Mind, Brain, Monism, Dualism and Materialistic Monism
Stewart Goetz and Charles Taliaferro, eds. (Wiley-Blackwell: May 10, 2011), 240 pages.
The concept of the soul is accepted in many religious traditions and widely used in fictional worlds, and yet the idea that we are anything more than physio-chemical organisms seems out of step with contemporary secular thinking. Scratch the surface of western philosophy, however, and you find a history filled with arguments in favor of the idea that we are embodied souls. This book provides a clear and concise history of the soul, from Plato to cutting-edge contemporary work in philosophy of mind. Taking in the arguments of influential thinkers, such as Aristotle, Aquinas, Descartes, and Hume, Goetz and Taliaferro tackle keys issues, such as the problem of mind-body interaction, the causal closure of the physical world, and the philosophical implications of the brain sciences for the soul's existence. A Brief History of the Soul brings together historical and contemporary scholarship to examine one of the essential questions of our existence.
Robert C. Koons and George Bealer, eds. (Oxford University Press: May 2010), 440 pages.
Twenty-three philosophers examine the doctrine of materialism and find it wanting. Their case against materialism comprises arguments from conscious experience, from the unity and identity of the person, from intentionality, mental causation, and knowledge. The contributors include leaders in the fields of philosophy of mind, metaphysics, ontology, and epistemology, who respond ably to the most recent versions and defenses of materialism. The modal arguments of Kripke and Chalmers, Jackson's knowledge argument, Kim's exclusion problem, and Burge's anti-individualism all play a part in the building of a powerful cumulative case against the materialist research program. Several papers address the implications of contemporary brain and cognitive research (the psychophysics of color perception, blindsight, and the effects of commissurotomies), adding a posteriori arguments to the classical a priori critique of reductionism. All of the current versions of materialism — reductive and non-reductive, functionalist, eliminativist, and new wave materialism — come under sustained and trenchant attack. In addition, a wide variety of alternatives to the materialist conception of the person receive new and illuminating attention, including anti-materialist versions of naturalism, property dualism, Aristotelian and Thomistic hylomorphism, and non-Cartesian accounts of substance dualism. ~ Synopsis
"The Empty Universe" in Present Concerns, W. Hopper, ed. (Harcourt Brace: 1986), pp. 81-2.
The process whereby man has come to know the universe is from one point of view extremely complicated; from another it is alarmingly simple. We can observe a single one-way progression. At the outset, the universe appears packed with will, intelligence, life, and positive qualities; every tree is a nymph and every planet a god. Man himself is akin to the gods. The advance gradually empties this rich and genial universe, first of its gods, then of it colours, smells, sounds and tastes, finally of solidity itself as solidity was originally imagined. As these items are taken from the world, they are transferred to the subjective side of the account: classified as our sensations, thoughts, images or emotions. The Subject becomes gorged, inflated, at the expense of the Object. But the matter does not rest there. The same method which has emptied the world now proceeds to empty ourselves. The masters of the method soon announce that we were just mistaken (and mistaken in much the same way) when we attributed "souls" or "selves" or "minds" to human organisms, as when we attributed Dryads to the trees. Animism, apparently, begins at home. We, who have personified all other things, turn out to be ourselves mere personifications. Man is indeed akin to the gods, that is, he is no less phantasmal than they. Just as the Dryad is a "ghost," an abbreviated symbol for certain verifiable facts about his behaviour: a symbol mistaken for a thing. And just as we have been broken of our bad habit of personifying tees, so we must now be broken of our habit of personifying men; a reform already effected in the political field. There never was a Subjective account into which we could transfer the items which the Subject had lost. There is no "consciousness" to contain, as images or private experiences, all the lost gods, colours, and concepts. Consciousness is "not the sort of noun that can be used that way."
Michael Egnor on Behaviorism said...
"The Battle for Your Mind" at Evolution News and Views (Oct 29 2008).
Having convinced only a small fraction of Americans that chance and tautology — i.e. Darwinism — adequately explains life (despite a court-ordered monopoly on public education for the last half-century), materialists are moving on to your mind. Materialism posits that your mind is meat. No soul, no spirit, just chemicals, congealed by natural selection to dupe you into believing that you’re more than an evanescent meat-robot. It’s a hard sell, but that’s not to say that materialists haven’t tried. In the first half of the 20th century, behaviorists proposed that internal mental states were irrelevant or didn’t exist at all. All that mattered in the study of the mind was stimulus and response. Behaviorism turned out, unsurprisingly, to be a sterile avenue of research, as one might guess about a theory of the mind that denied or ignored mental states. As a theory of the mind, it is now largely regarded as insane, even by materialists. Behaviorism may be the only scientific theory to be finally extinguished by a joke: After a night of passion, one behaviorist rolls over in bed and says to the other: "that was good for you; how was it for me?"
Gary Marcus (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt: Mar 2008), 224 pages.
Why are we subject to irrational beliefs, inaccurate memories, even war? We can thank evolution, Marcus says, which can only tinker with structures that already exist, rather than create new ones: "Natural selection... tends to favor genes that have immediate advantages" rather than long-term value. Marcus, director of NYU's Infant Language Learning Center, refers to this as "kluge," a term engineers use to refer to a clumsily designed solution to a problem. Thus, memory developed in our prehominid ancestry to respond with immediacy, rather than accuracy; one result is erroneous eyewitness testimony in courtrooms. In describing the results of studies of human perception, cognition and beliefs, Marcus encapsulates how the mind is "contaminated by emotions, moods, desires, goals, and simple self-interest...." The mind's fragility, he says, is demonstrated by mental illness, which seems to have no adaptive purpose. In a concluding chapter, Marcus offers a baker's dozen of suggestions for getting around the brain's flaws and achieving "true wisdom." While some are self-evident, others could be helpful, such as "Whenever possible, consider alternate hypotheses" and "Don't just set goals. Make contingency plans." Using evolutionary psychology, Marcus educates the reader about mental flaws in a succinct, often enjoyable way. ~ Publishers Weekly
Gary L. Drescher (MIT Press: May 2006), 363 pages.
In Good and Real, Gary Drescher examines a series of provocative paradoxes about consciousness, choice, ethics, quantum mechanics, and other topics, in an effort to reconcile a purely mechanical view of the universe with key aspects of our subjective impressions of our own existence. Many scientists suspect that the universe can ultimately be described by a simple (perhaps even deterministic) formalism; all that is real unfolds mechanically according to that formalism. But how, then, is it possible for us to be conscious, or to make genuine choices? And how can there be an ethical dimension to such choices? Drescher sketches computational models of consciousness, choice, and subjunctive reasoning—what would happen if this or that were to occur?—to show how such phenomena are compatible with a mechanical, even deterministic universe. Analyses of Newcomb's Problem (a paradox about choice) and the Prisoner's Dilemma (a paradox about self-interest vs. altruism, arguably reducible to Newcomb's Problem) help bring the problems and proposed solutions into focus. Regarding quantum mechanics, Drescher builds on Everett's relative-state formulation—but presenting a simplified formalism, accessible to laypersons—to argue that, contrary to some popular impressions, quantum mechanics is compatible with an objective, deterministic physical reality, and that there is no special connection between quantum phenomena and consciousness. In each of several disparate but intertwined topics ranging from physics to ethics, Drescher argues that a missing technical linchpin can make the quest for objectivity seem impossible, until the elusive technical fix is at hand. ~ Product Description
Daniel Dennett on the Self said...
In Susan J. Backmore, Conversations on Consciousness (Oxford University Press: 2005). p. 87.
There's a bi-modal distribution between people who think that any theory of consciousness that leaves out the first person is a hopeless theory, and those who think that any theory of consciousness that doesn't leave out the first person is a hopeless theory. You've got to leave the first person out of your final theory. You won't have a theory of consciousness if you still have the first person in there, because that was what it was your job to explain. All the paraphernalia that doesn't make any sense unless you've got a first person in there, has to be turned into something else. You've got to figure some way to break it up and distribute its powers and opportunities into the system in some other way.
"The Conceivability of Naturalism", in Conceivability and Possibility, Tamar Szabo and John Hawthorne, eds. (Clarendon: 2002), p. 401.
A central dilemma in contemporary metaphysics is to find a place for certain anthropocentric subject-matters — for instance, semantic, moral, and psychological — in a world as conceived by modern naturalism: a stance which inflates the concepts and categories deployed by (finished) physical science into a metaphysics of the kind of thing the real world essentially and exhaustively is. On one horn, if we embrace this naturalism, it seems we are committed either to reductionism: that is, to a construal of the reference of, for example, semantic, moral and psychological vocabulary as somehow being within the physical domain — or to disputing that the discourses in question involve reference to what is real at all. On the other horn, if we reject this naturalism, then we accept that there is more to the world than can be embraced within a physicalist ontology — and so take on a commitment, it can seem, to a kind of eerie supernaturalism.
The Problem of the Soul: Two Visons of Mind and How to Reconcile Them (Basic Books: 2002), p. 3.
There is no consensus yet about the details of the scientific image of persons. But there is broad agreement about how we must construct this detailed picture. First, we will need to demythologize persons by rooting out certain unfounded ideas from the perennial philosophy. Letting go of the belief in souls is a minimal requirement. In fact, desouling is the primary operation of the scientific image. "First surgery," we might call it. There are no such things as souls, or nonphysical minds. If such things did exist, as perennial philosophy conceives them, science would be unable to explain persons. But there aren't, so it can. Second, we will need to think of persons as part of nature — as natural creatures completely obedient and responsive to natural law. The traditional religious view positions humans on the Great Chain of Being between animals on one side and angels and God on the other. This set of beliefs needs to be replaced. There are no angels, nor gods, and there is nothing — at least, no higher beings — for humans to be in-between. Humans don't possess some animal parts or instincts. We are animals. A complex and unusual animal, but at the end of the day, another animal.
The Engine of Reason, The Seat of the Soul (MIT Press: 1999), pp. 18-9.
The religious hypothesis of mind-body dualism has been in trouble with evolutionary biology, and with several other sciences as well, for more than a century. It didn't need any special input from artificial intelligence or neuroscience to make it scientifically implausible. I bring it up here only because it is a clear example of a popular and important belief currently under siege by modern information. And because its example may be repeated. The fact is, there is a much more intriguing area of current conceptual commitment, one more likely to be affected by emerging cognitive theory in particular. It lies even closer to home and is even more widespread, if that is possible, than mind-body dualism. It is our current self-conception: our shared portrait of ourselves as self-conscious creatures with beliefs, desires, emotions, and the power of reason.
Paul M. Churchland on the Brain said...
The Engine of Reason, The Seat of the Soul (MIT Press: 1999), pp. 3-4.
Your brain is far too complex and mercurial for its behavior to be predicted in any but the broadest outlines or for any but the shortest distances in the future. Faced with the extraordinary dynamical features of a functioning brain, no device constructible in this universe could ever predict your behavior, or your thoughts, with anything more than merely statistical success. ¶ So one need not fear being reduced to a clanking robot or an empty machine. Quite to the contrary, we are now in a position to explain how our vivid sensory experience arises in the sensory cortex of our brains: how the smell of baking bread, the sound of an oboe, the taste of a peach, and the color of a sunrise are embodied in a vast chorus of neural activity. We now have the resources to explain how the motor cortex, the cerebellum, and the spinal cord conduct an orchestra of muscles to perform the cheetah's dash, the falcon's strike, or the ballerina's dying swan. ... On this matter of conceptual development there is especial cause for wonder. For the human brain, with a volume of roughly a quart, encompasses a space of conceptual and cognitive possibilities that is larger, by one measure at least, than the entire astronomical universe. It has this striking feature because it exploits the combinatorics of its 100 billion neurons and their 100 trillion synaptic connections with each other.
Thomas Nagel on Cosmic Authority said...
The Last Word (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), pp. 130-1.
My guess is that this cosmic authority problem is not a rare condition and that it is responsible for much of the scientism and reductionism of our time. One of the tendencies it supports is the ludicrous overuse of evolutionary biology to explain everything about life, including everything about the human mind. Darwin enable modern secular culture to heave a great collective sigh of relief, by apparently providing a way to eliminate purpose, meaning, and desiring as fundamental features of the world. Instead they become epiphenomena, generated incidentally by a process that can be entirely explained by the operation of the nonteleogical laws of physics on the material of which we and our environments are all composed. There might still be thought to be a religious threat in the existence of the laws of physics themselves, and indeed the existence of anything at all, but it seems to be less alarming to most atheists.
J.P. Moreland, "Naturalism Part IV" in Promise (Sep/Oct 1996), pp. 34-37.
What is the nature of the human person? A mere conglomeration of matter that consists of different levels of brain state or a being that is also endowed with a soul? In this final part of the series on Naturalism, Dr. J. P. Moreland exposes the philosophical inadequacies of physicalism and explains why the Christian message is more convincing.