Friday, February 10, 2006

More Darek Barefoot on the AFr

Darek Barefoot has put a lot of effort into making sense of the Argument from Reason. Here's what he sent me a couple of years ago.

A general observation about AfR:  In popular and semi-popular
treatments of the mind/brain problem I notice the persistent appeal
to "emergent properties."  Two such features I have seen cited more
than once are heat and liquidity.  Neither quality has any descriptive
relevance to a single atom, which is another way of saying that the
emergence of heat and liquidity in aggregates of atoms are not
predictably related to its individual constituents.  The same is true,
so the argument goes, of consciousness and conscious attributes of
mind such as rationality.  Rationality is just another emergent propery that
we cannot hope to relate to its individualized material

The way I would prefer to attack this facile strategy is to point out
that system features such as heat and liquidity are natural because
they are sensible (here meaning "available to the senses," of
course).  They therefore lie beyond the same unbridgeable gulf that
separates consciousness and rationality from the rest of nature.

It is hard to conceive of a definition of "nature" that is not somehow
grounded in sensory experience.  Only through my senses do I
learn that two elements with certain characteristics may combine
to form a compound that has yet a third set of characteristics, and
only by further sensory exploration do I learn more about the
chemical process by which this occurs.  But it is not by the same
sensory means that I learn that two thoughts may be combined to
yield a third thought that constitutes a rational insight.  It is
inconceivable that scientific study of brain chemistry will give me
an enhanced understanding of logic, since my analysis of brain
function will be wholly dependent upon the understanding of rational
inquiry I bring to such analysis in the first place.  True, my
sense of sight allows me to read a book on applied logic, but that
hardly qualifies as sensory exploration of the physical brain
states/events that occur during rational thought.

Yet another line of attack this opens up has to do with the tentative
status of facts that are based on sensory data.  All such facts are
potentially disconfirmable by further sensory data (again, Hume gets
some credit for the clarity with which he addressed this), although
the index of probability for many of these facts is extraordinarily
high.  But consciousness and rationality are clearly distinguished by
this test.  No data received through my senses could conceivably
put me in doubt about my own consciousness or my own rationality--
at least not at the time such data is received.  If I understand a
doctor's report to say that my mental state is hopelessly demented,
then either I am experiencing an exceptional moment of lucidity or,
alternatively, I am hallucinating, in which case the report is not
actually sensory data.  It is not that the receipt of such genuinely
sensory information as would put me in doubt about my
consciousness or rationality is imaginable but monumentally
unlikely, the way it would be unlikely for a space alien to suddenly
appear and explain to me that the four walls of this room are some
kind of energetic projection rather than wood and plasterboard.  It is
rather that the receipt of such doubt-inducing data about my
consciousness and rationality is utterly unimaginable.  Descartes,
for all his failings, did get a few things right.


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