Does Santa Claus really not exist?

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Re: Does Santa Claus really not exist?

Postby thc » Mon Aug 15, 2011 9:24 pm UTC

or all meaningful and useful purposes, yes, but if you "zoom in" to the "edge" of that chair, you're not going to be able to point to many electrons and say "that's part of the chair, not the surroundings". Since the location of the fundamental components of matter cannot be precisely specified at any point in time, saying that there objectively is a chair somewhere is just really really accurate and convenient, and objective for all useful senses of the word, but if we're going to discuss the philosophy of it, I would say there's a leg to stand on for claiming that there is no truly objective chair.


Not quite twelthroot. The lack of preciseness in measurement is not the contention zamfir brings up with the definition of chair in saying that it is non-physical. If it were, one could simply define "chair" as a set of arrangements rather than a single arrangement. The contention is that "arrangement" itself is non-physical. Arrangements only exist in the mind and not in the real world. I.e., a chair is non-physical because it is an arrangement, which is non-physical.

Our world experience is made up entirely of mental constructs. Saying that a corporation is not real because it is non-physical seems silly in this light.

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Re: Does Santa Claus really not exist?

Postby Zamfir » Tue Aug 16, 2011 10:01 am UTC

What? Really!? Things are not just made up of undifferentiated matter. A chair isn't just an arbitrary label applied to a cloud of atoms, it is a distinct arrangement of atoms that are interconnected to form a discrete object from its surroundings.
Furthermore, a chair has a physical existence that is not subjective. You and I can look at the same object, having never met and coming from disparate backgrounds, and can agree both that it is an object, and on whether or not that object is a chair.
I mean, there may be some minor semantic confusion say, as to whether or not a comfortable bench is also a chair, or whether a natural sitting spot in a tree or rock outcrop qualifies as a chair or whatever, but we can both look and see the same discrete physical arrangements and agree on the form they take. That is not an arbitrary fiction, that is objective, physical reality.

I don't think we are necessarily in disagreement here. I am not saying that chairs don't really exist, quite the opposite. My specific point was a reply to acablue's claim that "corporations don't actually exist". My claim is that it is very hard, even impossible, to create a useful concept of existence (or actual existence or whatever) that obviously includes specific instances of chairs and people, but also obviously excludes Microsoft.

In particular, one cannot say that Microsoft is "less real" because it is made up of people (and buildings and chairs), or some similar argument. Those chairs and people can in turn be seen as groupings of other things. One cannot give a fundamental primacy to a specific grouping or description. If there is a chair (or an employee) in a Microsoft building, you cannot say that those atoms are really part of an office chair or the person, but not really part of Microsoft because Microsoft is a made-up construct. Microsoft is just a different way to group or describing parts of the world, and things can of course be part of different concepts, without one of those concepts somehow being their true nature.

To be clear, I very much do not want to extend that claim to Santa Claus. Call it existence, or whatever else, but it is both possible and useful to distinguish between concepts that describe (and are intended to describe) physical objects, and concepts that are not. There is a sense of existence in which Santa Claus exists, but it is clearly different from the way we think chairs exist, and I have absolutely no problem with saying that chairs are more real than Santa Claus.

As you point out above for chairs, different people can look at a picture of Santa Claus, or listen to a story about him, and will easily agree that it is indeed Santa Claus. But that is restricted to such indirect means. On close enough inspection, everyone (expect for kids) expects that there is no underlying physical Santa Claus, and that works out. For chairs and people and Microsoft, we expect that any level of inspection will be consistent with our concept, which also seems to work out.

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Re: Does Santa Claus really not exist?

Postby Glmclain » Tue Aug 16, 2011 10:52 am UTC

My boring response:

You can disprove everything and be miserable, or just use common sense and not be.

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Re: Does Santa Claus really not exist?

Postby EdgarJPublius » Tue Aug 16, 2011 4:28 pm UTC

Zamfir wrote:
What? Really!? Things are not just made up of undifferentiated matter. A chair isn't just an arbitrary label applied to a cloud of atoms, it is a distinct arrangement of atoms that are interconnected to form a discrete object from its surroundings.
Furthermore, a chair has a physical existence that is not subjective. You and I can look at the same object, having never met and coming from disparate backgrounds, and can agree both that it is an object, and on whether or not that object is a chair.
I mean, there may be some minor semantic confusion say, as to whether or not a comfortable bench is also a chair, or whether a natural sitting spot in a tree or rock outcrop qualifies as a chair or whatever, but we can both look and see the same discrete physical arrangements and agree on the form they take. That is not an arbitrary fiction, that is objective, physical reality.

I don't think we are necessarily in disagreement here. I am not saying that chairs don't really exist, quite the opposite. My specific point was a reply to acablue's claim that "corporations don't actually exist". My claim is that it is very hard, even impossible, to create a useful concept of existence (or actual existence or whatever) that obviously includes specific instances of chairs and people, but also obviously excludes Microsoft.


Contrariswise, I find it very easy. I can see, poke and/or sit on a chair or a person, I can do none of these things with or to Microsoft.
I don't disagree that Microsoft 'exists', bit to ascribe it the same quality of 'thinghood' as a chair or a person is nonsensical. Microsoft exists in an entirely different mode from a chair. It exists because people say it does.

As you point out above for chairs, different people can look at a picture of Santa Claus, or listen to a story about him, and will easily agree that it is indeed Santa Claus. But that is restricted to such indirect means. On close enough inspection, everyone (expect for kids) expects that there is no underlying physical Santa Claus, and that works out. For chairs and people and Microsoft, we expect that any level of inspection will be consistent with our concept, which also seems to work out.


That isn't what I meant at all. I specifically said that the semantic construction of a chair was meaningless. A picture of a chair is not a chair, it's a picture. We can both look at a chair, and whether or not we both agree on whether or not it is a chair, or even if one of use is an alien with no concept of sitting or chairs, we can both recognize that it is a discrete object and that it has a particular shape.
Sure, it's only a chair because we call it a chair, but even if I don't call it a chair it is still a thing.
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Re: Does Santa Claus really not exist?

Postby Zamfir » Tue Aug 16, 2011 4:39 pm UTC

If you poke the seat of a chair in a Microsoft office, why are you not poking Microsoft? How does poking the seat also make you poke the chair, but not Microsoft? How is the combination of a seat with a frame and wheels a real thing, while the combination of stuff and people that makes up a company exists only because people say it does?

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Re: Does Santa Claus really not exist?

Postby DSenette » Tue Aug 16, 2011 4:52 pm UTC

Zamfir wrote:If you poke the seat of a chair in a Microsoft office, why are you not poking Microsoft? How does poking the seat also make you poke the chair, but not Microsoft? How is the combination of a seat with a frame and wheels a real thing, while the combination of stuff and people that makes up a company exists only because people say it does?

because you two are talking about different things

"microsoft" the "thing" is the "mind" or "spirit" or whatever. the chair is part of the building or "body"

so, we cannot say that our "mind" or "spirit" physically exists, just like you can't say that "microsoft" (the idea) physically exists
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Re: Does Santa Claus really not exist?

Postby quantumcat42 » Tue Aug 16, 2011 4:59 pm UTC

Back when public figures having Facebook pages was a new thing, I poked Ahnold.

I'm not seeing any standard, established definition of "Santa" in this thread. How can you talk about whether something exists without establishing what it is first? Arguments have been made about the aggregate bodies acting in a Santa-like manner, but such things have nothing to do with the existence of the common understanding of Santa -- jolly old overweight bearded dude with a thing for handy midgets and chilly climates. Is the discussion about how to prove such a person exists, or simply to redefine the name?

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Re: Does Santa Claus really not exist?

Postby DSenette » Tue Aug 16, 2011 5:04 pm UTC

quantumcat42 wrote:Back when public figures having Facebook pages was a new thing, I poked Ahnold.

I'm not seeing any standard, established definition of "Santa" in this thread. How can you talk about whether something exists without establishing what it is first? Arguments have been made about the aggregate bodies acting in a Santa-like manner, but such things have nothing to do with the existence of the common understanding of Santa -- jolly old overweight bearded dude with a thing for handy midgets and chilly climates. Is the discussion about how to prove such a person exists, or simply to redefine the name?

right, the only possible definitions of "santa" that could exist are: the spirit of giving or seasonal commercialism/greed
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Re: Does Santa Claus really not exist?

Postby Vaniver » Tue Aug 16, 2011 5:06 pm UTC

distractedSofty wrote:Did you not read the very first line of my first post?
Did you?

There are two competing claims. One is "Santa Claus is a unique individual who provides presents for children and resides in the North Pole." The other is "Santa Claus is a fiction perpetuated by parents providing presents for their children." You are presented with ample evidence that suggests the first claim is very improbable, and the second claim is very probable.

If you want to lower the probability of the second claim with evidence, you are correct that any evidence that does so would also decrease the probability of the claim that you exist. There is no clarity to be gained by confusing the first claim and the second claim.
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Re: Does Santa Claus really not exist?

Postby TheGrammarBolshevik » Tue Aug 16, 2011 5:26 pm UTC

distractedSofty wrote:For a potentially less objectionable to you version of the same idea, what about a "corporate mind"? People working for a corporation are required (potentially by law) to put aside their personal opinions and evaluate decisions based on the best interest of the company. It is common to hear the media refer to "Microsoft's opinion on the proposed changes" (or similar constructions), and it certainly seems that an opinionlike thing is held not by any one employee, but by the corporation itself.

Sure, but this account is based on the fact that people refer to Microsoft's opinions in ordinary language. Who uses "Santa Claus" to mean "the tradition of giving gifts around Christmas"?
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Re: Does Santa Claus really not exist?

Postby EdgarJPublius » Tue Aug 16, 2011 7:11 pm UTC

Zamfir wrote:If you poke the seat of a chair in a Microsoft office, why are you not poking Microsoft?


How could you possibly imagine that you are?
Even assuming Microsoft is a 'thing' rather than what amounts to a socio-legal-economic hack, a chair would be no more a part of this thing than the chair I'm sitting on is a part of me. A chair is a tool.
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Re: Does Santa Claus really not exist?

Postby distractedSofty » Tue Aug 16, 2011 8:11 pm UTC

DSenette wrote:
quantumcat42 wrote:I'm not seeing any standard, established definition of "Santa" in this thread. How can you talk about whether something exists without establishing what it is first? Arguments have been made about the aggregate bodies acting in a Santa-like manner, but such things have nothing to do with the existence of the common understanding of Santa -- jolly old overweight bearded dude with a thing for handy midgets and chilly climates. Is the discussion about how to prove such a person exists, or simply to redefine the name?

right, the only possible definitions of "santa" that could exist are: the spirit of giving or seasonal commercialism/greed

I did try (clumsily) to provide such a definition in the first post:
... another hypothetical being. One who wants for children to receive presents on the morning of December 25.
Santa Claus is the being who desires and effects presents left under trees for children, labelled (or attributed) "from Santa Claus". Such a being might have other characteristics, but it seemed to me that this would be the minimal set.

Vaniver wrote:
distractedSofty wrote:Did you not read the very first line of my first post?
Did you?

There are two competing claims. One is "Santa Claus is a unique individual who provides presents for children and resides in the North Pole." The other is "Santa Claus is a fiction perpetuated by parents providing presents for their children." You are presented with ample evidence that suggests the first claim is very improbable, and the second claim is very probable.

If you want to lower the probability of the second claim with evidence, you are correct that any evidence that does so would also decrease the probability of the claim that you exist. There is no clarity to be gained by confusing the first claim and the second claim.
Except, there are not two competing claims. No one has made the first claim. (Well, Qaanol possibly made it...) And in the first line of the first post of the thread, I dismissed it. It could be argued that my dismissal was premature, but it was irrelevant to the question that I was asking.

The two "competing claims" are "santa claus is a real entity that effects presents received by children on christmas" and "santa claus is a story parents tell their children".

But even those are not really competing. Since the Microsoft example seems to be popular, if those claims are competing, then the claim "Microsoft made Windows" is invalidated by the proof for the claim "~2000 engineers in offices in Redmond, Washington made Windows".

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Re: Does Santa Claus really not exist?

Postby setzer777 » Tue Aug 16, 2011 8:33 pm UTC

Do the Ninja Turtles really not exist?

Now, obviously, there are no humanoid turtles who live in sewers and know ninjitsu. But there is a deeper question:

Is there any meaningful evidence against the Ninja Turtles' existence that does not also disqualify your own?
....
But, behaviour being sufficient evidence for your existence is complicated by another group of hypothetical beings. Ones who want lots of pizza to be purchased and consumed.

Lo and behold, a great deal of bodies work to accomplish that goal. (Including the one that you claim dominion over, potentially.) It would appear that the behaviour of bodies is even greater evidence for the existence of the Ninja Turtles than it is for you, since only a single body works for you, but millions work for the Ninja Turtles.

It would seem to me that I must admit that the Ninja Turtles are real, after all.


Even if we accept that the only evidence of a mind is the action of a body, we define individual mental entities by the intersection of a vast number of parameters. That's how we distinguish an individual personality from a general trait. Your dilemma only occurs because you strip away a ton of characteristics of "Santa" and define "gift giving on this date" as the fundamental substance of what Santa is. To do so is just as absurd as for me to define the fundamental substance of the Ninja Turtles as "wanting lots of pizza to be ordered and consumed".
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Re: Does Santa Claus really not exist?

Postby TheGrammarBolshevik » Tue Aug 16, 2011 8:37 pm UTC

Again: The standard meaning of the term "Microsoft" supervenes on those employees. The standard meaning of the term "Santa Claus" does not supervene on the actions of parents. To the extent that tradition is an entity, you could say that there is an entity that makes people give gifts. But to call that entity "Santa Claus" is just as arbitrary as labeling it "Mitch Hedberg."
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Re: Does Santa Claus really not exist?

Postby distractedSofty » Tue Aug 16, 2011 8:54 pm UTC

TheGrammarBolshevik wrote:Again: The standard meaning of the term "Microsoft" supervenes on those employees. The standard meaning of the term "Santa Claus" does not supervene on the actions of parents. To the extent that tradition is an entity, you could say that there is an entity that makes people give gifts. But to call that entity "Santa Claus" is just as arbitrary as labeling it "Mitch Hedberg."

Sure: I chose the label since it intersected well with the theorised actions. I did not also mention any other such entities until later in the thread (Microsoft, God...), since I was trying to keep it simple.

setzer777 wrote:Do the Ninja Turtles really not exist?

Now, obviously, there are no humanoid turtles who live in sewers and know ninjitsu. But there is a deeper question:

Is there any meaningful evidence against the Ninja Turtles' existence that does not also disqualify your own?
....
But, behaviour being sufficient evidence for your existence is complicated by another group of hypothetical beings. Ones who want lots of pizza to be purchased and consumed.

Lo and behold, a great deal of bodies work to accomplish that goal. (Including the one that you claim dominion over, potentially.) It would appear that the behaviour of bodies is even greater evidence for the existence of the Ninja Turtles than it is for you, since only a single body works for you, but millions work for the Ninja Turtles.

It would seem to me that I must admit that the Ninja Turtles are real, after all.


Even if we accept that the only evidence of a mind is the action of a body, we define individual mental entities by the intersection of a vast number of parameters. That's how we distinguish an individual personality from a general trait. Your dilemma only occurs because you strip away a ton of characteristics of "Santa" and define "gift giving on this date" as the fundamental substance of what Santa is. To do so is just as absurd as for me to define the fundamental substance of the Ninja Turtles as "wanting lots of pizza to be ordered and consumed".
I'm not really "stripping away" things from Santa, I was reusing a familiar label to hopefully shorten the task of explaining what I meant. I failed. Is it absurd to use familar labels on unfamiliar concepts? Possibly, but there's a long tradition of doing so.

If you want to move the discussion to a pizza consuming entitity, then go ahead.

To borrow a term from meme theory (though hopefully without rooting this discussion in that theory), what about the memeplex of "you" is fundamentally different from the memeplex of "the Ninja Turtles" (as you defined them)?

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Re: Does Santa Claus really not exist?

Postby setzer777 » Tue Aug 16, 2011 9:05 pm UTC

distractedSofty wrote:To borrow a term from meme theory (though hopefully without rooting this discussion in that theory), what about the memeplex of "you" is fundamentally different from the memeplex of "the Ninja Turtles" (as you defined them)?


The difference is the specificity and the number of intersecting traits that define me. "Pizza eating" is a single trait that can be applied to countless people. The intersection of "pizza eating", "being born at this time and location", "having these beliefs, preferences, desires, memories, fears, etc.", "having this kind of physical body at this point in time", "having these genetic relatives", "having shared these specific experiences with these specific people", and probably thousands of other specific traits is what defines me as me.

Anyone I interact with is only going to see a fraction of the total number of intersecting traits, but they will see enough that they can easily distinguish me from the other people they know, because while almost every trait I have (except for ones involving occupying specific points in space during specific points in time) is shared by someone else, the exact combination is unique to me.
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Re: Does Santa Claus really not exist?

Postby TheGrammarBolshevik » Tue Aug 16, 2011 9:07 pm UTC

distractedSofty wrote:
TheGrammarBolshevik wrote:Again: The standard meaning of the term "Microsoft" supervenes on those employees. The standard meaning of the term "Santa Claus" does not supervene on the actions of parents. To the extent that tradition is an entity, you could say that there is an entity that makes people give gifts. But to call that entity "Santa Claus" is just as arbitrary as labeling it "Mitch Hedberg."

Sure: I chose the label since it intersected well with the theorised actions.

But it doesn't. "Santa Claus" encompasses Christmas gift-giving, but it also encompasses a lot of extraneous shit for which you have no evidence: jolly man in a red suit, house at the North Pole, flying reindeer, etc. A label like "Christmas gift tradition" is a much better fit.
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Re: Does Santa Claus really not exist?

Postby distractedSofty » Tue Aug 16, 2011 9:56 pm UTC

setzer777 wrote:
distractedSofty wrote:To borrow a term from meme theory (though hopefully without rooting this discussion in that theory), what about the memeplex of "you" is fundamentally different from the memeplex of "the Ninja Turtles" (as you defined them)?


The difference is the specificity and the number of intersecting traits that define me. "Pizza eating" is a single trait that can be applied to countless people. The intersection of "pizza eating", "being born at this time and location", "having these beliefs, preferences, desires, memories, fears, etc.", "having this kind of physical body at this point in time", "having these genetic relatives", "having shared these specific experiences with these specific people", and probably thousands of other specific traits is what defines me as me.

Anyone I interact with is only going to see a fraction of the total number of intersecting traits, but they will see enough that they can easily distinguish me from the other people they know, because while almost every trait I have (except for ones involving occupying specific points in space during specific points in time) is shared by someone else, the exact combination is unique to me.

It sounds like this argument, then, is one of scale: my hypothesised "christmas being who must not be named" is the intersection of only a few traits such as "giving gifts to children" and "telling the santa myth", while you are much more complicated. The substance (your existence as the interaction of a bunch of memes(or <insert favourite theory of information here>)) remains the same.

TheGrammarBolshevik wrote:"Santa Claus" encompasses Christmas gift-giving, but it also encompasses a lot of extraneous shit for which you have no evidence: jolly man in a red suit, house at the North Pole, flying reindeer, etc. A label like "Christmas gift tradition" is a much better fit.

I guess you would have equally strong objections to terms such as "science czar", because while the person may have decision making authority with regards to US scientific policy, the term also encompasses ruling Russia?
Last edited by distractedSofty on Tue Aug 16, 2011 10:07 pm UTC, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Does Santa Claus really not exist?

Postby setzer777 » Tue Aug 16, 2011 10:04 pm UTC

Eh, I suppose, though I dislike the possible implication that the two things "aren't so different, after all". In a sense you could say that it's only a matter of scale and complexity that differentiates my physical existence (an extremely vast collection if molecules interacting in an organized fashion) from basic crystal formations.

In a universe where everything is built upon matter and the relationships of matter, scale and complexity are everything.
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Re: Does Santa Claus really not exist?

Postby distractedSofty » Tue Aug 16, 2011 10:17 pm UTC

setzer777 wrote:Eh, I suppose, though I dislike the possible implication that the two things "aren't so different, after all". In a sense you could say that it's only a matter of scale and complexity that differentiates my physical existence (an extremely vast collection if molecules interacting in an organized fashion) from basic crystal formations.

In a universe where everything is built upon matter and the relationships of matter, scale and complexity is everything.

The whole reason I posed the question in the first place was because I was wondering what it might mean. If there is a "santa claus" who is sort of a simple human with only a few desires, can you interact with it? Perhaps you can: in the past it looks like it was the case that one company very successfully convinced that being to buy their product each year (I have no idea if this trend still exists, not being in either the parent or child demographic right now). Can it convince you to do things? (That was my first argument) Can it learn and adapt? Given the long history of this kind of tradition, it does look like such a being has successfully learnt what appeals to people, to stay alive. What else do such beings imply?

Now, I was expecting people to argue "but you are just anthropomorphising emergent human behaviour", which is why I lead off with the point that when we talk about "you", we are also just anthropomorphising emergent human behaviour, on a smaller scale.

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Re: Does Santa Claus really not exist?

Postby setzer777 » Tue Aug 16, 2011 10:44 pm UTC

distractedSofty wrote:Now, I was expecting people to argue "but you are just anthropomorphising emergent human behaviour", which is why I lead off with the point that when we talk about "you", we are also just anthropomorphising emergent human behaviour, on a smaller scale.


Well, it doesn't makes sense to say that we're anthropomorphising when we talk about humans, because anthropomorphism means "to ascribe human characteristics". Specifically you are ascribing unified consciousness to something that doesn't have it.

The problem with using the term "Santa Clause" to refer to the general "gift-giving" is that by using a word that in common language refers to a fictional human being (with a fictional physical body and fictional physical brain) you are implying certain human characteristics (such as unified consciousness, sensory perception, and a tightly structured information processing ability) that an abstract trait such as "gift giving" does not possess. Such mistaken associations make your "emergent mind" hypothetical sound far more interesting than it actually is.
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Re: Does Santa Claus really not exist?

Postby distractedSofty » Tue Aug 16, 2011 10:48 pm UTC

setzer777 wrote:Well, it doesn't makes sense to say that we're anthropomorphising when we talk about humans, because anthropomorphism means "to ascribe human characteristics". Specifically you are ascribing unified consciousness to something that doesn't have it.
It makes sense, because you are ascribing human characteristics to something, namely, a monkey.

The problem with using the term "Santa Clause" to refer to the general "gift-giving" is that using the a word that in common language refers to a fictional human being (with a fictional physical body and fictional physical brain) you are implying certain human characteristics (such as unified consciousness, sensory perception, and a tightly structured information processing ability) that an abstract trait such as "gift giving" does not possess.
Totally intentional: how do you know it does not possess such things? (Not the body thing. Specifically, if conciousness is an emergent property of human brains, what would bind it to a single brain, but not to a small part of several million?)

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Re: Does Santa Claus really not exist?

Postby setzer777 » Tue Aug 16, 2011 11:17 pm UTC

distractedSofty wrote:
setzer777 wrote:Well, it doesn't makes sense to say that we're anthropomorphising when we talk about humans, because anthropomorphism means "to ascribe human characteristics". Specifically you are ascribing unified consciousness to something that doesn't have it.
It makes sense, because you are ascribing human characteristics to something, namely, a monkey.


In which case I am ascribing the characteristics of a specific species of monkey (humans), to that species of monkey.

distractedSofty wrote:
setzer777 wrote:The problem with using the term "Santa Clause" to refer to the general "gift-giving" is that using the a word that in common language refers to a fictional human being (with a fictional physical body and fictional physical brain) you are implying certain human characteristics (such as unified consciousness, sensory perception, and a tightly structured information processing ability) that an abstract trait such as "gift giving" does not possess.
Totally intentional: how do you know it does not possess such things? (Not the body thing. Specifically, if conciousness is an emergent property of human brains, what would bind it to a single brain, but not to a small part of several million?)


Consciousness relies on centralized processing. All of the information being put into the system is brought together to form a single model of the world we act in. A vague concept shared by several minds cannot act in such a tightly unified manner.
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Re: Does Santa Claus really not exist?

Postby TheGrammarBolshevik » Wed Aug 17, 2011 3:27 am UTC

distractedSofty wrote:
TheGrammarBolshevik wrote:"Santa Claus" encompasses Christmas gift-giving, but it also encompasses a lot of extraneous shit for which you have no evidence: jolly man in a red suit, house at the North Pole, flying reindeer, etc. A label like "Christmas gift tradition" is a much better fit.

I guess you would have equally strong objections to terms such as "science czar", because while the person may have decision making authority with regards to US scientific policy, the term also encompasses ruling Russia?

If I refer to a science czar, it is clear that I am not referring to a ruler of Russia. But if I say that Santa Claus exists, nobody would take me to mean that there is a tradition of giving gifts during the Christmas season in Western countries.
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Re: Does Santa Claus really not exist?

Postby distractedSofty » Wed Aug 17, 2011 7:23 pm UTC

TheGrammarBolshevik wrote:If I refer to a science czar, it is clear that I am not referring to a ruler of Russia. But if I say that Santa Claus exists, nobody would take me to mean that there is a tradition of giving gifts during the Christmas season in Western countries.
But I'm not referring to a tradition: I'm referring to an entity.

Consider if it were discovered that there was, in fact, a jolly fat man who lived at the north pole, with elves, who gave presents to children. His name is Fred Bloggs. Would you say that I was incorrect to state "santa claus is real"?

Or to take it one step further: consider if there were an alien in orbit around the earth with a mind control field, but the mind control ray is only capable of leading parents to buy gifts for their children and tell them it came from someone else. When we discover it, would you object to characterising it as "the santa claus alien" (or even just santa claus)?

setzer777 wrote:Consciousness relies on centralized processing. All of the information being put into the system is brought together to form a single model of the world we act in. A vague concept shared by several minds cannot act in such a tightly unified manner.

I'm going to assume that you have no objection to the idea that, given enough people (~100 billion), and the right set of instructions given to each person, you could create a new consciousness(or duplicate an existing one) by simulating neural activity. (And if you do have an objection to that idea, then the obvious question is why you object to this, but not to the idea that a brain can.)

Since we are running a little short on people, it should be equivalent to have each person simulate 100 neurons, thus only requiring a billion people. We should still have a consciousnessin our system.

Additionally, since it's a bit much to expect of people to spend their whole life(longer, given the relative speeds of neural activity and our system) doing nothing but creating our pet consciousness, let's institute a rotation policy: every so often, we substitute people: the participant explains the system to a new person, gives them the current state of all their neurons, and then leaves. We should still have a consciousness.

To speed our system, we also decide to have each participant internalise their neurons: now they "simply" have a model in their head that is equivalent to their neurons, and they know which connections to other poeple's neurons they "should have". (That is, their own neurons are a higher level model, and all that they strictly simulate now are the external connections.) This statement is probably more controversial: but as far as I see, we should still have a consciousness. After all, outside of each person, the system looks the same, and it still behaves the same.

And finally, since there are a lot of connections between people, we create a code for their interactions. (Or, like many people performing repetitive tasks, they create the system themselves) When Alice and Bob need to communicate interactions, Alice can tell Bob "17" and he knows that his 17th neuron was just stimulated. Additionally, Bob can say "I was about to talk to Claire, do you have anything to tell her", and Alice can say "Yes, please tell her '23'". Perhaps there are uniqe ways to indicate that multiple neurons are firing at the same time, and things like that. The same interactions are still taking place, they are just in a more compact representation. We should still have a consciousness.

Now, functionally, this final system is a good model for Santa today: we have a bunch of people who have ideas about gifts from santa (their head models), who discuss the concept (children with parents, parents with other parents, children with other children, advertisers with everybody...) (Their "encoded neural interactions"). Shouldn't we expect this too to create a consciousness?

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Re: Does Santa Claus really not exist?

Postby setzer777 » Wed Aug 17, 2011 7:34 pm UTC

I wouldn't consider the system you described to be consciousness. I'm sure there are many other objections, but the two that immediately come to mind are speed and signal-to-noise issues. What you described would be incredibly slow, and the amount of information being transferred across the entire system would be incredibly small. You could say it's "just a matter of scale", but like I said above: in a universe made out of matter (without separate fundamental substances of matter), scale matters. Just by changing certain quantities and velocities, you can change one thing into something fundamentally different. I think that what we call "consciousness" specifically requires incredibly fast (and high fidelity) information processing.
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Re: Does Santa Claus really not exist?

Postby distractedSofty » Wed Aug 17, 2011 8:27 pm UTC

setzer777 wrote:I wouldn't consider the system you described to be consciousness. I'm sure there are many other objections, but the two that immediately come to mind are speed and signal-to-noise issues. What you described would be incredibly slow, and the amount of information being transferred across the entire system would be incredibly small. You could say it's "just a matter of scale", but like I said above: in a universe made out of matter (without separate fundamental substances of matter), scale matters. Just by changing certain quantities and velocities, you can change one thing into something fundamentally different. I think that what we call "consciousness" specifically requires incredibly fast (and high fidelity) information processing.

To say that speed is an absolute requirement for consciousness is unsatisfying, but I'll grant that there is a good relative argument that could be made: if the system is conscious but unable to react at human speeds, then it may as well not be.

But these considerations seem to work in favour of the Santa theory: the signal to noise ratio in the brain simulation was high, because many parts of our simulated brain are for monkey functions that Santa doesn't need, they're probably not necessary for consciousness. The conscious santa mind can operate on the level of concepts, since the brains it inhabits could provide it that input. And it only has a few concerns per year, so it can spend most of its time in quiet contemplation. If the amount of processing that is actually required for consciousness is small, then the santa theory becomes more plausible. (The less information required, the less important the between-human communication becomes to the santa conciousness. And our small lean santa can easily reach the speed you require for consciousness.)

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Re: Does Santa Claus really not exist?

Postby FrancisDrake » Thu Aug 18, 2011 2:11 am UTC

distractedSofty wrote:Now, obviously, there is no rotund slave driver with a magical flying sleigh living in the arctic. But there is a deeper question:

Is there any meaningful evidence against Santa Claus' existence that does not also disqualify your own?

(For the sake of this discussion, assume that there is nothing supernatural about your own existence. That is, if you exist, there must be some empirical evidence for it.)

The first and most obvious evidence that I find unsatisfying is that of physical presence. It is common for death to be refered to as the end of one's existence, but physically, there is nothing different about a just deceased body and the living one from a second earlier. Human existence therefore, must be related to the state of being alive. Likewise, removing body parts does not affect your existence: a person with no arms or legs, one lung, one kidney and half a liver still exists. I could continue on with this reasoning, but the end result is: human existence seems to be linked to the brain.

But, if we assume that you are your brain, then death should not affect your existence. As I said earlier, your brain is physically the same before and after death.

It seems then that the nature of human existence must be similar to that of a novel, or computer program: you are information. "You", or "your mind" are/is a polymorphic program that runs on the wetware of a brain. When the brain stops doing anything, you cease to exist.

The best evidence for your existence that we have, then, is through the actions of your body. The theory that you exist is supported by the evidence of a brain/body doing things that you want.

But, behaviour being sufficient evidence for your existence is complicated by another hypothetical being. One who wants for children to receive presents on the morning of December 25.

Lo and behold, a great deal of bodies work to accomplish that goal. (Including the one that you claim dominion over, potentially.) It would appear that the behaviour of bodies is even greater evidence for the existence of Santa Claus than it is for you, since only a single body works for you, but millions work for Santa Claus.

It would seem to me that I must admit that Santa Clause is real, after all.


The unique combination of personal information gathered by our minds and unique chemical gene makeup are the proof that we exist, while Santa Cluase's existence relies upon only one piece of information. In addition, the orginal thoughts that people do have also make another distinct proof that we exist while Santa Clause is only one thought made. Also, the reconigition of our existence from others that exist make our existence even more existant than Santa Clause. If I take the current world population: "6,775,235,700" which all work for eachother's existence through a combine ripple of knowing others that exist and another ripple of rational choice that effects other's choices, then "6,775,235,700" people outweigh the amount that believe in Coca-Cola Santa becuase santa is only a choice or idea that one person made. Also, If the Santa Clause we know is either a copy of a real person or an image of propaganda, each is a fake copy of an idea. For instance, if you take Plato's allegory of the cave you will see that Santa Clause is a shadow of a shadow which makes his existence even less than our own which is only a shadow. Finally how can Santa Cluase, an idea, that needs us to make it exist make it more or equally real than the us whom Santa Clause relies upon to exist?

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Re: Does Santa Claus really not exist?

Postby fedusenko » Fri Aug 26, 2011 10:17 pm UTC

Fortunately, or unfortunately, Santa Clause DID exist, but not as we know him now. Nimrod, also known as Gilgamesh, is attributed for being the Christmas character. You can see a sculpture of him in the Louve slaying a bull. He looks much different in the sculpture than how we know him today, but that is a mixture of Pagan, Christian and Coca-Cola. Yes, Coke solidified the image we recognize ol' St. Nick in a holiday add. The painter used his friend who had a belly full of jelly and rosey red cheeks. To further attribute happiness to their product, Coke required the color of Santa Clause's costume to be 'Coke Red'.

With that being said and the original culprit having been dead for some time now, it is a very interesting concept you bring similar to achieving immortality through fame. i.e. the physical body might be dead, but the information, the memory, the adoration (or hate) remain alive through ritual of the masses.

There is a little bit of Santa in all of us. Makes sense why momma was kissing santa klaus.... ;)

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Re: Does Santa Claus really not exist?

Postby Tirian » Sat Aug 27, 2011 4:36 am UTC

fedusenko wrote:Yes, Coke solidified the image we recognize ol' St. Nick in a holiday add. The painter used his friend who had a belly full of jelly and rosey red cheeks. To further attribute happiness to their product, Coke required the color of Santa Clause's costume to be 'Coke Red'.


In a word, no. Coca-Cola did much to associate itself with Santa in the first half of the twentieth century, but the central elements of his appearance had been solidified decades before.

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Re: Does Santa Claus really not exist?

Postby Diadem » Sun Aug 28, 2011 11:05 pm UTC

fedusenko wrote:Fortunately, or unfortunately, Santa Clause DID exist, but not as we know him now. Nimrod, also known as Gilgamesh, is attributed for being the Christmas character.

Where did you get this from?

Santa Claus is in fact based on the Dutch character of Sinterklaas, who in turn is based on Saint Nicolas of Myra, who really existed. Saint Nicolas of Myra was a christian bishop from the 4th century, famous for giving gifts to the poor, often in secret. He is, amongst others, the patron saint of children.

His feastday is december 6th and in The Netherlands (and Belgium and parts of Germany and France) this developed into a day for giving gifts, specificaly to children. Sinterklaas is depicted as an old, rather stern, man with white hair and a long white beard, wearing a long red cloak with traditional bishop's cloths (which are white) under it. He also wears a red mitre. He carries a book which lists everything that all children did during the year, so he can keep track of if they were nice or naughty, and he only give gifts to the nice kids (he has helpers which, according to traditional folkore, punish the naughty ones). He rides a white-grey horse over the rooftops, and drops presents through the chimney. Kids usually put down their shoes under the chimney (or in front of the door if they don't have a chimney), and it is traditional to leave a treat for the horse, such a carrot. In the morning the carrot is gone and the shoes are filled with presents.

This is the figure on which Santa Claus is based. And the similarities should be obvious, even the name of Santa Claus comes from Sinterklaas. He's not the only inspiration for Santa Claus, England has a traditional figure of Father Christmas, and this also inspired Santa Claus. The jollyness and the living on the north pole come from him. Though Father Christmas doesn't give gifts, and wears green, not red.
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Re: Does Santa Claus really not exist?

Postby mister k » Thu Sep 01, 2011 3:48 pm UTC

If I have developed a method of considering the truthvalue of statements that assigns the same truthvalue to the conception of Santa Claus as a concious being to me being a concious being then I should be extremely worried about my method. There are obvious differences between my conciousness and the conciousness you appear to be defining for Santa Claus, and while you can make clever arguments to try and justify these differences away, its pretty clear you're going to get yourself nowhere with such arguments. That is, you go ahead and argue existence away, I'll go eat some delicious chocolate cake. Mmmm chocolate cake.
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Re: Does Santa Claus really not exist?

Postby MrEmu » Fri Sep 02, 2011 7:43 am UTC

distractedSofty wrote:But these considerations seem to work in favour of the Santa theory: the signal to noise ratio in the brain simulation was high, because many parts of our simulated brain are for monkey functions that Santa doesn't need, they're probably not necessary for consciousness. The conscious santa mind can operate on the level of concepts, since the brains it inhabits could provide it that input. And it only has a few concerns per year, so it can spend most of its time in quiet contemplation. If the amount of processing that is actually required for consciousness is small, then the santa theory becomes more plausible. (The less information required, the less important the between-human communication becomes to the santa conciousness. And our small lean santa can easily reach the speed you require for consciousness.)


Any human brain working at the level of activity you describe would generally be described as "unconscious."

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Re: Does Santa Claus really not exist?

Postby Minerva » Sat Sep 03, 2011 4:14 pm UTC

I'm agnostic about Santa Claus in the same sense that I'm agnostic about the faeries at the bottom of the garden, or Thor, or Xenu, or the Easter Bunny.

Seriously, this has been done to death. Santa Claus is no different to any other god etc. for the purposes of this argument.
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Re: Does Santa Claus really not exist?

Postby setzer777 » Sun Sep 04, 2011 12:22 am UTC

Minerva wrote:I'm agnostic about Santa Claus in the same sense that I'm agnostic about the faeries at the bottom of the garden, or Thor, or Xenu, or the Easter Bunny.

Seriously, this has been done to death. Santa Claus is no different to any other god etc. for the purposes of this argument.


Well, I think his argument is more: "Why don't we consider vague concepts stretched out across many brains 'people' or 'minds'?"

To which the easy response is: that's not the word we've chosen to label what you're talking about. "Concept" is the word we apply to that, while "person" is a label we apply to something quantitatively different (in complexity, processing speed, consolidation in a single location, and signal-to-noise ratio).
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Re: Does Santa Claus really not exist?

Postby Emilia27 » Tue Nov 01, 2011 12:21 pm UTC

TrlstanC wrote:If you set the parameters strickly enough (for example, not allowing things to be disproved just because they don't physically exist), than its not possible to disprove the existance of anything. What would be really interesting is: can you prove that Santa Clause does exist? I think if you can than you could prove that anything exists, which isn't all that useful.

1. No known species of reindeer that can fly. BUT there are 300,000 species of living organisms yet to be classified, and while most of these are insects and germs, this does not completely rule out flying reindeer (which only Santa has ever seen.)

2. There are 2 billion children (persons under 18) in the world. BUT since Santa doesn't (appear) to handle the Muslim, Hindu, Jewish and Buddhist children, that reduces the workload to 15% of the total-378 million according to Population Reference Bureau. At an average (census) rate of 3.5 children per household, that's 91.8 million homes. One presumes there's at least one good child in each.

3. Santa has 31 hours of Christmas to work with, thanks to the different time zones and the rotation of the earth, assuming he travels east to west (which seems logical). This works out to 822.6 visits per second. This is to say that for each Christian household with good children, Santa has 1/1000th of a second to park, hop out of the sleigh, jump down the chimney, fill the stockings, distribute the remaining presents under the tree, eat whatever snacks have been left, get back up the chimney, get back into the sleigh and move on to the next house. Assuming that each of these 91.8 million stops are evenly distributed around the earth (which, of course, we know to be false but for the purposes of our calculations we will accept),we are now talking about .78 miles per household, a total trip of 75-1/2 million miles, not counting stops to do what most of us must do at least once every 31 hours, plus feeding and etc. This means that Santa's sleigh is moving at 650 miles per second, 3,000 times the speed of sound. For purposes of comparison, the fastest man-made vehicle on earth, the Ulysses space probe, moves at a poky 27.4 miles per second-a conventional reindeer can run, tops, 15 miles per hour.

4. The payload on the sleigh adds another interesting element. Assuming that each child gets nothing more than a medium-sized lego set (2 pounds), the sleigh is carrying 321,300 tons, not counting Santa, who is invariably described as overweight. On land, conventional reindeer can pull no more than 300 pounds. Even granting that "flying reindeer" (see point #1) could pull TEN TIMES the normal amount, we cannot do the job with eight, or even nine. We need 214,200 reindeer. This increases the payload-not even counting the weight of the sleigh-to 353,430 tons. Again, for comparison-this is four times the weight of the Queen Elizabeth.

5. 353,000 tons traveling at 650 miles per second creates enormous air resistance-this will heat the reindeer up in the same fashion as spacecrafts re-entering the earth's atmosphere. The lead pair of reindeer will absorb 14.3 QUINTILLION joules of energy. Per second. Each. In short, they will burst into flame almost instantaneously, exposing the reindeer behind them, and create deafening sonic booms in their wake. The entire reindeer team will be vaporized within 4.26 thousandths of a second. Santa, meanwhile, will be subjected to centrifugal forces 17,500.06 times greater than gravity. A 250-pound Santa (which seems ludicrously slim) would be pinned to the back of his sleigh by 4,315,015 pounds of force.

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Re: Does Santa Claus really not exist?

Postby lalop » Thu Nov 03, 2011 5:53 am UTC

Correct me if I'm wrong, but:
distractedSofty wrote:Now, obviously, there is no rotund slave driver with a magical flying sleigh living in the arctic. But there is a deeper question:
distractedSofty wrote:Is there any meaningful evidence against Santa Claus' existence that does not also disqualify your own?


If we define Santa Clause as that rotund slave driver, it seems to me that however you've convinced yourself that there is no such person is already sufficient to answer your second question.




distractedSofty wrote:The best evidence for your existence that we have, then, is through the actions of your body. The theory that you exist is supported by the evidence of a brain/body doing things that you want.

But, behaviour being sufficient evidence for your existence is complicated by another hypothetical being. One who wants for children to receive presents on the morning of December 25.

Lo and behold, a great deal of bodies work to accomplish that goal.


This argument is not valid. "X is evidence for Y" does not imply "X is evidence for Z". In particular, for Y ("your" existence) we already have a pretty good idea of what to physically check for (i.e. that the mind in "your" physical brain is working). But for Z (Santa's existence), what we're supposed to check for is far from obvious; for one thing, we don't have a pointer to "his" physical brain. In fact, the things that you propose to check for (presents being given) don't really demonstrate his existence at all.

The kicker here is that your X (physical interactions) is far too vague to be a good criteria all the time. It's good when we already know what the physical interactions are supposed to be. It's bad when we don't, or when the physical interactions could conceivably be caused by something else.

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Re: Does Santa Claus really not exist?

Postby distractedSofty » Sun Nov 06, 2011 2:32 am UTC

lalop wrote:Correct me if I'm wrong, but:
distractedSofty wrote:Now, obviously, there is no rotund slave driver with a magical flying sleigh living in the arctic. But there is a deeper question:
distractedSofty wrote:Is there any meaningful evidence against Santa Claus' existence that does not also disqualify your own?


If we define Santa Clause as that rotund slave driver, it seems to me that however you've convinced yourself that there is no such person is already sufficient to answer your second question.

You're wrong. The question was never about the jolly fat man. As was established upthread, the premise of the thread was "We tell ourselves that Santa does not exist because we know our parents gave us those presents. But is there another entity that does exist who might cause them to have done so?".

In particular, for Y ("your" existence) we already have a pretty good idea of what to physically check for (i.e. that the mind in "your" physical brain is working).

This is the crux of the argument that I was (badly) trying to pre-address in the first post. There is a reason that most of the first post was in the second person.

What you propose is not good evidence. It is, at best, proof that a body contains a mind. What I was specifically referring to was that the best evidence that "a mind" has that it exists, and is the entity controlling "its" body, is that it can impose its will upon that body. For example, to prove to myself that I am in control of my body, I think "right now, I'm going to lift my finger", and if I can then successfully lift my finger, I have a tiny bit more evidence that I exist as the controller of this body.

You then use this same evidence to "prove" the existence of other minds (a logical fallacy, but you do it anyway. I won't judge you.). But why did you stop at the existence of other minds exactly like you? What evidence do you have that yours is the only kind of mind that exists? After all, your body can do many things that "you" are not conscious of.

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Re: Does Santa Claus really not exist?

Postby gmalivuk » Tue Nov 08, 2011 4:26 am UTC

distractedSofty wrote:is there another entity that does exist who might cause them to have done so?
If we're reviving this thread, define "entity" before we move any further.
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Re: Does Santa Claus really not exist?

Postby brenok » Thu Nov 17, 2011 10:13 pm UTC

gmalivuk wrote:
distractedSofty wrote:is there another entity that does exist who might cause them to have done so?
If we're reviving this thread, define "entity" before we move any further.


May I take the liberty of saying that an "entity" is an incorporeal, ethereal and supernatural form of existence, that is no more verifiable than a invisible pink unicorn or an undetectable dragon?


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