Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Why Lewis Wouldn't Buy the Computer Argument From Peter S. Williams' "Why Naturalists Should Mind about Physicalism, and Vice Versa

A redated post.

C. S. Lewis lived before computers became the major force that they are now. I think he would not be impressed by the argument that
1) We know that computers are purely material systems.
2) We know that computers reason.
3) Therefore we know that material systems are capable of reasoning.

The reason he would not be impressed is that while computers do the "ratio" part of rational inference very well, the "intellectus" aspect is not to be found in the computer system itself, but is rather a "put in" by human programmers and builders.

I presented Lewis description of the reasoning process in another post, about what he presents in "Why I am Not a Pacifist." It puzzles me somewhat that Lewis didn't spell out exactly what he thought was involved in a rational inference when we was using rational inference to attack naturalism.

The following is from Peter Williams' essay presenting an argument from mind against materialism. See the Lewis quote, which connects to footnote 35 below.

Being Rational

A computer can mimic certain aspects of what scholastic philosophy dubbed "the third act of the mind" [29] ; that is "reasoning, calculating." [30] This "third act" is the whole of what people today tend to mean by "reason", and this corresponds to the old French "Raisoner", meaning "to think connectedly or logically". [31] We can define "the third act of the mind", reason in the French sense, as:

‘The manipulation in thought of beliefs and premises according to the principles of logic, by virtue of which they may be seen in their logical connections, and conclusions may be reached.’

Raisoner is subsumed under the broader Latin definition of "reason" (from the Latin ‘ratio, - on’, meaning "reckoning, judgement, understanding. . ." [32] ), which corresponds to the scholastic taxonomy of three "acts of the mind":

a) "simple apprehension",

b) judgement, and

c) reasoning [i.e. raisoner]. [33]

It is the first act of the mind that constitutes intellectus: "intellect (intelligere) is the simple (i.e. indivisible, uncompounded) grasp of an intelligible truth, whereas reasoning (ratiocinari) is the progression towards an intelligible truth by going from one understood (intellecto) point to another." [34] Thus:

"We are enjoying intellectus when we ‘just see’ a self-evident [basic] truth; we are exercising ratio when we proceed step by step to prove a truth which is not self-evident. A cognitive life in which all truth can be simply ‘seen’ would be the life of an intelligentia, an angel. A life of unmitigated ratio where nothing was simply ‘seen’ and all had to be proved, would presumably be impossible; for nothing can be proved if nothing is self-evident. Man’s mental life is spent labouriously connecting those frequent, but momentary, flashes of intelligentia which constitute intelluctus." [35]

The first act of the mind, simple apprehension or understanding, contains a subset that has been termed the sapiential sense:

"It is our ability to know these indemonstrable but indisputable truths that, for want of a "cleaner" phrase, we call sapiential sense. Sapiential sense is the mind’s ability to "see" the truths that constitute reality, grasp things as they are in themselves. The "seeing" of these truths transcends the scope of the scientific method (which is limited to the data of the senses) and of logic (which is limited to "unpacking" the conclusions already contained in premises). "Knowledge," writes Illtyd Trethowan, "is basically a matter of seeing things. . . arguments, reasoning processes, are of secondary importance and this not only because without direct awareness or apprehension no process of thought could get underway at all, but also because the point of these processes is to promote further apprehensions."’ [36]

Each act of the mind builds upon and includes the one before. For, "Knowledge supposes a judgement, explicit or implicit." [37] Judgement involves the "simple apprehension" [38] of understanding; and reasoning requires judgement, and thus understanding, which includes "apprehension, intellectual intuition, understanding, "seeing", insight, contemplation." [39] Rational beings are therefore beings capable of employing all three acts of the mind, for "What we cannot understand we cannot believe; and what we cannot believe we cannot know." [40] I therefore define reason, in its widest, Latin sense, as:

‘The discerning apprehension of truths which may be manipulated according to the principles of logic, by virtue of which they may be seen in their logical connections, and conclusions may be reached.’

Reason is thus: ‘the combined operation of understanding, judgement, and raisoner in search of truth.’ It is my claim that all three acts of the mind are immaterial and that the human mind is therefore more than material.

While a computer manipulates propositions according to the principles of logic, it does not, I suggest, do this "in thought", as is necessary to the possession of the third act of the mind as defined above. Nor does it posses either the first act, "understanding", or the second act, "judgement". In other words, while computers undoubtedly posses part of the abilities of mind, it is my belief that they do not have mind. Thus I do not think a computer can have beliefs, or, consequently, knowledge. In this I agree with John Polkinghorne who writes that, "The human mind is indeed a computer. . . but it is much more than that - we can also "see", or understand.", and thus that, "The exercise of reason is the activity of persons and it cannot be delegated to computers, however cleverly programmed." [41] This means that it is impossible to view the human mind as nothing but a biological computer.

As Aristotle argued, "Seeing is an act of the eye, but understanding is not an act of our brain. It is an act of our mind – an immaterial element in our makeup that may be related to, but is distinct from, the brain as a material organ." [42]

Determinism, Free Will and Moral Responsibility

Physicalism implies determinism, in that the mind is seen as being identical with the brain, which is a natural, physical system running according to the laws of nature. As C.S.Lewis wrote:

"If Naturalism is true, every finite thing or event must be (in principle) explicable in terms of the Total System. . . If any one thing should be such that we see in advance the impossibility of ever giving it that kind of explanation, then Naturalism would be in ruins. . . For by Naturalism we mean the doctrine that only Nature – the whole interlocking system – exists. And if that were true, every thing and event would, if we knew enough, be explicable without remainder. . . as a necessary product of the system." [43]

Reasons to doubt the truth of determinism are therefore also reasons to doubt the truth of naturalism and physicalism.

One reason to doubt determinism (and thus physicalism) is that it causes severe problems for our concepts of morality. It is not up to the stone whether or not it falls to earth if I throw it into the air. Given certain conditions (being thrown into the air, gravity, etc.) the stone will fall back to earth. The stone has no freedom to do anything other than what it is caused to do; its activity is determined by causes over which it has no control. If humans lack free will, then our actions fall into exactly the same category as the action of a falling stone. We would have no freedom to do otherwise than we are caused to do by causes outside of our control (indeed, we would have no ‘control’ at all). If we are thus determined, does it make any sense to retain belief in moral obligation? A moral obligation is something you ought to do, something you should do; but what use is there for concepts like ‘he ought to do this’ and ‘she should do that’ in a world where every human action is a ‘has to do’? [44]

We face a choice: either to accept determinism and dump moral obligation, or to retain belief in moral obligation and dump determinism. If we dump determinism, then we must also dump naturalism and physicalism, because naturalism and physicalism entail determinism: "It is safe to say that physicalism requires a radical revision of our common-sense notions of freedom, moral obligation, responsibility, and punishment. On the other hand, if these common-sense notions are true, physicalism is false." [45]

[29] Peter Kreeft & Ronald Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics, (Monarch, 1995).

[30] ibid.

[31] T.F.Hoad, Dictionary of Etymology. "When ratio is. . . distinguished from intellectus, it is, I take it, very much what we mean by ‘reason’ today; that is, as Johnson defines it, ‘The power by which man deduces one proposition from another, or proceeds from premises to consequences’." – C.S.Lewis, The Discarded Image, (Cambridge), p157-158.

[32] ibid.

[33] Peter Kreeft & Ronald Tacelli, op cit.

[34] Thomas Aquinas, quoted by C.S.Lewis, The Discarded Image, p157.

[35] C.S.Lewis, The Discarded Image, p157.

[36] Roy Abraham Varghese, Great Thinkers On Great Questions, (OneWorld), Introduction, p5-6.

[37] ‘Knowledge’, The Catholic Encyclopaedia @ http://www.knight.org/advent/cathen/08673a.htm

[38] Peter Kreeft & Ronald Tacelli, op cit.

[39] ibid: "We just "see" (in a nonvisual sense of the term) that certain things are true, or that one thing follows from another." (Everitt & Fisher, Modern Epistemology, p4)

[40] Robert Audi, Epistemology – a contemporary introduction, (Routledge), p183.

[41] John Polkinghorne, Reason and Reality, (SPCK), p10.

[42] Mortimer J. Adler, Aristotle for Everybody, (Simon & Schuster, 1997), p183-184.

[43] C.S.Lewis, Miracles, (Fount), p16, my italics.

[44] The existence of objective moral obligations forms one premise of the moral argument for the existence of God as the only possible source of such obligations, a conclusion that contradicts naturalism.

[45] Habermas & Moreland, op cit, p60.
This is the passage from "Why I am Not a Pacifist"



C. S. Lewis's Description of Rational Inference
VR: Although C. S. Lewis criticized naturalism by arguing that it is inconsistent with the possibility of rational inference, he didn't give the kind of full description of rational inference that he gives in an essay entitled "Why I am Not a Pacifist," which contains no argument against naturalism at all. It is found in The Weight of Glory, p. 34.

"Now any concrete train of reasoning involves three elements: Firstly, there is the reception of facts to reason about. These facts are received either from our own senses, or from the report of other minds; that is, either experience or authority supplies us with our material. But each man’s experience is so limited that the second source is the more usual; of every hundred facts upon which to reason, ninety-nine depend on authority. Secondly, there is the direct, simple act of the mind perceiving self-evident truth, as when we see that if A and B both equal C, then they equal each other. This act I call intuition. Thirdly, there is an art or skill of arranging the facts so as to yield a series of such intuitions, which linked together produce, a proof of the truth of the propositions we are considering. This in a geometrical proof each step is seen by intuition, and to fail to see it is to be not a bad geometrician but an idiot. The skill comes in arranging the material into a series of intuitable “steps”. Failure to do this does not mean idiocy, but only lack of ingenuity or invention. Failure to follow it need not mean idiocy, but either inattention or a defect of memory which forbids us to hold all the intuitions together.”


The power of intuition, the second step, seems to be the most difficult to account for in naturalistic terms.

22 comments:

Steven Carr said...

Williams - 'Thus I do not think a computer can have beliefs, or, consequently, knowledge.'

Can an omnipotent God create a computer that has beliefs and knowledge?

If yes, then being purely a material thing is no barrier to having beliefs of knowledge.

If no, then what is there about silicon as opposed to carbon that prevents even an omnipotent God from creating a conscious computer?

Steven Carr said...

Williams writes 'As Aristotle argued, "Seeing is an act of the eye, but understanding is not an act of our brain. It is an act of our mind – an immaterial element in our makeup that may be related to, but is distinct from, the brain as a material organ." '

What is the point of thiq quote? Some Greek who was entirely ignorant of the workinhgs of the brain claimed there was an immaterial element inside our skulls?

So what?

Probably Aristotle thought our brains were made of air, earth , fire and water.

You have to admire the way Christians are not embarrassed to admit in public that they still regard the knowledge of 2,500 years ago as the latest word on 21st-century science of the brain.

You wouldn't find many atheists nowadaya quoting Aristotle as an authority on neuropsychology.

Don Jr. said...

Steven refers to Aristotle as "some Greek" and gives his opinion on Aristotle by saying "probably Aristotle thought," which shows that Steven has not read much Aristotle but is still willing to make claims about Aristotle (or some Greek). Steven seems to think that the lack of certain scientific advancements in Aristotle's day makes Aristotle a bad philosopher. Steven does not realize that philosophy is a separate subject from science. If by saying, "Probably Aristotle thought our brains were made of air, earth, fire and water," Steven meant that Aristotle thought our brains were material objects then why is Steven objecting? If Steven literally thinks that Aristotle imagined our brains being partly made of fire then Steven ought to keep that thought to himself. (I cannot disagree, though, that some brains are composed of air.) Steven thinks that quoting Aristotle makes one out-of-date thus suggesting that wisdom can become dated. Why then does Steven give arguments, knowing that in 2,500 years (if not sooner) they will all be proved wrong and that, when we have settled in space (with our conscious computers), he will simply be "some Earthian"?

Steven Carr said...

Quoting Aristotle as an authority on how the mind/brain interface works is simply an admission that Christian philosophers cannot be bothered to learn any modern science.

Williams quotes Aristotle as saying 'It is an act of our mind – an immaterial element in our makeup that may be related to, but is distinct from, the brain as a material organ.'

Where is Aristotle's evidence for this assertion?

Scientists would laugh themselves silly at claims that we should take the un-evidence assertions of Aristotle as a proof that the brain cannot understand things.

Just as modern chemists would laugh themselves silly at claims that all materials can be broken down into the elements of air, earth , fire and water.

Don Jr. said...

Steven questions Aristotle, asking, "Where is Aristotle's evidence for this assertion?" (and later referring to Aristotle's assertion as "un-evidenced") showing again that Steven is ready to criticise others without reading what they have to say. It must be admitted though that, as Steven says, Christian philosophers simply do not bother to learn modern science. I am almost certain that Williams, like all Christian philosophers, composed his paper on stone tablets, and that he retains the foolish belief in miracles (ignorant that science disproved such things in 2004; but maybe that was just a fake-out like Pluto). Absentmindedly, though, Steven says that modern scientists and chemists would "laugh themselves silly" at certain claims, not remembering that in 2,500 years the scientists and chemists of that age will laugh themselves silly at this age (and at Steven). The Christian philosopher, realizing this, does not waste his or her time becoming up to date on what will soon be out of date.

Steven Carr said...

Don still cannot say why the prejudices of a Greek philosopher who had not the faintest idea of how the brain worked, should still be quoted today as relevant to how the brain may or may not perform certain tasks.


Perhaps it would be easier if Don simply showed how this immaterial mind performed tasks of logical reasoning without using any material to do so.

Doesn't Don know that scientists simply laugh at essays which try to prove their point by having paragraphs simply saying 'Einstein says...'

What is the evidence for what Einstein says? That is the important question.

Don Jr. said...

Don knows that Aristotle was a great philosopher. Don does not need to defend this. Don never said that Aristotle is an authority, and neither did Williams, otherwise the only sentence in Williams' paper would have been, "Read Aristotle." Don did not know that scientists laugh at essays which reference either Einstein or Aristotle. This is news to Don. Moreover, as Don is greatly influenced by Christian philosophy, it only follows, as Steven has pointed out, that Don pays no mind to scientists and their test tubes of demonic trickery. Steven asks Don to discuss the mind and logical reasoning. Don would love to; however, Don will not engage in serious discussion with Steven as Steven refuses to engage in serious discussion with anybody. When Steven begins to take himself seriously, Don will too. (Don knows that Steven is capable of taking himself seriously as Don has witnessed it in the past.)

Victor Reppert said...

Interestingly enough, I had a friend a number of years ago who thought that some of the problems facing artificial intelligence could be resolved by importing Thomistic philosophy, and actually was writing programs on that premise. He died at 36 17 years ago.

I thought Aristotle (and Lewis) were explaining what knowing and inferring is. How does brain science explain "understanding" or "intellectus" as described here? Or do they just explain it away.

And the hard problem of consciousness is still pretty hard.

http://www.nyu.edu/gsas/dept/philo/faculty/block/papers/harder.htm

Steven Carr said...

Williams wrote :-

As Aristotle argued, "Seeing is an act of the eye, but understanding is not an act of our brain. It is an act of our mind – an immaterial element in our makeup that may be related to, but is distinct from, the brain as a material organ."

This is not an argument.

It is a an assertion of fact, backed up with no arguments or evidence.

It is worthless.

So what was the point of Williams writing it?

All it does is claim that there is some relation between the brain and the mind.

How does that help Williams' case?

Even the strictest of materialsts would claim that the laws of chess are immaterial but have some relation to the hardware that implements a chess-playing program.

Don Jr. said...

Steven scolds Williams' quote of Aristotle for not being an argument, not realizing that it wasn't meant to be one. (Apparently Steven missed the rest of Williams' paper.)

Steven wrote: "This is not an argument."

Don says: This is not an arugment. It is an assertion of fact, backed up with no arguments or evidence. It is worthless. So what was the point of Steven writing it? (Apparently Don missed the rest of Steven's comments.)

Ilíon said...

"The reason he would not be impressed is that while computers do the "ratio" part of rational inference very well ..."

No, they don't. They don't even do it, much less do it very well.

grodrigues said...

@Ilíon:

Exactly.

And no more needs to be added, except the notice that no more needs to be added.

Daniel Joachim said...

@Don

Wow, I really enjoyed your obstructing tactic for such ignorant behavior. Well done.

But in other news, proofs like this for an immaterial intellect is highly interesting:
http://www3.nd.edu/~afreddos/courses/43151/ross-immateriality.pdf

The whole book of "Thought and World: The Hidden Necessities" really deserves a read, but oh well, time and priorities and all.

Ilíon said...

"And no more needs to be added, except the notice that no more needs to be added."

Still, more *can* be said.

"The reason he would not be impressed is that while computers do the "ratio" part of rational inference very well, ..."

As the Peter Williams quote puts it, "A computer can mimic certain aspects of what scholastic philosophy dubbed "the third act of the mind" [29] ; that is "reasoning, calculating." ..." And even putting it this can be misunderstood to (wrongly) imply that it is the computer program which engages in "reasoning, calculating", when, in fact, it was the computer programmer who did these things.

If one has a well-calibrated balance and a number of identical ball-bearings, and one drops two ball-bearings into the pan on one side of the scale and drops three ball-bearings into the pan on the other side of the scale, is it *really* the scale which engages in "reasoning, calculating" concerning with plate holds more ball-bearings (whether by "more" one means either numerical count or weight)?

If one has rigged the scale into some sort of Rube Goldberg contraption, such that a further sequence of events is initiated or not, depending on which plate holds more ball-bearing, is it *really* the scale which engages in "reasoning, calculating" concerning whether to initiate the sequence of events?

If one adds further elaboration to the Rube Goldberg contraption, such that a precise "count" (*) of the difference in number of ball-bearings between the two plates can be "calculated" (*), and then one of a number of possible further sequences of events is initiated depending on the count, is it *really* the scale (or the total contraption) which engages in "reasoning, calculating" concerning which sequence of events to initiate and when?

If one shrinks the scale and the contraption and the ball-bearing down to a size such that they cannot be seen with the naked eye, is it *really* the scale (or the total contraption) which engages in "reasoning, calculating" concerning which sequence of events to initiate and when?

If one speeds up the mechanical process of the contraption "calculating" the difference in the count of ball-bearings and its subsequent "decision" of which sequences of events to initiate, such that the entire process of "calculation" and "decision" can be accomplished in one tick of Planck time, is it *really* the scale (or the total contraption) which engages in "reasoning, calculating" concerning which sequence of events to initiate and when?

The answer is, of course, "No; it is the builder of the contraption who made these calculations and decisions." The same applies to a computer program: it is the programmer(s), including those who wrote the OS and the underlying firmware, who made whatever "calculations" and "decisions" people incorrectly attribute to the program.

(*) the scare-quotes are because the contraption cannot actually either count or compute or choose

B. Prokop said...

I've alluded to this before, but it bears repeating here.

Near the end of one of my favorite movies, Around the World Under the Sea, one of two characters, who have spent practically the entire movie playing an extended game of chess, accuses the other of cheating because he's been caught using a computer to help him decide his moves. The accused party (played by David McCallum) defends his actions, saying (in words to this effect) "I designed that computer. I built it. And I programmed it. Whatever that machine does is nothing more than an extension of my mind."

Kinda says it all.

Kevin Harris said...

Can an omnipotent God create a computer that has beliefs and knowledge?

I'm not sure a being created by God that has beliefs and knowledge can be rightly called a "computer". At least not what we think of when we think of computers.

B. Prokop said...

Steven Carr's question (from October 2006) is playing fast and loose with both terminology and with concepts. The omnipotent God can of course create a being with thoughts and beliefs (and has obviously done so). Mr. Carr has a long history on this and other websites of not taking the OP seriously, and has rarely contributed anything actually intended to advance the discussion.

B. Prokop said...

I do have to give Mr. Carr credit for putting forth a new "explanation" for the Resurrection, over on his blog six months ago this year. At least, it was new to me. He hypothesized that the Apostles mistakenly identified James as the risen Jesus, apparently from some sort of family resemblance. Allow me to throw this newest lame attempt to deny the historical reality of the Resurrection into the same pile as "the women went to the wrong tomb", or "Jesus was a space alien", etc., theories.

Pathetic.

Jim S. said...

"A man's Rational thinking is just so much of his share in eternal Reason as the state of his brain allows to become operative: it represents, so to speak, the bargain struck or the frontier fixed between Reason and Nature at that particular point... In the same way the voice of the Announcer is just so much of a human voice as the receiving set lets through. Of course it varies with the state of the receiving set, and deteriorates as the set wears out and vanishes altogether if I throw a brick at it. It is conditioned by the apparatus but not originated by it. If it were -- if we knew that there was no human being at the microphone -- we should not attend to the news."

Miracles, ch. 6

Ilíon said...

^ I sometimes wonder whether one function of a normally functioning human brain is to limit, as in dampening, the interaction of the immaterial person to whom the brain belings with the physical world in which he finds himself.

Cinsider idiot savants: there is something wrong with their brains -- that is, "wrong" when normal brains are taken as being how brains ought to be -- and yet they can do (narrowly focused) things that normal people wish they could do.

What if the brain acts, in part, as a "muffler", as a limiter upon us. What if, were it not for this hypothetical limiting effect, we could all be like unlimited/broad idiot savants, with the amazing abilities of any number of diverse idiot savants?

Ilíon said...

childish 'atheist' trying to play Gotcha! "Can an omnipotent God create a computer that has beliefs and knowledge?"

Kevin Harris: "I'm not sure a being created by God that has beliefs and knowledge can be rightly called a "computer". At least not what we think of when we think of computers."

B.Prokop: "Steven Carr's question (from October 2006) is playing fast and loose with both terminology and with concepts. The omnipotent God can of course create a being with thoughts and beliefs (and has obviously done so). Mr. Carr has a long history on this and other websites of not taking the OP seriously, and has rarely contributed anything actually intended to advance the discussion."

Indeed, Mr Carr was "playing fast and loose with both terminology and with concepts" and "has rarely contributed anything actually intended to advance the discussion". But, for those who insist against all reason upon running the dodgy atheistic OS, that's a feature, not a bug.

What he was attempting to do is the moral-and-intellectual equivalent of "arguing" thusly: "Can 'God' create a square circle? No? I thought not. Thus, 'God' is not 'omnipotent'; thus, 'God' does not exist" -- which, as anyone can see, is really shitty "reasoning". But, you know, that's par for the course for 'atheists'.

im-skeptical said...

The theistic OS: a bug, not a feature.