Pages Menu
TwitterRssFacebook
Categories Menu

Posted by on Aug 14, 2014 in Consciousness, Creationism, Evolution, Featured, Philosophy | 67 comments

Steve Novella on consciousness: dualism is the new evolution for theists (Part 1)

I was listening to a Reasonable Doubts podcast from a few years ago, and it was, as ever, cracking. This one was about consciousness, its hard problem, dualism, and how it, and neuroscience, are being co-opted as a philosophical area to argue for the “God of the Gaps” style argument in the same vein as evolution in the creationist and intelligent design movements.

I am transcribing the interview, which can be listened to here. This is part 1, which should throw up some interesting discussion. Steve Novella (who writes for the NeuroLogica blog and how co-hosts the Skeptics Guide to the Universe podcast) was interviewed by Jeremy Beahan. This should set the scene for a really good point which is made in the second part which I want to talk about (the predictive power of physicalism).

SN: I think you’re right, this is the new Creationism. The fact that the Discovery Institute is all over this issue I think is evidence for that. And their approach is pretty much the same as their approach to evolution. They take very much a “God of the Gaps” approach. For evolution they say there is an irreducible complexity, we can’t explain every step of the way in which some complex biochemical system or structure evolved and therefore once you get even a little bit past our current knowledge, even though that’s a moving target, that’s the thing that God had to do (or the intelligent designer if they’re being coy). With neuroscience now they’re playing the exact same game, so “sure we understand a lot of how the brain works, sure brain activity correlates with mental activity, but it’s not perfect, and once you get a little bit beyond our current knowledge about how exactly the brain produces everything we understand as mental phenomenon, that’s where there’s magic, right, that’s the ghost in the machine, that’s the dualism, the spirit, whatever.” It’s not perfectly materialistic, it’s totally a God of the Gaps argument.

JB: Of course, they have to positively argue for their claims, they have to assert some sort of evidence that this non-material causation can happen, but it seems that they have been completely unable to do this. Have you seen any of these Creationists attempt to explain how this could happen?

SN: Nope, they’re got nothing. No, they’ve absolutely nothing. There’s no positive program, right? There’s no positive claim. They don’t have any which in which they can say or even hypothesise or even speculate that there is some phenomenon which is causing mental phenomenon, right? So there’s no alternate hypothesis. In fact, they think it’s “supernatural” which puts them outside the realm of science. And I think in this case, maybe one thing that’s a little bit different than with Creationism is, you know with Creationism they are desperately trying to portray it as a science, right; you know, going all the way back to Creation Science, right, and now Intelligent Design. And these are all overt attempts to recast faith and Creationism as if it were a science. With dualism, they’re taking more of a philosophical approach. They’re still doing the God of the Gaps thing around neuroscience – whatever we haven’t currently explained, that’s the dualism – but, in terms of arguing for dualism itself, it’s purely a philosophical approach as far as I’ve seen. And I think it’s because I don’t think they can even imagine what a scientific argument would even be like.

JB: Yeah, what are they going to be studying? There’s nothing measurable or quantifiable or even observable in what they’re talking about. But, turning to philosophy might be a pretty wise move for them because there are philosophers, even naturalistic philosophers who believe there is some sort of problem with consciousness, explaining consciousness with some deep misunderstanding or lack of understanding at this moment… Can you explain, for my listeners, what the hard problem of consciousness is?

SN: Yeah, I think you’re tight, I think philosophy is a good strategy for them because it’s very complicated, it’s hard to understand, and even philosophers disagree. You have people like David Chalmers who is a philosopher, although he says very explicitly that he is completely naturalistic; he is a dualist, he thinks that there is something about the mind, about consciousness, that the brain cannot explain, although he thinks it is some property of nature that we haven’t thought about yet. It’s really a matter of do you think that mental processes, specifically consciousness (our own experience of our existence, can result from a reductionist approach to brain function. Is it just what happens when neurons fire? Or is there something else going on? That’s the hard problem.

The easy problem, as Chalmers and others say, is figuring out how, you know the brain controls muscle functions; you know, how it represents the universe visually. The hard problem is why we experience those things, and Chalmers and others have used the analogy that you could design in a system that does all the things that we do, that a living system does, in terms of sensing its environment and responding to that environment (even processing information) without having to experience its own existence, and it would be like a zombie. So the hard problem is, why aren’t we all like zombies, reacting to our environment to pass on our genes? Why are we experiencing our existence? And the second aspect of that hard problem is, how is it exactly that the materialist functioning of the brain produce something so nebulous that we don’t even have the language to really express what it is, of consciousness and mental function? That’s the hard problem.

JB: Now Chalmers is a dualist, but he’s a property dualist. He’s not the same type of dualist as the folks at the Discovery Institute.

SN: That’s right. In fact I had a good chuckle over what When Michael Egnor and others were quoting Chalmers as if he was supporting their form of dualism and not reading deep enough into the very articles that they were citing where Chalmers said that he explicitly rejects Mike Egnor’s position on this, the position of the Discovery Institute. So they are just completely floppy when it comes to scholarship and intellectualism because they ultimately don’t really care. When you start with the conclusion and cherry pick for factoids that fit your conclusion – that’s the kind of stuff you lead to. They didn’t read it trying to figure out what he [Chalmers] is really saying because they’re not after the truth, they’re after supporting their pre-existing ideology.

JB: Yeah, what Chalmers is looking for is still something naturalistic. It would be in addition to just the brain; it might be something like a fundamental force of nature.

SN: Yeah.

JB: I don’t really know how I feel about that, but it’s important to point out that he’s not looking for a ghost in the machine, he’s looking for something that obeys law-like relationships, that could be studied.

SN: And it’s not that he’s just not looking for it, he expressly rejects it on philosophical grounds. So, if you’re going to cite Chalmers as a reference, you know, it’s hard to cite that part of his philosophy that is dualistic, but just ignore, they didn’t even reject it, they ignored that part of his philosophy. By those same exact arguments he concludes, you also have to reject the kind of dualism that Egnor and the Discovery Institute is promoting, so it is very dishonest, selective type of citation.

JB: It reminds me a lot of what they’ve been doing with natural selection all this time: they look at debates about to what degree does natural selection, is that involved in the evolution of species, versus, perhaps, other factors, perhaps ideas like punctuated equilibrium… and they Take some genuine disputes and disagreements to mean that the entire notion of natural selection is bogus.

SN: Yeah, they make hierarchical types of errors where they are looking at disagreements over the detail as if it calls into question the higher order conclusions about what’s happening. So, bickering about to what extent natural selection versus other mechanisms are important in various aspects of evolution doesn’t really bear on the bigger question of “did evolution happen?” You know, “did life result from some process of organic evolution?” But they make that confusion all the time. Again, they don’t have any science on their side, they really have no legitimate argument. They have nothing. So if you have nothing, but you want to defend your ideology, you have to make up bogus arguments. So that’s what they do, they really have no choice.

JB: Now back to the hard problem, you’ve argued that even if there is still difficulty getting a complete causal account of how consciousness emerges from the brain, the fact that we cannot explain totally how it happens is not the same thing as saying we can’t say that it happens.

SN: It’s the same exact hierarchical confusion that I was talking about with evolution. We could have concluded that evolution had occurred, in fact Darwin did, that evolution occurred… long before we knew about the mechanisms of evolution, Darwin came to his conclusion before we knew there were genes. There wasn’t even a mechanism for inheritance that was even amenable to evolution before Darwin proposed evolution through natural selection.

The same thing is true, I think, with the whole dualist notion, that when we ask the question, “Is the mind caused by the brain?” – sure, we like there to be a plausible mechanism of action and I think the brain is an absolutely plausible mechanism of action, but also, and what you’re really asking is “Is there a tight correlation between the two things?” And you say, “What would we predict to observe from the hypothesis that the mind is caused entirely by the brain?” and these common sense predictions that you would make – well, you would expect brain activity to correlate with mental activity; that there shouldn’t be any mental activity without brain activity; that if I turn off someone’s brain, let’s say with a powerful sedative, I also turn off their consciousness, their memory, their experiences, everything. If I alter brain activity biochemically, either pharmaceutically, electrically, or whatever, I will also at the same time alter mental function in a sort of predictive way. And it turns out that all those predictions are observed to be true within the limits of our technology to detect it which is another thing that Egnor and others have exploited. They talk about the fact that the correlation between brain function and mental function is not perfect, but actually it holds up within the limits of our resolution. You know, if we’re using fairly crude technology to look at brain function and the brain is operating at orders of magnitude greater detail than the methods we’re using to look at that function, well of course there’s going to be some fuzziness around the edges, right? Like looking at Mars with a small telescope and trying to make definitive conclusions about the fine grain details on the surface of Mars, where you just can’t beyond the resolution of the telescope that you are using.

 JB: Right, but as your telescopes get better you can often explain… you can see with better resolution… and isn’t that the same thing with brain imaging techniques?

  • Luke Breuer

    It’s not perfectly materialistic, it’s totally a God of the Gaps argument.

    This seems like a catch-22. If there really were some nonphysical element, physical evidence wouldn’t demonstrate it. You would be left with the absence of evidence. But is not reasoning from the absence of evidence to the existence of X precisely god-of-the-gaps, whether X = God or X = nonphysical mind?

    Suppose that there are minds which have a nonphysical component and can cause brains, such that the causal chain appears out of nowhere in the physical world. How would we ever be justified in saying that said causal chains are due to minds instead of just spontaneously happening?

    I’ve been talking to The Thinker about what experiment could possibly show the existence of nonphysical sentience, and I haven’t bought his attempt to describe such an experiment. He said that “mind decides X” must be preceded by “brain shows decision X”, to which I countered: how is the mind going to report that it decided X without showing up in brain activity? He claimed that the mouth could simply report the decision of X without being caused by the brain, but even that doesn’t seem like it would suffice. I should think a proper naturalist would see no evidence for nonphysical sentience, nor absence of evidence which would point to it.

    The deck seems stacked in favor of physicalism, from the get-go.

    • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

      The deck appears stacked because, perhaps, the deck IS stacked in such a way. This is indication, perhaps, of physicalism.

      What Novella talks about in Part 2 is the idea that a physicals account is not only more pragmatic and useful, butt it is empirically more successful. On the other hand, dualism accounts are so nebulous and not fleshed out that it reflects its lack of practical use or success. For example, all neuroscientists and surgeons actually working in the field implicitly ort explicitly accept the physicals account of cause and effect wrt messing with the physical brain affecting the mental, This account Is meaningful and successful.

      Dualism, however, remains merely a philosophical possibility. It has no pragmatic value and has had no success, ever, in any field of any use.

      And, being a philosopher, I have historically given dualism more credence than it has warranted by not realising this strongly enough. It doesn’t bring enough tot the table, only offering itself as a god of the gaps style argument.

      • Luke Breuer

        What I’m not convinced of is whether the metaphysic used could ever conclude in favor of a nonphysical, causal mind. That is, I cannot yet imagine any experiment which could possibly produce results that would be incompatible with a physicalist metaphysic. Can you?

        • NoCrossNoCrescent

          Yes I can. If you sever the corpus callosum and all other known links between the hemispheres and they still appear to be somehow connecting this might indicate the mind having an existence entirely separate from the brain.

          • ncovington89

            Here is a quote from David Chalmers that i think is of relevance here:

            “We could have been characters in a huge computer simulation…

            When they [the simulated characters] speculate about the world, they will find that the environment possess certain regularities, and this will lead them to laws of “physics” about their external world. This will lead them to speculate about whether they too, at the bottom line, are subject to the same laws. This might seem plausible…but of course it will not be the case! Their “mental” life obeys a completely different set of laws, and further these laws are off limits for direct observation.

            If they tried to “look inside their heads” (assuming they have at least
            vaguely coherent senses)… They’d just find an empty box. They’d ask “howcan I do all this complex processing”. The answer would have to be, well, I’m just kind of non-material mind. Of course, there would be a breakdown in the usual kind of physical causation around the “heads” of such a being, unlike our world.

            http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=14032

          • Luke Breuer

            “entirely separate” is not what is under contest; instead, it is whether the mind supervenes on the brain.

        • Void Walker

          Hello, Luke. Long fuck time, eh?

          While I agree with you that no test yet known could possibly detect whether dualism, of any variety, is true/false, the evidence, to me, stacks in favor of the mind being eventuated by entirely physical processes within the brain. It seems untenable, at best, to assert otherwise.

          My experiences with dementia come to mind. If some form of non-physical mind were within the realm of possibility, one wouldn’t expect that the mind could be so thoroughly fractured/broken by way of severe damage to the brain. One’s behavior, ability to choose, emotional states, etc. are all impacted by damage to the brain. Wouldn’t a naturalistic view of the mind make more sense in light of this, and other facts? If not, why?

          • Luke Breuer

            Long time indeed! I hope things are better for you these days. :-|

            My reason for questioning physicalism is actually a metaphysical one. Consider the ridiculousness of using thought-stuff to assert that matter-stuff is more real than thought-stuff. And yet, that is what happens for those who say that the mental is ‘merely’ the physical (I take supervenience to be ‘merely’). One way to think about this is to realize that computation can happen on one of many different substrates: semiconductor, biological, mechanical, mental. It’s as if the computation itself is in an entirely different class than the substrate, and it is no less real.

            There is this ‘meta-ness’ about thought. Thought can be about thought, but can matter be about thought? The philosophical term is intentionality, and I’m only beginning to understand it. We generally accept that there is no perfect triangle in existence; matter can certainly provoke thoughts about abstract triangles, but those triangles are only ever imperfect representations of matter. It’s as if triangles are about matter, but matter is not about triangles.

            Now, I’m not actually sure that the above, if true, leads to dualism. This uncertainty I get from Edward Feser’s The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism. Descartes really needed dualism to be true; many before him could hold to a monism, but not a physicalist monism.

            Suppose, though, that dualism is true—let’s use it as a model, instead of presuming it as a metaphysical truth. It does let us cleanly ask whether thoughts are always controlled by matter, or whether it can go vice-versa. It certainly seems that our trust in the scientific enterprise requires the ability of thoughts to have causal power. Sean Carroll’s reductionist Downward Causation seems to deny this, but more analysis is required. These days I’ve been fascinated by the question of whether science makes sense, given models of determinism/philosophy of mind. One way to think of this is to contrast the experiences of the two kittens in Held and Hein’s carousel experiment.

            My experiences with dementia come to mind. If some form of non-physical mind were within the realm of possibility, one wouldn’t expect that the mind could be so thoroughly fractured/broken by way of severe damage to the brain.

            What if the quality/health of the brain impacts the ability of mind and brain to interface well? Roughly, we can think of the brain as an antenna: damage the antenna and you damage receive/transmit ability. I’ve heard that Alzheimer’s patients can have moments of lucidity, which seems equally probable on either a physical or nonphysical mind, given our current knowledge.

          • Void Walker

            “What if the quality/health of the brain impacts the ability of mind and brain to interface well? Roughly, we can think of the brain as an antenna: damage the antenna and you damage receive/transmit ability. I’ve heard that Alzheimer’s patients can have moments of lucidity, which seems equally probable on either a physical or nonphysical mind, given our current knowledge.”

            This may well be the case, but, needless to say, hard evidence is lacking (that would be an understatement). Indeed, how could one even collect evidence of such a thing? I am therefore left to conclude that, considering we have good evidence that the brain creates the mind, there is no reason to assert otherwise unless due to religious motivations/presuppositions. Now, you may argue that I’m falling under my own naturalistic presuppositions, but I see strong evidence that the mind is a physically eventuated thing. I have no designs on “upholding” naturalism. I merely see strong evidence in support of it, especially wrt to the mind.

          • Luke Breuer

            This may well be the case, but, needless to say, hard evidence is lacking (that would be an understatement).

            Yep, and so while a non-physicalist model predicts at least what the physicalist one does, Ockham’s razor would rule out the non-physicalist model. This is why I said the bulk of my comment: my reason to reject physicalism is metaphysical, not evidential (physical).

          • Void Walker

            I suppose this represents a major difference between the two of us. I am, through and through, an empiricist. The brain is physical, we can trace out what parts are active during certain thought processes, sex, language, etc., all of which have correlates in the brain. Many of these directly relate to the mind, so it follows, at least for me, that the mind itself is a product of what the brain *does*.

            I’m not one for metaphysics. What are some reasons you subscribe to mp, if I may ask? And how long have you done so?

          • Luke Breuer

            I’m one for going ‘meta’. I actually attribute this tendency to being a programmer, software architect, and computer scientist (not everyone who writes code is all of these): I love finding commonalities and then abstracting. Many do not have the patience for ‘meta’. That’s fine; I don’t think more than a small portion of the population needs to, and society might not work well if lots of people liked to do it.

            That being said, I’d like you to spend at least a bit of time thinking about two things:

            (1) How ludicrous it is to think that thought-stuff is less real than physical-stuff.
            (2) How science is possible if thoughts do not have causal powers.

            What are some reasons you subscribe to mp, if I may ask?

            What do you mean by “mp”?

          • Void Walker

            Mp=metaphysics. I should have said as much.

            (1): Considering that I believe thoughts, while not physical per se, are the product of physical activity in the brain, it hardly seems ludicrous to me. Are the images on a television screen physical? No. But the processes that construct said images are physical by nature, and when operating in concert these constituents give the images that we view life. Video games are another good example of this.

            (2): I’ve not denied that thoughts have causal powers. What I’ve claimed is that there is strong evidence that thoughts are given life by way of traceable physical activities in the brain (the firing of synapses in the brain, chemical fluctuations, etc).

          • Luke Breuer

            (1) How can a collection of neurons be about love? Triangularity?

            (2) Unless you reject Sean Carroll’s reductionist Downward Causation, I think you do need to deny that thoughts have causal powers. That is, it wouldn’t be because you thought or believed something that you did X, but because your neurons were in some state.

            (3) I’m curious, how does your acceptance of physicalism get messed with if we’re actually simulated beings? What is it that would need to get rejected, and what could stay?

          • Void Walker

            (1): We understand love in the brain quite well, as other emotional states. It sucks, really, but such emotions are actually, in large part, chemical reactions. I’m not really sure what you’re trying to say here, to be honest Luke. Do you deny the neurological basis for emotions?

            (2): Really, the only causal powers that thoughts need are that which fuel them, which, in the case of our minds, has been delved into with great progress thanks to modern neuroscience. We now know that thoughts arise from our brains, not some ghost in the machine pressing buttons and pulling levers. We now, further, know that thoughts can be influenced and even tampered with given the right conditions. We react to stimuli, we collect countless experiences and store them in our brains; we then use what we’ve thus far gathered to form thoughts/images in response to variety of situations/events. Indeed, the states of our brains (chemical and otherwise) oft craft our mental lives (as I noted above, the mind is, to come off a tad cliche, what the brain does).

            Beliefs and thoughts are mental constructs, Luke. When we dissect the brain in efforts to glean what thought is, we continue to find that, however complex our minds may be, they are (so far as we can tell) the product of electrical/chemical activity in the brain (hence the causation I’ve spoken of).

            (3) If we were indeed simulated entities, I would say that virtually all of my beliefs under physicalism would need to either be tossed or adjusted significantly. I’d need a decent amount of time to properly convey which, however.

          • Luke Breuer

            (1) Perhaps I should not have said ‘love'; that is too often seen as an emotion only, and not something closer to agápē. So let’s stick to triangularity. How is it that some set of neurons can be about ‘triangularity’? What is it about them such that neurons can be about something that isn’t particles and/or fields?

            (2) You didn’t seem to directly address what I said:

            LB: That is, it wouldn’t be because you thought or believed something that you did X, but because your neurons were in some state.

            Is this statement true or false?

            (3) I would be very curious as to why you hold to physicalism then, given how easy it seems to be that we could be merely simulated. I mean, do you see a single reason why that is an implausible scenario?

          • Void Walker

            (1): I don’t think a set of neurons can be about anything, really. We *interpret* them as being “about” any given thing, thanks in large part to the deep symbology of human language. We understand how these neurons, firing in concert, can create the *sensation* of love, and we can work outward from that, using our powers of language, to ascribe significances to what our brains have relayed. Once we’ve received that information, the aforementioned deep symbology takes hold and we label what has been experienced according to a swath of presuppositions, emotional states, societal precepts, etc.

            In sum, I’m asserting that no, these physical processes don’t *inherently* mean a single thing. We grant them meaning, after the fact.

            (2): My bad…scatter-brained today.

            Neurological states influence what a person thinks/does in a variety of ways, so I cannot say either true or false to your statement. It seems a little….off, to be honest. Maybe that’s my fault? As I said….head in the clouds today.

            (3): I see not a single shred of evidence that we are, in fact, simulated beings. Not one iota. I hold to physicalism because the universe and life are….well, *physical* things. The brain is also quite physical,clearly, so it follows that what it does (the mind, thoughts) is merely an extension of highly complex physical activities. To assert evidence of anything *beyond* the physical is simply too silly for me. I’m not saying that the physical universe is, for certain, *all* that there is. It just seems to me that this is in fact the case. I may be wrong, but not a soul has even come close to convincing me of that.

          • Luke Breuer

            (1) If all we are is atoms, how can we interpret something not about triangularity to be about triangularity? You seem to be sneaking in an entity which is able to do what matter cannot: be about triangularity or interpret something to be about triangularity.

            (2) No worries, I’m happy to occasionally repeat myself. However, I don’t understand how you think my statement is “off”. It seems to make a lot of sense, given Sean Carroll’s Downward Causation.

            (3) Would you expect to see evidence that you are a simulated being? I mean, think of what you, as a designer of a simulated universe, would want. Would you want beings inside that simulation to know that they’re in a simulation? It strikes me that many purposes—e.g. modeling this world—would be best served by there being no evidence whatsoever. I will note that The Simulation Argument provides powerful reasons to think that we are in a simulation.

            I bring up the simulation argument because first, I think it’s really cool. Second, I am very curious in precisely what beliefs would have to be abandoned, and what beliefs would not need to be abandoned. It seems that it would be a bit odd to put a lot of stock in us not being in a simulation. I’m not really trying to argue for dualism here so much as I want to explore the consequences of believing in physicalism and why one might hold beliefs inconsistent with us living in a simulation.

          • Void Walker

            (1): Can you elaborate just a tad more, perhaps not using triangularity as an example? I’m running on 3 hours of sleep, manically depressed, and drugged up. Apologies.

            (2): I read Carroll’s article, and I’m largely in agreement with what he presented. In light of that, I will properly answer your original (2):

            Our thoughts, as I said earlier, are products of a wide range of neurological activity. There are clearly causes for all of these activities, and in tandem, they create our thoughts/intentions. When I want to go on a walk, there is a chain of prior causes that stretches back, in some cases to my conception, that eventually led to my desire for a stroll. The states of neurons are determined by a swath of priori in themselves, which in turn are eventuated by a host of other subatomic happenings that, in unity, culminated in my going on a walk.

            Perhaps you see where I’m going with this. My answer is that your question is perhaps a tad too over simplified. The brain, hell, all of nature, is abuzz with so much activity and complexity that to give an either/or scenario seems a little contrived.

            (3): I suppose you have a point, here. If I were the designer of a simulated reality, I wouldn’t want the true nature of existence to be so apparent.

            But this is beside the point. Lets examine this idea. Firstly, the creator of said simulation is a cruel scientist, merely toying with us for his own ends. To make such a universe, such a simulation, and craft it in such a way as to obfuscate and hide any glimmer of it’s true nature to us….that’s the height of cruelty. To make these simulations thinkers, naturally curious, only to tuck under the rug any passing indication that this “reality” was anything but….need I say more?

            Secondly, I would (somewhat in relation to my first contention) wonder exactly *why* this simulation was being “run” to begin with. what would the reason(s) be? Would the cons be outweighed by the pros, if there were any of the latter to begin with?

            Thirdly, since there could be no possible way of knowing, beyond any reasonable doubt, *if* this life was a simulation, what is the point of such a thought experiment? What merits are there to it? It smells a little like a belief in an after life, equally ill evidenced. At least the notion of life after death has some positive benefits!

            As for what would change, I can think of three solid examples.

            1: My sense of self would be crushed. Am I who I think I am, or is my very conception of self itself illusory; fabricated as the rest of reality? What of my desires, dreams, relationships? Are they all for naught?

            2: I wouldn’t be an atheist….

            3: I would begin questioning the very foundations of scientific knowledge, and any presuppositions that flowed from them.

            That about covers it, I believe.

          • Luke Breuer

            (1) How about giving triangularity a shot, today? My point in bringing it up is that the thought of triangularity is simply not about anything that exists. And so the question is, if “[you] don’t think a set of neurons can be about anything, really”, then how on earth do neurons actually become about anything? You don’t get to magically posit an interpreter who is made solely of neurons to solve this problem. That is circular reasoning. Furthermore, you don’t get to wave your hands and say “emergent system”, because that avoids the very problem that:

                 (a) matter cannot be about anything
                 (b) minds can be about things

            We saw how it was easy for you to wave away love as just an emotion, and thus [I claim] something that even animals have. Triangularity is something toward which physical arrangements of atoms can point, but the concept of triangularity itself is not actually about arrangements of atoms. You cannot see triangularity.

            In your (2), you are hand-waving thoughts/intentions into existence. It smells a bit like “evolution has had hundreds of millions of years; that is beyond the human imagination and thus what we see now could clearly have evolved in that time period”. However, applying that kind of thinking seems to be a category mistake, as we are agreed upon the claim that neurons cannot be about anything. It takes an interpreter, a mind, in order to have aboutness—at least aboutness like triangularity. How does that aboutness arise?

            (2) I don’t understand how you can (i) agree with Carroll’s Downward Causation; and (ii) say that “an either/or scenario seems a little contrived”. Let’s revisit what I said once more, and I’ll try to ask my question in a better way:

            LB: That is, it wouldn’t be because you thought or believed something that you did X, but because your neurons were in some state.

            You know that our thoughts/beliefs can ill-match reality. I think you agree with The Unreliability of Naive Introspection. So my question becomes: how can we test out thoughts/beliefs in our consciousness, when the real thing that actually causes us to act is merely neuronal configurations, which those thoughts/beliefs may match well, or may match terribly?

            It seems to me that for us to actually be able to adapt our thoughts/beliefs to reality better and better—instead of our neurons merely adopting configurations which maximize the propagation of our genes—that those thoughts/beliefs will need to sometimes have to overrule neuronal configurations. I cannot figure out how [conscious] thoughts/beliefs could be trustworthy without this. Can you? Or am I still being too unclear?

            (3) I can give you two very simple reasons for running a fantastically realistic simulation: to test the results of political policy, and to test the results of corporate policy. I don’t see why it matters whether the person running the simulation would be a “cruel scientist”; that doesn’t seem to affect the probability that we are living in a simulation.

            I claim that if there actually isn’t a good way to distinguish between this being a simulation and it being reality, we should be careful about adopting beliefs which depend on one or the other being true. Your very dependence on physical evidence, over mere percepts as an arbiter betrays your presupposing that physicalism is true; you are not justified in doing this.

            #1 All of these questions seem to exist regardless of physicalism. See, for example, The self: social construct or neurobiological system? (I have Mead’s Mind, Self, and Society checked out from the library at the moment, on Jonathan’s suggestion.) How much of what you call “yourself” is actually a function of other people and your environment? Furthermore, why would a simulated you be any less real? Surely you don’t care about which specific atoms currently comprise yourself?

            #2 If a cruel scientist were running a simulation, why would believing he exists be ¬atheism? The cruel scientist wouldn’t be God. He would be limited, just like we are, even if he is tremendously scientifically advanced beyond us.

            #3 This has already been done, and I don’t think the result is nearly as drastic as you think: scientific instrumentalism.

          • Void Walker

            “We saw how it was easy for you to wave away love as just an emotion”

            ….that’s because love, agape or otherwise, *is* just an emotion. It isn’t some mystical, ineffable, magic energy-sludge that we generate, it’s an emotional state. If you digress, give me concrete evidence that love is, or can be, something not in anyway related to emotions. Go for it, by all means.

            “In your (2), you are hand-waving thoughts/intentions into existence. It smells a bit like “evolution has had hundreds of millions of years; that is beyond the human imagination and thus what we see now could clearly have evolved in that time period”. However, applying that kind of thinking seems to be a category mistake, as we are agreed upon the claim that neurons cannot be about anything. It takes an interpreter, a mind, in order to have aboutness—at least aboutness like triangularity. How does that aboutness arise?”

            No, I’m not. The origins of thought are quite well understood. Perhaps you should examine recent peer review articles in the field of neuroscience? Thoughts are not some magical force that are separate from the brain. All the evidence thus far collected from over a century of inquiry has shown, in fact, that thoughts are products of neurological activity. How my asserting this is hand waving is frankly beyond me.

            As for “aboutness” (if that’s even a word), you seem to be slipping into the muddled realm of metaphysics. If you’re going to go that route, consider the tangent (or at least this part of it) terminated. I want an intelligent discussion with a fellow adult, not a journey into fairy tale land.

            “(3) I can give you two very simple reasons for running a fantastically realistic simulation: to test the results of political policy, and to test the results of corporate policy. I don’t see why it matters whether the person running the simulation would be a “cruel scientist”; that doesn’t seem to affect the probability that we are living in a simulation.”

            Fair enough. I’ve never cared, and still don’t give a fuck, about such a notion as the simulation in question. It tickles your fancy, great. Doesn’t do jack shit for me.

            #1: I’ve heard good things about that book, gonna have to check it out soon.

            #2: If all of life was truly a simulation, I would think the simulator would, in fact, be God. A human/alien scientist somehow envisioning a simulation of an entire universe that’s *this* convincing? Yeah….God makes a bit more sense, Luke.

            #3: False. We’re talking about a large scale *simulation* of the *entire cosmos*. That is to say, that all we know is quite illusory. Therefore our scientific instruments/methods are on equal footing, rendering them moot and useless in the context given.

          • Luke Breuer

            ….that’s because love, agape or otherwise, *is* just an emotion.

            No, this is just wrong: agape is not “just an emotion”. Agape necessarily includes giving of yourself to others. It’s a choice to take resources which could have been used to more efficiently increase one’s own lot in life (including current or near-term pleasures), to enhance the lives of others. Agape is a continual choice, it is not just a natural emotion based one e.g. oxytocin, which when the brain chemicals wear out and stay worn out for long enough, you use as an excuse to leave the other person.

            It isn’t some mystical, ineffable, magic energy-sludge that we generate, it’s an emotional state. If you digress, give me concrete evidence that love is, or can be, something not in anyway related to emotions. Go for it, by all means.

            An example: my sticking by you regardless of how much crap you throw my way, despite your requests that I leave so that your occasional (mostly email) vitriol doesn’t hurt me. You’ve expressed awe at this and noted that nobody else has done this for you. I’m not doing this because of “an emotional state”. Now, I don’t see the only alternative to “an emotional state” being “magic energy-sludge that we generate”. I think that’s a false dichotomy.

            This all being said, you’ve once again ignored triangularity, which doesn’t have any of the problems with disagreements on what agape is. If you are still tired/wiped out/whatever, I suggest we merely table (1) until and if you’re feeling better. I know life has been pretty awful to you lately.

          • Luke Breuer

            The origins of thought are quite well understood. Perhaps you should examine recent peer review articles in the field of neuroscience?

            Really? Do share examples of this “well understood”-ness, please.

            As for “aboutness” (if that’s even a word), you seem to be slipping into the muddled realm of metaphysics. If you’re going to go that route, consider the tangent (or at least this part of it) terminated. I want an intelligent discussion with a fellow adult, not a journey into fairy tale land.

            Hey, I’m not the one saying:

                 (A) a collection of neurons cannot be ‘about’ anything
                 (B) our thoughts can be about e.g. triangularity

            How you get from (A) → (B) is completely beyond me, and I think beyond quite a few professional philosophers children/fairy tale lovers. How the subjective point of view arises, how you get interpreters of reality, is not a solved problem, as far as I know. It’s not even nearly a solved problem, as far as I know. Am I missing out on something?

            #2: If all of life was truly a simulation, I would think the simulator would, in fact, be God. A human/alien scientist somehow envisioning a simulation of an entire universe that’s *this* convincing? Yeah….God makes a bit more sense, Luke.

            So you think we humans will always just suck at making simulations, no matter how far we progress? That seems to be a logical implication of what you’re saying, here. You seem to be putting a glass ceiling on the achievement of human beings, forever and always.

            #3: False. We’re talking about a large scale *simulation* of the *entire cosmos*. That is to say, that all we know is quite illusory. Therefore our scientific instruments/methods are on equal footing, rendering them moot and useless in the context given.

            Pardon me, what “context [is] given”? You have stuff like Meaning is an Illusion, which claims we make up meaning in our own heads. It seems like we could do that in a simulation just as well as we could in reality. If it’s a simulation it can get shut of immediately; if it’s reality (or a simulation) we could nuke ourselves to oblivion, or at least things end in heat death. I’m really not seeing the hopelessless/meaninglessness you’re describing

          • Void Walker

            “Really? Do share examples of this “well understood”-ness, please.”

            Have you been living in a cave for 20 years?

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_psychology

            http://mentalhealth.about.com/library/sci/1000/blbw1000.htm

            http://www.mit.edu/~lyoung/Site/Publications_files/Saxe%26Young_CogNeuroToM.pdf

            http://www.nature.com/neuro/journal/v1/n1/full/nn0598_1.html

            http://www.christofflab.ca/pdfs/doshi2012-introduction.pdf

            This one is nice, albeit slightly unrelated: http://www.thepsychologicalchannel.com/blogs/blog4.php/2008/08/05/7-how-the-human-got-its-mind-debunking-t

            Want more? This is kind of embarrassing (for you).

            “How you get from (A) → (B) is completely beyond me, and I think beyond quite a few professional philosophers children/fairy tale lovers. How the subjective point of view arises, how you get interpreters of reality, is not a solved problem, as far as I know. It’s not even nearly a solved problem, as far as I know. Am I missing out on something?”

            *sigh*

            Again, communication (in this case, a lack thereof) acts as a barrier to greater understanding on one another. What I’ve said is that we *interpret* our thoughts as being “about” any given thing, not that our thoughts are inherently “about” anything. Synapses fire, we process this “information”, and, using our inborn desire to label and catalog thoughts, we ascribe significance(s) thereby giving them meaning, when no true meaning is to be found outside of our linguistic faculties/presuppositions. Imagine how we could possibly do this without the use of language. Try really hard. Anything, yet? You seem to be asserting that thoughts have mystical properties, instead of rationally analyzing them and dissecting them to lay out their constituents. This is absolutely fruitless.

            “So you think we humans will always just suck at making simulations, no matter how far we progress? That seems to be a logical implication of what you’re saying, here. You seem to be putting a glass ceiling on the achievement of human beings, forever and always.”

            There’s something wrong with your brain, dude. What the fuck? You completely missed the point that I was making. You spoke of a simulated reality *currently transpiring*, not a few hundred years in the future when science has managed to breach the “impossible”. I therefore concluded, considering how limited our technological prowess currently is, that only God could be the one crafting such a simulation. You turn that around to make me sound like a misanthropic prick, certain of humanities limitations wrt techno-advancement.

            Frankly, I’m done with the little simulation tangent. Utterly fruitless.

            “No, this is just wrong: agape is not “just an emotion”

            I was hasty to refer to agape as an emotion, but you cannot deny that it *flows* from emotions. In this case, love….which is quite well understood by the way.

            “An example: my sticking by you regardless of how much crap you throw my way”

            …which is incredibly foolish and misguided of you. You’re just trying to emulate the Jewish Zombie (praise him), thereby making yourself feel just a bit better. In the long run, it seems to be a very selfish pursuit. But hey, you’re only human.

            “This all being said, you’ve once again ignored triangularity”

            Then do me a favor and give me a slightly better jump off point, with a better example. Until then, I’m not going there.

          • Luke Breuer

            Below, I look at the links you provided. I would rather you not have said,

            Want more? This is kind of embarrassing (for you).

            , because either (i) we disagree massively about what the term ‘quite well understood’ means in “The origins of thought are quite well understood.”, or (ii) you are utterly wrong and they are not well understood. But let’s dig into the material you kindly provided.

            Theory of Mind: How brains think about thoughts:

            This chapter summarises the data that provide a foundation for a future neuroscience of Theory of Mind. Although there has been a furious burst of activity, studying the neural basis of ToM, in the last ten years, and hundreds of papers have been published, the most important questions remain unanswered.

            I read/skimmed the entire thing, and it basically reduces to two things: (a) what areas of the brain receive more blood during various activities; (b) what functionality is impaired with various different brain lesions. These are very useful bits of information, but they manifestly do not support your claim:

            VW: The origins of thought are quite well understood.

            For a bit more background, I attended a philosophy of neuroscience class run by Edouard Machery in ~2008. I critiqued his 2004 paper Concepts Are Not a Natural Kind, claiming that concepts need to contain natural kinds. (I got an A, so he apparently thought I had grasped his own ideas.) Now, perhaps the state of the art is much advanced, but there is his 2011 book Doing without Concepts by Oxford University Press; in the publisher’s description:

            Over recent years, the psychology of concepts has been rejuvenated by new work on prototypes, inventive ideas on causal cognition, the development of neo-empiricist theories of concepts, and the inputs of the budding neuropsychology of concepts. But our empirical knowledge about concepts has yet to be organized in a coherent framework. In Doing without Concepts, Edouard Machery argues that the dominant psychological theories of concepts fail to provide such a framework and that drastic conceptual changes are required to make sense of the research on concepts in psychology and neuropsychology. Machery shows that the class of concepts divides into several distinct kinds that have little in common with one another and that for this very reason, it is a mistake to attempt to encompass all known phenomena within a single theory of concepts. In brief, concepts are not a natural kind. Machery concludes that the theoretical notion of concept should be eliminated from the theoretical apparatus of contemporary psychology and should be replaced with theoretical notions that are more appropriate for fulfilling psychologists’ goals. The notion of concept has encouraged psychologists to believe that a single theory of concepts could be developed, leading to useless theoretical controversies between the dominant paradigms of concepts. Keeping this notion would slow down, and maybe prevent, the development of a more adequate classification and would overshadow the theoretical and empirical issues that are raised by this more adequate classification. Anyone interested in cognitive science’s emerging view of the mind will find Machery’s provocative ideas of interest.

            So yeah, I really am not convinced that “The origin of thought are quite well understood.”

            From the Nature article, From neurons to thoughts: exploring the new frontier:

            Perhaps more than any other field of biology, neuroscience still has a ‘frontier’ feel to it. […] And the neural basis of higher functions, including perception, movement and emotion, let alone language and thought, is only beginning to be explored.

            Now, I don’t even know why you linked that article; it’s 1998. But it certainly does not support your claim. Let’s try the 2012 Introduction: The cognitive neuroscience of thought:

            The brain represents an incredibly complex machine, whose design and working principles are only beginning to be comprehended.

            So I really don’t see how the stuff you linked supports your claim:

            VW: The origins of thought are quite well understood.

            Your How The Human Got Its Mind: Debunking the Last Great Myth in Psychology by Henry D. Schlinger Ph.D. is by a behaviorist (he is called that in WP article The Blank Slate):

            Viewing behavior in this manner renders it unnecessary to infer mental and cognitive processes as causes of the behaviors in question, and it locates the study of behavior squarely in the realm of a natural science.14

            In case you didn’t parse that, he’s almost saying we can describe what humans do without appealing to thinking. See, for example, his Consciousness Is Nothing But a Word. So his answer to “The origins of thought” would be: thought doesn’t really exist. You know how I said the below?:

            LB: That is, it wouldn’t be because you thought or believed something that you did X, but because your neurons were in some state.

            Henry D. Schlinger would give a quick answer: the latter. Given what I’ve read of Consciousness Is Nothing But a Word, I doubt he’d hesitate one moment.

          • Void Walker

            “because either (i) we disagree massively about what the term ‘quite well understood’ means”

            Quite well is considerably different from *very* well. What I should have said, in retrospect, is that our understanding of thought is growing daily. Neurological correlates are a good example. Damage a particular region of the brain, and a faculty follows suit. Thought processes are no different. Not to dredge this old bag up, but dementia comes to mind. At the latest most extreme stages, an individuals ability to think is reduced to near infancy. My grandma was like this. She fixated on her hair, pretty colors/comforting sounds, and was incapable of forming a complex, coherent thought. Clearly (and I do not believe you’ve denied this) thoughts arise *in the brain*. At this point in time, denying that is simply ridiculous.

            “I read/skimmed the entire thing”

            “Skimming” is not properly understanding. If this is the level of effort I’m going to get from you, I’ll stop trying to remove your head from your anus. I’m running out of lube.

            “So yeah, I really am not convinced that “The origin of thought are quite well understood.”

            Of course you aren’t, Luke. You probably even deny that thoughts arise via activity in the brain, instead asserting some “magic” and “mystery” to take the place of cognitive machinery. It figures, naturally, considering that you believe in magic. That’s what I simply do not get about you: one minute you’re perfectly rational, the next you demonstrate that you literally believe God tele-fucked a 14 year old girl, being born both himself and his own son, walking on water, turning water into wine, etc. You’re a really, really odd one.

            In any case, as I said earlier, perhaps my wording was a tad off. See, here’s the rub: we humans have a massive taboo wrt our own sanctity. In other words, we want to believe that A: there’s always going to be something “special” or “mysterious” about us, and B: The crux of it. In order to glean a full understanding of both thought and consciousness, we would need a few healthy, young human subjects. It would be incredibly unethical and cruel, but if we were to probe the brains of these subjects in hundreds of different ways (being careful to not kill the little fellows), I strongly believe that the “hard” problem of consciousness and thought would be a soft boiled egg.

            Naturally, though, such experimentation(s) will never transpire (legally). Rather sad….so much could be learned.

            “Now, I don’t even know why you linked that article; it’s 1998.”

            Ah, yes. Invalidated because of (relatively young) age. What’s your reasoning here, Luke? It’s not as though cognitive science has changed *that* much in so little time. Good lord, you’re reaching.

            “is by a behaviorist (he is called that in WP article The Blank Slate):”

            *gasp* a BEHAVIORist?!?! He’s so unqualified! O_o Wow. I get the feeling you scarcely read *anything* I linked you to in *great detail* You’re wasting my time, this turn. How annoying.

            I’ll say it again, before you go off on an adorable little rant: my wording *could* have been better. But to deny that *any* progress has been made wrt understanding thought is absurd. We need to crack down and do some real, nasty work to glean a highly in depth understanding of both mind and thought, and maybe said cracking will ensue sooner rather than later.

          • Luke Breuer

            Quite well is considerably different from *very* well. What I should have said, in retrospect, is that our understanding of thought is growing daily.

            Oh give me a break. I utterly destroyed the claim that any reasonable person would associate with “The origins of thought are quite well understood.” Do tell me the technical difference between ‘quite’ and ‘very'; generally I see them as synonymous, and if ‘quite’ is less strong than ‘very’, the articles you presented yourself don’t support any reasonable conception of ‘quite’.

            Clearly (and I do not believe you’ve denied this) thoughts arise *in the brain*. At this point in time, denying that is simply ridiculous.

            Are you saying that all this time, it was utterly irrelevant as to whether “The origins of thought are quite well understood.” is true?

            That’s what I simply do not get about you: one minute you’re perfectly rational, the next you demonstrate that you literally believe God tele-fucked a 14 year old girl, being born both himself and his own son, walking on water, turning water into wine, etc. You’re a really, really odd one.

            I should think that the more rational I demonstrate myself to be in various areas, the less likely it is that I’m actually super-irrational in the others.

            In other words, we want to believe that A: there’s always going to be something “special” or “mysterious” about us, and B: The crux of it.

            I don’t understand your B, and I don’t see what I’m doing that falls under A. When a claim is made that the mind/brain/whatever is “just X”, that is a worthless claim (see Randal Rauser’s Not even wrong: The many problems with Naturalism), or eminently falsifiable by seeing whether X can actually be used to construct the mind/brain/whatever. I claim that if “The origins of thought are quite well understood.” is false, it could be the case that X, as defined by you or pretty much anyone else, might not actually be enough to construct a mind. We just don’t know, yet.

            I brought up the idea of intentionality because it is an excellent example of something that might never be constructable with matter. You seem to think that somehow we merely imagine thoughts to be about nonphysical things, such as triangularity. I say no: our thoughts clearly are about nonphysical things, and that this presents a problem for X = particles and fields. Indeed, it seems like the very effort to weaken intentionality to be just “our interpretation” eats away like acid at the very claim that “intentionality is just “our interpretation””.

            Ah, yes. Invalidated because of (relatively young) age. What’s your reasoning here, Luke? It’s not as though cognitive science has changed *that* much in so little time. Good lord, you’re reaching.

            And yet you said this:

            VW: Have you been living in a cave for 20 years?

            and

            VW: What I should have said, in retrospect, is that our understanding of thought is growing daily.

            Now, 2014 – 1998 = 16, so maybe some critical discoveries were made between 1994 and 1998? Otherwise, you’re playing awfully fast and loose with what you say. Furthermore, that 1998 article utterly refuted your claim, “The origins of thought are quite well understood.” So if things haven’t really changed *that* much, then the origins of thought are still not “quite well understood”.

            But to deny that *any* progress has been made wrt understanding thought is absurd.

            Of course it would be absurd. There is still the question of whether we have all the building blocks we need to build thoughts. As an example when the building blocks are not enough, consider classical physics and its inability to explain the ultraviolet catastrophe. Something more was needed: quantization of energy. Maybe the same is the case with thoughts, maybe the X we have so far isn’t enough. If we really did “quite well” understand “the origins of thoughts”, maybe we’d be justified in saying that our X is enough. As it is, I don’t think we are.

          • Void Walker

            “Oh give me a break. I utterly destroyed the claim that any reasonable person would associate with “The origins of thought are quite well understood.” Do tell me the technical difference between ‘quite’ and ‘very'; generally I see them as synonymous, and if ‘quite’ is less strong than ‘very’, the articles you presented yourself don’t support any reasonable conception of ‘quite'”

            Luke, I must apologize. My wording was…off, at minimum. In retrospect, what I should have said: The origins of thought are not fully known, but progress is being made daily. Is that better? I apologize again. I was quite short sided.

            “Are you saying that all this time, it was utterly irrelevant as to whether “The origins of thought are quite well understood.” is true?

          • Luke Breuer

            What I’ve said is that we *interpret* our thoughts as being “about” any given thing, not that our thoughts are inherently “about” anything. Synapses fire, we process this “information”, and, using our inborn desire to label and catalog thoughts, we ascribe significance(s) thereby giving them meaning, when no true meaning is to be found outside of our linguistic faculties/presuppositions. Imagine how we could possibly do this without the use of language.

            Mark Turner, in The Literary Mind: The Origins of Thought and Language, argues that we actually learn basic stories prior to language; I photographed the relevant pages. So I’m not sure your little story above is in any way accurate. I will note that Mark Turner argues against Noam Chomsky, who is probably the intellectual father of your last sentence.

            Hmmm, I turned up BrainWorld 2014 Where ideas come from and how humans are uniquely suited to hatch them, which is an interview with Mark Turner. Fascinatingly, his idea of conceptual blending appears to be very consistent with what I said in my recent comment to you:

            I critiqued his 2004 paper Concepts Are Not a Natural Kind, claiming that concepts need to contain natural kinds.

            Here’s a snippet from Mark Turner in the interview:

            Why is [claim that the human mind hinges on the concept of blending] a controversial idea?

            First, popular culture and research alike view human thought as separated into boxes: language, music, social cognition, gesture, humor, categorization and so on. The blending hypothesis claims that these different performances share a basic mental operation, a system that runs across them and makes them possible in the first place. Second, it is natural, if wishful, to hope that we can study the brain by studying little, simple, basic things first, and then, much later—which means never—study remarkably creative and inventive thought. The blending hypothesis claims that this is backward: The supposedly simple and basic feats of human thought are wildly complex, and they share a foundation—advanced blending—with the most remarkable performances. Simple things only look simple. We are blind to their wonder.

            This is even more evidence against your claim:

            VW: The origins of thought are quite well understood.

            You seem to be asserting that thoughts have mystical properties, instead of rationally analyzing them and dissecting them to lay out their constituents. This is absolutely fruitless.

            Do share just one “mystical property” I am asserting thoughts have. I am not aware of any, but I shall let you point at least one out.

            There’s something wrong with your brain, dude. What the fuck? You completely missed the point that I was making. You spoke of a simulated reality *currently transpiring*, not a few hundred years in the future when science has managed to breach the “impossible”. I therefore concluded, considering how limited our technological prowess currently is, that only God could be the one crafting such a simulation.

            I just don’t see how your logic holds. There could easily be aliens in the world millennia ahead in scientific knowledge. Therefore, it doesn’t seem hard to imagine that our entire universe could be a simulation. I will bet you that most people would reject your claim that either (a) we don’t live in a simulation, or (b) God is running the simulation.

          • Void Walker

            “Do share just one “mystical property” I am asserting thoughts have. I am not aware of any, but I shall let you point at least one out.”

            That’s easy. God thinks, correct? God has a mind, no? And yet, we do too….so even if the latter two are fully understood one day, they would still, by the above reasoning, be “mystical” as they were inexorably connected to gods “mind”.

            “I just don’t see how your logic holds. There could easily be aliens in the world millennia ahead in scientific knowledge”

            This is really cute, but I could have sworn that I said I was done with the pointless little simulation rant….now didn’t I? Axed.

          • Luke Breuer

            That’s easy. God thinks, correct? God has a mind, no? And yet, we do too….so even if the latter two are fully understood one day, they would still, by the above reasoning, be “mystical” as they were inexorably connected to gods “mind”.

            Are you claiming that the only non-mystical way for minds to be connected to each other is through sense perception?

          • Void Walker

            No. where did you gather such absurdity? What I claimed is that God, according to modern theology, possesses a mind, as do we. To assert that his mind is beyond reason/comprehension is silly considering that we’re now, thanks to decades of research (see: Steve Novella for a fine example) beginning to understand the human mind and it’s physical basis. If the mind is, in fact, physically rooted, what of gods mind, Luke?

          • Andy_Schueler

            Unless you reject Sean Carroll’s reductionist Downward Causation, I think you do need to deny that thoughts have causal powers. That is, it wouldn’t be because you thought or believed something that you did X, but because your neurons were in some state.

            1. Have you actually read Carroll´s article you are linking to? It honestly doesn´t seem as if you did, not least because you call it “Carroll’s reductionist Downward Causation” although it is neither his idea nor something that he agrees with…
            2. For the materialist, mental states are 100% identical to brain states, which makes this sentences here “it wouldn’t be because a) you thought or believed something that you did X, but because b) your neurons were in some state” – semantic nonsense, a) and b) are just different words to describe the same thing.

          • Void Walker

            Bazing! I love watching you shred lil Lukey.

          • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce
          • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

            Watch it @void_walker_2000:disqus – Luke’s gone meta!

          • Void Walker

            (shivers)

          • Void Walker

            :-D Okay, you just made my day.

          • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

            I think the antenna analogy, so common, is pretty flawed. One has to think that the brain merely acts as a receptacle for the mind to act through, and this must be the direction of causation. But wee know from all brain studies that the direction is the other way, at least in all cases studied. That messing with the brain messes the mind; that depressive episodes are resultant from brain chemistry; split hemispheres and so on.

            You must ask what the point of having a separate mind is, and what relation it has to reality if the reality WE FEEL is that one after the antenna has been fucked.

            And this is why that analogy is so poor, because it has no use, and makes no sense, The mind would have to be so separate and unrelated to the mind of the feeling, the emotion, as to imply the brain and TWO minds, and the ‘primary’ mind being redundant or impotent with regard to the finai feeling mind.

            There is also the the problem that people often aren’t aware of their own mental impairments (which they presumably would be if there were a separate mind).

            No, I don’t buy that analogy.

          • Luke Breuer

            One has to think that the brain merely acts as a receptacle for the mind to act through, and this must be the direction of causation.

            I think the antenna analogy can be extended to allow the brain to be more than just an antenna, without making the mind nothing.

            You must ask what the point of having a separate mind is, and what relation it has to reality if the reality WE FEEL is that one after the antenna has been fucked.

            Well, the conscious is often set over and against the unconscious, so that in and of itself is a bifurcation. We also want to say that a person’s “true self” is not the person e.g. suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s, but the person without such diseases. What we feel is not always reality, just ask most women about their monthly cycles.

            There is also the the problem that people often aren’t aware of their own mental impairments (which they presumably would be if there were a separate mind).

            Why do you presume this?

          • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

            We know that the mind at least supervenes on the brain, an that the brain alters the mind.

            But we can also bring in things like synaesthesia and pain asymbolia which show that even our subjective experiences, qua qualia, are physically rooted.

          • Luke Breuer

            Do you see intentionality as a solved problem? That is, how is it that atoms cannot be ‘about’ triangularity, but our thoughts can? How does that gap get bridged?

          • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

            For sure it starts getting pretty complex about here. We start needing to talk about natural kinds, properties and realism again. Many people talk about intentionality being the real area of argument for naturalism vs supernaturalism.

            I have not done a huge amount of reading around intentionality (partly because it just sin’t as interesting as arguing about God!).

            This paper looks in depth at the naturalisation of intentionality:

            http://philosophy.dept.shef.ac.uk/papers/IntentNat.pdf

          • Luke Breuer

            Neat! The bit about concepts being prototypes/exemplars reminds me of Edouard Machery’s Concepts Are Not a Natural Kind; I took Machery’s philosophy of neuroscience class and wrote as my final essay, “Concepts Contain Natural Kinds”. Then there’s Mark Turner in Where ideas come from and how humans are uniquely suited to hatch them, which is an interview about his book The Origin of Ideas: Blending, Creativity, and the Human Spark; while I have not read it, I have read/skimmed his The Literary Mind: The Origins of Thought and Language.

            The general idea I get from that paper is not that there exists a reductionistic, physicalist account of intentionality, but merely that there was no known good argument for the impossibility of such in 1994. I randomly found the following quotation of John Searle’s Making the Social World:

            How, if at all, can we reconcile a certain conception of the world as described by physics, chemistry, and the other basic sciences with what we know, or think we know, about ourselves as human beings? How is it possible in a universe consisting entirely of physical particles in fields of force that there can be such things as consciousness, intentionality, free will, language, society, ethics, aesthetics and political obligations?

            So it strikes me that the success of physicalism in the realm of the objective (that is, where subjective viewpoints are largely irrelevant) does not imply that it will succeed in the realm of the subjective. One excellent example of this shows up in F.A. Hayek’s Studies on the Abuse and Decline of Reason: if we restrict our study to things which are rigorously connectible to particles and fields, we cannot study the subjective ideas in people’s heads which matter for the economic decisions they make. Hayek criticizes the positivistic treatment of “economic man”, blaming bad use of the scientific method for failures in economic theory. Another example shows up in Donald E. Polkinghorne’s Narrative Knowing and the Human Sciences (Google books preface): positivistic treatment of humans in e.g. psychology and sociology made the theoretical component of those sciences largely useless for decades.

          • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

            Also, as another commenter elsewhere has said, “If the brain is an antenna for this consciousness field, then we can construct a new antenna to tap into this field as well. This argument does not prevent us from making a conscious AI.”

            So really, our minds could be picked up by really amazing TV sets, and we have no real need for bodies etc.

          • Luke Breuer

            I’m not sure there is a problem with this? It’s pretty common in scifi to transfer consciousness (and by this all of a person is meant) around.

          • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

            Whilst much of sci fi is in the realm of either fact now, or potential fact, the notion that our souls are ‘living’ out there using our body as a conduit has no good evidence to support it and is fraught with problem.

          • Luke Breuer

            Do you think it’s utterly unreasonable to think of moving a person’s consciousness to silicon? I don’t see why it would be.

          • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

            I don’t, but that seems to invalidate dualism (depending on which form of dualism yoou adopt).

            I think if you created a complex enough artificial brain, you would have sentience (although a rather bland form if not with all the hormones, enzymes and whatnot that feed into our sentience).

        • Andy_Schueler

          That is, I cannot yet imagine any experiment which could possibly produce results that would be incompatible with a physicalist metaphysic. Can you?

          Of course, an alternative reality where science wouldn´t work but prayer would.

          • Luke Breuer

            You seem to be too tightly defining ‘science'; would not prayer obey various rules? Even the NT sets conditions on when prayer works: “if you ask in my name it will be given to you”. Consider an ambassador of the Persian empire: if he did and said too many things too much outside of the will of the emperor, his authority to say and act would be stripped. For the Hebrews, ‘name’ at least contains the aspect of what the person wills.

            If anything, the ‘scientific’ analysis of prayer would include analysis of the person who grants prayer requests. Science has long dealt with subjective desires; see the field of economics.

            If intentionality can be given a naturalist account (see Jonathan’s comment), then the study of prayer could be perfectly scientific, probably in the reductionist sense. If not, then we could still study it, but we might need the ‘fuzzier’ tools of psychology, sociology, and economics.

          • Andy_Schueler

            Prayer that works might well obey certain patterns (a pattern that corresponds to the will of the being that is being prayed to to be precise), but that would still be incompatible with materialism.
            Why you think that the subject of intentionality has any relevance in this respect is a mystery to me, a scientific account (or any account for that matter…) of how consciousness works in general and how intentionality works in particular would certainly be interesting, but I don´t see any relevance for supernaturalism in general or prayer in particular.

          • Luke Breuer

            Prayer that works might well obey certain patterns (a pattern that corresponds to the will of the being that is being prayed to to be precise), but that would still be incompatible with materialism.

            I’m afraid I cannot see the precise incompatibility. Are you locating the prayer-answerer outside of the system, such that causal closure is violated? (It seems generally agreed upon that physicalism requires causal closure.)

            Why you think that the subject of intentionality has any relevance in this respect is a mystery to me, a scientific account (or any account for that matter…) of how consciousness works in general and how intentionality works in particular would certainly be interesting, but I don´t see any relevance for supernaturalism in general or prayer in particular.

            If the rules of prayer depend on the intentionality (directedness) of the being prayed to, then that would appear to raise intentionality to an incredibly important status.

          • Andy_Schueler

            I’m afraid I cannot see the precise incompatibility. Are you locating the prayer-answerer outside of the system, such that causal closure is violated?

            Yup.

            If the rules of prayer depend on the intentionality (directedness) of the being prayed to, then that would appear to raise intentionality to an incredibly important status.

            If it were not natural laws but rather divine powers that govern what happens, then that would be the way it is and materialism would be untenable, whether we do understand how minds work or do not understand how minds work is a separate question.

          • Luke Breuer

            Yup.

            Suppose that what is true is that there is an outside causal factor. Does it necessarily follow that what can be observed with the senses would not be infinitely well-approximatible under a physicalist metaphysic? Of this I am personally not convinced, especially after reading Evan Fales’ recent Divine Intervention: Metaphysical and Epistemological Puzzles. It seems to me that there are ways in which God could meddle with reality which are exceedingly subtle—perhaps infinitely subtle.

            If it were not natural laws but rather divine powers that govern what happens, then that would be the way it is and materialism would be untenable, whether we do understand how minds work or do not understand how minds work is a separate question.

            And if the divine powers are perfectly rational, what is the difference between “natural laws” and “divine powers”? That is, could the senses detect any phenomenological difference?

          • Andy_Schueler

            Suppose that what is true is that there is an outside causal factor. Does it necessarily follow that what can be observed with the senses would not be infinitely well-approximatible under a physicalist metaphysic? Of this I am personally not convinced, especially after reading Evan Fales’ recent Divine Intervention: Metaphysical and Epistemological Puzzles. It seems to me that there are ways in which God could meddle with reality which are exceedingly subtle—perhaps infinitely subtle.

            You could substitute “infinitely subtle” by “infinitely hidden”, in which case the deck would certainly be stacked in favor of physicalism from the get go because that would just be the way reality is – not because of subjective biases but because the deity in question chooses to be 100% indistinguishable from a non-existing one.

            And if the divine powers are perfectly rational, what is the difference between “natural laws” and “divine powers”? That is, could the senses detect any phenomenological difference?

            If by “perfectly rational” you mean that everything can be fully described without ever appealing to any such thing as final causes, then yes (also if some things remain completely inexplicable, as long as they also remain inexplicable if physicalism would be rejected). And physicalism would in that case by definition(!) be preferable over any alternative ontology because it would be (again, by definition) better fit reality than any alternative (because every alternative would require additional assumptions that physicalism does not require without without losing ANY explanatory power).

          • Luke Breuer

            You could substitute “infinitely subtle” by “infinitely hidden”, in which case the deck would certainly be stacked in favor of physicalism from the get go because that would just be the way reality is – not because of subjective biases but because the deity in question chooses to be 100% indistinguishable from a non-existing one.

            Point taken. So let’s return to my original claim:

            LB: That is, I cannot yet imagine any experiment which could possibly produce results that would be incompatible with a physicalist metaphysic. Can you?

            Under what conditions could such an experiment do this? I’m looking for something other than a god-of-the-gaps type scenario. All I can really think of is that prayer would show up as wanting things according to specific rules, followed by getting those things, but with gaps in precisely how this happens. And yet, reasoning from “gaps” ⇒ “causal closure is violated” seems like specious reasoning, for it is god-of-the-gaps. It strikes me that the standard response is, “science cannot yet explain how it works, but it probably will in the long term, given how many other gaps have been closed”. Therefore, I still cannot imagine an experiment which would be judged by a scientist to indicate that physicalism is false. Such judgment would seem to always be in error.

            If by “perfectly rational” you mean that everything can be fully described without ever appealing to any such thing as final causes, then yes

            What is it about final causes which presents a problem for physicalism? From Teleology:

            Since the Novum Organum of Francis Bacon, teleological explanations in science tend to be deliberately avoided because whether they are true or false is argued to be beyond the ability of human perception and understanding to judge.[2]

            Do you disagree with Francis Bacon? If instead you agree, then I don’t understand how “the senses [could] detect any phenomenological difference [between “natural laws” and “divine powers”]”. Now, Edward Feser thinks that final causes are necessary to proper thinking, but I’ve yet to really grasp how this is the case. Perhaps you can present your own understanding of final causes and help me out, here.

          • Andy_Schueler

            Under what conditions could such an experiment do this?

            None, because the scenario presupposes the existence of something that cannot be “experimented” on. You cannot put Gods in test tubes or particle accelerators – if they were real and wanted to be known, they would only be understandable by means of studying revelations or praying or meditation etc.pp. (well, in the widest and colloquial sense, that might still be labelled “experimentation”, but it is not scientific).

            All I can really think of is that prayer would show up as wanting things according to specific rules, followed by getting those things, but with gaps in precisely how this happens. And yet, reasoning from “gaps” ⇒ “causal closure is violated” seems like specious reasoning, for it is god-of-the-gaps.

            But if that were what reality would be like, you would not reason “there are Gods who interact with us because this or that did NOT happen” (gaps), you would rather reason “there are Gods who interact with us because this or that DID happen” – it would be a positive case, not a negative one.

            What is it about final causes which presents a problem for physicalism?

            True final causes would mean that a complete physical account of what a thing is (e.g. an electron) is not a complete account because to fully describe said thing, you´d also need to know the “end” that it is being drawn to, its final cause. Which means that something beyond / on top of the physical world would exist (said “ends”), which in turn means that physicalism cannot be true.

            Do you disagree with Francis Bacon?

            Yup, in two senses – final causes would be knowable by means of revelation (if there is someone who is willing and able to reveal the identity of these final causes) and they could (at least in principle) be demonstrated to exist using a priori (but not a posteriori) reasoning – if you accept the premises of Aritotelico-Thomistic philosophy, then final causes are a proven aspect of reality for you. It is in any case beyond the scope of scientific inquiry (and if that is what Bacon meant, then I don´t disagree with him here).

            Now, Edward Feser thinks that final causes are necessary to proper thinking, but I’ve yet to really grasp how this is the case. Perhaps you can present your own understanding of final causes and help me out, here.

            No, you probably know more about Feser´s philosophy than I do if you started reading his books, I only know some bits and pieces of his philosophy from his blog.

    • NoCrossNoCrescent

      Just as Dawkins argues that a world created by God would look very different from the physical world that we know, a human body inhabited by an non-phyaical ghost would look differently the way we know it actually works. The dualism hypothesis does make predictions, for example, if the so-called ghost or spirit or whatever is not made up of atoms and molecules then its connection when the human brain should not depend on atoms and molecules either. Experiments on people with split brain syndromes show that it is entirely possible for one part of the human brain to have access to a piece of information, one the other parts of the brain not having it. For more information fundus, look up “color anomia” and “alexia without agraphia”. If the ghost appears to split in half after a stroke or brain injury, then I have a lot of difficulty seeing how this can be interpreted as anything other than the ghost itself being illusory. Physicalism is not the default conclusion, but that is what the evidence points to, very much like the unguided, undirected evolution.

      • Luke Breuer

        The dualism hypothesis does make predictions, for example, if the so-called ghost or spirit or whatever is not made up of atoms and molecules then its connection when the human brain should not depend on atoms and molecules either.

        How would the nonphysical interface with the physical, if this were true? Would a nonphysical sentience just want things and then the atoms and molecules would obey, or something?

        • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

          I think the only way that dualism could make predictions would be is causality were unexplained in such a way that such an anomaly or hypothesis could only be explained supernaturalistically. Using Bayes, we know that thousands of supernatural claims have been superseded by natural ones (lightning etc) but NONE have gone the other way, so given a gap f knowledge, the likelihood is that the explanatory gap will be filled naturalistically.

          But what if dualism is natural, like Chalmers claims, that it is lawlike etc?

          Well, I would buy that. I have no problem with that, it is only that this seems useful at present merely with the hard problem of consciousness, and even then, it doesn’t really explain anything. It’s just a mystery to solve a (potential) mystery.

          So dualism just isn’t very useful and seems to make no predictions.

        • NoCrossNoCrescent

          Bugs the heck out of me. And that is not the only problem. As another example, we are told that the soul is not made of matter-and yet those who believe in soul cite stories of near death experiences as evidence for its existence, like the person looking down on their own environment, as opposed to, say, the bankers office plotting how to screw home owners. So how come the soul appears to be bound by the very laws of physics that apply to matter only? Countless questions would have to be answered before dualism could be accepted as science. But anyways, finding not-split new information in an otherwise split brain would be a good start.

          • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

            The whole idea of vision, light and how it all works (physically) kinda puts paid to those sorts of NDEs, for sure.

          • Void Walker

            One has to ask, wrt to NDE’s: what of sexuality? If we can see, smell, hear, taste, etc after death, will we be able to become sexually excited? Will gender still exist? If so, knowing the physical nature of all the aforementioned, how can it be asserted that consciousness survives the death of the brain, when it is so clearly connected to physicality (such that the two seem inseparable)?

          • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce
          • Void Walker

            Thanks for the link! In your opinion, how can proponents of NDE’s ignore such facts? Would you liken it to a YEC mindset?

  • Gus M.

    our mind is the soul. it cannot change. you;’re wrong as always jon.