Barry ‘Banny’ Arrington has a new, rather confused post at UD:
On Invoking Non-Physical Mental States to “Solve the Problem” of Consciousness
Many of us are banned at UD, and those who aren’t banned are in danger of having their comments purged at any moment. Let’s avoid that cesspit and respond here at TSZ, where open discussion is encouraged and Arringtonian censorship is anathema.
KN, I reflect critically on my beliefs.
It’s something I learned from my family.
Have you any evidence?
What use is evidence to you? You ignore it anyway!
In 1992 I authored the following, an attempt to capture a personal reflection. It is more intuitive and poetic than anything else:
I was brushing my teeth, or doing something else as ordinary, when suddenly struck: I am arches of experience emerging from the workings of my body, a transparent structure of color and action, transacting with an environment that is itself built of both awareness and physicality. A reality that includes body and experience. I am a tower of mental and physical homeostasis and balance, built of many rooms of knowing and behavior, a structure of self.
We are bodies that make consciousness. Bodies like our own, in turn, may be fashioned by evolution only because such a body can make consciousness. Not spirits dwelling in bodies, able to fly out, but a di-polar reality that rises and falls as one. This single self has, as one pole, the matter/energy/message that comprises body; as another, the consciousness/volition/memory that comprises self. Self is something aware body does.
I am saying that our bodies are spirits. Our spirits are bodies.
Identity requires memory, and memory is information-in-context that requires, in turn, form and complexity and temporality. The emergence of life, consciousness and identity in history have therefore both required and resulted from the capacity of matter and energy to support and retain complex form. It is the compartmentalized physical transactions of matter and energy, and the capacity of matter and energy to accumulate information over contingent history, that permit natural selection to construct, among myriad other things, bodies and conscious selves. In doing so, matter becomes as much like spirit as it is like clay or ash.
Why do we resist the inclusion of matter/energy in our vision of soul? Because spirits constructed as bodies cannot be built to last. That I am conscious-body now, body-spirit now, and later will not be, packs both fear and poignancy into finite experience. From that fear emerges empathy and caring, because I know that you share the same untenable predicament.
In return, by accepting that awareness emerges from bodies, we fully share the history our of bodies across deep time, and the strange and evocative structures of our human bodies and brains remain our own, rather than something merely inhabited. I fold the natural history of biological structure into my own experience, and rejoice that my soul arose in nature.
Sappy and sentimental, but we are candles in the wind. We are flames.
That’s some beautiful writing, RB.
+1. I will die jealous of Bill’s cognitive and communicative abilities.
For your viewing pleasure:
Edit – never mind.
I’ll just park this here:
An interestingly confused argument from Box:
It is certainly an interesting argument. But I would say that (1) and (2) are false. Rather,
(1′) rationality requires that a cognitive agent is [a] responsible to other people for what he or she thinks and does and [b] answerable to evidence about the truth of his or her beliefs;
(2′) from a naturalistic perspective, a cognitive agent is constituted by a history of positive and negative feedback interactions between his or her brain, body, physical environment, and social environment (including culture);
This makes it a bit trickier to see what work “grounds” is doing in the claim, “materialism grounds rationality”. I’m not sure what that would mean!
I would prefer to say that the relevant empirical sciences (neuroscience and evolutionary theory) can explain how rationality is causally implemented and how a certain group of social animals evolved rationality. But I don’t think that either of those can tell us what it is to be rational in the first place.
More generally, I don’t see why adopting a scientifically informed self-understanding entails that there’s no such thing as rationality, truth, justification, objectivity, intentionality, consciousness, or self-consciousness. The arguments for claims like that usually involves appealing to C. S. Lewis, Haldane, or Plantinga. But I think that those argument rely on misunderstanding what a scientifically informed self-understanding commits us to.
Can you explain how an history of positive and negative feedback interactions can develope a concept?
I find this a deeply puzzling question, because I hear it as, “can you explain the role of positive and negative feedback interactions in how children acquire language?” — and I would have thought that would be fairly obvious! But if you’re not asking that question, then what question are you asking?
Does anybody know if Eigenstate has been banned?
No, he’s still posting.
I expect Blas will answer in due course, but it would appear that, by implication, if you don’t have a detailed causal map of how mental concepts form ‘under materialism’ (implied by asking a question to which one knows there is no answer) it can only happen immaterially.
How a brain can reach a concept given that the brain are only a big set of positive and negative interactions? If you can´t explain that you cannot state #2.
No, no a detailed but, just a big picture of how a net of neurons can make a concept as simple as I received an external signal.
You may have to wait a little while yet.
A small picture
74 lines of code, with a ‘learning’ capacity. It would be near-impossible, even for the programmer, to untangle the causal pathway that led to a particular ‘9’ being recognised as such, although of course they could track it and print it out.
I love http://cs.ucf.edu/~tommy/p3.pdf An evolved circuit, intrinsic in silicon, entwined with physics,in large part because it turned out that several gates nominally unconnected to the evolved circuit were required: some unexpected (emergent?) interaction made them a part of the system.
As I see it, a concept just is a functional element of a cognitive system that coordinates sensory awareness of affordances with mostly successful behaviors.
I count as having the concept “horse” just in case I am able to reliably classify the right objects as horses and recognize that, on encountering a horse, I should be prepared to act in the appropriate ways. My cat counts as having the concept of his water bowl just because he engages in the appropriate behaviors — walking over to it when thirsty, nudging it when it is empty, and so on.
In the case of “abstract concepts” — concepts of numbers, for example — the story is far more complicated. Probably metaphor plays some role here.
Humans have, so far as I can tell, a distinct kind of concept that non-humans don’t have. Many (if not all) of our concepts can be thought of as a “node” in an inferential network. The concept of “horse” does not involve merely being able to reliably classify objects in the right ways, but also being able to track the right kinds of inferences (e.g. “if X is a horse, then X is an animal”), and recognize that if someone asserts “that’s a horse!” then she is committed to “that’s an animal!” and entitled to assert it. If she were to say, “that’s a horse, but it’s not an animal” we might suspect that she doesn’t understand what “horse” or “animal” mean.
I said above that a concept just is a functional element of a cognitive system that coordinates sensory awareness of affordances with mostly successful behaviors. The cognitive system is not just the pattern of neural activity but the pattern of neural activity in its ongoing dynamical transformations with body and world. The mind is not just “in the head” — although, since the brain is in the head, the mind is not the brain.
For language-users, the system of affordances and behaviors is expanded to include norm-governed social practices. This allows us to track and correct each others inferences in ways that non-humans cannot. We seem to be unique in having shared intentionality — a human being is an “I” by virtue of being relationships with a “We” and a plurality of “Yous”. Shared intentionality transforms the kinds of concepts that we can have, and I think it is also plays a big role in our ability to entertain “abstract concepts,” such as concepts of numbers.
I don’t suppose this answers your question, but I’d like to know why it doesn’t.
You mean the mind it is not “matter”?
What I said is that the mind is not the brain. The mind is the whole suite of environmentally-situated, object-sensitive sensorimotor abilities and the cognitive and affective mechanisms that systematically relate perception with action. And the whole suite is not itself the brain; what the brain does is a part of the whole, not itself the whole, of what the mind is.
I don’t find “matter” a helpful term, and it isn’t one that I use when expressing my own views. I’m OK with “mind,” though there are different aspects of mindedness — intentionality, consciousness, affect, sensation, etc. — that require their own conceptual analyses (as transcendental structures) and empirical confirmation (as causal structures).
I don’t identify with “materialism” for reasons I gave earlier, but since I can’t find that post right now, here’s the basic thought again:
In other words, I don’t accept “materialism” if “materialism” means that the entities postulated in fundamental physics have absolute ontological primacy, because I don’t think that any entities have absolute ontological primacy. Rather, dynamical processes are disclosed as objects relative to the social practices that we adopt. I can treat someone as a rational agent, or as an organism, or as a collection of particles — depending on whether I am trying to persuade them of a claim, cure them of a disease, or send them into orbit.
What we cannot do — and this is where my deflationary attitude towards metaphysics really comes to the fore — is decide which of those interest-relative attitudes really capture The Truth of what anything is. To do that, we would need to have an attitude or perspective from which we could determine which attitude or perspective is the right one. We would need to have a meta-perspective — an absolute. And that, I think, does not make sense for the purposes of doing epistemology, metaphysics, or ethics.
We must do philosophy from our position as embodied, finite, situated cognitive agents who occupy a plurality of perspectives (biological, historical, cultural, political, religious, and individual), by reflecting as best we can on those perspectives we occupy — the absolute is inaccessible to us.
If you’re looking for someone who thinks that fundamental particles are more real than organisms or minds, I’m afraid I cannot oblige.
But then Box comment is right.
You said :
(1′) rationality requires that a cognitive agent is [a] responsible
(2′) a cognitive agent is constituted by a history of positive and negative feedback interactions between his or her brain, body, physical environment, and social environment (including culture);
(2) According to what I understood in the river of words you said is all about processes, then as Box said a process can´t be responsible.
I accept that rational cognitive agents hold each other responsible for what they say and do (as we are doing here). On my account, cognitive agents are constituted by various different kinds of dynamical processes. You seem to think that the latter point undermines the former. I don’t see how. In any event, Box’s argument relies on two concepts that I don’t use — “materialism” and “grounds” — so I’m not clear on how his/her argument applies to my view. (It might, with suitable refinement, apply to Alex Rosenberg’s view.)
I do not see how a process can be hold responsible. (I understand responsible as free to choose, not as simple material cause).
In any event, Box’s argument relies on two concepts that I don’t use — “materialism” and “grounds” — so I’m not clear on how his/her argument applies to my view.(It might, with suitable refinement, apply to Alex Rosenberg’s view.)
But you said that Box´s #1 and #2 are false, then I understand that your view is an answer to his view. That is why I´m making a pararel between both.
Fair enough — and in the course of responding to Box, I seem to have veered away from the argument that Box was making.
The point I’m trying to make here is that our freedom and responsibility are not undermined by denying mind-body dualism. Instead I’m using enactivism, as a relatively new paradigm of cognitive science, to re-conceptualize what freedom and responsibility are.
My rejection of materialism is a related but different point, and one I made simply so that I’m not cast in the role of Defender of Materialism.
I have seen hylomorphism offered as an explanation for mind-brain duality, but I was unfamiliar with the concept so unable to comment. Do any of the more philosophically literate have a response to this?
I discussed this once with vjtorley, who is an advocate of hylomorphism. I can’t find the original conversation, but I did find this comment from last November:
Unsurprisingly, Barry had no answer.
I like this example too. It shows how “evolved design” differs from human design. Human designers think in terms of a transparent hierarchy of functional modules and usually don’t try to exploit messy complex interconnections or co-opt accidental subtle interactions — things that are difficult to understand, analyse and control.
Full circle: I participated in a very lengthy discussion of Aristotelian notions of mind/body and their implications for dualism at Telic Thoughts a few years ago. I composed my original comment, to which Barry responded with his muddle, for that discussion.
I saved it as a Safari archive, but unfortunately TT itself is long gone so I can’t link to it. Here is the OP, and my opening comment:
My initial post in response:
The discussion that followed is striking for its civility.
Barry, in his recent muddle, advocated an Aristotelian view of mind body as a more “robust” metaphysics (the passage by Hart), in an attempt to evade the “interface problem.” But I don’t believe for an instant he actually holds those views. Ultimately, he requires a soul that can “fly out” and persist apart from bodies and brains, an idea that can’t be reconciled with hylomorphic dualism.
A few notes on hylomorphism, based on my limited understanding:
(1) In Aristotelian metaphysics, everything that can change — everything that is not permanent, eternal, and unchanging — has two different aspects: form (morphe) and matter (hyle). (Think of this as the distinction between structure and stuff: how something is organized or arranged, vs. what something is made out of.)
(2) By contrast, unchanging things are pure form, without any material. This would include mathematical objects and the centerpiece of the Aristotelian universe, the Unmoved Mover. Everything else that Aristotle talks about — the act-potency relation, the different kinds of causal explanation, and so forth — is all couched in terms of the form/matter relation.
(3) The “soul” (psyche) is the specific kind of form that all and only living things have. There are different kinds of soul that correspond to different biological functions: the vegetative soul, the sensitive soul, and the rational soul (nous or intellect). The function of the vegetative soul is to sustain basic metabolism — taking in nutrients, excreting waste. The function of the sensitive soul is to be aware of objects in perceptual consciousness and move towards or away from them as necessary. The function of the rational soul is to control the passions, allowing us to live in deliberate over ends in common (in shared governance or democracy), and also in rare cases allowing us to understand the basic structure of reality.
(4) Thomists, much more than Aristotle himself, were very concerned to show that the rational part of the soul is immaterial and eternal. The basic idea seems to be that the intellect must be immaterial because otherwise it would face an interaction problem with regard to abstract or immaterial ideas.
(5) Aristotelian hylomorphism is not a Cartesian dualism, in which the mind is one kind of substance or thing and the body is another, and then the problem is how these two different things interact. Rather, there is one substance or thing — the human person. But, the human person is a unity because of the top-down unification that the soul imposes on the material substrate of the body. Without the power of the soul to gather together the material and organize it, there is no body (at least no living body) at all. But — according to Thomism, anyway — there is a part of the soul which persists past the death of the body, since it was essentially immaterial (hence immortal) to begin with.
They eliminate one interaction problem at the expense of creating another.
To the extent that the soul can function independently of the body, the Thomists are really just substance dualists. Vincent Torley tries to avoid this by invoking a temporary, divinely-provided heavenly body that effectively keeps the soul on life support until it can be reunited with an earthly body.
Apart from the kludginess of that “solution”, it does nothing to explain how the soul can be the seat of a truly libertarian free will, which is a necessity for most non-Calvinist forms of Christianity.
That’s right. You can’t have libertarian freedom without mind-body dualism, in which the intellect makes decisions within its own sphere of influence and the body is the vehicle for carrying out those decisions (except insofar as it resists, etc.). I came to the conclusion that I don’t believe in free will as a result of thinking:
(1) libertarian freedom is the only concept of free will that makes any sense;
(2) libertarian freedom presuppose mind-body dualism;
(3) mind-dualism dualism is false;
(4) so, libertarian freedom is false;
(5) so, there is no such thing as free will.
However, it should also be pointed out that Aristotle himself, in his distinction between voluntary and involuntary actions, did not think that we had libertarian freedom. To the best of my knowledge, neither Plato nor Aristotle had anything like the concept of “free will” in their conceptual frameworks. The concept seems to have become central to Western philosophy with Augustine, though there are traces of it in the Stoics.
Good luck on your journey of re-invention, KN. Would you be willing to share any reading list that you have been using on the way?
In return, here are some items I have been reading that may interest you and that relate to topics you’ve recently posted about.
I just finished Ravven’s Self Beyond Itself which argues Augustine’s role in the invention of free will in detail. She traces the rational free will approach from Augustine to Kant then ends her history with her preference: Spinoza’s determinism and his description of true moral agency as the full exploration and understanding of one’s place in the universal web of determinism (or something like that).
After this history, her book turns to modernizing Spinoza’s basic ideas by exploring a list of related results in psychology and neuroscience that she claims show that our decisions are shaped by culture and context, not by rational choices under free will. Caveats: I thought the first half of the book on the history of free will was more closely argued than the second half on modern science and free will; the second half reads more like a laundry list of scientific results rather than a sustained argument. Also, she gives little attention to compatibilism, confining her brief comments against it to endnotes.
I think you’ll get a kick out of the ideas on John MccCrone’s web site. He hits many of the same philosophical hot buttons as you: he’s scientifically informed, a Peircean pragmatist, a non-reductionist, and he embraces Aristotle’s four causes including of course both formal and final causes. His approach to formal causes is based on Peircean semiotics as modernised by Pattee. His approach to final causes is based on dissipative systems thinking extended beyond a role in living process to provide an approach to assigning purpose throughout the universe (he uses ideas from Salthe).
Here’s part of a recent post of his at another forum that may whet your appetite to explore his site.
Lastly, you may want to look through the second edition of Andy Clark’s Philosophy of Cognitive Science. He gives a nice overview of the embodied, extended, and enactive approaches as well other recent topics in cognitive science, like of the predictive mind. I’m sure the discussion in the main text will be mostly old news to you, but you may find some of the newer references he provides to be helpful.
My take is a bit different. I see libertarian free will as incompatible with hylomorphism due to the constraints of physics, but I also think that LFW is incompatible with substance dualism. In moving from hylomorphism to substance dualism, we’re simply taking the constraints imposed by physics and replacing them with the constraints imposed by the nature of the immaterial mind or soul. In either context, LFW is impossible.
Compatibilism makes much more sense to me, and I intend to do an OP soon explaining why one of the main objections to CFW depends on an implicit dualism.
Thank you for all those references!
As to what I’ve been reading lately: I’ve been getting interested in what’s called “enactivism”, as a research paradigm in cognitive science. Lately I’ve read Radical Embodied Cognitive Science by Chemero, The New Science of the Mind by Rowlands, Action in Perception by Noe, and I’ve recently bought some new anthologies about enaction. In philosophy of biology I’ve started (but haven’t finished) The Disorder of Things by Dupre and Complexity and the Function of Mind in Nature by Godfrey-Smith. Right now I’m 2/3 done with The Evolved Apprentice by Sterelny and I’ve been told to read Godfrey-Smith’s Darwinian Populations and Natural Selection as a follow-up.
Huh! That seems like a really interesting argument I’d love to see spelled out in more detail!
Here’s how I put it in an exchange with Paul Amrhein last year:
The older I get, the more I think Freud got it right with the Id, ego and superego.
I think perhaps these have physical correlates.
The Id would be that part of the brain that decides before we become aware that we have decided.
Interesting. I suppose a libertarian might say that the choice is constrained by her reasons, rather than constrained by anything causal. Rational constraint — constraint by reasons — allows for genuine constraint, and the action wouldn’t be entirely arbitrary (“random” in your sense?). But this would commit the libertarian to a hefty internalism about reasons, and that’s problematic on other grounds.
But then the reasons themselves take on the causal role. And how did she choose her reasons? Well, she either chose them (not necessarily consciously) according to her nature, or randomly, or some combination of the two. Again,
No, free will it is not about how we choose but it is about of we can choose. So if it exists a “soul” “mind” that can choose your point is only valid with materialism.
We can choose under both materialism and dualism. The question is whether the choices are free, and if so, in what sense.
The usual objection to (libertarian) free will in a materialist context is that our choices are constrained by physics and therefore cannot be free. In other words, our choices are constrained by our natures, and our natures are physical.
What most people don’t realize is that similar reasoning applies in a dualist context. Even if dualism is true, our choices are constrained by our natures, and we are not the ultimate authors of our natures.
Please explain how a material mind can choose?
If our choices are contrained are not choices. Why a soul cannot choose against the nature?
In the same way that an immaterial mind would, by evaluating the alternatives and selecting one of them.
It depends on what you mean by ‘nature’. Consider someone who surprises everyone by going on a killing spree. “But he has such a gentle nature,” shocked friends and relatives might say.
Are they right? Does he have a gentle nature that he happened to act against, or were they mistaken about his nature in the first place?
The real question is “Why did he kill?” If he chose to kill because of a hidden dark side to his nature, then his choice was constrained by his nature. If the choice was purely random then it wasn’t really his choice at all — it was just the product of randomness. Either way, it doesn’t amount to libertarian free will.
Do you mean that exist a maerial process (evaluating) that given the same starting point can give two results? As far as I know science says that given the same conditions you get the same result unless you believe “chance” exist.
No keits, the question is not if “Why did he kill?” but “Could he not kill?” At the end the question of free will is a question of if we really “wiill”. we feel like we do things because we “want”. Is that real? or we act as our chemistry is settled to act? If we feel that we can want.why a soul cannot “want”‘?