Towards A Good Samaritan World

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

MORE MIND-BRAIN SUPERVENIENCE

My argument about mind-brain supervenience set off a huge discussion in the comments. It's times like this that I feel like I really learn something from blogging.

One thing is that I'm more and more convinced of my original claim, that is, of the necessity of agnosticism about mind-brain supervenience. With all due respect to my interlocutors, they're somewhat at a loss here. Either they re-assert physicalist tenets as dogmas, or they attack straw men while half-conceding the central claim.

But I also realize that my claim and the argument for it are more difficult to understand than I expected. Let me try to deal with some of the sources of confusion.

"Faith," induction, and Hume vs. Popper. A red herring in the discussion has been my occasional references to "faith."

I developed a somewhat idiosyncratic usage of this word in a previous post, "On Faith." Faith as I use the term is, to begin with, a belief-without-proof in the converse of two subversive possible views: skepticism-about-induction and solipsism. Induction skepticism and solipsism are positions that no one believes, but which (I claim) cannot be rationally refuted.

The idea of skepticism about induction comes from Hume's An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. As Wikipedia explains:

David Hume framed the problem [of induction]... Among his arguments, Hume asserted there is no logical necessity that the future will resemble the past. Justifying induction on the grounds that it has worked in the past, then, begs the question. It is using inductive reasoning to justify induction, and as such is a circular argument... By Hume's arguments, there also is no strictly logical basis for belief in the Principle of the Uniformity of Nature. Notably, Hume's stated position on the issue was that instead of unproductive radical skepticism about everything, he actually was advocating a practical skepticism based on common sense, where the inevitability of induction is accepted (but not explained). Hume noted that someone who insisted on sound deductive justifications for everything would starve to death, in that they would not, for example, assume that based on previous observations of, e.g., what time of year to plant seeds, or who has bread for sale, even that bread previously nourished them and others, that these inductions would likely continue to hold true...


My argument in favor of "faith" is a response (of sorts) to Hume's critique of induction. We all hold (I argue) a belief-- or "meta-belief"-- that there are patterns in the world. This meta-belief undergirds all induction. It itself cannot be justified, or even clearly stated. (What are "patterns?"). Yet we cannot-- we simply do not have the mental capacity to-- reject it. I use the term "faith" to describe this meta-belief because I see parallels between it and two other beliefs-- the belief that there are other people, and the belief in God-- which seem similarly unprovable and impossible even to state satisfactorily (what is a "person?" what is "God?") yet which are also universal or near-universal. (One can argue about how widespread, or how genuine, atheism is...)

Another response to Hume was offered by Karl Popper, in "The Problem of Induction" (1953). Popper actually denies that we use induction even in practice-- it is, he says, "a kind of optical illusion"-- but rather, we are continually framing hypotheses, each of which leads to predictions, and we accept these hypotheses as "conjectural knowledge" until they are falsified. A point that is given great emphasis is that to be scientific, a hypothesis must be falsifiable. We must know exactly what a counter-example would look like, and be ready to abandon the hypothesis if we see one.

Now, while I think Popper's argument is an admirable contribution, and in particular a useful way to distinguish scientific from un-scientific hypotheses, I don't think, for reasons that go beyond the scope of this post, that Popper quite succeeds in solving Hume's problem. I think that "faith"-- the meta-belief in patterns-- is still necessary. However, my argument for agnosticism about mind-brain supervenience is independent of the issue of "faith." It is Popperian. We do not know what a counter-example to mind-brain supervenience would look like; therefore the hypothesis is un-falsifiable and illegitimate, and we must relinquish knowledge-claims about it.

Let me add, too, that the Humean critique of induction applies only to knowledge that is based on induction, mainly from sensory experience. I do accept subjective experience as a valid-- a "foundational"-- knowledge source, even if our reporting of that experience is, of course, imperfectly reliable.

Meta-induction and the motivation of physicalism. One response of physicalists to this argument is simply a dogmatic assertion of physicalist tenets. An e-mailer wrote: "I'd say that application of an epistemic falsifiability criterion on something like supervenience would not be appropriate. Supervenience is a means of setting the parameters of physicalism without metaphysical ghosts and spookies." Tom asserted that "in order for anything to have a cause and effect relationship it must be of the same system," i.e. the causal closure of the physical.

These are assertions rather than arguments and don't need refuting, but they raise the issue of why people embrace the physicalist dogma in the first place. I think the reason is a mis-application of induction. We have explained so much, the argument goes, within the physicalist parameters of the scientific method. So much that was once mysterious is now explained. Surely the natural sciences will eventually explain everything, conquer all the mysteries, will reduce everything to the building blocks of matter, energy and force!

We can easily see the flaw in this with the help of Karl Popper. What is the falsifiability-criterion of "science can explain everything in physicalist terms?" Suppose there is an unexplained phenomenon. Scientists try to explain it in physicalist terms. If they succeed, great, the physicalist hypothesis is vindicated! But if they fail, the physicalist hypothesis is not falsified or abandoned; scientists will keep looking for another physical explanation. It's "heads I win, tails we flip again." Since under no circumstances would scientists abandon the physicalist hypothesis, the physicalist hypothesis itself is un-falsifiable. It is the methodological assumption of the natural sciences, yet is itself unscientific.

Although it's easy to refute, the physicalist fallacy has deep roots in our culture and is very hard to destroy. Like a weed, you can rip it up again and again, but it keeps popping back up.

Science and intersubjectivity. Another type of response to my argument (particularly by Nato) was to insist that only "entities with testable properties" deserve consideration by science. This type of response actually concedes the central point, agnosticism about mind-brain supervenience. Maybe, it says, there are "tiny angels making the neurons fire," or whatever. But if these non-physical entities don't have testable properties, science has nothing to say about them.

Now, for the phrase, "testable properties," we must substitute "intersubjectively testable properties." My mind, after all, has plenty of properties that are quite evident to me: I enjoy (or suffer from, as the case may be) an endless stream of subjective experience. But this subjective experience is private. I can describe it to others, but often I don't, and even when I try to, the result is very imperfect. When I am confronted with any physicalist account of the operation of the mind which has implications for my subjective experience, I can always tell the scientist, "No, my subjective experience is inconsistent with your theory." But he can't see that for himself. Maybe we are misunderstanding each other, or maybe I am lying. It's not like a chemistry lab, where he can see the litmus paper turn red.

Agnosticism about mind-brain supervenience implies that non-supervenient minds, or non-supervenient aspects of minds, may or may not exist, but we cannot rule them out. The claim that every thought corresponds to some firing neuron might be true, but we can never prove it, nor even frame it as a Popperian-style falsifiable hypothesis and call it "conjectural knowledge." We must abandon it. Nato seems to accept this as an ontological claim, but argues that science can and ought to ignore these entities that are not intersubjectively testable, even if they might exist.

Well, yes. The methodological policy of science is to focus on that which is intersubjectively observable; and as the human condition happens to be such that all intersubjectivity is mediated through the physical world, science focuses on that. But that is a truth about science, not about the world. It doesn't follow that the physical world is all there is, or all that we need to know about.

Minds exist. We know from subjective experience that they exist and something about what they are. Minds matter. We know there is, at the least, some kind of interface between mind and body. The natural sciences can study that interface and teach us some useful things about the mind. Minds may, indeed, be supervenient on the physical world, but we do not know that they are. The supervenience of the mind on the brain is a claim that can be uncritically accepted as dogma, but cannot meet the Popperian standard of falsifiability.

If minds are, or may be, non-supervenient, or partially non-supervenient, on the physical world, they still matter. To simply exclude them, or aspects of them, from consideration on methodological grounds, will not do. The loss of the comforting intersubjectivity that comes from assuming a physicalist ontology is a price we'll have to pay.

This is where it gets interesting. The possibility of non-supervenient minds become a gateway to a richer ontology, because it is a license to take our mental experience more seriously. Platonism, with its Ideas of which the things we see in the world are only shadows, flickers to life as a renewed possibility...

43 Comments:

  • "We do not know what a counter-example to mind-brain supervenience would look like; therefore the hypothesis is un-falsifiable and illegitimate, and we must relinquish knowledge-claims about it."

    Well, perhaps we should say that no amount of evidence can possibly eliminate the possibility of non mind-brain supervenience. This is not an uncommon circumstance - there is no amount of evidence that will eliminate the possibility of alternatives to any empirical knowledge. Maybe biochemistry-life supervenience is likewise a chimera. We cannot Know. That said, the motivations to entertain these hypotheses is weak at best. (It seems likely that) We can explain everything we want to explain about life using biochemistry. We can't explain everything we want to explain about minds using cognitive science, yet, but we never will if we don't try. More later.

    By Blogger Nato, at 7:01 PM  

  • As a practical matter, I can entirely imagine circumstances where minds are shown not to be supervenient on brains - the simplest version being finding a sort of radiotransceiver in the brain from and to which signals travel, affecting or effecting the operation of better understood neurological processes. This doesn't even require a controversion of physicalism. Then there's, say, the possibility of cognitive patterns truly coming out of "nowhere," which eventually trace to some other deep structure of existence. A Spark Matter analogue to dark matter.

    Of course, neither of these would establish the essential privacy of "subjective" experience. Rather, they would nudge "exposure" back a remove. In fact, if there is anything enduring about persons and anything veridical about personality, it would seem to require that there exist regularities that science could in principle find expositive, even if technical limitations exclude ultimate answers.

    Which brings us back to regularities and patterns in the world:
    "We all hold (I argue) a belief-- or "meta-belief"-- that there are patterns in the world. This meta-belief undergirds all induction. It itself cannot be justified, or even clearly stated. (What are "patterns?"). Yet we cannot-- we simply do not have the mental capacity to-- reject it."

    Patterns are, it would seem, representational compression. They replace enumeration of particulars with hypothetical and/or mathematical structures. We cannot, indeed, seem to operate on enumeration, nor could any finite being. This is provably true from mathematics.

    It would seem to follow that any entity that believes itself not infinite would have a non-arbitrary reason to attempt informational compression through pattern descrimination. Empirically, it seems to be the care that we are designed to see patterns, which might be viewed as an epistemically fortunate trait, but it might also be regarded as a precondition for cogitation in finite beings.

    If compression is our goal - or more prosaically, the transformation of all experience from a series of independent, unrelated and undifferentiated sensory episodes into a coherent, conceivable narrative of some kind (which, not incidentally, offers hope of the future being composed of items independent of one's plans and hopes) - then Ockham's famous Razor becomes more than just some handy rule of thumb - it's the crux of the empirical enterprise.

    But what ho Truth, we might ask. Isn't investigation about wanting to know the Truth about the world? I would rather say that 1) assuming the world* is fundamentally stable in some way is a precondition of projecting patterns into the future and 2) patterns that compress the world with the least loss generate a future with fewer of those frequently unpleasant enumerative surprises. We like our patterns to describe the world rather than something else, since it would seem to be the world that dictates what sort of experiences we'll have.

    Back from my small digression about Truth: Explanatory power is more or less the power to compress information the most with the least loss. If everything can be explained within monism, then it's clearly our best answer. This has nothing to do with disconfirmability, which is actually more procedural and derivative than Ockham's Razor. That said, if monism can't be made to explain what we need to explain, then #2 above applies and we'll need to enumerate (the minimum number of) additional isms to prevent worse proliferation when the world starts behaving other than expected.

    This is merely a sketch, but it's the kernel of why I do not feel myself to be "at a loss" regarding why we think there are patterns, why we should be so sparing in our essential substances, and why mind-brain supervenience is objectively the best hypothesis.

    Of course, surprises aren't always unpleasant, at least in our imagination. It would be nice if cancer vanished for no reason fitting our best biological patterns. It would be nice if wealth poured down on us all irrespective of economic patterns. It's cheering to contemplate surprises like that, but most of us temper those contemplations with the expectation that those things won't happen and that we had better work within the chemotherapy and capitalism patterns if we want to avoid the experience of dying of cancer and grinding poverty.

    *Whatever it is, whether solopsistic imaginings or physical stuff or ideas in God's mind

    By Blogger Nato, at 3:52 AM  

  • Consider, briefly, a patternless, incompressable personality. Why would we want such a thing? We are, even in day-to-day life, interested in the regularities of peoples' behavior, not its inscrutableness. For individuals to have traits, they much be reliably something-or-other, and we honor steadfastness, commitment and perseverance while avoiding capriciousness, changeability and fecklessness. Sure, we don't want to be hollow automata, but simply being logeto-mathematically describable does not ipso facto make make us automata unless one defines terms tendentiously.

    By Blogger Nato, at 8:43 AM  

  • Sorry for the sudden hiatus. Was exhausted by the previous round of debate. Will return next week...

    By Blogger Nathanael, at 8:47 AM  

  • I can understand that, though this is quite literally my favorite topic in the world, and I have never tired of it. That said, I know better than to expect everyone else's interest and energy to both last so long on a single topic, even if deep.

    By Blogger Nato, at 8:54 AM  

  • Oh, I'm not tired. Sadly, I've had too much house work to do. But I will make time sometime in the next week to formulate a detailed response.

    By Blogger Thomas, at 2:56 PM  

  • re: "Well, perhaps we should say that no amount of evidence can possibly eliminate the possibility of non mind-brain supervenience."

    No, this is wrong. This statement suggests that we can gradually accumulate evidence against non-supervenience, but it's never quite enough to disprove it. That would be the case if mind-brain supervenience were framable as a Popperian falsifiable hypothesis. Since it is not a falsifiable-- scientific-- hypothesis, the very word "evidence" here is inapt. Supporters of supervenience don't know what evidence would be.

    Suppose we are able to track a particular thought in the brain. Think about ice cream, neurons P and Q in lobe X get activated; the pattern consistently holds. Physicalists will no doubt take this as evidence for their hypothesis. Of course, it is nothing of the kind. For the alternative theory-- that the brain is an interface between a non-supervenient mind and the body/physical world-- also predicts that many, perhaps most, thoughts are mapped somehow in the brain.

    A falsifiable theory is needed before it is legitimate to talk about evidence for it (particularly if we want to emphasize that we're talking about "evidence" in the scientific sense). In the case of mind-brain supervenience, that first barrier is prohibitive.

    By Blogger Nathanael, at 6:50 AM  

  • re: "As a practical matter, I can entirely imagine circumstances where minds are shown not to be supervenient on brains - the simplest version being finding a sort of radiotransceiver in the brain from and to which signals travel, affecting or effecting the operation of better understood neurological processes."

    Well, this is sort of a detour. The real issue, of course, is: Are minds supervenient on the physical world? But since it's generally agreed that the brain is the "place" where the mind is "located," mind-brain supervenience is a useful phrase to encapsulate the discussion.

    By Blogger Nathanael, at 6:52 AM  

  • re: "Patterns are, it would seem, representational compression. They replace enumeration of particulars with hypothetical and/or mathematical structures... It would seem to follow that any entity that believes itself not infinite would have a non-arbitrary reason to attempt informational compression through pattern descrimination."

    Hmm... I can't tell whether Nato believes that patterns are real, or just illusions projected by our minds...

    Consider two ten-number series:
    1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10
    7.11, 6522, -4, 37.73, 8, 8, 8, 17999245.661793, 12050, 7

    It seems to me that there is a pattern in the first series, and not in the second. And that this is real, not just a projection of my mind. Would Nato, I wonder, accept or deny this claim?

    By Blogger Nathanael, at 7:02 AM  

  • Claims of supervenience - "X consists of nothing more or less than Y in circumstance Z" - arise from explaining everything we need to explain without reference to the rest of the alphabet. Nothing can be shown to supervene beyond that, and requiring it of cognitive scientists is tendentious.

    Of course, if one is under the misapprehension that supervenience qua supervenience is supposed to be a Popperian hypothesis, then I can see where the confusion arises. Philosophers use supervenience to see if an explanation leaves residue yet unexplicated. Scientists make claims that one can translate to supervenience rather more blithely, since they (rightfully) help themselves to the ceteris paribus assumption that the phenomena of which they are aware is the set of targets to be explained for supervenience claims.

    It's true that in the case of the mind, it's too soon to say that all the things that need explaining have been explained; there remains a number of promissary notes outstanding. Instead, scientists are frequently confident that the remaining problems are tractable in the existing modes of explanation. Those claims may yet be disconfirmed, of course.

    Re: The radiotransceiver counterhypothesis: I was just showing a way in which mind-brain supervenience could be disconfirmed.

    Regarding patterns: Tom will no doubt have a much more definite position on this than I do (though I don't know what it is), but I tend to suspect the supposed qualitative difference between projected patterns and externally real patterns collapses at some point. I don't need that for my argument, though, since my perspective on personal epistemology is already highly limited and brackets Truth.

    By Blogger Nato, at 8:50 AM  

  • re: "Claims of supervenience - 'X consists of nothing more or less than Y in circumstance Z' - arise from explaining everything we need to explain without reference to the rest of the alphabet. Nothing can be shown to supervene beyond that, and requiring it of cognitive scientists is tendentious."

    C'mon, Nato. The rest of the alphabet? "Nothing can be shown to supervene beyond that..." Beyond what? Beyond "the rest of the alphabet?" "The rest of the alphabet" is a stand-in for something. Either it's a stand-in for the physical world, or for some sort of vague question-begging "everything." If it's a stand-in for the physical world, this "argument" is nothing more than a rhetorical sleight-of-hand masking the old physicalist dogma, as baldly unjustified as ever. If it's "everything," then this is neither here nor there: I am not talking about whether the mind is supervenient upon "everything," but about whether it is supervenient upon the physical world.

    re: "Of course, if one is under the misapprehension that supervenience qua supervenience is supposed to be a Popperian hypothesis, then I can see where the confusion arises."

    So it's not supposed to be a Popperian hypothesis? Fine. That is as much as to say that mind-brain supervenience is unscientific; that it can only be embraced as a dogma; and that anyone who is in the habit of ignoring mere dogmas need not give it a second thought.

    By Blogger Nathanael, at 9:46 AM  

  • re: "the motivations to entertain these hypotheses is weak at best."

    What hypotheses are you writing about, and why is the motivation to entertain them weak? Bear in mind that the positive hypothesis in play here is mind-brain supervenience. I agree that the reasons to entertain it are weak.

    By Blogger Nathanael, at 9:49 AM  

  • Okay, there appears to be some crippling confusion concerning claims* of supevenience.

    Who makes claims of the form "the mind supervenes on the brain"? Scientists don't use that word, and there's a reason for that besides unfamiliarity with philosophy: they try to create evidence for theories that (usually) amount to X-Y supervenience, but the claims in question simply try to explain phenomena. If they fail to explain the phenomena, they are rejected. However, if they explain the data well enough to scientists begin to think that it's probably how things really work, then they start to claim that X is Y under Z circumstances, which philosophers might examine to see if/how it means that X supervenes on Y, and what the implications would be. In the case of mind-brain supervenience, the scientist claims "the mind is when (these elements of) the brain behave in the following manner" which is a Popperian claim like any other.

    It may seem that scientists presume from the beginning that everything will trace back only to physical explanations. This is true not because of some philosophical idea of supervenience but because of 1)Ockham's Razor favors monism** and 2)science's history has left researchers with the impression that if it looks like one can't physically explain something, it's probably because one lacks either clues or insight. I think it's pretty hard to argue methodology against science's track record, since it's better than everyone else's, including philosophy.

    The real battleground is over whether the dataset to be explained is fundamentally inaccessible to third person science.

    *I just couldn't resist the gratuitous alliteration.

    **I think this is an implicit justification for most scientists, but if asked, they would probably just say that alternatives are preposterous and not be able to explain why. In this particular area, I suspect theistic scientists would statistically have a better grasp on that than atheists. It would be interesting to poll.

    By Blogger Nato, at 10:37 AM  

  • Nato's last point:

    "The real battleground is over whether the dataset to be explained is fundamentally inaccessible to third person science."

    gets to the heart of the matter. Although that's not much of a battleground. That I don't have access to your subjective experience (except through verbal and other communication of course, but that's incomplete and incompletely reliable) is pretty unarguable. And to simply exclude subjective experience from the "dataset to be explained" is hardly an acceptable option: not only do people care about it, but from a commonsense point of view it also has a causal role in our (physical) behavior.

    As for the issue about claims of supervenience, it might be useful to make comparisons to other scientific theories. The theory that water is H2O could be rephrased (even if it sounds a bit odd) as "water is supervenient upon H2O," that is, the phenomenon we describe as "water" never occurs without the underlying phenomenon of two hydrogen molecules bonded to an oxygen molecule.

    re: "In the case of mind-brain supervenience, the scientist claims 'the mind is when (these elements of) the brain behave in the following manner' which is a Popperian claim like any other."

    The potential claim of which this is a fill-in-the-blanks prototype is not quite the same as the claim of mind-brain supervenience. Presumably Nato is imagining that some fleshed-out, detailed theory is offered here; if such a theory were offered, it might indeed be a falsifiable hypothesis like the water-is-supervenient-on-H20 hypothesis; but, if falsified, it would not entail the abandonment of mind-brain supervenience, because there are many other possible ways that mind-brain supervenience could work.

    re: "I think it's pretty hard to argue methodology against science's track record, since it's better than everyone else's, including philosophy."

    This is an overgeneralization. Science does some things well, other things not. Scientists are great at coming up with useful new chemicals, or understand the motions of the planets. Their methodology has been less successful in understanding music theory, or the art of the novel. Science's success in understanding the mind has been mixed at best, and famous "scientific" approaches to the study of the mind-- Freud's psychoanalysis-- and of society-- Marx's historical materialism-- have proven disastrously and comprehensively wrong.

    By Blogger Nathanael, at 12:01 PM  

  • A clarification of my "position" (if you can call it that) regarding the ontology of patterns: Some things - the classic example being electrons - are illata and the sense in which they are real is the least complicated. Chairs are also real, but it would appear their reality has a contingent portion: their status as chairs as opposed to just a collection of particles. One might even divide the issue into the entirely contingent sign of "chair" and a separate and particular illatum. Then there are abstracta like centers of gravity. They have no physical existence that reduces uncontroversially into illata, yet one can be far less arbitrary in labeling a center of gravity than one can a chair. The problem seems to be in envisioning a substance for abstracta when there's no one around to identify (or project) them. Is their reality somehow derivative? Since I tend to take a view in which logical relationship/mathematics is primary, I would also them tend to view patterns as real-in-the-world, but this functions more like a weak methodological axiom rather than a justified belief

    By Blogger Nato, at 12:03 PM  

  • On mind, one more thing: while a specific account of how the mind supervenes on the brain would be, unlike mind-brain supervenience in general, a falsifiable Popperian hypothesis, in the sense that it would logically have falsification-conditions, those falsification-conditions would be part of the subjectively-experienced "dataset" and thus would not be intersubjectively observable, so we could never effectively confirm or disconfirm it in practice. This is the basic reason that we have to be agnostic about mind-brain supervenience.

    On patterns: while the ontological issues about chairs and centers of gravity are certainly interesting, the question can be useful distilled by looking at it in a mathematical light (even though I don't necessarily accept that "logical relationship/mathematics is primary"). We can see that "1,2,3,4,5,6" is more mathematically simple than "3,-4,16.7,1,1,-59313" according to our intuition, can we define the idea of "mathematical simplicity," or do we need to rely on intuition? I have no doubt mathematicians can construct definitions of simplicity, with varying levels of sophistication, but I strongly suspect that these will be mere codifications of intuition rather than explanations of or justifications for our intuition. This is the situation that I describe as faith: we have an intuition which underlies all our knowledge, we are incapable of really doubting it, but we also can't explain it. It is, as Thomas Aquinas said of faith, "between opinion and knowledge..."

    By Blogger Nathanael, at 12:40 PM  

  • Marx seems very clearly a philosopher rather than a scientist, his nomenclature notwithstanding. Freud operated very much more in the scientific mode, but more in the manner of an alchemist than a chemist.

    That said, while scientific method is not fully orthagonal to the arts, I agree it's by no means the best way to go about explaining the things we care about in those domains.

    "That I don't have access to your subjective experience (except through verbal and other communication of course, but that's incomplete and incompletely reliable) is pretty unarguable."

    I agree, but as I've argued elsewhere, our own knowledge of our subjective experience is likewise incomplete and incompletely reliable for the same kinds of reasons (though to different degree) as our knowledge of other peoples' subjective experience. The same methods apply to both and the investigative difference is in effort and bandwidth, not kind.

    By Blogger Nato, at 12:51 PM  

  • "I have no doubt mathematicians can construct definitions of simplicity, with varying levels of sophistication, but I strongly suspect that these will be mere codifications of intuition rather than explanations of or justifications for our intuition."

    I agree. From a long-ago post:
    "Axioms and the rules of logic are our intuitions codified. If base intuition is absolutely unreliable then reason has no traction, and Descarte's demon has won: we will never believe anything about the world that could be counted as true knowledge.

    The real virtue of reason and the logical system it implies is that it directs us to pare our intuitions hierarchically. If logic brings it to our attention that some later-acquired belief or intuition conflicts with a primal one like "A thing can not be 'A' and 'not A' at the same time and in the same respect," then our deeper intuitive belief directs us to discard or correct the shallower one. Religions, however, frequently direct us to change our system of logic to place the beliefs that constitute religious doctrine in a special category labeled "faith" to which we must not fairly apply our paring shears of intuitive consistency."

    Of course, in Nathanael's view, the God intuition is about as fundamental as "A thing can not be 'A' and 'not A' at the same time and in the same respect," so that there really is no tension between his definition of "faith" and the intuitions undergirding the rest of human inquiry. I personally find this claim for the God intuition's fundamentality suspect, since I do not share it at all now and do not remember ever entertaining it as a truly fundamental intuition. I am forced to admit that I am not in a position to prove Nathanael wrong to conclude thusly, however, as I have no data to controvert his account of his intuitions.

    Of course, if I maintained that I held an axiomatic belief that Nathanael owes me a million USD, and he could not even in principle have evidence that could cast doubt on the justifiability of my belief to myself. No one *else* would be required to take me seriously, of course, but there would be no way of logicing me out of my position.

    By Blogger Nato, at 1:10 PM  

  • re:

    Of course, in Nathanael's view, the God intuition is about as fundamental as "A thing can not be 'A' and 'not A' at the same time and in the same respect," so that there really is no tension between his definition of "faith" and the intuitions undergirding the rest of human inquiry.

    No, that is not my position. I have proposed "faith" as epistemically undergirding (a) induction, (b) the recognition of other persons, and hence ethics, and (c) God.

    These are three distinct beliefs, or meta-beliefs, and while I see many parallels between them, they are hierarchical in that one can accept (a) and not (b)-- an inductivist solipsist-- or (b) and not (c)-- a non-solipsist atheist.

    Meanwhile, other sources of knowledge are more foundational than these and do not rely on "faith" at all. Logic is in this category, as is perception in the internalist sense (i.e., "I see a tree," taken as not implying a fact about the world-- "there is a tree out there"-- but merely describing my own experience).

    Of course, to get as far as to interpret our raw experience so as to describe it with the words "I see a tree," one would have to apply a good deal of induction. But the raw experience is nonetheless a foundational and non-faith-based source of knowledge (about itself, not the world).

    By Blogger Nathanael, at 1:33 PM  

  • Thanks for the clarification. I still disagree, of course, but it's much clearer about what, exactly we disagree.

    By Blogger Nato, at 2:14 PM  

  • I think an important thing to understand which is missed here, is that the sense of self, that is the first person or "subjective" point of view is an aspect of the brain.

    What I mean is that the brain does a whole lot of of stuff that has little to do with the production of awareness Which includes all so called knowledge and perception as we "subjective" individuals know it.

    Now, the mistake is that "I" am the one who controls the mind, which is to say that "I" exist as an agent.

    Instead, the brain which is a physical system is tapped into the physical events of the environment via it's sensory input organs. It produces a feed back loop via it's muscles and other output neurons.

    Anyway, subject awareness is only one particular process which the brain runs, it's a kind of feed-back system where past changes in the material of the brain are compared with present changes, syntactical functions such as math and language are performed via algorithms like any computer system.

    This feed back system taken as a whole flags certain syntactic patterns which with "meaning" which is not different than a line of code that flags this or that sentence as relevant to the parameters of the task at hand, thus reducing the need to process the whole contents of the hard drive constantly.

    Anyway, all we need to do is expand our understanding of how the brain uses this power and we have sold this mind-body problem.

    What you must realize is that "YOU" are just a think the non-personal brain does, and everything you think and feel, is done to you by the brain. ALL that you are is what the brain make of you, in a sense the Brain is GOD, because it creates you and your whole universe constantly, and you change constantly, even if you don't have awareness of it. because 99% of what the brain does is not you, the 1% of what it does that is YOU is the whole phenomenal universe, which is at the mercy of the rest of the brain's doings, which are 100% controlled by natural forces, unaided by any sort of personal agent.

    By Anonymous froclown, at 2:18 AM  

  • Summary: "Subjectivity is illusion."

    Refutation: Introspective experience is more foundational knowledge than any of the conjectural knowledge inferred from patterns in sense-data. There can never be an adequate basis for believing in the truth of froclown's claims.

    By Blogger Nathanael, at 5:21 AM  

  • As attractively expedient as it is to simply rule out opposing positions by rank asseveration, perhaps it would be more convincing if any sort of counter-argument to the claim "introspective experience is of the same kind as external pattern descrimination" were in the offing. If the two differ in scale rather than kind, then there's no barrier to froclown supporting his position.

    On the other hand, neither would I stamp froclown's view of cognitive life with my personal seal of approval, since I'm more of a realist than his rhetorical stance would suggest. Of course, it's prety hard to distill one's entire understanding of cognition in a few paragraphs.

    By Blogger Nato, at 5:26 PM  

  • My stance is that conscious awareness, the sense of self, etc. (Basically the entire cosmos of phenomenal knowledge, rather than reflexive mechanisms) is a representational that converts syntactic systems into semantic ones.

    This is to say it transforms one form of logic into another.

    For example we say that digital circuits are composed on the basis of computer logic. Transistors, form AND, OR, NOT, gates and other complex logic is used as computers get more complex.

    However, analog electrical systems like that use vacuum tubes, transducers, and inductance based devices do not use logic circuits the way that digital circuits do.

    This means that we have to be able to encode between these two types of circuits if we hope to use them together. In order to do this we use devices that convert analog potentiating current into digital pulses. This means for example an analog light bulb glows brighter as current is increased, however in digital systems the brightness is controlled by a set of hi-low pulses.

    Another example is that your computer doesn't need a monitor to function, once booted up wit a complex task to perform it's internal logic circuits can perform that task to completion. However, we humans would not know what answer the computer came up with, even if we plugged out fingers into the output and felt the electrical pulses this input would be useless to us. However, we can convert those output pulses into light pulses on a screen which indicate numbers, these numbers can be used by our brains.

    So, different parts of out brains basically speak different languages, as well as the pulses form out skin, muscles, ears, eyes, etc, all need converting to be used by the brains, internal logic. (all the input devises in the computer also convert things this way, for use in the processor).

    Now, the entirely of awareness is a conversion of that syntactic data into a form used to make certain kinds of calculations, about behaviors. These are behaviors which are direct and don't need to be verified before execution, that is you always jerk back from a hot skillet, there is no awareness involved.

    However, some actions require a huge list of weighted variable to be balanced one against the other.
    Each variable carries a weight on it, not just 100% yes or a 100% no, it's a kind of fuzzy logic, which is akin to the analog circuit.

    The conscious mind not only performs the logic of syntactic processing the bits of information, but these bits compose sentences called factors, and each of these factors is prescribed a weight, that is an attribute in addition to it's syntactic attribute.

    Think of packets of analog bursts, rather than simple particles like hi-lo bits of information. A sort of quantum logic, as it were.

    Anyway the weight these factors carry is the significance they hold, that is it's the semantic content.

    The subject mind is thus defined by the model by which the brain represents semantic content to the syntactic nervous system. Thus the imagination is the effect of semantic information producing a harmonized (entangled) association between the memory and the visual cortex. (or something to this effect)

    By Anonymous froclown, at 8:35 PM  

  • I don't know if froclown's exposition responds to my most recent post, but if so I should clarify some things. First, this is less a scientific dispute than a philosophical one. When I say I'm a realist, for example, it's a stance about the ontological status of the self.

    The biggest outstanding issue is the epistemic status of introspection versus "external" experience. We have to reason our way out the solipsist's box and a few other boxes before empirical discussions of how physical matter could support consciousness as it seems to us become immediately salient.

    The steps:
    1)Show that there are objective reasons to decide there is an external world.
    2)Show that there are objective reasons to decide there are patterns in the world
    3)Show that we naturally take the same empirical stance toward ourselves as we do toward the "external" world and that qualitatively privileged introspective access is a philosopher's illusion.
    3.1)Show that #3 can be a stable position (science can have a supporting role here)
    4)Show from science how physical stuff can make us seem the way we do to ourselves well enough to counter the mistaken portions of our self-perceptions and subsume the rest.

    I think froclown is working away at #4, and I have been distracted by the whole supervenience issue which has little to do with the topic and is mostly a squabble over the proper role of the philosophical concept of supervenience. That said, I've offered something on #2 and #3. #3.1 isn't really your ordinary philosophical point, but it's something to which an answer must be available to avoid confusion.

    I'm not sure Nathanael would allow this framing of matters as they stand, but it's how I see things.

    By Blogger Nato, at 7:19 AM  

  • Gentlemen,

    Nato's last comment is now the subject of a post at The Free Thinker. Very well said, and I am in agreement with most of the argument; but I have a small objection to #3...

    By Blogger Nathanael, at 8:05 AM  

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