There’s a lot of (mostly very obscure) talk about “the soul” here and elsewhere. (Is it supposed to be different from you, your “mind,” your “ego” etc.? Is it some combo of [some of] them, or what?) A friend recently passed along the following quote from psychologist James Hillman that I thought was nice–and maybe demystifying–at least a little bit.
By soul I mean, first of all, a perspective rather than a substance, a viewpoint toward things rather than a thing itself. This perspective is reflective; it mediates events and makes differences between ourselves and everything that happens. Between us and events, between the doer and the deed, there is a reflective moment — and soul-making means differentiating this middle ground.
It is as if consciousness rests upon a self-sustaining and imagining substrate — an inner place or deeper person or ongoing presence — that is simply there even when all our subjectivity, ego, and consciousness go into eclipse. Soul appears as a factor independent of the events in which we are immersed. Though I cannot identify soul with anything else, I also can never grasp it apart from other things, perhaps because it is like a reflection in a flowing mirror, or like the moon which mediates only borrowed light. But just this peculiar and paradoxical intervening variable gives one the sense of having or being soul. However intangible and indefinable it is, soul carries highest importance in hierarchies of human values, frequently being identified with the principle of life and even of divinity.
In another attempt upon the idea of soul I suggest that the word refers to that unknown component which makes meaning possible, turns events into experiences, is communicated in love, and has a religious concern. These four qualifications I had already put forth some years ago. I had begun to use the term freely, usually interchangeably with psyche (from Greek) and anima (from Latin). Now I am adding three necessary modifications. First, soul refers to the deepening of events into experiences; second, the significance soul makes possible, whether in love or in religious concern, derives from its special relation with death. And third, by soul I mean the imaginative possibility in our natures, the experiencing through reflective speculation, dream, image, fantasy — that mode which recognizes all realities as primarily symbolic or metaphorical.”
James Hillman — Re-Visioning Psychology
It *would* break down, if neuroscientists would be able to tell the difference between e.g. a runner’s brain and the brain of someone who is only dreaming of running. Are they? No, they are not. Why? Somebody owes us an explanation.
So what do you suggest?
Since my categories are “parochial”, they must be false? Do you have some better categories? Do you suggest we operate with no categories? (Can’t be the last option, because you just a little while ago made the distinction of appearance and reality.)
Of course, as you earlier required, one must give an account for the metaphysical categories, but here’s the thing: There’s no rational thinking/argumentation/discourse possible without metaphysical categories. So it won’t do to say “parochial” and leave it at that. You have to improve on it, give a better account of your own. Until then, my categories are the best there are, and saying they are “parochial” won’t make them go away.
Nope, and I would have thought you you could have done better than that reductio ad absurdum. All illness is physical. I’d hardly class a nosebleed as an illness, however. There are convenient categories of illness as doctors specialize. If I have a psychotic episode, the doctor best equipped to treat me is a psychiatrist.
Why would your classification matter?
That’s right. And there’s a reason why there’s such a category as mental illnesses. Namely, not everything is physical.
It is my understanding that dream-sleep brain states are quite detectable.
And there’s a reason we no longer call people who are prone to psychosis lunatics. Once, some had the idea the moon was involved. Now we know better.
You’re welcome to keep saying so. It doesn’t advance our understanding of , well, anything at all.
All sounds reasonable to me.
But this is worse. Here, I think you might have just said that you plan to stick with your categories rather than assert they’re better than anybody elses. To be better they’d have to have some virtue that the others lack (or have more of them)–i.e., be more parsimonious, explanatory, consistent with common sense, coherent, etc. And, frankly, I don’t think you can make that case.
All understanding is based on making relevant distinctions. Your method is conflating everything to physical.
What reason would I have to stick with them if they are not better? Do you strive for the mediocre?
Maybe I would care what you think if you actually made a case for it. A good one, so I would have a reason to reconsider my position.
It”s a point of view, admittedly. I don’t see any – not any – reason to invoke “supernaturalness” or “immaterialism” just because we are unsatisfied with our current level of understanding on any issue. Invoking “immaterial” adds nothing to knowledge or understanding. It’s a comfort blanket. Suck it if you want.
Oh, the irony!
Inertia. We generally stick with things when we’re not confronted with anything noticeably better. Why wouldn’t we? After all, our worldview may not be “mediocre.” For all we know it may be best. Change requires an impetus. Staying put in a comfortable place doesn’t.
What does invoking “physical” add? I mean, suppose somebody wants to prove to you that not everything is physical by putting a thumbtack on your chair before you sit down. You sit, scream in pain, and this person laughs and says, “See?” Then you reply, “But pains are physical!” He says “No they aren’t: that’s just an assumption of yours.” You say, “well, something is detectable in my nervous system when I’m in pain.” He says, “Yeah but not the pain: that’s not the physical process, even if it’s caused by it.” Etc. Etc. Etc.
You’re off to the races. You like your categories, he likes his. You think you have direct evidence. He thinks he has more direct evidence. You think he’s making unjustified assumptions. He thinks you are.
Good for both of you.
I think there’s a difference. It’s an Occam’s razor thingie. I’m not wedded to physical, material, atheistical, whatever. I’m just not a fantasy dualist is all.
To be sure, one needn’t be a physicalist to be an empiricist, and I don’t prefer the term in most discussions here precisely because I wouldn’t want to dismiss anything “non-physical” that still might be observable.
However, in some contexts I would tend to stick to the “physical” because that is indeed what we observe with nothing obviously left over. Say in mind/brain discussions, yes, I want to say that the brain is by all evidence thus far a physical phenomenon because I’m not interested in useless “non-physical” or “immaterial” nonsense creeping in. Then we’re saying “physical” because physics (and evolution) matters, and despite the yammerings of some philosophers (Dennett, for example), you’re really going to have to account for the fluidity of, say, consciousness, by appealing to actual physics.
Of course that doesn’t mean that it’s impossible that there could be phenomena that don’t comply with physics, that seem to break “laws of physics” without anything reconciling that problem. But that’s another reason to appeal to physics in the first place for specific phenomena, because if physics fails us at some point it would very interesting. Being a universal physicalist would indeed be a circular idea (only the physical exists, so that’s all we’ll look for), while being physicalist for specific phenomena is a contingent notion that could be overthrown by the evidence.
Do you think pains are fantastical? I’m guessing you don’t; you think there are pains, but just assume, without any proof, that they are identical to some brain process or other. Which is fine. Go right ahead. I just point out that yours is not a particularly “scientific position”: it’s speculative philosophy (and of a type that KN has labeled “just dumb.” You don’t have any additional evidence that those who disagree with you don’t have. You have faith in a particular dogma.
Who says what is more parsimonious is more likely to be true? Again, that’s just an article of faith.
It’s largely a matter of what counts as “observable.” I take it pains are observable. Are they identical to physical processes? I think that’s a metaphysical position that there isn’t now and can never be empirical evidence for. As I mentioned to FMM, I think there could be empirical evidence against it, but in favor there can only be correlations (if we stick to the empirical realm). Then, we either take the metaphysical step to identity (a step generally based on parsimony), or we don’t.
Indeed! I’d love to meet something that was observable and yet not physical. The elusive interface, perhaps!
Morphine works. It affects a real brain mechanism.
Of course one may cling to “it’s really the soul that feels it in the end” nonsense, but I can’t see any reason for such a causally disconnected notion.
It’s definition Derby all the way!
I can attest to that, too. Definitely the pain killer of choice.
I don’t know, do you believe in anaesthesiology, or would you rather rely on some “non-material” basis for getting through a surgery?
Agreed. Another round of burden tennis.
For the record, I don’t think it makes sense to say that sensations are physical. Nor that thoughts are physical. That just seems really confused to me.
Does the thought “I want to have an espresso later on today?” have more mass than the thought, “I should have done laundry last night!” Does one of those thoughts have more inertia? Velocity?
That’s not to say that they are “immaterial”, since I don’t know what that means, either.
Nobody’s denying that.
And nobody needs to suggest that. All one needs to say is that you are going beyond your data. You know pains are connected with neural activity. That’s it.
Not true. Many opposites aren’t. I don’t have any particular faith in any particular dogma.
Could you provide a source for this, there does seem to be a difference in brainstates when imagining an object and when visually seeing that object.
Only thing that gets one through the pain of a kidney stone gouging its way down a ureter, I can attest.
I took a seminar with Bruce Goldberg at Cornell back when that school was an absolute bastion of Wittgensteinianism. Goldberg placed Witt. with Buddha and Jesus.
Anyhow, the main thing he wanted to push was the impossibility of correlating physical processes with such things as believing that 10 is greater than 7 or that I might go to the store later or that Robinson Crusoe is a good book. And indeed those beliefs really don’t seem like the sorts of things that could be identical either to some event type or event token.
You mean except for the “Occam’s Razor thingy” you mentioned?
There’s certainly a phenomenology of pain. Some folks think there’s a phenomenology of thought, too. I find that really weird but it could be right.
If we’re Kripkeans about identity, then mind-brain identity is unsupportable. But I have no idea if we should be Kripkeans about identity or not. I read Naming and Necessity but I didn’t have a great sense of the problems that are supposedly solved by taking identity to be a relation that holds in all logically possible worlds.
Correlations between subjectively identifiable conscious episodes, both conceptual and non-conceptual, and objectively identifiable neurophysiological states (when suitably coupled to a body and to an environment) are quite good enough for me.
Going beyond correlations to identity seems to invite more idle metaphysical speculation than is necessary to make any progress.
This is crap, walto. There’s plenty of biology about pain receptors (google nociception). It’s unnecessary to speculate about the “supernatural” while there’s plenty of biological knowledge and research devoted to the neurological basis of pain.
Oh come on, that’s how empiricism works. Hume pretty much settled that centuries ago.
We know that it might be invisible green fairies that really cause billiard balls to move like they do, and maybe magic is the necessary ingredient for muscle movement. But we look at nerve conduction, calcium release, and membrane depolarization, and infer that these are probably more causal than magic is.
We’re always going beyond the data to likely inferences. That’s how science is done, that’s how theories are developed.
Eminently reasonable, I think. And nobody who disagrees with you is taking “empirical evidence” more seriously (or has more of it available).
Occam’s razor is an article of faith, now? 😯
You misunderstand me. I’m not suggesting that “mental phemonena” are caused by anything but physical phenomena. I’m saying that we can’t infer identity from that.
Of course. There’s no a priori reason to believe that what is simpler is more likely to be true.
Wittgenstein is supernatural?
What’s the distinction, precisely?
Who said anything about “supernatural”? Again, you need to actually read posts before replying to them.
It’s a good way of ordering the sorting which hypothesis to test first.
“Immaterial”? “Non-physical”? What are you trying to say?
No. You seem to have an obsession with the “supernatural.”
Absolutely. It’s a pragmatic consideration.
I’ve said what I’ve been trying to say.
walto, Thanks for the link. 🙂
I’m all for that!
Me too. I take it to be an important consideration when choosing one theory over another. But it remains a choice, a preference.
No, we can’t not infer identity from that, to whatever degree “identity” has any meaning, which seems to be no better than correlation. We can’t “prove it,” but betting on physics has always been better than betting on philosophical objections.
Of course we could be wrong, but there really is nothing that could ever “prove identity” anyway, it’s what happens to work in science. I’ll take the chance that it will continue to work in science, since that is productive while philosophical vacuities like “identity” (something that hasn’t truly been shown to be meaningful in the first place, other than as a useful possible fiction for humans) can lead us nowhere.