Monday, November 11, 2013

Could I really be a materialist after all?

Some further discussion with Parsons. 

Depending on how you define the brain, I would be prepared to agree that we think with our brains, if we just mean by that whatever occupies the space between me ears. My argument isn't an argument for something that is not spatial. However, do the laws of physics govern the brain, or do the principles of reasoning? That's the real issue. Can we admit into brain theory the emergence of something whose actions are determined by laws other than the laws of physics, if we assume that because the laws of physics operate non-teleologically?
Here's something I once wrote in a reply I once did to Richard Carrier:
But we should be careful of exactly what is meant by the term “brain.” The “brain” is supposed to be “physical,” and we also have to be careful about what we mean by “physical.” If by physical we mean that it occupies space, then there is nothing in my argument that suggests that I need to deny this possibility. I would just prefer to call the part of the brain that does not function mechanistically the soul, since, as I understand it, there is more packed into the notion of the physical than just the occupation of space. If on the other hand, for something to be physical (hence part of the brain) it has to function mechanistically, that is, intentional an teleological considerations cannot be basic explanations for the activity of the brain, then Parsons’ suggestion (and Carrier’s as well-VR) is incoherent.
You see, I could become a materialist rather easily. I could just say that God, souls, and angels are just different types of material beings. To give them a scientific ring, I can call them psychons, angelons, and, of course, the theon. Now, if you don't like my proposed expansion of materialism and you want to exclude me from the materialist club, you have to explain to me why I am abusing language here. You have to tell me what it is about matter that makes it impossible that God is a material being. And how would you do that without saying that these entities have ground-level "mental" properties which exclude them from inclusion into "the physical."

23 comments:

B. Prokop said...

The confusion that befuddles so many materialists is that they seem to think that knowing how the brain operates somehow argues against the existence of the human soul. But this reveals a fundamental misunderstanding on their part. They are assuming that "theists" (I really hate that term, but since it is in common usage, I'll go along) believe in the soul as part of some sort of "God of the Gaps" reasoning. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The physical makeup and operations of the brain is no more an argument against the soul than the physical makeup and operation of the eye is an argument against the existence of light. The materialist "reasoning" appears to go like this: We know how the brain processes thoughts, therefore there are no such things as thoughts.

But quite to the contrary, the very fact that our bodies possess an organ capable of processing thoughts (consciousness) is proof that there are such things to process. And where does this consciousness come from? Certainly not from within the brain! No more than light originates within the eye. (This is just an analogy, and like all analogies, it can break down if you attempt to invoke it beyond the intended parameters.)

For consciousness to originate within the organ that processes it would be the ultimate in circularity. Yes, we do go to sleep at times, and yes, the brain can be damaged. But those events have no effect on the soul, just as my shutting my eyes or going blind has any effect on the light that surrounds me.

Crude said...

You see, I could become a materialist rather easily. I could just say that God, souls, and angels are just different types of material beings. To give them a scientific ring, I can call them psychons, angelons, and, of course, the theon. Now, if you don't like my proposed expansion of materialism and you want to exclude me from the materialist club, you have to explain to me why I am abusing language here. You have to tell me what it is about matter that makes it impossible that God is a material being.

A beautiful line, and a sentiment I share.

B. Prokop said...

Last line should have read, "doesn't have any effect" instead of "has any effect". Damn those typo demons!

Papalinton said...

You guys need to read up on the latest of neuroscience if you are going to make any headway in the debate. Theology doesn't provide the answer, nor does theo-informed philosophy. You must read widely than simply being led by emotion and feeling.

I have it on good authority [Gee, I like that turn of phrase] that generating thoughts is nothing more than the use and conservation of energy in brain activity. Generating a thought is a process of generating energy, and because energy cannot be created or destroyed, the brain is accessing that energy from somewhere. There, you've got it. From the food we eat, store and and expend. To generate a thought a whole bunch of neurones physically fire into action from all parts of the brain that go to package up that thought into a cogent and understandable message by that person. Did you know that all our thoughts are reliant on us learning language to understand and communicate, and when we think we even think in language, in words. That thought is stored as a parcel of energy in the brain mass and it becomes embedded into that brain mass as a memory, and its relative longevity or permanence conditional on its constant recall, remembering, and use. If that memory package is not used, or is used too infrequently, it crosses a threshold of non-repeatability and the energy package that made up that thought is reabsorbed back into body and forgotten, the energy re-used elsewhere where needed. Elegant simple physics really, and while not quite worked out yet, the process is getting very close to being fully explained. A Neuron is "an electrically excitable cell that processes and transmits information through electrochemical signals. These signals between neurons occur via synapses, specialized connections with other cells. Neurons can connect to each other to form neural networks. Neurons are the core components of the nervous system, which includes the brain, spinal cord, and peripheral ganglia. A number of specialized types of neurons exist: sensory neurons respond to touch, sound, light and numerous other stimuli affecting cells of the sensory organs that then send signals to the spinal cord and brain. Motor neurons receive signals from the brain and spinal cord, cause muscle contractions, and affect glands. Interneurons connect neurons to other neurons within the same region of the brain or spinal cord."

And unlike philosophy, science does not subscribe to the idea that thinking god is proof of the existence of gods, in the exact same manner that thinking unicorns isn't proof of the existence of unicorns. The energy packages of thoughts that we as children generated about the panoply of boogie-men under the bed doesn't substantiate any claim of that thought as truth.

No you cannot say, "God, souls, and angels are just different types of material beings." Because they are not material, in the same way unicorns are not material, They are simply thought energy packages stored in the brain's memory banks. Energy packages of thoughts about material and immaterial things can equally be stored in the brain. There is absolutely no need for "psychons, angelons, and, of course, the theon." These concepts are only material in the sense that they are energy packages stored and retrieved.

Victor Reppert said...

So, you are saying that God isn't material because God doesn't exist?

If unicorns were to exist, wouldn't you say that they were material?

The problem is going to arise because mental state-descriptions are not entailed by physical state-descriptions. Take a complete list of physical state-descriptions, and statements about mental states do not follow necessarily, and more than one mental state description, and even the denial of any mental state-description, is compatible with the state of the physical. It is logically possible that two people with the same brain state will have different thoughts. There is no contradiction in the idea.

im-skeptical said...

"The materialist "reasoning" appears to go like this: We know how the brain processes thoughts, therefore there are no such things as thoughts."

Boy, are you confused.

Gyan said...

The materialist does not know how brain processes thoughts. Heck, they don't even know how memories are stored. All the criticism Stanley Jaki wrote about the pretensions of materialists fifty years ago, holds even today.

im-skeptical said...

"To give them a scientific ring, I can call them psychons, angelons, and, of course, the theon."

Well, that's what it takes to make something real, huh? Nothing about being detectable? Maybe you can teach those physicists a thing or two.

frances said...

But quite to the contrary, the very fact that our bodies possess an organ capable of processing thoughts (consciousness) is proof that there are such things to process.

B. Prokop,

You have begged the question here by claiming that brains "process" thoughts. If I hum a tune, making it up as I go along, I am not "processing" the tune. The fact that I have an organ capable of producing the tune is not evidence of a pre-existing tune which I am just channeling.

Cale B.T. said...

Papalinton, don't you think you are perhaps being just a tad boorish and condescending in copying and pasting the wikipedia entry for "Neuron"? Do you *really* believe that the only reason that people aren't materialists is because they lack a high school level knowledge of biology, and that you need to "spoon-feed" such dullards in a blog comment?

You seemed open to a debate on another thread. Does 3000 word opening statements then 2000 word rebuttals on the question "Is it irrational to believe in the Resurrection of Jesus?" sound like a good format to you?

B. Prokop said...

"To give them a scientific ring, I can call them psychons, angelons, and, of course, the theon."

I recall that the leadership at the N.I.C.E. in Lewis's That Hideous Strength referred to the demons as macrobes.

Papalinton said...

"Do you *really* believe that the only reason that people aren't materialists is because they lack a high school level knowledge of biology, and that you need to "spoon-feed" such dullards in a blog comment?"

Yep.

Incidentally, it was a quote, not a cut an paste; and it came from the All Reference Libraries, the stock standard Apple Mac source.

Re the debate, what's your new and fresh rational argument for the revivification and levitation of putrescent bodies that hasn't been already been raked over?

Papalinton said...


"The materialist does not know how brain processes thoughts."

Which planet do you live on? Brains don't process thoughts. Brains generate thought.

Here is a little starter pack to become edumacated:

HERE

HERE

and HERE

Get with the program Gyan. Become edumacated.


Cale B.T. said...

Concerning the Resurrection, you seem to have three lines of argument:

1. If we ought to believe in miracles, why should we believe in the Resurrection and not the miracles referred to in the Koran?

2. Hasn't science shown that miracles are too unlikely to happen? Corpses just don't rise from the dead.

3.Your generally skeptical take on the historical worth of the New Testament.

I think I have solid arguments against all three of these positions that you hold.

Gyan said...

Papalinton,
Let me rephrase:
"The materialist does not know how brain generates thoughts."

The links do not lead me to conclude otherwise. They contain some howlers though-

Given that the brain and cognitive capabilities of rhesus monkeys are similar to those of humans, mixed selective neurons should also be important in our own brains.

That is why it is important to eat the right types of brain foods in order to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of your mental process.

--------
Is there really no cognitive difference between a man and a monkey?

Papalinton said...

"Is there really no cognitive difference between a man and a monkey?"

Nope. Only a question of degree consistent with what is required to optimize if not maximize the organism's chance of survival as a natural terrestrial product of this environment. The physiology, the biology, the chemistry, the physics is identical.

Gyan said...

The physiology, the biology, the chemistry, the physics is identical.

1) Granted but still no monkey has ever created a piece of art, shown an interest at decoration, buried another monkey.

2) How are you sure that the physics etc are "identical". Have relevant experiments all been done?. Penrose did write a book claiming quantum effects in rational brains. Presumably, these effects do not occur in non-rational monkey brains.

Gyan said...

Steven Pinker in the Language Instinct remarks that while the chimpanzees ,which were painfully taught to assemble words, were only interested in immediate material gratification, demanding bananas for instance, human children, even as young as two, show curiosity and wonder about things far from immediate gratification, making remarks about beautiful sunsets or a far-off red lights.

That shows cognitive differences, does it not. Cognition is a matter of mind and not of brain.

Papalinton said...

"1) Granted but still no monkey has ever created a piece of art, shown an interest at decoration, buried another monkey."

These are human characteristics not monkey characteristics. They are not signifiers of cognitive abilities. To imagine a monkey doing art is to anthropomorphise the concept of intelligence and cognition. This is an egregious species-centric view of cognition and intelligence, A monkey does monkey things. A human does human things. We know monkeys have a sophisticated concept of self and are acutely aware when they look in a mirror, and like us know that they see a reflection of ourselves. Other animals don't. They look into a mirror and have absolutely no concept of self. Indeed when they see their reflection in a mirror they think another animal is encroaching on their domain and their territorial instincts goes into overdrive wanting to fight the image in the mirror. Monkeys don't. So we know there cognitive ability is sophisticated enough to recognise self and therefore are self=aware and self-conscious.

Please don't be so jejune to imagine that monkeys have less cognitive ability because they can't do human things. That is an extremely stupid argument.

Here is a good test of comparative cognitive ability from a monkey's perspective. You go live in the jungle for a year with nothing more than a monkey 's wit. I would say that a monkey would win hands down, be eminently more successful than the vast majority of humans despite the apparent advantage of having a much larger brain. Why? Because it is a question of degree of their cognitive abilities consistent with maximizing their survival rate in their environment, an environment for which we are no longer adapted. In their environment there was no pressure to create a piece of art, show an interest at decoration or bury their dead. These are human attributes of cognitive development and are completely irrelevant to the monkey's cognitive requirements.

The content of the second point isn't worth commenting on.

Papalinton said...

"Cognition is a matter of mind and not of brain."

No. The mind is what the brain does. No brain=no mind. No brain=no thinking. No brain=no thoughts. Without a brain there is no mind. Though one can have the great misfortune of being born with a brain without a mind. And there is no credibility to any claim that one can have a mind without a brain, unless they think through their arse. Period.

Gyan said...

Cognition is
defined as the act of knowing; knowledge; perception (Webster 1913). Do you know that monkeys know in the same way as people do?

There is an argument that animals only know the particular things but man by intellect can know the universal.

All monkey behavior seems compatible with the idea that monkeys can not know a universal.

"egregious species-centric view of cognition"
It is not possible to escape anthropomorphism entirely. In particular, we have only ourselves as example of cognition. We have no other standard.

Papalinton said...

"Cognition is
defined as the act of knowing; knowledge; perception (Webster 1913). Do you know that monkeys know in the same way as people do?"


They find food, make shelter, socialize, live in communities, have progeny, teach, instruct and pass on their survival and socialization skills to the next generation, know and understand the social and pecking order, recognise in and out groups and individuals. So yes, they do.

Josh said...

Gyan,

"All monkey behavior seems compatible with the idea that monkeys can not know a universal."

You are correct, Gyan. Animals display no indication of an ability to comprehend formal thinking, or utilize concepts (universals). And it is this which grounds the demarcation.

Of course, every few months we are treated to a news story about scientists finding that animals indeed share part of our nature that hitherto had been set aside for us alone. Every one of these involves scientists/media either:

1. Anthropomorphizing an activity instead of getting past a Disney-level analysis, or

2. Failing to realize that the act(s) they are "discovering" are merely more instances of perceptual activity, which are explicable without reference to the use of concepts.

So stand strong when confronted with morons; you're on the right tack.