Melnyk, Goetz, and Taliafero on the AFR

Lately I have been doing a book revision and in the process reflecting on the “Great Debate” between Andrew Melnyk and the Christian philosophers Stewart Goetz and Charles Taliafero. Melnyk defends the thesis of the physical realization of the mental (PRM) and Goetz and Taliafero offer criticisms. Here are my thoughts so far. Comments would be welcome. Sorry for the length and apologies also that I am too lazy to put in references in this draft. The MTB thesis is the claim, broader than Melnyk’s specific one, that minds are in some sense reducible to, caused by, identical with supervenient upon, realized by…etc. the brain.

It appears that if PRM is true, it cannot be rationally believed!

“What this [PRM] seems to imply is that everything that occurs in our mental lives, including our beliefs, is ultimately explicable in terms of physical causation alone without any explanation of that which is irreducibly mental by something else which is irreducibly mental. If physicalism is true, it seems that the ultimate explanation of M’s belief that physicalism is true will mention only neural phenomena and/or more fundamental physical constituents. There will be no mention in that explanation of anything that is ultimately and irreducibly mental. So, even if there are irreducible contents of apprehensions and beliefs which are physically realized…physicalism entails that M believes that physicalism is true, not because his apprehensions of irreducible contents ultimately cause his belief with it irreducible contents but because physical (neural) realizers of those apprehensions causally produce physical realizers of that belief. In short, physicalism seems to entail that apprehensions of contents are explanatorily impotent. Given the truth of epiphenomenalism and the explanatory impotence of apprehensions of contents, why should any of us try to reason with other about anything with the hope of changing their beliefs by having them apprehend contents of conceptual entities (Goetz and Taliafero, 4)?”

This important and subtle “argument from reason” (AFR) must be explained carefully: A common view of rationality holds that what makes our beliefs rational is that we base them on reasons. That is, you rationally believe that P when, and only when, your belief that P results from having fairly considered the reasons for (and against) P and it seems to you that the reasons, on balance, are sufficient for the truth of P. For instance, if I want to know the capital of Mongolia, I pull down my atlas and see that the capital of Mongolia is Ulan Bator. My recognition that a standard reference book, which would be very unlikely to be wrong about such a fact, tells me that the capital of Mongolia is Ulan Bator seems to me sufficient reason to accept that claim. Hence, my belief is rational. The essence of this account of rational belief is that one irreducibly mental event, belief that P is explained by another irreducibly mental event, the apprehension of the reasons for P and their sufficiency for the truth of P.

If you ask Melnyk why he accepts PRM, then, like anyone else, he will give reasons that he holds are sufficient for the truth of his claim. Let’s call those reasons R1, R2, R3…Rn. Goetz and Taliafero argue that if PRM is true, Melnyk cannot hold PRM because of reasons R1, R2, R3…Rn. Suppose that Melnyk apprehends reasons R1, R2, R3…Rn (where we will assume that those reasons include the recognition that the other reasons are jointly sufficient for the truth of PRM). It follows that, since PRM is assumed true, the cause of Melnyk’s belief is not his mental apprehension of those reasons, but the physical realization of those mental apprehensions in his neural states. This is because, if PRM is true, the mental state “belief that PRM is true” is fully realized in a physical (neural) state. Further, that neural state is caused by other neural states, namely, the physical realizations of the apprehension of reasons R1, R2, R3…Rn.

The upshot is apparently that, on PRM, the mental act of understanding a reason is an epiphenomenon of the physical cause. To say that A is an epiphenomenon of B means that B causally determines A, but A does no causal work, either back on B or on anything else. So, on PRM it cannot be the mental act of understanding per se that explains the belief; rather, it is the physical realization of that act that does all the causal work. The mental act therefore just seems a useless appendage, an epiphenomenon. Hence, if PRM is true, then Melnyk cannot believe the truth of PRM because of the reasons he cites. Melnyk does not believe because of those reasons. Instead, his belief was caused by a sequence of neural, i.e. purely physical, events in his brain. But how can a belief be rational if it is not based on reasons? Melnyk’s belief that PRM is true seems to be like the breaking of a glass bowl when it is dropped onto a hard floor. Both belief and breakage seem to be caused by brute, blind force (to indulge in a bit of rhetoric), so neither the belief nor the broken bowl can be explained in terms of reasons.

It seems to follow from this argument that the truth of PRM precludes any rational basis for believing that PRM is true. This is because the truth of PRM precludes the possibility of having any reasons for believing it because it relegates all causes of belief to a sequence of physical causes. Surely, it seems, there must be something profoundly and irremediably wrong with a theory that, if true, insures that it cannot be rationally believed to be true!

I think that the AFR articulated in the above few paragraphs is Goetz and Taliafero’s strongest argument. However, I do not think that Melnyk replies to it adequately so I will now say what I think is wrong with it.

First, note that Goetz and Taliafero’s arguments, and practically all arguments against the MTB thesis, are a priori in nature, whereas the arguments for MTB are mostly empirical. Historically, a priori arguments have fared very poorly when opposed to empirical arguments. Philosophers will draw an a priori line in the sand and scientists will gleefully jump over it. The dismal track record of a priori claims against empirical ones provides some reason to doubt the cogency of arguments like those of Goetz and Taliafero.

Further, human beings would be most unfortunate if in fact a theory as important as PRM were true and could not be rationally believed. Goetz and Taliafero appear to concede that PRM could be true, but they hold that the truth of PRM would preclude rationally believing it by our standards of rational belief. However, if our standards of rational belief are such that they can preclude us from rationally believing an important theory that (we are assuming) is in fact true, then perhaps our standards of rational belief are deficient. Standards of rational belief are supposed to permit, not preclude, rational belief in true theories. If PRM is true—and, again, Goetz and Taliafero apparently concede that it could be—then this is a very important truth and there needs to be some way that we can rationally believe that it is true.

A reliability account of warrant would seem to fill the bill. According to reliabilism, all that matters is whether a belief-forming process reliably generates true beliefs. A belief that is formed by a reliable process is warranted and therefore a rational belief. The nature of the process is irrelevant. If I can reliably form true beliefs by rolling a pair of magic dice, then rolling the dice confers warrant on my beliefs. If we accept reliabilism, then it does not matter if Melnyk is caused to believe that PRM is true by a physical process. It only matters that the process was reliable in generating true beliefs, and the reliability of physical belief-forming processes can certainly be accommodated by PRM and would seem to generate no self-referential problem. That is, there could be reliable processes causing the belief that PRM is true.

Some might object that precisely the problem with a reliability theory is that its account of warrant runs plainly against some of our deepest intuitions about rationality, such as that beliefs are rational only if they held because of the reasons for them. But what is the worth of such intuitions when they are opposed by successful theory? But other intuitions seem to go the other way. If we hold that a belief is rational only if it is held because of reasons that we apprehend and duly consider, then this entails that most of our beliefs are irrational. Certainly all of our perceptual beliefs would be. I see a cup on my desk and immediately believe that there is a cup on my desk. Apprehending reasons has nothing to do with it. It would be highly counterintuitive to say that all of our perceptual beliefs are irrational. The same thing holds for many beliefs based on testimony. As soon as my wife tells me that it is raining again I immediately believe that it is raining again. I don’t weigh her credibility against my background beliefs or anything like that. I immediately, and rationally, accept it.

Perhaps Goetz and Taliafero mean only that theoretical knowledge is rational only if we get it by apprehending and a set of reasons and recognizing the sufficiency of their support for that theory. So, let’s cut to the chase and ask whether reasons would be epiphenomena on PRM, useless danglers that have no explanatory role in accounting for our beliefs? Not at all. In fact, it seems to me that to think that reasons would be epiphenomenal given PRM is to fail to take PRM seriously and to continue to think in dualistic terms.

Let’s begin by reviewing what it means to say that the mental is physically realized. PRM first defines the mind in functional terms; a mind is anything that does mental stuff. It then identifies the human brain (or, technically, certain physical subsystems of the brain) as the object that, for human beings, performs the function of doing mental stuff (including rational thought). At bottom, then, PRM is a theory about how we think; we do it with our brains. We have a mental system fully realized in our mental organ, the brain, just as we have a digestive system fully realized in the organs of digestion. The functioning of our mental system—those orderly, causally-linked patterns of neuronal firings—is how we think, just as the functioning of our digestive system—peristalsis, the secretion of digestive juices, etc.—is how we digest. Those neural processes in our brains are not a more fundamental reality to which thought can be reduced. They are thought itself—the genuine article. Further, the fact that we think with our brains does not make thought any less real, significant, or explanatory than it is on dualism.

Let’s imagine a case of simple inference by modus ponens: Upon arising in the morning I look out the window and see that the streets are wet. I infer that it rained overnight. Generally, that inference would be immediate, but I have not had my coffee yet, so my thinking process is slow. Let’s imagine that I think it out step by step: “I see that the streets are wet. I know that if the streets are wet, then it rained last night. Therefore, it rained last night.” According to PRM, what just happened here? What caused my belief that it rained last night? That belief, “it rained last night,” is neurally realized and, of course, its proximate cause was other neural events. However, those other neural events were events of a very special sort; they were also the thoughts “the streets are wet” and “if the streets are wet, then it rained last night.” So those physical events were also mental events—because the physical events are the doing of the mental events—and so an equally good explanation is that my belief was based on my reasoning validly in accordance with modus ponens.

Given PRM there are two ways of individuating a thought (speaking precisely we should say “a thought token,” but for simplicity I will just say “thought”). We could individuate it by indicating that a particular thought-content was entertained by a particular brain at a given time, e.g. “At time T1 Parsons thought ‘the streets are wet.’” Or we could individuate it by a specifying a particular set of neural events in a particular brain, e.g. “At time T1 this particular pattern of neuronal firing occurred in Parsons’ brain.” But just because we can individuate something in two different ways does not mean that we are individuating two different things. According to PRM, it is one and the same thought that is individuated in both ways. The neural event is the mental event. Thinking “If the streets are wet, then it rained last night; the streets are wet; therefore it rained last night” just is a causally connected series of neural events.

The upshot is that physical realization does not render the mental an epiphenomenon. On the contrary, it is the physical realization of the mental that “empowers” one mental event to cause another mental event. It is in virtue of their physical realization that mental events can cause other, physically realized, mental events. But doesn’t this mean that, as Goetz and Taliafero insist, it is the physical that does all the causing and the reasons are impotent? No, because, again, the physical causing of my belief and the being convinced by reasons are one and the same thing. The physical causing is the mental causing; that is what PRM means. In short, PRM holds that being convinced by reasons is something we accomplish with our brains.

I think that Goetz and Taliafero read PRM as a thesis of the one-way causation of the mental by the physical, rendering the mental into an epiphenomenon. But this is wrong. Melnyk is not saying that the physical produces the epiphenomenal mental like a car engine produces useless noise. It seems that Goetz and Taliafero misconstrue PRM because they continue to think in dualist terms. Dualism must regard the mental and the physical as two opposite and irreconcilable properties, whereas PRM erases that distinction and asserts that the mental is something that special physical things can do. If the thought that mental and physical as mutually exclusive categories is deeply entrenched for you, the claim of PRM will be hard to understand, much less accept.

About Keith Parsons
  • Keith Parsons

    P.S. I forgot to mention that the “Great Debate” between Melnyk, and Goetz and Taliafero is available at the Secular Web.

  • Keith Parsons

    P.P.S. the sentence “But what is the worth of such intuitions when they are opposed by successful theory?” is one I meant to erase because it refers to an argument developed in a previous chapter. Sorry.

  • staircaseghost

    “Not at all. In fact, it seems to me that to think that reasons would be epiphenomenal given PRM is to fail to take PRM seriously and to continue to think in dualistic terms.”

    Exactamundo.

    G&T, like Plantinga, attribute a dualistic model of semantic content to their monistic opponents, then expect us to be shocked and amazed that their conjunction leads to absurdities!

    • Keith Parsons

      staircaseghost,

      Yes, exactly (I am too old and square to say “exactamundo”). It is like in politics when one side succeeds in defining the terms of the debate. It already tilts things strongly in their favor. For instance, if you can get Social Security and Medicare swept under the rubric of “entitlements,” you have the battle half won. It implies that I am a greedy geezer with a smug sense of entitlement if I want my princely $1700 a month from Social Security when I retire at 67 (It goes up to $2000 per month if I wait until 70. Whoopti-friggin’-do!). We are conditioned early on to think of “mental” and “physical” are polar opposites and it is hard for even a convinced physicalist to shake all the connotations.

  • http://counterapologist.blogspot.com/ Counter Apologist

    I may have to re-read this a few times to let it sink in properly (this may be a deficiency in my PRM system), but I found this fascinating. Thanks for writing it, I’d probably never have come across this debate if it weren’t for this.

    • Keith Parsons

      Counter Apologist,

      Ha Ha! No, nothing wrong with your PRM system. I think it is hard to get precisely because all of us are conditioned to think about these things by dualism. We drink in dualistic assumptions with mother’s milk and it is hard for anyone to detach from automatic semantic associations, even, or especially, when they are obscurantist.

  • http://somewhatabnormal.blogspot.com/ Robert Oerter

    Beautifully explained, Keith! As I like to say, “Electrons R us!”

    http://somewhatabnormal.blogspot.com/2010/04/electrons-r-us.html

    • Keith Parsons

      Robert,

      Thanks for the feedback! My aim in the book is precisely to explain recondite matters plainly.

  • Steven Carr

    about PRM

    ‘It then identifies the human brain (or, technically, certain physical subsystems of the brain) as the object that, for human beings, performs the function of doing mental stuff (including rational thought).’

    What do dualists think the brain actually does (apart from cool the blood)?

    On their understanding of mind, why do they even need a brain?

    • Keith Parsons

      Steven,

      When you task dualists with their inability to explain things, their reply is generally a tu quoque: “Well, you physicalists can’t explain a lot either! Nyah! Nyah!” The problem is that what physicalists cannot explain is turned by dualists from the unexplained to the inexplicable. One dualist replied to the interaction problem by admitting that we have no idea how mind would influence matter, but then he added, amazingly, that (tu quoque!) we have no idea how matter influences matter! Really? Gee, one of the biggest problems for students in fields like molecular biology is that there are so many extremely detailed accounts of how “matter influences matter!” Maybe they mean that at the rock-bottom level of photons, electrons, and quarks we have no idea how matter influences matter. All we can say is that it does. But physicists do have theories like quantum electrodynamics that explain in considerable detail how fundamental things interact. That is, we do not have to say merely that photons and electrons interact; we have a quite detailed understanding of how they do. There is no corresponding level of detail about how soul and neurons are supposed to interact, and there never will be. At a very deep level we do know how matter interacts. For instance, it is electromagnetic repulsion between me and my chair that is keeping me seated in front of the computer right now. With dualism, you just hit a wall right away. All we can say is that by some mysterious process of psychokinesis, mind moves matter. In other words, the explanation you get from dualists is much like the explanation I used to get from my gym teachers when I would inquire as to why it was important to climb that goddamn rope: “Shut up, Parsons, and get up that rope!”

    • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Dianelos Dianelos Georgoudis

      Steven,

      “What do dualists think the brain actually does (apart from cool the blood)?”

      They think that brains on the physical plane do whatever science has discovered the brain’s functions are (to automatically control several functions of the body, to process information from the organism’s environment, to guide the organism’s movements in ways consistent with reproduction, etc). More significantly from the dualist’s point of view, given the apparently perfect correlation between conscious experience and specific going-ons in the brain, the dualist thinks that the brain is used by the conscious subject to interact with the physical world, i.e. both to perceive it and to realize its free choices in it. Now hundreds of years ago people thought that physical reality is deterministic and that therefore any such interaction would violate that physical order and contradict science. That’s dualism’s so-called “interaction problem”. Modern science has rendered that problem inexistent though.

      So here’s another question: What do naturalists think consciousness actually does?

  • Richard_Wein

    My shorter version of your reply would be to say that G&T (like Plantinga) misunderstand the concept of supervenience, or different levels of abstraction.

    We model reality at various level of abstraction, and we can give causal accounts of a phenomenon at multiple levels. We can say that a flag flutters because of the wind, or we can say that it flutters because of the movement of air molecules. These are not mutually exclusive. The wind supervenes on the movement of air molecules: the two causal explanations are different ways of describing the same thing.

    Plantinga and G&T seem to think that, if a mental phenomenon is completely caused by physical processes, then mental processes must have played no part. But the physicalist says that the mental supervenes on the physical. Mental and physical processes are not separate processes; they are broadly the same processes, described at different levels of abstraction. Plantinga/G&T’s position is analogous to insisting that, if the flag’s fluttering is completely caused by the movement of air molecules, then the wind plays no part.

    • Keith Parsons

      Richard,

      Yeah, once you start to look, different levels of explanation are everywhere. Suppose that the curtain parts and a sinister, hunched figure comes to center stage and says:

      “Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this son of York; and all the clouds that low’r’d upon our house in the deep bosom of the ocean buried.”

      What explains this occurrence? We could with equal validity, depending upon the sense in which the question was asked, answer in any of the following ways:

      1) This is the beginning of a production of Shakespeare’s Richard III and those are the opening lines written by Shakespeare.

      2) The actor’s role requires that he speak those lines at the beginning of the play.

      3) The actor’s nervous system initiated a series of bodily movements–the diaphragm contracted, the vocal cords tensed and relaxed, and the tongue wagged in such a way that those sounds were emitted.

      The physical realization in the actor’s performance of the role of Richard III is all those things at once. There is no conundrum of any sort here. Everybody knows what is going on. The only reason we tend to think that there is any problem about the mental and the physical is that we are all deeply conditioned to submit to the Baconian idol known as “dualism.”

  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Dianelos Dianelos Georgoudis

    Keith,

    Those neural processes in our brains are not a more fundamental reality to which thought can be reduced. They are thought itself—the genuine article.

    Aren’t you here running afoul of the intentionality problem? In fact aren’t you conflating the concept of “thought” with the concept of “intelligent information processing”? After all the chess playing software in my mobile phone processes information about chess positions more intelligently than I can, but from this it does not follow that my phone thinks. Nor that it holds any beliefs whatsoever about chess.

    However, if our standards of rational belief are such that they can preclude us from rationally believing an important theory that (we are assuming) is in fact true, then perhaps our standards of rational belief are deficient.

    I think that’s the best defense when the theist mounts powerful attacks against the rationality of non-theistic worldviews.

    A central conundrum of philosophy, which explains philosophical disagreements but also makes philosophy so interesting, is the interplay between epistemology and metaphysics: We use epistemological principles to arrive at the metaphysical beliefs we hold to be true, but it’s on the truth of metaphysical beliefs that the validity of epistemological principles rests.

    So if one’s metaphysical worldview is in fact viable (comports with the human condition and thus with all on which one may base any knowledge) then, when confronted with an argument against the truth or against the rationality of one’s worldview, the last line of defense is to look for the epistemological principle the argument uses which does not comport with one’s worldview – and then deny it. This line of defense always works, albeit it’s not always elegant since sometimes one finds oneself making claims that sound absurd. At this juncture one can always characterize the more reasonable sounding claims as the “folk” view, and point out that it is often the case that truth is stranger than what people used to imagine.

    The conundrum I describe above is not new, and was known to many philosophers from Plato to Kant. Hegel thought hard about how to deal with it. One practical way out of it is to cut the knot and posit some basic principle of rationality as a categorical axiom. In my mind a good candidate here would be that truth tends to be useful.

    • Keith Parsons

      Dianelos,

      I assume that you are taking intentionality as that which distinguishes thought–the real article–from mere information processing. Ants can process information–some of it quite complex–but it seems a stretch to attribute thought to them. If this is your assumption, I have to confess that I just do not see what problem you are getting at. It would beg the question against Melnyk and the PRM theory to assume that a physical process can only crunch information and cannot achieve genuine, intentional thought. Of course people have offered arguments (thoroughly bogus in my view) claiming that no physical process can accomplish the “about-ness” of genuine thought. Did you have such an argument in mind?

      Thanks for your comments.

      • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Dianelos Dianelos Georgoudis

        Keith, always a pleasure.

        The problem I am getting at is this: On any functional account of mentality, how do you justify that my brain thinks and holds beliefs about chess positions whereas my mobile phone doesn’t – even though my mobile phone functions much better than my brain in analyzing chess positions?

        • Richard_Wein

          The problem I am getting at is this: On any functional account of mentality, how do you justify that my brain thinks and holds beliefs about chess positions whereas my mobile phone doesn’t – even though my mobile phone functions much better than my brain in analyzing chess positions?

          If you and Keith will pardon me for jumping in, I’ll give you my own reply…

          Both your brain and your mobile phone have states that relate to the positions of chess pieces. We may not choose to dignify a mobile phone’s states with the word “belief”, but why do you think this choice of words is relevant? (A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.) More specifically what difference are you pointing to? I suspect what concerns you is that the brain is conscious but the mobile phone isn’t. I would say that the relevant difference between the mobile phone and the brain is their software: the mobile phone doesn’t have the right sort of software to be conscious, but the brain does. I therefore interpet you as asking for a justification of the claim that consciousness is a matter of having the right software. I can’t speak for Keith, but I don’t intend to justify that claim here. I for one was just refuting G&T’s argument, not arguing for the truth of physicalism.

          Incidentally, let me add something to the argument I made above. I’d like to add a specific response to G&T’s conclusion that on physicalism arguments must be ineffective. At some level arguments (between people) must take a physical form, e.g. patterns of ink on paper. These physical forms can be distinguished and acted on by intelligent systems, like computers or brains. Even today’s computers can use optical character recognition to discriminate between printed characters. (Alternatively we can do away with OCR and think of text in electronic form.) Presumably G&T don’t think physicalism is any barrier to computers responding appropriately to some texts. So why should it be a barrier to humans responding appropriately to other texts, including arguments? Of course the brain’s software is vastly more sophisticated. But even today I believe there is software with some ability to assess mathematical proofs, which are a kind of argument. Physicalism (at least my sort) no more rules out the effectiveness of arguments on brains than it rules out the ability of computers to change state in response to inputs.

          The problem comes back to G&T’s failure to understand that we model reality at various levels of abstraction. We can see texts as smears of ink on paper (or varying voltage levels in a computer). We can see them as sequences of letters and other characters. And we can see them as meaningful passages, interpreted (relatively crudely) by a computer, or (with vastly greater sophistication) by a human being.

          • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Dianelos Dianelos Georgoudis

            Richard,

            I was specifically criticizing the functionalist understanding of mind. And it’s not a matter of choice of words. “Thought” and “belief” are important concepts in the context of philosophy of mind. I want to know whether according to the functionalist understanding of mind my mobile phone thinks and holds beliefs about chess. And if not then I want to know why not.

            You argue that my mobile phone doesn’t have the right kind of software, but I understand that according to functionalism how exactly a function is physically realized is irrelevant.

            Having said that, I find it curious that you speak of the “brain’s software” since there isn’t any such thing. Software is the physical implementation of algorithms which allows their execution in computer hardware. Further, according to what we know from neuroscience, there is not even something analogous to the execution of software going on in a brain.

          • Richard_Wein

            Dianelos,

            The words “thought” and “belief” are rather fuzzy and ill-defined. They’re good enough for the purposes for which we usually use them, but they become problematic in philosophy, where they are taken out of their usual context. That’s why I was trying to ascertain more specifically what you were asking.

            The tendency to assume in such cases that there are simple facts of the matter, e.g. as to whether a mobile phone has beliefs, is in my view a result of a misunderstanding of how language works. I would make a Wittgensteinian critique of much philosophy, especially more traditional philosophy. I like Wittgenstein’s aphorism that philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intellect by our language. Sorry, I can’t elaborate on such views here. It would take too long.

            “You argue that my mobile phone doesn’t have the right kind of software, but I understand that according to functionalism how exactly a function is physically realized is irrelevant.”

            My position is that what matters is not just the external behaviour of the system, but what’s going on inside too.

            “Having said that, I find it curious that you speak of the “brain’s software” since there isn’t any such thing. Software is the physical implementation of algorithms which allows their execution in computer hardware. Further, according to what we know from brain science, there is not even something analogous to the execution of software going on in a brain.”

            You’re taking “software” in a relatively narrow sense, to refer to the sort of program we have in conventional computers, with separate processor and memory. I’m using “software” in a broader sense, to refer to the logical structure of a system. In that sense, a neural network has software too. Its software lies in its pattern of connections and the weighting of its connections.

            In any case, a neural network can be implemented (emulated) in a conventional computer with a program (software in the narrower sense). The physical neural network and the equivalent emulated one would have the same logical structure (at an appropriate level). As far as I’m concerned it makes no difference to the current argument whether we are talking about an organic brain or an equivalent simulation of that brain running on a conventional computer with conventional software.

          • Keith Parsons

            Richard and Dianelos,

            Thanks much for your comments. I am swamped with other duties right now, but I hope I can make a contribution again in a day or so.

          • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Dianelos Dianelos Georgoudis

            Richard,

            The words “thought” and “belief” are rather fuzzy and ill-defined.

            I know there is much philosophical debate about the metaphysical status of thoughts and beliefs, but I was not aware there is any debate about their meaning. All the time philosophers discuss among themselves about their thoughts and beliefs without any apparent difficulty on that level.

            Anyway, let me rephrase my question in this way: According to the functionalist understanding of mind and according to the functionalist understanding of the meaning of “thought” and “belief” – does my mobile phone think and hold beliefs about chess, or not? And if not, why not?

            My position is that what matters is not just the external behaviour of the system, but what’s going on inside too.

            I am here discussing the functionalist understanding which Melnyk defends. If I am not mistaken, according to functionalism the details about how a particular function is implemented are irrelevant.

          • Richard_Wein

            Dianelos,

            In my view your expectation that there can be useful yes/no answers to such questions is misguided. I’m speaking here for myself, not for functionalists generally. I think my views on this are similar to Daniel Dennett’s, though he is probably somewhat less Wittgensteinian than me. If you’re not familiar with Dennett’s views on the “intentional stance”, I recommend this:

            http://www.lscp.net/persons/dupoux/teaching/QUINZAINE_RENTREE_CogMaster_2012-13/Bloc_philo/Dennet_2009_intentional_systems.pdf

          • Richard_Wein

            P.S. I think I should clarify the following remark that I made:

            My position is that what matters is not just the external behaviour of the system, but what’s going on inside too.

            I agree with Dennett that we can usefully and reasonably adopt the intentional stance without regard to the nature of a system’s internal representations. However, I also note that we are reluctant to attribute certain intentional states* (like beliefs) to such relatively simple systems as mobile phones. We might, in the heat of the moment, say that a chess-playing mobile phone moved its queen because it “believed” that piece was vulnerable. But on reflection we might change our minds, saying: of course, it didn’t _really_ believe it, because mobile phones can’t have beliefs.

            It seems that–at least some of the time–we are unwilling to dignify an intentional state with the word “belief” unless we perceive the system in a certain way. Most of the time we probably don’t have any clear idea of the grounds on which we are making this discrimination, but I suggest that–at least some of the time–it has something to with consciousness, in some sense. Words get their meanings from how we use them, and if such a discrimination in our usage was clear and consistent it would probably make sense to say that non-conscious systems cannot appropriately be said to have beliefs. But then to say that mobile phones don’t have beliefs would just be another way of saying that they’re not conscious. In any case, I think that our discrimination is not sufficiently clear and consistent to justify insisting that our use of the word “belief” must be restricted in this way.

            When I made the remark above I meant primarily that the internal behaviour of the system matters with regard to consciousness. For example, I wouldn’t consider Ned Block’s “block-head” to be a conscious system. But insofar as consciousness has some bearing on our ascriptions of beliefs, the remark has some relevance to beliefs as well.

            * I’m using “intentional states” as my own term of art, to refer to the sorts of states that we can usefully ascribe when taking an intentional stance (as Dennett defines it). Hence it is here defined independently of the usual philosophical concept of “intentionality”, and is not to be taken as inheriting any connotations of that term, including any connotations of consciousness.

  • http://crudeideas.blogspot.com/ Crude

    Those neural processes in our brains are not a more fundamental reality to which thought can be reduced. They are thought itself—the genuine article. Further, the fact that we think with our brains does not make thought any less real, significant, or explanatory than it is on dualism.

    Is the mental ‘meaning’ of this or that brain state intrinsic or derived? And are brain states determinate or indeterminate?

    Does brain state X intrinsically mean ‘There are bears in Russia’ or the like?

    • Keith Parsons

      Crude,

      Thanks much for your comments and questions. My intended audience for the work I am revising is nonspecialists, but, of course, I want it to be philosophically sound! So, any “peer review” is appreciated.

      I am explicating Andrew Melnyk’s theory–which I think is a plausible one. I am not sure just what he would say. However it seems to me that no brain state is equivalent to a thought. That is you could not take an image of the brain at time T-1 and say that was a picture of the thought “there are two bears in Russia,” or whatever. What you would say is that the image is a depiction of one moment of an unfolding mental/physical event. On PRM thinking is a process, that is, in discussing the ontology of the mental, what primarily exists is best expressed by the gerund. It is the thinking that is real and “thought” expresses the ideational content generated by the process. The emphasis on the thinking rather than the thought follows from Melnyk’s functional definition of “mind.” A mind is anything (soul, brain, machine) that does mental stuff. So, when a human thinks “there are two bears in Russia,” this is accomplished by the complex, patterned firing of neurons causally connected with other such complex, patterned firings. We are thinking creatures and neuronal firings is how we do it.

      In answer to your questions: First, I am not sure just what you mean by the “meaning of this or that brain state.” “Meaning” is an ambiguous term, so I am just not sure in what sense you intended it. Can brains generate ideational or conceptual content? Sure. Why not? Are brain states determinate? Again, I am not sure what you mean by “determinate.” Do you mean that the patterns of neuronal activity that constitute the thought “there are two bears in Russia” are different from the patterns that constitutes the thought “there is one bear in Alaska?” Well, I guess if, as PRM claims, mental processes are realized in physical processes, a different thought would have a different distinct realization.

      I hope this addresses your questions. If not, please clarify. Thanks.

      • http://crudeideas.blogspot.com/ Crude

        That is you could not take an image of the brain at time T-1 and say that was a picture of the thought “there are two bears in Russia,” or whatever. What you would say is that the image is a depiction of one moment of an unfolding mental/physical event.

        Alright. So any given brain state is indeterminate with regard to meaning – is this correct?

        And either way, you say ‘a depiction of one moment of an unfolding mental/physical event’. Alright. Take a video recording of the entire brain. Can you point at a particular area of the brain, over a period of time, and then say ‘Well, this right here is a thought which means “There are bears in russia.” That is what this person is thinking about right now.’

        I ask to clarify here, since it sounded as if you were saying that a single ‘picture’ would not be intrinsically about anything, so maybe you’re leaving the door open for an entire ‘process’/’series’ to intrinsically be about something.

        Or are you denying intrinsic meaning altogether, but at the same time saying that at the very least these brain states are at the very least intrinsically mental – they are ‘thoughts’ or ‘about (x) or (y)’ or the like? Or not even that?

        Well, I guess if, as PRM claims, mental processes are realized in physical processes, a different thought would have a different distinct realization.

        Well, I’m trying to understand the view you’re defending here. You talk about brains ‘generating ideational or conceptual content’. Okay.

        Perhaps I should ask – you know what I mean when I talk about intrinsic meaning versus derived meaning, yes?

        • Keith Parsons

          Crude,

          I am still not clear on how you think I am being unclear. Do I think that the brain is capable of generating intentional events–thinking about intentional objects, e.g. bears in Russia? Sure. Why not? Would such a thought be an occurrence in certain subsystems of the brain? This is a question for neuroscience, not philosophy, However, as Paul Thagard reports in The Brain and the Meaning of Life, brain imaging techniques show exactly what is going on in the brain when certain mental events are taking place. So the answer would seem to be “yes” here too.

          Is a brain state indeterminate with regard to meaning? Again, you need to be a bit more explicit in saying what you mean by “meaning.” Do you mean does the brain at time T-1 have an intentional object? Consider an analogy: You take a still-frame photograph of someone doing a dance routine. Is the person at the instant of the photograph doing the dance routine? Well, yes in the sense that what is being done at that moment is a moment of a continuous process of doing a dance routine. But, no, the dancer’s state at that moment is not the dance routine, just a momentary slice of an ongoing process of dancing. So, is the brain thinking of bears in Russia at time T-1? I think it is more accurate and informative to say that from time T-1 to time T-2 the brain was thinking about bears in Russia, i.e. entertaining an intentional object. Is there a conceptual problem here?

  • Victor_Reppert

    http://dangerousidea.blogspot.com/2013/10/a-priori-arguments-and-materialism.html

    This begins a series of responses to Keith Parsons on the Argument from Reason, found here.

    Parsons’ first critical response to the argument is this:

    First, note that Goetz and Taliafero’s arguments, and practically all arguments against the MTB thesis, are a priori in nature, whereas the arguments for MTB are mostly empirical. Historically, a priori arguments have fared very poorly when opposed to empirical arguments. Philosophers will draw an a priori line in the sand and scientists will gleefully jump over it. The dismal track record of a priori claims against empirical ones provides some reason to doubt the cogency of arguments like those of Goetz and Taliafero.

    Are all a priori arguments bad? Really? What about Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem, for crying out loud? Or the entire edifice of mathematics, on which the entire operation of science is based? That’s ALL a priori.

    It might be helpful to see some examples of what Parsons is talking about.

    • Keith Parsons

      Victor,

      i am a tad busy right now, so I don’t think I will have time for a long point/counterpoint. However, I would like to point out that the argument you are attributing to me is not the one I was trying to make. I am not questioning the legitimacy of all a priori reasoning. I was pointing out that philosophers have often made armchair pronouncements about what must or must not be, which scientists have blithely disregarded and proceeded to do what philosophers said could not be done. Leibniz, for instance, claimed to disprove the possibility of physical atoms. Scientists went right ahead with atomic theory–and a good thing too. Kant held that three dimensional space was an a priori intuition. Physicists have found it useful to disregard that “intuition.” Spinoza “proved” that all that is must be. Quantum physics does not give a fig for such determinism. Auguste Comte said that the constitution of the stars would never be known. A year or two later the spectrograph was invented. Kant held that asserting either that the universe had a beginning or did not leads to insoluble intellectual antinomies. Big Bang theorists never cared. Descartes “proved” that the mind must be incorporeal res cogitans. Neuroscience piles success on top of success assuming that we think with our brains.

      • Victor_Reppert

        But of course, the argument here isn’t just an armchair speculation, it is a principled argument. In these cases, it has to be clarified that the scientific theory and the philosophical argument really contradicted one another. I know in the case of Kant, it is an open question as to whether the claims are really in conflict. This is the discussion of it in the Stanford Encyclopedia.
        It doesn’t seem to me that Kant’s position, just described, conflicts with scientific theory.

        http://dangerousidea.blogspot.com/2013/10/parsons-replies-to-me.html

        • Keith Parsons

          Victor,

          The arguments I mentioned were principled arguments by major philosophers and not mere speculations. I nowhere termed them “speculations.” If the term “armchair” offends you, let’s imagine that they were invented somewhere else, say at a writing desk. The point is that they were not derived in a laboratory or by any other empirical process. They still were a priori arguments rightly ignored by scientists and discredited, or at least made irrelevant, by the progress of science.

          Yes, the a priori claims of Taliafero and Goetz do contradict the claims made by Melnyk, which were based on empirical premises. That is why Taliafero and Goetz made those arguments. I would assert further that the claim that we think with our brains is as much a scientific result as evolutionary theory, and opposition to that result is just as obscurantist as creationism. When dualists continue to claim, in the face of all the evidence, that brain occurrences and mental events are merely correlations, this has the desperate sound of creationists claiming that there are no transitional fossils. ALL of the evidence we have is that brain activity is both necessary and sufficient for mental activity. There just is no legitimate evidence–evidence, not a priori pronouncement–that it is not. If there is such evidence, please give it.

          Of course, some apologists like Gary Habermas invoke NDE’s as purported evidence of mental activity with no brain activity. However, if such desperate measures are the only–or the best–evidence for dualism, then my job is done. Nothing I could say would do more to discredit dualism.

          • Victor_Reppert

            I have some problems with the claim that these philosophical claims actually conflicted with the claims made by scientists.

            Depending on how you define the brain, I would be prepared to agree that we think with our brains, if we just mean by that whatever occupies the space between me ears. My argument isn’t an argument for something that is not spatial. However, do the laws of physics govern the brain, or do the principles of reasoning? That’s the real issue. Can we admit into brain theory the emergence of something whose actions are determined by laws other than the laws of physics, if we assume that because the laws of physics operate non-teleologically?

            Here’s something I once wrote in a reply I once did to Richard Carrier:

            But we should be careful of exactly what is meant by the term “brain.” The “brain” is supposed to be “physical,” and we also have to be careful about what we mean by “physical.” If by physical we mean that it occupies space, then there is nothing in my argument that suggests that I need to deny this possibility. I would just prefer to call the part of the brain that does not function mechanistically the soul, since, as I understand it, there is more packed into the notion of the physical than just the occupation of space. If on the other hand, for something to be physical (hence part of the brain) it has to function mechanistically, that is, intentional an teleological considerations cannot be basic explanations for the activity of the brain, then Parsons’ suggestion (and Carrier’s as well-VR) is incoherent.

            You see, I could become a materialist rather easily. I could just say that God, souls, and angels are just different types of material beings. To give them a scientific ring, I can call them psychons, angelons, and, of course, the theon. Now, if you don’t like my proposed expansion of materialism and you want to exclude me from the materialist club, you have to explain to me why I am abusing language here. You have to tell me what it is about matter that makes it impossible that God is a material being. And how would you do that without saying that these entities have ground-level “mental” properties which exclude them from inclusion into “the physical.”

          • Keith Parsons

            Victor,

            Yes, I do think you are abusing language here, and the result is that your position becomes even more obscure than standard Cartesian dualism. “Physical” obviously means more than occupying space or having a spatial location. Marley’s ghost could be coming through Scrooge’s locked door, and so have a spatial location, and still not be a physical entity. “Physical” has to mean that its causal powers and liabilities are reducible to, or ultimately explicable in terms of, the laws, entities, and processes acknowledged by basic physics. In terms of our current understanding, the causal capacities of physical things come down at rock bottom to the properties and interactions of quarks, leptons, and the gauge bosons that mediate fundamental forces. Your “psychons, angelons, and theon” are not physical in that sense–or, if they are, then I REALLY have no idea what you are talking about.

            Further, a basic component of the concept of the physical seems to be that it is impersonal at the ontologically fundamental level. Fundamental things do not think, choose, decide, reason, etc., though fantastically complex composites of them (e.g. you and me) do. As I have always understood dualism and theism–and as they are defended by some of their leading advocates, such as Richard Swinburne–these views put personal explanation at rock bottom.

            For these reasons, then, I regard your suggestion that souls might be physical to be an abuse of these terms as they are normally understood.

            Let’s get to what you identify as the real issue: Do the principles of reasoning govern the brain or the laws of physics?

            Here is my basic question: Why can’t thinking logically (in accordance with the laws of logic) be something I accomplish with my physical brain? Why cannot my thought, say,

            ~(P v Q), therefore

            ~P & ~Q

            be physically realized as an event in my brain? If realization is taken as an identity relation, as I think it should be, then the above-described mental even IS a physical event

            Problem solved. The radical disjunction you propose simply does not apply. Things in the physical world can be done in accordance with the laws of logic because those laws are apprehended by mental events that are physically realized in the operations of the brain.
            This mental/physical act of apprehension, in virtue of its physical properties, can therefore initiate or enter into causal chains. That is how the laws of logic impact the physical world–qua apprehended by physical brains.

            Where is the incoherence? In fact, there is none. There may be a recalcitrant feeling of incoherence on the part of some people, but I suggest that this feeling has no logical basis, but is due to the continued subliminal influence of pernicious and obscurantist Cartesian categories. For four hundred years a religiously-based ideology has told us that the mental and the physical are mutually exclusive categories. We have to finally exorcise this notion, or the mind/body relation will always appear unnecessarily obscure.

          • Victor_Reppert

            OK, what defines the “physical?” You say

            “Physical” has to mean that its causal powers and liabilities are reducible to, or ultimately explicable in terms of, the laws, entities, and processes acknowledged by basic physics. In terms of our current understanding, the causal capacities of physical things come down at rock bottom to the properties and interactions of quarks, leptons, and the gauge bosons that mediate fundamental forces. Your “psychons, angelons, and theon” are not physical in that sense–or, if they are, then I REALLY have no idea what you are talking about.

            Well, Keith, that runs you up against what is known as Hempel’s dilemma. You can either define the physical in terms of current physics, in which case you have quarks, leptons and gauge bosons that mediate fundamental forces. But if you go that route, then physicalism is obviously false, since clearly we can expect physics to expand and discover other entities at the basic level of analysis. On the other hand, if fundamental physics is expandable, then fundamental physics might be expanded to include just the entities that I mentioned above, in which case you haven’t ruled anything out.

            Now I see that you made the step that is typically made at this point. You say:

            Further, a basic component of the concept of the physical seems to be that it is impersonal at the ontologically fundamental level. Fundamental things do not think, choose, decide, reason, etc., though fantastically complex composites of them (e.g. you and me) do. As I have always understood dualism and theism–and as they are defended by some of their leading advocates, such as Richard Swinburne–these views put personal explanation at rock bottom.

            This is what is called the “via negativa” in defining the physical. The “mental” has to be kept off the basic level in order for the “physical” to be significantly physical. But that’s exactly what generates the incompatibility between the mental and the physical. You have to make sure the base level is stripped of the mental, but you still want to make sure the mental is still there at some other level. The problem is going to be that if the mental isn’t in the base, then there is a lack of entailment between the physical state-description and the mental state-description. It isn’t just a religion-based ideology that generates this result, it is the fact that any attempt to define the physical the excludes what you want it to exclude has to exclude the mental from the physical.

            Admittedly, you can have properties of a whole system that is not a property of its proper parts. Thus, if you have a wall made up of bricks that are six inches high, you can add the bricks up and get a wall that is six feet high even though none of the bricks is six feet high. However, there is an “adding up” of the brick sizes which entails that the wall is six feet tall. Given the brick-statements, the wall-statement is entailed. But it doesn’t work that way for the mental. I see this, for example, in Quine’s argument for the indeterminacy of translation. You can pile up non-mental facts until doomsday, but the question of what mental states there may be remains open. In the case of the bricks and the wall, the brick state-descriptions entail the wall-statement. In the case of the physical state-description, these state-descriptions do no in any way entail the mental state-description. Any set of physical state-descriptions is compatible with various mental state-descriptions, or there being no mental state there at all.

          • Keith Parsons

            Victor,

            Hempel’s “dilemma” is a dilemma only if the definition of “physical” is supposed to be permanent and incapable of revision. Obviously, though, our conception of the physical will have to change as knowledge expands. However, this in no way precludes giving our current definition of “physical” in terms of our best understanding at this time. This means that, in terms of our current best theories, we cannot regard your proposed “psychon” as a physical entity. Given everything–everything–we know now, you are wrong; indeed, your proposal is a non-starter.

            Might we be able at some point in the future to accommodate “psychons” in our physics? Gosh. Who knows? I would bet not. The pessimistic meta-induction which you cite appeals to the history of physics (I reject this argument, by the way–a point I argue in my book Copernican Questions). Yet that history is not one that should give any consolation to aspirations to re-introduce consciousness at the fundamental level. On the contrary, the history has been one of an ever-deeper more comprehensive discovery that impersonal, unconscious, unthinking, non-teleological entities, forces, and processes. If the next step is to, say superstrings, these are no more fundamentally conscious than quarks.
            Physicalism with respect to the mental is therefore not a dogma, but simply the claim that, given our current state of knowledge–and given our epistemological aim at achieving comprehensive scientific accounts–the mental is best understood as fully realized in the physical, where “physical” is defined in terms of our best theories.

            You say that if the mental is not put in at the base of things then there can be no entailment relationship from a physical-state description to a mental-state description.
            Actually, I would prefer to say that the entailment relationship would be be between a physical-event description and a mental-event description. My view is that certain special physical events can entail, indeed, be identical with, certain mental events. That is, certain mental events (which can be individuated as thought-tokens) are fully realized (in an identity sense of “realize”) as physical events.

            However, you say that this is impossible unless the mental is put in at the ground level. As far as I can tell, this is just an assertion and not an argument. It is also a non sequitur that reveals a fundamental failure to understand what is being claimed by PRM as I have articulated it. PRM defines a “mind” functionally as anything that does mental things, i.e. anything that thinks, perceives, feels, imagines, etc. It is a functional definition of mind, not a definition in terms of basic stuffs or states. On the functional definition, thinking, feeling, imagining, perceiving, etc., are actions, activities, or events–things done. PRM claims that the mental (thinking, feeling, perceiving, imagining, etc.) is something that matter–complexly organized in special ways–can do. Why not? Again, where is the incoherence?

            Your claim that the material cannot do the mental unless the mental is put in at a fundamental level is no more valid than saying that the material cannot do the musical unless the musical is put in at the level of quarks and bosons. We have, in fact, innumerable examples of things that cannot achieve a certain effect or accomplish certain results until they are organized and built in the appropriate way. Why can’t this extend to the mental? If we have a compact disc formatted with certain patterns of magnetization, we can predict that, when put into a correctly functioning CD player, it will play, say, the “Eroica” Symphony. Why will neuroscience–in principle, according to you–never be able to say that certain complex neural events will “play” the thought “If P, then Q; P; therefore Q”?

          • Richard_Wein

            Sorry to butt in.

            The question of whether to call supernatural intelligences “physical” seems to be a linguistic question about how far it’s useful to stretch the meaning of the word “physical”. There seems to be no substantive matter of fact at stake. But it would be counter-productive to stretch the word that far, because it would prevent us from using the word “physical” to make a distinction it’s currently useful to make, have no benefit that I can see, and cause confusion.

            I think the useful distinction we’re making when we choose not to call such entities “physical” is not primarily a matter of whether physicists accept their existence. I think it has more to do with their behavioural complexity, and perhaps also the fact that they’re hard to fit into the rest of our scientific view. Of course those are also reasons why they’re not accepted by physicists, so perhaps the distinction is linked to the non-acceptance by physicists, even if that’s not the primary factor.

          • Keith Parsons

            Richard,

            Thanks for butting in. This is a public discussion, not a private fight. I agree, but perhaps I see the semantic infraction as being a bit more serious than you do. To try to accommodate “psychons” by weakening the definition of “physical” seems intellectually dubious to me. I can see that it would have a rhetorical motivation, but not a logical one. Talk of disembodied “souls” or “minds” has a bad odor these days–at least for most of the cognoscenti–so recasting the dualist hypothesis as a physical or quasi-physical claim might make it seem more palatable. However, if, as you say, one of our salient epistemic goals is to provide a comprehensive scientific account of things, then science at its present stage simply cannot accommodate psychons. The rhetorical promotion of such an unscientific idea therefore cannot help but appear obscurantist, i.e.as a distraction from the growing and enormously successful research program of explaining the mental in terms of the physical.

            BTW, let me hasten to add: By casting aspersions on the hypothesis as obscurantist, I am in NO way implying any underhanded dealing or dishonest intentions on Victor’s part. In nearly forty years (!) of discussion with him, he has always maintained a standard of intellectual and moral integrity that I wish all would observe when discussing issues about which we passionately disagree.

          • Victor_Reppert

            Keith, I think you have misunderstood what I am doing with the idea of the psychon. The problem I am pointing to is this. I am not actually suggesting that the “soul” is a physical entity, but I am attempting to show that in order make a define the physical in any meaningful way that excludes things like “psychons”, you have to define the mental (or as you would have it, the “personal”) out of the physical. You seem to be saying that there is nothing but prejudice keeping us from assigning mental properties to physical entities like the brain. But when you have to define the physical in contradistinction to the mental, I believe that you have at least a prima facie difficulty that requires some explanation.

            Since the physical, at least at the base level has to be free of purpose, intentionality, subjectivity, and normativity, these things have to be bootstrapped in on higher levels. Further, these higher levels have to be necessary consequences of what is on the lower levels.

            Now you seem to follow Melnyk in bootstrapping the mental into the upper levels of a physicalistic universe via some version of functionalism.

            Here’s a description of functionalism provided by William Vallicella.

            http://maverickphilosopher.typepad.com/maverick_philosopher/2011/11/against-functionalism-in-the-philosophy-of-mind-argument-one.html

            Mental properties are functional properties. So when we say that x, a brain event say, has a mental property, all we mean is that it stands in certain causal relations to sensory inputs, behavioral outputs, and intervening brain events. So what makes the brain event mental is simply the relations in which it stands to inputs, outputs and other brain events. Once you grasp this, then you grasp that the brain event can be wholly physical in nature despite its having a mental property. Mental properties are not intrinsic but relational.

            Now, the link provides some criticisms by Vallicella of this claim, but my main concern at this point is simply asking you if you think his description of functionalism is correct.

          • Keith Parsons

            Victor,

            I am not ignoring you. I just have to do some of the work they pay me to do–grading papers, committee meetings, stuff like that. I will be back in touch later this week. I want to get to the bottom of this, that is, find out EXACTLY where we disagree. Bear with me.

          • Victor_Reppert

            That’s precisely what it’s all about. You know when discussion is productive when opposing sides spend less time trying to zing one another and more time trying to get clear on where their real differences lie. And oh yes, the stuff I get paid to do slows me down too.

          • Keith Parsons

            Victor,

            The answer to the point you make in your first paragraph above is that, as Melnyk argues on p. 2 of his debate with Taliafero and Goetz, there is a broad and a narrow definition of “physical.” I will just quote his statement:

            “There is a narrow sense of the word “physical” in which minds, mental properties,, and mental processes are clearly not physical phenomena: terms like “mind,” thinking” and “feeling,” don’t appear in the theories of fundamental physics. In this same narrow sense of “physical,” however, a kidney isn’t a physical object, respiring isn’t a physical property, and digestion isn’t a physical process; for the terms “kidney,” “is respiring,” and “digestion,” also don’t appear in the theories of fundamental physics. So to concede that mental phenomena aren’t physical in this narrow sense isn’t to concede very much. Yet surely there’s a broad sense of the word “physical” in which kidneys, respiring, and digestion are indeed physical phenomena. What physicalism about the human mind claims is that human minds, mental properties, and mental processes are physical in this broad sense of “physical.”

            In short, at the basic level of explanation–the level of fundamental physical laws, entities, and events–the mental or personal is excluded. Quarks are not conscious. Electrons make no decisions. Contrary to Dante, it is gravity, not love, that moves the stars. All mental terms have application only at a much higher level of complexity. An even more essential point is that mind must be understood in functional terms. A mind is whatever thinks, feels, imagines, perceives, doubts, hopes, etc. “The mental” is what is done by matter when it is complexly organized in certain ways. A mind is defined in terms of what it does just as a kidney is defined in terms of filtering the blood and lungs in terms of respiration. Thinking is not a fundamental physical property any more than digesting. Thinking and digesting are what special complex physical structures do.

            In answer to your question about functionalism. I do not think that PRM as developed by Melnyk is a standard form of functionalism. As you note, for standard functionalism, a “mental” event is individuated solely in terms of its causal relations with input events and output events and other mental events. Pain, for instance, is that inner process that generates appropriate responses (wincing, moaning, avoidance of the stimulus, etc.) to harmful input.

            My view is that the same event can be individuated in mental or physical terms. A particular event can be individuated in mental terms, say in terms of thought contents, or in physical terms as a neural event. However, the same event can be individuated in two very different ways. When the soprano sounds “high C” that event can be individuated in musical terms or in terms of vibrations of the air and vocal cords. Yet it is the same event. In short, as you say, for standard functionalism, mental properties are not intrinsic, but relational. I see no reason whatsoever that they cannot be intrinsic. I see no reason whatsoever that the experience of pain, in all of its qualitative aspects, cannot be something done by a brain. My brain feels the pain and the “ouchiness” is how it feels. Qualitative properties are correctly applied adverbally. I don’t see red; I see redly. Seeing redly is something I do with my visual apparatus and brain.

            I see no reason, other than Cartesian prejudice, that we cannot or should not say such things.

    • http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/ed_babinski/babinski-bio.html EdwardTBabinski

      I invite Vic to consider how Christian theistic apologists tend to exclude options that lay somewhere between classical theism and atheism. There are non-hierarchical, non-classical God, options to consider. For instance, Joseph Campbell, Alan Watts, and Robert Anton Wilson expressed the natural relationship between the human mind and the cosmos in this manner:

      J.C. : We are children of this planet… we have come forth from it. We are its eyes and mind, its seeing and its thinking. And the earth, together with its sun… came forth from a nebula; and that nebula, in turn, from space. No wonder then, if its laws and ours are the same.

      A. W. : You are an aperture through which the universe is looking at and exploring itself.

      We do not ‘come into’ this world; we come out of it, as leaves from a tree. As the ocean ‘waves,’ the universe ‘peoples.’ Every individual is an expression of the whole realm of nature, a unique action of the total universe.

      It’s like you took a bottle of ink and you threw it at a wall. Smash! And all that ink spread. And in the middle, it’s dense, isn’t it? And as it gets out on the edge, the little droplets get finer and finer and make more complicated patterns, see? So in the same way, there was a big bang at the beginning of things and it spread. And you and I, sitting here in this room, as complicated human beings, are way, way out on the fringe of that bang. We are the complicated little patterns on the end of it. Very interesting. But so we define ourselves as being only that… as one very complicated little curlique, way out on the edge of that explosion. Way out in space, and way out in time. But billions of years ago, you were a big bang, and now you’re a complicated human being. We don’t feel that we’re still the big bang. But you are… You’re not just something that’s a result of the big bang. You’re not something that is a sort of puppet on the end of the process. You are also still the process. You are the big bang, the original force of the universe, coming on as whoever you are. When I meet you, I see not just what you define yourself as–Mr so-and- so, Ms so-and-so, Mrs so-and-so–I see every one as the primordial energy of the universe coming on at me in this particular way. I know I’m that, too. But we’ve learned to define ourselves as separate from it.

      R.A.W. : I suspect that this world shows signs of ‘intelligent design,’ and I suspect that such intelligence acts via feedback from all parts to all parts and without centralized sovereignty, like Internet; and that it does not function hierarchically, in the style an Oriental despotism, an American corporation or Christian theology. I somewhat suspect that Theism and Atheism both fail to account for such decentralized intelligence, rich in circular-causal feedback.

      ___________

      To add to the above quotations, there’s also the option not of ‘intelligent design’ but of a self-tinkering cosmos, or even a Divine Tinkerer.

      Of course to Christian apologists there is no range of religious or philosophical choice, (not even denominationally if you are speaking to an arch conservative Christian), because to them there are only two choices, and there’s is the only one you must choose… even if it IS like a game of Let’s Make a Deal and you don’t get to see what’s in the box nor what’s behind the metaphysical curtain, before you choose it.

  • Victor_Reppert

    KP: Further, human beings would be most unfortunate if in fact a theory as important as PRM (the physical realization of the mental-VR) were true and could not be rationally believed. Goetz and Taliafero appear to concede that PRM could be true, but they hold that the truth of PRM would preclude rationally believing it by our standards of rational belief. However, if our standards of rational belief are such that they can preclude us from rationally believing an important theory that (we are assuming) is in fact true, then perhaps our standards of rational belief are deficient. Standards of rational belief are supposed to permit, not preclude, rational belief in true theories. If PRM is true—and, again, Goetz and Taliafero apparently concede that it could be—then this is a very important truth and there needs to be some way that we can rationally believe that it is true.

    VR: Interestingly, if it is problematic that certain things of significance may be true, and yet we are unable to rationally believe them, then this poses some problems for a number of interesting positions in philosophy, which many religious skeptics endorse. A good example would be Hume’s essay on miracles. If we take Humeanism about miracles far enough, the God could be sitting up in heaven performing miracle after miracle, and the best we could, as human reasoners, could say about it would be that we don’t have a naturalistic explanation for it yet. Water into wine? We’ll understand it better by and by. Someone rises from the dead? It’s GOT to be a hallucination. I’m being appeared to hellishly? Got to be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato.

    Are there features of the world and human minds that are necessary in order for there to be, for example, any scientists in the world? Suppose reality were nothing but a turnip with a bit of whipped cream on top. If this were the case, this would be a significant truth, but given the nature of knowledge, neither the turnip nor the whipped cream would know this. Turnips and bits of whipped cream don’t do science. Is this a problem?

    • http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/ed_babinski/babinski-bio.html EdwardTBabinski

      VIC REPPERT wrote on his blog: “Do the laws of physics govern the brain, or do the principles of reasoning?”

      MY reply: But what is meant by “govern the brain” in both senses above (physical laws, and reasoning). Does “govern the brain” mean the same thing in both instances? For instance, neuroscientists point out that the brain is “governed” by the totality of sensory input, learning, memory, feedback (both external and internal) and the brain remains highly active even when one is asleep. Doesn’t that suggest that physical laws and reasoning could be part of the same brain-mind system? Because it is not just individual atoms moving inside the brain-mind but those atoms are connected to molecules and those molecules are part of 100 billion neurons joined by 1 trillion electro-chemical connections and those are connected to sensory systems that feed input into that neural network, input like images and sounds that are each far larger than atom-sized, and that input is also part of constant feedback loops both external and internal as the brain-mind gradually “learns” how to “reason” about “the world,” how to make sense of it, how to build a model of the world inside each person’s brain-mind. And that takes time, feedback, memory, learning, etc., all part of ongoing processes. No one is born with a fully formed model of the world in their brain-mind.

      Second, can we get all philosophers to agree on what “reasoning” is? Seems like we can get more of them to agree on what physical laws are than agree on what “reasoning” is.

      So, is the AFR the cardinal difficulty of naturalism, as Lewis claimed? Even in a physical sense a lone atom inside each cell is moved about by the dynamics of the molecule to which that atom is attached and that molecule is moved about by the chains of molecular reactions or dynamics inside the cell, so atoms in their individuality do not “govern” the cell. And in the case of a brain-mind which is built up via years of constant sensory input and feedback loops and making corrections that produce a “model” of the world, one cannot but see how such a model must be based on something that makes “sense.” The formalization of handy “rules of logic” is a later abstraction or model of how things work, that came about only after brain-minds evolved and began modeling the world.

      As for “principles of reasoning,” such as “coherency,” philosophers are always coming up with rival models or philosophical systems, that are each argued to be coherent, just as physicists come up with rival hypotheses. But they are in the end all models. While nature in its essence is not what the brain grasps, just as maps do not equal the territory, and words do not equal things, models do not equal reality, not even the finest mathematical models of reality. And as I pointed out, each person’s brain-mind contains their “model” of the world, not the world itself.

      And why does the word “physical” play such an important role in the AFR, when modern day naturalists do not rely as heavily on that word today as their ancestors once did, but define naturalism in other ways?
      See also, Prior Prejudices and the Argument from Reason. You keep saying you read it, but you don’t seem to grasp it. I don’t think Christian apologists understand naturalism’s internal coherence (which by the way does not make me a naturalist nor an atheist), nor do they seem able to acknowledge the spectrum of philosophical questions out there, nor the fact that philosophy as a discipline seems to have simply raised ever more questions, leading to finer divisions of each question/problem, but few if any universally accepted answers. http://edward-t-babinski.blogspot.com/2011/01/prior-prejudices-and-argument-from.html


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X