Saturday, November 01, 2008

Anti-Materialist philosophy now considered part of the creationist threat

The dualists are coming, the dualists are coming.

43 comments:

Ilíon said...

But, of course!

Randy said...

Thanks for the interesting link.

The problem for both the materialist and anti-materialist philosophical positions is that they share basically the same Cartesian conception of the mind.
Once it is realized that the Cartesian conception is deeply flawed there is good reason for rejecting both positions.

Ralph said...

From the perspective of a philosophy student, this seems very odd, since "anti-materialist" philosophy of mind has been around for years. Kripke's "Naming and Necessity," Chalmer's "Conscious Mind" and McGinn's "Mysterious Flame" present some of the most compelling arguments that have been made against materialist conceptions of the mind. McGinn and Chalmers in particular have done a great deal to show that humanity is totally in the dark when it comes to consciousness (interestingly both philosophers are self-proclaimed atheists). The odd thing about this new movement is the eagerness of certain authors to draw ontological conclusions about consciousness from out lack of knowledge about how consciousness works. It's certainly an argument from ignorance to claim that since we don't know how consciousness works, it must involve some supernatural element. A challenge to materialism is not a default victory for religiously informed views; both could be wrong.

Gordon Knight said...

Ralph,

It is odd in that the anti-materialist philosophy is pushed often by atheists and there is no clear relationship between intelligent design and the denial of materialism.

But I think it is a mistake to suppose that the case for dualism is based on ignorance. Rather it is based on knowledge--the introspective knowledge I have of my own conscious states.

Now if we broaden the word "material" to include the intrinsic features of consciousness then, yes, you can say "materialism" is true--but this is not the sort of materialism most materialists favor with the exception of Galen Strawson (a must read on this)

Eric said...

"A challenge to materialism is not a default victory for religiously informed views; both could be wrong."

Sure, but the religiously informed views you allude to are at least given some ontological wiggle room if materialism cannot be supported. (I'm assuming you mean something along the lines of traditional religious views, since there are Christians who are materialists when it comes to philosophy of mind).

Merlijn de Smit said...

Ralph,

The thing is that there is a "lack of knowledge" about how consciousness works - from a materialist perspective. I.e. we run into the hard problem of consciousness when trying to build a reductionist or emergentist account. And philosophers such as Nagel and McGinn do accept some kind of materialist perspective, and hence acknowledge the problem of consciousness as a challenge to it.

But that does not mean non-materialist frameworks need to account for the same difficulty. One could very well argue that we do know quite a bit of "how consciousness works" if we take consciousness to be somehow ontologically basic. We'd look into the human sciences, semiotics, cognitive linguistics, psychology etc. and into the formal ones (logic) for an account of how consciousness works.

Materialism has no special rights over other philosophical frameworks. A dualist or idealist framework does not need to account for problems that only exist in the materialist one.

(Like Randy, I'd tend to reject a Cartesian dualist framework. I'm wavering between some kind of panpsychism and idealism).

Randy said...

eric,
Sure, but the religiously informed views you allude to are at least given some ontological wiggle room if materialism cannot be supported. (I'm assuming you mean something along the lines of traditional religious views, since there are Christians who are materialists when it comes to philosophy of mind).

There are sound philosophical reasons for rejecting the materialist conceptions of the mind, just as there are sound philosophical reasons for rejecting the dualistic anti-materialist conceptions of the mind. The rejection of one does not entail the acceptance of the other.

If, for the sake of argument, a materialistic conception of the mind was scientifically proven, I think Christians would simply incorporate that finding into their theological beliefs just as the have done with other scientific discoveries. Many in the mainstream churces have already done so with the scientific theory of evolution.

Eric said...

"The rejection of one does not entail the acceptance of the other."

I neither said nor suggested that it did. I said that if materialism is false, then there is at least room for the possibility that traditional Christian conceptions of, say, the soul are true. If materialism is true, however, the traditional conceptions must be modified or jettisoned.

"If, for the sake of argument, a materialistic conception of the mind was scientifically proven, I think Christians would simply incorporate that finding into their theological beliefs just as the have done with other scientific discoveries."

I agree that many would, which is why I referred explicitly to traditional religious views; indeed, I even went on to say that some contemporary Christians are materialists.

Ilíon said...

Merlijn de Smit: "But that does not mean non-materialist frameworks need to account for the same difficulty. One could very well argue that we do know quite a bit of "how consciousness works" if we take consciousness to be somehow ontologically basic."

As, of course, 'mind' is.


Merlijn de Smit: "Materialism has no special rights over other philosophical frameworks. A dualist or idealist framework does not need to account for problems that only exist in the materialist one."

A fact and concept that 'materialists' seem never to be able to wrap their brains (one tries to avoid using the term 'mind' in reference to 'materialists') around.


Merlijn de Smit: "(Like Randy, I'd tend to reject a Cartesian dualist framework. I'm wavering between some kind of panpsychism and idealism)."

But 'panpsychism' is just 'materialism' tricked out in woo-woo language; 'materialism' in cheap spiritualist drag.

And any *coherent* idealism is going to take us right back to God.

Merlijn de Smit said...

Ilion:

I'd rather state that panpsychism is idealism in drag, in as far as many panpsychisms tend to regard mental/experiential qualities as more fundamental aspects than material ones: see the position of experience in Whitehead's philosophy, or Peirce's notion of 'matter as effete mind'.

Of course, many panpsychists were also theists (Peirce, Whitehead, Sprigge) and would not disagree with the theistic implications of idealism you name (on which I tend to agree).

Doctor Logic said...

Fred Bloggs was convicted of the murder in court, yesterday. His fingerprints were found at the scene. The victim's blood and DNA were found on Bloggs's coat at his home. Also, the murder weapon was found in Bloggs's garage. Eyewitness accounts placed Bloggs at the murder scene on the day in question.

However, skeptics protested against the verdict. Protesters argued that Bloggs was a victim of as-yet-unexplained coincidences. They argued that the victim died of natural (although bizarrely bloody) causes.

Skeptics cited what they called missing evidence in the case. They argued that prosecutors failed to say precisely how Bloggs traveled to the murder scene. Though advocates for Bloggs could not produce an alibi for him, they claimed the court's judgment to be absurd if it could not say definitively whether Bloggs took the bus or rode his bike to the scene (or how many seconds late the bus was running).

Lacking evidence or alibis, protesters advanced even stranger arguments to defend Bloggs. The skeptics suggested that if a person could seem to be stabbed by an assailant in all physical respects without actually having been stabbed by an assailant, then there must be some ineffable difference between being physically stabbed by an assailant and actually being stabbed by an assailant. On this basis, they argued that it was unreasonable to convict Bloggs on the basis of physical evidence. The skeptics were elated by the cleverness of the argument, but when asked by a reporter whether the premise of the argument begged the question, the skeptics pretended they hadn't heard the reporter's question.

Overall, protesters said it had been a good day in the Bloggs case, and claimed that their demonstration was evidence that the case against Bloggs was in full retreat, and, indeed, that the practice of relying on physical evidence in court cases would soon be abandoned.

Blue Devil Knight said...

This is obviously a natural move for the Christians to make.

Neuroscientists presently have little to say about the ontological questions involved here. Unlike evolutionary theory, which is well established, neural theories of consciousness weren't even discussable until about ten years ago because of the hegemony of behaviorism. Consciousness was a naughty word.

Now consciousness has begun to be studied with recent results discussed in Koch's excellent book. But he sidesteps the philosophy, saying he is happy to discuss the neuronal correlates of consciousness. It is too soon to be dogmatic about this either way. This is the standard position in neuroscience, so it isn't clear who these dualists are fighting.

I've discussed this at length at Victor's other blog. To quote myself, against someone saying that neuroscience will ever explain consciousness:
"You are not making an argument. You are making a prediction about what reasonable people will think once neuroscience has advanced over the next couple of centuries. Your prediction is that after such advances, the "hard" problem of consciousness will still appear impenetrable to neuronal explanation. No matter if neuroscience explains human behavior down to the millisecond precision, no matter how much neuropsychology continues to reveal about the functioning of the mind, the mind is still not a part of nature.

However, as I've said, it is possible you are right. But to act like you have come up with some obvious devastating problems with naturalism is incorrect. Develop your positive theory, as your destructive arguments do not work. Repeating Leibniz's mill over and over doesn't make it true.

This question will be decided by evidence, not by armchair bloggers, and there isn't enough relevant evidence or conceptual clarity right now for either of us to be dogmatic that the other is wrong. Give us your positive theory. You aren't going to kill naturalism."

One point I'd add. This is an argument about how two things are related: neuronal states and conscious states. Unfortunately, we don't have conceptual clarity on either. Nobody can define what a conscious state is without using some synonym. On the other side, we have just begun to look at the types of neuronal states that correlate with conscious states (clearly the two phenomena are closely related, even if you are a dualist you have to concede this or be in the Dark Ages).

It is fun to watch these battles, to watch both sides get all apoplectic. The neuroscientists just go about their business, realizing that it will be decades before we have even a basic enough understanding to begin to address these questions.

I would say the folks aren't really attacking neuroscience, but interpretations and philosophical extrapolations of neuroscience that no neuroscientist would make qua neuroscientist. Therefore, this isn't going to become as big an issue as evolution in public schools. Science doesn't feel it has settled things yet.

Yes, consciousness looks strange from a neuroscientific perspective. And the tight correlation between brains and mental states look strange from a dualist perspective. They are both weird, and neither is justified right now. But people sure like to have strong opinions about it!

Blue Devil Knight said...

Of course, while I am not dogmatic about it, I am a naturalist wrt mental states. We are evolved animals. Just as I don't need nonphysical causes to explain leech, rat, or jellyfish behavior, I don't see the need to for a special place for the human species. The clear tight link between mental states and neuronal states cries for explanation. One explanation when two things are so tightly correlated is that they are identical. That is, mental states just are neuronal states.

That said, neuroscience clearly doesn't have an explanation of consciousness right now, so if someone wants to fill that gap with supernatural putty, I can't stop them (any more than I could stop someone believing that the presently unexplained polarity reversals in the Earth's magnetic field require gods).

Randy said...

Eric,
I said that if materialism is false, then there is at least room for the possibility that traditional Christian conceptions of, say, the soul are true.

I thought the discussion was about consciousness or the mind. The question of the soul seems to me to be a separate issue. Or has the traditional Christian view changed in the past 40 years or so? I know that in my Lutheran catechism classes that the mind was not identified with the soul.

Ilíon said...

Merlijn de Smit: "...in as far as many panpsychisms tend to regard mental/experiential qualities as more fundamental aspects than material ones: see the position of experience in Whitehead's philosophy, or Peirce's notion of 'matter as effete mind'.

Of course, many panpsychists were also theists (Peirce, Whitehead, Sprigge) ...
"

For myself, I'm far less interesting in the individual propositions a person asserts than in how the propositions fit together, than in whether they *do* fit together, whether they cohere. I'm more interested in the fact that 'Statement B' logically follows from 'Statement A' (this being our hypothetical person's primary commitment), than in the fact that he also asserts (the apparently ad hoc) 'Statement C' which serves to act as a defeater for, or at least as a deflector of the force of, 'Statement B.'

For instance, a 'materialist' -- because he is a 'materialist' -- is logically committed to the proposition that minds don't actually exist. This is absurd, of course, and so most 'materialists' will also assert any manner of ad hoc propositions in a vain attempt to paper over the glaring and inescapable defect in their metaphysic.

[This inherent and inescapable absurdity in 'materialism' is, by the way, one sure means to know that 'materialism,' and its twin 'atheism,' are false. Which is to say, that because materialism/atheism is inherently absurd we can know with surety that God does exist.]



Merlijn de Smit: "I'd rather state that panpsychism is idealism in drag, in as far as many panpsychisms tend to regard mental/experiential qualities as more fundamental aspects than material ones: ..."

As I said, I'm less interested in the auxilliary propositions a man asserts than in whether they cohere with his fundamental proposition(s).

From the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Panpsychism: "Panpsychism is the doctrine that mind is a fundamental feature of the world which exists throughout the universe. Unsurprisingly, each of the key terms, “mind”, “fundamental” and “throughout the universe” is subject to a variety of interpretations by panpsychists, leading to a range of possible philosophical positions. For example, an important distinction is that between conscious and unconscious mental states, and appeal to it allows a panpsychism which asserts the ubiquity of the mental while denying that consciousness is similarly widespread. Interpretations of “fundamental” range from the inexplicability of mentality in other, and non-mentalistic, terms to the idealist view that in some sense everything that exists is, and is only, a mental entity. And, although the omnipresence of the mental would seem to be the hallmark feature of panpsychism, there have been versions of the doctrine that make mind a relatively rare and exceptional feature of the universe.
...
Since panpsychism is, by definition, the doctrine that
mind, in some sense of the term, is everywhere, in some sense of that term, it is worth mentioning a complication which is a possible source of confusion at the outset. There have been some panpsychists who, while being much more liberal than most in their willingness to ascribe mind, seem to have been unwilling to extend mind right down into the roots of the world. ...
...
Panpsychism's assertion that mind suffuses the universe presents a fundamental and sharp contrast with its basic rival, emergentism, which asserts that mind appears only at certain times, in certain places under certain-probably very special and very rare-conditions. But trying to explicate a little more precisely the key terms of this vague characterization of panpsychism results in several different versions of it. ...
"

Just as the 'materialist' asserts that "the universe" -- the physical system of matter and energy [and which are the same thing under the hood, after all] and the relations and interactions between them -- is the fundamental aspect of reality, that it exists in its own right, so too does the 'panpsychist.' The difference between the two -isms is that 'materialism' asserts that 'mental states' "emerge" (*) from complex arrangements of matter; whereas 'panpsychism' asserts that "mind" (**) is somehow co-extensive with "the universe."


(*) "Emergence" -- an incantation of Magick, essentially meaningless. Another way of saying "sure, this makes no sense, but believe it true just because. Because the only alternative is "theism," and that must be rejected."

(**) "Mind" -- frequently an incantation of Magick; that is, meaningless without reference to actually existing minds who entertain the concept 'mind.'

Randy said...

BDK,

Unlike evolutionary theory, which is well established, neural theories of consciousness weren't even discussable until about ten years ago because of the hegemony of behaviorism.

Didn’t Eccles and Popper present the idea of interactional dualism back in 1977 in their book “The Self and its Brain” ?


However, as I've said, it is possible you are right. But to act like you have come up with some obvious devastating problems with naturalism is incorrect.

Naturalism is a philosophical position. I don’t think naturalism can hide behind neuroscience. In other words, naturalism has to do more than use the possibility that neuroscience might someday support its philosophical position. Though I’m not in agreement with the dualists’ overall philosophical position, I think they are justified in pointing out the defects in naturalism.
Ironically, the dualists draw from the same Cartesian well that the naturalists have drawn from and many of them don’t realize that the criticisms against the naturalist (or materialist, since it is the dominant branch of naturalism) conception of mind can be applied to their conception.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Didn’t Eccles and Popper present the idea of interactional dualism back in 1977 in their book “The Self and its Brain” ?

My point was that it wasn't respectable for mainstream neuroscientists to discuss consciousness as a neuroscience problem. That is not a counterexample as they were dualists (and the book was certainly not taken seriously by neuroscientists). It was discussed here and there in the 1970s, but overall was taboo until the 1990s in neuroscience.

Naturalism is a philosophical position. I don’t think naturalism can hide behind neuroscience. In other words, naturalism has to do more than use the possibility that neuroscience might someday support its philosophical position.

It must only defend against arguments that it is false. Usually this involves some permutation of pointing out that our present inability of naturalists to explain X is not evidence that X is nonnatural (because the arguments against it amount to predictions about a world of future neuroscience, as I articulated above in my first comment above, my most considered view on this topic).

I also think it's reasonable to hold out that physics will explain polarity reversals in the Earth's magnetic field, another mysterious feature of nature. Unless there is a compelling argument that consciousness is not a biological phenomenon (and there isn't), this line of attack is a standoff.

Note I certainly understand why consciousness seems weird. How does electrical activity in nervous systems could "give rise to" consciousness? Why should neuronal activity be "accompanied" by an experience of redness? Chalmers expresses this problem very well. I disagree with his conclusion (his argument hinges on the assumption that zombies are logically possible, which is just a restatement of exactly the issue at stake). However, he does a good job at pointing to what we don't yet understand. What should the ontological consequence of this psychological fact be, this fact of our ignorance? Nothing. Unfortunately for those that crave certainty, you'll just have to wait until more clarity about consciousness and brains is available (as I argue above).

Randy said...


The clear tight link between mental states and neuronal states cries for explanation. One explanation when two things are so tightly correlated is that they are identical. That is, mental states just are neuronal states.


The mind isn’t a thing. It is a way of talking about a variety of human faculties and their exercise.
And many things like believing or knowing something are misdescribed or misconceived as mental states or processes.

From Witttgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations #308 :
How does the philosophical problem about mental processes and states and about behaviourism arise? – The first step is the one that altogether escapes notice. We talk of processes and states and leave their nature undecided. Sometime perhaps we shall know more about them – we think. But that is just what commits us to a particular way of looking at the matter. For we have a definite concept of what it means to learn to know a process better. (The decisive movement in the conjuring trick has been made, and it was the very one that we thought quite innocent.)

Randy said...

BDK,

It must only defend against arguments that it is false. Usually this involves some permutation of pointing out that our present inability of naturalists to explain X is not evidence that X is nonnatural (because the arguments against it amount to predictions about a world of future neuroscience, as I articulated above in my first comment above, my most considered view on this topic).


But I’m not making any argument that X is non-natural.
What first needs to be clarified is the concept of X. Then the further question of whether or not X is non-natural may turn out to be chimerical.

Naturalistic conceptions of the mind are just as subject to conceptual investigation as supernaturalistic conceptions of the mind.

If you are insisting that those conceptual investigations can't proceed and have to wait on science, then you are making a philisophical claim that needs to be justified.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Randy: it's fine if you want to clarify the concept of consciousness. Indeed, part of the problem with arguments about it is that people are using a notion that is not well defined.

The mind isn’t a thing. It is a way of talking about a variety of human faculties and their exercise.
And many things like believing or knowing something are misdescribed or misconceived as mental states or processes.


I'm not sure about this. Why should I think it isn't a thing or process? When I am dreaming or somebody is hallucinating, some internal process is happening. That's what I want to explain, and is the aspect of the mind I am talking about.

However you characterize mind, from the naturalistic perspective the most promising route is that it is a biological process no more special than the Kreb's Cycle.

Incidentally, I think it is premature to try to give a precise definition, before the science is done--imagine if biologists had spent all their time trying to define 'life' instead of just studying life!.

At any rate, unless you can address things like dreams within your framework,then we are probably talking at cross-purposes. Regardless of what you call it, biologists should study it, not obsess about defining it. The definitions come with the science, not before.

Note to anyong still reading, this issue with Randy is orthogonal to the point of my original comment: that people shouldn't be dogmatic, and there are no strong arguments against naturalism to be gained from armchair musings about consciousness coupled with speculations about how we will feel once neuroscience has actually made progress on the issue.

Randy said...

BDK,
I'm not sure about this. Why should I think it isn't a thing or process?

When philosophers ask the question “What is the mind” it is all too tempting to try and give a definition of the word “mind”. Since “the mind” is a nominal it is quite natural to construe “What is the mind?” as “What kind of entity is the mind?”. So the debate is engaged: is it an immaterial substance that causally interacts with the brain, is it the brain interacting with a body, is it a bundle of perceptions causally connected with a human body, etc.
But before engaging in answering such questions, it might be advisable to see how the word is used outside of philosophical ruminations. Use of the word ‘mind’ is usually associated with memory, thought, opinion and intentions:

To call or bring something to mind is to recollect it.
Someone who is absent-minded is forgetful or inattentive.
To hold something in mind is to retain it in memory.

To have a load taken off one’s mind is to be relieved of anxiously thinking about it.
One’s mind is in turmoil if one does not know what to think or do.
One’s mind goes blank when one finds oneself at a loss and does not know what to say.
To have something on one’s mind is to be thinking about it.
To turn one’s mind to something is to begin to think about it.

To know one’s mind is to have formed one’s opinion.
To tell one’s mind is to express one’s opinion.
To give someone a piece of one’s mind is to tell him, harshly, what one thinks of him.
To be of one mind with another is to agree in opinion or in judgment.

To have half a mind to do something is to be tempted to do something.
To have it in mind to do something is to be inclined or to intend to do it.
To have a mind of one’s own is to be independent in judgment and will.
To make up ones’ mind is to decide.

Its usage also ramifies out in further directions:
A person is of sound mind if she retains her rational faculties and out of her mind if she thinks, does or proposes things that are irrational.
A person is not in his right mind if he is distraught.
We can say that people are broad- or narrow-minded, small- or petty-minded, having a dirty mind or a mind like a razor.

I should think it obvious that the above examples can easily be paraphrased without the word ‘mind’. All that is needed is the appropriate psychological predicate that is attributed to the human being. So it is reasonable to say that talk of the mind is merely a convenient facon de parler: it is an oblique way of speaking of human faculties and their exercise.

And it should also be obvious in these examples one is not speaking of one and the same thing called “the mind”. When we say that someone has changed his mind, that he has a dirty mind, and that he has turned his mind to a certain question, we do not imply that there is one thing: a mind, which has changed, is dirty and has been turned. We are speaking of the very same thing - namely the human being - and from case to case we are saying different things of the human being.

I’d also suggest that we don’t apply psychological predicates to humans because they have minds but that we can say they have minds on account of a fairly specific subset of psychological predicates that are attributed to them. That fish can see, birds can be frightened of cats, cats can want to eat a bird does not show that they have minds.

There is much more that can be said on why it is better not to start off with the assumption that the mind is an object or entity, but this format does not allow that sort of detail.
I should mention that I’ve drawn close to 100% of what I’ve said above from two books: B. Rundle’s “Mind in Action” and P.M.S. Hacker’s “Human Nature: The Categorial Framework”. Of course, all of this ultimately derives from Wittgenstein’s views of the mind found in “The Philosophical Investigations”.


When I am dreaming or somebody is hallucinating, some internal process is happening. That's what I want to explain, and is the aspect of the mind I am talking about.

I will try and address this in more detail later. My post is already much longer than it should be.


However you characterize mind, from the naturalistic perspective the most promising route is that it is a biological process no more special than the Kreb's Cycle.

You've just provided one example of why I am no long happy with describing myself as a naturalist. I think that the capacity to reason and plan and imagine and act with intention is of very special value. Of course, the krebs cycle is essential if we are going to be able to think and reason and imagine. Just as it is essential that atmospheric conditions remain suitable for human life. But why does that mean that our ability to speak a language and plan and imagine and dream and share our intimate feelings with others should be considered of no more importance than the krebs cycle?


Incidentally, I think it is premature to try to give a precise definition, before the science is done--imagine if biologists had spent all their time trying to define 'life' instead of just studying life!.

I agree. I don’t think one can give a necessary and sufficient definition of the word “mind”. But that doesn’t entail that we not pay careful attention to how the word is normally used.
After all biologists didn’t turn their attention to rocks when trying to explain the processes involved in life – they turned to living things.


At any rate, unless you can address things like dreams within your framework,then we are probably talking at cross-purposes.

People have the capacity to dream. Recognition or acknowledgment of that capacity doesn’t require the belief that the mind is an entity. Nor does it require the belief that any neural processes that are the causal conditions of dreaming are to be identified with dreaming itself.

Edward T. Babinski said...

MEMORY SCIENCE CONITINUES TO ADVANCE

Why store memories in this physical brain at all if there's a non-physical "rational decider realm" that has to keep digging back into the physical brain for memories before making a decision? Why not store memories in the non-physical realm?

See... "Memories are made of molecular motors" from the blog, "Neurophilosophy"

http://scienceblogs.com/neurophilosophy/2008/11/memories_are_made_of_molecular_motors.php

Also...

What Do we Know about the Brain and Knowing?

I can't see back beyond my own birth. All I know is that knowledge and even self-conscious awareness appears to have been hard won for our species over billions of years of evolution, and many upright apes and even rival human species simply became extinct in the process.

I also know that human babes deprived of contact with language-speaking humans don't learn how to speak. Even the ability to write words came long after the first human speech, but writing down words allowed us to store and accumulate knowledge about the world around us and about each individual's own changing ideas throughout their lifetime.

I also know that with age comes a slower, less nimble, even increasingly forgetful mind, and then comes death. After that, I don't know what comes. So what is this thing we call "mind" that none of us can recall prior to our birth and that is so indebted to billions of years of evolution as well as social evolution and the invention of writing? This thing called "mind" that also decays with age?

Naturalists don't deny that "mind" exists. They just argue that it requires a body with a brain, a rather large brain in fact, such as possessed by primates, dolphins and/or elephants. If our "mind" exists in some supernatural plane, what happens when we undergo dreamless sleep each night, or get knocked out by a sudden fist to the chin or a drug or strangulation? Do we have "minds" then? Where are they during such times? Why don't remember what our "minds" have been doing while our bodies have slept?

And if our "minds" exist in some supernatural realm why such big brains? Why brains at all? Why can't our "minds" in that supernatural realm spark our muscular nerves directly and store all of our memories for us? Instead it seems our memories are stored in the brain and our muscles rely on our brains to receive commands to move (with the exception of reflexes of course).

Our big brains also cause difficulties. 1 out of 10 women in pre-medical society died due to the trauma of delivering a child because the human brain has grown so large and the upright posture of our species has narrowed the birth canal. Bigger brain, littler hole for it to pass through. The bigger brain also requires a very high percentage of the body's oxygen and sugar in order to function properly.

Gordon Knight said...

Edward,

As I understand it, naturalism require more than the claim that consciousness depends on the brain causally. But I suppose definitions vary. But you might check out Hasker's little book on the mind which takes neuroscience very seriously and yet is also quite dualistic.

Doctor Logic said...

Randy,

I found your last comment very interesting.

However, I did not understand the following question:

But why does that mean that our ability to speak a language and plan and imagine and dream and share our intimate feelings with others should be considered of no more importance than the krebs cycle?

What do you mean by "importance" and what is its relevance?

If physical mechanisms predict a behavior, then they are explanatory of the behavior. If explanation is what is important, then the mechanisms are important.

So what is important?

Doctor Logic said...

Edward,

I'm with you.

Imagine considering these questions 500 years ago. Dualists would be predicting that all the connections you mention should not necessarily exist. A priori, we ought to assign odds of 50% to each one of these connections, and to the hundreds of other possible connections between physics and mind. For example, memory might be encoded in neurons, or it might not. A posteriori, history has shown that physics is connected to everything from memory to Capgras Delusion. With each new discovery, dualists fine-tune and re-cast their theory as that rare kind of dualism that looks exactly like naturalism.

When's it ever gonna stop? Are we to believe that Rev. Bayes has nothing to say about this? Sure, dualism could be consistent with what we have seen, but is it likely given what we have seen? I think dualism is obviously not likely to be true given the evidence. If there are hundreds of distinct functions implemented by physical brains, then we're looking at 2^100's to 1 odds against dualism being correct.

This is why anti-materialism in philosophy of mind is like creationism. It ignores the evidence, and just shouts "We're winning!" and "Teach the controversy!"

Bill Snedden said...

gordon knight: "It is odd in that the anti-materialist philosophy is pushed often by atheists and there is no clear relationship between intelligent design and the denial of materialism."

On the contrary, as the foremost proponents of "intelligent design" spelled out explicitly in their "Wedge Strategy", it's ALL about materialism.

That's not to say that materialism is true or false, merely to point out that the connection between anti-materialism and "intelligent design" is very strong indeed.

Randy said...

DL,
What do you mean by "importance" and what is its relevance?

If physical mechanisms predict a behavior, then they are explanatory of the behavior. If explanation is what is important, then the mechanisms are important.

So what is important?


I didn’t mean to imply that the Krebs cycle is unimportant. Any physiological process in our bodies that helps to maintain and keep them healthy has to be considered important. But that importance is a result of how much we value what we can do with our bodies and the value we place on the ability to use language, to make plans, to imagine new things, to gain knowledge (of things like the Krebs cycle), to share with others our dreams and values, etc.

I agree with you that prediction is one very important component of understanding. But when it comes to understanding human behavior then I think reason-giving explanations are more important.

To get back to neuroscience. I think the work being done there is very important. It is extremely difficult and people like BDK are deserving of our support and respect for what they are contributing to our knowledge of brain function. By understanding those neural processes that make possible our capacities to reason and use language we gain knowledge that may help us to fix those processes when they go awry. Having seen the ravages of Alzheimer’s in my own family, I know how important that knowledge of brain function is.

Gordon Knight said...

Bill,

What I meant was that philosophically there is no real connection. Rhetorically, people can make all sorts of connections.
The philosophical case against materialism is not based on religious considerations.

There might be this weak connection though: If materialism is true, the likelihood of there being a God or afterlife is diminished. But the converse is not true.

Gordon Knight said...

Sorry, what I should have said is:

Evolutionary theory is compatible with dualism, materialism, even idealism.

So you don't disprove evolution by disproving materialism. The issues are logically distinct.

Blue Devil Knight said...

When I said:
[F]rom the naturalistic perspective the most promising route is that it is a biological process no more special than the Kreb's Cycle.

I didn't mean that the mind is not special to us, subjectively speaking. I meant as a methodological claim, we should apply the best methods used by biologists to study other biological processes. (OTOH molecular phenomena such as the Kreb's Cycle are different from neuronal activation patterns, so we don't use the exact same methods, but there is a general approach that is the same--the philosopher Becthel has done some of the best work on this general approach, such as his book 'Discovering Complexity').

Doctor Logic said...

Randy,

I agree with you that prediction is one very important component of understanding. But when it comes to understanding human behavior then I think reason-giving explanations are more important.

Can you explain further? Do you have an example of an explanation that isn't predictive? I don't think such a thing exists. "Reason-giving" explanations are predictive, too.

To set apart "reason-giving explanations" is like setting "climate explanations" apart from physics explanations. If climate entities (like ocean temperature, wind direction, humidity, precipitation, etc.) are physical effects, then we're back to reduction, and there's no conflict. Likewise, if will, judgment, deciding, attention, recalling, etc. are patterns of physical behavior, then we're back at reductionist physical explanations.

Randy said...

DL,
Can you explain further? Do you have an example of an explanation that isn't predictive?

I’m basically a slob. When single my apartment was a mess. But out of love and respect for my wife I have at least to a degree been able to change my behavior and help her to keep our home neat.
Or I happen to see a fellow employee giving some money to a homeless person. He has often discussed at work the importance of helping those in need.

My change of behavior is one way of showing my wife that I really do love her. And the fellow employee’s behavior is confirmation that he is sincere in his beliefs regarding charity.

Sure predictive models can be made of this information. Depending on the context, those predictions could be extremely important. But those predictions would be based on our understanding of the employee’s character or an understanding of what I feel toward my wife and why I think it important that I demonstrate those feelings toward her.


I’m a little confused as to your position here. Are you saying that an explanation is no good unless it can be used to make a prediction? Or that understanding isn’t real unless it is employed for the purpose of making a prediction?


Likewise, if will, judgment, deciding, attention, recalling, etc. are patterns of physical behavior, then we're back at reductionist physical explanations.

You can give physical description of any behavior. But giving a physical description of Bob writing his name is not going to tell us anything about why he is writing his name. Perhaps he is signing a check, or making out his will, or signing a love letter, or practicing his handwriting. How can you reduce that to the physical level and still convey to someone else why Bob is writing his name?

Randy said...

BDK,
the philosopher Becthel has done some of the best work on this general approach, such as his book 'Discovering Complexity').

Thanks for the link.

Doctor Logic said...

Randy,

I’m a little confused as to your position here. Are you saying that an explanation is no good unless it can be used to make a prediction? Or that understanding isn’t real unless it is employed for the purpose of making a prediction?

I'm saying the former. Every proper explanation is predictive. If I have some data points on a chart, I haven't explained the data at all until I draw a line through the points and make interpolations and extrapolations.

In the same way, if you say that you love your wife, you're not simply enumerating a subset of the feelings you have had, or a subset of the corresponding actions you have taken. You are making a prediction about what you will feel and what actions you will take in the future. You're proposing a model of your feelings, intentions and behavior.

I'll put it another way. If you're not making a prediction, you're just making a restatement of the data, not explaining it.

How can you reduce that to the physical level and still convey to someone else why Bob is writing his name?

Because each "why" corresponds to a functional, predictive physical model.

Suppose we observe an ocean wave crashing on a rocky shore. There are many possible reasons "why" the wave is crashing here and now. Maybe this wave was caused by distant storm, or maybe it was caused by collapsing sea wall. If I limit my study to the wave breaking here and now, I'll not be able to distinguish the two cases. But why limit ourselves to such narrow considerations? We would not say that the breaking wave cannot be reduced to an effect of the longer-term models (e.g., the storm or the collapsing wall).

Likewise, intent, love, cultural knowledge, environment, motor reflex, etc., are long-term cause effect relationships. Looking at a narrow snapshot of the signer without considering the broader causes would limit our ability to explain the signer's actions. But such narrow limitation is arbitrary. If I extend the physical model to include interactions of the signer from childhood to present, then there's a very definite physical difference between signing a check or writing a love letter.

Randy said...

DL,

I'm saying the former. Every proper explanation is predictive. If I have some data points on a chart, I haven't explained the data at all until I draw a line through the points and make interpolations and extrapolations.

In the same way, if you say that you love your wife, you're not simply enumerating a subset of the feelings you have had, or a subset of the corresponding actions you have taken. You are making a prediction about what you will feel and what actions you will take in the future. You're proposing a model of your feelings, intentions and behavior.


I don't think so. I can of course promise my wife that I will love her forever. I am then making a prediction of future behavior. I don't see that I am constructing any kind of model when I promise her that.

And what I did in my example was to provide an explanation for why I changed my past behavior and became a neater person.

You can always take any info and use it to construct a predictive model if you wish.


I'll put it another way. If you're not making a prediction, you're just making a restatement of the data, not explaining it.


If I run into a friend at the bank and ask him why he is there and he tells me he wants to get a new tv and has come down to the bank to get money for it then has given me an explanation of his behavior. I’m not interested in predicting what he is going to do later that day, I simply want to know his reason for being there and his explanation has provided the reason.

You can take that info if you wish and work it into some sort of predictive model. But I don’t think you’ve provided me with a good reason why I shouldn’t consider what my friend told me to be a real explanation. I’m getting the impression that you want to take any and every different type of explanation and turn it into a scientific explanation.

Randy said...

DL,

Likewise, intent, love, cultural knowledge, environment, motor reflex, etc., are long-term cause effect relationships. Looking at a narrow snapshot of the signer without considering the broader causes would limit our ability to explain the signer's actions. But such narrow limitation is arbitrary.
If I extend the physical model to include interactions of the signer from childhood to present, then there's a very definite physical difference between signing a check or writing a love letter.


You can go all the way back to the very first physical event in the universe, if you wish. You still have not told me how a description of those physical events is going to contain the semantic information that is contained in the concepts “writing” “name” “check” “love letter” “practice” which were contained in my example.
How do you reduce those concepts down to the level of physics and still retain their semantic content?

Doctor Logic said...

Randy,

And what I did in my example was to provide an explanation for why I changed my past behavior and became a neater person.

This is based on the broad predictive model that when person A loves person B, person A acts to relieve suffering of person B. Suppose this model were reversed, so person A's loving person B caused person A to amplify suffering of person B. In that case, your explanation would vanish.

If I run into a friend at the bank and ask him why he is there and he tells me he wants to get a new tv and has come down to the bank to get money for it then has given me an explanation of his behavior.

Suppose your friend instead responds "I was just playing chess in the park across town."

You reaction would be "Huh?!" Your friend's playing chess across town doesn't predict he will come to the bank. That's why such a response would not be explanatory.

However, we know from our models of society that if one wants to buy a TV, one has a limited set of probable actions one can take. Going to the bank for cash is one of those probables. A lot more probable than, say, going fishing or playing chess.

You still have not told me how a description of those physical events is going to contain the semantic information that is contained in the concepts “writing” “name” “check” “love letter” “practice” which were contained in my example.
How do you reduce those concepts down to the level of physics and still retain their semantic content?


In short, their semantic content is prediction of experience.

Suppose you look across the room at Bob, sitting 15' from you. From where you sit, it looks like he is writing into the right-hand corner of a small green book. You conclude "Bob is signing a check." When you do this, you're (vaguely) describing a pattern that extends through time and space, and generally extends beyond your observations. In this pattern/model, "Bob", "signing", and "check" are all sub-patterns/sub-models.

You can be wrong about your model if the check fails to behave according to the predictions of the "check" pattern, or if Bob turns out not to obey the predictions of the "Bob" pattern, etc.

So, for example, if you see Bob copy numbers from the signature area of the check into his mobile phone (treating his signature as if he had been jotting down a phone number), you will probably reconsider your initial conclusion. Bob wasn't signing the check. Why? Because if he were signing a check, he would not be copying his signature into the phone (phone numbers are not typically used as signatures).

The semantics is in recognition, prediction and expectation.

I don't see any significant difference between seeing that a person is signing a check and seeing that two masses fall to the ground at the same rate. These are all patterns in our experience.

Randy said...

DL,
Suppose you look across the room at Bob, sitting 15' from you. From where you sit, it looks like he is writing into the right-hand corner of a small green book. You conclude "Bob is signing a check." When you do this, you're (vaguely) describing a pattern that extends through time and space, and generally extends beyond your observations. In this pattern/model, "Bob", "signing", and "check" are all sub-patterns/sub-models.

I understand that is what you are claiming here. I've yet to see anything you've done to substantiate why I should think semantic content is a pattern.
Typicallly, such content is represented by some sort of physical pattern.

If you are going to reduce the description of Bob writing his name on a check to the level of physical patterns you are going to have to leave out words like "writing"and "name" and "check" for it is the semantic content of those concepts that has to be reduced. Otherwise no reduction has been made.

Randy said...

DL,
Suppose your friend instead responds "I was just playing chess in the park across town."

You reaction would be "Huh?!" Your friend's playing chess across town doesn't predict he will come to the bank. That's why such a response would not be explanatory.


If he had said: "I was way across town driving to the bank." that would be predictive of him being in the bank, but my response would be the same "Huh!"

In any case, what I am concerned about is the reason why he is there. I don't really care if I can use the explanation he gives to make a prediction. In fact it strikes me as a little silly to attempt to do so. I already know he is in the bank so why should I attempt to predict his being there?

As I already stated earlier, if you wish to construct some sort of overarching theoretical predictive model you can do so.

Sorry, I'm having trouble understandign why I should adopt it. It appears to be much too narrow in scope. Sort of like Frued's linking everything to sex.

Invisible Pills said...

Sorry for reposting this, but I was curious if any current dualist could/would respond to Edwards post, which I will repost to carry it further down:




"MEMORY SCIENCE CONITINUES TO ADVANCE

Why store memories in this physical brain at all if there's a non-physical "rational decider realm" that has to keep digging back into the physical brain for memories before making a decision? Why not store memories in the non-physical realm?

See... "Memories are made of molecular motors" from the blog, "Neurophilosophy"

http://scienceblogs.com/neurophilosophy/2008/11/memories_are_made_of_molecular_motors.php

Also...

What Do we Know about the Brain and Knowing?

I can't see back beyond my own birth. All I know is that knowledge and even self-conscious awareness appears to have been hard won for our species over billions of years of evolution, and many upright apes and even rival human species simply became extinct in the process.

I also know that human babes deprived of contact with language-speaking humans don't learn how to speak. Even the ability to write words came long after the first human speech, but writing down words allowed us to store and accumulate knowledge about the world around us and about each individual's own changing ideas throughout their lifetime.

I also know that with age comes a slower, less nimble, even increasingly forgetful mind, and then comes death. After that, I don't know what comes. So what is this thing we call "mind" that none of us can recall prior to our birth and that is so indebted to billions of years of evolution as well as social evolution and the invention of writing? This thing called "mind" that also decays with age?

Naturalists don't deny that "mind" exists. They just argue that it requires a body with a brain, a rather large brain in fact, such as possessed by primates, dolphins and/or elephants. If our "mind" exists in some supernatural plane, what happens when we undergo dreamless sleep each night, or get knocked out by a sudden fist to the chin or a drug or strangulation? Do we have "minds" then? Where are they during such times? Why don't remember what our "minds" have been doing while our bodies have slept?

And if our "minds" exist in some supernatural realm why such big brains? Why brains at all? Why can't our "minds" in that supernatural realm spark our muscular nerves directly and store all of our memories for us? Instead it seems our memories are stored in the brain and our muscles rely on our brains to receive commands to move (with the exception of reflexes of course).

Our big brains also cause difficulties. 1 out of 10 women in pre-medical society died due to the trauma of delivering a child because the human brain has grown so large and the upright posture of our species has narrowed the birth canal. Bigger brain, littler hole for it to pass through. The bigger brain also requires a very high percentage of the body's oxygen and sugar in order to function properly."

Doctor Logic said...

Randy,

If you are going to reduce the description of Bob writing his name on a check to the level of physical patterns you are going to have to leave out words like "writing"and "name" and "check" for it is the semantic content of those concepts that has to be reduced.

Are you saying that reduction eliminates concepts? I disagree. Reduction identifies one concept (e.g., writing) with another (e.g., a complex collective motion of particles)?

Reducing water waves to the collective motion of water molecules does not eliminate the waves. It identifies the waves with the collective motion of the molecules.

If he had said: "I was way across town driving to the bank." that would be predictive of him being in the bank, but my response would be the same "Huh!"

But this is because the question you were implicitly asking was not about his execution of getting to the bank, but about his motivation for getting to the bank. Generally, getting to the bank is trivial once you decide to go there.

IOW, you're not looking for an explanation of how he transported himself to the bank. You're looking for an explanation for what caused him to want to transport himself there. And the explanation you get must the kind of theory that predicts someone in that situation would go to the bank. Prediction is implicit and vital.

As you say, you're not predicting (or interested in predicting) that he will arrive at the bank. You already know that fact. Instead, you're predicting that he wants to buy a TV, that he has money in his bank account, that this is his bank, etc. Would his statement be explanatory if TV's were free or if he knew he had only 30 cents in his bank account, or if this were not his bank? I don't think his statement would then be explanatory. The thing that is explanatory about your friend's statement is that it predicts all sorts of things about his life, and that it relies on the predictions we can make about cultural norms. The explanation shows how things fit together, and it is predictive relationships that tell us how things fit together.

I'll try to state this more generally. Suppose I observe some S. Explaining S consists of identifying a predictive model M that would have predicted this instance of S, given certain initial conditions. This is valuable either 1) because I can use M to predict future instances of S, or 2) because M tells me about the likely initial conditions proximate to S.

Why should we think that all explanations are predictive?

First, we cannot explain facts merely by restating them. This means that we must interpolate or extrapolate from the facts. The interpolations and extrapolations place the facts in a causal context. If we reject this idea, then everything is trivially explained.

Second, I claim that every non-predictive explanation falls prey to the placeholder fallacy. That is, non-predictive explanations are just names for explanations we would like to have but presently lack. When people say God explains X, they really mean that if we knew the mind of God, X would be explained. The problem is that they don't know the mind of God, so they don't have an explanation for X. Another example: it would be fallacious for me to claim today that the "Theory of Everything" explains the proton mass. This is because I don't have the Theory of Everything. That's just a placeholder name for the theory I would like to have. Yes, if I knew the Theory of Everything, I would be able to explain proton mass, but I don't know the theory so I don't have the explanation.

Randy said...

DL,
But this is because the question you were implicitly asking was not about his execution of getting to the bank, but about his motivation for getting to the bank. Generally, getting to the bank is trivial once you decide to go there.

Close. I was asking for his reason for being there. He could have just wanted to drive to the bank. He could have been meeting someone at the bank. He could have wanted to deposit money in the bank. Etc. All of those reasons could be used to make a prediction of his behavior if I was concerned about making a prediction. But I would only use them for making a prediction if I thought they were already good reasons for going to the bank. Even if I were to use them to make a prediction and that prediction failed, they would still be good explanations.




You're looking for an explanation for what caused him to want to transport himself there.


Not at all. What I’m looking for is his reason for being at the bank. I’m not looking for a cause but for a reason. They ain’t the same. Our reasons don’t cause us to do things. They are used to justify our behavior and explain why we did what we did.
We can determine whether or not someone is behaving in a rational manner based on the reasons she gives.

People are not scientists looking for causal explanations of physical events. They want to know if someone has a good reason for what she is doing. That is because we are rational creatures and rational behavior is of value to us.


And the explanation you get must the kind of theory that predicts someone in that situation would go to the bank. Prediction is implicit and vital.

I’m not trying to propose a theory of behavior when I look for the reason why my friend is at the bank. Prediction is not at all vital in this context because I already know that he is at the bank. I wouldn’t question a reason he gave because it fails to predict that he would be at the bank, but because it is not a good reason.

As far as I understand the matter, you have it backwards. You think that being predictive makes all explanations good ones. Rather it is because we already know it to be a good reason that we can use the information in an explanation to make a prediction.

You seem determined to try and fit all explanations into the form of explanation used by a physicist. I don’t buy it because it is too narrow, too restrictive a way to look at explanations and it distorts all our other forms of explanation by trying to fit them into this scientific form.


When people say God explains X, they really mean that if we knew the mind of God, X would be explained. The problem is that they don't know the mind of God, so they don't have an explanation for X.

So what? If they are trying to use God in a scientific theory, that is their problem. I see no reason to let that distort my understanding of explanations and how we use them. And your theory of explanations looks like a distortion to me.

This will be my last response to you on this subject. I see little reason to keep repeating myself here.

Doctor Logic said...

Randy,

I guess that means I get the last word. :P

Even if I were to use them to make a prediction and that prediction failed, they would still be good explanations.

Sure. For any finite set of facts, there are an infinite number of models that explain/predict those facts. Most of that infinity of models will turn out to be wrong, not because the models are not explanatory, but because they don't mesh with all the facts we'll have in the future. So, as you say, being wrong doesn't invalidate a model as an explanations, it only invalidates the model as the actually correct explanation.

Our reasons don't cause us to do things. They are used to justify our behavior and explain why we did what we did.

I assume you are of the view that most of our decisions are not the result of a rational inference, but are the result of something more primitive. For example, when holding a wine glass, I could be thinking "Failing to grip this glass will cause the glass to fall to the floor and break. I do not want the glass to break. Therefore, I will grip the glass." However, that's generally not what we do. The circuits in our brains function subconsciously, and (pre-?)non-rationally.

Rationalization occurs when we are asked "Why are you gripping the glass?" In that case, we analyze our non-rational conclusions and justify them post hoc. Sometimes we accurately reflect the subconscious mechanisms forging our decisions, and sometimes we don't. There's good rationalization and bad rationalization.

I find this sort of picture somewhat appealing, although most people find it intuitively backwards because they unquestioningly believe that reasons come first, and actions later.

However, even if this picture is true, it is not the case that reasons do not cause us to do things. Rational reflection trains our subconscious mechanisms, so there is a causal link between rational thought and action.

We can determine whether or not someone is behaving in a rational manner based on the reasons she gives.

I assume you mean that an action is deemed rational if its post hoc rationalization is valid.

As far as I understand the matter, you have it backwards. You think that being predictive makes all explanations good ones. Rather it is because we already know it to be a good reason that we can use the information in an explanation to make a prediction.

Let's get back to the original issue: reduction. You're saying that your intuition is that reasons explain, and that this explanatory power does not intuitively have anything to do with prediction. It's perfectly natural that you would think this, because, as you say, humans don't frame questions directly in terms of predictive models. However, by extension of your intuition, you think that reasons are not a matter of cause and effect, and so you are (intuitively) baffled by claims that physics (which is cause and effect) can explain thinking.

However, this does not constitute a rational argument against reductionism. If "reasons" are predictive cause and effect relationships underneath, then physics and reasons are both naturalistic (if still dualistic). Once we get to this stage, we can reduce thinking to monist physics in the same way we reduce (as in identify) waves to collective molecular motion.