Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Even atheists doubt the evolutionary origin of consciousness

Here. 

50 comments:

Bilbo said...

I would think the major difficulty to providing an evolutionary explanation for the existence of consciousness results from a denial that consciousness has any causal efficacy on physical behavior. Assuming that premise to be true, there would be no selective advantage to evolving consciousness. If there is no selective advantage to evolving consciousness, its presence is merely by chance. While that is a logical possibility, it is scientifically unsatisfying.

Before a scientifically satisfying evolutionary explanation of consciousness is put forward, it seems that consciousness needs to have some sort of causal efficacy on physical behavior. So far, that is something the physical sciences have resisted admitting can be the case.

Hal said...

Thanks for the link.

Looks like the majority of religious find no real issue between humans having evolved from evolutionary processes and their belief in God. Makes good sense to me.

If I believed in God I would think it reasonable to assume that He would create a world that would be capable of bringing forth not only living things but intelligent living things through such natural processes. A God that had to continually tinker with those natural processes to bring this about strikes me as inferior.

Hal said...

Bilbo,
I would think the major difficulty to providing an evolutionary explanation for the existence of consciousness results from a denial that consciousness has any causal efficacy on physical behavior.

Consciousness is not an agent. It is an attribute of most living things. The behavior of those living things is partly constitutive of what it means to be conscious.

Same goes for the mind: it is not an agent that interacts with the human body. The agent for intelligent behavior is the human being.

Bilbo said...


Hal:
Consciousness is not an agent. It is an attribute of most living things. The behavior of those living things is partly constitutive of what it means to be conscious.

Same goes for the mind: it is not an agent that interacts with the human body. The agent for intelligent behavior is the human being.


Yes, this would be one way of trying to attribute causal physical efficacy to consciousness - somehow incorporate consciousness into what it means to be a physical human being. It's not clear to me that it can be done.

Hal said...

Yes, this would be one way of trying to attribute causal physical efficacy to consciousness 

Just to clarify: I don’t think it makes sense to attribute causal physical efficacy to consciousness. Rather, consciousness is attributed to the human person. The person is the agent with mental and corporeal powers.

My conception of the mind is more in line with the Aristotle-Aquinas-Wittgenstein tradition rather than the Platonic or Cartesian traditions.

As with most conceptual issues in philosophy, it can be difficult untangling them and coming to an agreement.

Bilbo said...

Hal: I don’t think it makes sense to attribute causal physical efficacy to consciousness."

It's not clear to me how you avoid the problem.

"John didn't go to work today because he was feeling depressed."

Did feeling depressed cause John not to go to work? If so, then consciousness, or a mental state, had causal physical efficacy.

Jim S. said...

A God that had to continually tinker with those natural processes to bring this about strikes me as inferior.

That's the deist's objection. The theist's response is that it's not a matter of whether God had to, it's a matter of whether God wants to. A God who wants to interact with his creation would set it up in such a way that he would do so. A God who did not want to interact with his creation strikes me as inferior.

Hugo Pelland said...

"somehow incorporate consciousness into what it means to be a physical human being. It's not clear to me that it can be done."

It's not clear to me how the oppisite can be done. What's non-physical about consciousness?

Bilbo said...

Hugo: What's non-physical about consciousness?

It's description.

Hugo Pelland said...

So you just describe it as non-physical and conclude that it cannot be physical...?

Bilbo said...

Hugo: So you just describe it as non-physical and conclude that it cannot be physical...??

Nope. I pointed out that the physical sciences rely upon physical explanations. The physical explanation for why John stayed home from work would require some sort of physical description of brain processes and the like. But this is irrelevant to whether or not those brain processes were identical to John's being depressed. It is logically possible that those brain processes were identical to John's being happy.
But that would be irrelevant to the reason why John stayed home. The only relevant explanation to the physical sciences is the one described in terms of brain processes, etc.

Thus, the physical sciences currently can't offer an evolutionary explanation of consciousness. It is irrelevant to them.

Hugo Pelland said...

"It is logically possible that those brain processes were identical to John's being happy."

No... you cannot justify that. You're just stating again that consciousness is not physical, by definiton, and thus independent of the physical brain.

Bilbo said...

Hugo: "No... you cannot justify that. You're just stating again that consciousness is not physical, by definiton, and thus independent of the physical brain."

No, actually someone who denied that it is logically possible would need to show what the logical contradiction is between the brain process and felling happy...or feeling anything at all. What do feelings have to do with a physical brain process? Why need they exist?

Victor Reppert said...

It goes the other way. If you want a conception of the physical that avoids stuff like panpsychism, then you need to build the exclusion of the mental into your definition of the physical. In the literature this is called the via negativa. But, once you do that, you can't explain the mental in terms of something that, by definition, leaves the mental out.

If I can introduce mental entities and call them physical, then I can do that for God, or the soul. I can say I am a physicalism, and God is just a physical entity with some, well, unusual properties. (But physical nonetheless.)

Hal said...

Bilbo,
Did feeling depressed cause John not to go to work? If so, then consciousness, or a mental state, had causal physical efficacy.

That was the reason for John not going to work. John is the agent acting based upon how he feels.

That does not entail that consciousness acted upon the physical to cause John to take the action he did.

As I stated above, how one conceptualized the mind, consciousness, agency, etc. determines how one is going to describe John's actions.

Hal said...
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Hal said...

Jim S.,
A God who did not want to interact with his creation strikes me as inferior.

I never said God could not or would not be able to interact with his creation.

Rather a God that can only create a world that requires him to tinker with it in order for creatures such as ourselves to evolve seems to me to be inferior to a God that can create a world that can do it through its own natural processes.

This is not a critique of the Christian God. I see no logical reason why that God would not have created a world in which evolutionary process are able to produce the diversity of life we have on our planet.

Hal said...

Victor,
It goes the other way. If you want a conception of the physical that avoids stuff like panpsychism, ..

I fail to see how the attribution of mental properties to living creatures entails anything like panpsychism unless one believed in eliminative reductionsim.

When new things emerge from other things new properties also emerge.

Victor Reppert said...

Yes, properties that add up. The physical underdetermines the mental.

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/oerter-and-indeterminacy-of-physical.html

Hal said...

Victtor,
I don’t believe thinking is a physical process. So am having trouble understanding why what Feser has to say undercuts my conception of the mind.

David Brightly said...

Bilbo says at 5:42 PM,
But this is irrelevant to whether or not those brain processes were identical to John's being depressed. It is logically possible that those brain processes were identical to John's being happy.
This seems to countenance a radical disconnect between John's brain processes and how they appear to him. I suggest that there seems to be such a logical possibility because we have little understanding of the nomological relations between brain processes and their appearances. But we aren't completely in the dark. We know, for example, that a drug that alters the balance of neurotransmitters and thus changes the patterns of neural activity can make the difference between depression and happiness for many people. So it looks as if there are at least some nomological connections between the physical and the mental.

If consciousness is an appearance then asking how it evolved is the wrong question. What we can ask is how the underlying reality of which it is an appearance came about by evolutionary and other processes. The question of the appearance we call 'consciousness' is part of the more general question of how any kind of appearance is possible.

David Brightly said...

Victor says,
But, once you do that, you can't explain the mental in terms of something that, by definition, leaves the mental out.
Is this result specific to the mental/physical distinction or does it fall out of the meaning of definition and explanation? I doubt it can be the latter. After all, our basic physical understanding is atomistic and we don't see atoms as living things. So life is not built in to our physical conceptions. Yet life seems understandable, at least constitutionally if not historically, in physical terms.

Hal said...

David,
This seems to countenance a radical disconnect between John's brain processes and how they appear to him.

If I understand Bilbo correctly, he was trying to point out the categorical difference between thinking and the physical processes in the brain. An analogy would be that of time and the physical processes in a device that displays the time. One could have a mechanical watch, a self-winding watch, a digital watch, an apple watch, etc. Despite the different processes taking place inside those watches they all can be used to display the same time. And you certainly would not want to identify time with those inner processes.

Your point about drugs affecting the brain is interesting, but humans have known that physical substances can impact one's mental life for at least as long as alcohol has been used as a beverage. :-)

David Brightly said...

Hello Hal,
Yes, I accept the categorical distinction. But Bilbo seems to find no contradiction between a low activity neural state due to below normal levels of serotonin and a subjective state of happiness. You are right of course about alcohol. It's just that our ancestors would have thought of drunkenness as our mind overwhelmed by the person of the god Bacchus, or some such, whereas today I assume we have a psycho-pharmacological story about C2H5OH just as we do about SSRIs.

Hal said...

David,
Thanks for the clarification. I agree with the point you are making.

Hugo Pelland said...

Bilbo said:
"...need to show what the logical contradiction is between the brain process and felling happy...or feeling anything at all. What do feelings have to do with a physical brain process? Why need they exist?"

And Victor said:
"...you need to build the exclusion of the mental into your definition of the physical."

We have differences of opinions here. Your statements imply the usual definition of existence that suits your views: primacy of consciousness, mental existence first. Yet, I argue that this is incoherent. Because to talk about the mental, you 2, the humans I am talking to right now, have to exist as physical beings first. It doesn't matter that your self-awarness is what feels more basic. I even agreed before that it's simpler.

But we know so much about the brain now that I think we can make the case for a theory of existence that starts with the physical.

If something we know exists, like happiness, cannot be accounted for, then the theory fails. However, the more I read about this, the more obvious it seems to me that everything we talk about depends on the physical, and makes sense that way. Merely defining the mental into existence first doesn't disprove physicalism.

Hal said...

Hugo,
But we know so much about the brain now that I think we can make the case for a theory of existence that starts with the physical.

The fact that creatures evolved with the capacity to think is irrelevant to the question of whether or not God created the world.

Hugo Pelland said...

Hal, I mostly agree in the context of this blog. I don't think there are Creationists here, but it does disprove some versions of theism. But anyway, what's your point?

Hal said...

Hugo,

My point was that evolution of physical life forms on this planet is irrelevant to the ultimate question of the existence of the universe. Not sure I can make it any clearer than that.

Hugo Pelland said...

Hal,
Yes, I agree with that. What's your point regarding the topic of the tread: can consciousness evolve naturally?
Bilbo and Victor argue that it can't; I think it did. What do you think and why?

Hal said...

Hugo,
Please see my first post: September 27, 2017 6:08 AM

Hugo Pelland said...

"Looks like the majority of religious find no real issue between humans having evolved from evolutionary processes and their belief in God. Makes good sense to me.

If I believed in God I would..."

You just wrote about what 'would' be the case if you were to believe a god caused humans to evolve naturally. Says nothing about what you actually believe... but nothing is requiring you to think about it, or share your opinion. I was just curious.

Hal said...

Hugo,

Saying "If I believed in God..." should make it obvious that I don't believe in God.
And of course I believe we evolved naturally. Not sure why you would suppose otherwise???

Hugo Pelland said...

"Even atheists doubt the evolutionary origin of consciousness"
Do you agree with that?
It's not clear from 'I believe we evolved naturally.'

Hal said...

Hugo,
Seems pretty clear to me. We have evolved naturally. We are conscious beings. What is unclear?

Hugo Pelland said...

I don't get why Atheists doubt the evolutionary origin of consciousness while simultaneously accepting evolution more generally. I thought you could explain why given that you seem to agree with that, given your rejection of physicalism.

I.e., I don't get why we get these numbers from the article:
"Of those who identified as atheists (as a sub-set of non-religious people) we found that nearly 1 in 5 UK atheists (19%) and over 1 in 3 of Canadian atheists (38%), somewhat agree, agree or strongly agree with the statement: “Evolutionary processes cannot explain the existence of human consciousness”. (This compares to 34% in the UK and 37% in Canada across the whole non-religious sample and 54% in the UK and 55% in Canada of religious or spiritual people)."

Hal said...

Hugo,
I don't know why those atheists reject evolution. There are many varieties of atheism. Some atheists believe in magic or supernatural agents while denying that God exists. Being an atheist does not protect one from being irrational or having false beliefs.

Hal said...

Hugo,
I thought you could explain why given that you seem to agree with that, given your rejection of physicalism.

Guess you’ve missed it, but I have stated several times in other posts that I believe physicalism is warranted in rejecting the existence of supernatural or mental substances. Its claim that only physical things exist seems patently false to me. I don’t see why the rejection of that claim would lead me to reject the fact that conscious beings have emerged through evolution.

Hugo Pelland said...

Hal,
Do you see a difference between claiming 'only physical things exist' and claiming 'we're only justified in believing physical things exist'?

Joe Hinman said...



Tillich and Personal God part 2

Hal said...

Hugo,

Do you see a difference between claiming 'only physical things exist' and claiming 'we're only justified in believing physical things exist'?

Am having trouble seeing any significant difference. I will say I don't agree with either one.

Hugo Pelland said...

I see a small difference in that the first is a claim about all existence, and explicitly states that certain things don't exist. The latter is what I believe and why I think Physicalism makes sense when starting with the Physical as base reality. We cannot prove there's nothing else, but I see no reason to believe there's something else.

So what about feeling happy, consciousness, rules of chess, and the number 3? They exist because the physical exist.

What's wrong with that if one doesn't assume the primacy of consciousness?

Hal said...

Hugo,
I see a small difference in that the first is a claim about all existence, and explicitly states that certain things don't exist. The latter is what I believe

That would be fine except that you included “only” in both claims:
claiming 'only physical things exist' and claiming 'we're only justified in believing physical things exist'
Both claims entail the denial of the existence of non-physical things.

We cannot prove there's nothing else, but I see no reason to believe there's something else.

I don’t think it is a question of belief. I know that many non-physical things exist: laws, legal systems, numbers, concepts, rules, theorems, etc. are not substances, let alone physical substances.

So what about feeling happy, consciousness, rules of chess, and the number 3? They exist because the physical exist.

So? It is still a fact that they exist and that they are not physical substances.

Hugo Pelland said...

Yes, but why do they exist? And could they exist independently of the physical?
To me, the answer is 'because the physical exists' and 'no'.

That's what I understand Physicalism to be, as it's silly to pretend that literally nothing non-physical exists; we all agree that labels or fictional character exists, in a loose non-physical way.

So the answer to your 'So?' is that I don't get why the label Physicalism is somehow seen as absurd by many non-Theists, and it's interesting to try to understand.

Hal said...

Hugo,
Why do laws exist? One answer would be that people have found that laws are necessary to ensure the safety and well being of the members of its society.

Sure the people making up those laws are physical beings. But those laws do exist. In fact they can exist long after the people that made them have ceased to exist.

If someone asks you why laws exist and you reply "They exist because the physical exists." how is that information going to be helpful to them? Looks to me like an empty explanation.

The rules of chess exist because someone was creative enough to think of a new game to play and they found it worthwhile to do so because people enjoy playing games of strategy.
Again, to say that the rules of chess exists because the physical exist is vacuous. What information are you imparting by giving it?


That's what I understand Physicalism to be, as it's silly to pretend that literally nothing non-physical exists; we all agree that labels or fictional character exists, in a loose non-physical way.

Labels are physical things. Why are you including them among the non-physical?

Hugo Pelland said...

Hal,

This is obviously in the narrow context of a philosophical discussion of what it means to exist. That's why I am having this conversation here, with you, no this blog... So of course I would not randomly tell someone that laws exist because the physical exists. I am talking about that because I am trying to understand what it means to you to be an Atheist, or to reject the existence of supernatural, or mental substances, while also claiming that Physicalism is wrong because it states that all that exists is physical.

Hugo Pelland said...

(Or I would also like to understand why many Atheists say that evolution cannot explain consciousness arising, from Victor's post, but you don't agree so you may also not know why they would say that...)

Hal said...

Hugo,

This is obviously in the narrow context of a philosophical discussion of what it means to exist.

I'm using words with their usual meanings in these discussions unless I say otherwise. (For example, my conception of the mind is not commonly accepted by dualists or materialists, so I have tried to clarify my use of the word "mind" below).
If you are using the word "exist" in some special or technical sense, then you should make that clear.

I am trying to understand what it means to you to be an Atheist, or to reject the existence of supernatural, or mental substances, while also claiming that Physicalism is wrong because it states that all that exists is physical.

The only substances that exist are material (or, if you prefer, physical) substances. The mental is not a substance. Neither of those claims entails the non-existence of the mental. I obviously believe that humans have mental properties: they are able to think, imagine, form reasons and act upon those reasons. It is because humans have those mental properties that we can say that they have minds. But minds are not some kind of substance. A human mind is not any kind of entity. Minds are not agents that interact with the body and cause it to move.

As, I've pointed out several times already, laws, rules, numbers, theorems are not physical substances. Yet all of those things do exist. If they do exist then the claim that only the physical can exist is false.

I think I already pointed out earlier why it is possible for atheists to not believe conscious beings can emerge from evolutionary processes: being an atheist does not protect one from incorrect or irrational beliefs. Do you think that simply because one is an atheist that entails everything else they believe is correct?

Hugo Pelland said...

Hal said...
"Do you think that simply because one is an atheist that entails everything else they believe is correct?"
You really think I am that stupid huh? Fine, cheers buddy...

Hal said...

Hugo,
It was a rhetorical question meant to reinforce my point that the reason some atheists denying evolution are simply mistaken in their belief.
No offense was intended. Sorry you took it that way.