Thursday, March 26, 2015

Functionalism

It seems to me that what is often the dividing point between physicalists and their opponents has to do whether they find functionalism acceptable. This is a basic description of functionalism.

33 comments:

PhysicistDave said...

Hi, Vic. It has been a few years since I dropped by -- as you may recall, I am a physicist (Ph.D. from Stanford, 1983).

I must say that, as a physicist, I have always found functionalism bizarre: from a physics viewpoint, the "function" of something is just our own gloss on the underlying mechanistic behavior. "Function" cannot, from the perspective of physics, have any causal efficacy: only the underlying mechanistic behavior actually does anything.

Of course, you are right that physicalists often resort to functionalism, because it is hard to see how an externalist, mechanistic perspective can account for the reality of consciousness.

I'll add that, in my observation, those who pursue the functionalist ploy are more likely than not to be non-physicists.

The same point applies to variants of functionalism such as attempts to reify "information." "Information" is a gloss we impose on the physical world; "information" is not a concept in physics (although it can be a useful mathematical metaphor for certain simplifications and mathematical abstractions used by engineers).

Although I am a critic of physicalism, I am an atheist, and of course I disagree with your and Lewis' argument presented in your book.

Nonetheless, physicalism does not work: it is as surely wrong as most forms of religion.

All the best,

Dave Miller in Sacramento

John Moore said...

Functionalism does not say the mind is its function; it only says we define the mind in terms of its function.

Look at the mousetrap example. A mousetrap is not the fact of catching mice. There must still be some mechanism that makes up a particular mousetrap. But we don't identify a mousetrap by its mechanism, just by its mouse-catching function.

The problem with functionalism is that we can't say very clearly what the function of a mind is.

Hal said...

Functionalism is deeply flawed in helping us to understand or explain the mind, but then so are most (if not all) philosophical explanations.
I've yet to see you, Victor, provide an adequate explanation for how it is that physical substances such as ourselves have the capacity to think and act for reasons.:-)

A very interesting article by Galen Strawson at the TLS site:
Consciousness Myth

And a quote from the end of the article for those who like to cut to the chase:
"At the root of the muddle lies an inability to overcome the Very Large Mistake so clearly identified by Eddington and others in the 1920s – not to mention the lovely Irishman John Toland in 1704, Anthony Collins in 1707, Hume in 1739, Joseph Priestley in 1777, and many others. The mistake is to think we know enough about the nature of physical reality to have any good reason to think that consciousness can’t be physical. It seems to be stamped so deeply in us, by our everyday experience of matter as lumpen stuff, that not even appreciation of the extraordinary facts of current physics can weaken its hold. To see through it is a truly revolutionary experience.

It’s what Hilary needs to do, in Tom Stoppard’s new play The Hard Problem. She challenges her amorous tutor Spike to explain consciousness and insists that “when you come right down to it, the body is made of things” – she means physical things – “and things don’t have thoughts.” There is, however, no good reason to think that this last thing is true, and overwhelming reason to think it’s false."

im-skeptical said...

"Functionalism is deeply flawed in helping us to understand or explain the mind, but then so are most (if not all) philosophical explanations."

I think that's a very good point. I would prefer to avoid the philosophical labels (along with the shortcomings and flaws that they entail) and concentrate on gaining a better scientific understanding of mind and cognition.

Do I understand correctly that PhysicistDave doesn't believe that mind is purely physical? I wonder what kind of stuff a physicist would think mind is actually made of. Perhaps he can tell us about his most favored theory of mind.

jdhuey said...

@PhysicistDave

I find your statement about information to be puzzling. From what I've read, information (in the technical sense), while not a fundamental property, is a real emergent property. Entropy, temperature and information are emergent properties that don't exist at the level of sub-atomic interactions but are real at higher levels of aggregations. (And if not 'real' then certainly useful.)

Perhaps you meant to say: "meaning" is a gloss we impose on the information presented by the physical world. If so, then I agree.

PhysicistDave said...

im-skeptical wrote:
>Do I understand correctly that PhysicistDave doesn't believe that mind is purely physical? I wonder what kind of stuff a physicist would think mind is actually made of. Perhaps he can tell us about his most favored theory of mind.

Well... as a physicist, I know that current physics cannot explain where the weirdness of quantum mechanics comes from, what dark matter is, why the cosmological constant is so small yet not quite zero, how to quantize gravity, why the universe has the particular set of subatomic particles that actually exist, and a host of other things.

I do not know of any physicists who would disagree in substance with my preceding paragraph (to be sure, various physicists think they have explained the weirdness of quantum mechanics, but the various explanations are mutually contradictory).

It is part of the job description of a physicist to know the breadth of our ignorance.

So, "what kind of stuff" do I "think mind is actually made of"?

I do not know, of course. No one does.

That is not really surprising: until the late nineteenth century (when the electron was discovered) we were clueless about what atoms were made of.

As to my "favored theory of mind," maybe Cartesian dualism is true. Maybe, as David Chalmers suggests, all physical entities have an interior mental aspect to them: each electron has a tiny bit of consciousness? -- I doubt it, but who knows? Maybe there are simply a bunch of arbitrary laws of nature that, for no discernible reason, mandate that when you hook carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and hydrogen atoms together in a certain way, with a modest helping of Na, Ca, and K atoms, then -- voila! -- they are conscious (that feels very wrong in terms of what we already know about nature, but who knows?). Maybe the mechanistic picture of nature is all wrong, and somehow "information" is primary (quite a few physicists have tried to run seriously with that idea for well over forty years -- no one has yet succeeded.)

My best guess is that the answer is "something else." No one could have guessed at quantum mechanics or relativity until they were actually worked out, and I suspect no one will guess correctly how consciousness actually works unless and until someone actually works out the details.

Incidentally, I notice that those who are most insistent that physics as it now exists can explain consciousness tend not to be physicists or neuroscientists. Three years ago, I had a chance to chat with Gerald Schneider, a senior professor at MIT in neuroscience, and I asked him about this issue. He grinned, and turned to my kids, who were present, and said (as nearly as I can remember), "As a physicist, your dad thinks we neuroscientists should be solving the 'hard problem' of consciousness, but physicists do not understand that this is simply too difficult of a problem for us neuroscientists to tackle in the foreseeable future."

Physics has been stunningly successful in the last century: we understand, based on fundamental physical theories, everything from the nature of the chemical bond to why the sun shines. But, honest scientists do not let that go to their heads: the first requirement for expanding human knowledge is to recognize the extent of our ignorance.

All the best,

Dave

im-skeptical said...

Dave,

Thank you for that little lecture on the limits of scientific knowledge. If I gave you the impression that I claim to know something that isn't known, you are mistaken. There are many people here who do claim to have all the answers, but I'm not one of them.

With regard to your apparent disdain for materialism, all I can say is that I (along with the majority of scientists) prefer to go by the evidence. If we should ever discover that mind has some aspect or component that is not part of what we currently understand to be the physical world, then it will be time to change our theories accordingly.

PhysicistDave said...

im-skeptical wrote to me:
>Thank you for that little lecture on the limits of scientific knowledge. If I gave you the impression that I claim to know something that isn't known, you are mistaken.

Well, I do not know you from Adam and cannot assume what you know or do not know. I was just giving the background info, which you may or may not have, to explain my views. C'est la vie.

im skeptical also wrote:
>With regard to your apparent disdain for materialism, all I can say is that I (along with the majority of scientists) prefer to go by the evidence. If we should ever discover that mind has some aspect or component that is not part of what we currently understand to be the physical world, then it will be time to change our theories accordingly.

And, I think that shows where we *strongly* disagree, probably because I know a lot more science than you do. There is *no* current scientific theory that explains the nature of consciousness, materialist or otherwise.

That was why I cited my conversation with Prof. Gerald Schneider, who, I think it is fair to say, knows a great deal more about this subject than you or I (he has authored, for example, a recently published textbook on neuroscience).

There are in fact compelling reasons to believe that physics as we know it cannot explain consciousness: at any rate, everyone who is knowledgeable on the subject agrees that this has not yet happened.

As to what the future will bring, I admit that I am almost as clueless as you: I do not know what the nature of consciousness is.

Dave

PhysicistDave said...

jdhuey wrote to me:
>From what I've read, information (in the technical sense), while not a fundamental property, is a real emergent property. Entropy, temperature and information are emergent properties that don't exist at the level of sub-atomic interactions but are real at higher levels of aggregations. (And if not 'real' then certainly useful.)

Have you taken an advanced course on statistical mechanics? If so, did your textbook treat "information" as a central concept of stat mech? If it did, I'd like to know the name of the text: being a physicist, I have several stat mech texts, and none of them treat "information" as a relevant concept in stat mech.

There have been occasional attempts by physicists to argue for such a connection, going back at least to Brillouin's Science and Information Theory back in the '50s. To the best of my knowledge, none of those attempts succeeded.

It is true that the term "entropy" is used both in stat mech and in information theory: as it happens, these different concepts in the two fields use very similar math, and so the same term is used for both concepts. However, the details are very different: for example, in statistical mechanics, entropy is related to what is known as "Liouville's theorem," but there is no such connection in information theory.

And, of course, temperature is a key concept in stat mech, closely related to entropy: temperature is not a concept that occurs in information theory.

I have some patents on error-correction-and-detection technology, a field that is based on information theory, so I do know a fair amount about that subject, as well as statistical mechanics.

All the best,

Dave

PhysicistDave said...

jdhuey also asked if information is an "emergent property." Well, the phrase "emergent property" is a funny use of words.

Some people seem to use it merely to indicate that if you have several things present, stuff can happen that cannot happen with only one thing. That's true of course, but then "emergent property" would be nearly synonymous with "physics." We are, after all, not that interested in a single isolated particle! A planet moving around the sun, a simple pendulum, a mass on a spring, almost everything in frosh physics would count as "emergent properties."

Some people, on the other hand, use the phrase "emergent property" to mean behavior that cannot be explained in principle on the basis of the fundamental laws governing the separate objects that make up a system. As far as physicists know, there are no such "emergent properties," but I suppose one could always be discovered tomorrow!

Frankly, I suspect the widest use of the phrase "emergent property" is simply to impress people with the profundity and originality of one's thoughts. I do not ever recall running across the phrase in a serious physics text, but I have certainly run across it in numerous pop-science books, in writings by philosophers who were ignorant of science, etc.

If you want to delve into how "information" is used in engineering, I suggest watching the MIT online course 6.002X, "Circuits and Electronics," taught by Anant Agarwal. Agarwal goes into great detail explaining that the very idea of "digital" data is a simplifying abstraction we impose upon the physical world that enables us to create devices that approximately serve our human need for information in the human sense.

Some years ago, I worked for a semiconductor company that produced both analog and digital chips, The analog designers used to joke that the digital designers were all engaged in a fool's errand, because the physical world is, always and everywhere, analog: anything "digital" (and hence physical "information") is a fantasy.

The digital circuit designers took the joking in good stride, because they knew it was true: their job was to create circuits that, even though they were necessarily and ultimately analog, nonetheless did a decent job of approximating the human model of digital.

Sorry if this sounds pedantic, but the engaging non-pedantic stuff you will read in pop-science discussions is generally wrong. No, information is not an "emergent property" of collections of atoms, and, no, "emergent property" is not a useful concept in physical science.

And, yes, I know that lots of people do not like us physicists to pour cold water over the exciting but false nonsense in a lot of the the pop-science literature.

All the best,

Dave

William said...

Hi Dave,

A search for "emergence" at arXiv.org brought up the "too many to list" complaint of the search engine. I doubt that they all are pop-science literature papers?

im-skeptical said...

William,

There certainly are emergent behaviors and properties. Dave is correct in that at the basic level, it all boils down to the fundamental laws. But he doesn't seem to understand that higher-level phenomena can't easily be explained in those terms. That's why scientists speak of emergence (and rest assured, there are many scholarly articles that discuss this - it's not just "pop science").

His dismissal of a materialist view of cognition is no doubt due to his inability to understand that cognition is in all likelihood one of those emergent behaviors that doesn't lend itself to explanation at the level of fundamental physical laws.

Oh and Dave: what an arrogant snob you are.

B. Prokop said...

Hal,

Even if "things have thoughts", why would that mean that those thoughts were also material? It doesn't necessarily follow. I recall listening some weeks back to a guest (a physicist, but I didn't pay attention to his name) on NPR's "Science Friday" radio show, who speculated that everything in the universe possessed consciousness in varying degrees - even the most fundamental elementary particles.

I don't necessarily buy this, but I find the idea quite intriguing and not automatically impossible.

Jezu, ufam tobie!

PhysicistDave said...

im-skeptical wrote:
> But he [Dave] doesn't seem to understand that higher-level phenomena can't easily be explained in those terms. That's why scientists speak of emergence (and rest assured, there are many scholarly articles that discuss this - it's not just "pop science").

Yes, it is just pop science, just buffoonery. You do not know science.

Yes, of course, you can find pseudo-scholarly articles, by philosophers and by some scientists who are slumming, avoiding the hard-core journals (vide Sokal's Social Text prank, which was indeed quite a hoot!). We have freedom of speech: any fool can say anything.

But the fact remains that it is all, to use Hardy's phrase, "gas": not serious stuff that is taken seriously as established science by competent scientists.

As I said, I do not ever recall seeing the phrase "emergent properties" seriously used in any serious textbook on physical science.

By all means, prove me wrong: show us all the many standard textbooks in physical science that make use of the concept of "emergent properties" as a central part of their exposition.

Go ahead. Show us.

You can't.

PhysicistDave said...

im-skeptical wrote to me:
>Oh and Dave: what an arrogant snob you are.

One of the amusing things about our culture is that people who are quite ignorant of science will triumphantly claim to speak for scientists:
"Scientists agree that..."
"It is accepted by scientists that..."
"Science demonstrates that..."
Etc.

You see this, for example, on both sides of the global-warming debate. You also see this on the atheism vs. theism debate. Both sides claim the overwhelming support of true science.

And, then when some actual scientist comes along and points out that science is not that simple, that science has almost nothing to say on either side about the existence of god, that the extent of global warming is an intense subject of debate among scientists, or, to take the current example, that science has nothing to say one way or another about the philosophy of materialism, then we scientists who point to the actual facts are slimed as "arrogant," "elitist," "snobs," etc.

I supposed we should feel flattered. After all, no one bothers to make false claims about what all astrologers or all theologians or all political scientist think, because the public does not have that much respect for astrologers, theologians, or political scientists.

Propagandists keep lying about science and scientists, because most people know that we scientists really do possess a great deal of knowledge about the real world.

PhysicistDave said...

William wrote to me:
>A search for "emergence" at arXiv.org brought up the "too many to list" complaint of the search engine. I doubt that they all are pop-science literature papers?

The ArXiv is not subject to systematic peer review: it is almost completely unfiltered. Yes, the overwhelming majority of what is in the ArXiv is indeed garbage.

The founders of the ArXiv decided to err on the side of permissiveness: better to allow a huge amount of nonsense rather than accidentally reject a single unrecognized pearl of wisdom. (There is ongoing debate about this: some physicists favor a much tighter filtering mechanism for the ArXiv; personally, I am on the side of permissiveness.)

Someone not an expert in a technical field cannot judge the quality of the primary-research literature. To see what is generally accepted in a technical field, you have to look at the hard-core textbooks to see what the field has finally filtered out as being serious stuff.

I was taught this by own thesis advisor back around 1980, and all competent scientists are aware of the need to view the primary literature very, very skeptically.

In fact filtering through that literature and separating the small amount of wheat from the huge amount of chaff is one of the major tasks of the scientific community.

Again, I am well aware that to the average American these facts sound "elitist," "snobbish," "arrogant," etc. But, it is just common sense to any competent scientist.

Dave

PhysicistDave said...

B. Prokop wrote:

>Even if "things have thoughts", why would that mean that those thoughts were also material? It doesn't necessarily follow. I recall listening some weeks back to a guest (a physicist, but I didn't pay attention to his name) on NPR's "Science Friday" radio show, who speculated that everything in the universe possessed consciousness in varying degrees - even the most fundamental elementary particles.

BP, let us know if you find out the guy's name.

The major proponent of this view in recent years has been the philosopher David Chalmers. Although I am often critical of philosophers, and although I doubt that Chalmers is right on this issue, Chalmers is an intelligent, serious person who makes an interesting case for this position in his book The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory (not an easy read, though I did manage to make it all the way through).

I think you have put your finger on a central issue when you ask why it is if, say, electrons have thoughts then that necessarily makes those thoughts material.

Perhaps a big part of the debate is what we mean by "physical" or "material."

I take the operational view of defining "physical" to mean "predictable in principle by the laws of physics as we know them." That makes the issue somewhat clearer so that we have some chance of knowing what we are talking about.

As far as I know, all scientists knowledgeable in the relevant fields (specifically neuroscientists) agree that, at least to date, no one has succeeded in showing how physics predicts consciousness.

A fair number of us physicists are skeptical that physics as we know it can ever explain consciousness.

The ball is in the court of those who claim that physics can explain consciousness: as Old Bullion Benton put it, "I'm from Missouri; you have to show me!"

Or, in the cruder vernacular of today, those who claim that physics can explain consciousness need to "put up or shut up."

All the best,

Dave

B. Prokop said...

"BP, let us know if you find out the guy's name."

Hey, it was on the radio and I was driving my car. I seldom pay attention at such times to things as trivial as names.

im-skeptical said...

DoctorDave,

Not only are you a snob, but you are a hypocrite. In my experience, people who flout their academic credentials and state (without evidence) that they know more than others, are arrogant snobs. Let me tell you that you don't know the first thing about my knowledge, education, and experience. Yet you speak down to me and you lecture about people who are scientifically ignorant.

You have chastised me for claiming (apparently) that physics can explain consciousness, and repeated indignantly that there is no such theory, and how ignorant I am to go around saying that. Trouble is, I didn't say that. I am a materialist, to be sure, and there's a good reason for that: evidence. I agree with you. There's not a theory that puts it all together. At the same time, I understand, as most scientists do, that there's no evidence of this mysterious "something else" that you refer to that might explain it. Maybe there is, as I said. And if we ever discover this something else, and have evidence that it is real, then we will modify our theories accordingly. But until then, like David Chalmers, you are simply postulating something without evidence.

Which brings us to emergent phenomena. I suspect that your education in science is largely limited to physics, because you seem to want to couch discussions of cognition purely in terms of physics. I agree that fundamental physics generally has less use for discussions of emergent phenomena, but there is still room for some of it in the Physics Departments. And other areas of science deal with higher levels of complexity than fundamental physics, and there is a need to understand and explain things at a different level of analysis. Cognitive science is certainly on of those scientific areas. And I might point out to you as well that cognitive science encompasses much more than neuroscience. And that the vast majority of cognitive scientists are in fact materialists. So you have dropped the name of a neuroscientist. That doesn't mean you know anything more about cognitive science than I do. And so far, I have heard nothing from you to indicate that might be the case.

What have I heard from you so far?

Nonetheless, physicalism does not work: it is as surely wrong as most forms of religion.
Would you care to back that up with an actual argument or evidence, instead if just declaring that you know more than I do?

Frankly, I suspect the widest use of the phrase "emergent property" is simply to impress people with the profundity and originality of one's thoughts.
Which indicates to me that you really don't know as much about general science as you think you do.

One of the amusing things about our culture is that people who are quite ignorant of science will triumphantly claim to speak for scientists:
"Scientists agree that..."

followed within minutes by:
all scientists knowledgeable in the relevant fields (specifically neuroscientists) agree that, at least to date, no one has succeeded in showing how physics predicts consciousness.
Does this prove your ignorance?

then we scientists who point to the actual facts are slimed as "arrogant," "elitist," "snobs," etc.
No, I call you that because you are. I don't use those terms for most "actual scientists".

im-skeptical said...

I made an incorrect link to a MIT physics paper that may be of interest to DoctorDave in the discussion of emergent phenomena.

Here.

PhysicistDave said...

im-skpetical wrote to me:
>Which brings us to emergent phenomena. I suspect that your education in science is largely limited to physics, because you seem to want to couch discussions of cognition purely in terms of physics.

Not in the slightest. Not even close. My entire point, which I have reiterated again and again and again, is that consciousness cannot be explained by the laws of physics!

I am only considering the possibility that consciousness can be explained by the laws of physics simply because that is what physicalists seem to believe. I am trying to point out that they are wrong -- but that does require me to consider their (wrong) position.

If physicalists do not believe that consciousness can in principle be explained by the laws of physics, well, then what do they believe? Do they acknowledge that the laws of physics are in fact not sufficient to explain consciousness? Good -- that is what Chalmers, Colin McGinn, Victor (I think), and, least of all, I myself have been trying to say.

If you are agreeing with us on this, then you seem to be abandoning physicalism.

im-skeptical also wrote to me:
>[Dave]all scientists knowledgeable in the relevant fields (specifically neuroscientists) agree that, at least to date, no one has succeeded in showing how physics predicts consciousness.
>[im-skeptical]Does this prove your ignorance?

Does it? Can you name even one single established neuroscientist who claims that he or she really, truly has "succeeded in showing how physics predicts consciousness"?

I would honestly like to know: that is not a rhetorical question. My wife is a Ph.D. biologist (Stanford, like me). Neither she nor I has ever run across such a neuroscientist. If any competent scientist really has succeeded in showing this, we would both sincerely like to know.

So, can you name even one single established neuroscientist who has clearly and forthrightly claimed that he or she has actually "succeeded in showing how physics predicts consciousness"?

Can you? Or I am in fact correct?

Genuinely curious,

Dave

PhysicistDave said...

im-skpetical wrote to me:
>I made an incorrect link to a MIT physics paper that may be of interest to DoctorDave in the discussion of emergent phenomena.
>Here.

This paper, unfortunately, is the sort of BS I criticized in my earlier post lamenting how much nonsense makes it into the primary research literature.

I, and many other physicists, have fooled around with models of this sort for a long time (look at the dates in their references). Yes, sometimes interesting things happen -- but, when they do, that is just plain, old ordinary physics, the sort of stuff we physicists have been dealing with in the broad sense for many, many centuries. If you want to call the vibrations of a string (eighteenth-century physics) "emergent phenomena," you are free to do so, but you are just using a fancy modern-sounding BS term for very old, standard textbook physics (note their paper is in fact about strings!).

One of the tell-tales that this is the sort of lousy physics I discussed above is the title: "Photons and electrons as emergent phenomena."

Sounds good, sounds important, eh?

But... if you read through the paper, as I just did and are able to understand their exposition, as I am, you find out that they do not actually give details as to how photons and electrons are emergent phenomena.

They do not even suggest that they have any idea as to how to work out such details! They offer no calculations as to how to do this, they make no experimental predictions, etc.

Just BS.

Another tell-tale is in their penultimate paragraph:
> As we probe nature at shorter and shorter distance scales, we will either find increasing simplicity, as predicted by the reductionist particle physics paradigm, or increasing complexity, as suggested by the condensed matter point of view. We will either establish that photons and electrons are elementary particles, or we will discover that they are emergent phenomena – collective excitations of some deeper structure that we mistake for empty space.

Sounds significant until you actually pay attention: "we will either find" something vaguely similar to what they suggest or... well, otherwise, we won't find it.

Trivially true. A trivial paper. But it pads their CV, and not many of their colleagues bothered to read it anyway (most papers nowadays are read by few people besides the author).

This paper is almost exactly like those who claim that consciousness is the result of the laws of physics but who are never able to offer any details. Not any details at all.

Just BS.

I said above that I was sure you could find some scientist who was slumming who would use the term "emergent phenomena" but that you could not find the term used in an established physical science textbook in a manner that was central to the exposition of the material.

Thank you for pointing out this paper which so clearly illustrates my point.

Dave

PhysicistDave said...

John Moore wrote:
>Look at the mousetrap example. A mousetrap is not the fact of catching mice. There must still be some mechanism that makes up a particular mousetrap. But we don't identify a mousetrap by its mechanism, just by its mouse-catching function.
>The problem with functionalism is that we can't say very clearly what the function of a mind is.

Right on point, John.

We can say what the "function" of a mousetrap is because:
>Humans designed mousetraps with the intention of their serving a certain purpose.
>If you have the intention of catching mice, a mousetrap will help you pursue that intention.

The intention of a conscious being (usually one of us humans) is central when we identify the function of something in everyday life.

There have been repeated attempts to stretch the concept of function to encompass areas in which there is no actual conscious intention: those attempts have not fared well (see, e.g., "functionalism" in sociology).

Of course, if you believe the mind was in fact created by some conscious being (God, for example) to serve his intentions, then it would make sense to talk about the mind's function. But most people who take a functionalist approach to the metaphysics of mind have rather different goals!

John also wrote:
>Functionalism does not say the mind is its function; it only says we define the mind in terms of its function.

Indeed: we define a knife in functional terms, and functional terms are, in some sense, necessarily mentalist. But, of course, that does not mean the knife is necessarily mental (or physical or whatever). The knife is what it is, independent of the "function" we choose to assign to it.

Even if there were a successful "functionalist' description of the mind, that would not tell us what mind is. It would merely tell us something about the intention that some conscious being had vis a vis mind.

A very different thing indeed.

All the best,

Dave

PhysicistDave said...

Anyone interested in reading countless exposes of the sort of papers im-skeptical linked to should peruse Peter Woit's "Not Even Wrong" blog. Peter is a physicist at Columbia who has been systematically chastising our colleagues for years for churning out nonsense that pad their CVs. This stuff is being paid for by taxpayers, and it is really scandalous.

Hal said...

Bob:Even if "things have thoughts", why would that mean that those thoughts were also material? It doesn't necessarily follow.

I would agree. But having a thought is not like having a penny. I think it a conceptual mistake to think that thoughts are a substance like a penny is.

I could be mistaken, but as I understand the AFR it is impossible for a physical substance to have thoughts and reason about things.
I have difficulty accepting that view because I know that I am a physical substance and can think and feel. And I experience countless other physical substances that act in a rational manner and express feelings in their actions.

im-skeptical said...

DoctorDave,

"Not even close. My entire point, which I have reiterated again and again and again, is that consciousness cannot be explained by the laws of physics!"
- Well that's your opinion. I asked you to present an argument to substantiate this, and you have steadfastly ignored it. Why do you think that this is true as a matter of principle? What do you know that eludes virtually the entire community of cognitive scientists? I certainly do not agree with you on this, although I do agree that it has not yet been fully explained. And I suspect that Schneider would stand with me on that.

"Does it? Can you name even one single established neuroscientist who claims that he or she really, truly has "succeeded in showing how physics predicts consciousness"?"
- You completely missed the point of my comment. You told me that people who were scientifically ignorant use phrases like "scientists agree ...", and then you go on to use that kind of language yourself. So I asked if that shows that you are scientifically ignorant. Nevermind.

"So, can you name even one single established neuroscientist who has clearly and forthrightly claimed that he or she has actually "succeeded in showing how physics predicts consciousness"?"
You can't seem to get it through your head that I never made this claim that you keep attributing to me. I have repeatedly tried to tell you that. You're arguing against a straw man, dude.

"Just BS."
- Again, you missed the point of my showing you that paper. I don't know whether it is bullshit or not. You should take that up with the PhDs at the Department of Physics in MIT. But I do know that there are serious scientists who speak of emergent phenomena. This is probably true more in other scientific fields than in physics, but even physicists don't necessarily shun the term altogether. Your opinion about it is just that - it's your opinion.



jdhuey said...

I never took a class in straight Statistical Mechanics but the Thermodynamics classes I took all used Stat Mech to demonstrate that the macro state properties of temperture and preasure were derivable (reducible) to the more basic laws of physics. They didn't call them "emergent properties" back in those olden days but that's what they are.

And yes, almost all of physics is the exploartion of the emergent properties of the more fundamental laws of Phaysics. Sean Carrol from Cal Tech, likes to distinguish between Fundamental Physics and what he calls "interesting Physics". Interesting Physics is all the stuff that you are likely to encounter in your day to day life - the emergent properties. While the fundamental Physics is conceptually so far down that it really dosen't impact day to day life. For example, nothing that is learned about Proton decay is going to affect chemistry.

With respect to textbooks relating entopy and information theory see Don S. Lemons book _A Student's Guide to Entropy_, specifically Chapter 8 titled 'Entopy of Information' that encludes a section call "The information theoretic approach to statistical mechanics".

PhysicistDave said...

im-skeptical wrote to me:
>Again, you missed the point of my showing you that paper. I don't know whether it is bullshit or not. You should take that up with the PhDs at the Department of Physics in MIT. But I do know that there are serious scientists who speak of emergent phenomena.

I disagree. I am not convinced that the authors of the paper you link to are serious scientists -- certainly they were not serious in that paper!

In any case, I pointed out early on in our discussion that of course you could find scientists who were "slumming" who would play games with the term "emergent phenomena." Congratulations -- you proved my point by finding such an example. I think the conclusion I quoted from their paper is clear enough that even non-physicists can see these guys were just playing games -- i.e., "slumming," not doing science.

im-skeptical also wrote:
> I asked you to present an argument to substantiate this, and you have steadfastly ignored it. Why do you think that this is true as a matter of principle? What do you know that eludes virtually the entire community of cognitive scientists?

Oh, there is an obvious argument, a simple and obvious meta-theorem from first-order predicate logic. You haven't seen it? It's the same theorem that formalizes Hume's is/ought conundrum. I don't have time now, but if I get a chance in the next few days, I'll sketch out the theorem.

im-okay also wrote:
>[Dave]"So, can you name even one single established neuroscientist who has clearly and forthrightly claimed that he or she has actually "succeeded in showing how physics predicts consciousness"?"
>[im-okay]You can't seem to get it through your head that I never made this claim that you keep attributing to me. I have repeatedly tried to tell you that. You're arguing against a straw man, dude.

Oh, I don't think so: early in our discussion you said, "With regard to your apparent disdain for materialism, all I can say is that I (along with the majority of scientists) prefer to go by the evidence." That seems to imply that you think the "majority of scientists" think that materialism is true.

I do not think the majority of scientists do think that. Since the scientists who have the most direct expertise on the question of whether the principles of physics are sufficient to predict consciousness are neuroscientists (and physicists), I have asked you to name a neuroscientist who holds that view.

If you did not mean to claim that "the majority of scientists" hold your materialist views, perhaps you can clarify your earlier statement.

Dave

PhysicistDave said...

jdhuey wrote to me:
>I never took a class in straight Statistical Mechanics but the Thermodynamics classes I took all used Stat Mech to demonstrate that the macro state properties of temperture and preasure were derivable (reducible) to the more basic laws of physics. They didn't call them "emergent properties" back in those olden days but that's what they are.

Well, you just conceded that they did not call them "emergent phenomena," which was my point!

Thank you.

The principles of stat mech and thermodynamics are old-fashioned nineteenth-century physics. As I said much earlier in our exchange, if you insist on using the phrase "emergent phenomena" to describe anything that happens at all when things interact with each other, then pretty much all of physics, going back to the seventeenth century, is just "emergent phenomena."

"Emergent phenomena" becomes synonymous with physics!

I can't see the point of that, but I cannot prevent you from speaking in that way if you insist.

As you conceded, the authors of your textbooks wisely did not choose to speak that way.

Dave

PhysicistDave said...

jdhuey also wrote:
>Sean Carrol from Cal Tech, likes to distinguish between Fundamental Physics and what he calls "interesting Physics". Interesting Physics is all the stuff that you are likely to encounter in your day to day life - the emergent properties.

You misunderstand Sean's point. My Ph.D. is in, as you put it, "Fundamental Physics," and, I can assure you that since at least the early twentieth century, fundamental physics (i.e., quantum field theory and general relativity) are at least as much "emergent phenomena" in the sense you are choosing to use the phrase as stat mech and thermodynamics.

In fact, much of quantum field theory during the last fifty years has consisted of ideas stolen (okay, "borrowed") from stat mech (e.g., much of the work in axiomatic quantum field theory, Wilson's real-space renormalization group, etc.).

Again, you can just use the phrase "emergent phenomena" as a synonym for "physics" if you wish, but then if you say that consciousness can be explained as an emergent phenomenon, you are just saying that consciousness can be explained by physics.

And, we're back where we started: no one has provided such an explanation, and I bet no one ever will. Prove me wrong: discover such an explanation.

By the way, the "Student's Guide" series are not standard textbooks: they are "Cliff's Notes" for technical subjects. I referred to real textbooks: the meaty, door-stop texts used at serious schools for advanced stat mech.

Anyway, you pointed to one section in one chapter in Lemons' book that connected entropy to information: I'll take that as a concession that, even in Lemons' Cliff's Notes version, the informational approach was not the primary way of explaining stat mech.

Had I written Lemons' book, I might have included that one section too, just for fun. The mathematical analogies between real entropy and the analogous concept in information theory are indeed kinda cool, and the subject has always intrigued me -- I spent a fair amount of time exploring all this some years ago.

But, as far as I know, no one has ever succeeded in making the mathematical analogy into a valid "informational" approach to stat mech, which is why stat mech is still not presented that way in textbooks to this day, as I have been saying all along.

Thanks for confirming that your own textbooks confirmed my point and that the only book you could find that discussed this approach had one section of one chapter about it. If you spend a few hours in a good university library, you should be able to find a whole bunch of books (like the Brillouin book that I mentioned originally) that go into great detail trying to develop this informational approach to stat mech: alas, none has succeeded (my own interest in the past was largely due to thinking that I could be the guy that could make the informational approach to stat mech actually work -- of course, I was just as unsuccessful as everyone else). In any case, I think that not a one of those slew of books will be a widely accepted textbook, as I have maintained from the start of our discussion.

Dave

im-skeptical said...

"I pointed out early on in our discussion that of course you could find scientists who were "slumming" who would play games with the term "emergent phenomena.""
- Perhaps. And it is a FACT that there are serious scientists who use the term, your opinions about it notwithstanding.

"If you did not mean to claim that "the majority of scientists" hold your materialist views, perhaps you can clarify your earlier statement."
- You don't agree? Do you have any substantiation?

PhysicistDave said...

im-skeptical wrote to me:
>[Dave]"If you did not mean to claim that "the majority of scientists" hold your materialist views, perhaps you can clarify your earlier statement."
>[im-skeptical] You don't agree? Do you have any substantiation?

I do not understand your response. You made a claim. I wondered if you have any evidence for that claim. I take it you don't. I asked you to clarify if I misunderstood your previous statement: you didn't respond.

I suppose part of our difference may be that we mean different things by the word "scientist": like most Americans, when I use the word "scientist," I mean natural scientists (physicists, chemists, biologists, astronomers, geologists). I do not mean "political scientists," "Christian Scientists," computer "scientists," "social scientists," cognitive "scientists," etc.

I suspect from various of your comments that you and I do not quite see eye-to-eye on this.

im-skeptical also wrote to me:
>[Dave]"I pointed out early on in our discussion that of course you could find scientists who were "slumming" who would play games with the term "emergent phenomena.""
- [im-skeptical]Perhaps

No "perhaps" about it. I was quite explicit in my March 29, 2015 12:18 AM post above:
>Yes, of course, you can find pseudo-scholarly articles, by philosophers and by some scientists who are slumming...

You generously offered an excellent example to prove my point when you linked to the Levin/Wen paper. Thank you.

im-skeptical added:
> And it is a FACT that there are serious scientists who use the term, your opinions about it notwithstanding.

Really? Who?

Your best shot at giving an example so far has been an anthropologist!!!!

In my March 29, 2015 12:18 AM post, I challenged anyone to:
>By all means, prove me wrong: show us all the many standard textbooks in physical science that make use of the concept of "emergent properties" as a central part of their exposition.

No one has come up with any examples so far. If this were a standard approach in modern science, coming up with examples should be easy.

I think the evidence is now dispositive.

I said in my March 28, 2015 12:50 AM post above, that the phrase "emergent properties" is used in several different ways: it does not mean just one thing. As I said there, one of the meanings of the phrase makes it virtually coextensive with the word "physics." Another meaning uses it to mean something that cannot be explained by the laws of physics.

Mutually contradictory meanings.

To the best of my knowledge, there are no serious scientists who use the term "emergent properties" as an important and essential concept in serious scientific work: it would be hard to do so since the phrase has mutually contradictory meanings.

But, perhaps my knowledge is incomplete, and I have overlooked someone.

Fine. Tell us whom I have overlooked.

But, please -- no more anthropologists: I don't want to die laughing!

Dave

im-skeptical said...

Are you serious?

You don't think an actual research scientist with a PhD in anthropology is capable of investigating the development and function of human cognition? You can't hold a candle to Deacon's scientific achievements.

You don't think cognitive science is real science? I'm sure your friend Gerald Schneider would be surprised to hear that. Do you know what department he works for at MIT?

You think the physicists at MIT are "slumming" because they wrote a paper that discusses emergent phenomena? I already told you that I agree it all boils down to physical laws. But there are reasons for trying to understand things at a different level of analysis. Sorry if you don't agree. But then, you're just a physicist. What would you know about anything outside your own narrow area of study?