Intuitionist Arguments Against Physicalism

by Luke Muehlhauser on March 1, 2011 in Science

Some contemporary non-religious dualists argue that the mind is not fully physical – that it functions beside, or emerges from, the physical brain.

The physicalist gives two replies:

  • Every mystery ever solved has turned out to be non-dualist. Why think mind will turn out to be any different once we understand it?
  • Drugs or damage change our states of consciousness, brain scans can read our thoughts, etc. Every investigation of the mind so far has supported the above point; that minds are physical.

The dualist replies, “But our view that some of the mind not physical is fully consistent with the data so far!”

The physicalist rejoins:

Logical consistency with the facts is not impressive. Here, I’ll make up a theory of consciousness right now that is consistent with the fact. Let’s call it the Gremlin Theory of Consciousness: Consciousness arises from the telepathic communication of trillions of undetectably small gremlins associated with each mind. That’s consistent with the facts. The problem with the dualistic theory of mind and the gremlin theory of consciousness is that there’s no evidence in their favor. Please, point at some evidence for your position.

So, does the dualist point to some of the latest evidence from cognitive science? Or with a new revelation in quantum physics?

Not in the cases I’m considering. When pointing at evidence for dualism, many dualists turn their pointer finger back on themselves and say, “My own subjective intuitions about the metaphysical possibility of zombies is my evidence.”

Lest you think I’m attacking a straw man; I’m totally not.

The physicalist’s first reaction may be what David Lewis said was the most common reaction to his defense of the idea that all possible worlds actually exist: an incredulous stare.

Once he recovers from shock, the physicalist might reply:

Your evidence is… your intuitions about the metaphysical possibility of zombies? Are you frigging kidding me? Let me know when you have some real evidence.

This is the problem with philosophers. A scientist would never publish a paper citing as evidence his intuitions that his new theory is correct. The entire scientific community would reject that as a waste of time.

Have you not kept up with the last 50 years of cognitive science? Don’t you know your brain is a godawful kludge of messily evolved parts? We can’t introspect our way to reliable knowledge of the moment we decided to act or even the phenomenological quality of our own conscious experience – why on earth would you think you have introspective access to truths about the metaphysical possibility or impossibility of zombies? Why think that your brain evolved to have reliable intuitions about such esoteric things?

I keep thinking that intuitionism has been killed off by contemporary cognitive science and experimental psychology, but I keep finding that I am wrong.

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{ 100 comments… read them below or add one }

Sweetwater Tom March 1, 2011 at 4:27 am

It would be the responsibility of someone posing a new theory (or re-posing a discredited theory) to make a testable prediction for that theory. Have intuitionists done that?

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rosyatrandom (Michael R.) March 1, 2011 at 4:41 am

I think I would call my thoughts on this a kind of pluralism, in that I think of different interpretations as being pretty much equivalent, though with differing utility.

The mind is generated by the physical realm, and can be discussed entirely within that paradigm. At the same time, you can discuss it entirely in mind-like terms simply by shifting the ontology to a higher plane, in the same way that it’s better to talk about programs in terms of code rather than electrons and circuits. From that perspective, the mind is fundamental and the lower level stuff is just window dressing, with the physical world we think we see being just one way of producing that mind.

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Martin March 1, 2011 at 5:43 am

Required reading for anyone interested in philosophy of mind:

“Though the arguments for dualism do (indeed) fail, so do the arguments for materialism. And the standard objections to dualism are not very convincing; if one really manages to be a dualist in the first place, one should not be much impressed by them. My purpose in this paper is to hold my own feet to the fire and admit that I do not proportion my belief to the evidence.”

http://www.unc.edu/~ujanel/Du.htm

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James Thompson March 1, 2011 at 5:56 am

Luke, your brain may be a kludge, but not mine! — LOL.

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Thomas March 1, 2011 at 5:56 am

Luke,

Every mystery ever solved has turned out to be non-dualist.

Only if you assume physicalism from the start, which is just begging the question.

Drugs or damage change our states of consciousness, brain scans can read our thoughts, etc. Every investigation of the mind so far has supported the above point; that minds are physical.

This shows that consciousness is correlated with the brain, not that consciousness is the brain. Brain scans cannot read our ”thoughts”, but the neural correlates of our thoughts. This is basic stuff which you should know. Your argument is very weak.

After this you start waving your hands again. To me the central problem of physicalism is the ‘hard problem’ of phenomenal experience. You briefly say that ”we can’t introspect our way to reliable knowledge of … the phenomenological quality of our own conscious experience” – but this is totally irrelevant when it somes to the hard problem. The reason is this. You cannot make ”the appearence-reality -distinction” here, because when it comes to experience, the appearence is the reality. It´s the appearing, the feeling, the what-is-it-likeness that you need to explain here. So if you even concede that it appears to you that you have conscious, phenomenal experiences, then you just have experiences. End of story. Here´s Strawson to Dennett:

Dennett has suggested that “there is no such thing as . . . phenomenology” and that any appearence of phenomenology is, somehow, wholly the product of come cognitive facualty, the “judgement module” or “semantic intent module” that does not follow from this undeniable, universally attested fact that there really is “phenomenology” . . . It is unclear what Dennett means by “phenomenology”, but whatever he means this move fails immediately if it is taken as an objection to the present claim that we can be certain both that there is experience and that we can´t be radically in error about its nature. It fails for the simple reason that for there to seem to be rich phenomenology or experience just is for there to be such phenomenology or experience. To say that its apparently sensory aspects (say) are in some sense illusory because they are not the cognitive processes, is just to put forward a surprising hypothesis about part of the mechanism of this rich seeming that we call experience or consciousness. It is in no way to put into question its existence or reality. Whatever the process by which the seeming arises, the end result of the process is, as even Dennett agrees, at least this: that it seems as if one is having phenomenally rich experience of Beethoven´s eighth quartet or an Indian wedding. And if there is this seeming, then, once again, there just is phenomenology or experience. (Strawson 2008, 54-55)

So physicalists have two options: either deny that there even is such a thing as conscious experience – which is crazy, incoherent and false – or try to reduce experience to brain states. The problem with reduction is that you just can´t do that, like many philosophers of mind (Levine, Horgan, Kim, Chalmers, Nagel, Strawson, Searle, etc.) acknowledges these days. Every reduction can only describe the extrinsic, relational features of conscious experience and thus just ignores the intrinsic, subjective quality of experience.

So, why Mary can´t know what it is like to see red while she is in the black-and-white room? Why we can´t get conscious experience from the full knowledge about functional/physical states? This is your biggest problem, Luke. Stop waving your hands and ignoring the hard problem.

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Al Moritz March 1, 2011 at 6:18 am

From:

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2011/01/against-neurobabble.html

(A-T = Aritotelian-Thomistic)

[...] “Hence the A-T theorist affirms that there will always be some material correlate to normal human intellectual activity – not as a reluctant concession forced on the theory by the successes of modern neuroscience, but, on the contrary, precisely as a prediction of the A-T position as it has been understood from the beginning. Were Aristotle and Aquinas to be made familiar with the sorts of neuroscientific discoveries frantically trumpeted by materialists as if they should be an embarrassment to the dualist, they would respond, with a shrug: “Of course. Told you so.”

What A-T denies, again, is that the neurological level of description, however necessary, can ever suffice to account for intellectual activity. There will always in principle be some slack between the neuroscientific facts and the facts about the content of our thoughts – something even materialists like W. V. Quine and Donald Davidson have affirmed on philosophical grounds, and psychologists like Kagan have affirmed on empirical grounds. For A-T, the main reason, as I have said, has to do with the contrast between the determinate and universal character of conceptual thought and the particular and indeterminate nature of material processes – see Ross’s article, linked to above, for an especially powerful presentation of this point.

This, incidentally, is why the A-T theorist is untroubled by the neuroscientific evidence for the possibility in principle of“mindreading,” which sometimes gets attention in the popular press. [...]”

For more, read the entire article.

As Thomas pointed out, Luke, your argument is very weak indeed.

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Tim March 1, 2011 at 7:26 am

Love it! You can always tell when people have no argument whatsover when they are reduced to absurd-isms.

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Charles R March 1, 2011 at 7:55 am

Thomas wrote, “Only if you assume physicalism from the start, which is just begging the question.”

I’ve got two words for you.

Flood. Geologists.

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Garren March 1, 2011 at 8:41 am

The basic idea is that our current understanding of Physics does a fantastic job of accounting for all manner of higher-level structure and function (including cognitive function), but does not seem capable of supporting conscious experience at all.

The zombie thing was an attempt to explain the distinction, but I think it tends to distract more than clarify.

It might work better to ask whether HAL 9000 had a first-person conscious experience, or just behaved as if he did.

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James H. March 1, 2011 at 8:41 am

The mind is generated by the physical realm, and can be discussed entirely within that paradigm. At the same time, you can discuss it entirely in mind-like terms simply by shifting the ontology to a higher plane, in the same way that it’s better to talk about programs in terms of code rather than electrons and circuits. From that perspective, the mind is fundamental and the lower level stuff is just window dressing, with the physical world we think we see being just one way of producing that mind.

Speaking as a software developer, I can say that you applied a very apt comparison. By that same token, we can already describe even the highest-level, most complex code (like Watson) all of the day down to a series of absolute “yes/no” questions (the raw binary data). Even all of the way up to our most advanced AI, the code never passes a “Now we have an OS/browser/Call of Duty/H.A.L.” threshold. It merely passes “debugged enough” and “sufficient features” waypoints on the path to release, much like with population selection in evolution. These facts of computer science leave me with every expectation of discovering the same for the nebulous concept of human consciousness.

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James H. March 1, 2011 at 8:51 am

It might work better to ask whether HAL 9000 had a first-person conscious experience, or just behaved as if he did.

Indeed. That, and whether this even constitutes a coherent question and not just conceptual/intuitive reductionism. Watson, for example, certainly went through all of the necessary motions to win at Jeopardy. While a fan of the show might contest that it wasn’t really playing the game, being merely a computer, the practical metric of the scoreboard says otherwise. The dualist holds responsibility for providing the “ultimate Turing test” for more advanced AI.

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Steven R. March 1, 2011 at 9:12 am

Luke,“Every mystery ever solved has turned out to be non-dualist.”Only if you assume physicalism from the start, which is just begging the question.“Drugs or damage change our states of consciousness, brain scans can read our thoughts, etc. Every investigation of the mind so far has supported the above point; that minds are physical.”This shows that consciousness is correlated with the brain, not that consciousness is the brain. Brain scans cannot read our ”thoughts”, but the neural correlates of our thoughts. This is basic stuff which you should know. Your argument is very weak.After this you start waving your hands again. To me the central problem of physicalism is the ‘hard problem’ of phenomenal experience. You briefly say that ”we can’t introspect our way to reliable knowledge of … the phenomenological quality of our own conscious experience” – but this is totally irrelevant when it somes to the hard problem. The reason is this. You cannot make ”the appearence-reality -distinction” here, because when it comes to experience, the appearence is the reality. It´s the appearing, the feeling, the what-is-it-likeness that you need to explain here. So if you even concede that it appears to you that you have conscious, phenomenal experiences, then you just have experiences. End of story. Here´s Strawson to Dennett:Dennett has suggested that “there is no such thing as . . . phenomenology” and that any appearence of phenomenology is, somehow, wholly the product of come cognitive facualty, the “judgement module” or “semantic intent module” that does not follow from this undeniable, universally attested fact that there really is “phenomenology” . . . It is unclear what Dennett means by “phenomenology”, but whatever he means this move fails immediately if it is taken as an objection to the present claim that we can be certain both that there is experience and that we can´t be radically in error about its nature. It fails for the simple reason that for there to seem to be rich phenomenology or experience just is for there to be such phenomenology or experience. To say that its apparently sensory aspects (say) are in some sense illusory because they are not the cognitive processes, is just to put forward a surprising hypothesis about part of the mechanism of this rich seeming that we call experience or consciousness. It is in no way to put into question its existence or reality. Whatever the process by which the seeming arises, the end result of the process is, as even Dennett agrees, at least this: that it seems as if one is having phenomenally rich experience of Beethoven´s eighth quartet or an Indian wedding. And if there is this seeming, then, once again, there just is phenomenology or experience. (Strawson 2008, 54-55)So physicalists have two options: either deny that there even is such a thing as conscious experience – which is crazy, incoherent and false – or try to reduce experience to brain states. The problem with reduction is that you just can´t do that, like many philosophers of mind (Levine, Horgan, Kim, Chalmers, Nagel, Strawson, Searle, etc.) acknowledges these days. Every reduction can only describe the extrinsic, relational features of conscious experience and thus just ignores the intrinsic, subjective quality of experience.So, why Mary can´t know what it is like to see red while she is in the black-and-white room? Why we can´t get conscious experience from the full knowledge about functional/physical states? This is your biggest problem, Luke. Stop waving your hands and ignoring the hard problem.  

You assume that A). thoughts are anything more than neural interactions (a bit ironic that you accused Luke of question begging when, in fact, there is nothing about it that begs the question. If physicalism were not true, then absolutely no evidence for how the brain and the mind are connected would be found. You can’t accuse someone of begging the question because they chose to gather evidence and draw conclusions from it; imagine an Ancient Greek accusing us of begging the question of whether or not lightning is caused by Zeus because we used methodological empiricism and assumed materialism to try and explain electricity–his argument, not ours, is flawed) and B). that Mary would not know what red is like. This argument assumes that none of the physical properties of an object and knowledge of all it accounts for the “qualia”, but where’s the proof? We can assume so many things, how about actually giving me reason to think that Mary cannot see red?

On an interesting side-note, we can actually simulate electrical responses and get people experience things associated with “qualia”

By the time he died in 2006, Bach-y-Rita had developed more sophisticated devices which translated the camera’s images into electrical pulses delivered by a postage-stamp-sized array of electrodes sitting on the tongue. Users found, after some practice, that these pulses gave them a sense of depth and “openness”, a feeling that there was “something out there

http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20727731.500-sensory-hijack-rewiring-brains-to-see-with-sound.html?page=1

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cartesian March 1, 2011 at 9:24 am

why on earth would you think you have introspective access to truths about the metaphysical possibility or impossibility of zombies? Why think that your brain evolved to have reliable intuitions about such esoteric things?

Here’s a dilemma for you, Luke:
Either you’re *generally* skeptical about our modal intuitions, or you think there’s a good reason to restrict our skepticism only to propositions like zombies are possible.

FIRST HORN: The general kind of skepticism is a self-defeating. After all, you yourself rely on your modal intuitions every time you draw an inference. When you say “A, therefore B,” you mean “If A is true, B *must* be true.” That’s a modal intuition, my friend. If you undercut all your modal intuitions, you undercut all your inferences. And you certainly made inferences in this post of yours. So, if you’re a general modal skeptic, you shouldn’t accept these arguments of yours in your post. That’s self-defeat.

SECOND HORN: Perhaps you think there’s a good reason to restrict our skepticism only to propositions like zombies are possible. Well, what is this reason? You haven’t provided it, and therefore your low opinion of zombie arguments for dualism is as of yet unjustified.

The second horn is where the action is in contemporary debates about dualism. But, to be honest, you seem to embrace the first horn (see note below). Personally, I think your naturalism should push you towards general modal skepticism (see, for example, Michael Rea’s “World Without Design”). I’m happy that you recognize that naturalism should undercut our modal intuitions. However, you don’t seem to realize how terribly far-reaching and destructive this kind of skepticism would be. It would make it impossible to draw inferences, and therefore impossible to think, and therefore impossible to do philosophy, science, etc. Since you’re still a fan of doing philosophy, science, etc., you haven’t fully realized the implications of your modal skepticism.

You have here good grounds to reject naturalism!

——————————————-
note: You do say that you doubt our brains should be reliable about “such esoteric things” as the possibility of zombies. I guess you mean that there’s no good reason to trust our intuitions on subjects that wouldn’t have confronted us in our ancestral environments, where we lived while our brains were evolving. But surely 99% of the stuff you think and write about on this blog counts as “esoteric” in that sense, including the inferences you made in this very post. That’s why I think you embrace the first horn of this dilemma, i.e you embrace a really far-reaching modal skepticism.

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AH March 1, 2011 at 9:26 am

@Thomas: Mary might also know everything about the physics of fluids and water, etc, etc, and still be unable to swim when dropped in a pool. Knowing what red looks like is ‘knowledge’ of a different kind, closer to things like knowing how to swim, ride a bicycle, etc.

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cartesian March 1, 2011 at 9:37 am

Every mystery ever solved has turned out to be non-dualist.

You might also worry that this appears to be true only because “physical” is so flexible, and comes to include whatever weird stuff physics reveals. So even if we discovered that full-blown substance dualism were true, physicalists would still claim a victory. They’d just say that our concept of “physical” has to stretch a bit more.

Think about disembodied forces (e.g. gravity, magnetism, etc.). Think about quantum mechanics and “spooky action at a distance.” Think about strings, dark matter, etc. All these things are happily embraced by physicalism today.

Do you think Lucretius, Descartes, Leibniz, or any pre-Newton scientist would have been happy calling such a theory “physicalism”? Surely not. We’ve learned that the world is a weird, weird place. But we’ve expanded our concept of “physical” accordingly.

Keep that in mind when you make claims about the historical victories of physicalism over non-physicalism. Non-physicalism can’t win! Every time it would, physicalism expands to consume the victory. Like a hungry hungry hippo.

By the way, try to define “physical” or “physicalism” in a way that is neither trivially true nor trivially false, and that is non-circular. If you succeed, publish it, since you’ll be the first. Think about that before you carry the banner and extol the virtues of a view you can’t define.

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Tarun March 1, 2011 at 9:42 am

While I’m sure I share many of the intuitions that motivate physicalists, I don’t consider myself a physicalist (nor do I consider myself a dualist). I just haven’t heard a formulation of physicalism that I can unequivocally endorse. Here are some formulations:

1) Mental states can be reduced to brain states. Psychology can be reduced to neuroscience. I very much doubt that this is possible, at least given any of the standard philosophical notions of intertheoretic reduction. The argument is familiar: mental states are massively multiply realizable. You don’t need to postulate anything spooky to deny that this reduction is possible.

2) Mental properties supervene on physical properties. I thoroughly endorse Luke’s rejection of metaphysical intuition-mongering. By the same token, I think we should do away with arguments about “supervenience”. A is supposed to supervene on B if it is metaphysically impossible for there to be a change in the pattern of instantiation of A without any change in the pattern of instantiation of B. But what the hell does “metaphysically impossible” mean here? How do you know what is or isn’t metaphysically possible? Answer: more intuition-mongering. Supervenience claims, as far as I can tell, are not the sorts of things that can be settled scientifically.

3) All mental properties can be explained functionally, and we can explain how these functions are performed in particular systems by figuring out the physical mechanism that realizes the function. This might turn out to be true, but I see no reason to assume that it will. Functional explanation has been very successful at explaining certain mental processes, but there is still a vast amount about how the brain works for which we don’t have clearly articulated functional analyses. In particular, we are nowhere close to a functional understanding of the qualitative aspect of phenomenal consciousness. I do feel the pull of Chalmers’ claim that phenomenal consciousness is not the kind of thing that is amenable to functional explanation. I have a hard time imagining what form such an explanation might take. But I know enough about the history of science to understand that imagination (or conceivability) is not always the best guide to possibility. Still, in the absence of such an explanation at present, I don’t see any reason to confidently assert that it will eventually be forthcoming.

So, Luke, what do you mean by “physicalism”?

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AH March 1, 2011 at 9:45 am

@cartesian: I don’t think you can call basic causality and basic logic “esoteric”. Actually, any living thing (or any such system) will benefit from basic models of causality and logic. It’s a result from having evolved in an orderly universe with (mostly?) immutable laws of physics. While the line between the ‘basic’ and the ‘esoteric’ stuff isn’t well defined, it’s not hard to see that humans are (and have historically been) pretty good at telling you what 2+2 makes, while they’re not very good at philosophy.

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Thomas March 1, 2011 at 9:51 am

Luke (again),

“Every mystery ever solved has turned out to be non-dualist.”

Let me answer in a different way to this one. This kind of materalist claim that the history of science is a strong argument for physicalism actually just shows the weak knowledge of history in materialist thinking. These “non-dualist” answers to these mysteries were achieved precisely because everything that didn´t fit the physicalist, mechanistic model was swept under the rug of the mind (treated as ‘secondary qualities’). This was what made the success of the mechanical modern science possible in the first place. But it is clear now that you cannot then go and sweep the mind itself away. That´s like “cleaning” an entire house by sweeping all the dirt in it under a certain rug, and then saying that one can get rid of the rug with using the same method. So the “non-dualistic” success of science actually assumes mind-body dualism.

This is an old point already made by the Cambridge Platonists, and more recently by writers such as Richard Swinburne and Thomas Nagel. Feser makes the point forcefully here: http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2009/06/materialist-shell-game.html

Steven R,

yes I assumed these things, but now you´re at least arguing. My point to Luke was that he should do the same and stop ignoring the strongest arguments from the other side.

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cartesian March 1, 2011 at 9:54 am

One last thing! :-)

While we’re on the topic, Rob Koons (UT Austin) and George Bealer (Yale) are putting together a blog called “The Waning of Materialism.”

http://waningofmaterialism.blogspot.com/

They recently published (2010, with Oxford Univ Press) an edited collection of anti-physicalist papers from leading philosophers. The collection is also called “The Waning of Materialism.”

The blog will feature contributors from that volume, along with some other anti-physicalist philosophers. So some really sharp contemporary and up-and-coming dualist philosophers will be posting there! And no, they’re not all religious. They’re not even nearly all religious. For example, among the current contributors to the blog, George Bealer, EJ Lowe, and David Barnett are not religious. (I could be wrong about Lowe, but I’m pretty sure.)

Barnett is a badass, by the way. Hilarious and SUPER smart. His CV looks made-up it’s so good. You should interview him for your podcast. And I dare you to assert out loud “Physicalism has been established by science” (or whatever it is you believe). ;-)

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Tarun March 1, 2011 at 9:54 am

Also, on your two arguments against dualism:

The first is that every mystery has been solved in a non-dualist way. It’s unclear to me what this even means. Chalmers’ notion of dualism is that there are irreducible psycho-physical laws. In other words, there are laws connecting physical properties and mental properties that can’t be reduced to laws connecting physical properties. And indeed we do have psycho-physical laws that have not yet been satisfactorily reduced, e.g. the Weber-Fechner law. These laws provide answers to certain questions. They solve mysteries! And they do them in a manner that is entirely consistent with dualism. Now, maybe you will respond that the Weber-Fechner law is just a phenomenological pattern, and the pattern won’t be genuinely explained, the mystery won’t be genuinely solved, until we understand why this pattern holds. But if you’re unwilling to accept that unreduced psycho-physical laws can be genuine solutions to mysteries, then it seems to me you’re just begging the question against dualism.

Your second argument about brain scans and drugs seems to be directed against substance dualists. I don’t see how it’s an argument against property dualism. Property dualists agree that all there is is the brain. So it is not a surprise to them that messing with the brain can affect mental states.

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cartesian March 1, 2011 at 9:56 am

@cartesian: I don’t think you can call basic causality and basic logic “esoteric”. Actually, any living thing (or any such system) will benefit from basic models of causality and logic. It’s a result from having evolved in an orderly universe with (mostly?) immutable laws of physics. While the line between the ‘basic’ and the ‘esoteric’ stuff isn’t well defined,it’s not hard to see that humans are (and have historically been) pretty good at telling you what 2+2 makes, while they’re not very good at philosophy.

I probably agree with everything you say. The problem is that Luke was doing philosophy in this post of his. And he often does philosophy. So his views are self-defeating. He’s a modal skeptic, yet he relies on modal intuitions all the time.

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Thomas March 1, 2011 at 10:00 am

cartesian,

thanks for the tip!

I don´t know about “religious”, but Lowe certainly is a theist. http://philpapers.org/profile/9948/myview.html

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Al Moritz March 1, 2011 at 10:02 am

Your second argument about brain scans and drugs seems to be directed against substance dualists. I don’t see how it’s an argument against property dualism. Property dualists agree that all there is is the brain. So it is not a surprise to them that messing with the brain can affect mental states. 

Make that also, from my side, “I don’t see how it’s an argument against A-T dualism” (see above).

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Thomas March 1, 2011 at 10:05 am

The problem is that Luke was doing philosophy in this post of his. And he often does philosophy. So his views are self-defeating.

Yeah, he indeed often does (first) philosophy and this is also totally inconsistent given his ‘epistemology naturalized’. Then again, epistemology naturalized just is incoherent, so it´s not too surprising.

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Thomas March 1, 2011 at 10:09 am

Al Moritz,

there are various non-Cartesian forms of substance dualism out there which deal with the close relationship of the soul and the brain as well as Thomistic dualism. One example is Emergent (substance) Dualism, embraced by Bill Hasker and Dean Zimmerman.

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cartesian March 1, 2011 at 10:09 am

cartesian,thanks for the tip!I don´t know about “religious”, but Lowe certainly is a theist. http://philpapers.org/profile/9948/myview.html  

You are welcome for the tip. Here it is again, for anyone who missed it:
http://waningofmaterialism.blogspot.com/

And thanks for the link about Lowe. That page just says he “leans towards” theism, though. So I wouldn’t say he’s “certainly” a theist. Score one for theism, though. That guy is smart.

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James H. March 1, 2011 at 10:16 am

But if you’re unwilling to accept that unreduced psycho-physical laws can be genuine solutions to mysteries, then it seems to me you’re just begging the question against dualism.

If my math teacher asks me to solve a set of algebraic equations like x -3 = y; y + 3 = 4 and I turn in an answer sheet with x – 3 + 3 = 4, then I’ll receive a failing grade because I left x unsolved and unaswered. When you try to use an unreduced anything as a solution then you – by definition – commit the same error. If I can’t solve for x (let’s use infinity – infinity as an example), then it leaves me with a big undefined on my worksheet and not “the magic that isinfinity – infinity“.

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Tarun March 1, 2011 at 10:19 am

James,

We currently have no idea how to reduce biology (or psychology, or economics, or…) to quantum field theory. I think there is good reason to believe that such a reduction is impossible (if you understand reduction in a more or less Nagelian sense). Does this mean that biology is somehow magical or mysterious?

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Rob K March 1, 2011 at 10:24 am

How can you possibly say that the mind *MUST* be This and *NOT* That when you cannot even fully explain the brain? I assure you that there are those with far deeper knowledge of the brain than you or myself which disagree whole-heartedly with you. Even these people cannot predict a thought’s path.

Some guy called “Dr. So-and-so” talked fancy to you, didn’t they?

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Kyle Key March 1, 2011 at 10:25 am

@cartesian:
“So I wouldn’t say he’s “certainly” a theist. Score one for theism, though. ”
Haha, yeah, given how the West is abandoning theism in droves, I guess you’ve gotta try to feel good about whatever scraps get thrown your way. Have fun sinking with the ship!

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James H. March 1, 2011 at 10:52 am

James,We currently have no idea how to reduce biology (or psychology, or economics, or…) to quantum field theory. I think there is good reason to believe that such a reduction is impossible (if you understand reduction in a more or less Nagelian sense). Does this mean that biology is somehow magical or mysterious?  

This post constitutes my first exposure to the Nagelian sense of reduction and my Google search failed to find an explanation that I could parse (due to my limited philosophical vocabulary) so I can earnestly say that I don’t understand it in that way, if just in the literal sense. :) How would you summarize Nagelian reductionism?

To the primary question: I find the situation far too analogous to the “where are the transitional fossils?” argument against evolution, in that the goalposts separating each discipline seem to have only moved closer as research has advanced. If we can find some examples of recent models failing to explain neurological and psychological correlations instead of merely lacking explanations for them, though, then we would have a starting point for effectively researching dualism. Until then, I have only noticed “dualism of the gaps” arguments.

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Silas March 1, 2011 at 10:56 am

How can you possibly say that the mind *MUST* be This and *NOT* That when you cannot even fully explain the brain? I assure you that there are those with far deeper knowledge of the brain than you or myself which disagree whole-heartedly with you. Even these people cannot predict a thought’s path.

How can you possibly say that the weather *MUST* be this and *NOT* that when you cannot even fully explain a storm? We cannot even explain why a wind blows at a certain time in a certain place. How do you know that it is not the Wind-God?

Yes, why do YOU think that a storm is just physics (as I think you do)? The weather is incredibly complex – and so is the brain. Why do you choose to believe that the weather is due to physical causes? Why do you believe different about the mind?

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PDH March 1, 2011 at 11:05 am

You might also worry that this appears to be true only because “physical” is so flexible, and comes to include whatever weird stuff physics reveals. So even if we discovered that full-blown substance dualism were true, physicalists would still claim a victory. They’d just say that our concept of “physical” has to stretch a bit more.Think about disembodied forces (e.g. gravity, magnetism, etc.). Think about quantum mechanics and “spooky action at a distance.” Think about strings, dark matter, etc. All these things are happily embraced by physicalism today.Do you think Lucretius, Descartes, Leibniz, or any pre-Newton scientist would have been happy calling such a theory “physicalism”? Surely not. We’ve learned that the world is a weird, weird place. But we’ve expanded our concept of “physical” accordingly.
Keep that in mind when you make claims about the historical victories of physicalism over non-physicalism. Non-physicalism can’t win! Every time it would, physicalism expands to consume the victory. Like a hungry hungry hippo.
By the way, try to define “physical” or “physicalism” in a way that is neither trivially true nor trivially false, and that is non-circular. If you succeed, publish it, since you’ll be the first. Think about that before you carry the banner and extol the virtues of a view you can’t define.  

That’s a good point but I think we can replace the word ‘physicalism’ with the word ‘monism’ and still capture the spirit of the debate. We are arguing that consciousness can be explained (or explained away as the case may actually be) in a one-level system, whereas dualists are stipulating that it must be two-levels.

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PDH March 1, 2011 at 11:14 am

We’re told that the ‘mind arises from the brain.’

Then what?

Where does it go after that and how does it get back down again so that my brain can actually experience it? And why did it bother going up there in the first place? I’m sure the mind had a lot of fun experiencing the what-is-it-likeness and so forth. Good for the mind, I guess. But how do I get to experience this if I have no epistemic access to it at all?

At some point you have to explain how this is achieved on a one-level system even if there is another level. How is consciousness achieved on the second level? Does the mind have a global neuronal workspace, too? Dualists can’t ever say, even in principle. Meanwhile, physicalists have at least provided some fascinating insights that can help us approach this problem.

Furthermore, if I see a sunset and am moved to paint a picture of it, that whole process, from start to finish, can have nothing to do with qualia as dualists define the term. Even if millions of people see the painting and themselves experience some echo of what I felt watching that sunset due to the effectiveness of my representation, to the dualist this is a complete mystery. They have literally no means of explaining this phenomenon because they identify themselves with a non-physical mind, which alone experiences the true redness of a sunset. My mere brain could not hope to grasp that, on their view, and thus the movements of my hand, which it directs, can be in no way motivated to represent, much less evoke, the associated qualia. It is just sheer coincidence if it does. And it does, consistently.

The whole idea of ‘intrinsic experiences’ is highly dubious. Surely, all experiences have to be extrinsic? The tape is useless without the Turing Machine and the Turing Machine is useless without the tape, there’s nothing intrinsically special about either apart from the way that one responds to the other. The task is to explain this on a one-level system. Positing a second level does not, by itself, solve this problem and it robs us of the very promising explanatory framework we are beginning to construct that actually might. Some equivalent will still be needed at the second level to explain what it is precisely that has the experiences and how this information is transmitted back to thing that very much appears to be having them all on its own.

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Tarun March 1, 2011 at 11:16 am

James,

According to Nagel’s account of reduction, a theory T1 reduces to another theory T2 if T1 (or a corrected form of T1) can be deductively inferred from T2 and bridge laws connecting T1 and T2. A bridge law is a law that connects the vocabulary of the two theories. For instance, “The temperature of a dilute gas is its mean molecular kinetic energy” is a bridge law between thermodynamics and the kinetic theory of gasses. So say I could take kinetic theory, supplement it with some bridge laws of this sort, and then logically derive thermodynamics (or an amended version of thermodynamics). If that is possible, then thermodynamics is reducible to kinetic theory. Nagelian reduction presumes a type-type correspondence between the two theories. For every category in one theory (such as temperature) there is a corresponding category (or some finite disjunction of categories) in the other theory (such as mean molecular kinetic energy). But it is extremely implausible that any such type-type correspondence holds between quantum field theory and biology. For instance, is there any finitely expressible category in quantum theory that corresponds to the biological category “organism”?

I hope the explanation was not too opaque. As far as I’m aware, some version of Nagel’s view is still the predominant notion of reduction in the philosophical literature.

On dualism-of-the-gaps: There are many examples of neurological models failing to fully explain psychological correlations, just as there are examples of unsuccessful models in every domain of science. But of course, the failure of a few models doesn’t mean that there aren’t other possible models that could explain these correlations. If what you’re asking for is some argument that there is no possible neurological model that could explain psychological correlations, then I’m willing to admit that the dualist can’t give such an argument (at least not without making many questionable metaphysical assumptions). It’s not easy to argue for a negative claim.

But I’m not a dualist. I think it’s an open question whether we will eventually develop neurological explanations for various psychological processes. But I see no good reason to assume at present that it is likely that we will develop such explanations. Right now, we do not have anything approaching an adequate functional model that accounts for the qualitative character of phenomenal experience (what red looks like, what sugar tastes like). So it seems to me that confident proclamations of the victory of physicalism are premature. Come to me when neurological research into consciousness gets anywhere near addressing the hard problem. Until then, I will not call myself a physicalist. I like to tie my metaphysics to science. And right now, science has very little to say about phenomenal consciousness, so I’m an agnostic.

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Tarun March 1, 2011 at 11:31 am

PDH,

Like Luke, you seem to be assuming that a dualist must be a substance dualist, and believe that there is something, a mind, that is the locus of experience and is separate from the brain.

But this is not the only way to understand dualism. In fact, it is plausibly no longer the principle way in which dualism is understood. Here’s what I see as a defensible version of dualism: Sometimes in science it turns out that the best way to explain phenomena is to posit the existence of some property that is not reducible to the other properties in our theory. Take energy as an example. Introducing this new property does not necessarily make the theory spooky. It just means that we have a new basic property to consider, and its use is justified by the scientific usefulness of the theory that incorporates it.

Right now, many of our best psychological theories (in particular, psycho-physical theories) involve talking about phenomenal properties (such as, say, the hue or saturation of a color). It is certainly a conceivable (even plausible) situation that this will persist, that we will never be able to come up with a neurological property that can adequately replace these phenomenal properties. Nothing spooky about this. It is just a claim about how science might go. In this circumstance, as far as science is concerned, phenomenal properties are irreducible.

You might say that this is merely an epistemological worry about our ability to come up with adequate reductive accounts, whereas dualism is a metaphysical thesis about the genuine irreducibility of those properties. But like I said in a previous comment, I like my metaphysics to be tied to my epistemology. I use science as a guide to ontology, and as long as science involves unreduced appeal to mental properties, I see no basis for proclaiming that they don’t exist.

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anon March 1, 2011 at 11:43 am

@cartesian:
“So I wouldn’t say he’s “certainly” a theist. Score one for theism, though. ”
Haha, yeah, given how the West is abandoning theism in droves, I guess you’ve gotta try to feel good about whatever scraps get thrown your way. Have fun sinking with the ship!

I would have thought that the West itself is the sinking ship, what with the pathetically low birth rates in the West, the expansion of Islam, etc. I’m no demographer, but I’m pretty sure that, on the whole, theism is on the rise, and Western-style atheism is, on the whole, dying. Sure, more and more Westerners are atheists (but let’s not get carried away! it’s still a small fraction), but there are fewer and fewer Westerners.

Sooooo…. it looks like you’re the one on the sinking ship, Kyle. :-(

In any event, who really cares about demographic trends? Maybe we should talk about the *truth* of these views we’re interested in.

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PDH March 1, 2011 at 12:01 pm

Taranu wrote,

PDH,Like Luke, you seem to be assuming that a dualist must be a substance dualist, and believe that there is something, a mind, that is the locus of experience and is separate from the brain.But this is not the only way to understand dualism. In fact, it is plausibly no longer the principle way in which dualism is understood. Here’s what I see as a defensible version of dualism: Sometimes in science it turns out that the best way to explain phenomena is to posit the existence of some property that is not reducible to the other properties in our theory. Take energy as an example. Introducing this new property does not necessarily make the theory spooky. It just means that we have a new basic property to consider, and its use is justified by the scientific usefulness of the theory that incorporates it.Right now, many of our best psychological theories (in particular, psycho-physical theories) involve talking about phenomenal properties (such as, say, the hue or saturation of a color). It is certainly a conceivable (even plausible) situation that this will persist, that we will never be able to come up with a neurological property that can adequately replace these phenomenal properties. Nothing spooky about this. It is just a claim about how science might go. In this circumstance, as far as science is concerned, phenomenal properties are irreducible.You might say that this is merely an epistemological worry about our ability to come up with adequate reductive accounts, whereas dualism is a metaphysical thesis about the genuine irreducibility of those properties. But like I said in a previous comment, I like my metaphysics to be tied to my epistemology. I use science as a guide to ontology, and as long as science involves unreduced appeal to mental properties, I see no basis for proclaiming that they don’t exist.  

I tried not to make that assumption but it’s difficult to fully engage with all the different variations here.

Would you say that, on the account you just gave, the particular properties I experience can affect my behaviour in empirically measurable ways? I might think that a particular shade of red paint does not fully capture my experience of that sunset and choose another instead. Had the quale been slightly different the first shade might have been more appropriate. Is this not still the case even with your proposal?

I’m not necessarily concerned with whether or not it’s reducible in the sense that you use the term, since you’re using a very specific definition there, as well! Frankly, it’s a pain to sort through all the different definitions of words like, ‘physicalism,’ ‘naturalism,’ ‘reduction’ and so on. I’m interested in actually understanding consciousness and I don’t think it’s too unreasonable to expect further insights to be developed that will help me get a handle on how consciousness actually works. As an example, look how much easier it is to talk about many aspects of this debate when we use terminology from computer science. This was not always possible. In the time of Freud people had to rely on much clumsier metaphors and this was responsible for a lot of very embarrassing mistakes. Likewise, evolution gave us a much more enlightening way of talking about life and significantly reduced the mysteriousness. That is what I mean by an explanatory framework and I can’t see any equivalent in dualism, nor does there seem to be any hope that one will be developed in the future given that adherents seem to insist that it’s just impossible.

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James H. March 1, 2011 at 12:08 pm

Tauren,

Thank you for the explanation on Nagel. I’ll still need to study more to fully grasp it, but that only speaks to my current knowledge.

Your concern regarding the “organism” category raised a question, though. In the world of software, we talk about “applications”. The category usually works well enough but ultimately blurs when it comes to discussions of scripts, executable configuration files, and the like. It seems especially confused when the discussion moves to code compilers capable of compiling copies of themselves (with the progenitor compiler written in another language or built into the hardware). I would never consider an “application” as an example of qualia, though, since we can still trace its origins back to ones and zeros. Even if we can clearly separate an application from a broken bundle of bits that happens to have a vital bit flipped wrong, this ability stems from the “executable” quantifier in the definition of “application”. I might have missed some important quality of qualia but I cannot – in practical terms – seem to distinguish it from just a “sufficiently popular shared abstraction” that only exists in so far as minds educated in the abstraction continue to exist.

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Tarun March 1, 2011 at 12:24 pm

PDH,

It is certainly true that there are empirically determinable correlations between phenomenal properties and physical properties. These correlations are exactly what psycho-physics is in the business of studying. I reject the view that qualia are ineffable or completely private.

The computational theory of mind has been very fruitful in a number of ways. But it has not been all that fruitful when it comes to psycho-physics, simply because we don’t know how to construct functional models that explain qualitative sensation. I take (defensible) dualism to be the claim that this kind of functional modeling will never be enough to fully understand consciousness. We will need to continue with psycho-physical experiments, correlating physical stimuli to responses about qualitative sensation. I guess what I’m worried about is not the metaphysical question but the scientific study of consciousness. And what concerns me there is that a physicalist bias will lead to a methodological monism, where functionalist explanation is considered deeper or more valuable than psycho-physical explanation.

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James H. March 1, 2011 at 12:29 pm

On dualism-of-the-gaps: There are many examples of neurological models failing to fully explain psychological correlations, just as there are examples of unsuccessful models in every domain of science. But of course, the failure of a few models doesn’t mean that there aren’t other possible models that could explain these correlations. If what you’re asking for is some argument that there is no possible neurological model that could explain psychological correlations, then I’m willing to admit that the dualist can’t give such an argument (at least not without making many questionable metaphysical assumptions). It’s not easy to argue for a negative claim.

I’ll rephrase the question to try and capture its intended positive nature: if a material reductionist explanation of the brain was geocentricism, can dualism point to the equivalent of apparent retrograde motion (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apparent_retrograde_motion)? Had Galileo insisted on a heliocentric model in the complete absence of such evidence (e.g. in a different universe than our own) then we would have rightly disregarded his astronomical theories. The burden lies with dualism to provide such counter-examples.

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PDH March 1, 2011 at 12:38 pm

Tarun wrote,

PDH,It is certainly true that there are empirically determinable correlations between phenomenal properties and physical properties. These correlations are exactly what psycho-physics is in the business of studying. I reject the view that qualia are ineffable or completely private.The computational theory of mind has been very fruitful in a number of ways. But it has not been all that fruitful when it comes to psycho-physics, simply because we don’t know how to construct functional models that explain qualitative sensation. I take (defensible) dualism to be the claim that this kind of functional modeling will never be enough to fully understand consciousness. We will need to continue with psycho-physical experiments, correlating physical stimuli to responses about qualitative sensation. I guess what I’m worried about is not the metaphysical question but the scientific study of consciousness. And what concerns me there is that a physicalist bias will lead to a methodological monism, where functionalist explanation is considered deeper or more valuable than psycho-physical explanation.  

Well, I will admit to having a soft-spot for monism, for aesthetic and ethical reasons as much as anything else. But it does seem to be, at least a useful heuristic, to start with the simplest explanations and work your way up. I wouldn’t call that methodological monism because I can conceive of situations that would force me to concede that there is a second level. Practically speaking, monism is usually going to be simpler I would imagine, so it is certainly a methodology that would tend to privilege monism.

But, in any case, I think that even if dualism is true, we’re going to need to flesh the thesis out a heck of a lot more before it can even begin to help us understand this issue.

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James H. March 1, 2011 at 12:47 pm

The computational theory of mind has been very fruitful in a number of ways. But it has not been all that fruitful when it comes to psycho-physics, simply because we don’t know how to construct functional models that explain qualitative sensation.

I would say that your very reply, and mine, and the others, actually constitute just such examples of qualitative sensations. Each of our computers received different “sensory input” (e.g. the HTTP headers change with the time of day) and they processed them with culturally-biased systems (in my case, Firefox and sometimes Chrome), but they still display the replies to us in a recognizable, “blog post reply”-qualified fashion thanks to common standards. This “reply” quality still only exists as an artifact of cognitive heuristics (e.g. the “comment” class used in the HTML), though, and ultimately exists nowhere in the entire chain of ones and zeros. In fact, it breaks down in the case of non-standard or limited browsers (like the text-based lynx). I could graph the comment’s entire chain of existence – from the key-presses received from your keyboard to the LEDs in my monitor – and find nothing inherently “web-pagey” along the line, but our human minds would still categorize the content that way. Along those same lines, most people confuse the “Internet Explorer” application and “the Web” but this failure of comprehension merely masks the persistently complexity of both systems understood by tech support. The universe, in turn, remains under no obligation to simplify its workings to accommodate our limited cognitive abilities.

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woodchuck64 March 1, 2011 at 2:26 pm

Thomas,

So physicalists have two options: either deny that there even is such a thing as conscious experience – which is crazy, incoherent and false – or try to reduce experience to brain states.

There’s a third option which is neither denial nor reduction, which I took from Strawson’s review on Dennett:

A materialist can grant that current physics is incomplete, in failing to explain how conscious experience is possible, while insisting that it is for all that a natural physical fact–as natural a fact as the fact that water is wet– that when you get physical things like human brains you invariably get phenomenology with all its qualitative astonishments.

There is … a ‘ghost in the machine’ … but that’s no problem for materialists, for all they have to do is to admit we don’t [yet] understand the machinery of the ghost.

This at least does justice to the success of physicalistic explanations so far, while not insisting that the explanation is already there.

That segues into something else you wrote:

everything that didn´t fit the physicalist, mechanistic model was swept under the rug of the mind

Which means physicalistic explanations weren’t successes or that they didn’t try solve the big mind problem? If they were successes at all, we are justified in expecting more successes. If they solved problems by ignoring mind, that just demonstrates that mind is superfluous for some problems. Is the real objection that physicalistic explanations can not, even in principle, explain consciousness? But this doesn’t seem right. We know matter “creates” a force of gravity, why can’t neurons “create” a force of consciousness? Strawson argues a true physicalism must be panpsychism. What if all particles have measurable microexperiential properties that add up to the macroexperiental properties of neurons and brains? That seems like a physicalist explanation for consciousness.

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James H. March 1, 2011 at 3:09 pm

And what concerns me there is that a physicalist bias will lead to a methodological monism, where functionalist explanation is considered deeper or more valuable than psycho-physical explanation.

If the subsequent data and functionalist models offer deeper, more useful explanations, then that presents a problem that psycho-physical explanations must handle in order to remain relevant. In short, “methodological monism” may simply translate to “we finally figured it out”. In really short (and with apologies to Luke for this attempt at humor), T.I.T.S.* or GTFO. :)

*Truth-Identifying Test Series or Tautology-Independent Truth Search, take your pick.

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Mark March 1, 2011 at 6:20 pm

FIRST HORN: The general kind of skepticism is a self-defeating. After all, you yourself rely on your modal intuitions every time you draw an inference. When you say “A, therefore B,” you mean “If A is true, B *must* be true.” That’s a modal intuition, my friend. If you undercut all your modal intuitions, you undercut all your inferences. And you certainly made inferences in this post of yours. So, if you’re a general modal skeptic, you shouldn’t accept these arguments of yours in your post. That’s self-defeat.

No, deductive inference does not commit us to any modal theory. There’s no reason to accept the analysis of “A logically entails B” as “metaphysically necessarily, A only if B.” In fact, this is positively false. “Water is XYZ, therefore water H2O” is an invalid inference, but its counterpart “Metaphysically necessarily, if water is XYZ, then water is H2O” expresses a vacuously necessary truth.

It’s true that we sometimes use the word “must” and other modal-sounding words in our inferences, but in the case of, e.g., mathematics, it’s plausibly just shorthand for logical entailment.

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DaVead March 1, 2011 at 6:48 pm

No one can say what philosophical positions are evidenced by the scientific findings until we’re clear about what those positions actually are. And philosophers of science have enough trouble trying to define “physical” and coherently cast a candidate theory of “physicalism” in general terms, let alone physicsists! Are leptons, strings, quarks, and quantum gravity really physical? and what about all the other absurdly characterized instrumentally contrived particles (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_particles)?

And to toss away modal claims just because their intuitive is a lazy man’s way of dealing with thousands of pages of modal epistemology and argumentation, which the likes of Chalmers et al are in no short supply of. Yes, to those convinced of Scientism, metaphysics and modality are silly. But the implication that the subject matter of metaphysics is strinking as the breadth of science grows is simply false; the pseudo-metaphysical nature of a lot of contemporary speculative and theoretical physics and cognitive science is in dire need of some metaphysical tidying up.

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AndrewR March 1, 2011 at 7:15 pm

From http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/zombies/

…However, the phenomena of consciousness are hard to account for in those terms, and some thinkers concluded that something nonphysical must be involved. Given the causal closure of the physical, they also concluded that consciousness has no effects on the physical world.

So, what you do is:

1. Imagine that consciousness is something non-physical that has a read-only connection to the physical world (it can get data from the physical but can’t send anything back).
2. Since consciousness doesn’t affect the physical world at all, we can imagine a world where it doesn’t exist (Zombie-world).
3. Since I can imagine Zombie-world, it is possible.
4. Since it is possible, the onus is on Physicalism to prove it impossible or we can’t say that Physicalism is definitely true.

Have I got that right?

If so, here’s what I think the problem is: These arguments are designed to show that Materialism/Physicalism can’t be proven to be true. That’s fine but IMO its kind of irrelevant.

I’m a Physicalist because it is the worldview that appears to best explain the observed behavior of the observed universe so far, not because I’ve proven it correct. Showing that Physicalism could possibly be false in a thought experiment gives me no reason to abandon it.

Zombie-land is a “retreat to the possible”. We should be interested in “probable”.

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Luke Muehlhauser March 1, 2011 at 9:51 pm

AndrewR,

What you’ve said is similar to Chomsky’s “critique” of materialism. Chomsky’s not much of a dualist, but I’m not much interested by the point that physicalism is possibly false, like you say.

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Steven R. March 1, 2011 at 9:59 pm

From http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/zombies/
So, what you do is:1. Imagine that consciousness is something non-physical that has a read-only connection to the physical world (it can get data from the physical but can’t send anything back).
2.Since consciousness doesn’t affect the physical world at all, we can imagine a world where it doesn’t exist (Zombie-world).
3.Since I can imagine Zombie-world, it is possible.
4. Since it is possible, the onus is on Physicalism to prove it impossible or we can’t say that Physicalism is definitely true.Have I got that right?If so, here’s what I think the problem is: These arguments are designed to show that Materialism/Physicalism can’t be proven to be true. That’s fine but IMO its kind of irrelevant.I’m a Physicalist because it is the worldview that appears to best explain the observed behavior of the observed universe so far, not because I’ve proven it correct. Showing that Physicalism could possibly be false in a thought experiment gives me no reason to abandon it.Zombie-land is a “retreat to the possible”. We should be interested in “probable”.  

That’s exactly the feeling I’ve been getting too, though expressed much better than I could. And so have PDH’s posts questioning how dualism even works in the real world.

At any rate, some pretty interesting comments :D

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Scott Hagaman March 2, 2011 at 12:04 am

>>I keep thinking that intuitionism has been killed off by contemporary cognitive science and experimental psychology, but I keep finding that I am wrong.

But you also fail to keep reading the philosophers who defend intuitionism. Let us know when you get around to reading Huemer’s _Ethical Intuitionism_, or any other cogent defense of phenomenal conservativism. These sorts of posts don’t carry any weight for those of us who know you don’t interact with the best of the philosophical literature on the subjects you’re criticizing. You used to be more philosophically serious. What happened?

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Luke Muehlhauser March 2, 2011 at 12:37 am

Scott,

By “more philosophically serious” do you mean “more willing to ignore experimental psychology and cognitive science in favor of purely philosophical arguments”? If so, I hope I’m becoming less philosophically serious…

I’ve skimmed through Ethical Intuitionism. It doesn’t take cognitive science more seriously than past attempts in that vein, as far as I can tell.

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Thomas March 2, 2011 at 1:14 am

Luke,

naturalism, naturalized epistemology, physicalism, what have you, are not (according to non-naturalists) any more “scientific” views than non-naturalist and non-physicalist views. Both are philosophical interpretations of the data. You can´t keep blaming the other side of not being “scientific enough”. You must argue why on earth does science support physicalism or naturalism. Simply stating that there are correlations between mental and physical states isn´t an argument. That´s the data to be explained. It´s the physicalist who claims that science supports it; but often no one argues why and how does “science” support it.

You used to be more philosophically serious. What happened?

I agree. I think the problem is in the level of epistemology. If you start with scientism (or naturalized epistemology), you end up ignoring important meta-scientific and philosophical questions. So I think what happened was that Luke started to take Quine and after that people like the Churchlands and Dennett too seriously.

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James H. March 2, 2011 at 6:49 am

Both are philosophical interpretations of the data.

This post evokes enough of the “atheism is just another religion” path to leave me very uncomfortable.

If I ask for a hamburger, I don’t need a discussion on whether veggie burgers count nor existential questions like “Where’s the beef?”. I need the cooked ground steak and sliced bun that naturalized epistemology actually delivers. Whatever the epistemological shortcomings of scientism, we’ll never see a headline that reads “Philosophers Reason Man Onto the Meta-Moon”.

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woodchuck64 March 2, 2011 at 7:01 am

Thomas,

You can´t keep blaming the other side of not being “scientific enough”. You must argue why on earth does science support physicalism or naturalism.

As long as the non-naturalist, non-physical views are willing to ignore, overlook, or give short shrift to experimental psychology, cognitive science evolutionary biology, they are trivially “not scientific enough” and it is equally trivial that science is being used disproportionately to support physicalism or naturalism. This is a clear methodological failure of non-naturalist views and suggests a deeper rot.

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Rob March 2, 2011 at 8:13 am

Thomas,

The argument is that physicalism makes predictions about what we will find as neuroscience progresses. These predictions are are verified over and over and over, while your homunculus theory retreats from these hammer blows battered and bruised.

If you think dualism is true, then make some predictions, and put them to the test.

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Thomas March 2, 2011 at 9:25 am

Rob,

a good theory first explains all the relevant data. If it then can also yield new predictions, then all the better. But making new predictions is not a necessary condition of a good theory, like the history of science shows (Copernicus, Newton, Darwin). A theory can render itself probable by explaining the “old” data.

Now, physicalism maybe explains some scientific data about the brain and also makes predictions, but it completely ignores consciousness and experience itself, and thus it is (to me at least) a very poor theory. Some kind of dualism is needed to explain the experiental side. That fact that this doesn´t make strartling new empirical predictions isn´t a big problem. Neuroscience studies the brain, so it makes predictions about the brain. Many forms of dualism would make exactly the same predictions as physicalism makes. So how this actually supports physicalism is again left unexplained.

Maybe my claim that dualism is needed “to explain” the experiental side is a bit misleading. Dualists do not “postulate” some weird stuff called “experience” in order to explain something. We start from experience. We would not know anything at all about neuroscience and the world if we first weren´t conscious subjects. Experience is more certain to us than any scientific theory. And physicalism just ignores conscious experience.

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Rob March 2, 2011 at 9:34 am

But making new predictions is not a necessary condition of a good theory

That is where we part ways. A theory that makes no predictions is worthless.

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cartesian March 2, 2011 at 10:24 am

No, deductive inference does not commit us to any modal theory.

Depending on what you mean by “modal theory,” that’s probably right. I’m inclined to agree. And I never said otherwise.

There’s no reason to accept the analysis of “A logically entails B” as “metaphysically necessarily, A only if B.”

That seems right to me, especially if you take the “only if” there to be material implication. But I never proposed that analysis, so I’m not sure why you’re mentioning it.

In fact, this is positively false. “Water is XYZ, therefore water H2O” is an invalid inference, but its counterpart “Metaphysically necessarily, if water is XYZ, then water is H2O” expresses a vacuously necessary truth.

That’s probably right, if we understand the conditional there as material implication. But again, I never said otherwise. We haven’t yet disagreed. So I’m starting to worry that you missed the point of my post.

It’s true that we sometimes use the word “must” and other modal-sounding words in our inferences, but in the case of, e.g., mathematics, it’s plausibly just shorthand for logical entailment.

Again, that’s probably right. And again, we haven’t disagreed. So, in the end, nothing in this post of yours was inconsistent with anything I said. Did you mean to disagree with me? It seemed like this post of yours was meant to challenge something I said…

——————————
Maybe we should take it one step at a time:

I think that the ability to draw inferences–the ability to see genuine entailment–requires that one make modal judgments. Seeing that A entails B requires seeing that if A is true B must be true. Do you disagree?

Luke is a skeptic about modal judgments, and yet he draws lots of inferences. Do you disagree?

So Luke’s position is self-defeating. Do you disagree?

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Thomas March 2, 2011 at 11:43 am

Rob,

I wrote this elsewhere:

Also ‘yielding new predictions’ is not a necessary condition of a good theory even in science, much less in metaphysics. Celebrated cases often referred to in connection with the predictive novelty criterion (Newton and Einstein) are not entirely accurate historically. These theories were in fact initially accepted because they explained the “old evidence” long before confirmation of new predictions were given (see Banner, 136-7.) Also Copernicus “argued for his theory using observations made over the course of millennia, not on the basis of any startling new predictions derived from the theory” (Glymour 1980: 85-6.) The criterion of predictive novelty is also too restrictive. There are some good theories that do (as yet) without confirmed predictions. A case in point is Darwinian theory of evolution by natural selection. “It´s also manifestly ad hoc [meaning that it only explained "the old evidence"], for it was probably designed with the facts in mind, as a response to them” (see van Holten 2002.)

If you do not agree, then were Darwin, Copernicus, Newton and Einstein unjustified in believing that their theories were true when they proposed them?

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JS Allen March 2, 2011 at 11:49 am

OK, I’m a materialist, but I think the criticisms are spot on. The post comes across as if Luke is just ignorant of the topic, and trying to play it both ways. Even if the zombie intuition were the best argument for dualism (it’s not), Luke’s dismissal of “intuitionism” seems hypocritical. First, he promotes desirism, which depends on the concept of “intentional action”. What is “intentional” if not an intuition that is at odds with physicalism? Daniel Dennett talked about this in “the intentional stance” — intentionality is incompatible with physicalism, but we just say “screw it”, and go with our intuition. Second, intentionality is critical for science — science can’t happen without it. If you don’t get to intentionality without intuition, and you don’t get to science without intentionality, it’s bizarre to claim that science is the alternative to intuition. You are, indeed, playing a shell game.

I’m all for saying, “screw it, I believe in intentionality”. But don’t be a hypocrite and pretend that you are being more “scientific”.

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Rob March 2, 2011 at 12:01 pm

were Darwin, Copernicus, Newton and Einstein unjustified in believing that their theories were true when they proposed them?

Let’s just pick Einstein’s GR. He thought it was correct, and it made predictions. When those predictions bore out, everyone else believed it to.

Your examples support my position, not yours. Good theories make predictions.

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woodchuck64 March 2, 2011 at 12:28 pm

JS Allen,

OK, I’m a materialist, but I think the criticisms are spot on.

What is “intentional” if not an intuition that is at odds with physicalism? Daniel Dennett talked about this in “the intentional stance” — intentionality is incompatible with physicalism, but we just say “screw it”, and go with our intuition. Second, intentionality is critical for science — science can’t happen without it.

I don’t see that science needs intentionality. If a chain of events originating at the BigBang eventually results in brain states in scientists that cause them to perform the scientific method, all seems well.

The intentional stance also does not presume real intentionality, it simply predicts the behavior of an object based on the beliefs and desires you think the object ought to have given its place in the world and its purpose. Whether those beliefs or desires lead to real intentionality in that object is irrelevant for all practical purposes.

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Thomas March 2, 2011 at 12:55 pm

Rob,

those theories were initially accepted long before they made any predictions. They just explained the “old” evidence. Don´t take my word on it, follow for example the references I gave.

Here´s Swinburne on this topic:

“More generally, whether e renders h probable surely cannot depend crucially on whether we had thought of h before we saw e. Probability would become a highly subjective matter instead of an objective relationship between evidence and hypothesis if that were so.” (Swinburne 2004: 69-70.)

“The support given by observations to a theory concerns a logical relation between observations and the theory, and is independent of when the observations are made … Those who think otherwise say that theories can always be constructed to fit observations, whereas theories do not always predict accurately; and so accurate prediction provides a more objective test of a proposed theory. Certainly theories can always be constructed to fit observations, but what cannot always be constructed are
simple theories which yield many observations. They are just as difficult to find as
theories which predict accurately, and they are the only ones which observations support. An example to illustrate the irrelevance to theory-support of when the observations are made is provided by Newton´s theory of motion. This was judged by many (surely correctly) to be highly probable on the evidence available to scientists of the early eighteenth century, even though it made no predictions which could be tested for many years, other than the predictions which were already made by laws which were already known and which Newton´s theory purported to explain (e.g. Kepler´s laws of planetary motion and Galileo´s law of fall). The high probability of Newton´s theory arose solely from its being a very simple higher-level theory from which those diverse laws are deducible.” (Swinburne 2010, 31-2)

By the way, we are here assuming that only scientific reasoning is legitimate. But dualism with respect to consciousness is usually a philosophical theory, not scientific. So if you want to say that philosophical theories are illegitimate, you have to argue for it, otherwise you are just begging the question.

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mpg March 2, 2011 at 2:33 pm

I probably agree with everything you say. The problem is that Luke was doing philosophy in this post of his. And he often does philosophy. So his views are self-defeating. He’s a modal skeptic, yet he relies on modal intuitions all the time.  

You have to be careful here with your hyperbole, C. You don’t have to hold to modal skepticism in order to justify skepticism about one’s intuitions on the mind. All you have to show is that there is a specific reason for skepticism on this specific issue.

Plus on your issue with the broadening of the definition of physicalism. Well physicalism isn’t materialism, so it isn’t, in a way, a broadening. Physicalism is most often associated with the claims that all can or will be explained by physics because everything is physical.

Lastly, I don’t want to give the wrong impression. I am not a physicalist/materialist or a dualist myself. But I do think that the dualist overplays his hand when he thinks an appeal to intuition trumps all other evidence, since it is possible for me to conceive of the fact that my intuitions are not wholly reliable. Intellectual humility is needed on all sides of the argument.

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Rob March 2, 2011 at 3:00 pm

Thomas,

Quoting and apologist on what constitutes a good theory? I’ll assume you are joking. You are free to retreat to untestable metaphysics if you wish. Just don’t expect anyone to take you seriously.

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Reidish March 2, 2011 at 5:16 pm

mpg,

You wrote,

You have to be careful here with your hyperbole, C. You don’t have to hold to modal skepticism in order to justify skepticism about one’s intuitions on the mind. All you have to show is that there is a specific reason for skepticism on this specific issue.

Hence, the two horns of the dilemma cartesian offered. Luke in fact showed no specific reasons for skepticism on this specific issue.

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woodchuck64 March 2, 2011 at 5:24 pm

Thomas,

The hard problem of consciousness is our direct intuition of our own experience, I’ll grant that, so that’s one place where intuitions can not be escaped because they’re the very phenomena we want to explain.

However, saying consciousness is evidence for dualism is confused. Dualism is the theory that physicalism alone is not enough to explain consciousness. But saying another theory is inadequate is not itself an explanation, it’s shutting the door on an explanation.

Chalmer’s zombie experiment tries to provide evidence for dualism by showing that a physicalist universe is different from ours, but that evidence is solely his intuition that such a universe can (metaphysically) exist at all, and that’s very weak evidence indeed, as Luke points out. Surely the dualists can do better.

Can you can show that dualism explains anything, that it is more than just the negation of physicalism? Physicalism explains a lot of thing, but the fact that it does not explain the hard problem of consciousness may just mean more time and study is needed.

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Mark March 2, 2011 at 5:45 pm

Again, that’s probably right. And again, we haven’t disagreed. So, in the end, nothing in this post of yours was inconsistent with anything I said. Did you mean to disagree with me? It seemed like this post of yours was meant to challenge something I said…

Luke was explicitly talking about the metaphysical possibility of zombies and never once used the word “modal” (much less used it to denote some non-metaphysical sense of the term). As you were the one who invoked “modality” to ostensibly criticize Luke’s post, and as you never volunteered any further clarification of your intended meaning, I charitably assumed that your point was relevant and hence concerned modality in the metaphysical sense. If you had been more clear about the heavy ambiguity and tenuous relevance of your point, I’m sure I’d have responded differently.

Luke is a skeptic about modal judgments, and yet he draws lots of inferences. Do you disagree?

Again, Luke never cast any aspersions on modal judgments simpliciter. “Modal logic” encompasses a broad array of logics with a broad array of applications; there’s no way that Luke would be skeptical of, e.g., provability logic.

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Mark March 2, 2011 at 5:52 pm

This is the problem with philosophers. A scientist would never publish a paper citing as evidence his intuitions that his new theory is correct. The entire scientific community would reject that as a waste of time.

You’re a Bayesian, right? Where exactly do you think your priors come from? Do you think they can all be derived from some neutral tenet, like the Principle of Indifference? Where would your justification in believing such principles constrain rational belief come from? Voila! The entire edifice of your belief rests on intuition. You’d better be in a hurry to figure out why such intuitions are reliable.

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rosyatrandom (Michael R.) March 2, 2011 at 5:58 pm

Is there not some meta-Bayesianism, whereby you can sum across priors and come up with a fuzzy set of outcomes?

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Luke Muehlhauser March 2, 2011 at 7:08 pm

JS Allen,

I explicitly said in the original post that there were other arguments for dualism, and I’m criticizing the intuitionist ones.

Since when did I give an argument in favor of intentionality, using intuitions as my evidence?

The person who is “playing a shell game” is a person you made up in your head. I’m not that person.

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JS Allen March 2, 2011 at 10:19 pm

Luke,

Other than mere intuition, how do you defend your insistence on intentionality?

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Luke Muehlhauser March 2, 2011 at 10:22 pm

JS Allen,

Intention is part of what is currently the best physicalist explanation for a wide range of human actions. See Morality in the Real World, episodes 10-13 (and others to come, where we dive further into the neuroscience of intentional action).

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JS Allen March 2, 2011 at 10:53 pm

Luke,

What does that mean? What is “the best physicalist explanation”, and how is intentionality a part of it? Where would someone read about this? Are you talking about Drescher’s description?

I have carefully read Morality in the Real World, and I don’t think you’ve covered the topic of physicalism’s link to intentionality. I note that my previous question about intentionality lingers unanswered at the bottom of the comments to episode 13.

As a materialist, I had to make peace with the problem of intentionality (and the variants of “argument from reason”). So I think it can be done. I just don’t see any evidence that you’ve ever even tried.

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Thomas March 3, 2011 at 1:14 am

Rob,

Swinburne is just “an apologist”? Are you joking? And even if he were, then how does that make his argument invalid? You didn´t argue anything but only waved your hands.

woodchuck64,

there are good reasons to think that physicalism is in principle incapable of explaining the hard problem (I happen to think that it can´t explain intentionality either, btw). And I agree that dualism is often only a negation of physicalism, but there are also many positive dualistic theories out there. One very interesting piece is The Soul Hypothesis, edited by Baker and Goetz (2011). There is a very positive review of the book in Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews.

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rosyatrandom (Michael R.) March 3, 2011 at 1:32 am

I fail to see a decent objection to the mind being an abstract pattern derived from physical mappings.

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Rob March 3, 2011 at 3:07 am

Thomas,

You and I have a fundamental disagreement about what makes a good theory. Why not just leave it at that? Your conception allows in untestable nonsense like Luke’s gnomes, garden fairies, vitalism, dormative power, and élan locomotif, while mine does not.

Yes, Swineburn is an apologist and as a philosopher he’s a joke.

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mpg March 3, 2011 at 4:02 am

Physicalists: I feel that Chalmers philosophical zombie argument is being miscontrued by many here. As I understand it, Chalmers is not saying that the PROOF of dualism is the conceivability of PZs. Its that conceivability allows for the prospect of PZs. From there, he feels it permissable to conceive of consciousness being irreducible to the physical. That’s very different from, I can conceive of PZs, therefore PSz MUST be metaphysically possible.

Dualists: I think there are two problems with intuitionism in favour of dualism.
1. Imagine mind as being a unified self-sensing mental substance, but all its actions are caused by the physical. Now, in this scenario, is it possible for intuition to be fooled into thinking its actions are only caused by the unified self-sensing mental substance? I would say yes. The mind, in this scenario, can only sense that which it is, ie, its own mentality. Mind would not be able to sense the root cause of its own mentality, since the root cause, the physical, is not, in and of itself, a mental substance. Now, I’m not saying this is likely, merely that it is conceivable that, under such circumstances, the mind wouldn’t sense it’s physical dependency. Ergo, intuitionism cannot, in all circumstances, falsify physicalism.

Second, the intuitionism appealed too has a double edged sword for Cartesians when we look at this historio-anthropolgically. If you look at the Ancient Egyptians, Native Americans, Australian aborigines and other such cultures, they seem able to conceive of mind or soul, in ways that clash violently with the intuition that Cartesians appear to want to appeal to. Ancient Egyptians appear to be much closer to physicalist in their conception of death and the afterlife, and didn’t posit an immaterial, independent mind. How can this be if the intuition appealed to is not, as is assumed by implication, universal? Perhaps the intuition we appeal to is really still interpretive. That is, the experience of mentality will not, in all circumstances, lead to the conclusion of dualism. If that’s the case, the intuition is far less persuasive than originally thought.

Just my two cents.

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Thomas March 3, 2011 at 4:25 am

Rob,

You are free to retreat to untestable metaphysics if you wish.

When you are arguing what constitutes a good theory, you´re doing philosophy of science, not science. This is the irony of scientism; their proponents don´t even realize that they´re refuting themselves when defending their position.

Yes, Swineburn is an apologist and as a philosopher he’s a joke.

You told me that you only have read Is There a God? from Swinburne. So your claim is a bit like if I said that Russell is “a joke as a philosopher” while having only read ‘Why I´m Not a Christian’. You clearly don´t know what you´re talking about.

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rosyatrandom (Michael R.) March 3, 2011 at 4:30 am

I for one would make no apologies for discounting the work of anyone purely on the basis that they are an apologist. It’s already implicit that they have nothing to say worth my hearing.

So, yes, call me arrogant and unfairly dismissive, but I simply cannot recall a theist saying anything that gave me pause. Ever.

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mpg March 3, 2011 at 5:36 am

By the way, try to define “physical” or “physicalism” in a way that is neither trivially true nor trivially false, and that is non-circular. If you succeed, publish it, since you’ll be the first. Think about that before you carry the banner and extol the virtues of a view you can’t define.

Surely this cuts both ways for many physicalists and dualists. The dualist who argues that mind is immaterial, when confronted by the fact that minds also seem to be spatio-temporal, simply says that immaterial things can be spatio-temporal too. Its kinda like God. God is immaterial, that is, has no location in time or space, but then he is said to be omnipresent. Of course, what happens here is we do violence to the meaning of omnipresence, but my point is, the broadening of defintions cannot be, in and of itself, a defeater for physicalism, (even though I probably agree with you that other arguments are undercutting defeaters for physicalism).

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Thomas March 3, 2011 at 6:51 am

I for one would make no apologies for discounting the work of anyone purely on the basis that they are an apologist. It’s already implicit that they have nothing to say worth my hearing.

We were talking about Richard Swinburne, not Lee Strobel. If Swinburne is just “an apologist”, so is, say Daniel Dennett, who for me is much more dogmatic and much less careful as a philosopher than Swinburne.

As a philosopher Swinburne is right there with the best. Anyone who says that he is “a joke” as a philosopher just hasn´t read him.

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JS Allen March 3, 2011 at 8:00 am

@mpg

I agree with your comment about the PZ argument being mischaracterized, and with your first response to the argument. However, I’m not so sure about this:

Second, the intuitionism appealed too has a double edged sword for Cartesians when we look at this historio-anthropolgically. If you look at the Ancient Egyptians, Native Americans, Australian aborigines and other such cultures, they seem able to conceive of mind or soul, in ways that clash violently with the intuition that Cartesians appear to want to appeal to. Ancient Egyptians appear to be much closer to physicalist in their conception of death and the afterlife, and didn’t posit an immaterial, independent mind.

I don’t think this is right. The ancient totemistic/shamanistic cultures saw spirit in everything. You’re right that they didn’t make a Cartesian split, but they sure as heck wouldn’t have ever described anything as being a robot or a zombie. I don’t think the physicalist concept of people being robots would’ve even made sense to them. You don’t get to physicalism except by way of Cartesianism, and the ancients were nowhere near it.

I would describe the ancient religion as pan-psychicism, which preceded paganasim, cartesianism, and physicalism, and is very different from all of them.

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rosyatrandom (Michael R.) March 3, 2011 at 8:00 am

I looked at his wikipedia page; I don’t care about his classifications of religious experience at all, and his principles for believing in them just make me shake my head. I am a little curious as to what it means by god being metaphysically but not logically necessary, but beyond that there seems little there worth looking at.

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Luke Muehlhauser March 3, 2011 at 8:35 am

JS Allen,

Hopefully the next few episodes will make things clearer for you, as we discuss competing explanations of human behavior. No more time for this now.

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mpg March 3, 2011 at 9:18 am

@mpgI agree with your comment about the PZ argument being mischaracterized, and with your first response to the argument.However, I’m not so sure about this:
I don’t think this is right.The ancient totemistic/shamanistic cultures saw spirit in everything.You’re right that they didn’t make a Cartesian split, but they sure as heck wouldn’t have ever described anything as being a robot or a zombie.I don’t think the physicalist concept of people being robots would’ve even made sense to them.You don’t get to physicalism except by way of Cartesianism, and the ancients were nowhere near it.I would describe the ancient religion as pan-psychicism, which preceded paganasim, cartesianism, and physicalism, and is very different from all of them.  

Hi JS

Yes, you are right about the shaman cultures perceiving spirit as imanent in all, and at that being a kind of proto-panpsychism (again you are right, its probably the oldest conception of mind that we know of), but what I was trying to highlight is that many cultures saw mind in nondualistic ways. The ancient Eygptians were certainly more physicalist about the afterlife, and by extension mind/soul, than, say, some of the Greeks. But yes, I think I overstepped there and the more correct conception of ancient thought would be varying degrees of animism/panpsychism.

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JS Allen March 3, 2011 at 9:46 am

@mpg

OK, and I agree that the ancient religions were not dualist. Considering that all of the Christian creeds profess that the soul must be embodied, one could make the argument that Christianity itself is not dualist. Preaching bodily resurrection of the dead is not so different from believing that mummies can come back to life (although, again, I think both are more akin to panpsychicism than to modern physicalism).

Personally, I think it’s very difficult for us moderns to properly understand how the ancients saw things, since our entire language and worldview is permeated with cartesian and physicalist “objectivity”.

Owen Barfield has a beautiful essay on the topic: “Philology and the Incarnation“. He argues that the dramatic shift in human language, from subjectivity to objectivity, happened some time around the shift from BC to AD — long before Des Cartes. I suspect he may be exaggerating about the exact date, for effect. But it’s certainly true that a huge shift took place in antiquity, and that the previous way of looking at, and talking about the world was hidden behind something of a veil of subjectivity.

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rosy at random March 3, 2011 at 9:59 am

Does it not sound to anyone else rather like an argument as to whether quasiparticles like electron holes are real or physical? What is so hard about letting the mind be a physical process best understood by reframing it in abstract terms? In fact, this is exactly the sane as everything else.

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Rob March 3, 2011 at 7:15 pm

When you are arguing what constitutes a good theory, you´re doing philosophy of science, not science. This is the irony of scientism; their proponents don´t even realize that they´re refuting themselves when defending their position.

Thomas,

Your comments just get more and more foolish. You cannot draw a hard demarcation line between science and philosophy. We are discussing what makes a good theory. Is that science or philosophy? Who cares. The most remarkable discovery made by scientists is science itself. Philosophers of science did not decide what makes a good theory. Rather, they lounge lazily by the tracks and describe what’s happening, as the locomotive of science leaves them choking in the dust.

My dig about your “retreat to metaphysics” was not an indictment of all philosophy, but rather the all too common (and cowardly) move by apologists to immunize their beliefs from falsification by saying they are “metaphysical” and not “scientific”.* You are free to make that move if you wish, just as you are free to think metaphysical Zeus causes thunder, or metaphysical demons cause seizures, or whatever your primitive woo of choice is.

I cannot falsify any of those theories. But proponents of those theories are twits.

*A similar cowardly move is made by proponents of pseudoscience, be it homeopathy or energy medicine or chiropractic. They will say their results or techniques are too subtle or nuanced for rigorous studies to prove or dis-prove. Whatever. Can you imagine the shit-storm if a drug company tried that kind of special pleading? I just realized your retreat to metaphysics is sophistical special pleading. See? I’m doing philosophy.

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Thomas March 4, 2011 at 2:20 am

Rob,

You are free to make that move if you wish, just as you are free to think metaphysical Zeus causes thunder, or metaphysical demons cause seizures, or whatever your primitive woo of choice is.

Various writers have noticed that the way Dan Dennett “argues” against dualism is a mere caricature. He essentially gives his readers two options: either accept my highly implausible reductive/eliminative version of physicalism, or wander in the land of fairies, demons, ghosts and ectoplasms. Of course this is pure rhetoric, with no substance what so ever. Your comment is exactly like that.

When I use the word ‘scientism’, I mean that (pace scientism) there is knowledge outside the realm of the sciences. So I don´t accept your epistemology and I think it´s self-defeating. There is nothing wrong in saying that x is a metaphysical theory so scientific claims cannot falsify it. Science itself presupposes many metaphysical assumptions, which cannot be tested scientifically. So when I look at your comments I see mainly pure rhetoric and incoherence.

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Rob March 4, 2011 at 4:59 am

Thomas,

I never said or endorsed “there is no knowledge outside the realm of the sciences”. I understand that scientists make certain metaphysical assumptions. But, science seems to work, right?

My beef is with the particular move you and other apologists make as well as practitioners of pseudo-science.

You guys are fine and happy as long as science seems to support what you want it to. But, as soon as it cannot, you start in about “science cannot prove everything” so therefore I’m justified in believing that water has memory or that demons cause earthquakes or that my mind will exist eternally with Jebus.

Those are not straw men examples

I realize you think that is a legitimate move. I think it is silly. We have reached another impasse.

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AlephNeil March 4, 2011 at 2:50 pm

Physicalists: I feel that Chalmers philosophical zombie argument is being miscontrued by many here. As I understand it, Chalmers is not saying that the PROOF of dualism is the conceivability of PZs. Its that conceivability allows for the prospect of PZs. From there, he feels it permissable to conceive of consciousness being irreducible to the physical. That’s very different from, I can conceive of PZs, therefore PSz MUST be metaphysically possible.

Actually, Chalmers does try to argue from the conceivability of zombies to the fact (not just conceivability or possibility) of consciousness not being reducible to the physical. Unfortunately this is the best reference I can find at a moment’s notice.

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JS Allen March 4, 2011 at 4:17 pm

I bet Luke would get a kick out of this post from today; pretty relevant to the OP.

“Philosophers sometimes engage in what they misleadingly call ‘thought-experiments.’ But a thought experiment is no more an experiment than monopoly money is money.”

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Tom of the Sweetwater Sea March 4, 2011 at 5:47 pm

Physicists also use thought experiments, especially if they are not fond of cats!

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Luke Muehlhauser March 4, 2011 at 6:12 pm

Yeah, it’s not that thought experiments aren’t used in science, it’s just that they aren’t used as evidence. Even after Einstein thought about what would happen if he ran alongside a beam of light, he still had to work out the predictions of his theory and get it tested.

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mpg March 5, 2011 at 3:47 am

Actually, Chalmers does try to argue from the conceivability of zombies to the fact (not just conceivability or possibility) of consciousness not being reducible to the physical. Unfortunately this is the best reference I can find at a moment’s notice.  

Again, I think you’re wrong. Because you’re missing a crucial caveat: that is, according to the modern scientific way of understanding the material/physical, which is, by scientific means alone. Hence using nothing more than third person properties I can conceive that there could be such a being like me, but minus the subjective experience of consciousness. IF THE SCIENTIFIC CONCEPTION OF THE MATERIAL IS TRUE, philosophical zombies are metaphysical possible. The target of Chalmers argument is the conception of the material/physical. Hence his panexperientialism/panprotopsychism, his belief that a thermostat could have rudimentary consciousness and so on. Chalmers believes that a complete description of the material/physical will include subjectivity.

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