categoryPhilosophy of Mind
Philosophy of Mind
Steve Jobs on Faith and What Computers Are
Computers are actually pretty simple. We’re sitting here on a bench in this café. Let’s assume that you understood only the most rudimentary of directions and you asked how to find the rest room. I would have to describe it to you in very specific and precise instructions. I might say, “Scoot sideways two meters off the bench. Stand erect. Lift left foot. Bend left knee until it is horizontal. Extend left foot and shift weight 300 centimeters forward…” and on and on. If you could interpret all those instructions 100 times faster than any other person in this café, you would appear to be a magician: You could run over and grab a milk shake and bring it back and set it on the table and snap your fingers, and I’d think you made the milk shake appear, because it was so fast relative to my perception. That’s exactly what a computer does. It takes these very, very simple-minded instructions — “Go fetch a number, add it to this number, put the result there, perceive if it’s greater than this other number” — but executes them at a rate of, let’s say, 1,000,000 per second. At 1,000,000 per second, the results appear to be magic.
Free: Why Science Hasn’t Disproved Free Will
There are neuroscientists who claim that our decisions are made unconsciously and are therefore outside of our control and social psychologists who argue that myriad imperceptible factors influence even our minor decisions to the extent that there is no room for free will. According to philosopher Alfred R. Mele, what they point to as hard and fast evidence that free will cannot exist actually leaves much room for doubt. If we look more closely at the major experiments that free will deniers cite, we can see large gaps where the light of possibility shines through. Mele lays out his opponents’ experiments simply and clearly, and proceeds to debunk their supposed findings, one by one, explaining how the experiments don’t provide the solid evidence for which they have been touted. There is powerful evidence that conscious decisions play an important role in our lives, and knowledge about situational influences can allow people to respond to those influences rationally rather than with blind obedience.
The Unity of Consciousness
In The Unity of Consciousness Tim Bayne draws on philosophy, psychology, and neuroscience in defence of the claim that consciousness is unified. In the first part of the book Bayne develops an account of what it means to say that consciousness is unified. Part II applies this account to a variety of cases – drawn from both normal and pathological forms of experience – in which the unity of consciousness is said to break down. Bayne argues that the unity of consciousness remains intact in each of these cases. Part III explores the implications of the unity of consciousness for theories of consciousness, for the sense of embodiment, and for accounts of the self. In one of the most comprehensive examinations of the topic available, The Unity of Consciousness draws on a wide range of findings within philosophy and the sciences of the mind to construct an account of the unity of consciousness that is both conceptually sophisticated and scientifically informed.
Tamás Ungar on Vital Signs and the Subjectivity of Pain
Others are missing the point, just as administrators sorely missed the point back in the 1980s when pain became the “fifth vital sign.” In medicine, vital signs are treated quite differently from symptoms. Since pain has no objective measure like the rest of the vital signs do — like temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure — doctors naturally resisted. They faced litigation and bureaucratic intimidation for undertreating pain.
Michael Egnor on What Your Computer Doesn’t Know
Your computer doesn’t know a binary string from a ham sandwich. Your math book doesn’t know algebra. Your Rolodex doesn’t know your cousin’s address. Your watch doesn’t know what time it is. Your car doesn’t know where you’re driving. Your television doesn’t know who won the football game last night. Your cell phone doesn’t know what you said to your girlfriend this morning. ¶ People know things. Devices like computers and books and Rolodexes and watches and cars and televisions and cell phones don’t know anything. They don’t have minds. They are artifacts — paper and plastic and silicon things designed and manufactured by people — and they provide people with the means to leverage their human knowledge. ¶ Computers (and books and watches and the like) are the means by which people leverage and express knowledge. Computers store and process representations of knowledge. But computers have no knowledge themselves.
Malcolm Jeeves on the Unsettled Verdict on Mind and Brain
On the relation between mind and brain we should note the varied views of Nobel Prize winners. The easy approach would be to say that all mental activity will ultimately be reduced down to brain activity. Some like Francis Crick, arguably the greatest biologist of the twentieth century, seemed to take that view. However, at times, even he backed off a bit, realizing that it meant that his own brilliant discoveries would become nothing more than the chattering of neurons. Other Nobel laureates who have studied brain processes have taken different views. Sir John Eccles had no doubt that the primary reality is consciousness and everything else derives from that. A more recent laureate, Gerald Edelman, argued that consciousness is “efficacious,” and is not an epiphenomenon. Yet another laureate, Roger Sperry argued very strongly for a model that he thought best fits the evidence, and that was to put full weight on the topdown effect as well as on the traditional upward microdeterminism, which is happening at the level of neurons and of the atoms and molecules of which the neurons are composed. Sir Roger Penrose, an Oxford mathematician, had no doubt that consciousness is a phenomenon through which the universe’s very existence is made known. In a word, it is stupid to pretend that consciousness and mental life are unimportant.
In a culture in which science is believed to hold the answers to every question, spiritual realities like the soul are often ignored or ridiculed. We are told that neuroscience holds the key to explaining every aspect of human behavior. Yet Christian philosopher J. P. Moreland argues that Scripture, sound philosophical reasoning, and everyday experience all point to the reality of an immaterial soul. Countering the arguments of both naturalists and Christian scholars who embrace a material-only view of humanity, Moreland demonstrates why it is both biblical and reasonable to believe humans are essentially spiritual beings. He also describes the various components of the soul and how Christians can nurture their souls as disciples of Christ. Moreland shows that neuroscience and the soul are not competing explanations of human activity, but that both coexist and influence one another. ~ Publisher’s Description
Dave Gelernter on Immodest Science
The huge cultural authority science has acquired over the past century imposes large duties on every scientist. Scientists have acquired the power to impress and intimidate every time they open their mouths, and it is their responsibility to keep this power in mind no matter what they say or do. Too many have forgotten their obligation to approach with due respect the scholarly, artistic, religious, humanistic work that has always been mankind’s main spiritual support. Scientists are (on average) no more likely to understand this work than the man in the street is to understand quantum physics. But science used to know enough to approach cautiously and admire from outside, and to build its own work on a deep belief in human dignity. No longer.
In Brainwashed, psychiatrist and AEI scholar Sally Satel and psychologist Scott O. Lilienfeld reveal how many of the real-world applications of human neuroscience gloss over its limitations and intricacies, at times obscuring — rather than clarifying — the myriad factors that shape our behavior and identities. Brain scans, Satel and Lilienfeld show, are useful but often ambiguous representations of a highly complex system. Each region of the brain participates in a host of experiences and interacts with other regions, so seeing one area light up on an fMRI in response to a stimulus doesn’t automatically indicate a particular sensation or capture the higher cognitive functions that come from those interactions. The narrow focus on the brain’s physical processes also assumes that our subjective experiences can be explained away by biology alone. As Satel and Lilienfeld explain, this “neurocentric” view of the mind risks undermining our most deeply held ideas about selfhood, free will, and personal responsibility, putting us at risk of making harmful mistakes, whether in the courtroom, interrogation room, or addiction treatment clinic. ~ Product Description
John Searle on How We Fit In a Universe of Particles
There is exactly one overriding question in contemporary philosophy… How do we fit in? … We now have a reasonably well-established conception of the basic structure of the universe. We have plausible theories about the origin of the universe in the Big Bang, and we understand quite a number of things about the structure of the universe in atomic physics and chemistry. We have even come to understand the nature of the chemical bond. We know a fair amount about our own development on this little Earth during the past five billion years of evolution. We understand that the universe consists entirely of particles (or whatever entities the ultimately true physics arrives at), and these exist in fields of force and are typically organized into systems. On our Earth, carbon-based systems made of molecules that also contain a lot of hydrogen, nitrogen and oxygen have provided the substrate of human, animal and plant evolution. … The most important set of basic facts, for our present purposes, are given in the atomic theory of matter and the evolutionary theory of biology. … It is not at all easy to reconcile the basic facts with … a conception of ourselves as conscious, intentionalistic, rational, social, institutional, political, speech-act performing, ethical and free will possessing agents. Now, the question is, How can we square this self-conception of ourselves as mindful, meaning-creating, free, rational, etc., agents with a universe that consists entirely of mindless, meaningless, unfree, non rational, brute physical particles?
Mind, Brain, and Free Will
Mind, Brain, and Free Will presents a powerful new case for substance dualism (the idea that humans consist of two parts — body and soul) and for libertarian free will (that humans have some freedom to choose between alternatives, independently of the causes which influence them). Richard Swinburne argues that answers to questions about mind, body, and free will depend crucially on the answers to more general philosophical questions. He begins by analyzing the criteria for one event being the same as another, one substance being the same as another, and a state of affairs being metaphysically possible; and then goes on to analyze the criteria for a belief about these issues being justified. Pure mental events (including conscious events) are distinct from physical events and interact with them. Swinburne claims that no result from neuroscience or any other science could show that interaction does not take place; and illustrates this claim by showing that recent scientific work (such as Libet’s experiments) has no tendency whatever to show that our intentions do not cause brain events. He goes on to argue for agent causation, and claims that — to speak precisely — it is we, and not our intentions, that cause our brain events. It is metaphysically possible that each of us could acquire a new brain or continue to exist without a brain; and so we are essentially souls. Brain events and conscious events are so different from each other that it would not be possible to establish a scientific theory which would predict what each of us would do in situations of moral conflict. Hence given a crucial epistemological principle (the Principle of Credulity) we should believe that things are as they seem to be: that we make choices independently of the causes which influence us. According to Swinburne’s lucid and ambitious account, it follows that we are morally responsible for our actions.
Mind and Cosmos
The modern materialist approach to life has conspicuously failed to explain such central mind-related features of our world as consciousness, intentionality, meaning, and value. This failure to account for something so integral to nature as mind, argues philosopher Thomas Nagel, is a major problem, threatening to unravel the entire naturalistic world picture, extending to biology, evolutionary theory, and cosmology. Since minds are features of biological systems that have developed through evolution, the standard materialist version of evolutionary biology is fundamentally incomplete. And the cosmological history that led to the origin of life and the coming into existence of the conditions for evolution cannot be a merely materialist history, either. An adequate conception of nature would have to explain the appearance in the universe of materially irreducible conscious minds, as such. Nagel’s skepticism is not based on religious belief or on a belief in any definite alternative. In Mind and Cosmos, he does suggest that if the materialist account is wrong, then principles of a different kind may also be at work in the history of nature, principles of the growth of order that are in their logical form teleological rather than mechanistic. In spite of the great achievements of the physical sciences, reductive materialism is a world view ripe for displacement. Nagel shows that to recognize its limits is the first step in looking for alternatives, or at least in being open to their possibility. ~ Publisher’s Description
Although physicalism has been the dominant position in recent work in the philosophy of mind, this dominance has not prevented a small but growing number of philosophers from arguing that physicalism is untenable for several reasons: both ontologically and epistemologically it cannot reduce mentality to the realm of the physical, and its attempts to reduce subjectivity to objectivity have thoroughly failed. The contributors to After Physicalism provide powerful alternatives to the physicalist account of the human mind from a dualistic point of view and argue that the reductive and naturalistic paradigm in philosophy has lost its force. The essays in this collection all firmly engage in a priori metaphysics. Those by Uwe Meixner, E. J. Lowe, John Foster, Alvin Plantinga, and Richard Swinburne are concerned with ways to establish the truth of dualism. Essays by William Hasker, A. D. Smith, and Howard Robinson deal with the relation between physicalism and dualism. Benedikt Paul Göcke argues that the “I” is not a particular and Stephen Priest that “I have to understand myself not as a thing but as no-thing-ness.” In the final essay, Thomas Schärtl argues that there are limits to dualism as indicated by the concept of resurrection. By including two classical essays by Plantinga and Swinburne, the volume conveniently brings together some of the best and the newest thinking in making the philosophical case for dualism.
A Brief History of the Soul
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.
The Soul Hypothesis
Experts from different fields argue that there are good reasons to believe in the existence of the soul as distinct from the physical body. What do we mean when we speak about the soul? What are the arguments for the existence of the soul as distinct from the physical body? Do animals have souls? What is the difference between the mind and the soul? The Soul Hypothesis brings together experts from philosophy, linguistics and science to discuss the validity of these questions in the modern world. They contend that there is an aspect of the nature of human beings that is not reducible to the matter that makes up our bodies. This perspective is part of a family of views traditionally classified in philosophy as substance dualism, and has something serious in common with the ubiquitous human belief in the soul. The Soul Hypothesis presents views from a range of sciences and the resulting big picture shows, more clearly than one author could with one area of expertise, that there is room for a soul hypothesis.
The Waning of Materialism
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
In ‘Why Us?’, James Le Fanu explores the major implications of the most recent findings of genetics and neuroscience, challenging the common assumption that they must ultimately explain all there is to know about life and man’s place in the world. On the contrary, he argues, they point to an unbridgeable explanatory gap between the genes strung out along the Double Helix and the near infinite beauty and diversity of the living world to which they give rise, and between the monotonous electro-chemistry of the brain and richness and creativity of the human mind. “There is,” he writes, “a powerful impression that science has been looking in the wrong place, seeking to resolve questions that somehow lie outside its domain. It is as if we – and indeed all living things – are in some way different, profounder and more complex than the physical world to which we belong.” A N Wilson in his review described it as ‘an extraordinary work of science … quite wonderfully refreshing’; for Christopher Booker in The Spectator it was “enthralling”: “one of the glories of Le Fanu’s erudite and beautifully written book is that a sense of wonder is evident on every page, even as he lucidly analyses the limitations of the narrow intellectual prism in which science has languished too long.” ~ Publisher’s Description
Cognition, Brain, and Consciousness
Written by two leading experts in the field, this fully updated textbook takes a unique approach to introducing concepts of cognitive neurosciences. Many educational fields now require a basic understanding of cognitive neuroscience but other textbooks on the market are written for biology audiences, rather than for psychology and related majors. This text takes a thematic approach that is clear and understandable to those with or without a background in biology or neuroscience. New to this edition are Frontiers in Cognitive Neuroscience text boxes; each one focuses on a leading researcher and their topic of expertise. There is a new chapter on Genes and Molecules of Cognition, and all other chapters have been thoroughly revised, based on the most recent discoveries. New material has been added on the latest advances in brain imaging. ~ Product Description
The Captain of My Soul
Central to the plot of Clint Eastwood’s Invictus is William Ernest Henley’s short poem of the same name. Though the role of the poem suffers some historical revisionism in the film, its role in the life of Nelson Mandela is worth consideration. The film recounts the remarkable story of Mandela’s efforts at national reconciliation through his embrace of the South African rugby team, which at the time remained a symbol of Apartheid’s ethnic segregation. In 1996, when I returned for the first time to South Africa, my childhood home, some old friends shared with me how meaningful it was when Mandela appeared at Ellis Park donning the Springbok green and gold. I’m gratified that this remarkable story of reconciliation has made it to the screen, especially while Morgan Freeman is still with us. He was born to play Mandela. During Mandela’s long internment on Robben Island, Henley’s poem adorned a wall of his cell, a constant reminder that though his freedom had been taken from him, he remained “the captain of his soul“. The words of this poem, and their significance to Mandela, underscore a central point of contention in the debate about human free will. It seems to me that one problem with some arguments for compatibilism, the idea that determinism and human responsibility are compatible, is the conflating of freedom and free will. Mandela’s story is a powerful reminder that there is freedom beyond freedom. That is, it matters whether we are captains or merely observers of our souls.
Calling upon Henley’s poem as a powerful expression of our sense of having free will, here I consider one particular line of argument: that to be free in the sense relevant to moral responsibility is just to be free from external constraint. This view, classical compatibilism, continues to assert itself in spite of so obviously missing the target.1
Laurence Bonjour on Presumptive Naturalism
A second sort of defense in favor of materialism appeals to the general idea of naturalism. Here again we have a view, like materialism itself, to which many, many philosophers pay allegiance while offering little by way of clear argument or defense, but here the view itself is much harder to pin down in a precise way. Indeed, even more striking than the absence of any very clear arguments is the fact that many recent philosophers seem so eager to commit themselves to naturalism — to fly the naturalist flag, as it were — while showing little agreement as to what exactly such a commitment involves. Thus naturalism seems to be even more obviously an intellectual bandwagon than materialism. (In addition, naturalism, for some of those who use the term, seems to just amount to materialism, which would make an argument from naturalism to materialism entirely question-begging.) ¶ Is there any genuine support for a materialist presumption to be found in the vicinity of naturalism? One version of naturalism is the idea that metaphysical issues — or philosophical issues generally — should be dealt with through the use of the methods of natural science. If this is accepted, and if it is true that following the methods of natural science leads plausibly to an endorsement of materialism, then at least some presumption in favor of materialism might follow. But both of the needed suppositions are in fact extremely dubious, to say the least. There is simply no good reason to think that the methods of natural science exhaust the methods of reasonable inquiry — indeed, as has often been pointed out, there is no plausible way in which that claim itself can be arrived at using those methods.
Laurence Bonjour on Materialism as a Bandwagon
Why have materialist views been so dominant? Part of the answer is that it is far from clear that dualist views, at least those that go much beyond the bare denial of materialism, are in any better shape. But it must be insisted that the inadequacies of dualism do not in themselves constitute a strong case for materialism: arguments by elimination are always dubious in philosophy, and never more so than here, where the central phenomenon in question (that is, consciousness) is arguably something of which we still have little if any real understanding. Instead, materialism seems to be one of those unfortunate intellectual bandwagons to which philosophy, along with many other disciplines, is so susceptible — on a par with logical behaviorism, phenomenalism, the insistence that all philosophical issues pertain to language, and so many other views that were once widely held and now seem merely foolish. Such a comparison is misleading in one important respect, however: it understates the fervency with which materialist views are often held. In this respect, materialism often more closely resembles a religious conviction — and indeed, as I will suggest further in a couple of places below, defenses of materialism and especially replies to objections often have a distinctively scholastic or theological flavor.
Style Over Substance
This book provides a comprehensive and novel theory of consciousness. In clear and non-technical language, Christopher Hill provides interrelated accounts of six main forms of consciousness — agent consciousness, propositional consciousness (consciousness that), introspective consciousness, relational consciousness (consciousness of), experiential consciousness, and phenomenal consciousness. He develops the representational theory of mind in new directions, showing in detail how it can be used to undercut dualistic accounts of mental states. In addition he offers original and stimulating discussions of a range of psychological phenomena, including visual awareness, pain, emotional qualia, and introspection. His important book will interest a wide readership of students and scholars in philosophy of mind and cognitive science. ~ Product Description