Saturday, April 26, 2008

Menuge's powerpoint for his debate with Myers


Hallq said...

I'm still waiting for the audio. If the slides are representative of his talk, rather than merely representative of what he thought worth putting on slides, it's a rather poor one: a lot of borderline ad hominem and way too quote heavy, to the point of degenerating into appeals to authority. I would also point out one substantiative problem with his quote from William James: it's perfectly reasonable to accept a principle that says that for any given point in time, you shouldn't both believe a claim and believe that all your evidence and rational analysis is against the claim.

Timmo said...

Looks like the talk was interesting.

I am somewhat surprised that Menuge quoted Searle's criticism that many forms of materialism are obviously false because they (seem to) deny the reality and causal efficacy of mental states. Yet, Searle's own view, which he dubs Biological Naturalism, is that mental states are caused by and realized in the the structure of the brain. (See Chapter 10 of Intentionality.) Maybe Menuge was clear about this in the talk, but from the slides alone one might get the false impression that Searle holds rather different views than he in fact holds!

I do find one presupposition of the talk rather baffling: that theism is true if and only if mind-body dualism is true. This supposition is simply incorrect. A naturalist can be a mind-body dualist; a theist can be a physicalist about human/animal minds.

For instance, check out Lynn Rudder Baker's 1995 paper "Need a Christian be a mind-body dualist?" in the journal Faith and Philosophy.

JD Walters said...

Menuge's talk wasn't at all ad hominem. He was simply pointing to certain biases of materialists which may influence the way they evaluate possible evidence against materialism, just as atheists often try to psycho-analyze theists prior to evaluating their actual arguments.

Hallq, obviously you can't have been to many neuroscience or philosophy lectures if you think that being 'quote-heavy' amounts to mere 'appeals to authority'. Read Thomas Kuhn, please, that's how normal science works. The average neuroscience paper quotes about 150 other papers, often simply referring to their established results or taking for granted that the paper being quoted has settled a certain issue one way or another. There is no such thing as 'pure argument' in the sciences. If you expect to be taken seriously, you have to show that you are familiar with the detailed results of the published literature.

Are there illegitimate appeals to authority? Certainly. If you merely quote the opinions of a respected scientist or philosopher and act as if that settled the matter once and for all, admitting no possibility of counter-evidence or counter-argument, that's a bad thing. Or if you quote opinions without alluding to the detailed material evidence behind those opinions that's also a faux pass. But Menuge is not guilty of any of these things. Or if he is, then Daniel Dennett in "Darwin's Dangerous Idea" is also guilty, since he acknowledges in the preface that he is not a scientist and he openly admits that his book is one big long appeal to the authority of the evolutionary biologists, mathematicians and philosophers who offer support for Dennett's position.

Really, 'appeals to authority'? How about instead refuting the evidence from all the studies Menuge points to of the power of mental plasticity (this is not to say that I think they decisively settle the issue one way or another)?

Hallq said...


Frankly, I think Searle's views are so confusing that in a talk like this, it's really asking too much. But maybe that's just me.


If you think this is what a scientific paper looks like, you don't know jack about science. Really, 150 quotes? Think about what you're saying: even if each quote is only 10 words in length, that's 1,500 words in quotes, enough to fill a page or three, depending on type size. What you mean of course to say is 150 items in the bibliography, which I can verify is at least in the ballpark, but they're not used the way Menuge used quotes in the talk. What's cited is narrow experimental results, which have to be integrated into an intelligent discussion, rather than just throwing a sweeping claim out there and acting as if you've provided even some evidence for it because it's a quote. Seriously, what's your specialty? Have you ever sat down with an actual life sciences paper to make sense of it, or are you just working off talking points taken from somewhere else?

I've commented on the plasticity argument in the last thread on Menuge. Here's what I said:


I'm puzzled by how the plasticity argument is even supposed to work. You talk of the best explanation for the data: how do fundamental high-level mental processes explain the improved learning in Joseph Tsien's "Doogie" mice, or the data that originally suggested manipulating NR2B would improve learning?

"It almost sounds as if the argument Menuge et al. have in mind is question-begging: non-physical psychological things affect physical neural things, so materialism is false, which begs the question of wether psychological things are non-physical."