Thursday, July 13, 2023

Wholes and parts, minds and brains

 The argument from reason, I am being told, has a problem because it focuses exclusively on the parts (atoms) and doesn't take wholes seriously. 

If this argument in Hume's Dialogues is right,  wholes are products of "an arbitary act of the mind." Wholes, including brains, depend on being thought together by minds. 

In such a chain too, or succession of objects, each part is caused by that which preceded it, and causes that which succeeds it. Where then is the difficulty? But the WHOLE, you say, wants a cause. I answer, that the uniting of these parts into a whole, like the uniting of several distinct counties into one kingdom, or several distinct members into one body, is per|formed merely by an arbitrary act of the mind, and has no influence on the nature of things. Did I show you the particular causes of each in|dividual
in a collection of twenty particles of matter, I should think it very unreasonable, should you afterwards ask me, what was the cause of the whole twenty. That is sufficiently explained in explaining the cause of the parts.


StardustyPsyche said...

Sure, reductionism is the case, in principle. Unfortunately, we human beings lack the capacity to apply it in practice because it is too complex and we lack the information needed and at base our present theories are incomplete.

None of that provides an argument from reason, it is just an interesting situation to ponder.

For example, we have "universal" gas "laws" regarding the relationships between temperature, pressure, volume, density, numbers of molecules and so forth. In truth, those "laws" are just analytical approximations because we have no capability to model the motions of every molecule of gas in a container, but we can get useful work done using approximations.

Ultimately, in principle, the "universal" gas "laws" derived a couple centuries ago can be accounted for using reductionist analysis. None of this in any way argues for immaterial, why should it?

Michael S. Pearl said...

StardustyPsyche wrote:
"Sure, reductionism is the case, in principle."

What benefit or advantage is to be had in principle from a metaphysical reductive materialism as compared, for example, to dualism or any other sort of metaphysics which denies reductive materialism?

David Brightly said...

Hume seems to be considering mere sets or fusions of objects, which imply no relations between them. For these impoverished wholes I think he is right. But for all the rich wholes we find around us, the parts bear relations to one another, of connection, contiguity, and so on. A pair of shoes have same size and opposite handedness, a herd of cows grazes in a single field, the parts of a mechanical clock are assembled together in a certain way, animal bodies and their parts grow in an integral fashion. These relations need explanation.

But it's not clear to me how this bears on the AFR!