Mind, Brain, Monism, Dualism
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
"Naturalism, Free Choices, and Conscious Experiences" at Infidels.org (2007).
Naturalism can easily explain how the universe came to contain physically irreducible conscious occurrences. It can do so by supposing that, among the fundamental laws governing the universe, there are some according to which, whenever such-and-such complex nonconscious occurrences occur, so-and-so conscious occurrences occur; perhaps such a law says that, whenever a human brain attains a certain kind and degree of complexity, a pain is experienced. Given such laws, the capacity for consciousness that some creatures enjoy, like the capacity for breathing, can be explained as having arisen through natural selection. Through mutation, some creature was born with a brain of the requisite kind and degree of complexity to generate conscious experiences; and then, because these experiences increased the creature's fitness, such creatures were selected for.
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
Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon (Viking: 2006), p. 107.
We now understand that the mind is not, as Descartes confusedly supposed, in communication with the brain in some miraculous way; it is the brain, or more specifically, a system of organization within the the brain that has evolved in much the way that our immune system or respiratory system or digestive systems has evolved. Like many other natural wonders, the human mind is something of a bag of tricks, cobbled together over the eons by the foresightless process of evolution by natural selection.
Charles C. Taliaferro (Cambridge University Press: June 2005), 357 pages.
Contemporary materialist accounts of consciousness and subjectivity challenge how we think of ourselves and of ultimate reality. This book defends a nonmaterialistic view of persons and subjectivity and the intelligibility of thinking of God as a nonphysical, spiritual reality. It endeavors to articulate in a related way the integral relationship between ourselves and our material bodies and between God and the cosmos. Different versions of materialism are assessed, as are alternative, post-dualist concepts of God. • "What we have here, then, is a serious constructive project in philosophical theology. It is carried through with energy, care, and precision; it shows acquaintance with the best recent work in philosophy of mind (and its close materialist cousin, cognitive science), and in philosophical theology; and it is marked throughout by a care for and attention ro the strictly philosophical (principally ontological and metaphysical) import of traditional Christian claims about the matters with which it deals. These are considerable virtues. Taliaferro's work provides more evidence that the most interesting work in philosophical theology today is being done by those with philosophical rather than theological training.... this is a very important book that deserves close and careful reading by philosophers and theologians and that ought to provoke much discussion." ~ Paul Griffiths, Journal of Religion
Gregg A. Ten Elshof (Ashgate Publishing: May 2005), 108 pages.
In a naive sense it seems that there could be nothing simpler than to "know thyself" yet a philosophical elucidation of the process by which one comes to know oneself is quite elusive. In this book Gregg Ten Elshof deals with the epistemology of introspection; whether and to what extent self-knowledge can appropriately be thought of as a species of perception. Assessing the suggestion that we, at least sometimes, come to acquire significant knowledge about ourselves, by observation, in very much the same way that we sometimes come to know things about the external world; this book explains the perceptual/observational model of introspection and contrasts it with its more prominent competitors. Ten Elshof examines in detail rival conceptions of the epistemology of self-knowledge such as those proposed by Searle, Dennett and Lyons yet concludes by insisting that the arguments levelled against the perceptual/observational view have not been decisive and that it deserves to be taken seriously as a viable competing model. ~ 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 Divine Conspiracy (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1998), p. 324.
Now we need to understand that what simply occupies our mind very largely governs what we do. It sets the emotional tone out of which our actions flow, and it projects the possible courses of action available to us. Also the mind, though of little power on its own, is the place of our widest and most basic freedom. This is true in both a direct and an indirect sense. Of all the things we do, we have more freedom with respect to what we will think of, where we will place our mind, than anything else. And the freedom of thinking is a direct order to exercise it. We simply turn our mind to whatever it is we choose to think of. The deepest revelation of our character is what we choose to dwell on in thought, what constantly occupies our mind, as well as what we can or cannot even think of.
Gary R. Habermas and J.P. Moreland (Wipf & Stock: Jan 2004), 462 pages.
By sharing the very latest scientific, philosophical, anthropological, ethical, and theological evidence on life after death, noted Christian scholars Habermas and Moreland present a strong case for immortality with this book. They begin by taking up the question of whether life after death is real what evidence supports its reality. They then explore what the afterlife is like and go on to show how having this reality in your future should affect the way you live here and now. This book will reassure you that there's no need to fear death — as long as you're prepared for the eternity that follows. It's also a great aid in developing a serious biblical, rational, and even scientific defense for belief in life beyond the grave. ~ Book Cover
Trenton Merricks (Oxford University Press: Dec 11, 2003), 216 pages.
With ontology motivated largely by causal considerations, this lucid and provocative work focuses on the idea that physical objects are causally non-redundant. Merricks "eliminates" inanimate composite macrophysical objects on the grounds that they would — if they existed — be at best completely causally redundant. He defends human existence by arguing, from certain facts about mental causation, that we cause things that are not determined by our proper parts. He also provides insight into a variety of philosophical puzzles, while addressing many significant issues like free will, the "reduction" of a composite object to its parts, and the ways in which identity over time can "for practical purposes" be a matter of convention. Anyone working in metaphysics will enjoy this book immensely. ~ Book Description
Jeffrey M. Schwartz and Sharon Begley (HarperCollins Publishers: October 2003), 432 pages.
A groundbreaking work of science that confirms, for the first time, the independent existence of the mind–and demonstrates the possibilities for human control over the workings of the brain. Conventional science has long held the position that 'the mind' is merely an illusion, a side effect of electrochemical activity in the physical brain. Now in paperback, Dr Jeffrey Schwartz and Sharon Begley's groundbreaking work, The Mind and the Brain, argues exactly the opposite: that the mind has a life of its own.Dr Schwartz, a leading researcher in brain dysfunctions, and Wall Street Journal science columnist Sharon Begley demonstrate that the human mind is an independent entity that can shape and control the functioning of the physical brain. Their work has its basis in our emerging understanding of adult neuroplasticity — the brain's ability to be rewired not just in childhood, but throughout life, a trait only recently established by neuroscientists. ~ Product Description
Timothy O'Connor and David Robb, eds. (Taylor & Francis: Aug 2003), 596 pages.
A comprehensive anthology that draws together leading philosophers writing on the major topics within philosophy of mind. Robb and O'Connor have carefully chosen articles under the following headings: 1) Substance Dualism and Idealism 2) Materialism 3) Mind and Representation 4) Consciousness. Each section is prefaced by an introductory essay by the editors which guides the student gently into the topic in which leading philosophers are included. The book is highly accessible and user-friendly and provides a broad-ranging exploration of the subject. Ideal for any philosophy student, this book will prove essential reading for any philosophy of mind course. The readings are designed to complement John Heil's Philosophy of Mind:A Contemporary Introduction.
"Mind and Illusion" in Minds and Persons, Anthony O'Hear, ed. (Cambridge University Press: 2003), p. 251.
Much of the contemporary debate in the philosophy of mind is concerned with the clash between certain strongly held intuitions and what science tells us about the mind and its relation to the world. What science tells us about the mind points strongly towards some version or other of physicalism. The intuitions, in one way or another, suggest that there is something seriously incomplete about any purely physical story about the mind. For our purposes here, we can be vague about the detail and think broadly of physicalism as the view that the mind is a purely physical part of a purely physical world. Exactly how to delineate the physical will not be crucial: anything of a kind that plays a central role in physics, chemistry, biology, neuroscience and the like, along with the a priori associated functional and relational properties count as far as we are concerned. Most contemporary philosophers given a choice between going with science and going with intuitions, go with science. Although I once dissented from the majority, I have capitulated and now see the interesting issue as being where the arguments from the intuitions against physicalism — the arguments that seem so compelling — go wrong. For some time, I have thought that the case for physicalism is sufficiently strong that we can be confident that the arguments from the intuitions go wrong somewhere, but where is somewhere?
"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.
Moreland & Craig, eds., Naturalism: A Critical Appraisal (Routledge: 2002), p. 38.
The "Midas touch" picture of consciousness, as I call it — is the view that to take something as our 'object' automatically transforms it in some essential way (possibly even making it 'mental'). How, exactly, consciousness — or for that matter language, or culture — being what it is, could make a tree or block of ice what it is, or turn something that was not already a tree or block of ice into one, is truly hard to say. We actually know how trees etc. come about, and they are not made by consciousness. One can also safely say that the story about how consciousness supposedly does its transforming and productive work has never been satisfactorily told. The second interpretation plays off of the saying that one cannot escape consciousness — cannot, as it is often said, "step outside of one's mind." Certainly, to be conscious of anything one must be conscious. But it does not follow from this that one cannot compare a thought to what it is about and whether it "matches up" or not. Only confusion could make one think it does — a confusion probably based upon the "Midas touch" picture of consciousness. [Editor's note: Midas, in Greek mythology, had the ability to turn everything he touched into gold.]
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.
"Naturalism and the Mind" in Naturalism: A Critical Appraisal, Craig/Moreland, eds. (Routledge: 2002), p. 135.
Eliminative materialism is not as popular as it was some decades ago. A major problem has been the task of developing a version of eliminative materialism that is not self-refuting or self-contradictory. Some eliminativists appear to be in the unenviable position of claiming to believe that there are no beliefs. Another difficulty is the problem of being able to accommodate human reasoning. A further worry still is that eliminativism is flatly refuted by experience.
Ric Machuga (Brazos Press, April 2002) 208 pages.
The claims of evolution and, more recently, the proponents of artificial intelligence have brought into question what it means to be human. Denying the existence of the soul apart from the body, many contemporary scientists are devout materialists — putting the traditional Aristotelian and Thomistic conception of the human being far out of fashion. However, Ric Machuga argues convincingly that our nature "is an essential unity of both the material and the immaterial," that we not only have a soul but that we are a soul. The body is a necessary — but not sufficient — condition for human existence. In Defense of the Soul is an accessible and timely treatment of a timeless topic: what it means to be human. Not only will it attract readers interested in artificial intelligence, evolution, and the intelligent design debate, it¹s ideal for introductory college and seminary courses in philosophy. It includes an appendix that specifically assesses intelligent design, as well as a thick bibliography that provides an excellent guide to other sources on the topic.
Carol Zaleski on Dualism said...
First Things 105 (August/September 2000): 36-42.
As for dualism, much has been said of the violence it does to our unity as psycho-physical creatures, but this is questionable. Multiplicity and disunity are as strong a feature of our existence as psychosomatic unity. We are legion, as the demons say. It is a marvel that all our different parts work together. At best, we are a symphony; but the second violins have quarreled with the wind section, and as we age these quarrels increase. Why should it surprise us if at death the soul separates from the body? Separating is the order of our lives as we tend toward death. If a man's jowls can sink down while his brow stays up, why can't his soul rise up when his body sinks down? All of our flesh is being pulled downward by the gravity of the grave; every day our skin is sloughing off cell by cell; at each stage of life we slough off the skin of a previous stage; and at death we lose what was left of those skins. Perhaps that will be the chance to emerge as the person one was meant to be.