Friday, November 15, 2013

More dialogue with Parsons

  • You can follow his side here. 

    Keith, I think you have misunderstood what I am doing with the idea of the psychon. The problem I am pointing to is this. I am not actually suggesting that the "soul" is a physical entity, but I am attempting to show that in order make a define the physical in any meaningful way that excludes things like "psychons", you have to define the mental (or as you would have it, the "personal") out of the physical. You seem to be saying that there is nothing but prejudice keeping us from assigning mental properties to physical entities like the brain. But when you have to define the physical in contradistinction to the mental, I believe that you have at least a prima facie difficulty that requires some explanation.
    Since the physical, at least at the base level has to be free of purpose, intentionality, subjectivity, and normativity, these things have to be bootstrapped in on higher levels. Further, these higher levels have to be necessary consequences of what is on the lower levels.
    Now you seem to follow Melnyk in bootstrapping the mental into the upper levels of a physicalistic universe via some version of functionalism.
    Here's a description of functionalism provided by William Vallicella.
    Mental properties are functional properties. So when we say that x, a brain event say, has a mental property, all we mean is that it stands in certain causal relations to sensory inputs, behavioral outputs, and intervening brain events. So what makes the brain event mental is simply the relations in which it stands to inputs, outputs and other brain events. Once you grasp this, then you grasp that the brain event can be wholly physical in nature despite its having a mental property. Mental properties are not intrinsic but relational.
    Now, the link provides some criticisms by Vallicella of this claim, but my main concern at this point is simply asking you if you think his description of functionalism is correct.


      B. Prokop said...

      Goodbye, my Friends at Dangerous Idea.

      Many of you may know that I annually take a 40 days "internet fast" each Lent. Well, some things I have learned from doing this several times now is how my thought processes are so much clearer near the end of each of those periods, how my attention span is noticeably greater, how much more time I end up spending in the Real World, how I can dwell on really deep issues as they should be - that is, deeply. I have come to the conclusion that spending time on the internet (to include, sadly Dangerous Idea) does more harm to one than good. The benefits do not outweigh the negatives.


      Next Sunday, on the Feast of Christ Our King, I will be signing off the internet (hopefully) for one full year. This is going to be difficult, and perhaps not successful, because I will still need to use it for e-mail and various business transactions (on-line banking, etc.) There's really no way to go off the web totally in the 21st century and still function. (The situation is perhaps analogous to an alcoholic trying to go sober, yet still required to have one drink a day.) This will be a great opportunity to see how much self control I actually have.

      Do svidaniya!

      Unknown said...

      So long, Bob! I think I'll be taking my leave from DI as well. Sadly, the level of toxicity among the commentators has increased precipitously since I started commenting here. I may end up starting a blog. I'll post something if I do.

      Karl Grant said...

      Take Care, Bob. We'll miss you.

      Victor Reppert said...

      Honestly,I know why people react this way, and this is why I have, from time to time, had thoughts of just packing it up.

      I have been operating on the assumption that good, open dialogue about religiously significant issues amongst people who disagree vigorously with one another is a good thing, and something our society desperately needs.

      When I first set this up, I didn't even realize it came with a combox. Really.

      Currently I am trying to conduct a dialogue with Keith Parsons on the AFR, and I hope that goes well.

      im-skeptical said...

      Hope to see you again, Bob.

      Rasmus Møller said...

      God bless you Bob

      B. Prokop said...

      Victor (and others),

      Don't misinterpret my eschewing the internet (starting on Sunday). It has nothing to do with the level of discourse on Dangerous Idea. Your website (to include its combox) has actually been an island of sanity in a sea of filth and vitriol. With rare exception, even the worst of exchanges on DI come nowhere near to the level of hatred, personal attack, and downright obscenity that permeates what passes for "discussion" on the rest of the internet. Even Linton at his worst (and he is the worst offender here) is, with rare exception, the very picture of restraint compared to what I see elsewhere.

      No, in the immortal words of George Costanza, "It's not you - it's me!" I don't like how the web is shortening my attention span, how easy it is to get into a habit of skimming articles, linking off in all directions, and never really settling down to just think.

      I also deplore the "dumbing down" effect it has, even on my own interior dialogs. It's similar to what has occurred in politics in the Age of Television - everything gets reduced to pithy little sayings (a.k.a., "sound bites") and nuance goes out the window.

      Thirdly, beauty is trampled by technology. An afternoon spent slo-o-o-o-ly reading through a poem by Walt Whitman, or spent in prayer with the Brevarium Romanum is infinitely superior to the mass of hurriedly-scrawled, un-spellchecked postings that permeates the web.

      And lastly, I don't care for the internet's anonymity factor. Perhaps I would think differently if everyone were somehow required to post under their own names. What occurs on internet exchanges of opinion more resembles our behavior on the roadways than anything else. Sheltered by the anonymity of our automobiles, people all too often treat others with far less courtesy than they would were they standing right next to each other.

      But even infinite good will and perfect manners in comboxes would do nothing to solve the more important issues that I listed first in the above. At any rate, I've been contemplating this move for quite some time now. What sent me over the edge was not anything that happened on DI, but the sight of young people obsessively checking their e-mails on their "personal devices" in the most inappropriate of places. At first I chalked it up to bad manners. But then I realized I was seeing the effects of an addiction. Then I started to wonder just how far I myself was addicted, and I didn't like what I discovered.

      It's time to throw away the bottle.

      Papalinton said...

      An insightful valedictory, Bob. And while I agree wholeheartedly with what you say, I myself have yet to reach the stage you now find yourself. Perhaps It might be that I have some more learning and maturing to do before I too can let go the pull of the combox.

      You are right on the money with the analogy of the anonymous auto driver in the way the internet is used. As apparently highly social and sociable animals we are constantly reminded we are, It is truly an indictment the unbridled savagery we so easily fall into, and what we fail to see in ourselves when left to our own devices to exercise discipline, restraint, fairness, courtesy, all the things that characterise sociability.

      Even to the end though I can find aspects of your perspective which I do not agree with. I think it is unfair to characterise the behaviour of young people with their cell-phones as an addiction. Rather what it signals is their level of immaturity, which has always been there consistent with their age and experience, in coming to terms with the role of technology, how it influences our day-to-day lives, and which the community has yet to develop the social protocols around how the undoubted ubiquity of this technology will be integrated into our lives. Remember, from out of this milieu, from out of this pool of what most of us of the older generation would label with some good humour I hope, unrepresentative swill :), will come our future leaders. What we are witnessing Bob as you rightly point out, is not so much bad manners, but different manners, manners that are somewhat alien to our older sensibilities. But it is not an obsession. It is simply how the young today relate with each other, warts and all. And to be fair I think the young are on the whole a deal more honest and open today with far less latent prejudices than our generation.

      All the best to you and your dearest.

      And let me say that should you ever decide to make a return into the future it will never be seen as a failure of a test of one's self-control or discipline. It will simply be an acknowledgement and perhaps a grudging acceptance of the integral role of technology in the sweep of communication alternatives now personally available to each of us.

      im-skeptical said...

      "Even Linton at his worst (and he is the worst offender here) is, with rare exception, the very picture of restraint compared to what I see elsewhere."

      Not that I wish to start a to-do, but I must disagree. Linton is the very picture of civility compared to many individuals in this group (including me).

      frances said...


      A couple of weeks ago I, new to this thread, responded to something you said with a post, the tone of which I have since regretted. I was trying to make a serious point (about the argument from incredulity) but I made it in a way which was gratuitously offensive and I hope you will accept my apology for that.


      B. Prokop said...


      (I still have until midnight Saturday to check for comments here.) Oh, don't worry about anything you wrote! You're not the problem here - I am! I am already finding my head clearer in the few days since I've started weaning myself from the internet. (There's no sense in going cold turkey - that seldom works.) Just today before dinner, I soaked in the poetry of Annie Dillard's Holy the Firm at an unhurried pace. In fact, I read it aloud - there being no one to hear me other than my 9 month old granddaughter. Far more satisfying than skipping all over the web. I've also added an hour per day to my Latin studies (never too late to learn in life).

      I guess it was inevitable. I tossed my television set 4 years ago, and never looked back. I don't own a smartphone or anything by Apple. My telescope is probably the only non-computerized one in my astronomy club, and I am the only person I know who can readily find the most difficult objects in short order with no mechanical aid whatsoever. I was horrified by a recent ad for a new astronomy software that advertised "Knows the sky, so you don't have to!" What?!? Why the hell bother with something if you want some damn machine to do all your thinking?

      At this rate, by the time I'm 70, I'll be reading by candlelight and walking wherever I want to go!

      Edwardtbabinski said...

      VIC wrote: "Do the laws of physics govern the brain, or do the principles of reasoning?"

      MY reply: First, what is meant by "govern the brain" in both senses above (physical laws, and reasoning). Does "govern the brain" mean the same thing in both instances? For instance, neuroscientists point out that the brain is "governed" by the totality of sensory input, learning, memory, feedback (both external and internal) and the brain remains highly active even when one is asleep. Doesn't that suggest that physical laws and reasoning could be part of the same brain-mind system? Because it is not just individual atoms moving inside the brain-mind but those atoms are connected to molecules and those molecules are part of 100 billion neurons joined by 1 trillion electro-chemical connections and those are connected to sensory systems that feed input into that neural network, input like images and sounds that are each far larger than atom-sized, and that input is also part of constant feedback loops both external and internal as the brain-mind gradually "learns" how to "reason" about "the world," how to make sense of it, how to build a model of the world inside each person's brain-mind. And that takes time, feedback, memory, learning, etc., all part of ongoing processes. No one is born with a fully formed model of the world in their brain-mind.

      Second, can we get all philosophers to agree on what "reasoning" is? Seems like we can get more of them to agree on what physical laws are than agree on what "reasoning" is.

      So, is the AFR the cardinal difficulty of naturalism, as Lewis claimed? Even in a physical sense a lone atom inside each cell is moved about by the dynamics of the molecule to which that atom is attached and that molecule is moved about by the chains of molecular reactions or dynamics inside the cell, so atoms in their individuality do not "govern" the cell. And in the case of a brain-mind which is built up via years of constant sensory input and feedback loops and making corrections that produce a "model" of the world, one cannot but see how such a model must be based on something that makes "sense." The formalization of handy "rules of logic" is a later abstraction or model of how things work, that came about only after brain-minds evolved and began modeling the world.

      As for "principles of reasoning," such as "coherency," philosophers are always coming up with rival models or philosophical systems, that are each argued to be coherent, just as physicists come up with rival hypotheses. But they are in the end all models. While nature in its essence is not what the brain grasps, just as maps do not equal the territory, and words do not equal things, models do not equal reality, not even the finest mathematical models of reality. And as I pointed out, each person's brain-mind contains their "model" of the world, not the world itself.

      And why does the word "physical" play such an important role in the AFR, when modern day naturalists do not rely as heavily on that word today as their ancestors once did, but define naturalism in other ways?

      See also, Prior Prejudices and the Argument from Reason. You keep saying you read it, but you don't seem to grasp it. I don't think Christian apologists understand naturalism's internal coherence (which by the way does not make me a naturalist nor an atheist), nor do they seem able to acknowledge the spectrum of philosophical questions out there, nor the fact that philosophy as a discipline seems to have simply raised ever more questions, leading to finer divisions of each question/problem, but few if any universally accepted answers.

      Edwardtbabinski said...

      I also invite Vic to consider how Christian theistic apologists tend to exclude options that lay somewhere between classical theism and atheism. There are non-hierarchical, non-classical God, options to consider. For instance, Joseph Campbell, Alan Watts, and Robert Anton Wilson expressed the natural relationship between the human mind and the cosmos in this manner:

      J.C. : We are children of this planet... we have come forth from it. We are its eyes and mind, its seeing and its thinking. And the earth, together with its sun... came forth from a nebula; and that nebula, in turn, from space. No wonder then, if its laws and ours are the same.

      A. W. : You are an aperture through which the universe is looking at and exploring itself.

      We do not 'come into' this world; we come out of it, as leaves from a tree. As the ocean 'waves,' the universe 'peoples.' Every individual is an expression of the whole realm of nature, a unique action of the total universe.

      It's like you took a bottle of ink and you threw it at a wall. Smash! And all that ink spread. And in the middle, it's dense, isn't it? And as it gets out on the edge, the little droplets get finer and finer and make more complicated patterns, see? So in the same way, there was a big bang at the beginning of things and it spread. And you and I, sitting here in this room, as complicated human beings, are way, way out on the fringe of that bang. We are the complicated little patterns on the end of it. Very interesting. But so we define ourselves as being only that... as one very complicated little curlique, way out on the edge of that explosion. Way out in space, and way out in time. But billions of years ago, you were a big bang, and now you're a complicated human being. We don't feel that we're still the big bang. But you are... You're not just something that's a result of the big bang. You're not something that is a sort of puppet on the end of the process. You are also still the process. You are the big bang, the original force of the universe, coming on as whoever you are. When I meet you, I see not just what you define yourself as--Mr so-and- so, Ms so-and-so, Mrs so-and-so--I see every one as the primordial energy of the universe coming on at me in this particular way. I know I'm that, too. But we've learned to define ourselves as separate from it.

      R.A.W. : I suspect that this world shows signs of 'intelligent design,' and I suspect that such intelligence acts via feedback from all parts to all parts and without centralized sovereignty, like Internet; and that it does not function hierarchically, in the style an Oriental despotism, an American corporation or Christian theology. I somewhat suspect that Theism and Atheism both fail to account for such decentralized intelligence, rich in circular-causal feedback.


      To add to the above quotations, there's also the option not of 'intelligent design' but of a self-tinkering cosmos, or even a Divine Tinkerer.

      Of course to Christian apologists there is no range of religious or philosophical choice, (not even denominationally if you are speaking to an arch conservative Christian), because to them there are only two choices, and there's is the only one you must choose... even if it IS like a game of Let's Make a Deal and you don't get to see what's in the box nor what's behind the metaphysical curtain, before you choose it.