Saturday, July 08, 2006



Daniel Morgan said:

Certainly, the brain and mind are one and the same in my worldview. One does not exist without the other. However, supervenience and epiphenomena and many other ideas do not make my stance necessarily reductionist (to show thought A = molecule B doing C). Think of fire for a moment. Knowing all that there is to know about hydrocarbons, and knowing all that there is to know about oxygen, we still cannot experience combustion except through the perception of fire as a visual and thermal phenomenon. Experiencing the heat on your face is quite different than calculating the energy of C=O and O-H bond formation against the energy of C-H and O=O bond formation. Being inside our own minds, we are experiencing, I am sure, nothing but biochemical interactions, not qualitatively different than combustion. However, we perceive these biochemical phenoemna first-hand, since they constitute our brains, and we're not viewing them objectively (as with fMRI or CT scans) -- we're feeling the heat and seeing the light of these phenomena.

I'm just trying to point out here that I don't necessarily disagree with the comment on watching neurons fire and correlating it to mental activity.

Doing that (observation) is like doing the calculation for the enthalpy of combustion (the heat that will be given off). The reality of fire, however, can include a completely different perception, to which you would be completely ignorant of, and without the ability to describe, unless you are close enough to the phenomenon to experience it firsthand -- heat and light.


Weasel words like supervenience and epiphenomena bake no bread.

You can say that a set of properties at a higher plane of organization are not equipollent with a set of properties at a lower level of organization. There is more to a Bach fugue than the diatonic scale.

But if you’re a physicalist, then you still have to treat thought, consciousness, qualia, and the like as something physical in itself, and not merely the byproduct of a physical process.

Thus, the effect, and not merely the underlying cause, needs to be detectable by physical means and subject to physical analysis, viz. what is the chemical position of thought?


I don't think that, because of the fundamental disconnect between experience/perception and objective observation, we can ever run wires to your brain and put up on a screen what you're seeing, or "feel what you're feeling". Possibly we never will be able to. Part of mental processes, I agree, is in the subjective experience/perception and cannot be observed. But, does this cause me to invoke some unknown, immaterial substance? Why would it?


Several problems:

i) Scientifically speaking, you don’t know what you can’t show. Even if physicalism were true, if it cannot be known to be true because it cannot be shown to be true, then it’s just an unverifiable hypothesis. The fundamental disconnect renders physicalism unprovable.

ii) The aim of science is to explain every phenomenon according to a public, third-person description.

Due to the privacy of mental events, this cannot be done—which is why some physicalists deny mental states altogether.

iii) There is also the fundamental issue of our starting-point. Mine is Cartesian, yours is not.

You operate with a presumptive materialism. I regard this as a flawed methodology.

From an epistemic standpoint, the external world is a secondary phenomenon, for we experience the external world via the mind. Therefore, the mind enjoys epistemic primacy.

We enjoy an immediate experience of our own mental states, and only a mediated experience of material states.

No physical experiment can overturn the primacy of the mind because any physical experiment will, itself, be a mediate object of knowledge, filtered through the mind.
iv) In our experience, mental properties differ from material properties. A thought of blue is not a blue thought.

Thoughts lack primary qualities, viz. size, shape, solidity.

This is a direct deliverance of consciousness. A primitive datum.

And since this is an immediate, self-presenting state, there can be no hiatus between appearance and reality. We don’t appear to feel pain. We either feel pain or we don’t.

v) Now, a physicalist will say that this subjective impression is illusory. That, in fact, this impression is explainable by a physical process.

He can say that, but he can never show that. There is no presumption in favor of physicalism. To the contrary, the presumption is always in favor of mind over matter.

And this is more than a prima facie presumption. We begin with the mind because that’s the only place we can ever begin. And the incorporeal character of the mind is given in the very act of consciousness.

vi) We are not invoking an unknown substance. To the contrary, we are invoking something we know much better than any material substance.


The ability to describe experience and perception using Na/K potentials across your neurons in terms of intensity and frequency is real. In other words, intense pain correlates to higher frequency neural processes as well as a greater concentration of ions released at synapses. I can thus "see" your pain, but seeing it and feeling it are two completely different things. I can make a graph of the flux of ions across your neurons and show the valleys and troughs correlating to your experience of pain. I cannot show your pain itself on a screen for others to view. Your pain is indeed "reducible" to Na/K potentials, but can I say that I can "describe" the experience/perception of pain unless I have felt it? No.


A dualist isn’t going to deny that pain has a physical aspect. If I stick a needle in your arm, the pain will travel to the brain via a nerve impulse.

Obviously the pain has a physical source of origin (the pin prick) and well as physical mode of transmission. So the fact that to some extent we can map that process is hardly at odds with dualism.


How can creatures who experience mental processes first hand, and are even using them in trying to observe others', ever hope to have some sort of understanding of their own experience from an objective standpoint? They can't. So?


Except that science is all about achieving an objective (public, third-person) description of reality. And a materialist will generally regard the scientific method as the royal road to knowledge. Empirical science is the source and standard of knowledge.


How is skeptically and tentatively accepting the rationality of any particular conclusion undercut by the origin of the brain? This is what we've yet to clarify. I pointed out in the beginning that I was willing to lay aside the question of soul/spirit and consider only whether or not human brains are the product of evolution (with or without divine guidance) or a special act of creation, which I dubbed "poof", but you cannot dispute the accuracy of the description. Something which doesn't exist, suddenly does = poof.


It’s precisely the accuracy of the description that I can dispute. For one thing, it leaves the agent out of view (God). It also confuses the origin of the world (creation ex nihilo) with the origin of the soul (creationism or traducianism).

You have a bad habit of repeating the same mistakes after the error has been called to your attention. I’ve corrected you on this, but you respond like a continuous loop-tape.


What evolution depends upon is, by the naturalistic framework, the laws of physics. Even the most "chance" of processes are not what we would call "unbounded". That is, the energy distribution of a bunch of particles at a given temperature (ie with a particular average kinetic energy) can be represented with a Gaussian distribution. Why do I mention this? Well, even the most indeterminable outcomes of physical states still obey the laws of physics (in the naturalistic worldview). Therefore, when we speak of a brain being created by naturalistic processes, and humans inheriting a "monkey mind", I still have yet to see why this necessarily entails irrationality. The "monkey mind" itself must obey the laws of physics, in a naturalist's worldview, and no known natural processes can be considered completely beyond understanding or description (even if the states fall under a distribution of probabilistic outcomes, as with quantum mechanics).

The laws of physics themselves are hardly "irrational", even if indeterminable due to the number of variables involved. When considering all natural processes, chance/random or no, "any" outcome is not possible, just "many". This provides us with a sort of foundation to counter some sort of presumed connection between irrationality and natural processes.


You’re committing several category mistakes:

i) While the laws of nature are not irrational, they are irrationable. They may not be unreasonable, but they are unreasoning.

ii) There is, in addition, a big difference between the significance of natural law in a Christian worldview and a secular worldview.

In a Christian worldview, there is a mind behind the mindless laws of nature; but in a secular worldview, there is no mind behind the mindless laws of nature.

So secularism upholds the primacy of matter over mind. Matter is primary, mind is secondary.

iii) Moreover, determinism and rationality are two different things. For example, you can have a deterministic randomizing program, such as a computerized slot machine.

So even if we were to subscribe to a hidden variables version of quantum mechanics, which left the laws of nature deterministic from top to bottom, that would not underwrite the rationality of our cognitive faculties.

iv) Furthermore, natural laws are not truth-conducive. Natural laws are impersonal. They do not select for true beliefs.


  1. Thank you for the insights to the differences between a materialist and Cartesian dualist account of the mind. I have much to read on this subject. I know I can go to Dennett, or someone like him, to gain a summarized set of responses to your arguments, but I have to ask -- do you consider that they *start* with materialist assumptions and develop a phil of mind, or do you think that they develop a phil of mind, and *thus* are materialists?

  2. It’s hard to generalize. In the case of Dennett, he studied under Gilbert Ryle, who was a militant critic of dualism, so it could well be that Dennett comes to materialism from philosophy of mind rather than vice versa.

    As for others, a variety of prior intellectual commitments may be in play. They may begin with atheism, or empirical science, and frame a complementary philosophy of mind.

  3. note Daniel's a priori committment to materialism. He hasn't studied this but he knows your wrong, he'll just go to Denett to refute you. Dennett's playing the role of a highschool bodyguard.

    Further, I'd like to introduce a technical distinction. The laws of physics may not be irrational, but they're like wise not rational, they are *non*- rational.

    So, one still needs to build the bridge from the non-rational to the rational. If I can introduce my own a priori, I don't see it coming in our life time, though I know many people are commited to the project.

  4. Steve,

    That was all I was wondering -- is if phil of mind contains within itself arguments convincing enough for you to admit that some persons will be moved towards materialism by those arguments, or if you think that pre-committed materialists develop arguments within the phil of mind to try to keep their worldview consistent.

    I'm sure you're right that there are some of both.

    Surely you agree that atheism doesn't necessitate monism?


    I think it funny that you play pretend that your arguments are all your own. You have no "bodyguards", no, surely not. You're so tough! Why would you need help?

    The laws of physics are non-rational? That's a new one to me. I've often heard theists argue that the rationality of the natural universe is evidence for God, ie the fine-tuning arguments, which depend upon the uniformity of nature (picking a specific range of cosmological constants, if they don't remain CONSTANT, is a bit idiotic, eh?).

    Apparently you don't think this is a valid argument? Swinburne and Craig, in their reliance upon God setting up this universe to run rationally upon laws in order to make us [humans], need you as their bodyguard.

    I am a monist due to simplicity and lack of studying the necessities of dualism. Basically, you have to start somewhere. You presuppose a soul/spirit, so of course you're never going to listen to the arguments about the logical impossibility of immaterial substances interacting with material ones.

    I would say that starting out with materialism is just philosophically simpler than starting out as a dualist, esp so long as one allows the weight of evidence to determine whether or not dualism becomes more logical (as a first principle). One good reason for this is the obvious fact of existence and necessity of one substance. From there, additional substances ought to have supporting arguments. The best arguments for dualism I've run into come from phil of mind, but on the whole I am still unconvinced.

    I wouldn't mind being a property dualist, but at the moment, I remain in what I consider to be the simplest position until convinced by argument to the otherwise. Unlike you, Paul, I am not married to presuppositions. You have to have your soul, I don't mind having one either way.

    Atheists need not be materialists. I have indeed tried to argue from a materialist standpoint, but I am not "bound" to it. Dualism doesn't necessitate a God, and certainly doesn't necessitate the Christian one, so that materialism isn't crucial, even if my whole aim were indeed to avoid your particular theology. Even if there existed some immaterial soul, one could take the Whiteheadian pantheism route, or one of many others...if one's aim were indeed to cling to materialism in order to escape the "unavoidable conclusion" [implied contention] that dualism = evidence for Christianity. It obviously doesn't.

    ..."it ain't all about you [your religion/God]," as they say.

  5. PS: No, Paul, I haven't studied this at all. Never. Not once.

    Gosh, you've studied an awful lot for a guy who just became a Christian six years ago. I wish I had your capabilities...

  6. 1. Even if I did, my point was your *a priori* committment to materialism. I agree I hold jy faith at the presuppositional level, just making sure you knew you held yours at that level as well.

    2. Yes, given the naturalist assumptions those laws are non-rational. You've heard them say that the *order* of the universe is evidence for the fine-tuning argument.

    Technically, the term rationality can only be applied to beliefs and agents (or, cognizers). So, you're out of step with epistemology here.

    And, even if I didn't think it a valid argument you can't defeat what I said by name dropping. I've noticed that this is the forte of many atheists. Be that as it may, I think the *order* of the universe does point to a God, but that argument makes sense given certain assumptions of mine, whereas you don't by it given your presuppositions. That's why I ask which worldview can account for caus, order, et al.

    I do listen to the arguments for materialism (and, not all monists are materialists, e.g., substantival monists, Buddhists, etc.

    Anyway, I'm not going to debate you on dualism. I've seen Steve spin his wheels and get nowhere with you. You constantly ignore his arguments and repeat your already addressed arguments.

    The point is, with respect to the argument from mind, is that you *must* explain the rational in terms of the non-rational. You never addressed this but showed your ignorance about the contingent laws of pnhysics and thought that somehow tied into necessary laws of reason, which must be in all possible worlds.

    Indeed, since laws of logic are necessary (i.e., there is no possible world that, say, the law of non-contradiction woudl apply in since if you said it was *not* in the world then you would have just applied it in that world) and since the laws of physics and the existence of matter is not necessary (i.e., I am involved in no contradiction, self-refutation, etc., by positing a matterless world whereas you are when you posit a logicless world). Therefore, logic exists in all possible worlds, including matterless world, hence logic is not material.

    Thus we see that you, as a materialit, must give an account for how your brain interacts with laws of logic (i.e., a material entity with an immaterial entity) and you must do this in the final scientific analysis by non-rational non-purposive answers.

    Thus you use logic to infer other beliefs. The forse of the logical inference is the *cause* of your belief. But you must give a physical cause for why you believed the new belief. You must give explanations which adhere to the laws of physics, and those are none rational. No belief is rationaly inferred if it can be explained as the result of non-rational causes. If materialism is true then all beliefs are explained in terms of non-rational causes. Therefore if materialism is true then no belief is rationaly inferred. If any thesis entailes that no beliefs are rationally inferred then that thesis should be dropped. Ergo, materialism should be dropped.

    So, giev evolutionary hypothesis, why assume that your beliefs are reliable? On yor view why are things they way they are with us? because they had survival value, that's why. And so as Pat Chruchland points out, all that matters is if your beliefs get you in the right place to survivie, "truth, whatever that is, takes the hindmost."

    I mean, what is the survival value of thinking in terms of modalities? What value did thinking in terms of necessitites have for our hunter-gatherer forefahters? None. On our view, being made in tghe image of God, the one who is necessary, knows necessary truths, wants us to know necessary truths, etc., this is unproblimatic. But for you, natural selection would favor thse traits, and the developement of our cognitive faculties, just as long as they helped us to survive, that's it!

    Thus every time you saw a man-eating lion you could form the belief that it was a greek olympic runner and a marathon was about to start. So you turn and start running in the other direction. This belief, though false, allows you to survive. Likewise, a small animal who is skittish of everything would have survival value though the beliefs formed would mostly be false.

    Thus what story can be given that, upon evolutionary assumptuions, we have good reason to trust our cognitive faculties as producing mostly true-beliefs? I've seen you give none but wave your hands a bunch.

    Oh, as to your p.s. I read as well but I think of this like that moview Tombstone. Remember when Earp was in the salloon with Johhny Tyler? Tyler pointed out that Wyatt wasn't going heels (guns). No, we know Earp used his gun on other occasions but in this occasion Wyatt told Tyler, "I don't need to go heeled to get the buldge on a dub like you."