Wednesday, May 17, 2006

A note from Markus on Swinburne and Searle, and the Maverick

Hi Professor Reppert,

It's interesting that Swinburne draws metaphysical conclusions from the argument that you make in your post "The Trouble with Materialism" and John Searle, who makes essentially the same argument, claims that the argument has no "deep consequences".

Swinburne argues:

"The history of science is punctuated with many 'reductions' of one whole branch of science to another apparently totally different, or 'integration' of apparently very disparate sciences into a super-science. Thermodynamics dealing with heat was reduced to statistical mechanics dealing with velocities of large groups of particles of matter and collisions between them; the temperature of a gas proved to be the mean kinetic energy of its molecules. The separate science of electricity and magnetism came together to form a super-science of electromagnetism. And then optics was reduced to electromagnetism; light proved to be an electromagnetic wave. How is it that such great integrations can be achieved if my argument is correct that there could not be a simple and so probably true super-science that predicts the connections we find between mental events and brain events? There is a crucial difference between these cases. Every earlier integration into a super-science, of sciences with entities and properties apparently qualitatively very distinct, was achieved by saying that some of these entities and properties were not as they appeared to be. A distinction was made between the underlying (not immediately observable) physical entities and physical properties, on the one hand, and the sensory properties to which they gave rise. Thermodynamics was initially concerned with the laws of temperature exchange; and temperature was supposed to be a property inherent in an object that you felt when you touched the object. The felt hotness of a hot body is indeed qualitatively distinct from particle velocities and collisions. The reduction to statistical mechanics was achieved by distinguishing between the underlying cause of the hotness (the motion of molecules) and the sensation that the motion of molecules causes in observers,and saying that really the former was what temperature was, the latter was just the effect of temperature on observers. That done, temperature falls naturally within the scope of statistical mechanics---for molecules are particles; the entities and properties are not now of distinct kinds. Since the two sciences now dealt with entities and properties of the same (measurable) kind, reduction of one to the other became a practical prospect. But the reduction was achieved at the price of separating off the felt hotness from its causes, and only explaining the latter. All other 'reductions' of one science to another and 'integrations' of separate sciences dealing with apparently very disparate properties have been achieved by this device of denying that the apparent properties (such as the 'secondary qualities' of colour, heat, sound, taste) with which one science dealt belong to the physical world at all. It siphoned them off to the world of the mental. But then, when you come to face the problem of the mental events themselves, you cannot do this. If you are to explain the mental events themselves, you cannot distinguish between them and their underlying causes and only explain the latter. The enormous success of science in producing an integrated physico-chemistry has been achieved at the expense of separating off from the physical world colours, smells, and tastes, and regarding them as purely private sensory phenomena. What the evidence of the history of science shows is that the way to achieve integration of sciences is to ignore the mental. The very success of science in achieving its vast integrations in physics and chemistry is the very thing that has apparently ruled out any final success in integrating the world of the mind and the world of physics. (Existence of God 2nd edition pp. 205-206)

Searle makes what amounts to the same argument yet he claims that the irreducibility of consciousness is "a trivial consequence of our definitional practices" and that it "does not reveal a deep metaphysical asymmetry ". See his argument in the Rediscovery of the Mind pp. 116-124 and his comments in Mind:A Brief Introduction pp. 121-122

William Vallicella has a great post at the Maverick philosopher that argues that Searle's naturalism doesn't sit well with his views on the irreducibility of consciousness.

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