Monday, July 24, 2017

Almeder on the scientific proof of materialism

After all, where in the scientific literature, biological, neurobiological, or otherwise, is it established either by observation or by the methods of testing and experiment, that consciousness is a biological property secreted by the brain in the same way a gland secretes a hormone? Better yet, where in the history of science has it been established that consciousness exists, but cannot be a substance very much unlike any substance we ordinarily deal with in contemporary physics or biology? In short, there is no scientifically well-confirmed (much less robustly confirmed) belief within science that consciousness is a biological product of the brain. We do not see the brain secrete consciousness in the same way we see a gland secrete a hormone. Consciousness is nothing like a hormone.

Almeder's paper is here. 



25 comments:

John Moore said...

This is a joke, right? It's absurd to think consciousness is some kind of liquid. Everybody thinks consciousness is a kind of activity. It's something the brain does.

William said...

Interpretation of Searle's analogy of consciousness and digestion or secretion is subtly different if we describe consciousness via an analogy with a product of secretion, like a hormone, or instead describe consciousness via analogy with the activity (as you say it is) of secretion itself (the activity, not the product).

One weakness in either case is the lack of any obvious connection of the qualities of consciousness with the qualities of the cellular biochemical processes -- which is very unlike the easy connections and similarities between cellular biochemistry, metabolic activity, and metabolic products in the case of digestion.

David Brightly said...

Let's put consciousness to one side because its first-person qualities are resistant to scientific treatment. Instead, let's ask if awareness is secreted by brains, where we understand 'awareness', at bottom, as life-preserving responsiveness to surroundings. Is this scientifically demonstrable?

Mortal said...

Consciousness is not an activity - it is a thing. Self awareness cannot be explained by any possible degree of complexity, and the deniers of this know it full well. Either the entire cosmos is conscious, or else self awareness is not material. Those are your two choices - there is no third.

Hugo Pelland said...

Consciousness is an activity as far as we can tell. We have humam beings depicting it. There's another step needed to claim that it can exist without a body. It becomes a 'thing' on its own, yes, because...

Should I try to discuss the primacy of consiousness VS primacy of the material again?

It seems to either bore everyone, or they think it's so stupid they ignore...

William said...

David,

I fear that trying to make the secretion analogy precise enough to be what you ask, "scientifically demonstrable," just dissolves it into a category error.

Why bother to take an analogy so far?

Hugo Pelland said...

Awaresness would fit well with the water vs H2O analogy.

How many individual molecules of H2O do we need to get to something that has the properties of water?

Similarly, how many neutrons and connexions do we need to to something that has the properties of awareness?

Neither question has a precise answer, but we don't need one to understand that a large enough number gives rise to something that has very different properties than the individual parts taken as a whole.

bmiller said...

@Hugo Pelland,

Similarly, how many neutrons and connexions do we need to to something that has the properties of awareness?

How many grains of sand do we need to to something that has the properties of awareness?

One is a heap, and the other has a form that is different from the constituent parts.


Hugo Pelland said...

I don't get your point. Grains of sand aren't connected electrically nor chemically; there aren't part of a sensory system.

David Brightly said...

Hi William, Yes, 'secrete' is a strange word to use in this context. I guess Almeda is emphasising the supposed materiality of consciousness to make his point. But to ask, '...is it established...that consciousness is a biological property secreted by the brain...?' is arguably already to make a category error. So if we are to take those paragraphs seriously we have to find some metaphorical sense for 'secrete', I think. A biologist might make sense of something like 'sociability is secreted by the brains of some species but not others', especially if the sociability depended upon pheromones or the like, that are literally secreted.

bmiller said...

@Hugo Pelland,

Grains of sand aren't connected electrically nor chemically; there aren't part of a sensory system.

Yes and neither are individual neutrons. They are a heap unless they are part of a living thing.

Mortal said...

Damn!, but Hugo has proposed a real stumper (at least to me) of a question that really has nothing to do with the issue at hand. Just how many H2O molecules does it take before we have "water"? What is water's monad?

I guess it depends on how one defines water. If by water you mean the molecule H2O, then it only takes one - by definition. But if you mean a substance that can flow as a liquid, freeze into ice, and form gaseous clouds... well, then you need a whole bunch of them. But how many? As little as two? Or millions?

grodrigues said...

For those who are seemingly hang-up by the word "secrete", the quoted passage follows an extensive quotation from Searle. Here I will quote the part that the original author italicized:

"Consciousness, in short, is a biological feature of human and certain animal brains. It is caused by neurobiological processes and is as much a part of the natural biological order as any other biological features such as photosynthesis, digestion, or mitosis. This principle is the first stage in understanding the place of consciousness within our world-view. This principle is the first stage in understanding the place of consciousness within our world-view. The thesis of this chapter so far has been that once you see that atomic and evolutionary theories are central to the contemporary scientific worldview, then consciousness falls into place naturally as an evolved phenotypical trait of certain types of organisms with highly developed nervous systems."

grodrigues said...

(continued)

Then the author says in response (emphasis in the original):

"Searle’s argument, then, for the claim that consciousness exists as a *biological* product of the brain, secreted by the brain in the same way a hormone is secreted by a gland, is then simply that that is the only position consistent with a naturalistic world view in which what is known about the world is what we can get under the method of testing and confirmation in the natural sciences as we have come to know them. He is quick to add, of course, that he is not interested in defending such a worldview. He simply accepts it as obvious that it is our worldview, and asserts that that fact in itself should be sufficient reason for the rest of us to accept it, and to make our philosophical explanations consistent with it (Searle 2004: 101). So he urges that those who would affirm the existence of consciousness as a Cartesian Immaterial Substance, and thereby reject the biological nature of consciousness, disagree with our world-view; and they thereby do so either because they are in the grip of religion or just have not yet heard the good news that science and the scientific world view is all we have when it comes to knowing anything about this world. They either know nothing about science, or they are superstitious.

In fact, by way of criticism of Searle’s position, it is quite possible to accept a scientific world view, in any of the various ways Searle might be inclined to define or characterize it, and still, without being superstitious or essentially ignorant of science, reject Searle’s biological construal of consciousness, simply because his position is purely philosophical and not in fact established in natural science. His position on the biological nature of consciousness contradicts his stated worldview. After all, where in the scientific literature, biological, neurobiological, or otherwise, is it established either by observation or by the methods of testing and experiment, that consciousness is a biological property secreted by the brain in the same way a gland secretes a hormone? Better yet, where in the history of science has it been established that consciousness exists, but cannot be a substance very much unlike any substance we ordinarily deal with in contemporary physics or biology? In short, there is no scientifically well-confirmed (much less robustly confirmed) belief within science that consciousness is a biological product of the brain. We do not see the brain secrete consciousness in the same way we see a gland secrete a hormone. Consciousness is nothing like a hormone."

Obviously, some people have some trouble understanding what "in the same way" means.

John Moore starts by asking "This is a joke, right?" My answer is yes it is, except we may disagree where the true hilarity lies. He continues with "Everybody thinks consciousness is a kind of activity. It's something the brain does." which is a classical case of mistaking one's parochial, ignorant view for a universal consensus.

For the record, I am not a substance dualist, neither am I interested in defending it here; but it has had very abled defenders (in several variants) from Plato down to our own day, and it certainly is more sensible than the hilariously incongruent naturalism being peddled and sold as some sort of scientific theory.

William said...

@John Moore and grodrigues:

Perhaps the joke is then from the spectacle of attacking a straw-man caricature of Searle. His position has flaws, but not those flaws.

Stardusty Psyche said...

grodrigues said...

--As usual you say nothing, only attack, make no actual arguments, pretend as though you posses some wise knowledge, and leave.

" Obviously, some people have some trouble understanding what "in the same way" means."
--Empty attack devoid of any positive assertion of what you think it means.

" John Moore starts by asking "This is a joke, right?" My answer is yes it is, except we may disagree where the true hilarity lies."
--Implication you have some position, but you don't state it.

" He continues with "Everybody thinks consciousness is a kind of activity. It's something the brain does." which is a classical case of mistaking one's parochial, ignorant view for a universal consensus."
--Another empty attack.

" For the record, I am not a substance dualist, neither am I interested in defending it here;"
--A mere statement of what you are not. So what?

" but it has had very abled defenders (in several variants) from Plato down to our own day, "
--Classic vague reference to answers elsewhere.

"and it certainly is more sensible than the hilariously incongruent naturalism being peddled and sold as some sort of scientific theory."
--Your typical closing, vacuous criticism with no positive assertion.

Do you ever do anything other than attack, pretend you have some great understandings, and then run away having made no actual arguments?


July 26, 2017 9:01 AM

grodrigues said...

@William:

"Perhaps the joke is then from the spectacle of attacking a straw-man caricature of Searle. His position has flaws, but not those flaws."

It may be a straw-man caricature (someone more conversant than me with what Searle holds may tell you that), but from what Almeder quotes, it is a perfectly sensible response. Searle says quite explicitly that consciouness "is as much a part of the natural biological order as any other biological features such as photosynthesis, digestion, or mitosis" and that it "falls into place naturally as an evolved phenotypical trait of certain types of organisms with highly developed nervous systems". If, to borrow John Moore's expression, consciouness is "something the brain does" in the same sense digestion is something the stomach does, then we ought to be able to observe consciouness as we observe digestion, and we ought to have a theory that from the workings of the brain consciousness emerges, in the same sense that from the workings of the stomach digestion emerges. But neither do we observe nor do we have such a theory; what we do know for a fact is that no one has a clear idea of what such a theory would be, a remarkable fact for what is alleged to be a purely biological phenomena. So Searle's position *does* have (some of) the flaws Almeder points out, e.g. the second paragraph in the response I quoted and the part Mr. Reppert also quoted.

Mortal said...

what we do know for a fact is that no one has a clear idea of what such a theory would be

And that is indeed remarkable. We can build a machine that responds to stimuli, even to the degree that a human being can be momentarily confused as to whether he is dealing with another person or a machine. But this is a far cry from consciousness. After all, a thermometer responds to rising and falling temperatures. Street lights respond to the rising and setting sun. Sophisticated computerized systems that control our power grids, for example, are responding to billions upon billions of "sensory" inputs. But none of these things are self aware. So much for complexity being a factor.

And that is the crux of the matter. The physicalist can account for the brain responding to inputs, but he cannot account for self awareness. It's not a matter of "science" will find this out someday. It's that scientists haven't even begun the search - and frankly do not know where to search.

William said...

The strawman is the position that consciousness is a physical product, which Almeder attacks without necessity, since Searle does not actually say this.

The non-strawman position Searle endorses is that consciousness is a biological function. This is a reasonable hypothesis, but it is indeed vulnerable to objections based on lack of any tractability from a scientific viewpoint as to how the subjective qualities occur.


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Joe Hinman said...

The strawman is the position that consciousness is a physical product, which Almeder attacks without necessity, since Searle does not actually say this.

The non-strawman position Searle endorses is that consciousness is a biological function. This is a reasonable hypothesis, but it is indeed vulnerable to objections based on lack of any tractability from a scientific viewpoint as to how the subjective qualities occur.

I agree with both statements but the latter does not mean consciousnesses is physical nor is it the case that Searle is the only enemy of property dualism, there are reductionists who do say consciousnesses phsyical,

Joe Hinman said...

The strawman is the position that consciousness is a physical product, which Almeder attacks without necessity, since Searle does not actually say this.

The non-strawman position Searle endorses is that consciousness is a biological function. This is a reasonable hypothesis, but it is indeed vulnerable to objections based on lack of any tractability from a scientific viewpoint as to how the subjective qualities occur.

I agree with both statements but the latter does not mean consciousnesses is physical nor is it the case that Searle is the only enemy of property dualism, there are reductionists who do say consciousnesses phsyical,

William said...

If "physical" is simply whatever has or potentially could have effects on any of the things studied by the physical sciences, then everything, including our dreams and fantasies, is indeed physical :).

Joe Hinman said...

I think they will run into problems trying to define it. Energy is matter in a different from. Matter is clearly physical and they would say energy is but energy is not exactly tangible.

Physicalists say mind is physical because it's a product of brain it is confused with brain. But if so then it seems thoughts should be physical too.

If thoughts are physical then I must have a real city inside my head called "metropolis."

David Brightly said...

Searle's book is a terrific assault on contemporary philosophy of mind. What he says at the end of chap 1 makes a good taster. Go here, at Google Books, and search for "the cartesian conception of the physical" (with the quotes).