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.
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 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.
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.]
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.
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.
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.
While most people throughout history have believed that we are both physical and spiritual beings, the rise of science has called into question the existence of the soul. Many now argue that neurophysiology demonstrates the radical dependence, indeed, identity, between mind and brain. Advances in genetics and in mapping human DNA, some say, show there is no need for the hypothesis of body-soul dualism. Even many Christian intellectuals have come to view the soul as a false Greek concept that is outdated and unbiblical. Concurrent with the demise of dualism has been the rise of advanced medical technologies that have brought to the fore difficult issues at both edges of life. Central to questions about abortion, fetal research, reproductive technologies, cloning and euthanasia is our understanding of the nature of human personhood, the reality of life after death and the value of ethical or religious knowledge as compared to scientific knowledge. In this careful treatment, J. P. Moreland and Scott B. Rae argue that the rise of these problems alongside the demise of Christian dualism is no coincidence. They therefore employ a theological realism to meet these pressing issues, and to present a reasonable and biblical depiction of human nature as it impinges upon critical ethical concerns. This vigorous philosophical and ethical defense of human nature as body and soul, regardless of whether one agrees or disagrees, will be for all a touchstone for debate and discussion for years to come.
Can we gain any deeper insight into what makes the problem of consciousness run against the grain of our thinking? Are our modes of theorizing about the world of the wrong shape to extend to the nature of the mind? I think we can discern a characteristic structure possessed by successful theories, a structure that is unsuitable for explaining consciousness. … It there a “grammar” to science that fits the physical world but becomes shaky when applied to the mental world? ¶ Perhaps the most basic aspect of thought is the operation of combination. This is the way in which we think of complex entities as resulting from the arrangement of simpler parts. There are three aspects to this basic idea: the atoms we start with, the laws we use to combine them, and the resulting complexes … I think it is clear that this mode of understanding is central to what we think of as scientific theory; our scientific faculty involves representing the world in this combinatorial style.
Each illusory self is a construct of the memetic world in which it successfully competes. Each selfplex gives rise to ordinary human consciousness based on the false idea that there is someone inside who is in charge. The ways we behave, the choices we make, and the things we say are all a result of this complex structure: a set of memeplexes (including the powerful selfplex) running on a biologically constructed system. The driving force behind everything that happens is replicator power. Genes fight it out to get into the next generation, and in the process biological design comes about. Memes fight it out to get passed on into another brain or book or object, and in the process cultural and mental design comes about. There is no need for any other source of design power. There is no need to call on the creative ‘power of consciousness’, for consciousness has no power. There is no need to invent the idea of free will. Free will, like the self who ‘has’ it, is an illusion. Terrifying as thought seems, I suggest it is true.
But in the case of consciousness the Darwinian explanation does not tell us what we need to know, for the simple reason that it is unclear how matter can be so organized as to create a conscious being. The problem is in the raw materials. It looks as if with consciousness a new kind of reality has been injected into the universe, instead of just a recombination of the old realities. Even if minds showed no hint of design, the same old problem would exist: 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.
This book, based on Jaegwon Kim’s 1996 Townsend Lectures, presents the philosopher’s current views on a variety of issues in the metaphysics of the mind — in particular, the mind-body problem, mental causation, and reductionism. Kim construes the mind-body problem as that of finding a place for the mind in a world that is fundamentally physical. Among other points, he redefines the roles of supervenience and emergence in the discussion of the mind-body problem. Arguing that various contemporary accounts of mental causation are inadequate, he offers his own partially reductionist solution on the basis of a novel model of reduction. Retaining the informal tone of the lecture format, the book is clear yet sophisticated. ~ Product Description • “Mr. Kim has long been a lone voice against the dominant functionalist orthodoxy, but the tide now seems to be turning in his favor. In this book he elegantly cuts through the baroque structure of recent philosophical debate, and displays the flaws common to the various sophisticated alternatives.” ~ The Economist
Neuroscientist V.S. Ramachandran is internationally renowned for uncovering answers to the deep and quirky questions of human nature that few scientists have dared to address. His bold insights about the brain are matched only by the stunning simplicity of his experiments — using such low-tech tools as cotton swabs, glasses of water and dime-store mirrors. In Phantoms in the Brain, Dr. Ramachandran recounts how his work with patients who have bizarre neurological disorders has shed new light on the deep architecture of the brain, and what these findings tell us about who we are, how we construct our body image, why we laugh or become depressed, why we may believe in God, how we make decisions, deceive ourselves and dream, perhaps even why we’re so clever at philosophy, music and art. Some of his most notable cases: * A woman paralyzed on the left side of her body who believes she is lifting a tray of drinks with both hands offers a unique opportunity to test Freud’s theory of denial. * A woman who hallucinates cartoon characters illustrates how, in a sense, we are all hallucinating, all the time. Dr. Ramachandran’s inspired medical detective work pushes the boundaries of medicine’s last great frontier — the human mind — yielding new and provocative insights into the "big questions" about consciousness and the self. ~ Product Description
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.
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.
You came to this book assuming that the basic units of human cognition are states such as thoughts, beliefs, perceptions, desires, and preferences. That assumption is natural enough: it is built into the vocabulary of every natural language. And each state is typically identified by way of a specific sentence in one’s natural language: one has the belief that P, or the desire that Q, for example, where P and Q are sentences. Human cognition is thus commonsensically portrayed as a dance of sentential or propositional states, with the basic unit of computation being the inference from several such states to some further sentential state. ¶ These assumptions are central elements in our standard conception of human cognitive activity, a conception often called “folk psychology” to acknowledge it as the common property of folks generally. Their universality notwithstanding, these bedrock assumptions are probably mistaken.
The supposedly immaterial soul, we now know, can be bisected with a knife, altered by chemicals, started or stopped by electricity, and extinguished by a sharp blow or by insufficent oxygen.
But who, in that case, can be watching this pixilated show? The answer is straightforward: no one. There is no distinct "self" in there, beyond the brain as a whole. On the other hand, almost every part of the brain is being "watched" by some other part of the brain, often by several other parts at once.
This collaborative project strives for greater consonance between contemporary science and Christian faith. Outstanding scholars in biology, genetics, neuroscience, cognitive science, philosophy, theology, biblical studies, and ethics join here to offer contemporary accounts of human nature consistent with Christian teaching. Their central theme is a nondualistic account of the human person that does not consider the "soul" an entity separable from the body; scientific statements about the physical nature of human beings are about exactly the same entity as are theological statements concerning the spiritual nature of human beings. For all those interested in fundamental questions of human identity posed by the present context, this volume will provide a fascinating and authoritative resource. ~ Product Description
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.
I believe that the explanatory gap in its present form cannot be closed — that so long as we work with our present mental and physical concepts no transparently necessary connection will ever be revealed, between physically described brain processes and sensory experience, of the logical type familiar from the explanation of other natural processes by analysis into their physico-chemical constituents. We have good grounds for believing that the mental supervenes on the physical — i.e. that there is no mental difference without a physical difference. But pure, unexplained supervenience is not a solution but a sign that there is something fundamental we don’t know. We cannot regard pure supervenience as the end of the story because that would require the physical to necessitate the mental without there being any answer to the question how it does so. But there must be a "how," and our task is to understand it. An obviously systematic connection that remains unintelligible to us calls out for a theory.
In recent years Robert Adams and Richard Swinburne have developed an argument for Gods existence from the reality of mental phenomena. Call this the argument from consciousness (AC). My purpose is to develop and defend AC and to use it as a rival paradigm to critique John Searle’s biological naturalism. The article is developed in three steps. First, two issues relevant to the epistemic task of adjudicating between rival scientific paradigms (basicality and naturalness) are clarified and illustrated. Second, I present a general version of AC and identify the premises most likely to come under attack by philosophical naturalists. Third, I use the insights gained in steps one and two to criticize Searle’s claim that he has developed an adequate naturalistic theory of the emergence of mental entities. I conclude that AC is superior to Searle’s biological naturalism.
Chalmers analyzes the mind-body problem in terms of that elusive relationship between the physical brain and conscious events. Focusing on subjective experience as such, he rejects all reductive (materialist) explanations for conscious experience in favor of a metaphysical framework supporting a strong form of property dualism. His theory is grounded in natural supervenience, the distinction between psychological and phenomenological properties of mind, and a novel view of the ontological status of consciousness itself. Chalmers uses thought experiments (e.g., zombie worlds, silicon chips, a global brain, and inverted spectra) and discusses such issues as causation, intentionality, and epiphenomenalism. Even so, the critical reader is left asking, How can physical facts be relevant to the emergence of consciousness beyond an evolutionary naturalist worldview. Ongoing neuroscience research may provide a sufficient explanation of consciousness within a materialistic framework. Nevertheless, as a scholarly contribution to modern philosophy, this is suitable for all academic and large public libraries.~ H. James Birx, Canisius Coll., Buffalo, N.Y.
Intended for anyone attempting to find their way through the large and confusingly interwoven philosophical literature on consciousness, this reader brings together most of the principal texts in philosophy (and a small set of related key works in neuropsychology) on consciousness through 1997, and includes some forthcoming articles. Its extensive coverage strikes a balance between seminal works of the past few decades and the leading edge of philosophical research on consciousness. As no other anthology currently does, The Nature of Consciousness provides a substantial introduction to the field, and imposes structure on a vast and complicated literature, with sections covering stream of consciousness, theoretical issues, consciousness and representation, the function of consciousness, subjectivity and the explanatory gap, the knowledge argument, qualia, and monitoring conceptions of consciousness. Of the 49 contributions, 18 are either new or have been adapted from a previous publication.
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.