Monday, December 28, 2009

Churchland on dualism, Part III

To conclude our look at Paul Churchland’s critical discussion of dualism in his textbook Matter and Consciousness, let’s consider the arguments he presents against dualism. There are four of them, and they can be summarized as follows:

1. The argument from Ockham’s razor: Postulating two basic kinds of substance, material and immaterial, needlessly complicates our ontology if mental phenomena can be adequately explained in terms of material substance alone. That they can be so explained is indicated by the next two arguments:

2. The argument from the explanatory impotence of dualism: Materialist explanations can appeal to the many details of the brain’s structure and function revealed by modern neuroscience, while dualists have yet to provide a comparable account of the structure and function of immaterial substance.

3. The argument from the neural dependence of all known mental phenomena: As both everyday experience and neuroscientific research show, reasoning, emotion, and consciousness are all very closely correlated with various processes in the brain, which is not what we would expect if these mental phenomena were associated with an immaterial substance.

4. The argument from evolutionary history: The evolutionary process that gave rise to the human species proceeded via purely material mechanisms from a purely material starting point, so that the end result must itself be purely material.

Churchland acknowledges that none of these arguments is by itself absolutely conclusive. But he does think the third one “comes close to being an outright refutation of (substance) dualism,” and he clearly believes that in tandem the arguments consign dualism to the dustbin for all practical purposes. No doubt most materialists would agree with him. But in fact these arguments have, I maintain, no force at all against dualism. None. Dualism may or may not in fact be true – obviously I think it is true, but that is another issue. The point is that, even if it were false, these arguments have no tendency to show that it is.

How can I say that? Easy. Keep in mind first of all that, as I have emphasized in the earlier posts in this series, the chief proponents of dualism historically have not defended their position as an “explanatory hypothesis” put forward as the “best explanation” of the “empirical data.” That just isn’t what they are up to, any more than geometers or logicians are. They are attempting instead to provide a strict demonstration of the immateriality of the mind, to show that it is metaphysically and conceptually impossible for the mind to be something material. Their attempts may or may not succeed – again, that is another question. But that is what they are trying to do, and thus it simply misses the point to evaluate their arguments the way one might evaluate an empirical hypothesis. When Andrew Wiles first claimed – correctly, as it turned out – to have proven Fermat’s Last Theorem, it would have been ridiculous to evaluate his purported proof by asking whether it best accounts for the empirical evidence, or is the “best explanation” among all the alternatives, or comports with Ockham’s razor. Anyone who asked such questions would simply be making a category mistake, and showing himself to be uninformed about the nature of mathematical reasoning. It is equally ridiculous, equally uninformed, equally a category mistake, to respond to Plato’s affinity argument, or Aristotle’s and Aquinas’s argument from the nature of knowledge, or Descartes’ clear and distinct perception argument, or the Cartesian-Leibnizian-Kantian unity of consciousness argument, or Swinburne’s or Hart’s modal arguments, or James Ross’s argument from the indeterminacy of the physical, by asking such questions. As with a purported mathematical demonstration, one can reasonably attempt to show that one or more of the premises of such metaphysical arguments are false, or that the conclusion does not follow. But doing so will not involve the sorts of considerations one might bring to bear on the evaluation of a hypothesis in chemistry or biology.

Of course, Churchland, committed as he is to a Quinean form of scientism, thinks that all good theories must in some sense be empirical scientific theories. He rejects the traditional conception of metaphysics as a rational field of study distinct from and more fundamental than physics, chemistry, biology, and the like, and would deny that there is any such thing as sound metaphysical reasoning that is not in some way a mere extension of empirical hypothesis formation. But he cannot simply assume all of this in the present context without begging the question, because this sort of scientism is precisely (part of) what the dualist denies. (As we have seen in earlier posts on naturalism, this kind of circular reasoning is absolutely rife in naturalist thinking.)

It is obvious, then, why Churchland’s first two arguments have no force, for they simply misconstrue the nature of the case for dualism. If any of the dualist arguments just mentioned works, then the immateriality of the mind will have been demonstrated, and asking “But do we really need to postulate immaterial substance?” or “How much can we really know about such substances?” would not be to the point. For we would not in that case be hypothetically “postulating” anything in the first place, but directly establishing its existence; and its existence will have been no less established even if we could not say much about its nature.

But this brings us to an additional problem with Churchland’s second argument, which further underlines just how embarrassingly uninformed he is about what dualists have actually said. In developing his “explanatory impotence” objection, Churchland complains that dualists have told us very little about the nature of “spiritual matter” or the “internal constitution of mind-stuff,” about the “nonmaterial elements that make it up” and the “laws that govern their behavior.” This is, for anyone familiar with the thought of a Plato, an Aquinas, a Descartes, or a Leibniz, simply cringe-making. The soul is not taken by these writers to be “made up” out of anything, precisely because it is metaphysically simple or non-composite. It is not a kind of “stuff,” it is not made out of “spiritual matter” (whatever that is), and it is not “constituted” out of “elements” which are related by “laws.” Nor is this some incidental or little-known aspect of their position – it is absolutely central to the traditional philosophical understanding of the soul. As is so often the case with naturalistic criticisms of dualism, theism, etc., Churchland’s argument is directed at a breathtakingly crude straw man.

This appalling ignorance of the actual views of dualists manifests itself again in Churchland’s third argument. Churchland himself admits that this argument has no effect against property dualism, since property dualism itself takes the brain to be the seat of mental phenomena. But he fails to see that it has no effect against the other main varieties of dualism either, given what they actually say about the relationship between the mind and the brain.

For starters, let’s take Aristotelian-Thomistic (A-T) hylemorphic dualism. The A-T view is that the intellect is immaterial, but that sensation and imagination are not. Hence it is no surprise at all that neuroscience has discovered various neural correlates of mental imagery and the varieties of perceptual experience. Moreover, A-T holds that though intellect is immaterial, its operation requires the presence of the images or “phantasms” of the imagination. Hence it is no surprise that neural damage can affect even the functioning of the intellect. Most importantly, the soul, of which intellect, sensation, and imagination are all powers, is not a complete substance in its own right in the first place, but rather the form of the body. The way intellectual and volitional activity relates to a particular human action is, accordingly, not to be understood on the model of billiard ball causation, but rather as the formal-cum-final causal side of a single event of which the relevant physiological processes are the material-cum-efficient causal side. That alterations to the body have mental consequences is thus no more surprising than the fact that altering the chalk marks that make up a triangle drawn on a chalkboard affects how well the marks instantiate the form of triangularity. It is important to emphasize that none of this involves any sort of retreat from some stronger form of dualism, as a way of accommodating the discoveries of contemporary neuroscience; it is what A-T has always said about the relationship between soul and body. There is absolutely nothing in modern neuroscience that need trouble the A-T hylemorphic dualist in the slightest.

What about the Cartesian dualist? Don’t the differences between Descartes’ views and those of his Scholastic predecessors make him vulnerable to the findings of neuroscience in a way the latter are not? No, they don’t. For one thing, and as I have noted in an earlier post, Descartes’ views on this subject were not in fact quite as different from those of his predecessors as is often supposed. For example, Descartes’ view appears to have been that it is the intellect, specifically, which is to be identified with the ego he thinks is capable of existing apart from the body. Sensations, emotions, and the like he regarded, not as purely mental phenomena, but rather as hybrid properties which can be predicated only of the soul-body composite, and not the soul alone. Hence even on Descartes’ view it is not at all surprising that neuroscience has discovered all sorts of correlations between various aspects of perceptual experience and various emotional states on the one hand, and various processes in the brain on the other.

Now what is true is that the Cartesian has a difficulty explaining mind-body interaction that the A-T view does not have, as I have discussed here and here. And the reason is that Descartes rejected the notion that the soul is the formal cause of the body. That is an enormously consequential difference between the two views. But it has nothing to do with the specific question about whether a dualist need be troubled by the discovery of detailed correlations between mental phenomena and neural phenomena, which is what is at issue in the argument of Churchland’s under consideration. In particular, even the Cartesian need not be troubled by the fact that intellectual activity too (and not just sensation, emotion, and the like) can be dramatically affected by changes to the brain.

Why not? For one thing, as Churchland himself admits, the Cartesian regards the brain as a “mediator” between the soul and the rest of the body, so that we should expect that damage to this mediator will prevent the intellect from receiving the information it derives from the body and from controlling bodily behavior as well as it normally would.

But there is a deeper consideration. Consider the following analogy: A typed, written, or spoken token of the word “bark,” considered merely as a material object, has all sorts of complex physical properties, and those physical properties are highly relevant to its status as a word, as a bearer of linguistic meaning. Alter the physical properties of the token too radically, and it can no longer convey the meaning it once did. For example, if the ink should smear, the sound be muffled, or the power source to a word processor be cut off, the word will disappear, or might at least become so distorted that it becomes unintelligible. It would be absurd, though, for someone to suggest that these facts lend any support whatsoever to the claim that a word token qua word token is exhausted by its physical properties. It clearly is not. It is, for example, indeterminate from the physical properties alone whether the “bark” in question is the bark of a dog or the bark of a tree. Indeed, since the fact that the relevant sounds and shapes are associated with a certain meaning is entirely contingent, an accident of the history of the English language, it is indeterminate from the physical properties alone whether the word has any meaning at all. In short, the physical properties are a necessary condition for any particular physical object’s counting as a word token, but they are not a sufficient condition. And piling up bits of physicochemical knowledge about word tokens cannot possibly change this fact in the slightest, for it is a conceptual point about the nature of words, not an empirical point about what the latest research in phonetics (or whatever) has turned up.

In the same way, the dualist claims to be making a conceptual point about the relationship between mind and body, one to which neuroscientific research, important and interesting as it is in itself, is irrelevant. The existence of such-and-such physiological phenomena may well be a necessary condition for the existence of intentional human actions, intelligible speech, and so forth, but it is not and cannot be a sufficient condition. And that remains true whether we are interpreting dualism in A-T terms or in Cartesian terms. A-T regards the soul as the formal cause of a single substance of which the matter of the body is the material cause. Cartesians regard mind and matter as two distinct substances. Either way, there is not, and in principle cannot be, anything distinctively mental in matter as such, any more than a word token, considered merely as an arrangement of ink marks or a pattern of sound waves, has any meaning on its own. Or at least, there cannot be if dualism is correct. No amount of neuroscientific evidence can undermine this judgment, because what is at issue is whether any purely material phenomena at all, neurological or otherwise, can in principle be mental.

“But doesn’t that make dualism unfalsifiable?” If “unfalsifiable” means “not subject to rational evaluation and criticism,” then no, of course it isn’t unfalsifiable. Metaphysical arguments, like mathematical arguments, are perfectly susceptible of rational analysis and refutation, even if, like mathematical arguments, such analysis does not involve the weighing of probabilities, the comparison of alternative empirical hypotheses, etc. If “unfalsifiable” means instead “not subject to refutation via empirical scientific research,” then yes, dualism is unfalsifiable in that sense. But so is mathematics, and yet that doesn’t detract from its status as a rational field of investigation. Again, if the materialist wants to insist that all rational inquiry must ultimately be a kind of empirical scientific inquiry, he is welcome to make the case, but he cannot simply assume the truth of scientism when criticizing the dualist, otherwise he will simply be begging the question.

And that brings us, finally, to the fourth of Churchland’s arguments, the argument from evolution. Here again we have an argument that is entirely without force, and the main reason should be obvious from what has just been said: Dualism is a metaphysical theory, not an empirical hypothesis, and thus it is not the sort of thing that could be refuted by empirical biological findings any more than by neuroscientific ones.

But there is more to be said. Churchland’s fourth argument is also question-begging. For whether Darwinian evolution – which is supposed to be a purely materialist theory – is in fact a complete explanation of human nature depends on whether human nature is entirely material. And of course, the dualist’s claim is precisely that human beings are not and cannot be purely material, in which case no purely materialist theory could possibly provide a complete explanation of human nature. Hence it is no good to merely to assert, as an argument against dualism, that Darwinism has already explained human nature in materialist terms. That simply assumes the falsity of dualism without proving it.

Nor is it any good to stamp one’s feet and insist that if Darwinism entails materialism, then we had all better be materialists. Because here’s a newsflash: If Darwinism entailed that 2 + 2 = 5, what that would show is, not that 2 + 2 = 5, but that Darwinism is false, or at least needs to be seriously modified. Similarly, if Darwinism really does entail materialism, but the arguments of an Aquinas, a Descartes, or a James Ross show that materialism is false, then so much the worse for Darwinism. It had better adapt itself to the metaphysical facts, or be selected out. Like so many other naturalists, Churchland waves the “evolution” talisman as if it sufficed to shut off all debate, assuring us that in light of Darwinism we “are creatures of matter” and “should learn to live with that fact.” But this is sheer, question-begging bluff, not serious philosophical argument.

We have seen, then, over the course of these three posts, that Churchland’s treatment of dualism in Matter and Consciousness, though purporting to be a balanced summary, is in fact almost completely worthless both as a guide to what dualists have actually said and as a critique of dualism. And this is a textbook! And a widely used one, which has long been in print – it was one of the books I was taught out of as an undergraduate, and (I am ashamed to say) as a teacher I once used it myself. It took me many years to see just how bad it is. Most students who have read it probably have no idea, and never will.

But that’s how bad ideas spread: By ignorance and intellectual dishonesty smugly masquerading as expertise. Here, as with the debate over theism, the naturalistic skeptic can maintain the illusion of rational superiority only to the extent that he and his readers remain ignorant of what the great thinkers of the past have actually said. For to paraphrase Cardinal Newman, to be deep in history is to cease to be a naturalist.

24 comments:

Crude said...

Two things that puzzle me. Churchland says "we are creatures of matter" and "we should learn to live with that fact". But isn't there (and I could be wrong on this) a pretty lively debate on just what "matter" itself really is?

And how would the argument from evolution ever get off the ground in this context? By that I mean, "purely material mechanisms" from a "purely material starting point" - putting aside the above question, how can it ever be reasonably inferred by science alone that evolution proceeded in such a way? It seems that both evolution can be true yet 'immaterial / non-physical / dualistic' entities could still exist. Especially given that Churchland wrongly sees dualism as positing some kind of other "stuff" - why would such "stuff" resist development with or involvement in evolution?

Jack said...

Cheers Ed

Loving every post on the misciallanious midgets of bearkly :), just out of interest to your knowledge has Churchland ever realised that his commitment to scientism is a methaphysical one?
To his credit though from what I've read about him his insanity is consistent, I used to hold the same position as Churchland but lived a contradiction in my daily life- now as Catholics we can be both sane and consistent :)

Edward Feser said...

Yes and yes. Both supposedly purely empirical claims float on an ocean of metaphysics. And bad metaphysics, because it is unrecognized, unreflected-upon metaphysics.

There is at least a growing sense in phil of mind that the notion of "matter" is at least as problematic in modern phil as the notion of "mind." You see this in writers who've taken renewed attention to Russell's neutral monism (e.g. Michael Lockwood, Galen Strawson, David Chalmers) and also in Chomsky. So far, though, outside of Thomistic circles there are few who want to consider what I regard as the correct solution, viz. a return to Aristotelian hylemorphism.

It will take longer for mainstream philosophers to come clean and acknowledge that Darwinism is at least as much dogmatic metaphysics as it is empirical science.

Edward Feser said...

Sorry, my comment above was in reply to Crude, specifically.

Jack,

If you want to see some lunatic consistency, check out some of the autobiographical tidbits from this interview/article on the Churchlands (some of which will be familiar to you if you've read ch. 6 of TLS):

http://mikz.net/txt/churchlands.pdf

Jack said...

thanks for the link Ed, that article made a Tired Thomist very happy:)

TomH said...

Ed: "It will take longer for mainstream philosophers to come clean and acknowledge that Darwinism is at least as much dogmatic metaphysics as it is empirical science."

There have been some steps in this direction by Midgley and Ruse.

Does it make sense to talk about the substance of souls and minds?

Anonymous said...

As an undergraduate I remember thinking that Dennett's _Consciousness Explained_ presented an utterly devastating case against dualism. This was due more to his tone, my lack of knowledge, and more importantly, my willingness to defer to the expertise of my professors. If Dennett's arguments were really so bad, and his portrayal of dualism was really so misinformed, then why would professors I look to as sources of authority assign them? As you state near the end, you learn. You learn. I can only shudder at the thought of how many impressionable young minds will be taken in by this sort of bull, precisely because I know how difficult it is to dispel the illusions they create.

Maolsheachlann said...

So the brain is like a computer with a modem and the mind is like the internet? I guess that means we might all have an intelligence vaster than we can imagine, but that our brains muffle and dampen it?

When I read posts like this one, I can't help wondering what happens when you run into a Churchland or a Dennett, or their disciples, at academic cocktail parties. Must be strained.

Ilíon said...

"1. The argument from Ockham’s razor: Postulating two basic kinds of substance, material and immaterial, needlessly complicates our ontology if mental phenomena can be adequately explained in terms of material substance alone."

Why not *really* simplify one's ontology by postulating that nothing at all exists?

Will said...

"The A-T view is that the intellect is immaterial, but that sensation and imagination are not. Hence it is no surprise at all that neuroscience has discovered various neural correlates of mental imagery and the varieties of perceptual experience.'

And hence it is also no surprise that - to give some common examples naturalists unthinkingly mention as if they somehow refute dualism - a sharp blow to the head causes unconsciousness, too much alcohol causes drunkeness, psychedilics can cause hallucinations and fatigue makes it hard to concentrate. It was obvious long before the modest advances of modern neuroscience that physical events in the brain affect thinking. A-T does not deny that the brain is necessary for much and perhaps even all mental functioning, only that it is entirely sufficient for some, namely intellect and will. As the Catechism says, 'Spirit and matter, in man, are not two natures united, but rather their union forms a single nature'.

Prof. Feser, does the fact that our senses can sometimes play tricks on us - as when under the influence of mind-altering drugs or during illness - have any force when used by sceptics to try and show they are unreliable in order to pose problems for A-T, which begins with principles derived from sense experience?

Crude said...

Maolsheachlann,

Loosely related to what you say, I cannot help but strongly suspect that any consistent materialism/naturalism will ultimately end up in some kind of pantheism, panpsychism, panentheism, etc.

What is to stop someone from arguing that there ultimately exists only one being, one mind, one "brain", and we are all part of it? Hinduism and spinozaism seem to say that or something very close to that in large part, and those are explicitly religious and seemingly theistic. But that seems to be where someone cannot help but end up once formal/final causes are rejected.

Of course, I could be wrong, but that really seems to be the ultimate destination.

Maolsheachlann said...

That was prompted by what I said, Crude? Man, I am way out of my depth. I don't understand at all why the rejection of formal/final causes would lead to a sort pantheism of Spinozism. I think I am going to shut up and lurk from now on. But I'd like to say I really appreciate all the discussions and insights in the posts and comboxes on this site. I reckon I've learned more meaningful philosophy here than in years of browsing philosophy books. Thanks everybody!

Ilíon said...

"I don't understand at all why the rejection of formal/final causes would lead to a sort pantheism of Spinozism."

Possibly because when one works through the logic of what is entailed in denying the reality of the (personal) Creator-God, one "learns" that, among other things, one cannot think, or reason, or know. But, that's clearly absurd ... so, one has to draw back from explicit materialism/atheism and try to find some way to account for the reality of one's own mind while still trying to deny the reality of The Mind who created one.

Jime said...

3. The argument from the neural dependence of all known mental phenomena

In addition to Dr.Feser's refutation of Churchland's fallacies, I think the above materialistic argument can be disputed even if we concede Churchland's scientism and empiricism.

The basic fallacy of that argument is that it assumes that functional dependence implies ontological dependence. Therefore, showing that brain states are correlated to mental states implies that the former cause or produce the latter.

William James (who wasn't a substance dualist) refuted that kind of argument in his paper on Human Immortality: "Everyone knows that arrests of brain development occasion imbecility, that blows on the head abolish memory or consciousness, and that brain-stimulants and poisons change the quality of our ideas... When the physiologist who thinks that his science cuts hope of immortality pronounces the phrase, "Thought is a function of the brain," he thinks of the matter just as he thinks when he says, "Steam is a function of the tea-kettle," "Light is a function of the electric circuit," "Power is a function of the moving waterfall." In these latter cases the several material objects have the function of inwardly creating or engendering their effects, and their function must be called productive function, just so, he thinks, it must be with the brain. Engendering consciousness in its interior, much as it engenders cholesterin and creatin and carbonic acid, its relation to our soul's life must also be called productive function. Of course, if such production be the function, then when the organ perishes, since the production can no longer continue, the soul must surely die. Such a conclusion as this is indeed inevitable from that particular conception of the facts(6).

But in the world of physical nature productive function of this sort is not the only kind of function with which we are familiar. We have also releasing or permissive function; and we have transmissive function.

The trigger of a crossbow has a releasing function: it removes the obstacle that holds the string, and lets the bow fly back to its natural shape. So when the hammer falls upon a detonating compound. By knocking out the inner molecular obstructions, it lets the constituent gases resume their normal bulk, and so permits the explosion to take place.

In the case of a colored glass, a prism, or a refracting lens, we have transmissive function. The energy of light, no matter how produced, is by the glass sifted and limited in color, and by the lens or prism determined to a certain path and shape. Similarly, the keys of an organ have only a transmissive function. They open successively the various pipes and let the wind in the air-chest escape in various ways. The voices of the various pipes are constituted by the columns of air trembling as they emerge. But the air is not engendered in the organ. The organ proper, as distinguished from its air-chest, is only an apparatus for letting portions of it loose upon the world in these peculiarly limited shapes.

My thesis now is this: that, when we think of the law that thought is a function of the brain, we are not required to think of productive function only; we are entitled also to consider permissive or transmissive function. And this the ordinary psychophysiologist leaves out of his account
.

http://www.survivalafterdeath.org.uk/articles/james/immortality.htm

These objections to Churchland's third argument are not so conclusive as the demostrations based on A-T metaphysics, but my point is that even a person who doesn't know or agree with A-T might have good reasons to reject Churchland's argument.

Churchland's argument is far from being conclusive from a empirical point of view.

Crude said...

Maolsheachlann,

Like I said, it was only loosely related to your post. And I'm no expert, just some credential-less sort given to musing. But I think formal/final causes are more prevalent than realized. In fact, one part of TLS that really stood out to me was the claim that a broadly Aristotlean metaphysic is in play, however unstated, even for 'naturalist' or 'materialist' explanations of mind and nature.

Jack said...

Ed

This may just be me reavealing my ignorence but having re-read (for what seems like the 100th time) Ch 5 of TLS it seems that the entire mechanistic philosophy (to which Churchland is a party) rests on the abandonment of necessary truths such as 2+2 =4 on the one hand and the claim that the discovery of molucles, atoms and the like somehow dis-proves the hylemorphism of the ancients/scholastics on the other, I also seem to remember you saying somewhere that these scientifc discoveries can be incorporated into the A-T worldview, how would A-T philosophers go about this?

Jime said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jime said...

Off topic, William Lane Craig has recently debated with Daniel Dennett.

You can hear the debate here:

http://www19.zippyshare.com/v/85071956/file.html

For when Craig vs. Dawkins? (Just kidding, I'm sure Dawkins would never dare to debate Craig)

Anonymous said...

That debate was great to listen to Jime. I especially like how Craig spends about 45 minutes listing very plausible, good arguments for God's existence, concludes at the end that he still has more to say, and then Dennett strolls in and says "yeah yeah yeah well, all of your arguments may have been good, and I really can't find any problem with them, but since we can't touch God he's not there."

But what do you expect from a secularist, radical empiricist disciple of David Hume?

Scott said...

...then Dennett strolls in and says "yeah yeah yeah well, all of your arguments may have been good, and I really can't find any problem with them, but since we can't touch God he's not there."
That's funny.

What about that claim that God speaks and can be heard? Why is touch more reliable than hearing?

I've been thinking lately of what it means to sense something. Are our senses limited to what can be sensed via our "sense" organs, and why?

Sight, Sound, Taste, Smell, Touch. Are these really the organs of sense? Or is the brain the organ of sense?

Ilíon said...

It seems to me. Scott, that what you're asking about is the difference between sensation and perception.

Eric said...

Uh oh, Ed: You've been refuted by some poster called "David Marjanovic" on a Pharyngula thread (I'm only posting this here to give you a laugh. Oh, and keep in mind that this David fellow won Pharyngula's "Molly Award," which, in the words of PZ Myers himself, is meant to recognize "people we look forward to in the comment threads — people we might all think to emulate." So this isn't some random idiot -- he's considered to be one of their best minds!)

-----------------------------------


(David quoting Ed): "... the chief proponents of dualism historically have not defended their position as an “explanatory hypothesis” put forward as the “best explanation” of the “empirical data.” That just isn’t what they are up to, any more than geometers or logicians are. They are attempting instead to provide a strict demonstration of the immateriality of the mind, to show that it is metaphysically and conceptually impossible for the mind to be something material. Their attempts may or may not succeed – again, that is another question. But that is what they are trying to do, and thus it simply misses the point to evaluate their arguments the way one might evaluate an empirical hypothesis. When Andrew Wiles first claimed – correctly, as it turned out – to have proven Fermat’s Last Theorem, it would have been ridiculous to evaluate his purported proof by asking whether it best accounts for the empirical evidence, or is the “best explanation” among all the alternatives, or comports with Ockham’s razor. Anyone who asked such questions would simply be making a category mistake ..."


(David's response): See?

This is in itself a category mistake.

You just can't prove anything outside of mathematics and formal logic. Applying a proof in formal logic to reality and believing one has thereby proven something about reality always amounts to an argument from personal incredulity, an argument from lack of imagination.

The textbook example for this is the counterintuitive weirdness of relativity and quantum physics. For instance, a particle can be in states A and ¬A at the same time – silly but true.

Who solved the paradox of Achilles and the tortoise? Werner Heisenberg. Who disproved Plantinga's argument against naturalism before it was even made? Konrad Lorenz. And so on.

(continued)

Eric said...

(continued)

(David quoting Ed): "Consider the following analogy: A typed, written, or spoken token of the word “bark,” considered merely as a material object, has all sorts of complex physical properties, and those physical properties are highly relevant to its status as a word, as a bearer of linguistic meaning. Alter the physical properties of the token too radically, and it can no longer convey the meaning it once did. For example, if the ink should smear, the sound be muffled, or the power source to a word processor be cut off, the word will disappear, or might at least become so distorted that it becomes unintelligible. It would be absurd, though, for someone to suggest that these facts lend any support whatsoever to the claim that a word token qua word token is exhausted by its physical properties. It clearly is not. It is, for example, indeterminate from the physical properties alone whether the “bark” in question is the bark of a dog or the bark of a tree. Indeed, since the fact that the relevant sounds and shapes are associated with a certain meaning is entirely contingent, an accident of the history of the English language, it is indeterminate from the physical properties alone whether the word has any meaning at all. In short, the physical properties are a necessary condition for any particular physical object’s counting as a word token, but they are not a sufficient condition. And piling up bits of physicochemical knowledge about word tokens cannot possibly change this fact in the slightest, for it is a conceptual point about the nature of words, not an empirical point about what the latest research in phonetics (or whatever) has turned up."

(David's response): Blah, blah, blah. The term "word" is an abstraction. You may be interested to learn that the linguists have pretty much given up on trying to define "word" – for the most part, they retreat sarcastically to "thing written with spaces around it" and otherwise talk about overlapping but not congruent categories like "lexical item" and "phonological word" and "morphological word".

Is your source seriously trying to argue that the soul/immaterial mind/ghost in the machine is likewise an abstraction???

(David quoting Ed): "In the same way, the dualist claims to be making a conceptual point about the relationship between mind and body, one to which neuroscientific research, important and interesting as it is in itself, is irrelevant."

(David's response): Learning about reality is irrelevant to dualist philosophy? What a surprisingly candid admission.

-----------------------------------

Never mind Pharyngula's "Molly Award" -- I'm nominating this guy for a Stove Award! (Actually, perhaps the two aren't so different, when you think about it...)

Leo Carton Mollica said...

One minor objection: some dualists, including Duns Scotus and his followers, such as St. Edith Stein, actually do posit "spiritual" or "incorporeal" matter. Nevertheless, matters (no pun intended) are no better for Churchland and company in light of this fact, for these philosophers almost invariably give very subtle accounts of the nature of this unusual variety of matter.

All in all, excellent post! (As usual.)