Thursday, February 18, 2010

A Title I Considered for my book

I remember sending a e-mail to a friend of mine in which I said if I wrote a book, its title would either be "C. S. Lewis's Dangerous Idea" or "If the Watchmaker were Really Blind, Dawkins Wouldn't Know It." I'm glad I picked the first one, but I like the second one as well.


Blue Devil Knight said...

No doubt you picked the right one.

Edward T. Babinski said...

How about this title for your NEXT book:

C. S. Lewis' Lame Unproven Presupposition that Brain-Minds Cannot Evolve, and, Consciousness is Magic!

(Personally, I don't know if it's magic or not. But I will say that I remain astounded at the kinds of behaviors that single-celled amoeba are capable of, without a brain or complex sense organs, so maybe the human brain with its billions of cells and 10 to the 25th power connections might just be capable of even more astounding behaviors, no?

See, Stuart Hameroff at Singularity Summit 2009 -- Neural Substrates of Consciousness and the 'Conscious Pilot' Model

Also. . . on your "pro-life deer hunting argument," a few questions:

1) IF deer were in the process of evolving into sentient beings at what point in the future of such evolution would you OUTLAW ALL DEER HUNTING ENTIRELY?

2) If fertilized egg cells are so precious, then shouldn't fertility clinic doctors be locked up for committing mass murder whenever they mix up eggs and sperm in a dish and only implant some of them into a woman's womb?

3) What about locking up doctors for "child abuse" whenever they freeze fertilized egg cells, creating "souls on ice" that often simply rot away for decades in a freezer and never get implanted?

4) What about locking up people who use the pill or morning after pill? Such things cause the fertilized egg or blastula to "not implant itself in the uterus" and pass through the body, murdering the blastula.

5) And if you were in a burning fertility clinic and only had time to grab a crying baby next to you in the room and run outside, or grab a large heavy thermos and stuff it full of hundreds of fertilized eggs (zygotes) from a nearby freezer and run outside and save the lives of all those zygotes, which would you grab?

6) Lastly, does a woman have the right to determine what goes on inside her own body or not? As an analogy think of someone with bad kidneys who demands that you give them one, because human life is sacred. Or someone who has a rare blood disease and demands regular transfusions from your own blood each day in order to survive, because life is sacred. What law obliges you to surrender the use of your blood or bodily organs for any purpose other than your own use? Why are wombs the only part of the body whose use MUST be dictated by pro-life laws? There is no right of a woman to the use of her own body in ways she sees fit? Obviously even if the zygote or early embryo or fetus has some form of human rights, they conflict with the right of a individual to determine for themselves what uses to which their body will be put.

Victor Reppert said...

Ed: I have never been impressed enough with your understanding of my argument to be find your criticisms of any great interest. Lewis doesn't say brain-minds can't evolve, and he would avoid the use of the term magic. He does use the word "supernatural" but he defines it very carefully. In my essay in Contending with Christianity's Critics I avoid using the word, I believe, altogether. Yes, the mind is supernatural IF, IF, IF you define nature as that which is identical to or supervenes necessarily upon a fundamental substrate that is completely non-mental at the basic level. If you're not operating with that kind of a definition of nature, then, shoot, you could have a definition of nature that allows God, angels, demons, and what we used to call souls. Makes no never mind to me. So I want to know what your conception of "the natural" is, and then I'll tell you whether the mind is supernatural or not.

As for the abortion issue, if you had paid attention on this blog when that issue came up, you would realize that I am not a card-carrying orthodox pro-lifer. My views on abortion are probably disappointing to card-carrying types on both sides, but what I was trying to do in my deer hunter post was to try to help find the best case I could for the pro-life position. I don't think fetus are demonstratably persons from conception, so the deer hunter argument at least tries to make the case for fetal personhood wtihout saying that we can prove that fetuses should have the same right to life a two year old does. I think we should care more than we do about the unborn, but I am seriously doubt that the criminal law is the best avenue to express our concern.

I don't just do intellectual advocacy, with a lot of things I try to think things out from various sides. So, for example, I posted something against the popular argument that archaeology supports the Bible. I think we come out stronger apologetically when we just try to think things through, bringing our Christian perspective into it, and then if there is something we discover that supports what we believe as Christians, we should not be shy about proclaiming it. I think good apologetics starts from honest philosophy. And if someone is using a bad argument in support of something I think is true, then, I may have to call that out, much as Anscombe did with C. S. Lewis.

Of course the brain can produce behaviors. But I don't think intentional states can be cashed out behaviorally. In other words, you could have behavior that might be describable from an "intentional stance" but where genuine original intentionality is absent. Or we could have conscious like behavior, but no genuine inner states and no first-person perspective.

Anonymous said...


You're one of the nicest guys in the blogging world, and you have a tremendously forgiving commenting policy.

But I hope you someday realize that allowing insulting nutbars like Ed to stick around isn't an act of kindness on your part. It mostly ends up being distraction, posed by people who no one would know, much less care, about if they didn't have a lot of time on their hands and dedicated it to ranting and raving on other people's sites.

Start by getting rid of anonymous comments. ;)

Anonymous said...

Also, it's worth noting that Stuart Hameroff is regarded as fringe - by atheists and materialists. As is Penrose. In fact, it's rather safe to say that if Penrose is right about nature, Lewis is vastly closer to right than materialists and most naturalists are.

(Hence Hameroff describing his experiences at the Beyond Belief conference he attended as him "being the skunk at an atheist convention".)

Blue Devil Knight said...

Amoeba are cool little protists with interesting goal-directed behaviors despite the absence of a nervous system (as are plants, for that matter, especially the venus fly trap).

Is goal-directed behavior sufficient for having a mind?

Hameroff's quantum theories of consciousness are indeed a few standard deviations from the biopsychological norm. Regardless, he is good at describing the abilities of the amoeba, a critter we shouldn't scoff at. In biology we take a model systems approach and you never know what the best model system will be for your property of interest. What if amoeba are conscious? Does anyone here have a theory that would say why they are not?

While Hameroff is far afield in his theories, what if the microtubule-based behavior-guidance system in the amoeba is conscious, not because of weird quantum microtubule effects as imagined by Hameroff, but because this system implements (in more classical ways, less quantum weirdness) the same functional details as nervous systems that are conscious?

The stuff on abortion should probably be in the relevant post Edward you came off a bit batty as usual, partly because of the garden path nature of the post (and partly because of the unprovoked dismissiveness of your alternate title, which I found funny, but come on at this blog you're gonna get some flame action for that).

Bilbo said...

I agree that the first title was the right one. Since Lewis accepted the theory of evolution, he presumably thought that the process -- Blind Watchmaker and all -- could have been the way God chose to design our minds.

Shackleman said...

As a dualist and amateur at all things except for computer and network engineering, I'm fascinated to hear about these goal-oriented amoebas. It seems that if anything they would be used to *support* some form of dualism, not detract from it. Just goes to show that one's metaphysical commitments will greatly influence one's interpretation of evidence, and what constitutes as evidence in the first place.

Fascinating. Looking forward to learning more about these behaviors from creatures with only a single cell and no nervous system. It baffles me how, knowing this, anyone can maintain that consciousness is a byproduct of complex brain function?

David said...


I usually skim the web and post mostly sarcastic comments on blogs (a childish outlet after a day at the office). Today, I have some questions on the mind. I’m sure they’re not original so could you give me thumbnail answers to my questions?
1) I can produce in my mind an image of my wife’s face. I can see her blue eyes, her Nordic cheekbones, and the smoothness of her fair skin. It is a pretty accurate representation of her and I can willfully change the image to go from when I met her at 18 to today at 41. What is that image? I’m not asking how the image is produced, but what the image itself is. I know it isn’t physical. Atoms in my head do not form a physical representation, like a photograph. So what is the image? Is it supernatural, dependent on physical states in my brain, but something without a physical form created in my wife’s image?

2) Atoms react and interact according to physical laws, some we understand and others we don’t. But, they interact with incredible consistency. If I throw sodium into pure water, I will get a reaction of one sodium ion replacing one hydrogen ion producing hydrogen gas. If the brain is made of atoms and they react and interact according to certain physical laws, how can things like will or desire change one thing inside of a physical machine of reactions and interactions? In other words, how can we change and form thoughts and images if the brain is only physical?

I don’t read much philosophy so I don’t know if these questions have been widely answered to people’s satisfaction.

Anonymous said...

On the subject of titles, here is the greatest title for a youtube video ever.

William said...

quoting David
I can willfully change the image to go from when I met her at 18 to today at 41. What is that image? I’m not asking how the image is produced, but what the image itself is.

Oversimplifying: the picture itself is a simulation produced in your visual association cortex under the guidance of memory systems. It is an example of nonverbal (visual) thinking.

To go to the hard problem: as you consider it in your consciousness the picture is probably an example of a a complex quale, made of groups or layers of qualia. As for what that is... God only knows?

Blue Devil Knight said...

Shackelman, I think you don't want to go to dualism about amoebas, any more than you would for venus fly traps.

William said...



Is goal-directed behavior sufficient for having a mind?


No, but it might define the entry or emergence of dualism, in some fundamental sense. Maybe.

Anonymous said...

@BDK: Why not, I think nomological supervenience property dualism a la Chalmers is really a good theory.

Shackleman said...

I don't see why not. They might have little soul-like things for all I know. Considering it seems utterly impossible, not just unlikely, for a single cell to have goal-oriented behavior *without* some sort of spookieness going on.

And yes, I'd fully admit I'm being positively incredulous right now and I'm okay with that. Until someone can show how else a single cell can do all that, I'm simply awe-stricken. It's cool stuff.

Blue Devil Knight said...

OK, go read about a venus fly trap you will see how a living thing with more than once cell can do interesting things like move to follow sunlight, catch flies, and it is all pretty well explained at the molecular level. There you are no longer a dualist. :)

I'd be happy if all dualists hung their hat on the amoeba, as then they will come around sooner to the biological point of view when it comes to biological kinds [sic] (though then their target would simply change, as it did with discovery of mechanisms of inheritance, of ontogenesis, related mechanicms of cell division, etc, all that early fodder for vitalists).

Note I never said amoeba aren't conscious. I think it is an open question, though it is also unlikely. People seem to want to attribute intentionality to all goal-directed behaviors, e.g., the plant follows the sunlight so children are happy to say the plant "wants" sunlight in some mentalistic way. I don't have the energy to point out the problems with such a facile ascription of intentionality to plants. I'm just putting it out there as an implication of those pushing for goal-directed == intentional. There's lots of room to get confused here.

William said...

"Note I never said amoeba aren't conscious. I think it is an open question, though it is also unlikely. "

Do you think that there is something it is like to be an amoeba, or a Venus flytrap?

Unfortunately I cannot think of any way to test such a question.

Blue Devil Knight said...

William: good point. Right now there is no good way to answer it, as there isn't a good model of how consciousness is produced in cases where it is clear (e.g., humans). My hunch is once such a model is provided, we will be better posed to ask it in the unclear cases.

It's not an a priori thing we can decide now, but depends on the science (e.g., like the question do plants use the Krebs cycle to generate ATP? It's not something we can know just by looking at plants and their behavior).

In some cases we may never even know clearly, it may be like the category 'life', which is fuzzy and we don't quite know how to classify simple viruses even though we know a good deal about life. The general biological approach is to pick a model system that clearly has the property of interest (which makes the paramecium a really bad model system for consciousness, but perhaps a good model system for certain types of goal-directed movements).