The Craig/Rosenberg Debate, Part One

Philosophers William Lane Craig and Alexander Rosenberg recently debated everyone’s favorite question: the existence of God. You can find the video here. The entire event is close to three hours long, and so I have not yet watched the whole thing. I watched the twenty-minute opening statements, and then did a bit of random sampling from the remainder of the debate. Just in case you’re not familiar with these gentlemen, Craig is the theist and Rosenberg is the atheist.

From my perspective as an atheist, Rosenberg was pretty disappointing. Stylistically Craig was the clear winner. He is a much more polished and confident speaker. Worse, however, was that substantively Rosenberg was also not so impressive. He made some good points, and I can certainly understand his frustration at having to respond to Craig’s mostly foolish arguments, but the fact remains that his responses were frequently unconvincing, or at least needed to be expressed more clearly to be convincing. His biggest blunder was in presenting the logical argument from evil, in which it is asserted that there is a flat-out contradiction between the existence of a loving God and the existence of evil. This is as opposed to the evidential argument, which states merely that the prevalence of evil is strong evidence against God.

The problem with the logical argument is that it makes life far too easy for the theist. He only has to argue for the bare logical possibility that God has some morally adequate explanation for allowing evil, and I see no way of flatly eliminating this possibility. Indeed, this is precisely the tack Craig took. The evidential argument is much more powerful. The theist can no longer hide behind bare logical possibilities, and if the best he can do is cavil about our limited, finite human perspective then he has simply lost the debate. The theist’s only hope for defusing the argument is to provide a convincing theodicy (that is, an explanation for why God permits extravagant evil and suffering), but so far the religious community has been entirely unsuccessful in this project.

The main purpose of this post, however, is to address something Craig said early on. He claimed that he was going to present eight examples of where God’s existence “best explains the data of human experience.” The basic strategy was always the same. Point to some phenomenon that is (allegedly) difficult to explain under materialism, and then simply assert that theism can resolve the mystery. Well, I agree that there are things that are mysterious in a materialist worldview. I don’t know why there is something rather than nothing, and consciousness and free will (both of which I believe are real) are likewise hard to explain. The trouble is that I have yet to encounter a non-materialist theory that fares any better.

I am not a materialist because I thereby have a pat and ready answer to every existential mystery. Rather, I believe merely that materialism is by far the most powerful and useful worldview among the options on offer, and that where materialism runs into challenges there is nothing else that works better.

Craig proceeded to unload eight “arguments” for God’s existence. I use the sneer quotes because in most cases he was just making assertions, and not arguments. I would like to address all eight, but to keep these posts to a reasonable length I will just focus on one of his arguments here. Item five on his list involved the idea of “intentional states.” By this we mean our ability to think about things. We can form abstract representations of things in our minds, and we might wonder how this is possible. If the brain is purely physical, then how does mere matter in motion permit us to have subjective experiences or to think about particular things? Craig asserted that materialism cannot account for such things, though he never actually explained why, and then followed-up with the assertion that somehow everything makes perfect sense if we invoke God.

This all seems very strange to me. You see, if you ask me to explain intentional states, the first thing I would point out is that, so far as we know, the only things in the universe that have them are embodied brains. To judge from our epxerience, it is only physical organisms with physical brains that have intentional states. “Non-physical intentionality” might very well by a contradiction in terms for all we know.

I would then note that everything we consider central to our personality or subjective experiences, everything that makes us who we are, is intimately tied to the physical stuff of the brain. Damage the right portion of the brain, and suddenly you are a different person. So if there is a nonphysical component to the brain that contributes to our personality, then it sure seems highly subordinate to what the physical part of the brain brings to the table. Moreover, we can use fMRI technology to measure brain activity when engaged in different mental tasks. We can see that different parts of the brain light up when engaged in different activities.

I would also point out that a capacity for intentionality is something that comes in degrees. Humans have a lot of it, apes have somewhat less, dogs and cats less still, and various lower animals (pardon the expression) might have none at all. It is not all or nothing, but seems to vary based on the quantity and complexity of the physical stuff in your skull.

All of this suggests very strongly to me that intentional states are a purely physical phenomenon. Granted, I can’t give you a neuron by neuron account of what is happening. “Thinking meat” seems very strange to me. But everything we have learned from science says that that is precisely what is happening. Science has found not the slightest trace of anything non-physical going on, even though the non-physical aspects of the brain would have to interact very strongly with the physical stuff. I would close by noting that the brain is matter organized like no other matter on earth, that it is still largely mysterious, and that for obvious practical and ethical reasons it is very difficult to study living brains.

But maybe you’re not satisfied with this. It’s bothering you that even though everything we know points strongly to the idea that intentional states are purely physical, we can’t give a really good explanation of what is going on. So you go looking for something else. Fine then. Can’t stomach the idea that a physical organism can have intentional states? Then tell me how a non-physical agent can have them. How is non-physical intentionality any easier to comprehend then physical intentionality?

Simply declaring that the process is non-physical is no kind of explanation. It clarifies nothing. Yes, it’s mysterious that embodied brains can have intentional states. But it’s vastly more mysterious that a purely non-physical agent can have them. At least the materialist theory is based on things we know to exist. The non-materialist theory just invents a strange kind of agent from whole cloth, and then simply declares arbitrarily that that is the sort of thing that can have intentionality.

Now, this is the point where a theist might reply, “No, no, no. You are looking at it all wrong. God does not have intentional states. God just is pure intentionality. He just is pure consciousness. These are not things that emerge somehow from the non-physical stuff from which God is made. They are instead descriptions of what God is.”

You can certainly write those words, but it is unclear whether they mean anything. How can something just “be” pure intentionality? I literally don’t understand what you’re asking me to imagine. It sounds like word salad to me. Certainly we are now talking about something very different from what we started with. The only experience I have with intentional states comes from my observations of what creatures with embodied brains can do. That experience gives me no inkling as to what it could mean to say that something just “is” pure intentionality.

Theists do not understand intentionality any better than materialists. Intentionality is not in any way less mysterious under a theistic worldview than it is under a materialistic one. Quite the contrary, in fact. A materialist can console himself with the thought that, while “thinking meat” is hard to understand, there is copious evidence that that is what the brain is. The theist, on the other hand, while clarifying nothing at all about how humans have the capacity for intentionality, must also contend with conceptual gobbledygook, like a non-physical entity that just “is” pure intentionality.

I’ll take the smaller mystery, thanks. When theism manages to provide a helpful explanation for anything, then I will reconsider its merits.

Comments

  1. #1 phhht
    February 10, 2013
  2. #2 phhht
    February 10, 2013

    Oh, and thanks for the cogent post.

  3. #3 Alex SL
    http://phylobotanist.blogspot.com
    February 10, 2013

    You can certainly write those words, but it is unclear whether they mean anything.

    That is certainly a sentence that sees a lot of use when discussing apologists.

  4. #4 Bob Carlson
    February 10, 2013

    I don’t know why there is something rather than nothing

    It seems to me that what Lawrence Krauss’ explanation boils down to is that there never was nothing.

    consciousness and free will (both of which I believe are real)

    If you believe that free will is something other than an illusion, why do you believe that?

  5. #5 couchloc
    February 10, 2013

    I have no brute for theistic explanations of the mind or intentionality, and am broadly sympathetic to the complaints raised in this article. But some of the arguments presented here don’t work to support that intentionality is a physical phenomenon.

    “I would then note that everything we consider central to our personality or subjective experiences…. is intimately tied to the physical stuff of the brain.”

    You might compare this claim of Jason’s with the following paragraph:

    “…..there is a certain part of the body where [the mind] exercises its functions more particularly than in all the others. […] The part of the body in which the mind directly exercises its functions is not the heart at all, or the whole of the brain. It is rather the innermost part of the brain, which is a certain very small gland situated in the middle of the brain’s substance and suspended above the passage through which the [fluids] in the brain’s anterior cavities communicate with those in its posterior cavities. The slightest movements on the part of this gland may alter very greatly the course of these [fluids], and conversely any change, however slight, taking place in the course of the [fluids] may do much to change the movements of the gland.” (Descartes, Passions of the Soul)

    How is the fact that the mind and brain are related an objection to the dualist’s view of the mind, since this is accepted already? Dualists wouldn’t be bothered by brain damage or brain scans or that sort of thing since they accept there is an interaction that occurs. So I don’t see how this evidence cuts much ice in this context. The truth is that nobody has a good idea of what’s going on with intentionality.

  6. #6 Thud
    Maryland
    February 11, 2013

    It’s not all that mysterious. I looked into my recently read pile for the reference. Amusingly, I found it piled just below your sudoku book, Antonio Damasio’s Self Comes to Mind.

  7. #7 Jason Rosenhouse
    February 11, 2013

    Bob Carlson –

    My only reason for thinking they are real is that they really, really feel like they are real. Not very persuasive I grant you, which is why I don’t go rushing to the philosophy journals with those kinds of insights. I have no particular argument to make against what folks like Jerry Coyne say about free will, and I am not generally a big fan of introspection as a way of knowing, but the fact remains I simply cannot accept their conclusions in this regard. Of course, if I actually don’t have free will then I have no choice but to feel as I do, so all of this is moot.

    couchloc –

    Yes, of course everything I listed is consistent with dualism. It’s hard to imagine anything science could discover that would not be consistent with dualism. My point, however, was that everything we know about the brain is consistent with materialism. Adding something nonphysical to the brain is like seeing God’s guiding hand behind the processes of evolution. You can hypothesize it, and science can’t say that you’re wrong, but it’s hard to see how we gain any explanatory power by making such moves.

    That nobody has a good idea of what’s going on with intentionality will come as no surprise to anyone who read my post. I don’t see how I could have been more clear that I regard intentionality as mysterious, not just under materialism but under any other philosophy I’ve ever heard expressed. But we certainly do know that there is physical stuff in our skulls, and we know that the activity of this physical stuff is heavily implicated even with regard to subjective experience and personality. I would say that fact, along with the other observations I listed, puts the burden on the dualist to explain why we need to hypothesize that something non-physical is going on. They also need to show that their non-physical theory has the explanatory power to resolve those aspects of the brain that are mysterious under a materialist view.

    We certainly should not pretend, as Craig does in this debate, that postulating God as a transcendent source of intentionality is some sort of explanation for free that clarifies anything that is currently mysterious about the brain.

  8. #8 eric
    February 11, 2013

    I don’t know why there is something rather than nothing,

    Like Bob, I think Krauss did a pretty good job of this. He points out that there have been many definitions of “nothing” over history. The first was what we’d consider vacuum: nothing within a time/space framework. Well, QM can make something from that nothing (better to say: its absolutely necessary that something comes from that nothing). The comes along Einstein, and the question becomes: can time/space come from nothing? And QM solves that too. But then philosophers decide to ask whether rules such as QM can be described as coming from something. And nobody has an answer to that. IMO a non-ruled nothing would permit rules-forming (it can’t not), so this becomes a bit of a stupid argument: you have to assume some rules to rule out the possibility that QM rules are the most fundamentall.

    Couchloc:

    How is the fact that the mind and brain are related an objection to the dualist’s view of the mind, since this is accepted already?

    If Descartes was right, then messing with brain should mess with mind but there should still be some immaterial component to it. If there was some immaterial component to mind, then it should be determinable by reductionism applied to brain.

    You’re talking about an immaterial variable. But those should be relatively easy to detect. IMO if there was any non-material component to mind, the many many wide varieties of brain damage would’ve seen it. If mind is a factor of A+B+C+D+E, and you’ve seen many many variations of A, B. C, and D, then you will be able to determine whether E is nonzero or not.

  9. #9 Alex SL
    http://phylobotanist.blogspot.com
    February 11, 2013

    JR: It’s hard to imagine anything science could discover that would not be consistent with dualism.

    Hm. This seems to be a claim on par with the one that science cannot discover anything that disproves god – either it is false or its is special pleading with the intention of allowing the proponents of the claim to shift goalposts where homeopaths, creationists and cold fusion wackos aren’t allowed to do the same.

    As commonly understood, dualism is the claim that our personality and memories are encoded not in the material body but in an immaterial, immortal soul. This is a fairly good summary of scientific evidence that completely demolishes dualism.

    Now of course a dualist can accept that evidence and start shifting goalposts, but ultimately they will run into the same problem as the theist in general: the only claim that is still compatible with science is one postulating a soul that is indistinguishable from being non-existent. Enter the principle of parsimony, and science can conclude the wrongness of dualism with the same confidence as it is generally allowed to conclude the falsity of the claims of telepaths or cryptozoologists, only most scientists will not actually conclude so publicly because that would offend too many people.

  10. #10 Alex SL
    http://phylobotanist.blogspot.com
    February 11, 2013

    Oops. Sorry, I was fairly sure I closed that tag.

  11. #11 Steven Carr
    February 11, 2013

    ‘His biggest blunder was in presenting the logical argument from evil, in which it is asserted that there is a flat-out contradiction between the existence of a loving God and the existence of evil’

    Christians will laugh that one off, just as unipedalists will laugh off the claim that there is a flat-out contradiction between us having only one leg and out memory and senses telling us that we have two legs.

    Logically, our senses and reasoning could be wrong. After all, most people are mistaken about how many legs a millipede has. So they could equally be mistaken about how many legs they have.

    When Christians have to resort to saying there is no flat-out logical contradiction between their beliefs and reality, they are scraping the bottom of the barrel to shore up their beliefs.

  12. #12 Steven Carr
    February 11, 2013

    ‘You see, if you ask me to explain intentional states, the first thing I would point out is that, so far as we know, the only things in the universe that have them are embodied brains. ‘

    Craig is notorious for claiming that without a frontal cortex, animals are not aware that they are in pain.

    And yet he used this intentionality argument against materialism!

  13. #13 jrosenhouse
    February 11, 2013

    Alex –

    I fixed it for you. Thanks for the comment, and for the link.

  14. #14 MNb
    February 11, 2013

    “some sort of explanation for free that clarifies anything that is currently mysterious about the brain.”
    This is just another version of the god of the gaps: intentionality is not well explained by science, hence god.

    “Damage the right portion of the brain, and suddenly you are a different person.”
    This is a pretty good reason to deny body-mind duality – or as I prefer to express it, mind-soul duality. Imo mind in the meaning of psyche is fully material. Mixing up mind and soul is just another theist strategy to confuse matters, allowing them to derive god.

    “I don’t know why there is something rather than nothing”
    Perhaps this is just the wong question. I don’t know either why things fall downward and not upward. Gravity doesn’t explain why, it only describes how. As already pointed out the question how something came from nothing is by far not that mysterious.
    Lately I have become quite averse of why-questions, especially since I realized they are a hobby of toddlers (5-6 years old).

  15. #15 Rick M
    United States
    February 11, 2013

    Is debating Craig a right of passage for the aspiring Professional atheist? I just finished watching last year’s debate with Sam Harris at Notre Dame and won’t be in a rush to view this one. These guys often seem unprepared, as if they aren’t familiar with Craig’s arguments and style. I don’t worry that Craig will convince an atheist to switch sides. I don’t think he cares either way. He has stated that no one will convert unless they have an emotional experience rather than being convinced by a rational argument. I only hope that a thinking theist or two in the audience, by being exposed to his droning on with blindingly stupid assertions, will begin to smell the rot that is Christian Apologetics.

  16. #16 couchloc
    February 11, 2013

    Jason: As I said, I’m in broad sympathy with your post and think you are right about our inability to explain intentionality. So this part I applaud. But it seems to me you are running some things together, and offering a few arguments that don’t quite work in this context. You write:

    “Adding something nonphysical to the brain is like seeing God’s guiding hand behind the processes of evolution. You can hypothesize it, and science can’t say that you’re wrong, but it’s hard to see how we gain any explanatory power by making such moves.”

    I don’t think it’s helpful to run together these different debates. Dualists don’t say they have “faith” that their minds exist; they claim to have direct, introspective evidence for the existence of intentional states. So the debates are entirely different and not much should be made of the similarities. This is what I’m concerned about because there are different issues being run together with a not altogether desirable result. It seems to me there is room to accept the dualist’s complaints about physical explanations of intentionality, while rejecting the dualist’s nonmaterial explanation itself as ungrounded (as you explain). This is because there is a third type of naturalistically acceptable dualist position which accommodates the evidence better than the other theories alone. The best example of such a dualist is David Chalmers (who has a background in mathematics and is broadly materialist), and who has a lot to say about the explanatory power of dualist theories in fact. John Searle is also a kind of naturalistic dualist who as much as anyone would think that intentionality is not physically explainable in ordinary ways. So I don’t think it’s right to suggest that that being a dualist implies believing in religious views or something.

  17. #17 Verbose Stoic
    February 11, 2013

    Jason,

    His biggest blunder was in presenting the logical argument from evil, in which it is asserted that there is a flat-out contradiction between the existence of a loving God and the existence of evil. This is as opposed to the evidential argument, which states merely that the prevalence of evil is strong evidence against God.

    The issue is that the evidential argument is parasitic on the logical argument, because in order to claim that the prevalence of evil is strong evidence against God it must be the case that there being evil in the world is a contradiction of God as we have conceived of God; in short, that God as we have conceived of God ought not allow that amount of evil or suffering or whatever in the world. And so even if you argue that you aren’t making the logical contradiction argument, you have to make an argument that there is a logical contradiction there; that God as defined — likely as “omni-benevolent” wouldn’t allow the amount of evil we have in the world. So, at best, the evidential argument can be seen as a weaker argument only if you argue that while God could allow SOME evil or suffering, the AMOUNT allowed is beyond that, and so the amount we have is strong evidence against the existence of God (although not conclusive). Again, it still has to rely on “God as God would not allow this much suffering”, but there’s some wiggle room on the amount. But that wiggle room kills you, because it is quite simple to simply demand that you prove — to the level of knowledge — that the amount we have really IS too much, and that can be done by simply positing that there might be a reason that you don’t know about, and demanding that you demonstrate that there isn’t to the level of knowledge, which I have yet to see done successfully.

    Now, you CAN turn around and say that this is indeed a problem, and that without a successful theodicy it is reasonable for you to believe that God doesn’t exist based on this problem. And some theists will have a problem with that. But some theists — like myself — will grant you that … but point out that since you don’t have a fully successful argument demonstrating that there is a problem, that doesn’t make my belief that there is a reason unreasonable, and so it is not unreasonable for me to maintain my belief in God. And the non-religious kind of faith works against you here, because if I think that there is a God who is good, then it is not unreasonable of me to have faith in God that there is a reason until I get solid proof that there isn’t, and it is only that difference in belief that causes the difference between us. In short, I can not unreasonably think of God like my closest friend, and believe that he didn’t kill that person he is accused of killing until I see sufficient evidence that he really did do it.

    This all seems very strange to me. You see, if you ask me to explain intentional states, the first thing I would point out is that, so far as we know, the only things in the universe that have them are embodied brains. To judge from our epxerience, it is only physical organisms with physical brains that have intentional states. “Non-physical intentionality” might very well by a contradiction in terms for all we know.

    And, at this point, philosophy of mind and Cognitive Science will slap you upside the head. All the best definitions of intentional states allow for AI and aliens without neurons to have them, and none of them are limited to physical implementations either. After all, it isn’t the fact that our concept of intentionality has to be physical that causes problems for dualist theories of mind, as even you concede. You can ask if it is a contradiction, but only at the cost of ignoring many fields that are asking the question and working on figuring that all out … without relying overmuch on our own experiences, which can be misleading when it comes to concepts (you end up too tied to implementations you’ve seen and end up claiming that the things you’ve seen have to be the way the things are, which is prone to being disastrously wrong).

    Damage the right portion of the brain, and suddenly you are a different person. So if there is a nonphysical component to the brain that contributes to our personality, then it sure seems highly subordinate to what the physical part of the brain brings to the table. Moreover, we can use fMRI technology to measure brain activity when engaged in different mental tasks. We can see that different parts of the brain light up when engaged in different activities.

    As has been pointed out, interactionist dualist theories — which are the ones formed from Descartes, the most famous dualist we have — are immune to simple forms of these criticisms. Having read a number of the damage stories, it also isn’t clear that the personality has changed or that the simple expression of them has changed … or that it isn’t a change of input causing a difference of output. For example, Phineas Gage is probably the most famous of these cases, but is it possible that his personality DIDN’T change, but that certain inputs or stored rules or automatic inhibitions were lost, and so he actually ended up simply acting based on his actual personality? Work on psychopaths and the work of people like Antonio Damasio hint that losing certain emotions has an impact on our behaviour … but that a lot of those are automatic and subconscious influences. If someone is relying on embodied brain resources — even if they could do things without it — and they go away but the feedback loop allowing them to determine that they are wrong isn’t present — and we can see that in cases like people who can only see half the visual range and yet never notice — then you could certainly see a change in behaviour without having to consider everything driven strictly by the brain. The analogy I tend to use is that of watching someone use a computer only by a hook-up to the monitor, and then messing with the OS: you’ll see the behaviour change radically, but that doesn’t mean that the OS and the person are the same thing.

    You can certainly write those words, but it is unclear whether they mean anything. How can something just “be” pure intentionality? I literally don’t understand what you’re asking me to imagine. It sounds like word salad to me. Certainly we are now talking about something very different from what we started with.

    Again, philosophy of mind would like to have a few words with you, because it certainly isn’t certain that you’d be talking about something completely different and they would certainly like to work on the concept of intentionality to figure out exactly what that would mean. This looks frustratingly like a “I don’t understand it, so it’s not worth thinking about” argument, which is something that atheists dislike all the time.

    Someone somewhere also asked how science could disprove dualism. It’s actually fairly clear how to do that: show that the brain activity is causally closed. If there’s no room for the dualistic mind to have a causal impact on the mental activity that leads to the behaviour, even in creating the structure of the neurons that produce the behaviour, dualism fails. Of course, this is a massively hard project that we are no where near completing it, but it would kill dualisms other than perhaps Chalmers’ pretty easily.

  18. #18 Verbose Stoic
    February 11, 2013

    couchloc,

    I find an interesting parallel between the two debates, though, at least in Jason’s comparison of them: the idea that we are adding a hypothesis that we have no or little reason to add that adds nothing as an explanation, as if we’re reacting to science’s advances by putting God or non-physical mind into the gap. The problem is that in both of those cases the things were advanced as explanations first, for a host of problems, and then science has some up with potential other explanations. But unless science can address the original problems, then the original reasons these solutions were offered as explanations still hold. Descartes raised dualism not to save soul or anything like that, but because we had a definition of physical that meant that the actual experience of qualia — and therefore the defining principle of consciousness — couldn’t be physical. There are reasons why physical explanations don’t seem to work.

    As a card-carrying dualist, it’s kinda insulting to suggest that I’m sticking on an explanation that adds no real explanatory power. I’m a dualist not for that reason, but because the alternative theories have problems. Yes, so does dualism, but to me the alternative theories’ problems are more … problematic.

    Functionalism is a decent theory, but leaves qualia out (it’s almost entirely about externally observable behaviours and qualia would be at the implementation level, which it ignores). Without qualia, there’s no consciousness, and so that’s out.

    Neural theories are worse, because while they also leave qualia out to me they seem to be epiphenomenal: the qualities of your mental experiences don’t seem to have any actual effect. That’s really bad.

    Now, I could be convinced that one of those theories is right if they can solve their problems, but surely it’s not unreasonable to say that until they do I’ll go with an established theory that doesn’t have those problems … especially since I make no materialist or naturalist assumptions, finding them conceptually problematic.

  19. #19 MNb
    February 11, 2013

    “the bare logical possibility that God has some morally adequate explanation for allowing evil”
    Well, there still is an awkward logical dilemma WLC and any apologist should be confronted with: heaven. Does WLC’s god allow evil heaven? If yes then the whole concept of sin and forgiveness doesn’t make sense. If not the question rises why not skip the whole valley of tears called earthly life. Personally I as an atheist am not afraid of non-existence (it was no big deal before I was conceived by my parents) and would happily accept it right now on the spot if it meant that all respectable, decent and obedient believers could go to heaven directly, saving them from the suffering they can expect in their years to come.

  20. #20 MNb
    February 11, 2013

    evil in heaven.

  21. #21 Blaine
    February 11, 2013

    Biosemiotics has explanations for the evolution of intentionality. Too bad people aren’t more well read.

  22. #22 Bob Carlson
    February 11, 2013

    My only reason for thinking they are real is that they really, really feel like they are real.

    I remember being astonished when a young person who is an atheist reacted with anger when I referred to free will as an illusion. Not only had failed to see it as an important matter, I suppose I had never given it much thought before I encountered a discussion of it Tom Clarke’s book, Encountering Naturalism: A Worldview and Its Uses, which I purchased in 2007. Usually, I manage to disregard those Amazon messages about people who have bought this book have also bought these, but in the case of the connection between Encountering Naturalism and Chris Evatt’s short compilation titled The Myth of Free Will: Essays and Quotes by Forty of the World’s Leading Thinkers, I happily did not. I’m not sure it makes me think much differently about decisions to be made, but for those I have already made I feel inclined to better understand the causes of my choices. For example, I realize that if the availability of grant money to my professor 50 years ago hadn’t caused me to undertake thesis work in which I was caused to factor in evolutionary considerations, I wouldn’t have read Darwin’s Origin of species and been caused to follow that up with Julian Huxley’s Religion without Revelation.. Had I not read those two things when I did, would I be a liberal Christian who clings to the concept of free will rather than a person who sees no evidence for any sort of god and believes that free will is an illusion? I don’t know, but I am glad that I read those books, and I am glad I don’t see free will as something real. After all, a fairly good mathematician named Einstein concluded that “Our actions should be based on the ever-present awareness that human beings in their thinking, feeling, and acting are not free, but are just as causally bound as the stars in their motion.”

  23. #23 Alex SL
    http://phylobotanist.blogspot.com
    February 11, 2013

    Verboise Stoic,

    You are doing precisely the goalpost moving I was talking about. If Phineas Gage’s “real” personality has not changed, then what is left of the concept of personality? If Alzheimer does not destroy the “real” memories, then what is left of the concept of memories? In the end, nothing is left that still deserves to be called “me”, and dualism becomes a pointless exercise in, well, goalpost moving, until the soul is indistinguishable from being non-existent.

    As for the free will discussion, that is surely too complicated an issue to be covered in a comment here, and it is probably not good to repeat the various rounds of the discussion from WEIT and Choice in Dying at another venue.

    Suffice to say that I do not see any contradiction between even the most complete determinism on the one hand the indisputable observation that there is a difference in decision-making capabilities between a sane human and a maniac, between the maniac and a dog, between the dog and a slug, between the slug and rock, and, to use a different angle, between me being forced to do something with a gun to my head and between me doing it voluntarily. I happen to have no problem with using the term “free will” to describe these differences because I do not share Jerry Coyne’s worry about how that term is supposedly loaded with dualism, the latter not least because the word “freiwillig” is nothing more than German for “voluntary”.

    Finally, saying that my decisions are illusions because I am “a puppet of my genes and environment” is fully equivalent to the claim that my pocket calculator does not actually calculate 2+2=4 because it is really a chip inside of it that does the calculation. My genes and the product of my environment is what is me.

  24. #24 couchloc
    February 12, 2013

    Verbal Stoic: I agree with what you say in your first paragraph related to the point you make that “There are reasons why physical explanations don’t seem to work.” It seems to me that Descartes and other dualists are often right in their “negative” claims about physical explanations of qualia and intentionality—that these states don’t present themselves to us as having physical properties and that physical explanations of them are unsatisfactory. These arguments I take to be stronger than dualists’ own “positive” nonphysical explanations of such states. And I also think I agree with you that it’s a bit tendentious to say that the dualist explanations have no explanatory power—Chalmers certainly thinks his dualist hypothesis for consciousness is more explanatorily useful than other hypotheses (e.g., it unifies otherwise disparate phenomena).

    But I still think I disagree with the comparison with theism. In that case a nonphysical, theistic hypothesis is offered to explain a physical fact we observe in nature–say, the species we observe. But this is not the case with intentionality. In this sort of case the intentional states do not present themselves to us as physical phenomena with physical properties. It is rather that the very nature of intentional states present themselves as lacking physical properties (“intrinsically” so to speak). So the fact to be explained is a different sort of fact and raises different problems I think.

  25. #25 Alex SL
    http://phylobotanist.blogspot.com
    February 12, 2013

    Could somebody explain what a sentence such as “the very nature of intentional states present themselves as lacking physical properties” even means?

    Intentionality is merely about-ness of thoughts. Surely none of us doubts that a chess computer can at some point think about whether it would be good to move the rook instead of the knight, so that it is thinking about those two pieces with the intention to win the game? Still it is all metal and electrons. And then, what is the difficulty of modelling our mind as nothing more but a fantastically more complex computer made out of different material?

    There is no reason to assume that we have some kind of magic sauce that a computer does not have.

  26. #26 Michael Fugate
    February 12, 2013

    Why would one think them (intentional states) to be non-physical?

  27. #27 MNb
    February 12, 2013

    @Alex: “Jerry Coyne’s worry ”
    That’s because JAC definition of free will includes the dualism as defended by theists for centuries. I don’t think that very insightful, let alone flexible. It has happened often enough that notions had to be redefined in the light of new scientific data, so why not free will?

  28. #28 MNb
    February 12, 2013

    Here is JAC’s definition of free will:
    “I believe that free will is better defined as a belief that there is a component to biological behavior that is something more than the unavoidable consequences of the genetic and environmental history of the individual and the possible stochastic laws of nature.”

    http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2013/01/18/a-physicist-gets-muddled-about-free-will/

    So in fact it’s Cashmore’s definition.

  29. #29 eric
    February 12, 2013

    MNb @27:

    That’s because JAC definition of free will includes the dualism as defended by theists for centuries. I don’t think that very insightful, let alone flexible.

    Yet here we have VS and Couchloc on this very thread defending dualism and a dualist definition of free will. So JAC’s focus on critiquing dualism is, IMO, still very relevant. The believers are out there in throngs, beyond the ivory walls, even if inside the walls there aren’t many of them left.

  30. #30 Verbose Stoic
    February 12, 2013

    Alex SL,

    You are doing precisely the goalpost moving I was talking about. If Phineas Gage’s “real” personality has not changed, then what is left of the concept of personality? If Alzheimer does not destroy the “real” memories, then what is left of the concept of memories? In the end, nothing is left that still deserves to be called “me”, and dualism becomes a pointless exercise in, well, goalpost moving, until the soul is indistinguishable from being non-existent.

    Well, to make a charge that the goalposts are being moved, you’d have to start by showing that I’m making a claim that the external behaviour really does define the personality, as opposed to the internal behaviour. Not only have I not actually done that, there’s a host of philosophical discussion that challenges the idea that you can do that, and in fact to me it seems convincing. Take, for example, the case of “locked-in minds”, which we actually have some empirical evidence of. These are minds that don’t act conscious, but actually are. If you judged their consciousness on the basis of their external behaviour, you’d conclude that they were unconscious even though they very much are (the empirical evidence was a case where surgeons used curare, I think, as an anesthetic and while the patients showed no signs of pain at all they actually felt everything). Add in at the conceptual level how plausible it is to think of cases where you have someone’s mind being dominated by another and so they act in certain ways but internally have their own personality and consciousness and are aware of what they’re doing but can’t stop it, and you can see that the external behaviour doesn’t indicate your internal perceptions and personality, and to me it is the INTERNAL thoughts that define you, not the external behaviours.

    Thus, for example. Gage could have always wanted to act how he did, but knowing that it was socially unacceptable relied on conditioned responses to at least bring him up short in the cases where it was inappropriate. If those mechanisms were lost, he’d be relying on those mechanisms to tell him when it was or wasn’t appropriate, and they’d fail him … but he’d still rely on them unless trained otherwise. This is similar to the case of people Damasio cites who when they have damage to their emotions can’t even decide when their appointment should be any more … because, I contend, they relied on the emotional kickback saying that this was a decision that it wasn’t worth taking that long to decide which is now gone, and so they are free to ponder it far longer.

    As for Alzheimer’s, that the mind might use the storage capacity of the brain while it is available and then lose it is no more puzzling than what happens if you store your data on a progressively faulty hard drive and don’t notice.

    Again, what is ME is not what I demonstrate externally, but what I do internally. This is the classic philosophical problem of Other Minds, and it is clear that external behaviour does not give us as clean a look at a person as would be required for your contention here.

    couchloc,

    But I still think I disagree with the comparison with theism. In that case a nonphysical, theistic hypothesis is offered to explain a physical fact we observe in nature–say, the species we observe.

    I agree that the parallels aren’t exact, but am just claiming that they parallel in one way: that both were the predominant and arguably the instinctive theory, both had materialists claiming that they could explain all the things they explained without relying on that extra entity, and in at least some important cases materialism has yet to do so, and thus it may not be unreasonable to return to the more instinctive theories until it can. A big part of this, however, depends on how serious you think the problems are.

    MNb,

    Well, there still is an awkward logical dilemma WLC and any apologist should be confronted with: heaven. Does WLC’s god allow evil heaven? If yes then the whole concept of sin and forgiveness doesn’t make sense. If not the question rises why not skip the whole valley of tears called earthly life.

    This is a bad question because it depends on the specific view of why there is evil HERE before it can be answered in any real way. If they are just saying “There’s a reason that we don’t know”, they can answer “No” to the question of evil in heaven and say “That reason doesn’t apply to heaven”, and there’s still not much you can say. If someone, for example, posits that evil exists in this world as a spur to moral development, then you can ask them that question and get a real answer: that at that point no more moral development is required.

    It does no good to jump ahead to bigger questions as if they are real problems if they depend on the answers to the previous big questions [grin].

    eric,

    Yet here we have VS and Couchloc on this very thread defending dualism and a dualist definition of free will. So JAC’s focus on critiquing dualism is, IMO, still very relevant. The believers are out there in throngs, beyond the ivory walls, even if inside the walls there aren’t many of them left.

    Well, it would be better if the people he was actually ARGUING with — like Dennett and compatibilists — generally held that definition. Since they don’t …

    I also find it a bit odd of you to characterize, it seems, myself and couchloc as “believers” when we both have argued that we have REASONS for our stance. To call us “believers” seems to imply that those reasons aren’t really present.

    (Also, it might be odd to consider myself to be out there beyond the ivory walls, considering my background …)

  31. #31 Collin Brendemuehl
    February 12, 2013

    Some simple feedback. Just some notes taken quicl,y over lunch, thought something more thorough is certainly necessary. At the core of Jason’s argument is the most common conclusion of all: I disagree. It’s not that Craig was wrong according to some proof, but by abduction the conclusion is reached concerning the apparent best explanation. That is where the majority of these discussions end.

    1. Inconsistency

    Craig asserted that materialism cannot account for such things, though he never actually explained why …

    Set that against this:

    All of this suggests very strongly to me that intentional states are a purely physical phenomenon. Granted, I can’t give you a neuron by neuron account of what is happening.

    And it appears Jason also lacks such a conclusion.

    2. Consistency

    I would close by noting that the brain is matter organized like no other matter on earth, that it is still largely mysterious, and that for obvious practical and ethical reasons it is very difficult to study living brains

    Should be a problem if there is no foundation for morality.

    3. Answers

    When theism manages to provide a helpful explanation for anything, then I will reconsider its merits.

    Why is there something rather than nothing? I realize that posing this a question is not the same as an explanation. But to suggest that a pure materialism can answer the question is clearly insufficient. Ignoring it will not make it go away.

  32. #32 couchloc
    February 12, 2013

    Here again there looks to be a conflation between dualism and theism taking place. Roger Penrose, Couchloc, John Searle, David Chalmers, Karl Popper, and Tom Nagel are all dualists. None of them is a theist.

  33. #33 Michael Fugate
    February 12, 2013

    When did immaterial become part of the definition of gods? Was Jesus, who is presumed to be a god, material? When Greek gods took on human form were they material? Was the sperm that impregnated Mary material? How does this presumed transition from material to immaterial occur? Perhaps in “god-form” gods’ molecules are so dispersed that they take on the appearance of being immaterial.

    A recent study in Drosophila concludes that memories are stored as molecules and energy is required to produce and store them – not surprising. If energy stores are low, memories are not made. So much for the mind being immaterial – an assumption with little positive evidence.

  34. #34 eric
    February 12, 2013

    VS:

    I also find it a bit odd of you to characterize, it seems, myself and couchloc as “believers” when we both have argued that we have REASONS for our stance. To call us “believers” seems to imply that those reasons aren’t really present.

    No implication was meant. My maint point to MNb was that Jerry is arguing against a position that is still very mainsteam and popular. That seems reasonably insightful strategy to me; more insightful than arguing against positions that might only be held by a handful of people. To support my point that its still a common view, I say: hey look, here’s two (now three) people on this very blog arguing for it! That was all.

    (Also, it might be odd to consider myself to be out there beyond the ivory walls, considering my background …)

    Agreed. :) But I’d be surprised if the dualist position was as popular inside the corridors of academia as it is outside.
    ***
    Re: your ‘internal’ vs. ‘external’ distinction. Science is getting better at observing and measuring signaling in the brain and how it correlates to thinking. Brain activity would probably have been considered ‘internal’ a century (or less) ago, but the ability to observe it directly makes it, in some ways, external. When you say ‘its the internal thoughts that define you,’ are you referring to brain activity, or to brain activity + immaterial other? Because I doubt you will get much argument from Alex, JAC, or any other materialist if you are making the claim that brain activity without any immacterial other defines us.

  35. #35 Verbose Stoic
    February 12, 2013

    eric,

    When I talk about “internal”, I mean the inner subjective experience, or what it’s like to be me from the inside. Brain activity doesn’t count as that, and it relies on my reports of what my internal states are to make those correlations to thinking.

  36. #36 eric
    February 12, 2013

    VS:

    When I talk about “internal”, I mean the inner subjective experience, or what it’s like to be me from the inside. Brain activity doesn’t count as that,

    Isn’t that the question – whether brain activity is what’s giving that experience or not? If you premise that brain activity doesn’t count, it seem to me that you might be arguing circularly.

  37. #37 Alex SL
    http://phylobotanist.blogspot.com
    February 12, 2013

    What is so difficult about this? The point of dualism is that there is something to our mind, memories and personality that is not our physical body. When one thing after the other that was once supposed to be part of this magic immaterial soul is shown to be subject to physical destruction, and the dualist’s reaction is always, “that is not what I meant”, then that is goalpost moving. “Ah, but that wasn’t his REAL real personality” is the very definition of goalpost moving; it could well be used as an illustration for that fallacy in an encyclopedia.

    Of course, the ultimate proof against dualism is death. Where is the mind of my great-great-grandfather now? I am sure nobody has seen, felt, heard or mass spectrometered it lately… And what do rational beings do with things that cannot be demonstrated in any way whatsoever? Assume that they don’t exist. Everything else is special pleading.

  38. #38 Ça alors!
    February 13, 2013

    “Of course, the ultimate proof against dualism is death.”

    Not really. Ironically we are dualists when we oppose existence to non-existence, right to left, objectivity to subjectivity or good to evil. These are the ends of a spectrum by which we can tell where we stand. But is this spectrum real for real because it exists by itself, or is it a consequence of the way we can perceive things?

    Because we mainly grasp the world through opposites, it doesn’t come to our mind we grasp the world in a “certain” way, shaped by our default mode of perception, a mode that many oriental traditions describe as dual.
    Is this mode absolute? Those who experience a non-dual mode of perception would say absolutely no! And it is hard to imagine what would be a non-dual mode of perception when all you ever know was grasped on a dual mode, a mode that has no choice to bring egotic perceptions, which give birth to our “I” and our sense of being separated from the rest of the world…

    In other words, good vs evil is a problem of human perception. From “God” ‘s perspective, there is no good or evil. Oppositions can’t be created when your “nature” never began and can’t never end, which means is eternal so outside time, in a constant forever now. If you would be able to see the uncreated nature of your self, you could see that the illusion created by matter, space and language are damn good special effects!

  39. #39 MNb
    February 13, 2013

    @Eric: “So JAC’s focus on critiquing dualism is, IMO, still very relevant.”
    But I didn’t say the contrary. My objection is not critiquing dualism; by objection is accepting the definition dualists impose on us monists. As I wrote I don’t think that very insightful. I even tend to the statement that it’s a false dilemma.

    “My maint point to MNb was that Jerry is arguing against a position that is still very mainsteam and popular.”
    Of course I grant you that, but I don’t think that a good reason for us to accept that position.

    “That seems reasonably insightful strategy to me; more insightful than arguing against positions that might only be held by a handful of people.”
    Not to me. You see, I don’t reject free will a priori. I just think if man has free will that it should be described in physical terms. It looks like you’re creating a false dilemma indeed.

    @VS: “This is a bad question because it depends on the specific view of why there is evil HERE before it can be answered in any real way.”
    That’s a non-sequitur. There is no reason why there is evil HERE that affects the question you think so bad: why not skip Earthly life?

    “There’s a reason that we don’t know”
    That implies that theism is based on faith after all. That’s OK with me, but just admit it and don’t claim it’s reasonable. I never claimed the Problem of Evil a refutation of belief itself; it’s a refutation of the claim that belief can be founded on reason. The two are not the same as we know since Feuerbach and Kierkegaard.

    “to jump ahead to bigger questions”
    How do you measure if one question is bigger than another? Just your personal faith?

    @Couchloc: “None of them is a theist”
    No, but about all theists are dualists.

  40. #40 MNb
    February 13, 2013

    There is another reason I don’t like JAC’s definition of free will, though it’s closely connected. It allows dualists, as we can observe in this thread, to follow the same strategy as theists: just maintain that monists can’t prove soul doesn’t exist. Then dualism remains reasonable and we will have the same philosophical debate again. That’s exactly what VS and Couchloc want.
    Well, forget it as far as I am concerned. The human brain is the issue here and that’s an entirely physical phenomenon. Like every physical phenomenon it can be described by a scientific theory. The argument that we don’t have such a theory (yet) is only a soul of the gaps. The only relevant question, like I wrote, is if free will has a place in that theory. The rest is nothing but unfruitful metaphysics.
    It might be that we see another light cultural clash here; the point of view I describe seems to be way more common in Europe than in the USA. And I’m Dutch.

  41. #41 Michael Fugate
    February 13, 2013

    Unless immaterial entities are radically different than the rest of the universe, then energy is needed to maintain order, complexity, information, etc. What is the energy source for mind – especially if it is to survive death?

  42. #42 Reginald Selkirk
    February 13, 2013

    When theism manages to provide a helpful explanation for anything, then I will reconsider its merits.
    Colin Brendemuhl: #31: Why is there something rather than nothing?

    How it it that you claim theism answers this question? It merely moves the question back one step, hoping that no one will have the insight and courage to question the next level. Why is there something? Because God made it. Well then: why is there God instead of nothing? Unless you can answer that you really haven’t answered anything.

  43. #43 Collin Brendemuehl
    February 13, 2013

    Reginald,
    No, it doesn’t. Theism posits a creator and with that an eschatology.
    The first question assumes the existence of something, a point on which we both agree.
    Yet your question is entirely circular, or at best malformed since you presume the absence of God yet query His existence. There is no answer to a nonsense question.

  44. #44 eric
    February 13, 2013

    Eschatology is study of end times, Collin, not beginnings. It has absolutely nothing to do responding to RS’ point about shifting the argument back a step. Were you thinking of some other term, perhaps ‘ontology’?

    The first question does not assume existence, its based on an observation that things exist. It would only be an assumption if we posited things existing absent any evidence that they do.

    And your third paragraph makes no sense whatsoever. Of course we are going to have positions on whether things exist while we question their existence. That is true of ghosts, higgs bosons, and aliens as well as god. Circularity is when one makes the conclusion a premise of their argument, and neither RS nor anyone else has made God’s nonexistence a premise of their argument for God’s nonexistence. And example of a circular argument would be: God exists because theism posits a creator that exists.

  45. #45 Reginald Selkirk
    February 13, 2013

    since you presume the absence of God

    If you’ve thrown in for presuppositionalist BS, there is no hope for you. I do not presume the absence of God. It is a reasonable conclusion from the available evidence, not a presumption.
    And labeling a question as a “nonsense question” doesn’t go away, so swallow a dose of your own rhetoric.

  46. #46 Hugh
    February 13, 2013

    eric

    whether brain activity is what’s giving that experience or not? If you premise that brain activity doesn’t count, it seem to me that you might be arguing circularly.

    I think this is misunderstood. The premise is that subjective experience is not identical to neurons firing. We know that there are links there, but that’s all we know. To assume that they’re identical and then claiming that an immaterial component is thus unnecessary is circular.

  47. #47 AnswersInGenitals
    February 13, 2013

    My smoke alarm will react to certain environments by sounding a buzzer. Its brain has abstract representations of what a normal and threat environment are. Don’t these states fit the (philosophical) definition of intentionality? This smoke alarm also has a circuit fault that causes it to set off the alarm at random times independent of the environment. How is this distinguishable from free will? It also has a calibration mode that allows its alarm sensitivity and threshold to be adjusted according to its environment; i. e., it is capable of learning and adapting. And we have a precise and comprehensive understanding of qualia: it is the charge state of a capacitor that is wired to the gate of a transistor.

    So there you have it: intentionality, free will, and adaptability and all for just $29.99, batteries included.

    Many a small child is convinced that there is a tiny man in the alarm who sets off the buzzer when he smells smoke. These children will grow up to be dualists.

  48. #48 josh
    February 13, 2013

    Asking how a physical brain can have ‘intentional’ states seems about as interesting a question as asking how a river can be ‘about’ the canyon it runs in. I’m still waiting for someone to pose an actual problem for physicalism/materialism/naturalism/what-have-you.

  49. #49 josh
    February 13, 2013

    I’m also bemused by people who think we can’t tell the difference between a radio and a record player.

  50. #50 Hugh
    February 13, 2013

    Yes, AnswersInGenitals, I’m sure your smoke alarm has thought content, is self aware, has subjective experiences and is morally blameworthy for its actions/inactions.

    Congratulations, your analogy of the smoke alarm has solved one of the biggest issue plaguing philosophers for over two millenia.

    Proceed to publish your paper in the Oxford Journal for Philosophy of Mind and collect your reward.

  51. #51 Michael Fugate
    February 13, 2013

    I’m sure your immaterial mind can store information and transmit it to our material brains without any energy or matter. Try that out on your physics teacher. A smoke alarm with a trillion links most likely would have thought content, self awareness, subjective experiences and could be held responsible for its actions. A bit of overkill for a smoke alarm though.

  52. #52 Collin Brendemuehl
    February 13, 2013

    Reg,

    It is a reasonable conclusion from the available evidence, not a presumption.

    BS. There is no scientific test which can conclude naturalism. No test can process the formula If (X)(Y) ∴ !God. Tests of nature are not tests of the metaphysical. They do not venture into that realm. Naturalism is by its nature a presupposition.
    We are all presuppositionalists.

  53. #53 AnswersInGenitals
    February 13, 2013

    Hugh (Post#50),

    I’m not suggesting that my smoke alarm has risen to what we perceive to be the lofty intellectual heights of thought content, self awareness, subjective experiences and moral blameworthiness for one’s actions/inactions. I’m suggesting that when these attributes have been scientifically and comprehensively explicated, they will be seen to be no more than elaborations of the lowly smoke alarm.

    That philosophers have pondered this problem (of intentionality, free will, consciousness, and the like) for millennia with little to show for their efforts is not an indication of some unfathomable nature of these processes. It is merely another example that philosophy is a fallow enterprise. All the valid and worthwhile knowledge we have gained in those millennia has come from science and it is science and the scientific method that will bring us the correct vocabulary and mechanistic formulae to understand the mind.

    And, if you please, I shall await my award in heaven, not in some mundane court.

    Finally, you would benefit from a more advanced course in debate and argumentation. Your sophomore course has left you a little feather weighted.

  54. #54 Alex SL
    http://phylobotanist.blogspot.com
    February 13, 2013

    Colin Brendemuehl,

    From here it looks as if all humans make the following assumptions: Nature can generally be trusted to behave in a uniform way, logic generally works, the principle of parsimony generally works, and it is best to build our worldview on reason and evidence.

    First, well, we all have to, because if you do not make those assumptions then you can only hide in terror under a blanket, unable to trust even something like air not to turn poisonous or disappear on a whim, much less trust other people to behave in an understandable fashion.

    Second, just observe even the most religious person when they search for their lost keys or try to find out where the odd smell comes from that wasn’t there before. Or watch a toddler explore the world. Science is nothing but a more formalized version of the same approach that they happily and successfully use in those situations: evidence, logic, parsimony, reason.

    So call it presupposition or not, we all agree on the value of that approach. The difference is, some of us apply it consistently, and some of us arbitrarily chose a topic that is dear to them and say, “but that approach does not apply here; science may conclude that there is no phlogiston because there is no evidence for phlogiston, but it is forbidden to conclude that there are no souls because there is no evidence for souls.”

    The atheist is not guilty of presupposing anything that theists don’t also presuppose. But the theist is guilty of special pleading. That is all the difference.

  55. #55 MNb
    February 14, 2013

    “So call it presupposition or not”
    Of course science is based on presuppositions. The point is that these presuppositions bring us somewhere – there is a little car on Mars for one thing. As soon as another approach with other presuppositions can show similar results I’ll consider it seriously – and probably all scientists too.

  56. #56 Verbose Stoic
    February 14, 2013

    eric,

    Isn’t that the question – whether brain activity is what’s giving that experience or not? If you premise that brain activity doesn’t count, it seem to me that you might be arguing circularly.

    Hugh’s pretty much right; I’m talking about what consciousness is, not how it’s produced. It is having those sorts of internal experiences that matters, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t be produced by brain activity, just that I’m using the internal experiences as the big hallmark of being conscious, and so even the brain activity is judged against that. Essentially, it’s an argument that you can’t reduce internal experience to brain events and then simply stop talking about internal experiences; the internal experience events are what we want to explain.

    Alex SL,

    What is so difficult about this? The point of dualism is that there is something to our mind, memories and personality that is not our physical body. When one thing after the other that was once supposed to be part of this magic immaterial soul is shown to be subject to physical destruction, and the dualist’s reaction is always, “that is not what I meant”, then that is goalpost moving. “Ah, but that wasn’t his REAL real personality” is the very definition of goalpost moving; it could well be used as an illustration for that fallacy in an encyclopedia.

    Except that from Descartes and possibly even before that dualists conceded that physical and brain events could have an effect on mental events. Thus, we were never committed to the view that you are insisting are the goalposts that we are now moving. Also note that in my comment I quite explicitly pointed out how the external behaviour you’re relying on doesn’t necessarily indicate a change in the internal experiences, and again from the beginning that is what dualists use to define mind and personality. So, you have to be insisting that the change in external behaviour indicates a change in the internal behaviour, and all I’m doing is pointing out that that is not a safe assumption, and that’s hardly moving the goalposts..

    In short, no one agreed that the goalposts were necessarily where you said they were, and now you seem to be upset that we aren’t letting you define the goalposts as being where we never said they should be.

    And note that this does get back to the issue with God as well, because the only really credible argument you could have is that in some cases things we thought we were true we are discovering aren’t … but that argument relies on not allowing us to adapt our theories to new data. This is very similar to the precise same argument used against God, where if theists adapt what they think God did or how God did it it’s an insistence that they are moving the goalposts as opposed to adapting their theory … and adapting theories rather than discarding them is something that is done all the time in science. So why can’t dualists/theists do it as well, if they can argue for why they aren’t required to commit to the old line?

    Of course, the ultimate proof against dualism is death. Where is the mind of my great-great-grandfather now? I am sure nobody has seen, felt, heard or mass spectrometered it lately… And what do rational beings do with things that cannot be demonstrated in any way whatsoever? Assume that they don’t exist. Everything else is special pleading.

    Dualists aren’t committed to thinking that a dualist mind survives death. About the best reason to do it under the dualist conception is to argue that death is the end of the physical body and if our mind is not physical then it need not cease to exist when the body does, and it may be impossible for it to cease to exist. As for detecting it, you are arguing that we should be able to detect a non-physical thing using physical means, which is, I think you have to agree, an utterly nonsensical claim.

    (Oh, and you can add in things like ghost experiences to get around the absolutely no evidence line that you like to take.)

    MNb,

    That’s a non-sequitur. There is no reason why there is evil HERE that affects the question you think so bad: why not skip Earthly life?

    As I said in my comment, if there is a reason for there to be evil in this Earthly life we have that doesn’t apply to heaven, then your question is answered, and asking why we have to go through that Earthly life is answered, again, by the reason there is evil here and not in heaven. Thus, you’d need to answer that question first, and so it isn’t in any way a good question for the problem; it relies on solving the problem you’re trying to do an end-run around to have it make any sense at all.

    That implies that theism is based on faith after all. That’s OK with me, but just admit it and don’t claim it’s reasonable. I never claimed the Problem of Evil a refutation of belief itself; it’s a refutation of the claim that belief can be founded on reason. The two are not the same as we know since Feuerbach and Kierkegaard.

    As I said in my comment, it’s a different type of faith … and it’s the answer that Jason was saying you couldn’t actually make against the evidentiary argument, but it turns out that you actually can and still have it work to weaken that argument (the idea that there is a reason that we just don’t understand). Additionally, I actually took a stab at a specific reason, which you would think would suggest that that isn’t the tack I was taking, no?

    How do you measure if one question is bigger than another? Just your personal faith?

    Philosophically. In this case, asking about what heaven is like and whether or not it has evil requires a lot more theology and background work than asking why evil exists in this world that we can experience, and as has been pointed out the “bigger question” relies on you answering the question about Earth first. Seems reasonable to me.

    It allows dualists, as we can observe in this thread, to follow the same strategy as theists: just maintain that monists can’t prove soul doesn’t exist. Then dualism remains reasonable and we will have the same philosophical debate again. That’s exactly what VS and Couchloc want.

    Except that isn’t what’s happening here, or even with the Problem of Evil. We aren’t saying that you can’t prove that there is no separate mind, therefore it is reasonable to think it is. We are looking at your argument that claims to provide at least strong evidence that the thing we are talking about doesn’t exist, and pointing out that it actually doesn’t do any such thing; your “evidence” is no where near as strong as you claim it is. For that, all we do need to do is point out that your refutation actually doesn’t work; we need not demonstrate that the thing exists to show that your argument aiming at demonstrating it doesn’t doesn’t work.

    No, the proof that the claim is reasonable would have to come from different arguments … and for dualism, at least, I’ve advanced my reasons for thinking it the more reasonable option. YMMV.

    AnswersInGenitals,

    That philosophers have pondered this problem (of intentionality, free will, consciousness, and the like) for millennia with little to show for their efforts is not an indication of some unfathomable nature of these processes. It is merely another example that philosophy is a fallow enterprise. All the valid and worthwhile knowledge we have gained in those millennia has come from science and it is science and the scientific method that will bring us the correct vocabulary and mechanistic formulae to understand the mind.

    Because obviously philosophy would NEVER have thought to look at things like smoke detectors and thermometers and the like to see if they could have “aboutness”, or be representations, or reflect intentionality, and it took scientists to point this out to them, right?

    Well, except for the fact that philosophers HAVE been talking about those sorts of things for a LONG time now, and they have some problems. One of them being if the things simply correlate to a state but aren’t really ABOUT that state. After all, surely the expansion rate of mercury wrt temperature is merely a correlation between temperature and the state of mercury, and not something that is inherently ABOUT temperature. And if it isn’t inherently ABOUT temperature, then it can’t really be an intentional state; it gets its intentional status and even its representational status from us interpreting it as such. But we already knew that WE can form real intentional states, so this is hardly helpful. In short, the thermometer/smoke detector only has the intentionality that we impart to it … but it’s OUR intentionality that we wanted explained, and so looking at them to find another sort of intentionality to compare ours to doesn’t work because, well, it’s ALSO our intentionality.

  57. #57 eric
    February 14, 2013

    Hugh:

    The premise is that subjective experience is not identical to neurons firing. We know that there are links there, but that’s all we know. To assume that they’re identical and then claiming that an immaterial component is thus unnecessary is circular.

    Water is not identical to a single H2O molecule in the sense that the interactions between molecules makes an important contribution to the properties of any system of H2O molecules. But nobody claims that water must have an immaterial component to it to explain the added properties (wetness, viscosity, phase, etc.).

    So, I think you are arguing against a strawman if you think materialists are claiming neurons are identical to cognition in a way that ignores properties arising out of interaction. I think most would say that cognition arises from the interaction of the material components of the brain.

    I also think that “that’s all we know” is a somewhat specious statement. Its like saying that there are links between QM and the structure of high Z atoms, but that’s all we know. Like with brain modeling, one cannot start with QM and an understanding of the components and calculate the precise electronic configuration of the whole. Both systems are too complex to be derived ab initio. But (1) we have absolutely no evidence that anything else is involved in either case, and (2) QM and materialism have both passed every other test we have given them – such as predicting simpler systems – so it is reasonable to conclude that for each case, that’s the only thing going on.

    Lastly, your argument has a bit of the ‘problem of induction’ ring to it. I think you want to avoid falling back on that as a defense of immaterialism. We never know for sure that some immaterial component is unnecessary. But that doesn’t stop us from dismissing immaterialism when it comes to trees or cars or suns or other complex systems, so it shouldn’t stop us from dismissing it here. “You can’t definitively rule it out in the case of the mind” is going to be considered by materialists to be a form of special pleading, unless you are willing to remove that ‘in the case of the mind’ part and defend immaterial components to everything else with equal vigor.

  58. #58 Reginald Selkirk
    February 14, 2013

    MNb #55: Of course science is based on presupposition…

    Yes, it appears that Collin Brendemuehl has drunk deep of the presuppositionalist koolaid. And you are correct that one of the appeals is that it sounds all sciencey. So let’s look at how presuppositions, aka axioms, are used in science and math. Euclidian geometry will be the primary example from which I draw, but the points I make are generalizable.

    When it comes to presuppositions, fewer is better. The entirety of Euclidian geometry is derived from a fairly small set of definitions and axioms. That is the beauty of it.
    You are not allowed to presuppose something that could be proven within a system.
    Even presuppositions are open to question. Within a mathematical system, a presupposition that leads to contradiction is considered formally disproven. In science, one makes starting assumptions based on prior knowledge, but these must be open to reinterpretation if the experimental data requires it. My favourite example: the Michelson-Morley experiment. This is frequently pointed to as the experiment which called into question the existence of the ether, but that was certainly not the intent of the experimenters. They presumed the existence of the ether, and their experiment was designed to measure its properties.
    And finally: parsimony. Occam’s razor. This is a standard part of the science toolkit, and the relevant one for discarding a presupposition that is not supported by any evidence.

  59. #59 couchloc
    February 14, 2013

    Jason, I’m not sure you’re following but I would be interested in your response to this issue. AnswersInGenitals writes:

    “That philosophers have pondered this problem….for millennia with little to show for their efforts is not an indication of some unfathomable nature of these processes. It is merely another example that philosophy is a fallow enterprise. All the valid and worthwhile knowledge we have gained in those millennia has come from science…..”

    This strikes me as a classic example of scientism, where scientism is defined as “the belief that science is the only source of knowledge and an exaggerated trust in the efficacy of the methods of natural science applied to all areas of investigation (as in philosophy, the social sciences, and the humanities).” http://www.meetup.com/Philosophy-Workshop/events/66675832/ I don’t want to derail this discussion since the topic is about intentionality, but, since this has come up, it seems appropriate to mention here. A couple of thoughts on this issue.

    1. Jason has complained that charges of scientism are “silly” and made up by people looking for ways to criticize scientists. Are we really to think it doesn’t exist? It would seem to be on display right here in this discussion on your blog.

    2. Notice that the context here is not religion per se but discussions about intentionality. Claims that are often seen as scientistic are not essentially tied to debates about religion, but concern over exaggerated claims to scientific efficacy in various contexts. Here we are discussing issues about the mind, and, lo and behold!, the charge is made that anything that’s not science doesn’t contribute to the issue.

    3. Take a look at our previous discussion (“More Silliness about Scientism, Part One” comment #39). You said my characterization of Krauss’s view was too strong and overwrought, but look at how close the above characterization is. We’re told that “All the valid and worthwhile knowledge we have gained ….has come from science.” This seems pretty close to my characterization (d) and has the implication that anything which isn’t scientific knowledge is close to useless (AnswersInGenetals implies it is “not worthwhile”). It’s not clear to me that the interpretation I offered before was overwrought and not a fair summary of the sort of view being expressed here. If you think I’m over interpreting this, that’s fine, but could you offer some explanation for this since I’m not really seeing it.

    4. Given this, I’d be interested to hear what you think is the appropriate response. If I understand it your view is that one should merely respond to such instances by noting that they are false or overly dramatic and then leave it alone? I’m not sure how helpful this will be given the dialectical situation. Since AnswersInGenetals thinks any attempt to defend claims about intentionality, free will, or consciousness on philosophical grounds is “fallow”, he’ll now just DISMISS anything said in that vein because he now believes he has meta-philosophical grounds for thinking nothing that’s not science has any relevance to these issues. This is what is frustrating because the sort of attitude on display is a conversation stopper and not merely a factual disagreement to sort out. The alternative response taken by critics is to say that the view expressed is naive and ideological and should be called out as such, and that the term “scientism” is useful for this. But since you don’t like this it would be good to hear your thoughts, since I’m not trying to be snarly but merely understand your position..

  60. #60 Another Matt
    United States
    February 14, 2013

    Water is not identical to a single H2O molecule in the sense that the interactions between molecules makes an important contribution to the properties of any system of H2O molecules. But nobody claims that water must have an immaterial component to it to explain the added properties (wetness, viscosity, phase, etc.).

    Have you ever spent much time on Feser’s website? I’ve seen him argue that glass is “brittle” because it has a teleological disposition to break given the right circumstances. OK, fair enough: “brittleness” is a dispositional property of glass, to within the problem of induction. But he goes further and claims that for that property to exist potentially and not actually requires that it have a nonphysical essence that “points towards” its breaking telos, and that further because this essence is nonphysical it requires the existence of a nonphysical entity that maintains all the essences at all times (viz. God).

    It’s entirely possible I’ve read him wrong and mangled it, but it seems like more or less regular Thomism.

  61. #61 Verbose Stoic
    February 14, 2013

    Another Matt,

    Having recently read his “Aquinas”, there’s a bit more to it than that, although I’d have to look through the book again to get the details. I think in this case it’s a matter that essence can’t be physical because physical is about particulars, and the essence of glass is an essence of the universal glass that particular instances of glass share in. The maintenance of the essence by God is a much more involved argument if I recall correctly, and not just derived from these non-physical essences. In fact, I think its the teleology that drives the posit of a God more than that non-physical nature of it (I think the non-physical nature of essences demonstrates that God can’t be physical, but not much more than that).

    It’s actually a fairly interesting book, even if it isn’t necessarily going to be convincing.

  62. #62 eric
    February 14, 2013

    Have you ever spent much time on Feser’s website?

    No, and if his science background is so poor that he thinks immaterial spirits are needed to explain the material quality of brittleness, I’m not likely to.

    VS’ comment is not much of a thumbs up, either, given that I can’t make much sense out of his paraphrase (and that’s not intended as an insult; I expect VS is accurately describing Feser’s own opaqueness).

  63. #63 Another Matt
    February 14, 2013

    VS — I have the Aquinas book on my shelf. I’m planning on getting to it after I’m done with my dissertation and current composition. :)

  64. #64 couchloc
    February 14, 2013

    eric,

    “So, I think you are arguing against a strawman if you think materialists are claiming neurons are identical to cognition in a way that ignores properties arising out of interaction. I think most would say that cognition ARISES FROM the interaction of the material components of the brain.”

    This is helpful because the “identity version” is often how I hear these claims. So you make a good point. But if you are claiming that cognition instead arises from the interactions, then you are saying that cognition is distinct from those interactions. If X arises from Y, then X is distinct from Y, in the sense that they are two different properties or states or processes or whatever. So we still have a form of dualism between properties, states, etc., right? This is sufficient for many as a type of dualism about the mind since it posits the existence of two nonoverlapping types of entities. Notice that this type of dualism being described is distinct from any form of substance dualism or a commitment to Cartesian immaterial souls as wholly and separately existing immaterial entities.

    “But that doesn’t stop us from dismissing immaterialism when it comes to trees or cars or suns or other complex systems, so it shouldn’t stop us from dismissing it here. “You can’t definitively rule it out in the case of the mind” is going to be considered by materialists to be a form of special pleading……”

    But there is an important difference here. Conscious mental states are not presented to us as having material properties in our experience of them (how long is your thought? how much does it weigh?). So the direct experience and understanding of conscious states that Verbose Stoic is talking about presents us with the problem in the first place. It’s not that we experience our mental states as physical states, and then—afterwards—attach some questionable nonphysical explanation to them. It’s that there are good reasons for thinking that our mental states are not helpfully characterized in terms of material properties to begin with. So it’s exactly not special pleading but based on serious and carefully considered arguments.

  65. #65 Michael Fugate
    February 14, 2013

    Just because you perceive something as nonphysical doesn’t mean that it is. Thoughts, intentions, memories, etc could be and most likely are chemical. Why are some of you so reluctant to accept that neuroscience will be the best – not the only – path to understanding consciousness? Philosophers have helped to refine our questions, but we know that our perceptions are often faulty until tested empirically. All one need do is think about other big issues like geocentrism or evolution. We don’t perceive the earth is moving or that species are changing. To claim that consciousness is somehow fundamentally different than other biological functions (i.e not able to be characterized by material properties) just don’t seem to be very likely in light of what we know about how the universe works.

  66. #66 couchloc
    February 14, 2013

    Michael,

    I understand what you are saying here and part of me sympathizes. But I’m still not persuaded by this line of thought and don’t think there are good grounds for it in the end. You say that “thoughts, intentions, memories, etc could be and most likely are chemical.” Fine, then you should be able to suggest some chemical property that is sufficient to explain my thought “I am presently conscious of myself typing on the keyboard.” It’s not enough merely to suggest “chemicals are likely all there is.” Various people have been suggesting different candidate chemicals for hundreds of years, and none of them has worked so far, and so, no, I don’t see that it should give us confidence the next example will work either. In each case the chemical theories offered come to ruin, and some of us think that a fair appraisal of this fact indicates there’s something wrong with the basic approach. It’s not out of a desire to defend religion, or the afterlife, or any such sundry things (at least, not in my case, I’m not a theist), but out of problems with attempts to do the very thing you’re talking about that make me skeptical.

    As to your other main point, you make an analogy with geocentrism and evolution. This is a very common way of trying to approach the problem with consciousness I think. You are quite right about those examples, but what needs to be shown is that they are in fact analogous to the case we’re talking about. And here, I think, there are grounds for pessimism, because the example of consciousness is different. When we are aware of the earth moving or species changing, we are relying on external perception (vision) and there are well-known reasons for thinking that perception of this sort is fallible. But this is not how we are aware of our own conscious states. We are aware of them through an internal inspection that doesn’t rely on external perception like this. This internal inspection gives us information about our mental states that is very different from physical information.

    This point is explained best by Searle (see, The Rediscovery of the Mind) who discusses your type of analogy himself. He says that in the case of external perception there is a distinction we can make between appearance and reality. We can say “the earth appears stationary” but “in reality is moving”. Or species “appear static” but “in reality evolve.” So the appearance/reality distinction works in your examples to explain how we are confused about reality. BUT IN THE CASE OF CONSCIOUSNESS WE CAN’T USE THIS MODEL, BECAUSE IN THIS CASE THE APPEARANCE IS THE REALITY. If it appears to me that I am conscious, then I must be conscious. There’s simply no way to carve off “the reality” and “the appearance” in the way mentioned, and so this sort of approach won’t work. Conscious mental states are very different kinds of states from other, ordinary physical entities we perceive and no amount of saying that “chemistry or neuroscience will explain them” touches this point. So while in general I’m sympathetic to the view you describe, and am not antiscience or opposed to neuroscience or anything like that, I just don’t see that it’s supported by what we know about ourselves and so I’m very hesitant to accept it. And I note that this is not a new view but accepted by people like Roger Penrose, John Searle, David Chalmers, Karl Popper, and even John Eccles (a neuroscientist!).

  67. #67 Verbose Stoic
    February 14, 2013

    eric,

    A big part of the issue is that you have to understand the basis of the view — Aristotle — to really be able to unpack it. I had actually taken Aristotle in my philosophy degree, and when reading “Aquinas” had to be reminded a lot of it. Once you put it in that framework — which is quite different than the more modern frameworks you’ve come across — it becomes a lot less opaque. So I still do recommend “Aquinas” or some of Feser’s more detailed posts on the matter; “Aquinas” is probably the better of the two.

    Michael Fugate,

    Yes, our examinations of the appearance of consciousness could be misleading, but in general our perceptions are reasonably accurate, and so we don’t go tossing aside perceptions because of philosophical commitments, but only if the evidence that they are wrong is overwhelming. In all of the cases you cite, the evidence was overwhelming and, more importantly, was ALSO gained mostly through perception, leading us to a direct contradiction. Neither of that is true for consciousness, and thus it is certainly reasonable to say that we will stick with our perceptions until you find that contradiction or find that overwhelming evidence.

  68. #68 Another Matt
    February 14, 2013

    You say that “thoughts, intentions, memories, etc could be and most likely are chemical.” Fine, then you should be able to suggest some chemical property that is sufficient to explain my thought “I am presently conscious of myself typing on the keyboard.” It’s not enough merely to suggest “chemicals are likely all there is.” Various people have been suggesting different candidate chemicals for hundreds of years, and none of them has worked so far, and so, no, I don’t see that it should give us confidence the next example will work either. In each case the chemical theories offered come to ruin, and some of us think that a fair appraisal of this fact indicates there’s something wrong with the basic approach.

    It seems as though an argument like this comes up every single time there’s one of these discussions. It’s not the case that if thoughts, intentions, and memories are chemical that there will in principle be a theory which generalizes the reduction in the way you suggest. The best that could happen would be to show the relevant mapping in a given instance.

    Imagine (in a strictly Newtonian universe, for the moment), a wind turbine faces West to catch the west wind. The stiffness of the turbine blades is emerges from the local interactions of its constituent particles. The properties of the wind likewise, and the interaction of the wind particles with the blades is basically predictable on the large scale. But even with this huge level of predictability, there’s no theory of “westward-facing wind turbines driven by west wind” from the particle level.

    Yet we have no reason to believe that anything but the interaction of particles is going on. There’s an infinite number of particle arrangements that would comply with any definition of “westward facing wind turbine driven by west wind,” and since it’s a high-level definition, the best that we could ever show would be how a single instance mapped down to a specific set of particle interactions: we couldn’t generalize this to the extent that all and only the westward facing wind turbines driven by the west wind could be picked out by some conjunction of properties at the particle level.

    This is why I think the idea of “brain-writing” — putting specific memories into someone’s brain using chemicals or lasers or whatever — is forlorn. If you and I have “the same memory” or “the same belief,” it’s almost certain that they will be sewn into the structure of our brains in unique ways, such that they can’t be compared at the physical level. It’s hard enough to locate “the same file” on a computer hard drive and an SD card only looking at the physical level.

  69. #69 eric
    February 14, 2013

    Couchloc:

    But if you are claiming that cognition instead arises from the interactions, then you are saying that cognition is distinct from those interactions. If X arises from Y, then X is distinct from Y,

    I think you are making a philosophical mountain out of a word choice molehill. Whether you call it an emergent property, or epiphenomenon, or ‘arising out of,’ the point is that materialists see no reason to invoke anything more than the standard physics and materials to explain mental activity.

    Now, if you want to call it a type of dualism, that’s fine by me, but its very very different from the classic dualism that materialists argue against.

    Conscious mental states are not presented to us as having material properties in our experience of them (how long is your thought? how much does it weigh?).

    Up to a second or so. A few millivolts. See? While the science is not mature ,it is certainly possible (andbecoming more possible all thetime) to empirically quantify thought. Which is exactly what you would expect if it were material, and exactly the opposite of what you would expect if it were immaterial. If thought is immaterial, improvements in things like voltmeters should not result in an improved understanding of thought. Yet, it does.

    Or were you talking about subjective experience? I.e., I don’t have an internal sense of how much my thought weighs? Well, I don’t have an internal sense of how much my nasal sensors weigh either – I don’t see that as a very strong argument for an immaterial sense of smell.

    It’s not that we experience our mental states as physical states, and then—afterwards—attach some questionable nonphysical explanation to them. It’s that there are good reasons for thinking that our mental states are not helpfully characterized in terms of material properties to begin with.

    The second sentence does not follow from the first: the fact that we lack a conscious understanding of how thought works is not a ‘good reason for thinking they are not helpfully characterized by material properties.’ We lack a conscious understanding of how our liver works. Or kidneys. Or most of our other internal organs. Should we therefore assume they all have immaterial components?

    Look, our senses have limitations. We do not receive direct conscious feedback about everything that goes on in our own bodies. You can’t claim some part of the body has a non-material component just because unassisted human senses can’t feel how it works.

    So it’s exactly not special pleading but based on serious and carefully considered arguments.

    Your serious and carefully considered arguments would apply equally well to the liver, yet you don’t apply it there. That’s special pleading.

  70. #70 Michael Fugate
    February 14, 2013

    Everything else in our bodies runs on chemical reactions – is that enough evidence for you.

  71. #71 Reginald Selkirk
    February 14, 2013

    Couchloc :66: Fine, then you should be able to suggest some chemical property that is sufficient to explain my thought “I am presently conscious of myself typing on the keyboard.” It’s not enough merely to suggest “chemicals are likely all there is.” Various people have been suggesting different candidate chemicals for hundreds of years, and none of them has worked so far, and so, no, I don’t see that it should give us confidence the next example will work either…

    I think you are oversimplifying MF’s statement. Saying that thoughts, intentions, etc. are the result of chemical reactions in the body is not the same as saying that thoughts are a chemical substance. Consider any neurotransmitter; say dopamine. This will only have any effect when it makes its way to a neural synapse involving a cell with dopamine receptors. So dopamine is not a “thought,” but participates chemically in a system which may produce or influence thoughts.
    There are many other neurotransmitters in the brain, they all require cells to secrete them and cells with receptors. Their effect is mediated by the connections those cells make. The brain is also influenced by more standard biochemistry, such as the availability of energy in the form of glucose, etc. The biochemistry of brain cells may also be influenced by hormones which are not traditionally viewed as neurotransmitters. Etc.
    We have developed many drugs which influence the activity of the brain, and therefore influence thoughts, intentionality, etc. LSD, ritalin, prozac, thorazine, etc. etc. etc. It is clear that the system is influenced by changes in the chemical environment.
    It is not clear that there is some component of the system other than biochemical activity in a neural network.

    Your objection appears to me as misguided as John Searle asking whether a computer “understands” Chinese, when a program which runs on the computer can translate with facility.
    .
    On a lighter note, I once heard, “I don’t know what consciousness is made of, but I know that it’s soluble in alcohol.”

  72. #72 MNb
    February 14, 2013

    @Another Matt: “Have you ever spent much time on Feser’s website?”
    I have. And on the subject I know something about, physics, which I teach, Feser only produces manure. All teleology has been thrown out of the window of physics since 1670, when it was definitely replaced by causality. The relevant but no so well known name here is John Wallis with his treatise on linear momentum.
    Aristoteles was a genius but is totally irrelevant for modern science. It’s highly unlikely that he has something useful to say to psychologists (ie the scientists who study mental functions and behaviors) and neurobiologists.

    I note that Couchloc is still defending the soul of the gaps argument with
    “you should be able to suggest”
    Ha! You can’t explain! Thus god/soul/duality (delete where not applicable).

    @Eric: “I’m not likely to”
    Very sensible. It’s a waste of time. As soon as his teleological approach based on Aristoteles and Aquino produces some predictions in the scientific meaning of the word which cannot be explained by modern physics I’ll pay attention to Feser again. Until then we have nuclear energy, GPS and a little car on Mars. Feser has a lot of work to do before he has caught up.

  73. #73 Michael Fugate
    February 14, 2013

    If that is not enough evidence, then add to it evolution. How do you think nervous systems work in other organisms? How do you think a single-celled organisms reacts to light or pressure? I do not understand why you would conclude all of the rules for life would change just because we have yet to find a definitive answer on consciousness.

  74. #74 couchloc
    February 14, 2013

    Michael,

    Do you think that the nobel prize winning neuroscientist I mentioned, John Eccles, who defended dualism, didn’t know the body runs on chemicals? That’s your answer?

  75. #75 Michael Fugate
    February 14, 2013

    Arguments from authority get you nowhere.

  76. #76 couchloc
    February 14, 2013

    Eric,

    “Your serious and carefully considered arguments would apply equally well to the liver, yet you don’t apply it there. That’s special pleading.”

    The liver isn’t conscious and doesn’t have qualia or anything like that. I don’t know why you insist on changing the subject. If you want to defend the view that the problem of consciousness/intentionality is the same problem as our knowledge of the liver, be my guest, it just doesn’t strike me as very helpful.

  77. #77 couchloc
    February 14, 2013

    Reginald Selkerk,

    “Saying that thoughts, intentions, etc. are the result of chemical reactions in the body is not the same as saying that thoughts are a chemical substance. Consider any neurotransmitter; say dopamine. This will only have any effect when it makes its way to a neural synapse involving a cell with dopamine receptors. So dopamine is not a “thought,” but participates chemically in a system which may PRODUCE or INFLUENCE thoughts.”

    That’s fine, but it’s not inconsistent with the type of dualism I’ve described. If X (causally?) produces Y, then X is distinct from Y. If X (causally?) influences Y, then X is still distinct from Y. None of that is sufficient to show that mental states are nothing but material states in the brain. Descartes was aware of the importance of the brain in relation to thought back in the 1500′s. If you think that dualists don’t understand that there are processes in the brain going on when we think, then you’ve misunderstood their view. They are not ignorant of basic neurochemistry. As I mentioned above, the nobel prize winning neuroscientist John Eccles was a dualist and he probably wasn’t unaware of various facts about how the brain works.

  78. #78 Verbose Stoic
    February 14, 2013

    eric,

    Up to a second or so. A few millivolts. See? While the science is not mature ,it is certainly possible (andbecoming more possible all thetime) to empirically quantify thought.

    How do you know that this is empirically quantifying THOUGHT, as opposed to quantifying neural CORRELATES of thought? Note that you didn’t actually discuss it having any sort of real length and weight, but turned it into a discussion of time and of electrical voltage. Since our entire experience and knowledge of time comes from our experiences, that thought is situated in time doesn’t come as a surprise (whether or not it is really in time in a strong physical sense is another question) and your voltmeter improvements improve our understanding of the brain, but how has that improved our understanding of the subjective experiences themselves? THAT’S what consciousness is; you’d have to be assuming that thoughts are nothing more than what the brain does to assert that improvements in understanding the brain really necessarily mean an improvement in understanding thoughts or consciousness.

    Look, our senses have limitations. We do not receive direct conscious feedback about everything that goes on in our own bodies. You can’t claim some part of the body has a non-material component just because unassisted human senses can’t feel how it works.

    You run right into the problem that couchloc talked about earlier, in that while for the other parts of the body there’s a distinction between the organ and our ability to sense it, for consciousness and the brain the unassisted human sense experience just IS the product of the brain and how the mechanism works, for the most part. By your definition we would HAVE to have a direct sensory access to a major part of the products and the operations of the brain, because what the brain is doing according to you is producing that experience. So while our sense impressions through introspection could be misleading, they also seem to be the only way we have at getting at the actual product, and so cannot simply be tossed away.

    Which leads to the “special pleading” argument. If someone looked at what the liver was purported to do and found that it really seemed to have immaterial components, and so it became a mystery how the liver could produce something with those concrete — ie not just a level of description — properties that didn’t seem physical, then it would be reasonable to question whether the liver was really producing what it was claimed to produce, or if we needed some kind of immaterial substance doing the job. Of course, for what the liver does, we don’t have any such properties. But for the purported product of the brain — subjective experience — we DO seem to have such properties. Given that, it’s not special pleading to note that there is a bit of a problem with physical things producing concrete, non-physical properties.

    Michael Fugate,

    Everything else in our bodies runs on chemical reactions – is that enough evidence for you.

    No, because first it’s the inductive fallacy, and second if we have reason to think that it can’t just be those chemical reactions — or, even, have no reason to think that it’s just chemical reactions — you would simply prove the dualist right that it can’t be in the body, since everything in the body would have to be chemical reactions but it doesn’t look like the mind is that sort of thing.

    If that is not enough evidence, then add to it evolution. How do you think nervous systems work in other organisms? How do you think a single-celled organisms reacts to light or pressure? I do not understand why you would conclude all of the rules for life would change just because we have yet to find a definitive answer on consciousness.

    If those things aren’t conscious, then there is no problem with evolution. But note that I consider brain theories of mind epiphenomenal, meaning that the experiences we have have no causal impact on our behaviour. But if I’m right about that and they don’t, and they require a lot of energy to generate … why were they selected for by evolution?

    MNb,

    I have. And on the subject I know something about, physics, which I teach, Feser only produces manure. All teleology has been thrown out of the window of physics since 1670, when it was definitely replaced by causality.

    And Feser claims, first, that he isn’t aiming at physics, and so it not using the precise terms isn’t a problem and, second, he clearly criticizes the scientific notion of causation as not actually allowing for proper causation. It’s not great to criticize him because of issues that he isn’t actually debating; the physics criticism is one that he repeatedly addresses, and I’m sure I’ve seen him do it on his blog as well.

    As soon as his teleological approach based on Aristoteles and Aquino produces some predictions in the scientific meaning of the word which cannot be explained by modern physics I’ll pay attention to Feser again.

    Since Feser is claiming to be perfectly compatible with physics and generally to be making more metaphysical claims, you are demanding products from him that he is in no way intending to produce.

    Now, I don’t buy his Aristotlean view, but you really should read the book to understand what he’s actually trying to do before criticizing it.

    Reginald Selkirk,

    We have developed many drugs which influence the activity of the brain, and therefore influence thoughts, intentionality, etc. LSD, ritalin, prozac, thorazine, etc. etc. etc. It is clear that the system is influenced by changes in the chemical environment.
    It is not clear that there is some component of the system other than biochemical activity in a neural network.

    But that’s the entire problem. Interactionist dualism accepts that the system is so influenced. What it does is ask where in a strict chemical analysis does the actual subjective experience come from, and how can you tell? Note that you can NEVER reduce it down to chemical reactions because then you would have to assert that in principle nothing that does not have those chemicals can be conscious, including computers or aliens with radically different physical structures, no matter how much they may ACT like they do. They’d all have to be zombies under your definition, and there is absolutely no reason to assume that, especially since the neural/chemical story is built up from observing external behaviour in the first place. If you allow them to split apart, then your neural/chemical correlates might not reflect actual conscious experience either, and then you’re screwed.

    Your objection appears to me as misguided as John Searle asking whether a computer “understands” Chinese, when a program which runs on the computer can translate with facility.

    The problem with these pat assertions of “misguided” is that Searle was, again, after a specific notion, that of simply manipulating the symbols and using the syntax without in any way knowing the semantics. His Chinese Room was a thought example experiment of that that has some problems, but it is clear that if I was translating simply by looking things up mechanically in a book it’s hard to say that that is, at least, the same sort of understanding as a system where the semantics are being explicitly considered. Babelfish, for example, almost certainly doesn’t understand the languages it often mangles in translation, but surely it isn’t just a matter of accuracy that determines whether or not it really understands.

  79. #79 Collin Brendemuehl
    February 14, 2013

    Reginald,

    MNb #55: Of course science is based on presupposition…

    Yes, it appears that Collin Brendemuehl has drunk deep of the presuppositionalist koolaid.

    When you can avoid attributing a statement by MNb to me, then you might have a tiny bit of credibility. But at this point, since you cannot even get a quote correct, one must wonder if your capacities do evidence the propositions of A. Plantinga.

    Apart from that you make the standard error of confusing a presupposition as priori with presupposition as state of mind. (eg, “You are not allowed to presuppose something”) For instance, we operate on the presupposition that our language is understood. Not a great example as it easily falls under both categories. On the one hand language is a state of mind. But on the other hand what is behind that is a frame of reference from which we operate. That frame of reference is presuppositionalism.
    Your example:

    In science, one makes starting assumptions based on prior knowledge, but these must be open to reinterpretation if the experimental data requires it.

    And what is the foundation for those starting assumptions? What is the first assumption? Then, on what basis can one conclude that there are brute facts? I don’t think you are able to escape the spiral without appealing to some starting point of both mental state and frame of reference.

  80. #80 Another Matt
    February 14, 2013

    What it does is ask where in a strict chemical analysis does the actual subjective experience come from, and how can you tell? Note that you can NEVER reduce it down to chemical reactions because then you would have to assert that in principle nothing that does not have those chemicals can be conscious, including computers or aliens with radically different physical structures, no matter how much they may ACT like they do.

    Sufficient conditions are not the same as necessary conditions.

    Your objection appears to me as misguided as John Searle asking whether a computer “understands” Chinese, when a program which runs on the computer can translate with facility.

    The problem with these pat assertions of “misguided” is that Searle was, again, after a specific notion, that of simply manipulating the symbols and using the syntax without in any way knowing the semantics. His Chinese Room was a thought example experiment of that that has some problems, but it is clear that if I was translating simply by looking things up mechanically in a book it’s hard to say that that is, at least, the same sort of understanding as a system where the semantics are being explicitly considered. Babelfish, for example, almost certainly doesn’t understand the languages it often mangles in translation, but surely it isn’t just a matter of accuracy that determines whether or not it really understands.

    The Chinese room is not about translation. Searle stipulates that the room passes the Turing test, so its output has original semantic content.

  81. #81 couchloc
    February 14, 2013

    No, Searle claims that the program used “has syntax but no semantics.” It is the people outside of the room who attribute meanings to the outputs of the computer. In itself the program has no semantics..

  82. #82 Another Matt
    February 14, 2013

    That’s what Searle claims, but I have never been able to make sense of what he means, at least if what we mean by “semantic content” is based on what we can glean from the communication we have with other humans in speech or written form. When we converse with humans we ascribe semantics to the content of their speech based on whether we can decode it and map it appropriately to the situation at hand. If I utter word salad it does not have semantic content, nor does it if I am offering canned, grammatical sentences that have nothing to do with the conversation (someone would be tempted to ask, “are you having a stroke?”). The room is creating original utterances that are perfectly appropriate in a sustained conversation with a Chinese-speaking human, and I think we should want to ascribe semantic content to it because it is appropriate, relevant, incisive, etc.

  83. #83 Another Matt
    February 15, 2013

    Maybe a better question from my perspective would be: how could it not be the case that an intelligent conversation automatically depends upon there being semantic content on both ends?

  84. #84 Verbose Stoic
    February 15, 2013

    Another Matt,

    Maybe a better question from my perspective would be: how could it not be the case that an intelligent conversation automatically depends upon there being semantic content on both ends?

    Which is the exact question that the Chinese Room raises: is presenting output to a user that would be indistinguishable from someone who is definitely doing semantic analysis sufficient to say that there is some sort of semantic analysis going on in the system? The intuitions clash, but I do think that the Chinese Room is good at showing that it is not obvious that that is the case because it is not obvious that the Chinese Room really understands and really does semantics, even if Searle would have liked it to demonstrate that it is obvious that it doesn’t.

  85. #85 Another Matt
    February 15, 2013

    Which is the exact question that the Chinese Room raises: is presenting output to a user that would be indistinguishable from someone who is definitely doing semantic analysis sufficient to say that there is some sort of semantic analysis going on in the system?

    But… how can you tell anyone is “definitely doing semantic analysis” besides looking at their output over time? This is textbook special pleading.

    The more interesting question has always been, “Could the Chinese Room exist in principle?” I think it’s almost obvious that it could not hold a conversation in the time frame of the lives of its occupant and interlocutor, for instance.

  86. #86 eric
    February 15, 2013

    couchloc @76:

    The liver isn’t conscious and doesn’t have qualia or anything like that.

    Your argument was that direct experience of mental states without a direct experience of how they work presents us with a problem. But that argument can be applied to many biological functions: we have direct experience of a function without direct experience of how that funciton really works. I feel myself breathing, but this does not inform me that specialized cells are taking in oxygen. I feel myself thinking, but this does not inform me as to how that is happening. You don’t infer an immaterial component to any other organ, even though your argument applies equally well to them. That’s special pleading, and my bringing it up is certainly not changing the topic.

    As for qualia, making that a criteria for when to consider immaterial explanations seems to me the very definition of special pleading. You’re saying we can dismiss immaterial components to all the other unexplainable bits of biology because none of those other unexplainable bits are consciousness.

  87. #87 Verbose Stoic
    February 15, 2013

    Another Matt,

    Sufficient conditions are not the same as necessary conditions.

    Kinda my point. If you want to argue that they are sufficient for consciousness, then you have to demonstrate that they are by linking them appropriately to the actual subjective experiences. If you try to get around that by saying that what it MEANS to be conscious is to have those chemical reactions, then you eliminate any other material configuration having that. So, either you have to address the dualist/qualia freak concern about demonstrating that those chemical reactions produce the experiences by showing how they actually do that, or you end up taking out the very thing you’d use to show that there’s any relation between the subjective experiences and those chemical reactions.

  88. #88 Reginald Selkirk
    February 15, 2013

    couchloc #77: If you think that dualists don’t understand that there are processes in the brain going on when we think, then you’ve misunderstood their view.

    If a dualist says something like, “Fine, then you should be able to suggest some chemical property that is sufficient to explain my thought… It’s not enough merely to suggest “chemicals are likely all there is.” Various people have been suggesting different candidate chemicals for hundreds of years I think I can be forgiven for thinking that particular dualist has a shockingly oversimplistic view of the available science.

  89. #89 Reginald Selkirk
    February 15, 2013

    Colin Brendemuhl #79: When you can avoid attributing a statement by MNb to me, then you might have a tiny bit of credibility.

    It is very obvious that I attributed that quote to MNb; I even prefixed the quote with his handle and comment number. If it is credibility you are concerned with, look to your own.

  90. #90 couchloc
    February 15, 2013

    eric,

    “I feel myself thinking, but this does not inform me as to how that is happening. You don’t infer an immaterial component to any other organ, even though your argument applies equally well to them.”

    I have already responded to this very point at #66, so I don’t know why you are repeating it. You suggest that I could have direct experience of a function without direct experience of how that function really works. This point seems right to me. But this model won’t work in the case of consciousness, as I said, because in this case you can’t make the distinction between “our experience of x” and “the reality of x” like this. If it appears to me that I’m conscious then I really am conscious.

  91. #91 eric
    February 15, 2013

    VS @78:

    How do you know that this is empirically quantifying THOUGHT, as opposed to quantifying neural CORRELATES of thought?

    If you’re demanding absolute philosophical certainty, I don’t have that. It could be the case that the cognition you attribute to some immaterial component just so happens to correlate to brain activity. It could also be the case that the motions of the angels pushing around planets just so happens to correlate to our discovered laws of physics. But I don’t require absolute philosophical certainty to dismiss the latter as either wrong or useless; at some point, “mere correlation” is enough to do that. Likewise with the former.

    OTOH, if you’re asking whether we have a reasonable, empirically based inference for cognition being causally related to the physical working of the brain, I’ll put up all of modern physiology as supporting that. I’ll put up three beers at the bar as supporting that. And if you want to say that your immaterial component only influences or contributes to some parts of cognition while the material component accounts for all the stuff I’m talking about, then I’m going to ask that you quantify your hypothesis sufficiently well enough to test it. What does the immaterial component influence? How can we test your hypothesis? What is your proposed mechanism? If you think it does something to cognition separatef from brain activity, tell me what it does so I can go look at what happens in the brain when people do that thing. If your hypothesis is right, nothing (different) will happen in the brain.

    your voltmeter improvements improve our understanding of the brain, but how has that improved our understanding of the subjective experiences themselves?

    Seriously? You can’t think of any material advance that counts as an improvement of our understanding of subjective experience? How about our understanding of whether demonic possesion vs. biochemistry is causing changes in our subjective experience. Children still die accused of demonic possession amongst people that do not accept that understanding. I call reducing the number of child deaths from accusations of demonic possession a pretty darn big improvement. How about the impact of drugs on personality? How about recent studies of brain activity showing that some decisions can be predicted via MRI and other such techniques seconds before our conscious mind seems to make them?

    All of these improvements in understanding would not be possible if subjective experience was immaterial. An immaterial subjective experience simply shouldn’t be affected by (e.g.) alcohol, since that only effects brain activity (unless you think there’s literally spirit in the spirits). The very fact that materialist methods are making inroads into understanding cognition is strong evidence that cognition is a material phenomenon.

    while for the other parts of the body there’s a distinction between the organ and our ability to sense it, for consciousness and the brain the unassisted human sense experience just IS the product of the brain and how the mechanism works

    So what? You’re still just asserting that cognition must come with a second-order understanding of how its own cognition works. I don’t see why. What is it about sentience or subjective experience that necessarily, logically requires that it come with an understanding of how subjective experience works?

    Now, I don’t want to be accused of trapping you, so I’ll say right out that you should be very careful about the argument you use here, because afterwards you’re going to have to explain why immaterial subjective experiences do not necessarily come with that understanding. IOW it can’t be something about subjective experience itself, because if that were the case, then we would come with an understanding that our immaterial subjective experience was immaterial…and we don’t.

    If someone looked at what the liver was purported to do and found that it really seemed to have immaterial components…then it would be reasonable to question whether the liver was really producing what it was claimed to produce, or if we needed some kind of immaterial substance doing the job. Of course, for what the liver does, we don’t have any such properties. But for the purported product of the brain — subjective experience — we DO seem to have such properties.

    I think this is just bald assertion or an argument from incredulity, take your pick. AFAIK there is no actual research leading to the conclusion that cognition “really does” have immaterial components, that is just an old hypothesis which has never stood up to any test its been given. Its in constant retreat? The soul has mass? Oops, no, sorry, we mean it doesn’t.

    What seems to be going on here is that you are willing to accept that we will find a future material explanation for unexplained things about (e.g.) liver function, but you find it incredulous that we will find a future material explanation for unexplained things about cognition.

  92. #92 Michael Fugate
    February 15, 2013

    “I think I can be forgiven for thinking that particular dualist has a shockingly oversimplistic view of the available science.”

    Amen to that – 2000 year old philosophy + 2000 year old science = fail.

  93. #93 Verbose Stoic
    February 15, 2013

    eric,

    Here are two things I need to remind you of:

    1) You cannot conflate the religious discussions of souls and the like with the philosophical position of dualism. Shots aimed at specific religious views of, say, souls and demonic possession have nothing to do with the basic philosophical commitments of Cartesian dualism.

    2) Cartesian dualism is an INTERACTIONIST dualism, which says that brain events cause mind events and mind events cause brain events. I am an interactionist dualist, as I have said repeatedly.

    This deals with about 90% of your comment, as a rough estimate.

    So what? You’re still just asserting that cognition must come with a second-order understanding of how its own cognition works.

    I’m not talking about cognition. I’m talking about CONSCIOUSNESS, which as I have said is defined by the actual subjective experiences. Thus, the thing i’m trying to explain ARE the subjective experiences, and so it seems the best way to look at what consciousness is like and what properties it has is to look at the properties of the subjective experiences themselves. And this is where your reliance on the brain events falls apart, because the brain events AREN’T direct instances of consciousness, but are only INDIRECT instances that we correlate with the actual experiences. It is possible that that correlation is identity or in fact total causation, but you have yet to demonstrate that in any way … and you have the epiphenomenal problem if you do. Which, you’ll recall, is actually my biggest problem with the neural story.

    (As an aside, I actually think that you can get cognition purely physically, but don’t think that cognition and consciousness are the same thing. The essay on my blog about “Phenomenal Experience and Cognitive Function” outlines this in detail.)

    Now, I don’t want to be accused of trapping you, so I’ll say right out that you should be very careful about the argument you use here, because afterwards you’re going to have to explain why immaterial subjective experiences do not necessarily come with that understanding. IOW it can’t be something about subjective experience itself, because if that were the case, then we would come with an understanding that our immaterial subjective experience was immaterial…and we don’t.

    The fact that we intuitively seem to think that the mind is not physical and is not the brain and the fact that when we introspect on the properties of brain it seems to suggest the same thing would pretty much indicate that we do indeed come to the understanding that it is immaterial. It’s actually a rather major concession that I make to materialists by accepting that those intuitions and those introspections might be misleading.

    What seems to be going on here is that you are willing to accept that we will find a future material explanation for unexplained things about (e.g.) liver function, but you find it incredulous that we will find a future material explanation for unexplained things about cognition.

    But recall that my point was that we looked at the things people are saying the liver does and noted that all of those seemed material, but that that isn’t the case for consciousness. I think it’s only that you switched — all on your own, as far as I can tell — from “consciousness” to “cognition” that lets you avoid that point by trying to translate it to a high level description. That doesn’t work when you have actual events — subjective experiences — to explain.

  94. #94 Verbose Stoic
    February 15, 2013

    I must have slipped a bold marker in there instead of a blockquote. Oops. Sorry about that.

  95. [...] I’m going to dedicate most of this post to Rosenberg’s opening statement, but first let me say “here here” to something from Jason Rosenhouse’s comments on the debate: [...]

  96. #96 eric
    February 15, 2013

    Another Matt @82 and VS in response: OT, but if you find turing tests and the chinese room example interesting, you might pick up the book The Most Human Human. Every year there’s a turing test competition conducted. Both true AIs and humans pretending to be AIs are pitted against humans (call this latter group ‘subjects’). At the end, the subjects vote on which of their opponents were AIs and which were humans. Two awards are given: one for the AI which was given the most “is a human” votes (because that’s the turing test), and – more amusingly – one for the human opponent that was given the most “is a human” votes. The book is about one guy’s quest to get that award and become “the most human human.”
    Related to your back-and-forth, it ain’t just about syntax and semantics. Or event knowledge or message content. VS – as a bonus for you, the author is a philosopher by training.
    I will not tell you whether he wins it. Go read the book. Its fun. :)

  97. #97 Reginald Selkirk
    February 15, 2013

    Collin Brendemuehl #79: And what is the foundation for those starting assumptions?

    It matters not a whit towards the comments I made. In science and in mathematics, all presuppositions are open to question and to rational critique. The may be found wanting on grounds of redundancy, unproductiveness, lack of evidential support or lack of parsimony. It doesn’t matter if people have been making those presumptions for millenia. It doesn’t matter if other assumptions have been built on top of them. It doesn’t matter if they have been merely extracted from an orifice in the mistaken belief that labeling them “presupposition” would free them from rational inquiry; it will not.

  98. #98 eric
    February 15, 2013

    VS @93:

    Cartesian dualism is an INTERACTIONIST dualism, which says that brain events cause mind events and mind events cause brain events. I am an interactionist dualist, as I have said repeatedly.

    My apologies if I’m mixing up some of your contentions with Couchloc’s. Is your dualism materialist, or not? Do you agree or disagree that mind events arise solely from the brain (and other things composed of atoms, forces, and their interactions)? I get that you see a feedback loop. I’m not trying to make you commit to a one-way-street where you see it being two-way. It may surprise you to learn that Iagree the feedback concept is important and relevant. I’m asking if that two-way street has, for you, a nonmaterial component to it. For me, it doesn’t. For me, this is a loop in which both types of events ultimately arise from material stuff. How about you?

    The fact that we intuitively seem to think that the mind is not physical and is not the brain and the fact that when we introspect on the properties of brain it seems to suggest the same thing would pretty much indicate that we do indeed come to the understanding that it is immaterial.

    Who is this “we?” I don’t. It doesn’t make any sense to me to attribute mind events to anything but physics, biology, and chemistry. For all your protestations that I’m unnecessarily dragging religion into it, this argument is exactlythe sort of arguments religious people use. We all know deep down inside he exists, those guys who say otherwise are just lying or deluded. Well, no, they aren’t. The consensus on which you base this argument doesn’t exist.

    But recall that my point was that we looked at the things people are saying the liver does and noted that all of those seemed material, but that that isn’t the case for consciousness

    Again, says who? Maybe this point was good in the 12th century, but in the 21st, I think consciousness seems perfectly within the reach of the material to a lot of people.

    And how is your argument above not an argument from incredulity? It seems a very classic version of it. 1.It doesn’t seem to me that consciousness could have a material basis 2. Ergo, I don’t think it does.

  99. #99 MNb
    February 15, 2013

    “Is your dualism materialist, or not?”
    That’s exactly why I prefer to use mind (= psyche) for the materialist part, which can be studied by science. Soul is the non-materialist part, either religious or not.
    If VS’ dualism is materialist then he only refers to the separation of neuro-biology and psychology, which I expect to unify within several decades. Questions like these are just a matter of time.
    So I am quite uninterested in the philosophical approach of this subject; it’s just another field where philosophy has to give way to science.

  100. #100 Michael Fugate
    February 15, 2013

    I would add to Eric’s comment on the dualist arguments against a material mind. They also take the following forms:
    1. Since science can’t explain consciousness now, it never will be able to do so.
    2. Since science can’t explain consciousness now, it must be magic.
    When someone hypothesizes mind lacks matter and energy itself, but can act on matter, they are hypothesizing magic. I realize the idea of an immaterial mind is ancient – arising in times when a spirit-filled world was the norm. This is no longer the case. Has anyone noticed that most everyone doesn’t think demons cause disease – that it has a material basis?

  101. #101 couchloc
    February 15, 2013

    Mnb writes:

    “I am quite uninterested in the philosophical approach of this subject; it’s just another field where philosophy has to give way to science.”

    One would like to know how you could possibly know the future like this or whether this is merely an expression of hope on your part. If you like, here is nobel prize winning Francis Crick and neuroscientist Cristof Koch’s reply to the problem of consciousness being discussed on this thread:

    “Well, let’s first forget about the really difficult aspects, like subjective feelings, for they MAY NOT HAVE A SCIENTIFIC SOLUTION. The subjective state of play, of pain, of pleasure, of seeing blue, of smelling a rose – there seems to be A HUGE JUMP between the materialistic level, of explaining molecules and neurons, and the subjective level. Let’s focus on things that are easier to study – like visual awareness…..” (“What is Consciousness”, Discover, November 1992, p. 96.)

    It would seem that Verbose Stoic and others agree with Crick and Koch on this point. And I would suggest that it would be implausible to accuse the latter of not knowing the details about the science, although I wouldn’t be surprised at this point if someone on this thread tried to make that argument.

  102. #102 Michael Fugate
    February 15, 2013

    Argument from authority and magic together again – sweet!

  103. #103 couchloc
    February 15, 2013

    Mnb has claimed he knows what will happen in the future (astrology). Michael F. has argued that anyone who accepts dualism is committed to magic (straw man fallacy).

    Belief in astrology plus fallacious forms of reasoning — sweet!

  104. #104 Another Matt
    February 15, 2013

    I recently heard a pretty good definition of “magic”: anything which has to violate conservation laws to work.

  105. #105 Ça alors!
    February 16, 2013

    If we assume for one moment that there could be a part of our nature that is uncreated, it would be just normal that we wouldn’t be able to see or measure it, for the simple reason that it would be… uncreated.

    So even if at its basis consciousness would be uncreated, everything experienced in a space time continuum has to begin and end. In other words, our intellect cannot deal with a mode where what is experienced wouldn’t have to start or end, even if right now, we would all borrow our “I” from a “single” uncreaetd consciousness, which would mean that in the core of reality, there would be no difference between what is experienced, the action of experiencing and the person who is experiencing.

    Buddhism explains very well how the discontinuity that lies behind everything we feel and think feeds our ego and our certitude that reality can only work on a dual mode where everything is based on a dynamic of opposites; existence vs non-existence, good vs evil, material vs immaterial, or subjective vs objective, etc…

  106. #106 Michael Fugate
    February 16, 2013

    I will happily withdraw the magic claim, if you can tell me how something that lacks matter and energy can act on matter. I doubt you can, but I am willing to be surprised.

  107. #107 Jolly Rancher
    February 16, 2013

    In my not so humble opinion, I don’t think at this point that dualism provides anything like an answer to the question of consciousness, rather than merely re-naming the problem, but I am certainly sympathetic to the complaints that dualists often raise about purported ‘explanations’ of consciousness, which many people, so far as I can tell at any rate, just don’t seem to get. So I can’t resist poking my nose in where perhaps it doesn’t belong.

    eric @ 69:”the fact that we lack a conscious understanding of how thought works is not a ‘good reason for thinking they are not helpfully characterized by material properties.’”

    The problem is not a lack of understanding about the cognitive FUNCTIONS of consciousness, but the existence of subjectivity, and hence consciousness AT ALL. Ignorance of the former still takes the form of a standard scientific problem, and thus seems amenable to standard scientific methodology. The latter does not seem to be so capable of formulation; hence the present debate.

    Michael Fugate @ 65: “To claim that consciousness is somehow fundamentally different than other biological functions (i.e not able to be characterized by material properties) just don’t seem to be very likely in light of what we know about how the universe works.”

    This would be a most excellent way of looking at things, if consciousness were a biological function. But it isn’t. A function, that is. It’s not even a phenomena, because you can’t observe it. Unlike digestion, or photosynthesis, or neural goings on, or anything else out there in the physical world, consciousness is subjective, and since it’s subjective, you can’t measure it, observe it, or sense it etc… Functions consists of mechanisms, which are out there in the world for everyone to see. But, EMPIRICALLY SPEAKING, consciousness is not part of that third-person world, one never actually observes consciousness, which is precisely what makes it such a tough nut to crack, since all of science is based on explaining PUBLICLY OBSERVABLE phenomena in mechanistic, and hence functional, terms. But that method is hard to apply to something that, for all intents and purposes, doesn’t exist as an empirical phenomena. You don’t see other people’s consciousness, you are conscious of other people.

    eric @ 69:”Look, our senses have limitations. We do not receive direct conscious feedback about everything that goes on in our own bodies. You can’t claim some part of the body has a non-material component just because unassisted human senses can’t feel how it works.”

    Assisted human senses can’t see how it(consciousness) works either, because you can’t measure it. Now, who knows what this means metaphysically, but thems the facts, empirically speaking, anyway.

    Another Matt@ @ 83 “Maybe a better question from my perspective would be: how could it not be the case that an intelligent conversation automatically depends upon there being semantic content on both ends?”

    The GOFAI model is built around the idea that if you take care of the syntax the semantics will take care of itself, but this DOESN’T entail that wherever there is syntax functioning in accordance with the norms of semantics, that there is actually any semantics present, apart from that attributed by an outside observer, since syntactic transformations of strings can occur completely without any semantic content whatsoever. One is owed an explanation of why purely syntactic procedures magically develop semantic content when it follows the normative constraints of semantics in some contexts (typically arbitrarily complex cases of behavior), and not others (my Python calculator computes addition, but it doesn’t understand anything). So what’s the difference when you add more of the same rules, when does understanding emerge, and why then and not two rules earlier? I predict no answer will be forthcoming.

    Michael Fugate @ 100:”1. Since science can’t explain consciousness now, it never will be able to do so.”

    I can only speak for myself when I say that that’s an ‘perhaps unintentional, characterization. The thought is more along the lines of: scientific methodology has a particular way of doing things, but this way of doing things is totally inapplicable to the problem of consciousness, because the very nature of consciousness precludes that application. A rough analogy might be: trying to get a negative integer using only addition and multiplication on the set of natural numbers. There is no use saying “we need more time or data”. The very definitions at play preclude one from having to consider that as the cause of failure.
    Now, one is perfectly entitled to ask: why would anyone possibly think that applying standard scientific methodology to consciousness is as hopeless as the above? Hint: it has to do with subjectivity and the objectivity of scientific descriptions.

    Michael Fugate @ 100:”2. Since science can’t explain consciousness now, it must be magic.”

    S more fruitful way of looking at it might be to not characterize it as SCIENCE vs SUPERSTITION. But rather as: do we have the current conceptual tools we need to tackle the problem of consciousness, or do we need a conceptual revolution. An analogy: the question of whether fields in physics could be given an explanation in terms of the accepted principles of the day, or new primitives were needed. Neither side was anti-science or pro-superstition, it was merely a difference of opinion regarding how best to proceed given the difficulties. If the mechanists of the day had succeeded in inculcating the idea that anything that didn’t reduce to billiard ball mechanics was superstition by fiat, we wouldn’t have gotten very far. I think the question of consciousness will likely require some such similar type of conceptual reorientation. But that can only happen if people see why merely asserting we have evidence to believe consciousness is physical, therefore it is, does not constitute a much better explanation of consciousness than saying, consciousness is inexplicable given our current conceptual tool-bag, therefore dualism.

    Anyway, that’s my rant. I’ll forgive you the eyesore, now.

  108. #108 Ça alors!
    February 16, 2013

    That is a good first step. It worked with me when I stopped to take for granted the assumptions my hardcore materiatheist mantra was telling me…

    But nothing I can say will change your mind because language itself is based on the dual mode that our intellect is shaped by, a mode that prevents us to have access to a non-dual mode that would allow you to see how real is the “no-thing” that lies beyond the material vs immaterial logic our intellect is trapped into… if you know what “I” means…

    But to make a short story, what lacks matter and energy but can interact with matter is simply the void. But again, language misleads us. The “void” in question isn’t the void that can be compared to the non-void, but a “void” that would contain emptiness and non-emptiness, a void beyond the opposites by which we commonly grasp the world.

    In other words, if everyone was colour blind, everyone would believe that all “colours” are nuances between black and white. And there would be no words to describe what red, blue or orange would look like. It is the same thing with a non-dual mode. To tell what is experiencing a non-dual mode is not possible since no comparison can be made. it is outside the spectrum between black and white, it is beyond the usual mode of opposites by which we compare and position our self. And since language is a dual mode of communication, it cannot speak for what is non-dual. Only experience will tell.
    So the void in question is the “space” that would contain everything and its opposite, without separation and contradiction….

    I know, this sounds like chinese. It is not my fault if oriental traditions were aware of those concepts a long long time ago. That is why they developed technics so you can check this by your self and realize our your intellect and senses are not giving you the exact picture…

  109. #109 Ça alors!
    February 16, 2013

    The comment above is an answer to Micheal Furgate (#106)…

  110. #110 Collin Brendemuehl
    February 16, 2013

    Reginald,
    Well, you did come after me with a quote fro MNb, assigning his material or substance to my position. Did you not?

    It matters not a whit towards the comments I made. In science and in mathematics, all presuppositions are open to question and to rational critique. The may be found wanting on grounds of redundancy, unproductiveness, lack of evidential support or lack of parsimony. It doesn’t matter if people have been making those presumptions for millenia. It doesn’t matter if other assumptions have been built on top of them. It doesn’t matter if they have been merely extracted from an orifice in the mistaken belief that labeling them “presupposition” would free them from rational inquiry; it will not.

    Who said that presuppositions were free from challenge? I only say that they are present and not to be disregarded.
    Still, I await an answer to the query: How does (X)(Y) ∴ !God work? I don’t think you have and answer. In face, I think you are frightened of the question.

  111. #111 couchloc
    February 16, 2013

    Jolly Rancher,

    I think JR hits it pretty much on the nose regarding consciousness and the other matters he mentions. As I wrote at #24, “……..It seems to me that Descartes and other dualists are often right in their “negative” claims about physical explanations of qualia and intentionality—that these states don’t present themselves to us as having physical properties and that physical explanations of them are unsatisfactory. These arguments I take to be stronger than dualists’ own “positive” nonphysical explanations of such states.”

    Whether the materialist’s explanations are satisfactory is separate from the dualist’s attempt to characterize mental states in positive terms, even if one fairly observes that there are difficulties for the dualist in this regard.

    Michael,

    The dualist thinks this will likely have to involve positing the existence of basic psycho-physical laws to explain the interaction. The fact that there are correlations between mental states and states of the brain is something that dualists can accept. Admittedly, this is not a complete explanation, but it’s not helpful to characterize this as a form of magic rather than something that’s not understood well and needs further development.

  112. #112 Reginald Selkirk
    February 17, 2013

    Collin Brendemuhl: Well, you did come after me with a quote fro MNb, assigning his material or substance to my position. Did you not?

    I did not. I noticed that we were both responding to your comments in a like manner, and made the conversation inclusive.

    In face, I think you are frightened of the question.

    I think you should stop making up stuff about my emotional state. It doesn’t do your credibility any good.

  113. #113 Verbose Stoic
    February 18, 2013

    eric,

    I’m not trying to make you commit to a one-way-street where you see it being two-way. It may surprise you to learn that Iagree the feedback concept is important and relevant. I’m asking if that two-way street has, for you, a nonmaterial component to it. For me, it doesn’t. For me, this is a loop in which both types of events ultimately arise from material stuff. How about you?

    I think that getting into the material/immaterial debate here will just end up with you wandering down a garden path, since my view on that is fairly complicated and we seem to be not connecting on even the simple view yet. So, putting that aside, my view can be summarized thusly: I believe that there are two entities involved that interact casually, the mind and the brain. I believe that they are not the same entity for two reasons:

    1) That’s what, at least to me and other dualists, is suggested when we introspect on subjective experiences, although this isn’t a big reason for me, as I have said.

    2) If there is only one entity, then the specific nature of phenomenal experiences cannot have causal impact on our behaviour. The causal power would be the causal power of the neurons, and not of the qualia itself. This means that you could indeed have Chalmerian zombies running around, acting as if they have experiences but not actually having them. Until you can identify what it is about neurons that means that they produce real subjective experience, we couldn’t even tell the difference by looking at the brain. This is a very serious problem for me, although YMMV.

    Whether either of those entities is immaterial depends greatly on what it means to be material, and I don’t think that materialists have a consistent and useful definition of material that can allow us to make that decision, but that doesn’t impact the two reasons given above.

    Who is this “we?” I don’t. It doesn’t make any sense to me to attribute mind events to anything but physics, biology, and chemistry.

    Let me remind you of what your challenge was to me:

    Now, I don’t want to be accused of trapping you, so I’ll say right out that you should be very careful about the argument you use here, because afterwards you’re going to have to explain why immaterial subjective experiences do not necessarily come with that understanding. IOW it can’t be something about subjective experience itself, because if that were the case, then we would come with an understanding that our immaterial subjective experience was immaterial…and we don’t.

    Which I interpreted as you asking me why it is that if we start from subjective experience we don’t seem to automatically conclude that it is immaterial. To which my reply was that it really does seem like, in general, we DO. The whole heart of the dualist argument is introspecting on the properties of our experiences and concluding that they lack properties or possess properties that mean they can’t be material. And we certainly seem to intuitively think that mind and body are separable, because we don’t find ghosts or minds swapping bodies as CONCEPTUAL impossibilities; we may think they can’t physically occur, but we don’t allow that to get in the way of us thinking that they could indeed happen.

    I had thought that you using the “understanding” argument against couchloc was making too much of that, but it really doesn’t work against me, who has already conceded that that understanding might be inaccurate. The best you can do here is argue that from your perspective if we start from the subjective experiences it isn’t obvious that they are immaterial, but from your argument above about physics and chemistry I am convinced that you are not starting from subjective experience, and even if you were it would only get you to the point I’ve already conceded that has no bearing on the most important reason for my dualism. Thus, this whole line seems to me to be pointless for a discussion between us, and you would have to outline what it is about subjective experience that you think leads you to the brain directly, which might be a bit complicated and, again, only gets you to the point that I’ve already conceded.

    And how is your argument above not an argument from incredulity? It seems a very classic version of it. 1.It doesn’t seem to me that consciousness could have a material basis 2. Ergo, I don’t think it does.

    I think this entire discussion has suffered from people trying to label or define arguments instead of trying to figure out what their opponent is actually arguing. You seem to be so concerned with calling it an argument from incredulity that you don’t seem to have gotten what my argument actually is. Which I will now label as a “Duck” argument:

    If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, and walks like a duck, and if you tell me that it isn’t a duck, it’s reasonable for me to want really good evidence before I accept that. In this case, the argument from dualists is that if you start from subjective experience, subjective experience doesn’t seem material and doesn’t seem like it’s the brain, so it’s reasonable to think it isn’t until you prove it is. If you start from somewhere else — as I suspect you do, mostly from the brain/body or external behaviour — then that may not be as obvious and so you may take a different position. But at the end of the day, both of us are looking at the evidence we have. We’re just giving primacy to different pieces of evidence.

    If VS’ dualism is materialist then he only refers to the separation of neuro-biology and psychology, which I expect to unify within several decades. Questions like these are just a matter of time.

    Except that even if my dualism IS materialist, I actually am referring to the separation of the phenomenal from the psychological, not the separate of the neural from the psychological. And unifying the psychological and neurological is a problem because if you really did that you’d have to deny that things without neurons can have psychological states, and that’s problematic … and, interestingly, I accept that things that are do not have brains can have reasonable psychological states, but not phenomenal ones. You’d end up fighting on two fronts. And if you keep the psychological separate enough to get around that, then unifying it with neurology won’t do much; you’ll get the details of one specific implementation of the psychological, but you’ll never, for example, describe mental events in terms of neurons, but instead in terms of the psychological properties, since you need them anyway to really understand what’s going on.

    Michael Fugate,

    1. Since science can’t explain consciousness now, it never will be able to do so.
    2. Since science can’t explain consciousness now, it must be magic.

    Interestingly, dualists tend to make NEITHER claim. Those who say that science can’t explain consciousness don’t say that it isn’t because it can’t do it now, but because there is something about consciousness that means that it simply cannot be addressed scientifically. The usual argument — already given in this thread — is that consciousness is inherently subjective, and science can only address that which is objectively verifiable. And, again, dualists do not claim that science cannot explain it so it must be magic, but instead would argue at worst that consciousness IS magic, and so science can’t explain it.

    For my part, my dualism is not based in any way on whether science — meaning third-person science — can explain consciousness. Whether science can or can’t explain it is irrelevant. My dualism is based on my view that the materialist theories that we have have serious problems that mean they don’t explain what I think of as consciousness. I am open to that perhaps changing in the future, but am not holding my breath.

    (As another aside, at my blog I have another page talking about how science can’t understand consciousness, by going through things it should be able to answer if it did and pointing out that it’s not possible for it to do that).

    When someone hypothesizes mind lacks matter and energy itself, but can act on matter, they are hypothesizing magic

    I skipped over this before, but why do you think that you can claim that energy is material as opposed to something that exists in both the material and immaterial realms?

    And if you define material to mean “has energy”, and we discover that the mind has to have energy but is still separate from the brain, why do you think that this would refute dualism, or even survival of the mind after death?

  114. #114 Michael Fugate
    February 18, 2013

    I can only reply that you guys live in an entirely different universe than the one I inhabit. Mine doesn’t have immaterial realms where energy and matter are not related.

  115. #115 couchloc
    February 18, 2013

    @ Verbose Stoic, thanks for making me laugh with your duck argument, which represents your view I agree.

    @ eric, I was re-reading your #91 and I think you make a good point in this context when you say:

    “So what? You’re still just asserting that cognition must come with a second-order understanding of how its own cognition works. I don’t see why. What is it about sentience or subjective experience that necessarily, logically requires that it come with an understanding of how subjective experience works?”

    I think your general worry about the reliability of our perceptions here is the right sort of thing to say for someone with your view (though I think it’s problematic, as I suggested). In fact it sounds very similar to a view that has received attention in the last several years by Joseph Levine, who tries to distinguish between what perception “reveals to us about our knowledge of consciousness” and “what we are entitled to conclude metaphysically about consciousness” on that basis. If you haven’t read him before you might consider something from him since your arguments appear to overlap on this point pretty much. Just a thought since I hear you making some points that are very similar to his.

    @ Michael Fugate, that seems like a pretty meager response to the detailed concerns raised above. It seems to me that maybe you haven’t read much from anyone like Chalmers who makes a decent case for why materialistic explanations of consciousness have problems. I don’t want to be presumptuous, but if you are interested in reading something along the lines of the objections some of us have been raising to materialist views you might consider this as a good example: http://www.imprint.co.uk/chalmers.html

  116. #116 Another Matt
    February 18, 2013

    VS — are you maybe equivocating over meanings of “energy”?

    Say a dualist posits something that lacks matter and/or energy (in the physical sense) which can also move matter. There might be good reasons to entertain the idea, or even to accept it and believe it. The problem is, this would contradict some of the various conservation laws in physics, so we’re in a position where we have to choose: 1) perhaps the physicists are right and our consciousness is not what the dualist thinks it is, or 2) perhaps the dualist is right and the conservation laws are wrong after all.

    From a Quinian standpoint, accepting either one is equally “valid” provided you’re willing and able to change the rest of your beliefs to be consistent with it, but I think for most of us around here, giving up such fundamental laws of physics represents way too huge a price to accept any hypothesis without a huge amount of evidence. And saying “it’s undetectable, therefore no such evidence is even possible” is simply an unfalsifiable claim, in the same category as “magic” and “goddidit.”

    Now, none of this is to say that there is or ever will be or even could be in principle a materialist explanation of consciousness — the problem could languish in the “nobody knows” realm forever — but it should be clear why many of us do not take dualism as even a plausible explanation.

  117. #117 Reginald Selkirk
    February 18, 2013

    Collin Brendemuehl #110: Still, I await an answer to the query: How does (X)(Y) ∴ !God work? I don’t think you have and answer.

    Sorry I don’t have time to respond to your question with four undefined terms, I’ve started reading the Feb 2013 issue of Scientific American, with a cover story on “Building Blocks of Memory.” Hey, maybe next month they’ll have a report on “the thermodynamics of angels.” But I doubt it.
    Bye bye.

  118. #118 Michael Fugate
    February 19, 2013

    couchloc, nothing any of you have said changes my opinion. I still think mind is a product of a living system and biology is the best tool to figure out what it is and how it works. That said, once we know that, philosophy will have all kinds of things to say about the implications of those findings. As it is, you are speculating about something and making assumptions which I think are biologically impossible. I can’t think of any energy production that doesn’t involve matter – if you have some counter examples, please share. The incongruities with my understanding of science make me reject dualism.

  119. #119 eric
    February 19, 2013

    VS @113:

    I think that getting into the material/immaterial debate here will just end up with you wandering down a garden path, since my view on that is fairly complicated and we seem to be not connecting on even the simple view yet. So, putting that aside, my view can be summarized thusly: I believe that there are two entities involved that interact casually, the mind and the brain.

    We ARE coonnecting on the simple view. I mostly agree that mind and brain can reasonably be considered two “things” that influence each other in a feedback loop. But nothing about feedback loops in general forbids both of the components from being normal, physical phenomenon. Mind can influence brain and brain can influence mind and both can be derived from atoms, forces, etc… That is what I think is going on. How about you?

    We may have to simply stop our discussion here, since you seem to be unwilling to discuss whether this phenomena is materialist or not. While these posts have gone wildly off the original topic, “theists positing theism where there is a gap in materialist understanding” is at least somewhat related to the OP. What I am interested is whether you and Couch are doing that, and if so, what sort of argumnet you have for doing it, because I don’t see any reason to fill in a gap in scientific knowledge about awareness or subjective experience with an immaterial soul.

  120. #120 eric
    February 19, 2013

    Jolly Rancher:

    This would be a most excellent way of looking at things, if consciousness were a biological function. But it isn’t. A function, that is.

    I am amazed anyone can hold this view. Consciousness is clearly a biological function; cutting off blood flow stops it. Drugs change it. Brain damage changes it. You can watch EEGs or any number of other types of brain monitors and tell when people fall asleep because the electrochemical signal and pattern changes when they lose consciouness.
    Couchloc and others like him may hypothesize that there is some immaterial contribution to subjective experience, but AFAIK nobody denies that there is a material contribution to it.

    It’s not even a phenomena, because you can’t observe it.

    Do you really believe we have no way of observing consciousness? Or are you going VS @78′s route and claiming that all the brain activity we do observe to be associated with consciouness is ‘mere correlation’ and we have no reason to believe there’s any causal relationship there? If so, see my first paragraph @91.

  121. #121 couchloc
    February 19, 2013

    MF, it seems to me that we are not going to resolve this issue since we’re coming at the problem in different ways, although I appreciate your perspective. As I said before, I’m not a theist and opposed to neuroscience or anything like that, it’s that I don’t see how any of the scientific explanations offered on this thread address the fundamental difficulty. You suggest people on this thread are “speculating about something and making assumptions” and that the answer lies somewhere in biology. That’s fine as far as it goes, but I’m a little surprised that you’re not moved by the quote from Crick @ 101 who said that there may be “no scientific solution” to the problem, and that there’s a “huge jump” between descriptions of molecules and neurons and subjective experience. He’s certainly a biologist by any standard who knows what he’s talking about and it would be odd to me to accuse Crick of merely wallowing in speculation or something like that. I didn’t offer the quote as an argument from authority (as you suggest), but merely as some evidence that there’s a real difficulty that has yet to be explained according to some scientists. In any case, thanks for your thoughts.

  122. #122 eric
    February 19, 2013

    I’m not a theist and opposed to neuroscience or anything like that, it’s that I don’t see how any of the scientific explanations offered on this thread address the fundamental difficulty.

    If science has absolutely no clue as to how subjective experience could arise, then we are still simply in a position analogous to Newton’s understanding of the orbit of Mercury. I think the history of science shows that it is foolish in such cases to posit angels (or the analogous).

    I liken unkown mechanisms to a horse race. Out of the millions we’ve held over hundreds of years, Materialism has won all of them. Every single race, no matter what the conditions or subject or time. Supernatural has yet to win even one race, Now, does this mean Materialsim will win this particular race (mechanism for subjective experience)? No. But is the smart money on her? Yes.

  123. #123 Another Matt
    February 19, 2013

    I’m a little surprised that you’re not moved by the quote from Crick @ 101 who said that there may be “no scientific solution” to the problem, and that there’s a “huge jump” between descriptions of molecules and neurons and subjective experience.

    It’s certainly possible that there may be no scientific solution. That does not mean that there will therefore be a satisfactory explanation from another domain, and it certainly does not mean that we get to just speculate with whatever we think might work without thinking very carefully about the other parts of physical reality we already know a lot about.

    That’s the problem as I see it — if science can never crack it in principle, then it has to remain a mystery because nothing we could posit could stand or fall on evidence. And we’d still have no good reason to believe in souls or (p-)zombies.

  124. #124 Michael Fugate
    February 19, 2013

    As far as I am concerned Crick’s opinion is no better than mine. I am going to keep looking for a biological cause; that is where I think the answer most likely lies. Immaterial minds, spirits, souls, whatever may have made sense 2500 years ago and even 100 years ago, but not today. The laws of thermodynamics were formalized in the latter half of the 19th century – Neurons as the functional unit of the nervous system at the turn of the 20th. Science is young – why assume it is not up to the task?

  125. #125 Verbose Stoic
    February 19, 2013

    Another Matt,

    VS — are you maybe equivocating over meanings of “energy”?

    No, I’m asking what makes people so sure that energy works the way they think it does so that they can eliminate an immaterial cause of some things by saying that energy is physcial and only applies to the physical realm. What does material mean if it an include things that aren’t technically matter (as far as I can recall, energy isn’t technically matter, although it is generally considered physical). If someone’s going to claim this as an overarching problem for dualism, they had better be really sure about their definitions … and since we don’t know much yet about what an immaterial realm has or doesn’t have, that’s going to be quite hard to do.

    Say a dualist posits something that lacks matter and/or energy (in the physical sense) which can also move matter. There might be good reasons to entertain the idea, or even to accept it and believe it. The problem is, this would contradict some of the various conservation laws in physics, so we’re in a position where we have to choose: 1) perhaps the physicists are right and our consciousness is not what the dualist thinks it is, or 2) perhaps the dualist is right and the conservation laws are wrong after all.

    I’ve heard of this argument and never really found it a major challenge to dualism, because if I could demonstrate that the mind really had to be immaterial then no one could use that argument to cast doubt on any proof of that sort, but instead we’d simply accept that we have to rework the conservation laws. In fact, it is easy to imagine that we wouldn’t have to change anything that we know of non-mental interactions, but simply work in how conservation works for mental things. If I can leave all of the existing interactions alone and simply have to rework the laws for this mental domain that the conservation laws weren’t derived from in the first place, I fail to see how that’s in any way an argument that I have to worry about. After all, if I prove my case then the argument falls away, and if I don’t prove my case the conservation argument again isn’t going to be the reason that fails.

    However, what I concede is that the big problem for dualism, at least of the immaterial kind, is how the immaterial causes the events in the material and vice versa. However, claiming that energy spans both realms seems a perfectly acceptable hypothesis that avoids that problem, and I fail to see what would be unscientific about hypothesizing that, since science itself can’t say at this time that that couldn’t happen … at least not as science. They could do it by definition/stipulation, but that’s not an argument that I’d have to worry about.

    Basically, though, there is a point here, which is that the dualist is generally driven by “This is what consciousness appears to me from the inside” and the materialist is driven by “This is what I can see happening from the outside”. Since I think that consciousness is defined by what’s happening on the inside, I find the materialist explanations to be missing the point. Materialists tend to think otherwise and tend to focus on having third-person evidence, and so are dismissive of the problems raised by this internal view. And both sides can raise issues of accuracy: materialists can point out that appearances can be deceiving, while dualists can point out that scientific laws and discoveries often change. As I have said before, it really comes down to what problem you think is more serious.

    That’s the problem as I see it — if science can never crack it in principle, then it has to remain a mystery because nothing we could posit could stand or fall on evidence. And we’d still have no good reason to believe in souls or (p-)zombies.

    If science is based on third-person objective examination and consciousness is importantly first-person subjective, then science couldn’t study it but I think it would be fair to argue that we need to rely on more methods that can work through the subjective, and invent them if we can. So we can use introspection, even if science can’t allow that to be their main evidence, for example.

    eric,

    While these posts have gone wildly off the original topic, “theists positing theism where there is a gap in materialist understanding” is at least somewhat related to the OP.

    The problem is that neither of us have done that, which is again why we aren’t really in step on the basic view. I am mostly unconcerned about whether the separate mind entity is material or not, because I have no clue what materialistis mean when they call something material. In Descartes time, not having length or mass would mean it wasn’t material, but now we have things that at least technically don’t have that and materialists claim it as material. Fine, if you want to define material that broadly then this mind thing would be material, but that doesn’t mean that it has atoms or anything else. Could we have a material separated entity “mind” that is made of atoms and the like? Maybe, but that’s not why I’m a dualist, at least not how that would be relevant to the discussions I’m having here with materialists. If you concede that it is not unreasonable to posit another entity then basically that’s all I need and am after.

  126. #126 Michael Fugate
    February 19, 2013

    No you had better be sure you understand the science – which obviously you don’t. You can’t hand wave away thermodynamics because it gets in the way of your pet hypothesis.

  127. #127 eric
    February 19, 2013

    I’m asking what makes people so sure that energy works the way they think it does so that they can eliminate an immaterial cause of some things by saying that energy is physcial and only applies to the physical realm.

    We model what we observe. The best models of energy, the ones that work, are ones in which any immaterial component is given zero influence. This is not absence of evidence; this is direct inductive evidence of absence of the immaterial. If E = mc^2 +kI where I is the immaterial component of energy and k is a proportionality constant, then the best value for k that we know of is zero. Just to reiterate, this is NOT “we don’t know k.” This is “we know k as well as we know anything, and k = 0.”

    Could k be nonzero? Sure. And maybe F = ma +k*(My telekinetic power). But that is so unlikely that you would be right to laugh at my claim that such a k is nonzero, or is worth worrying about.

    Or maybe you’re saying energy has a component that has no influence on anythnig we observe. But so what? That is very much an angel-on-pin claim: arguing about the properties of some form of energy when you have no reason to believe such a form even exists.

  128. #128 Another Matt
    February 20, 2013

    However, what I concede is that the big problem for dualism, at least of the immaterial kind, is how the immaterial causes the events in the material and vice versa. However, claiming that energy spans both realms seems a perfectly acceptable hypothesis that avoids that problem, and I fail to see what would be unscientific about hypothesizing that, since science itself can’t say at this time that that couldn’t happen … at least not as science. They could do it by definition/stipulation, but that’s not an argument that I’d have to worry about.

    Your hypothesis strikes me as totally unfalsifiable since this “immaterial realm” is unobservable.

    My two eyes see colors slightly differently — the left sees things as a bit redder than the right. I could hypothesize that this is because when my mental energy for visual perception reaches into the immaterial realm the immaterial Canaanite god Moloch convinces the energy for the left eye to manifest as slightly redder than the energy for the right by threatening it with immaterial torment without my knowledge. Science itself can’t say that this couldn’t happen — not as science anyway…

    There are an infinite number of ways you can just make stuff up so that science can’t possibly study it.

  129. #129 Verbose Stoic
    February 20, 2013

    Michael Fugate,

    I really wish you’d say who you’re talking to and what you’re replying to — you can use the “blockquote” tag you know — because with your short comments it’s often really hard to figure out who you’re talking to and what you’re talking about. Assuming it’s me:

    No you had better be sure you understand the science – which obviously you don’t. You can’t hand wave away thermodynamics because it gets in the way of your pet hypothesis.

    But I never did that. I on the one hand argue that if I could prove my hypothesis to the level of knowledge that thermodynamics WOULD move out of the way, and that your insistence on energy having to be material seems to one of stipulation and not evidence. I see nothing wrong with either of those two positions.

    eric,

    We model what we observe. The best models of energy, the ones that work, are ones in which any immaterial component is given zero influence. This is not absence of evidence; this is direct inductive evidence of absence of the immaterial. If E = mc^2 +kI where I is the immaterial component of energy and k is a proportionality constant, then the best value for k that we know of is zero. Just to reiterate, this is NOT “we don’t know k.” This is “we know k as well as we know anything, and k = 0.”

    Two problems:

    1) The models you are leaning on are models formed by looking at certain sets of interactions, which we have traced and worked out to get those rules. Fine. But those interactions AREN’T mental interactions or events because even at the neural level they are too complicated to actually map out that way. Now, if you can claim that those sorts of events are just like the events you’ve mapped, you can claim that the models should apply to mental events and interactions as well. The problem is that the dualist is ARGUING that they aren’t the same type of events, and so if you keep pushing that line without assaulting the dualist arguments you would be pushing that by presumption and not by evidence. This is why these sorts of arguments aren’t all that compelling, since as I said if the dualist can prove their case even you’d have to accept that you need to either create a new model or adapt the old one, and if the dualist can’t prove their case — or, rather, if you can prove them wrong — then the model arguments are superfluous.

    2) Here, you seem to be basing your counter on an argument that the existing laws that we’ve traced out for the interactions we’ve already done, like that of simple objects without minds, would have to change. But this is not a committment of dualism. Dualism can work just like quantum theory and determinism, where we note that quantum interactions are probabilistic but the macro interactions are still deterministic. Or where we note that Newtonian physics works quite will for local phenomena at slow speeds even though we need Relativistic physics for other things. So we don’t need to change or overturn what we’ve already discovered at all, but would only have to define new laws for this new set of interactions that we hadn’t really studied until now. Perfectly consistent with science and how science generally works.

    Another Matt,

    Your hypothesis strikes me as totally unfalsifiable since this “immaterial realm” is unobservable.

    Substance Dualists deny that. They say the immaterial realm is what you observe when you introspect on your mental experiences. Sure, you can’t get that through the senses or from a third person view, but does that make it unobservable in the right way to make it unfalsifiable?

    As for your example, I would ask why you are positing that explanation. Remember, substane dualists point to the properties of subjective experience that make them think it immaterial or not brain. You haven’t done that. Thus, dualists aren’t making stuff up, but are hypothesizing … just as materialists do when they try to explain subjective experiences using the brain.

  130. #130 eric
    February 20, 2013

    VS:

    The models you are leaning on are models formed by looking at certain sets of interactions, which we have traced and worked out to get those rules. Fine. But those interactions AREN’T mental interactions or events because even at the neural level they are too complicated to actually map out that way.

    You are merely citing the problem of induction. You argument is just a slight variant of: ‘just because your model of energy works for everything you’ve ever tested it on, doesn’t mean it will work for thing x which it is currently impossible to test.’
    Well, yeah, in a strict philosophical sense that’s true. But given (1) the overwhelming past success of my model, and (2) the fact that you do not even have a well-formed testable alternative hypothesis for some other form of energy, and (3) the fact that you do not have any evidence for any alternative hypothesis either, then I am inductively justified in accepting the current model over any vague alternative.
    Now, this does not close the door on the issue. When you have a well-formed, testable alternative model that we can put up against the current one, let us know and we’ll revisit the question of which model is more rational to accept. Or even without an hypothesis, if you do some experiment and come up with an anomalous result that appears to be inconsistent with our current understanding of energy, let us know. But until something like that happens, the problem of induction argument is really a very weak response.

    Point #2 – I agree, current scientific understanding does not have to change to explain mental phenomena. I read your point #2 as you argeeing with a materialist approach – i.e., that mind can (eventually) be explained by the ‘normal stuff’ science already posits – atoms and forces and such – without any need to invoke any ‘new stuff – souls or whatever. I am not sure where in any of my posts you got the notion that I would disagree with this. For the record, I don’t disagree at all.

  131. #131 Michael Fugate
    February 20, 2013

    VS, I apologize for not addressing my posts to specific individuals and their specific comments – it is a bad habit. I don’t however apologize for short comments.

    My reasons for dismissing an immaterial mind really do come down to physiology and evolution. The human brain evolved from simpler nervous systems, is made of matter and requires energy. A recent study on Drosophila summarized by Ed Yong reports that starving flies do not make long-term memories. Memories are chemical-based, produced by specialized neurons, and energetically expensive. If the choice is between short-term survival and long-term memory, the fly opts for survival, can’t remember and therefore can’t learn from experience. If the flies are forced to keep making memories when starving by constitutively turning on genes, their deaths are much more likely.
    http://phenomena.nationalgeographic.com/2013/01/24/starving-flies-must-shut-down-memories-or-die/

    I realize that this is not going to convince everyone, but I find it pretty strong evidence for a material mind. When you consider the possibility for neuronal specialization in humans over a fruitfly (perhaps a million times more neurons), it leaves little doubt in my brain-generated mind.

  132. #132 Verbose Stoic
    February 20, 2013

    You are merely citing the problem of induction. You argument is just a slight variant of: ‘just because your model of energy works for everything you’ve ever tested it on, doesn’t mean it will work for thing x which it is currently impossible to test.’

    We’ve talked about this before, but the argument I’m making here is that you can’t use induction because the substance dualists are claiming that these interactions aren’t the same sort of interactions that you’ve tested before. They are different, and you can’t make ANY valid inductive step from one class of object to another class of object unless you can show that they are related in a law-like way across the specific property that you are trying to push. Otherwise, you actually have to go look. So the substance dualists are saying that you did an excellent job mapping out how things work for physical-physical interactions, but you have no good reason to think that things will work the same way for non-physical-physical interactions or non-physical-non-physical interactions, and they say they have reason — derived from our actual experience of mental events — to think that mental events might well be non-physical. Thus, that the rules you derived for physical-physical interactions might not work for mind-brain interactions isn’t any sort of serious objection; it is, really, only what we’d expect.

    This leads into the second point as well. My argument is that you might have a counter if you could say that we’d have to rewrite everything we knew about physical-physical interactions (albeit a weak one because science rewrites what we know about things all the time, so that’s hardly something new) but as outlined above there’s really no reason to think that the laws for physical-physical interactions will change if we end up discovering that we have a non-physical mind and we need to write some new rules for how it interacts with physical things. So it is not a concession that it is “normal stuff”, but simply pointing out that if it turns out to not be “normal stuff”, that’s not going to change how “normal stuff” interacts with “normal stuff”.

    And all of this fits around a context where all I’m doing is saying that if we prove that mind is not “normal stuff”, your objections won’t matter at all, and if we don’t or it is proven to just be “normal stuff”, then the objections STILL don’t matter, because it will be the proof of it being “normal stuff” that kills dualism, and not concerns about conservation laws.

  133. #133 eric
    February 20, 2013

    VS:

    They are different, and you can’t make ANY valid inductive step from one class of object to another class of object unless you can show that they are related in a law-like way across the specific property that you are trying to push.

    But you have yet to show that mind is ‘another class of object.’ This is mere assertion so far. And its an assertion that flies in the face of empiricism itself, since immaterial components to other processes and phenomena have been proposed and they have – so far – always turned out to be wrong.

    Call that meta-induction if you like. I am using induction on your claim that this is another class of object. There is no inductive reason to accept this premise and good inductive reasoning to reject it. So for now, the burden of proof is on you to show that its another class of object. I.e. come up with a test that can distinguish between an immaterial vs. material mind, run it, and present results that are consistent with the immaterial hypothesis.

    they say they have reason — derived from our actual experience of mental events — to think that mental events might well be non-physical

    Remind me again of that reason. Is this just the ‘lots of people think its non-physical’ consensus thing again? Is it ‘I can’t imagine how it could be physical?’ There doesn’t seem to me much actual reason there. Just gut feeling and incredulity.

    So it is not a concession that it is “normal stuff”, but simply pointing out that if it turns out to not be “normal stuff”, that’s not going to change how “normal stuff” interacts with “normal stuff”.

    I am perfectly fine with your claim phrased as a conditional. I.e., IF it turns out to be immaterial… Sure; if that’s the case, then when that future evidence comes in, I’ll revise my belief. Not before, because every past claim that there is an immaterial component to other phenomena has been shown to be quantitatively and pragmatically false, even if its impossible to rule out such claims absolutely.

    There is not even parity between the two hypotheses: a material explanation is the heavily favored horse in this race. I don’t see how anyone could claim otherwise. Its never lost before, and your horse has never won before, not in the entire history of humans finding explanations for observed phenomena.

  134. #134 Another Matt
    February 20, 2013

    So for now, the burden of proof is on you to show that its another class of object. I.e. come up with a test that can distinguish between an immaterial vs. material mind, run it, and present results that are consistent with the immaterial hypothesis.

    At this point I’d even settle for a description of what the test would look like and what would count as evidence.

  135. #135 Ça alors!
    February 21, 2013

    Matt: “Your hypothesis strikes me as totally unfalsifiable since this “immaterial realm” is unobservable.”

    Again, if mind has an uncreated nature, it is just normal that it can’t be observed, especially if it is that same immaterial mind that has to look for itself. No matter how sophisticated the equipment you’ll use to trap that “no-thing”, if it is not a thing, it means it is limitless and uncreated. What has no beginning has no end and no contour. That is why it is immaterial and wouldn’t be detectable, scientifically speaking.

    Furgate: “The human brain evolved from simpler nervous systems, is made of matter and requires energy”.
    “Memories are chemical-based, produced by specialized neurons, and energetically expensive.”

    But memory and awareness are 2 different things. Memory is for sure required when you evolve in a space/time realm. But you don’t need memory when there is no space and time. Memory is useless in an immaterial forever now…

  136. #136 Another Matt
    February 21, 2013

    Ça alors,

    I have no idea what you mean when you suggest that “mind has an uncreated nature.” You’ve said it before, but never have you explained what it means.

  137. #137 Ça alors!
    February 21, 2013

    Another Matt,

    you are right about this. And it took me a while to understand what it means so I shouldn’t take for granted that a word like uncreated, even if its definition seems pretty clear, makes sense.

    But it means what it means, i.e. : not created. Which means it has always been there, that it is outside time.

    Now, because we live in a world where everything we experience begins and ends, we just can’t imagine what uncreated really means. Our intellect cannot process that concept because our intellect works mostly on a dual mode that is fed by the oppositions, discontinuity and language we experience and use on an everyday basis.

    A lot of oriental traditions are aware that we function under a certain mode that isn’t absolute and explain how our default dual mode of perception shapes our intellect and prevents us to see how the ego emerges from that mode. And once the egotical perception is developed, it is hard to not believe “things” could work differently, that the mind could have an uncreated nature and that we could directly see, under a non-dual mode, the uncreated nature of our self.

  138. #138 Another Matt
    February 21, 2013

    I think, perhaps, that we are speaking a different language. I don’t understand how you’re using most of the terms in the last two paragraphs. :)

  139. #139 eric
    February 21, 2013

    Ca alors @135:

    No matter how sophisticated the equipment you’ll use to trap that “no-thing”, if it is not a thing, it means it is limitless and uncreated. What has no beginning has no end and no contour. That is why it is immaterial and wouldn’t be detectable, scientifically speaking.

    So, our neurons cannot be influenced by the activity of this immaterial thing, because influence is detectable. And thus your immaterial thing can have absolutely no effect on brain fuction. Is that correct?

    OTOH if our neurons can be influenced, we could certaintly detect it (in principle). Just make a detector out of neurons.

  140. #140 Ça alors!
    February 21, 2013

    @Eric
    We can see the interaction it produces but not that “no-thing” itself, especially because it is that same “no-thing” (mind) that looks for itself. For the same reason that fire can’t burn fire or water wet water, consciousness can’t “conscious” consciousness, because yes, consciousness is a special “no-object” by which everything real or unreal comes to your mind…

    @Matt
    You are right, french is my main language, but I’m not sure this is why you don’t understand. It took me years before I could get how buddhism explains in detail how the ego is built on a dual mode of perception and that if there is dual mode, well, it means there is also non-dual mode which gives you the access to the uncreated nature of your “I”…
    In other words, we grasp the world with our senses through opposites and discontinuity. That shapes our way to think in a certain way that prevents us to imagine what is a non-dual mode of perception, even if that non-dual mode is the one on which our egotical perceptions can emerge from…
    Doesn’t help much hey..?

  141. #141 eric
    February 21, 2013

    Ca alors:

    We can see the interaction it produces but not that “no-thing” itself

    Then science can detect it. Detection is always about the interaction it (the detected thing) has with other things. That is how detection is done. If you do not understand that, you do not understand physics. Or even science.

  142. #142 Ça alors!
    February 21, 2013

    “Detection is always about the interaction it (the detected thing) has with other things.”

    But not when it comes to consciousness because consciousness is not an object. That is why we see the traces it leaves (chemical reaction) and experience the form it takes (feelings or thought) but never the “no-thing” itself.

    Science isn’t working apart from consciousness. To do science, you need distance. Distance between the observer and what is observed. In the case of consciousness, if the object is consciousness itself, then there is no distance between what is observed and the observer, apart from what is detectable, i.e.: the traces left by the interactions (physical and subjective). Again, consciousness is not an object, it has no contour, no beginning and no end. Even the use of highly technological equipment remains an attempt of consciousness to look for consciousness. It can’t work, just like adding water to water doesn’t make that water wetter…
    Water wouldn’t “know” that it is wet if it keeps interacting with water. Wetness can only be revealed to water if it interacts with what can be wet. It is the same for consciousness, it can’t look for itself but you can see it interacting with what it isn’t.

  143. #143 eric
    February 21, 2013

    That is why we see the traces it leaves (chemical reaction) and experience the form it takes (feelings or thought) but never the “no-thing” itself.

    If it alters or produces chemical reactions, we can detect those chemical reactions. Yes?

  144. #144 Ça alors!
    February 22, 2013

    Yes, but the chemical reaction isn’t consciousness…

  145. #145 Michael Fugate
    February 22, 2013

    “Yes, but the chemical reaction isn’t consciousness…”

    And you know this, how?

    In your thinking, life is also immaterial, but we can detect living things by their actions. We can detect consciousness by its actions, we can detect mind by its actions. Neither is nothing, they are the result of chemical reactions – just like everything in living systems are. Abstract concepts like mind and life, and even love are the result of chemical reactions within living systems.

  146. #146 Ça alors!
    February 22, 2013

    How do you know this?

  147. #147 Ça alors!
    February 22, 2013

    I mean personaly.

  148. #148 Verbose Stoic
    February 22, 2013

    Michael Fugate,

    I realize that this is not going to convince everyone, but I find it pretty strong evidence for a material mind. When you consider the possibility for neuronal specialization in humans over a fruitfly (perhaps a million times more neurons), it leaves little doubt in my brain-generated mind.

    I think you’d get less pushback if you focused more on saying that it’s reasonable to you and less on arguing that people don’t understand the science or are living in another universe if they don’t agree with your view. I have no problem with you thinking this, as long as you don’t try to say it’s obviously true, because to me it isn’t, and I have outlined a number of times what consciousness means to me and why, therefore, I find these arguments less compelling.

    eric,

    But you have yet to show that mind is ‘another class of object.’ This is mere assertion so far.

    Except, as I have pointed out, dualists ARGUE for this, and don’t merely assert it. You’ve seen some of them already in this thread. Basically, pretty much all dualists start from our experience of our subjective experiences and qualia and note how the properties we see there seem different than the material things we’ve seen in the past. So some of the arguments are:

    How come subjective expereinces qua subjective experiences don’t seem to have length? How come they don’t seem to have mass? How come they don’t seem to have a position in space? Your response to these sorts of challenges was to try to relate it to the brain … except that their argument is starting from experience itself, and you can’t just leap to the brain in that.

    Another one is if the mind is just another entity like the brain, how come I can conceive of them separately?

    Here’s another one that I like: what it means to be physical or material, I argue, is that you have access to it directly through the physical senses, or only indirectly through its impact on other things. But mental events aren’t like that; I have direct access to them, but not through the senses. So, not physical.

    Now, none of these are compelling, and as you already know my biggest challenges to “materialist” theories (meaning the current attempts to build out completely material theories of mind) are not any of these. But in order to break the induction argument you are using, we only need to have some reason to think that they MIGHT be different in relevant ways. At that point, you either have to address the arguments that they might be different so that you can prove that they aren’t, or have to concede that the only recourse at this point is go and LOOK to see what it is and therefore if they are the same. If you continue to push the induction line as if it adds warrant in these cases, you really do look like you’re just dodging the arguments, and refusing to actually go and look at the phenomena in question to actually find out what’s really going on.

    Of course, the above also tells you what the general procedure for testing is according to dualists: go and look at the properties of subjective experience and explain them, and determine if those properties can be material or not. But note that you have work to do as well, as I think I hinted earlier, and have certainly said about natural and supernatural in the past: my obligation is to look at these properties and work them out to see if they can be material or not, but materialists have to come up with a non-question-begging definition of material so that I can compare the properties against that definition to see if they can be material or not. So, give me that definition, and I’ll tell you if it can be material or not. Descartes, for example, had a generally accepted definition of material — more physical, I suppose — in mind when he made his arguments, but most materialists, I think, won’t accept that definition anymore. That’s fine; we do learn as we go along. But then you have to tell me what definition you are using, so that I can then look at the properties again and decide what it means using that definition, as well as what it would mean for dualist theories if material means what you think it means.

    There is not even parity between the two hypotheses: a material explanation is the heavily favored horse in this race. I don’t see how anyone could claim otherwise. Its never lost before, and your horse has never won before, not in the entire history of humans finding explanations for observed phenomena.

    But this is not a stance that actually adds warrant, but is a philosophical committment, seemingly based on practicality. It is a perfectly reasonable alternative position to say that I will judge each material/immaterial conflict on its own merits, because the induction you are using here is precisely the sort of case where induction doesn’t work, because you have no reason to think that there is any actual relation between these two cases; the only thing you have is this vague classification of “material and immaterial” that may not reflect any kind of real defined set or natural kind. Thus, I accept you taking that stance, but see no reason why it should matter to me at all, or why I should adopt it. And note that you have to have a criteria by which you’ll accept that the immaterial theory is, at least currently, the better explanation, because if you always claim that if there’s ANY material theory that could work it is automatically preferred no matter how much the evidence favours the immaterial you would set an impossible standard for immaterial theories, leading your induction to be a self-perpetuating cycle.

    Note as well that for me, starting from subjective experience, the current materialist “horses” aren’t even in the race yet, because they don’t seem to actually include subjective experience and its properties in their theories. At least dualist theories, since they start from there, define the properties of experience and start from what, to me, consciousness and the mental really are.

  149. #149 eric
    February 22, 2013

    [eric]If it [the immaterial] alters or produces chemical reactions, we can detect those chemical reactions. Yes?
    [Ca alors]Yes, but the chemical reaction isn’t consciousness…

    Doesn’t matter. If we can detect how it alters chemical reactions, we have a way of detecting whether its there or not. If we see alteration, this evidence supports the “there is an immaterial component that alters chemical reactions” hypothesis. If we do not, that undermines the hypothesis (likely causing you backtrack to “its still there, it just didn’t alter the chemical processes I hypothesized it did”).

    I shouldn’t have to say this, but science does not see any alteration of chemical reactions by an unknown, immaterial force. Right now, your hypothesis is not consistent with the data. If you want to save it, you’re going to have to revise it to have less effect on the physical world or come up with new scientific data supporting your claim.

  150. #150 eric
    February 22, 2013

    VS:

    Now, none of these are compelling,

    For sake of brevity, I will just say I agree with this.

    But in order to break the induction argument you are using, we only need to have some reason to think that they MIGHT be different in relevant ways.

    I disagree. I think in order to break the induction argument, you have to show that the historical retreat of immaterialism in the face of scientific discovery is not relevant to the current question. Right now you’re asserting this is so, but you haven’t really any evidence for it.

    In the past, an immaterial component has been hypothesized to do many things and have many properties. To name two: to have weight, and to give the ‘spark of life (vitalism).’ Every time we can test these hypotheses, they turn out to be wrong. Dualists have been wrong every time before. You are being ahistorical in just ignoring all past refuted claims of general dualism or more specific claims about immaterial souls. They are inductively important.

    At that point, you either have to address the arguments that they might be different so that you can prove that they aren’t

    I think you are misunderstanding how science and empirical investigation works. What you’re proposing is the argument many pseudoscientists make: that it is up to us to test and disprove their ‘might be true’ hypthoses, and until such tests happen, we have no sound basis for rejecting them. This is not how the process works. Hypotheses remain mere hypotheses until you, the proposer, and your cohort go out and collect evidence in favor of it. The statement that x might be true does not shift the burden of proof from you to me; you still have it.

    If you continue to push the induction line as if it adds warrant in these cases, you really do look like you’re just dodging the arguments, and refusing to actually go and look at the phenomena in question to actually find out what’s really going on.

    Well, first, there are thousands of scientists studying subjective experience, mental phenomena, and so on, so I don’t think you can really claim we are ignoring it. But if you are saying that no one is specifically studying an immaterial component to subjective experience, its probably because it seems to us to be an ill-formed hypothesis with inductively little chance of success. You can help us here. Clarify exactly what this stuff is expected to do, and what the mechanism is, so we can design rigorous tests of yoru hypothesis. It would also be very good if your mechanism or theoretical basis leads to separate, independent claims that we already know to be true, because that will make it look less ad hoc, less of a simple gap-filler and more like it fits with what we already know to be true.

    I don’t think its unfair of us to ask this of dualists, since you folk are the one proposing a dualistic nature. I’d do the same for anyone proposing some hypothesis not currently supported. If you had a new principle of flight rather than mind, I’d say the same thing. Okay, tell me how your principle works, how you suggest we test it, and how it fits with what we already know (or if it doesn’t, what current theories and laws it breaks). Maybe even (gasp!) do the first tests yourself, and come to me when you’ve published the results. Its on you, the proposer, to do those things. Your idea means your legwork.

    because you have no reason to think that there is any actual relation between these two cases; the only thing you have is this vague classification of “material and immaterial” that may not reflect any kind of real defined set or natural kind. Thus, I accept you taking that stance, but see no reason why it should matter to me at all, or why I should adopt it.

    You should adopt it because, well, you do adopt it for all claims you don’t believe in. If someone says “bigfoot is different, you can’t use induction to dismiss him,” you’re going to ask for a cogent explanation of the difference. A mere assertion of qualitative difference will not be good enough for you. And a mere assertion of difference in the case of mind is not good enough for me. I get that you think subjective experience is different. But to me it looks like an assertion with no evidence behind it and, frankly, a lot of evidence directly counter to it. Cut off blood flow, mind stops working. Inject drugs, mind altered. That isn’t difference from any other organic function, it looks the same.

  151. #151 Sean T
    February 22, 2013

    Ca Alors,

    When the scientists at CERN look at their data, they see increased voltages in their detectors. They do not see Higgs Bosons. The increased voltages in the detectors are NOT Higgs Bosons, but do we not nontheless say that the CERN scientists have detected the Higgs Boson?

    That’s typical in science. Many, if not most of the time, we “detect” things by observing the effects that they have on other things, rather than by directly observing them. We detect gravity by watching objects fall. A falling object is not gravity. We detect mutations in organisms by noting the appearance of new traits in the organism (or at least we did until modern DNA sequencing became available). Why is detecting an immaterial mind by observing the effect it has on the biochemical processes of neurons any different?

  152. #152 Ça alors!
    February 22, 2013

    @Sean:
    “Why is detecting an immaterial mind by observing the effect it has on the biochemical processes of neurons any different?”

    Because an immaterial mind wouldn’t have a mass, wouldn’t be made of waves, it wouldn’t an “object”. That is why it would be immaterial, uncreated, not subjected to space and time. That is why we wouldn’t be able to find it even if it is right in our face.

    But even if you don’t believe it is the case, I think it would be logical to conceive that the use of consciousness to look for consciousness would the equivalent to try to light up the sun with a flashlight, or to try to wet water with water… It can’t work.

  153. #153 JollyRancher
    February 22, 2013

    eric @ 120
    “I am amazed anyone can hold this view. Consciousness is clearly a biological function; cutting off blood flow stops it. Drugs change it. … Couchloc and others like him may hypothesize that there is some immaterial contribution to subjective experience, but AFAIK nobody denies that there is a material contribution to it.”

    All of what you say is true, but frankly, beside the point. I am not saying there is no material contribution to consciousness. Clearly there is, since not only do we have correlations between the brain and consciousness; they are specific to specific cognitive functions, and what’s more, like you say, one can alter the brain activity and correspondingly alter the corresponding conscious experience. Nor do I think that there is some additional ‘immaterial component’ since as far as I can tell, immateriality is a largely meaningless term, as it requires a non-vacous definition of material in order to contrast it with, which I have not had the pleasure to encounter.

    All I am saying is this: from an empirical standpoint, in the old fashioned sense of having to do with your experience of the world, whether aided or unaided by scientific instruments, consciousness is not observable whatsoever. One doesn’t wake up and see consciousness just sitting around in the world like one does rocks, or trees, or anything else, nor does one measures its effects like magnetism or gravity. From an empirical standpoint, meaning from your own point of view as a conscious creature, it might as well not even exist.

    Of course, we all know it does, but that is in virtue of common sense acriptions to other people based on our own case, or verbal report on other people’s part. This is why it gets difficult to decide whether something is conscious the simpler an organism gets or deviates from our own standard patterns of behaviour. How far down the evolutionary tree does it (consciousness) go? How would you know? Based on whether it has neural systems, but the correlation, without an explanation is totally ARBITRARY and hardly any help in exculding or predicting other cases of the presence of consciousness. One can make reasonable inferences, but can never be sure. In contrast, if consciousness WERE observable, the question would be as easy as asking if something is red, or twenty pounds. One would either check directly, or use an insturment to measure it.

    The reason this is pertinent to the present discussion, is that all MECHANISTIC explanations, which is what we want of consciousness, rather than merely explanatorily arbitrary correlations, occur in the intersubjective realm of publicly observable phenomena. But consciousness is DEFINED by its subjectivity, and hence the usual methodology for collecting data and trying to explain its behaviour falls apart, since the phenomena in question (consciousness) isn’t strictly speaking data at all, it is the medium through wich everyone gets their data.

    Now, none of this means that God did it, or that dualism is true, but I do think that it means critics of materialism have put there finger on something important, that needs to be addressed, better than both dualists and materialists are currently doing, if we are to really grok what’s going with regards to consciousness.

    Anyway, I figure I better let this thread die, so I won’t drag this on any longer, suffice to say that I enjoyed observing most of the discussion.

  154. #154 CC
    Australia
    February 23, 2013

    This is a bit off the track, but consistent with the rubbish that the creationists come up with.
    I have just come across your blogs and read some 2006 ones re: the debate about thermodynamics i.e. the argument by Sewell that entropy argues against complexity and hence against evolution.
    There are two points here- one is that evolution requires work thus possibly requiring energy to act against entropy and this is how complexity arises, and Stuart Kaufmann proposes an anti-entropic force since order and complexity are so universal, especially in living things.
    Also Sewell apparently says “Natural forces, such as corrosion, erosion, fire and explosions, do not create order, they destroy it.”
    Aside from the argument in good chemistry textbooks that disorder is not necessarily equivalent to entropy and thus the creation of order is not necessarily the opposite, what about natural forces involved in processes such as:
    -creation of galaxies from dust
    -creation of stars in nebulae
    -creation of elements in stars
    -creation of rocks on earth
    etc.
    There is creation of order in the universe which does involve natural forces. There would be no elements and we would not be here otherwise. One could even argue the Big Bang created a large amount of order after initial chaotic explosions i.e. matter arose.
    Then one could ask the reverse, why is there apostasy (cell death) and even death of living organisms if some unforeseen creator is needed to be involved in some overcoming of entropy in creating order? They must have done a sloppy job, as the fact that you and I shall die one day seems to me to be quite a faulty effort! The Intelligent Designer who struck down entropy doesn’t seem that bright if living organisms have short shelf lives!
    There is both order and disorder in the universe, and the interplay between the entropy and the work which requires energy to counter it thus creating complexity is the great natural interplay. All sorts of forces are involved, whether this is gravity effects on dust, weak or strong forces and their effects on particles, EM and its capturing in photosynthesis, and so on, and many of these could be categorised “creative” rather than “destructive”. To categorise all natural forces as all simply destructive is to miss the whole interplay which makes the universe and the phenomena of life so fantastic. I pity the paucity of the blinkered view.

  155. #155 CC
    February 23, 2013

    This is a bit more on the track of the discussion so far than my last post.
    However I think in some ways it is related.
    First about immaterial energy. Heat is energy. Light is energy. They can be measured, but they are not “material” in the sense of neuronal cells.
    In a complex system there may be no overall control mechanism, therefore a computer does not understand.
    In a hormonal system such as reproduction, don’t tell me you are in control, that is one of nature’s great jokes on us.
    The autonomic nervous system does not rely at all on the controlling conscious mind for us to move etc.
    So therefore the concept of “I” is somewhat variable.
    Agreed, the Buddhists discuss this. But they also discuss the many paths to Truth, and that there is only one Truth.
    Therefore whether you are philosopher or biologist, correct reasoning should lead to that.
    The interrelations between the component parts of the brain at times gives us an “I” that is a controlling mind, i.e. I have free will, I am sentient etc. This is an emergent property of the sum and the connections of the parts, that as I have mentioned, is often not really needed for us to function. It is a function of work done using energy to overcome the entropy that would result if all the parts of our brains acted randomly. It is a property of the complexity that all those parts act synergistically instead. Thus the autonomic system acts as one to move us around. An even more sophisticated system acts to give us a feeling of being and identity.
    We would function like automatons without it. This is the tricky bit- how something that functions as an automaton at times can then function as a being that is self-aware or conscious.
    Is it such a big step to imagine that a lake functions as the sum of the frogs, fish, grasses, lilies, mud, water, and nutrients that make it up? If not it cannot be a lake.
    If the mind does not function as the sum of the neurons, hormones, bacteria, fat cells and various component parts that make it up, then it is just a brain. And as such it still exerts control of the body through the autonomic nervous system, but then we are an automaton.
    The mind, the “I”, the conscious, is an emergent property of the parts, and it is not needed all the time for us to function e.g. to move the arm.
    Brain complexity is energetically very expensive (i.e. Drosophila) and the “mind” goes into a “low” when drained of sugar after a night on the turps. Therefore the “mind” is only used for some functions and not all e.g. move the arm. Really I am only I when the brain needs me to be.
    The “I” is a dynamically changing cumulative state, dependent on memory, brain components and cells, hormones and all sort of things. It arises when I need to act for example, as a balance to the amygdala flight or fight. Is it really such a great idea to belt into the guy that is 3 foot taller than you? No says my free will mind.
    If sufficient complexity is available, as well as energy available to the organism, emergent properties can provide extraordinary things such as “thinking”, “free will decision” etc. This is not material in the sense that light is perhaps, and would be incredibly difficult to measure. However no doubt with sufficient finesse of means to measure neurons firing etc., a value could be put on the energy produced by a combination of neurons and brain parts during a “thought” or “free will decision”.
    In fact the brain and body already interact to run like a well-oiled computer, before the “mind” even comes into it. This can still occur without the “mind” functioning well, but is a creature with limited understanding of the world around it and its place in it. The interaction between brain parts however allows a greater level of complexity such as the ability to know itself and to make decisions, based on knowledge collected from the outside world.
    In one sense this mind and its “thoughts” are not a material property in the same way that heat is energy rather than being a physical object. But it is the product of materialism all the same.
    Rather than being distressed that it has a fundamental basis in materialism, shouldn’t we be in awe of what evolution has produced from a set of cells, hormones and brain bits? Thus as the emergence of matter from energy during the Big Bang was a phenomena, and the emergence of Life from non-life was a phenomena that we also still don’t fully understand, so the Mind is an emergent property of some physical organisms that is almost beyond comprehension.
    And it requires quite a bit of glucose to run, because work must be done to organise such complexity into a functioning whole, thus counteracting the entropy of the universe.

  156. #156 Collin Brendemuehl
    February 23, 2013

    I think you should stop making up stuff about my emotional state. It doesn’t do your credibility any good.

    And yet the challenge remains unanswered.

  157. #157 Goldstein Squad Member
    February 24, 2013

    Jason, you were a jerk back in Kansas and you still are.