Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Mental causation and a famous football play

What does it mean to say that you were persuaded by the argument from evil that God does not exist? Let us say, at one point, that you believe in God, then you read, say, Paul Draper's version of the argument from evil, and you conclude based on that, that you had been wrong about God and that really, there is no God.
To simplify matters, let's assume physical determinism. (The indeterminism of quantum mechanics is just going to introduce brute chance, which will not produce reason). Given the laws of matter, which render it quite possible for people to believe contradictions, and the facts of the universe at the Big Bang, which surely were not put there for your cognitive convenience, the present state of the physical world is guaranteed to be the way it is. If physicalism is true, that system is a closed system. Given the physical state of the world, the mental states of the world must also exist, via, if I understand you correctly, identity. You think you went from believing in God to not believing in God by reflecting on the content of Draper's argument and being persuaded. Even if your physical states realize a logical connection, it is not the realization of the logical connection that brings about the underlying physical state of your conclusion that God does not exist. No, it's the blind operation of matter in your brain that causes your conclusion, and the logical force of Draper's argument has nothing to do with it. If materialism is true, you think you were persuaded by the argument, but in so thinking you commit the fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc. Only some aspects of an object are causally relevant.
Consider the following analogy. Let us say I have on my mantelpiece the very football that Mike Bercovici threw to Jaelen Strong in 2014 to defeat the USC Trojans. (It's August, time to talk about what's imporant!) And let's say I foolishly let some kids go outside in our front yard and play with it. The unlike Bercovici, the young quarterback throws an errant pass and hits the window and breaks it. Sure, the ball was the ball Bercovici threw, but it's being that ball did not determine that it would break the window. The physical characteristics of the ball, such as size, weight, and the speed with which it was thrown determine that. So even though the Bercovici ball hit the window and broke it, it did not break the window in virtue of being the Bercovici ball. In the same way, even if the brain state which is the thoughts of the premises of Draper's argument cause the conclusion in your mind that God does not exist, the appearance of being persuaded is just that, appearance, if physicalism is true. It is irrelevant to the real causal story concerning your beliefs.


unkleE said...

I think there is a real problem here, but I don't think you have identified it fully. Clearly our brains can accept inputs. I am out somewhere, I see a cafe sign, so I walk over to buy something to eat. The input of seeing the sign led my physical brain processes to choose to buy something. If the sign has read "junk yard" I wouldn't have tried to buy food, so the content of the sign was important.

So if that can happen, then equally reading Draper's argument can be an input. You say "it is not the realization of the logical connection that brings about the underlying physical state of your conclusion that God does not exist." But while I suppose it is possible that I could have read the cafe menu and that led me to give up my belief in God, it is hard not to believe that Draper's paper is more likely to have done that. Again, the content matters. So I think we have to say that logical arguments could be input to our brains just like the cafe sign.

But I think there are two questions that still need to be answered.

(1) Can our physicalist cause-effect brains recognise ground-consequence logic such as is in Draper's paper? Can natural selection lead to brains that can do that? Clearly natural selection can lead to brains reacting quickly, e.g. a zebra reacts quickly to a sound in the long grass and so escapes the lion and lives to reproduce. But whether the ability to understand Draper's paper is a trait that confers survival and reproduction advantage is another question. I think it is doubtful.

(2) If our brains can do logic even though they are not logic machines but cause-effect machines (just like computers can do logic because they have been programmed), it is nevertheless hard to see how we can argue effectively. Maybe I read Draper's paper and disbelieve while you read it and see some flaws and so continue to believe. That is the way each of our cause-effect brains have been programmed by natural selection. So how can either of us say we are right and the other wrong? If it was a matter of life and death, like the zebra and the lion, natural selection would weed out bad results, but that's hardly likely to occur with Draper's paper. So perhaps physicalism makes it impossible for us to argue logically - which undercuts the argument in the first place.

Or have I entirely missed the point?

Starhopper said...

Damn, at times like this I wish I were dictator. I would punish severely any and all talk about football until after the World Series.

I would also decree that only one sport may be played at any one time. Let's have hard and fast rules about when baseball, football, and basketball may be played. (And hockey gets no time whatsoever. Let the Canadians have that one.)

David Brightly said...

Victor says, No, it's the blind operation of matter in your brain that causes your conclusion, and the logical force of Draper's argument has nothing to do with it. This makes sense if we think there is a domain of 'mental dynamics' in which 'logical force' pushes the mind from premise to conclusion. But if this is the case how are we to explain that we sometimes make logical mistakes, sometimes seeing cogency when it's not there and sometimes failing to see it when it is? Instead, perhaps we can agree that 'logical force' is an appearance in the phenomenology of reasoning. What is it an appearance of? The only possibility is the validity of the argument. And we know that validity can be recognised by mechanical means---it requires a kind of pattern matching that brains are good at. If we substitute the reality for the appearance into Victor's second conjunct we get, the logical validity of Draper's argument has nothing to do with it, and this is clearly false. The argument's validity has a great deal to do with it---it's what those blind operations of matter are detecting. And if pattern matching is at the bottom of all this it's easy to see why we sometimes make mistakes, for we know that pattern recognition can be an error-prone business.

Victor Reppert said...

How can it be recognized by mechanical means? The mechanical processes are fully explained without reference to the objects they are referencing. When I see a tree, the tree is part of the explanation of why I am appeared to tree-ly. But if I am appeared to modus-ponensly, where is the object of that appearance?

David Brightly said...

I can look through my window and see instances of the concept 'tree'. Can't I listen to a conversation or read a text and hear or see instances of the concept 'modus ponens'? They are triples of sentences matching the pattern p, if p then q, therefore q. One might say that a tree is recognised 'all at once' as a gestalt whereas a modus ponens is (an instance of) a pattern of sentences which themselves are patterns of words, which themselves are patterns of other elements, and so on. But this pattern within a pattern within a ... structure seems not to be beyond mechanical recognition. Can't the object of the appearance ultimately be the marks making up the letters making up the words making up the sentences making up...?

StardustyPsyche said...

OP What does it mean to say that you were persuaded by the argument from evil that God does not exist?

If X is evil and
god is omniscient and
god is omnipotent and
god is the original universal creator and
((we observe X) or (god is defined as doing X)) then
god is evil

Thus, the Christian god is evil by any particular definition of what evil is.

Victor Reppert said...

That's the argument, of course. How is it possible for a material system to be persuaded by it, without reference to someone else's mental states.

StardustyPsyche said...

Victor Reppert said... August 20, 2017 1:36 PM

" That's the argument, of course. How is it possible for a material system to be persuaded"
--Please allow me to chop up your sentence a bit.

Persuasion is a feeling that occurs when a probability estimate surpasses a confidence level threshold. This is a feature of how fuzzy logic works (the computer science sort of fuzzy logic, not what we sometimes attribute pejoratively to our on-line antagonists:-)

Since a computer can be constructed to in this sense be persuaded it can be readily seen that a material system can operate on this basis.

"... by it, without reference to someone else's mental states."
--Evil as a judgement of beings with respect to each other would not make sense if there were no other beings, that is, if only 1 being existed in all the universe. Material systems clearly can and do communicate with each other, so on naturalism there is no problem accounting for persuasion, evil, or similar such concerns.

David Brightly said...

I dare say we can implement fuzzy logic on a computer, but if persuasion is a feeling, as SP says, and to be persuaded is to have a feeling, then I'm not so confident as SP that a computer (as we currently understand the term) can be persuaded, and that there is no problem accounting naturalistically for persuasion, in this aspect, at least.