Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Why the brain presupposes a mind


Why are mental states not states of the brain? Well, what is a brain, after all? A brain has to be described as a set of particles. No individual particle of the brain is the brain, it is as set. But what makes a set a real object? If you don't accept essences of some kind or another. 

What is a naturalistic perspective on what a "whole" is? Here is David Hume. 

“The WHOLE, you say, wants a cause. I answer, that the uniting of these parts into a whole, like the uniting of several distinct counties into one kingdom, or several distinct members into one body, is performed merely by an arbitrary act of mind, and has no influence on the nature of things. Did I show you the particular cause of each individual in a collection of twenty particles of matter, I should think it very unreasonable, should you afterwards ask me, what was the cause of the whole twenty. This is sufficiently explained in explaining the cause of the parts.” (Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion)


What is a whole? It is a product of AN ARBITRARY ACT OF THE MIND," and not something in the nature of things. If the brain is a whole, then it can't exist without there being a mind. It s a mind-dependent object. 

36 comments:

Ilíon said...

The best way I have so come up with to phrase the point or issue is that only things with identity really exist. This seems to contract the class of "things that really exist" to not not a great deal more than "things that are alive".

Edward T. Babinski said...

Neurons naturally hook up and learn new behaviors.

http://edward-t-babinski.blogspot.com/2015/09/rat-robot-hybrids-rat-neurons-in-petri.html

Victor Reppert said...


So, is a neuron a real object, or something that only exist as a result of an arbitrary act of the mind?

Andrew said...

Pretty well leads from there to 'the suicide of thought' and the argument from reason, eh? :)

The atomist doesn't at all escape the question of identities and wholes. If we can't speak of anything as a whole or an identity (the very basis of logic), we reduce ourselves to absurdity and save someone else the trouble.

Edward T. Babinski said...

How your brain stores memories
http://www.theguardian.com/education/2015/sep/16/what-happens-in-your-brain-when-you-make-a-memory

Edward T. Babinski said...

Famed neurobiologists take Reppert and Lewis to school concern his the argument from reason

http://edward-t-babinski.blogspot.com/2015/09/famed-neurobiologists-on-free-will-vs.html

Edward T. Babinski said...

Vic and I have been over this many times. The brain-mind is a system and does not consist solely of particles.

Edward T. Babinski said...

My response to the argument from reason

http://edward-t-babinski.blogspot.com/2011/01/prior-prejudices-and-argument-from.html

Victor Reppert said...

NONE of this, so far as I can see, addresses the argument I have given here.

Edward T. Babinski said...

The cosmos is mysterious enough without having to add a super human personal deity to explain it. The cosmos evolves life and extinguishes it. And the fact it took so much energy and matter moving back and forth over so much time to produce living things on one tiny planet out of countless stars and planets makes one suspect that even if a Higher Power exists, it may well be a tinkerer, perhaps even tinkering with different cosmoses. Our species might also devolve, become extinct, branch out into different species on different planets, or perhaps we will help raise machines or other species to higher levels of intelligence, and they might supersede our species in future.

At any rate the stars have enough fuel to continue to burn for billions more years. What will our present species become by then, if we don't become extinct?

The stars can certainly continue to burn without us for billions more years.

And black holes can probably not exhaus themselves for hundreds of billions of years since only Hawking radiation escapes them.

These are scientific realities and questions. God himself if he exists must know what kinds of questions studying the cosmos leads to. And such question do not appear to point to the truth of one religion or holy book.

Complexity appears to be innate in the cosmos.

Do we come into the cosmos or come out of it?

http://edward-t-babinski.blogspot.com/2015/06/complexity-is-how-cosmos-flows.html

Edward T. Babinski said...

Vic, Emergence and inherent complexity answers the question without cardinal difficulties for naturalism, and without positing a solely particle view of the mind-brain system. Read the scientists I cited, read the pieces.

I am not saying science has all the answers or exact formula. I am saying that we are on equal footing in so far as large philosophical generalizations are concerned since neither side knows exactly how things work. So

THERE IS NO CARDINAL DIFFICULTY NOR BIRDEN ON NATURALISM.

David Brightly said...

Yes, certainly. Every object of the manifest image is mind-dependent. Trees look like trees, not collections of atoms, for good reasons. Nevertheless, matter may underlay both trees and minds, I think.

Ilíon said...

Babinski: "Neurons naturally hook up and learn new behaviors."

Reppert: "So, is a neuron a real object, or something that only exist as a result of an arbitrary act of the mind?"

Neurons are living entities, the possess identity or "selfhood".

On the other hand, Theseus' Ship ... and the Sun, the Moon and the Earth ... do not possess identity or "selfhood". Theseus' Ship was "something that [...] exist[ed only] as a result of an arbitrary act of the mind"; I lean toward the claim that the same is true of the Sun, the Moon and the Earth.

entirelyuseless said...

Victor's argument is correct as far as it goes, and Ed Babinski's responses do not address it. However, Victor is partly responsible for the fact that he includes things like, "The cosmos is mysterious enough without having to add a super human personal deity to explain it," namely things which are utterly irrelevant to the discussion.

Victor is responsible because he keeps implying that consequences follow from his argument which do not follow. For example, the whole argument applies equally to dogs and cats, but Victor still probably does not believe that they have immortal souls. So this type of argument cannot possibly prove that, and he wants to imply that it can.

Victor Reppert said...

What the argument purports to show that if there is such a thing as a brain, then its existence is dependent on a mind which is not a brain. It does not argue that the brain has an immortal soul that belongs to it.

DougJC said...

"What is a naturalistic perspective on what a "whole" is?

From Paul Churchland, a whole can be a mental act of mind and it can, simultaneously, be a genuine particular in a family of genuine causal processes within the objective structure of the four-dimensional continuum of reality. Hume is hardly the last word here.

Gyan said...

Victor,
"A brain has to be described as a set of particles"
Why? And what are these "particles" and how came you got to know them?
The first thing one is aware of is that individual things exist and exist independent of us. The things are certainly not "product of AN ARBITRARY ACT OF THE MIND". If it were so, you could not get any kind of science going.

Your "particles" are product of series of inference, each of which starts from registering of a thing (or a whole as you call here). The "whole" is logically and physically prior to any "particle", Ship of Thesus notwithstanding.

Gyan said...

"AN ARBITRARY ACT OF THE MIND,"

Mind acts to know reality so the only arbitrary act of mind would seem to produce hallucination and not a real object. A non-hallucinating mind conforms to the reality and thus can not be engaging in arbitrary acts.

SteveK said...

"But what makes a set a real object?"

My criteria is if it exists it's a real object. Atoms are made of subatomic particles so they too are a set. Are atoms a real object? Yes because it's a fact that they exist independent of our mental awareness of them. In other words, if minds suddenly ceased to exist these things (atoms) would still exist as real objects. Your body exists as a set independent of the mind every time you go to sleep.

Angra Mainyu said...

Victor,

Some philosophers would say that a set is an abstract object, and thus the brain isn't it. Perhaps, a better characterization would be a causally connected network of neurons, though the concept is - as most concepts, if not all - not precise to any arbitrary degree; there is fuzziness, rather than sharp edges.
That aside, the fact that you use a brain as an example seems to obscure the actual argument which, if it were successful, would apply to, say, planets as much as it would apply to brains.
You might as well argue:
'A planet has to be described as a set of particles. No individual particle of the planet is the planet, it is as set. But what makes a set a real object? If you don't accept essences of some kind or another.



What is a whole? It is a product of AN ARBITRARY ACT OF THE MIND," and not something in the nature of things. If the planet is a whole, then it can't exist without there being a mind. It s a mind-dependent object.'


I don't see a good reason to accept the "arbitrary" claim - unless specified in a way that makes it true -, but that aside, even assuming the arbitrariness of the choice when making up the concept of a planet, that does not tell us that the planet itself - which is what the concept refers to - somehow presupposes a mind. That seems to confuse the development of a concept, with the referent of such concept.

In fact, a direct counterpoint is as follows: there clearly seems to be no contradiction in saying that - for example - 8 billion years ago, there were planets, but there were no minds.
If you think there is a contradiction in the statement "8 billion years ago there were planets, but there were no minds", or in the conjunction of that statement with some statements all non-theists (or the subset of non-theists you have in mind) believe, I would like to ask you to formalize your argument.

Saints and Sceptics said...

Vic's point is supported by R. Scott Smith's critique of Dennett - available here
http://moralapologetics.com/the-inability-of-naturalism-to-explain-moral-knowledge/

"...while Dennett denies the reality of mental entities and their content, he does affirm the objective reality of physical patterns in the real world that we can detect.[16] However, Dennett also realizes that though these objective patterns are real, they always fall short of perfection. Therefore, there always will be uninterpretable gaps. Why? ...it is “always possible in principle for rival intentional stance interpretations of those patterns to tie for first place, so that no further fact could settle what the intentional system in question really believed.”"

"...when all the “facts” are in, there still will be alternative ways of stating them, in addition to the language of materialism and cognitive science. And, since there are no essences, there will be no deeper facts to settle any disputes that would arise. Therefore, applying Dennett’s own logic, in principle, it will always be possible for rival interpretations to tie for first place."

Saints and Sceptics said...

The point is that on naturalism we have no immaterial mind which can mirror/represent the facts about the physical world. Our folk psychology - & our intentional stances- will never match up with the facts about the physical world.

So if we have no substantial mind, we just have a bundle of ideas about the brain.

Victor Reppert said...

One way of getting at my point here is that naturalists tend to push in the direction of nominalism, yet nominalism, yet nominalism seems to require minds to do the "naming", as it were.

In the early modern period people used the distinction between primary and secondary qualities to push a lot of things into the realm of the mental in order to render physics mathematical and precise. But doing that presupposed dualism. If you now try to say the mind is physical after you have taken properties out of the physical and put them in the mental, what happens to those properties?

Angra Mainyu said...


Victor, the claim that nominalism requires minds is a different one, and I'm not sure what "naturalism" is, but my objection is as I described above - briefly, there clearly seems to be no contradiction in saying that - for example - 8 billion years ago, there were planets (or "brains", but that only obscures the point, which is the same), but there were no minds.


Personally, I'm not sure what "naturalism" means, so I'm not sure whether I would be a naturalist, and I'm not a nominalist though I guess that's as close as it gets to my position among common ones - but I don't see any reason why minds would be required to do any naming. The suggestion also seems to conflate map with territory or referent with development of a concept.

Still, as I said, if you think there is a contradiction in the statement "8 billion years ago there were planets, but there were no minds", or in the conjunction of that statement with some statements all non-theists (or the subset of non-theists you have in mind; naturalists, perhaps? Naturalist nominalists?) believe, I would like to ask you to formalize your argument (i.e., give some premises and derive a contradiction).

Also, if you think there is any relevant reasoning between planets and brains in that regard, I would have to ask you to explain how your reasoning in the OP makes a relevant difference between them - I argued above they're relevantly similar.

Crude said...

Victor,

If you now try to say the mind is physical after you have taken properties out of the physical and put them in the mental, what happens to those properties?

One thing I always say about these 'mind' debates is this: it's not enough to insist that the mind is embodied, or that the mind is physical. What 'the physical' is and must be has to be defined as well.

If the physical is defined the way the Aristotileans define it - complete with formal and final causes - then the naturalists are out of luck.

steve said...

"In fact, a direct counterpoint is as follows: there clearly seems to be no contradiction in saying that - for example - 8 billion years ago, there were planets, but there were no minds."

Assuming there were no minds 8 billion years ago, could that proposition be true 8 billion years ago? Is truth independent of true belief? Is true belief independent of minds that entertain true beliefs?

If there were no minds 8 billion years ago, what makes that true 8 billion years ago? Put another way, can true (or false) propositions exist apart from minds? Aren't propositions a kind of concept? A concept that asserts something to be (or not be) the case?

On the face of it, Mainyu's counterexample denies in the conclusion what it must tacitly presume at the outset to get there.

Angra Mainyu said...


steve, you say:
"Assuming there were no minds 8 billion years ago, could that proposition be true 8 billion years ago? Is truth independent of true belief? Is true belief independent of minds that entertain true beliefs?

If there were no minds 8 billion years ago, what makes that true 8 billion years ago? Put another way, can true (or false) propositions exist apart from minds? Aren't propositions a kind of concept? A concept that asserts something to be (or not be) the case?

On the face of it, Mainyu's counterexample denies in the conclusion what it must tacitly presume at the outset to get there."

That's not what it looks on the face of it.
Obscure metaphysical issues aside, if you're claiming that there is a contradiction involved the statement S1: "There were planets but no minds 8 billion years ago", I would ask you to derive the contradiction from logically necessary premises plus P1.

In fact, your claim is stronger, as it seems to imply that even the statement S2: "There were no minds 8 billion years ago" is contradictory. As before, I would ask you to derive a contradiction.

steve said...

You made a claim concerning the past. Concering a time before minds existed.

How can there be a true proposition *about* the past, *in* the past, before there were minds? Could your proposition about the nonexistence of minds be a true proposition at the time minds were nonexistent?

This goes to the nature of propositions and intentionality. Don't those inhere in minds?

To dismiss it as "an obscure metaphysical issues" dodges the issue. I'm responding to you on your own grounds.

BTW, I'm under no obligation to frame my argument according to your stipulations. I'm sure Victor has no difficulty grasping what I've getting at.

Angra Mainyu said...

steve,

You say: "You made a claim concerning the past. Concering a time before minds existed."

Actually, I didn't make that claim. I do not know whether there were minds 8 billion years ago. My point was that there was no contradiction in the statement.

"How can there be a true proposition *about* the past, *in* the past, before there were minds? Could your proposition about the nonexistence of minds be a true proposition at the time minds were nonexistent?"
That implicitly assumes a burden on my part (as well as a lot of ontological stuff about propositions, but I'll leave that aside as it's not my burden). There is not. If you claim there is a contradiction, please prove it. If there is no contradiction, my point stands.

"This goes to the nature of propositions and intentionality. Don't those inhere in minds?

To dismiss it as "an obscure metaphysical issues" dodges the issue. I'm responding to you on your own grounds."
No, you are not. My point is that there is no contradiction involved the statement S1: "There were planets but no minds 8 billion years ago". You answer with a question. I don't need to have any theory on the nature of propositions (and I don't have it) in order to reject the claim that there is no contradiction involved in S1 - that's fairly obvious.
Again, if you claim there is a contradiction, please prove it.

"BTW, I'm under no obligation to frame my argument according to your stipulations. I'm sure Victor has no difficulty grasping what I've getting at."
Well, you have no obligation to reply, either. But in the context of this exchange, you've not made a dent in my objection. Whether Victor agrees is another matter.

DougJC said...

Crude,

"If the physical is defined the way the Aristotileans define it - complete with formal and final causes - then the naturalists are out of luck."

I don't immediately see why that is. Final cause seems to be a way of observing that there is a direction to all things, very little appears to be completely random. Formal cause seems to be a reasonable way to refer to the entirety of matter and processes in clear ensembles such as crystals, lifeforms, consciousness, etc. An unmoved mover(s) seems a logical deduction from final cause but since such a thing would lack the complexity required by minds as we understand the concept, it would not appear to be a candidate for a personal God.

Gyan said...

Paul Griffiths in his recent book Decreation distinguishes between "Inanimate material bodies" such as rocks and bodies of water (i.e ordinary things) and "discarnate inanimate bodies" such as quarks and subatomic particles.

This distinction between everyday objects that are directly and immediately perceived and
entities that are postulated in physics is crucial. But one sees that people on the both sides of the theism-atheism divide neglect this absolute ground of both philosophy and physics.

It would not do to start with quarks and photons and electrons. How do we know these?

Crude said...

I don't immediately see why that is.

And then you go on to refer to formal and final causes as if they were just useful rhetorical models, rather than actual things.

An unmoved mover(s) seems a logical deduction from final cause but since such a thing would lack the complexity required by minds as we understand the concept,

By all means, DougJC, if you want to insist that an Uncaused Cause exists but you don't see how one gets to God from that, be my guest.

Gyan said...

Elementary particles are very dubiously Aristotelian substances. For instance, an Aristotelian substance must be capable of independent existence which is not true for elementary particles. For one thing, they are entangled with each other quantum mechanically, secondly, electrons are indistinguishable particles. You can not distinguish one electron from another.

The candidates to which Aristotelian schemes may be applied are the things we encounter in our everyday life, things that we perceive directly.

DougJC said...

Crude,

"And then you go on to refer to formal and final causes as if they were just useful rhetorical models, rather than actual things."

Causes do not exist in addition to processes and matter, they are terms for the same thing, effectively.

"By all means, DougJC, if you want to insist that an Uncaused Cause exists but you don't see how one gets to God from that, be my guest."

I do see how one attempts to get God from that but I don't see that the attempt succeeds. Whatever uncaused causes exist in this universe, they appear much simpler than mind.

Gyan,

"Elementary particles are very dubiously Aristotelian substances. "

I don't mean to refer to causation exactly as Aristotle conceived it but in it's least controversial sense: final cause as end-directed change, formal cause as spontaneous change, efficient cause as non-spontaneous change. These concepts seem critical for a naturalistic view (despite the "risk" entailed in supporting a conception of teleology).

grodrigues said...

@DougJC:

"I don't mean to refer to causation exactly as Aristotle conceived it but in it's least controversial sense: final cause as end-directed change, formal cause as spontaneous change, efficient cause as non-spontaneous change."

Whatever it is that you talking about it surely is not Aristotle.

DougJC said...

grodrigues,

Typo: I meant to refer to formal cause as the conditions that lead to spontaneous change by virtue of being the form itself.