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Philosophy of Mind

JP Moreland on Determinism Twice Over

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This story is physically deterministic in two ways. First, the physical state of the universe (and everything in it, including you) at a particular time and impersonal laws of nature are sufficient to determine or fix the chances of the next successive state. This is temporal determination. Second, the features and behavior of ordinary-sized objects like glaciers, rocks, human beings and animals is fixed by the states of their atomic and subatomic parts. This is bottom-up or parts-to-whole determinism. If genuinely mental consciousness exists, it is a causally impotent epiphenomenon. Among other things, this means that a feeling of thirst never causes someone to get a drink; thoughts and beliefs play no role in directing or bringing about our behavior. Many philosophers right think that if a view implies epiphenomenalism, the view must be rejected.

Victor Reppert on Materialist Strategies

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Defenders of materialism usually use three types of arguments to criticize the family of arguments I presented earlier. They use Error replies if they think the item that the antimaterialist is setting up for explanation can be denied. They use Reconciliation objections if they suppose that the item in question can be fitted within a materialist ontology. Moreover, they also use Inadequacy objection to argue that whatever difficulties there may be in explaining the matter in materialist terms, it does not get us any better if we accept some mentalistic worldview such as theism. We can see this typology at work in responses to the argument from objective moral values. Materialist critics of the moral argument can argue that there is really no objective morality, they can say objective morality is compatible with materialism, or they can use arguments such as the Euthyphro dilemma to argue that whatever we cannot explain about morality in materialist terms cannot better be explained by appealing to nonmaterial entities such as God.

Victor Reppert on Gaps and Fudging Categories

Go So, I would maintain that there are gaps and there are gaps. It is not just pointing to an unsolved engineering problem in nature. First of all, the categories of the mental and the physical are logically incompatible categories. You start attributing mental properties to physics and you might end up being told that you are no longer describing the physical at all. Purpose, normativity, intentionality, or aboutness, all these things are not supposed to be brought in to the physical descriptions of things, at least at the most basic level of analysis. ¶ Let us consider the gap between the propositional content of thought and the physical description of the brain. My claim is that no matter in how much detail you describe the physical state of the brain (and the environment), the propositional content of thought will invariably be undetermined. ... As I see it, it is not a matter of getting a physical description that will work. In my view, the logicoconceptual gap is always going to be there regardless of how extensively you describe the physical. As I said earlier, bridging the chasm is not going to simply be a matter of exploring the territory on one side of the chasm. ... [T]he "God of the gaps" or even a "soul of the gaps" response to the argument from reason does not work. I am not saying that we just cannot figure out right now why the mental states involved in rational inference are really physical, I am suggesting on principled grounds that a careful reflection on the nature of mind and matter will invariably reveal that there is a logical gap between them that in principle cannot be bridged without fudging categories.

Michael Egnor on Behaviorism

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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?"

Angus Menuge on Inference to the Best Explanation

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It is possible that a materialistic explanation of consciousness might be found, but that does not make the claim that consciousness is non-physical an argument from ignorance… At any given time, scientists should infer the best current explanation of the available evidence, and right now, the best evidence from both neuroscience and rigorous philosophical analysis is that consciousness is not reducible to the physical. Churchland’s refusal to draw this inference is based not on evidence, but on what Karl Popper called “promissory materialism,” a reliance on the mere speculative possibility of a materialistic explanation. Since this attitude can be maintained indefinitely, it means that even if a non-materialist account is correct (and supported by overwhelming evidence), that inconvenient truth can always be ignored. Surely the project of science should be one of following the evidence wherever it leads, not of protecting a preconceived materialist philosophy. Isn’t it that philosophy — the one that constantly changes its shape to avoid engagement with troublesome evidence, either ignoring the data or simply declaring it materialistic — that most resembles a virus?

J.P. Moreland on Consciousness and Naturalism

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The simple truth is that in both science and philosophy, strict physicalist analysis of consciousness and the self have been breaking down since the mid-1980s. The problems with physicalism have nothing directly to do with theism; they follow from rigorous treatments of consciousness and the self as we know them to be. The real problem comes in trying to explain its origin and for this problem, naturalism in general and Darwinism in particular, are useless. In my view, the only two serious contenders are theism and panpsychism which, contrary
to the musings of some, has throughout the history of philosophy been correctly taken as a rival to and not a specification of naturalism.

Body, Soul, and Human Life

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Are humans composed of a material body and an immaterial soul? This view is commonly held by Christians, yet it has been undermined by recent developments in neuroscience. Exploring what Scripture and theology teach about issues such as being in the divine image, the importance of community, sin, free will, salvation, and the afterlife, Joel Green argues that a dualistic view of the human person is inconsistent with both science and Scripture. This wide-ranging discussion is sure to provoke much thought and debate. Bestselling books have explored the relationship between body, mind, and soul. Now Joel Green provides us with a biblical perspective on these issues. ~ Product Description “If you think nothing new ever happens in theology or biblical studies, you need to read this book, an essay in ‘neuro-hermeneutics.’ Green shows not only that a physicalist (as opposed to a dualist) anthropology is consistent with biblical teaching but also that contemporary neuroscience sheds light on significant hermeneutical and theological questions.” ~ Nancey Murphy

Consciousness and the Existence of God

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In Consciousness and the Existence of God, J.P. Moreland argues that the existence of finite, irreducible consciousness (or its regular, law-like correlation with physical states) provides evidence for the existence of God. Moreover, he analyzes and criticizes the top representative of rival approaches to explaining the origin of consciousness, including John Searle’s contingent correlation, Timothy O’Connor’s emergent necessitation, Colin McGinn’s mysteries “‘naturalism,” David Skrbina’s panpsychism and Philip Clayton’s pluralistic emergentist monism. Moreland concludes that these approaches should be rejected in favor of what he calls “‘the Argument from Consciousness.” ~ Product Description

Argument from Consciousness

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Recently, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about consciousness and how it might contribute to evidence for the existence of God in light of metaphysical naturalism’s failure to provide a helpful explanation. Some of my thinking has culminated in the recently released Consciousness and the Existence of God (Routledge Studies in the Philosophy of Religion) (Routledge, 2008). Consciousness is among the most mystifying features of the cosmos. Geoffrey Madell opines that "the emergence of consciousness, then is a mystery, and one to which materialism signally fails to provide an answer."i Naturalist Colin McGinn claims that its arrival borders on sheer magic because there seems to be no naturalistic explanation for it: "How can mere matter originate consciousness? How did evolution convert the water of biological tissue into the wine of consciousness? Consciousness seems like a radical novelty in the universe, not prefigured by the after-effects of the Big Bang; so how did it contrive to spring into being from what preceded it?"ii Finally, naturalist William Lyons argues that "[physicalism] seem[s] to be in tune with the scientific materialism of the twentieth century because it [is] a harmonic of the general theme that all there is in the universe is matter and energy and motion and that humans are a product of the evolution of species just as much as buffaloes and beavers are. Evolution is a seamless garment with no holes wherein souls might be inserted from above."iii

Alvin Plantinga on God and Personhood

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According to classical theistic belief — classical Muslim and Jewish as well as Christian belief — first of all there is God, the chief being of the universe, who has neither beginning nor end. Most important, God is personal. That is, God is the kind of being who is conscious and enjoys some kind of awareness of his surroundings (in God’s case, that would be everything). Second (though not second in importance), a person has loves and hates, wishes and desires; she approves of some things and disapproves of others; she wants things to be a certain way. We might put this by saying that persons have affections. A person, third, is a being who has beliefs and, if fortunate, knowledge. We human beings, for example, believe a host of things… Persons, therefore, have beliefs and affections. Further, a person is a being who has aims and intentions; a person aims to bring it about that things should be a certain way, intends to act so that things will be the way he wants them to be… Finally, persons can often act to fulfill their intentions; they can bring it about that things are a certain way; they can cause things to happen. To be more technical (though not more insightful or more clear), we might say that a person is a being who can actualize states of affairs. Persons can often act on the basis of what they believe in order to bring about states of affairs whose actuality they desire. ¶ So a person is conscious, has affections, beliefs, and intentions, and can act… First, therefore, God is a person. But second, unlike human persons, God is a person without a body. He acts, and acts in the world, as human beings do, but, unlike human beings, not by way of a body. Rather, God acts just by willing: he wills that things be a certain way, and they are that way. (God said “Let there be light”; and there was light.)

Kludge

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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

On Being Certain

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You recognize when you know something for certain, right? You "know" the sky is blue, or that the traffic light had turned green, or where you were on the morning of September 11, 2001 — you know these things, well, because you just do. In On Being Certain, neurologist Robert Burton challenges the notions of how we think about what we know. He shows that the feeling of certainty we have when we "know" something comes from sources beyond our control and knowledge. In fact, certainty is a mental sensation, rather than evidence of fact. Because this "feeling of knowing" seems like confirmation of knowledge, we tend to think of it as a product of reason. But an increasing body of evidence suggests that feelings such as certainty stem from primitive areas of the brain, and are independent of active, conscious reflection and reasoning. The feeling of knowing happens to us; we cannot make it happen. Bringing together cutting edge neuroscience, experimental data, and fascinating anecdotes, Robert Burton explores the inconsistent and sometimes paradoxical relationship between our thoughts and what we actually know. Provocative and groundbreaking, On Being Certain, will challenge what you know (or think you know) about the mind, knowledge, and reason. ~ Product Description

Andrew Melnyk on Naturalism’s Ease with the Mind

Go 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.

Good and Real

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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

Anthony Kenny on the Mind of God

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If we are to attribute intelligence to any entity — limited or unlimited, cosmic or extra-cosmic — we have to take as our starting point our concept of intelligence as exhibited by human beings: we have no other concept of it. Human intelligence is displaced in the behavior of human bodies and in the thoughts of human minds. If we reflect on the active way in which we attribute mental predicates such as "know," "believe," "think," "design," "control" to human beings, we realize the immense difficulty there is [in] applying them to a putative being which is immaterial, ubiquitous and eternal. It is not just that we do not, and cannot, know what goes on in God’s mind, it is that we cannot really ascribe a mind to God at all. The language that we use to describe the contents of human minds operates within a web of links with bodily behavior and social institutions. When we try to apply this language to an entity outside the natural world, whose scope of operation is the entire universe, this web comes to pieces, and we no longer know what we are saying.

Daniel Dennett on Selves as Systems

Go 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.

Consciousness and the Mind of God

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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

Introspection Vindicated

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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 Eliminating the First Person

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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.

Edward Feser on Intention and the Mind

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More to the point, brain processes, composed as they are of meaningless chemical components, seem as inherently devoid of intentionality as soundwaves or ink marks. Any intentionality they have would also have to be derived from something else. But if anything physical would be devoid of intrinsic intentionality, whatever does have intrinsic intentionality would thereby have to be non-physical. Since the mind is the source of the intentionality of physical entities like sentences and pictures, and doesn’t get its intentionality from anything else (there’s no one “using” our minds to convey meaning) it seems to follow that the mind has intrinsic intentionality, and thus is non-physical.

World Without Design

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Philosophical naturalism, according to which philosophy is continuous with the natural sciences, has dominated the Western academy for well over a century, but Michael Rea claims that it is without rational foundation. Rea argues compellingly to the surprising conclusion that naturalists are committed to rejecting realism about material objects, materialism, and perhaps realism about other minds. "World Without Design is filled with excellent summaries of positions and philosophers and enough provocative argumentation to incite even the most naturalistically minded. It was a pleasure to read!  ~ Christian Scholar’s Review • "Rea’s is a dense and closely argued book, illustrating the convergence of philosophy of religion and sophisticated metaphysics and representative of the best of Christian philosophy today." ~ Philosophia Christi

Beyond Death

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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

The Mind and the Brain

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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

Philosophy of Mind: Contemporary Readings

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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.

Michael Lockwood on Consciousness and Science

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Let me begin by nailing my colours to the mast. I count myself a materialist, in the sense that I take consciousness to be a species of brain activity. Having said that, however, it seems to me evident that no description of brain activity of the relevant kind, couched in the currently available languages of physics, physiology, or functional or computational roles, is remotely capable of capturing what is distinctive about consciousness. So glaring, indeed, are the shortcomings of all the reductive programmes currently on offer, that I cannot believe that anyone with a philosophical training, looking dispassionately at these programmes, would take any of them seriously for a moment, were it not for a deep-seated conviction that current physical science has essentially got reality taped, and accordingly, something along the lines of what the reductionists are offering must be correct. To that extent, the very existence of consciousness seems to me to be a standing demonstration of the explanatory limitations of contemporary physical science. On the assumption that some form of materialism is nevertheless true, we have only to introspect in order to recognize that our present understanding of matter is itself radically deficient. Consciousness remains for us, at the dawn of the twenty-first century, what it was for Newton at the dawn of the eighteenth century: an occult power that lies beyond the pool of illumination that physical theory casts on the world we inhabit.