Friday, February 01, 2008

Is consciousness a brain process?

I don't know. This one stopped processing in 2000.

16 comments:

Ilíon said...

"Did this Brain Contain the Consciousness of U. T. Place?
.
Ullin T. Place (1924 - 2000) was a lecturer in Philosophy and Psychology at the University of Adelaide from 1951 to 1954. Together with his Adelaide Professor, J. J. C. Smart, he was responsible for a revolutionary change in how philosophers view the nature of mind and consciousness. Place's famous 1956 British Journal of Psychology paper "Is Consciousness a Brain Process?" argued against the major theories of the time, behaviourism and dualism, and contended that consciousness should be seen as a brain and nothing more. In defending this position, Place and Smart entirely changed the methodology of the philospohy of mind. Their position is now known internationally as "The Identity Theory of Mind" or "Australian materialian."
.
Place died on 2nd January 2000, bequeathing his brain to the University of Adelaide, to be displayed with the above message to be seen.
"

So, apparently, even in death he seeks to persuade other "brain processes" to a certain view of how reality really is? And no one (*) sees the irony (and incoherence) of this.

* Obviously, I don't literally mean no one.

Robert said...

Thanks for sharing this bit of history, it is highly amusing to see Mr. Place seeking to persuade others to his materialism even in death. I have a question, or should I say I want to know what others have to say about something.

I am a dualist meaning that I believe the human being consists of two aspects to his being (the immaterial - i.e., the mind, soul, spirt, whatever term you prefer; and the material - i.e., his physical body, including his brain, muscles, skeletal system, etc.) I also believe that God created us as such and in a way in which these two aspects are completely unified in their operations (e.g., when my mind desires to have my arm go up, assuming my arm is not broken and nothing else is impeding my arm, the arm will go up). This means that whenever we act both aspects are working simultaneously and in a unified way. So even when I have a thought which no one else has access to, both my mind is operating and my brain is operating [so if my brain was hooked up and monitored during the time of the thought, there would be movement and activity in the brain].

Now my question is this: a common argument against dualism is the interaction argument (i.e., since we do not know or understand how the mind and body interact, how the immaterial and material interact, therefore dualism is false), but the interaction argument assumes two completely distinct entities of realities and then asks how these two interact? But if the two aspects of man's being are completely unified in their operations then there is no gap between the two, when one is operating so is the other.

It seems to me that people like Smart and Place being atheists and believing in materialism merely and dogmatically claim that the immaterial aspect of man's being does not exist so they ask the question: Is consciousness a brain process? But if the mind and brain work together as a unified entity, then the question is misguided and commits a category mistake (i.e., that only the brain is involved in producing consciousness; when in fact both the immaterial and material aspects are both involved in the process of consciousness). Or perhaps consciousness is an emergent property that results when both the mind and brain are operating simultaneously. It seems to me that an extreme dualism where the mind and brain operate completely independent of one another is probably incorrect. But a unified dualism in which both operate together and seamlessly seems to fit reality much better.

It seems obvious that if the brain is injured, this impacts a person's thinking and consciousness. It seems equally obvious that consciousness and the thinking and mental operations and meanings that are present are not just physical. If both the mind and the brain are operating as a unified whole, then we get the best of both worlds and our theory can incorporate points made by both extreme dualists and extreme materialists.

Robert

Rino said...

Hi Robert,

Interesting comments. So how would you react to Kim's exclusion problem? He would argue that if a physical cause is sufficient, then the mental cause you speak of is superfluous and therefore unnecessary. You say the two act in unison, but if the physical can do the job itself, the mental is excluded.

Robert said...

Hello Rino,

You wrote:

“Interesting comments. So how would you react to Kim's exclusion problem? He would argue that if a physical cause is sufficient, then the mental cause you speak of is superfluous and therefore unnecessary. You say the two act in unison, but if the physical can do the job itself, the mental is excluded.”

Well take a simple example: a person votes for a motion at a meeting by lifting up their hand to acknowledge support of the vote. From a strictly physical level of description, from the third person perspective, as outside observers say we could track exactly what is going on in the brain, and muscle and skeletal system as the person votes. We would have a perfectly coherent explanation of the physical process involved in HOW the arm rose from the sole perspective of physical reality. Yet that explanation though perfectly true would be insufficient and incomplete as a description of WHY the arm rose up.

In examining the WHY we would be taking a first person perspective talking about things such as what motives the person had, what thoughts were involved in his/her decision, what values were involved in the decision, whether or not their choice was coerced or freely chosen, etc. It seems to me then that any time we do an intentional action; both of these two descriptions will be both true and useful. Both kinds of description would be true because both kinds of reality are present. John Searle talks about this in his recent books where he will talk about personal explanations of why a person did an action as well as scientific explanations as to how they did the action from a physical perspective. As I believe that we are a mental/physical unity, in our intentional actions at least, both kinds of description will be relevant and true.

The physical can do the job of lifting up the arm, but the physical alone does not explain the person’s thoughts, intentions, planning, values, considerations, etc. It would be like talking about a quarter and saying if we have an accurate description of just the side with the face on it, we have an accurate description of the quarter. Seems to me the story is not accurate unless both sides of the coin are part of the explanation. For accurate explanations we need both the first and third person perspectives on events.

Robert

Rino said...

Hi Robert,

Interesting Example, Lynne Baker uses that example as well. I actually agree with what you are trying to do. However, I think Kim would not be satisfied. He would say 'if the physical cause is sufficient, the mental cause is excluded'. I notice you switch to explanations, which are different than causes (some say). So, Kim would press you on your use of explanations: an explanation is only valid if it really describes what happens, if physics really describes what happens, there is no need for a mental explanation.

Using the vote example: the event of one's arm raising has a sufficient physical cause, and hence a complete explanation in terms of microphysics. Nothing else is necessary. You seem to be attempting to explain the same event in two different ways. Perhaps you don't think they are independent events. This is this conclusion Kim takes, but this can only be done by accepting a reductive identity theory (so he argues). If you take this position, are you certain you are still a dualist? If so, the mental is distinct from the physical, and hence the mental is excluded as soon as the physical takes up all the causal power.

Anyway, I'm just playing devil's advocate here. But I'm curious to hear your response.

Ilíon said...

Rino (as Devil's Advocate):

You are fully/sufficiently explained as a complex mixture of chemicals (water, carbon, other elements). Therefore, what you are is exactly a complex mixture of chemicals (which just happens to be ambulatory, for now), and there is no need for further explanation.

You are but a bag of chemicals.


This is foolishness, of course. To say what a thing is made of is not necessarily to say what it is.

If we were to drop you into a giant blender and then after making a puree of you were to carefully pour our Puree de Rino into an appropriately sized bag, we would have a bag of chemicals -- the exact same chemicals of which your were made moments ago -- but we would have no Rino.

Rino said...

Hi Ilion,

Thanks for the comments. What I take from your post is that humans are structured chemicals, not just chemicals. Ie, the same chemicals after being pureed do not make up a human. However, put those chemicals in a certain structure and you have the human. Is this correct? Or, do you say there is more than chemicals and structure.
If there is more than structure, we have violated closure. If there is only also the structure, then is it true that physics created the structure over eons, or not? If so, then there is still a sufficient cause in terms of physics, and mental causes are irrelevant. If not, we have violated closure.

Again, I certainly am sympathetic to what you are Robert are doing. However, Kim's exclusion argument practically defines the problem of mental causation these days, and every theory ought to be able to have an answer for it. Robert has put forth an interesting theory, and I am trying to see what his exact response is to Kim.

Robert said...

Hello Rino,

”However, I think Kim would not be satisfied.”

Is the goal to satisfy Kim?

“He would say 'if the physical cause is sufficient, the mental cause is excluded'.”

If the physical cause is sufficient, for what, an exclusively physical description of an event?

As a dualist I believe there are two types of causation, physical (e.g., the moving of the muscles) and mental (e.g. the mind’s decision to raise up the arm which then results in the raising of the arm by the moving of the muscles). Again, I see no conflict because I believe mind and body work as a unity as designed by God, and they work simultaneously seamlessly.

“I notice you switch to explanations, which are different than causes (some say).”

I mentioned him earlier but Searle does the same thing and he is an inconsistent materialist (I say this because he sees the necessity and usefulness of the two kinds of description but still chooses to believe in materialism; while I see these two different kinds of explanation and it leads me to conclude dualism to be true).

“So, Kim would press you on your use of explanations: an explanation is only valid if it really describes what happens, if physics really describes what happens, there is no need for a mental explanation.”

Physics really describes what happens specifically in regard to the arm muscles and the lifting up of the arm. But Physics, last time I checked, says nothing about meanings, thoughts, representation of thoughts in symbols/language, personal desires/values, mental operations like choosing (which is involved in the choice of raising the arm to vote for the motion).

”Using the vote example: the event of one's arm raising has a sufficient physical cause, and hence a complete explanation in terms of microphysics. Nothing else is necessary.”

Nothing else is necessary for explaining the raising of the arm in time and space as a physical event. But the mental is still involved though not quantifiable or accessible by science and strictly physical explanations. Put another way, there is a difference in kind not just degree between the first and third person perspectives and the mental and physical explantions.

“You seem to be attempting to explain the same event in two different ways.”

Yes if the same event involves a unified dualism of mind and body, then two different explanations are both possible and useful.

“Perhaps you don't think they are independent events.”

Events that result in an outcome (like raising the arm)can involve both the mental and the physical and in fact does when we engage in intentional actions.

“This is this conclusion Kim takes, but this can only be done by accepting a reductive identity theory (so he argues).”

Again, my goal is not to please or satisfy Kim, but to state the truth from a Christian and dualistic perspective.

“If you take this position, are you certain you are still a dualist? If so, the mental is distinct from the physical, and hence the mental is excluded as soon as the physical takes up all the causal power.”

How am I not a dualist if I believe that there are both immaterial/mental aspects and material aspects to our intentional actions? The physical does not exclude the mental nor does the mental exclude the physical since both work together in a unified fashion when human beings do intentional actions. I believe that Kim or anyone else who suggests otherwise, that both the mental and the physical are NOT involved in our intentional actions commits a category mistake. The category is not physical or mental, but mental/physical unity (or human soul with both aspects).

Anyway, I'm just playing devil's advocate here. But I'm curious to hear your response.

Being a devils advocate is Ok, just don’t be a devil! :-)

Robert

Robert said...

Hello Iion,

You wrote: “This is foolishness, of course. To say what a thing is made of is not necessarily to say what it is.

If we were to drop you into a giant blender and then after making a puree of you were to carefully pour our Puree de Rino into an appropriately sized bag, we would have a bag of chemicals -- the exact same chemicals of which your were made moments ago -- but we would have no Rino.”

Very good point: we are more than just the material. Since we are a mind/body unity, talking solely about the chemicals/body that is us, tells only half the story.

Robert

Robert said...

Rino you wrote:

”If there is more than structure, we have violated closure. If there is only also the structure, then is it true that physics created the structure over eons, or not? If so, then there is still a sufficient cause in terms of physics, and mental causes are irrelevant. If not, we have violated closure.”

Who proved that the closure principle is true? Last I heard Kim himself does not hold to the closure principle.

As a Christian I believe that it is rational to believe that a non-physical spirit, God, created this universe, maintains this universe and interacts with this universe. If he as a pure spirit can (and does) interact with this world and its physical objects (including us), then why is it strange or unreasonable to believe that we as mind/body unities experience the same phenomenon (namely our spirit or soul interacts with our body and through our body interacts with the external world). It seems to me that the same arguments about closure for us would mean closure for God as well. But since He **does** interact with this universe, we know that a spirit can interact with the physical world, so we can do so as well.

Didn’t Kim renounce the closure principle? Does he still hold it?

”Again, I certainly am sympathetic to what you are Robert are doing. However, Kim's exclusion argument practically defines the problem of mental causation these days, and every theory ought to be able to have an answer for it. Robert has put forth an interesting theory, and I am trying to see what his exact response is to Kim.”

Rino perhaps you could briefly present what Kim says and then I can interact with it. That way you will see what my exact response is to Kim! :-) I am also wondering is Kim the ultimate expert on metaphysics and what is or is not possible or is God who reveals Himself in scripture? Seems to me that one knows a bit more about metaphysics and the structure of reality than the other. :-)

Robert

Rino said...

Hi Robert,

Thanks for the comments. I should mention the reason that I am trying to press you on these issues, and the reason why I put value in caring what Kim says. As exemplified in the article Victor just linked to, a main problem with dualism is that is does not offer a strong model/positive argument. There are lots of people pointing out the problems with physicalism, but until a cogent model that is persuasive to the likes of Kim/other physicalists is presented, it can not gain ground. It is fine to state Christian truths, but perhaps you would also want to persuade those who are not Christian to consider it or adopt it. If this is a goal of yours, it seems important to respond to objections that physicalists make to dualism, and thus potentially persuade them.

Kim does accept closure. Recently he has abandoned physicalism because he admits to the problem of qualia. However, for him qualia have no causal power (they can't be functionalized), so he can still accept closure.

Kim's exclusion argument says 'If an event has a sufficient physical cause at a time, then no other cause is necessary for that event'. Presumably, the event of 'my arm raising' has a complete and sufficient physical cause. I can trace it back and never leave the physical world. I think you would agree with this. But, if this is so, it makes an accompanying mental cause unnecessary, and excluded. All the work is done by the physical, there is no work left for the mental to do.

There are many replies to this, of course. Accept overdetermination, say that the physical is not a sufficient cause, say that mental causation is not like a 'bump' as physical causation is, reject mental causation, be a reductionist, reject closure, etc... I'm just asking how your theory would respond.

Cheers.

Rino said...

Hey Robert,

I said: “I notice you switch to explanations, which are different than causes (some say).”

You replied: "I mentioned him earlier but Searle does the same thing and he is an inconsistent materialist (I say this because he sees the necessity and usefulness of the two kinds of description but still chooses to believe in materialism; while I see these two different kinds of explanation and it leads me to conclude dualism to be true)."

Lots of physicalists do this. I agree with you, it is bad reasoning. I don't see how the same thing be described in two radically different ways. But again, the trick is to find out exactly why this move is invalid, and thus persuade people.

Robert said...

Hello Rino,

You wrote:

“As exemplified in the article Victor just linked to, a main problem with dualism is that is does not offer a strong model/positive argument. There are lots of people pointing out the problems with physicalism, but until a cogent model that is persuasive to the likes of Kim/other physicalists is presented, it can not gain ground.”
What do you mean by a “strong model/positive argument”?

You also say “but until a cogent model that is persuasive to the likes of Kim/other physicalists is presented, it can not gain ground.” This is a key problem, physicalists commit the fallacy of cavalier dismissal when it comes to dualism if God or His creative activity are involved whatsoever. It’s like: Oh, so your explanation involves God and Him creating immaterial human souls, Oh well forget that view that cannot possibly be true, because we know that only the physical exists and so . . .” You cannot reason with this made up mind and a-priori anti-supernaturalism and persuade them. It is similar to the person who absolutely denies the possibility of a physical resurrection from the dead, no matter what you say you will not persuade this kind of made up mind.

“It is fine to state Christian truths, but perhaps you would also want to persuade those who are not Christian to consider it or adopt it. If this is a goal of yours, it seems important to respond to objections that physicalists make to dualism, and thus potentially persuade them.”

I think the better approach to such a physicalist is to get into the objections to Physicalism that show it to be an incomplete world view. In other words go after the falsity of its metaphysics first, before you talk about secondary issues such as the mind-body interaction.

”Kim does accept closure. Recently he has abandoned physicalism because he admits to the problem of qualia. However, for him qualia have no causal power (they can't be functionalized), so he can still accept closure.”

I guess I mixed up his giving up Physicalism with him giving up the closure principle, thanks for the clarification.

”Kim's exclusion argument says 'If an event has a sufficient physical cause at a time, then no other cause is necessary for that event'. Presumably, the event of 'my arm raising' has a complete and sufficient physical cause. I can trace it back and never leave the physical world.”

Again, the physical can only explain the physical (the muscles raising the arm) not the mental (the thoughts, ideas, concepts, values, motives, beliefs of the person raising his arm to vote for the motion). A great place to see this is to look at Chomsky’s devastating refutation of B.F. Skinner’s behaviorism in the realm of linguistics. Chomsky shows that there is more than must stimulas and response going on, there is a mind involved in the use and production of language. And this language use involving rules and grammar cannot be explained by means of a strictly physical explanation (we could describes a persons sounds, how they are produced by the vocal system of the body completely, and STILL SAY NOTHING ABOUT WHAT THE PERSON WAS MEANING OR ATTEMPTING TO CONVEY).

”There are many replies to this, of course. Accept overdetermination, say that the physical is not a sufficient cause, say that mental causation is not like a 'bump' as physical causation is, reject mental causation, be a reductionist, reject closure, etc... I'm just asking how your theory would respond.”

The physical is not a sufficient cause for things such as language use, logical reasoning, engaging in mathematics, all areas where the mind is involved and dealing with abstract and non physical realities.

Regarding Searle you wrote:

”Lots of physicalists do this. I agree with you, it is bad reasoning. I don't see how the same thing be described in two radically different ways. But again, the trick is to find out exactly why this move is invalid, and thus persuade people.”

The move is invalid because there are two very distinct though overlapping realms of reality, the physical and the mental. Have you read Popper he describes this as three worlds. I keep it simply at two, but the point is the same, only some form of dualism properly accounts for the existence of these two realities.

Robert

Rino said...

Hey Robert,

Nice comments. I agree we can question the metaphysics of the physicalist. But we can also do productive things in the philosophy of mind, ie, solve some problems.

Here is a quote from Kim: "It is up to [substance dualism's] defenders to show that immaterial substances provide us with concrete help with some pressing problems about the mind, such as consciousness and the explanatory gap, mental causation, puzzles about mental content and self-knowledge, and the rest. Criticizing physicalism does not go far enough; what is needed to bring back substance dualism is a positive argument that shows that this venerable position brings with it concrete benefits in dealing with the central issues of philosophy of mind and metaphysics. More likely, most philosophers today will regard immaterial minds as only getting in their way, complicating their problems rather than giving them the help they need" (Kim, 2006, Pg. 274).

So, my questions to you are geared at trying to get dualism to solve some problems. I guess the dualist can say 'those are your problems, switch over and the problems go away'. But how persuasive is that?

Any way, I like what you are doing. But how does your system solve problems? Ie, how does the mental interact with the physical on your model? Do you say 'it just does', or do you have a clear account of it?

Robert said...

Hello Rino,

“Nice comments. I agree we can question the metaphysics of the physicalist. But we can also do productive things in the philosophy of mind, ie, solve some problems.”

Depends on the problem. In my thinking some “problems” can be stated but never solved. The way in which a Spirit or soul interacts with a physical body is one of them. I believe God to be a pure Spirit and I believe that God acts in this world and acts upon physical substances. As to **how** he does so, I have no idea, nor is it necessary for me to know about that interaction. Analogically I believe the same is true with the interaction between our Spirit and our body. Likewise I believe that our Spirit or soul interacts with our body in this world. As to **how** this occur, I have no idea, nor is it necessary for me to know about that interaction. I believe some things happen though I cannot account for how they happen.

As science deals with ***how*** things happen, if something cannot be explained in terms of **how** it happens, then this does not mean that the phenomena is not real, only that it is outside the realm of scientific study. I believe the reality that we are spirit-body composites will always show the inadequacy of Physicalism as a world view. But as to how to give a positive explanation of how a Spirit (whether God with this universe, or us with our bodies) interacts with the physical (the universe in the case of God and our physical body in the case of us) I think this is impossible. So we can state this problem but never solve it.

Regarding how a spirit acts in the world is tough, and we cannot even explain how a spirit can even exist (God is self existent and we are created in His image, but how did the eternal Spirit bring into being other spirits or physical beings for that matter????).

”Here is a quote from Kim: "It is up to [substance dualism's] defenders to show that immaterial substances provide us with concrete help with some pressing problems about the mind, such as consciousness and the explanatory gap, mental causation, puzzles about mental content and self-knowledge, and the rest. Criticizing physicalism does not go far enough; what is needed to bring back substance dualism is a positive argument that shows that this venerable position brings with it concrete benefits in dealing with the central issues of philosophy of mind and metaphysics. More likely, most philosophers today will regard immaterial minds as only getting in their way, complicating their problems rather than giving them the help they need" (Kim, 2006, Pg. 274).”

Depends on what “pressing problems” he has in mind. Start with the unsolvable problem: mind-body interaction, there will be no solution given, ever. So let’s just put that one aside permanently. On the other hand, how do we account for things such as language use, doing mathematics, logical reasoning using symbols? We can account for these realities as activities of the immaterial soul when the soul performs certain mental operations. How do we account for the reality of consciousness, the feeling of being a person, the first person perspective? God created us with souls and one of the features of a soul is consciousness as God created us to be self conscious persons such as Himself.

”So, my questions to you are geared at trying to get dualism to solve some problems. I guess the dualist can say 'those are your problems, switch over and the problems go away'. But how persuasive is that?”

Depends on what explanations you want. If you want personal explanations of intentional actions (answers to why questions: why did you raise your hand to vote?) we can partly answer them by appealing to the reality of the soul and the mental operations of the soul (such as forming intentions of action). If you want a physical explanation (answers to how questions: how did that happen?) of how the arm raised, then we can get into physics, the movement of muscles and activity of the brain and nerves, etc. Both kinds of explanations are useful and both can be true.

”Any way, I like what you are doing. But how does your system solve problems? Ie, how does the mental interact with the physical on your model? Do you say 'it just does', or do you have a clear account of it?”

First question = depends on the problem. Second question = the interaction question is unanswerable. Third question = it just does. Just like God just acts in the world and I have no explanation as to how He does so. When I get the explanation for one I may have the explanation for the other as well: I’ll let you know when I find out! :-)

I have shared my personal views here, what do you believe about these things Rino?
Robert

PS- you cited from a Kim book or article, what is the source of this citation? Thanks.

shannon said...

after sitting here for a solid forty-five minutes reading all these comments trying to decide if consciousness is indeed a brain process or not, i have decided that i am so confused that i don't really care.

ha!