I find the page to be of doubtful utility I have a proposed re-start here. Comments welcome. --Bob"I think you'll find it's more complicated than that." 07:57, 2 September 2014 (UTC)

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