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January 05, 2012

Comments

Amy, I looked at your other article about minds moving physical matter. I don't agree with it; here's why: You used the example of someone waving to a friend. That thought may indeed have originated with the brain, which is a physical object. The mind may be simply the software running on top of the brain, the physical hardware (to use computer terminology).

For instance, in your example, if you measured the person's brain who was waving, you would see electrical signals corresponding to certain parts of the brain firing, but it wouldn't tell you anything about the "mind" of the person, or what their thoughts were. Similarly, computer hardware can be measured at any point, you can see something happening with electrical signals, but it would be virtually impossible to tell from electrical measurements that the software they were running was Microsoft Word. (No wonder we can't tell what the mind is doing by measuring the brain either.) The mind as "software" analogy also answers the issue of how a mind can affect the real world since software can affect the real world too (through links with the hardware).

The reason I bring this analogy up is that most of the mind/body theories that I've heard brought up by STR don't account for minds of people with physical brain problems like Alzheimer's, autism, retardation, etc. But a hardware (brain) and software (mind) analogy answers this well ... your hardware is not working properly; therefore your software (running on top of the hardware) isn't either.

Note that I'm a believer in Jesus ... I'm not implying that people have no souls, or they don't go to a heaven or hell when they die. I'm just saying that the mind/body/soul problem is not so clearly delineated as some of these articles make it out to be. Some other disciplines have interesting & thoughtful answers to these questions too.

I just read Amy's piece too. Here's a remark that interested me:


Try describing your thoughts and your will in physical terms—what color are they? How big are they? How much do they weigh? These questions are meaningless because our wills are not in the same category as objects in the physical world, which can be described in such terms.

This argument strikes me as too quick. The argument seems to conclude from the fact that thoughts are not describable in terms of size, color, and mass that thoughts are non-physical things. But that inference is not always attractive, to me at least. Notice that there is also something seemingly amiss about describing events, even wholly physical events, in terms of mass, size and color. What color was the event of the rock falling? What is the mass of the event of the sun rising? How big is the event of the wave crashing? Here too we have a sense that there is a category mistake, but we certainly don’t think that the obvious root of the problem is that these physical events are actually non-physical objects. We don’t, pre-philosophically at least, tend to think of physical happenings as objects of any sort. It is not as though, for example, that pre-theoretically we think that in addition to the two hands that are clapping, there is a third object, namely the clapping of the two hands, which is non-physical. That just seems fundamentally confused.

Processes, which perhaps are events of a certain sort, also resist description in terms of color and size. How big is the evolutionary process? What color is it? What is its mass? Here again we find ourselves thinking these questions are silly, but we certainly don’t think they are silly because the evolutionary process is actually a non-physical object.

No time to piece together an argument, however I offer some relevant thoughts in piece-mail fashion to the discussion.

Very important to these discussions to be clear on identity, causation, and correlation.

Just because something (e.g. the brain) causes an effect in something else (e.g. the mind) doesn't mean that the two items are identical or necessarily dependent upon one another.

And just because there is a correlation between certain C-fibers firing in the brain and pain being experienced in the soul doesn't mean that the brain and soul/mind are identical either.


It is pretty obvious that there is both bottom-up causation (e.g. brain injury limits capacity of mind) and top-down causation (e.g. thoughts in mind impact brain which impacts blood pressure) when we are dealing with an embodied soul.

I've sometimes used the metaphor of the physical self as being like the hardware of a computer, while the mind is its software. But neither of those is us, per se, we're the user. As a wiser fellow than me pointed out, humans don't have souls--we *are* souls.

It's potentially as dangerous to conflate ourselves with our minds as with our bodies. We're the thing controlling and interacting with both of those objects. Thus someone can stimulate your brain with an electrode, causing you to move your arm, or recall a certain memory, and while your mind and body accord, you still know that *you* didn't do that. Skinner be darned, there's no way to force a free-willed choice. You can condition a response, but that's just forcing mind and body to react to a stimulus. Of course, one might argue that that's all we are, a la determinism, but then you get into a trap of infinite regress.

Of course, you can see this purely bottom up view at work in the writings of, say, Dawkins, in "The Selfish Gene". Yet his position is very much confounded by findings that the phenotype is what interacts with the environment, and thus genes may be posited as more like passive recorders of information (Gould's position), or sociology and anthropology taking note of how complex the web between organism, genes, and groups can be. Plus there's the even more recent crowd in kinesiology and health promotion, who use a gene-based "Evolutionary" perspective to note that our diets, our exposure to sunlight, the amount of rest and stress we get, and so on, all affect our genes. In other words, free-willed choices we make (whether to go out and jog or stay in and play Tekken until 4 AM) affect our genes, rather than our genes telling us what to do. There is far more complexity in heaven and earth than is dreamt of in your sophistry, Dr. Dawks. Unfortunately, I'd have to say the same thing to ID proponents. I don't think a particular, priveleged, possibly inaccurate reading of 1 Corinthians 15 should muddle our reading of Genesis 1-3, which shouldn't muddle our reading of the facts of life.

But that's just one little theist's opinion.

Those more interested in this subject should check out Edward Feser's books The Last Superstition and Aquinas. Both deal with the mind/body problem from the viewpoint of a scholastic realist (i.e. Aristotelian-Thomistic framework). That is the stance that I take.

I agree with Mal that perhaps the argument Amy offers may bite off a bit more than it can chew. But it moves in the right direction. I think the issue boils down to the same old thing... On reflection, I think we can all be reasonably certain the we have a mind. Or are we just a function of our brains? If so, is the mind merely an epiphenomenon of the brain? Is what we are, at its core and most vital, just a function of electrochemical interactions and C fibres? Dawkins says effectively "yes" and theists would argue no. So, while Mal questions the applicability of Amy's argument, the elephant in the room remains -Is the "mind" distinct from "brain"? And if so what is the interface? Simple answers is that, yes, its distinct. Self reflection and our own mental lives seem to reasonably support this contention. And, no, we don't know what the interface might be... but so what? Just because we don't know doesn't invalidate the existence of such an interface. Despite advances in science we seem no closer to the answer. Despite hundreds of years of philosophical inquiry not much has changed. But I've made up my mind that I do have a mind, and Mal, I hope you don't mind. Cheers all.

JustChatting,

Good thoughts! And way to mind your P's and Q's ;)

Malebranche,
See the philosophy of accidents

Peter van Inwagen has written something relevant to this discussion. For those unfamiliar with van Inwagen, he is no doubt one the brightest Christian philosophers today, but may not have a huge presence among apologists. I'm not sure why this would be the case, since his work is outstanding among Christian thinkers. Perhaps it is because he is a physicalist about humans and, like Alvin Plantinga, seems to believe that there are not any very strong arguments for Christianity. In any event, in the following passage, van Inwagen is considering one of Leibniz’s thought-experiments, where one is reduced in size and placed in a machine that is supposed to be a thinking machine. Leibniz says that when we inspect the machine, we will see no thoughts or sensations, from which he infers that thoughts and sensations are not physical. Here’s what van Inwagen says in the third edition of his book titled “Metaphysics,” pp. 220-221:

Let us begin with the question, Where are the thoughts and sensations? The answer is that since these things are changes in the cerebral cortex, they are all around you (you who have in imagination been reduced in size and are physically inside someone’s brain). It does not follow from this that you see them, since they may involve the whole cerebral cortex or the whole brain or widely scattered parts of the brain: it may be that you cannot see them for the same reason you cannot see the event called ‘the election’ on election day. But let us suppose for the sake of argument that these events are sufficiently localized that you can see them. (Or some aspect of them: a human being cannot see every aspect of any event.) Of course, these events do not look to you like mental events, but then what would you expect a mental event to look like? (“Well, something like the way mental changes in myself look to me, as when I experience a sharp pain in my left shoulder or a thrill of fear or an intellectual insight.” But that’s what it’s like to experience having or being the subject of a mental change. That’s what a mental change in you “looks like” to you. What would you expect mental changes in someone else to look like to you?) And, anyway, a change may be of a certain type without its being evident that it is of that type. Suppose a computer has been programmed to compute the orbit of a certain satellite. Suppose the computer were greatly enlarged and that you went inside it, “as into a mill.” You would not see any orbital computations going on—or at least you would not see anything that “looked like” orbital computations. (What would you expect orbital computations to look like?) The Leibnizian thought-experiment, therefore, should cause the physicalist no unease.

In summary...

The mind is not the brain.

The mind is something the brain does.

RonH

"In summary...
The mind is not the brain.
The mind is something the brain does."

This assumes that a mind is something that a brain _can_ do. That has yet to be shown. It seems to me that the capacity of the mind exceeds that of the brain. To paraphrase "The Flight of the Navigator"...."we leak".


Malebranche and RonH,
The reality of logic and reason cannot fit into your worldview. Logic does not work on the level of physical causation, and that is all you have to work with in the realities you have described.

Guys,

My first post was only intended to expose the straw man (What color are thoughts? etc.) in Amy's article.

Apparently you accept my point. Good.

So it's clear now (though I'm not expecting admissions) that nobody is claiming the mind is the brain.

(Even if you could find someone who might say that, he would readily accept the correction: the mind is something the brain does.)

Now I have a few questions for you.

Why have a brain at all if the body is controlled by non-bodily mind? Hmm? What, under your view, is the brain for?

Louis worried that I have assumed that the mind is something the brain can do. But I worry that you have made the far more dubious assumption. You have assumed that there is no mind-body problem.

We don't just have a brain - we have a bigger brain than do animals with less complicated behavior. Why, under your view, is that?

Our brain isn't just bigger, it's more complex. Why, under your view, is that?

Brains are modular: if you or any other brainy thing gets a certain injury you/they get a certain deficit. Why would this be so if there were no mind-body problem?

Doing logic means following RULES. What does being deterministic mean? It means following rules. There is no reason to think a biological system would be unable to do logic - computers made of material do it all the time.

RonH

Amy,

The captcha confirmations are not visible (with Chrome at least) - they are below the point the browser scrolls to after you click 'Post'. Any way to make sure they show?

In the mean time, it might help others to know that (in Chrome, anyway) you can recover a comment that's lost due to not seeing the captcha even if you have already closed the tab and discovered your mistake by revisiting the page in a new tab.

Create a new tab and re-open the tab from 'Recently Closed'. Your comment will still be there.

RonH


Guys,

My first post was only intended to expose the straw man (What color are thoughts? etc.) in Amy's article.

Apparently you accept my point. Good.

So it's clear now (though I'm the only one who's explicit about it) that nobody is claiming the mind is the brain.

(Even if you could find someone who might say that, he would readily accept the correction: the mind is something the brain does.)

Now I have a few questions for you.

Why have a brain at all if the body is controlled by non-bodily mind? Hmm? What, under your view, is the brain for?

Louis worried that I have assumed that the mind is something the brain can do. Well then, with equal justification I can say you have made the far more dubious assumption. You have ignored the main problems with dualism. How does do the two 'substances' interact? Why is one so apparent and the other so hidden?

We don't just have a brain - we have a bigger brain than do animals with less complicated behavior. Why, under your view, is that?

Our brain isn't just bigger, it's more complex. Why, under your view, is that?

Brains are modular: if you or any other brainy thing gets a certain injury you/they get a certain deficit. Why would this be so if there were no mind-body problem?

Doing logic means following RULES. What does being deterministic mean? It means following rules. There is no reason to think a biological system would be unable to do logic - computers made of material do it all the time.

RonH

Sorry about the repeat.

http://www.bettermovement.org/2011/brain-for-movement/

Just another little thought on what the brain is for. That it manages all that, and generates Mozart, Aristotle, and Einstein besides... quite impressive.

Thanks for that Bennett.

It was a bonus for me that Wolpert talks not just about the brain but about about Bayes' theorem too.

RonH,

the mind is something the brain does.

Logic is still nowhere to be found in this model. What the brain does is subject to the realm of physical causation, but logic is not. Physical causation does not make a syllogism valid or invalid. There are no valid or invalid physical causes so there cannot be be valid or invalid brain activity.

Doing logic means following RULES. What does being deterministic mean? It means following rules. There is no reason to think a biological system would be unable to do logic - computers made of material do it all the time.

Incorrect. Computers have no knowledge of the concepts they are processing in the form of voltages and currents, therefore they cannot be reasoning over those concepts.

It was a bonus for me that Wolpert talks not just about the brain but about about Bayes' theorem too.

Bayes' Theorem? Nice. There's a theorem I wish more folks paid attention to.

For those who hunger for intellectual righteousness, google "Michael Strevens", a philosopher at NYU, and search for his tutorial in probability. Richard Swinburne also has written an excellent book on confirmation theory that might be helpful for folks interested.

Ronh

"Louis worried that I have assumed that the mind is something the brain can do. Well then, with equal justification I can say you have made the far more dubious assumption. You have ignored the main problems with dualism. How does do the two 'substances' interact? Why is one so apparent and the other so hidden?"

Yes there are problems, but not the kind that go against the evidence as in the bottom up model. We are left with only the kind of problem that you would expect if you had evidence for something without all of the details, not evidence against that something or no evidence for it to start with. So, I think that while both sides here lack important information, there is a better side to pick, on the basis of the quality of evidence presented.
Further, I don't know if the word "substance" even applies to the mind. To try to understand how an immaterial soul is linked with the body is something probably beyond us to understand and certainly beyond the boundaries of scientific inquiry.

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