Saturday, February 01, 2014

From the physical to the mental? You can't get there from here

Let’s consider a couple of types of arguments to see what our situation is with respect to our mental states. Consider the case of the size of a brick wall, based on the positions of the bricks. In the case of the wall, given the state of the bricks, the question is closed as to whether or not the wall is there, or how tall it is. Even though none of the bricks is six feet tall, they can be added up in such a way that the height of the wall is a determinate fact based on the sizes of the bricks, and the sizes of the bricks are determinate facts based on the sizes of the elementary particles that make them up.

            Contrast this with the case of whether a homicide was justified or unjustified. Here we can look at the homicide at every scientific level; the physical, the chemical, the biological, the psychological, and the sociological, and no entailment can be drawn as to whether or not the homicide was justified or unjustified. Something over and above the physical data must be brought in to make this kind of a judgment. Either there is some nonnatural fact that makes the statement concerning the rightness or wrongness of the homicide justified or unjustified, or the matter is a subjective matter, determined by the preferences of an individual or a society.
We might express this difficulty in the following way. Suppose we are given a complete list of physical facts, facts about where all the particles are. The information, thus given is insufficient to determine a unique mental state that a person is in. There is no entailment relation of any kind to the relevant mental state.

            In virtue of what is some physical state about some other physical state? This is the familiar worry about intentionality, a worry made more difficult by my claim that the kind of intentional states involved in rational inference are states in which the content is understood by the agent and put into a propositional format. Is there a set of necessary and sufficient conditions which are physical in the sense in which we are understanding it here, and which jointly entail the conclusion that agent A is in the state of believing, or doubting, or desiring, or fearing, the proposition P is true? If the fact about what a person’s mental state is about does not follow from the state of the physical, then there is nothing else from which it can possibly follow. In the case of mental states, I do not see how the physical states can possibly “add up” to any determinate mental state. There is a qualitative difference between the physical base and mental content, that no amount of investigation can possibly overcome.  
            We might express this difficulty in the following way. Suppose we are given a complete list of physical facts, facts about where all the particles are. The information, thus given is insufficient to determine a unique mental state that a person is in. There is no entailment relation of any kind to the relevant mental state.
In virtue of what is some physical state about some other physical state? This is the familiar worry about intentionality, a worry made more difficult by my claim that the kind of intentional states involved in rational inference are states in which the content is understood by the agent and put into a propositional format. Is there a set of necessary and sufficient conditions which are physical in the sense in which we are understanding it here, and which jointly entail the conclusion that agent A is in the state of believing, or doubting, or desiring, or fearing, the proposition P is true? If the fact about what a person’s mental state is about does not follow from the state of the physical, then there is nothing else from which it can possibly follow.

            You would think that this line of argument would be opposed by philosophers in the naturalistic camp, but this seems to be the upshot of, for example Quine’s argument for the indeterminacy of translation, and Davidson’s argument against psychophysical laws, and is defended by Daniel Dennett. As Dennett writes:
And why not? Here, I think, we find as powerful and direct an expression as could be of the intuition that lies behind the belief in original intentionality. This is the doctrine Ruth Millikan calls meaning rationalism, and it is one of the central burdens of her important book, Language, Thought, and Other Biological Categories, to topple it from its traditional pedestal (Millikan, 1984. See also Millikan forthcoming).  Something has to give. Either you must abandon meaning rationalism--the idea that you are unlike the fledgling cuckoo not only having access, but in having privileged access to your meanings--or you must abandon the naturalism that insists that you are, after all, just a product of natural selection, whose intentionality is thus derivative and potentially indeterminate.
So perhaps we can live without determinate mental content. Or can we?
Given naturalism’s commitment to the natural sciences, the naturalist must presuppose the existence of mathematicians as well as scientists. Therefore, some serious consequences follow from the indeterminacy of mental states. It would mean that what Dawkins means by atheism is indeterminate. It means that it is not literally true that Einstein developed his theories of relativity from Maxwell’s equations.
When we consider material entities that exhibit intentionality, we see that they do not have their intentional content inherently, but have it relative to human interests. The marks on paper that you are reading now are just marks, unless they are related to a set of users who interpret it as such. In other words, it possesses a “derived intentionality” as opposed to “original intentionality.” As Feser points out

More to the point, brain processes, composed as they are of meaningless chemical components, seem as inherently devoid of intentionality as soundwaves or ink marks. Any intentionality they would also have to be derived from something else. But if anything physical would be devoid of intrinsic intentionality, whatever does have intrinsic intentionality would thereby have to be non-physical. Sine the mind is the source of the intentionality of physical entities like sentences and pictures, and doesn’t get its intentionality from anything else (there’s no one “using” our minds to convey meaning) it seems to follow that the mind has intrinsic intentionality, and thus is non-physical.51

42 comments:

John Moore said...

Intentionality is energy flow. One billiard ball is about another by virtue of its rolling across the table and hitting that other ball.

Written words have meaning in energy flows and the actions people take in response to them. Light bounces off a word, like "Hi", and flows into my eye, where it is changed into neural-electric energy, which flows through the myriad neural connections in my brain, and finally out via motor nerves to my mouth, which emits the sound "Hi!"

The symbol gives rise to action, via energy flow. That's the meaning. Intentionality is energy flow.

Ilíon said...

Just think of all the meaning we could create by setting of an aton bomb under Mr Moore's bed as he slept in it!

BeingItself said...

Fallacy of composition.

Crude said...

Fallacy of composition.

From the wikipedia: The fallacy of composition arises when one infers that something is true of the whole from the fact that it is true of some part of the whole (or even of every proper part). For example: "This fragment of metal cannot be fractured with a hammer, therefore the machine of which it is a part cannot be fractured with a hammer." This is clearly fallacious, because many machines can be broken apart, without any of those parts being fracturable.

Notice this part: This is clearly fallacious, because many machines can be broken apart,

Because. Because.

Now, show how you can get the mental from the physical. Or explain why 'the wall is made entirely of red bricks, therefore the wall cannot be green' is fallacious.

im-skeptical said...

"More to the point, brain processes, composed as they are of meaningless chemical components, seem as inherently devoid of intentionality as soundwaves or ink marks."

You don't believe that little neurons, whose individual behavior is nothing more than to react to electrical or chemical stimuli, could collectively exhibit intelligence. OK. That doesn't mean it can't happen.

http://news.stanford.edu/pr/93/931115Arc3062.html

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

Crude said...

You don't believe that little neurons, whose individual behavior is nothing more than to react to electrical or chemical stimuli, could collectively exhibit intelligence.

You quoted:

"More to the point, brain processes, composed as they are of meaningless chemical components, seem as inherently devoid of intentionality as soundwaves or ink marks."

Intentionality. That's what's being discussed here. Not an equivocated definition of 'intelligence'.

William said...

The actions people take in response to meaning are different in kind from Newtonian "billiard ball" style mechanics.

This is one place where adding quantum mechanical "objective reduction" ideas to John Moore's psychic energy concept makes a kind of sense.

But psychic energy is a kind of dualism, right John?

Dan Gillson said...

Dr Reppert,

You're confusing logical spaces. You can't commute the rules from the logical space of science to the logical space of reasons without losing something in the commutation, even though the logical space of science and the logical space of reason may originate in an empiricist framework. That's like expecting that a commutation of the rules of soccer to a game chess should make sense because they each originate in a framework of games. Each game has its own logical space, just like each method of inquiry has.

The other problem I see is that your describing a state of knowing, and the derivatives of that state, as though it were empirical. That just beggars knowledge, what it is. A state of knowing is a place from which an inference can be made, or a justification can be provided. Knowledge isn't something describable according to its extrinsic properties. It's describable according to potency of its effects. It is a sally of conviction. It is the claim that one knows how to go on. If one can't figure out how to go on, his claim of knowing is bust, but how does that threaten knowledge, what it is? Our criteria for knowledge, knowing, are partial, but we already knew that. Sufficient-and-necessary conditions won't complete the picture. We have to learn to live with the partiality--indeterminacy--of criteria. That the lesson of philosophical quietism.

Ilíon said...

some intellectually dishonest materialst (*) "You don't believe that little neurons, whose individual behavior is nothing more than to react to electrical or chemical stimuli, could collectively exhibit intelligence. OK. That doesn't mean it can't happen."

This intellectually dishonest equivocator (what in the hell is "collectively exhibit intelligence" even supposed to mean, especially in the context of the point of this thread, which is that you can't get mind from matter) will never *show* that you can get mind from matter, but he will continue to assert it directly and by insinuation.

Here is an article on one instantiation of the Turing machine -- the theoretical-and-logical basis of all electronic computers -- built out of Legos -- Lego Calculator Can Do Anything Your MacBook Can Consider this truth -- "Watching the Lego Turing Machine grind out answers to simple arithmetic problems by flipping single switches back and forth may not seem like the most thrilling visual spectacle in the world. But when you consider that your laptop is doing the exact same thing, millions of times every second, the (yes, I’ll use the word) awesome power of the Turing Machine becomes a bit clearer. Whether it’s displaying retina-quality screen imagery at 30 frames per second, running Angry Birds, or parsing the contents of this blog post, everything and anything your computer can do--and ever will do--all comes down to the same thing in the end: flipping little switches back and forth, back and forth." (here is the site devoted to the Lego Turing machine, with pictures, A Turing Machine built using LEGO)

Now, is there anyone foolish enough to assert that this computer (to be precise, the software running on the hardware) is a mind? No, no one will assert that. Why? Because anyone can see, with his very own eyes, that the operation of the computer, and its programming, is just hunks of matter being mechanically moved around.

What if someone were to redesign this Lego computer, adding more switches, such that the physical relationships between them are really, really complex. Would it then be a mind? No, it would still just be hunks of matter being mechanically moved around.

What if someone were to redesign this Lego computer, making the parts really, really small. Would it then be a mind? No, it would still just be hunks of matter being mechanically moved around.

What if someone were to redesign this Lego computer, making the parts really, really small and enabling the state-changes to done really, really quickly. Would it then be a mind? No, it would still just be hunks of matter being mechanically moved around.

Yet, here is this intellectually dishonest materialistic fool asserting that if you make the mechanical parts really, really small, and design the state-changes to happen really, really quickly, and add enough physical parts that the relationships between them are really, really, complex, then *woooooooooooooooo* you get a mind.

(*) But that's kind of redundant, isn't it? After all, to continue to assert materialism/physicalism after its falsehood has been explained/exposed *just is* to demonstrate that one is intellectually dishonest.

im-skeptical said...

How absurd - the notion that a bunch of Lego bricks could constitute a mind. I agree. But they do constitute a computing device. Of course, electronic computers make better computing devices. Still, they are not minds.

What's the difference between a computer and a brain that exhibits the characteristics of mind? For one thing, the brain has sensory input. It is able to sense and comprehend its environment. It is also able to control its host body in order to manipulate the environment to enhance the survival of the body. And this is where intentionality comes in to the picture. The brain is programmed by millions of years of evolutionary development to perform the functions that lead to survival: sense the environment, be aware of threats and opportunities, and take action based on those things. These are purely physical activities, albeit sophisticated activities in some cases, as a result of very complex programming and processing capabilities.

Crude said...

How absurd - the notion that a bunch of Lego bricks could constitute a mind.

Fallacy of composition.

Wait, hold on, was channeling BeingItself there for a moment.

William said...

Plato had his geometry analogy to use in order to speak about ideas and the mind, and our times have computers and the computational analogy of mind. In both cases, analogy does not constitute the reality.

What is the difference between a tree falling in the woods and a perfect computer simulation of the tree falling in the woods, if in both cases there is no one around to hear the fall? There IS a difference.

Papalinton said...

Give over Crude. You're not even amusing now.

Crude said...

Mandatory 'I don't reply to Papalinton given he's established as a liar and a plagiarist who feigns knowledge of what he criticizes' warning. ;)

John Moore said...

In reply to William's first comment: Why do you think people's actions in response to meaning are qualitatively different from Newtonian "billiard ball" mechanics? Please explain more.

I'm not talking about some ill-defined "psychic energy." I'm just talking about plain old physical energy, like light or electricity.

Papalinton said...

John
"Why do you think people's actions in response to meaning are qualitatively different from Newtonian "billiard ball" mechanics? Please explain more."

That is a good question. However, the predicating condition at this blog is that have you not read C S Lewis, or subscribe to Thomistic metaphysics or believe in Christian faith as the principal epistemological framework for rationalizing and ordering the natural and supernatural elements of the universe, your comments will be deemed irrevocably moot and of little intellectual merit.

Even Johannes Keppler, German astronomer and discoverer of the laws of planetary motion opined: "When miracles are admitted, every scientific explanation is out of the question."

The question you ask, John, is a natural one, a scientific one even, albeit of a qualitative nature. But remember you are asking a question of those that give credence to miracles of three-day old putrescine corpses revivifying to full physical health without any ill-effect such that the dead /live person is able to eat and drink the quantum of a month's supply of fried chicken and wine before physically levitating into the blue beyond to a place of undermined location. If you wish to engage in discussion on intentionality you must also accept supernatural teleology, purpose and design. To do otherwise will be a mark of your ignorance and lack of understanding of the issues, your dishonesty and vapidness.

William said...

Linton: Posing a false dichotomy you attribute to others? Really not useful at all, your poisoned wells.

John: I was speaking as influenced by Chomsky here.

Papalinton said...

William
"Linton: Posing a false dichotomy you attribute to others? Really not useful at all, your poisoned wells."

Enlighten me on the false dichotomy?
Which of the elements I mentioned are 'poisoning the well'? How does referring to those very things that are often presented on this blog for discussion deemed a function of well poisoning? Might it have occurred to you that defending Aquinas's theological and philosophical musings, or the fervid preoccupation with SC Lewis's Christian convictions, or the obdurate holding fast to a particular sect-specific religious belief system at the exclusion of all others, are in fact the very elements impeding humanity's search for and progress towards improved personal and social well-being going forward?

Papalinton said...

William
"What is the difference between a tree falling in the woods and a perfect computer simulation of the tree falling in the woods, if in both cases there is no one around to hear the fall? There IS a difference."

For those who were not watching or even knew of the computer simulation. What IS that difference?

Martin said...

James Ross really throws this problem into sharp relief. I have created an illustrated version of his paper here, or for those who are impatient, a shorter article on the same problem here.

William said...

Linton:

Mostly we do not know, but it is a difference at least in the noumena underlying the phenomena, which is a computer program in the simulation and something else in the "real" tree-fall.

And subjective consciousness is probably in the stuff of which we know nothing objective.

frances said...

Victor,

There are two issues to which you refer in your OP which interest me greatly. Taking them in turn:

1. Consider the case of the size of a brick wall, based on the positions of the bricks. In the case of the wall, given the state of the bricks, the question is closed as to whether or not the wall is there, or how tall it is. Even though none of the bricks is six feet tall, they can be added up in such a way that the height of the wall is a determinate fact based on the sizes of the bricks, and the sizes of the bricks are determinate facts based on the sizes of the elementary particles that make them up.
We might find out the exact dimensions of the wall from the information you suggest and we could prove objectively that the wall was (say) 6 feet high by 10 feet wide by 6inches deep. But could we determine that it was a big wall, or a high wall, or a wide wall by having any of those details? We can know everything there is to know about the dimensions of the wall yet still disagree about whether it is big/high/wide etc.
That, I would suggest, is a far better analogy with mind (and moral questions) than your "sizes of bricks + number of bricks + distribution of bricks = all that the wall is" analogy.
All the parts which make up the wall are small, but that doesn't mean that the wall itself need be small. And when did it even become a wall? First there was a row of bricks. Was that a wall? I don't think so. Then there was another layer of bricks on top of them. Was that a wall? My vote is still "No". Then another layer, then another and so on.
At some point you could stop laying the bricks, stand back and say "That's a wall!" How did you get wall from non-wall? Is it necessary in order for this to happen that you must be able to identify the exact number of bricks that had to be set on top of the lower bricks before you had a wall?


2. Contrast this with the case of whether a homicide was justified or unjustified. Here we can look at the homicide at every scientific level; the physical, the chemical, the biological, the psychological, and the sociological, and no entailment can be drawn as to whether or not the homicide was justified or unjustified. Something over and above the physical data must be brought in to make this kind of a judgment. Either there is some nonnatural fact that makes the statement concerning the rightness or wrongness of the homicide justified or unjustified, or the matter is a subjective matter, determined by the preferences of an individual or a society.
In law, if we are talking about the law, a decision would have to be made as to whether the prosecution had proved that the homicide was *not* justified but the jury are not required to decide whether it *was* justified (which is a different thing).
Perhaps you are not talking about the law but are talking more generally about whether a homicide was justified morally or not. You suggest that this must be explained by some nonnatural fact if it is not to be purely subjective. But I think this is a false dichotomy. The question of whether a homicide was justified or not could be more like the question of when row upon row of bricks becomes a wall. So if someone says that a single row of bricks is a "wall" your immediate reaction will probably be to wonder whether they understand the meaning of the word "Wall". Or at the other end of the scale, if somebody denies that a brick structure 10 feet high by 50 feet long is a wall, you would be likely to wonder the same thing. But in between, there is going to be an area where it's open to debate. The fact that we can debate whether a line of bricks 4 inches high constitutes a wall does not mean that the word is entirely subjective.

William said...

frances,

If we judge the man to be bald, we may assume the objectivity of the man and that there are objective criteria for the judgement, but application of the criteria may require a subjective component, and the criteria may be vague and subject to error in application.

So there seems to be both an objective and subjective component to what we do. The OP was saying that we cannot eliminate the subjective meaning-assigning part of our intentions just by pointing to the non-subjective parts of the actions.

Papalinton said...

William

Your reading seems a little unifocussed.
Kant's noumenon hasn't survived criticism of its concept shortcomings. The idea of a thing itself is a contradiction as outlined in THIS PAPER among so may others since the days of Nietzsche.

Josh said...

Martin,

I and a few others with whom I've shared your links appreciate the summations of Ross--good, sharp stuff.

William said...

Linton,

just use "unobservable" for noumenon if you prefer. I mean that what we do not observe in the actual tree's falling (what changes in the world beneath the phenomenon of the falling, which includes causal connections we know nothing of) is different from what we do not observe in the computer simulation of it (which includes a change in the hardware's electrical states).

planks length said...

"For one thing, the brain has sensory input."

I watched the video Ilion linked to. The LEGO Turing Machine also has sensory input - in the form of the "tape".

im-skeptical said...

The LEGO Turing Machine also has sensory input - in the form of the "tape".

That's not sensory input - which gives an organism awareness of its environment.

frances said...

William,

If we judge the man to be bald, we may assume the objectivity of the man and that there are objective criteria for the judgement, but application of the criteria may require a subjective component, and the criteria may be vague and subject to error in application.
Where do you see the objective criteria as coming from? And at what point do you see the subjective part kicking in? I don't necessarily disagree with you, because one of my points woud be that the objective/subjective dichotomy is often a false one. I see it as a continuum - at the two extremes there is generally an objective truth. That becomes less established as you move towards the midddle and there will generally be an area where things are too undecided to claim any objective truth.

My reading of the part of the OP which I've quoted is that it is claiming a stark dichotomy between the objective and the subjective. I would see it as more nuanced than that. The facts about what is capable of establishing justification for a homicide are facts, but they are not the same sort of facts as the facts about the physical make up of the perpetratort at the time of the homicide.

planks length said...

As I wrote HERE (in a previous conversation on this website), I have no problem with consciousness arising from purely "physical" means, as long as we posit consciousness for everything. I guess this is sort of a reverse "fallacy of composition" in that I am inferring something to be true of a part from what is true of the whole.

Please note: I am not making an argument here. I am simply expressing what seems plausible (even likely) to me. If it involves a fallacy, then so be it.

However, if you deny consciousness to "the least among you", then I fail to see how it can ever arise in the human brain without a non-material dimension/component to the mind.

William said...

frances,

the existence of gray does not mean there cannot be black and white, and there are still things that are just subjective even though I agree with you abuot the overlap.

William said...

planks:

" I guess this is sort of a reverse "fallacy of composition" in that I am inferring something to be true of a part from what is true of the whole."

Exactly so. I think that there is an emergence of some kind, but admit I don't know how.

im-skeptical said...

" I guess this is sort of a reverse "fallacy of composition" in that I am inferring something to be true of a part from what is true of the whole."

But you can't make that inference. The wall has properties that a brick doesn't have. The swarm has intelligence that a bee doesn't have. The brain has consciousness that a neuron doesn't have.

"I have no problem with consciousness arising from purely "physical" means, as long as we posit consciousness for everything."

This is called the fallacy of division.

planks length said...

"This is called the fallacy of division."

Yup, that's what it is. As I warned everyone in my last comment, "Please note: I am not making an argument here. I am simply expressing what seems plausible (even likely) to me. If it involves a fallacy, then so be it."

Victor Reppert said...

In the case of the brick wall, the state of the bricks entails the state of the wall, therefore it is the fallacy of composition to say that since the wall can't be six feet tall because none of the bricks are six feet tall. With the question of whether a homicide was morally justified, the physical facts don't entail the moral fact, so you would not be committing the fallacy of composition by claiming that no moral fact is entailed by the physical facts. I was claiming that the problem of mental facts is like the moral case, as opposed to being like the brick wall case. When all the facts at the physical level are given, the mental fact is still an open question. But since the state of the physical is supposed to close the question (what else is supposed to close it?) of the state of the mental, saying that there might be no mental given the state of the physical does not commit the fallacy of composition.

Ilíon said...

"If the characteristic of the whole does not follow necessarily from the characteristics of the parts, it doesn't see that you can say that the fallacy of composition is committed here."

But you're having a "discussion" with an intellectually dishonest person -- he's allowed to assert *anything* he thinks will cow you.

im-skeptical said...

"But since the state of the physical is supposed to close the question (what else is supposed to close it?) of the state of the mental, saying that there might be no mental given the state of the physical does not commit the fallacy of composition. "

How is the state of the physical supposed to "close" the question, if all you examine is the properties of the constituent parts? We know that things have properties that are not exhibited by their parts. So you can't simply say "a neuron has no consciousness, and that closes the question of whether a brain made from neurons can have consciousness". You can't say that all the facts at the physical level have been given, because they haven't, until you've examined how the brain functions as system, not just how individual neurons function. Failure to do so would be real intellectual dishonesty.

Victor Reppert said...

That would only be true if you defined mental states in terms of functions. There are lots of problems with that.

jdhuey said...

I think that using the word "state" is a bit misleading because it tends to ignore the important facts about interactions. The brick wall looks static but it is really dynamically interacting with its environment (weight, tension stress, expansion/contraction, etc.). It is those interaction that give rise to the properties that we associate with a wall. I agree that moral facts are not entailed by physical facts; however, they are entailed by the those physical facts interacting with humans. A static physical fact is neither moral or immoral - is is strictly amoral. It is only when that physical fact interacts with humans that we can judge it moral or immoral.

Mentality is not a static fact, it is a process - thinking is a verb not a noun. The mind is not a thing, it is an event. The mind is not a static mental state but is the process of one mental state transforming to another mental state. Those transformations process information but in order for information to exist it has to be encoded in something real, such as electromagnetic fields, chemicals, magnetic domains, or paper tape. The concept of information is intimately wrapped up with the concept of entropy and entropy is NOT a fundamental property of an individual particle but is a property of the interactions of particles.

So the conceptual pathway from the physical to the mental has these milestones: physical entities => entropy/information => information processing => mind. And perhaps, we should extend it one more step to include moral judgments.

planks length said...

"thinking is a verb not a noun"

But thought is a noun (e.g., "I had a good thought.").

jdhuey said...

Planks length,

I suggest not getting hung up on the grammar - what I wrote was not meant to be formal or rigorous but rather notional.

(by the way, I love your screen name.)

planks length said...

I wasn't getting hung up on grammar. It was just my shorthand for registering my disagreement with you. I regard thought as a "thing", like time, space, or love - real, existing "objects" if you will.

I don't really have a good word for what I wish to say here. But they're as real as this chair I'm sitting on - just not material. (But not being a materialist, that doesn't bother me.)