Sunday, November 18, 2012

Lewis was right after all

This passage comes from A. N. Wilson's "Why I Believe Again." 

Watching a whole cluster of friends, and my own mother, die over quite a short space of time convinced me that purely materialist "explanations" for our mysterious human existence simply won't do - on an intellectual level. The phenomenon of language alone should give us pause. A materialist Darwinian was having dinner with me a few years ago and we laughingly alluded to how, as years go by, one forgets names. Eager, as committed Darwinians often are, to testify on any occasion, my friend asserted: "It is because when we were simply anthropoid apes, there was no need to distinguish between one another by giving names."

This credal confession struck me as just as superstitious as believing in the historicity of Noah's Ark. More so, really.

Do materialists really think that language just "evolved", like finches' beaks, or have they simply never thought about the matter rationally? Where's the evidence? How could it come about that human beings all agreed that particular grunts carried particular connotations? How could it have come about that groups of anthropoid apes developed the amazing morphological complexity of a single sentence, let alone the whole grammatical mystery which has engaged Chomsky and others in our lifetime and linguists for time out of mind? No, the existence of language is one of the many phenomena - of which love and music are the two strongest - which suggest that human beings are very much more than collections of meat. They convince me that we are spiritual beings, and that the religion of the incarnation, asserting that God made humanity in His image, and continually restores humanity in His image, is simply true. As a working blueprint for life, as a template against which to measure experience, it fits.

What Wilson has seen the force of, here, is the argument from reason, which was the argument that, in Wilson's own biography of Lewis, Anscombe is credited with demolishing so thoroughly that he was driven into to write children's fantasies instead of Christian apologetics. His was the most virulent version of what I have called the Anscombe Legend, the legend that Lewis critic John Beversluis (who had employed it in the first edition of his book on Lewis) dispatched with the following critique. 

First, the Anscombe debate was by no means Lewis's first exposure to a professional philosopher: he lived among them all his adult life, read the Greats, and even taught philosophy. Second, it is simply untrue that the post-Anscombe Lewis abandoned Christian apologetics. In 1960 he published a second edition of Miracles in which he revised the third chapter and thereby replied to Anscombe. Third, most printed discussions of the debate, mine included, fail to mention that Anscombe herself complimented Lewis's revised argument on the grounds that it is deeper and far more serious than the original version. Finally, the myth that Lewis abandoned Christian apologetics overlooks several post-Anscombe articles, among them "Is Theism Important?" (1952)—a discussion of Christianity and theism which touches on philosophical proofs for God's existence—and "On Obstinacy of Belief"—in which Lewis defends the rationality of belief in God in the face of apparently contrary evidence (the issue in philosophical theology during the late 1950s and early 60s). It is rhetorically effective to announce that the post-Anscombe Lewis wrote no further books on Christian apologetics, but it is pure fiction. Even if it were true, what would this Argument from Abandoned Subjects prove? He wrote no further books on Paradise Lost or courtly love either.

Language is a product of our ability to reason, and it if is to be explained naturalistically, it has to be as much a product of evolution as a finch's beak. If this is deeply problematic for evolution, then he is essentially embracing the conclusion that Peter Geach, Anscombe's husband, came to when he wrote: 
When we hear of some new attempt to explain reasoning or language or choice naturalistically, we ought to react as if we were told that someone had squared the circle or proved the square root of 2 to be rational: only the mildest curiosity is in order-how well has the fallacy been concealed?] P. T. Geach (The Virtues). 

But to do that is to accept the conclusion of Lewis's AFR.  

117 comments:

cautiouslycurious said...

“How could it come about that human beings all agreed that particular grunts carried particular connotations? … the existence of language is one of the many phenomena - of which love and music are the two strongest - which suggest that human beings are very much more than collections of meat."

So humans are special because we can ascribe meaning to sound waves? Too bad you have to ignore that other animals can do this too. This is why I look to scientists for insight, not philosophers; they actually know facts.

Chris said...

What would evidence for the evolution of language look like? Would there be fossilized sounds somewhere? Unfortunately, the soft tissue of the larynx doesn't fossilize either, so we can't know anatomically when exactly humans developed the physical capacity to form language. But A.N. Wilson, in his article, doesn't give any indication that he has read any of the many books or scientific papers which outline various theories on the evolution of language. All we get is some absurd dinner remark as a strawman representation of, I guess, the best of evolutionary naturalism, and 'How could it', 'how could it'. Sounds like the argument from ignorance, not the argument from reason - or do they work in tandem?

Is it your position that there is no evolutionary history to language - that language appeared full bloom (Adam and Eve?) – or that there is an evolutionary history but that it is simply not 'naturalistic'?

ozero91 said...

I think Kenny Pearce was working on an Argument from Language for Immateriality.

But yeah, this passage on its own isn't very convincing.

cautiouslycurious said...

"What would evidence for the evolution of language look like? Would there be fossilized sounds somewhere?"

We would look around similar to how we see the intermediary steps in the evolution of the eye. We would see how even simple formulations of it being useful would be adapted by species in order to build upon and then become more complex.

Crude said...

This is why I look to scientists for insight, not philosophers; they actually know facts.

"You have a problem with these ideas, Richard, because you are not really a scientist. You are a biologist."

John D. Barrow to Richard Dawkins regarding mathematical principles in nature.

So humans are special because we can ascribe meaning to sound waves? Too bad you have to ignore that other animals can do this too.

You didn't read the argument, and just as last time, you don't understand what's being discussed re: 'meaning' and 'reason'.

Relax, CC. Stop trying to object to every argument that troubles you, before you even understand it. Read what the philosophers are actually saying - not the tiny cadre of scientists you idolize when they're speculating about philosophical subjects.

cautiouslycurious said...

Crude,

Since I've read the OP and you said I didn't read the argument, its apparently not the actual argument. How about you link me to the actual argument?

I also wouldn't be surprised if you misunderstood my criticism. My criticism wasn't against the argument from reason or meaning, it was simply a comment about the uniqueness of humans in reference to language. Its an odd conlcusion from we have language (and so do other animals) to "God made humanity in His image." Please tell me how to make this valid!

ozero91 said...

I think the AfR in question was the argument that was being discussed in the Author meets Critic Thread. Well, until it got derailed by the computer talk. The AfR deals with fermions and bosons to rationality, whereas the computer stuff dealt with rationality to (possible)rationality.

Steven Carr said...

Wilson :-

'Do materialists really think that language just "evolved", like finches' beaks...'

The English language was created by God?

(Or possibly just Hebrew)

Is this really what Victor is reduced to saying?



Steven Carr said...

WILSON
They convince me that we are spiritual beings...

CARR
SO Wilson's argument is that there must be a god. After all, all anybody has to do is look at him, and they will be convinced there must be a god to make somebody like A.N.Wilson.

I am A.N.Wilson - I am so special only a being powerful enough to create whole universes could have made me.

The humility of Christians is overwhelming.

Martin said...

cautiouslycurious,

The Argument from Reason was discussed in another thread, but went off track.

Let me try a slightly different version:

1. Naturalism entails epiphenomenalism
2. Epiphenomenalism entails that the mind is causally impotent
3. If the mind is causally impotent, then thoughts cannot be caused by other thoughts
4. If thoughts cannot be caused by other thoughts, then it is impossible to reason from premise to conclusion
5. Therefore, if naturalism is true, reasoning is impossible.

The first premise is probably the core of the argument. Naturalist theories of mind involve the idea that your mind supervenes on your brain. The easiest way to understand supervenience is to think of a dot matrix image on a piece of paper. The image of a cat, say, has certain properties, such as length, width, height, density, etc. But all these properties are dependent upon the the dots that make up the picture. So the picture supervenes on the dots. There can't be a change in the picture without a change in the dots.

So if naturalism is true, and the mind supervenes on the brain, then the mind is subordinate to the "dots", or brain, that it supervenes on. Which is entirely physical. Which obeys physical laws.

So that means your brain state is entirely determined by the bouncing of electrons, the motion of matter, etc, and the mind is "just along for the ride".


ozero91 said...

Martin,

Doesn't supervenience imply some sort of dualism? Even if it is "impotent" dualism? From the last discussion, cc strikes me as a reductive materialist, so he might just deny epiphenomalism in the first place.

I don't mean to put words in your mouth cc, but would you describe yourself as a reductive or eliminative materialist?

Martin said...

ozero91,

Supervenience simply means "cannot be a change in X without a change in Y, with X being supervenient and Y being subvenient."

So reductive materialism, i.e. identity theory, says that the mind just is the brain. Which means that there cannot be a change in the mind without a change in the brain (since they are the same item). So materialist reduction is supervenient.

With non-reductive physicalism, i.e. functionalism, the mind is a sort of program that runs on the brain. So there cannot be a change in the mind without a change in the physical brain, and so this is supervenient as well.

Does dualism entails supervenience? Well, obviously not emergence, which is the two-way causal version of property dualism. Obviously not substance dualism, since it is two-way causal as well.

SteveK said...

Searle's Chinese Room thought experiment has always intrigued me. Check it out.

im-skeptical said...

"Therefore, if naturalism is true, reasoning is impossible."

Are you serious? Thoughts can't be caused by other thoughts? Did you consider that physical activity in the brain that corresponds to a thought can lead to additional physical activity in the brain corresponding to additional thoughts?.

ozero91 said...

"Are you serious? Thoughts can't be caused by other thoughts? Did you consider that physical activity in the brain that corresponds to a thought can lead to additional physical activity in the brain corresponding to additional thoughts?."

I have to ask two questions:

Under naturalism, what is the definition of a thought?

Can "meaning," or "symbols" cause anything?

im-skeptical said...

ozero91,

What I said is that physical activity causes more physical activity. Thoughts are manifestations of physical brain activity.

ozero91 said...

"What I said is that physical activity causes more physical activity."

Nobody is denying that.

"Thoughts are manifestations of physical brain activity."

Can I take this to be the answer to the first question?

Now what about the second question?

im-skeptical said...

"Now what about the second question?"

I didn't say that meaning or symbols cause anything. But I think I see the problem here. If you want to understand a materialist view of the mind, you shouldn't keep thinking of it in the manner of a dualist. The mind is not something that exists apart from the body and brain. The way we perceive our thoughts is somewhat like reading the output from a computer program. Our perception of the thought is not what causes the next thought to occur. In fact, the brain processes a great amount of information, makes decisions, and influences our behavior without us ever being conscious of all the brain activity going on.

Matt DeStefano said...

1. Naturalism entails epiphenomenalism

How do you figure? You should tell contemporary philosophers of mind this - they seem to be convinced otherwise.

ozero91 said...

“I didn't say that meaning or symbols cause anything.”

Well that’s a given I guess, meaning and symbols are not material things, so under materialism, they can’t cause anything.

“The way we perceive our thoughts is somewhat like reading the output from a computer program.”

This analogy needs clarification. I assume that by output, you mean the thought, but then what is the “reader?” If I take the computer program to be the brain, then your analogy makes it seem like the “reader” is separate.

“Our perception of the thought is not what causes the next thought to occur.”

The perception is the “meaning” of the thought, whereas the thought is the physical, electrical configuration/brain state, right? Let’s say you have brain states (thoughts) and perceptions (meaning). Brain state A, corresponds to the meaning “All men are mortal.” Brain state B, which corresponds to the meaning “Socrates was a man.” And brain state C, which corresponds to the meaning “Therefore Socrates is mortal.” But (on materialism) the meanings (perceptions) “All men are mortal” and “Socrates was a man” are NOT what cause the meaning “Therefore Socrates is mortal.”

It’s just “brain state A and brain state B cause brain state C.” Or “some electrical activity here and some electrical impulses there cause brain state C.” That’s not rationality. Meaning is a must for rationality.

Under materialism, the “perception” or “meaning” and the mechanical process (the thought) cannot be the same thing, because there is no meaning in matter, no meaning in the electrical brain states. Action potentials are just changes in voltages traveling down axons. No meaning whatsoever. Physics makes no connection between the movement of ions and “meaning.”

“In fact, the brain processes a great amount of information, makes decisions, and influences our behavior without us ever being conscious of all the brain activity going on.”

What does this have to do with the AfR? I presume it’s the “make decisions” part. Are you referring to subconscious activity, such as regulation of heart rate? The Autonomic Nervous System, for example, does not decide, it just responds to stimuli and makes adjustments. Or perhaps you mean something like subliminal messaging? But we presumably have no control over those types of influences, so they cannot be said to be reasonable or rational.

(Props to Ed Feser for the Socrates example)

Martin said...

Matt DeStefano,

Well, I explained it above. The supervenient layer cannot change without a change in the subvenient layer.

But the subvenient layer is just matter. Subject to the laws of physics and acting according to the laws of physics. No mental causation at this layer.

And so the supervenient mind is subordinate to it. And hence, despite appearances, there really is no mental causation.

This problem can be seen with Kim's exclusion argument as well, against non-reductive physicalism.

Or see criticism's of Davidson's anomalous monism. Same thing. They all remove mental causation from the picture.

Dan Gillson said...

Martin,

'Supervenience' doesn't necessarily entail epiphenomenalism. (It can, of course, but that's a different matter.) All 'supervenience' entails is that certain mental properties are tied to certain arrangements of physical stuff; when the arrangements of physical stuff change, so do the mental properties that go along with it. (I'm aware that that's a very, very basic summary of 'supervenience'.) 'Supervenience' doesn't necessarily entail that that there are two sets of properties, one causally effective, one not.

Dan Gillson said...

In short, the logical strength of your claim is too strong.

Martin said...

But I think that's the core of the argument. That for the mental to change, the physical has to. But then the mental is entirely subordinate to the physical, and hence there are no mental causes.

Jaegwon Kim's argument is closely related. The physical brain causes an event (say, reaching for a beer), and a mental event does as well (desire for beer). So the one event has two simultaneous causes. But the physical brain causes the mind as well, so really, the only thing doing any work is the physical brain. Mental causes do not come into play at all.

Dan Gillson said...

Martin,

The trouble I'm seeing is that you're importing 'causation' into 'supervenience', when it needn't belong there. It's muddling your argument some. Are you saying that arguments for 'naturalism' depend on the conflux of 'supervenience' and 'causation', or something else?

im-skeptical said...

ozero91,

"This analogy needs clarification."

True. Of course this isn't my area of expertise, so I can only relate the way I see things, which might be all wrong. But I think perception of our own thoughts is just another mental process, like seeing or hearing. The brain can perform calculations and make decisions without us being aware of them. In that case, we can't recall or describe the mental activity. But in some cases, we 'listen' to the thought process, and then it can be stored in memory and replayed. This process of listening is just an additional brain activity (actually, I think it is a process of translating our thoughts into words). It's still not like there is something outside the brain that is doing the listening.

"Are you referring to subconscious activity, such as regulation of heart rate?"

Yes, much of our 'thinking' is subconscious, but there's more to it than regulating body functions. We actually go through logical processes, and understand things, and assign meaning to things at this level. The majority of the time, we are not consciously aware of the cognitive functions happening in our brain.

Martin said...

Dan,

I'm really just arguing Jaegwon Kim's exclusion argument, which is closely tied to the argument from reason. I'm not saying anything original to me.



ozero91 said...

"Yes, much of our 'thinking' is subconscious, but there's more to it than regulating body functions. We actually go through logical processes, and understand things, and assign meaning to things at this level. The majority of the time, we are not consciously aware of the cognitive functions happening in our brain."

I'll be honest, I haven't heard of the subconscious being THIS sophisticated. Do you have any source? Regardless, if we are not consciously aware of these processes, then how can we evaluate them? How do we know the logical processes are valid, the understanding is sound, and meaning is correct?

Crude said...

I'll be honest, I haven't heard of the subconscious being THIS sophisticated. Do you have any source? Regardless, if we are not consciously aware of these processes, then how can we evaluate them? How do we know the logical processes are valid, the understanding is sound, and meaning is correct?

I'll do one better.

Is the meaning of these 'subconscious processes' intrinsic, or derived? Do such-and-such brain processes going through Paul's head intrinsically have the meaning (say) 'Paul is trying to figure out the fastest route to work'? Or is that meaning non-intrinsic - derived, as in someone assigns meaning X to Paul's brain processes and such meaning exists only relevant to their interest?

im-skeptical said...

ozero01,

There's a wealth of material available. Not that it's all settled science, but here's a sample: Conscious and Unconscious Cognition

Crude,

I''d say that I don't know if anything has "intrinsic" meaning. We assign meaning to things in our mind in order to understand them.

Crude said...

I''d say that I don't know if anything has "intrinsic" meaning. We assign meaning to things in our mind in order to understand them.

Alright. And where does the meaning in our minds come from?

Sammy Onomato said...

The only lesson I am able to draw from reading Mr. Wilson's quotes is that converting from atheism to Christianity does not improve one's IQ.
Wonder where he came up with the strange notion that humans are meat?

Sammy Onomato said...

"The way we perceive our thoughts is somewhat like reading the output from a computer program."

Why would you think that?
The two activities do not seem at all alike to me.

ozero91 said...

"There's a wealth of material available. Not that it's all settled science, but here's a sample: Conscious and Unconscious Cognition.”

That’s neat, but I’d have to read Freud’s and Piaget’s original work, as well as any follow-ups and critiques before I can make an informed decision. But the AfR isn’t that broad, it deals with rationality, not cognition as a whole. And still, you have to address my other point:

“Regardless, if we are not consciously aware of these processes, then how can we evaluate them? How do we know the logical processes are valid, the understanding is sound, and meaning is correct?”

“I’d say that I don't know if anything has "intrinsic" meaning.”

The answer should be clear:

“Under materialism, the “perception” or “meaning” and the mechanical process (the thought) cannot be the same thing, because there is no meaning in matter, no meaning in the electrical brain states. Action potentials are just changes in voltages traveling down axons. No meaning whatsoever. Physics makes no connection between the movement of ions and “meaning.””

Under materialism, rational processes (conscious or otherwise) must be purely physical, just as physical as a rock rolling down a hill.

im-skeptical said...

"Under materialism, the “perception” or “meaning” and the mechanical process (the thought) cannot be the same thing, because there is no meaning in matter, no meaning in the electrical brain states."

Sorry, that's wrong. It is the dualist perspective, which needs to have a supernatural being of some kind in order to have meaning. I urged you to try to understand the mind from a different perspective, but it is impossible for you, so there seems to be no point in arguing about it.

"Alright. And where does the meaning in our minds come from?"

The brain. The brain is responsible for out consciousness, memory, understanding, rationality. When the brain deteriorates or malfunctions from some physical cause, those things suffer as well. If there were some kind of ghost being that hosts our mind, it should be immune to physical affectations, but that's clearly not the case. Science is most definitely not on the side of the dualist.

im-skeptical said...

"How do we know the logical processes are valid, the understanding is sound, and meaning is correct?"

We don't, unless our understanding of things is validated in some empirical way. That's true for all of us, regardless of what we believe. My question to you is: What evidence do you have that makes you think an immaterial mind has any more claim to understanding or rationality than a material one?

Martin said...

im-skeptical,

>Sorry, that's wrong.

It's correct. In materialism, teleology is rejected. Therefore, there is no meaning. If any matter has meaning, it has to be assigned that meaning by a creature with a mind. The ink on a page, the electrons in a computer, all are meaningless particles until some mind comes along and says "this set of ink marks or electrons here will refer to a dog".

ozero91 said...

“Sorry, that's wrong. It is the dualist perspective, which needs to have a supernatural being of some kind in order to have meaning. I urged you to try to understand the mind from a different perspective, but it is impossible for you, so there seems to be no point in arguing about it.”

We went over this in the last thread. The AfR assumes materialism, not dualism. And non-materialist accounts of the mind do not need any supernatural beings. Have you heard of Nagel’s recent book?

“The brain. The brain is responsible for out consciousness, memory, understanding, rationality. When the brain deteriorates or malfunctions from some physical cause, those things suffer as well. If there were some kind of ghost being that hosts our mind, it should be immune to physical affectations, but that's clearly not the case. Science is most definitely not on the side of the dualist.”

The AfR is not about dualism. This objection misses the mark. You are assuming that rationality is possible in materialism (before damage), when that is precisely the issue that is being debated in the first place.

And I don’t mean to put words into your mouth, but if the mind = the brain, then your explanation is circular. “Where does the meaning in our brains come from?” “The brain.”

“We don't, unless our understanding of things is validated in some empirical way. That's true for all of us, regardless of what we believe. My question to you is: What evidence do you have that makes you think an immaterial mind has any more claim to understanding or rationality than a material one?”

For the third time, the AfR is not about dualism, and it doesn’t arrive at a particular form of dualism either. And you still have not addressed my Socrates example, or Martin’s example.

“So if naturalism is true, and the mind supervenes on the brain, then the mind is subordinate to the "dots", or brain, that it supervenes on. Which is entirely physical. Which obeys physical laws.

So that means your brain state is entirely determined by the bouncing of electrons, the motion of matter, etc, and the mind is "just along for the ride".”

im-skeptical said...

"So that means your brain state is entirely determined by the bouncing of electrons, the motion of matter, etc, and the mind is "just along for the ride"."

That's correct as I see it. But it doesn't imply that the mind can't be rational, or that it can't assign meaning to things. Of course it does, as we all have experienced. Or perhaps your definition of "meaning" implies something different from what I understand, as in meaning is something exists independent of the mind, which is nothing but fantasy.

"If any matter has meaning, it has to be assigned that meaning by a creature with a mind."

Again, correct. Without a mind, there is no meaning. If you think there is, it's your burden to prove it, not mine.

"And I don’t mean to put words into your mouth, but if the mind = the brain, then your explanation is circular. “Where does the meaning in our brains come from?” “The brain.”"

The mind is not identical to the brain, but it is a property of the brain. In any case the mind/brain does create its own meaning. There is nothing circular about this. And as long as you keep insisting that rationality and meaning can't exist in a material mind/brain, I will continue to insist that your view of the world is dualist, because that's what it is. In your view it is only something outside that brain that gives meaning to things, some kind of ghost or soul or supernatural entity, whatever you want to call it.

ozero91 said...

"The mind is not identical to the brain, but it is a property of the brain."

That sounds exactly like property dualism. It solves the rationality/qualia/intentionality problem I guess, but it's definitely not materialism. Because you know, it wouldn’t be called property DUALISM if it was actually materialism.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Property_dualism

Martin said...

im-skeptical,

>But it doesn't imply that the mind can't be rational, or that it can't assign meaning to things.

If the mind is "just along for the ride", then epiphenomenalism is true.

If epiphenomenalism is true, then the mind cannot cause anything.

If the mind cannot cause anything, then it can't cause your thoughts.

If the mind can't cause thoughts, then it can't cause you to have thoughts based on premises.

Therefore, reasoning is impossible.

>Again, correct. Without a mind, there is no meaning. If you think there is, it's your burden to prove it, not mine.

OK, so the problem is now that:

A) your thoughts have meaning
B) your thoughts consist of complex arrangements of physical materials (electrons, neurons, etc)
C) but physical matter does not have meaning (which you agreed with)

If you want to say that some other sub-mental process assigns meaning, then you are just moving the problem back a step, for now you have explain how that mind can have meaning. You're just using mind to explain mind and going around in a circle.

grodrigues said...

@im-skeptical:

"It is the dualist perspective, which needs to have a supernatural being of some kind in order to have meaning."

Wrong.

"In your view it is only something outside that brain that gives meaning to things, some kind of ghost or soul or supernatural entity, whatever you want to call it."

Wrong.

"How do we know the logical processes are valid, the understanding is sound, and meaning is correct?

We don't, unless our understanding of things is validated in some empirical way."

Really?

So how would you "validate" say, the logical law of non-contradiction (LNC)? Presumably, and by your own words, you will come up with some experiment designed to "validate" it. But to even devise such an experiment, you will resort to a reasoning process of the form "if such and such happens then LNC is false / true". But in the reasoning process, at several steps you will use deductive arguments and those arguments will *of necessity* use the logical rules. So pray tell me, how do you validate a logical law?

Another example. To *even formulate* QM you need some fairly sophisticated functional analysis like Hilbert spaces, operator theory, Von-Neumann algebras and their representations, etc. So tell me, how do you validate the spectral theorem? Or the Banach-Alaoglu theorem? Gelfand-Naimark duality? The GNS construction? Or the Hahn-Banach theorem on the extension of bounded linear functionals? Inquiring minds want to know.

And just for kicks, how is your understanding of "unless our understanding of things is validated in some empirical way" validated in some empirical way? I eagerly await for your enlightenment.

One last gem:

"If any matter has meaning, it has to be assigned that meaning by a creature with a mind.

Again, correct. Without a mind, there is no meaning. If you think there is, it's your burden to prove it, not mine."

Without a mind there is no meaning to or in matter. Ok. But the brain *just is* matter. So if a thought, say one of your thoughts, *were just* some configuration of matter and energy then they would have no meaning; in particular, your thoughts would have no meaning, they would be literally meaning-less. But clearly thoughts have meaning (well mine have, yours I do not know), ergo, thoughts cannot be just a configuration of matter and energy.

im-skeptical said...

Martin,

"If the mind cannot cause anything, then it can't cause your thoughts."

Back to that again. The brain performs functions that we see as thoughts. These functions can be chained in a sequence. In other words, the brain creates a sequence of thoughts. We already went through this.

"You're just using mind to explain mind and going around in a circle."

Wrong. Mind is explained in terms of matter (a function of the brain). Thinking, reasoning and assigning meaning are things that the brain does. Nothing circular about it.

You seem incapable of understanding this because you can't escape your dualist view of the mind. You insist on seeing mind and meaning as things that exist apart from the physical brain. I don't have that problem.

Martin said...

im-skeptical,

>You insist on seeing mind and meaning as things that exist apart from the physical brain. I don't have that problem.

I suggest you avoid the personal attacks, because I am not a dualist.

The key point was made by grodrigues above:

1. No matter has meaning
2. All thoughts have meaning
3. Therefore, no thoughts are matter

Now, you already agreed with 1: matter is meaningless, unless some mind assigns meaning to it.

And I don't see how you can avoid 2, because if your thoughts do not have meaning then the words you speak here do not mean anything, and you are arguing about nothing.

im-skeptical said...

"So if a thought, say one of your thoughts, *were just* some configuration of matter and energy then they would have no meaning; in particular, your thoughts would have no meaning, they would be literally meaning-less."

No meaning to anyone but the one who experiences them. The brain that assigns meaning to things uses that as a way of organizing and directing its own function. And when that person is gone, no meaning at all.

"And just for kicks, how is your understanding of "unless our understanding of things is validated in some empirical way" validated in some empirical way? I eagerly await for your enlightenment."

But I already asked what makes you think your thoughts are valid (or more valid than mine), and you haven't enlightened me. In fact, every time you respond to my remarks, it's always to say "you're wrong" or "you don't understand", but you never enlighten me with your own explanation. I may not be very successful at it, but at least I try to explain what I mean, because I see these discussions as a two-way communication.

Martin said...

>No meaning to anyone but the one who experiences them.

Of course it has meaning to others as well. If I say that your comments here are a great defense of young earth creationism, you are going to insist that your thoughts are about materialism, not YEC. And you would be correct, and I would be wrong.

Your thoughts mean X, and not Y. Someone who says your thoughts are about Y is mistaken. As I would be if I claimed your thoughts were beliefs that YEC is true.

im-skeptical said...

Martin,

Wikipedia says: "In philosophy of mind, dualism is the assumption that mental phenomena are, in some respects, non-physical"

That is what you are saying with a statement like "3. Therefore, no thoughts are matter". (This assumes that you agree with such a conclusion and are not saying it for the sake of argument.) That would make you a dualist, at least by the commonly accepted definition.

im-skeptical said...

"Of course it has meaning to others as well"

No. My thoughts don't have meaning to anyone but me. If I express my thoughts in words, you hear them and then your own brain forms thoughts about those words. And words have no meaning in their own right, except the meaning that we assign to them.

Martin said...

im-skeptical,

>That would make you a dualist, at least by the commonly accepted definition.

I never said I agree with the argument. I'm presenting it as a challenge to materialism, regardless of whether I assent to it or not. I suggest you worry about the argument, and not myself.

>My thoughts don't have meaning to anyone but me. If I express my thoughts in words, you hear them and then your own brain forms thoughts about those words.

Of course they do. If you express those thoughts then I know what your thoughts mean. You are mixing up "Direct access to your thoughts" and "The meaning of your thoughts." No I don't have direct access, but the fact remains that your thoughts MEAN something.

Also, please answer my syllogism above.

grodrigues said...

@im-skeptical:

"No meaning to anyone but the one who experiences them. The brain that assigns meaning to things uses that as a way of organizing and directing its own function. And when that person is gone, no meaning at all."

Sorry, but I am not going to chase down your misunderstandings. I gave an argument; Martin put it in syllogistic form. The argument is deductively valid so if the conclusion does not obtain, one of the premises must be wrong. So which is it?

"But I already asked what makes you think your thoughts are valid (or more valid than mine), and you haven't enlightened me."

I do not know exactly what you are asking, but if it helps, I gave an argument. You have not refuted it, in fact, it seems you barely understand it.

It is also interesting to note that you have not deigned to answer any of the questions and the implied arguments contained in them. Seems to be recurrent in you: instead of addressing the objections you pull out some irrelevant bit.

"In fact, every time you respond to my remarks, it's always to say "you're wrong" or "you don't understand", but you never enlighten me with your own explanation."

In my previous post I said you were wrong twice, on two claims of yours about dualism. You are wrong and demonstrably so. Am I interested in educating you on the various brands of dualism or on what dualism entails or not entails? Not really.

im-skeptical said...

Martin,

"I never said I agree with the argument."

Well I don't want to put words in your mouth. The arguments expressed here are attempting to make the case for a dualist view.

"1. No matter has meaning
2. All thoughts have meaning
3. Therefore, no thoughts are matter"

1. - our minds can assign their own meaning to material things. The assignment of meaning is itself a physical process in the brain.
2. - Thoughts are physical phenomena, but we can still interpret them to mean something.
3. - See #2.

If you don't agree with the syllogism, there is no argument between us. If you do, we probably don't agree on what constitutes a thought.

grodrigues,

"Am I interested in educating you on the various brands of dualism or on what dualism entails or not entails? Not really."

Or having any kind of meaningful exchange, for that matter. So as I see it, we don't have much to talk about.

Martin said...

im-skeptical,

>our minds can assign their own meaning to material things.

That is correct. So the new syllogism could look like this:

1. No matter has any meaning, unless it is assigned meaning by a mind
2. All thoughts have meaning
3. Therefore, either A) no thoughts are matter, or B) all thoughts are assigned their meaning by a mind

Now the problem is that it just goes around in circles, since now you need to explain the mind that is assigning meaning to the matter in our brains that constitutes thought.

im-skeptical said...

Martin,

"now you need to explain the mind that is assigning meaning"

Why? Do you think I should be better able to explain the inner workings of the mind than anyone else because I think it is a physical phenomenon? But it's ok for someone to say that the mind is immaterial in nature without offering any explanation of how that's supposed to work?

I do understand how computer programs work - how they organize, interpret, and act upon pieces of information as represented by the electrical state of transistors. I suppose the mind is similar to that. No dualist has ever explained to me how their mind works.

Sammy Onomato said...

im-skeptical wrote: "Thinking, reasoning and assigning meaning are things that the brain does."

No. Thinking, reasoning and assigning meaning are things that humans do. We have good logical criteria for attributing such behavior to humans. We have none for ascribing that behavior to brains.
You are committing the fallacy of attributing to the part (the brain) something that is logically attributed to the whole (the human).

Martin said...

im-skeptical,

Because you are trying to refute the syllogism.

Matter has no meaning, unless that meaning is assigned by a mind.

You want to say that your thoughts are matter.

So the meaning of your thoughts is assigned by a mind.

But now you have that second mind that you need to explain the same way. So it's thoughts are also matter, and thus their meaning must also be assigned by a mind. But now you need to explain this third mind, and so you need to say that it's thoughts are assigned by a fourth mind.

And so on. In circles. This is called the homunculus argument, and it leads to infinite regress.

grodrigues said...

@im-skeptical:

"Or having any kind of meaningful exchange, for that matter. So as I see it, we don't have much to talk about."

If you want to bullshit your way out, that is your call.

ozero91 said...

I think this is relevant. It is Ed Feser’s summary of an argument made by Searle.

1. Computation involves symbol manipulation according to syntactical rules.

2. But syntax and symbols are not definable in terms of the physics of a system.

3. So computation is not intrinsic to the physics of a system, but assigned to it by an observer.

4. So the brain cannot coherently be said to be intrinsically a digital computer.

im-skeptical said...

Sammy,

I don't believe there's any other part of the human that performs our mental functions. It's the (human) brain.

Martin,

Just one mind doing it all. If I look into a mirror, my eye can see itself. There's no need for another eye to see the eye.

grodrigues,

I'm perfectly willing to converse with you. But you come off as hostile and unwilling to engage in a discussion. If you think I'm wrong about something, it would be nice to tell me why, instead of just speaking down to me from your high horse.

im-skeptical said...

ozero91,

"So computation is not intrinsic to the physics of a system, but assigned to it by an observer."

Consider a fly. It doesn't have much of a brain. But it sees something coming toward it, perceives it as a threat, and flies away. Consider a rabbit. It sees different kinds of animals nearby, and perceives some of them as threats, and others as harmless, and then decides whether to run away, and which direction to run. Consider an ape. It figures out that it can escape its enclosure by stacking boxes on top of one another and then climbing up on them. The ape is sentient, like us. The ape is capable of using sign language to communicate with people. Does the ape use logic? I'd argue that it does, but not as sophisticated as human logic. The difference between us and an ape is more a matter of degree than of kind.

It is easy to see the fly as a purely mechanical information processor. As the complexity of the brain increases, so does the complexity of information processing. But it's all done by physical brains (or nervous systems).

Martin said...

im-skeptical,

But you just said that a mind applies meaning to the thoughts in our head. So now you are taking that back?

If meaning must be assigned, then some other mind has to do the assigning. But then you go to infinite regress, because now you need to explain that mind.

im-skeptical said...

Martin,

"If meaning must be assigned, then some other mind has to do the assigning"

That's what you say. It's not what I said.

Martin said...

>That's what you say. It's not what I said.

OK, but remember premise 1 from above: no matter has any meaning unless assigned that meaning by a mind.

im-skeptical said...

"OK, but remember premise 1 from above: no matter has any meaning unless assigned that meaning by a mind."

I don't have a problem with that. If you are not a dualist, as you say, then why is it a problem for you? Why can't a physical mind assign meaning to a physical thing, or even to its own activities? I believe that's exactly what happens in reality.

Crude said...

Why can't a physical mind assign meaning to a physical thing, or even to its own activities? I believe that's exactly what happens in reality.

So your argument is that physical things assign meaning to physical things. And this act of assigning meaning is itself assigned meaning from some other physical thing. And that act of assigning meaning of assigning meaning is itself assigned by... etc.

We're trying to make you see the problem you have here. Yes, you really do have a problem. Unless you're going to say 'physical things, like brains, assign meaning to other physical things. The brain doesn't need meaning assigned to itself to do this. It just is intrinsically capable of assigning meaning.'

In which case, hey - goodbye materialism.

im-skeptical said...

"So your argument is that physical things assign meaning to physical things. And this act of assigning meaning is itself assigned meaning from some other physical thing. And that act of assigning meaning of assigning meaning is itself assigned by... etc."

That's not my argument. That's your argument.

You evidently are not reading my words. I never spoke of or implied any infinite regress of minds. That's what you insist on, not me. You appear to be saying that a mind that is the function of a physical brain cannot work without some other mind making it work. That sounds like dualism to me. That is not my position, and I never said it was.

Crude said...

You appear to be saying that a mind that is the function of a physical brain cannot work without some other mind making it work. That sounds like dualism to me. That is not my position, and I never said it was.

What I'm doing, im-skeptical, is taking your conclusions and words and showing you what happens to them with consistent application.

Remember this part of the exchange:

""OK, but remember premise 1 from above: no matter has any meaning unless assigned that meaning by a mind."

I don't have a problem with that."

No matter has any meaning unless assigned that meaning by a mind. So how do you explain the meaning OF a mind itself? You have two choices: explain that mind's meaning in terms of yet more meaning assigned by yet another mind (which is why I was doing), or say the mind's meaning is intrinsic (at which point, you're abandoning materialism).

Or do you mean to say that you're an agnostic, not a materialist?

grodrigues said...

@im-skeptical:

"If you think I'm wrong about something, it would be nice to tell me why, instead of just speaking down to me from your high horse."

Oh brother...

I did not explained where you were wrong in your ignorant claims about dualism, but I did about the argument under discussion, about your claims on validity, etc. Response from you? None as in zero, zilch, nada. So what is this chicken shit about "speaking down" from a "high horse"?

Here is the argument again, as cast in Syllogistic terms by Martin:

1. No matter has meaning
2. All thoughts have meaning
3. Therefore, no thoughts are matter

For the last time, the argument is deductively valid, so if the conclusion does not obtain one of the premises must be wrong. You have conceded the first, so it can only be the second. But denying the second is self-refuting. So where is the problem?

You keep wiggling and squirming, thinking that if you just do not think too much about it, you can consistently hold on to both premises. You cannot -- any way out will entail a vicious circle. Martin has already, with the veritable patience of a Saint, explained how this goes, but really this is just a matter of *paying attention* to the freakin' argument -- 3-lines, the most elementary logic and yet you do not get it, and keep saying "oh I do not have a problem" and go on tangents about dualism. Forget dualism, no one has invoked it, and if it were to be invoked it would be Hylemorphic dualism (at least I would, and my guess is that Martin and Crude would also), a completely different beast from Cartesian or substance dualism, your favorite whipping boy (not that you know anything about it).

ozero91 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ozero91 said...

"Does the ape use logic? I'd argue that it does, but not as sophisticated as human logic. The difference between us and an ape is more a matter of degree than of kind."

Simple logic is not definable within the physics of any system, animals included. So the ape's brain can not intrinsically be a computer either.

im-skeptical said...

Crude,

Crude,

"You have two choices: explain that mind's meaning in terms of yet more meaning assigned by yet another mind (which is why I was doing), or say the mind's meaning is intrinsic (at which point, you're abandoning materialism)."

That's a false choice. I reject both of those. I think a mind creates its own meaning.

There is no intrinsic meaning. A word written on paper might mean completely different things to you and me, depending on a variety of factors, or it might mean nothing at all.

The mind itself has no intrinsic meaning. It is a function of the brain. We are able to perceive that we have a mind. How do we perceive this? It's not some "other" mind that perceives it. Our mind perceives its own existence and has some kind of understanding of itself.

I don't see why this seems to be so unfathomable to you. There's nothing illogical about it. Only if you assume a non-materialist view of the mind is there any kind of difficulty in seeing the reality.

grodrigues.

"Response from you? None as in zero, zilch, nada. So what is this chicken shit about "speaking down" from a "high horse"?"

Go back and read what I wrote. I have responded to this syllogism specifically, and I have been discussing it. As for the "chicken shit", perhaps I have been unfair. Maybe being rude is just the way you are by nature. So let me give it yet another shot.

1. Matter has no intrinsic meaning, but the mind can assign meaning to anything.

2. To say that thoughts have meaning is rather ambiguous. A thought is an idea or a step in a computational process. The thought is about something that has meaning to us. the thought itself is just an action or state in the brain. So when you speak of meaning, are you talking about what the thought relates to or about the brain process itself? This should be clarified.

3. The conclusion depends very much on how we understand the premises. So I can't comment on the validity of the syllogism without a better understanding of the premises. However, I can say that being "matter" is also an ambiguous term. It could mean having a material body. Or it could mean something that has no substantive body of its own but is a process or state of something else. The latter is how I view thoughts. They have no substance of their own but they are definitely physical in nature. So is a thought "matter"? You tell me.

If you agree with me that there are multiple ways to interpret the statements of this syllogism, you can see why my response is not so straight-forward. If you disagree, then I still need to understand precisely what is meant by each of these statements.

ozero91,

So you think that the fly's simple nervous system is something more than a physical (computer-like) information processor? If not, where do you draw the line between material and immaterial as you move up to greater complexity in animals?

Martin said...

im-skeptical,

First:

>That's a false choice. I reject both of those.

And then:

>Matter has no intrinsic meaning, but the mind can assign meaning to anything.

So you do accept premise 1....?????

im-skeptical said...

Martin,

As I said, it depends on what you mean by premise 1. Are you talking about strictly intrinsic meaning of matter?

If so, then I agree with premise 1. And since we are defining "meaning" as the intrinsic meaning of material things, then I must disagree with premise 2.

If not, then we are defining "meaning" as the assigned meaning that our mind confers on things. In that case, premise 1 is obviously wrong.

ozero91 said...

"The mind itself has no intrinsic meaning. It is a function of the brain. We are able to perceive that we have a mind. How do we perceive this? It's not some "other" mind that perceives it. Our mind perceives its own existence and has some kind of understanding of itself."

This is all very vague. Clear something up for me. I think it is safe to assume that you reject the idea that the mind exists separately from the brain. But do you believe that the non-physical mind exists, but is "connected" or dependent on the physical brain? That matter has mental properties? If so, that is not materialism. That's property dualism. If you think the mind is a function of the brain, then explain that function in terms physics. Is it just atoms in motion? If the mind is atoms in motion, then how, under materialism, does matter in motion "understand itself?" Even in principle?

im-skeptical said...

ozero91,

I do not believe that a non-physical mind exists, and I have said as much repeatedly. I think that the mind is a property of the brain, but it is a physical phenomenon. I reject all forms of dualism. The brain is a physical thing, and the mind is a function of the brain. There is no "other thing" involved.

So how does matter in motion understand itself? I don't know. It just does. Why would a ghost mind be any more capable of understanding than a material mind? At least the material mind has physical mechanisms that perform the computations and memory, etc. How does a ghost mind work? I'm certain any explanation of the ghost mind (if there is one) is no better than mine.

grodrigues said...

@im-skeptical:

"If you agree with me that there are multiple ways to interpret the statements of this syllogism."

No, there are no multiple ways to interpret the statements; no one here besides you is engaging in equivocation. The context is metaphysical naturalism so "matter" has a definite meaning. Saying that a thought is a state of matter just *is* to say that it is a configuration of matter and energy, the physical stuff, that is what "state" means for Heaven's sake; to say that it is a "process" just *is* to say that it is a sequence of physical states related by (efficient) causation, which can always be reduced to a state of a related system, a system whose state space has for states the histories of the original state space. To say that a thought has meaning, say "Socrates is Mortal", is *at the very least* to say that the thought is about, refers, points to, Socrates (a particular historical figure), mortality (a universal), etc. Despite your obfuscations and misunderstandings, there is really nothing mysterious in all this.

Then we have this:

"So how does matter in motion understand itself? I don't know. It just does."

followed by:

"How does a ghost mind work? I'm certain any explanation of the ghost mind (if there is one) is no better than mine."

So *any* explanation of a "ghost mind", an explanation you do not know, of something no one here advocated, is no better than your "explanation", an explanation you do not have? And you are "certain" of this?

I give up.

ozero91 said...

"So how does matter in motion understand itself? I don't know. It just does."

Oh. Then I suppose we will continue this discussion another time.

im-skeptical said...

grodrigues,

Earlier, I gave two possible definitions of "meaning" as it is used in this syllogism. You are using the second version, which refers to the meaning that a mind assigns to something. "To say that a thought has meaning, say "Socrates is Mortal", is *at the very least* to say that the thought is about, refers, points to, Socrates (a particular historical figure), mortality (a universal), etc." Note that this is very different from intrinsic meaning. Fine. Then premise 1 of the syllogism is false, because meaning can be assigned to any material thing. I hope that makes sense to you.

You can't have it both ways. If premise 1 is talking about intrinsic meaning and premise 2 is talking about assigned meaning, then this syllogism is another case of equivocation. That's why I asked about it. And I'm not the one doing the equivocating.

ozero91,

My answer to your question was somewhat flippant, I would agree. But we both know that the science of the mind is not yet very well developed. I can't give you a good scientific explanation of the workings of the mind. I am certain that there are no immaterial beings or entities that push thoughts and meaning into my brain. The brain takes care of that on its own.

Martin said...

im-skeptical,

OK, so you agree with premise 1: nothing material has any meaning unless it is assigned that meaning by a mind.

Now to premise 2: thoughts have meaning.

By meaning, I mean that a thought has a referent, or a target. A thought that "materialism is true" has the meaning "materialism is true." Thoughts refer to things.

True or false?

im-skeptical said...

Martin,

Forgive me, but do read what I write? I have made very specific replies to you and grodrigues on this. Please read both of them again (my last reply to each).

To repeat, the syllogism uses equivocation to arrive at an invalid conclusion.

Martin said...

im-skeptical,

There is no equivocation. In premise 1, by the word "meaning" we mean that something points to a referent. The word "dog" has a referent: domestic canines. The word "dog" points to its referent.

The reason it does this is because the otherwise meaningless squiggles "dog" are assigned that meaning by minds. Namely, us.

So that is premise 1: nothing material can point to a referent unless a mind says that it does.

And premise 2 is: thoughts point to a referent. A thought about elephants points to elephants, as a referent.

That's what I mean by the word "meaning" in both premises: X points to, refers to, Y as a referent or target.

im-skeptical said...

Martin,

Ok. If "meaning" is used as you describe, then premise 1 is false. I can assign meaning to anything at all (meaning is still a subjective thing). A vase full of flowers means something to me because I attach meaning to it in my mind. Again, that's very different from intrinsic meaning, where the vase is just a collection of atoms that has no objective, inherent meaning of its own.

So, yes - the syllogism uses equivocation. Premise 1 appears to be about intrinsic meaning and premise 2 appears to be about assigned meaning. If you take premise 1 as assigned meaning, then it doesn't say the same thing, and it is false.

Martin said...

So the more precise syllogism:

1. No matter has intrinsic meaning; any meaning must be assigned by a mind from outside.
2. All thoughts are matter (assumption that materialism is true for reductio)
3. Therefore, all thoughts have their meaning assigned to them by a mind

Is that a syllogism you would agree with?

im-skeptical said...

Yes, the newly restated syllogism seems acceptable to me. And just to anticipate where you are headed, the mind/brain, which is a material thing, is capable of assigning meaning to things, including its own thoughts. There's no need for any infinite regress of minds to assign meaning upon one another.

im-skeptical said...

Actually, I think it might be better to say that a thought may actually BE a recognition of the assignment of meaning to something.

BenYachov said...

Wither it is a natural or supernatural phenomenon it seems clear to me watching this argument on the sideline logically the mind can't coherently be a material entity.

Martin said...

im-skeptical,

OK, here is the problem:

>the mind/brain, which is a material thing, is capable of assigning meaning to things

So this material thing can assign meaning to things, but for it to do so, it needs to refer to the referrer (in this case neurons, dendrite, electrons, etc), and the referent (say, an elephant if the thought is about elephants).

So this mind/brain/whatever needs to refer to the neurons and elephants (to say "these neurons over here will refer to elephants"), and so something else has to assign meaning to it's processes.

In other words, this is textbook homunculus: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homunculus_argument

im-skeptical said...

Martin,

Let's get this straight. I specifically said (numerous times) that I am not implying any kind of infinite regression of minds (or homunculus). I anticipated you making that argument, and then you went ahead and made it anyway. "So this mind/brain/whatever needs to refer to the neurons and elephants (to say "these neurons over here will refer to elephants"), and so something else has to assign meaning to it's processes." That's you making the case for a homunculus, not me.

And then you accused me of making this faulty argument. Wow.

The only reason anyone would see things in that way is because they have a dualist view (the other mind or the homunculus is very much a dualist construction) and are unable to see things from a non-dualist perspective.

So let me ask the question again which has gone unanswered. If you have a different view of how the mind functions, can you explain it to me? I'd especially like to know how the mind and brain interact with each other. Is one subordinate to the other? Does one create the other? How do they exchange information?

Martin said...

im-skeptical,

But you DID make that argument. You can't simultaneously make the argument, and then claim you didn't. Because you just did. How does the mind attach meaning to neurons? By saying (subconsciously or whatever) "this set of neurons will refer to elephants." But now where does that mind get it's meaning from? Because it can't be doing any meaning-assignments without itself having to refer to both the neurons and the object of thought.

I don't have a theory of how mind functions. I am only skeptical of materialism. Which, it seems to me, most materialists aren't. Very weird.

BenYachov said...


>The only reason anyone would see things in that way is because they have a dualist view....

Your unstated assumption here is that one can't be an Atheist & or some type of Naturalist & be a dualist.

Also I suspect you understand "dualism" solely in Cartesian terms.

Cartesian dualism is wrong and I would bet dollars to donuts Martin with his Thomistic Blog rejects Descartes.

>(the other mind or the homunculus is very much a dualist construction) and are unable to see things from a non-dualist perspective.

Rather the problem here seems to be you can't rationally, logically or coherently articulate the contradiction inherent in the materialist view.

You can't make 2+2=5 by merely redefining the symbol "5" to mean four objects.

You can't make aboutness a solely physical thing either.

grodrigues said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
grodrigues said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
im-skeptical said...

"and so something else has to assign meaning to it's processes."

That's not my argument, and it isn't implied by anything I said or believe. That's what Martin said, and it's something that only a dualist would infer. The idea that there must be "something else" is a dualist notion at its very core. I don't care what brand of dualism you want to call it. I don't believe it.

So let's talk about being impervious to logic. I pointed out that this syllogism is stated in ambiguous terms. If you remove the ambiguity, you can see that it uses equivocation. I made what I thought was a pretty solid case. Or am I just impervious to your brand of logic?

grodrigues said...

@Martin:

It is clear by now that im-skeptical is not very good with logic and reasoning. You make a reductio argument about his position. How does he respond? You are only doing it because you are a Cartesian dualist (he does not know any other kind) and are you "unable" to see things "his" way. Facepalm. All the more bizarre, since he admits to having no explanation of how it all works -- he is just confident that "brain takes care of it". Double facepalm. You make a separate argument that any way out of the reductio while holding to the same two premises *entails* a vicious regress (not that a separate argument is needed, as the *logical structure* of the reductio readily implies it). How does he respond? That he never made that argument, *you* did. Triple facepalm.

Then goes on to ask some rather muddle-headed questions about how the mind works (a bold move for someone who admits having no answer) which presuppose both a mechanistic conception of the mind *and* Cartesian dualism (as you surely know, the former practically entails the latter), maybe in the delusion that if you cannot answer them, then he is in the clear and his metaphysical naturalism is saved from the blatant *contradictions* continuously pointed out.

Sad.

note: reposted as original was too harsh.

Martin said...

im-skeptical,

Please focus on the argument, not what grodrigues says about you and imperviousness. So, you said:

>"and so something else has to assign meaning to it's processes."

>That's not my argument, and it isn't implied by anything I said or believe.

But earlier you said this:

>the mind/brain, which is a material thing, is capable of assigning meaning to things

So indeed, you did say that something else has to assign meaning to the processes.

im-skeptical said...

Martin.

">the mind/brain, which is a material thing, is capable of assigning meaning to things

So indeed, you did say that something else has to assign meaning to the processes."

What's missing from what I said is the "something else". The brain is the one and only thing that does any assignment of meaning. There is no "something else", as I keep saying over and over. grodrigues says: "which presuppose both a mechanistic conception of the mind *and* Cartesian dualism (as you surely know, the former practically entails the latter)". That's not me making the logical connection between materialism and dualism, that's him. Don't put those words in my mouth. They simply aren't true.

And, grodrigues, while I am being ridiculed for not having all the answers on how the mind actually works, I have offered more in the way of explanation than anyone else here. So again, would you care to enlighten us?

Martin said...

OK, but the problem still remains. For anything to be doing any assigning, it needs to refer to those things. Something needs to say "these neurons over here will refer to elephants." So this positions presupposes the very phenomena that is being explained.

So the problem remains.

ozero91 said...

im-skeptical,

“I'd especially like to know how the mind and brain interact with each other.”

I’m pretty sure most of us here aren't “ghost in the machine” style dualists, so unfortunately we can’t answer that question. I’m not saying that there isn't an answer, but I don’t know one off the top of my head.

“The only reason anyone would see things in that way is because they have a dualist view (the other mind or the homunculus is very much a dualist construction) and are unable to see things from a non-dualist perspective.”

The homunculus argument is a problem for any conception of the mind, material or dualist. If there’s an infinite regress, it leads to absurdity. In order to avoid this, the material brain must assign meaning/purpose to itself. Which brings me to my next point.

"I have offered more in the way of explanation than anyone else here."

You have not provided any argument. Show us that logic, syntax and semantics are inherently explainable via the physics of a system. Neuroscience is reducible to physics, so you should be able to make a case for the material mind from atoms in motion. Now again, how, in principle, are fermions and bosons, which are inherently purposeless, meaningless, and devoid of mental content, give meaning to anything?

BenYachov said...

>“I'd especially like to know how the mind and brain interact with each other.”

The interaction problem is a problem for Cartesian dualists and Property dualists who hold a post enlightenment mechanistic philosophical view.

Hylemorphic dualism doesn't have an interaction problem anymore then there can be an interaction problem between a ball and it's roundness.

But it is self evident from the arguments here the mind can't rationally be explained in terms of the physical brain alone.

im-skeptical said...

Let's see if I can address these questions.

"For anything to be doing any assigning, it needs to refer to those things. Something needs to say "these neurons over here will refer to elephants." So this positions presupposes the very phenomena that is being explained."

The brain does the function associating some configuration of neurons with the concept of elephants. The brain also is responsible for producing this thing we call the mind, which gives us the illusion that there is some kind of 'self' that exists apart from the brain. It's only an illusion.

"I’m pretty sure most of us here aren't “ghost in the machine” style dualists"

If you believe in a soul or hylemporhic dualism, I'd say that's exactly what you are, at least by my understanding of it. What is a soul but some immaterial thing that exists independently and gives us a sense of self? I call it a ghost.

"The homunculus argument is a problem for any conception of the mind, material or dualist."

If that's true (which I don't agree), then why pick on me?

"You have not provided any argument. Show us that logic, syntax and semantics are inherently explainable via the physics of a system."

I wasn't attempting to make a philosophical argument for what I believe, and I don't intend to. I was merely refuting an argument that was made here. Whether I have done so successfully is the debate we are having.

"Hylemorphic dualism doesn't have an interaction problem anymore then there can be an interaction problem between a ball and it's roundness."

As I understand it, hylemorpjic dualism postulates a soul that exists independently. I don't understand how that is supposed to interact with the brain or our physical brain functions. Can you explain?

"But it is self evident from the arguments here the mind can't rationally be explained in terms of the physical brain alone."

Self-evident? Not to me. (And many others, I might add.)

Martin said...

>The brain does the function associating some configuration of neurons with the concept of elephants.

And to be doing any "associating", the brain needs to be making reference to the neurons and the elephant.

And so it has meaning.

And thus, it leaves meaning unreduced.

im-skeptical said...

Martin,

I probably misstated that. The brain configures neurons to make associations.

I think the association is the reference. You see an elephant, and some neurons are configured with that image. You read about elephants, and more neurons are configured. Additionally, associations are created between all the things related to elephants. Those things together create a mental model of 'elephant'. I think the meaning you attach to something is just those associations. In other words, a configuration of neurons. And they do 'refer' to an elephant, or the concept of elephant.

Martin said...

im-skeptical,

Ah, OK. Well that's better. You've explained your position better.

If I understand you, you are saying that there is a causal connection between elephants out there in the world, and a certain brain state that happens at that time, and so over time that brain state comes to represent elephants.

Is that right?

In that case, then, you are off and running into the attempts to materialistically explain aboutness, which is a HUGE topic that can hardly be done justice in a comment box like this.

Suffice it to say for now that materialism has no good theory of aboutness that is not without serious problems.

Take your "causal covariation" theory here. It still implicitly assumes aboutness. The light comes from the sun, bounces off the elephant, goes into the eyes, which cause signals to go down the optic nerve, into the brain, which causes a brain state, which causes another brain state, and so on.

A chain that, from the standpoint of physics, looks something like this:


A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O

Now, for the brain state to represent elephants, you need two endpoints here: the brain state, and the elephant. Can you tell which letter is which in my causal chain above?

im-skeptical said...

"In that case, then, you are off and running into the attempts to materialistically explain aboutness, which is a HUGE topic that can hardly be done justice in a comment box like this."

Agreed. Nor am I qualified.

"Now, for the brain state to represent elephants, you need two endpoints here: the brain state, and the elephant. Can you tell which letter is which in my causal chain above?"

I'm afraid I don't understand what you're trying to say.

BenYachov said...

>As I understand it, hylemorpjic dualism postulates a soul that exists independently.

I've never heard of this?

>I don't understand how that is supposed to interact with the brain or our physical brain functions. Can you explain?

A question that implicitly assumes hylemorphic dualism is just another form of Cartesian dualism.

Which renders the question a category mistake.

start here:

The Interaction Problem Part One.

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2008/10/interaction-problem.html

Part two.

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2009/04/interaction-problem-part-ii.html

Read these first before the more in-depth stuff if you want it simplified.


The in-depth stuff:

http://www.newdualism.org/papers/D.Oderberg/HylemorphicDualism2.htm

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2008/12/oderberg-on-hylemorphic-dualism.html

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2011/05/mind-body-problem-roundup.html

Martin said...

I'm-skeptical,

For the brain state to represent the elephant, there must be two end points: the brain state and the elephant. But as I illustrated with the string of letters, there are no objective end points. The causal string starts with the sun, with photons traveling to the elephant, bouncing off it, etc. This constitutes one long causal chain, with no objective end points.

ozero91 said...

This came across my mind/brain/atoms while I was doing some reading. I’m not claiming that I came up with this, but I thought that I should throw it out there.

1) A thought is a physical process.

2) A thought can be true or false.

3) A physical process can not be true or false.

4) ???

grodrigues said...

@im-skeptical:

So it took you about 100 posts to say that the first premise is wrong: matter *can* intrinsically point to something. What you add is that the about-ness of matter, the brain in this case, can be fully cashed out in efficient causal terms.

Besides what Martin said, what sort of causal efficient mechanism explains:

Theorem: every separable infinite-dimensional Hilbert space is isometrically isomorphic to l_2(w)

I can understand under causal theories what it means to say that a thought is about say elephants. But what does it mean to say that a thought is about Hilbert spaces, l_2(w) or isometric isomorphisms? These objects, *if* they have any extra-mental existence, are abstract and thus causally inert, so your causal mechanism fails to account for the intentionality of our thoughts about them.

If they do not have any-extra mental existence then the same question. What exactly am I thinking *of* in the above mathematical theorem?

I can even form a semi-coherent picture of what it means to say that a thought is about such non-existent things as Santa-Claus or the Tooth-Fairy in such a causal framework; these latter objects are artifacts of the imagination, we can form coherent images in our mind of them (e.g. fat chubby man in a red suit and a white beard). But infinite-dimensional Hilbert spaces? They can only be known through the intellect; no coherent "images" of them are to be had. And needless to say, *if* Hilbert spaces are as fictional as Santa-Claus or the Tooth-Fairy, than to even formulate physical theories such as QM we need to appeal to objects that are as fictional as Santa-Claus or the Tooth-Fairy. This poses a conundrum: they are fictional and yet, contrary to Santa Claus, they are fundamental in our knowing of *objective* reality at which point I say, Huh?

note for the cognoscendi: this not only leads into the realist vs. anti-realist controversy about universals but to the classical arguments for the immateriality of the intellect: the universal and determinate character of our thought.

im-skeptical said...

Ben,

Thank you. I am in the process of reading on this.

Martin,

I don't understand why something would need to be at the endpoint of a chain of causality in order to be the object of a thought. I don't think there is any such thing as an endpoint in a chain of causality. But that seems irrelevant. I should be able to have a thought about anything. I still don't understand your point.

ozero91,

If a thought is a physical process, it can't be true or false. A thought can be ABOUT something which could be true or false. No contradiction there.

grodrigues,

I expressed my problem with the first premise from the beginning. I still don't have difficulty with the idea of having a thought about something abstract. Just as our brain can hold an image of something we have seen, our brain can form an image on its own, and then think about that. Or it can formulate an idea, based on other things that are part of its store of information. Once an idea or image is formed in the mind, it becomes an object that can be remembered, or incorporated into other ideas and thoughts.

My thoughts regarding hylemorphic dualism (I realize they probably don't agree with yours):

I haven't digested it all yet, but what I understand (I think) is that the soul is integral with the brain/body, and therefore doesn't need to interact with it. My first impression, then, is that brain process in this view should be indistinguishable from a materialistic view. The soul understands things, but since the soul is integral with the brain, they can't be separated, so you might as well say the brain understands things. The addition of a soul only complicates the picture, and does nothing to enhance our understanding of the workings of the mind.

The soul is integral with the body, but separates when we die. Evidently it hosts our memories and knowledge, and keeps those when we die. So then, what are all those neural connections for? Do they do the job of cognition when we are alive and then all that information gets transferred to the soul upon death? What happens when the brain is damaged? Do we lose information permanently, or is it kept somehow in the soul, to be restored after we die? Maybe some of these issues are discussed in the material I haven't read yet.

grodrigues said...

@im-skeptical:

"I don't understand why something would need to be at the endpoint of a chain of causality in order to be the object of a thought."

Look, under a casual theories of intentionality, it is the elephant the cause of the the about-ness of the thought "an elephant" being in fact an elephant. So photons hit the elephant (A), photons are reflected by the surphace elephant (B), photons travel through the air (C), photons hit the retina (D), retina sends impulses to to the brain (E), brain processes the impulses (F), brain "thinks" "Elephant" -- call this thought T. But the question is does T refers to "Elephant" -- identify "Elephant" with (B) in the causal chain for the sake of simplicity -- and not to (A), (C), (D), (E) or (F)? Why does T privilege (B) as its referent rather than (A), (C), (D), (E) or (F)? The answer is that there is *no* reason. The reason why you single out (B) rather than some other link in the chain (that I should add stretches all the way back to the big bang) is because you are smuggling in by the back door precisely what you are trying to explain: intentionality. IOW, causal theories of intentionality are circular and explain nothing.

"I expressed my problem with the first premise from the beginning."

Yes you did express doubts (you had to on pain of contradiction), but you never clarified that the problem was in there, or what the problem was. But this is all water under the bridge, so it matters none to me.

"I still don't have difficulty with the idea of having a thought about something abstract."

Whether you have a "difficulty" about having "thought about something abstract" or not is irrelevant (I *surely* hope you do not have), what is relevant is what a a given view logically entails, what it can explain or not, etc.

You gave a causal theory for the referent of thoughts. Let us assume that it works. But abstract objects are causally inert, and this in the assumption that they exist in the first place. If they do not have any extra-mental reality (as the metaphysical naturalist must assert) the situation is even more puzzling. So what does in the thought "Hilbert space is such and such", Hilbert space refers to? An idea in the mind? But ideas in the mind are according to you, configurations of matter and energy in the brain. So are you saying that "Hilbert space" refers to a configuration of matter and energy in the brain? Under metaphysical naturalism, there is only physical stuff. So it follows, that the referents of thoughts under a causal theory can only refer to physical stuff, even if it is morphed by the imagination e.g. as in the case of the non-existent Santa Claus, which is "formed" together from thoughts about physical stuff like a thought about a chubby fat man, a thought about a red suit, etc. But this obviously does not work with abstract concepts. There is nothing in the world that "Hilbert space" refers to, neither is a Hilbert space made of "parts" or assembled from "previous" images. What then?

"I haven't digested it all yet, but what I understand (I think) is that the soul is integral with the brain/body, and therefore doesn't need to interact with it. My first impression, then, is that brain process in this view should be indistinguishable from a materialistic view."

No, you do not understand it.

I suggest in a first approximation to simply forget about the fate of the soul in a post-mortem state as that will just confuse you and will make you think of the soul as a complete separate substance (these are technical terms of art), which is precisely what the soul is *not* under hylemorphic dualism.

im-skeptical said...

grodrigues,

Thank you for your comments. This is yet another learning experience for me. Obviously, I have more reading to do.

But let me see if I can get this one thing right. The brain *doesn't* do all the tasks of cognition in this view - the soul brings something else to the table, like the ability to understand, which the brain can't do on it's own. Right? But then why do we humans need to have a well-developed brain? As long as we have a soul we should be able to understand things and give meaning to them.

Sammy Onomato said...

Martin: "There is no equivocation. In premise 1, by the word "meaning" we mean that something points to a referent. The word "dog" has a referent: domestic canines. The word "dog" points to its referent. "

There are many philosophers who would disagree with that conception of meaning. What is the referent of the word "and" or of "by"? Don't those words have meaning?

I am also troubled by the statement "all thoughts have meaning". I believe we would agree that any expression of one's thoughts with language is capable of having meaning. I don't think that entails the view that all thoughts have meaning.

Nor do I think it true that "minds assign meanings to things". People assign meanings to things. Although people do have minds, I don't think they are minds.


grodrigues said...

@im-skeptical:

"The brain *doesn't* do all the tasks of cognition in this view - the soul brings something else to the table, like the ability to understand, which the brain can't do on it's own. Right?"

No, you are going at it the wrong way. First, there is a serious conceptual error, and the source of many misunderstandings, quite independently of whatever views of the mind one espouses. The brain does not think, people think. This is a textbook case of the homunculus fallacy of applying a predicate (is a thinking being) that only pertains to the whole (the human being) to a proper part of it (the brain). The brain is that *by which* people think, not that *which thinks*.

Now, the soul is not some separate entity of the body that somehow does the tasks the brain is unable to do. The soul is the substantial form of the body; no more, no less. What does this all mean? Well, it is not possible to explain it here in a combox, so as a take-away message, two things:

1. The soul and the body are two constitutive principles of the whole human being and you cannot have one without the other. A *separate*, and not at all trivial or uncontroversial argument, even if one accepts all the hylemorphic dualism baggage, is needed to establish that the soul subsists after death of the body.

2. the relation of the soul to the body is not one of efficient causation but of formal causation, so talk of interaction between the two or of the soul doing some tasks and the brain some other tasks is just misguided. Ben Yachov gave an analogy that is good on a first approximation: that between the shape of the ball, its round form, and the particular matter (e.g. rubber) it in*forms*.

The problem you are having is that you are jumping right into the middle without having the proper metaphysical foundation to understand what hylemorphic dualism is about (act and potency, form and matter, the four causes, etc.).

"But then why do we humans need to have a well-developed brain? As long as we have a soul we should be able to understand things and give meaning to them."

It is certainly possible that there are immaterial, intelligent beings. If you are a Christian, like I am, they go by the name of "angels" (technically, instantiated forms). But humans just are the sort of beings that have a body with a brain, the latter being essential for our cognitive and reasoning powers. If this sounds like a trivial answer is because your question is in a sense trivial: human beings, being the kind of beings they are, necessitate a brain to have unimpaired reasoning functions (in this life at least).

A slightly less trivial remark is to observe that the human body, in particular the human brain, and the human brain alone, is the necessary material substratum with the right level of complexity to be in*formed* by the soul of a rational being.

Sammy Onomato said...

grodrigues:"No, you are going at it the wrong way. First, there is a serious conceptual error, and the source of many misunderstandings, quite independently of whatever views of the mind one espouses. The brain does not think, people think. This is a textbook case of the homunculus fallacy of applying a predicate (is a thinking being) that only pertains to the whole (the human being) to a proper part of it (the brain). The brain is that *by which* people think, not that *which thinks*."

Very good point.
Aristotle put it this way: "to say that the soul is angry is as if one were to say that the soul weaves or builds. For it is surely better not to say that the soul pities, learns or thinks, but that the man does these with his soul."

BenYachov said...

@ Sammy Onomato

Are you an Aristotelian? A Moderate Realist? A Thomist?

A Nominalists? Anti-realist?

Because from your responses to grodrigues one gets the impression you might know what you are taking about.

I like that.

Sammy Onomato said...

Ben Yachov,

To be honest, I have trouble pigeonholing my philosophical ruminations into one particular category or school. If pushed to do so I'd call myself a Wittgensteinian monist. As I understand it, that position is in the tradition of Aristotelian monism. However, I must admit that my understanding of Aristotle and Thomism is on very shaky grounds.

It was through Wittgenstein that I escaped from the trap of Materialism that im-skeptical is apparently tangled up in.

Am currently reading and very much enjoying "When Words Are Called For: A Defense of Ordinary Language Philosophy". A review of which can be found here:
http://ndpr.nd.edu/news/31247-when-words-are-called-for-a-defense-of-ordinary-language-philosophy/

Hopefully, that will give you some idea of what part of the philosophical landscape I inhabit.

BenYachov said...

@Sammy

Thanks for the info bro.

Wittgenstein eh? I've been reading some DZ Phillips.

Thanks again.

Sammy Onomato said...

Ben,
I'd never heard of Phillips before. His From Fantasy to Faith: Faith: Morality, Religion and Twentieth Century Literature and Wittgenstein and Religion look very interesting. Will put them on my future reading list.
Thanks!