Memory loss points to the materiality of mind while memory's exercise points to its immateriality. Mind is mysterious, but memorial mind is even more so, situated as it is at the crossroads of intentionality and time.
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Memory loss points to the materiality of mind while memory's exercise points to its immateriality. Mind is mysterious, but memorial mind is even more so, situated as it is at the crossroads of intentionality and time.
I have always thought the 'hard problem' vs. 'easy problem' distinction in the philosophy of mind to be rather silly.
Here, with a response by McGinn. Merits the coveted MavPhil imprimatur and nihil obstat.
In fairness to Churchland, it is her letter, not her, that Cavell calls "hysterical." A politically incorrect word these days, I should think. Isn't 'hysterical' etymologically related to the Latin and Greek words for womb? According to the Online Etymology Dictionary:
Too many of the academic philosophers of consciousness are overly concerned with the paltriest aspects of consciousness, so-called qualia, and work their tails off trying to convince themselves and others that they are no threat to physicalism.
While man's nobility lies in the power of thought whereby he traverses all of time and existence, our materialists labor mightily to make physicalism safe for the smell of cooked onions.
It's a win for McGinn.
The view for which McGinn is known is a jejune prediction, namely that science cannot ever solve the problem of how the brain produces consciousness. On what does he base his prediction? Flimsy stuff. First, he is pretty sure our brain is not up to the job. Why not? Try this: a blind man does not experience color, and he will not do so even when we explain the brain mechanisms of experiencing color. Added to which, McGinn says that he cannot begin to imagine what it is like to be a bat, or how conscious experience might be scientifically explained (his brain not being up to the job, as he insists). This cognitive inadequacy he deems to have universal epistemological significance.
Alongside the arrogance, here is one whopping flaw: no causal explanation for a phenomenon, such as color vision, should be expected to actually produce that phenomenon. Here is why: the neural pathways involved in visually experiencing color are not the same pathways as those involved in intellectually understanding the mechanisms for experiencing color. Roughly speaking, experiencing color depends on areas in the back of the brain (visual areas) and intellectual understanding of an explanation depends on areas in the front of the brain.
Now what does this snark and misdirection have to do with anything McGinn actually maintains? Nothing that I can see. Here's McGinn:
Churchland’s account of my arguments for our cognitive limitations with respect to explaining consciousness bears little relation to what I have written in several books, as anyone who has dipped into those books will appreciate. What she refers to as a “whopping flaw” in my position (and that of many others) is simply a complete misreading of what has been argued: the point is not that having a causal explanation for a phenomenon should produce that phenomenon, so that a blind man will be made to see by having a good theory of vision. The point is rather that a blind man will not understand what color vision is merely by finding out about the brain mechanisms that underlie it, since he needs acquaintance with the color experiences themselves.
Churchland 0 - McGinn 1.
The articles below should help you understand some of the issues.
What follows are some ideas from London Ed about a book he is writing. He solicits comments. Mine are in blue.
The logical form thing was entertaining but rather off-topic re the fictional names thing. On which, Peter requested some more.
Let’s step right back. I want to kick off the book with an observation about how illusion impedes the progress of science. It looks as though the sun is going round the earth, so early theories of the universe had the earth standing still. It seems as though objects are continuously solid, and so science rejected the atomists’ theory and adopted Aristotle’s theory for more than a millenium.
A final example from the psychology of perception: in 1638, Descartes takes a eye of a bull and shows how images are projected onto the retina. He finally disproves the ‘emissive theory of sight’. The emissive theory is the naturally occurring idea that eyesight is emitted from your eye and travels to and hits the distant object you are looking at. If you ask a young child why you can’t see when your eyes are shut, he replies (‘because the eyesight can’t get out’).
Scientific progress is [often] about rejecting theories based on what our cognitive and perceptual framework suggests to us, and adopting theories based on diligent observation and logic.
We reject ‘eyebeams’. We reject the natural idea that the mental or sensitive faculty can act at a distance. When we look at the moon, science rejects the idea that a little ethereal piece of us is travelling a quarter of a million miles into space. Yet – turning to the main subject of the book – some philosophers think that objects themselves somehow enter our thoughts. Russell writes to Frege, saying “I believe that in spite of all its snowfields Mont Blanc itself is a component part of what is actually asserted in the proposition ‘Mont Blanc is more than 4,000 metres high”. Kaplan mentions, with apparent approval, the idea that the proposition ‘John is tall’ has two components: the property expressed by the predicate ‘is tall’, and the individual John. “That’s right, John himself, right there, trapped in a proposition”. The dominant theory in modern philosophical logic is ‘direct reference’, or object-dependent theories of semantics: a proper name has no meaning except its bearer, and so the meaning of ‘John is tall’ has precisely the components that Kaplan describes.
BV: I too find the notion that there are Russellian (as opposed to Fregean) propositions very hard to swallow. If belief is a propositional attitude, and I believe that Peter is now doing his grades, it is surely not Peter himself, intestinal contents and all, who is a constituent of the proposition that is the accusative of my act of belief. The subject constituent of the proposition cannot be that infinitely propertied gnarly chunk of external reality, but must be a thinner sort of object, one manageable by a finite mind, something along the lines of a Fregean sense.
The purpose of the proposed book is to advance science by showing how such object-dependent theories are deeply mistaken, and also to explain why they are so compelling, because of their basis on a cognitive illusion as powerful as the illusions that underlie the geocentric theory, or the emissive theory of sight.
What is the illusion? The argument for object dependence is roughly as follows
(1) We can have so-called ‘singular thoughts’, such as when we think that John is tall, i.e. when we have thoughts expressable [expressible] by propositions [sentences, not propositions] whose subject term is a proper name or some other non-descriptive singular term.
(2) A singular term tells us which individual the proposition is about, without telling us anything about it. I.e. singular terms, proper names, demonstratives, etc. are non-descriptive. They are ‘bare individuators’.
BV: This is not quite right. Consider the the first-person singular pronoun, 'I.' This is an indexical expression. If BV says, 'I am hungry,' he refers to BV; if PL says 'I am hungry,' he refers to PL. Either way, something is conveyed about the nature of the referent, namely, that it is a person or a self. So what Ed said is false as it stands. A use of 'I' does tell us something about the individual the sentence containing 'I' is about.
Examples are easily multiplied. Apart from the innovations of the Pee Cee, 'she' tells us that the individual referred to is female. 'Here' tells us that the item denoted is a place, typically. 'Now' picks out times. And there are other examples.
There are no bare items. Hence there cannot be reference to bare items. All reference conveys some property of the thing referred to. But variables may be a counterexample. Consider 'For any x, x = x.' One could perhaps uses variables in such a way that there is no restriction on what they range over. But it might be best to stay away from this labyrinth.
One criticism, then, is that there are no bare individuators. A second is that it is not a singular term, but a use of a singular term that individuates. Thus 'I' individuates nothing. It is PL's use of 'I' that picks out PL.
(3) If a singular term is non-descriptive, its meaning is the individual it individuates. A singular term cannot tell us which individual the proposition is about, unless there exists such an individual.
The course of the book is then to show why we don’t have to be forced into assumption (3). There doesn’t have to be (or to exist) an individual that is individuated. The theory of non-descriptive singular terms is then developed in the way I suggested in my earlier posts. Consider the inference
Frodo is a hobbit
Frodo has large feet
Some hobbit has large feet
I want to argue that the semantics of ‘Frodo’ is purely inferential. I.e. to understand the meaning of ‘Frodo’ in that argument, it is enough to understand the inference that it generates. That is all.
BV: 'Frodo' doesn't generate anything. What you want to say is that the meaning of 'Frodo' is exhausted by the inferential role this term plays in the (valid) argument depicted. Sorry to be such a linguistic prick.
What you are saying is that 'Frodo,' though empty, has a meaning, but this meaning is wholly reducible to the purely syntactical role it plays in the above argument. (So you are not an eliminativist about the meanings of empty names.) But if the role is purely syntactical, then the role of 'Frodo' is the same as the role of the arbitrary individual constant 'f' in the following valid schema:
(Ex)(Hx & Lx).
But then what distinguishes the meaning of 'Frodo' from that of 'Gandalf'?
Meinongian nonentities are out. Fregean senses are out. There are no referents in the cases of empty names. And yet they have meaning. So the meaning is purely syntactical. Well, I don't see how you can squeeze meaning out of bare syntax. Again, what distinguishes the meaning of the empty names just cited? The obviously differ in meaning, despite lacking both Sinn and Bedeutung.
We don’t need an object-dependent semantics to explain such inferences, and hence we don’t need object-dependence to explain the semantics of proper names. If an inferential semantics is sufficient, then the Razor tells us it is necesssary: Frustra fit per plura, quod potest fieri per pauciora.
BV: You should state explicitly that you intend your inferential semantics to hold both for empty and nonempty names.
And now we see the illusion. The proposition
John is thinking of Obama (or Frodo, or whomever)
has a relational form: “—is thinking of –”. But it does not express a relation. The illusion consists in the way that the relation of the language so strongly suggests a relation in reality. It is the illusion that causes us “to multiply the things principally signified by terms in accordance with the multiplication of the terms”.
That’s the main idea. Obviously a lot of middle terms have been left out. Have at it.
BV: So I suppose what you are saying is that belief in the intentionality of thought is as illusory as the belief in the emissive theory of sight. Just as the the eye does not emit an ethereal something that travels to the moon, e.g., the mind or the 'I' of the mind -- all puns intended! -- does not shoot out a ray of intentionality that gloms onto some Meinongian object, or some Thomistic merely intentional object, or some really existent object.
You face two main hurdles. The first I already mentioned. You have to explain how to squeeze semantics from mere syntax. The second is that there are theoretical alternatives to the view that intentionality is a relation other than yours. To mention just one: there are adverbial theories of intentionality that avoid an act-object analysis of mental reference.
This shot of the old philosopher by the fire with his shootin' ahrn nicely complements some of the combative things he says in the Zan Boag interview at NewPhilosopher. (HT: Karl White.) For example, "I don’t read much philosophy, it upsets me when I read the nonsense written by my contemporaries, the theory of extended mind makes me want to throw up…so mostly I read works of fiction and history."
The surly (Searle-y?) reference is to externalist theories of mind such as Ted Honderich's and Clark and Chalmers' The Extended Mind.
I found this exchange interesting:
You say that consciousness is a real subjective experience, caused by the physical processes of the brain, and that where consciousness is concerned, the appearance is reality. Can you elaborate on this?
John Searle: Consciousness exists only insofar as it is experienced by a human or animal subject. OK, now grant me that consciousness is a genuine biological phenomenon. Well, all the same it’s somewhat different from other biological phenomena because it only exists insofar as it is experienced. However, that does give it an interesting status. You can’t refute the existence of consciousness by showing that it’s just an illusion because the illusion/ reality distinction rests on the difference between how things consciously seem to us and how they really are. But where the very existence of consciousness is concerned, if it consciously seems to me that I’m conscious, then I am conscious. You can’t make the illusion/reality distinction for the very existence of consciousness the way you can for sunsets and rainbows because the distinction is between how things consciously seem and how they really are.
You also say that consciousness is a physical property, like digestion or fire.
John Searle: Consciousness is a biological property like digestion or photosynthesis. Now why isn’t that screamingly obvious to anybody who’s had any education? And I think the answer is these twin traditions. On the one hand there’s God, the soul and immortality that says it’s really not part of the physical world, and then there is the almost as bad tradition of scientific materialism that says it’s not a part of the physical world. They both make the same mistake, they refuse to take consciousness on its own terms as a biological phenomenon like digestion, or photosynthesis, or mitosis, or miosis, or any other biological phenomenon.
Part of what Searle says in his first response is importantly correct. Since the distinction between illusion and reality presupposes the reality of consciousness, it makes no sense to suppose that consciousness might be an illusion, let alone assert such a monstrous thesis. It amazes me that there are people who are not persuaded by such luminous and straightforward reasoning. But pace Searle it does not follow that consciousness is a biological phenomenon. If biological phenomena are those phenomena that are in principle exhaustively intelligible in terms of the science of biology, then I don't see how consciousness could be biological even if it is found only in biologically alive beings. Can the what-it-is-like feature be accounted for in purely biological terms? (That's a rhetorical question.) And that's just for starters.
In the second response, Searle claims that consciousness is a biological property and that this ought to be "screamingly obvious" to anyone with "any education." Come on, John! Do you really want to suggest that the philosophical problem of consciousness as this is rigorously formulated by people like Colin McGinn is easily solved just be getting one's empirical facts straight? Do you really mean to imply that people who do not agree with your philosophy of mind are ignorant of plain biological facts? If consciousness were a biological phenomenon just like digestion or photosynthesis or mitosis or meiosis, then consciousness would be as unproblematic as the foregoing. It isn't.
Why is it that there is a philosophical problem of consciousness, but no philosophical problem of digestion? Note the obvious difference between the following two questions. Q1: How is consciousness possible given that it really exists, arises in the brain, but is inexplicable in terms of what we know and can expect to know about animal and human brains? Q2: How is digestion possible given that it really exists, takes place in the stomach and its 'peripherals,' but is inexplicable in terms of what we know and can know about animal and human gastrointestinal systems?
Obviously, there is a philosophical problem about consciousness but no philosophical problem about digestion. And note that even if some philosopher argues that there is no genuine philosophical problem about consciousness, because one has, say, been bewitched by language, or has fallen afoul of some such draconian principle as the Verifiability Criterion of Cognitive Meaningfulness, no philosopher would dream of arguing that there is no genuine philosophical problem of digestion. It needs no arguing. For whether or not there is a genuine problem about consciousness, there is a putative problem about it. But there is not even a putative philosophical problem about digestion. The only problems concerning digestion are those that can be solved by taking an antacid or by consulting a gastroenterologist or by doing more empirical gut science.
This is why it is at least possible with a modicum of sense to argue that the philosophy of mind collapses into the neuroscience of the brain, but impossible sensibly to argue that the the philosophy of digestion collapses into gastroenterology or that the philosophy of blood filtering and detoxification collapses into hepatology. There is no philosophy of digestion or philosophy of blood filtering and detoxification.
It is obviously not obvious that consciousness is a biological phenomenon. Searle is brilliant when it comes to exposing the faults of other theories of mind, but he is oblivious to the problems with his own. Searle 'knows' in his gut that naturalism just has to be true, which is why he cannot for a second take seriously any suggestion that consciousness might have a higher origin. But he ought to admit that his comparison of consciousness to digestion and photosynthesis and mitosis and meiosis is completely bogus. He can still be a naturalist, however, either by pinning his hopes on some presently incoceivable future science or by going mysterian in the manner of McGinn.
More on Searle in my appropriately appellated Searle category.
J. P. Moreland is against it. Me too. More generally, I oppose any amalgamation of classical theism and materialism about the mind. (See my "Could a Classical Theist be a Physicalist?" Faith and Philosophy, vol. 15, no. 2, April 1998, pp. 160-180.) Here are some excerpts from Moreland's piece:
Christianity is a dualist, interactionist religion in this sense: God, angels/demons, and the souls of men and beasts are immaterial substances that can causally interact with the world. Specifically, human persons are (or have) souls that are spiritual substances that ground personal identity in a disembodied intermediate state between death and final resurrection . . . .
[. . .]
In my view, Christian physicalism involves a politically correct revision of the biblical text that fails to be convincing . . . .
[. . .]
The irrelevance of neuroscience also becomes evident when we consider the recent best seller Proof of Heaven by Eben Alexander. Regardless of one’s view of the credibility of Near Death Experiences (NDEs) in general, or of Alexander’s in particular, one thing is clear. Before whatever it was that happened to him (and I believe his NDE was real but no not agree with his interpretation of some of what happened to him), Alexander believed the (allegedly) standard neuroscientific view that specific regions of the brain generate and possess specific states of conscious. But after his NDE, Alexander came to believe that it is the soul that possesses consciousness, not the brain, and the various mental states of the soul are in two-way causal interaction with specific regions of the brain. Here’s the point: His change in viewpoint was a change in metaphysics that did not require him to reject or alter a single neuroscientific fact. Dualism and physicalism are empirically equivalent views consistent with all and only the same scientific data. Thus, the authority of science cannot be appropriated to provide any grounds whatsoever for favoring one view over another.
I'm with J.P on the irrelevance of neuroscience to the philosophy of mind, and vice versa, but with three minor exceptions that I explain in the third article cited below.
The other day I referred to the following bit of dialogue from the new HBO series, True Detective, as sophistry. Now I will explain why I think it to be such. Here is the part I want to focus on. The words are put in the mouth of the anti-natalist Rustin Cohle. I've ommitted the responses of the Woody Harrelson character.
I think human consciousness is a tragic misstep in evolution. We became too self aware; nature created an aspect of nature separate from itself. We are creatures that should not exist by natural law. We are things that labor under the illusion of having a self, a secretion of sensory experience and feeling, programmed with total assurance that we are each somebody, when in fact everybody’s nobody. I think the honorable thing for our species to do is deny our programming, stop reproducing, walk hand in hand into extinction, one last midnight, brothers and sisters opting out of a raw deal.
Sorting through this crap is as painful as reading the typical student paper. Where does one start with such a farrago of Unsinn? But here goes. The main points made above are these:
1. The emergence of consciousness and self-consciousness in human animals is an accident, a fluke of evolution.
2. We are each under the illusion of having, or being, a self when in fact there are no selves.
3. We have been programmed by nature to suffer from this illusion.
4. The honorable thing to do is to deny our programming, refuse to procreate, and embrace our extinction as a species.
Each of these theses is either extremely dubious or demonstrably incoherent, taken singly, not to mention the dubiousness of the 'is'-'ought' inference from (3) to (4). But in this entry I will address (2) alone.
'There are no selves' is what our anti-natalist means when he say that everybody is nobody. For it is a Moorean fact, undeniable even by our anti-natalist, that every living human body is some living human body or other. He is not denying that plain fact but that these living human bodies are selves.
Now 'There are no selves,' if asserted by a being who understands what he says and means what he says, is asserted by a conscious and self-conscious being. But that is just what a self is. A self is a conscious being capable of expressing explicit self-consciousness by the use of the first-person singular pronoun, 'I.' Therefore, a self that asserts that there are no selves falls into performative inconsistency. The very act or performance of asserting that there are no selves or that one is not a self falsifies the content of the assertion. For that performance is a performance of a self.
The claim that there are no selves is therefore self-refuting.
Assertion is a speech act. But we get the same result if one merely thinks the thought that one is not a self without expressing it via an assertive utterance. If I think the thought *I am not a self,* then that thought is falsified by the act of thinking it since the act is the act of a self.
The point can also be made as follows. If there are no selves, then I am not a self. But if I am not a self, then I do not exist. Perhaps some living human body exists, but that body cannot be my body if I do not exist. What makes this body my body is its connection with me. So I must exist for some body to be my body. My body is my body and not my body's body. So I am not identical to my body. I have a body. 'This body is this body' is a tautology. 'I am this body' is not a tautology. If I exist, then I am distinct from my body and from any body.
So if I am not a self, then I do not exist. But the thought that I do not exist is unthinkable as true. Only I can think this thought, and my thinking of the thought falsifies its content, and this is so even if 'I' picks out merely a momentary self. (I am not committed by this line of reasoning to a substantial self that remains numerically the same over time.) So we have performative inconsistency.
This reasoning does not show that I am a necessary being, or that I have or am an immortal soul, or even that I am a res cogitans in Descartes' sense. What it shows is that the self cannot be an illusion. It shows that anyone who carefully considers whether or not he is a self can attain the certain insight that he is at least as long as he is thinking these thoughts.
Soviel Schein, soviel Sein
There is another way of looking at it. If each of us is under the illusion of having a self or being a self, then who is being fooled? To whom does this false seeming appear? There cannot be illusions in a world without conscious beings. An illusion by its very nature is an illusion to consciousness. So if consciousness is an illusion, then it is not an illusion. The same holds for the self. If the self is an illusion, then the self is not an illusion.
There cannot be Schein (illusion) without Sein (being). "So much seeming, so much being."
One of the tasks of philosophy is to expose and debunk bad philosophy. And there is a lot of it out there, especially in the writings of journalists who report on scientific research. Scornful of philosophy, many of them peddle scientistic pseudo-understanding without realizing that what they sell is itself philosophy, very bad philosophy. A particularly abysmal specimen was sent my way by a reader. It bears the subtitle: "Without recognising it, Oxford scientists appear to have located the consience [sic]." In the body of the article we read:
This isn't some minor breakthrough of cognitive neuroscience. This is about good and bad, right and wrong. This is about the brain's connection to morality. This means that the Oxford scientists, without apparently realising what they've done, have located the conscience.
For centuries we thought that the conscience was just some faculty of moral insight in the human mind, an innate sense that one was behaving well or badly - although the great HL Mencken once defined it as, "the inner voice which warns us that someone may be looking". It's been used by religions as a numinous something-or-other, kindly bestowed by God, to give humans a choice between sin and Paradise.
Now, thanks to neuroscience, we've found the actual, physical thing itself. It's a shame that it resembles a Brussels sprout: something so important and God-given should look more imposing, like a pineapple. But then it wouldn't fit in our heads.
Henceforth, when told to "examine our conscience", we won't need to sit for hours cudgelling our brains to decide whether we're feeling guilty about accessing YouPorn late at night; we can just book into a clinic and ask them for a conscience-scan, to let us know for sure.
Part of what is offensive about this rubbish is that a great and humanly very important topic is treated in a jocose manner. (I am assuming, charitably, that the author did not write his piece as a joke.) But that is not the worst of it. The worst of it is the incoherence of what is being proposed.
I'll begin with what ought to be an obvious point. Before we can locate conscience in the brain or anywhere else we ought to know, at least roughly, what it is we are talking about. What is conscience?
Conscience is the moral sense, the sense of right, wrong, and their difference. It is the sense whereby we discern, or attempt to discern, what is morally (not legally, not prudentially) permissible, impermissible, and obligatory. It typically results in moral judgements about one's thoughts, words and deeds which in turn eventuate in resolutions to amend or continue one's practices.
The deliverances of conscience may or may not be 'veridical' or revelatory of objective moral demands or or objective moral realities on particular occasions. Some people are 'scrupulous': their consciences bother them when they shouldn't. Others are morally insensitive: their consciences do not bother them when they should. If subject S senses, via conscience, that doing/refraining from X is morally impermissible, it does not follow that it is. Conscience is a modality of object-directed consciousness and so may be expected to be analogous to nonmoral consciousness: if I am thinking that a is F, it does not follow that a is F.
So just as we can speak of the intentionality of consciousness, we can speak of the intentionality of conscience. Pangs of conscience are not non-intentional states of consciousness like headache pains. Conscience purports to reveal something about the morally permissible, impermissible, and obligatory (and perhaps also about the supererogatory and suberogatory); whether it does so is a further question. Suppose nothing is objectively right or wrong. That would not alter the fact that there is the moral sense in some of us.
Can conscience be located in the brain and identified with the lateral frontal pole? If so, then a particular moral sensing, that one ought not to have done X or ought to have done Y, is a state of the brain. But this is impossible. A particular moral sensing is an intentional (object-directed) state. But no physical state is object-directed. So, by the Indiscernibility of Identicals, a moral sensing cannot be a brain state.
So that is one absurdity. A second is that it is absurd to suggest, as the author does, that one can examine one's conscience by examining a part of one's brain. Examination of conscience is a spiritual practice whereby, at the end of the day perhaps, one reviews and morally evaluates the day's thoughts, words, and deeds. What is being examined here? Obviously not some bit of brain matter. And if one were to examine that hunk of meat, one would learn nothing as to the thoughts, words, and deeds of the person whose hunk of brain meat it is.
If a person's feeling of guilt is correlated with an identifiable brain state, then one could perhaps determine that a person was feeling guilt by way of a brain scan. But that would provide no insight into (a) what the guilt is about, or (b) whether the guilt is morally appropriate. No brain scan can reveal the intentionality or the normativity of guilt feelings.
There is also a problem about who is doing the examining in an examination of conscience. A different hunk of meat, or the same hunk? Either way, absurdity. Examining is an intentional state. So, just as it is absurd to suppose that one's thoughts, words, and deed are to be found in the lateral frontal pole, it is also absurd to suppose that that same pole is doing the examining of those contents.
I have emphasized the intentionality of conscience, which fact alone sufficies to refute the scientistic nonsense. And I have so far bracketed the question whether conscience puts us in touch with objective moral norms. I say it does, even though how this is possible is not easy to explain. Well, suppose that torturing children to death for sexual pleasure is objectively wrong, and that we have moral knowledge of this moral fact via conscience.
Then two problems arise for the scientistic naturalist: how is is possible for a hunk of meat, no matter how wondrously complex, to glom onto these nonnatural moral facts? And second, if there are such facts to be accessed via conscience, how do they fit into the scientistic naturalist's scheme? Answers: It is not possible, and they don't.
Have I just wasted my time refuting rubbish beneath refutation? Maybe not. Scientism, with its pseudo-understanding poses a grave threat to the humanities and indeed to our very humanity. David Gelernter is good on this.
Consider this argument:
1. Tom believes that the man at the podium is the Pope
2. The Pope is an Argentinian
3. Tom believes that the man at the podium is Argentinian.
The argument is plainly invalid. For Tom may not believe that the Pope is an Argentinian. Now consider this argument:
4. Tom sees the Pope
2. The Pope is an Argentinian
5. Tom sees an Argentinian.
Valid or invalid? That depends. 'Sees' is often taken to be a so-called verb of success: if S sees x, then it follows that x exists. On this understanding of 'sees' one cannot see what doesn't exist. Call this the existentially loaded sense of 'sees' and contrast it with the existentially neutral sense according to which 'S sees x' does not entail 'X exists.'
If 'sees' is understood in the existentially loaded way, then the second argument is valid, whether or not Tom knows that the Pope is Argentinian. For if Tom sees the Pope, then the object seen exists. But nothing can exist without properties, properties most of which are had independently of our mental states. If the object has the property F-ness, then the perceiver sees an F-thing, even if he doesn't see it as an F-thing. So Tom sees an Argentinian despite not seeing him as an Argentinian.
Now seeing in the existentially loaded sense might seem to be a perfectly good example of an intentional or object-directed state since one cannot see without seeing something. One cannot just see. Seeing takes an object.
But whether existentially loaded seeing is an intentional state depends on what all enters into the definition of an intentional state. Now one mark of intentionality is aspectuality. What I am calling aspectuality is what John Searle calls "aspectual shape":
I have been using the term of art, "aspectual shape," to mark a universal feature of intentionality. It can be explained as follows: Whenever we perceive anything or think about anything, we always do so under some aspects and not others. These aspectual features are essential to the intentional state; they are part of what makes it the mental state that it is. (The Rediscovery of the Mind, MIT Press, 1992, pp. 156-157)
The phrase I bolded implies that no intentional state is such that every aspect of the object is before the mind of the person in the state. Suppose you see my car. You won't help being able to see it is as bright yellowish-green sport-utility vehicle. But you could easily see it without seeing it as a 2013 Jeep Wrangler. I take this to imply that the set of perceived aspects of any object of perception not only can be but must be incomplete. This should be obvious from the fact that, as Husserl liked to point out, outer perception is essentially perspectival. For example, all sides of the car are perceivable, but one cannot see the car from the front and from the rear simultaneously.
This aspectuality holds for intentional states generally. To coin an example, one can believe that a certain celestial body is the Evening Star without believing that it is the Morning Star. One can want to drink a Manhattan without wanting to drink a mixture of bourbon, sweet vermouth, and Angostura bitters. As Searle says, "Every belief and every desire, and indeed every intentional phenomenon, has an aspectual shape." (157)
Intentional states are therefore not only necessarily of something; they are necessarily of something as something. And given the finitude of the human mind, I want to underscore the fact that even if every F is a G, one can be aware of x as F without being aware of x as G. Indeed, this is so even if necessarily (whether metaphysically or nomologically) every F is a G. Thus I can be aware of a moving object as a cat, without being aware of it as spatially extended, as an animal, as a mammal, as an animal that cools itself by panting as opposed to sweating, as my cat, as the same cat I saw an hour ago, etc.
But now it seems we have a problem. If that which is (phenomenlogically, not spatially) before my mind is necessarily property-incomplete, then either seeing is not existentially loaded, or existentially loaded seeing is not an intentional state. To put the problem as an aporetic tetrad:
1. If S sees x, then x exists
2. Seeing is an intentional state
3. Every intentional state has an aspectual shape: its object is incomplete
4. Nothing that exists is incomplete.
The limbs of the tetrad are collectively logically inconsistent. Any three of them, taken together, entails the negation of the remaining one. For example, the conjunction of the first three limbs entails the negation of the fourth.
But while the limbs are collectively inconsistent, they are individually very plausible. So we have a nice puzzle on our hands. At least one of the limbs is false, but which one? I don't think that (3) or (4) are good candidates for rejection. That leaves (1) or (2).
I incline toward the rejection of (1). Seeing is an intentional state but it is not existence-entailing. My seeng of x does not entail the existence of x. What one sees (logically) may or may not exist. There is nothing in or about the visual object that certifies that it exists apart from my seeing it. Existence is not an observable feature. The greenness of the tree is empirically accessible; its existence is not.
It is of course built into the intentionality of outer perception that what is intended is intended as existing whether or not the act or intentio exists. To put it paradoxically (and I owe this formulation to Wolfgang Cramer), the object intended is intended as non-object. That is, objects of outer perception are intended as existing independently of the mental acts that 'target' them, and thus not as merely intentional objects. But there is nothing like an 'ontological argument' in the vicinity. I cannot validly infer that the tree I see exists because it is intended as existing apart from my seeing. This is is an invalid 'ontological' inference:
A. X is intended as existing independently of any and all mental acts
B. X exists.
If the above is right, then seeing is an intentional state that shares the aspectuality common to all such states. A consequence of this is a rejection of 'externalism' about outer perception: the content of the mental state I am in when I see a tree does not depend on the existence of any tree. The object-directedness of the mental state is intrinsic to it and not dependent on any extrinsic relation to a mind-independent item. To turn Putnam on his head: the meaning is precisely 'in the head.'
Are there problems with this? We shall see. Externalism is a fascinating option. But I am highly annoyed that that typical analytic philosopher, Ted Honderich, who defends a version of externalism in his book On Consciousness, makes no mention of the externalist theories of Heidegger, Sartre or Butchvarov. How typical of the analytic ignoramus, not that all 'analysts' are ignorant of the history of philosophy.
No matter how you squeeze and beat, you won't get meaning from a hunk of meat.
Addendum (12/27). It occurred to me that the above aphorism can be read in two ways. I intend that it be read in the first way!
Here are a couple of theses that are part of my credo, though I do not merely believe them, but think I have good reasons for believing them:
Thesis 1: One cannot get mind from matter no matter how the matter is arranged or how complexly arranged. That mind should arise from matter is unintelligible.
To appreciate the force of this thesis, let's run through some objections. And I do mean run: what follows has to be cursory.
Objection 1. "There is no question of getting mind from matter; mental states and properties just are states and properties of the material world, patterns of behavior perhaps, or patterns of neural activity."
Response 1. Of course I reject identity theories that reduce the mental to the physical, whether they be type-type identity theories or merely token-token identity theories. I have written an 'unconscionable' number of posts on this topic I and am not inclined to repeat myself in any detail. But if you tell me that, say, my thinking about Prague is identical to a complex state of my brain, I would dismiss that as obvious nonsense and for a very good reason. My occurent thinking, at this moment, is of or about or directed to an object that, for all I know, was nuked out of existence -- God forbid -- a second ago and this without prejudice to my act of thinking's now being about precisely the object it is about. Now this intrinsic object-directedness or intrinsic intentionality of my act of thinking -- to use the philosopher's term of art -- is not a property that it makes any sense to ascribe to any physical object or state. Now if x has a property that y lacks, or vice versa, then of course x cannot be identical to y.
Objection 2. "There simply are no mental states as you claim, and the argument from intentionality you give can be run in reverse so as to prove it."
Response 2. The objector is suggesting the following argument: "(1) If mental states such as thinking about Prague are anything, then they are brain states; (2) such mental states exhibit intrinsic intentionality; (3) no physical state, and thus no brain state, exhibits intrinsic intentionality; therefore (4) there are no mental states."
This eliminativist argument issues in a conclusion that is obviously, breathtakingly false, and so one of the premises must be false. The stinker is of course (1).
Objection 3. "Granted, it is unintelligible that mind should arise from matter as conceived in current physics. But the matter that we know might hide and contain within itself occult powers beyond the ken of current or any future physics, including the power to give rise to mind."
Reply 3. The game is up when materialists reach for occult powers. The only matter we know about is the matter of ordinary experience and physics. And there is no place in matter so conceived for occult powers that give rise to mind. If you tell me that what thinks when I think is an intracranial hunk of meat, then you are ascribing a power to matter that destroys the very concept of matter that you started with and that you need to articulate your materialism.
Thesis 2: That matter should arise from mind is not unintelligible.
Why not? Because intrinsic to mind is object-directedness, or object-positing. Mind by its nature is of objects distinct from mind. Mind has the power to create objects distinct from itself and its states. This power is not occult. It is open to us in reflection. The entire material cosmos could be be just a huge system of intentional objects for a sufficiently capacious and powerful mind. The thought is thinkable. It is intelligible. That is not to say it is true or to say that we have good reasons for believing it. It has its difficulties, but it makes sense in the way it makes no sense to maintain that mind arises from matter. That is an absurdity that can be seen to be such by hard thinking.
So we get an asymmetry. Matter could, for all we know, be the product of mind, but mind could not, for all we know, be the product of matter.
I am reading Ted Honderich, On Consciousness (Edinburgh UP, 2004) and trying to get a handle on just what his theory of consciousness as existence amounts to. An awkward and quirky writer, he doesn't make things easy on the reader, and doesn't seem to realize that in this very fast brave new world of ours the writer must get to the point without unnecessary circumlocution if he wants to keep his reader glued to the page. Here is an example of Honderich's style, from p. 206:
The other option from spiritualism now deserves the name of being devout physicalism. You can say and write, in a career that keeps an eye on some of science, maybe two, and is forgetful of reflective experience, that being conscious or aware of something is only having certain physical properties in the head. Usually this cranialism is a matter of only neural properties as we know them -- thought of computationally or with microtubules to the fore or in any other way you like.
[Note the awkward placement of "Maybe two." It belongs right after "eye."]
Nobody not on the philosophical job of trying to approximate more to some of science or horse sense believes this either. We all know, to make use of a pefectly proper and enlightening parody, that consciousness, isn't just cells, however fancily or fancifully conceived. Everybody on the job tries to give a place to or register what they know when they're not on the job. But they can't do it if they have it that consciousness has only neural properties or conceivably silicon or otherwise physical properties, no matter how they are conceived additionally.
Honderich's thought is not so much expressed as buried in the above mess of verbiage. Here is the thought which is correct as far as it goes expressed in three sentences.
Devout physicalism is the main alternative to spiritualism, or substance dualism. But only someone who fails to reflect on his actual experience could suppose that being conscious of something is a matter of the instantiation of neural properties in the brain. Both philosopher and layman know that consciousness is not brain cells, but the philosopher trying to be scientific is apt to forget it.
Here is Colin McGinn's savage review of Honderich's book. Be aware that there is personal animus between the two men.
a. Tom is thinking of a unicorn
b. Unicorns do not exist in reality
c. Tom's mental state is object-directed; it is an intentional state.
d. The object of Tom's mental state does not exist in reality.
e. The merely intentional object is not nothing.
f. The merely intentional object enjoys intentional existence, a distinct mode of existence different from existence in reality.
David Brightly in a comment constructs a similar set:
By analogy with your (a)--(f) can we not also consistently assert the following?
a. This tapestry, rather beautifully, depicts a unicorn.
b. Unicorns do not exist in the (C1)-sense.
c. The tapestry is object-directed; it is a depictional entity.
d. The object of the tapestry does not (C1)-exist.
e. The merely depicted object is not nothing.
f. The merely depicted object enjoys depictional existence, a distinct mode of existence different from (C1)-existence.
Whereas my view is that when Tom thinks of a unicorn, he is thinking of something, an item that exists merely as the object of Tom's act of thinking, but does not exist mind-independently,
has the analogy,
When the tapestry depicts a unicorn, it is depicting something, an item that exists merely as the object of the tapestry's depicting, but does not exist tapestry-independently.
First, the intentionality of Tom's thinking is original while the intentionality of the tapestry is derivative. The tapestry is not intrinsically intentional, but derives its intentionality from a mind's taking of the merely physical object as a picture or image of something else. By itself, the tapestry depicts nothing. It is just a piece of cloth.
Given the first point, my second is that there are not two kinds of intentionality or object-directedness, but only one, the intentionality of the viewer of the tapestry who takes it as representing something, a unicorn. 'Derivative' in 'derivative intentionality' is an alienans adjective.
Third, if there are not two kinds of intentionality, then there is no call to distinguish, in addition to (C1)-existence (real existence) and intentional existence, depictional existence.
In this way I think I can avoid multiplying modes of existence by the multiplicity of types of physical things (scribbles on paper, trail markers, grooves in vinyl, etc.) that can be taken to represent something.
Can one learn all about human sexuality by studying the human organs of generation? The very notion is risible. Can one learn all about human affectivity by studying that most reliable and indefatigable of pumps, the human heart? Risible again. It is similarly risible to think that one can learn all about the mind by studying that marvellously complex hunk of meat, the brain.
Via Ed Feser, I see that that Paul Churchland's Matter and Consciousness has appeared in a third edition. Just what the world needs. I concur with Ed's judgment:
The only thing more outrageous than Churchland’s persistence in superficiality and caricature would be the continued widespread use of his book as a main text for introductory courses in philosophy of mind -- at least if it were not heavily supplemented with readings that correct his errors, and actually bother to present the main arguments for dualism.
To 'celebrate' this great event in the publishing world, I post a revised version of an entry from about five years ago:
The most obvious objection to eliminative materialism (EM) is that it denies obvious data, the very data without which there would be no philosophy of mind in the first place. Introspection directly reveals the existence of pains, anxieties, pleasures, and the like. Suppose I have a headache. The pain, qua felt, cannot be doubted or denied. Its esse is its percipi. To identify the pain with a brain state makes a modicum of sense, at least initially; but it makes no sense at all to deny the existence of the very datum that gets us discussing this topic in the first place. But Paul M. Churchland (Matter and Consciousness, rev. ed. MIT Press, 1988, pp. 47-48) has a response to this sort of objection:
The eliminative materialist will reply that that argument makes the same
mistake that an ancient or medieval person would be making if he insisted that
he could just see with his own eyes that the heavens form a turning sphere, or
that witches exist. The fact is, all observation occurs within some system of
concepts, and our observation judgments are only as good as the conceptual
framework in which they are expressed. In all three cases — the starry sphere,
witches, and the familiar mental states — precisely what is challenged is the
integrity of the background conceptual frameworks in which the observation
judgments are expressed. To insist on the validity of one's experiences,
traditionally interpreted, is therefore to beg the very question at issue. For
in all three cases, the question is whether we should reconceive the
nature of some familiar observational domain.
Even if we grant that "all observation occurs within some system of concepts," is the experiencing of a pain a case of observation? If you know your Brentano, you know that early on in Psychology From an Empirical Standpoint he makes a distinction between inner observation (innere Beobachtung) and inner perception (innere Warhnehmung). Suppose one suddenly becomes angry. The experiencing of anger is an inner perception, but not an inner observation. The difference is between living in and through one's anger and objectifying it in an act of reflection. The act of inner observation causes the anger to subside, unlike the inner perception which does not.
Reflecting on this phenomenological difference, one sees how crude Churchland's scheme is. He thinks that mental data such as pains and pleasures are on a par with outer objects like stars and planets. It is readily granted with respect to the latter that seeing is seeing-as. A medieval man who sees the heavens as a turning sphere is interpreting the visual data in the light of a false theory; he is applying an outmoded conceptual framework. But there is no comparable sense in which my feeling of pain involves the application of a conceptual framework to an inner datum.
Suppose I feel a pain. I might conceptualize it as tooth-ache pain in which case I assign it some such cause as a process of decay in a tooth. But I can 'bracket' or suspend that conceptualization and consider the pain in its purely qualitative, felt, character. It is then nothing more than a sensory quale. I might even go so far as to abstract from its painfulness. This quale, precisely as I experience it, is nothing like a distant object that I conceptualize as this or that.
Now the existence of this rock-bottom sensory datum is indubitable and refutes the eliminativist claim. For this datum is not a product of conceptualization, but is something that is the 'raw material' of conceptualization. The felt pain qua felt is not an object of observation, something external to the observer, but an Erlebnis, something I live-through (er-leben). It is not something outside of me that I subsume under a concept, but a content (Husserl: ein reeller Inhalt) of my consciousness. I live my pain, I don't observe it. It is not a product of conceptualization -- in the way a distant light in the sky can be variously conceptualized as a planet, natural satellite, artificial satellite, star, double-star, UFO, etc. -- but a matter for conceptualization.
So the answer to Churchland is as follows. There can be no question of re-conceptualizing fundamental sensory data since there was no conceptualization to start with. So I am not begging the question against Churchland when I insist that pains exist: I am not assuming that the "traditional conceptualization" is the correct one. I am denying his presupposition, namely, that there is conceptualization in a case like this.
Most fundamentally, I am questioning the Kantian-Sellarsian presupposition that the data of inner sense are in as much need of categorial interpretation as the data of outer sense. If there is no categorization at this level, then there is no possibility of a re-categorization in neuroscientific
What is astonishing about eliminative materialists is that they refuse to take the blatant falsity of their conclusions as showing that they went wrong somewhere in their reasoning. In the grip of their scientistic assumptions, they deny the very data that any reasonable person would take as a plain refutation of their claims.
"Atheists should say things that are perfectly clear. Now it is not perfectly clear that the soul is material." (Krailsheimer, #161, p. 82) An atheist needn't be a mortalist, and a mortalist needn't be an atheist. But let that pass. Although the one does not logically require the other, or the other the one, atheism and mortalism naturally 'go together.' (McTaggart, for example, was an atheist but an immortalist with, apparently, no breach of logical consistency.)
If it were perfectly clear that that the soul is mortal as the body is mortal, then then why all the wild disagreement among materialists/naturalists/physicalists? Think of all their different theories. For example, there are eliminative materialists who rely on the (true) premise that no brain state is intrinsically intentional. They conclude that there are no mental states given that mental states are intrinsically intentional. But other materialists reject the (true) premise, maintaining that some brain states are intrinsically intentional, namely, the ones that are identical to mental states.
So here is a deep dispute within the materialist camp. Identity theorists affirm what eliminativists deny, namely, that there are mental states. Members of each camp believe that materialism is true, but they contradict each other as to why it is true. Now if it not clear why materialism is true, then it is hardly clear that it is true. That, I take it, is Pascal's point.
It is not clear that the soul is material (and thus mortal) and it is not clear that it isn't. Neither view is ruled out or ruled in by the reason resident in the thinking reeds we are. So you are free to believe either way. And you are free to act either way. If you act and live as if the soul is immortal, then you may come to believe that it is. (See the 'holy water' passage.) What's more, if you believe that it is then you will live better in this world if not beyond it. So why not believe?
Of course, you may be constitutionally incapable of believing. In that case you have a problem that is better addressed by a psychotherapist than by a philosopher.
Blaise Pascal, Pensées, Krailsheimer #620:
Man is obviously made for thinking. Therein lies all his dignity and his merit; and his whole duty is to think as he ought. Now the order of thought is to begin with ourselves, and with our author, and our end.
Now what does the world think about? Never about that, but about dancing, playing the lute, singing, writing verse, tilting at the ring, etc., and fighting, becoming king, without thinking about what it means to be a king or to be a man.
Do you understand lasagne? Of course you do. But I understand it better because I know how to make it from ingredients none of which is lasagne. (If I were to 'make' lasagne by fusing eight squares of lasagne, and you were a philosopher, you would protest that I hadn't made lasagne but had 'presupposed' it. And you'd be right. That would be like making coffee by pouring eight cups of coffee into a carafe.)
It is tempting to suppose that what we know how to make, we understand. (He said with a sidelong glance in the direction of Giambattista Vico.) Let's give into the temptation. Suppose one day humans create a robot that is really conscious, conscious in the way I believe my wife is conscious. Whether or not I know that she is, in that tough sense of 'know' that entails being certain, I do not doubt for a second that my wife is a genuine bearer of intentional and non-intentional mental states. She has feelings just as I do and she thinks about things just as I do, and this is not a matter of ascription on my part as when I ascribe to my chess computer the 'desire' to inflict mate. Her verbal and non-verbal behavior do not merely simulate, even if exactly, behavior that is expressive of real consciousness; it is behavior that is expressive of real consciousness.
So suppose we have a really conscious robot fabricated to look like a woman, so well fabricated, let us assume, as to fool a gynecologist. If we know that that conscious being is a robot, we may find it hard to believe that she is really conscious. But suppose we can convince ourselves that our robot is really conscious and enjoys an 'inner' life just as we do.
What implications would this have for the mind-body problem? Would the existence of a really conscious robot that we had constructed from non-conscious material parts show that consciousness was a natural phenomenon that arises or emerges from sufficently complicated configurations of wholly material parts? Would it put paid to substance dualism? Would it show that there was nothing supernatural about consciousness? Could one refute substance dualism and the notion that consciousness (including self-consciousness and all spiritual functions) has a higher (non-natural) origin by building a conscious robot?
Many would say 'yes.' But I say 'no.'
If we make a really conscious robot, if we 'synthesize' consciousness and the unity of consciousness from non-conscious materials, what we have done is to assemble components that form a unified physical thing at which consciousness is manifested. But this neutral description of what we have done leaves open two possibilities:
1. The one is that consciousness simply comes into existence without cause at that complex configuration of physical components but is in no way caused by or emergent from that complex configuration. In this case we have not synthesized consciousness from nonconscious materials; we have simply brought together certain material components at which consciousness appears.
2. The other possibility is that consciousness comes into manifestation at the complex configuration of physical componets ab extra, from outside the natural sphere. A crude theological way of thinking of this would be that a purely spiritual being, God, 'implants' consciousness in sufficiently complex physical systems.
On both (1) and (2), consciousness arises at a certain level of materal complexity, but not from matter. On (1) it just arises as a matter of brute fact. On (2), consciousness comes from consciousness. On neither does consciousness have a natural origin. On (1) consciousness does not originate from anything. On (2) it has a non-natural origin.
Given these two possibilities, one cannot validly infer that consciousness is a wholly natural phenomenon from the existence of conscious robots. The existence of conscious robots is logically consistent with (1), with (2), and with the naturalist hypothesis that consciousness is purely natural.
My point could be put as follows. Even if we succeed in creating machines with (literal) minds, this has no bearing on the mind-body problem. This is because it leaves open the three possibilities mentioned. Suppose you are a conscious robot who is thinking about the mind-body problem. Substance dualism would be an option for you. You could not validly infer that your mind is not an immaterial substance from the fact that you were created in Palo Alto by robotics engineers. Same goes with me. I am not a robot, but a conscious animal who came into the world inter faeces et urinam. (Actually, if the truth be told, I came into the this vale of tears by Caesarean section; but let's not quibble: you came into it inter faeces et urinam.) But I cannot validly infer from the fact of my animal origin that my consciousness is a wholly natural function.
Now suppose naturalism is true. There is still the problem of the unintelligibility of the arisal of consciousness from brain matter, an unintelligibility that Colin McGinn, naturalist and atheist, has rightly insisted on. This unintelligibility will not be diminished one iota by the arrival of conscious robots should such robots make the scene in the coming years.
This means that the scientific outlook, if it aspires to a more complete understanding of nature, must expand to include theories capable of explaining the appearance in the universe of mental phenomena and the subjective points of view in which they occur – theories of a different type from any we have seen so far.
There are two ways of resisting this conclusion, each of which has two versions. The first way is to deny that the mental is an irreducible aspect of reality, either (a) by holding that the mental can be identified with some aspect of the physical, such as patterns of behavior or patterns of neural activity, or (b) by denying that the mental is part of reality at all, being some kind of illusion (but then, illusion to whom?). The second way is to deny that the mental requires a scientific explanation through some new conception of the natural order, because either (c) we can regard it as a mere fluke or accident, an unexplained extra property of certain physical organisms – or else (d) we can believe that it has an explanation, but one that belongs not to science but to theology, in other words that mind has been added to the physical world in the course of evolution by divine intervention.
Nagel, of course, rejects each of (a)-(d).
The comments on Nagel's piece are mostly garbage. There is something offensive about allowing any birdbrain to leave his droppings on an essay by one of our best philosophers.
The best arguments against an open combox are the contents of one.
This from a reader:
There’s a youngster here considering going to college to study neuroscience, and I’m doing my best to inoculate him against scientism while offering a case for dualism. I’ve offered broad worldview reasons why that would matter, but I’m not sure off the top of my head what I would say if he asked what professional difference it would make to be a dualist neuroscientist. The dualist would say that areas X and Y are associated with and bear some causal relationship with the mind’s being in state ABC, while the physicalist would say that areas X and Y constitute or realize or give rise to state ABC. Pharma would be just as effective, placebo effects aside, if one takes a physicalist rather than a dualist interpretation of the mind-body problem. Metaphysically and religiously, there are huge differences, but during the time I was intensely reflecting on the metaphysics of mind the question of what difference it might make to a neuroscientist qua neuroscientist never entered my mind. If you have any thoughts off the top of your…er, mind I would be most grateful.
Off the top of my 'head,' it seems to me that, with only three exceptions, it should make no difference at all to the practicing neuroscientist what philosophy of mind he accepts. Emergentist, epiphenomenalist, property dualist, hylomorphic dualist, substance dualist, type-type identity theorist, parallelist, occasionalist, functionalist, panpsychist, dual-aspect theorist, mysterian, idealist, -- whatever the position, I can't see it affecting the study of that most marvellous and most complex intercranial hunk of meat we call the brain.
Eliminativism, solipsism, and behaviorism are the exceptions.
One of the things that neuroscientists do is to determine the neural correlates of conscious states. To work out the correlations requires taking seriously the reports of a conscious test subject who reports sincerely from his first-person point of view on the content and quality of his experiences as different regions of his brain are artificially stimulated in various ways. Now if our neuroscientist is an eliminativist, then it seems to me that he cannot, consistently with his eliminativism, take seriously the verbal reports of the test subject. For if there are no mental states, then the reports are about precisely nothing. And you cannot correlate nothing with something.
Suppose now that our neuroscientist is a solipist. He believes in other brains, but not in other minds. He holds that his is the only mind. It seems that our solipsistic brain researcher could not, consistently with his solipsism, take seriously the reports of the test subject. He could not take them as being reports of anything. He could take them only as verbal behavior, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
Something similar would seem to hold for the behaviorist neuroscientist. What the (analytical) behaviorist does it to identify mental states with behavior (linguistic or non-linguistic) and/or with dispositions to behave. Thus my belief that it is about to rain is nothing other than my rummaging for an umbrella in the closet, and the like. My feeling of pain is my grimacing, etc. The analytical behaviorist does not deny that they are beliefs and desires and sensory states such as pleasure and pain. His project is not eliminativist but identitarian. There are beliefs and desires and pains, he thinks; it is just that what they are are bits of behavior and/or behavioral dispositions.
But if my pain just is my grimacing, wincing, etc. , then the brain scientist has no need of my verbal reports. Stimulating the 'pain center' of my brain, he need merely look at my overt behavior.
One issue here is whether analytical behaviorism can be kept from collapsing into eliminative behaviorism. If mind is just behavior, then that is tantamount to saying that there is no mind. This, I take it, is the point of the old joke about the two behaviorist sex partners, "It was good for you, how was it for me?" If the feeling just is the behavior, then there is no feeling.
So my answer to my correspondent, just off the top of my 'head,' without having thought much about this issue, is that a neuroscientist's philosophy of mind, if he has one, should have no effect on his practice of neuroscience except in the three cases mentioned.
But here is another wrinkle that just occured to me. Consider scientism, which is not a position in the philosophy of mind, but a position in epistemology. If our neuroscientist were a scientisticist (to coin a term as barbarous as its nominatum), and thus one who held that only natural science is knowledge, then how could he credit the reports of his test subject given that these reports are made from the first-person point of view and are not about matters that are third-person verifiable?
If you poke around in my visual cortex and I report seeing red, and you credit my report as veridical, then you admit that there is a source of knowledge that is not natural-scientific, and thus you contradict your scientism.
So I tentatively suggest that no neuroscientist who investigates the neural correlates of consciousness can be a scientisticist!
Galen Strawson in Little Gray Cells:
The intuitive puzzle is clear, and McGinn presents it with multilayered intensity. He is right that we can never hope to understand how consciousness as we know it in everyday life relates to the brain considered as a lump of matter. But it doesn't follow that consciousness is a mystery -- except insofar as everything is. This move rests on a large assumption that is almost universally held, although it is certainly false.
This is the assumption that we have a pretty good understanding of the nature of matter -- of matter in space -- of the physical in general. It is only relative to this assumption that the existence of consciousness in a material world seems mystifying. For what exactly is puzzling about consciousness, once we put the assumption aside? We know just what it is like. Suppose you have an experience of redness, or pain, and consider it just as such. There doesn't seem to be any room for anything that could be called failure to understand what it is. You know what it is.
BV comments: Strawson is right about one thing: we know what consciousness is from our own case. We experience pains and pleasures, and so on. (And he is also right to avoid the eliminativism that tempts many.) But he misses the problem that McGinn so masterfully presents. It is is not consciousness as we experience it that is puzzling, but how consciousness arises from the gray matter in our skulls. We understand consciousness from the first-person point of view, and our physics gives us a very good understanding of matter from the third-person point of view. What we don't understand is how matter can be conscious.
It is not consciousness that is puzzling, then, but matter. What the existence of consciousness shows is that we have a profoundly inadequate grasp on the nature of matter. McGinn agrees with this last point, in fact: with considerable speculative panache, he develops the idea that there must be something deficient in our idea of space, as well as in our idea of matter. But he still wants to stress the mysteriousness of consciousness; to which the reply, once again, is that we find consciousness mysterious only because we have a bad picture of matter.
BV: Strawson is not making sense. There is nothing particularly puzzling about consciousness, and, contrary to what he says, there is nothing particularly puzzling about brains. What is puzzling is how a brain can be conscious. He doesn't seem to grasp the problem. Besides, how can the existence of consciousness show that we have an inadequate grasp of matter? What does that even mean?
Can anything be done? I think physics can help, by undermining features of our picture of matter that make it appear so totally different from consciousness. The first step is very simple: to begin with, perhaps, one takes it that matter is simply solid stuff, uniform, non-particulate (the ultimate Norwegian cheese). Then one learns that it is composed of distinct atoms -- solid particles that cohere closely together to make up objects, but that have empty space (roughly speaking) between them. Then one learns that these atoms are themselves made up of tiny, separate particles, and full of empty space themselves. One learns that matter is not at all what one thought.
Now one may accept this while retaining the idea that matter is at root solid, dense lumpen stuff, utterly different from consciousness. For so far this picture preserves the idea that there are true particles of matter: tiny grainy bits of ultimate stuff that are in themselves truly solid. And one may say that only these, strictly speaking, are matter -- matter as such. But it's been a long time since the 18th-century philosopher-chemist Joseph Priestley pointed out that there are no scientific grounds for supposing that the fundamental constituents of matter have any truly solid central part, and the picture of grainy, inert particles has effectively disappeared in the strangenesses of modern quantum theory and superstring theory.
Current physics, then, thinks of matter as a thing of forces, energy, fields. And it can also seem natural to think of consciousness as a form or manifestation of energy, as a kind of force, and even, perhaps, as a kind of field. You may still feel the two things are deeply heterogeneous, but you really have no good reason to believe this. You just don't know enough about matter. When McGinn speaks of the ''squishy'' brain, he vividly expresses part of our ordinary idea of matter. But when physics inspects the volume of space-time occupied by a brain, what does it find? It finds a vibrant play of energy, an astonishingly insubstantial, radiant form.
All this being so, do we have any good reason to think that we know anything about the physical that legitimates surprise at the thought that consciousness is itself wholly physical? We do not. And that is the first, crucial step that one must take when facing up to the problem of consciousness.
BV: Strawson is maintaining that the sense of the utter heterogeneity of matter and consciousness arises from an inadequate conception of matter, and that if we had an adequate conception the sense of heterogeneity would dissipate. We would then understand consciousness to be a purely material phenomenon. Now it is true that our concept of matter is pegged to the state of physics, and also true that we now have a more adequate conception of matter than we had in earlier centuries. Well, suppose the volume of space-time occupied by a brain is filled with "a vibrant play of energy, an astonishingly insubstantial, radiant form," as Strawson lyrically puts it. The problem remains: how does brain matter so conceived give rise to consciousness, not to mention thought? The problem remains on any extant conception of matter, no matter how "insubstantial." Strawson is fooling himself if he thinks that the problem arises only on the assumption that matter is the 'ultimate Norwegian cheese."
Strawson is doing nothing more than giving expression to his faith and hope that someday physics will have advanced to the point where it will become intelligible how the brain matter in animals of our complexity can be conscious. But he has no idea of what the solution will look like. He is gesturing hopefully in the direction of he-knows-not-what. Both he and McGinn are naturalists. But he is an optimist where McGinn is a pessimist. Strawson pins his hopes on future physics. McGinn has no such faith or hope. His view is that the matter-consciousness problem has a solution but it is one our cognitive architecture prevents us from ever knowing.
Both philosophers are naturalists who maintain that there is nothing non-natural or supernatural about consciousness. I am not a naturalist. But if I were I would say that McGinn's position is the more reasonable of the two. What best explains the intractability, hitherto, of the problems in the philosophy of mind? Our lack of understanding of physics, or something about our cogntive architecture that makes it impossible for us to grasp the solution? I'd put my money on the latter.
So far, then: McGinn 1; Strawson 0.
Will Duquette e-mails and I respond in blue.
Having followed your link to McGinn's review of Kurzweil's book, "How to Create a Mind," it seems to me that there's something McGinn is missing that weakens his critique. Mind you, I agree that Kurzweil is mistaken; but there's a piece of Kurzweil's view of things that McGinn doesn't see (or discounts) that is is crucial to understanding him.
Contemporary brain science is thus rife with unwarranted homunculus talk, presented as if it were sober established science. We have discovered that nerve fibers transmit electricity. We have not, in the same way, discovered that they transmit information. We have simply postulated this conclusion by falsely modeling neurons on persons. To put the point a little more formally: states of neurons do not have propositional content in the way states of mind have propositional content. The belief that London is rainy intrinsically and literally contains the propositional content that London is rainy, but no state of neurons contains that content in that way—as opposed to metaphorically or derivatively (this kind of point has been forcibly urged by John Searle for a long time).
And there is theoretical danger in such loose talk, because it fosters the illusion that we understand how the brain can give rise to the mind. One of the central attributes of mind is information (propositional content) and there is a difficult question about how informational states can come to exist in physical organisms. We are deluded if we think we can make progress on this question by attributing informational states to the brain. To be sure, if the brain were to process information, in the full-blooded sense, then it would be apt for producing states like belief; but it is simply not literally true that it processes information. We are accordingly left wondering how electrochemical activity can give rise to genuine informational states like knowledge, memory, and perception. As so often, surreptitious homunculus talk generates an illusion of theoretical understanding.
First the good news: Homunculism, McGinn's NYRB review of Ray Kurzweil, How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed.
McGinn, like John Searle, is a formidable critic of bad philosophy of mind, and in this brilliant review he utterly demolishes Kurzweil's neurobabble, and indeed the whole type of which it is a token. The devastation of the demolition job is commensurate with the chutzpah of Kurzweil's subtitle. It is not that McGinn has said anything really new, at least not in this review. The key points have been made before by Searle and Nagel and so many of us, but McGinn does the critical job with great clarity and great skill and gives it a (to me) slightly new slant: the ubiquity of the homuncular fallacy. (I won't explain what I mean; you'll catch my drift by carefully reading the review.)
I don't understand how anyone who is intelligent and informed could read with comprehension McGinn's piece and still take seriously the sort of neuroscientistic nonsense of Kurzweil and Company.
And please note that McGinn has no religious agenda: he is not out to resurrect the immortal soul or find a back door to the divine milieu. The man is an atheist, a mortalist and a (damned) liberal too. Just like Nagel. Neither of these gentlemen are looking for a way back to substance dualism. The former goes the mysterian route, the latter the panpsychist. Both are naturalists. More importantly, both are dispassionate truth-seekers.
And now for the bad and sad news: Prominent Philosopher to Leave U. of Miami in Wake of Misconduct Allegations.
The following first appeared on 15 January 2006 at the old Powerblogs site. Here it is again, considerably reworked.
I saw Daniel Dennett's Sweet Dreams (MIT Press, 2005) on offer a while back at full price, but declined to buy it: why shell out $30 to hear Dennett repeat himself one more time? But the other day it turned up for $13 in a used bookstore. So I bought it, unable to resist the self-infliction of yet more Dennettian sophistry. What am I? A masochist? A completist? A compulsive consciousness and qualia freak?
The subtitle is "Philosophical Obstacles to a Science of Consciousness." That raises the question of how there could even be philosophical obstacles to such a science. I am not aware that philosophers control the sources of funding for neuroscience projects. And what could a philosopher say that could stymie brain science?
But let's look at a passage:
If we are are to explain the conscious Subject, one way or another
the transition from clueless cells to knowing organizations of
cells must be made without any magic ingredients. This requirement
presents theorists with what some see as a nasty dilemma . . . . If
you propose a theory of the knowing Subject that describes whatever
it describes as like the working of a vacant automated factory --
not a Subject in sight -- you will seem to many observers to have
changed the subject or missed the point. On the other hand, if your
theory still has tasks for a Subject to perform, still has a need
for a Subject as witness, then . . . you have actually postponed
the task of explaining what needs explaining.
To me, one of the most fascinating bifurcations in the intellectual
world today is between those to whom it is obvious -- obvious --
that a theory that leaves out the Subject is thereby disqualified
as a theory of consciousness (in Chalmer's terms, it evades the
Hard Problem), and those to whom it is just as obvious that any
theory that doesn't leave out the Subject is disqualified. I submit
that the former have to be wrong. . . . (p. 145)
Dennett has done a good job of focusing the issue. On the one side, the eliminativists who hold that the only way to explain the conscious Subject is by explaining it away. On the other side, those who are convinced that one cannot explain a datum by denying its existence.
What we have here fundamentally is a deep philosophical dispute about the nature of explanation, and not a debate confined to the philosophy of mind. What's more, it is not a debate that is going to be resolved by further empirical research. Not all legitimate questions are empirical questions.
It ought to be self-evident that any explanation that consigns the explanandum (that which is to be explained) to the status of nonexistence is a failure as an explanation. Eliminativist moves are confessions of failure. Any genuine explanation of X presupposes (and so cannot eliminate) the
existence of X. One cannot explain something by explaining it away. Two related points:
1. One cannot explain what does not exist. One cannot explain why unicorns roam the Superstition Wilderness, or why the surface of the moon is perfectly smooth. There is nothing to explain. In the case of consciousness, however, there is something to explain. So it at least makes sense to attempt to explain consciousness.
2. An explanation that entails the nonexistence of the explanandum is no explanation at all.
Both (1) and (2) are analytic truths that simply unpack the concept of explanation.
I once heard a proponent of Advaita Vedanta claim that advaitins don't explain the world; they explain it away. Now it is surely dubious in the extreme to think of this insistent and troubling plural world of our ongoing everyday acquaintance as an illusion. Whatever its exact ontological status, it exists. If it didn't there would be nothing to explain or explain away. And if one were to explain it away, as one with Brahman, then one would have precisely failed to explain it.
What Dennet is maintaining about consciousness and the Subject is even worse. There is some vestige of sense in the claim that the world is an illusion. It makes sense, at least initially, to say that there is an Absolute Consciousness and that the world is its illusion. But it is utterly absurd to maintain that consciousness is an illusion. The very distinction between illusion and reality presupposes consciousness. In a world without consciousness, nothing would appear, and so nothing would appear
falsely. Necessarily, no consciousness, no illusions. Illusions prove the reality of consciousness.
This is a very simple point. It is an 'armchair' point. All you have to do is think to know that it is true. But neither its being 'armchair' nor its being simple is an argument against it. The law of non-contradiction is simple and 'armchair' too.
The denigration of a priori knowledge is part and parcel of the pseudophilosophy of scientism.
Since consciousness exists, the project of explaining it at least makes sense, by (1). By (2), an eliminativist explanation is no explanation at all.
The thing about consciousness is that the only way to explain it in terms satisfactory to a materialist is by denying its existence. It is to Dennett's 'credit' that he drives to the very end of this dead-end road, thereby showing that it is a dead-end.
My most rigorous demolition of Dennett's scientistic sophistry is in Can Consciousness be Explained? Dennett Debunked.
If Dennett were right, then we would all be zombies, including Dennett. (See Searle, Dennett, and Zombies.) But then there would be no consciousness to explain and to write fat books about.
The demand that consciousness be exhaustively explained in terms involving no tincture of consciousness is a demand that cannot be met. Explanation of what by whom to whom? Explanation is an inherently mind-involving notion. There are no explanations in nature. There is no way the science of matter can somehow close around the phenomena of mind and include them within its ambit. Science, like explanation, is inherently mind-involving.
According to the The New York Times, Daniel Dennett has a new book coming out entitled Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking. Here are a couple of tidbits from the NYT piece:
The self? Simply a “center of narrative gravity,” a convenient fiction that allows us to integrate various neuronal data streams.
The elusive subjective conscious experience — the redness of red, the painfulness of pain — that philosophers call qualia? Sheer illusion.
This sure sounds like the sort of sophistry Dennett is known for. Selves are fictions that allow us -- selves -- to integrate data streams. I hope I will be forgiven for finding that unintelligible.
Now which is more likely to be true, that qualia are "sheer illusion" or that Dennett is a sophist?
You know my answer. Here are a couple of anti-Dennett posts:
Others, of equal trenchancy, are in the Dennett category.
I dedicate this post to Victor Reppert who thinks along similar lines, and shares my love of the oldies.
If matter could think, then matter would not be matter as currently understood.
Can abstracta think? Sets count as abstracta. Can a set think? Could the set of primes contemplate itself and think the thought, 'I am a set, and each of my members is a prime number'? Given what we know sets to be from set theory, sets cannot think. It is the same with matter. Given what we know or believe matter to be from current physics, matter cannot think. To think is to think about something, and it is this aboutness or intentionality that proves embarrassing for materialism. I have expatiated on this over many, many posts and I can't repeat myself here. (Here is a characteristic post.)
But couldn't matter have occult powers, powers presently hidden from our best physics, including the power to think? Well, could sets have occult powers that a more penetrating set theory would lay bare? Should we pin our hopes on future set theory? Obviously not. Why not? Because it makes no sense to think of sets as subjects of intentional states. We know a priori that the set of primes cannot lust after the set of evens. It is impossible in a very strong sense: it is broadly logically impossible.
Of course, there is a big difference between sets and brains. We know enough about sets to know a priori that sets cannot think. But perhaps we don't yet know enough about the human brain. So I don't dogmatically claim that matter could not have occult or hidden powers. Maybe the meat between my ears does have the power to think. But then that meat is not matter in any sense we currently understand. And that is my point. You can posit occult powers if you like, and pin your hopes on a future science that will lay them bare; but then you are going well beyond the empirical evidence and engaging in high-flying speculations that ought to seem unseemly to hard-headed empiricistic and scientistic types.
Such types are known to complain about spook stuff and ghosts-in-machines. But to impute occult powers, powers beyond our ken, to brain matter does not seem to be much of an improvement. For that is a sort of dualism too. There are the properties and powers we know about, and the properties and powers we know nothing about but posit to avoid the absurdities of identity materialism and eliminativism. There is also the dualism of imagining that matter when organized into human brains is toto caelo different from ordinary hunks of matter. There is also a dualism within the brain as between those parts of it that are presumably thinking and feeling and those other parts that perform more mudane functions. Why are some brain states mental and others not? Think about it. (I have a detailed post on this but I don't have time to find it.)
The materialist operates with a conception of matter tied to current physics. On that conception of matter, it is simply unintelligible to to say that brains feel or think. If he nonetheless ascribes mental powers to matter, then he abandons materialism for something closer to panpsychism. I seem to recall Reppert making this point recently.
It is worth noting that the reverent gushing of the neuro-scientistic types over the incredible complexity (pound the lectern!) of the brain does absolutely nothing to reduce the unintelligibility of the notion that it is brains or parts of brains that are the subjects of intentional and qualitative mental states. For it is unintelligible how ramping up complexity can trigger a metabasis eis allo genos, a shift into another genus. Are you telling me that meat that means is just meat that is more complex than ordinary meat? You might as well say that the leap from unmeaning meat to meaning meat is a miracle. Some speak of 'emergence.' But that word merely papers over the difficulty, labelling the problem without solving it. Do you materialists believe in miracle meat or mystery meat? Do you believe in magic?
Franz Brentano, for whom intentionality is the mark of the mental, is committed to the thesis that all instances of (intrinsic) intentionality are instances of mentality. Propositions and dispositions are apparent counterexamples. For they are nonmental yet intrinsically object-directed. Whether they are also real counterexamples is something we should discuss. This post discusses (Fregean) propositions. Later, dispositions — if I am so disposed.
On one approach, propositions are abstract objects. Since abstracta are categorially barred from being mental, it is clear that if intrinsic intentionality is ascribed to abstract propositions, then the thesis that all instances of intentionality are instances of mentality must be rejected. For specificity, we consider Frege's theory of propositions. He called them Gedanken, thoughts, which is a strangely pyschologistic terminological choice for so anti-psychologistic a logician, but so be it.
A proposition is the sense (Sinn) of a certain sort of sentence in the indicative mood, namely, an indicative sentence from which all indexical elements, if any, such as the tenses of verbs, have been extruded. Consider the following sentence-tokens each of which features a tenseless copula:
1. The sea is blue
2. The sea is blue
3. Die See ist blau
4. Deniz mavidir.
(Since Turkish is an agglutinative language, the copula in the Turkish sentence is the suffix 'dir.')
The (1)-(4) array depicts four sentence-tokens of three sentence-types expressing exactly one proposition. Intuitively, the four sentences say the same thing, or to be precise, can be used by people to say the same thing. That same thing is the proposition they express, or to be precise, that people express by uttering them. The proposition is one to their many. And unlike the sentence-tokens, it is nonphysical, which has the epistemological consequence that it, unlike the sentence-tokens, cannot be seen with the eyes. It is 'seen' (understood) with the mind. Frege is a sort of latter-day Platonist.
So one reason to introduce propositions is to account for the fact that the same meaning-content can be expressed by different people using different sentences of different languages. Another reason to posit propositions is to have a stable entity to serve as vehicle of the truth-values. The idea is that it is the proposition that is primarily either true or false. Given that a proposition is true, then any sentence expressing it is derivatively true.
There is quite a lot to be said for the view that a sentence-token cannot be a primary truth-bearer. For how could a string of marks on paper, or pixels on a screen, be either true or false? Nothing can be either true or false unless it has meaning, but how could mere physical marks (intrinsically) mean anything? Merely physical marks, as such, are meaningless. You can't get blood from a stone, or meaning from meat, no matter how hard you squeeze, and no matter how wondrously organized the meat.
Fregean propositions are especially useful when it comes to the necessary truths expressed by such sentences as '7 is prime.' A necessary truth is true in all possible worlds, including those worlds in which there is nothing physical and so no means of physically expressing truths. If truth is taken to be a property of physical items or any contingent item, then it might be difficult to account for the existence of necessary truths. The Fregean can handle this problem by saying that propositions, as abstract objects, exist in all possible worlds, and that true ones have the property of being true in all possible worlds. The Fregean can also explain how there can be necessary truths in worlds in which there is nothing physical and nothing mental either.
Propositions also function as the accusatives of the so-called 'propositional attitudes' such as belief. To believe is to believe something. One way to construe this is de dicto: to believe is to stand in a relation to a proposition. Thus if I believe that the river Charles is polluted, then the intentional object of the belief is the proposition expressed by 'The river Charles is polluted.' (Of course, there is also a de re way of construing the belief in question: To believe that the Charles is polluted is to believe, of the river Charles, that is is polluted.)
Well, suppose one endorses a theory of propositions such as the one just sketched. You have these necessarily existent Platonic entities called propositions some of which are true and some of which are false. My believing that p is an intentional state directed upon p; but is it not also the case that p is directed upon the world, or upon a truth-making state of affairs in the world in the case in which p is true?
But now it looks as if we have two sorts of intentionality, call them noetic and noematic, to borrow some terminology from Husserl. Noetic intentionality connects a mental state (in Frege's Second Reich) to a proposition (in Frege's Third Reich), and noematic intentionality connects, or purports to connect, a proposition to an object in Frege's First Reich. Frege wouldn't think of this object as a state of affairs or concrete fact, of course, but we might. (The peculiarities of Frege's actual views don't matter for this discussion.)
The problem for Brentano's thesis above is that propositions — which are abstract objects — seem to display intrinsic aboutness: they are about the concrete world or states of affairs in the world. Thus the proposition expressed by 'The Charles is polluted' is intrinsically about either the river Charles or else about the state of affairs, The Charles River's being polluted. Intrinsically, because the proposition's being about what it is about does not depend on anyone's interpretation.
If this is right, then some instances of intentionality are not only not conscious but not possibly conscious. Does this refute Brentano's thesis? Brentano himself denied that there were such irrealia as propositions and so he would not take propositions as posing any threat to his thesis. But if there are (Fregean) propositions, then I think they would count as counterexamples to Brentano's thesis about intentionality.
Is there a way to uphold Brentano's thesis that only the mental is intrinsically intentional? Yes, if there is a way to identify propositions with thoughts or rather content-laden thinkings. My thinking that 7 is prime is intrinsically intentional. Unfortunately, my thinking is contingent whereas the content of my thinking is necessarily true and hence necessarily existent. To identify propositions with content-laden thinkings one would have to take the thinkings to inhere in a necessarily existent mind such as the mind of God.
So I end on an aporetic note. Intentionality cannot be the mark of the mental if there are Fregean propositions. But given that there are necessary truths and that truth-bearers cannot be physical items, then only way to avoid Fregean propositions is by identifying propositions with divine thoughts, in which case they are Gedanken after all.
Argument A. Meat can't think. My brain is meat. Therefore, what thinks in me when I think is not my brain.
A in Reverse: What thinks in me when I think is my brain. My brain is meat. Therefore, meat can think.
The proponent of A needn't deny that we are meatheads. Of course we are. We are literally meat (and bone) all the way through. His point is that the res cogitans cannot be a hunk of meat.
Both arguments are valid, but only one is sound. The decision comes down to the initial premises of the two arguments. Is there a rational way of deciding between these premises?
A materialist might argue as follows. Although we cannot at present understand how a hunk of meat could feel and think, what is actual is possible regardless of our ability or inability to explain how it is possible. The powers of certain configurations of matter could remain hidden for a long time from our best science, or even remain hidden forever. What else would be doing the thinking and feeling in us if not our brains? What else could the mind be but the functioning brain? The fact that we cannot understand how the brain could be a semantic engine is not a conclusive reason for thinking that it is not a semantic engine.
It is worth noting that the reverent gushing of the neuro-scientistic types over the incredible complexity of the brain does absolutely nothing to reduce the unintelligibility of the notion that it is brains or parts of brains that are the subjects of intentional and qualitative mental states. For it is unintelligible how ramping up complexity can trigger a metabasis eis allo genos. Are you telling me that meat that means is just meat that is more complex than ordinary meat? You might as well say that the leap from unmeaning meat to meaning meat is a miracle. Some speak of 'emergence.' But that word merely papers over the difficulty, labelling the problem without solving it. You may as well say, as in the cartoon, "And then a miracle occurs." But then it's Game Over for the materialist.
Our materialist would do better to insist that unintelligibility to us does not entail impossibility. Our inability to explain how X is possible does not entail that X is not possible.
My response would be that while unintelligibility does not entail impossibility, it is excellent evidence of it. If you tell me that a certain configuration of neurons is intrinsically object-directed, directed to an object that may or may not exist without prejudice to the object-directedness, then you are saying something unintelligible. It is as if you said that.5 volts intrinsically represents 1 and .7 volts intrinsically represents 0. That's nonsense. Or it as if you said that a pile of rocks intrinsically indicates the direction of the trial. (See The Philosophizing Hiker: The Derivative Intentionality of Trail Markers.)
No rock pile has intrinsic meaning or intrinsic representational power. And the same goes for any material item or configuration of material items no matter how complex. No such system has intrinsic meaning; any meaning it has is derived. The meaning is derived either from an intelligent being who ascribes meaning to the material system, or from an intelligent being whose purposes are embodied in the material system, or both.
Thus I am rejecting the view that meaning could inhere in material systems apart from relations to minds that are intrinsically intentional, minds who are original Sinn-ers, if you will, original mean-ers. We are all of us Sinn-ers, every man Jack of us, original Sinn-ers, but our Sinn-ing is not mortal or venial but vital. Intrinsic, underived intentionality is our very lifeblood as spiritual beings.
So if the materialist says that the brain means, intends, represents, thinks, etc., then I say that makes no sense given what we understand the brain to be. The brain is a material system and the physical, chemical, electrical, and biological properties it and its parts have cannot be meaningfully predicated of mental states. One cannot speak intelligibly of a voltage drop across a mental state any more than can one speak intelligibly of the intentionality of synapses or of their point of view or of what it is like to be one.
Of course, the materialist can pin his hope on a future science that understands the brain in different terms, terms that could be sensibly attached to mental phenomena. But this is nothing more than an empty gesturing towards a 'possibility' that cannot be described except in the vaguest terms. It is nothing but faith, hope, and hand-waving.
There is also the dogmatism of the materialist who insists that the subject of thinking must be the functioning brain. How does he know that? He doesn't. He believes it strongly is all.
So I give the palm to Argument A: Meat can't think. My brain is meat. Therefore, what thinks in me when I think is not my brain.
I do not absolutely foreclose on the abstract possibility that there be thinking meat. For I grant that unintelligibility to us is not invincible proof of impossibility. But when I compare that vaguely described abstract possibility with the present certainty that matter as we know it cannot think due to the very unintelligibility of the idea, then the present certainty wins over the abstract possibility and over the faith and hope of the materialist.
A couple of days ago I had Nicholas Humphrey in my sights. Or, to revert to the metaphor of that post, I took a shovel to his bull. I am happy to see that Galen Strawson agrees that it is just nonsense to speak of consciousness as an illusion. Strawson's trenchant review of Humphrey's Soul Dust: The Magic of Consciousness is here. Unfortunately, I cannot see that Strawson has shed much light either, at least judging from the sketch of his position presented in the just-mentioned review:
There is no mystery of consciousness as standardly presented, although book after book tells us that there is, including, now, Nick Humphrey's Soul Dust: The Magic of Consciousness. We know exactly what consciousness is; we know it in seeing, tasting, touching, smelling, hearing, in hunger, fever, nausea, joy, boredom, the shower, childbirth, walking down the road. If someone denies this or demands a definition of consciousness, there are two very good responses. The first is Louis Armstrong's, when he was asked what jazz is: "If you got to ask, you ain't never goin' to know." The second is gentler: "You know what it is from your own case." You know what consciousness is in general, you know the intrinsic nature of consciousness, just in being conscious at all.
"Yes, yes," say the proponents of magic, "but there's still a mystery: how can all this vivid conscious experience be physical, merely and wholly physical?" (I'm assuming, with them, that we're wholly physical beings.) This, though, is the 400-year-old mistake. In speaking of the "magical mystery show", Humphrey and many others make a colossal and crucial assumption: the assumption that we know something about the intrinsic nature of matter that gives us reason to think that it's surprising that it involves consciousness. We don't. Nor is this news. Locke knew it in 1689, as did Hume in 1739. Philosopher-chemist Joseph Priestley was extremely clear about it in the 1770s. So were Eddington, Russell and Whitehead in the 1920s.
One thing we do know about matter is that when you put some very common-or-garden elements (carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, sodium, potassium, etc) together in the way in which they're put together in brains, you get consciousness like ours – a wholly physical phenomenon. (It's happening to you right now.) And this means that we do, after all, know something about the intrinsic nature of matter, over and above everything we know in knowing the equations of physics. Why? Because we know the intrinsic nature of consciousness and consciousness is a form of matter.
The main point of Strawson's first paragraph is surely correct: we know what consciousness is in the most direct and and unmistakable way possible: we experience it, we live through it, we are it. We know it from our own case, immediately, and we know it better than we know anything else. If Dennett doesn't know what a sensory quale is, then perhaps the cure is to administer a sharp kick to his groin. Feel that, Dan? That's a quale. (I am assuming, of course, that Dennett is not a 'zombie' in the technical sense in which that term is used in philosophy of mind discussions. But I can't prove he isn't. Perhaps that is the problem. If he were a zombie, then maybe all his verbal behavior would be understandable.)
In the second paragraph Strawson rejects an assumption and he makes one himself. He rejects the assumption that we know enough about the intrinsic nature of matter to know that a material being cannot think. The assumption he makes is that we are wholly physical beings. So far I understand him. It could be that (it is epistemically possible that) this stuff inside my skull is the thinker of my thoughts. This is epistemically possible because matter could have hidden powers that we have yet to fathom. On our current understanding of matter it makes no bloody sense to maintain that matter thinks; but that may merely reflect our ignorance of the intrinsic nature of matter. So I cannot quickly dismiss the notion that matter thinks in the way I can quickly dismiss the preternaturally boneheaded notion that consciousness is an illusion.
I agree with Strawson's first paragraph; I understand the second; but I am flabbergasted by the third. For now our man waxes dogmatic and postures as if he KNOWS that consciousness is a wholly physical phenomenon. How does he know it? Obviously, he doesn't know it. It is a mere conjecture, an intelligible conjecture, and perhaps even a reasonable one. After all it might be (it is epistemically possible that) the matter of our brains has occult powers that physics has yet to lay bare, powers that enable it to think and feel. I cannot exclude this epistemic possibility, any more than Strawson can exclude the possibility that thinkers are spiritual substances. But to conjecture that things might be thus and so is not to KNOW that they are thus and so. All we can claim to KNOW is what Strawson asseverates in his first paragraph.
Here is Strawson's argument in a nutshell:
1. We know the intrinsic nature of consciousness from our own case.
2. We know that consciousness is a form of matter.
3. There is nothing mysterious about consciousness or about how matter gives rise to consciousness; nor is there any question whether consciousness is wholly physical; the only mystery concerns the intrinsic nature of matter.
The problem with this argument is premise (2). It is pure bluster: a wholly gratuitous assumption, a mere dogma of naturalism. I can neutralize the argument with this counterargument:
4. If (1) & (2), then brain matter has occult powers.
5. We have no good reason to assume -- it is wholly gratuitous to assume -- that brain matter has occult powers.
6. We have no good reason to assume that both (1) and (2) are true.
7. We know that (1) is true.
8. We have good reason to believe that (2) is false.
The following statement by Nicholas Humphrey (Psychology, London School of Economics) is one among many answers to the question: What do you believe is true though you cannot prove it?
I believe that human consciousness is a conjuring trick, designed to fool us into thinking we are in the presence of an inexplicable mystery. Who is the conjuror and why is s/he doing it? The conjuror is natural selection, and the purpose has been to bolster human self-confidence and self-importance—so as to increase the value we each place on our own and others' lives.
If this is right, it provides a simple explanation for why we, as scientists or laymen, find the "hard problem" of consciousness just so hard. Nature has meant it to be hard. Indeed "mysterian" philosophers—from Colin McGinn to the Pope—who bow down before the apparent miracle and declare that it's impossible in principle to understand how consciousness could arise in a material brain, are responding exactly as Nature hoped they would, with shock and awe.
Can I prove it? It's difficult to prove any adaptationist account of why humans experience things the way they do. But here there is an added catch. The Catch-22 is that, just to the extent that Nature has succeeded in putting consciousness beyond the reach of rational explanation, she must have undermined the very possibility of showing that this is what she's done.
But nothing's perfect. There may be a loophole. While it may seem—and even be—impossible for us to explain how a brain process could have the quality of consciousness, it may not be at all impossible to explain how a brain process could (be designed to) give rise to the impression of having this quality. (Consider: we could never explain why 2 + 2 = 5, but we might relatively easily be able to explain why someone should be under the illusion that 2 + 2 = 5).
Do I want to prove it? That's a difficult one. If the belief that consciousness is a mystery is a source of human hope, there may be a real danger that exposing the trick could send us all to hell.
Humphrey mentions the 'hard problem.' David Chalmers formulates the 'hard problem' as follows: "Why is all this processing accompanied by an experienced inner life?" (The Conscious Mind, Oxford 1996, p. xii.) Essentially, the 'hard problem' is the qualia problem. To explain it in detail would require a separate post. Humphrey offers us an explanation of why the 'hard problem' is hard. It is hard because nature or natural selection -- Humphrey uses these terms interchangeably above -- meant it to be hard. Her purpose is to "fool us into thinking we are in the presence of an inexplicable mystery." She wants to fool us in order to "bolster human self-confidence and self-importance." How thoughtful of her. Of course, to say that she is fooling us implies that consciousness is not mysterious but just another natural occurrence.
Not only does Nature fool us into thinking that consciousness is mysterious, when it is not, she also makes it impossible for us to see that this is what she has done. But there may be a loophole: it may be possible to "explain how a brain process could be (designed to) give rise to the impression of having this quality," i.e., the quality of consciousness. By 'impression,' Humphrey means illusion as is clear from his arithmetical example. So what he is suggesting is that it may be possible to explain how brain processes could give rise to the illusion that there is consciousness, the illusion that brain processes have the quality of consciousness.
But this 'possibility' is a complete absurdity, a complete impossibility. For it is self-evident that illusions presuppose consciousness: an illusion cannot exist without consciousness. The 'cannot' expresses a very strong impossibility, broadly logical impossibility. The Germans have a nice proverb, Soviel Schein, so viel Sein. "So much seeming, so much being." The point being that you can't have Schein without Sein, seeming without being. It can't be seeming 'all the way down.'
The water espied by a parched hiker might be an illusion (a mirage), but it is impossible that consciousness be an illusion. For wherever there is illusion there is consciousness, and indeed the reality of consciousness, not the illusion of consciousness. If you said that the illusion of consciousness is an illusion for a consciousness that is itself an illusion you would be embarked upon a regress that was both infinite and vicious. Just as the world cannot be turtles all the way down, consciousness cannot be illusion all the way down.
In the case of the mirage one can and must distinguish between the seeming and the being. The being (reality) of the mirage consists of heat waves rising from the desert floor, whereas its seeming (appearance) involves a relation to a conscious being who mis-takes the heat waves for water. But conscious states, as Searle and I have been arguing ad nauseam lo these many years, are such that seeming and being, appearance and reality, coincide. For conscious qualia, esse est percipi. Consciousness cannot be an illusion since no sort of wedge can be driven between its appearance and its reality.
A French philosopher might say that consciousness 'recuperates itself' from every attempt to reduce it to the status of an illusion. The French philosopher would be right -- if interpreted in my more sober
It is also important to note how Humphrey freely helps himself to intentional and teleological language, all the while personifying Nature with a capital 'N.' Nature meant the hard problem to be hard, she had a purpose in fooling us. She fooled us. Etc. This is a typical mistake that many naturalists make. They presuppose the validity of the very categories (intentionality, etc.) that their naturalistic schemes would eliminate. How could they fail to presuppose them? After all, naturalists think about consciousness and other things, and they have a purpose in promoting their (absurd) theories.
There is no problem with using teleological talk as a sort of shorthand, but eventually it has to be cashed out: it has to be translated into 'mechanistic' talk. Eliminativists owe us a translation manual. In the absence of a translation manual, they can be charged with presupposing what they are trying to account for, and what is worse, ascribing meanings and purposes to something that could not possibly have them, namely, Natural Selection personified. What is the point of getting rid of God if you end up importing purposes into Natural Selection personified, or what is worse, into 'selfish' genes?
So Humphrey's statement is bullshit in the sense of being radically incoherent. It is pseudo-theory in the worst sense. One of the tasks of philosophers is to expose such pseudo-theory which, hiding behind scientific jargon (e.g, 'natural selection'), pretends to be scientific when it is only confused.
A central task of philosophy is the exposure of bad philosophy.
Alex Kealy (Institute of Art and Ideas, London) writes:
I'm getting in contact from the Institute of Art and Ideas in Britain as we've just released a video I thought you might be interested in. Called "The Mind's Eye", the video is of a discussion that took place at our philosophy festival HowTheLightGetsIn last year. The panel includes philosopher of mind Galen Strawson and evolutionary psychologist Nicholas Humphrey, and the debate focusses on the nature of the consciousness, whether the term soul is useful and if -- as Strawson alleges -- consciousness is merely an unproblematic result of certain combinations of physical elements. I know that in the past you've blogged on consciousness / qualia and so I thought you might perhaps be interested in posting a link to the video on your blog (it can be found at http://www.iai.tv/video/the-mind-s-eye ), if you find find it of interest and think it might appeal to your readers.
I don't have time now to watch the entire video, but from the opening frames it looks promising.
We are ignorant about ultimates and we will remain ignorant in this life. Perhaps on the Far Side we will learn what we cannot learn here. But whether there is survival of bodily death, and whether it will improve our epistemic position, are again things about which -- we will remain ignorant in this life.
It is admittedly strange to suppose that death is the portal to knowledge. But is it stranger than supposing that a being capable of knowledge simply vanishes with the breakdown of his body?
The incapacity of materialists to appreciate the second strangeness I attribute to their invincible body-identification.
Today I preach on a text from Joseph Joubert:
Light. It is a fire that does not burn. (Notebooks, 21)
Just as the eyes are the most spiritual of the bodily organs, light is the most spiritual of physical phenomena. And there is no light like the lambent light of the desert. The low humidity, the sparseness of vegetation that even in its arboreal forms hugs the ground, the long, long vistas that draw the eye out to shimmering buttes and mesas -- all of these contribute to the illusion that the light is alive. This light does not consume, like fire, but allows things to appear. It licks, like flames, but does not incinerate. ('Lambent' from Latin lambere, to lick.)
Light as phenomenon, as appearance, is not something merely physical. It is as much mind as matter. Without its appearance to mind it would not be what it, phenomenologically, is. But the light that allows rocks and coyotes to appear, itself appears. This seen light is seen within a clearing, eine Lichtung, which is light in a transcendental sense. But this transcendental light in whose light both illuminated objects and physical light appear, points back to the onto-theological Source of this transcendental light.
Augustine claims to have glimpsed this eternal Source Light upon entering into his "inmost being." Entering there, he saw with his soul's eye, "above that same eye of my soul, above my mind, an unchangeable light." He continues:
It was not this common light, plain to all flesh, nor a greater light of the same kind
. . . Not such was that light, but different, far different from all other lights. Nor was it above my mind, as oil is above water, or sky above earth. It was above my mind, because it made me, and I was beneath it, because I was made by it. He who knows the truth, knows that light, and he who knows it knows eternity. (Confessions, Book VII, Chapter 10)
'Light,' then, has several senses. There is the light of physics, which is but a theoretical posit. There is physical light as we see it, whether in the form of illuminated things such as yonder mesa, or sources of illumination such as the sun, or the lambent space between them. There is the transcendental light of mind without which nothing at all would appear. There is, above this transcendental light, its Source.
One could characterize a materialist as one who is blind to the light, except in the first of the four senses lately mentioned.
I am at the moment listening to Dennis Prager interview Dr. Eben Alexander. Prager asked him whether he now maintains, after his paranormal experiences, that consciousness is independent of the brain. Alexander made a striking reply: "We are conscious in spite of our brains." And then he made some remarks to the effect that the brain is a "reducing filter" or something like that.
That is to say much more than that consciousness can exist independently of the brain. For the latter would be true if consciousness existed in an attenuated form after the dissolution of the body and brain. Alexander is saying that embodiment severely limits our awareness.
Well, why couldn't that be true? Why is it less plausible than a form of materialism that views consciousness as somehow dependent on brain functioning and impossible without it?
Let us assume you are not a dogmatist: you don't uncritically adhere to the unprovable materialist framework assumption according to which consciousness just has to be brain-based. And let us assume that you don't have a quasi-religious faith that future science has wonderful revelations in store that will vindicate materialism/physicalism once and for all. By the way, I have always found it passing strange that people would "pin their hopes on future science." You mean to tell me that you hope you can be shown to be nothing more than a complex physical system slated for utter extinction!? That's what you hope for? It may in the end be true, but I for one cannot relate to the mentality of someone who would hope for such a thing. "I hope I am just a bag of chemicals to be punctured in a few years. Wouldn't it be awful if I had an higher destiny and that life actually had a meaning?"
But I digress. Let's assume you are not a dogmatist and not a quasi-religious believer in future science. Let's assume you are an open-minded inquirer like me. You are skeptical in the best sense: inquisitive but critical. Then I put the question to you: Can you show that the Alexander claim is less plausible that the materialist one?
I don't believe that there can be talk of proof either way, assuming you use 'proof' strictly. You have to decide what you will believe and how you will live. In the shadowlands of this life there is light enough and darkness enough to lend support to either answer, that of the mortalist and that of his opposite number.
So I advance to the consideration that for me clinches the matter. Bring the theoretical question back down to your Existenz. How will you live, starting right now and for the rest of your days? Will you live as if you will be utterly extinguished in a few years or will you live as if what you do and leave undone right now matters, really matters? Will you live as if life is serious, or will you live as if it is some sort of cosmic joke? Will you live as if something is at stake in this life, however dimly descried, or will you live as if nothing is ultimately at stake? It is your life. You decide.
Now suppose that when Drs. Mary Neal and Eben Alexander die the body's death, they become nothing. Suppose that their phenomenologically vivid paranormal experiences were revelatory of nothing real, that their experiences were just the imaginings of malfunctioning brains at the outer limits of biological life. What will they have lost by believing as they did?
Nothing! Nothing at all. You could of course say that they were wrong and were living in illusion. But no one will ever know one way or the other. And if the body's death is the last word then nothing ultimately matters, and so it can't matter that they were wrong if turns out that they were.
If they were right, however, then the moral transformation that their taking seriously of their experiences has wrought in them can be expected to redound to their benefit when they pass from this sphere.
I am beginning to feel a little sorry for Thomas Nagel. It looks as if the only favorable mainstream reviews he will receive for his efforts in Mind and Cosmos will be from theists. What excites the theists' approbation, of course, are not Nagel's positive panpsychist and natural-teleological suggestions, which remain within the ambit of naturalism, but his assault on materialist naturalism. As Alvin Plantinga writes in his excellent review, Why Darwinist Materialism is Wrong, "I applaud his formidable attack on materialist naturalism; I am dubious about panpsychism and natural teleology." And so Nagel's predicament, at least among reviewers in the philosophical mainstream, seems to be as follows. The naturalists will reject his book utterly, both in its negative and positive parts, while the theists will embrace the critique of materialist naturalism while rejecting his panpsychism and natural-teleologism.
Plantinga's review, like ancient Gaul, est in partes tres divisa.
In the first part, Plantinga take himself to be in agreement with Nagel on four points. (1) It is extremely improbable that life could have arisen from inanimate matter by the workings of the laws of physics and chemistry alone. (2) But supposing life has arisen, then natural selection can go to work on random genetic mutations. Still, it is incredible that that all the fantastic variety of life, including human beings, should have arisen in this way. (3) Materialist naturalism cannot explain consciousness. (4) Materialist naturalism cannot explain belief, cognition, and reason.
In the second part of his review, Plantinga discusses Nagel's rejection of theism. Apart from Nagel's honestly admitted temperamental disinclination to believe in God, Plantinga rightly sees Nagel's main substantive objection to theism to reside in theism's putative offense against the unity of the world. But at this point I hand off to myself. In my post Nagel's Reason for Rejecting Theism I give a somewhat more detailed account than does Plantinga of Nagel's rejection.
In the third part of his review, Plantina expresses his doubts about panpsychism and natural teleology. I tend to agree that there could not be purposes without a purposer:
As for natural teleology: does it really make sense to suppose that the world in itself, without the presence of God, should be doing something we could sensibly call “aiming at” some states of affairs rather than others—that it has as a goal the actuality of some states of affairs as opposed to others? Here the problem isn’t just that this seems fantastic; it does not even make clear sense. A teleological explanation of a state of affairs will refer to some being that aims at this state of affairs and acts in such a way as to bring it about. But a world without God does not aim at states of affairs or anything else. How, then, can we think of this alleged natural teleology?
Plantinga ends by suggesting that if it weren't for Nagel's antipathy to religion, his philosophical good sense would lead him to theism.
My posts on Nagel's book are collected here.
Addendum (11/19): In case you missed it, Nagel reviewed Plantinga.
This is the sixth in a series of posts, collected here, on Thomas Nagel's Mind and Cosmos (Oxford 2012). In my last post I suggested that Nagel needs a principle of plenitude in order to explain the actual existence, as opposed to the mere possibility, of rational organisms. But maybe not, maybe teleology will turn the trick for him. So we need to see what he says about teleology.
Nagel distinguishes "constitutive" from "historical" questions. What is reason? is an example of the former; How did reason arise? of the latter. Now one might wonder whether reason is the sort of thing that could arise. I am tempted to say that reason could no more arise than truth could arise, but then I'm a theist. Nagel, however, must hold that reason arises given his monism. As a monist, he maintains that there is exactly one world, this natural world.
Off the top of my head, I suggest we have at least six options concerning the nature and origin of reason.
A. Interventionist Theism. Reason didn't arise, but always existed. God is its prime instance and source. Reason in us did not arise or emerge from irrational or pre-rational elements but was implanted by God in us. It is part of what makes us of higher origin, an image and likeness of God.
B. Noninterventionist Deism. Reason didn't arise, but always existed. God is its prime instance and source. But God did not infuse or implant reason in certain animals at any point in the evolutionary process; what he did is rig up the world in such a way that rational animals would eventually emerge. Nagel mentions something like this possibility on p. 95.
C. Transcendental Subjectivism. Reason didn't arise, but neither is God its prime instance and source. Reaon is an a priori structure of our subjectivity, a transcendental presupposition without which we cannot carry out our cognitive operations. A view like this could be read out of Kant. A transcendental idealism as opposed to the Hegelian objective idealism that Nagel supports. (17)
D. Reason is a fluke. Reason arose, but it was a cosmic accident. That there are rational beings is simply a brute fact. Nagel rightly rejects this view.
E. Materialist evolutionary naturalism operating by "directionless physical law." (p. 91)
F. Nature-immanent non-intentional teleology.
Nagel rejects all of these options except the last. Unfortunately, Nagel's proposal is so sketchy it is hard to evaluate. To get a handle on it we need to study Nagel's final chapter on value in a separate post. According to natural teleology, the world has an in-built propensity to give rise to beings for whom there is a difference between what is good for them and what is bad for them. There is no agent who intends that such beings should arise; there is just this tendency toward them in nature below the level of mind. And so the explanation of the existence of such beings is not merely causal but teleological: there is is a sort of axiological requiredness in rerum natura that pulls as it were from the future these beings into existence. (See p. 121) This is my way of putting it.
This is the fifth in a series of posts, collected here, on Thomas Nagel's Mind and Cosmos. The question that concerns me in this entry is whether we can forge a link between the intelligibility of nature and the existence of rational beings.For Nagel, the existence of rational animals is not a brute fact or fluke or cosmic accident. Nagel's somewhat sketchy argument (see p. 86) is along these lines:
1. There are organisms capable of reason.
2. The possibility of such beings must have been there from the beginning.
3. This possibility, however, must be grounded in and explained by the nature of the cosmos.
4. What's more, the nature of the cosmos must explain not only the possibiity but also the actuality of rational animals: their occurrence cannot be a brute fact or cosmic accident.
I take Nagel to be maintaining that the eventual existence of some rational beings or other is no accident but is included in the nature of things from the beginning -- which is consistent with maintaining that there is an element of chance involved in the appearance of any particular instance of reason such as Beethoven. So eventually nature must produce beings capable of understanding it. We are such beings. "Each of our lives is part of the lengthy process of the universe waking up and becoming aware of itself." (85)
Nagel's thesis is not obvious. Why can't reason be a fluke? Even if we grant Nagel that the intelligibility of nature could not have been a fluke or brute fact, how does it follow that the actual existence of some rational beings or other, beings capable of 'glomming onto' the world's intelligible structure, is not a fluke? Nagel's argument needs some 'beefing up' so that it can meet this demand.
1. Let's start with the idea that nature is intelligible. Why? That the world is intelligible is a presupposition of all inquiry. The quest for understanding rests on the assumption that the world is understandable, and indeed by us. The most successful form of this quest is natural science. The success of the scientific quest is evidence that the presupposition holds and is not merely a presupposition we make. The scientific enterprise reveals to us an underlying intelligible order of things not open to perception alone, although of course the confirmation of scientific theories requires perception and the various instruments that extend it.
2. Now what explains this underlying rational order? Two possibilities. One is that nothing does: it's a brute fact. It just happens to be the case that the world is understandable by us, but it might not have been. The rational order of things underpins every explanation but itself has no explanation. The other possibility is that the rational order has an explanation, in which case it has an explanation by something distinct from it, or else is self-explanatory. On theism, the world's rational order is grounded in the divine intellect and is therefore explained by God. On what I take to be Nagel's view, the rational order is self-explanatory, a necessary feature of anything that could count as a cosmos.
Nagel views the intelligibility of the world as "itself part of the deepest explanation why things are as they are." (17). Now part of the way things are is that they are understandable by us. Given that the way things are is intelligible, it follows that the intelligibility of the world is self-explanatory or self-grounding.
Our second premise, then, is that the intelligibilty of the world is self-explanatory, hence a necessary feature of anything that could count as a cosmos.
3. Our third premise is that intelligibility is an an inherently mind-involving notion. Necessarily, if x is intelligible, then x is intelligible to some actual or possible mind. Nothing is understandable unless it is at least possible that there exist some being with the power of understanding.
The conjunction of these three premises entails the possibility of rational beings, but not the actuality of them. There would seem to be a gap in Nagel's reasoning. The world is intelligible, and its intelligibility is a necessary feature of it. From this we can infer that, necessarily, if the cosmos exists, then it is possible that there be rational beings. But that is as far as we can get with these three premises.
4. What Nagel seems to need is a principle of plenitude that allows us to pass from the possibility of rational beings to their actual existence. J. Hintikka has ascribed to Aristotle a form of the principle according to which every genuine possibility must at some time become actual. This would do the trick, but to my knowledge Nagel make no mention of any such principle.
5. I suggest that theism is in a better position when it comes to explaining how both intelligibility and mind are non-accidental. Intelligibility is grounded in the divine intellect which necessarily exists. So there must be at least one rational being. We exist contingently, but the reason in us derives from a noncontingent source.
One aspect of contemporary scientism is the notion that great insights are to be gleaned from neuroscience about the mind and its operations. If you want my opinion, the pickin's are slim indeed and confusions are rife. This is your brain on prayer:
A test subject is injected with a dye that allows the researcher to study brain activity while the subject is deep in prayer/meditation. The red in the language center and frontal lobe areas indicates greater brain activity when the subject is praying or meditating as compared to the baseline when he is not. But when atheists "contemplate God" -- which presumably means when they think about the concept of God, a concept that they, as atheists, consider to be uninstantiated -- "Dr. Newberg did not observe any of the brain activity in the frontal lobe that he observed in religious people."
Dr. Newberg concludes that all religions create neurological experiences, and while God is unimaginable for atheists, for religious people, God is as real as the physical world. "So it helps us to understand that at least when they [religious people] are describing it to us, they are really having this kind of experience... This experience is at least neurologically real."
First of all, why do we need a complicated and expensive study to learn this? It is well-known that serious and sincere practioners of religions will typically have various experiences as a result of prayer and meditation. (Of course most prayer and meditation time is 'dry' -- but experiences eventually come.) The reality of these experiences as experiences cannot be doubted from the first-person point of view of the person who has them. There is no need to find a neural correlate in the brain to establish the reality of the experience qua experience. The experiences are real whether or not neural correlates can be isolated, and indeed whether or not there are any.
Suppose no difference in brain activity is found as between the religionists and the atheists when the former do their thing and the latter merely think about the God concept. (To call the latter "contemplating God" is an absurd misuse of terminology.) What would that show? Would it show that there is no difference between the religionists' experiences and the atheists'? Of course not. The difference is phenomenologically manifest, and, as I said, there is no need to establish the "neurological reality" of the experiences to show that they really occur.
Now I list some possible confusions into which one might fall when discussing a topic like this.
Confusion #1: Conflating the phenomenological reality of a religious experience as experienced with its so-called "neurological reality." They are obviously different as I've already explained.
Confusion #2: Conflating the religious experience with its neural correlate, the process in the brain or CNS on which the experience causally depends. Epistemically, they cannot be the same since they are known in different ways. The experience qua experience is known with certainty from the first-person point of view. The neural correlate is not. One cannot experience, from the first-person point of view, one's own brain states as brain states. Ontically, they cannot be the same either, and this for two sorts of reasons. First, the qualitative features of the experiences cannot be denied, but they also cannot be identified with anything physical. This is the qualia problem. Second, religious/mystical experiences typically exhibit that of-ness or aboutness, that directedness-to-an-object, that philosophers call intentionality. No physical states have this property.
Confusion #3: Conflating a religious entity with its concept, e.g., confusing God with the concept of God. This is why it is slovenly and confused to speak of "contemplating God" when one is merely thinking about the concept of God. The journalist and/or the neuroscientist seem to be succumbing to this confusion.
Confusion #4: Conflating an experience (an episode or act of experiencing) with its intentional object. Suppose one feels the presence of God. Then the object is God. But God is not identical to the experience. For one thing, numerically different experiences can be of the same object. The object is distinct from the act, and the act from the object. The holds even if the intentional object does not exist. Suppose St Theresa has an experience of the third person of the Trinity, but there is no such person. That doesn't affect the act-object structure of the experience. After all, the act does not lose its intentional directedness because the object does not exist.
Confusion #5: Conflating the question whether an experience 'takes an object' with the question whether the object exists.
Confusion #6: Conflating reality with reality-for. There is no harm is saying that God is real for theists, but not real for atheists if all one means is that theists believe that God is real while atheists do not. Now if one believes that p, it does not follow that p is true. Likewise, if God is real for a person it doesn't follow that God is real, period. One falls into confusion if one thinks that the reality of God for a person shows that God is real, period.
We find this confusion at the end of the video clip. "And if God only exists in our brains, that does not mean that God is not real. Our brains are where reality crystallizes for us."
This is confused nonsense. First of all God cannot exist in our brains. Could the creator of the universe be inside my skull? Second, it would also be nonsense to say that the experience of God is in our brains for the reasons give in #2 above. Third, if "God exists only in our brains" means that the experience of God is phenomenologically real for those who have it, but that the intentional object of this experience does not exist, then it DOES mean that God is not real.
Confusion #7: Conflating the real with the imaginable. We are told that "God is unimaginable for atheists." But that is true of theists as well: God, as a purely spiritual being, can be conceived but not imagined. To say that God is not real is not to say that God is unimaginable, and to say that something (a flying horse, e.g.) is imaginable is not to say that it is real.
What I am objecting to is not neuroscience, which is a wonderful subject worth pursuing to the hilt. What I am objecting is scientism, in the present case neuroscientism, the silly notion that learning more and more about a hunk of meat is going to give us real insight into the mind and is operations and is going to solve the philosophical problems in the vicinity.
What did we learn from the article cited? Nothing. We don't need complicated empirical studies to know that religious experiences are real. What the article does is sow seeds of confusion. One of the confusions the article sows is that the question of the veridicality of religious experiences can be settled by showing their "neurological reality." Neither the phenomenological nor the neurological reality of the experience qua experience entails the reality of the object of the experience.
Genuine science cannot rest on conceptual foundations that are thoroughly confused.
This is the fourth in a series of posts on Thomas Nagel's Mind and Cosmos (Oxford 2012). The posts are conveniently collected under the rubric Nagel, Thomas. Before proceeding with my account of Chapter 4, I will pause in this entry to consider Elliot Sober's serious, substantial, and sober Boston Review review. Sober's sobriety lapses only in the subtitle (which may have been supplied by the editor): "Ending Science as We Know It."
According to Sober, Nagel " . . . argues that evolutionary biology is fundamentally flawed and that physics also needs to be rethought—that we need a new way to do science." This seems to me to misrepresent Nagel's project. His project is not to "end science as we know it" but to indicate the limits of scientific explanation. A legitimate philosophical task is to investigate the limits of even the most successful sciences. (4) Now, to investigate and point out the limits of evolutionary biology and physics is not to argue that they are "fundamentally flawed." They do what they are supposed to do, and the fact that they do not, or cannot, explain certain phenomena that certain scientistically inclined people would like them to explain, is no argument against them. After all, physics cannot explain the proliferation of living species, but that is no argument against physics. If evolutionary biology cannot explain how consciousness arises in certain organisms or the objectively binding character or normative judgments, that is no argument against evolutonary biology. To oppose Darwinian imperialism as Nagel does is not to oppose Darwinism. To suppose that every gap in our understanding can be filled with a Darwinian explanation is rightly ridiculed as "Darwinism of the gaps." (127)
Nagel's targets are not existing successful sciences. He tells us right at the outset what his target is (bolding added): "My target is a comprehensive, speculative world picture that is reached by extrapolation from some of the discoveries of biology, chemistry, and physics -- a particular naturalistic Weltanschauung that postulates a hierarchical relation among the subjects of those sciences, and the completeness in principle of an explanation of everything in the universe through their unification." (4) He goes on to characterize this worldview as "materialist reductionism" and "reductive materialism."
Nagel is therefore not opposing any science but rather a philosophical position, materialist reductionism, that is reached by a speculative-philosophical extrapolation from some of the results of the sciences.
Although Nagel admits that there are some brute facts, mind, the intelligibility of the world, and the fact that there are conscious organisms (45) are not among them. Mind is not an accident or fluke (16) and "The intelligibility of the world is no accident." One of the limits of current evolutionary theory is that it cannot explain why these remarkable fact are non-accidental. Sober does not understand why, if some facts are brute, the remarkable facts of mind, intelligibilty and consciousness are not among them:
My philosophical feelings diverge from Nagel’s. I think that Beethoven’s existence is remarkable, but I regard it as a fluke. He could easily have failed to exist. Indeed, my jaded complacency about Beethoven scales up. I don’t think that life, intelligence, and consciousness had to be in the cards from the universe’s beginning. I am happy to leave this question to the scientists. If they tell me that these events were improbable, I do not shake my head and insist that the scientists must be missing something. There is no such must. Something can be both remarkable and improbable.
Sober seems to be imputing to Nagel the following argument:
What is remarkable cannot be improbable.
Life, consciousness, reason, etc. are remarkable
Life, consciousness, reason, etc. cannot be improbable.
Now this is an unsound argument, of course: Beethoven's existence was remarkable but improbable. But this is not the way Nagel is arguing. He needn't be read as denying that there is an element of chance in the appearance of Beethoven, a particular instance of life, consciousness, and reason. His point is rather that consciousness and reason in general cannot be cosmic accidents. Sober ignores what is specific to reason, and views it as just another remarkable fact. Nagel's actual argument (see p. 86) is rather along these lines:
1. There are organisms capable of reason.
2. The possibility of such beings must have been there from the beginning.
3. This possibility, however, must be grounded in and explained by the nature of the cosmos.
4. What's more, the nature of the cosmos must explain not only the possibiity but also the actuality of rational animals: their occurrence cannot be a brute fact or accident.
I take Nagel to be maintaining that the eventual existence of some rational beings or other is no accident -- which is consistent with maintaining that there is an element of chance involved in the appearance of any particular instance of reason such as Beethoven.
Of course, Sober will still balk. Why can't reason be a fluke? Even if we grant Nagel that the intelligibility of nature could not have been a fluke or brute fact, how does it follow that the actual existence of some rational beings or other, beings capable of 'glomming onto' the world's intelligible structure, is not a fluke? In a later post I will try to beef up Nagel's argument so that it can meet this demand.
For now, though, we have a stand-off. Nagel has this deep sense, which I share, that "rational intelligibility is at the root of the natural order . . . ." (17) Sober in his sobriety does not share that sense.
There is more to Sober's criqiue than this, but this is enough for today.
This is the third in a series of posts on Thomas Nagel's Mind and Cosmos (Oxford 2012). The first is an overview, and the second addresses Nagel's reason for rejecting theism. This post will comment on some of the content in Chapter 4, "Cognition."
In Chapter 4, Nagel tackles the topic of reason, both theoretical and practical. The emphasis is on theoretical reason, with practical reason receiving a closer treatment in the following chapter entitled "Value."
We have already seen that consciousness presents a problem for evolutionary reductionism due to its irreducibly subjective character. (For some explanation of this irreducibly subjective character, see my Like, What Does It Mean?)
'Consciousness' taken narrowly refers to phenomenal consciousness, pleasures, pains, emotions, and the like, but taken widely it embraces also thought, reasoning and evaluation. Sensory qualia are present in nonhuman animals, but only we think, reason, and evaluate. We evaluate our thoughts as either true or false, our reasonings as either valid or invalid, and our actions as either right or wrong, good or bad. These higher-level capacities can be possessed only by beings that are also conscious in the narrow sense. Thus no computer literally thinks or reasons or evaluates the quality of its reasoning imposing norms on itself as to how it ought to reason if it is to arrive at truth; at best computers simulate these activities. Talk of computers thinking is metaphorical. This is a contested point, of course. But if mind is a biological phenomenon as Nagel maintains, then this is not particularly surprising.
What makes consciousness fascinating is that while it is irreducibly subjective, it is also, in its higher manifestations, transcensive of subjectivity. (This is my formulation, not Nagel's.) Mind is not trapped within its interiority but transcends it toward impersonal objectivity, the "view from nowhere." Consciousness develops into "an instrument of transcendence that can grasp objective reality and objective value." (85) Both sides of mind, the subjective and the objective, pose a problem for reductive naturalism. "It is not merely the subjectivity of thought but its capacity to transcend subjectivity and to dsiscover what is objectively the case that presents a problem." (72)
Exactly right! One cannot prise apart the two sides of mind, segregating the qualia problem from the intentionality problem, calling the former 'hard' and imagining the latter to be solved by some functionalist analysis. It just won't work. The so-called Hard Problem is actually insoluble on reductive naturalism, and so is the intentionality problem. (Some who appreciate this go eliminativist -- which is a bit like getting rid of a headache by blowing one's brains out.)
The main problem Nagel deals with in this chapter concerns the reliability of reason. Now it is a given that reason is reliable, though not infallible, and that it is a source of objective knowledge. The problem is not whether reason is reliable as a source of knowledge, but how it it is possible for reason to be reliable if evolutionary naturalism is true. I think it is helpful to divide this question into two:
Q1. How can reason be reliable if materialist evolutionary naturalism is true?
Q2. How can reason be reliable if evolutionary naturalism is true?
Let us not forget that Nagel himself is an evolutionary naturalist. He is clearly a naturalist as I explained in my first post, and he does not deny the central tenets of the theory of evolution. His objections are to reductive materialism (psychophysical reductionism) and not to either naturalism or evolution. Now Nagel is quite convinced, and I am too, that the answer to (Q1) is that it is not possible for reason to be relied upon in the manner in which we do in fact rely upon it, if materialism is true. The open question for Nagel is (Q2). Reason is reliable, and some version of evolutionary naturalism is also true. The problem is to understand how it is possible for both of them to be true.
Now in this post I am not concerned with Nagel's tentative and admttedly speculative answer to (Q2). I hope to take that up in a subsequent post. My task at present is to understand why Nagel thinks that it is not possible for reason to be reliable if materialism is true.
Suppose we contrast seeing a tree with grasping a truth by reason.
Vision is for the most part reliable: I am, for the most part, justified in believing the evidence of my senses. And this despite the fact that from time to time I fall victim to perceptual illusions. My justification is in no way undermined if I think of myself and my visual system as a product of Darwinian natural selection. "I am nevertheless justified in believing the evidence of my senses for the most part, because this is consistent with the hypothesis that an accurate representation of the world around me results from senses shaped by evolution to serve that function." (80)
Now suppose I grasp a truth by reason. (E.g., that I must be driving North because the rising sun is on my right.) Can the correctness of this logical inference be confirmed by the reflection that the reliability of logical thinking is consistent with the hypothesis that evolution has selected instances of such thinking for accuracy?
No, says Nagel and for a very powerful reason. When I reason I engage in such operations as the following: I make judgments about consistency and inconsistency; draw conclusions from premises; subsume particulars under universals, etc. So if I judge that the reliability of reason is consistent with an evolutionary explanation of its origin, I presuppose the reliability of reason in making this very judgement. Nagel writes:
It is not possible to think, "reliance on my reason, including my reliance on this very judgment, is reasonable because it is consistent with its having an evolutionary explanation." Therefore any evolutionary account of the place of reason presupposes reason's validity and cannot confirm it without circularity. (80-81)
Nagel's point is that the validity of reason can neither be confirmed nor undermined by any evolutionary account of its origins. Moreover, if reason has a merely materialist origin it would not be reliable, for then its appearance would be a fluke or accident. And yet reason is tied to organisms just as consciousness is. Nagel faces the problem of explaining how reason can be what it is, an "instrument of transcendence" (85) and a "final court of appeal" (83), while also being wholly natural and a product of evolution. I'll address this topic in a later post.
Why can't reason be a cosmic accident, a fluke? This is discussed in my second post linked to above, though I suspect I will be coming back to it.
This is the second in a series. My overview of Thomas Nagel's new book, Mind and Cosmos, is here.
I agree with Nagel that mind is not a cosmic accident. Mind in all of its ramifications (sentience, intentionality, self-awareness, cognition, rationality, normativity in general) could not have arisen from mindless matter. To put it very roughly, and in my own way, mind had to be there already and all along in one way or another. Not an "add-on" as Nagel writes, but "a basic aspect of nature." (16)
Two ways mind could have been there already and all along are Nagel's panpsychistic way and the theistic way. My task in this entry is to understand and then evaluate Nagel's reasons for rejecting theism.
But first let's back up a step and consider the connection between mind and intelligibility. That the world is intelligible is a presupposition of all inquiry. The quest for understanding rests on the assumption that the world is understandable, and indeed by us. The most successful form of this quest is natural science. The success of the scientific quest is evidence that the presupposition holds and is not merely a presupposition we make. The scientific enterprise reveals to us an underlying intelligible order of things not open to perception alone, although of course the confirmation of scientific theories requires perception and the various instruments that extend it.
Now what explains this underlying rational order? Two possibilities. One is that nothing does: it's a brute fact. It just happens to be the case that the world is understandable by us, but it might not have been. The rational order of things underpins every explanation but itself has no explanation. The other possibility is that the rational order has an explanation, in which case it has an explanation by something distinct from it, or else is self-explanatory. On theism, the world's rational order is grounded in the divine intellect and is therefore explained by God. On what I take to be Nagel's view, the rational order is self-explanatory, a necessary feature of anything that could count as a cosmos.
Nagel views the intelligibility of the world as "itself part of the deepest explanation why things are as they are." (17). Now part of the way things are is that they are understandable by us. Given that the way things are is intelligible, it follows that the intelligibility of the world is self-explanatory or self-grounding.
"The intelligibility of the world is no accident." (17) The same is true of mind. The two go together: an intelligible world is one that is intelligible to mind, and mind is mind only if it can 'glom onto' an antecedent order of things. (This is my way of putting it, not Nagel's!) Intelligibility is necessarily mind-involving, and mind (apart from mere qualia) is necessarily an understanding of something. One could say that there is an antecedent community of nature between mind and world which allows mind to have an object to understand and the world to be understandable by mind. What I am calling the antecedent community of nature between mind and world Nagel expresses by saying that "nature is such as to give rise to conscious beings with minds; and it is such as to be comprehensible to such beings." (17)
That neither mind nor intelligibility are cosmic accidents, and that they 'go together' as just explained could be accepted by both Nagelian panpsychists and theists. So why does Nagel reject theism?
His main reason seems to be couched in the following quotations:
. . . the disadvantage of theism as an answer to the desire for comprehensive understanding is not that it offers no explanations but that it does not do so in the form of a comprehensive account of the natural order. [. . .] But it would not be the kind of understanding that explains how beings like us fit into the world. The kind of intelligibility that would still be missing is intelligibility of the natural order itself -- intelligibility from within. (25-26)
Nagel does not do a very good job of presenting his argument clearly, but the following is what I take him to be driving at.
Materialism cannot explain the origin of life from inanimate matter, the origin of consciousness from pre-conscious life, or the origin of reason in conscious beings. Nondeistic theism can explain these crucial transitions by means of divine interventions into the workings of nature. (Deism would leave the crucial transitions as brute facts and is rejectable for this reason.) To subscribe to such interventionist hypotheses, however, is to deny that there is a comprehensive natural order. Nature would not be intelligible from within itself, in its own terms. So maybe Nagel's argument could be put like this:
1. Nature is immanently intelligible: it has the source of its intelligibility entirely within itself and not from a source outside itself.
2. On theism, nature is not immanently intelligible: God is the source of nature's intelligibility. (This is because divine intervention is needed to explain the crucial transitions to life, to consciousness, and to reason, transitions which otherwise would be unintelligible.)
3. Theism suffers from a serious defect that make it reasonable to pursue a third course, panpsychism, as a way to avoid both materialism and theism.
Now I've put the matter more clearly than Nagel does, but I'd be surprised if this is not what he is arguing, at least on pp 25-26.
As for evaluation, the argument as presented is reasonable but surely not compelling. A theist needn't be worried by it. He could argue that it begs the question at the first premise. How divine interventions into the course of nature are so much as possible is of course a problem for theists, but Plantinga has an answer for that. The theist can also go on the attack and mount a critique of panpsychism, a fit topic for future posts.
There is also the question of why the cosmos exists at all. It is plausible to maintain that the cosmos is necessarily intelligible, that it wouldn't be a cosmos if it weren't. But necessary intelligibility is consistent with contingent existence. Will Nagel say that the cosmos necessarily exists? How would he ground that? Panpsychism, if tenable, will relieve us of the dualisms of matter-life, life-consciousness, mind-body. But it doesn't have the resources to explain the very existence of the cosmos.
I think I shall have to write a number of posts on this exciting and idea-rich book by one of our best philosophers. Here is the first.
Short (128 pp.) and programmatic, Thomas Nagel's new book explores the prospects of an approach in the philosophy of mind that is naturalistic yet not materialistic. His approach is naturalistic in that he locates the source of the world's intelligibility in it, and not in a transcendent being such as God outside it. As Nagel rightly observes, "Theism pushes the quest for intelligibility outside the world." (p. 45)
Nagel's approach is also naturalistic in that he views mind as a biological phenomenon as it could not be if substance dualism were true. But while naturalistic, Nagel also rejects "psychophysical reductionism" or "reductive materialism." Thus he rejects naturalism as currently articulated without embracing any form of anti-naturalism such as theism. Nagel, we might say, seeks a middle path between theistic anti-naturalism and materialistic naturalism. The latter is just materialism which Nagel defines as follows:
Materialism is the view that only the physical world is irreducibly real, and that a place must be found in it for mind, if there is such a thing. This would continue the onward march of physical science, through molecular biology, to full closure by swallowing up the mind in the objective physical reality from which it was initially excluded. (37)
This is a useful definition. Materialism is either eliminativist or reductivist. Now obviously there is such a thing as mind, so eliminativism is not an option. (41) My arguments against it here. So the materialist must try to show that mind belongs to objective physical reality and that everything about it is understandable in the way everything else in objective physical reality is understandable. In this way materialism closes upon itself, explaining not only the world the mind engages, but the engaging mind itself. I agree with Nagel that reductive materialism is untenable.
Treading his via media between theism and materialism, Nagel reopens the case for neutral monism and panpsychism. How does he get to these positions? This is what I will try to figure out in this post.
Mind is a biological phenomenon. We are organisms in nature, not Cartesian egos contingently attached to physical bodies. But we are conscious organisms. We are subjects of such qualitative states as pleasure and pain, and we are individuals with a subjective point of view. If psychophysical reductionism fails, as both Nagel and I maintain, then physical science, even if it can explain our existence as organisms adapted to an environment, cannot explain our existence as conscious organisms. We are not just objects in the world, we are subjects for whom there is a world. Even if the first fact can be adequately explained by physical science, the second, our subjectivity, cannot be.
Given the failure of psychophysical reductionism, and given that mind is a biological phenomenon encountered only in conscious organisms that have evolved from pre-conscious organisms, evolutionary theory cannot be a purely physical theory. (44) The 'makings' of conscious organsims must already be present in pre-conscious life forms. In this way the mind-body problem spreads to the entire cosmos and its history. Thus "the mind-body problem is not just a local problem" that concerns such minded organisms as ourselves. (3)
Inanimate matter evolved into pre-conscious life forms, and these evolved into conscious life forms. Since conscious organisms qua conscious cannot be understood materalistically, the same is true of pre-conscious life forms: the reduction of biology to physics and chemistry will also fail. This is because life must contain within it the 'makings' of consciousness. That is my way of putting it, not Nagel's.
Turning it around the other way, if we are to have an adequate naturalistic explanation of conscious organisms, then this cannot be "a purely physical explanation." (44) And so Nagel floats the suggestion of a global (as opposed to local) neutral monism "according to which the constituents of the universe have properties that explain not only its [mental life's] physical but its mental character." (56) Conscious organisms are composed of the same ultimate stuff as everything else is. For this reason, neutral monism cannot be kept local but goes global or "universal." (57) The idea, I take it, is that even the merely physical is proto-mental, the merely living being even more so. When conscious organisms arrive on the scene, the proto-mental constituents achieve an arrangement and composition that amounts to mental life as we know it.
Now how do we get from this universal neutral monism to panpsychism? Well, a universal neutral monism just is panpsychism: the ultimate constituents of nature are all of them proto-mental. Mind is everywhere since everything is composed of the same proto-mental constituents. But it is equally true that matter is everywhere since there is nothing mental or proto-mental that is not also physical.
Thus we arrive at a position that is neither theistic nor reductively materialistic.
Let me now try to list the key premises/assumptions in Nagel's argument for his panpsychistic naturalism.
1. Consciousness is real. Eliminativist materialism is a complete non-starter.
2. Naturalism: Consciousness occurs only in conscious organisms, hence cannot occur without physical realization. Mind is a biological phenomenon. No God, no Cartesian minds. No substance dualism, no theism.
3. Reductive Materialism (psychophysical reductionism) is untenable.
4. Consciousness cannot be a brute fact. Mind is not an accident but "a basic aspect of nature." (16) It cannot be that consciousness just inexplicably occurred at a certain point in evolutionary history when organisms of a certain physical complexity appeared. The arrival of conscious organisms needs an explanation, and this explanation cannot be an explanation merely of their physical character. It must also explain their mental character. But this materialism cannot do. Hence "materialism is incomplete even as a theory of the physical world, since the physical world includes conscious organisms as its most striking occupants." (45)
5. Nature is intelligible. Its intelligibility is inherent in it and thus not imposed on it by us or by God. The intelligibility of nature is not a brute fact: nature doesn't just happen, inexplicably, to possess a rational order that is understandable by us. I take Nagel's position to be that intelligibility is a necessary feature of anything that could count as a cosmos. Thus it needs no explanation and surely cannot have a materialist one: it cannot possibly be the case that the intelligibility of nature arose at some time in the past via the operation of material causes. The universe is so constituted as to be understandable, and we, as parts of it, are so constituted as to be able to understand it. (16-17)
I accept all of these propositions except (2). So in a subsequent post I must examine whether Nagel's case against theism is stronger than his case for his panpsychism.
In his latest and last book, Mortality, Christopher Hitchens writes, "I don't have a body, I am a body." (86) He goes on to observe that he has "consciously and regularly acted as if this was [sic] not true." It is a curious fact that mortalists are among the worst abusers of the fleshly vehicle. But that is not my theme.
Is a person just his body? The meditation is best conducted in the first person: Am I just my body? Am I identical to my body? Am I one and the same with my body, where body includes brain? Am I such that, whatever is true of my body is true of me, and vice versa? Let's start with some 'Moorean facts,' some undeniable platitudes.
1. I am not now identical to a dead body, a corpse. There is, no doubt, a dead body in my future, one with my name on it. But that lifeless object won't be me. I will never become a corpse. I will never be buried or cremated. I am not now and never will be identical to a dead body. For when the corpse with my name on it comes to exist, I will have ceased to exist; and when I cease to exist, it will still exist. This property difference via the Indiscernibility of Identicals entails the non-identity of me and 'my' corpse.
'My' corpse is the corpse that will come into existence when I cease to exist, or, if mortalism is false, when I am separated from my body. Strictly speaking, no corpse is my corpse: hence the scare quotes around 'my.' But I can speak strictly of my body: my body is the body that is either identical to me, or is related to me in some 'looser' way.
2. I am obviously not identical to a dead body. And I have just argued that I will never become identical to a dead body. Am I then identical to a living body? Not if the following syllogism is sound: My living body will become a dead body; I will never become a dead body; therefore, I am not identical to a living body.
This argument assumes that if x = y, then whatever is true of x is true of y, and vice versa. Little is self-evident, but surely this principle is self-evident. There is something true of my living body that is not true of me, namely 'will become a dead body.' Therefore, I am not identical to a living body. And since the only living body I could be identical to if I were identical to a living body would be my living body, I am not identical to my living body. Of course, I have a living body in some to-be-explored sense of 'have'; the point is that I am not identical to it.
3. Consider now the following rather more plausible identity claim: I am (identically) a self-conscious animal. Let's unpack this. I am a living human animal that says 'I' and means it; I am a thinker of I-thoughts, an example of which is the thought *I am just a self-conscious animal.* I am self-aware: aware of myself as an object, both as a physical object, a body, through the five outer senses, and as psychological object, a mind, through inner sense or introspection. Both my body and my mind are objects for me as subject. As such a self-aware animal, I am aware of being different from my body. In some sense I must be different from my body (and my mind) if they are my objects. 'My objects' means 'objects for me as subject.'
Now if you were paying attention you noticed that I made an inferential move the validity of which demands scrutiny. I moved from
a. I am aware of being different from my body
b. I am different from my body.
The materialist is bound to resist this inference. He will ask how we know that the awareness mentioned in (a) is veridical. Only if it is, is the inference valid. He will suggest that it is possible that I have an non-veridical, an illusory, awareness of being different from my body. I can't credit that suggestion, however. It cannot be an illusion that I am different from anything I take as object of awareness including my brain or any part of my brain. That is a primary and indubitable givenness. Awareness is by its very nature awareness of something: it implies a difference between that which is aware, the subject of awareness, and the object of awareness. Without that difference there could be no awareness of anything. If the self-aware subject were identical to that object which is its animal body, then the subject would not be aware of the body.
4. Will you say that the body is aware of itself? Then I will ask you which part of the body is the subject of awareness. Is it the brain, or a proper part of the brain? When I am aware of my weight or the cut on my arm, is it the brain or some proper part of the brain that is aware of these things? This makes no sense. My brain is no more the subject of awareness than my glasses are. My glasses don't see the wound; I see the wound by the instrumentality of the glasses. Similarly, my brain doesn't see the wound; I see the wound by the instrumentality of the brain (and the visual cortex, and the optic nerves, and the glasses, etc.) The fact that my visual awareness is causally dependent on my having a functioning brain does not show that my brain or any part of it is the subject of awareness. I am not identical to my brain or to any bodily thing.
5. Who or what asks the question: Am I identical to this body here? Does the body ask this question? Some proper part of the body such as the brain? Some proper part of this proper part? How could anything physical ask a question?
"Look, there are are certain physical objects that ask themselves whether they are identical to the physical objects they are, and entertain the (illusory) thought that they might not be identical to the physical objects they are."
This little materialist speech is absurd by my lights since no physical object -- as we are given to understand 'physical object' by physics -- could do such a thing. If you insist that some physical objects can, then you have inflated 'physical' so that it no longer contrasts with 'mental.'
So with all due respect to the late Mr Hitchens, brilliant talker about ideas whose depth he never plumbed, I think there are very good reasons to deny that one is identically one's body.
Further questions: If I am not identical to any physical thing, can it be inferred that I am identical to some spiritual thing? If I am not identical to my body or any part thereof, do I then have a body, and what exactly does that mean?
If the reality of spirit and the reality of free will cannot be encountered in ourselves, in the depths of our subjectivity, why should we think that they can be encountered outside ourselves -- in God, for example?
I don't understand those who attempt to combine theism with materialism about the human mind. I don't deny that it is a logically possible combination. But mere absence of formal-logical contradiction is no guarantee of metaphysical coherence. (I develop the thought in "Could a Classical Theist be a Physicalist?" Faith and Philosophy, vol. 15, no. 2, April 1998, pp. 160-180.)
If reality has a spiritual core we will be able to learn about it only by studying ourselves, by plumbing our subjective depths, not by reducing self to not-self, not by trying to understand spirit and consciousness in material terms. They cannot be understood in those terms, and attempts to do so end up eliminating the very means of access -- mind and language -- to the material world.
London Ed says that reincarnation is logically possible. I agree. For my use of the first-person singular pronoun does not refer to my (animated) body alone. Surely I am not identical to my body. If I were, then reincarnation would be logically impossible. As Ed says, there is nothing in the sense or reference of 'I' that entails such an identity. But then Ed says this:
That's not to countenance disembodied egos or anything like that. The possibility of reincarnation does not require there to be a disembodied referent for 'I'. But if there are no disembodied egos, and if reincarnation takes place some time after the death of the previous body, there has to be a time when the 'I' does not exist.
There is a problem here. Suppose I existed 100 years ago with body B1, but I now exist with a numerically different body B2. After B1 ceased to exist, I ceased to exist, but then I began to exist again when B2 came into existence. It would follow that I had two beginnings of existence. But it is not plausible to suppose that any one thing could have two beginnings of existence. John Locke famously maintained (emphasis added):
When therefore we demand whether anything be the same or no, it refers always to something that existed such a time in such a place, which it was certain, at that instant, was the same with itself, and no other. From whence it follows, that one thing cannot have two beginnings of existence, nor two things one beginning; it being impossible for two things of the same kind to be or exist in the same instant, in the very same place; or one and the same thing in different places.
The problem can be cast in the mold of an aporetic triad:
1. It is logically possible that one and the same self (ego, I) have two consecutive but non-overlapping numerically distinct bodies.
2. There are no unembodied or disembodied referents of uses of the first-person singular pronoun.
3. It is not logically possible that one and the same thing have two beginnings of existence.
Each of the limbs of the triad is plausible and yet they cannot all be true. Any two, taken together, entails the negation of the remaining one. Thus (2) and (3), taken in conjunction, entails the negation of (1).
If Ed wants to hold both (1) and (2), then he must reject (3). I would hold (1) and (3) and reject (2).
But is there any good reason to prefer my solution over Ed's?
(1) makes a very weak claim, merely one of logical possibility. So I don't see that it can be reasonably denied. Admittedly, this needs further arguing.
Both 'I' and 'ego' are pronouns. Both both Ed and I are using them as nouns. Is there are problem with that?