Saturday, January 15, 2011

On defining the brain

Depending on how you define the brain, I have no trouble with the idea that the mind is the brain. But the brain, or parts of it, have to have characteristics that are atypical of ordinary matter, otherwise thinking would not be possible. It would have to have intentionality as a property at the most fundamental level, purpose at the basic level, subjectivity at the basic level, and normativity at the basic level. Good luck getting that by the skyhook police.

35 comments:

Blue Devil Knight said...

It would have to have intentionality as a property at the most fundamental level, purpose at the basic level, subjectivity at the basic level, and normativity at the basic level.

Doesn't follow any more than saying you need respiration, digestion as properties at the most basic level.

Victor Reppert said...

It's the upshot of my arguments that you do need it. When you add up physical elements of those other things, you don't get indeterminacy with respect to them. With intentionality, you do.

Anonymous said...

So what you are saying, BDK is that lungs breathe, stomachs digest, livers secrete, colons crap, and brains think?

Doesn't that about sum up the claim that mindless processess can account for existence, life, mind and reason itself?


Pissing Off Loftus Since 2004

Blue Devil Knight said...

There was no argument in this post. In the previous post where you brought this up, again you just asserted the indeterminacy without an argument. Again, I see no need for consciousness as a basic property any more than heart rate.

normajean said...

"Pissing Off Loftus Since 2004"

Freaking hilarious!

Hiero5ant said...

Are your intentions, purposes, beliefs and goals random with respect to your life history? Most people's aren't. My experiences with, for example, tough economic times are in no small part the cause of my valuing determination and hard work.


So I don't see what indeterminacy has to do with any of these categories, much less "at the fundamental level".

SteveK said...

One characteristic of reality that must have existed right from the very beginning of existence itself, is the potential to bring about the reasoning, intentionality, subjectivity we experience today.

So, if materialism is true then matter & energy had this characteristic in whatever materialistic form existed at the very beginning of existence. The only thing I know that fits that description is a brain, or something like it.

Sounds like a materialistic version of Genesis...

"In the beginning a brain created..."

Anonymous said...

I assume Victor is referring to arguments he's made in the past, and which most of us have seen at one time or another. That they aren't present in his latest blog post doesn't seem to mean all that much.

And one point in Victor's favor is the history of having the distinction made between primary and secondary qualities. Subjectivity, normativity, purpose and intentionality all were things that were explicitly left out of the picture. Things like respiration and digestion were studied only insofar as any secondary qualities associated with them were stripped away and ruled not to be the focus of investigation and explanation.

If we try to explain those secondary qualities while maintaining that distinction, the only option is to explain them away. If we drop the distinction, then we're doing what Victor says we're doing and shaking up the categories.

Jerry Fodor wrote in his review of Galen Strawson's book: Anyhow, Strawson is right that the hard problem really is very hard; and I share his intuition that it isn’t going to get solved for free. Views that we cherish will be damaged in the process; the serious question is which ones and how badly.

Note that when Fodor talks about cherished views getting badly damaged, and about the question not being solved for free, he's referring to naturalism and materialism.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Anon I know I have seen the claim before about indeterminism, but don't recall ever seeing an actual argument for this, just the assertion. Many times over the years. If you link to an argment for this claim, that it is relevantly different from respiration or digestion, that would be helpful.

I would agree that consciousness is a difficult problem, full of pitfalls, conceptual confusions, strong intuitions often conflicting, empirical question marks, and lack of a scientific consensus theory to help us think more concretely.

Anonymous said...

If you link to an argment for this claim, that it is relevantly different from respiration or digestion, that would be helpful.

I think I already provided some help on the question right here. Do you deny that the distinction between primary and secondary qualities was made in scientific inquiry for a very long time? Do you see why digestion and respiration differ from subjectivity, normativity, purpose and intentionality with regards to those categories? Are you suggesting those categories be abandoned, or have been abandoned already?

Also note how respiration and digestion would get explained with this primary/secondary distinction in play. Digestion is nothing but (some material explanation that requires no reference to bodies, food, purposes, and so on), respiration is nothing but (...).

GREV said...

Don't know why I am posting this but BDK often gets me in a thinking mood and I appreciate that.

To borrow from Kieth Ward and no doubt others, if God is pure consciousness; then could not the following be said?

Made in His image, but we are not pure consciousness. So do we not need something to house the image of God we are made in? Hence the physical components. Hence the Brain?

If God is Creator of both, something I accept. Then both are intertwined and separate. I guess one thing I object to is the strict physicalist wanting to conjoin both mind and Brain in an inseparable definition. Because anything other than a closed system to understand what we see would make that person uncomfortable.

Now I must head off to lead some worship services and do some speaking.

Rob R said...

So what would you think of a strategy like that of Nancy Murphy who suggests that the problem with materialists and dualists is that they think in terms of reductionism when articulating a physicalist position.

Muruphy would suggest that the problem isn't that these properties are at odds with physicalism but that we wrongfully try to make them basic. She suggests instead that we recognize that a physicalism can utilize emergentism where properties that don't arise from the basic level of matter emerge instead from the whole structure and that we have then top down causation. The problem she might have with your description is saying that all of these properties are basic when really, they aren't basic but are results of the whole brain structure working together and cannot be recognized without reference to whole brain structures.

At least, that's my rough understanding. I myself am not a physicalist but I find Murphy's idea fairly intrigueing.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Rob R: interesting point, one that Fodor, in the article Anon cites, actually suggests as a possibility.

Link here. I also am sympathetic to Nancy Murphy's general approach, especially her attempt to fit this all within a Christian worldview.

Rob R said...

One thing I'm definitely not a fan of is that it isn't clear that Murphy's view can make room for libertarian free will and I don't think she sees the need.

I don't know that it can't, but I'm skeptical.

Anonymous said...

Hi. Since we're on the subject of brain/mind, the following quote by a prominent naturalist has been bothering me for quite some time. I want to believe in libertarian freedom, but thoughts like this are preventing me from doing so:

"You want to raise your arm, and your arm goes up. Presumably, nerve impulses reaching appropriate muscles in your arm made those muscles contract, and that’s how the arm went up. And these nerve signals presumably originated in the activation of certain neurons in your brain. What caused those neurons to fire? We now have a quite detailed understanding of the process that leads to the firing of a neuron, in terms of complex electrochemical processes involving ions in the fluid inside and outside a neuron, differences in voltage across cell membranes, and so forth. All in all we seem to have a pretty good picture of the processes at this microlevel on the basis of the known laws of physics, chemistry, and biology. If the immaterial mind is going to cause a neuron to emit a signal (or prevent it from doing so), it must somehow intervene in these electrochemical processes. But how could that happen? At the very interface between the mental and the physical where direct and unmediated mind-body interaction takes place, the nonphysical mind must somehow influence the state of some molecules, perhaps by electrically charging them or nudging them this way or that way. Is this really conceivable? Surely the working neuroscientist does not believe that to have a complete understanding of these complex processes she needs to include in her account the workings of immaterial souls and how they influence the molecular processes involved. . . . Even if the idea of a soul’s influencing the motion of a molecule . . . were coherent, the postulation of such a causal agent would seem neither necessary nor helpful in understanding why and how our limbs move."-Jaegwon Kim

Bobcat said...

Rob R,

Why can't Murphy's view make room for libertarian free will (though I think she's a compatibilist)?

If you want to see a materialistic approach to the philosophy of mind try to account for libertarian free will, Mark Balaguer offers just such an account in his really excellent Free Will as an Open Scientific Problem. In my next two posts, I'll offer a long summary of it.

Bobcat said...

Balaguer’s view starts with the phenomenology of what he calls “torn decisions.” A torn decision is when you find the reasons for doing A just as good as the reason for doing B, and so you find it impossible to rationally prefer A to B or vice versa.

Here’s an example of a torn decision:
Ralph is deciding between moving to New York City and staying in Mayberry, North Carolina. If he moves to New York, he believes he’ll win fame and fortune (reasons R1 and R2). If he stays in Mayberry, he believes he’ll maintain safety and stability (R3 and R4). He values fame and fortune just as much as he values safety and stability. Consequently, he cannot decide between going to New York and staying in Mayberry. However, his decision has a deadline, so when he reaches the deadline he “just chooses” to move to New York City. If asked, “why did you move to New York City?”, he would respond “fame and fortune”. However, if he had been asked, “why did you move to NYC *over* staying in Mayberry?”, he would have responded, “I don’t know…I just had to make a decision, and the decision I opted for was moving to New York.”

Now imagine token-token materialism about the mind and the brain is true. Thus, every mental event is a physical (brain) event. So, what’s going on in Ralph’s brain when he makes a torn decision? Well, assuming Ralphs’s phenomenology is veridical, R1 and R2 favor A just as strongly as R3 and R4 favor B; another way of putting that is that at time t1, there is a 50% chance Ralph will select A by time t2 (the deadline), and there is also a 50% chance he will select B by the by t2.

Bobcat said...

In addition, because it is R1-R4 that fix the probabilities of Ralph’s future decision, we can say that, should Ralph choose A, then his choice of A was non-deterministically caused by R1 and R2 (this is just the physiological analogue of our saying that, if Ralph had been asked why he went to New York, he’d say, “because of fame and fortune”). Similarly, if Ralph chooses B, then we could say that his choice of B was non-deterministically caused by R3 and R4.

Penultimately, assume that Ralph’s eventual choice of A is a Ralph-consciously-choosing-A event. In other words, when he chooses A, he will feel as though he is purposefully choosing A.

Finally, assume that Ralph’s eventual choice of A is uncaused. This is the physiological analogue to his feeling that he “just chose” A. After all, what is it to “just choose” A over B? It is to arbitrarily, or whimsically, or randomly choose A over B. You know the reasons favoring A are no better than the reasons favoring B. But you have to make a choice of A. So you just choose A. On the physiological level, what this means is that there is no explanation for why the event of Ralph’s-consciously-choosing-A arose rather than the event of Ralph’s-consciously-choosing-B arose. In other words, Ralph’s actual decision is uncaused.

And Balaguer thinks that if the story I (really, he) told above is correct, then it’s possible to have a materialistic, event-causal libertarianism.

Anonymous said...

The myth of non-reductive materialism by Jaegwon Kim.

One problem with non-reductive materialism is that it has a habit (maybe a destiny) of collapsing into either eliminative materialism or non-materialism when someone is pressed on it, and it's not much of an explanation. To quote Fodor again.

Maybe, however, there’s something wrong with this view and we’ll finally have to do without it. Maybe the hard problem shows that not all basic laws are laws of physics. Maybe it shows that some of them are laws of emergence. If that’s so, then it’s not true after all that if Y emerges from X there must be something about X in virtue of which Y emerges from it. Rather, in some cases, there wouldn’t be any way of accounting for what emerges from what. Consciousness might emerge from matter because matter is the sort of stuff from which consciousness emerges. Full stop.

It would then have turned out that the hard problem is literally intractable, and that would be pretty shocking.


Put that way, it doesn't seem like a materialist response to questions of intentionality, purpose, subjectivity, and normativity. Or rather, it is a response to these problems the way the Japanese Instrument of Surrender was a response to the problem of Allied forces.

Anonymous said...

One problem with non-reductive materialism is that it has a habit (maybe a destiny) of collapsing into either eliminative materialism or non-materialism when someone is pressed on it, and it's not much of an explanation. To quote Fodor again.

Maybe, however, there’s something wrong with this view and we’ll finally have to do without it. Maybe the hard problem shows that not all basic laws are laws of physics. Maybe it shows that some of them are laws of emergence. If that’s so, then it’s not true after all that if Y emerges from X there must be something about X in virtue of which Y emerges from it. Rather, in some cases, there wouldn’t be any way of accounting for what emerges from what. Consciousness might emerge from matter because matter is the sort of stuff from which consciousness emerges. Full stop.

It would then have turned out that the hard problem is literally intractable, and that would be pretty shocking.


Put that way, it doesn't seem like a materialist response to questions of intentionality, purpose, subjectivity, and normativity. Or rather, it is a response to these problems the way the Japanese Instrument of Surrender was a response to the problem of Allied forces.

Victor Reppert said...

When you run across a Christian materialist, the question isn't whether the materialism is or is not reductive. The question is whether the materialism in question adheres to what I consider to be the three basic doctrines of materialism.

1) The basic level (typically known as the physical) is mechanistic. Purpose, intentionality/aboutness, normativity and subjectivity (first-person-ness) must be read out of "basic physics."

2) The basic level is causally closed. Physical events are caused, insofar as they are caused at all, by physical events and physical events only.

3) Whatever else is real at any other level supervenes on the physical. That is, it must be a necessary consequence of the physical being the way it is, that anything else is the way it is.

I can't see how libertarian free will can fit into this, because I believe LFW makes our purposes into basic causes for our actions. So I have serious doubts as to whether, for example, Peter van Inwagen is a materialist in the relevant sense.

But then, once these three requirements are in place, my argument from reason begins. So, if I am going to discuss the argument from reason with you, the first thing I want to know is whether you are a materialist (or a naturalist) in this sense. If not, then maybe your argument is with the Skyhook Police, and not with me.

JS Allen said...

I haven't yet looked at "free will as an open scientific problem" since it's not on Kindle, and I'm loathe to read something that meaty without the ability to electronically take notes. However, I found a PDF of Belaguers's "Libertarianism as a scientifically respectable view". In it, he argues that we're still fairly ignorant about many thing in physics, and indeterminacy may very well influence decisions. That seems reasonable to me.

There are two things I don't quite understand yet. First, how does indeterminacy get us to libertarianism in the way that most people think of it? That is, how does the fact that some of my choices are random make me any more in charge of my own will? Is there a Van Inwagen paper that explains this?

Second, how is Belauger's scheme qualitatively different from compatibilism? Under compatibilism, there can be a great many decisions that are, for all practical purposes, random. To the agent, any observer, or any apparatus we could conceivably build, the decision would be unpredictable. Is the qualitative difference primarily that the randomness is *really* random under Belaguer's scheme, and only random " for all practical purposes" under compatibilism?

Rob R said...

Why can't Murphy's view make room for libertarian free will (though I think she's a compatibilist)?

I don't know that it can't, I'm just not confident that it can.

I read half of that article by Blue devil knight which was pretty interesting (and in theory, I'll one day read the other half) and the author highlighted a point against emergentism, that one can see how the emergent property of liquids emerges from the properties of molecules that aren't liquids. But to go from the arrangement of particles to consciousness, it isn't clear that such can be done.

Course, that is against Murphy's emergentism. I think of myself as holding to Haskers emergence dualism.

I would have to think about Balagurs response.

My original philosophical rejection of a physical mind was loosely related to free will but had more to do with responsibility.

Ironically, the argument I came up with was parallel to the classic argument for free will that Van Inwagen came up with.

Van Inwagen's argument was something like this.
1. I am only responsible for that which is up to me.
2. If determinism is true, everthing that happens is a result of events that happened before I was born.
3. Nothin that happened before I was born was up to me.
4. Thus if materialism is true, than I am not responsible.

I take responsibility as a properly basic belief thus determinism must be false and libertarian freedom must be true.

So I took the form of this argument and applied it to materialism.

1. I am only responsible for that which is up to me.
2. If materialism is true, everything that happens is a result of the laws governing matter.
3.The laws governing matter are not up to me
4. Thus if materialism is true, I am not responsible.

I supposed that Nancy Murphy's view can get around this, that responsibility supervenes on a particular structure of matter. But again, as the article above mentioned, the problem of responsibility that we cannot explain in light of materialism has only been replaced by the problem of emergence which in this case, isn't clearly the kind that can actually emerge from matter.

GREV said...

I see Nancy Murphy comes up a lot.

To those referencing her I ask; have you dealt with some of the counter arguments raised I believe in Body and Soul?

Now it has been Ten Years since I have read Body and Soul and I need to revisit it.

Victor Reppert said...

I think Bill Hasker wrote a response to Murphy somewhere. I may have to ask him where.

GREV said...

Here is one place where Hasker wrote -- In Search Of The Soul: Four Views Of The Mind-body Problem

Rob R said...

I'd be interested in knowing about that.

Are you on Board with Hasker with emergence dualism professor?

It seems to me that it is the way to go for dualists to be faithful on the biblical emphasis on the unity of the person including the importance embodiment given the extreme importance of bodily resurrection of Christ and for the full redemption of us and the world.




GREV,

To those referencing her I ask; have you dealt with some of the counter arguments raised I believe in Body and Soul?

Heck no. I'm an amateur... with a significant degree of training.

Rob R said...

Oh, GREV, I just saw your last post in reference to the four views book.

Thanks

Victor Reppert said...

I'm sympathetic to Hasker's position.

Bobcat said...

Hi JS,

I'm going to answer your two questions in two comments. Here's your first question and my first response:

"First, how does indeterminacy get us to libertarianism in the way that most people think of it? That is, how does the fact that some of my choices are random make me any more in charge of my own will? Is there a Van Inwagen paper that explains this?"

Last question first: there is no van Inwagen paper explaining this; in fact, van Inwagen gives some fairly strong arguments against the possibility of agent-causation or randomness allowing for free will. Here's an example of some of van Inwagen's arguments against libertarian free will: http://www.ucl.ac.uk/~uctytho/dfwvanInwagen1.htm

OK, next question: "how does the fact that some of my choices are random make me any more in charge of my own will?" So, Balaguer thinks that IF mental events are physical events and IF you have to make a torn decision D and IF your D is non-deterministically caused (e.g., it's non-deterministically caused by R1), then, as long as D is a mental event whose contents are that you are conscious of it, and that it is purposively directed to bringing about A, then it squares with common sense notions of freedom.

This requires more explanation. So: imagine you're choosing between salmon and chicken. And imagine you find yourself split--phenomenologically, it feels as though you could go either way. How does it feel when you make this decision? On Balaguer's view, it feels as though you "just choose". That is, at some point, you throw up your hands and say, "oh fine, I'll just have the salmon."

If this is the phenomenology, then the physiology should be something like this: you're 50% likely to choose the salmon and 50% likely to choose the chicken. Which one you end up choosing is undetermined. It just happens. But if what it is that just happens is the event of your consciously, purposefully choosing the salmon, then what is lacking such that you're not in control of it?

Bobcat said...

JS's second question:

"Second, how is Belauger's scheme qualitatively different from compatibilism? Under compatibilism, there can be a great many decisions that are, for all practical purposes, random. To the agent, any observer, or any apparatus we could conceivably build, the decision would be unpredictable. Is the qualitative difference primarily that the randomness is *really* random under Belaguer's scheme, and only random " for all practical purposes" under compatibilism?"

Yeah, on Balaguer's view, the random must be real -- otherwise when we make torn decisions we're under an illusion: we think we could have gone for the chicken just as much as we did for the salmon but, unbeknownst to us, all along we were determined to go for the salmon.

There's more, too: Balaguer thinks that a world without any torn decisions would be lacking something. To be honest, I don't remember what he thinks it would be lacking, off the top of my head, but I can easily find it if you'd like.

JS Allen said...

Thanks Bobcat,

In the Van Inwagen paper you linked, Van Inwagen says:

"But then, if the world is indeterministic, isn’t it just a matter of chance how things did happen in the one, actual course of events? And if what we do is just a matter of chance—well, who would want to call that freedom?"

Later in the same paper, Van Inwagen says:

"My opinion is that the first argument (the argument for the incompatibility of freedom and determinism) is essentially sound, and that there is, therefore, something wrong with the second argument (the argument for the incompatibility of freedom and indeterminism). But if you ask me what it is, I have to say that I am, as current American slang has it, absolutely clueless."

So, it seems Balaguer is trying to present a scenario where indeterminism is not incompatible with freedom. The "torn decision" scenario is quite good, since the agent had sufficient cause for taking either course of action, and would consider the action voluntary after the fact.

I agree that this fits with common sense notions of free will, although I don't think it necessarily fits well with the way that people think about free will and culpability. For example, what about torn decisions that could lead alternately to damnation or salvation? Is someone less culpable for a decision that was taken while torn, if the alternate choice was less harmful?

Bobcat said...

Hi JS,

Your question about culpability is a good one. Balaguer doesn't address it, as he's interested in the metaphysical questions about free will, rather than the free will-moral responsibility connection.

That said, you could take something like the following line, which is similar to the position of Robert Kane (arguably the leading philosopher of libertarian free will). To a large degree, we make ourselves who we are because of the torn decisions we make. So, when you're just a child, your personality, dispositions, etc., largely result from your upbringing and genetics, with perhaps a bit of a contribution form your choices in torn situations. By the time you're an adult, though, your personality, etc., is to a much greater extent (though not necessarily to a great extent) the result of your decisions in torn situations.

So, if you're a five-year old child deciding between taking your peer's shiny bauble or letting him play with it because teacher said it was his, and you find yourself torn, this is not itself a very surprising or condemnable thing. Moreover, if you choose to take his bauble, this is also not very condemnable.

On the other hand, if you're a thirty five-year old man, and you find yourself torn between taking your colleague's shiny car keys or letting him keep them, well, this is a pretty condemnable thing, becuase by this point you should have made yourself into the kind of person who doesn't find this to be a difficult decision. And if you actually end up taking the keys, this is still worse.

JS Allen said...

OK, that is very helpful.

My first instinct was to say that it's not much better in terms of culpability -- the man who reaches heaven after getting lucky on 50 sequential torn decisions is no more worthy than the man who plays Russian Roulette 50 times in a row and wins every time. If you have billions of people playing Russian Roulette, you'll have a great many who win 50 times in a row.

On the other hand, people aren't making decisions in a vacuum. We can look back on our history of torn decisions, and use that to influence our actions. I doubt that Van Inwagen would see this as being truly free will, but it is more psychologically appealing to me than vanilla compatibilism.

Bobcat said...

JS wrote,

"My first instinct was to say that it's not much better in terms of culpability -- the man who reaches heaven after getting lucky on 50 sequential torn decisions is no more worthy than the man who plays Russian Roulette 50 times in a row and wins every time. If you have billions of people playing Russian Roulette, you'll have a great many who win 50 times in a row."

Balaguer talks about this Russian roulette idea (though he doesn't use that specific game). Basically, he doesn't think you should think of the torn decisions people make as having anything to do with luck. Here's one reason you might think it's due to luck:

"Imagine Bob is choosing between the salmon and the chicken. There's a 50% chance he'll choose the chicken and a 50% chance he'll choose the salmon. How is this different from saying that Bob's decision is determined by some coin flipping outside of him, and when it lands on heads he chooses salmon and when it lands on tails he chooses chicken?"

Well, the difference is that a coin flipping outside of him is not him choosing -- sure, if his choices were determined by a coin flip outside of his brain, then yes, his choices wouldn't be free choices. But that's not how he in fact chooses. Instead, his choice is determined by a mental event inside his head occurring without a deterministic cause. But that's precisely how the phenomenology of the decision feels to us!

Balaguer thinks the only way that it could turn out to be false that we freely make our own choices is if the phenomenology of free choosing turns out to be false. One way that could be is if it feels like there's a 50% chance of your choosing X, but it turns out that there's a 100% chance of your choosing X (i.e., if determinism is true, then the phenomenology of torn decisions is misleading). Another way it could turn out to be false is if there's a 50% chance of your choosing X, but that your choice of X is determined by something outside of your reasons and your intentions.

And keep in mind another thing: the fact that there's a 50% chance you'll choose the salmon (or major in philosophy; or take the plunge and marry this woman; etc.) is due to facts about you: there's a 50% chance you'll choose the salmon because you like the taste and texture and feel less guilt about the killing of dumb salmon; but there's a 0% chance you'll eat the liver and onions because you hate the taste of liver. There's a 50% chance you're choose to major in cognitive science because you find it valuable, gripping, and lucrative; but there's a 0% chance you'll major in hotel management because you can't imagine yourself doing that for the rest of your life and you don't have a knack for management anyway. Etc.